House of Lords
Thursday, 16 July 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.
Oaths and Affirmations
Lord Sacks made the solemn affirmation, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following David Anderson QC’s report on surveillance legislation, whether they intend that Ministers should retain the power to authorise surveillance.
My Lords, as I said in the House on 8 July during the debate on the recent reports into investigatory powers, the Government have made no decisions on the proposals within the reports. We intend to bring forward legislative proposals in the autumn that will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It is important to think that the public understand how and why such decisions are made. However, it is an offence to disclose that a warrant for authorisation of surveillance has been issued, and it is government policy not to talk about security matters, so how can the public understand exactly what the Minister has done and why he has done it? Is some sort of transparency a factor in his thinking?
David Anderson’s report, on which we had a very helpful debate last week, talks about trust, and there needs to be a balance of trust. The issues that are being investigated by our security services and law enforcement agencies are of the most grave and serious nature, so full disclosure is not possible. However, there is an Interception of Communications Commissioner who reviews the decisions taken by the Home Secretary. Should an individual feel that they have wrongly had their communications intercepted, they have the ability to take that up with the investigation tribunal to look into the decision further.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the splendid report produced by RUSI looking at intercept which comes up with a very practical and sensible way forward on this issue. The report, tying in with Anderson, is written in such a way that it could almost be a Green Paper, and the two of them taken together could be a draft White Paper. We need something in draft by October this year, because we definitely need to have something in front of the House by early February if we are going to meet the sunset clause. Does the Minister agree that it forms a very sound basis for moving forward with this legislation?
I absolutely agree with the report. I received a copy of it yesterday when it was published, and it is a very readable document. It comes alongside the Anderson review, which is nearly 400 pages long, and the Intelligence and Security Committee report in the last part of the last Session. Taken together, in the round, they will enable the Joint Committee, which we hope will begin pre-legislative scrutiny early this autumn, to make faster progress than would otherwise be the case and therefore meet the important deadline of the sunset clause, to which the noble Lord rightly referred.
My Lords, my noble friend’s Answer to the noble Baroness’s Question is exactly right. She is going to have the opportunity for a quite unprecedented amount of consideration of the important issue of whether warrants should be signed by judges or Secretaries of State. I welcome my noble friend’s answer that this will be discussed further against the RUSI report, the Anderson report and the pre-legislative scrutiny so that the public can see just how important these issues are and the importance that this House attaches to them.
Absolutely, and I think we are all grateful to the business managers for having arranged time for that very important debate before the report from RUSI had actually been received. There were many helpful contributions in that debate, including those from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, who shared incredible insights from their practical experience of the dilemmas that are faced. On the issue of judicial authorisation of warrants, judgment was split: RUSI and the ISC were in favour of the status quo whereas David Anderson wanted to look at it. That will be work for the pre-legislative scrutiny committee whose deliberations will, of course, be published.
My Lords, can the Minister explain to the House how, if the Government decide not to go for a judicial signature on the warrant, the country will get information from communications service providers abroad, which hold most of the data that would be sought, when they have said that they are highly unlikely to give over information based on a political signature but are likely to co-operate with us based on a judicial signature?
As Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the Prime Minister’s envoy to the communications service providers on this issue, pointed out, our system is not entirely politically based. There is judicial oversight of the process in the shape of the commissioner, who can look into this and review the decisions taken. I hope that that would satisfy. I have to say—although the noble Lord is leading me down that road—that we have reached no conclusions on that, and it will be thoroughly debated publicly before any decision is taken.
On the specific Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will the Minister and his colleagues strongly bear in mind in any consideration the principle of accountability to Parliament and to the public? On grave decisions such as this, it is the Minister who will be held responsible by both Parliament and the public, and that is especially the case if anything should go wrong and a tragedy occur. Will he make that central to his considerations?
It is a major part of the consideration. I think that we were very interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who talked about the level of scrutiny that was there and the support for the Home Secretary who takes the decision. We recognise that, ultimately, they are the ones with the responsibility, and they are the ones who should therefore have the authority.
In the debate last week on investigatory powers, the Minister said that the Government would come forward with a draft Bill after the pending Recess which would then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Minister then said that he hoped or thought that,
“the period of time for pre-legislative scrutiny might be shortened, and that the period of time for scrutiny through the House might be quicker than it otherwise would have been had it not been for all the evidence, reports and consideration”—[Official Report, 8/7/15; cols. 235-36]—
now in the public domain. I am sure that that is a perfectly reasonable hope or expectation to have, but can the Minister confirm that there will not be any government pressure to go further than that by seeking to curtail either the pre-legislative scrutiny process or the period of time for scrutiny of the proposed legislation by Parliament?
That is a fair point. We have been around this track several times before. The Joint Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Blencathra looked at the communications data Bill and did a very thorough piece of work. We then had the Intelligence and Security Committee report and the Anderson review, which took more than a year to complete. We then had the RUSI review. People are coming together towards a consensus, which should mean that the passage of the Bill, as a result of the diligent work that has gone on before, should be smoother and quicker and therefore we can get the powers to the security agencies that they need to keep us safe.
My Lords, when the Bill is debated and the papers are produced, could we also have a paper detailing so far as possible the infinite damage caused by the refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy and Edward Snowden?
I do not know whether they will be directly linked in the same package, but of course it is open to us to reflect on that. The reality is that our security services do an incredibly important job in keeping us safe against a threat that is getting more severe, as we have seen not only in this country but also overseas in recent weeks.
Police: Ambulance Support
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of police forces supporting ambulance services by taking patients to accident and emergency departments.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my interests in the register.
The public deserve the right service from the right organisation at the right time. Only ambulances should be used to transport patients to A&E as only ambulances are clinically equipped and staffed to do so. Incidents where the police transport patients to hospital are very rare and the emergency services continue to work together to reduce them further.
I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer; however, I think he is incorrect in saying that it is a very rare occurrence. Freedom of information requests have shown that the number of cases of people being taken to hospital to accident and emergency departments runs in the thousands in recent times. He is also aware, because he sent the figures to me, that, for example, in London the ambulance service has failed to meet its emergency target in terms of time in every single London borough in each of the last three months. What exactly do the Government think they are doing about making sure that there is adequate coverage for the emergency services? Is the intention that, despite all the Minister’s fine words about the importance of ambulances, the reality is that the police will have to act as paramedics?
I do not think that the noble Lord is right. The actual number of times that police transport patients to A&E is less than 0.1% of all such conveyances. I agree that there are some particular problems in London. There is a shortage of paramedics and they have an active recruitment plan to correct that. There have also been management problems in the London Ambulance Service and its performance, to which the noble Lord correctly draws attention, has not been good enough. There is now a new chief executive of the London Ambulance Service, who is fully aware of the issues. She has recently published the report about the levels of bullying in the London Ambulance Service, which are very distressing. The fact that that has been published and that she has acknowledged it give me hope for the future.
My Lords, building on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is the Minister aware that in recent months in London—and also outside—there has been a significant increase in the use of police officers to invoke emergency powers under the Mental Health Act to take people who are mentally ill to a place of safety? While police officers have a can-do mentality, it is disturbing that they are being used to deal with mentally ill people because of an absence of other professions to deal with this. It warrants an assessment of their use in relation to mental health.
The noble Lord raises a very important point. Apart from being an extra drain on the resources of the police, it can often exacerbate a mental health problem if someone who is already very distressed ends up being transported in a police vehicle. Under the mental health concordat, to which all ambulance services are signed up, they are committed to reducing the number of times that people detained under the Mental Health Act are transported in police vehicles. We will monitor performance against that very carefully.
My Lords, the Mental Health Act code of practice clearly says that people with mental health problems should not be transported by police vehicles. In the Midlands the ambulance service transports roughly 75% of people with mental health problems—that is reasonably good but not acceptable—while in Lancashire the figure is as low as 5% and in London it is 30%. Have the Government made any assessment of this, given what the Home Secretary said about police cells being completely inappropriate places of safety for people with mental health problems? Police vehicles should not, wherever possible, transport mental patients.
The noble Lord is right: it is quite wrong for people to be detained under Section 136 in police cells. It is also wrong that people suffering from severe mental health problems are transported in police vehicles. I am not aware of the figures that he gave for the West Midlands in comparison with other parts of the country but I will look at them very carefully.
My Lords, would the Minister—
My Lords, I am sitting next to a living example of the situation that we are discussing about the police helping. We are all delighted to welcome back my noble friend Lady Knight. She was found in her garden by her gardener, who was convinced that she was dead. He was terrified and immediately decided to call the police. Eventually she got to hospital by ambulance in enough time, but under those circumstances, when you call the emergency services, how much time does it take to decide who you are going to send—the police or an ambulance? Naturally, if she had been dead, the police would have been the most appropriate people.
I am sure that my noble friend will never die; she is clearly immortal. When you dial 999, the ambulance service has eight minutes to respond in such a serious matter as my noble friend has described. Then a fully equipped ambulance must arrive within 19 minutes. In the last two months, 75% of all such “A Red” calls have been met by the ambulance services.
My Lords, on the question of the London Ambulance Service’s performance, when does the Minister expect the LAS to perform according to the targets that it has been set?
The performance of the London Ambulance Service is improving, albeit too slowly. A new chief executive has just been appointed and the TDA is following the performance extremely carefully. We hope that improvements will continue to be made.
Building Stability Overseas Strategy
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the Building Stability Overseas Strategy.
My Lords, the Government currently have no plans for a formal review of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, but the UK’s role in promoting stability overseas will be considered as part of the development of the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.
My Lords, the Minister for Government Policy, Mr Oliver Letwin, said in a Written Statement in March that the new £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund would be,
“underpinned notably by the building stability overseas strategy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/3/15; col. 19WS.]
The strategy was agreed in 2011, and since then we have had the tragedy in Syria, the development of ISIS and its allies around the world, and the crisis of migration in the Mediterranean and south-east Asia. Given that we now have a new sustainable development goal framework that is likely to include stability and peacebuilding, is the time now right to review the Building Stability Overseas Strategy? Perhaps the sustainable development goals agreed in September would give the Government an opportunity to do that.
I agree with the implication behind the noble Lord’s supplementary that Governments have to be responsive to change. He outlines significant events that have taken their toll on life and security. The principles within the Building Stability Overseas Strategy—early warning, rapid response and upstream prevention—remain as valid now as they were then. However, it is right that the Government focus more carefully on how one then delivers the aid in that strategy. That is why we have formed the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund with £1.033 billion, and the National Security Council will be looking very carefully at how that money is best spent.
My Lords, the Minister will recognise that budgets are never limited, so on what basis has the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund decided to prioritise some regions and plans over others?
My noble friend is right, and it is a daily difficulty of every Government to deliver their spending in a way that secures the security of their people. We focus on countries and regions where risks are high, our national interests are at stake and we know that we can have an impact. We partner with others—the European Union, the United Nations and NATO—but it is the move from the Conflict Pool system to the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund that is part of our continuous process to improve how our funds are spent. The new system will better align our national security objectives with conflict prevention.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree—I am sure she will—that it is only through long-term engagement with fragile states that there is any chance of building stability overseas and, in particular, that means ensuring that young people have a brighter future? Does she therefore think it was right that my colleague Michael Moore and my noble friend Lord Purvis brought forward the 0.7% Bill, which ensured that predictable funding into the future, in the last days of the coalition Government?
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s question because I recall that the last time this Question was on the Order Paper it was so ably answered by her. I entirely agree with her view that this country should be proud that we have a legislative requirement for spending 0.7% on overseas aid. We should also be proud that we are the only country in the world that, as the Budget made clear, will spend 2% on defence for at least the life of this Government.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the biggest threats to world stability now is the biggest migration of people since World War II, with the UNHCR suggesting that some 54 million refugees—internally displaced people or asylum seekers—are now out of their countries and drifting around, and therefore posing a threat in the places they now are? Dictators such as Omar al-Bashir in Sudan have been indicted by the International Criminal Court and there are reports indicting Eritrea for its crimes against humanity. Does the Minister agree that when they can travel with impunity and the International Criminal Court fails to be able to act, it jeopardises world stability? What plans do the Government have to try to strengthen the role of the ICC?
My Lords, we are strong supporters of the ICC. I visited the court just before Christmas and have maintained negotiations with it since then. We are continually pressing our partners to ensure that it has enough funding—we lead the way on that. I also press the ICC to reform some of its processes to enable more effective prosecution of those who should be held to account.
My Lords, we are learning now that conflict resolution and stability overseas require new and much more powerful methods of public diplomacy. Does the Minister feel that the budget we have and the balance between the MoD, DfID and the Foreign Office is quite right or should we be thinking about a switch to reinforce somewhat the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts, budget and developments in the public diplomacy field?
My Lords, the building security strategy depends entirely on the interplay between defence, diplomacy and development. It is clear that the Budget addressed that matter but we have ahead of us the comprehensive spending review and, of course, the defence review. Until those discussions are concluded we will not see the final picture.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that any future policy on the Building Stability Overseas Strategy must include a strong commitment to mainstreaming gender, peace and security throughout all the UK’s conflict prevention efforts and should not, for example, be siloed in the national action plan?
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness and it is a matter that I am looking at in policy terms.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that joined-up government in principle is a very good thing and this is a good example of it, but when it comes to four or five departments, does not the argument of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, become stronger? We perhaps need to review the speed at which decisions are made by several departments.
My Lords, that is exactly why the National Security Council has taken the measures it has to be able to deliver decisions more effectively and rapidly. Also, sometimes is has to be festina lente. One has to have the underlying principles on which one acts and they are, as I mentioned earlier, early warning, rapid response and upstream prevention. Upstream prevention takes time.
My Lords, just now the Minister reminded the House that the Government have pledged to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development and 2% of GDP on defence, but the Government have also pledged to consign very considerable numbers of our children in this country to poverty. Is not the Government’s policy stance surreal?
My Lords, this Government have as their objective to raise the living standards of all people in this country by having a stable economy. That, of course, includes the children, who are our future.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on carbon emissions in the United Kingdom of the decision not to proceed with either the zero-carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme for homes or the 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards.
My Lords, estimates of the carbon savings from the zero-carbon homes policy in England have been included in the updated emissions projections published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In the next update of those projections the Government will be taking into account the decision not to proceed with the zero-carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme for homes or the 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards.
But is the Minister not aware of the deep concern in response to this decision about the impact not only on climate change but on the construction industry? The UK Green Building Council called it,
“short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house building industry which has invested heavily in delivering energy efficient homes”.
Does he recall that his noble friend the Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon told this House in November:
“I assure noble Lords that the Government will strengthen standards and deliver zero-carbon homes from 2016. That is and remains a clear commitment on which we will be held accountable if we do not deliver”.—[Official Report, 5/11/14; col. 1709.]?
How will the Minister hold his noble friend to account for this failure to deliver?
I understand that the noble Lord is exercised about this but research has shown that the zero-carbon standard would have placed a significant regulatory burden on housebuilders and developers. These changes will give rise to the challenge of building more homes, including new starter homes. The carbon offsetting element—the so-called “allowable solutions”—would count as a tax on developers and would be of no benefit to the homebuyer, so we are giving the industry some breathing space.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government’s claim to be the greenest Government ever has, to coin a phrase, gone up in smoke? If not, what is the basis on which he could rebut that charge?
We have a very strong record to play upon. According to the Carbon Plan, published in 2011, improvements to the current building stock present an opportunity to save up to 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. DECC’s latest projection shows that less than 5 million tonnes of CO2 would have been saved during the fourth carbon budget period through these schemes.
My Lords, I have asked this question before but perhaps I may try again. Why can it not be made mandatory that all new buildings have things such as photovoltaic and/or solar panels built into them?
There is a balance to be struck in ensuring that houses are affordable and that builders are given some leeway to build homes. I should remind the House that one of the key manifesto pledges was to build more homes, and particularly more affordable homes.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the senior scientists who have been working on carbon capture and storage for many years have themselves concluded that this is not a viable way to deal with global warming? Will the Government therefore consider ceasing investing in carbon capture and storage and divert those resources into effective and sustainable energy sources?
The noble Baroness has a point to the extent that there have been some concerns that you could seal a house too much, and research into that is currently going on. That is perhaps part of the reason why it is right not just to plough ahead with schemes without thinking through them, and we are therefore taking this pause, which is the right thing to do.
My Lords, the Minister said that this is a tax on the building industry, but is it not a fuel poverty issue? If a development goes ahead with affordable housing which is less carbon efficient and therefore costs a great deal more in fuel bills, is not the developer making a greater profit and do not those on the lower end of the social scale, in terms of their ability to pay for the fuel, have to pay over the longer term a great deal more in their energy bills?
I draw the noble Lord’s attention to our record over the last five years in making buildings more efficient. Homes and non-domestic buildings built to the latest building regulation requirements are already very energy efficient, so that plays into the affordable homes argument.
Would my noble friend explain to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that they are talking about emissions arising from domestic activity and domestic energy production, while, through our colossal imports into this country, our emissions from consumption are rising very fast? They have risen enormously since 1990. If one is concerned about combating global climate change, the changes we are talking about today make very little difference to our contribution, while they probably help a number of would-be homeowners very considerably.
In taking a holistic view my noble friend makes a good point. Under the UK’s Climate Change Act we are committed to cutting overall emissions by 80% by 2050. This extends the argument beyond housing. Carbon budgets provide the framework to put us on a cost-effective pathway to meeting our legally binding 2050 target.
Another manifesto commitment that will effectively increase the amount of carbon is the Government’s commitment to phase out onshore windmills. We can debate why that should be but the proposed planning system will effectively phase them out. Is the Minister aware that it will also reduce the number of jobs in the industry? Is he aware that a company called Mabey in Chepstow announced its closure last week, with the loss of 125 jobs, as a direct result of the fact that no more masts will be manufactured for windmills?
I do not know about the examples that the noble Lord mentioned, but in relation to windmills, or wind farms, decarbonisation must work for the local communities where infrastructure is built. We remain focused on getting the best deals for bill payers, to make these schemes work better.
If the Government continued with wind farms, how many jobs would be lost in the tourism industry?
As ever, my Lords, there is a balance to be struck.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be suspended on Monday 20 July to allow the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.
Privileges and Conduct
Motion to Agree
That the 2nd Report from the Select Committee (House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015: changes to standing orders) (HL Paper 15) be agreed to.
My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper and in so doing will speak to the first and second Motions.
The two Motions before the House will implement the House’s new power to expel Members or to suspend them for any length of time. As such, it gives effect to the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015. The new Standing Order will allow the House to expel or suspend where a Member has been found in breach of the code of conduct and the Committee for Privileges and Conduct has recommended expulsion or suspension, as the case may be.
Safeguards to ensure the proper use of the new power are in the Standing Order. The House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 requires a by-election to be held to replace any hereditary Peer who is expelled. The amendment to Standing Order 10(1) carries out that requirement. I beg to move.
I do not wish to delay the House but I would like to express my gratitude to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct for what has been a thorough and timely approach to drawing up these changes to Standing Orders. The House will be aware that concerns were expressed that these very serious powers should be implemented only after careful consideration and due and proper process. These Standing Orders ensure that that would happen. I am extremely grateful and I support them.
Standing Orders (Public Business)
Motion to Amend
That the standing orders relating to public business be amended as follows:
In Standing Order 10(1), after “House of Lords Reform Act 2014” insert “or expulsion under the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015,”
After Standing Order 11 insert the following new Standing Order:
“Expulsion or suspension of a member
11A.-(1) In implementation of section 1 of the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015, this Standing Order makes provision for expelling or suspending a member under that Act.
(2) A motion to expel or suspend a member must follow a recommendation from the Committee for Privileges and Conduct that the member be expelled or suspended (as the case may be) because the member has breached the Code of Conduct.
(3) Such a recommendation may be made by the Committee for Privileges and Conduct only if the Commissioner for Standards has found the member in breach of the Code of Conduct or the member is in breach of the Code in accordance with paragraph 16 or 17 of the Code.
(4) A motion to expel or suspend a member must state that, in the opinion of the House, the conduct giving rise to the motion occurred:
(a) on or after 26 June 2015, or
(b) before 26 June 2015 but was not public knowledge before 26 June 2015.
(5) A motion to suspend a member must specify the period for which the suspension is to last (which may be until the occurrence of a specified event).
(6) Notice must be given of a motion to expel or suspend a member.
(7) Expulsion or suspension takes effect as soon as the House has agreed the motion.
(8) This Standing Order does not affect the House’s inherent power to suspend a member for a period no longer than the remainder of the Parliament then in existence in respect of conduct occurring before 26 June 2015 which was public knowledge before 26 June 2015.”
That Lord Crickhowell be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Luke, retired.
That a Select Committee of six members be appointed to join with a Committee appointed by the Commons as the Joint Committee on Human Rights:
(a) matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases);
(b) proposals for remedial orders, draft remedial orders and remedial orders made under section 10 of and laid under Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Act 1998; and
(c) in respect of draft remedial orders and remedial orders, whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to them on any of the grounds specified in Standing Order 73 (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments);
To report to the House:
(a) in relation to any document containing proposals laid before the House under paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House; or
(b) in relation to any draft order laid under paragraph 2 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether the draft Order should be approved;
and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals or draft orders; and
To report to the House in respect of any original order laid under paragraph 4 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether:
(a) the order should be approved in the form in which it was originally laid before Parliament; or
(b) the order should be replaced by a new order modifying the provisions of the original order; or
(c) the order should not be approved;
and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said order or any replacement order;
That the following members be appointed to the Committee:
B Buscombe, B Hamwee, L Henley, B Lawrence of Clarendon, B Prosser, L Woolf;
That the Committee have power to agree with the Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman;
That the quorum of the Committee shall be two;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place;
That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;
That the evidence taken by the Committee in the last session of Parliament be referred to the Committee;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Motion agreed, and a message was sent to the Commons.
Responsibility to Protect
Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of the “Responsibility to Protect” and the application of this international norm by the United Kingdom and the United Nations.
My Lords, first, I draw attention to my relevant entries in the Lords register and thank the House for this opportunity to raise the important issue of the responsibility to protect and its application by both the United Kingdom and United Nations. This is an opportunity to look backwards, but also forwards. I also look forward to hearing the valedictory speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein.
This is a timely debate. Last Friday, I had, with many others, the honour of attending a commemorative service in St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, 20 years on from the genocide in Srebrenica in the Balkans. Speaking at the ceremony were representatives of the Mothers of Srebrenica. Their pain 20 years on was raw; their anger remains deep; and they know—today, we know—that we in the international community let them and their families down. We had said “Never again” after 1945, but too often in the decades that followed, because of a false analysis of state sovereignty, the international community let down people threatened by, and who were ultimately victims of, genocide and mass atrocities.
In Srebrenica in July 1995, the United Nations stood aside, supported by members of the Security Council, including the United Kingdom, and allowed 8,372 people, men and boys, to be slaughtered by the Bosnian Serbs. Their relatives, particularly the women and children who were moved aside on that day, live with that memory every day. Despite the numerous requests for support, the international community was not there to help protect them. That was only one year after the genocide in Rwanda, where the United Nations had similarly let down so many people—in that case, hundreds of thousands—who became victims of genocide.
