House of Lords
Thursday, 26 March 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Waddington
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
UNESCO: Westminster World Heritage Site
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have given to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s request for an updated reply by 1 February to its concerns about the development of the South Bank and that development’s impact on the Palace of Westminster as part of the Westminster World Heritage Site.
My Lords, on 26 January, the DCMS Secretary of State submitted an updated state of conservation report on the Westminster world heritage site to UNESCO. This report outlined further policy measures to protect the world heritage site taken since the date of the request. It also provided an update on proposals for developments on the South Bank. The full report can be read on the UNESCO website.
My Lords, why have the Government not published that response to UNESCO’s renewed concerns about the spread of high-rise development on the South Bank? They have not produced the report for this House. My copy of the Government’s response, which I have here, has been provided to me by UNESCO itself. It refers to many things but does not promise the protection that UNESCO seeks for the Westminster heritage site; nor does it reflect the advice of the Government’s statutory advisers on heritage policy, whose statement I also happen to have. Do the Government no longer care about their responsibilities to the national heritage in London? Who calls the tune? Is it Mr Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, or is it Mr Boris Johnson, the mayor? Will the noble Baroness accept that the prospect of Parliament and all it stands for being downgraded in favour of mega projects that cost millions but do little to ease London’s housing shortage would be a national disgrace and an international humiliation?
I will tell the noble Baroness that all the planning regulations and the whole planning flow have been exactly as they should be. Currently, having been through the Secretary of State and Lambeth twice, it is now back with Lambeth. So we wait. As for the report, I am not sure whether it would have normally been placed in the Library, but it has clearly been on the UNESCO website since the end of January.
My Lords, by standing on Waterloo Bridge, not many visitors would appreciate just how many of the buildings they see are in different planning authorities. The Secretary of State, in refusing to call in the Elizabeth House development, said that it could not,
“have significant effects beyond the immediate locality, give rise to substantial cross boundary or national controversy”.
Bearing in mind what we have heard, does the noble Baroness really share that view; or, like the Secretary of State, is she so committed to the dogma or doctrine that a local council should have the sole responsibility, whatever the consequence? Talking about Westminster heritage, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Graham on his 90th birthday today.
Noble Lords may not be aware, but the Government Whips all sang happy birthday to him first thing this morning. There are planning guidelines and protocols, which have been used all the way through this process. Everybody in your Lordships’ House values the skyline. I have seen many maps and reconstructions of how the whole thing will look alongside Big Ben or Elizabeth Tower. From where the Supreme Court is you can still see clear sky, which is one of the things that caused concern.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that there is a great deal of confusing guidance here? Might everybody’s life not be made a little simpler if we went for one clear set of regulations that we could all refer back to and have a nice argument about that when we pass them?
My Lords, major changes are being proposed for the Palace of Westminster in the coming years. These include a many millions of pounds upgrade to the building, the possible removal of the archive and a new education centre. Could the Minister please tell the House who the named individual is with responsibility for and overview of all these moving parts?
My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that the original reason why Mr Pickles did not call in this application was because he said that it did not have national significance—something that contradicted the best possible statutory advice and the reality of the application? This is probably the most famous building and skyline in the world. Could she tell me what does constitute “national significance” in the light of Mr Pickles’ judgment, and perhaps give some examples of how he has applied that judgment?
My Lords, it is very important that my noble friend, even at this late stage in the Parliament, does obtain the ear of Mr Pickles, because what he has done has placed in jeopardy the whole future of Westminster as a world heritage site. Do we really want to end this Parliament on that note?
I take the noble Lord’s point. However, UNESCO has not warned us of a possible delisting of the Palace. It has asked that the state of conservation report for the site be submitted by 1 February. The Government have carefully considered UNESCO’s request not to approve the scheme but concluded that the level of harm to the world heritage site would be substantially less than that suggested by UNESCO.
My Lords, further to the question asked opposite, would my noble friend agree that a great threat to the Palace of Westminster is the constant reports that we read in the papers that the place is falling down about our ears? Will she undertake that in the new Parliament we will definitely get a definitive report on the state of the building so that both Houses can consider it?
My Lords, the Government remain committed to regulation of private investigators and we have made good progress. However, it is important to ensure that the regulations target those who present the greatest risk to the public. We intend to lay regulations as soon as possible in the next Parliament.
I thank the noble Lord for that reply, although it was not very informative. I should remind him and the House that in May 2010 we were within weeks of licensing private investigators when the coalition Government came in and stopped the process in its tracks as part of their agenda of deregulation. I think that the Leveson inquiry showed how ill judged that decision was. After that, the Home Secretary promised that licensing for private investigators would be brought in as soon as possible. She repeated that promise last year and said that it would definitely be by the end of this Parliament. At the same time, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, promised private security businesses that licensing of their businesses would also be introduced by the end of this Parliament. Today is the end of this Parliament and I therefore have two questions to ask the Minister.
First, given that the public’s safety and security is at risk from crooks and fraudsters operating as authentic private investigators, and given that the bodies representing private investigators are demanding regulation, why have the Government not found the time or the inclination to bring in this important regulation? Why have they broken their promises? Secondly—
My Lords, I know that, as a former chair of the Security Industry Authority, the noble Baroness feels passionately and cares deeply about this. Of course, that is one of the points. The Security Industry Authority was introduced in the 2001 Act and set up then. If it was such a no-brainer, of course it could have been done a little earlier than 2010. However, we have gone out to consultation on this and the Home Secretary has made it abundantly clear that in both the instances that the noble Baroness mentioned we intend to legislate. We have not had time to do so but it will be done early in the next Parliament. That is a commitment which we have given and which I am sure the noble Baroness opposite will want to echo.
My Lords, I find the Minister’s answer incredible. The consultation that he referred to was nearly three years ago and it had the highest number of responses of any consultation except that on gay marriage. In fact, the responses were unanimous on that occasion. Does the Minister realise that fewer police officers means that private security is replacing and working alongside the police, and often the public do not know who are the police and who are private security. The Government promised to regulate the companies but have refused to do so. We have an industry whose members are united in wanting regulation to protect the public and to protect their businesses from rogue traders, dodgy companies and criminals—so in whose interests are the Government refusing to act?
We are not refusing to act. In case it has escaped the noble Baroness, lots of other pieces of legislation have been going through during this Parliament. We have not managed to get this regulation in. It is a priority, it is something that we are committed to and it will happen early in the next Parliament.
Police: Reduction in Numbers
I am realising the disadvantage of immediately following on when the previous Question went short on time. Decisions on the size, composition and deployment of the police force’s workforce are for individual chief officers and police and crime commissioners to take. They have clearly demonstrated that, with reform, it is possible to deliver more for less. Crime has fallen by more than a fifth under this Government according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, making our communities the safest they have been since records began.
My Lords, chief constables can act only within the budget given to them by the Government. The stock response is that crime is falling. But, having lost 17,000 police officers, does the Minister regret that, of 100,000 crimes last year, fewer than 28% were solved? That is less than one in three. Reported rapes are up by 30% but there is a 14% fall in prosecutions under this Government. Violent crime is up by 16%. Overall prosecutions are down and 9,000 fewer crimes have been solved. Does he not consider that the police and the public deserve better if we are really serious about having safer communities?
I certainly agree about the importance of having safer communities. That is why it is not a stock answer to point out that fewer crimes are happening than at any time since that survey came into being in 1981. It is not something to be complacent about. It is due to the tremendous efforts which the police are making. Nor are we simply saying that reductions in budgets are not a serious matter. We are saying that there needs to be those reductions. As the Police Federation recognised, there needed to be reductions to make sure that we balance the economy. We have reduced bureaucracy by 4.5 million hours, which is the equivalent of 2,100 police officers. Also, we have said that we do not want police officers in back offices but on the front line. We have increased the proportion of police officers who are now serving on the front line. The combination of those two things is why crime is falling.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, even if economic necessity justifies the 17,000 reduction in the number of police officers and the 23,000 reduction in civilian support staff, nevertheless, the next Government should have as an aspiration the renewal of neighbourhood policing and reassuring uniform police patrol? Despite the best efforts of the Government, crime commissioners and chief constables, neighbour policing and reassuring uniform patrol are threatened and are in danger of being relegated to our history books—and they are the foundation of the relationship with the public.
I totally agree with that, which is one of the reasons why, between March 2010 and March 2014, the number of neighbourhood police officers increased by 5,918. Total neighbourhood policing is up by 1,919, which reflects the change in the number of PCSOs. It is a vital part and there is no doubt that policing can take place effectively only when it is with community consent, working together with the police and law enforcement agencies to ensure that we reduce crime.
My Lords, is it not important not to look at these things in silos—and not just at police numbers alone? Community safety partnerships are made up of police local authorities, and fire and rescue, probation and health services. In times of financial difficulty, does the Minister agree that it is important to do things together, differently and holistically, and that community safety partnerships are good for community safety?
I agree with my noble friend in respect of that. There are a number of examples where emergency responders, including the ambulance service, the fire authorities and the police, share back office and communication facilities to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of the service. That is one of the changes behind the falling crime rate that we are seeing.
My Lords, are there not increased difficulties facing the public in locating police officers at the present time? A lot of police stations have been shut. Does the Minister agree with that? Does he recall that there is an increased number of complaints from police officers about what is happening?
I am aware that the police are doing a tremendous job. They are working under significant pressure. However, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, in his report called Policing in Times of Austerity, said that the police were holding up and doing an amazing job in serving local communities by readjusting the way they work to ensure that officers are deployed on the front line and effectively rather than sitting and filling in forms.
My Lords, just before the Christmas Recess I asked the Minister what the Government’s strategy was on policing. I was not very satisfied with his answer, so I will ask him again. Has he seen the comments of Chris Sims, the well respected chief constable of the West Midlands, about what he expects his force to be doing in the next five years? It is to withdraw largely from neighbourhood policing and patrol for reassurance and to introduce a new form of public contact like internet banking. Is that a counsel of despair or is it a strategy? If it is a strategy, is it the strategy of the Government?
If I recall, the answer I gave the noble Lord was that the strategy was to cut crime, and that that was behind everything we did. When we came to power people had myriad targets and quotas. Now we simply have one, which is to cut crime—and crime is falling.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that during the Northern Ireland Troubles the absence of traffic police and marked police cars for security reasons was accompanied by a significant increase in the number of fatal traffic accidents?
That is an interesting point. I was not aware of that particular fact but, on looking at the figures again, the number of fatalities from road traffic accidents, fortunately, has been coming down. The noble Baroness said that that was in relation to Essex, but the number of fatalities has come down from about 1,900 in 2010 to 1,730 last year. We want to continue that downward progress.
Is the Minister aware that the Scottish Government want Police Scotland to take over responsibility from the British Transport Police in Scotland? Will he or the Home Secretary—I presume he has her ear—have a word with the Scottish Government and explain the importance of cross-border policing as far as the transport police are concerned?
My Lords, the All-Parliamentary Group for Children looked at the relationship between children and police in its last session and produced a report. In that report the police told us time and time again that they were finding it increasingly difficult to send police officers into schools. If we take a long view of the reduction of crime, we know that the education of children and the influence of police on children who are already starting down a path of crime are very great. Does the Minister not agree that it is crucial that these projects are protected?
The noble Baroness is right. This relates to the earlier question about the importance of neighbourhood policing, where the connection with schools is vital to ensure that people grow up respecting the role of the police—not fearing them but realising that they are there to protect them.
My Lords, I saw out of my window a car being broken into. I dialled 999 and was answered by a lady from Bombay. Those doing the break-in took their time but the police arrived two days later. What does this incident say about the Question asked?
I am happy to meet the noble Lord later to find out where he was living and the particulars of the incident. One of the measures that we have introduced, of course, is to differentiate—it does not apply in this case—between non-emergency calls and real emergency calls. The ability to triage calls is an important way of ensuring that the police respond to incidents where they are desperately needed as fast as possible.
I can think of some very good examples. In fact, some former colleagues of the noble Baroness have been instrumental in driving forward this type of co-operation. I am thinking particularly of West Mercia and Warwickshire where there is a much closer relationship because of the public visibility of a police and crime commissioner providing that connection with the community that we talked about earlier.
My Lords, I was interested to hear about the experiences in Northern Ireland with fatalities on the roads. A reduction in roads policing officers has been experienced in most forces, and two forces have reduced their traffic officers by more than 70%. The Minister gave us figures for road deaths, but in fact the most recent figures have shown an increase. The total cost of a fatality is more than £1.75 million. Given that figure, is it worth reducing the number of police officers?
I think that that is right—and if I misheard the noble Viscount and he was asking about fatalities in Northern Ireland, I will get the figures broken down specifically for him. On the particular point that he raised, this is where greater use of technology and surveillance cameras on our motorways and road networks has helped to target resources better on reducing deaths and accidents on our roads.
My Lords, a wide range of organisations and individuals independent of the Prison Service, including inspectors, monitoring boards, parliamentarians and researchers, are frequently given access to our prisons. It is right that prisons should face scrutiny and are subject to public debate. Our priority is the welfare of prisoners, their families and those who work in prisons. Inaccurate and irresponsible criticisms undermine their welfare. NOMS has the right to refuse access to those who voice such criticisms.
My Lords, I sympathise with the Minister for having to try to defend the indefensible. In the future, the Secretary of State for Justice will be remembered and blamed for the havoc that he has wrought in less than three years on the entire criminal justice system, which will take years to resolve. Only those who fear the truth need to try to suppress it, which the Secretary of State is trying to do as regards a long-established, independent, voluntary organisation whose only crimes have been to oppose him and to expose untruths. Can the Minister please assure the House that this shameful instruction will be instantly withdrawn and never again repeated in a free United Kingdom?
My Lords, when the noble Lord became the Chief Inspector of Prisons in 1995, I am sure that in the course of inspecting prisons, he was anxious to be fair and objective in his inspections regardless of whether they were private prisons or public prisons. These two prisons are private prisons. Unfortunately, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, disapproves of private prisons and has been quoted as saying that,
“making money out of punishing people is both reprehensible and immoral and it is on these grounds that we have opposed the private management of prisons”.
Just before Christmas, she said on “Newsnight” that for a three-week period over Christmas, young offenders would be locked in their cells while there was a 40% reduction in staff numbers. Both these assertions were completely wrong. She was given an opportunity to retract, but she declined to do so. NOMS has to bear in mind the welfare of prisoners, the families who would be concerned about such misinformation, and the morale of prison officers.
My Lords, last Thursday, the process of appointing a successor to the highly regarded Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, ground to a halt when Mr Grayling refused to consider the candidate put forward by the appointment panel. Moreover, on the same day the Justice Committee objected to his appointment of two so-called independent members of the selection panel—of four—who just happened to be Conservative Party activists. One of them is an adviser to that paragon of political impartiality, Grant Shapps. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has raised serious and legitimate concerns about a ban on visits to prisons by Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Incidentally, I understand that G4S, which runs the prisons, had no objection to her going to them. What reassurance can the Minister provide that during what remains of the Lord Chancellor’s tenure of office, Mr Grayling will desist from pursuing his career as a serial offender against the interests of justice?
That is a large question, and perhaps I can answer some of the many sub-questions in it. The Secretary of State had nothing to do with the decision taken by NOMS, but I of course, as a Minister, take responsibility for that decision, which was an operational one. As for the appointment process, this is under way. The noble Lord seems to be very well informed about the process, and an announcement will be made in due course. There is no question that Nick Hardwick has not been allowed to act independently. The Government’s preference is that all public posts are re-competed at the end of the fixed term, with that incumbent free to apply.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the conditions in our prisons will impact on control and discipline but are also a matter of serious concern for the families of those who are detained in some of our institutions? Has the noble Lord studied the recent lecture given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in which he talked about prison conditions when he undertook a review of Strangeways prison some years ago? He mentioned that many of his recommendations are still to be implemented and also suggested that a further inquiry ought to be undertaken. Does my noble friend agree with that suggestion?
The noble and learned Lord’s report on Strangeways, some 25 years ago, identified a number of things that were wrong with our prison system. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree, as indeed would the party opposite, that there have been significant changes and improvements in our prison system since. For example, there is no slopping out, there are much better conditions in cells, overcrowding is at its lowest level since 2007, prisoners are doing more purposeful activity and participate more in education, and the number of people absconding has been reduced. There is no room for complacency—there will be always be challenges in the Prison Service—but I am afraid that we simply do not accept that there has been no improvement in 25 years.
It certainly does not. The Government welcome constructive criticism of all sorts. We want constructive and objective criticism by the monitoring board, the inspectorate, the press and academics—all of whom are regularly given access to our prisoners. But objectivity and fair criticism, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, are vital.
Arrangement of Business
Announcement of Prorogation
My Lords, yesterday I announced that Parliament would be prorogued at some point today. I hope it will help the House if I indicate that once we have completed our own business, we will adjourn during pleasure until we are confident that the House of Commons has completed its business. The time of the resumption for the Royal Commission will be indicated on the annunciators. I expect it to be late afternoon.
Finance (No. 2) Bill
Second Reading (and Remaining Stages)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill now be read a second time.
As noble Lords are aware, when this Government took office in 2010, they faced the worst economic crisis in recent history. Since then, this Government have taken decisive action to deal with the debts we inherited and get the economy moving again. Today we are seeing the fruits of those actions, with the fastest rate of growth among the advanced economies, record levels of employment and debt falling.
