House of Lords
Thursday, 29 October 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.
Introduction: Lord Lupton
James Roger Crompton Lupton, Esquire, CBE, having been created Lord Lupton, of Lovington in the County of Hampshire, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws and Lord Rose of Monewden, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Redfern
Elizabeth Marie Redfern, having been created Baroness Redfern, of the Isle of Axholme in the County of Lincolnshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Baroness Eaton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are in regular contact with the Saudi authorities, including through our embassy in Riyadh and our Yemen office based in Jeddah. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week and underlined the importance that the United Kingdom attaches to finding a political solution to the current crisis as soon as possible. He also reinforced the necessity of full compliance with international humanitarian law and of facilitating access for humanitarian and commercial shipping.
My Lords, the Yemen operation has left 5,000 dead, 26,000 injured, 2.3 million internally displaced and 21 million in need of humanitarian assistance. If we agree with the Brookings Institution that al-Qaeda is the principal local winner of this war and with Human Rights Watch that Saudi attacks on IDPs and humanitarian aid are violations of the laws of war, will the Government use our presidency of the Security Council in November to promote a truce and to call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Yemen?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right: the situation there at the moment is dreadful. In July it was declared a level 3 emergency, which is reserved for the worst humanitarian crises—shared only, I am afraid, by Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. As the noble Lord said, the intensified conflict has now displaced nearly 2.3 million people. He asked whether there is anything that we can do during our presidency of the Security Council. I will pass on his question to my colleagues in the department, but I can say that UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed briefed the Security Council in open session on Friday on his plans for further political negotiation. That is something that we are very pleased about.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is a real danger of misreading the situation in Yemen by focusing on the Shia-Sunni divide or on the Saudi-Emirati opposition to Iran and failing to appreciate the fundamental importance of clan and tribal loyalties? Does he also agree that we have a major interest in preventing yet another failed state in the region sending waves of migrants to Europe, adding to the 1 million who have come to our shores over the past year?
The noble Lord makes a very good point relating to the tribal issues in Yemen that make it increasingly difficult, and always have made it very difficult, to manage. As far as migration is concerned, it is very difficult to compare different areas, and of course this is very different from, for example, Syria. However, we will keep a very close watch on what is happening there.
My Lords, at last night’s press conference in Riyadh, held jointly with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, the continuing situation in Yemen was discussed. As my noble friend says, it is the case that the military campaign is coming to a close as the coalition forces have established a dominant military position in the country. We now focus on the agreed shared analysis of the need for accelerating the political process.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House exactly why the UK Government continue to license arms to the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen? As we have heard, more than 5,000 civilians have been killed. Can the Minister give us proof that no British exported weapons, including British-made military planes, are being used to commit violations of humanitarian law?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, with her great knowledge of this area, asks some questions to which I am afraid I do not know the answer. Munitions are supplied to the Saudi air force, and the UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes in the world.
My Lords, I welcome the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As it happens, Yemen was my first post and Saudi Arabia was my last. I suggest to the Minister that we should focus our efforts on the humanitarian aspects here, partly for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It is a hugely complex situation, internally in Yemen and externally in the regional powers. The best thing that we can do is to increase our aid to those many millions who are suffering dreadfully.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to the BBC, war crimes have been committed, probably by both sides, by targeting civilians and world heritage sites, and that on Tuesday, a hospital was bombed as well? Will Her Majesty’s Government support an international investigation into these deliberate attacks on civilians?
My Lords, as the noble Lord said, issues relating to activities on both sides are causing great concern—whether it is the bombing of a hospital, the use of child soldiers or the use of schools and hospitals for military purposes. But the noble Lord will also be aware that any judgment on whether specific international crimes have occurred is a matter for international judicial decision rather than for Governments and non-judicial bodies.
As far as the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital is concerned, which I think is what the noble Lord was referring to, we are aware of the alleged air strike by the Saudi-led coalition and we await further news on that.
My Lords, we must admit that the British record in controlling Aden was not particularly wonderful and that Yemen has never been an entirely coherent state. Britain now prides itself on the closeness of its links with Saudi Arabia and the GCC coalition that is intervening. Can we be assured that conversations with the Saudis on what is happening in Yemen are close and confidential and have not been adversely affected by the recent letter from the Saudi ambassador in London?
My Lords, in view of the reports of violations of serious international human rights law committed by parties in Yemen, does the Minister support the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate these allegations?
My Lords, the UN Human Rights Council, which I think the noble Lord was referring to, has no mandate to call for IHL investigations. Resolutions contain mechanisms for monitoring the human rights situation in Yemen. There was recently an agreement on a single text in the Human Rights Council to call for consensual resolution of the position in Yemen.
UN: Global Goals
My Lords, DfID will champion the SDGs internationally, encouraging the implementation of the framework in its entirety. DfID’s existing portfolio is highly relevant and we will support the countries that we work in to implement the SDGs, using our commitment to 0.7% as a strong foundation. Our strategic objectives will be finalised after the spending and strategic defence and security reviews, alongside the bilateral aid, multilateral aid and civil society reviews, which will provide an opportunity to refine our approach.
My Lords, the goals are indeed ambitious, which is welcome. Particularly important is goal 16, which reflects the importance of peace and justice if we are to truly leave no one behind. That is a welcome addition to the old millennium development goals. Do the Government intend to ensure that the objectives of goal 16 are reflected in the new national security strategy and in those other plans that the Minister referred to so that it reflects not just the work of the Department for International Development but that of the Government as a whole?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises a really important point. But we will not be able to put the plans into action until we have the indicators. I know that the noble Lord is very interested in this area, so he will be aware that they are not expected to be finalised until March or April next year. We look forward to working closely together on this issue because I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that goal 16 is equally as important as the other millennium development goals to ensuring that we deliver good governance and justice to the poorest in the world.
My Lords, of course the SDGs apply to all countries in the world, including our own. Does the Minister remember that when we were both Ministers in the Government Equalities Office how difficult it was to persuade the Treasury to work out the impact of policies by gender? Have her colleagues managed to persuade the Treasury that they must now do this?
My Lords, the noble Baroness and I worked very closely on these issues. I can assure her that both domestically and internationally, this is cross-government and will be led by the Cabinet Office. All departments will ensure that, as we have shown, they are implementing many of the goals and targets that are within the 17 SDG goals.
My Lords, can the Minister say something about UK plans for supporting countries in delivering universal health coverage, and in particular whether those plans will take account of the UK’s enormous strengths in health systems, especially the professional education and training of health workers, which is done both in this country and abroad?
The noble Lord is absolutely right, and we are really pleased to see that one goal is focused on health outcomes. In its important pledge, it encompasses the principle of leaving no one behind. The noble Lord has brought in the need to ensure that all the goals have been agreed universally for that outcome. We are making sure that every country is signed up to strategically developing health outcomes that are beneficial, particularly for the poorest and the least accessible in the world.
My Lords, is it not the case that sadly the millennium development achievements generally fell far short of the targets? Is she aware that if the sustainable developments goals are to be achieved, that urgently needs a great deal more money and commitment than has hitherto been the case?
My Lords, I think I disagree with the noble Lord that the millennium development goals fell short. They focused minds in countries around the world and we did see at least half of the world’s children who were not going to primary school now attending. We have seen malaria deaths halved globally and we have seen numbers of those living in extreme poverty more than halved. The SDGs allow us to focus on the fact that this is a universal agreement; 193 countries have come together, and with them civil society organisations and business. This is something for which we all have ambitions to develop and achieve, so I think that this is a game changer for the world. We should celebrate what has been achieved and build on that to make sure that, going forward, we really do eradicate extreme poverty. That is incredibly important.