Kofi Annan, who was in the United Nations at the time, used his new position as Secretary-General of the United Nations to try to address the issue following his appointment in 1997. To his eternal credit, he cleverly, diplomatically, intelligently but very decisively pushed the international community into action. He asked the key question:
“Who is responsible for protecting people from gross violations of human rights?”
He specifically and importantly clarified that the UN charter agreed in 1945, which of course had state sovereignty at its heart,
“was never meant as a licence for governments to trample on human rights and human dignity. Sovereignty implies responsibility, not just power.”
In 2001, partly at the instigation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Canadian Foreign Minister established the International Commission on Intervention in State Sovereignty. Its report, Responsibility to Protect, published in December 2001, provided the basis for an international discussion on what could and should be agreed. The report rightly identified the internationally recognised atrocity crimes—genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity—as requiring special attention in any new framework that could be agreed in the years to come.
The advocacy of the responsibility to protect tried to shift the focus from protecting the rights of states to protecting the rights of people. Appropriately, it recognised that the nature of conflict had changed from interstate conflict, particularly during the Cold War decades, to civil conflicts—internal conflicts within states. We know that in the period since, that development has continued. In many instances—not just in Rwanda and the Balkans—the United Nations has been unable to protect the local population from crimes committed against them, either by their own Governments or their fellow citizens.
However, the world summit in 2005 agreed unanimously—every single member state agreed—that the responsibility to protect was to become an international norm. It stated clearly—and I think cleverly, as well as being based on strong principles—that there were three pillars or stages to the responsibility to protect. The first was the primacy of the state in protecting its own people. The second was the responsibility of the international community to support states in protecting their own people. The third, crucially, was that the international community had a responsibility and yes, a moral duty to intervene—in many different ways, but in all ways possible to protect those citizens should their states fail in that responsibility.
That was agreed by the international community in 2005, and very soon first quoted in the United Nations Security Council resolution in 2006 with reference to the emerging situation in the Sudan. Responsibility to protect was referenced in Security Council Resolution 1674 and again in Resolution 1706, which provided a basis for action there that at least protected those who had not yet become victims of the emerging violence in that part of northern Africa.
It was in 2011 that, in the words of Ban Ki-moon, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations,
“responsibility to protect came of age; the principle was tested”,
particularly in Libya, but also in Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria where, either explicitly or implicitly the United Nations used the principles of responsibility to protect to justify action to protect civilians, with mixed results. As Ban Ki-moon said:
“The results were uneven, but … tens of thousands of lives were saved. We gave hope to people long oppressed”.
However, the events of 2011 justify us now in 2015, and the events since 2011, in particular, justify us in reviewing the progress of responsibility to protect and assessing what is not yet being applied consistently or effectively. I want to address a number of points today concerning the application of the principle by both the United Nations and the United Kingdom. I mentioned the Lords register earlier, and I want to thank the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom—UNA-UK—for sponsoring a visit by me and others to the United Nations and to the United States Government in Washington in March where we were able to explore the current application of this principle by both the United Nations and the USA.
It seems to me that the United Nations still has a deep commitment to the responsibility to protect norm and its application. As recently as last year, the joint offices of genocide prevention and responsibility to protect produced a publication entitled Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. It highlights to all UN agencies, departments and in-country offices ways in which they should be identifying the potential for atrocity prevention and how the United Nations can then respond to help prevent atrocities taking place. The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of driving this United Nations momentum and Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative, UK Mission to the UN, New York, said last September in a review discussion:
“The international community has a growing role to play in helping states fulfil their primary ‘responsibility to protect’ their own populations from mass atrocities”.
That is particularly true this year, as we look at the sustainable development goals being agreed in September.
I want to raise a number of points relating to the United Nations, on which the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, may wish to respond on behalf of the Government. First, what are we doing in the United Nations Security Council to ensure that that framework for analysis is being driven through the departments and agencies of the UN and implemented consistently and effectively?
Perhaps much more importantly, are we engaged in the important discussion that has been sparked off by the French to look at the use of the veto in cases of mass atrocities? The French have floated the idea that perhaps there should be at least a voluntary restriction on the use of the veto when cases of mass atrocities are up for discussion in the Security Council. As recently as last week, Russia refused to endorse a resolution condemning the Srebrenica genocide. Given the way that the veto has been used over the years—not just by Russia—will the United Kingdom support that debate and look at how the use of the veto could, at least on a voluntary basis in advance of UN reform, be dealt with in the future?
Are we prepared to argue strongly inside the United Nations for a higher priority to be given to state-building capacity following the agreement of the sustainable development goals in September? Can we do more to build strong, independent institutions that protect people inside their own countries? Where we identify that mass atrocities may be about to happen, will the United Nations and the regional organisations that were mentioned in the original World Summit resolution be able to intervene to protect local populations?
Are we learning the lessons of the follow-through? The Brazilians and others have raised the issue of responsibility while protecting. In Libya, for example, there was an intervention that, at the time, protected the population from the threat from Colonel Gaddafi to exterminate those who opposed his regime in his last days in power. But where was the follow-through? Can we ensure that there is a follow-through responsibility, while protecting and afterwards, to protect the local population and then build a successful state that protects their rights in the longer term, not just in that immediate period of action ?
I turn to the United Kingdom and, perhaps in this context, to the European Union. Recently, I met a group of boys from Hampton School who have, since the 20th anniversary last year of the Rwandan genocide, been conducting a project on how the education system and their generation could remember the Rwandan genocide and the lessons from it, and not allow that to be forgotten. I am happy to share their very interesting and well-presented report with the Government. Before I deal with the bigger strategic, diplomatic and development issues, there is an issue around how we in this country ensure that the younger generation understands these lessons as well as we do—I am struck by the fact that anybody who leaves school today was born after the Srebrenica genocide. Perhaps the Government may wish to address that.
In the United Kingdom, the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, which did not mention responsibility to protect as a norm back in 2011, should perhaps reflect this important principle more in both its theory and its application. The new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund should specifically target atrocity prevention as one of the issues it was established to tackle with its £1 billion in our long-term security interests. The civilian stability group from the UK, which is deployed to these conflict and post-conflict situations by the United Kingdom Government, should also have a particular remit to help in atrocity prevention and in the aftermath, ensuring that states are able to build solid, independent institutions that protect populations in the future.
We in the United Kingdom might also want to look at advocating within the European Union for a similar structure to that which now exists in the United States of America, where, under Samantha Power, the Obama Administration have created the Atrocities Prevention Board, which brings together knowledge and expertise from across government to identify the potential for atrocities and then take action to try to prevent them. It seems to me that that model could perhaps be copied in the European Union, even if it is not necessarily appropriate for the United Kingdom alone.
Finally, the United Kingdom should find some way of embodying that UN framework for analysis and identifying possible atrocities in our own development, diplomacy and defence policies and strategies. I look forward to the debate that is about to take place and I welcome this opportunity, timely as it is, 20 years on from the genocide in Srebrenica. The United Kingdom did not play a particularly happy role at that time with regard to our international responsibilities. We have learnt a lot since then. We have led this debate in many ways over the past decade and more, and been very supportive of Kofi Annan. All United Kingdom Governments have played a key role in trying to ensure greater consistency and investment in development. I hope this debate allows us to do that even more effectively in the future.
My Lords, I sincerely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on introducing today’s debate. At this time of increasing world instability, growing extremism and shrinking spaces for civil society, the concept of responsibility to protect is perhaps more urgent and more important than ever before. This debate enables us to reflect on whether more can be done, particularly by the United Kingdom.
The rapid pace of globalisation means that we are all more heavily interconnected, and thus atrocities happening in other countries can ultimately threaten our own security. As we have heard, following the terrible events in Rwanda and Bosnia, in 2005 all member states of the United Nations at the World Summit agreed on their primary responsibility to protect populations from the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
I declare an interest. In March, I was one of a small cross-party delegation that was taken by the United Nations Association to the United States to examine where responsibility to protect—or R2P, as it is known—had got to, and to consider what more could perhaps be done. As the noble Lord has already highlighted, the nature of conflict has changed. Today, it is no longer two armies fighting on battlefields; it is often asymmetric, fought in communities, often by non-state actors. Rape is used as a weapon of war, while ethnic cleansing and war crimes are commonplace and 90% of those killed today in conflicts are civilians. The number of people fleeing conflicts, both internally displaced people and refugees, has never been higher.
The rise of ISIL provides us with a glaring example of where conflict prevention mechanisms either failed or were altogether absent. ISIL’s dangerous and warped ideology has attracted people from all over the world, and we are now faced with a growing and complex web of terrorism and a barbaric caliphate in the Middle East. Visiting an IDP camp in northern Iraq in May, I heard shocking stories from women who had fled with their children from Mosul and Sinjar. The persecution taking place there, especially against the Yazidis, Christians and other minorities, is undoubtedly a form of genocide.
Prevention of conflict is so important. Picking up and acting on the early vibrations can prevent so much of the devastating suffering that atrocities create. Human rights violations are one indication of the early vibrations. Acting on these can be complicated but, when nothing is done, they all too easily turn into mass atrocities, as has been the case in Sudan and the Central African Republic. Protecting civilians and preventing atrocities does not necessarily require the use of military force. Atrocity prevention policies seek to avoid violence altogether. However, effective prevention requires the inclusion of a mechanism for rapid mobilisation, to try to stop conflict as soon as it starts. As with everything else, resourcing is key. Once regime change has occurred, finance and expertise need to be given to help countries build institutions to prevent a vacuum, which creates the chaos that we see in Iraq and Libya today.
The UK still has significant influence around the world through soft power, but do we do enough on R2P? Internationally, our Foreign Office and diplomatic corps are held in the highest esteem, and they focus on human rights and democracy. On poverty reduction, the UK also has an excellent record. We played a leading role in the formation of the new SDGs, with their policy of leaving no one behind, and we are the only country in the G8 to have delivered on the commitment of 0.7% of GNI for overseas aid and to have this enshrined in our law.
While conflict causes poverty, poverty also causes conflict. Aid also assists with long-term economic growth and stability, giving us the ability to listen to voices at grass roots. The UK was one of the first countries to have a national action plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the groundbreaking resolution on peace and security, which recognises that conflict disproportionately impacts on women. I met some of our military in Iraq carrying out innovative work, training for the protection of civilians. Communication with women in civil society also assists them with intelligence-gathering. I also sit on the steering board of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, through which the UK has demonstrated outstanding international leadership. While I understand that finance is always an issue, surely using these levers, which are already in place, means there is more that the UK can do to promote R2P?
We have heard already about the United States Atrocities Prevention Board, which was set up by President Obama in 2012 to ensure that atrocity prevention remains a priority across the US Government. Perhaps we can learn from this; I ask the Minister whether consideration could be given to establishing a similar mechanism in the UK. UN implementation of R2P has at times been hampered by lack of co-ordination and communication between its agencies. The Human Rights up Front initiative has tried to address this fragmentation and to ensure that human rights always have importance in a coherent and systematic way.
However, even when UN peacekeeping missions are sent to countries, sometimes there have been reports of abuse. The majority of the UN peacekeeping troops come from developing countries and may not have been trained to the same high standards as the UK military. So, why do the UK and US not provide troops to the UN for peacekeeping activities? For a commitment such as R2P to be effective, it needs buy-in from all countries—is this really there? There seems to be a growing global trend for non-western countries to oppose western leadership, with the UN, and thus, perhaps, R2P, being seen as a product of the West.
To conclude, while the UK has always been an enthusiastic, vocal supporter of R2P, is it given the prominence in UK policy that perhaps it merits? As has been mentioned already, our cross-departmental Building Stability Overseas Strategy fails even to mention the terms “responsibility to protect” and “atrocity prevention”. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether there is a focal point in government on R2P and has funding been allocated? What is the policy on R2P, in the Ministry of Defence and what training do our military receive in this regard? Will there be provision for R2P in the upcoming strategic defence and security review? In the words of President Obama:
“Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States”.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for giving us this opportunity to debate a crucial issue. Since my noble friend joined the House, he has brought a very special and refreshing commitment and drive to our considerations of these international matters. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for the answer she gave me recently—very detailed answers—to some of my Written Questions. They were very helpful answers that illuminated arrangements the Government are putting in place and the principles to which they try to adhere.
I particularly welcome this debate because I so much look forward to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. He has had a spirited and long-standing understanding of the implications of Britain’s involvement in the world and has followed this with great enthusiasm. We will miss him gravely.
I should declare an interest as a trustee of Saferworld and a lifelong member of the United Nations Association.
These issues once again bring home the underlying truth and reality of total global interdependence. The world now, in almost every way, is interdependent and the first reality of politics is how we relate to that and make a success of our membership of the global community.
We like to talk about values. Values are by definition universal; we cannot dip in and out of them. If our values apply within the United Kingdom, they apply to what we do as members of the global community. John Donne was right:
“No man is an island, entire of itself … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind … therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
I believe that, in the times in which we live, the truth and wisdom of that observation have become more telling than ever.
We have to avoid the pitfalls of self-gratification or halo polishing. Saying to the world, “Well, we are concerned and we are going to do this”, is the politics of gesture. Of course, if we are going to intervene, it must be effective. What must be very much there in making the decision are the consequences of intervening. Do we weigh those consequences carefully enough? On the other hand, we must never forget the consequences of not intervening. I will only say that Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya leave an uneasy feeling that perhaps we did not understand the implications of what we were doing quite as deeply as we should have done. I often think that in these evaluations, historians, anthropologists and certainly members of the NGO community, particularly those who have had long-standing commitments to any area, are crucial, because they give an insight into the deeper and complex implications of what is going to be involved.
These matters apply immediately in a bigger setting: Greece. What is going to be the consequence not only for Greece itself and its people but for security in all that region—a crucial region of Europe—of the policies that have been imposed, the way they have been imposed and the language that has been used in doing so? Are we taking that seriously enough? And can we in Britain really say that, because we are not part of the euro, we have not got to face up to what is happening to the Greek people or see what we should be doing to help, not least because of the very significant security considerations?
There is also the Mediterranean situation. The refugees are coming from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Gambia, where the human rights situation is dreadful. What specifically are we doing to tackle the issues that are causing people to take terrible risks in trying to escape the reality of their everyday life? There is one big challenge to Europe in all this and to us within the United Kingdom: that whatever the virtues of strong fiscal discipline—and I am not against it—it cannot exist simply in isolation. It immediately raises the issue of what the accompanying social policy and priorities are. It makes that side of the equation more important than ever; otherwise, what insecurity lies ahead?
I think that this applies even within the United Kingdom. A great deal of wisdom, insight and patience will be involved in finding the right solutions for the United Kingdom. We must not allow ourselves to become preoccupied with tactical victories in skirmishes. We must be looking all the time at the long-term strategy. I am not complacent. Ireland is there across the Irish Sea. If we have got it wrong, goodness knows what could begin to happen within the rest of Great Britain.
It also matters in the way we arrange the world economy. If we are disproportionately consuming the resources of the world, it does not really carry much weight when we tell the rest of the world what it must do and how it must behave. If we have not got the commitment of the rest of the world on the social priorities that are essential, what are we going to do about our disproportionate consumption of the resources of the world?
The noble Lord mentioned the Security Council. This is a time when we have to ask: what is security? It brings home that for the Security Council to do its job properly in a modern context it has to have a very wide approach to the social and economic issues that are central to complement the more limited vision of military security, if I may use that term, as it has applied in the past.
I wonder whether we are taking all these matters sufficiently into account in our national security strategy, which was initiated in 2010. We have to become much more alive to the underlying economic and social issues, which, if we do not get them right, are always going to lead to the danger of conflict. But above all, in my older years, I have very firmly concluded that Donne was absolutely right.
My Lords, this is the last time the House will hear from me. Many of your Lordships will be very pleased to know that. I speak from the Cross Benches now. When I first came here in 1976 as a hereditary Peer, of course we did not have elections; I just came here and took my seat. I stayed here from 1976 to 1999, when the reform process took place, organised very efficiently, if I may say so, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. He allowed for the fact that there should be a residual number of hereditary Peers from different parts. I took advantage of that and was duly elected to the Cross Benches, where I have been, very happily, for many years under the auspices of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the former Convenor, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, neither of whom is in their seat.
The office of the Convenor of the Cross Benches happens to be located opposite that of the Leader of the Opposition—very fortunately, in my view—which has enabled me to have contact with the Leader of the Opposition, principally the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and more recently the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
My principal involvement since I succeeded has been with Latin America. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is here because she has taken my seat on the Inter-Parliamentary Union British Group and is extremely knowledgeable on the subject.
This is a revising Chamber, rapidly growing in size. This question of growth must be addressed. Every time the Government change, needless to say they want a majority, which is quite understandable. We are now up to more than 900. Is it really necessary to have that great number? Something will have to be done about it, because 900 is the same number as speak in the People’s Republic of China, and they have a population of only 1 billion. The question remains of how to address this problem of numbers— it will have to be dealt with somehow in due course. I do not have an answer, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed by those who follow me.
Ever since I took my seat, my principal involvement has been with Latin America, a continent in which I lived for some six or seven years and which I have subsequently visited many times. I am glad to say that the Latin American lead will be retained by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who is going to speak after me. She is very well qualified to do that, since she knows a great deal about Latin America.
Another institution that I want to mention is Canning House, which is where the UK meets Latin America. All the Latin American ambassadors in London are honorary vice-presidents. It has regular meetings and is a very efficiently run and economical organisation located in Belgrave Square. Apart from me, previous presidents include the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is currently a vice-president.
The other organisation that I want to mention is the Restaurant Association. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, who unfortunately is not in her seat, is an ex-president, as, many years ago, was I. The Restaurant Association, of course, has to do with good eating, something that we all enjoy. The noble Baroness held her office very well indeed. This was an independent association, but being the efficient lady that she is, she wound it back into the British Hospitality Association, the umbrella organisation. I congratulate her, and hope that she continues with that good work.
Finally, I mention the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which is a very efficient organisation. It is like the United Nations of parliaments—it has regular conferences and bilateral visits, outward and inward. This is a very useful adjunct. It passes resolutions that are not necessarily binding on their Governments, but Governments are recommended to consider them very seriously. Its conferences are very worth while. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, attends these functions and represents the House of Lords very well, and the Conservative Party as well.
That is what I need to say. I wish everybody well here in the future as I take my retirement. Thank you.
My Lords, to be frank, I doubt whether I would have participated in this debate today had it not been the occasion for the valedictory speech of my very good friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. As he said, I share his interest and involvement in all things Latin American. He will be sorely missed in your Lordships’ House for his experience and enthusiasm and for his knowledge of all those countries, stretching from Mexico, through central America and South America, to Patagonia and the very tip of Argentina and Chile. That expertise is unparalleled and respected, and will be much missed. We missed him before of course, after the expulsion of the hereditaries in 1998, but he was one of the comeback kids. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with him ever since in your Lordships’ House, in Canning House and in other places. I hope very much that this is not the last that we shall hear from him. We may not see him on the Floor of the House, but I hope we shall often see him sitting on the steps of the Throne and having chats and catch-up talks elsewhere in your Lordships’ House.
I very much admire the noble Viscount’s ingenuity in bringing his thoughts and comments on Latin America within the Motion before us, but that is typical of his consistent aim to improve and strengthen our understanding of and links with the people of Latin America. In support of everything he said, I would add and underline that there is of course no example of the responsibility to protect principle being brought to bear in relation to any Latin American country. Thank goodness that war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing can be relegated to the history books in that part of the world. However, that is not to say that the United Kingdom—whether through our Ministers, parliamentarians or NGOs—cannot have a useful role in human rights issues, in prioritising support for human rights defenders and, for example, in the ongoing peace process in Colombia.
It is more a question of how we interact with our counterparts in Latin American countries, as well as in other countries throughout the world, whether as Ministers or parliamentarians, in building alliances and in jointly and collectively developing and exercising this responsibility based on the principle of protection, in both the Security Council and other international fora. Other important doctrines of international law have been developed in Latin America—for example, the laws of asylum and the doctrine of hot pursuit. Although I have not in the past discussed the R2P principle with Latin American friends on IPU or other visits, I will certainly make sure that this topic is on the agenda in the future. If my noble friend has any comments in this respect, he can be sure that both I and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, will be listening very attentively.
Turning now to the main theme and the Motion before us, I cannot resist saying that the House of Lords is a wonderful centre for CPD—continuing professional development. Both in preparing my speaking notes and in listening to the contributions so far, I have learned a great deal. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is to be congratulated on raising the issue and awareness of it in his comprehensive opening of the debate.
It is perhaps appropriate in this anniversary year that we can look back to 1215, when Magna Carta eroded the absolute sovereignty of the monarch, and compare and contrast that with the development of R2P, which sets limits on the accepted and traditional principle of the absolute sovereignty of states. I am glad that there is cross-party consensus in the United Kingdom on the validity of the concept. Will my noble friend confirm that this Government will continue to consider R2P concerns in our work across conflict, human rights and development and support the European Union and the United Nations in implementing a cohesive approach?
I have no personal or first-hand experience of the atrocities, violence and extreme humanitarian distress, on a large scale, that have been experienced by others who are participating in this debate. The exception was a visit that I made to Bosnia-Herzegovina to monitor elections there, when I heard of the massacre in Srebrenica, which we are all remembering at this moment. Therefore, I can accept that the international law principle of absolute state sovereignty and the primacy of the state should not prevent intervention when those conditions are evident.
Here, new technology enables us to see and judge situations in many parts of the world, and to have contact with people on the ground in a way that would not have been possible 20 years ago, let alone 50 or 100 years ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said so vividly, we now live in a world that is totally, globally interdependent.
The international community has a responsibility, and cannot avoid the responsibility, to take action once cause has been established and the three aspects, or pillars, which have already been referred to, have been satisfied. The safeguards lie in the need to take joint action, wherever possible under the umbrella of the United Nations, and indeed with the spotlight that debates such as this shine upon the difficult and delicate decisions that have to be made. I trust that my noble friend the Minister will be able to reassure us of this.
My Lords, let me start by paying tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. When I arrived here in 1991, he took me in hand and introduced me to the IPU, and took me to different capitals and educated me in the vital role that the IPU plays. He also taught me a lot about Latin America. We shall miss him, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, we hope that he keeps coming back to tell us about how he is improving the world.
I am somewhat puzzled by this issue. It is not that I am against responsibility to protect, but as the international community is losing its will to protect, it is adding to its agenda more and more responsibilities to protect. Responsibility to protect is actually an admission of a massive failure by the United Nations when it could have done something to prevent massacres in Srebrenica and even more so in Rwanda; we all know that. I am sorry to be cynical, but a typical response by national and international organisations is that, when they fail to do something, they double the ante: the next time, they just raise their targets rather than admit that the targets have not been met. What we have right now is a situation so unlike the one in 1995 or 2005 that it is a puzzle that any of these responsibilities could be fulfilled, given not just the strength we have but the willingness to intervene.