The Finance Bill before us today takes further important steps to secure the recovery by helping business and enterprise, tackling tax avoidance and evasion, and helping to deliver a fairer and more efficient tax system. I will outline the contents of the Bill in a moment, but I will first say something about this year’s Finance Bill process.
Yesterday, the Bill was debated for six hours in another place. I recognise that this is a compressed timetable, which limits scrutiny of the bill. However, this Government have done what they can to enable as much scrutiny of the Bill as the parliamentary timetable allows. In December 2014, we published over 250 pages of draft Finance Bill legislation for technical consultation. This meets the Government’s commitment to publish the majority of Finance Bill clauses in draft at least three months ahead of the Bill being introduced. We have met this commitment in every year since 2011.
As a result, 80% of the legislation before us has already benefited from public scrutiny and comment. In many cases, there have been several rounds of consultation prior to the final legislation being published. In addition, this Government have taken steps to limit the size of the Bill by holding back around 50 pages of previously announced legislation which, in our judgment, could be delayed until after the election. The provisions that remain represent genuine priorities—where not proceeding with legislation would result in revenue being lost to the Exchequer, or individuals or companies being worse off or faced with considerable uncertainty.
I now turn to the specific provisions in the Bill: first, growth and investment. The Bill builds on previous Finance Bills by creating the conditions in which business and enterprise can flourish. When they took office, this Government set out their ambition to have the most competitive tax system in the G20, and we are achieving that ambition. Next week, the UK’s main rate of corporation tax will be 20%—far lower than the uncompetitive 28% rate we inherited from the previous Government, and the joint lowest in the G20. UK Trade & Investment reported that the UK had attracted more inward investment projects in 2014 than in any year since records began in 1980. Clause 6 confirms that the main rate of corporation tax will remain at 20% in 2016, giving clarity to business.
The Government are also building on their commitment to support the innovative businesses that will drive future economic growth, through generous tax credits for research and development and reliefs for the UK’s world-beating creative sector. Clause 27 increases the rate of the above-the-line R&D tax credit from 10% to 11%, and the rate of the super-deduction for small and medium enterprises from 225% to 230%. This will increase the generosity of the relief, increasing the incentive to carry on R&D and improving the competitiveness of the UK as a location for R&D investment. These reliefs support more than 15,000 firms and £13 billion of investment annually. Clause 30 introduces a new relief for makers of children’s television programmes. Clauses 29 and 31 increase the generosity of the existing film and television tax credits. Together, these clauses will provide a major boost to investment in the UK’s successful film and television sector.
The Bill also includes a comprehensive package to support the oil and gas sector and secure long-term investment in the UK continental shelf. The Government understand the challenges currently facing the UK oil and gas industry as a result of the steep fall in oil prices, and have been proactive in their response. Clause 49 introduces a new investment allowance to reward investment at all stages of the industry life cycle. This new allowance will build on the UK’s existing field allowances, and has been fast-tracked in response to feedback from industry. Clause 48 reduces the rate of the supplementary charge from 32% to 20% from 1 January 2015, and Clause 52 reduces the rate of petroleum revenue tax from 50% to 35% for chargeable periods ending after 31 December 2015, supporting incremental investment in older fields. Taken together, these measures are expected to deliver more than £4 billion in additional investment in the UK and the UK continental shelf, supporting jobs and supply chain opportunities and securing the long-term future of oil and gas exploration in the UK.
I now turn to the measures in the Bill relating to fairness. The Government believe in supporting low and middle-income earners by allowing them to keep more of the money they earn. We set an ambition for the personal allowance to increase to £10,000 by the end of this Parliament—an ambition which we achieved in April 2014, one year ahead of schedule.
In this Bill, we are going further. Clause 3 increases the personal allowance to £10,600 in 2015-16, and Clauses 4 and 5 increase the personal allowance to £10,800 in 2016-17 and then £11,000 in 2017-18. Clauses 4 and 5 also provide that the higher rate threshold, above which individuals start paying the 40% rate of income tax, will rise above inflation for the first time in seven years. As a result of increases to the personal allowance announced during this Parliament, a typical basic rate taxpayer will be £905 a year better off in 2017-18 compared with 2010-11.
The Bill contains further provisions to help hard-working families. Clause 57 extends the child exemption for air passenger duty so that children under 12 travelling on an economy ticket will be exempt from 1 May 2015 and children under 16 travelling in economy will be exempt from 1 March 2016. This measure will deliver significant savings for families going on holiday or visiting distant relatives.
Meanwhile, Clause 34 ensures that death benefits paid as annuities can be paid income tax free where the member dies before age 75, levelling the playing field with other types of death benefit. This complements the pension reforms announced by the Government at Budget 2014.
This Government believe in a fair tax system where those who can best afford it contribute the most. That is why Clause 24 increases the remittance basis charge for non-domiciled individuals to ensure that those who have resided in the UK the longest make a fairer contribution to UK tax receipts.
Clauses 37 and 39 implement important reforms to capital gains tax. Clause 37 extends capital gains tax to non-residents disposing of UK residential property, ensuring that residents and non-residents are treated in the same way when making disposals. Clause 39 ensures that access to private residence relief is limited appropriately.
Finally, this Bill makes changes to the taxation of the banking sector. The Government have been clear that the banking sector should make an additional contribution to reflect its risks to the UK economy. As the banking sector strengthens, it is only fair that this contribution increases. Clause 76 therefore increases the bank levy from 0.156% to 0.21% from 1 January 2015. In addition, Clause 32 and Schedule 2 provide that banks will only be entitled to offset existing carried-forward losses against 50% of their annual profits from 1 April 2015. This will ensure that banks’ future tax payments cannot be eliminated by losses incurred during the crisis and subsequent mis-selling scandals. Together, these banking measures will raise over £8 billion in additional revenue over the next five years.
Let me turn finally to measures designed to tackle avoidance. It is clearly not acceptable that some individuals and companies are not willing to pay their fair share of tax, and this Government have been resolute in clamping down on avoidance and evasion. Part 3 of the Bill will legislate for a new diverted profits tax. This will counter aggressive tax planning by multinational companies who go to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying UK tax. It targets contrived arrangements that are used to divert profits away from the UK. The new tax will be applied at a rate of 25% from 1 April this year. This measure has been subject to a period of technical consultation and a number of aspects have been clarified in the final legislation in response to stakeholder comments.
The diverted profits tax complements work undertaken through the G20 and OECD base erosion and profit shifting project to reform international rules to counter tax avoidance by multinationals. The UK has been playing a leading role in this work. Clause 122 further supports the BEPS project by legislating for the implementation of a new country-by-country reporting template, which will ensure that multinational companies provide tax authorities with high-level information on profits, taxes paid and certain indicators of economic activity for purposes of risk assessment.
The diverted profits tax is a significant new tool in the Government’s battle against avoidance, but this Bill also legislates for a number of other anti-avoidance measures. For example, Clause 33 and Schedule 3 target wholly artificial arrangements that seek to circumvent the UK’s rules on corporate loss relief by converting old losses into new ones that can be used immediately against unrelated profits. Meanwhile, Clause 117 and Schedule 17 strengthen the disclosure of tax avoidance scheme regime, and Clause 119 and Schedule 8 grant additional powers to HMRC to tackle promoters of high-risk tax avoidance schemes. In all, the anti-avoidance measures in this Bill will raise nearly £2.5 billion by 2019-20 to support the economic recovery.
To conclude, this is a significant Bill, which legislates for important changes to the tax system. It supports investment and innovation and secures investment in the UK’s vital oil and gas industry. It delivers further support for families and low and middle-income earners and tackles aggressive avoidance by companies and individuals. These are sensible measures, which should not wait until the next Parliament. I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in the Second Reading debate with such a short and, perhaps I may say, select list of speakers. I start with a question. There is one ingredient which, if inserted into the Finance Bill, would raise pay, raise the tax intake, reduce welfare costs, increase exports, raise our standard of living and cut our deficit. What is that magic ingredient? The Minister will not be surprised to learn that it is productivity. He and I have debated it many times over the years, and I think that he agrees with me.
So why is there no strategy for raising productivity in the Finance Bill? The Bill makes some announcements which may help the nation’s economy. The Minister has mentioned some, but there are others: help for northern cities and the energy-intensive industries; encouraging online sharing; apprenticeship vouchers; and, yes, the tax avoidance that he spoke about. But that is not a strategy. It is not a coherent whole; it is not a clear vision; it is just reacting to events.
The Government do not understand that because they have a one-sided view of the economy. By concentrating on total GDP, they ignore the fact that our GDP per head is 1.8% lower than it was in 2008. Total GDP has risen only because of population growth—largely because of immigration, we have been told. Output per person is 1.8% lower. In his speech, the Chancellor took pride in the fact that Yorkshire had created more jobs than the whole of France. What he did not tell us is that four people in France produce as much as five people in Yorkshire, and we work longer hours. Perhaps that is because the French taxpayer is reluctant to subsidise low wages.
On Budget day, the BBC’s “Today” programme went to Reading. Among others, it interviewed a man who works for a company, not identified but said to be nationally recognised, that guaranteed him seven hours’ work per week. The rest of his hours were subject to summons by text message with 30 minutes’ notice. Not only is that unfair to the employee; it is unfair to the taxpayer. Why should we subsidise that job with housing benefit and tax credit when it would appear that, with better management and a more acceptable business model, the company could reduce the employee’s dependence on taxpayers’ support? Low productivity is enabled—indeed, it is facilitated—by exploiting workers through low pay and unfair terms of employment, and the absence of a sense of public value.
In raising these matters, some accuse us of not being business-friendly. Not true. Does the Minister not agree that the wider interests of business are better served not by leniency towards dubious business activity by people and companies, not by special treatment for powerful lobbies, not by subsidies given to compensate for poor management but by a clear business strategy, especially one to raise productivity? Yes, the Government have tried to have a business strategy, a strategy consisting of helping exports, encouraging those sectors which show promise, innovation stimulus centres—the Minister mentioned others—but they could work a lot better. Why? Because increased productivity is what is really needed to make those initiatives work. The two are interdependent.
What should be in the remaining 337-page Finance Bill to deal with that? Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said:
“The question is: what should the government do? It should go hell for leather on doing whatever it can to boost productivity, like infrastructure investment and housing. We should be throwing the kitchen sink at it.”
In this era of low interest rates, now is the time to boost the supply side. The world is awash with cheap capital, so let us use it to have the blitz on productivity called for by Jonathan Portes.
What makes it more urgent is this. The Chancellor tells us that unemployment has fallen to 5.5%. We are reaching the unemployment norm, which means that future growth depends on raising our productivity. Indeed, without growth in productivity a growing economy means that we will continue to see rising inequality and rising immigration, perhaps reaching a point where things could really become quite nasty. A strategy for productivity means planning for the long term—not changing grants and allowances or doing a lot of the things that the Minister has just mentioned, but spending evenly spread and not what the OBR calls “a rollercoaster profile” for public spending, with a big drop followed by a big rise. That is no way to do it.
If the Government really want to be business-friendly, what about having another 10-year plan for science? What about raising the proportion of GDP that we spend on research? What about introducing the long-term values into our business culture, so that we can take advantage of this? I put it to the Minister that this is what is being business-friendly. This version—our version— will encourage business to be more productive, to invest and to create the kinds of inflation that build the value of our goods and services. What I would like to see in the Bill is a long-term strategy that is business-friendly in its widest sense.
Yes, we have some wonderful companies that take a long-term view and, yes, they will benefit from some of the aspects of this Bill. But it is too little and too slow to deal with today’s productivity challenge. I know that the Minister has heard much of this before, from me and from others, but it does not make it any less true. These are honest, consistent and responsible elements—elements which, I am afraid, are hard to find in the Bill.
My Lords, this is the fifth and last time that we are going to discuss a Finance Bill and all that one can say is that, so far at least, the macroeconomic strategy that the Labour Party had laid down before it went out of office has been achieved by the Conservative Party. We are grateful for that. We said that the deficit should be halved. Given the greater ambition of the Chancellor, at least he has managed to achieve half of the job.
I want to concentrate in this debate on lots of things which have not been done. I do so not from a partisan basis but from the point of view of economics. We continue to tax income rather than consumption, and when we tax income we make far too many small distinctions—between married people and this and that—so that the whole thing becomes very complicated. Again and again, we have tried to simplify the tax system. While the raising of the threshold has been very welcome, it really needs thinking out whether we should not just try to find a suitable definition of consumption. I think that would be easier to define than income, which at the higher levels gets to be a very tricky concept. Lots and lots of tax advisers make a fortune out of trying to game the system, so we should think of doing a consumption tax.
To that extent, I am disappointed that the Chancellor, who is a very innovative person, has not put his mind to this sort of thing. Whoever the Chancellor is next time, they may do that. The same argument extends to corporation tax. Again and again, we tax profits, not resource consumption. The important thing is to tax not achievements but expenditure and the consumption of resources, if we could find a way of taxing resource consumption.
My noble friend Lord Haskel talked about productivity. Another aspect of productivity is asking, “Are you achieving an efficient input/output combination? Are you achieving productivity in terms of the non-labour input as well as the labour input in the way that you conduct business?”. We ought to give incentives in such a way that companies economise on resource use rather than just taxing profits. Again, that is an open question for the future; I do not know whether we will be able to achieve it.
Going further along the line, if we can decide early on that whatever we do should encourage work and employment, we ought then to go on to look at the national insurance contribution. I have never understood why we still have that tax. Again and again, promises have been made to merge it with income tax or do something drastic, but we have not had that. In a sense we are stuck in a rut, because it is easier to make marginal changes to the existing tax structure than to review the tax structure itself. I wanted to make that general comment.
One of the things that we are about to face is that the developed economies, which have had the good fortune to grow well and easily over the past 50 years, are about to enter a low-growth economy. Good times are no longer going to be around as they were before. In that sort of situation, we ought to be much more vigilant about achieving growth-enhancing things to the extent that we can. Ultimately, it will be the human resource, the productivity of labour and the way in which we use our resources that will determine the marginal difference between having, as it were, 2% growth or 3% growth.
We need to rejig our thinking. Growth is no longer going to be automatic and natural. We are going to face severe headwinds unless we rethink our economic system. To that extent, while much may have been achieved in the last five years, we have not had time to rethink our economic system. It is about time that we did that, in which case we would not tax income but tax consumption, not tax profits but tax resource use, not tax labour but reward work and, further along, try to find as many other things as possible that could be growth enhancing. We need Budgets that are genuinely growth enhancing and not just tax concessions to businesses. We need better than this.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he raised the interesting question of the expenditure tax. He will remember much better than I do Lord Kaldor’s famous book on the expenditure tax, probably in the 1960s or even earlier. The big problem with the expenditure tax, and I just wonder whether he has taken this into account, was the taxation of the benefit of the ownership of capital. Nicholas Kaldor said that it was necessary to attribute a value to capital as part of the formula under which expenditure could be determined. In other words, the return on capital was part of the income, and then at the end of the year it would be more expenditure that would be counted in. This of course raised the whole problem of the taxation of capital and having a wealth tax, and it foundered on that basis. Does the noble Lord have any view on how he would tackle that problem?
Basically, I would be much more radical than even Lord Kaldor. It is because you are trying to tax income, capital or income from capital that a variety of complications arise in our tax system and our tax code gets ever more elaborate. Beyond the small range of PAYE-type incomes, income is not definable conceptually in economics. Therefore, when you try to tax something called income, you get into complications because people can find ways of redefining whatever it is as not income. The whole approach is really to go down the expenditure tax route—purely expenditure—and not to worry about income of other kinds. If people are deriving income from capital, that is fine. What we would want to know is what expenses they incur in trying to do that, and tax that.
Especially now when we are in a very different dispensation than we have been used to for the past 50 years, we will have to be radical about rethinking our taxation. I would even go further and not worry about considerations like that.
My Lords, I shall make two or three small but important points and one large and general point. I shall start with the large and general point because it follows on very neatly from my noble friend Lord Haskell’s comments on productivity. It is clear, particularly after some of the statements made in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, that whoever forms the next Government, they will have difficulty in raising income in a significant way. I remind the Minister of what many of us have been saying over a number of years: that one of the best ways—indeed, the best way—of getting deficits down is through growth. I know the Government will say they are achieving growth, and there is some truth in that, but one of the problems that trouble me is that that growth comes from a low-income use of labour. My noble friend’s comments on immigration are exactly right. Immigration, particularly from eastern Europe, has depressed wages, particularly in the less-skilled areas. Even though these people are often highly skilled, their skills are not recognised here in a way that enables them to get a job. So there is a problem with boosting growth by means other than just increased employment and lower incomes.
The key to addressing the issue is science and technology, as I have mentioned before. In his opening remarks the Minister rightly drew attention to Clauses 27 and 28, which increase the aid provided to small and medium-sized enterprises for research and development. If this country is really to make a success of growth over a long period, science and technology will always have to be at the forefront. We have to do far more to invest in science and technology and, above all, to give small entrepreneurs greater help.