My Lords, given DfID’s focus on women and girls, I am sure that Her Majesty’s Government particularly welcome goal 5. Will Her Majesty’s Government be lobbying to ensure that the right indicators are in the goal when they are ready so that no one is left behind? I mention especially widows and disabled women, along with indigenous women, who suffer so much in developing countries?
My noble friend is right to highlight goal 5. But all the goals are important and that is why we will be pushing for them to be implemented in their entirety. As I said earlier, we in this country are to be congratulated because we have already been working incredibly hard to ensure that we are implementing the goals and helping others to develop their plans for putting women and girls at the heart of all programmes.
My Lords, we have already increased the level of monetary penalties that regulators can issue and have made it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take enforcement action. We are currently running a £1.5 million competition fund to encourage the development of more innovative, safe and cost-effective technology to block unwanted calls, and we will consult shortly on calling line identification, a subject close to my heart.
Many cold calls are from companies that sell leads to debt management companies. The FCA said in June that debt management firms are still failing Britain’s most vulnerable consumers, and last November the FCA wrote to the Minister saying that the rules on cold calling in consumer credit needed review. It is a year on, and there is no review. Every day of delay means that more and more people are exposed to faulty debt management advice. But the real puzzle is this: cold calling for mortgages is banned, so why is it not banned for debt management?
The noble Lord makes a good point and the FCA has committed to undertake a proper review of its rules on unsolicited marketing calls, emails and text messages from consumer credit firms. As he says, that will include debt management firms and so-called lead generators, which are basically data brokers. It will take place early next year. It is delayed but we have already suggested that the FCA might meet the noble Lord to discuss his concerns and ensure that they are fast-tracked.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and, in particular, my role chairing National Trading Standards. The noble Baroness will be aware of the work done by the NTS Scams Team which looks at repeat victims—usually elderly people who are on “suckers lists” which are circulated between different companies. Can the noble Baroness tell me what she thinks should happen to reduce the incidence, for example, of people calling pretending to be from the Telephone Preference Service, saying that there is now a charge for this service and then trying to extract money from the victims? As those vulnerable people are then often referred by trading standards to other local authority departments for support and care, will that support and care continue to be available given the level of cuts now in local authority budgets?
My Lords, there are several questions which I look forward to discussing with the noble Lord, but fraudulent and scam activities are a crime and should be constantly reported to Action Fraud. I have a feeling that consumer representatives and the Government are very much on the same side here, and I look forward to taking on these issues.
My Lords, I am not sure who pays for them but by registering to the Telephone Preference Service it is possible to get oneself off the list, in relation to both mobile and home phones. Which? has done great work in this area and is about to do a marketing campaign to bring this to the consumer’s attention. Consumers have to be involved as well as regulators to draw attention to the fact that they are being targeted. I get calls as well.
My Lords, I was rather surprised to learn from the Evening Standard last night that the Minister knows not a lot about nuisance calls. I do not believe it. The one in 10 people who gets up to 20 a month certainly knows about nuisance calls. Will the Minister explain why the amendment that we got through to the Consumer Rights Act about caller identification has not yet been brought forward? Does she agree that our other proposals, such as automated reporting of nuisance calls or call-blocking equipment, should have been added? Maybe we should add them now.
The Minister suggested that the Telephone Preference Service was the answer. In my experience with my elderly mother, I have tried very hard to stop these nuisance calls, which cause huge distress. I spoke to BT and it suggested the service. You have to give a range of numbers that you allow to come in and everything else will be blocked, but clearly that is not acceptable if you are expecting phone calls from a care service or a hospital. It is not practicable so I ask the Minister to come back with a more sensible and practical answer to this terrible problem.
I agree with the noble Baroness. There are several different things happening here; one has to look at the complexities in order to get things done. We put £3.5 million aside in the Budget for vulnerable people. I would like to talk to the noble Baroness about her particular example. We need a simple and effective regulatory regime that can be understood by the consumers affected, as well as those regulated.
My Lords, previous questions have mentioned the vulnerable people who receive these calls, which cause them a great deal of distress and worry. What are the Government doing to draw attention to the dangers of these calls—perhaps with advertising on television or announcements on radio that explain how to deal with them? For most of us that may be quite simple, but a lot of people who get these calls have no idea what is going on. They should be given better advice, by either leaflets or some other form of advertising.
The noble Lord is right. We need better communication with consumers, to explain not only about the Telephone Preference Service but also that, once you have told someone not to call again, they are committing an offence if they do so. As part of our work with the Which?-led group, we have been thinking about how to move that forward.
Draft Wales Bill
My Lords, the draft Wales Bill will deliver a stronger Wales in a strong United Kingdom. The new reserve powers model will provide a clear devolution boundary between what is reserved and what is devolved. The draft Bill also strengthens Welsh devolution by devolving important new powers over energy, transport, local government and Assembly elections.
I thank the Minister for his reply. However, I am sure he is aware of the concerns in Wales about the draft Wales Bill. Will the Minister agree to meet Welsh Government Ministers to listen to their views on the draft Bill? They suggest that the current Assembly powers will introduce an effective Westminster ministerial veto over Welsh laws. Surely he is aware of that concern. I know that the draft Bill is going through the Commons at the moment, but will he meet Ministers in Wales to discuss these difficulties?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: the Bill is still in draft form. It will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny and be introduced into the Commons early next year. Discussions are going on about the Bill almost as we speak—the Secretary of State is in Cardiff today, for example. As I understand it, constructive discussions are going on between officials and Ministers.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 requires the Supreme Court selection committee to,
“ensure that between them the judges will have knowledge of, and experience of practice in, the law of each part of the United Kingdom”.
Of the 12 Supreme Court Justices, two are Scottish and one is Northern Irish. The Lord Chief Justice—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, with whom I am occasionally confused—stands in from time to time. Will the Minister undertake to amend the draft Wales Bill to ensure that one seat will always be reserved for a Justice with experience of the practice of the law in Wales and, since the laws are passed by the Welsh Assembly in two languages, knowledge of the Welsh language? Such a judge could act as a mediator in any dispute between the Welsh Government and the UK Government as to legislative competence.
My Lords, that almost sounded like a job application. I know that the noble Lord is very proficient in the law and in Welsh. At the moment, it is done on an informal basis, but the noble Lord has a serious point, which no doubt will be taken forward as the draft Bill proceeds.
My Lords, this is not a job application, as the Minister knows. Is he aware that the National Assembly for Wales’s constitutional and legislative affairs committee will continue to adopt subsidiarity, clarity, simplicity and workability as the scrutiny tests for this Bill? Will Her Majesty’s Government listen to the committee’s reports, as the First Minister of Wales has done?
The noble Lord is quite right about the role of that committee of the National Assembly for Wales. It does very good work and of course it will be listened to. As I understand it, the Secretary of State will be giving evidence to the committee to discuss the Bill. I emphasise that the Bill is in draft form at the moment.
My Lords, the Welsh Government suggest that only five of the 19 Welsh Government Bills that are now Acts could have proceeded to Royal Assent had the new draft Bill’s provision been in place, either because they would now be outside the limits of the Assembly’s power, or because new UK ministerial consent obligations would have had to be satisfied first. Does the Minister accept that, as the draft Bill stands, the newly proposed reserved powers model of governance has been written in such a restrictive way that it will curtail the Assembly’s current power and lead to an even greater potential for legal conflict between Westminster and Wales?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear, as we had a brief discussion on this issue, that I do not accept that. I do not think that that is the case. The First Minister and the Secretary of State are looking at this very closely. It is the case that if a piece of legislation in Wales has an effect in England—for example, adoption agencies set up in England—then it will need the consent of this House. Similarly, if we wanted to do something in Wales in a devolved area, we would need the consent of Wales. That is not unreasonable. Discussions are ongoing; this is in only draft form.