Noble Lords will recall that we were called back for a debate on Syria, when Syria had chemical weapons. I think that I was one of the few people to say that we should intervene, and the question was not if, but when. We did not intervene. A massive assault on human rights has been carried out in the Middle East by Syria, ISIL and whoever else. While we have poked at the margins, we have been reluctant to fight. Our reluctance to fight is now deep in our Parliament. Parliament will not sanction our interventions. Perhaps it may if they are under a UN flag, but by and large the UN flag is hard to get hold of. The Security Council being what it is, we will not get unanimity among the P5.
So we face the problem that the international order set up and preserved by NATO and the other allied powers is no longer willing to do its task. Therefore, we have an anarchic situation in which, whatever we may say about our need to intervene, given our interdependence and the many problems arising from the violation of human rights, I do not know how we are going to fashion effective strategies. Let us take an example. The European Union, excepting ourselves and France, does not have an army to speak of. We saw that in Afghanistan. The best that the Italians would do was to send a medical supplies corps. The European Union lives in a world in which it believes that wars will not happen and there will be peace for ever. Unfortunately, that is not the world in which we live, as President Putin has shown us.
The question of how we reconstruct the willingness and strength to intervene in many such situations is an urgent problem that has to be tackled before we can deliver on responsibility to protect. This is where the United Nations needs urgent reform. Without reforming the Security Council and the way it works, we will be hobbled. We have not harnessed other nations—the so-called emerging nations—which could help. I know we have often used countries such as India and Indonesia in the UN peacekeeping force, but we have not systematically created a capability within the United Nations to intervene on its own if it needs to. It has to rely on countries, and while those countries may have some forces, they lack popular parliamentary support to intervene.
So we are drifting along, and for the past five years we have seen in the Middle East one of the biggest and most vicious wars among Muslim nations. The Sunnis and the Shias are killing each other. The states themselves—the first pillar, as my noble friend Lord McConnell said—are doing a lot of damage to the human rights of their own citizens. If we cannot stop President Assad or invade the territory ISIL occupies, we will, embarrassingly, just have to sit back and watch human rights being violated.
So we need to ask ourselves, what sort of world order is needed to deliver on responsibility to protect? What sort of world order is needed in this new globalised world? It is not the 1945 order, as is now absolutely clear. I do not think it likely that we can reconstruct the old Anglo-American alliance, because we just do not want to fight. We even had difficulty affirming a 2% share of GDP for our defence budget, and if you are not going to support that, you should not be talking about responsibility to protect. Such considerations are interconnected. We really ought to think about how we can strengthen the United Nations with a better, more representative Security Council in which a single nation’s veto will not prevent action being taken, because that is what often cripples the UN. This question has been on the agenda for I do not know how many years. Expert groups have been appointed, but mainly they are from inside the United Nations, and nobody from inside the UN ever wants to reform it because they are all very happy with the way it is. Either we expand the Security Council, or we modify the veto rule using the qualified majority voting that the European Union uses.
Something has to be done to reform the United Nations to improve its ability to intervene. We have to equip it with some sort of permanent or semi-permanent armed force, recruited from among its members—voluntarily contributing. That would allow it to intervene on its own, without having to go through the circuit of individual sovereign nations. It is not a question of goading the United Kingdom Government to do more. They may or may not do more, but the United Kingdom is not the country which can alone solve this problem. Our need to establish responsibility to protect on a more solid basis must be accompanied by reform of the United Nations, so that it can become more capable of acting on the responsibilities it keeps adding to its agenda. Either it should stop adding such responsibilities and slim down its goals, or it should strengthen its own ability, reform its structures and practices, and become a seriously effective international organisation that can, rather than “govern”, supervise and monitor the way the international situation is deteriorating.
My Lords, I would like to begin by paying a tribute to my noble friend Lord Montgomery, whose valedictory speech saddens me because we shall not be seeing him in this Chamber. But it gives me great pleasure to be here to have heard his speech and to pay tribute to one part of his work in particular, which was the emphasis he has placed in so many of his contributions to the House’s debates on Latin America. British foreign policy has been pretty forgetful about Latin America over many decades and the noble Viscount has prevented that becoming a complete vacuum. For that we should thank him.
I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, will forgive me for pointing out that it is not in fact the case that there has never been an instance of the responsibility to protect in Latin America, at least if one expands that phrase to cover the Caribbean, because the UN interventions in Haiti in the 1990s—which was, of course, before the responsibility to protect was called that—were in fact precisely responsibility to protect. When the United Nations moved in to help remove a dictator who was oppressing, torturing and murdering his own citizens, that was a very important step down the road which included also our own involvement in the safe havens for the Kurds in Iraq in 1991. This moved on later to the fully fledged doctrine.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is certainly to be congratulated on securing this debate on what he himself has said is almost the exact 10th anniversary of the endorsement by the Heads of State and Government of all UN member states of what was undoubtedly a ground-breaking new doctrine: the international community’s responsibility to protect those whose Governments were either unwilling or unable to protect their own citizens themselves. I should perhaps declare an interest as having served as a member of Kofi Annan’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which put forward that new doctrine. We were between the Canadian panel, which was not a fully fledged UN one, and Kofi Annan’s own championship of the new doctrine and its endorsement by the Heads of Government at the New York summit in September 2005.
Like others who worked on that panel, I was personally strongly motivated and influenced by my experience during the course of two appalling genocidal massacres, which have been mentioned by other speakers—that in Rwanda in 1994, and that in Srebrenica in 1995—and by the pressing need to find a way of preventing any repetition of those terrible events. We have just passed the 20th anniversaries of those massacres, and we surely must not let them fade from our memories. In that respect, I have to say that there have been few Security Council vetoes as shameful as the one wielded last week by Russia when, in what can only be described as genocide denial, it vetoed a resolution to try to draw some lessons from Srebrenica 20 years on.
With the new doctrine available, how sure can we be that the prospect of any repetition of those terrible events is behind us? The honest answer is that we cannot. The potential for genocidal killing exists today in Burundi. Gross abuses of international humanitarian law are being perpetrated against the Muslim inhabitants of Burma. More than 200,000 Syrians have died in a civil war while the UN Security Council has been paralysed by Russian and Chinese vetoes and by the timidity of western Governments. The so-called Islamic State is waging a war that respects none of the international conventions that we had hoped would be universally observed, and which in fact rides roughshod over the Geneva Conventions on the rules of war and over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Still, the responsibility to protect has not been a complete failure. In Libya, it proved possible to protect the population of Benghazi and the rest of western Libya from the vengeance of Colonel Gaddafi, and the subsequent failure of the international community to support sufficiently the transition and the consolidation of the move away from his regime should not obscure the fact that many thousands of lives were saved by that intervention. In Côte d’Ivoire that same year, an attempt to overthrow a democratic election by force and civil war was prevented; the country is now growing at 9% a year and is preparing to hold its next democratic presidential election. In Mali, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the United Nations and the African Union are protecting many thousands of citizens of those countries whom their own Governments cannot hope to do that for. In Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN is applying the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, day in and day out, albeit imperfectly. So this is no time to be giving up on the responsibility to protect, unless we wish to see ourselves again cast as helpless spectators of mass killings.
What can and should be done to make the responsibility to protect more effective and less contentious? Here are four suggestions to which I would welcome the reaction of the Minister when he winds up the debate. First, I suggest that we really must rid the public debate of the idea that the responsibility to protect is just shorthand for justifying western military intervention in a particular country. Both the supporters and the detractors of the responsibility to protect have sometimes fed that misconception. Rather than trying to parse the text that was agreed in 2005 governing the exercise of the responsibility to protect, I suggest that we should strengthen the non-coercive instruments for conflict prevention, and there I join others who have called for that.
Secondly, we should put to better use the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission, which, interestingly enough, is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This body has so far been grossly underused and underresourced. I suggest that we remove the constraints that were put on it when it was set up and which limit it to post-conflict peacebuilding, and re-equip it to co-ordinate international efforts at conflict prevention in fragile states. It could do a lot in that field. Thirdly, I suggest we should be promoting the preventive, pre-conflict deployment of peacekeepers, both military and police, and should be ready to contribute ourselves, thus boosting our current, pitifully small contribution to international peacekeeping.
Fourthly, we should surely be supporting the French in their initiative that the five permanent members forswear the use of a veto when instances of genocide or gross abuses of international humanitarian law are at stake. I simply cannot understand why the Government have not given the French full support. Is it even faintly conceivable that Britain would veto a resolution when genocide or humanitarian law was being threatened? Of course the answer is: it is absolutely unthinkable. Then why on earth can we not say so? Why can we not join the French? It may not happen. It may be that the Russians, the Chinese and the Americans will be unwilling to do this, but surely our position should not be ambiguous, as it is now.
Of course, supporting the responsibility to protect does not come cost free in lives or resources, but nor does allowing the responsibility to protect to wither on the vine. Britain, as a middle-ranking power with global interests and a permanent member seat on the Security Council, can influence the way that the doctrine develops. If we turn our backs on it or limit ourselves just to warm words, why on earth should those with less influence and fewer resources than us be willing to make a serious contribution?
I conclude with a somewhat wider observation. It really is important not to regard the responsibility to protect as a stand-alone, solve-every-problem doctrine. It is none of those things. Rather, it must be considered and shaped as an essential part of the UN’s toolbox for the future—a tool that must be used sparingly and with great care but one without which that toolbox will be sadly, and perhaps quite disastrously, deficient.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for introducing this subject today and I do not think that I have heard anything I disagree with. I strongly believe in the responsibility to protect. In fact, I also think that it is a duty. I have seen what happens when we fail in that duty. I ran an NGO—British Direct Aid—in Rwanda for most of 1995. Our mission was to maintain all UNHCR vehicles and plant operating there. Quite often an educated Rwandan would come up to me and challenge me with the words, “You are swanning around in your white Land Rover, but where were you when we really needed you?”. In other words, why did the international community not intervene militarily to stop the genocide? Of course, I had no answer to that. One day I was invited to donate my Land Rover to the freelance section of the Rwandan army. My greatest worry was what I would say to the ODA and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, to explain how I had lost the Land Rover. Fortunately, I got it back. I pay tribute to my noble friend, who continues to do sterling work in Africa.
In the winter of 1997-98 I served with the British Army in Bosnia as part of SFOR. Nothing gave me and my comrades more confidence that we were doing the right thing than seeing local people putting a roof back on their house. They were doing this because SFOR and NATO, with their overwhelming military superiority, were able to provide the stability and security which are a prerequisite for reconstruction and other desirable post-conflict activities.
Many noble Lords have touched on how the UN and the Security Council decide whether to intervene or not. This is not my area of expertise but, like many noble Lords, I think that we need to find some way in which the international community can sanction an intervention without being vetoed by one or two states which still seem to be comfortable with tolerating crimes against humanity—a point just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
I would like to look at the question of whether UK forces are militarily willing and able to intervene as part of a solution and a component of deterring a failure to protect one’s own people. However, first, I want to make it clear that I strongly support ring-fencing the international aid budget. If noble Lords imagine looking at the cake of government expenditure, it will make no difference at all whether the very small slice that is international aid is there. The fact is that the first 25% of government expenditure goes on welfare, followed by pensions, health, education, interest payments and then defence. I have no idea why the defence community gets so excited about ring-fencing international development, as we all know perfectly well that hard power on its own has little utility.
The first point to understand is that members of our Armed Forces are indeed very willing to engage in peacekeeping and peace support operations. I have never detected any reluctance on the part of soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, but there is clearly a significant risk of being seriously injured in combat in that type of operation. In operations of the type that we are talking about, you have to be extremely unlucky not to come back intact. In our operations in the Balkans, the vast majority of serious injuries arose from road traffic accidents.
The next question is whether our Armed Forces will be able to engage in these operations. First, we need to be certain that they are capable of successfully engaging in high-intensity operations, because we need to deter interstate conflict. It does not necessarily go away, and just when you think that it has gone away for ever is when it arises. These high-intensity operations are extremely difficult to undertake and it is essential that training and exercises focus on them. I have a particular concern that we do not undertake exercises involving whole brigades being manoeuvred around the area of operations. This is principally because we do not have the training areas and the resources to do it.
There is a school of thought that says that we should not get involved if our own direct national interests are not engaged. I am not convinced about that. If we want to remain a P5 member, we have to pull our weight. In addition, it is far easier to play the honest broker in a situation if one has little direct interest. Of course, we are very far from being the only country that engages in peace support operations—indeed, numerically we are quite small—but there are very few countries that can deploy at brigade strength out of area. So we ought to get in first and then out fast, having, one hopes, established a UN mandated force. A very good example of this was Rwanda in 1994. When I arrived in January 1995, most of the British forces had already left and there were only one or two staff officers in headquarters.
The good news is that if one has trained for high intensity, peace support operations are relatively easy to conduct, although mistakes are still easily made. One obvious difference is that on a peace support operation one does not normally try to conceal oneself or reduce one’s signature—quite the opposite, in fact; you want to be seen. The bad news is this. Until recently, the British Army had been heavily engaged in operations all the time since Dayton in 1995. However, we are now drastically reducing the size of the Regular Army under Army 2020. In future, if we deployed just one brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 troops, I am sure that the staff would make it very clear to the centre of Government that there would be severe difficulties in doing another conventional land operation anywhere else at the same time. In addition, such a deployment would impact on training for high-intensity operations where we are already weak. Furthermore, there are real dangers in deploying our forces at too small a scale of effort after considering the military estimate.
So in future years, when your Lordships see the Government of the day declining to intervene militarily in circumstances where there is surely a moral imperative to do so, it may well be that there is simply not the capacity to undertake the operation without compromising our own security.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for introducing this discussion. The debate has naturally concentrated on the collective duty to protect, and to protect whole populations. Obviously, genocide has to be prevented, as does ethnic clearance. Natural disasters have to be coped with. The noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Hannay, made valuable contributions on how the United Nations could improve its performance.
I turn, however, to the responsibility and duty to protect individuals. For example, under the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951, states must assess asylum applicants who, by one means or another, arrive on their territory. They have the duty of care and protection even to those who do not qualify for full refugee status. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees must register genuine refugees and must assist individuals as far as resources allow. The International Organization for Migration is charged with assisting long-term migration and resettlement in third countries.
In Europe, in the past two years, an unprecedented wave of refugees and migrants has arrived. I am told that this year alone some 137,000 have landed. We all know the causes behind this: wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and at least seven other African countries. This is in addition to the spread of deserts, which has destroyed the livelihoods of many people.
I would like to consider how this country, and the European Union, can contribute to dealing with this wave of people. I suggest first that we in Britain have an opportunity to do something constructive about those refugees and migrants who reach the north of France. I urge the Home Office to work in a far more proactive way than they ever have before. I would like an interviewing point to be opened in or near Calais to help with this mass of people, who are living in deplorable conditions in what has become known as the jungle camp. I would like our interviewers to identify individuals who could qualify to come to this country for the purpose of family reunion because they already have close family relatives living here. The Red Cross has recently published a major report on family reunion, Not So Straightforward, and I hope that the Government will take account of it.
There may also be special medical cases in the north of France who could benefit from treatment in this country. There may be people walking about who look quite normal but are suffering the after-effects of the traumas that they have experienced. We in this country have considerable expertise in dealing with that. For example, there is what used to be called the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture—I think that it has now changed its name to Freedom from Torture. The Save the Children Fund has drawn attention to unaccompanied children. I do not know whether any of them have got to northern France, but perhaps a few have. There, again, our interviewers could be on the lookout for them.
Secondly, this country, in conjunction with the European Union, ought to be providing help to Greece, Italy and Malta, which have seen so many arrivals, with the assessment and interviewing of individuals. If that could be very much improved at or near the point of first arrival, it would prevent so many people wandering off vaguely northwards, some towards Germany, some towards France. When they reach France, they have just the one idea of trying somehow to cross the Channel. I believe that there is an organisation called the European Asylum Support Office. What is it doing, how is it trying to cope with that influx and can it be geared up a little?
Finally, we need a long-term vision. A week ago, on 9 July, when there was a major debate, at least three speakers proposed protection zones—probably in north Africa, although conceivably elsewhere. That is a very positive idea which deserves urgent study and planning. It would of course require the consent of the countries where such zones would be located, but if we can work this out, we may see the germ of new city states, remembering how such places as Hong Kong and Singapore have developed from more or less barren islands. Such protected zones, with their potential for development and growth, would be a serious attempt to deal with the deep-rooted causes of migration.
My Lords, we are all in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, not only for bringing this opportunity for us to debate the question of the responsibility to protect and how things have gone in the past 10 years, but for, characteristically, introducing it with a very thoughtful, impressive and passionate speech. He is very committed to these issues, but he is also extremely knowledgeable about them, and he brings creative thinking to our debate on this issue, as on others.
Sometimes when we have a 10th anniversary debate, it is a celebration of how well things have gone. My sense is that the noble Lord has not brought this debate to us today for that reason, but rather because the situation 10 years on, is much worse. Those of us who saw the “Dispatches” programme last night on the situation of the 4 million women living under the aegis of ISIS will have been troubled all night with the thought of what is happening to many young—and, indeed, older—women across the whole of the region, but particularly in the areas controlled by ISIS.
Increasingly over the past few days, we have heard of a worsening situation in Burundi, a part of the world where we had hoped up until a few years ago that things were improving. There are lots of other smaller but chronic problems all around. In your Lordships’ House, we have often looked at the situation of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. In many such situations, we cannot really look at the last 10 years and say that the situation has improved. Many noble Lords have referred to them, starting with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, himself. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, referred to the question of sexual violence and the use of rape in the context of war, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed up to us that we must be not only aware of the importance of intervening but careful that we do not make things worse when we intervene.
As we look back at the question of the responsibility to protect—all of us applaud the work of Kofi Annan and of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which helped to bring all this about—we must ask ourselves whether we have been taking the right line with enough energy. If it is not possible to persuade the United Nations to take full responsibility at the level of the Security Council—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his unparalleled experience of that organisation, has pointed up some of the difficulties there—let us think about how we can approach this question in a more effective way.
First, there has been a tendency to think about the question in the context of international law—a much more uncertain concept than its name suggests. When we think about international law, we think about it as an international extension of domestic law, where we have courts, the administration of justice, policing, capacity to imprison people who do not obey the criminal law, and so on. Many of those things are only partially effective or simply ineffective at international level. I was happy to see that the noble Lord had couched his Motion in terms of an international norm rather than international law. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked about a doctrine of responsibility to protect. That is important, because, in a sense, we are trying to establish some moral authority and precedent for the approach, rather than thinking about international law.
The second problem is that we have increasingly seen the question in terms of military intervention. It is clear that there are situations where military intervention is appropriate, but right from its beginning, ICISS said that we must be careful about taking such action. First, the intention had to be right, which is not always the case. Secondly, military intervention had to be a last resort, not a first one. The intervention also had to be proportional and have reasonable prospects for success. It is not easy to find that some of the worst problems that we face fulfil all those requirements. That is why the international commission pointed up that there were a number of components to the responsibility to protect. One was the responsibility, in so far as possible, to prevent. Much can be done beyond military intervention to try to prevent some atrocities. Secondly, there is a responsibility to react, but the reaction in terms of military intervention is often limited. Thirdly, there is a responsibility to rebuild. That can be done on a multilateral basis, but it can also be done by an individual country. I want to pick up on some of those issues.
If we take the focus away for the moment from what we can do militarily—the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has pointed out some of the positives and problems of that—and look at other ways in which we can promote the responsibility to protect, we may come away with more options, rather than simply be depressed about the fact that it has not been very effective over the past 10 years. When we look at situations where it has been invoked and we have engaged, such as in Libya, it is harder by the month to feel that all has worked out well. Of course, as noble Lords have pointed out, it was not just the intervention but the follow-up that was the problem—perhaps more of a problem.
What other possibilities can we see? First, if we are trying to express a doctrine, a norm, a moral imperative, then getting it across to the vast mass of people is very important. We want our young people to grow up with a sense of responsibility to protect others in their community, in the wider country and in the wider world, and to say that, “I am my brother’s keeper. I have a responsibility to people in other places”. This is especially important in the present climate because, with a climate of fear that extends throughout the world, people tend to turn into themselves and say, “We’ll just look after ourselves; the problems out there are too big”.
How do we get across to our young people this moral imperative to be responsible in one’s relationships with other people? It seems to me that we need to focus more not just on our ordinary educational involvement but on the use, for example, of social media—engaging young people in debate and discussion on these kinds of questions. How much time, thought and resource are being given by those responsible, particularly in the Foreign Office, for ensuring that our young people are looking at the wider world with a greater sense of how they can be responsible in their attitudes, and that this is being done not just by putting ever more burdens on our teachers but by engaging, for example, in social media?
In passing, I want to refer to the question of Latin America and, of course, as others have done, to the sterling work over many years of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, on Latin America and other things. We are sad to see him go but we thank him for his great public service in your Lordships’ House and outside. We wish him well in his retirement and in continuing to keep in contact with us. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said that this was not so much applicable to Latin America, one of the worrying things for me has been that some of the big countries in Latin America, such as Brazil, have not seen the need to shoulder responsibility to help in the United Nations with promoting the notion of responsibility to protect. It should not just be a reaction; it should be about developing a sense that responsibility to protect is something that as a wider community we should all share. I wonder whether some of the new conflict security fund should perhaps go to help in education.
The responsibility to rebuild seems to me also to involve how we care for the victims who come out of these situations—for example, young people from this country who have foolishly and mistakenly gone to Syria or Iraq and have come back again. My experience is that the security services are more concerned to make sure that these young people are not a danger to us than they have been to care for them and look after them when, in fact, engaging with them in a caring way could well make these young people the best ambassadors against ISIS with the sort of young people who might be most vulnerable. It seems to me that we have been too cautious rather than properly engaging in helping these folk. I know from my own part of the world that the failure to agree some kind of overarching instrument for dealing with the past has meant that we have not dealt properly with the needs of individual people whom we could have helped without any problem politically.
Finally, there is the question of the funding and resourcing of the Foreign Office. It is impossible for us to do the kinds of diplomatic things we need to do and the engagement we need to be involved in if we do not have a properly resourced Foreign Office. I understand entirely the need for efficiency, but we have come to the point where the drive for efficiency has now affected and impacted adversely on the effectiveness of our Foreign Office. Noble Lords often say what a wonderful Rolls-Royce service it is. I increasingly hear from people in other parts of the world that the Foreign Office is no longer able to do the kinds of things that the rest of the world values enormously. If we are not going to focus on military interventions, as we often should not, we have to provide proper resources not just for DfID, although that is very important, but for the Foreign Office to do the kinds of diplomatic work that we need it to do if we are to be effective in this way.
Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, who has given us an opportunity not only to think in this debate, but to continue to think about the engagement and involvement in our own country and with other countries in exercising our responsibility to protect others.
My Lords, I begin by adding my own tribute to the distinguished career of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. As we have heard, he has given great service to Parliament in two excellent shifts. His contribution to the success and well-being of our country has not been limited to his work in Parliament; in addition to his business career, he has built close links with Latin America and he has served as a patron and chairman of various Anglo-Latin American organisations. His contribution today is further testimony to his wisdom and insight into Parliament and international affairs. I wish him a very happy and healthy retirement: feliz jubilación.
I thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for initiating this important debate. It is important, in the context not only of the world today but of what we have seen in recent times. The genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda and the crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Darfur and Syria demonstrate, as we have heard, extreme failures by the international community to respond to the threat of atrocity crimes. We have been confronted by complex choices regarding when and how to protect populations abroad and in living up to the conventions and laws to which we have signed up.
In responsibility to protect, the world community seeks to clarify where responsibility lies and to provide guidance on what sort of action should be taken to prevent these crimes taking place or escalating. My party is fully supportive of RtoP, and in the general election campaign we reaffirmed that in government we would ensure:
“A cross-Whitehall approach will be taken to preventing genocide and mass atrocity will be a priority with a focus on early warning and prevention”.
Ten years on, responsibility to protect has come a long way but, as we have heard in this debate, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the challenge is to put the good words fully into practice. The concrete examples that were highlighted by my noble friend in his introduction, and by other noble Lords, show how co-ordinating intelligence, development and economic and political engagement can be successful in preventing conflict that may lead to genocide.
Speaking in the General Assembly, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office Minister at the time, described RtoP as a “groundbreaking” achievement, of which the UN “should be rightly proud”. It should inform,
“all Member States’ work across the conflict spectrum, as well as on human rights and development”.
The coalition Government echoed the call to construct a “culture of prevention” when Ambassador Wilson of the UK Mission to the UN repeated that responsibility to protect,
“should be an important governing principle of all countries’ work across the conflict spectrum”.
The core principle of this is that all states have a responsibility to protect their populations from RtoP crimes. The responsibility rests first with the state. With RtoP, the international community has a responsibility to assist other countries in upholding their responsibility. Should states be unwilling or unable to protect, the international community should respond and take action to protect. However, as we have heard in this debate, that action is multifaceted. The international community has many different tools at its disposal for upholding its responsibility—diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means, such as human rights monitors, for example, to protect populations. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, has talked much about the work of human rights protectors in Afghanistan, who are critical to that country’s future. Stronger measures, such as enforced sanctions or the use of military force authorised by the UN Security Council, can also be used if states are clearly failing to protect. We have heard about some of the issues surrounding how they could be used.
The UK has offered more than verbal support. It is a contributor to the pool that funds the joint office of the UN Secretary General’s special advisers on genocide and RtoP. It has also contributed funding to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, most notably, as we heard in Question Time, its overseas aid policies, which have been guided by the cross-departmental Building Stability Overseas Strategy. However, as we heard, some question the extent to which this addresses the issue of mass atrocity prevention.
In his 2013 article, Humanitarian Intervention: What Future for the Responsibility to Protect?, Simon Adams concluded that the UK contribution to RtoP norm promotion was “laudable”. However, he also offered several observations on where he thought the UK could improve its implementation of the norm. One example he gave was the Central African Republic, which has long been high on the watch lists of organisations using a mass atrocity lens but did not even appear on the risk matrix that was published in the stabilisation unit’s business plan of April 2013. However, later in 2013, the UK helped transport a French intervention force that responded to the serious threat of mass atrocity. As a follow on from the Question earlier today, how fit for purpose does the Minister think that the existing strategy is?
Despite the lessons of tragic events in the past, such as the atrocities in Srebrenica 20 years ago that we have heard about from noble Lords, and the positive new approaches such as the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, there is concern that the UK has not made atrocity prevention a policy priority. As has been raised by my noble friend Lord Desai, we need to consider how the international community builds its capacity to respond, because the relatively small number of states that can take action in certain circumstances acts as a constraint on the Security Council agreeing that something should be done. As highlighted by my noble friend, that capacity could and should be filled up on a regional basis—for example, by the African Union in Africa.
There are a number of areas that I would appreciate the Minister responding to in his winding-up speech. In particular, if the UK’s current early warning analysis finds that there is a threat of atrocities in a certain country, how does this change the Government’s policy towards that state? Does DfID reconsider its approach to that country? Does it decide to prioritise the prevention of atrocity over something else? Is this a budgetary priority? Do development officers on the ground know that one of their goals is to prevent atrocities in the long term? Have they been trained to catch the warning signs, as we heard about in the debate today? Who has that responsibility? Finally, how do the Government co-ordinate action across departments to prevent atrocities? We have heard about the strategies that have been adopted but how are we going to see those move forward? Development assistance alone is not enough.
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I speak on behalf of the Government in this debate. First, if I may, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, for his work in foreign affairs over the years. It is also an appropriate time for me to pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. I rather liked my noble friend Lady Hooper’s description of him as the comeback kid. Noble Lords have mentioned his work in various areas in central and South America, but I know the noble Viscount perhaps better from our skiing days in Davos, where we both took part in races against the Swiss parliamentarians. It was not that long ago that we last raced together. I hope that we continue to see him and remain in contact. I know that all our Swiss friends will wish him well in his retirement.
We have heard today of some of the most horrific situations occurring around the world and the tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Rwanda, the Balkans and Sudan, to name just a few. The United Kingdom remains committed to the responsibility to protect. We welcome the fact that international discussion of the concept is now focused squarely on implementation. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, the development of the three-pillar structure and the level of engagement with this idea from member states at the UN level, as demonstrated through the General Assembly’s informative interactive dialogues on RtoP, illustrate the progress that has already been made. The debate has largely moved on from whether states have a responsibility to protect to how they should act on that responsibility. Despite this progress, many challenges remain—as noble Lords have so eloquently highlighted, mass atrocities continue to be committed around the world. The risks of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity are ever present in many internal conflicts, and non-state armed groups pose new threats. The rise of violent extremism across many parts of the world contributes to the risk of atrocity crimes. In addition, high levels of inequality based on systems of ethnicity and religion can lead to communal violence, especially in times of crisis. Better understanding of these dynamics will allow us to focus preventive responses.
As many noble Lords—including the noble Lords, Lord McConnell, Lord Hannay and Lord Hylton—have said, we have heard much about Syria. With over 230,000 dead and 12.2 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid, Syria is one of the most difficult and tragic conflicts of our generation. It is a clear example of a state failing utterly to protect its citizens. All members of the Security Council need to shoulder their responsibility in taking decisive action to compel the Assad regime to cease the violence and engage in a political process. In response to the appalling humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region, the United Kingdom has allocated £900 million and pushed for UN Security Council Resolutions 2165 and 2191 to enable the United Nations to deliver aid across borders.
However, we should not focus exclusively on dealing with crises—prevention is always more effective and much less costly than cure, in terms of both lives and resources. We need to maintain our focus on strengthening national and regional capacity and structures to prevent atrocity crimes. The work of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the United Nations joint offices on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect, both supported by the United Kingdom Government, is vital in this regard.
The UK contributes to preventive activity under the responsibility to protect. One area of work involves training militaries in third countries, as was mentioned by other noble Lords, including in the laws of armed conflict. In addition, the United Kingdom funds a wide range of conflict prevention activity that contributes to the prevention of atrocities. We recently introduced the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which includes a wide range of activity aimed at conflict prevention and reduction. CSSF projects include work on reducing intergroup tensions, strengthening justice systems and the rule of law, security sector reform, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, for we understand that good governance, the rule of law, inclusive and equal societies, and effective judicial and security sectors contribute to an environment in which RtoP crimes are less likely to take place. The United Kingdom is also vocal in lobbying for the inclusion of the “responsibility to protect” language, where relevant, in resolutions at the Security Council and the Human Rights Council—an example of this being the recent Human Rights Council resolution on genocide prevention in March.
The international community also needs to tackle misunderstandings around the responsibility to protect. We need to articulate how preventive actions and activities under the first and second pillars help deliver the responsibility to protect. This will help to undercut the misconception that often emerges that the responsibility to protect is synonymous with military intervention. Overcoming this misperception is important in encouraging states to implement the responsibility to protect.
The international community also needs unity in relation to questions of mass atrocities. As a number of noble Lords have said, we are outraged by the Russian veto of the UN Security Council resolution commemorating all those who died in the Srebrenica genocide. The draft resolution aimed to send a clear message that the Security Council supports further steps towards reconciliation and a brighter future for Bosnia and Herzegovina, while marking the international community’s resolve to prevent such atrocities in the future. It did so without pointing fingers of blame, and without linking the crimes of Srebrenica to the Serb people. Russia’s actions tarnish the memory of all those who died in the Srebrenica genocide. It will have to justify its decision to the families of more than 8,000 people murdered in the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War. Russia’s actions in vetoing this resolution show just how difficult it can be to find the unity that we need if we are to promote reconciliation. A number of noble Lords mentioned the recent commemorative event, and I will just mention a point made by a survivor, Adisada Dudic, who, as a child, had to flee her home near Srebrenica. She said so poignantly at the commemorative event last week that,
“denial does not make the facts go away. It does not change the past. And it certainly does not erase memory”.
RtoP should be an important governing principle of all countries’ work on conflict, human rights and development. Conflict disproportionately affects women and children, so we must tailor our prevention efforts accordingly, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hodgson and a number of noble Lords, including tackling sexual violence. I am proud of the achievements made to date through the United Kingdom’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, and we need to continue this. Under the leadership of my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns, we are deploying teams of experts to help build state capacity in preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict, from Mali and the DRC to Bosnia and the Syrian border areas. However, there is still much to do. Ensuring the fair treatment of women, children and civilians in war will help end the cycles of violence that we see around the world and help build more stable societies in the long run. This work is absolutely in line with the ideals enshrined in the responsibility to protect.
The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and my noble friend Lady Hooper spoke of their interest in Latin America. They will be interested to know that some of the UK’s funding goes to support RtoP voices in Latin America, run by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. The UK was also proudly represented at the annual meeting of R2P Focal Points in Madrid, jointly hosted by the Government of Chile and attended by the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned upstream prevention. We agree that we should commit resources to upstream prevention and it is a core principle of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy that the House heard about earlier at Question Time. We also agree on the need for a focus on peacebuilding. The UK continues to contribute significant financial resources to the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, and until recently we were the greatest financial contributor. There are actions we can take before a conflict takes place. The United Nations special political missions are an essential political mediation tool, and the UK continues to build up other preventive tools. A number of noble Lords also mentioned the issue related to the French veto proposal. This initiative offers an important contribution to the wider debate on reform of the Security Council, and we welcome the interest that it has generated. The United Kingdom wholeheartedly supports the principle that the Security Council must act to stop mass atrocities and crimes against humanity.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson asked about long-term resources for state building. I agree, and a significant proportion of the United Kingdom’s development assistance is spent on state building in lower-income countries. The Building Stability Overseas Strategy and early-warning conflict prevention and intervention are the driving principles of our development assistance and essential components of atrocity prevention more widely. In addition, the specific suggestions made by the noble Lord for the United Kingdom, including the UN framework and relations across the European Union on RtoP, continue to be considered by the UK’s focal point—that is, the director of the multilateral policy in the Foreign Office.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, also looked at the relationship between RtoP, the Government and structures. The United Kingdom’s response to RtoP is within the governance of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, overseen by the National Security Council. The CSSF commits funding to support the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the UN’s joint offices for genocide prevention and RtoP. As I said, the United Kingdom has a focal point, the director of the multilateral policy within the Foreign Office, and he is supported by a small team of officials. Our military, mentioned by my noble friend, are trained to the highest standards in international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. Our military also train others in international humanitarian law and the laws of armed conflict. Finally, RtoP, like all security policies, will be considered as part of the SDSR.
The noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Collins, also mentioned ways of improving our early-warning system. The United Kingdom early-warning system comprises an annual scan to assess risks of instability, together with a short-term, rising-risk early warning system. The annual scan is primarily of use in helping to determine where upstream conflict prevention resources might be best directed; while the short-term early- warning system is intended to allow the alerting of Ministers and senior officials to potential new or fast-rising risks in a structured way to enable decisions on preventive action or crisis response. Her Majesty’s Government recognise that turning early-warning analysis into early action remains challenging. That is why we continue to develop and improve our early-warning systems and support the early-warning systems of our partners in multilateral organisations such as the European Union, the UN and the AU.
My noble friend Lord Attlee spoke of his experiences in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina and referred to the United Kingdom’s willingness and ability to intervene militarily. I am sure noble Lords will agree that the United Kingdom military remains one of the finest in the world. It is in order to maintain the capacity that we need that we have committed to spending 2% of our national income on defence. However, each situation is unique and will require a different response. The United Kingdom and its allies have always demonstrated that we are adaptable and ready to intervene or to support peacekeeping operations as the situation demands, as shown by our support of peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Balkans and other places around the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned global interdependence, a subject which was also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hooper. The noble Lord will be aware that that theme has gone through all the debates we have had on these subjects in the past three months. The noble Lord, Lord Desai—in his, as ever, fascinating speech—mentioned strengthening the UN Security Council. I mentioned some aspects of that in answering an earlier question. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, asked how the Government can help our young people to engage with the world, for example through social media. This element of work is being led by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and the Home Office, and I understand that it is a priority. The Foreign Office is actively engaged online, using all tools available to pursue our foreign policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, also mentioned United Nations peacekeeping availability. This is delivered by member states for member states in the interests of international peace and security and in accordance with the priorities set by the Security Council. Since its establishment, this has always been done by utilising troops and military capabilities supplied by the membership. While United Nations peacekeeping operations have faced many challenges and have experienced failures in the past, they have also experienced many successes due to the commitment and decisive action of these troops.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the United Kingdom’s assistance for dealing with migration issues in Europe. The United Kingdom has deployed more than 20 asylum experts to other EU member states over the past three years under European Asylum Support Office plans. A Home Office asylum expert is currently in Italy and others are due to start secondments to Greece and Bulgaria very shortly. The noble Lord also asked about considering further requests by the European Asylum Support Office to support “hotspot” operations in Italy and Greece. We have made it clear to the countries concerned that we stand ready to offer bilateral assistance, such as the provision of further technical support from experts where this would be helpful.
I think I have responded to most of the queries but will write in greater detail if we find that I have missed any. Copies will be sent to noble Lords and also placed in the Library. To conclude, this Government will be unrelenting in using the United Kingdom’s global role to tackle atrocity crimes. The first responsibility of any state is to provide security to its citizens. We will employ a long-term, comprehensive approach using our diplomats, our overseas aid and our world-class Armed Forces to ensure that all people are afforded these basic, fundamental protections. Working with partners, international organisations and NGOs, we will continue the march towards a world free of these horrendous crimes.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, for his response on behalf of the Government and for the way in which he has tried to deal with almost every point raised in two hours of debate. I think noble Lords who spoke in the debate will be very grateful for that, will study his answers with interest and, I am sure, will discuss many of them on other occasions. I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, on his valedictory speech in your Lordships’ House. I will for ever be proud of the fact that he chose this debate in which to make that speech and I wish him very well. Others have congratulated him on his past achievements and I wish him well for what I am sure are achievements and contributions to come in his family life, personal life and perhaps in his public life too. I thank the noble Viscount very much for his contribution.
I have enjoyed very much all the contributions from noble Lords to this debate. I hope others will forgive me if I mention the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, who joined me in New York and Washington in March and I thought spoke very passionately about issues close to her heart, particularly on the very important topics of sexual violence and conflict, as well as the importance of diplomacy and investment in many of those aspects of conflict prevention. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, brings enormous experience to these debates as well as great passion and clarity, particularly in this case because of his role on the high-level panel that helped inform the development of RtoP a decade ago. I thought his contribution, particularly on the Russian veto last week, was very welcome.
My noble friend Lord Judd highlighted the interdependence of the world today, which was particularly appropriate in this debate. It seems that in every individual instance there is the potential for us to criticise the application, or otherwise, of the responsibility to protect doctrine or norm. It does not take away from the fact that the three pillars, the three principles, of the doctrine or the norm, are right for our age. They have redefined state sovereignty in cases where mass atrocities are threatened and they give us an opportunity, if we exercise them properly, to avoid some of those atrocities in the future. We have a particular opportunity this year, with the new sustainable development goals to be agreed at the United Nations, to take forward investment in the second pillar and principle and building state capacity to help preserve and enhance opportunities for peace.
There have been many wise words from Kofi Annan over the years on this particular topic. One quote from him has always stuck in my mind and I will finish on this point. He published a document in March 2000 that looked at the role of the United Nations in the 21st century. He said:
“The fact that we cannot protect people everywhere is no reason for doing nothing when we can”.
If we will ourselves to pursue that as a principle and an objective, then at least we will do more than has been done in the past.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on measures to improve the safety culture in the NHS and further strengthen its transition to a modern, patient-centric healthcare system. The failings at Mid Staffs detailed in the Francis report were not ‘isolated local failures’. Facing up to widespread problems with the safety and quality of NHS care and learning the appropriate lessons has been a mission which the Government and the NHS have shared, with a common belief that the best way to deal with problems is to face up to them, rather than wish they did not exist.
Measures taken in the last Parliament include introducing the toughest independent inspection regime in the world, more transparency on performance and outcomes than any other major healthcare system, new fundamental standards, a duty of candour and the excellent recommendations made by Sir Robert Francis QC. But because the change we need is essentially cultural, a long journey still remains ahead. The Department of Health was described during the Mid Staffs era as a ‘denial machine’. We therefore have much work to do if we are to complete the transformation of the NHS from a closed system to an open one, from one where staff are bullied to one where they are supported, and from one where patients are not ignored but listened to.
So today I am announcing some important new steps, including our official response to Sir Robert Francis’s second report, Freedom to Speak Up; our response to the Public Administration Committee report, Investigating Clinical Incidents in the NHS; and our response to the Morecambe Bay investigation. I am also publishing the report of the noble Lord, Lord Rose, into leadership in the NHS—a key part of the way we will prevent these tragedies happening again. I would like to thank everyone involved in writing those reports for their excellent work.
In his report, Freedom to Speak Up, Sir Robert Francis QC made a number of recommendations to support this cultural change. All NHS trusts will appoint someone whose job is to be there when front-line doctors and nurses need someone to turn to with concerns about patient care that they feel unable to raise with their immediate line manager. We will also appoint an independent national officer, located at the Care Quality Commission, to make sure all trusts have proper processes in place to listen to the concerns of staff, before they feel the need to become whistleblowers. Other changes will include information about raising concerns as part of the training for healthcare professionals and curriculum for medical students, as well as a greater focus on learning from reflective practice in staff development.
Dr Bill Kirkup’s report into Morecambe Bay brought home to this House that there can be no greater pain than for a parent to lose a child and then find that pain compounded when medical mistakes are covered up. We will accept all of the recommendations in this report, including removing the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s current responsibility and accountability for statutory supervision of midwives in the United Kingdom and bringing the regulation of midwives into line with the arrangements for other regulated professions.
Likewise, we agree with the vast majority of the recommendations of the excellent report of the Select Committee on Public Administration into clinical incident investigations. In particular, we will set up a new independent patient safety investigation service by April 2016, based on the success of the ‘no blame’ approach used by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch in the airline industry. It will be housed at Monitor and the TDA, which have the important responsibility of promulgating a learning culture throughout the NHS. Monitor and the TDA will operate under the name ‘NHS Improvement’ and Ed Smith, currently a non-executive board member of NHS England, will become the new chair, with a brief to appoint a new chief executive by the end of September.
For NHS managers, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Rose, Better Leadership for Tomorrow, makes vital recommendations to join up the support offered to NHS managers, to improve training and performance management and to reduce bureaucracy. He extended his remit to cover the work of clinical commissioning groups, which play a key role in the NHS, and today I am accepting all 19 of his recommendations in principle, including moving responsibility for the NHS Leadership Academy from NHS England to Health Education England.
These are important recommendations, which, in the end, all share one common thread: the most powerful people in our NHS should not be politicians, managers, or even doctors and nurses—they should be the patients who use it. Using the power of intelligent transparency and new technology, we now have the opportunity to put behind us a service where you ‘get what you are given’, and to move to a modern NHS where what is right for the service is always what is right for the patient.
A litmus test of this is our approach to weekend services. Around 6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven-day service in hospitals. You are 15% more likely to die if you are admitted on a Sunday, compared with being admitted on a Wednesday. This is unacceptable to doctors as well as patients. In 2003-4, the then Government gave GPs and consultants the right to opt out of out-of-hours and weekend work, at the same time as offering significant pay increases. The result was a ‘Monday-to-Friday’ culture in many parts of the NHS, with catastrophic consequences for patient safety. In our manifesto this year, the Conservative Party pledged to put this right, as a clinical and a moral priority.
So, I am today publishing the observations on seven-day contract reform for directly employed NHS staff in England by the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration and the NHS Pay Review Body. They observe that some trusts are already delivering services across seven days, but this is far from universal. According to the DDRB, a major barrier to wider implementation is the contractual right of consultants to opt out of non-emergency work in the evenings and at weekends, which reduces weekend cover by senior clinical decision-makers and puts the sickest patients at unacceptable risk. The DDRB recommends the early removal of the consultant weekend opt-out, so today I am announcing that we intend to negotiate the removal of the consultant opt-out and the early implementation of revised terms for new consultants from April 2016. There will now be six weeks to work with the BMA union negotiators, before a September decision point. We hope we can find a negotiated solution, but are prepared to impose a new contract if necessary. To further ensure a patient-focused pay system, we will also introduce a new performance pay scheme, replacing the outdated local clinical excellence awards, to reward those doctors making the greatest contribution to patient care.
I am also announcing other measures today to make the NHS more responsive to patients. These include making sure patients are told about CQC quality ratings, as well as waiting times, before they are referred to hospitals, so that they are able to make an informed decision about the best place to receive their care. NHS England will also develop plans to expand control to patients over decisions made in maternity, end-of-life care and long-term condition management, which I will report in more detail subsequently to the House. Finally, because the role of technology is so important in strengthening patient power, we must ensure no patient is left behind in the digital health revolution. I have therefore asked the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, formerly the Government’s Digital Champion, to develop practical proposals for the NHS National Information Board on how we can ensure increased take-up of new digital innovations in health by those who will benefit from them the most.
When we first introduced transparency into the system to strengthen the voice of patients, some called it ‘running down the NHS’. In fact, since then public confidence in the NHS in England has risen 5 percentage points. By contrast, Wales, which resisted this transparency, saw public satisfaction fall by 3 percentage points. Over the last Parliament, the proportion of people who think the NHS in England is among the best healthcare systems in the world increased by 7 percentage points; those who think NHS care is safe increased by 7 percentage points; and those who think they are treated with dignity and respect increased by 13 percentage points. This demonstrates beyond doubt the benefits of an open, confident NHS, truly focused on learning and continuous improvement.
But as we make progress in this journey, we must never forget the families who have suffered when things have gone wrong—in particular, the families and patients at Morecambe Bay and Mid Staffs, the whistleblowers who contributed to Sir Robert Francis’s work and everyone who has had the courage to come forward in recent years to help reshape the culture of the NHS. Without their bravery and determination, we would not have faced up to the failures of the past, nor been able to construct a shared vision for the future. We are all massively in their debt; this Statement remains their legacy and I commend it to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement. The Opposition support much of what he had to say. I will focus my remarks on the plan for seven-day working and then touch on a number of the other issues that he raised.
Ensuring our health services are there for everyone whenever they are needed, be it a weekday or a weekend, is essential to keeping people well and making the NHS sustainable. Of course the Opposition support the principle of what the Government are trying to achieve with seven-day working, and we will certainly work with them on making that possible. Where I urge some caution is in the manner in which the Government are attempting to achieve those changes.