If you look round some of the university cities of this country you will find that many small and medium-sized enterprises have sprung up around those universities. I seem to remember that, many years ago, in the early stages of the Labour Government under Mr Blair, Cambridge did increasingly well with its link between the science departments, the banks and these entrepreneurial people. Somehow or other we have to boost that so that we do not have to rely for our growth on a lower income scale, important as that is. There was a very good article about this in the Guardian the other day. Boosting growth through low-income immigration from other countries might work economically for a while but you will not keep up with what is happening in more advanced technology areas. We have to be at the cutting edge. I would love to see every Budget start with a section on what will be done to give advantage to science and technology. It will also have to be linked to the universities, and the universities will need to be linked to the banks so that the banks will more generously fund and risk-take for the small and medium-sized enterprises.
The argument about immigration needs to be seen in two ways. There is clearly a problem in social terms with the pressure on schools, housing, hospitals or whatever. However, there is also the problem of how the issue feeds into our economy. Overall, immigration has been beneficial to this country—I think that almost everybody recognises that now. However, the question is how we can produce growth out of this immigration, which is why Members on all sides of this House and people outside it take a very dim view of including the many students who come to this country in the immigration figures. That has done much damage to Britain’s reputation, particularly in India. My message to the Government is that, overall, in a Budget which does not have much in it to criticise—although there are a few good things to say about it, which, to encourage the Minister, I will do in a moment—there is not the necessary emphasis on science and technology and small and medium-sized enterprises.
I will give one example. A company in Cardington, the old RAF base up in Bedfordshire, produces in essence a very large inflatable balloon that carries very heavy goods and has already done a tour of South America. I have talked to the company and seen the balloon. This sort of technology can be very helpful environmentally and also very good for our transport infrastructure in terms of transporting very heavy goods, the need for which is becoming increasingly common. For example, the assembly centre for the Airbus industry is largely in France but many of the parts are made in this country and have to be transported to France. These parts are transported in all sorts of bizarre ways as the aircraft themselves are often not big enough to carry them. We need to be imaginative and push such industries forward.
I am sure the Minister will not be surprised if I mention air passenger duty. There has been a small step in the right direction. He said in his opening comments that he thought that Britain must have the most competitive rate in the world. At the moment, however, our air passenger duty actually encourages people to fly more. People in this country will take a short hop across the Channel and then take a long-haul flight as it is cheaper there because they have no air passenger duty. I understand that it is very difficult in the current economic climate to change that overnight. However—and I say this to my own party as well—we need to get rid of the air passenger duty tax if we are to compete with other countries, particularly European countries which can offer far better deals to the travelling public, be it for holidays, work or whatever. That is very important.
I welcome the move to make gift aid easier for intermediaries, and also declare an interest as the chairman of a charity. Our charity will not benefit from this provision, however, because the famous statue of Mary Seacole will be unveiled across the river from here in September or October, we hope, as long as I can raise a little more money. If anyone would like to talk to me about that, please see me after the debate—because I am getting worried. However, that apart, it is so much easier if intermediaries can do the gift aid bit. I welcome the movement on that. It is very helpful.
I also have a small suggestion on car duty. I have been struck by the growth in the number of electric vehicles but, as the Minister will know, in some areas it is difficult to charge them. I do not know the tax position as regards establishing charging points. However, when there is clearly a long-term and important change in vehicle technology, there should be significant tax relief for establishing charging points. There might be some relief already—I do not know. I do not think that the relief should be ongoing but while this technological change is taking place it needs to be encouraged. I am sure that as electric vehicles become more and more common, the supply of charging points will increase to meet that demand. In the short-term, however, such investment could be very useful.
Those were my main points. I will end with a plea which is totally different from the other points—it is not about the Budget per se but about Her Majesty’s income and revenue department. I am one of a fast-growing number of people in this country who hold power of attorney for a relative or friend. Going on to the tax website and trying to find a way in which to deal with it is almost impossible. The only good thing that I can say for the department on this is that it is not alone, in that the banks are equally bad. I have been trying to close down a Barclaycard for two months now. There must be a way of typing into the website on tax matters “power of attorney” and being directed to it, because the situation that I have is that there are no paper records at all. I do not know what the tax position is or where to find the information, so I wrote some weeks ago to the tax department asking where I could find it and where to send my authenticated copy of the power of attorney. I still have not had an answer.
A big advantage for Peers and MPs and so on is that they can write to the Minister, but I do not want to do that. Every department nowadays must have some place where you can quickly access information on the current situation regarding power of attorney. The situation currently is almost impossible. When I asked other people about this, I found that I was not alone in having this problem. It is a very real problem and it can cause considerable difficulties. I am not saying that I am brilliant at using the internet and the web, but I am certainly not bad; if I can pat myself on the back, I would say that I was better than average. I may be being incredibly stupid on this, but I cannot find anything of assistance on the income tax website. I can find things on power of attorney, but the website does not direct you in the right way—nor is it developed enough—to give the information that I need. But that is a non-Budget point; it is a general point about the Minister's department, and I would be very grateful if he would pass it on and get it sorted out. An awful lot of people in this country now have to manage power of attorney—it is a growing number, as I say—and need this information to be on all major websites of private and public organisations.
My Lords, we live in a strangely surreal world with regard to this Finance Bill. My noble friends and noble Lords on the government side will recall when they were in the other place long days and nights spent on Finance Bills, watching dawn break across the river as we struggled with the issues presented by their depth and significance. This Finance Bill went through the Commons in one day. The Budget was debated. There was a very good debate in the other place over several days. Of course, yesterday in this House we had four hours of excellent contributions to the general issue of the economy and what the Budget represented in relation to that economy. But I can scarcely for the life of me engender the same degree of intense scrutiny of this one little Bill. Even the Minister was able to dispatch it in 20 minutes or so.
In any case, this Finance Bill is a pretty mean-spirited effort. The Chancellor tried to boast and establish the fact that living standards were not lower than they had been in 2010. It is a strange thing to boast about—that there has been no growth in living standards since that time. In the area where he suggested that there had been some progress, others, such as the Resolution Foundation think tank, challenged his figures and indicated that far from there being income growth for people, incomes had fallen.
We know who has been hardest hit over these past five years—young people, in particular, and middle-aged people with low-paid jobs. There are plenty of those about. We know that there are 1.8 million zero-hours contract jobs at present. I do not know how the Government can be proud of a low-wage economy that has slumped to that level but that is what faces us. When the Minister blithely says that the Government are increasing the personal allowance, he ignores the fact that for 5 million people that is utterly and totally irrelevant as they do not earn enough to pay tax. The changes in the allowance are of absolutely no relevance to them at all. However, the more you earn, of course, the more relevant the changes become. It is typical of the Government to look after the better-off while doing very little to help the less well-off.
What does this mean-spirited little Bill mean? We had the Chancellor trying to talk about success in a land where food banks proliferate. In my old stomping ground of Oldham, rickets has emerged in recent months. Is that the society over which this Government wish to preside? Are the Government content that the pay of chief executives of FTSE companies and of some people in the public sector has increased to the extent that it has while those at the other end of the spectrum experience the difficulties that I have mentioned? We know of chief executives in local authorities who earn considerably more than the Prime Minister. We are also well aware that high salaries are paid to some officeholders whose posts were never distinguished by high earnings in the past. For example, a university vice-chancellor can earn £640,000 a year. I have great respect for British universities. They have done tremendously good work. However, one has to ask questions about the relationship between vice-chancellors and the rest of the scholastic community when their incomes almost equal those of FTSE chief executives. One also has to ask questions about the differential between vice-chancellors’ pay and the average pay of university staff. We hoped that the Government would address some of these issues. When they did address them, on the whole they rewarded the very rich with further tax cuts.
I am grateful for the fact that three of my noble friends have spoken in this debate. I note that no one from the government Back-Benches thinks that it is worth speaking in support of this Bill, although their presence may be an enthusiastic endorsement of what the Government are doing. However, it is a pretty limited endorsement. At least, three of my noble friends have sought to address the Bill. In all honesty, their talents would have been better deployed yesterday because my noble friend Lord Haskel, who spoke so eloquently about the fundamental issue of productivity, a phrase which I do not think passed the Chancellor’s lips at all—
Not a great deal. I am not arguing that it is such a bad Bill but that it is such an irrelevant Bill. It contains absolutely nothing of any significance. As I said, my noble friend Lord Haskel alighted on productivity, but that was not mentioned at all in the Chancellor’s speech. However, as my noble friend clearly identified, we have to see improvement in that area if Britain is to earn its way in the world. We cannot be ignorant of our current balance of trade problems.
I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Desai argued. He put his case with considerable force and I hope it will get a sympathetic response from those who will lead the next Labour Government after the general election and that they will acknowledge some of the cogent points he made.
My noble friend Lord Soley is absolutely right to say that we need to concentrate on growth. However, as we established yesterday, the Government spent the first three years in office dissipating any potential for growth, and we even dropped back from the growth levels obtained by the Labour Government in their last year in office. There is, of course, growth this year, just before the general election. It is just like the Government’s public expenditure plans: there will be three years of vicious cuts—greater cuts in three years than the country has suffered in five—but there will be a certain easing back by 2018-19 in preparation for the next general election.
The Chancellor has a reputation for being political. He has certainly earned it in this tawdry little Bill.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I shall come back to the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, but perhaps I may correct one point. He claimed, completely falsely, that there was no enthusiastic endorsement from my Benches for the Bill. My noble friends have been restraining themselves, because their enthusiasm is very considerable indeed. I am sorry that he has not picked that up. I certainly have and it has given me great strength.
As to my noble friend Lord Davies’s speech, the reason why so many people were on the government Benches, none of whom were speaking, is that they were trying to give subtle support to my noble friend Lord Haskel’s point that you can increase numbers without productivity. That is clearly the problem.
As my noble friend said, a nice try. The big theme of several speakers related to productivity, and I will deal with that as best I can. I should like again to correct the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, about GDP per capita. This year, 2015, it will in fact be 5% higher than it was in 2010, so it is simply not the case that while GDP overall has risen, GDP per capita has fallen.
There is, I think, widespread acceptance that we need to increase productivity. As the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, is aware, there has been a productivity gap between this country and some of our competitors in Europe and the States for a long time. It fell and has risen slightly again. There is an interesting argument to be had about whether, particularly in times of austerity, it is better to have rapid employment growth, even if productivity does not increase as quickly, than to have higher unemployment and higher productivity. Personally, I think that over the last five years the fact that there has been rapid employment growth has been of crucial importance. We are now beginning to see some increase in productivity, and I obviously share his view that we wish this to accelerate.
I should like, though, to tackle head-on the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that the Government have no view or strategy on improving productivity. How do we do it? One of the key points is that we have to improve the qualification and skill levels of the workforce. Everybody agrees on that. We accept that there are far too many people who have far too few skills. That is why, for example, we have accelerated the academies programme to improve teaching in schools.
Given the policy of the noble Lord’s party on further education, and given that if you talk to anybody in a university about their absolute fears about what will happen if a Labour Government comes in, with their policies to cut grants, and their views on what that does to university funding, I would have thought that the best thing for the Labour Party to do for the future of universities is to pursue a policy of as much silence as it can manage. In this Parliament we have seen record numbers of young people going to university, including record numbers of girls and of young people from poorer backgrounds. That is exactly the sort of change and development that I thought the Labour Party supported. We have recognised that there is a need to improve skills below university level. As I was saying, we have supported the creation of university technology colleges and overseen the increase in the number of apprentices to 2 million, which is vastly more than obtained during the previous Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, quite rightly talked about the absolute importance of science and technology and the transfer of basic research into business success. We have maintained resource funding and increased capital for science in real terms during the lifetime of this Parliament. Over the period ahead, we are planning some £5.9 billion of investment in the science infrastructure. On how we get that science applied, we have consistently put money into the catapults, the purpose of which is to act as a bridge between universities and firms. These have been extremely successful: the high-end engineering ones have been very successful. I saw the National Composites Centre in Bristol, which is doing tremendous work. It is possible to do that work only because it is a partnership between government, the universities and business. This concept began under the last Government, but we have strongly supported it. We need to do more, first, because it is successful and, secondly, because all our competitors are doing something like it.
Furthermore, in science we have initiated a grand challenge fund, which will deliver some £400 million of funding on a competitive basis for new, world-leading scientific infrastructure. Within the overall area of science and technology, we have put a £100 million investment, for example, into the research and development of intelligent mobility, which is one of the leading potential growth areas on which this country wishes to be, and remain, in the lead.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, reminded us that the Labour Party legislated to halve the deficit over a four-year period, which is almost precisely what has happened under this Government. On his radical plans for changing the basis of corporate taxes and taxation more generally, this Government increased indirect taxation on consumption by increasing VAT and they have reduced taxation on income by putting up the personal allowance. Clearly that process, at least as far as indirect taxation is concerned, will not be pursued by any party in the next Government, as we heard yesterday.
On the noble Lord’s more radical ideas on taxing consumption, I am not a tax radical, I am afraid, partly because I started my working life as a tax man. I think that grand taxation schemes often have a whole raft of unanticipated consequences. Of course, those who suffer from any tax change make about 100 times as much noise as those who benefit, so politically I wish the noble Lord luck with the sort of grand scheme that he has in mind, but I hope that I am never called upon to try to do something equally ambitious.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, made a number of interesting and useful points. I am pleased that he welcomed the changes to gift aid, and I wish him well in finishing the funding for the Mary Seacole statue. Having been in charge of fundraising for the Lloyd George statue in Parliament Square, I know just how stressful the process is, and I hope very much that it is quickly brought to a successful conclusion.
I will pass back to my colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Transport the point that the noble Lord made about subsidising the establishment of charging points for electric vehicles. I have considerable sympathy with what he said about the power of attorney. I have power of attorney for my mother, and trying to work out how to exercise it is really quite difficult. Having gone through the whole process, I found that it was remarkably anachronistic. As we are moving into a period where power of attorney will be required by more and more families, there is an argument for looking a bit more fundamentally at the whole thing and not just at the way in which it can be used once it has been granted.
I agree with the noble Lord’s general point, but I ask him to do one thing before the House prorogues. Will he ask his officials to put a reference to power of attorney on the tax website so that people can follow the link and find out what to do? That is not difficult to do, actually.
I will do that very readily. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, described this as a mean-spirited Bill, and he did not have a huge number of positive things to say about the Government’s track record during this Parliament. This is now the end of the Parliament and we have been in government for five years. We came into the coalition to turn the public finances around and to put the economy on a positive track, and that is what has happened. I think of the position that we were in, even when I first stood at this Dispatch Box three years ago, on growth, employment and our prospects in virtually every respect, and I look at the situation now. We have the quickest growth in the G7, the claimant count has come down a third in this Parliament, there are 400,000 fewer households with children with no one in work, and record numbers of women, both absolute and proportionately, at work.
Nobody can claim that the economy has yet reached a state of perfection—that will never happen—but looking at the progress that this Government have made in turning the economy around and making it fit for the challenges that we face, I am very happy to fight a general election on that basis. This Finance Bill completes the process by the Government in that respect and I commend it to the House.
Is the noble Lord aware that the figure I used for productivity per person comes from the Institute for Fiscal Studies? I think it can be considered to be pretty good and independent. On skills and qualifications, the Minister spoke of numbers, but it is important to speak of standards, because that is what will help our economy. We do not need what the OBR calls the rollercoaster attitude towards science; we need the continuous support over many, many years.
Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.
Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2015
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at severe. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning. We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do all that we can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Additionally, it is important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt terrorist activities.
The two groups we propose to add to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are Jamaat ul-Ahrar and the Haqqani network. This is the 18th proscription order under that Act. As noble Lords will appreciate, I am unable to comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a brief summary of each group’s activities in turn.
Jamaat ul-Ahrar is a militant Islamist group that split away from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in August 2014. JuA aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan and aspires to extend global jihad into the Indian subcontinent. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in November 2014, including a grenade attack in Karachi that killed three members of the Sindh Assembly and injured 50 workers; twin bombings targeting peace committee volunteers in the Chinari village of Safi Tehsil in the Mohmand Agency, which killed at least six people; and the suicide bomber attack on the Pakistan side of Wagah border crossing, shortly after the famous flag-lowering ceremony had concluded, which killed over 60 people. In September 2014, its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, released a statement criticising the British Government for arresting al-Muhajiroun associates and made a threat, stating that,
“your future security depends upon how nicely you treat the Muslims in Britain”.
Additionally, the group claimed responsibility for the fatal attacks on Christian sites in Lahore earlier this month.
The Haqqani network is an Islamist, nationalist group seeking to establish sharia law and to control territory in Afghanistan. It is ideologically aligned with the Taliban. The Haqqani network has links with a number of terrorist groups in the region, including a proscribed central Asian group, the Islamic Jihad Union, and has long-established links with al-Qaeda. The Haqqani network continues to play an active and influential role in the Afghan insurgency in the east of the country and is seeking to expand its influence into other areas of Afghanistan.
It can be difficult to identify specific Haqqani network responsibility for attacks, given the Taliban practice of claiming attacks on behalf of the insurgency as a whole. The Haqqani network is believed to have been responsible for the attack against a British embassy vehicle in November 2014, which killed six people including a UK national and an Afghan member of the UK embassy staff, and injuring more than 30 people. It is likely that the Haqqani network will continue to view Kabul as a key target location due to the concentration of UK and western interests in the capital. The Haqqani network has been banned as a terrorist group by the USA since September 2012, by Canada since May 2013 and by the UN since November 2012.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes a number of factors into account, including the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the threat it poses to British nationals overseas; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription, in effect, outlaws a listed organisation and makes it unable to operate in the UK. Proscription can also support other disruptive activity such as the use of immigration powers, including exclusion, prosecutions for other offences, EU asset freezes and messaging to deter fundraising and recruitment. Additionally, assets of a proscribed group are liable to seizure as terrorist assets.
The Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. This includes open source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government Proscription Review Group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. A decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case, and it is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses.
My Lords, as the Minister said, this is the 18th proscription order that your Lordships’ House has debated. In my case it is the ninth or 10th. As always, the key thing is the evidence that the Government are able to provide. We appreciate that we do not have access to the same intelligence information as the Government, so there is always an element of trust involved in these issues. Again, I am confident that the Government would not have brought this order before us today unless they were confident that there was a case for proscribing the organisations, and we support proscription.
It is clear in these cases that the organisations condemned themselves by their own words when they claimed credit for some of the atrocities that had been committed. The noble Lord referred to some of them in relation to Jamaat ul-Ahrar. I was pleased to see that its Twitter account has already been suspended, because I have previously raised issues about cases where social media has been used after proscription. That does not apply in this case. In both cases it is clear from the organisations’ own accounts that there is a strong case for proscription, which has our support.
I gave the Minister notice that I would be raising the following issue. He mentioned in his opening remarks —it is a completely valid comment—that when we proscribe organisations we support the international community. The fight against terrorism can never be for one country alone. As this kind of terrorism knows no borders, the only way in which the fight against it can work is if there is international cross-border co-operation and shared intelligence.
In view of that, I am surprised that HQN has been banned as a terrorist group by the USA since September 2012, by Canada since May 2013 and by the UN since November 2012. We are now at the end of March 2015, which seems quite a time lag. If Canada, the USA and the UN had information, was that not shared with us or did we not think before now that there was a case for proscription? I note that the attack on the British embassy vehicle was carried out in November 2014, and I hope that it is not the case—I am sure that the Minister can reassure me on this—that we wait for British interests to be attacked before we act, because these are international issues.
We are happy to support the order, but if the Minister is able to say something about why other countries have acted so much sooner than we have, that would be appreciated.
My Lords, I support very much what my noble friend is proposing in this order, and in doing so I should like to say that the plethora of these splinter groups which are affiliated to what is now the umbrella body known as ISIS or Islamic State is an extremely worrying phenomenon. It is interesting to discover that new ones are constantly being created, which of course is quite a usual technique among terrorist organisations in order to avoid any disruption to their activities.
In that connection, I want once again to ask my noble friend about the Muslim Brotherhood, which is actually a very dangerous organisation. It, too, seeks to have theocracy with sharia law and is prepared to use violent methods to achieve that. As my noble friend will remember, the Muslim Brotherhood was started up in 1928 and in January 1949 it assassinated the Egyptian Prime Minister. It was banned by President Nasser after it tried to assassinate him in 1954. It was also responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981. The organisation is the trunk of the tree, the roots of which are the Wahhabi and the Salafists, and the branches of which are the various organisations to which my noble friend has referred.
At this point we are in more danger from terrorism in this country than probably at any stage in my lifetime, and it is getting worse and more serious. There are actions which could be taken which I much regret have not been taken on what are not very good grounds. A particular point which I do not apologise for returning to again is the need for tighter control over passports, in particular through the introduction of a system by which the British Government are at least aware of the other passports being held by British passport holders.
The Government recently announced the reintroduction next month of exit checks, which is thoroughly desirable. I am glad that that is going to happen, although I am a little worried about the mechanics of how it is to be done. Will the checks on exit be as thorough as those on entry? Apparently, the exit checks are going to be done by the agencies carrying the passengers—the shipping lines, train companies and airlines—rather than by immigration officers who check entrants.
It would be a great help if we had at least some knowledge of the second passports being held by people. There is no discrimination about it. I was very concerned by the argument used by the Home Office against this proposal because it struck me that it was totally out of proportion to the threat we face. Perhaps I may remind the Minister by quoting from the letter signed by his noble friend:
“If there were security benefits, we would look to make best use of such a database”—
that is, a database of second passports. The letter continues:
“However, we are not persuaded that this is the case. It would create a level of intrusion for all British citizens who hold dual nationality, who would be obliged to keep HMPO informed of any change to their second passport. There are legitimate concerns about imposing such intrusion on one particular class of UK nationals, which we do not believe would be outweighed by operational benefits”.
I suggest that, with the situation we face, the arguments against this are so trivial that it is absolutely astonishing that they have even been raised. We have had cases in recent weeks and months of people getting out of the United Kingdom who should have been kept in the country because they were on bail or wanted for terrorist offences. Of course, in many cases these sorts of people have other passports, so they may travel in and out when it suits them on British passports and then do other things on other passports.
All I am asking is for my noble friend to ensure, please, at any rate during the period when all of us are campaigning for our particular political persuasions, that the Home Office will continue to work on better methods of securing our borders and defending the realm. It is certainly true that a balance has to be struck between national security and human rights, but personal privacy, in such a period of crisis as we currently face, cannot itself rate highly against the need to introduce all necessary measures.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for her support not only today but in previous discussions on terrorism, along with her noble friend Lord Rosser, who has been constructively critical over many hours of debate on these subjects.
I begin with the noble Baroness’s question about why we have not proscribed the Haqqani network before, when it has been proscribed by other countries. When we proscribe a particular organisation depends on the extensive consideration that we have across government. We know that the Haqqani network has met the statutory test for proscription for some time, being concerned in terrorism. When a group meets the test of being concerned in terrorism, there are then discretionary factors which may mean that a decision is not taken to proscribe it at a particular time. Those include the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities, the specific threat it poses to the UK, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas, the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.
We keep groups of concern such as the Haqqani network under review. The attack against the British embassy vehicle in November 2014, which killed six people, including a UK national and an Afghan member of the UK embassy staff, and injured more than 30 people, meant that the Home Secretary considered that the discretionary factors are now balanced in favour of proscription.
By contrast, the other organisation that we are talking about today, JuA, has not been proscribed by any other country in the world. Depending on the nature of the particular threat from each of those organisations, we can act before other countries, but in some cases it is not appropriate to do so, in the light of the tests that we have to apply to proscribe organisations.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford asked—not, I think, for the first time—about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is not proscribed in the UK at the moment. Proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes it to be concerned with terrorism. However, the Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation that the Government have significant concerns about and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. We will seek to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood and groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country. We will not tolerate secretive meetings behind closed doors on premises funded by the taxpayer. We will ensure that civic organisations are made well aware of the Muslim Brotherhood and groups like it and of the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business.
As noble Lords will know, the Prime Minister commissioned an internal review, which was submitted to him in July. The National Security Adviser is advising the PM on the resulting policy options. We understand that the PM has not yet made a final decision about the timing of an announcement on the Muslim Brotherhood review, although the Government have committed to making the findings public.
My noble friend talked about passports, which is slightly off-piste for this debate on proscribing two terrorist organisations. I will, of course, bring his remarks to the attention of my noble friend the Minister. He asked whether during the election campaign the Home Office would continue securing our borders and defending the realm. I can assure him that we will.
It is the Home Secretary’s firm opinion that on the basis of the available evidence both groups named in the order meet the statutory test for proscription. It is appropriate in each case for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion to proscribe these groups. Proscribing these groups demonstrates our condemnation of their activities and our support for the efforts of the international community to tackle terrorism.
Finally, I would like to echo the words of the Security Minister in another place and thank on behalf of the House the police, the security services, the intelligence agencies and the Armed Forces for working so hard to keep us all safe. I commend this order to the House.
Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I declare an interest that my wife is a practising lawyer who deals with construction contracts.
I should make it clear that we support the important work that the HSE does and we are obviously very keen to do what we can to support it and further improve the safety record of the construction industry. As the Olympics project showed, we can and do undertake major projects without fatalities, but 45 fatalities a year in the sector is too many and too high a price to pay.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for agreeing to take this short debate at unreasonably short notice, which is entirely my fault. I want to use the opportunity to invite him to respond to a couple of points raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which I think will be helpful in getting the message out about the changes that are being made.
I understand that the HSE policy objectives with these regulations are, according to its own documentation, to:
“Maintain or improve worker protection … Simplify the regulatory package … Improve health and safety standards on small construction sites … Discourage bureaucracy … Meet better regulation principles”.
Of course, we support all those laudable objectives.
My first point relates to the inclusion from 6 April of all domestic construction within the scope of the CDM regulations. These are negative regulations, which stem from powers in the 1992 EU directive. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee notes that the 2015 regulations remove the exemption previously given under the 2007 regulations to domestic home owners—what the committee calls “domestic clients”. The point is made that the way in which the regulations are framed and the Explanatory Memorandum rather conceal the fact that it is slightly unusual to make this major change, involving quite a large number of people across the country—who are going to be brought for the first time into a regulatory structure which, after all, has criminal penalties when things go wrong—through the negative procedure, which means that of course Parliament has no opportunity directly to discuss it, other than through this sort of format. The noble Lord may feel that I am being unnecessarily bureaucratic in that—perish the thought—but I wonder whether he might reflect on the possibility that a change of this order might better have been done either by primary legislation or through an affirmative resolution, which would have given us a chance to discuss it.
In some sense, there is no need to panic. However, I left in my house this morning two tradesmen—who amazingly turned up on time—doing some work; one a joiner and one a plumber. Long may they continue to work there and I hope that they are still there when I get back. The point I make is that I left them without any requirement to enforce any form of regulatory environment because my house, being a domestic premise, is excluded from the arrangements. However, it occurred to me as I left that, after 6 April, the situation will have changed.
Will the situation have changed or will it not? I think that it will have changed. Persons who are currently excluded under the regulations will be included; for example, all householders and anybody involving themselves with domestic work on their premises. The reason it may not have an impact, as I am sure the Minister will come on to, is that the approach taken by the HSE in dealing with the very large number of additional persons concerned with the CDM regulations is that they will be deemed to have had a process undertaken under which the responsibilities that they would have accepted under the regulations have been deemed to have been passed to the contractor. Whether the contractor knows that or not is another matter. The issue—one should be quite open about this—is that the requirements on the client which apply in commercial situations are mainly ones of organisation, notification and information, and therefore are not onerous. It would be, in ordinary parlance, quite acceptable to expect that a competent contractor would understand the issues that are raised by taking on a domestic contract and would be expected to undertake the deemed responsibilities that are going across. We arrive, as the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee says, in a not unreasonable place.
I have a slight worry, however, and wonder whether the Minister might respond to this. Whereas before, 23 million or so households were excluded, they are now included, and I am not quite sure why that has happened and would be grateful if he could explain why we should not be concerned about that.
The second point I want to raise is a sector-specific concern. The Minister will be aware of the considerable concerns expressed by the creative industries and the entertainment sector. The argument is made that the creative industries engage in the construction of temporary demountable structures—for ease, I will call them TDS—which are a small but integrated part of their normal production processes and mainly involve the building of theatre and TV or film sets and the erection of marquee structures and stands within conference facilities. It is well understood within the sector that the construction of a new studio or a permanent production facility falls within the directive and should therefore be considered within the CDM 2015 regulations. However, the sector does not apply the CDM regulations to smaller scale, very temporary works and relies on a well understood risk management process and procedures that are deemed proportionate and suitable to manage the risks arising from these activities. The sector argues that it has a good safety track record and good risk management processes in place. The point at issue is that the HSE, on reviewing the situation, has decided that the CDM regulations must be applied to the construction of all temporary dismountable structures, regardless of size, scope or scale. The HSE has argued that it has no discretion on this because the UK has obligations under the EU directive. That directive is the 1992 EU directive and has not changed, so why is this happening? It would be interesting if the Minister could explain why there has been an alteration in this.
I would like to end by saying that the Minister is, I think, aware that the sector has been in quite detailed correspondence and meetings with the HSE. Indeed, I have a copy of a letter, dated 19 March, from the chairman to Pact, one of the leading bodies in the sector, acting on behalf of many of the companies involved. In the letter, the chairman says that she understands the sector’s concerns and the strength of feeling that underpins them—she certainly would not be able to miss it because there has been quite vigorous correspondence, I understand. She goes on to say, and this is the point that I want the Minister to respond to, that she shares the sector’s,
“unease about how this Directive, which fits well with mainstream construction work, is interpreted by those for whom construction work is only a small and occasional part of their business”.
In other words, she seems to be saying that she rather agrees with the sector that maybe it is not proportionate to require the CDM regulations in their full force to be applied to temporary structures, particularly film sets and the like.
We are in a bit of an odd situation here. On the one hand, the HSE is certain that it has no discretion and that the regulations have to be applied. On the other hand, it says that it sympathises with those who are concerned about having to implement the full process. They cannot both be right, so I hope that the Minister will give his interpretation. We have uncertainty looming on 6 April. Uncertainty is clearly not good for safety, and it would be great if the Minister could make a statement which reassured all the sectors concerned. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have just one brief question for the Minister on the regulations. Paragraph 20 of the impact assessment refers to financial impact. It states that the deemed approach—which is much the better one, I am sure—will cost £1.3 million to homeowners and £4.6 million to contractors. All my experience is that costs to contractors get handed on to the people for whom they are providing their services, so how do we know that the £4.6 million will not simply be handed on to the homeowners to whom the services are being provided? How can one make that distinction?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to reassure him and others on both the key points that he raises, which are the implications for domestic owners and for the entertainment industry. In particular, I reassure his plumber and joiner that their responsibilities in practice will not change as a result of the introduction of the regulations.
Since their first implementation in 1994, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations—let us shorten them to CDM—have facilitated widespread culture change, improved ownership of risk, and a reduction in fatal and major incidence rates by two-thirds. That is a good news story in everyone’s book, and I welcome the chance to spell that out.
The CDM 2015 regulations are reformed and simplified. They retain technical standards to be achieved on sites, enable reduction in industry bureaucracy and improved compliance in small businesses, and address two areas of underimplementation of the temporary or mobile construction sites directive. Overall, the regulations are estimated to generate net savings to business of £121 million over 10 years. CDM 2015 is thus a significant enabler of growth in an industry employing more than 2 million people.
Despite the numerous benefits that the revision brings, the Government recognise that some businesses have raised concerns arising from the consequences of implementing certain requirements of the directive. The Government had no realistic option other than to implement these measures to comply with our European obligations and avoid the consequences of failing properly to transpose the directive, but we have done so in a way that minimises overheads, and at the same time have taken the opportunity to make the significant reforms to the regulations that I mentioned.
Those concerns relate to lower thresholds for health and safety co-ordinator appointments and written health and safety plans, and in application to domestic clients for the first time. The regulations have always applied to construction work wherever it is undertaken and whatever its scale, complexity and risk. Some stakeholders in the entertainment industry have been particularly exercised that unduly burdensome administrative requirements will now arise for minor construction work that is part of their day-to-day business.
The Government and HSE are aware that there is a sometimes a tendency in parts of the entertainment sector for overcompliance with health and safety requirements. Indeed, the HSE’s Myth Busters panel has dealt with a number of cases from the entertainment sector where a disproportionate approach or decision has been made. The guidance supporting the CDM regulations 2015 stresses the need for a proportionate and practical approach to the management of risk, and this of course is the Government’s goal, too. The industry needs to respond appropriately, and I am encouraged that the HSE is fully engaged with entertainment industry stakeholders to produce sector-specific guidance. This will help the industry to understand how its current management arrangements can be applied to comply with the CDM regulations 2015, and avoid overcomplicating matters which could incur unnecessary cost.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester raised issues on costs added to homeowners. Clearly, in the end the costs will be added to homeowners—that is how it works. Contractors do work for people and add on the costs but those costs are extraordinarily small in an economy of—what are we, £1.5 trillion? Costs of £4.6 million are extremely small, particularly compared with the costs that homeowners would otherwise have had if they were not able to deem the issue down to the contractor, which is what this structure does.
To pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on the way in which this legislation was introduced through the negative resolution procedure, all health and safety legislation is made in this way. As I have explained, this change to the domestic client provisions was required to comply with EU law obligations and, as I say, that is the way that we always do these changes in HSE.
I think that I have dealt with all the questions raised. Let me thank the noble Lord again because I hope that I have provided reassurance all around that this provision is proportionate, saves money and makes sure that we are actually complying with our obligations.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I would like to repeat, as a Statement, an Answer to an Urgent Question given this morning in another place by my right honourable friend Mike Penning, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims. The Statement is as follows.
“Undercover policing is an essential tactic in the fight against crime. However, we have known for some time that there were serious historical failings in undercover policing practices. To improve the public’s confidence in undercover work, we must ensure that there is no repeat of these failings. That is why the Home Secretary established a public inquiry earlier this month to investigate thoroughly undercover policing and the operation of the special demonstration squad, and confirmed the appointment of Lord Justice Pitchford, a highly experienced criminal judge of the Court of Appeal, as its chairman.
The scope of the inquiry, which was announced to Parliament on 12 March, will focus on the deployment of police officers as covert human intelligence sources by the SDS, the national public order intelligence unit and other police forces in England and Wales. The inquiry will review practices in the use of undercover policing, establishing justice for families and victims and making recommendations for the future.