My Lords, the issue of Crown consent has already proved very controversial. The Schedule to the draft Bill reveals how complex the current settlement has been from the start. Does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for simplifying Welsh devolution, and in the process allowing some additional powers for the Assembly beyond those already specified in the Bill, which are very welcome?
My Lords, the noble Baroness has great experience and has done a tremendous amount in relation to this Bill. I recognise that and pay tribute to her. If there is one thing I have learned over the last generation, it is this: Welsh devolution is not simple.
Does the Minister agree that the paradoxes and concerns highlighted again this morning in Questions and Answers in this House demonstrate the absolutely compelling need in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland for a comprehensive constitutional convention, as requested on this side of the House and that side, and, indeed, by all thinking people, in which number I would like to include him?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for the compliment. It is true that there is a great danger that we do things piecemeal and do not look at the whole. That is a point well made. Obviously in relation to this Bill we are looking at the position in Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, England as we proceed to try to take account of that. The noble Lord makes a powerful point: at some stage we will have to ensure that all these pieces of the jigsaw fit well together.
My Lords, there are many good things in the draft Wales Bill that will be widely welcomed, but is not the problem that the St David’s Day declaration earlier in the year aroused expectations and stated that reserved powers would be transferred en bloc to the Welsh Assembly? Hitherto, the draft Wales Bill does not appear to ensure that. Should we not clear this up to avoid a serious crisis?
My Lords, I greatly respect the noble Lord’s work in this area. Even designing a reserved powers model is a complex issue, because something has to be on the other side of the line. It is important that we get it right, but that is why discussions are ongoing at official and ministerial level.
My Lords, the noble Lord will know that some years ago I had the pleasure—indeed, the honour—of chairing a commission that looked at the governmental arrangements in Wales and made certain recommendations. Having looked at the Wales Bill, which it seems to me is of fiendish complexity, I do not recognise the Bill that is now coming before Parliament as fulfilling the recommendations made by the Richard commission as long ago as 2002.
My Lords, it is fair to say, as the noble Lord reminds us, that that was a very important report. The noble Lord presented a unanimous report, apart from a dissenting letter from the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, who is not in his place at the moment. We are taking forward some of those proposals, such as some of the procedures—I do not have the details in front of me—relating to Assembly numbers and electoral arrangements, which will now be a matter for the Assembly to decide. No doubt these can be flushed out during the draft legislative stage of the Bill.
Arrangement of Business
Announcement of Recess Dates
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a short statement about the recess dates for our Lenten Recess in February. To save noble Lords rushing for their diaries, there will, as usual, be a copy available in the Printed Paper Office in due course. However, I stress that I make this statement with the caveat that the dates are subject to the progress of business. They are provisional dates. We will adjourn at the end of business on Thursday 11 February and return on Monday 22 February.
My Lords, I have not given the noble Lord notice of this question but can he advise the House whether we are in a 12-month, 18-month or two-year parliamentary Session? Much as we welcome these recess dates, we would all like to know how long we are going to be here.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Global Climate Change
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, in 1992, there was a United Nations Rio Conference on Environment and Development. That was the point at which the Governments of the world broadly accepted the scientific consensus that the extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere would over the next century lead to a rise in the average temperature of the atmosphere and oceans, with serious and damaging impacts on the health, environment and economies of most communities all over the world. It was nice that today we had Psalm 23 in the Bishop’s Prayers, which reminds us of the preciousness of the global environment; and that is what this debate is about.
It was agreed in 1992 that through the combined efforts of people, Governments, industry and agriculture it should be possible to curb this rise and perhaps even return the temperature and other elements of the environment to a pre-industrial state. Since then, some Governments, through further agreements and many types of action, have started on this path. The aim of today’s debate is principally to review the UK Government’s policies and actions, and those of British people, to reduce greenhouse gases to the 80% of their previous level that was in the 2008 Act. In this debate we shall want to discuss how Her Majesty’s Government will work with other countries at the Paris climate meeting in December to achieve these goals and make further progress.
We are also making use of the opportunity afforded by this debate to urge the Government to implement stronger environmental policies that should be an integral part of their policy on climate change. These stronger policies are urgently needed in urban areas, where air pollution is greatest and worsening. According to the World Health Organization, globally, each year more than 2 million people die from air pollution. In London in March, I and some others experienced air pollution at an uncomfortable level—a level which I had not experienced since the 1950s. My remarks follow on from that experience.
I am grateful to noble Lords who will speak in the debate and to the Minister for his interest and commitment to the issues before us. I declare an interest as a former director of the Met Office, where much of the key scientific research work was done. I am also a professor at University College London, and involved in a small consultancy.
The continued funding of research and data-gathering by the Met Office Hadley Centre, the Natural Environment Research Council and international programmes is absolutely vital because policies for dealing with climate change are continually updated as scientific understanding develops. As we have seen and heard in debates in this House, over the past 10 years climate change has been far from a steady process. Although there has been a steady rise in global carbon dioxide as measured on a graph that continually goes upwards, particularly the measurements in Hawaii, the data on the rise of surface temperatures across the world have been quite erratic. Indeed, this was predicted by some scientists as long ago as the 1990s and we are continually learning how to understand this variability.
This is not just a scientific matter. It is of extraordinary importance to people. We saw the extreme temperatures in Europe and the UK in 2003, when 20,000 or 30,000 people died in Europe. There were extraordinary heating events in Russia in 2010. The long-predicted warming of the Arctic and the melting of summer ice have begun to happen in the past 10 years. But what is perhaps new is that we have begun to understand in recent research in the United States that large continental fluctuations of the jet stream are related to the melting of the polar ice, which leads to extraordinary and persistent heating and cooling episodes across the northern hemisphere. I had to speak on the Korean radio. You hear the concerns in Russia and China, and last year there were extraordinary changes in the United States. Wind storms and intense precipitation have broken records, with rainfall in parts of the Far East now at 100 millimetres per hour and rising.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasised the difficulty of understanding these precise processes but was quite emphatic in pointing out that the blanket of carbon dioxide that traps the outgoing heat from the earth is leading to the steady warming of the deep oceans. The temperature at the surface is varying, particularly across South America, with El Niño and La Niña. But the temperatures of the deep oceans are rising steadily and the consequence of this, plus the melting of ice in glaciers from Greenland to Alaska to Chile, is the steady rise in sea level.
If I may appeal to fellow parliamentarians, the parliamentarians in the central Pacific, Melanesia—
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the flow of the noble Lord’s speech. He referred to carbon dioxide. Some of us in this House who are not of a scientific bent have been surprised to read recently that carbon dioxide has contributed in a big way to the greening of the world and to improving agricultural productivity, whereas another gas, nitrous oxide—which again, we are told, is derived in part from diesel fuel—is a much more villainous piece. Can the noble Lord enlighten those of us who ought to know more about this sort of thing?
The noble Lord is quite right about the rising level of carbon dioxide having an effect on greening. But equally, the average amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising because of the release of heat by the combustion of oil and coal, and indeed from the burning of forests. Several studies have commented that there will be areas of the world where, to start with, this rise in carbon dioxide will lead to an increase in agriculture—for example, near the equator—but the point is made that as the temperature keeps on rising, this local advantage will be considerably overwhelmed by the increase in temperature. If we reach 3 degrees or 4 degrees—if we make no progress—that will have a devastating impact. So the noble Lord is right but it is also a question of the timeframe we are thinking about.
I want to comment on another feature of the rising sea level and its impact. There are areas of the world where the sea level is rising three times faster than the average. The islands that I mentioned are planning for their eventual abandonment. Noble Lords who know the history of this place will know that in the 11th and 12th centuries, we regularly had extraordinary floods in what is now our Parliament—but, fortunately, we are still here.