The Minister will be aware that the NHS is in a rather fragile state at the moment. A&E performance has been very disappointing in the face of enormous pressures. He will know that primary care services are overwhelmed. We discussed in Oral Questions the failure of some ambulance services to meet their performance targets. We talked particularly about the London Ambulance Service. There is a shortage of staff and an overreliance on agency workers and undoubtedly patients are suffering as a result—on this Government’s watch. Staff are feeling pretty demoralised and rather unloved by the Government. It is important that the way the Government approach seven-day working does not make matters worse.
I am entirely unclear as to how seven-day working is to be achieved without significantly impacting the rest of the NHS. The real danger here, given the way the NHS will approach this kind of target, is that more staff will be produced at the weekend by cutting staff during the week. The Minister will be aware of the study published in Health Economics, which concluded:
“There is as yet no clear evidence that 7-day services will reduce weekend deaths or can be achieved without increasing weekday deaths”.
Clearly, it would be an absolute nonsense if we reduced weekend deaths but the price was an increase in weekday deaths.
The Government have produced no facts or evidence for the assertions they are making. If we are to take this seriously, we need to know a bit more about how the resources challenge and the current acute shortages in many staffing areas are going to be met—bearing in mind that the Government are cracking down on the use of agency workers; the ludicrous 2012 Immigration Rules, which mean that nursing staff who are not earning £35,000 a year after six years will be sent back to their country of origin; and the serious issue of staff morale.
The Minister mentioned the 2003 contract but will he confirm that the contract negotiated then was actually very largely based on the one negotiated by the previous Conservative Government in the 1990s? How does he think the Government intend to work in partnership with NHS staff to make those changes? The briefing from his department—phrases such as “declaring war on NHS staff”—does not seem to have got this policy off to the right start. The kind of provocative statements that are currently emanating from his department, no doubt under the authority of the Secretary of State, do nothing to create the conditions in which people in the NHS will actually want to work with the Government on developing these policies.
I also want to mention the impact of another five years of, in effect, real-terms pay cuts. What impact does the Minister think the Chancellor’s announcement on pay will have on future staff numbers and retention? I want to raise one issue with him, which is the subject of a statutory instrument in your Lordships’ House. If the pay of NHS staff is to be held down, how can he justify the 12% increase in fees by the HCPC, one of the key staff regulators for the healthcare profession? Will he withdraw this regulation? Does he not agree that it is absolutely disgraceful that staff are being asked to pay more money by what essentially is a government-owned quango when their own pay is being held down? It is utterly unacceptable.
Can the Minister tell me how this is going to be funded? Either the staff are going to be thinned out during the week or extra staff will have to be found. It is not just consultants and nursing staff; it has to be the whole infrastructure to make this work, including community services and primary services, and there will be a knock-on impact on social care costs. How is this going to be paid for? If he says that the Government are giving £8 billion to the health service overall, he knows that is dishonest. We know that that will probably be paid in 2021, according to the Treasury briefing. We also know that £30 billion per annum will be needed by then. Nobody I know in the health service thinks that it has any chance at all of closing that gap because the kind of efficiency saving required has never been achieved in this or any other health service. The excellent report on efficiencies by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in itself will produce only £5 billion by 2017-18.
On whistleblowing, I welcome the Freedom to Speak Up report, which contained a number of important recommendations to foster a more open culture. The Minister will know that in recent years there have been a number of other examples of appalling care in social care settings, including Orchard View, Oban House and, of course, Winterbourne View. Many of those scandals were exposed only once undercover reporters infiltrated the care home. Of course, we welcome the action the Government are taking, but does the Minister agree with the point I have made to him previously: that if the Government really want an open culture in which people can raise their concerns, that has to apply right up the line, meaning that the leaders of NHS organisations can speak openly about their own concerns about the direction of policy and the actions of Ministers? He will know that at the moment those people are slapped down if they make any criticism at all of the Government. You will not get an open culture until everyone in the system feels that they can be open. At the moment they cannot.
We support the steps in the Kirkup report to improve the regulation of midwives but if the Government are so concerned about modernising regulation, why have we not had the Law Commission Bill containing a comprehensive approach to the modernisation of health regulation for individual professionals? Why are we carrying on with this antiquated approach and these wretched Section 60 orders, which cause a lot more expense and delay in the Minister’s department? Why has the new speeded-up system of dealing with regulation, for regulators such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council, been held up for many months now? Of course, one of the reasons why it has had to increase its fees is that the Government will not agree to this legislation coming before Parliament to streamline its proposals.
It is pretty disgraceful that the Rose report, which was mentioned, was not published alongside the Statement. Why are we having to wait until after this Statement to look at it? The noble Lord knows that Ministers received it months ago. What is in the report that they do not want the public to see?
On the merger of Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority, I welcome the appointment of Mr Ed Smith, who is a high-calibre chair. He is also pro-chancellor of Birmingham University, which is a very strong recommendation. I also like the name “NHS Improvement”. But how many staff in Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority have any concept of improvement, given their current record of bullying, hectoring and intimidating the agencies they are responsible for? Can I assume that there is going to be a drastic change of personnel in that combined organisation? Will the Minister confirm that no one employed in that organisation will earn more money than the Prime Minister, given that the Government have chosen to attack NHS chief executives in relation to their salaries? Will he also confirm that they will not use agency staff? Does he not find it rather ironic that Monitor, in order to instruct NHS bodies not to use agency staff, has employed temporary staff? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
There is a dangerous gap between the kind of fantasy land that Ministers talk about in the health service and the reality of life on the ground. On the ground, people are struggling every day to meet the pressures with limited money and no support from the Government. The health service is in real danger of falling over. The Government should stop blaming the NHS and take responsibility.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It reflected much of what I heard this morning from the Secretary of State at the King’s Fund. It is a brave and realistic approach but there are some yawning gaps in it compared to what I should have expected in a major statement about NHS reform. However, I welcome several points.
The focus on culture change and nurturing staff is absolutely right. The NHS is the best and most cost-effective service in the world only because of the skills and commitment of its staff, yet we are told that in some places staff morale is poor. This is very sad to hear. It was good to hear earlier this morning about the beneficial effect on morale in those hospitals that are responding positively to being put in special measures.
I welcome the new personnel, processes and training that are being put in place to ensure that staff can safely express concerns about the quality of care, so that each member of staff can take part meaningfully in the improvement pathway of his organisation. We could do with ditching for all time the expression “whistleblower” with all its negative connotations. I welcome what the Secretary of State called “intelligent transparency”, a no-blame focus on what went wrong and how to put it right. In common with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I think that merging the TDA and Monitor could be a good thing, with this focus on no-blame improvement. That should help, but we still need more signposting for patients and service users about how and where to complain if they have poor care in what is a very complex system.
I of course welcome the focus on better data-gathering, especially in the field of mental health, where we are rather short of it. Managers cannot make good financial decisions without the facts about what everything costs. Businesses could not survive like that and neither can the NHS.
I welcome the long-awaited publication of the Rose report and the acceptance of its recommendations. I look forward to seeing what they are. We need a new focus on the quality of NHS management. If we are to rise to the challenge of the £22 billion of efficiency savings, we need excellent managers and finance directors as well as excellent doctors and nurses. I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Rose, extended his remit to CCGs.
I also welcome the new requirement for hospitals and groups of doctors to provide a seven-day service but I share some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about how it will be delivered. People do not get sick to order just on weekdays, so that is important. I should, however, like assurance that this does not necessarily mean putting any further burden on individual hard-working doctors, nurses and laboratory staff. Good planning is needed to avoid further burdens. However, this will certainly mean the recruitment of more trained staff. We need assurance that they are in the pipeline. Can the Minister say, for example, what the Government are doing to stem the flow of staff, trained by the NHS at a cost to the taxpayer, who leave the country as soon as they qualify?
What was missing from the Statement and the speech this morning was context and understanding that filling the £30 billion black hole in the NHS requires a whole-Government response. If patients are to be in charge, they need good health education so that they know what a healthy lifestyle means. They need access to sports and leisure facilities and nutritious food, and they need warm, dry homes. Integration needs to be a lot broader than just integration between health and social care. Unless social care is properly funded, the NHS will not be able to find its expected £22 billion of efficiency savings while making the improvements outlined in the Statement because of the knock-on effect on acute hospital beds. Yet while there has been more money for the health service, there has been nothing but cuts in social care.
The thrust of the Statement was about getting it right first time and, if not getting it right the first time, then certainly the second and subsequent times. This has to be right for patient safety and confidence but also for cost-effectiveness. If we are to rise to the increasing demand on the health service, we must get it right as near as possible every time and we must support the staff in doing so.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. I was quite depressed listening to the noble Lord opposite. We had a debate in this House last week and we talked about a sense of political consensus on the NHS. I start by saying—rather personally—that, having listened briefly this morning to his right honourable friend Andy Burnham in the other place misquote me out of context from the debate that we had last week, I thought that there was no hope of a non-partisan approach to the NHS. For the avoidance of any doubt from anybody, and as I think I made pretty clear in last week’s debate, I believe fundamentally and passionately in a universal, tax-funded healthcare system—the NHS—that is free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Having looked back on it, I do not remember uttering a word in that debate that would question that statement. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord opposite might have a word with his right honourable friend in the other place to make it absolutely clear that playing cheap party politics has no place in our discussions about the NHS.
Turning to the comments about my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health’s Statement today, seven-day services are in many ways at the heart of it. Thousands of people are dying because we do not provide seven-day services in hospitals. We cannot carry on with a system with thousands of people dying. It is not just that thousands of people are dying. The health of thousands of people is deteriorating in our hospitals over the weekend.
This is an anecdote, which may be unfair. However, two years ago, I met a radiologist walking down the corridor in an NHS hospital on a Friday morning. His wife had been admitted through A&E. She had abdominal pains. He could not get her a scan. She was going to have to wait in that hospital until Monday. Had it been a bank holiday, she would have had to wait in that hospital until the following Tuesday before she had that scan. That is an anecdote, but we know that it is happening all the time. It is unacceptable.
So I ask the noble Lord opposite to be more enthusiastic about this. Of course it will be difficult. This Government are putting in £8 billion of new money. This is more money than his party was prepared to offer before the election. It is the same amount of money that the noble Baroness’s party was offering to put in. This is £8 billion of additional money that we are putting into the NHS. It is a critical part of our strategy. It was laid out in our manifesto and is in the NHS Five Year Forward View that we would make seven-day services a main plank of these reforms. For those people who think that this cannot be afforded, put yourself in the position of a chief executive of an NHS hospital that works four and a half days a week because theatres stop work at lunchtime on Friday. Often, they do not start again until Monday lunchtime because every bed is taken up when they come in to work on Monday morning. Across the country, thousands of consultant surgeons, theatre staff and anaesthetists are hanging about on Mondays because they cannot start their work. This is because there is not a bed in the hospital because the flow of patients through that hospital came to a grinding halt on Friday. The noble Baroness is right that this is not just a hospital issue but about joined-up care. You cannot get the discharges out of the hospital unless social care, the physios and the OTs are working—the whole system needs to be working. Seven-day working is not only right for patients but will enable our hospitals to work much more efficiently.
I will pick up a few other issues. I remember when the 2003 contract was voted on by consultants. In my view, it was a disastrous contract, which deprofessionalised many professional consultants. They voted against it the first time and voted for it, grudgingly, only the second time. They voted for it because their pay went up by 28% as a result of it and they could opt out of providing care over weekends and outside normal hours—of course they voted for it. Looking back on it, some of the noble Lords and Baronesses opposite will maybe accept that it was a disastrous contract. It deprofessionalised a deeply vocational profession and fundamentally changed the culture of the NHS—a culture that we are now trying to change once again.
I welcome the comments of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness about Sir Robert Francis’s report on whistleblowing. We want an open culture, in which whistleblowing is a thing of the past. I agree with the noble Baroness that whistleblowing is not a great name. It would be great if we never heard about whistleblowing ever again because people felt able to raise their concerns in a proper, central and safe way and knew they could raise them without fear of any detriment to their employment prospects. The proposals put forward by the Public Administration Select Committee, which have been taken up by the Secretary of State for Health, are absolutely right. We need a safe place for when things go wrong.
I turn to the Rose report. Leadership is fundamental. Around a hospital, one ward will be doing well and one will not because there is a good ward sister in the first one; one hospital will be doing well and one will not because of good local leadership in the former. Leadership is absolutely fundamental, and I subscribe to all the comments that my noble friend Lord Rose has made in his report.
The noble Lord’s comments about the TDA and Monitor are harsh. David Bennett and others in those organisations have done a very good job in very difficult circumstances. We are fundamentally changing the roles of TDA and Monitor. Together, they are now, as the name suggests, an improvement agency first and a regulator second. The new role of the TDA and Monitor in NHS improvement will fundamentally change the way we approach performance management and improvement. The Secretary of State for Health alluded to the contract that the TDA recently signed with Virginia Mason, one of the safest hospitals in the world, which is one way of bringing best world practice into the NHS.
I will conclude on the context. Times are difficult in the NHS and we should not pretend differently. This Government are absolutely committed to seeing this transformation programme through. The noble Lord opposite said he did not know anybody who thought that we could achieve the £22 billion in savings that are set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View—he knows me.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Great Ormond Street Hospital Foundation Trust. Before I put my questions to the Minister, I will just make one brief comment on his remarks about the Opposition. I have no idea what the shadow Secretary of State for Health said in another place, but I will defend what my noble friend Lord Hunt has just said. He said that he agreed in principle with a great deal of the Statement, but it is legitimate for the Opposition to ask questions about how a Statement of this sort might be implemented, which is what he was doing.
I have two questions, the first about bureaucracy. The Minister said that he wished to see a reduction in bureaucracy. As a chairman of a trust, I entirely identify with that. However, some of the bureaucracy is in the regulators, and I hope that his attack on bureaucracy will cover the regulators. The Government are about to set up another outside agency, which will put further bureaucratic pressure on those who are delivering services upfront. Anything he can do to try to reduce that would be helpful.
My other question concerns seven-day services. Again, I entirely endorse what the Government wish to do with respect to seven-day services—if anything, they are overdue—but there are questions to be asked. What is the timetable for this, if it is only going to apply to new consultants? It will take a very long time to introduce seven-day services if only new consultants are going to go on to the new contract requiring them to work at weekends. I understand why the Government are doing that, but it will make for a very long delay. What steps will the Government take to try to encourage existing consultants, who will be far greater in number than the flow of new consultants, to adjust to a new approach where seven-day services are introduced in the interests of patients?
I can only agree with the noble Baroness on bureaucracy. The new body that we are setting up to look at incident reporting, as recommended by the PAC, will only look at big incidents so will not be an added bureaucracy for the day-to-day running of a trust. I am always struck by the figure that nurses spend only between 70% and 80% of their time dealing directly with patients because they are dealing with bureaucracy. The bureaucracy argument falls into two parts: it is partly about the way hospitals run their affairs and partly about external regulators. We believe fundamentally in intelligent transparency. I see the CQC, for example, as less a regulator and more a means of providing intelligent information to boards of hospitals and to patients. But I take on board what the noble Baroness says. We will do everything we can to reduce the level of bureaucracy.
As far as the timetable is concerned, junior doctors will switch over much more quickly than consultants, because they turn over much more quickly. It will take time for consultants to move over to the new contract, but we hope that we can make it more attractive to consultants and that it will be more of what I would call a professional contract, so that existing consultants will switch over to it as well as new consultants. We will have to watch that very carefully.
The way that the Minister has been speaking has made it sound as if the majority of consultants do not work on weekends, and I question the validity of that. The consultants who are on and on call are dealing with emergencies at the weekend and are very often in. However, without diagnostic back-up, without physiotherapy and occupational therapy, without specialist nurses and without community services to which they can discharge patients, they effectively have to function with one hand tied behind their back—sometimes both. You cannot provide modern medicine without that broader team. If you are going to free up hospital beds, you have to be able to discharge patients safely, knowing that they will have the care they need. The 24 hours post-discharge is when patients are at their most vulnerable.
I will question one thing the Minister said. He gave a six-week timeframe for the BMA. Does that also apply to the NHS Pay Review Body negotiations? What will be done to make sure that all the other staff also move on to contracts that will provide that infrastructure, right through from operating department staff to, as I said, allied healthcare professionals and so on?
The Statement referred to end-of-life care. Could the Minister inform the House when there will be a response to the report What’s Important to Me. A Review of Choice in End of Life Care, which was undertaken for the National Council for Palliative Care? I declare an interest as its incoming chairman. It has been submitted to the Department of Health, but there has still not been a response to it, even though it has been universally welcomed by both providers and patient groups.
My last question relates to digital innovation. I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, with her tremendous skills, will be brought in. What are the Government’s targets and how rapidly are they planning to roll out digital innovations? Will they undertake in the process to decrease the paper-load bureaucracy, so that staff can be freed up to deliver front-line patient care, and are not caught by risk-averse processes and procedures that force them to spend a lot of time in documenting or double-checking, when the evidence base for that improving patient care is extremely thin?
The noble Baroness raises a number of points. Of course, she is right that it is no good just having senior doctors in a hospital without the right back-up, particularly diagnostic specialist nursing. She has just mentioned OTs and physios, and I agree with her completely there.
The noble Baroness mentioned the NHS pay review. There is not an opt-out clause in the Agenda for Change contract. Discussions will be taking place with the RCN and other trade unions later this year. I will have to write to her about the timing of the response on the end-of-life care point that she raised; I do not know it offhand. Digital information will be rolling out progressively over the next five years. I certainly hope that we will have electronic patient record in place for the vast majority of patients over the lifetime of this Government.
I welcome my noble friend’s announcement—I hope that he will take some cheer from that. I have too often been an emergency admission at a weekend and know only too well that if you have to wait to see the consultant on Monday you simply end up bed-and-breakfasting for two or three nights in hospitals. I hope that my noble friend will take into account how having a consultant available for those sorts of patient would save a lot of money, free up a lot of beds and achieve what he is describing.
I know that Ministers do not like to micromanage what goes on in hospitals, but with the transition to new contracts for new consultants, I hope that my noble friend will find a way to identify those particular disciplines in hospitals where there are more deaths—he mentioned this—so that attention can be given to consultants with new contracts in those disciplines. An aortic aneurysm needs a consultant standing by the patient, but with other easily identifiable conditions it would be good if the Government could make sure that hospitals proactively recruit consultants on new contracts to ensure that the 6,000 deaths that he mentioned come down as rapidly as possible.
I was interested by my noble friend’s comments about waiting until the following Monday when she has been in hospital. That is a good illustration of why we want to bring in seven-day services. My noble friend might be interested to read the report in Future Hospital, written by the Royal College of Physicians, that came out a year ago. I think that we will see over the next few years a significant change in the way that our hospital consultants are trained and deployed, and more generally what is called in America hospitalists, who can have a broader range of disciplines.
When it comes in, the new contract will enable us to differentiate payment for those consultants who are working more anti-social hours, such as A&E consultants who will have to work much more regularly out of hours than others. It will enable us to identify those consultants who may be on call but are more likely to be summoned in, like those that my noble friend just mentioned, at short notice. Depending on the surgical specialty, the on-call requirements can be much more demanding than others. For example, this is more the case if you are a vascular surgeon than if you are a dermatologist, who do most of their work in normal time. I take on board what my noble friend says.
My Lords, no one will disagree with the concept of a seven-day-week health service. I was at the wrong end of a catastrophic surgical error that meant instead of one night in hospital I was there for six months. I dreaded weekends, and I dreaded them even more if there was a bank holiday attached, as has already been mentioned.
If we want to deal with party politics, can I explode the myth that has been peddled that the Labour Government were responsible for the five-day-week approach, because of the consultant contract? For many years I was a theatre nurse. I never scrubbed on a Saturday or a Sunday in the 1960s or 1970s. Hospitals ran on a five-day-week then, so it is quite wrong to suggest that this is all the fault of the consultant contract a few years ago.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. If we want to have endoscopy suites open, radiography, radiologists, and nurses manning theatres and recovery rooms on Saturdays and Sundays, we must have more of these professions. If we do not, we shall diminish them on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we will not be much further forward. Will the Government commit to increasing training places for all of these professions, together with consultants such as radiologists, as I suspect that we have many fewer of those than in most other developed countries?
Interestingly, the number of consultants has increased very significantly over the past 15 years across not all but most specialities. The noble Lord refers to dreadful weekends, and how he dreaded them, particularly bank holidays. That is really why we are here today, so that in future patients like him do not dread them.
If I indicated earlier on that I blame the 2003 contract for the difference between five days’ and seven days’ working, and if that was the implication of what I said, I withdraw it. What I meant to say was that I felt that that contract to some extent de-professionalised the profession.
My Lords, most people will welcome much of what is in the Statement.
I would like to come back to the issue of seven-day working that in principle this side supports and accepts. Some of the problems that we have at the moment in the NHS are the top issues with patients. We keep talking about patients being “top of the tree” and being in charge. Can the Minister tell the House what issue about NHS performance at the moment disturbs patients most of all? We have a list of issues where we are doing well: tell us what is worst.
The worst is the inability to access a GP, on a timely basis, five days a week, not seven days a week. This is not new. The position was bad in 2010, when Labour, my party, was in power, but it deteriorated while the Lib Dems and the Conservatives were in the coalition. I can point to Questions in Hansard raised in 2012, when we were promised by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that discussions were taking place in the profession about trying to improve access to GPs, particularly where there were problems in London. I speak as a patient with a GP in London, who asks how he is to provide a seven-day week service when he cannot get the GPs and does not have the money to do it.
My noble friend Lord Hunt asked a basic question which is of prime concern to people, particularly in London. Will spreading this over seven days until such time as you can provide the 5,000 trained GPs who were promised, which will be seven years down the road, lead to a further deterioration in the ability to access a GP during the week?
There is no doubt that, looking forward over the next five years, the resource to be put into primary care will be greater, relatively, than it has been in the past. We wish to deliver more care outside hospital. That is why we are committed to training and having in place 5,000 more doctors in general practice by the end of this Parliament—not just GPs, but others who will support GPs.
The model of primary care will change significantly over the next five years, and it is fundamental to the five-year forward view that we reduce the number of people going into acute hospitals and that we discharge people at the other end of their journey through an acute hospital much quicker.
My Lords, I welcome the principle of working towards a weekend service—indeed, I think it is hard not to—but I certainly do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving it, particularly in a fully joined-up way. This morning, I attended a meeting with many children and young people who had experienced a serious mental health crisis at the weekend and had real difficulty accessing the treatment they needed. Indeed, some of them had turned up at A&E but there had simply been no mental health services available for them. In the light of that, will the Minister reassure me that the principle of seven-day working will apply to consultants from mental health disciplines, particularly those treating children and young people whose access to those services seems to be even harder to secure than it is for adults? Secondly, the Statement talked about CQC quality ratings as well as waiting times being made accessible to patients. Will he confirm that these will include waiting times for mental health services?