Over the coming months, all interested parties will be consulted on the terms of reference for the inquiry, which will need to be agreed by Lord Justice Pitchford. As the terms of reference are therefore still to be finalised, and given the prospect of criminal proceedings, there is a limit to what I can say at the moment. None the less, given that the inquiry will be looking at a broad range of allegations surrounding undercover policing, I would expect that the allegations relating to Members of Parliament would form part of its work”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating that Answer. He will be aware that this is not the first time that we have debated these issues in your Lordships’ House. He may recall the debates about the women who had children in what they believed were genuine, long-term stable relationships, yet had been conned by undercover officers who cast them off at the same time as they cast off their assumed identity. We also recall that my noble friend Lady Lawrence and her family were spied on with no justification whatever.
Today’s allegations are equally shocking, and quite chilling. People have been investigated not for any wrongdoing or alleged crimes but for their political beliefs. I recall taking part in a very peaceful protest. If I tell noble Lords that it was on Boxing Day, they might guess the reason why I was there: it was a protest against the local hunt. I felt a sense of injustice in being followed and filmed with a police camera in my face while those who were abusing and threatening me were just ignored. Clearly, changes must be made.
I welcome the commitment that the Minister has just made regarding Lord Justice Pitchford’s inquiry, which, as I understand what he said, will be wide. Although the terms of reference have not yet been set, it is intended to include the allegations that have been made in the press today. Getting to the bottom of that will be very welcome, and I thank him for that commitment.
I agree about the importance of undercover policing. We all recognise that it is an essential evidence-gathering tool for some of the most serious crimes, and I pay tribute to those officers who, behaving completely appropriately, put themselves in very dangerous situations to protect others from serious and harmful crime. However, it is clear that new safeguards are needed.
The Minister may recall that we proposed, during the passage of a Home Office Bill in this Session of Parliament, that there should be independent pre-authorisation of undercover work, perhaps by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners. Here I am thinking about long-term covert operations; short-term for a couple of hours is a different matter, but for long-term covert operations there has to be some kind of independent prior authorisation. The Government previously rejected that but, in the light of their response on the Lord Justice Pitchford’s inquiry, I hope this is something that they will reconsider
I thank the noble Baroness for her welcome. I totally agree with her in paying tribute to the work of undercover police officers, who by and large do an incredibly important job in keeping us safe from terrorist threats and from serious and organised crime. It is a vital tool in policing, giving us an opportunity to bring forward evidence that can be used in court to ensure that prosecutions are made.
The noble Baroness rightly referred back to some of the cases that we have had in the past of inappropriate relationships during undercover policing. That was of course one of the reasons why the National College of Policing introduced a code of ethics that all undercover police officers must abide by. It is important that the review looks at this. Historically, there have been failings. There have been a number of investigations by the police themselves into a whole series of allegations, but we recognise that there have been failings and that is the reason why we need to go further.
On the specifics about the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, it is a fair point. Sir Christopher Rose is widely respected, and that is something that we could look at. At the moment, deployments lasting longer than 12 months must get prior approval from the Surveillance Commissioner and be authorised by a chief constable or equivalent.
I endorse everything that my noble friend said about the importance of this inquiry, which I, too, welcome. Will the Minister say what consideration the Government have given to contemporaneous reporting of the proceedings of the inquiry and perhaps to making them available on the internet so that those who think they might be affected can have easy access to the way the inquiry unfolds?
That would certainly be something for Lord Justice Pitchford to pick up on when he sets up this inquiry and for its terms and how it operates. The fact that it is set up under the Inquiries Act 2005 means that it has the ability to do that and to extend more widely. That will be welcome. I understand that today the Metropolitan Police have agreed in response to the concern relating to Members of Parliament that they will be contacting individuals directly to make them aware of what information is held about them. I think most of us would recognise that as a good step forward.
My Lords, I endorse everything that has been said in the House today. I certainly endorse the fact that undercover policing is difficult and at times highly dangerous to the point of risk to life. High standards are essential in this area of police work. It is essential that the processes, but not the mechanics, are transparent and that there is strong oversight, without being prescriptive about times—I am not altogether sure that I agree with the noble Baroness about two days or whatever it was—as overprescription might be difficult. Will the Minister press, so far as he is able, for speed in this inquiry to put all these doubts to bed for the first time and put this area of policing on a firm footing as quickly as possible?
I acknowledge the noble Lord’s experience and role in this very important area. One of the changes we introduced was that before there can be deployment there has to be authorisation by an assistant chief constable or above. On the pace of the inquiry, we need to ensure that it does its work thoroughly, but we are mindful of inquiries that are currently under way. At the outset, we are currently thinking of timing in the region of two to three years. I know that seems a long time, but the inquiry has a long historical reach and therefore it needs sufficient time to investigate and to make some robust recommendations for the Government to implement.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat, in the form of a Statement, an Answer given in another place by my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health on the Penrose inquiry. The Statement is as follows:
“Yesterday, the Prime Minister issued an apology on behalf of the Government for these tragic events, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health laid a Written Ministerial Statement as an interim response to the Penrose inquiry. I would, however, like to remind the honourable Member for Hull North that this is a Scottish public inquiry, and I understand that Scottish Ministers will not be making a Statement to their Parliament until this afternoon. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment about the report in detail at this stage.
However, I can say that Lord Penrose reviewed more than 118,000 documents and more than 150 statements from patients and relatives and also took oral evidence from many of the officials involved in decision-making at that time. It would therefore seem to be an extremely thorough job, which for the first time provides an authoritative narrative of events.
I said in this House during a Back-Bench debate on 15 January that this Government would be making an interim response to Lord Penrose’s report, which we did yesterday in a Written Ministerial Statement, and that it would be for the next Government to consider a more substantive response, once they have had time to consider what the inquiry says.
Yesterday, we announced that we will be allocating up to an additional one-off £25 million from the Department of Health’s 2015-16 budget to support any transitional arrangements to a different system of financial assistance. We intend this to provide assurances to those affected by these devastating events that we have heard their concerns and are making provision to reform the system.
We had hoped to consult during this Parliament on reforming the ex-gratia financial assistance schemes. I very much regret that our considerations on the design of a future system of financial assistance for those affected have been subject to postponement while we awaited publication of Lord Penrose’s final report. The Prime Minister also said yesterday that if he were to remain Prime Minister after the election in May, we will respond to the findings of the report as a matter of priority”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for repeating that Answer. Clearly the Penrose report is a detailed factual account of what happened, and I pay tribute to Lord Penrose for the work that he and his team have completed.
I noted the noble Earl’s comments this afternoon that we have the initial response, but that the full response is to be left to the next Government. It is clear that the report needs very careful reading in order to come to a substantive view. Certainly, as a Minister, I dealt with this issue in my time at the Department of Health—I see the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and other former Ministers here—and Dr David Owen has on a number of occasions drawn attention to some issues about the way this was handled by the Department of Health. On the face of it, does the noble Earl think that at the very least this warrants some discussion about whether his own department needs to establish some kind of view on the Penrose report?
Lord Penrose made a single recommendation: that all people in Scotland who had a blood transfusion before 1991 should be tested for hepatitis C. Again, is that to be left to the substantive response after the election, or can he give an initial view on the implications of that recommendation for people affected in England?
The noble Earl referred to relief. Can he say anything about the Skipton Fund payments and progress made on that fund since its establishment in 2004, and about decisions that I believe were made by the Government in January 2011 with regard to payments to the estates of people who died prior to the announcement of the scheme in August 2003?
One of the stark conclusions from reading the report is about what could be described as the paternalistic view taken by doctors on information to be given to patients. He says that the expert evidence available to the inquiry indicated the withholding of information from patients on the absence of treatment for the condition, which from a contemporary ethical perspective was not acceptable. Does the noble Earl agree with that, and does he consider that circumstances have moved on such that today such information would not be withheld?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his comments and questions. There is no doubt that Lord Penrose has done a very thorough job in examining the facts. It is worth understanding that he has considered the evidence from England as well as Scotland.
I pay tribute to those who showed tremendous courage in telling the inquiry about the impact of infection on their lives and the lives of their families. The report has systematically examined the facts and set them out. As well as other inquires, such as the Archer inquiry, with which the noble Lord is familiar, this report has now given us a detailed account of what happened, which is extremely valuable. I agree that there will be a need to reach a formal view on Penrose’s conclusions once my department and the next Government have had an opportunity properly to consider the conclusions that he reached.
As for Lord Penrose’s recommendation to offer a hepatitis C test to everyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991, the department conducted a look-back exercise in 1995 to try to identify everyone who might have received infected blood prior to 1991. We will consider whether anything more can be done on this in England, although obviously Lord Penrose’s recommendation relates specifically to the Scottish Government taking steps along these lines. We have already done an exercise to identify anyone who could have been affected, and we will consider whether anything more should be done on this.
The noble Lord asked about the Skipton Fund, which, as noble Lords will remember, is there to make non-discretionary payments to patients infected with hepatitis C. To date, over 5,100 individuals in the UK have received the stage one payment and around 1,500 have received a stage two lump sum in the UK, with around 700 receiving annual payments in the UK.
My Lords, I am very glad to hear the Government’s pledge to give all possible help to those who have been harmed through no fault of their own. However, with respect that pledge has been given before. It is very important this time that it is properly, and above all generously, followed through.
Does my noble friend agree that we should take note of Lord Penrose’s statement, following his very detailed and long inquiry, when he said yesterday:
“Much of the comment made over the years on the topics discussed in the Final Report has reflected strongly-held beliefs. Some commentators believe that more could have been done to prevent infection in particular groups of patients. Careful consideration of the evidence has, however, revealed few respects in which matters could or”—
“should have been handled differently”.
Will my noble friend endorse that conclusion?
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, I do not want to be drawn too closely on Lord Penrose’s comments, as we should reflect on them carefully. However, it is clear that, as knowledge of these viruses began to emerge in the 1970s and early 1980s, no tests were available to screen blood donations and no means existed to inactivate the virus in blood or blood products. By 1985, a screening test for HIV was available, and heat-treated plasma products that inactivated the virus had been developed. It was not until 1990 that an effective screening test for hepatitis C was available. It is important to put that into context, because Lord Penrose found that clinicians acted in accordance with the technical facilities that they had available to them and in accordance with the ethical frameworks that were in place during the 1970s and 1980s. The ethical frameworks in which clinicians operate today are of course very different from those that were in place then.
My Lords, looking ahead to the future with the new Government, would the noble Earl agree with me that there are new drugs coming along for hepatitis C? For those poor, unfortunate patients who had haemophilia and who got HIV and hepatitis C, it really was a disaster. Would he consider, if he is still a Minister, that the very best treatment with these new hepatitis C drugs will be given to these patients? That would prevent liver disease, which is a huge problem.
The noble Baroness makes a very important point. NICE guidance on the first of the new hepatitis C drugs is expected in June this year. Pending that, in April last year NHS England introduced an early access scheme for the new hepatitis C therapies. Over 700 patients have now been treated as a result of that policy, including some of those who were infected by blood or blood products in the 1970s and 1980s. NHS England is considering a further early access policy to include patients with cirrhosis, which it is aiming to have in place in the first half of this year. I think that should be of comfort to many patients.
I am very grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. He may be aware that the report was very badly received by the public in Edinburgh, which is a source of concern. One of the people, no doubt someone affected by the disaster, was shown on television burning the report. Against that background, and appreciating of course that this is primarily a Scottish matter, will the noble Earl take steps to ensure that the Statement itself and some of the reassuring remarks that he and indeed the noble Lord opposite have made are drawn to the attention of the media in Scotland, as the more it can be put across that this is a valuable report that has done a great deal of work and sets a basis for further study, the more the public will be reassured? I would be grateful if the noble Earl would do that.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I will speak first to the subject matter of the debate since I was a member of the group which produced this report.
The basic legal principle is not in doubt: executive detention is lawful if, but only if, there is a realistic prospect of removing the detainee within a reasonable time. When we debated the Immigration Act this time last year, my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, who I am more than glad to see in her place, moved an amendment which would have limited the period to 60 days. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, resisted the amendment on the ground that the principle is well established, with which, of course, I wholly agree.
However, the noble Lord went on to argue that the application of that principle should and could be left safely in the hands of the judges. I would normally welcome that argument with open arms but in this particular instance I am afraid to say that the judges have let us down. For example, in one case, an offender was detained pending his deportation to Somalia. He was eventually released but only after he had been detained for three years and five months. On no possible view could that be regarded as reasonable, yet his claim failed. I refer to some of these cases at page 18 of the report.
We are the only country in Europe which allows indefinite detention of this kind. In France, the maximum period is 45 days. In Spain, it is two months and in Italy it is three months, so we are way out of line with these countries. In the end, the group came to the view that we should have a maximum limit of 28 days. In coming to that view, we were much influenced by the corrosive effect which prolonged uncertainty has on the detainees themselves. There was much evidence to that effect, both from the detainees and the experts. I therefore hope that we will be hearing from others taking part in the debate about the reasons why we took that view.
Meanwhile, I must turn to my so-called valedictory speech, which I prefer to call my swan-song. I have been incredibly lucky to have what amounts to a second career in this House after I retired as a Law Lord in 1999. I have made many, many friends among Members and the staff. I particularly thank those members of staff to whom I come most frequently—namely, those in the Public Bill Office and the Printed Paper Office. I am sure that they will know to whom I am referring. I regard them as great friends and will miss them very greatly.
However, the fact is that I shall be 86 in May and feel that it is time to go, if only because I am beginning, I have to say, to feel my age. Not only that but I am also afraid that my age is beginning to show. I know that because whenever I get on to an underground train, if it is at all crowded, I find that men and women of all ages offer me their seats. That would be a good test for us all to apply.
When we were all much younger, there was a very popular musical called, “Salad Days”, which I hope some of your Lordships will remember. In it there was a rather sentimental song. Unless your Lordships insist, I will not sing it, but the refrain was:
“I’ll remind you to remind me we said we wouldn’t look back”.
When the time comes, one does look back, of course. It is the natural thing to do, and that is what I propose to do, with your Lordships’ consent.
I made my maiden speech in 1993 but did not, as the police say, come to notice until 2005. I was strongly opposed to the abolition of the Lord Chancellor. Your Lordships will remember how it happened. The Lord Chancellor was abolished by a fait accompli in a press release from 10 Downing Street. But at the end of the Second Reading, I moved an amendment—it has to be said, with the encouragement of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, which then happened. It was, of course, very soon discovered that the Lord Chancellor simply could not be abolished. He is far too deeply embedded in our history and constitution. Instead, the title of the Bill was changed and the Lord Chancellor was to be modified. That was a piece of luck because it enabled me to argue that the modified Lord Chancellor should continue to be a Member of this House and have some experience of the law. Those amendments were carried easily in this House but, unfortunately, late one night, they were defeated on ping-pong—and so we are now where we are.
My next appearance was as chairman of the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House of Lords. We were lucky to have as our clerk an up-and-coming young man who is now the Clerk of the Parliaments. He kept us straight as to the meaning of self-regulation, and I owe him a lot. We started our discussions a long way apart but, as often happens in these cases—indeed, as I pointed out during my speech—we slowly inched closer together. That is what we did, and we produced a report that I think one can say has stood the test of time.
I have already mentioned new friends that I have made while I have been a Member of the House. There is one friend in particular whom I would like to mention. He was one of the most remarkable men that I have ever known. His name was Lord Morris of Manchester, better known as Alf.
Our friendship came about in this way: I had presided in this House in a case which concerned the meaning of the noble Lord’s great pioneering Act, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I called that Act a “noble aspiration”. When Lord Morris made his maiden speech in this House, he quoted those words. I was listening as he did so, so one thing led to another and we became friends.
At that time, Lord Morris was much concerned with the fate of returning veterans from the first Iraq war, suffering, as we all now know, from Gulf War syndrome. The Government had refused to hold an independent inquiry, so he did the unusual thing of holding his own independent inquiry of which he asked me to be the chairman, which I said I would.
We listened to a great deal of evidence, including from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, whom I am also glad to see sitting in his seat, and from the veterans and all sorts of experts. We were not at that time able to identify the cause of Gulf War syndrome, but we at least established that it existed, which the Government had up till then refused to acknowledge. We also pointed out that the veterans had been very badly treated. For that, we also secured for them an apology, but that was all.
I come to terrorism, with which I shall deal briefly because it is controversial. This has been my subject for 20 years. As it is controversial, I will provide just a few facts, which I know your Lordships know. Currently, there are 2.5 million Muslims in this country who are as loyal and law-abiding as we are, but there are some 100,000 Muslims who are inclined to a greater or lesser extent towards the terrorist cause. Our task, as I see it, is to win them over and keep them to our way of life and our way of thinking. This will take a very long time, probably a generation, as was the case with Irish terrorism. In the mean time, whatever we do, we must not alienate those 100,000 Muslims. We must try to keep them on our side.
And so I come to my last stopping-off point—just in time—which brings me back very close to where we started. I refer to the prisoners who are currently serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public. I have often given your Lordships the facts, but I will do so for one last time. There are currently 5,000 prisoners serving IPP sentences, a form of sentence which was abolished in 2012. I am concerned with only 650 of them, who are serving tariffs of less than two years which they were given more than eight years ago. About a third of them have been assessed as being unlikely to reoffend. Of the 650, eight were sentenced to a tariff of less than three months; 22 to less than six months; 27 to less than nine months; yet they are all still in prison.