In the light of these increasingly hazardous impacts on societies worldwide, what would happen if the world began not merely to stop increasing the emission of carbon dioxide but to start reducing those emissions, over a few decades, back to the levels of 100 years ago? The evidence from computer models presented at the Royal Society in 2014 was that, for example, polar ice would return. When people ask why we should make these big changes to our lifestyle and reduce our energy use, the answer is that making them may well enable us to restore some aspects of the environment. If we do not do so, the environment could change more or less irreversibly.
The UK’s cross-party legislation in 2008 and legislation since then in other countries such as Mexico, along with the European Union’s political agreements, have introduced a timetable of steady reduction. It is good news that the European Union countries are on course to meet their reduction targets of 20% by 2020 and 40% by 2030. It is surprising as some rather major countries have been increasing their carbon dioxide emissions. However, that enables Her Majesty’s Government and our European partners to argue for the 150 or more countries assembled in Paris to introduce their own policies. It can be done.
One reason for some measured optimism at this time in the evolution of science and government regarding climate change is that China agreed at the previous climate meeting, in Durban in 2012, to introduce emissions reduction targets by 2015. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Stern, is in his seat. We had many discussions about China’s position before the Copenhagen meeting in 2009. At that point, China was moving ahead with efforts to make its emissions more efficient—that is, having fewer emissions per unit of energy. Now, however, it is talking about targets to reduce emissions which will be implemented by 2020. Since then, China and some other countries have been increasing the practical measures they are taking. Moreover, despite the objections of the United States Congress to his policies, President Obama has targets and policies for emissions reductions of 17% by 2020.
What is needed in practice is to make breakthroughs in energy use and production. It was interesting to hear, at a meeting of European parliamentarians in Paris in September, a review of the different methods being introduced. In some senses, France is the leading country in Europe as it has the lowest carbon emissions per person because it uses all the technologies, such as nuclear fission, wind, solar and so on. To some extent, the UK is following in that path. Interestingly, the car industry—a major source of contributions, occasionally up to 30% in some countries—is talking about very great reductions in emissions and improvements in efficiency. Another way that we can reduce our energy consumption is to have more efficient buildings. It is extraordinary that high-performance bricks are imported to the UK from Switzerland and we have not developed our own industry in this really important technology.
The generation of renewable energy is another aspect of the issue. Although there has been much development of renewable energy in this country, there is also great concern about reduced subsidies for solar PV. We hear about many small businesses in the more depressed areas of the UK going into insolvency and bankruptcy. I hope the Minister will respond on that point. Government documents emphasise the business opportunities associated with introducing technology for reducing emissions. That is a very important feature, and one hopes that HMG will be displaying UK technology solutions at the Paris conference in December.
Another role for UK expertise, finance and industry is in helping to make countries more resilient against hazards and their impacts, and UK businesses are making a particularly strong effort in developing countries. It is very important that the UK science base is maintained at the highest international level to provide competitive advice. This week, the Japanese embassy noted the importance of collaboration with the UK on tsunami damage, and Japan wants to have a United Nations day for dealing with tsunamis, which of course have caused many tens of thousands of casualties. Tsunamis are not, of course, caused by climate change, but with sea level rises, the danger of further inland penetration is an important factor.
The other important point I wanted to make about environmental hazards—I have already touched on the air pollution aspect—is that, in many other countries of the world, one of the ways of dealing with these extreme air pollution events is by using the media to warn people and, in particular, to advise traffic and people controlling emissions to reduce those emissions. We in this Parliament have had several Parliamentary Questions addressing the Department for Transport but it has refused to use its abilities to communicate with drivers and urge them to reduce their emissions.
Similarly, the UK is an important member of the international—
I have to ask one more question from the lay point of view about some of the things that the noble Lord is saying. Is he saying that CO2 causes air pollution or that nitrous oxide causes it? He is absolutely right that CO2 causes global warming, but does it actually pollute the atmosphere? He seems to be saying that it does.
As I have said, this debate is about CO2 but also about air pollution, which is a health problem. If you drive on French motorways, you will see signs saying, “Drive more slowly: you will reduce pollution and reduce carbon dioxide”. We could do the same, but apparently the Department for Transport does not want to.
Finally, one further aspect of pollution and climate is shipping. As I have said several times from these Benches, the International Maritime Organization is across the river. Ships are responsible for something like 15% of carbon emissions. Many solutions have been suggested to make ships more efficient, such as having them go more slowly, but the British Government are not very strong in pushing this compared with other countries.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, on this matter. His work, throughout his working lifetime, and expertise are of great value to this House and to society in general. I congratulate him on securing this debate.
Quite often in this country when we talk about action on global climate change and what we should be doing here, people say, “Why bother? Our emissions are only a small proportion of those in the rest of the world, and we really ought to be worrying about China, India and many other countries”. There are two reasons. The first is that if everybody took that view, no progress would be made. The second is that leadership has to be provided. During the last Government—the coalition Government—this country was providing genuine leadership on climate change, led by the Energy Secretary at the time, Ed Davey, who of course is a member of my party, the Liberal Democrats.
At the beginning of the last Government, the PM announced that they were going to be “the greenest Government ever”. Whether they were or not is something we can argue about for ever, but what is absolutely clear is that during the coalition there were a very substantial number of green initiatives. Billions were invested in renewables, thousands of green jobs were created and ambitious climate change targets were agreed. Internationally, we were in the forefront of discussion at the Lima conference in December last year and, under the coalition, Ed Davey was arguably instrumental in achieving the European Union climate deal to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030. It is arguable that, had he not been there, that agreement would not have been achieved. He was certainly in the forefront of it.
The question is: have the new Conservative Government followed the work of the coalition? We can argue about particular issues during the coalition—there were many compromises and lots of arguments took place—but, by and large, they were a good Government in this area. Friends of the Earth has now criticised David Cameron and the majority Tory Government for dismantling the low-carbon policies of the past 10 years. It has been said that our Prime Minister has gone from hugging huskies to talking about “green crap”, to quote what he is supposed to have said.
This country should not be in that position. In the five or six months since the coalition left office, the Conservatives have ended all government funding for the Green Deal, which was an attempt to do what is vital: to make homes more energy-efficient. Much better insulation of homes is a vital part of reducing carbon use, because it reduces the amount of energy needed. The Green Deal was in my view not perfect by any means, but it was a start. The Conservatives have scrapped subsidies for onshore wind and commercial solar power. Noble Lords who have followed these debates will know that I am not a huge fan of terrestrial wind power because of the threat to the landscape in our uplands, but I am not saying that there should not be any. Maritime wind power should certainly have a great future, but the future of that industry is in doubt.
The Government have announced plans to sell off the Green Investment Bank. The green bank was never on the scale or ambition that our party wanted, but again it was a very useful start. There is now real worry that if it is sold off, its objectives will be profit-maximising rather than green. The tax break for clean cars was abolished in the Budget. Rules on zero-carbon new housing have been scrapped in the drive to build houses regardless of the consequences. The so-called tax for clean energy—removing the exemption from the climate change levy for businesses that source renewable energy—has been done away with.
Meanwhile, the Government are putting all their hopes in what for many of us is the very worrying deal with China over the Hinkley Point nuclear plant—it seems to be wrong on almost every count and very worrying for the future security of this country—and in fracking. I have not been a total opponent of fracking; I have spent a lot of time looking into it and considering the position. It is absolutely clear that fracking in this country is not the answer to our future energy problems. The more I look into it, the more I think that it really is not the answer to anything very much at all.