The Government are committed to parity of esteem, and if we are truly committed to parity of esteem the answer to both the noble Baroness’s questions must be yes. We must have the same standards for physical health as we have for mental health. If someone has a psychotic crisis on a Friday afternoon and they cannot get access to any help until the following Monday, that is clearly extremely poor care. If they end up in an A&E department being looked after by people who have no experience of dealing with mental health problems, it is a very poor environment to be in, so I agree entirely with the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and many of the things in it. We accept that higher mortality rates at weekends in hospital are unacceptable, so we have to try to think of ways of reducing them. Seven-day working for consultants is just one element. Consultants are important, of course. The Minister is probably aware of Brian Jarman’s publication some years ago which showed that there was an inverse correlation between the number of doctors in a hospital and the mortality rate; that is, a hospital with more doctors had a lower mortality rate. There are lessons to be learned there, especially as we in the UK seem to have fewer doctors per head of population than almost any other OECD country, and fewer beds come to that—so we are starting from a low ebb, and the points made by noble Lords about where we are going to get the extra people from are important.
However, the consultant element is just one part. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made a very good point about the need for radiologists, physiotherapists and pathology laboratories. All the machinery of the hospital has to be there. Equally, there is the whole business of general practice and community care. Primary care at the weekend is poor, by and large; that is one of the major problems. Patients are not getting into hospital until they are in greater extremis, so they are more ill when they get there: then they require more service, and once they are there, they cannot get home because there is no one to see them home. Concentrating on consultants is just one element. What is the Minister’s response?
The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, knows the situation on the ground as well as anybody in this House and, of course, he and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, are absolutely right that this will not be solved just by having more consultants in acute hospitals. We have to look right the way across social care, primary care, community care, mental health care and acute care. We are talking about a system. In many ways, one of the reasons why we find ourselves in the position we find ourselves in today is that we have not had a system for some time. We have deliberately broken up the system for good reason.
I was very much in favour of foundation trusts having their own balance sheet and their own profit and loss account because of increased accountability, but disadvantages have flowed from that. Chief executives in acute hospitals look after their own. They have treated themselves as an island. We are not part of an island. Rebuilding the system will take some time. It is not going to happen tomorrow, and there is no silver bullet. All I can say is that the Government are committed to the five-year forward view, the new models of care and joined-up care. We are committed to experimenting with accountable care organisations, integrated care organisations and all kinds of joined-up models. We are seeing exciting developments in Manchester and possibly, in time to come, in Cornwall and other parts of the country where we will have pooled budgets between social care and healthcare. I am confident that over the next five years we will if not solve these problems, at least go a long way to doing so.
BBC Charter Review
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement read earlier in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
“I have today laid before Parliament a BBC charter review consultation paper, copies of which are being deposited in the House Libraries.
The British Broadcasting Corporation is cherished and admired not only in this country but around the world. At its best, the BBC sets international standards of quality. Even in a multimedia age, its most popular programmes continue to draw the country together in a shared experience, as with the London Olympics and world-beating dramas such as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’. The BBC reaches 97% of the UK population every week, and it has a pivotal role in helping the United Kingdom to reach every corner of the globe, as reflected in a recent report that found that the UK leads the world in terms of soft power.
The BBC is almost 100 years old. There have been many changes in this time, but the scale of change in the media sector over the last decade has been unprecedented. People are consuming a vast array of content from multiple sources, using technology that either did not exist or was in its infancy 10 years ago. Ten years ago, when a Government last conducted a charter review, millions of households still received just five television channels. Much of the social media that is now ubiquitous was, at most, at an embryonic stage, and few of us owned the sort of devices that colleagues use daily, including in this Chamber.
One of the few things that is certain about the media landscape of the future is that we cannot be sure how it will look, not least because we cannot predict how much will stay the same. Predictions about the demise of television have proven premature, undoubtedly in part because technology has evolved, but also because many people still enjoy sitting down to watch TV in their living room. Radio also retains an important place in people’s daily lives.
The current BBC royal charter will expire at the end of 2016. This paper launches the Government’s consultation, which will inform a number of decisions that we need to take about the future of the BBC. The BBC Trust will play an integral role in the process by running a series of public seminars and events. Fundamentally, we need to consider four questions. What is the overall purpose of the BBC? What services and content should the BBC provide? How should the BBC be funded? How should the BBC be governed and regulated?
First, on the BBC’s mission, purpose and values, the BBC has six public purposes, which were set out at the last charter review. They are: sustaining citizenship and civil society; promoting education and learning; stimulating creativity and cultural excellence; representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK; and delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications. We need to ask whether these purposes are relevant and right.
One key task is to assess whether the idea of universality still holds water. With so much more choice in what to consume and how to consume it, we must at least question whether the BBC should try to be all things to all people—to serve everyone across every platform—or if it should have a more precisely targeted mission.
Along with considering the mission and purpose of the BBC, we will consider whether the Charter should also define its values—and what those values should be.
Secondly, on the BBC’s scale and scope, the public purposes set the framework for what the BBC should be seeking to achieve, and the charter and supporting framework agreement articulate what activities it should undertake to accomplish this. The upcoming charter review will look at whether the scale and scope of the BBC is right for the current and future media environment and delivers what audiences are willing to pay for.
Twenty years ago the BBC had two television channels, five national radio stations and a local radio presence. It is now the largest public service broadcaster in the world, with nine television channels, five UK-wide radio stations, six radio stations that reach one of the home nations, 40 local radio stations and a vast online presence. This charter review will look at whether this particular range of services best serves licence fee payers. It will also assess what impact the BBC has on the commercial sector. There is evidence that the BBC helps to drive up standards and boosts investment, but also concern that public funding should not undermine commercial business models for TV, radio and online.
The BBC is highly used and valued by the majority of people in this country. But variations exist, and there are particular challenges in reaching people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds and in meeting the needs of younger people, who increasingly access content online. Variations exist among the different nations and regions, too. These are issues which we will need to take into account throughout the process of the charter review.
The BBC’s global reputation is second to none and the BBC has a central role in determining how the UK is perceived internationally. Each week, BBC services reach more than 300 million people across the world, and the director-general has set a target of 500 million.
The charter review also gives us an opportunity to look at the content the BBC provides, both in terms of the mixture of that content and its quality. We will analyse the way that the BBC’s content is produced. This is essentially shaped by two main elements: the broader regulatory framework, including the terms of trade which set out how the BBC and other broadcasters work with independent producers, and the BBC’s quota systems.
The BBC executive has made some radical proposals that would remove quotas and turn the BBC’s production arm into a commercial subsidiary. These and other reform options will need to be considered as part of the charter review. We will also look at BBC Worldwide, which contributes a substantial amount of additional income to the BBC.
I turn now to the third question—BBC funding—a subject on which I know that many honourable and right honourable Members in the other place hold strong views. The licence fee has proven to be a very resilient income stream for the BBC, bringing in £3.7 billion last year, but it is not without its challenges.
There is no easy solution to the broad question of how the BBC should be funded. The licence fee is levied at a flat rate, meaning that it is regressive. A subscription model could well be an option in the longer term, but cannot work in the short term because the technology is not yet in every home to control access. Therefore, the three options for change that are viable in the shorter term are: a reformed licence fee, a household levy, or a hybrid funding model. In the longer term we should consider whether there is a case for moving to a full subscription model. All have advantages and disadvantages.
There are a number of other funding issues that the charter review will cover. We have already announced that the BBC, rather than taxpayers, will meet the cost of free TV licences for over-75 year-olds. This will be phased in from 2018-19, with the BBC taking on the full costs from 2020-21. We also anticipate that the licence fee will rise in line with the consumer prices index over the next charter review period, but this is dependent on the BBC keeping pace with efficiency savings elsewhere in the public sector and it is also subject to whatever conclusions are drawn from the charter review about the BBC’s scope and purpose.
I am grateful to David Perry QC, who has conducted an independent review of the sanctions appropriate for non-payment of the licence fee. The TV licence fee enforcement review, which is being published today, has concluded that decriminalisation would not be appropriate under the current funding model. The Government will now consider the case for decriminalisation as part of the charter review. I am today laying before Parliament the TV licence fee enforcement review and placing copies in the House Libraries.
More people, especially younger people, now access catch-up television exclusively online and without a licence. This is perfectly legal, as the existing legislation was drawn up when the iPlayer did not even exist. The Government have committed to updating the legislation.
We will also analyse the merits of a contestable public service funding pot that would not be limited just to the BBC, and we will look again at what areas and activities should have their funding protected in future. Broadband rollout, digital switchover, local television, the World Service and the Welsh language channel S4C were protected in the last charter period. As I announced the other day, the broadband ring-fence is to be phased out by 2020-21, and S4C will be expected to find similar savings to those in the BBC.
Finally, there is the matter of how the BBC is governed and regulated. Any organisation as large as the BBC needs effective governance and regulation. There have been occasions when the BBC has fallen well short of the standards that we expect of it. Editorial failures in the light of the Jimmy Savile revelations, the aborted digital media initiative, and the level of salaries and severance payments are among the issues that have caused disquiet. A lack of clarity in the BBC’s governance structures has contributed to these failures.
The last charter brought in a new regulatory model, creating the BBC Trust, which exists to represent licence fee payers and hold the BBC to account. This structure has been widely criticised and the chair of the BBC Trust herself has called for reform. There are three broad options: reforming the Trust model, creating a unitary board and a new stand-alone oversight body or moving external regulation wholesale to Ofcom. As with funding options, each of these has pros and cons.
While the BBC’s editorial independence must not be compromised, that does not mean that we are not entitled to ask whether the BBC could be more transparent and to scrutinise how the BBC relates to the public, to Parliament and to government. Any public body should be fully accountable to the public. People should be able to give voice to how well they think the BBC spends public money—some £30 billion over the current charter period—and how well it meets its myriad other responsibilities.
The British Broadcasting Corporation is part of the fabric of this country, and a source of great pride. We want it to thrive in the years to come. This consultation paper sets out the framework for what I hope will be a wide-ranging and informative national debate about the future of the BBC. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement given by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the other place.
However, we now know for certain that, as part of their zealous drive to destroy the public realm in this country, this Government have the BBC in their sights. Those who care about these matters, who—from the evidence of recent debates in your Lordships’ House—are to be found in every party, all around the Chamber and are in a majority, certainly know that we now have a fight on our hands.
The BBC is established by royal charter, and has been so from the very early days of its existence. The first charter ran from 1 January 1927 to 31 December 1936, and we are now approaching the end of the ninth charter. You would have thought that running a process for the 10th time would mean we had developed a standardised approach; and that certain questions about the BBC’s role, functions and structure would have been agreed as settled business. There is surely a need for stability and security in all organisations if they are to thrive and deliver their best. So my first question is: why is the current charter review so different from its predecessors?
Compare where we are today with what happened last time, when the Government published a similar Green Paper entitled—and perhaps this should be noted—A Strong BBC, Independent of Government. Then, the review process involved significant public engagement, including a range of events, consultation, research and focused analysis. What public engagement preceded this Green Paper? How many people responded, and will the evidence from that engagement be published? Then, the department’s work was closely informed by the work of an expert panel. There is a panel this time, but has it met yet? What will its role be? It was not even mentioned in the Statement. Will the Minister please elaborate on this?
Then, the Government conducted a major programme of survey research, to support and inform the consultation proposed in the Green Paper and ensure that it reflected the views of all sections of the population. This programme encompassed qualitative, deliberative and quantitative survey research, and was published. Has the department done the same this year, and will this be published?
Then, the department also conducted four independent reviews of the BBC’s services, which fed into the Green Paper. The Statement makes a lot of noise about the technical uncertainties faced by the BBC and makes a number of unsupported judgments about issues that it may be facing, but has the department carried out reviews comparable to the Lambert review of BBC News, the Graf review of BBC Online, the Barwise review of the BBC’s digital television services and the Gardam review of the BBC’s digital radio services? If not, what evidence have the Government relied on to make these judgments, and will that evidence be published?
Then, the independent panel chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, held a series of 11 seminars looking in detail at all aspects of the BBC, from funding and governance to educational and international issues. The panel published its conclusions. Will the new panel follow suit, what will the timescale be and will it publish its conclusions? The Green Paper invites comments between now and October, but certain decisions have already been taken so it is not really comparable with what happened in 2005-06.
My second question is whether the Government really understand, or want to understand, what the BBC is for. In the Statement, the Secretary of State merely says:
“The British Broadcasting Corporation is cherished and admired, not only in this country but around the world. At its best, the BBC sets international standards of quality”.
In a debate earlier this week, the Minister said:
“The BBC is a world-renowned institution … It retains a unique importance in the UK’s broadcasting industry and in our collective sense of identity, and it is a brand that is respected and valued around the world—a world beater, indeed”.
That is certainly better, but talk about damning with faint praise. I put it to her that it would make a huge difference to the tone of the forthcoming review and the debates that it will engender if she would at the very least associate herself with the words that I and others used during the QSD of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, this week. In case she does not have the reference to hand, I remind her that I said that the BBC is,
“the cornerstone of the sort of open and accountable society that we want in this country, the gold standard for other broadcasters, the fulcrum for a competition for quality in broadcasting, and the guarantee of impartiality and fair coverage throughout the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report, 14/7/15; col. 533.]
Could she please respond to the House on whether she agrees with this?
I am sure that others will want to make detailed points and ask questions, including about protection for the World Service and S4C, as well as more generally on the charter review announced today, but there are three or four points that I ask the Minister to respond to particularly. Could she say more about how the Government are to deal with the question of universality? Does this imply that the Government no longer accept the formulation, which has stood the test of time, that the BBC should be big enough to deliver the service that audiences demand but as small as its mission allows? If not, does she have an alternative plan for how the broadcasting system is to sustain, for example, its contribution to the health of the creative economy by research, training and production?
Could she say more about how the Government intend to assess the distinctiveness of BBC output? In the past, it has been broadly accepted that the BBC should remain a cultural institution of real size and scope and not only be a broadcaster of minority-interest programming. It should provide a wide range of different programmes to a wide range of different audiences, and only with this scale and scope can the BBC meet the public purposes that were set for it. I hope that the Government will continue to continue to accept these, as the people of this country certainly seem to. What evidence does she have to suggest that people no longer support the current range of BBC services? Can she confirm in particular that when it finishes the charter review, the Government will not require the BBC to shut down or privatise any of its current services?
The Statement outlines only three scenarios for dealing with governance issues, which I agree need to be addressed. Have other options in effect now been ruled out? In response to a question asked by my right honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State in the other place, the Secretary of State implied that the question of changing to a subscription model to replace the BBC licence fee was only a matter of not having the right technology. Is that right? Have the Government already decided in principle that they will change to subscription? If that is the case, can she reassure us that the licence fee is to be retained for the whole of the next charter period?
Given that the TV licence fee enforcement review has recommended that while the current licence fee collection system is in operation the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained, will the Minister elaborate on what was meant by the comment in the Statement that:
“The Government will now consider the case for decriminalisation as part of the Charter Review”?
That sounds to me as if the excellent report by David Perry QC—and it is extremely good—has been rejected. Has it?
We are at the beginning of what looks like a quick and dirty charter review process, one that is not worthy of the sort of concern and interest that every Government should have in one of their principal public institutions. As I have indicated, we on this side are concerned about the general approach being taken, the tone of the public consultation document and the sense that, taken along with the recent Budget decisions, the Government have already decided to cut the BBC “down to size”. As the BBC itself has said today,
“this Green Paper would appear to herald a much diminished, less popular BBC”.
We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on what should happen to the BBC over the next charter period, albeit at the same time worrying that most of the decisions have in effect already been taken and will not be in the interests of Britain. As I said in the earlier debate, the biggest tragedy in all this is that at a time when we should all be thinking of ways to improve the BBC, many of us will be forced to defend it, warts and all.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. No one could be more splenetic about the BBC’s coverage during the election than our party. Its appalling coverage of the Liberal Democrats’ absence from one of the leader debates, due entirely to the BBC’s own negotiating failures, will live with me for some time to come. However, this party and these Benches will not succumb to venom where vision is required. Whatever the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s personal views, this is the time for the bigger picture.
The BBC is a world leader in soft power, as we learnt this week. One has only to listen to the now entirely BBC-funded World Service and its interviews from Iran on the new nuclear settlement to understand the unique place that it has in the world. It is a major player in the creative industries, which are the fastest-growing sector of the economy. The Statement rightly acknowledges the challenges of reaching younger people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. It is worth noting that “The Voice” alone has a more diverse audience than other outlets or programmes. However, the Green Paper suggests that it is too costly. I seek reassurance from the Minister that such programmes will not be discouraged, as suggested in the Sunday Times. I heard the Secretary of State compare that weekend article to Booker Prize fiction, so I ask the Minister whether the journalist, Tim Shipman, is accurate when he says that the Government question whether the BBC,
“should stop chasing viewers and provide more public service programmes”.
Which is it—fact or fiction?
The Statement asks for greater transparency from the BBC. I am sure that the Minister would like to match that by making available the processes by which the new advisory panel was recruited. Formal or informal, it provides a clear signal about past opinions that the new Secretary of State has given on the BBC. Perhaps she could make available to us in this House the process by which the panel was recruited and the rationale for each of its members’ appointments. Is there an intention—it is already possible to infer this from the Green Paper—to make the BBC smaller? Does any evidence therefore currently exist that licence fee payers are asking for less, rather than more, from their BBC?
Lastly, the chair of the BBC Trust seems to be under the impression that she has the Chancellor’s word that, unless there is a massive change, the licence fee will rise by CPI in the first five years of the charter. Does the Minister believe that she is right to have that impression?
My Lords, the BBC is not in our sights. We want it to flourish and we want it to change. Actually, I detect the forces of conservatism on the other Benches. We need to keep up to date. Technology is changing and it is right that at this time we have an 18-month review of all aspects of the BBC. I welcome this and very much hope that others will engage in it and give us the benefit of their experience and views. This is very important. This is the start of the process. That is the answer to the parallel that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has sought to bring.
The noble Lord also asked how the public engagement will work. There will be a panel, which I will come on to in a minute. There will also be a process of public engagement which the BBC Trust has agreed to lead, events and public consultations, and the opportunity to write in and to submit views online. We really care about what the public think about this great institution and will be listening to them during the consultation process.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked a number of questions, and for most of them the answer is that these are exactly the kind of issues that will be addressed during the review, but I will touch on one or two. He will know that we share a huge passion for keeping the creative industries healthy and growing. Our musicians, writers and television producers are a special part of Britain and, of course, are helped by the demand that the BBC provides.
We have indeed set out the governance models we are looking at, and I think it is helpful to set out options so that we can get comments in during the consultation period. Of course, in a review process people can make other proposals and they will also be looked at.
We have explained that, as I said in the Statement, moving to a subscription model cannot happen straightaway because the technology does not exist. Again, we are going to look at options for the best way to fund the BBC and to bring in public broadcasting catch-up TV. That is one of the big changes and an essential part of the agreement between the Government and the BBC on the whole question of funding, which I believe gives a useful envelope for the future discussions to take place.
As noble Lords will note from the consultation, we have also set out specific questions on universality and the BBC’s content and services. We have not ruled any options in or out because this is the start of the process. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, sought to tweak my tail about the Sunday Times. We cannot be responsible for what is written in the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail or any of the other great papers. I am a strong believer in the freedom of the press but this has other aspects to it and it is often not clear whether things are fact or fiction. We have published the Green Paper. We are making a full Statement. We wish to consult the nation, both Houses of Parliament and indeed our specialist panel about the right way ahead. I was trying, as you can imagine, to keep the Statement as succinct as possible. We will certainly write with a full list of the members of the panel. We have issued a press release on that, and the expertise varies from ex-members of the BBC to people who are expert in internet issues. It is an advisory panel. The decision on the future is obviously for the Government.
My Lords, I hope the Minister will note that if, back in 2006, the then Government had listened to the Lords Select Committee on Communications, we would not have had the BBC Trust in the first place. Perhaps the lesson there is that Governments might do better to listen to parliamentary committees rather than committees of so-called outside experts.
Do not two points come out of this Statement? First, is it not clear from everything the Secretary of State said in the paper and in Questions that his eventual aim is a subscription model for the BBC? That is a profound change, particularly for an organisation which the Secretary of State himself says is part of the fabric of this country. Though it will doubtless be welcomed by advisers with their special interests, it will be strongly opposed by many of the public.
Secondly, there was much talk prior to this paper that the BBC was guilty of biased reporting. As far as I can see, there is little or nothing in the paper on that. Does that mean that the Government have now dropped that foolish charge? Does it mean that they now agree that the BBC’s standards of journalism are exceptionally high, and that this is a strong argument for preserving its news services as they currently stand?
My Lords, I agree that we should listen to parliamentary committees, especially ones in this House, which often bring a great deal of expertise. The point about looking forward Cassandra-like at the BBC Trust was a point well made. We have made it clear that we are now looking at options for governance, and the chair of the BBC Trust has obviously raised questions about the way the trust works.
On subscription, the Green Paper asks an open question about how the BBC should be funded. We want to engage with the public on whether the licence fee only continues to be the right model or whether it makes sense to have a more mixed economy. The BBC already has a certain amount of commercial income and that has improved in recent years. We would like to see more of that, provided it fits in with the total broadcasting landscape and continues to encourage the creativity and independence of the supply chain that we so much want. Subscription is one of several options we are asking for views on. No decisions have been made. The Secretary of State has a great background because of his previous chairmanship of the DCMS Committee in the other place. He knows that subscription is one of the things we need to look at, but just looking at them does not mean we have come to a particular conclusion.
Objectivity and impartiality are very important features of the BBC. There has to be a system that keeps an eagle eye on them at all times. I have been frustrated sometimes at what the BBC says and does, despite my passion for the freedom of the press, which I certainly apply to it. We will, of course, be looking at that aspect in the charter review. However, as my noble friend says, it is not huge and in lights, in the way that perhaps you might have expected from some of the previous comments.
My Lords, charter review is a proper, healthy and entirely necessary process. It is entirely right that from time to time we look at the scale, scope, purpose and governance of the BBC. I have just had a very quick skim read of the Green Paper. It appears to be characterised by a certain lack of generosity of spirit about the BBC, but more importantly—unless I have simply missed it—there is a hugely important issue missing from the paper: UK original production. I refer the Minister to Ofcom’s analysis, with which I am sure she is very familiar, of the scale of UK original production not only in the BBC but among public service broadcasters at large. It is a scary picture: over the last six years we have seen a drop of something like a sixth. Will this issue be put on the table during the charter review process, looking at what sort of scale is justified in this context to maintain the long and valued tradition of UK original production?
My Lords, we want the BBC to support the UK creative industries. As I have already said, they are a proving ground for those industries, and this will be studied in the charter review. More than half of PSB investment in original content is BBC expenditure.
The Minister said, rightly, that the BBC is immensely popular with the public throughout the United Kingdom. Bearing that in mind, can she tell us how the Government plan to consult the wider public, given the profound importance of the changes that are being discussed?