Mr Grayling was given a power in 2012 to change the release test for those prisoners so as to secure their early release, but he has declined to exercise that power. I have received many letters from those prisoners because they know that I am their champion and I have met members of their families. They have no means of knowing, even now, when, if ever, they will be released.
If I were allowed one last wish at the end of my swan-song, it would be that all seven of the political parties should enter into manifesto commitments that will meet those people’s needs as soon as the new Government are elected. They should do so if only on the grounds that it will save £40 million a year, but I hope that they would do so on grounds of simple humanity. These prisoners have suffered a grave injustice, and it is high time that we came to their rescue.
My Lords, today is a bitter-sweet occasion. It is always a great pleasure to follow my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, but this occasion is bitter because it is probably the last occasion on which I will be able to follow him—certainly so far as this House is concerned, because of the reasons he has given.
I followed him in becoming a member of the Inner Temple when I was just starting out on my practice. I followed him to the Bench and we have been together in the Court of Appeal, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords and on a number of occasions in this Chamber. I well remember being led by him at the Bar when we were appearing on behalf of the Government. He is a consummate advocate, so this has always been a most rewarding experience, not least because of the extraordinary rapidity with which he could absorb the issues in a case and the skill with which he could advance arguments in favour of that case—skills which are well known to this House.
In particular, I remember—I do not know whether he will—one occasion when I had to tell him, on the journey from his chambers in the Temple to the Court of Appeal, about the case that he was going to be opening in the Court of Appeal. He opened the case with such eloquence and skill that no one present would have realised that he had been told about it in only a short amount of time.
There was another case in which we were involved when we were not on the same side. I know that he remembers it because it gives him particular pleasure. The case proceeded from the Divisional Court, where I won, to the Court of Appeal, where he won. I knew that I was in need of help, having lost in the Court of Appeal, and I was able to have as a leader Lord Bingham of Cornhill, who of course was known to many in this House. Even with Lord Bingham’s help, I have to admit that I lost in the House of Lords and my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd was successful. It is now a reported case—a case of some significance in administrative law. The grammar schools in the Thameside area were going to become comprehensive. It was particularly important that the results of the case should be known promptly because of course the pupils at the grammar schools wanted to know what was going to happen. So we sat not only on a Friday but, uniquely, I think, on a Saturday, and we got a very early decision. As noble Lords will know, those pupils continued to go to their schools, whereas the Minister thought that they should certainly have gone to the comprehensive.
It is no surprise to me that my noble and learned friend, in the matter presently before the House, should take the view that he has. He has indicated in what he has said to your Lordships today a fact which is undoubtedly true—that he is deeply concerned with the doing of justice and fairness, and nothing is more likely to call him to arms than to be involved in such a situation.
One of the things that my noble and learned friend is remembered for is when he became a High Court judge. He was a commercial lawyer and I do not think he ever appeared before a jury during his practice at the Bar. However, on being appointed as a High Court judge he was to be dispatched to Liverpool to try a murder case. He showed commendable courage for a new judge by knocking on the door of the then Lord Chief Justice—no less formidable a figure than Lord Widgery—and insisting on receiving instruction on the arts of dealing with a jury trial before hearing the case. As a consequence, I think that he was the first High Court judge who after appointment was seen being instructed in the arts of jury trials at the Old Bailey by those who appeared in the courts where that was happening. In due course he became a great criminal judge as well. It is as a result of my noble and learned friend’s bold action that we now have a really significant and well developed Judicial Studies Board. Judges do not know instinctively how to try cases, they have to learn.
The issue on which we are engaged today is appropriate for my noble and learned friend to advocate because of his membership of the panel. With regard to that, it is clear that some restriction needs to be put on the period of detention. I encourage the House to accede to what my noble and learned friend has said, notwithstanding the fact that normally I would not be in favour of fixed time periods because they can be instruments of injustice as well as justice, and because it is better usually to leave it to the matter of discretion. But in the special circumstances of this situation, I ask noble Lords to say that that is the course that the House should follow as well. We can argue about the period—that is a very simple issue—but I am sure it is right that there should be a limit.
My Lords, first, I make an appeal to my noble friend the Minister who will respond to this discussion. He has acquired a reputation for good sense and, perhaps I may dare say, for humanity, and I hope that he will listen to my short remarks with that reputation in mind. In the old days, although it may still be so, somewhere near the bottom of the Minister’s brief one would find the phrase, “if pressed”, in brackets. On special occasions, it might even say, “if hard pressed”. These phrases indicate the extent of a Minister’s discretion. I hope that today my noble friend will make full use of that discretion and perhaps tiptoe a little beyond it. In this case, he will be easily forgiven for that.
My noble friend could bring some assurance to these people whom we are discussing and who are discussed in this report. They have no certainty in their lives about when they might be removed from detention. That is a deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs, which my noble friend and his colleagues could put right. I hope that they will do so in the light of the report we are considering.
I also hope that my noble friend may find it possible to draw the attention of his right honourable friend to the exchanges which took place earlier today at Question Time when there was quite a brusque exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who I see in his place, and the Minister responding. I hope that that will be drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State because there is a lesson there. We do not want those kinds of remarks and exchanges spread to other parts of this House after the Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord has made his valedictory speech, which was, as one would expect, extremely good. He will be sadly missed. I congratulate him on a job well done. I declare an interest in that it is now 70 years since my life has been, to some extent, intertwined and run in parallel with the life of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. During that period we have crossed swords from time to time, competed fiercely in earlier days and, in latter days I have learned to respect, admire and envy the care and keenness with which he has tackled every subject to which he has turned his attention. We had a list of those subjects in his valedictory today. He has not shown a soft or sentimental attitude to those who are convicted of crimes—on the contrary—but he has shown an overriding concern for justice, humanity and common sense.
We are greatly in his debt. He has done a great job as a Member of this House. On behalf of all your Lordships, I echo the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and congratulate him enthusiastically on a job well done.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, because he was an outstanding and very sensible Home Secretary who addressed some of the issues we are discussing in this brief debate in an impressively far-sighted way. I put on record my congratulations to him on the way he served in the office of Home Secretary—which, as we all know, is not easy.
I sympathise with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, because I have the same experience as he has with a twist to it. I, too, have had people get up to offer me their seats. They were overwhelmingly women, and a great many of them were from ethnic minorities. I am trying to decide whether that is a vote of lack of confidence, in the way he described with his usual lovely humour and extraordinary humility. He is undoubtedly a great lawyer; he has been a great parliamentarian in this House; and he is a man who, throughout his whole career, has stuck to things he believes in and persisted in supporting them through a long and distinguished life. We will all miss him and we all know what he has contributed to this House.
While I was listening to the tributes to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, irresistibly I was hauled back to the debate on the amendment that he and I tabled during the Immigration Bill which suggested that there should be a limit of 60 days’ detention, where there was adequate evidence, in Her Majesty’s detention centres. He was powerful, courageous and brave in what he said. Sadly, that amendment was lost by something like five to one in this House. Many noble Lords who are currently here were involved in that debate, so I cannot help asking myself how serious we are about the appalling fact that we as a country are more ready to detain, for longer periods, more people than virtually any other country in Europe.
We claim to be—rightly are in many ways—the mother of democracy, but this is an appalling example of what happens when we fail to live by the words that we so eloquently speak. I have to say that I felt deeply disappointed on that occasion that the words mobilised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and spoken with passion and much knowledge, were so readily dismissed by this House, which on the whole has an excellent record on civil liberties and is concerned for those who are least able to use power and influence to change things.
We have here an appalling story—one that all of us should find deeply embarrassing. Some 30,000 men and women are being held in detention—as I say, more than in any other country in Europe. There is almost no redress for them because they are locked away from the lawyers and advisers they could speak to. Let me declare an interest that I have held for the last 20 years. I am a patron of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. Its members reach me if they need help in getting access to lawyers or to stop people being deported who have been unable to put their argument for why they should not be deported.
Unlike many other detention centres, there is one great aspect to this one, which is that a group of a couple of hundred volunteers come in, speak to people who have been detained, make friends with them and offer advice and help. They are not qualified professional social workers or even lawyers, but decent men and women living in the neighbourhood of Gatwick. No longer do they have on their consciences a sense of how appallingly we treat detainees—and we do.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope that this time, to pick up the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, we will begin to take the issue seriously. I hope that this time we will consider when we should support amendments to bring about change. I hope that this time we will not have yet another Parliament which averts its eyes from this dreadful situation. We pretend it is not happening and it is nothing to do with us, but it remains a serious blot on this country and we have to do something about it.
My Lords, I, too, wish to pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick for his tireless work in this House over so many years, championing with such passion so many admirable causes. This is truly a fin-de-siècle occasion. Speaking as one who has been privileged for the last three years to have shared his room and plundered his wealth of knowledge and experience, I particularly will miss him.
I turn to the topic of today’s debate. I want both to congratulate the APPG on its inquiry report, with which in large part I sympathise and agree, but at the same time enter a defence for the judges who have been criticised in the report, notably on page 18, and again by my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd in this debate. It is perfectly true that judges cannot be relied on to get the period of detention of all immigration detainees down to 28 days, the upper limit which the report recommends should be adopted, or indeed to the 60 days in all cases, as was advocated during the course of the Immigration Act. But without explicitly limiting legislation, it is not the fault of the judges.
There is no time today to explore the large body of case law on this subject. I would just mention a case in the Supreme Court in 2011, that of R (Lumba and Mighty) v the Secretary of State for the Home Office. It was one of the last cases in this part of the law with which I was concerned as one of nine justices, and the report on it is 115 pages long. This is a difficult area of the law.
Lumba brings me to the central point I want to make. There is all the difference in the world between the detention of those whom the Home Secretary is attempting to deport for whatever reason when they have absolutely no right to remain here, sometimes after a while, and those who are being detained pending an initial application for asylum. Lumba concerned the former category—foreign national prisoners having served their sentences of imprisonment. Although the appeals of both of the appellants in that case were in the event allowed by a majority of the court, they succeeded not because of the excessive length of their periods of detention—the House will be surprised and perhaps shocked by this: respectively almost 56 months and 26 months—but because the Secretaries of State in question had failed to apply their own published policy. No one was disputing that, even had that policy been applied, both would inevitably have been detained. They had been convicted of serious offences, the Home Secretary was seeking to deport them at the end of their sentences and they were detained pending removal because of the risks that they posed in the mean time in terms of absconding and reoffending.
The length of Lumba’s detention was the result of a series of appeals and judicial review challenges that he brought, all of which had to be heard and determined before he could be deported. The question of whether the length of detention was, in those circumstances, “reasonable” within what are known as the Hardial Singh principles—essentially the principles of reasonableness originally devised and set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, many years ago in the case of that name—was remitted to the High Court to decide on the particular facts of that case. It was, I may add, on the application of the Hardial Singh principles that the two claims referred to at page 23 of the inquiry report were decided.
The other main category of immigration detainees are those detained under what is known as DFT—the detained fast-track scheme—which is designed to get a speedy decision on an initial application, which is desirable both for the applicant and for others waiting in the queue to have their applications decided. That was the category under consideration by Mr Justice Ouseley in the case discussed at pages 37 to 39 of the report. As his lengthy judgment explains, the only respect in which he found the process carried an “unacceptable risk of unfairness” was that it does not provide for the sufficiently early instruction of lawyers to advise and prepare the asylum claims—a problem that I hope is now addressed.
Highly desirable though it would be, I do not know whether a 28-day time limit could be achieved in all DFT cases and I am sure that it would be quite impossible in many other cases, even if the Home Office faithfully follows its own guidance of using detention only sparingly and for the shortest possible period. Whether any time limit, and if so what, should be imposed, I leave to others. I add only that I suspect many other countries do better in terms of the length of detention because they are altogether more ruthless than we are in refusing appeals against deportation.
My Lords, from these Benches I too pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and thank him in particular for his service as chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. He has chaired the committee for 13 years with a forensic eye for detail. He has taken the time and made the effort, as we know is typical of him, to understand the Church of England—and has maintained a sense of humour. It is remarkable and we are hugely grateful. He has also been a friend to many of us, for which we are also grateful. We wish him very much happiness in his retirement, not least in his lambing next month.
I was shocked and distressed to read this report. I did not take part in the inquiry but some of the facts that are presented here—which were to some extent in the public domain anyway but are now made clear before us—are deeply distressing. It is a truism that justice delayed is justice denied. I understand the difficulties that the Government can face: very large numbers of people coming into the country, some very complicated cases and some very difficult investigations that may need to be undertaken to determine the facts. We understand that these are real problems. I understand, too, the principle of not wanting a time limit, lest that time limit become a default which everyone has to serve in detention. I understand where the Government are coming from but, in this anniversary year of Magna Carta, it is hugely distressing to hear of people being detained for three or four years, not knowing what their future may be and how long that detention may continue.
One of the essentials of the Judaeo-Christian principles that are such an important part of our history, and indeed of our Britishness, is the principle of treating the foreigner—the alien, the stranger within our midst—well, caring for those who come into our midst for whatever reason. Of course, those who come intent on crime or wrongdoing or those who come for hidden reasons need to be investigated, sought out and dealt with. Of course, we cannot give a home to everyone in the world who wants to leave their own country. There is no suggestion that we should do that. But for those who come here seeking the opportunity to stay, we need to investigate, we need to take care and we need to make a proper and appropriate decision—which may be that they can stay and may be that they have to go—but they must know that during that process we as a people, with our British values and our Judaeo-Christian heritage, are seeking to care for them. I plead with the Minister and the Government—and the future Government, whatever form they take—to understand the importance of caring for the alien, the stranger in our midst.
My Lords, as a member of the inquiry, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord—who will be missed—for facilitating this debate, and to Sarah Teather for establishing the inquiry and chairing it with such skill and commitment.
We were shocked by what we heard, both from the detainees who recounted their experiences, and I pay tribute to them for doing so, and from professionals who, among other things, confirmed the disastrous effects of indefinite detention, particularly on the mental health of detainees. It became clear to us that as an absolute minimum there must be a time limit on detention and I very much welcome today’s announcement that my party supports this. But, in our view, even time limits would not be enough. We also seek a commitment to making deprivation of liberty for the purposes of immigration control a genuinely last resort, with a presumption in favour of the community-based alternatives practised in countries as diverse as Canada and Sweden.
What became clear during the inquiry was the disconnect between official policy and what actually happens. The current Home Office guidance that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible period is rendered ineffective by working practices and culture. The same disconnect can be found in the treatment of women. One of our recommendations was that,
“women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be detained and this should be reflected in the Enforcement Instructions and Guidance”.
A reply to a Written Question about this recommendation states that the list of those,
“normally considered suitable for detention only in very exceptional circumstances … includes individuals for whom there is independent evidence of torture, which would encompass women who had suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence as an instrument of torture”.
However, UNHCR guidelines on detention state:
“Victims of torture and other serious physical, psychological or sexual violence also need special attention and should generally not be detained”.
I emphasise the “and” because my reading of that is that it should be sufficient for a woman to demonstrate that she has survived rape or sexual violence regardless of whether or not it constituted torture. The Written Answer conflates the two. Moreover, back in 2013 the UN Committee against Torture urged the UK Government to lower the evidential threshold of independent evidence. Far from being lowered, it now appears to cover survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I urge the Home Office to look at this again.
I also urge the Home Office to review the treatment of pregnant women. Again, there is a disconnect between policy and practice. A member of HM Inspectorate of Prisons told us that,
“pregnant women are only meant to be detained in the most exceptional circumstances … on the last couple of occasions that we’ve looked, we haven’t found those exceptional circumstances in the paperwork to justify their detention in the first place”.
The inquiry heard evidence of pregnant women being treated in a way that caused emotional, psychological and physical distress. Given the apparent inability of the Home Office to comply with its own policy, we recommended that pregnant women are never detained for immigration purposes.
I welcome the fact that the Shaw review, which I am sure the Minister will talk about, is to be asked to consider the recommendations in part 2 of our report. However, this avoids our more fundamental recommendations concerning the very use of detention. If the Shaw review is to carry credibility, it is crucial that its terms of reference are widened so that it can consider part 1 of our report also. Can the Minister explain why this is not possible?
The time for a well meaning smoothing of the harshest edges of a rotten system has passed. Thus the Government’s response to our review, as set out in the recent letter to Sarah Teather, is very disappointing. I urge whosoever form the next Government to take urgent action on our report as a whole in the name of human rights, justice and basic human decency.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, for bringing this debate to the Chamber today. As a new boy, I look on his swan-song and think, if only I could achieve a small fraction of some of the things that he has achieved and have the effect that he has had in this House and in the country, I will have done an extremely good job. I say with all honesty that I will definitely look round on the Tube and use his seat test as an indication of when I need to leave this House.
Like other speakers, I would like to thank the all-party parliamentary group, which has done an extremely good report on this, and my honourable friend Sarah Teather for chairing it.