The Government are going up the wrong tracks on all these matters and will possibly be the least green Government for a long time. There has been a total reversal of policies since the coalition. While I was not a fan of everything the coalition did, this area is one where the lack of Liberal Democrats in Government is something the country will come to regret.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and fellow campaigner on these issues of securing a global agreement on climate change. Also, right at the beginning I declare an interest, not in personal advantage to me but because I was there in Kyoto in 1997 negotiating the agreement. I was there at most of the COPs where we have argued and had ups and downs. We thought we had a good agreement at Bali, it fell down in Copenhagen, then was restored again and we are now, with the possibility of a fundamental change since Kyoto, looking to a second agreement to replace Kyoto with, probably, the Paris protocol.
In those circumstances, I have learned quite a lot. First, the science is right and the objectives set by science and its connection between the production of carbon and the weather is something we have argued for and I believe in. To that extent, I will share some of my experiences from that time.
What is different from Kyoto is that we now have America and China on board. Australia went off and has come back. Canada, this week, has come back to the agreement. The signs are beginning to look good for an international agreement between 190-odd counties this time, not the 47 we dealt with in Kyoto. Things are changing and, I agree, looking good.
We argued at that time that, given the disagreements, there was an alternative. I have before me the document I produced two years ago on an alternative policy to the breakdown issues. For example, there was a big argument over whether there should be a legal framework imposed on everyone. The Government had the view that there should. We argued two years ago that that was nonsense: you cannot get that because the American Congress will not pass it, and nor will Germany or China. We suggested—it was originally unopposed—that we must have a legal framework within an international agreement. The only way you could do that is to do what we did in Britain when we led the world, well before the coalition came in, by bringing in the Climate Change Act 2008. I think that this conference is now about to propose something like that for every country. You legally look at the different policies but agree targets that you must be checked on. You cannot just rely on people saying, “Ah, we will do it at home”; there has to be an international framework.
Let us put that together with the other problem we had: will sufficient money be available for adaption and mitigation? Certainly, we are a long way towards the £100 million we said we wanted, and we will find out about that. The French have made it a priority to get those resources to deal with and help developing countries as we move more and more to a low-carbon solution. That was right and there is movement on it.
As we approach Paris, there is one other significant factor. My noble friend Lord Hunt and I were involved in getting other nations in on this. We visited a lot of them; I have been to China 30-odd times to argue the case for why it should be involved. We have gone to 66 countries and asked them to pass climate legislation to press their Governments to support the agreement at Paris. With another body called GLOBE which did a lot of international work, we have seen the legislators at the bottom begin to force their Governments to agree, to be honest, nearly everything in that agreement. That was a significant factor. The legislators were beginning to have a voice. They worked the government delegation and together produced this report two years ago, which we launched at Durban and which has now been accepted. I am rather pleased that it was. If they do not do this, I will have to do an awful lot of crawling, but I believe that it is happening. It is important that we get a global solution to a global problem. I think we are all agreed on that.
I must note some negative factors, particularly people who question the science. That goes on. There are a few in this House who come up and say, “We do not believe the thousands of scientists—they are wrong”. However, there is a lot of evidence that shows the scientists are right. Indeed, the latest finding now is to give greater protection to potatoes than to human beings. I will talk about that in a minute because at the end of the day it is about how and where air pollution begins to kill thousands of our people.
The scientists tell us about that; this is about the particles—and it is quite right that my noble friend asked whether that was just down to the carbon or whether it was down to the nitrogen dioxide. Yes, that is a problem. The same scientists told us that air quality has an effect on health. Here we are talking about actual deaths; we are talking not about whether plants grow or whether they are greener but about whether it has an effect on the lives of our people, which is one of our major responsibilities. It is a human right to be able to exist and to have clean, fair air. Basically, I cannot help but bring to noble Lords’ attention, under those circumstances, the recent announcement about air pollution in Britain. The Government have direct responsibility there, but they have left the leadership role—they no longer lead in Europe. We were the leaders in that, with the first Climate Change Act, and we achieved our Kyoto targets far more than anybody else did. That was an achievement. The Government have some responsibility for air quality, and we know that they can control it—and we know that the Supreme Court has just said that we are failing in our law and obligations on the control of these gases. As a medical report has pointed out, some 10,000 people die every year from air pollution, from the particles of diesel inside the car, and from the motor car industry. In that sense, we know that there are thousands of deaths, because our medical authorities have reported on it and our courts have said that it is illegal. The Government say that they will alter this by 2020, and in the mean time they will still pay the price of death. That means more people dying from air quality than from obesity, alcohol, tobacco—all those things—and that is in the control of government. So all this argument that the Government are leading is not the case, whether in the negotiations or in doing what we do in our own legislation. Curiously enough, some countries, such as Australia, tried to get rid of their climate change Acts, but it is statutory and they had to bring in the law, and the reason why we have not done that in this country is because they would have to bring legislation to this House. I do not know whether we would be allowed to debate that; is it all right in our constitution, or is that man supposed to—oh, I will leave it alone.
The science is one thing, but it is being ignored. The oil industry says that it needs to have an environment, then it sends people to drill in the Arctic, even though we have eight times more oil than we need for the limits imposed for environmental protection. I do not know where to start with the car industry; it has brought in more and more diesel cars, with more particles coming from that, contributing to deaths. The car industry gets its scientists and engineers to fix the engine so that it looks different from what is actually happening. That is illegal and fraudulent, and even bordering to some extent on manslaughter, if you can show the connection. So what are the Government doing about it? Absolutely nothing. They are before the Supreme Court, not providing leadership. One of the major contributions that came out of the conference was the suggestion that there should be more investment in low energy and renewables. What are we doing? The Government are paying thousands to the oil industry to survive, and cutting subsidies for renewables. That just seems crazy—and, in that process, we kill thousands of our citizens. Blimey, when I hear them talking about how carbon is good for growing potatoes—let us start thinking of our citizens first, and eat the potatoes but not necessarily fight to get more of them.
It is an argument about a human right. We are going to Paris, but the Government will not be leading any more, because they have given up—it is “green crap”, according to our Prime Minister. Well, they are wrong; they have paid subsidies to the wrong fuels, namely oil, and cut them back for renewables. That is not the spirit of Paris, and it is about time that they changed their position and started joining the rest of the world community in doing something about climate change.
I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, not only for his past work but for bringing this debate to the House today at a very important moment in international discussion. I refer to my own interest as an active researcher on these issues, and as a speaker, and I am involved, as a friend of the chair, in preparations for Paris.
Our understanding of international and UK action on this issue has to be founded on three basic propositions. First, the two defining challenges of this century are overcoming poverty and managing climate change—overcoming poverty as most recently expressed in the sustainable development goals agreed in July. If we fail on one, we will fail on the other. Clearly, if we fail to manage the climate properly, we will create an environment so hostile that we will stop, reverse and undermine the great gains in development we have made over the past few decades as a world. On the other hand, if we try to manage climate change by putting obstacles in the way of overcoming poverty around the world in the next 20 or 30 years, we will not have the coalition that we need to combat climate change. If we fail on one, we fail on the other.
That takes me to my second point, which is that the two objectives—overcoming poverty and providing sustainable development and growth on the one hand and managing climate change on the other—are complementary. They support each other. With good policy, we can make both happen together. The transition to the low-carbon economy will be enormously attractive. As in previous waves of technological change, such as the first Industrial Revolution, we will see waves of innovation, investment and growth. It will be very exciting. It is already very exciting. To that, we must add that we will live in much cleaner, less polluted, less congested, more productive cities in a much more biodiverse world. This is an enormously attractive route. It involves change and investment, but it is investment with very high returns.
The third point we have to understand is that delay is very dangerous. This is a flow-stock process: the flows of emissions move into the stocks of concentrations of greenhouse gases. The later you leave it, the more difficult it becomes. It is worse than that, because if we delay, we lock in high-carbon capital and infrastructure. That is a particularly severe lock-in problem in a world where the population of our cities is likely to go from about 3.5 billion now—50% of the world’s population—to about 6.5 billion in the middle of the century, when it will be about 70% of the population. That happens only once in human demographic and economic history. If we get that wrong and build dirty, congested cities of the kind we have been building, we will be in deep trouble. This generation, managing the next 20 years of investment, change, transformation and growth, has an enormous responsibility, but it is, for the reasons I have already described, an enormous opportunity as well.