My Lords, as I have already explained, a programme of public consultation will begin shortly and last right through the summer. The BBC Trust will be putting forward a plan. I am sure that, as that gets communicated to the public at large, we can provide fuller information to Members of this House with an interest, and I am sure that there will be full details on our websites. We want to hear the public’s views on the scale and scope of the BBC, what people like about it and what they like less. That is an absolutely prime objective of the consultation.
Since the ministerial Statement indicated that 97% of the UK population is reached by the BBC every week, why are the Government proposing to question the idea of universality? Are the Government able to say what the scale of public representation has been at this stage regarding the licence fee system of raising funds? Why have they put forward three alternatives when, for so long, the licence fee has commended itself to the public?
The noble Lord makes a good point but the world is changing. The whole television, radio and online world is changing, and online is part of this review. We need to look at models and ways in which income might be raised as well as by the licence fee. This is an open review and there are different views. I remind noble Lords that the BBC has a 35% market share of the TV audience. In March, the top 10 most popular programmes were BBC programmes, although I think that that is partly down to the “Poldark” effect. However, we have a big responsibility to make sure that money is provided in the right way for the BBC and that it is spent in the right way.
My Lords, before the Green Paper came out, the idea was floated that it might be a good idea to pool the licence fee and for the BBC and other television production companies to bid for parts of it so that they could make quality public-interest programmes. Is that option still a runner?
My noble friend will be interested to know that I made a brief reference to that in the Statement. I think it is called contestable funding. It is part of the consultation and it would in principle allow new entrants, such as small Welsh production companies, to play a greater part in the creation of TV and radio programmes and online content in the future.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: the world is changing rapidly. Somewhat to my surprise, it has been very widely reported this week that the UK has come top in the world for its use of, and reputation for, soft power. Would she like to suggest any other organisation in this country that contributes more to that reputation than the BBC?
The simple answer is no. I think that the existence of the BBC World Service and all that it does was absolutely key to that assessment.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that this review is taking place against a background of persistent attacks upon the BBC from Conservative Members of Parliament and from some on the Benches opposite, as well as from commercial interests that support the Conservative Party. Can she therefore reassure the House that the outcome of this review will be based on the evidence given to the review and not on the prejudice of those in the Conservative Party who are antagonistic towards the BBC or of the commercial interests that support them?
I assure the noble Lord that evidence will be looked at—the review will be evidence-based. We will also take account of what the public think—a point that I have sought to emphasise—as well as taking account of the very important expert advisory panel, whose members are a challenging lot and who will, I think, enable us to ask better questions during the consultation process. However, there have been some difficult issues in the BBC in recent years— Savile, pay-offs for senior executives, the digital media initiative and so on—and one needs to look at these as well as at the very strong, wonderful things about the BBC in considering what the right framework is for the future, including the BBC’s governance and regulation.
My Lords, the Minister read out the reference in the Statement to S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster. Does she appreciate that that body holds a very particular commission, given to it in the first instance by Her Majesty’s Government when it was created—namely, to be responsible for the future and welfare of the Welsh language? It is therefore imperative that its viability in a financial context should be safeguarded and its independence preserved. In the circumstances, would Her Majesty’s Government be prepared to say in principle that a niche should be found in the new charter clearly setting out these entrenched rights, unless of course some other, more appropriate locale of a statutory nature can be discovered?
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for providing that history, which I was not aware of. We are committed to the provision of minority language broadcasting, including S4C, and that is a key part of the charter review. The Secretary of State spoke to S4C ahead of today’s Statement and is planning to talk to the Welsh Office. I think that our determination is demonstrated by the £7 million of direct funding that we currently provide for S4C. Our firm but fair agreement means that we have to make some choices about how the licence fee is spent. Of course, S4C has to be part of that process but Welsh language broadcasting is incredibly important for exactly the reasons stated by the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will have seen the comment to the effect that the advisory panel, to which she referred just now, is just as stacked against the BBC as the other interests which the noble Lord mentioned earlier—people with ideological and commercial grudges against the BBC. Can the Minister give us more reassurance about the impartial nature of the advisory panel?
My Lords, I do not agree. The panel includes a former board member of the BBC and I think that one or two of the other members have links. It is drawn from the media industry, where there is quite a lot of circulation of talent. However, it is an advisory group—as I have already explained, it is advising the Secretary of State on the consultation process. We are also looking at other sources of advice, including your Lordships, as well as, fundamentally and very importantly, the British public, who pay for the BBC through the licence fee.
My Lords, in responding to those in this House who think that the Green Paper has been motivated by hostility, is my noble friend the Minister aware that on the BBC “One O’Clock News” today the BBC media correspondent Mark Easton said specifically that the BBC did not regard the Green Paper as hostile?
My Lords, I was not aware of that, but it is clearly very good news. I know that the chairman of the BBC Trust said that the Green Paper recognised the enormous contribution that the BBC had made, that she valued that and that there would be a wide debate involving the public. These are all important points that we must not lose sight of because of concern about a particular paragraph or figure.
I hesitate to interrupt but I want to correct what has just been said. In front of me—thanks to the iPad and other new technologies—I have the statement from the BBC. It says:
“We believe that this Green Paper would appear to herald a much diminished, less popular BBC. That would be bad for Britain and would not be the BBC that the public has known and loved for over 90 years”.
I do not think that that squares well with what was said.
Does the Minister recognise that all around the House—and in the Statement itself—there is recognition that the World Service and the vernacular programmes are hugely important to this country and its soft power. However, what I am missing is any indication of how the Government are going to protect those services from being squeezed if there is a reduction in resources, or some change in the mandate, for the rest of the BBC. I would welcome the Minister’s response as to whether those outside these shores will also be consulted.
My Lords, asking overseas listeners is an interesting idea, and one I will feed into the process. I have already said that the BBC World Service is a key priority. We cannot prejudge the review, as I have said on every other question. However, I can assure noble Lords that this soft power role that we were congratulating the BBC on earlier is a vital part, and comes through the existing objectives, which we are looking at and can be reiterated in whole or in part.
My Lords, the Statement says that the review will also look at the impact the BBC has on the commercial sector. It goes on to say, however, that there is evidence that the BBC helps drive up standards and boost investment, but also concern that public funding does not undermine commercial business. On the one hand we have evidence and on the other concerns. Can the noble Baroness tell us who has these concerns, other than the commercial business models for TV, radio and online, and how will they be tested?
This point will, I am sure, be closely scrutinised by the review process. It is at the heart of the issue. The BBC is large, and that brings responsibility. There is evidence on the positive side and there is evidence on the other side. Some of it will come from the commercial operators; that is entirely right. When considering industry policy and competition policy in our country we try to look not only at—in this case—the BBC, but at how that affects the whole infrastructure, the talent and the way things feed in. This seems an entirely appropriate question for the review to consider. However, I note the noble Baroness’s concern and I thank her for the question.
My Lords, there is a perception that some recent decisions about the BBC, such as the one about licences for the over-75s, did not come from DCMS but from the Treasury. Can we have an assurance that there will be a proper basis for moving forward with the BBC without pressure from the Treasury, with saving money being the dominant factor?
The Government will conduct the review and will come to their conclusions in an entirely proper way. Funding and matters of value for money are important issues. As I was saying earlier, there is some advantage in having an understanding of the financial envelope in which the charter review can be looked at. There are some positives for the BBC. I have talked to their executives about some of the positives that have come out of the deal that has been done: the change to broadband funding, the CPI—which was mentioned earlier—and this vital point about taking account of changes in new technology and finding a way of bringing in the catch-up market which, as we know from our children, is set to mushroom very rapidly.
English Votes for English Laws
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to consider alternatives to their proposals for English votes for English laws.
My Lords, I am very grateful that so many Members of your Lordships’ House will speak in this short debate. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for being willing to answer it. The fact that so many Members have put down their names to speak in this debate indicates and strongly reinforces the case for this House taking an effective part in the debate on what is certainly a constitutional issue. This debate does not constitute such an opportunity: much more is needed, and I will return to that at the end of my remarks.
I want to put four points to the Leader. First, the Green Paper presented by Mr William Hague in December 2014 entitled The Implications of Devolution for England said unequivocally, on behalf of the Conservative Party:
“We therefore believe the arrangements for England or for England and Wales should also be put on a statutory footing, even if they are implemented in the first instance through changes to Standing Orders in the House of Commons”.
It appears that the Government are retreating from that approach, and that the reason is that they fear that the statutory route may be justiciable. Is it the Government’s view that the fact that the legislation might be justiciable is a satisfactory reason for not making these important constitutional changes in the proper way?
Secondly, in questions following the Statement that the noble Baroness repeated to the House on 2 July, she said:
“It is important to understand that English MPs cannot overrule the whole House, and the whole House cannot overrule English MPs”.—[Official Report, 2/7/15; col. 2218.]
In reply to a question I asked, she said:
“It is not about having a veto. It is about trying to find the right way forward”.—[Official Report, 2/7/15; col. 2220.]
Yet the Government’s Statement said:
“Our plans provide for an English veto at different stages of the process”.
Will the noble Baroness now acknowledge that the Government’s proposals do indeed provide for a veto for the first time by a restricted group of Members of Parliament?
Thirdly, Mr Hague’s Green Paper listed three options for approaching this issue. The second was the proposal of the 2008 democracy task force, chaired by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, which recommended that stages at which English, or English and Welsh, Bills could be amended should be confined to English, or English and Welsh, MPs, but that the whole House would vote on Third Reading. The Mackay commission included a similar option. Yet the Government have rejected that. Why have these simpler proposals, which do not involve a veto, been rejected by the Government? So far they have given no explanation.
Finally, it must have become absolutely clear from the attention that these proposals have received, and the debates on them that have taken place, that this is an important constitutional issue. It is not just a simple matter of technical changes to Standing Orders in the House of Commons. Is it not the duty of the Leader to ensure that your Lordships’ House can make a proper contribution on these constitutional matters?
Yesterday, the opposition spokesman in another place suggested a Joint Committee of both Houses. That would be a good way in which this House could make its contribution on these issues. I do not expect that the Leader will be able to give the Government’s response to that proposal today—although it would be welcome if she could do so. If she cannot, I give notice that I propose to table a Motion for debate before the Recess that would give your Lordships’ House an opportunity to vote on whether this House would wish to take part in such a Joint Committee.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for initiating this debate. Seeking answers to what we now call the West Lothian question is nothing new. The Government of Ireland Bill of 1893, the so-called “In and Out Bill”, provided that Irish MPs would vote only on “imperial” legislation. The Speaker’s Conference on Devolution in 1919 proposed that grand councils of MPs from England, Scotland and Wales should consider Bills that affected their particular part of the United Kingdom. Harold Wilson in 1964 raised the issue in respect of Northern Ireland. He queried the logic of Northern Irish MPs voting on legislation where Stormont held concurrent powers; and he asked the Attorney-General, Sir Frederick Elwyn Jones, to devise an “in and out” solution.
The attempts normally flounder when it comes to devising an effective means of implementation. There are problems of definition and process. I make two points. First, the Government’s proposals do not provide for English votes for English laws. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, they provide for an English veto of English laws. Secondly, context is important. Given other constitutional changes, implemented or proposed, there may be a case for looking at the proposals as part of a constitutional convention—I would argue for a convocation—looking at, and ensuring that they fit with, what is happening to other parts of the constitution.
In the same vein, I should say that the advantage of having a proper Bill that undergoes pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and is debated and passed in both Houses, would cover all the unanticipated and unanticipatable consequences of such a narrow construction of the question. If we do not at the beginning take care to examine all those consequences, we shall regret it and have to come back to this question again and again in a very messy way. The best thing to do is to follow proper procedures, use the strength we have in the two Houses and come to a proper conclusion on what is the most important constitutional question for the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is a pretty pathetic self-regulated House that cannot even allocate appropriate time to such an important issue as this. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that there is every difference in the world between giving English MPs a voice and giving them a veto. That was, of course, what the McKay commission, to which I gave evidence, identified at the very outset. I simply do not understand why this Government have ignored the advice of the McKay commission.
I endorse absolutely the suggestion that this is an appropriate issue for a Joint Committee of both Houses because it clearly affects the process by which all of us examine legislation at both ends of the building. That would be the traditional way forward, and I hope that the Leader of the House will give us an assurance that that will be looked at seriously.
In the mean time, I suggest that this issue has much wider implications for our constitution. I have constantly heard from the other side of the House suggestions that we have been far too ad hoc and piecemeal when looking at issues of this sort. Surely this is the time for the Government to commit themselves to a convention. But we must have some agreement about the purpose of a convention because the Scottish convention, at the outset, already had a clear remit, with agreement from all participants. That is one of the reasons why the Scottish nationalists and Conservatives did not agree to that convention. We should, at the outset, have agreement on what we should be doing.
There are considerable constitutional implications to the proposed veto, to which my noble and learned friend, with his experience of Scottish devolution, will refer in a moment. This is not a minor issue for one end of this building.
My Lords, we should not doubt the gravity of the situation we will face if the Government do not revise their procedures on this issue. This is not, as the noble Lord has just said, a run-of-the-mill controversy.
The proposal is a hybrid form of English devolution new to our constitution and it is being done by bypassing the statute book and amending the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. It simply will not do. The claim is that none of this affects the House of Lords and we can carry on just as we are. Well, we cannot. In the Commons debate on 7 July, the Leader of the House, Mr Chris Grayling, said that,
“those with long experience of the workings of this House, including Members of the other place who have worked in positions of authority in this one, are all united in the view that changing Standings Orders is the right way to proceed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/7/15; col. 195.]
Mr Grayling must have misplaced my telephone number. It is not the right way to proceed, and others whose expertise I respect obviously do not think so either.
Magna Carta gave us the right to oppose the arbitrary exercise of power, and we must not shirk our responsibilities. If we fail, we say goodbye to our bicameral Parliament and undermine the union. We passed Acts of Parliament devolving power to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the European Community by not playing around with Standing Orders. England deserves no less. The West Lothian question has become the Westminster question and the Government are shirking it.
What troubles me, too, is the manner in which the Government seek to involve the Speaker in all this. The definition of geographical boundaries is not as straightforward as it might seem. There are cross-border issues and an England-only Bill needs to be defined.
Pushing a Speaker into the political cockpit to determine and define legislation is the worst possible idea. It is a recipe for discord and I believe that it threatens both Houses and the union. The Government need to think again, and do so sharply.
I am delighted and pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will table a Motion for debate next week. I trust that it will carry the heaviest possible weight in this House.
My Lords, I have two minutes to deal with 21 pages of amendments to Standing Orders. That works out at six seconds a page. I should like to ask my noble friend five questions, if I can get to five. First, will she confirm that if we had this EVEL in place, it would not make a whit of difference to the vote on fox hunting because it requires a double majority?
Secondly, why have the Government not adopted the time-honoured convention, as we did at the time of Irish home rule and as we have done with Northern Ireland, and reduce the number of MPs in Scotland commensurate with the degree of power being transferred to them?
Thirdly, does my noble friend agree that if you want English votes for English laws, you need an English Parliament? I wish to retain a United Kingdom Parliament in this building.
My next question is: why, in the revised Standing Orders, has the Finance Bill suddenly been included? It will be subject to EVEL. As the Government propose to give setting income tax on earned income to the Scottish Parliament, that means that no Government—the House of Commons is about voting means of supply—will be able to get the largest slice of their income tax without having a majority within the Parliament of non-Scottish Members. That is a huge constitutional change that has been put in at the last minute, with the House of Commons having 24 hours to consider it.
Fifthly, on the changes that have been made to the Standing Order proposals in the other place, the Government have not dealt with the issue of the Barnett consequences of decisions being made in Scotland not being able to be voted on by Scottish MPs. Their answer is that there will be votes on the estimates. When I was Secretary of State, for example, it was decided to privatise water in England, so we lost the funding from the Barnett consequences of that. That is the point being made by the nationalists.
Lastly, will my noble friend take account of what everyone in this House who has thought about this seriously thinks, which is that we need a Joint Committee of both Houses, if not a constitutional convention, to sort this out before we end up playing into the hands of the nationalists, fragmenting the union and ruining the United Kingdom Parliament?
My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, about the effect that EVEL will have on the Barnett formula.
Let me explain, and I am most grateful to John Kay for pointing this out. If English MPs decide that English schools will receive an additional service paid for by an additional charge on English taxpayers, this rise will be reflected in the Barnett formula, irrespective of whether Scottish MPs want this additional service or not. That is how the formula works on devolved matters. Equally, if English MPs decide to cut a service, this, too, will be reflected in the Barnett formula, and if Scottish MPs want to maintain that service they will have to find the money from elsewhere. This is because the Barnett formula is based on United Kingdom-wide expenditure throughout the country.
I understand that when this was raised in the devolution discussions it was agreed that it would be settled on the “no detriment” principle. This means that compensation would be agreed on the basis of mutual good will. Bearing in mind the debate yesterday in the House of Commons, and the Scottish nationalists’ attitude towards the Government’s proposals on fox hunting, are the Government confident that this good will exists? If not what will they do? Will they leave the Barnett formula alone? Will they rewrite it? Will they go in for hypothecation? In the absence of good will, any of those would be very difficult. This is just one more example of the difficulties that we have over these territorial matters. They are best settled with a constitution or a proper Bill that goes through both Houses.
My Lords, the Leader of the House told us on 2 July that this issue was fundamentally a domestic one for the House of Commons. Might I very respectfully disagree with her for three reasons? First, as my noble friend Lord Butler said, this is fundamentally a constitutional problem. It is simply that one of the possible solutions to that problem has been presented in terms of changes—extraordinarily complex changes—to Commons Standing Orders.
Secondly, the amendments made by this House will be subject to certification by the Speaker of the Commons, so what we send back may influence the outcome. For example, it will be possible for this House to turn an English-only provision into a UK-wide one, thus avoiding certification and possibly affecting the outcome.
Thirdly, although I hope I am wrong, I see a possible hazard to Article 9 of the Bill of Rights. For the first time, a Speaker of the House of Commons will be asked to certify something that is a matter of law, whether it is within the legislative competence of devolved institutions to make provision for this or for that. This is wholly different from Parliament Act or money Bill certifications.
The Speaker and parliamentary proceedings would be better protected by ministerial certification along the lines of a Human Rights Act certification of a Bill. The possibility of any inroad by the courts into the exclusive cognisance of Parliament is emphatically a matter for both Houses. I should say in passing that those who argued for this to be done by legislation rather than by Standing Orders are going down a very dangerous road. In my view, nothing would bring the courts into Parliament faster than making this arrangement explicitly justiciable through legislation.
My learned predecessor, Sir William McKay—like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I gave evidence to his commission—recommended in effect an English legislative consent Motion. That was a very shrewd recommendation because LCMs are animals well known to science. An advisory LCM would have avoided any charge of creating two classes of MP. It might have been possible for the McKay solution to be a first step, later ratcheted up if necessary. It is much more difficult to ratchet down, and of course expectations may already have been raised too high.
We are too tightly constrained for time today and this does argue for a full debate before long. I thoroughly agree that a Joint Committee is emphatically the right way to tackle a major constitutional issue, which is rightly of such interest to both Houses, as it might offer the possibility of some informed consensus, which, at the moment, is rather far to seek.
My Lords, until this week, we had a statement of principle from the Scottish National Party that its Members would not vote on or be involved in purely English or English and Welsh matters. That was effectively, in practice, English votes for English laws. I suppose that it might, in time, have become an accepted constitutional convention, as these things sometimes do in Britain. However, the SNP has abandoned that principle, as we know, and that makes other action necessary.
Polls for the McKay commission and others showed overwhelming support for English votes for English laws in principle. Most recently, Populus polled 10,000 people over the age of 50 for Saga plc on Scotland’s position in the UK. Of those polled in England, 75% supported the principle that English-only laws should be decided by English MPs—the principle that the SNP has now ditched.
The West Lothian question has, as we have heard this afternoon, been avoided, evaded and kicked about for far too many years. Of course we need to debate it, as has been said by all who spoke this afternoon, and a Joint Committee is certainly a good way to do that. However, we need to move and be seen to be moving towards a decision. The English need it to happen.
My Lords, those of us who have been enthusiasts for Scottish devolution were among the first to recognise that the asymmetric devolution that we have has resulted in a very serious English democratic deficit. That needs resolution—I think we are all agreed on that—but EVEL is not the way forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has ably argued. It is yet another quick fix from the constitutional quick fixes that we have had and which have resulted in the current mess.
What we need is a plan B—another way forward—but the Government have no plan B. I do not think that the EVEL proposal in the House of Commons is going to survive. Anyone who listened to the Tory rebels in the debate last week will know that it has a very serious problem ahead. The plan B should include a coherent, comprehensive look at this, which is why I have argued, as others have argued, again and again, for a United Kingdom constitutional convention. That has growing support in this House and the other place.
When it was raised previously, there was an interesting answer from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, the Minister of State at the Scotland Office, in reply to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in which he said that if the Government are not going to do it, someone else could. Some of us have taken him at his word and we now have movement in that direction. Tomorrow, for example, the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will propose exactly that. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has made the announcement, I can also tell the House today that the all-party group on devolution and decentralisation will announce next week the setting up of a high-level panel to take evidence and make recommendations on the way forward towards a constitutional convention. If the Government are not going to wake up and do it, someone else has to. I would welcome a Joint Committee and hope that that happens. However, if it does not, we in the all-party group have taken the initiative and some action will be taken by parliamentarians to show the Government the way forward.
My Lords, this document with a very long title could just as easily be called, “Future Processes of the Sovereign Parliament”. This House is part of that sovereign Parliament. If this is not our business, what on earth is?
I simply adopt what my noble friend Lord Lisvane said, because there is no time to go into it further. But we should also be very alert to the possibility that, as we shimmer and shilly-shally through this process—disgracefully if we do, but as we look as though we might—we could end up with a constitutional aberration of the Speaker of the House of Commons finding himself the subject of litigation. That would destroy our constitutional arrangements.
My Lords, in 1997, Tom Nairn published a book called The Break-up of Britain, which hugely influenced my generation of academics. It has not broken up. One reason is that the economic facts of life have favoured the union, but the other reason is the existence of an effective imagined community in the devolved regions of the United Kingdom, still in favour of the United Kingdom. I agree with much of what has been said about the constitutional difficulties of this moment. I gave evidence to the McKay commission and I have a small flame in my heart for the gentle tweak that he offers.
The Government are right that the status quo is sustainable. I absolutely accept the sincerity of the Government’s belief in and support for the United Kingdom—I have no doubt about that—but the battle is beginning to be lost among young people in favour of that imagined community. The key point here is the Government’s mode of address, and how one best sustains the imagined community, which still exists for the United Kingdom. We cannot assume that that effective imagined community is going to persist, and the style of current debate in many respects is corrosive.
My Lords, there is some consensus that this issue needs to be addressed, but also an equal consensus that the mode of addressing it will lead to some very unsatisfactory outcomes. It is an example, as has been said, of a piecemeal approach to the constitution, but it is an issue to be dealt with by a constitutional convention.
In the Statement accompanying the White or Green Paper—whichever colour it was—in December 2014, the right honourable William Hague referred to the Prime Minister’s Statement on the morning after the referendum, when he said that,
“a new and fair settlement for Scotland must be accompanied by an equivalent settlement for all parts of the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/12/14; col. 1265.]