I want to focus on one group within the report and that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers. It is illegal to be gay in 78 countries, punishable by prison and, in some cases, death. People seeking asylum on LGBTI grounds are in many cases very vulnerable and scared about speaking to the authorities about their sexual identity. It is a complex and deeply personal area of asylum that needs to be dealt with in a most sensitive, professional and consistent way. I have to say that that is not the case. Some LGBTI asylum detainees feel shame and a sense of secrecy about who they are. In many cases they lack support from the community that they are fleeing because of the views that that community has about being gay and lesbian. They need support, space and time in the asylum system.
This is especially clear in the light of the recent Court of Appeal decision in JB Jamaica v the Secretary of State for the Home Office. The case concerned the detention of a man from Jamaica who had claimed asylum on the basis of his sexual identity. Although eventually granted asylum upon appeal, he commenced judicial review proceedings arguing that his claim for asylum as a gay man was not capable of being determined quickly. Lord Justice Moore-Bick found that, given the nature of the applicant’s claim:
“Homosexuality is a characteristic that cannot be reliably established without evidence from sources external to the claimant himself. On the face of it, therefore, the appellant did need additional evidence to support his claim and since some of that evidence was likely to be available only in Jamaica or elsewhere abroad, it was likely that he would need additional time in order to obtain it. A failure to allow him that time was likely to lead (as in the event it did) to a decision that was neither fair nor sustainable”.
Therefore, we need to ask this question: why do we have the fast-track detention of people seeking asylum on LGBTI grounds?
As Johnson—not his real name—from Jamaica described his time in detention:
“The whole place is vile, it is homophobic, one of the guards called me a poof and then there were the Jamaicans who kept hurling some abuse at some Iranian guys—calling them batty men. I was terrified thinking oh my God, I hope they don’t know I am one of them. There was always fights they would provoke then when the guys would fight back. Eventually the gay guys had to be taken out. So it was very scary. It was awful. You can’t risk being open about being gay in there”.
So people go from vulnerability, fear and prejudice to being locked up with vulnerability, fear and prejudice. It is time that we looked at this in a very different way.
I know that the Minister has given answers to my questions about the review, which needs to consider those issues, but a review was done only last year by John Vine into LGBTI asylum. An action plan was offered and agreed to by the Home Office. On 16 March, only a few days ago, the Home Office said that it had not been started. What is the point of another review when a review has already stated the actions that need to be taken? Review after review is not the way forward. People who are held or detained for any period need action from the Government now.
On the anniversary of Magna Carta, if we really want to be seen internationally to be upholding the principles enshrined in Magna Carta, as a matter of urgency, we need action to deal with detention of some of the most vulnerable people who have fled here looking for those principles to free them, not enslave them in detention for unlimited periods.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd on obtaining this important debate. How typical of one of the giants of this House, whose impending retirement has already been regretted by many other noble Lords, that he should go out in such style, combining a moving and humane valedictory with a masterly opening to his debate. He will be sorely missed, not only by his colleagues on these Benches but by the thousands of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences currently languishing in prison way beyond their tariff, whose cause he has so passionately championed against the person whom he dubbed the “Minister of Injustice”.
I also pay tribute to the Minister, who ever since taking office has been tireless, patient and courteous in responding to the many queries that I and others have put to him and, by so doing, has earned the respect and admiration of the whole House.
Like my noble and learned friend, I was a member of Sarah Teather’s inquiry team, and I pay tribute to her for her initiative and chairmanship. Unlike him, however, I have immigration system form, because from 1997 to 2001 I was responsible for inspecting immigration detention centres as well as prisons holding immigration detainees because of lack of space. My noble friend Lord Sandwich and I were fellow commissioners on the independent asylum commission that reported in 2009, and I was also a member of the team appointed by the coalition Government to advise on the detention of children. Finally, I have chaired or been involved with inquiries into aspects of the system such as enforced removals, unanswered complaints and injuries inflicted by security company staff.
From that experience comes my firm conviction that the immigration system as a whole is in need of total overhaul. My views have not changed since I was Chief Inspector of Prisons. Having campaigned for overhaul for so long, it would be inconsistent of me not to use the opportunity offered by my noble and learned friend’s debate to ask the Minister to ask the Home Secretary to think again about her rejection of the stepping stone of a full review conveyed in Mr Brokenshire’s letter to Sarah Teather of 24 March. The two proposed inquiries will prove just as fruitless as all the other attempts that I have watched fail to get to grips with the guts of the problem over the past 18 years.
What are those guts? First, and pre-eminently, there is a total lack of consistency caused by a total lack of leadership and oversight. Before appointing a review body, I would appoint someone to be responsible and accountable for the operation of the system. Ministers come and Ministers go—and policies come and policies go—but immigration staff, who have the task of checking everyone arriving in the country, remain, as should staff structures and procedures, and they need to be led. As a soldier, used to chains of command in which everyone knows to whom and for what they are responsible and accountable, I found—and find—it strange that in the Home Office, and hence its offshoot the Ministry of Justice, no one knows either. Of course a Minister must have overall responsibility and be accountable to Parliament, but not for conducting the 24/7 processes of the immigration system.
Everything else stems from that, but no long-term improvements can happen until a problem that I highlighted during the passage of the Immigration Bill has been resolved. Currently, the system has a millstone of 500,000 unresolved cases hanging round its neck, resulting in inevitable delays for new arrivals. The only way to solve this is to draft in a sufficiency of temporary officials until they are cleared. Only then can you introduce a proper process in which immigration centres play their short-term contingency role, casework is properly handled and overseen and all the other recommended measures are brought into force.
The present practice of not having anyone in charge has failed and will go on failing. The Teather review does not go so far as to recommend an overhaul but does recommend an in-depth review out of which it might emerge. In the mean time, I hope that the Minister will do his best to persuade the Home Secretary that the cult of managerialism is not the answer and that good, old-fashioned leadership is. I wish my noble and learned friend long life and much happiness in the future.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I know of his work as Chief Inspector of Prisons. I had a large young offender institution in my former constituency and a large prison, and the meticulous care and concern that he brought to his investigations were deeply appreciated by those who saw and benefited from them.
This is a debate initiated by—I am going to call him this—my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Nothing has more become the man than the manner of his leaving, because he has brought to this House today a subject about which he feels passionately and which is of crucial importance. Others have referred to Magna Carta. I hope that I will be forgiven for being the third but, particularly this year, we have to have uppermost in our minds at all times that clause that rings through the ages:
“To none will we … deny or delay … justice”.
My noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick talked about the corrosive effect of indefinite detention and my noble friend Lord Hurd talked about the lack of certainty. However, it is worse than that, because it deprives people of hope. I remember when many years ago in the other place one of my colleagues said that the real poor of the 20th century were those without hope. The same applies today. I very much hope that when my noble and very sensitive friend Lord Bates comes to respond to this debate, he will at the very least indicate that it would be his wish that the recommendation of the report—that this should be referred to a working party at the beginning of the new Parliament—will be taken up. It is essential that it should be.
I first came across the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, when he was chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, on which I had the dubious honour of serving for some 40 years. He was the last in a long line of distinguished Law Lords who took the chair. He brought to that role a judicious insight, an incisive mind and, above all, good humour. If you are going to cope with the Church of England, you certainly need a good sense of humour. He displayed this perhaps at its best in October last year when we were debating in this House the Measure on women bishops. There were those of us who are of the catholic persuasion in the Church of England who had some misgivings. What I found particularly notable about the noble and learned Lord was that he accepted that the bar to further ecumenical development, which one hopes is temporary, was something that we all—whichever side of the argument we were on, and he was emphatically pro—had to bear in mind. In that recognition, he showed a tolerance that must be an essential characteristic of any Law Lord and we are all in his debt for that.
I deeply regret that the noble and learned Lord’s amendments on the office of Lord Chancellor were rejected in another place. I was very much on his side. I have come to accept the virtues of genetically modified crops, but I am not quite sure about genetically modified Lord Chancellors. This is no criticism of the present incumbent, who is a consummate politician and who has certainly worked with great industry, but in my view a deep knowledge of the law is an essential qualification for anyone who holds that high office.
The noble and learned Lord has indeed done this House a great service on his last day in the House. He retires tomorrow, but we shall all hold him in the highest regard and hope that he will exercise the club rights to which he is entitled. We have had two very remarkable speeches from retiring noble Lords this week. On Tuesday, my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton talked about the appalling problems created by the exploitation of palm oil and woke us all up to the reality of that problem. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has today brought home to us the crucial importance of treating the most vulnerable in our country with true understanding and sensitivity. While we all have to have regard to those who would exploit the hospitality of this country, it is crucial that in the new Parliament we look carefully at the recommendations of this report.
My Lords, it is a tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, that so many excellent speeches have been given in his honour today. I first met him when I was appointed to the House as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. We sat together in the Appellate Committee over many years in many distinct cases. The case that comes to my mind as demonstrating the essential humanity of the man whose departure we regret so much is an intellectual property case about the design of teddy bears. I do not know whether he remembers the case, but along to us was brought one of these teddy bears so that we could see the exhibit and understand what the case was all about. At the end, moving rapidly, as he often does, with the assistance of a doorkeeper the noble and learned Lord was able to seize hold of that teddy bear and take it into his possession. I hope very much that he still has it with him and that it will be a companion to him in his retirement.
I am very much in sympathy with the main thrust of this report and welcome many of the points that it makes. That is for a particular reason: it was my practice when I was the Lord Justice General in Scotland to visit as many of the prisons and detention institutions in Scotland as I could, because I felt that I had to know about the conditions there to do my job as Lord Justice General. During the seven years that I held office, I managed to visit all but one of the institutions and one or two of these visits stand particularly in my memory.
One of them was about 20 years ago to a block in a prison in Greenock, if my memory serves me correctly, where a large number of asylum seekers were being held in detention in the Scottish immigration detention centre, pending decisions as to whether they were to be deported or released. I remember being struck by two things. The first was the wholly inappropriate conditions in which these unfortunate people were being held. They can best be described as mid-Victorian, with the most primitive of cells and the most basic of facilities. The second was how totally abandoned these individuals appeared to be. I can still see in my mind’s eye the group of people to whom I was introduced. They were just standing about in a corridor like lost souls. There was nothing for them to do. Unlike convicted prisoners, who, as the noble and learned Lord will know well, can be given work to do and whose time will be occupied with education, work or something like that, there was nothing that could be done with them. They were simply there. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to sit down except in their own cells. Few of them could speak English. They seemed to have no idea why they were there and certainly no idea how long they were going to be there. They put questions to me and to the prison officers who were with me that we simply could not answer. I found it deeply depressing and it has remained in my memory ever since, which is why I am so much in sympathy with the work that the committee did and the points that have been made.
Things have moved on a little bit, at least in Scotland, because people who are being held under these arrangements now are being detained somewhere else, in Dungavel, which is mentioned in the report. It is much better suited to the purpose. When I did my travels around these places, it was an open prison. At one time, it was the home of one of Scotland’s most distinguished families—indeed, a Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, is said to have been born there, I think because it was the family home. Of course, it lost some of its original charm when it was turned into an open prison, but at least it had a rural setting and the kind of breadth to it that meant that it felt quite unlike a prison. That at least is some advance. It is a less intimidating place and there are many places where people can move around and sit down and live more or less like normal people. I have not seen the regime since then and I do not know how matters are being handled there, but I was saddened to see on page 47 of the report the problem, which affected people at Dungavel, of people being moved about “like furniture” without concern for their individual position.
There is not time to go into the issue about timing, except to say that the challenge that this report has set for the Minister and the Government means that the way to deal with it has to be by a radical rethinking of the whole idea of the use of detention from the very beginning. We should not put people into detention until it becomes really necessary to do so. The tragedy is that people are put there like furniture, as was said in the report, and once they are there it is extremely difficult to get them out, for the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned. There is real value in the report and I greatly welcome it.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will not have been aware of the very large number of colleagues who were below the Bar listening to his valedictory speech. I want to make him aware of that compliment. I remember when I was inevitably and always, in relative terms, a very junior lawyer and quite a new Peer—in my salad days, one might say—sitting next to the noble and learned Lord in a committee when it became apparent that the concept of the assignment of a trade mark rather escaped most of the other members of the committee. He turned to me and said, “You explain”, and I thought, “You’re asking me to explain?”. I join others in saying how invigorating his contributions have always been. I have always felt—I hope that this does not sound impertinent—how morally impeccable everything he has said in this Chamber as well as outside has been.
It is also a swansong for my honourable friend Sarah Teather. I thank her, too, and also her assistant Jonathan Featonby. I pay tribute to the NGOs and individuals who gave evidence to the inquiry of which I was a member. Not for the first time, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. The Stephen Shaw review is simply not wide enough. We need softer measures, in sharp distinction to what feels hopelessly—I stress that word—indefinite. I know that James Brokenshire says that it is not indefinite because we have to comply with the European convention, but it feels indefinite if you cannot see the end, coupled with uncertainty about the outcome.
The evidence is that compliance rates from community-based arrangements for looking after asylum seekers are very high, and of course that is a much less expensive way of going about the work. There are relatively few absconds. The case management model used in Sweden is based on early intervention and a welfare and rights framework. Individuals feel that they are given a fair hearing—and if they have to leave, they can make their own arrangements with dignity. This inquiry has said to me, among other things, that one of the things that is most lacking is dignity. A fair process means that the outcome is much more readily accepted, so it is effective in every sense. I have noted that Sweden’s detention estate has a capacity of just over 250. We have getting on for 4,000, plus the use of prisons, plus the proposed Campsfield extension.
I was very much struck by the comment that the environment is “counter-therapeutic”—that is, to mental health care. I was also struck by the frustration with Rule 35, which the Chief Inspector of Prisons told us was often a bureaucratic exercise. We heard, too, about the lack of training of staff.
The noble Baroness referred to the definition of torture for legal purposes, and I support what she said. What we heard on mental health in general was disturbing, particularly that the first response to symptoms is often, “They’re not real”—there is a culture of disbelief.
The Home Office has put so much effort and thought into the issue of slavery and trafficking over the last few months, and into the operation of the national referral mechanism. There must be a read-across from that to the trauma suffered by many who find themselves in asylum and immigration detention because of their experiences. It may not be due to trafficking, but, my goodness, it amounts to a huge degree of trauma, and they are in danger of retraumatisation by the experience of detention.
Immigration detention gives a wrong message to those who seek sanctuary and support—I accept that that is not the only population of IRCs—and sends a message about them. I go so far as to say that I think that it gives support—which I know is unintended—to that nasty, xenophobic element of society that sees immigrants in a way that I know your Lordships do not.
My Lords, this has been one more milestone in the long immigration debate. I thank my noble and learned friend for setting it out today, and congratulate him on his valediction. I shall miss his good sense and good humour, as will so many of our colleagues.
I have been involved in a number of previous inquiries and reports by all-party groups, some on immigration, some on Africa. They have all been good examples of best parliamentary practice, in which the general public, outside groups, NGOs and refugees themselves can engage with MPs and Peers. This report is therefore another outstanding example. Many of the recommendations coincide with those of the Independent Asylum Commission—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham—which offered a way forward, as does this report. However, I am sorry to say that apart from improved conditions for children and families, which have been welcomed, the Home Office still seems to be travelling with blinkers on. It has focused on immigration largely from the point of view of its effect on numbers, the impact on the British economy and on our way of life, and much too little on the situation of the refugees and migrants themselves.
I speak as a patron of Friends Without Borders in Portsmouth, which is concerned about inmates in Haslar IRC. Haslar has had quite a good HMI report recently, but it is unfortunately due for closure in a few weeks. I am aware of the wide discontent around the issue of length of detention. Most people who work closely with detainees feel strongly that there should be a maximum period of 28 days. Detention Action’s report last October pointed out that indefinite detention was a “uniquely British phenomenon”—and it is not one of which the UK can be proud. In 2013, over 900 migrants left detention after spending more than six months inside. Visitors to Haslar are perturbed, for example, by the case of an Indian national who was detained in October 2009 and released two years later, in December 2011. He was then returned to Haslar on 20 February 2013 and is still in immigration detention in Haslar another two years later. The point is that the Home Office did not remove him from a removal centre between 2009 and 2011, nor between 2013 and 2015. Yet he is not a danger to society in any way. There are many such cases, even just in Portsmouth. Another man was first detained in February 2013, then redetained last December. Three others in Haslar have been detained for long periods of 10 months, nine months and seven months. All those are from war-torn countries and the Home Office has not been able to obtain travel documents for them.
As at 31 December 2014, of the 3,462 people detained in immigration removal centres in short-term facilities, there were 20 cases of detainees who had suffered the longest recorded lengths of detention, over 700 days, and one of these was for 1,793 days. One or more long periods of detention for any person, without any time limit or sense of the length of the tunnel that you are in, is injurious to mental health, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, said. We can add to that the fact that most detained asylum seekers have already endured persecution followed by long, hazardous journeys and, perhaps, torture. Yet these people are victims, not criminals; they are asylum seekers who have already been through an ordeal. There should be other checks on detention. For instance, people have argued for years for automatic bail hearings, and for proper notice of the reasons for detention. Is Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules about safeguarding torture survivors being effectively applied?
We are said to be a generous country with a good record on asylum, yet the rhetoric as we approach the general election is that we are too generous because we cannot meet our immigration targets, including the student targets. Yet if we look at the wider situation in the Middle East, we are way down the list. Out of millions of Syrians in exile we have accepted only a handful of refugees, and Europe as a whole has taken less than 30,000 of the 120,000 that the UN would like us to take. Against that background, I hope that the Home Office will look more closely at its policy towards detention and take this opportunity to use the report to bring people of good will together to act on the recommendations and come up with more community-based solutions.