I shall not harp on the science. As the president of the British Academy and a fellow of the Royal Society, I encourage anyone who has new results to overturn 200 years of science and show that the risks are negligible to publish those results immediately in the learned scientific journals. I am sure there would be great interest in their new discoveries.
The stakes we are playing for are immense. We have not seen 3 degrees for around 3 million years, and we have not seen 4 degrees or 5 degrees for tens of millions of years. We have been here for a quarter of a million years. It would transform the relationship between human beings and the planet. Much of southern Europe could look like the Sahara desert, much of Bangladesh, Florida and so on could be submerged and many parts of the world could be battered by much more severe weather. Those are the stakes we are playing for. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, would have to move and, if we have learnt anything, that would be likely to result in severe conflict. The stakes we are playing for are immense, but the alternative route is enormously attractive.
I shall focus on cities. We know more or less what to do. As I said in the Stern Review, we must deal with the biggest market failure the world has ever seen. We know how to do that. We need clear, strong, credible policies around carbon prices, legislation, support for innovation and so on, but government-induced policy risk is the biggest underminer and destroyer of investment around the world. To hesitate, to wobble or to U-turn kills investment, and this is a moment when we need infrastructure investment on a big scale.
We need more compact, connected cities with stronger public transport. We understand how to do this. We need more broad-based carbon-free energy, including zero emissions globally by mid-century. We know how to do that. China is planning more or less to do that. These are attractive policies that make sense and that we understand. We will learn like mad along the way. This is a process of innovation and learning, and we must invest much more strongly in innovation than we have as a world, including in the UK.
I will not dwell on Paris—I have been working hard on that and we are likely to get a good outcome. It will not be as strong as many of us would wish—over the next 15 years it will see emissions rise, not fall—but, nevertheless, it will set us off on a good path and lay a basis for the acceleration that will come.
The gains to cities from all this will be enormous. Others have mentioned air pollution, and I will emphasise that because it is so important. A recent Berkeley Earth study said that in many Chinese cities breathing is like smoking 40 cigarettes a day—woman, man and child; the children never recover. This is an enormously important story. India is much worse and, as we have heard already, our own country is pretty bad. In the UK, we kill 15 times more people with air pollution than with road accidents, so it is now a big issue here.
The burning of fossil fuels kills people on a massive scale now—a WHO study last year suggested about 7 million people a year, partly internal, partly external. That is an extraordinarily large cause of death. It also kills people in the future, due to the very damaging effect of climate change. Why would we want to do that when we know how to do things differently? It would be criminally irresponsible to continue along the path we have embarked on—and we do not have to.
Finally, the UK has a very special position in this. Obviously our own cities, to our own gain, can be much more healthy and productive. Where everything is mobile—capital, labour and ideas—people move to the places that are most attractive. To build better, stronger, cleaner and less congested cities in the UK would be very good for our own economy, and, of course, a world that acts will be much less vulnerable to storms, floods, droughts, and so on. Particularly in London, on a flood plain, we can understand how important that is.
However, it is bigger than just those parts of the story. The UK—as I say, I come from a university background—is very good at R&D, urban architectural design and engineering. We have skills to bring to the table and our political positions, particularly around 0.7%, gain us great credibility in the world. I have worked as chief economist to the World Bank and the EBRD and have seen the respect that the UK gains from its moves in this direction. The Prime Minister led strongly on the sustainable development goals and we should offer him great respect for that. This is a great opportunity for the UK: a time to lead, not to wobble or hesitate. If we carry on our leadership, we will gain something that will be very good for UK cities, our health, the economy and the world.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, for this debate and for his clear setting out of the complexities of the basic science, which so often get distorted in media commentary and occasionally even within this House. It is also a bit daunting to follow such great contributors to this area as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, and my noble friend Lord Prescott, who have done a lot to bring the whole issue of climate change up the agenda. We are now focusing on how the UK Government can contribute not only domestically but also to the geopolitics which precede the Paris conference and those at the European level.
It is of course true that none of this is easy. There are conflicts between short-term economic goals and some of the decisions on investment priorities that we need on the climate change agenda. In addition, as has already been pointed out, there are some conflicts within the environmental objectives. For example, the development of biofuels and biomass can conflict with land-use objectives and sustainable food production and, as has already been said, some of the immediate measures on air quality—particularly on diesel—can be in contradiction to those you would need to take if you were focusing only on climate change. However, in the long run, if we do not tackle the climate change agenda nationally, locally and internationally, none of these things will be able to be resolved either.
At the global level, Kyoto was a binding legal agreement and we will not exactly be replacing that at Paris. My noble friend Lord Prescott made a major contribution to a successful outcome at Kyoto. In passing, in view of some sad news last week, I pay tribute to our then colleague, Michael Meacher, who also made a big contribution in that respect.
Copenhagen was in some senses a disappointment. Although some success was retrieved at the end of the day, it meant that binding agreements were no longer on the agenda. However, as my noble friend Lord Prescott said, we are now looking at a framework of national or regional commitments from all nation states, developed and developing, and a proper system of verification and enforcement, which could ensure that those national agreements are met. That is different from Kyoto; nevertheless, it is a practical political and geopolitical outcome, and we need to ensure that it is met.
Of course, we have a central underlying problem, which is the dependence on fossil fuels by so much of the world and so much of our industrial complex. A couple of years ago, the IEA pointed out that the level of subsidies for coal and oil was substantially higher than that for renewables or nuclear. At the same time, we have had the fracking bonanza distorting the relative economics of fossil fuels against renewables and nuclear. Now, the fall in the oil price has again distorted the economics. The Modi Government in India, for example, are now making exploitation of their coal resources the major driver for economic revival. That is not helpful.
On the other hand, we have had Australia coming back into the discussion. One hopes that after last week we will have Canada coming back into it too, and we have had the Obama initiative in America. In Europe there have been a few hiccups. The 2020 European targets will largely be achieved. On the other hand, the European ETS is a failure, and in parts of Europe—in Poland, in eastern Europe and, indeed, in Germany since it abandoned the nuclear option—there is a growing dependency on coal. That needs to be reversed if Europe is to make a major contribution, which it always has done. We need to ensure that the environmental agenda which Europe is capable of delivering actually can be delivered and that it is one of the great examples of European co-operation which, one hopes, will affect people’s consideration of our future within Europe over the next year or two.
However, all around the world the burning of fossil fuels will continue over the next few decades. With a continuing dependence on fossil fuels, the only way of ensuring that the targets are met to achieve the 2050 outcome is to develop a genuine system of carbon capture and storage. I am not sure that we can achieve that, but we need to invest scientifically and with capital investment to try to bring carbon capture and storage into full effect so that the continued burning of fossil fuels does not have a proportionate effect on the carbon in the atmosphere. There will continue to be some dependence on fossil fuels in the world, including in Britain and Europe, but if we can develop carbon capture and storage—which really ought to be a much greater government and European priority—we can square the circle.
My final point concerns the urban environment, to which others have already referred. It is a slightly different issue from climate change but the two are interrelated. It is not just the visible pollution in Chinese and other Asian cities but the invisible pollution that affects people here in London, with the appalling levels of air pollution and the deaths, which others have already mentioned. Here, there is a conflict with some powerful manufacturers. German car manufacturers stalled or diluted earlier decisions in Europe on the targets and standards for pollution in diesel cars. It turns out that, even then, they were prepared to fiddle the system. It is known to almost everybody that the on-road emissions have been five times that which was predicted from the tests. We now know that there was serious corruption by at least one company, and I do not honestly believe that Volkswagen was entirely alone in this.