I do not think that this is proper equivalence.
The point was made about the concerns that certification could bring the Speaker into the courts, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said; I do not think that people would particularly want that. Much of the work of my former department in the office of the Advocate-General was to consider when Scottish Parliament legislation was passed, whether it was within the competence of the Scotland Act, and much time was spent between officials, lawyers and my old department and Scottish Government lawyers in determining whether a legislative consent Motion was required for a particular piece of legislation. It is not easy, and it is possibly an unfair burden to put on the Speaker, however well advised he will be by lawyers, and it could lead to litigation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, it is a veto, and if a veto is going to be given to what might be described as a sub-set of the House of Commons, that is not Parliament. If it is okay for English MPs to have a veto, is it not okay for democratically elected Members of the Scottish Parliament also to have a veto—in other words, for Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998 to be repealed? That leads to some very important, fundamental issues about the sovereignty of Parliament.
I do not believe that it will have no effect on your Lordships’ House. It may be that we do not need to have any Standing Orders changed here, but it will have an effect. If this House passes an amendment to a Bill, which goes to the other place and which, in a double vote, is actually approved by the House of Commons but not approved by English Members of the House of Commons, we will be in an anomalous situation where a piece of legislation has been passed by both Houses but will not be sent to the monarch for Royal Assent. That is a fundamental ABC of constitutional law.
I do not think that this has been thought through. I welcome the response from the Leader of the House to some of the important issues of concern that have been raised in this debate.
My Lords, this is the debate the Government did not want. We are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for taking the initiative and providing this opportunity to try to ensure that the Government understand why there are so many concerns about how their proposals affect our work and our role in legislation.
There is widespread recognition that there is an issue to be addressed; we have put that on record previously and we have heard it today. But the Government’s proposals go way beyond the McKay report and the Hague report, so their assertion that this change has been fully debated and considered has to be dismissed. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has been emphatic, and I quote her directly when she addressed your Lordships’ House in a previous Statement. She said, “We are not affected”. But in the same Statement, she also said that the Speaker of the House of Commons would have to certify amendments passed by your Lordships’ House. As we have heard, that creates potential for legal and constitutional difficulties. The situation is clearly more complex than the Government are suggesting. The short but substantial speeches we have heard today have expressed serious and well-founded concerns. These have been exacerbated by the Government’s initial attempts to evade appropriate parliamentary scrutiny by issuing a multi-page amendment to Standing Orders in the other place, with no debate here. That is wrong.
We will fail in our duty as a scrutinising Chamber if we fail fully to investigate the implications this legislation and these changes could have for the governance of our country. If, after hearing from the experts here today, the noble Baroness still believes that there definitely will be no impact on the work of your Lordships’ House, she has nothing to fear from an investigation by a Joint Committee of both Houses. However, I and many other noble Lords do not share her confidence on that point.
Surely it is better to interrogate this issue now and be reassured that there is no impact, or to identify and plan for any possible impact. What a dereliction of duty it would be if, in six months, a year or two years’ time, there is a constitutional difficulty the resolution of which we have given no consideration to. That is a recipe for constitutional chaos, and it reinforces calls for a constitutional convention.
We support the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and I look forward to a considered response from the noble Baroness that I hope will address the concerns raised by noble Lords. I hope she will be able to agree to the request from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for a Joint Committee of both Houses.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for tabling his Topical QSD and for the debate this afternoon. It has been a typically thoughtful debate on the Government’s proposals for English votes for English laws. The contributions made have shown the depth of expertise in this House on constitutional matters. I will say something in a moment about more time for debating this matter, because it is an issue I have been reflecting on since I repeated the Statement last week. Before I do so and respond to some of the specific issues that have been raised, let me remind the House of the Government’s proposal to address this important issue of English votes for English laws.
We sincerely believe that the proposal is sensible and pragmatic. Importantly, it builds on the views of the many different and important groups who have discussed and debated this matter over many years. Each time the different groups have come together and examined this important issue, we have tried to learn and to keep refining further. We propose that where a measure affects England, or England and Wales only, it cannot proceed without the consent of both the House of Commons as a whole and English, or English and Welsh, MPs. Neither side can push through a change without the agreement of the other. This gives a strong voice for English and Welsh MPs, while protecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of all MPs in the House of Commons.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who referred to my answer to him when I repeated the Statement last week, English MPs cannot overrule the whole House and the whole House cannot overrule English MPs; neither side can force something through without the consent of the other. That is a very important aspect of our proposals.
The Government’s proposals seek to make these changes while keeping the process as close as possible to the existing procedures in the House of Commons. MPs from across the United Kingdom will continue to vote at Second Reading, in most Committees, on Report, at Third Reading and when considering Lords amendments. In response to the question about the Barnett formula, asked by my noble friend Lord Forsyth and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, we have clarified the draft Standing Orders to make it plain that Members from across the United Kingdom will approve spending plans which set out the level of funding for the devolved Administrations. On the point my noble friend Lord Forsyth made about Finance Bills, it is worth clearly acknowledging that most taxes are rightly UK-wide, so the Finance Bill will be voted on by the whole House. Any taxes that are devolved in Scotland will be subject to the consent of MPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the whole House. By doing this, we set out a balanced way to deliver fairness within the union. The noble Lord—
On the income tax point, can my noble friend not see that a large proportion of the Government’s revenue coming from income tax on earned income will be subject to a veto by English, Welsh and Irish MPs? Therefore, a Government would not be able to get its means of supply unless it had a majority in part of the House of Commons. That is a huge change, which has been added at the last minute as an afterthought.
No, it has not been added as a last-minute afterthought. What is made clear in the proposals that have been brought forward and published this week is a clarification of what was originally intended.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and others asked why we have not brought measures forward on a statutory footing. Standing Orders are the usual means by which procedural changes are made in the other place. But my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has confirmed that we will review the way forward in 12 months’ time, once the first Bills subject to the new procedures have reached Royal Assent. We have not ruled out legislation being considered at that point. I note the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, that legislation would risk bringing the courts into Parliament. That is something we clearly wish to avoid. But more importantly, by approaching these modest changes in a modest way, via Standing Orders, we will allow them to be tested properly, in real time, with legislation. As my right honourable friend the Leader of the Commons said, we will put them to review in a year’s time, reviewing them properly then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, raised some questions about the role of the Speaker, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. Clearly the noble Baroness knows far more about what is involved in being the Speaker of the other place than I would ever dare to consider. It is, as she will know, the responsibility of the Speaker to make impartial judgments in a political environment. We believe that giving the responsibility to the Speaker to certify the legislation that the Government bring forward is more appropriate than inviting the Government or the usual channels to do so. That is a much more appropriate way forward.
As to the complexity of the decisions that will have to be made on the extent of the Bills, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is right: these are sometimes technical decisions but we make our existing processes work when it is necessary for decisions to be made on legislative consent Motions, and I am confident that the same can apply in this case.
As I said when I repeated the Statement last week, it is important to acknowledge that while we are clearly interested in English votes for English laws, the changes that are being brought about apply only to the other place. Our role as a revising Chamber, the part we play and the powers available to us remain just as they are now and our procedures do not change. Noble Lords have suggested that none the less there could be implications in practice for this House. That is something in which I, along with all noble Lords, will take a very strong interest as these changes are rolled out in the House of Commons, and if any issues were to emerge, I would consider it very properly my responsibility to ensure that we have an opportunity to contribute to the review process that has been promised in a year’s time. But we must be careful, as I say, to respect the right of the other place to consider its procedures, in the same way as we would expect it to do when we consider our own.
All that said, of course I appreciate the strong desire among noble Lords for a debate here to inform proceedings in the other place at this early stage. I can just hear some noble Lords making those comments from a sedentary position. As I say, I have been reflecting on this and I think that it is right that we provide some additional time. My noble friend the Chief Whip and I have been looking at this and I propose to arrange a further debate after the Summer Recess in September, in government time and without a time limit, because I recognise that time has been tight today. While I urge noble Lords to keep in mind that ultimately these are matters for decisions in another place in so far as they affect its procedures, I am happy none the less to ensure that we provide that time for a debate so that we can contribute in the way that I feel is most appropriate.
I am running out of time so if the noble Lord will forgive me, I would like to make progress and comment on the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for a Joint Committee, which is an important topic.
Perhaps I might just say what I need to say in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, about a Joint Committee. He gave me notice of this proposal only shortly before the debate so I have not had time to consider it in any great detail. I do not think there is a formal government position for me to offer on that proposal at this time. But we do have a Constitution Committee of this House. There is a committee of a similar kind in the House of Commons. I believe that the time has come for us to make some progress on actually implementing English votes for English laws.
As I say, this has been debated many times over many years. We are and have been in pursuit of a perfect solution and I put it to your Lordships that I do not think that there is a perfect solution to this question—but there has to be a way forward because it becoming more and more urgent. The people of England feel the need for us to address this unfairness and this imbalance. What we are proposing as a Government is a way forward that we consider is sensible, pragmatic, fair and proportionate. Doing it through Standing Orders, as I say, allows for it to be tested in practice and then, after a year, for it to be reviewed again, and if it is necessary to make changes then, I am sure that that is something that we would want to make happen at that time. But I really believe that the time now is to continue.
Freedom of Religion and Belief
Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It insists:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
The declaration’s stated objective was to realise,
“a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.
However, with the passage of time, the declaration has acquired a normative character within general international law. Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. In her words:
“Religious freedom cannot just mean Protestant freedom; it must be freedom of all religious people”,
and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.
Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the defining depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race. It was the bloodiest century in human history, with the loss of 100 million lives.
The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. Seventy years later, all over the world, from North Korea to Syria, Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach, evident in new concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, beheadings and the mass displacement of millions of people. Not surprisingly, the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the title of its influential report, described Article 18 as “an orphaned right”. A Pew Research Center study begun a decade ago found that of the 185 nations studied, religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.
Today’s debate, then, is a moment to encourage Governments to reclaim their patrimony of Article 18; to argue that it be given greater political and diplomatic priority; to insist on the importance of religious literacy as a competence; to discuss the crossover between freedom of religion and belief and a nation’s prosperity and stability; and to reflect on the suffering of those denied this foundational freedom.
Although Christians are persecuted in every country where there are violations of Article 18—from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and many other countries—Muslims, and others, suffer too, especially in the religious wars raging between Sunnis and Shias, so reminiscent of 17th-century Europe. But it does not end there. In a village in Burma, I saw first-hand a mosque that had been set on fire the night before. Muslim villagers had been driven from a village where for generations they had lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours. Now Burma proposes to restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversions. It is, however, a region in which Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are doing some excellent work with lawyers and other civil society actors, promoting Article 18.
Think, too, of those who have no religious belief, such as Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism. That has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as,
“a form of cruel and inhuman punishment”.
Alexander Aan was imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God. Noble Lords should recall that Article 18 is also about the right not to believe.
Later, we will hear from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently said that the “most common feature” of Anglicanism worldwide is that of being persecuted. Twenty-four of the 37 Anglican provinces are in conflict or post-conflict areas. Referring to the 150 Kenyan Christians who were killed on Maundy Thursday, the most reverend Primate said:
“There have been so many martyrs in the last year … They are witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly, and they are martyrs in both senses of the word”.
We will also hear from my noble friend Lord Sacks, who offered his prayer on Hanukkah last year for,
“people of all faiths working together for the freedom of all faiths”.
My noble friend’s brilliant critique, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, is required reading for anyone trying to comprehend what motivates people to kill Christian students in Kenya, Shia Muslims praying in a mosque in Kuwait, Pakistani Anglicans celebrating the Eucharist in Peshawar or British tourists simply holidaying in Tunisia and for anyone trying to understand the dramatic rise in Christian persecution, the vilification of Islam in some parts of the world and, in Europe, the troubling reawakening of anti-Semitism.
My noble friend’s insights into the shared stories of the Abrahamic faiths—not least the displacement stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and his brothers—and how they can be used to promote mutual respect, coexistence, reconciliation and the healing of history underline the urgent need for scholars from those faiths to combat the evil being committed in God’s name and to give emphasis to the ancient texts in a way which upholds the dignity of difference—the title of another of my noble friend’s books. If Jews, Muslims and Christians are no longer to see one another as an existential threat, we urgently need a persuasive new narrative which is capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet and which capture unformed minds.
It is not just scholars but the media and policymakers who need greater religious literacy and different priorities. How right the BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, is when she says:
“If you don’t understand religion—including the abuse of religion—it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world”.
It is increasingly obvious that liberal democracy simply does not understand the power of the forces that oppose it or how best to counter them. At best, the upholding of Article 18 seems to have Cinderella status. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I cited a reply to Tim Farron MP—for whom this has been quite a notable day—in which Ministers said that the Foreign Office,
“has one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief”.
The Answer also stated that,
“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.
To rectify this, will we prioritise Article 18 in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office business plan and across government departments? Has the FCO considered convening an international conference on Article 18 —something I have raised with the Minister? Is it an issue we will raise at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November?
In May, the Labour Party gave a welcome manifesto commitment to appoint a Canadian-style special envoy to promote Article 18. The Foreign Office resists this, insisting that all our diplomats promote freedom of religion and belief. But that has not been my experience. On returning to Istanbul from a visit to a 1,900 year-old Syrian Orthodox community in Tur Abdin, which was literally under siege, I was told by our UK representative that his role was to represent Britain’s commercial and security interests and that religious freedom was a domestic matter in which he did not want to become involved. Self-evidently, there is a direct connection with our security interests, not least with millions of displaced refugees and migrants now fleeing religious persecution.
Paradoxically, if he had studied the empirical research on the crossover between freedom of religion and belief, and a nation’s stability and prosperity, he might have come to a very different conclusion. Where Article 18 is trampled on, the reverse is also true, as a cursory examination of the hobbled economies of countries such as North Korea and Eritrea immediately reveals. This is not a marginal concern, as the outstanding briefing material for our debate from many human rights organisations makes clear.
Last month, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I chaired the launch of a report by Human Rights Without Frontiers. Among its catalogue of egregious and serious violations, it says that North Korea, China and Iran had the highest number of people imprisoned, in their thousands, for their religion or belief. It highlights Pakistan, where in 2011 two politicians who questioned the blasphemy laws were shot dead; where Asia Bibi remains imprisoned with four other Christians and nine non-Christians, facing the death sentence for alleged blasphemy; and where Shias and Ahmadis have faced ferocious deadly attacks.
When did we last raise these cases and other abuses of Article 18 with Pakistan, or the use of blasphemy laws in Sudan, where two pastors are currently on trial, facing charges that carry the death sentence? Have we urged Sudan to drop the charges against 10 young female Christian students who face up to 40 lashes because of the clothes they were wearing? What of the Chinese Christian lawyers arrested this week as part of a major crackdown? Will Article 18 be on the agenda for discussion with China’s President when he visits the United Kingdom?
I am a trustee of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, and the Minister kindly launched its report, Religious Freedom in the World 2014, which found that religious freedom had deteriorated in almost half the countries of the world, with sectarian violence at a six-year high, nowhere more so than in the Middle East, where last week Pope Francis said that Christians are subject to genocide. In a recorded message for that launch, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales condemned “horrendous and heart-breaking” persecution, and spoke of his anguish at the plight of Christianity in the Middle East, in the region of its birth, describing events in Syria and Iraq as an “indescribable tragedy”.
In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of that region’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, during a meeting that I chaired here in the House, underlined their traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment, pleading with the international community to provide protection. Two weeks ago the same plea was made by a remarkable Yazidi woman who gave evidence at a meeting organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. The Yazidi, a former Iraqi Member of Parliament, told us:
“The Yazidi people are going through mass murder. The objective is their annihilation. 3000 Yazidi girls are still in D’aesh hands, suffering rape and abuse. 500 young children have been captured, being trained as killing machines, to fight their own people. This is a genocide and the international community should say so”.
This view has been reinforced this week by reports on “Newsnight” and “Dispatches”. How will we answer that woman? Do we intend to use our voice in the Security Council on behalf of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians? Do we intend to have the perpetrators brought to justice in the ICC? Are we collating and documenting every instance, from genocide and rape to the abduction of bishops and priests, to the burning of churches and mosques, to the beheading of Eritrean Christians and Egyptian Copts by ISIS in Libya? What are we doing to create safe havens where these minorities might be protected?
In 1933, Franz Werfel published a novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, based on a true story about the Armenian genocide. His books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to try to erase humanity’s memory, Hitler having famously asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”. The Armenian deportations and genocide claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians. Werfel tells the story of several thousand Christians who took refuge on the mountain of Musa Dagh. The intervention of the French navy led to their dramatic rescue.
A hundred years later, the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar were saved, but their lives are still in the balance. Last week the Belgians made it to Aleppo and brought 200 Yazdis and Christians to safety. For fragile communities facing a perilous future, such as these, could we not do the same? Are we re-examining our asylum rules to reflect the lethal threats faced by families and individuals fleeing their native homelands?
In the longer term, should not the international community have a more consistent approach to Article 18? We denounce some countries while appeasing others which directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses. Take Saudi Arabia as one example.
The challenge is vigorously to promote Article 18 through our interventions and our aid programmes, unceasingly countering a fundamentalism that promotes hatred of difference and persecutes those who hold different beliefs. For the future, the three Abrahamic religions and Governments need to recapture the idealism of Eleanor Roosevelt, who described the 1948 declaration as,
“the international Magna Carta for all mankind”.
She said that Article 18 freedoms were to be one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. Who can doubt that this essential freedom needs to be given far greater emphasis and priority in these troubled times? I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on obtaining this debate, on the eloquent way in which he introduced it and on the tremendous illustrations that he gave of how bad the situation is throughout the world. I do not have the qualifications to follow him, and certainly do not have the qualifications to be in front of many leaders in this debate, but here I am, and I shall try to make the best of it. I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Edward Scott of our Library for the excellent brief he prepared for this debate, which shows the position in great and excruciating detail. I am sure that anyone who has read it will feel tremendous sympathy and a loathing for what is happening to so many of our fellow humans throughout the world for the simple reason that they have adopted a faith or belief, including a non-faith—no belief at all, which is also protected—in the execution of their ordinary lives and have been tremendously badly dealt with on that account.
I declare my interest as a professing Christian for most of my life, and a practising Christian so far as I can. I am sorry to say that I have not reached the extent of perfection in that area which I would have liked. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester is speaking in this debate, although I am very sorry that it will be a valedictory speech. He has given most distinguished service in this House and also in his diocese in an area where there is a great deal of difference and, I hope, also the dignity of difference in ethnic and other communities. I wish him well in his retirement.
Speaking from the government Dispatch Box when she was a Minister in the Home Office, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, expressed the view that her religion defined her personality. This shows that the restriction of a person’s faith or belief is as serious as any other restriction of personal freedom. The brief to which I have referred and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, show that mistreatment for faith and belief throughout the world extends to much more than restriction of bodily movement. It goes to serious injury and death in the most terrible circumstances.
Yesterday we had outside the House a demonstration relating to prisoners of conscience. This is a most important aspect of the human personality—the internal monitor which tells us that what we are doing is wrong, even when no human eye can see us, and whether or not what we are doing is in according with the tenets of the faith, belief or non-belief we seek to follow.
In preserving standards in society, listening to conscience is an extremely effective activity. More so even than an effective enforcement system, it can preserve society’s standards. It was valued in our nation during two world wars. Persons with a conscientious objection to military service were exempted from the universal obligation to enlist. It was also shown in relation to the Abortion Act.
Charities based on faith have done tremendous service in many nations throughout the world. It surely is the most terrible damage to a nation’s people that they are debarred from having these services simply on the ground of the faith of the organisation that is providing them. In our own country, we had the problem of the Catholic adoption agencies that were providing an excellent service but which were debarred from continuing to do so because they were not able to offer as full a service as some would have required.
I am sure that leading by example is one important way to contribute in trying to help with this tremendous problem. I am sure there are many other ways, which will be illustrated by the distinguished speakers to follow.
My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing it, as well as on the work that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, have done over many months and years on this issue.
As we know, Article 18 is under threat in over a quarter of the nations in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given eloquent testimony to what is happening. I want, however, to focus on the domestic—on us. To change the world, first we have to change ourselves. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury took office, he said that one of his three principles was the concept of good disagreement. That is a very important concept for us.
As I remember from my childhood in Scotland, the society had been scarred by what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has referred to as sibling rivalry—bigoted, religious, sibling rivalry. In 1923, the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland asked for Irish immigrants to be repatriated. More specifically, it was Catholic Irish immigrants, like my forebears. So if good people had not got together and ensured that that crusade failed, I, for one, would probably not be here today. It was good people walking together. There is still a legacy in Scotland; we have to recognise that sectarianism has not departed. Our own experiences should teach us a lot.
As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in his book, which makes compelling reading, we need faith to strengthen, not to dampen, our shared humanity. He made it very clear, as we all know, that it will be soft power that wins this battle—if we can call it a battle. It will not be hard power. War is won by weapons, but dialogue wins the peace.
I am delighted to see not only the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, but also the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester who have contributed greatly to the dialogue. It is a dialogue with strangers. The biblio-patriarch Abraham has been referred to. Abraham’s test of worthiness, as we know, is the question, “Did you show kindness to strangers?”. Abraham ruled no empire, he commanded no army, he conquered no territory, but today he is revered by 2.5 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 13 million Jews. The Abrahamic faiths and others need to walk much closer together.
That is very hard to envisage today, but we can look back at our short history to see that there have been successes. With Vatican II in the 1960s, Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Nostra Aetate, transformed the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and 2,000 years of pain and sorrow were diluted as a result of that engagement. That prompts the question: can the world be changed? If the Christian and Jewish relationship can be changed, can the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and non-faith relationships be changed as well? Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, is an encouraging example because he embraces all humankind. He makes a call in the very first paragraph of the encyclical for care for our common earthly home. He says:
“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us”.
For a very short time in the Labour Government I had the privilege of being Minister for Northern Ireland. I saw examples in the peace process in Northern Ireland, but I shall illustrate just two examples today. The first is Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He had to hold her hand while she was dying and she said that she loved him. Immediately after that, he came out and said:
“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge … I will pray for these men tonight and every night”.
The other example that I remember was Father Alec Reid, the late Redemptorist priest from Clonard monastery in Belfast, who was a silent architect of the peace process because he allowed Gerry Adams, John Hume and others to come together to ensure that there was a dialogue and an understanding there. The photograph of Father Reid giving the last rites to soldier David Howes, when he and another colleague ran into a republican funeral, is one that will stay with us.
That is an example of the good of two individuals confronting the evils of terrorism. In a 20th-century world dominated by violence and mayhem in the name of religion, our task, perhaps akin to the task of the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, is to multiply that number, not 1 millionfold or 10 millionfold but 100 millionfold. Eighteenth-century author Jonathan Swift’s statement is maybe as relevant today, and something for us to remember:
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another”.
As we go on our journey together, it is worth remembering that.
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the debate for a few moments, but I ask noble Lords to remember that it is time-limited to five minutes per speaker. Once the clock reaches five, your Lordships are out of time.
My Lords, it may be appropriate—
It is the turn of the Cross Benches.
Order. There is a speakers list for this debate.