My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for just one moment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was kind enough to mention me in his final contribution to debates in your Lordships’ House. I have greatly valued and enjoyed the warm and generous friendship of the noble and learned Lord. Our relationship goes back to the time when I was Convenor of the Cross Benches in 1999. He made a contribution to resolving the intractable issue of Gulf War syndrome, in which I, too, became closely involved. He was a most astute adviser when I had the temerity, in 2008, to table and move an annulment Motion concerning Armed Forces appeal tribunals. Many more important issues have benefited from the noble and learned Lord’s forensic and persuasive arguments, as we have heard.
I place on record my admiration and respect for the noble and learned Lord, and wish him well with his next assignments with Jane and dogs, Meg and Bertie, whether at home or abroad. All noble Lords will greatly miss the company and contributions of the noble and learned Lord. A bientôt, Tony.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. This is a challenging issue and the undercover reports and allegations of abuse at Yarl’s Wood have brought a new awareness of the problems and issues at immigration centres. The excellent report of the APPG, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was a member, provides a great service to Parliament. I hope that the Government will see it that way as well.
As this is such a challenging issue, we should be particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord for choosing this debate in which to make his valedictory or swansong speech, given that there are so many other issues he could have chosen. However, he chose this issue as, through his contribution to the report and the debate today, he wants to make a real and significant difference.
The noble and learned Lord had a very distinguished legal career outside your Lordships’ House and brought that expertise and thoughtful judgment to his years of service in this House. He has been formidable in debate. Former Ministers have told me that they used to quake in their shoes at the thought of him asking a question. I hope that he will delight in that as he leaves us. However, I did not agree with one issue in his excellent speech. His final litmus test for deciding to retire from your Lordships’ House was when he was offered a seat on the train. That makes me nervous as, two weeks ago, I left your Lordships’ House, caught a 453 bus, and a young lady offered me her seat. It was a sobering moment but I am not quite ready to retire yet. I pay warm tribute to the noble and learned Lord. We will miss him and his contributions.
Along with other noble Lords speaking today, I have asked the Government numerous questions about abuse at Yarl’s Wood and I have been disappointed by the replies because, although Serco runs the centre, the detention policies and the welfare of detainees is the responsibility of the Government. We have already made it clear that a Labour Government will hold an independent investigation into the Yarl’s Wood allegations and the appropriateness of the current level of detention in the system. However, I think that we can do better than that. As we have heard today, and have seen in the report, the current system is failing. There is a growing backlog of cases. Unresolved asylum cases have increased by 48% over the last year. The number of people being held for three to six months has gone up from 1,757 in 2010 to 2,385 today. As the parliamentary report highlights, people are being detained for longer. Delays in the immigration and asylum processes have increased over the last five years with more people being detained for longer than three months, fewer decisions being made and fewer people leaving or being removed. That has to change.
We have already said that a Labour Government would end the detention of pregnant women and women who have suffered torture and sexual abuse and have been trafficked. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, currently guidelines on torture and pregnancy—
My Lords, if he were to table it tomorrow, we would not vote against it. Our policy has changed. We have looked into the issue. Noble Lords on the noble Baroness’s Benches who voted against the amendment on overseas domestic workers, which was taken to a Division last night by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, should hang their heads in shame. I take no lessons from noble Lords who voted against his amendment. We have made a very principled decision on what we as a Labour Government would do on asylum detention.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, the guidelines on torture and pregnancy are not being enforced, so the immigration laws have to be changed, and then we have to ensure that they are enforced.
We have looked at indefinite detention in further detail. We now believe that indefinite detention for people who have committed no crime and have had no review of their case is wrong. For those asylum seekers who have suffered abuse, torture or sexual abuse, it must be such an ordeal and deeply distressing. It is also extremely expensive for the taxpayer. No other European country or the US has this system in place today, so we do not need to either. I confirm to your Lordships’ House that a Labour Government would end indefinite detention for people in the asylum and immigration system.
We are not setting a timescale today, but in government we will consult on the appropriate time limits to detention, and look at appropriate safeguards for detention decisions, at best international practice and at existing alternatives that are being used and, in many cases, working well. An important part of our commitment is that we would also recruit 1,000 additional border and immigration enforcement staff to help speed up that decision-making process, indentify breaches of the Immigration Rules and enforce and manage removals. Everyone must be entitled to a swift and fair decision-making process. If they have no right to be in the UK, they still must be treated fairly and appropriately.
I want to be clear that we are not talking about those who have committed criminal offences or are being deported because of criminal behaviour, or about those who pose a threat to our national security or public safety. This change will affect the rules around detention for people in the asylum or immigration system.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, for allowing us to have this debate. I wish him well and a very long and happy retirement. I hope that we shall still see him in your Lordships’ House.
Finally, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, which may surprise him at this moment. He and I have spent many hours at this Dispatch Box over the last few weeks and he has always been extremely courteous and helpful in seeking to answer questions. Sometimes we have seen more of each other in this Chamber than we have seen of our families outside the Chamber. However, I am really very grateful to him for the courtesy with which he has treated us and the way in which he has engaged in debate.
I thank the noble Baroness for that unexpected remark—I was slightly thrown by it—and, of course, I am very happy to reciprocate. There has been common ground in many of the areas that we have debated over the past six months while I have been in this role. On issues such as child sexual exploitation, counterterrorism legislation and modern- day slavery, we have, in the best traditions, worked together to provide better and more humane protection for people in this country.
It was typical of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, to choose the topic of this debate for his swansong. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that Ministers quake in their shoes when the noble and learned Lord rises to his feet. If I am not quaking in my shoes it is only because the noble and learned Lord manages to prod the conscience of Ministers and hold them to account, not necessarily with a full, thrusting and aggressive approach but always with a very perceptive presentation of the case, and always on behalf of others and the most vulnerable in our society. I pay tribute to him. He will be sadly missed.
I realise that I have only a short time to speak because Standing Orders dictate that this debate should finish at 3.12 pm, I think. However, I do not think that we have anything else going on until people with strange tricorn hats start to appear at the Bar. I want to try to address some of the issues raised because they impact on the most vulnerable people in our society as well as some of the people from around the world who come here. We need to make sure that those issues are looked at carefully.
I join the noble and learned Lord in paying tribute to the authors, Sarah Teather and the others mentioned in this debate, for the way that they conducted both part 1 and part 2 of their review of detention in the immigration system and its effectiveness. I will return to that in just a second. Their work builds on a body of evidence that is raising deep public concerns. The undercover experiences at Yarl’s Wood in the Channel 4 documentary were deeply disturbing and are rightly the subject of an independent investigation. There was also the report by Women for Refugee Women, which I have read, about the daily experiences of people in that system. I think that one would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the stories that one hears and the accounts that one is given.
I am conscious that I am on a race to the bottom of the page already. My noble friend Lord Hurd is a distinguished former Home Secretary. I hope that he will be forbearing of a junior Minister in his former department who on the final day of term stretches the limits a little further than perhaps was initially thought. I shall try to do that in a number of areas, and he can come to my tribunal hearing if I go on a little bit too long and can perhaps defend me.
The first thing is to try to find the common ground. When I visited Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, there were different categories of people whom I met. I met detainees and staff as well. A very large proportion of them were coming in from the centres at Calais where they get on to trains or lorries and are then picked up immediately at the other end. They are then brought into the detention centre and stay only for a matter of hours before they are moved on and processed elsewhere, often returning of their own choice to France or Belgium.
There are then the most difficult cases, the foreign national offenders who have been referred to in many of the contributions that I have listened to. These are the people who used to be held within the prison estate and were then deported from there when they had served their sentence. A small proportion of them are still in the prison estate but are held now in the immigration detention centre ready to be removed. I am deeply conscious of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is in his place. We had a very helpful meeting for interested Peers with officials dealing with these areas following the Yarl’s Wood allegations. The noble Lord rightly spoke of the appropriateness of mixing foreign national offenders who are on their way out with people who are seeking asylum in this country. That point has to be looked at. Clearly, one has a group of people who, understandably, want to do almost everything they possibly can to frustrate the removal process. They do not want to co-operate; they do not want to apply for identity documents. A principal reason why people are held there is that it is not in their interest to co-operate and give an accurate name, to give their passport details and date of birth, and to get replacement documentation for their country, because that would be, as it were, to co-operate in the process of the return which they do not want—they want to stay here. Having the privilege of being in this country, I am sure that we can all totally understand why they would want to do that. Virtually every foreign national offender whose case I have looked into has been there for a very long period and falls into that category.
The detained fast track is an issue which will have to be addressed. Normally, the Border Force feels that these people’s asylum claims at ports of entry can be dealt with quickly and a swift decision reached. Normally, under the detained fast track, that can take 10 to 14 days. Not all those people are then deported; many of those claims are immediately upheld and the individuals concerned are moved to be cared for in the asylum system. That is important, too.
There are some areas on which I should like to make progress and cut to the chase, as there have been some very serious contributions. On Yarl’s Wood, one of the issues was the proportion of female staff. Yarl’s Wood is principally a place of female detention, so it would be appropriate for the number of female staff to be increased. We have said that we want to see it increased further and expect it to grow to 60%. Some also asked for greater transparency and for the improvement plans, which were previously not published, to be published. Taking advantage of the leniency which my noble friend Lord Hurd gave me, I can say that that will now be released.
I can also say as a statement of intent that we do not, as a direction of travel, want to see growth in the numbers of people in the immigration detention centres. For that reason, I can inform the House that the planning application for an extension at Campsfield has been declined. Moreover, today we are announcing that we are handing the Haslar immigration removal centre back to the prison estate. These are very important points as a general statement of direction of travel as to where government policy is going.
On the Stephen Shaw review, without wishing to test the patience of people who say that this is a time for action and not for more reviews, I think that there is something to be said for the fact that on an issue of this sensitivity, the margins of an election are not necessarily the time to get an objective and fair review of the case. We want to do this in a thorough and careful way, and explore all possible alternatives. There is the Kate Lampard review being undertaken by Serco and there is also the review by Stephen Shaw, who is widely respected. He is particularly looking at welfare. I will write to him today to ask him to extend the remit of his review to cover, in particular, the detention of pregnant women and people with disabilities. When we talk about that, distinct from talking about foreign national offenders who I think we all recognise are a different category in this sensitive issue, we are talking about those in the detained fast track. We will ask him to look particularly at the appropriateness of the welfare of those groups.
I will need to double check on that, but I think that, under Article 5 and the rules governing when people have been subject to sexual violence or torture, that is the subject of the medical examination when they are brought into the system and therefore they should never be in the system. I will look at that— I will not look at the Box, because I will get a shake of the head, probably—and include it in my letter to Stephen Shaw today.
I could address other matters, but time has probably run out and so I am not able to.
Under the John Vine report on detention and sexuality, there is meant to be an action plan. Clearly, the recommendations are sitting in the Home Office. When will the action plan come forward so that issues to do with sexuality in detention can be addressed? We know what the issues are. The Home Office has accepted the recommendations and we are just waiting for the action plan.
I do not have the details of when the action plan will be released. As the noble Lord said, we have accepted the recommendations and we will release it at some point. I shall get an answer for him today. My officials will have the answer and if he meets me at the back of the Chamber I shall quickly be able to give it to him.
I undertake to deal with the particular point raised by the noble Baroness. I recognise that this is an extremely sensitive issue and that we are talking about very vulnerable people. We are deeply concerned about it and are aware of our international obligations. It is that sense and that thought that I hope, in paying tribute again to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is an example of his chairmanship, which he referred to, where he would take people who were a long way apart and then, step by step, bring them a little closer together. That is his legacy.
The Lords Commissioners were: Baroness D’Souza, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Laming, Lord Newby and Baroness Stowell of Beeston.
My Lords, it not being convenient for Her Majesty personally to be present here this day, she has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared for proroguing this present Parliament.
When the Commons were present at the Bar, the Lord Privy Seal continued:
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, Her Majesty, not thinking fit personally to be present here at this time, has been pleased to cause a Commission to be issued under the Great Seal, and thereby given Her Royal Assent to divers Acts, the Titles whereof are particularly mentioned, and by the said Commission has commanded us to declare and notify Her Royal Assent to the said several Acts, in the presence of you the Lords and Commons assembled for that purpose; and has also assigned to us and other Lords directed full power and authority in Her Majesty’s name to prorogue this present Parliament. Which commission you will now hear read.
A Commission for Royal Assent and Prorogation was read, after which the Lord Privy Seal continued:
My Lords, in obedience to Her Majesty’s Commands, and by virtue of the Commission which has now been read, We do declare and notify to you, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled, that Her Majesty has given Her Royal Assent to the several Acts in the Commission mentioned; and the Clerks are required to pass the same in the usual Form and Words.
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act,
International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act,
Mutuals’ Deferred Shares Act,
House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act,
Consumer Rights Act,
Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Act,
Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act,
Lords Spiritual (Women) Act,
Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Act,
Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Act,
Local Government (Review of Decisions) Act,
Control of Horses Act,
House of Commons Commission Act,
Recall of MPs Act,
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act,
Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Act,
Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act,
Health Service Commissioner for England (Complaint Handling) Act,
Modern Slavery Act.
Prorogation: Her Majesty’s Speech
Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech was then delivered to both Houses of Parliament by the Lord Privy Seal, in pursuance of Her Majesty’s Command, as follows.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government’s legislative programme has been founded on a long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society. Legislation passed in this Session will support economic growth and help secure a better future for Britain. New Acts will make the United Kingdom the most attractive place to start, finance and grow a business and reduce the burden of excessive regulation on businesses, individuals and the taxpayer. Legislation was passed to establish a simple set of consumer rights to promote competitive markets and economic growth. In addition, a new Act will simplify the collection of national insurance contributions from the self-employed.
The creation of a modern infrastructure is vital in order to support economic growth. A new Act will guarantee long-term investment in the road network, ensure that new homes will be built to a zero-carbon standard, reform planning law and enhance the United Kingdom’s energy security. My Government continue to promote legislation to enable the building of the High Speed 2 railway line.
My Ministers have made it a priority to reform the criminal justice system. New legislation on serious crime includes provision to tackle child neglect, disrupt organised crime and strengthen powers to seize the proceeds of crime. An Act was passed to make wide-ranging reforms to the justice system, to protect the public and reduce reoffending. Groundbreaking legislation was passed to strengthen the powers to prevent modern slavery and help stamp out human trafficking. Legislation passed in this Session will provide that where a person acts heroically, responsibly or for the benefit of others, this will be taken into account by the courts.
My Ministers attach the highest importance to safeguarding national security whilst maintaining civil liberties. To this end, legislation was passed to ensure that the law enforcement agencies retain the capabilities to protect the public. In recognition of the security situation, legislation was also passed to disrupt terrorism and tackle the extremism that risks drawing people into terrorism.
An Act was passed to improve the complaints system in the Armed Forces through the creation of an ombudsman.
It has been a priority for my Government to help build a fairer society. Legislation was enacted which will help working families with their childcare costs and also reduce the cost of stamp duty land tax for 98% of people who pay the tax. To complement reforms begun earlier in the Parliament, legislation passed in this Session will allow for innovation in the private pensions market to give greater control to employees.
My Ministers have taken forward a series of reforms to the constitution. With regard to Parliament, Acts were passed to reform the House of Commons Commission, on the recall of Members of Parliament and to ensure that female bishops sit in your Lordships’ House at the earliest opportunity.
My Ministers have pursued a programme of legislation to benefit people across the entire United Kingdom and have worked closely with the devolved Administrations. An Act was passed to enhance the devolution settlement in Wales and, following the Stormont House agreement, legislation was enacted to devolve the power to set the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland. Last year, people in Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, and draft legislation was published setting out further devolution to the Scottish Parliament.
The Duke of Edinburgh and I were pleased to welcome His Excellency the President of Singapore and his wife, and His Excellency the President of Mexico and his wife on their visits to the United Kingdom. We enjoyed a warm welcome on our visit to France, which coincided with an invitation to attend the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
My Government have continued to pursue an active foreign policy, promoting British interests and values, and protecting British citizens abroad. My Ministers contributed to a resolute NATO and European Union response to Russian actions in Ukraine. Through the NATO summit in Wales, they achieved agreement on enhancing the Alliance’s rapid deployment capability to protect the United Kingdom’s allies.
The United Kingdom has been at the heart of the international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy terrorism in the Middle East. It has been a priority of my Ministers to reach an international agreement on practical steps to tackle the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. My Government have led the international response to Ebola in Sierra Leone, helping to bring the disease under control.
My Ministers have continued to promote and foster British trade and investment around the world to support the prosperity of the United Kingdom. They have also supported British nationals through modern and efficient consular services. In Europe, my Ministers continue to work for reform to secure a European Union that is flexible, more accountable, and better able to compete in the global economy.
Members of the House of Commons, I thank you for the provisions which you have made for the work and dignity of the Crown and for the public services.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of Her Majesty’s Commission which has now been read, we do, in Her Majesty’s name, and in obedience to Her Majesty’s Commands, prorogue this Parliament to the 30th day of March, to be then here holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Monday, the 30th day of March.
Parliament was prorogued at 5.30 pm.