I was distressed to read in today’s Times that the new limits being discussed at European level have been made easier following yet more intensive lobbying, primarily by the German car manufacturers. We cannot allow these vested interests to override the health and long-term survival of this planet, neither on air quality nor on greenhouse gas emissions. I hope that the Government are taking that lesson into account in their agenda in Paris and Europe.
My Lords, I quickly remind the House that this is a time-limited debate. It is a fascinating debate and I know that people have a lot to say, but, for the benefit of later speakers, if they could try to keep their speeches within the time limit, it will not cut into the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton for initiating this debate so ably and responding so well to the plodders—the prodders, I should say. Both prodders seems to have disappeared; I am not sure whether that fits with the conventions of the House or not.
It is unequivocally the case that climate change is real; it is unequivocally the case that it has been driven in the recent period by human intervention into nature; and it is unequivocally the case that it offers huge threats if left unaddressed. Of course, there are substantial areas of uncertainty about the true level of risk. Some argue that it is low—much lower than almost all climate scientists believe—in terms of its consequences for our societies. Yet uncertainty cuts both ways: the level of risk may well be higher than most in the scientific community currently believe and also more proximate. I have worked on the politics of change for the last seven or eight years. I am not a climate scientist but my inclination is to take this view. This is a matter of risk, and the risks at the top end are huge. The IPCC is very likely a conservative organisation, given the fact that it has to reach a consensus and is subject to such concerted attack. We are talking, in other words, about potentially catastrophic risks of an awesome kind at the top edge of risk facing our future.
Those who wish to downplay those risks say that nature is robust and nothing that human beings might do will affect it very much. The alternative view, as we have been reminded by Hurricane Patricia, which hit south-west Mexico last Friday, is that nature is like a wild beast and we are busy prodding it with sticks. To me, that metaphor is an appropriate one: nature is awesome and we are intervening in a systematic way, the first civilisation ever to do so in human history in this fashion.
Even those who worry a great deal about climate change tend to see it as an issue somewhere down the line, and that is one reason that it is hard to get political traction against it among the public. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, might disagree, but I think it is crucial to see climate change as a here and now threat, and not just a threat 20 or 30 years down the line or a threat to our grandchildren. Some of us speaking here have grandchildren. Therefore, it is a threat to us today. This is because climate change is already progressing, but also because it overlaps with other large-scale risks that are unique to our civilisation: population growth, which might reach 10 billion; the global depletion of resources, especially water scarcity and drought in troubled areas of the world; and the existence of weapons of mass destruction. That point was made with some force and with a great deal of backing material in a famous television series in the United States called “Years of Living Dangerously”, which fortunately played to pretty large audiences.
Action on a global level is urgent. Like other speakers, I wish the UN meetings in Paris in December every success. Other noble Lords speaking here today, like myself, were in Copenhagen in 2009 and will recall all too well—although my view may differ a little from others who have spoken—the fiasco that ensued there. Some 180 political leaders, including the President of the United States, attended, but there was no overall agreement. There was just a single sheet of paper at the end of that meeting. We must avoid anything like that again. The very fact that that happened will concentrate minds this time and some formal agreements will likely be reached.
I suppose that I differ slightly from one or two other noble Lords who have spoken because I remain a little dubious about the practical outcome. There will be agreements but, in practice, international law has no teeth. There is no mechanism for global enforcement of international law and there are no effective sanctions. For that reason, at least in my opinion, bilateral negotiation will be just as important. China and the US produce something like 42% of total global emissions. They are working closely together. The Chinese have changed their views substantially, so that at least will have to exist alongside whatever formal agreements are made. Whatever happens in Paris, a great deal of action will have to be bottom-up. Here, cities, towns and even small communities can have a prime role.
I will try to observe the six-minute limit for speeches. One of the great transformations that is happening in our age, which I have studied intensely, is the digital revolution. It makes it possible for even small committees to interact on a global level with others in ways that even 10 years ago were not conceivable. It makes it possible to jump stages in renewable energy, as happened in Africa with telephone lines. I welcome any comments from the Minister on the British attitude to how we might further international collaboration along those lines.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the British Lung Foundation.
I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling this important debate. He is absolutely right to highlight the need for action on global climate change. We as individuals can, and should, do what we can to help. We should turn off the lights when we leave the room, turn the heating off when we are not indoors and so forth. As a country, too, we should do what we can to help without paying over the odds and impoverishing bill payers. But the truth is that the difference we can make as individuals is tiny, and indeed the difference we can make as a country is tiny, in comparison with what is needed.
Countries such as China and India are growing at a rate of knots and are burning fossil fuels so quickly that any UK national strategy to curb climate change is rendered useless within hours. We know that China has had the biggest increase in CO2 emissions and therefore any work to stop that growth at the UN conference in Paris later this month could be extremely valuable. So I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue.
I read recently that the London Weather Centre is about 1.8 degrees warmer than southern England and it has been since 1981. That of course has nothing to do with global warming: it is because of the London heat island. But if we add the 0.8 degrees average global warming, then central London is presumably about 2.5 degrees warmer than it once was. When we consider that much of the debate on global warming is about the disastrous effects of a change of 2 degrees, it is important that the discussion is level-headed and that we remember statistics in context.
Even so, there are much bigger decisions that we can take to help reduce emissions globally. Some of them involve being bold at home. For instance, we should fully embrace shale extraction. But equally as important is encouraging others to do the same to reduce reliance on coal. Sharing shale gas technology will allow it to develop as rapidly as possible and be used worldwide. A paper for the Centre for Policy Studies entitled, Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking, by the noted University of California, Berkeley scientist Professor Muller, who I should declare I know personally, shows that shale gas extraction will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A global switch to natural gas would be a big step forward.
While CO2 may indeed be a global villain, air pollution is undoubtedly a local villain. Particulates hurt lungs today, right now on the streets of our towns and cities, particularly the lungs of children, so the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is absolutely right again to highlight the urban environment in this debate. In the early 2000s, the focus was on CO2 alone, but the evidence is now showing that that was a mistake. As part of the strategy to reduce carbon emissions, the Government encouraged people, using tax breaks, to switch to diesel cars. The RAC Foundation estimates that these tax breaks have helped to encourage UK citizens to buy an extra 2.7 million diesel cars since 2009. And, of course, exhaust fumes are poisonous. The poison may no longer be filled with lead, but it is particulates that we should worry about the most. Particulates bypass the human throat and, just like cigarette smoke, go right down into the lungs where they can cause the most damage. So the single-minded pressure on reducing CO2 meant that engineers produced more diesel cars, which then led to higher particulates. That means we now have a disastrous air pollution level.
Volkswagen was one company that made a big switch to diesel at the turn of the millennium, but as tests for air pollution became more demanding, that company and probably other manufacturers decided to cheat. VW allegedly set up 11 million of its vehicles with “defeat devices” so that it could tell when they were in test conditions. The cars then temporarily emitted less toxic gas. But independent analysis showed how they emitted up to nine and a half times more toxic nitrogen dioxide when they were on the road. This scandal shocked and concerned me and millions of others. What is equally concerning was the news at the weekend that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may have known that manufacturers were gaming the system as long ago as 2009. This weekend’s Sunday Times reported that Defra commissioned research which showed that when on the road, diesel cars were producing much higher levels of air pollution than was expected as a result of tests. Another report was allegedly submitted to Defra in 2011 which identified serious concerns with the testing. If those reports were submitted, then Defra should have acted, but of course VW should not have cheated. I hope that the reports, if they do exist, will be released and that in the future we will see real-world emissions testing to root out the bad guys. Moreover, instead of championing one type of fuel over another, perhaps we can look at ways of encouraging the purchase of electric vehicles, such as allowing them into bus lanes.
The evidence is now showing that it was a mistake to concentrate on CO2 alone, as we did in the early 2000s. Air pollution is now a pressing problem and it has been greatly exacerbated by our focus on reducing CO2 emissions. So while we should indeed take a global view on climate change, we should also do so on air pollution. Indeed, the presence of PM2.5 in the air currently kills more people annually than AIDS, malaria, diabetes and tuberculosis combined. But while local action on climate change does not make much of a difference, local action on air pollution can and would make a big difference. If the UK is to succeed in improving air quality, it needs to be embedded across all government departments. They all have some role in tackling what is an extremely serious problem.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for initiating this debate, which is so timely. I should also say that I chair the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and recently I was invited to co-chair a working party on climate change and human rights. We reported last October and the report is now the subject of international debate and is being used by the United Nations in preparation for the Paris talks.
Climate change is one of those cross-border issues that presents serious challenges to all nations, so requires multinational responses. It is just like international terrorism or international trafficking of people or indeed any of those things that crosses borders. We need to have collective responses and, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, described, we need an international framework in which nations and national legal systems then act. It is important to recognise that—just as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, was saying, about the UK being very good at research and development and good in leading the way in so many areas—the UK is also very good at law. We have led the world, particularly in areas of law which we sometimes shy away from. We have led the way on human rights but we have also led the way in commercial law. People look to the United Kingdom courts and the arbitration system that we have set up to deal with disputes which cross borders. That has made international markets and globalisation possible. We should learn from commercial law that, where there is the political will to make things work, it can work. We really have to develop the political will around this issue to see the role that law can play.
Many serious human rights issues come out of all this. There is the right to life—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to it—which covers all the things that we know are necessary for a real human existence. There is the right to shelter, food, clean water and so on. People in the poor world, in particular, suffer from the changes that we see taking place. Sitting on that commission, looking at climate change, we really had to be persuaded by the signs. People who are in denial on this really have to get to grips with what the scientists of our world are telling us.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stern, said, people in low-lying regions, such as the Maldives and Bangladesh, are seeing their oceans rising and are living in fear of the consequences of the melting polar caps. People everywhere living on the water’s edges whose livelihood comes from fishing and so on are seeing those livelihoods destroyed. Indeed, we see the consequences of aridity and desertification of whole stretches of our land mass, and the effect of that on people’s lives. What people do is move. Yearning to survive means that people get moving, so having been alarmed by the sight of refugees on the Mediterranean drowning, we will see much, much more of that in our world as this problem increases. I do not think that we should allow those who are dismissive to seek to control of any part of this debate.
Our report was published and one of the things that we said, as lawyers entering this arena, was that we should develop the arbitration system internationally, just as we have done in commercial law, to deal with those cross-border issues that will arise almost of necessity. I want to ask the Government whether they have taken note of a case that has just been decided in June in the Netherlands where a citizens’ organisation got together. Under an NGO called Urgenda—obviously accepting the notion that this was an agenda that had some urgency attached to it—it brought a case against the Dutch Government saying that they had failed to reach the targets to which they had committed and had a duty to protect. It invoked tort and human rights law and this case was won by a three-judge court, deciding that the state has responsibilities to protect. Indeed, national law can be invoked within that international human rights framework. It has implications for all of us, because you can be sure that activists the world over on this issue will be bringing cases against their nation state. We are likely to see it here; the Government should be alert to that. I hope they will recognise that turning to law should be a last resort. We should be leading the way on all this.
I urge the Government to look at the report from the International Bar Association. It is highly measured—lawyers on the whole do not tend to be very radical. However, one of its suggestions—on which it has sponsored work that is now being done—is to create a model statute, to be drawn down by nation states, to turn international commitments into national law. Rather like our own Climate Change Act, this will ensure consistency of law internationally and that nation states can be held accountable for their commitments.
There is inevitably a role for law in all this. When discussions take place in Paris, I hope that Britain—which has such a proud legal record—will lead them and will argue for a commitment across nations, bound by an international framework, to draw down laws that call Governments to account.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, for initiating this timely and important debate. I would like to change the focus slightly by looking in very specific detail at what the UK Government are doing to tackle their obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. I do so as a member of the Committee on Climate Change—the statutory committee set up under the Act to monitor the Government’s progress—and as chairman of its adaptation sub-committee. In July we published our statutory report to Parliament on the Government’s progress both on mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation, preparing for the inevitable consequences of climate change.
I would like to focus on our recommendations for the built environment, looking first at mitigation. Buildings account for 32% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore clear that reducing emissions from the built environment should be an essential part of the Government’s strategy for achieving the reductions that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, referred to. This comes in two parts. Of the building stock that will exist in 2050—when we have to reach our greenhouse gas emissions target of at least 80% below 1990 levels—80% has already been built. They will need to be retrofitted to be made more energy-efficient. At the same time, we need to ensure that the other 20% of the building stock that will be there in 2050 is built in an energy-efficient way. In our report, we concluded that the Government are not on track with either of these objectives.
For example, retrofitting of home insulation is important not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing buildings, but also to help to alleviate fuel poverty, since many of the poorest people live in the least well-insulated homes. However, the rate of home insulation has slowed down recently, as a result of changes in government policy. Another example is low-carbon heating, such as heat pumps and district heat schemes. These currently provide less than 2% of heating in buildings. It is not clear how the Government intend to achieve their ambition for 12% of heating to come from low-carbon heating.
The problem is that the main policies aimed at improving energy efficiency in the built environment—namely, the green deal, the energy company obligation and the zero-carbon homes initiative—have been, or are due to be, ditched. Nor is the future of the renewable heat incentive beyond April 2016 at all clear. In their response to our report, the Government were disappointingly vague about what they intend to replace these initiatives with. I hope the Minister will give us more information on the development of the new policies and the timescale for their publication.
With regard to new buildings, the Government have rejected the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to continue with a zero-carbon homes policy as being too onerous for the construction industry. In light of this, will the Minister tell us how energy efficiency standards of new homes in England compare with other countries in Europe, including Scotland, Germany and Denmark?
I turn briefly to adaptation. The main risks to the built environment that will arise from future climate change are flooding and overheating. Currently, about a quarter of a million properties are in high flood-risk areas, either in riverine or coastal flood plains. This figure will increase in the decades ahead, as a result of rising sea levels and increased intensity of rainfall. What is more, we are making the problem worse: new properties are being built at a rate of more than 4,500 a year in areas that are currently at high risk or are likely to be so in the decades ahead. The good news is that most of these buildings are protected by flood defences. However, the bad news is that, even though the Government have invested substantial sums of money in improving flood defences, that will not be enough to prevent the risks of flood damage to properties increasing in the future.
The Government’s response to our report is confusing. On the one hand, Defra says that it is now looking into the need for a new strategy; on the other hand, the joint response from DECC and Defra states that the Government do not see the need for a new strategy for flood risk. I ask the Minister for clarification. Who is right: Defra, or DECC and Defra together?
Surface water flooding is also likely to increase as a result of climate change, with increased heavy rainfall events. Current patterns of development in our towns and cities—including paving over gardens, infill development and the use of impermeable paving—are making the problem worse.
The Pitt review that followed the severe floods of July 2007 recommended that all new developments should have sustainable urban drainage systems. Eight years later, that has still not been implemented. Moreover, most local authorities have not yet finalised their local flood risk management strategies, as required by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on these specific problems.
I would also like to say a few words about overheating. Climate models suggest that summer daytime temperatures in the upper 30s may be the norm in this country by 2050. Living in many of our current buildings will be intolerable in those conditions. It is not just homes; an estimated 90% of hospital wards are of a design—with large windows that cannot be opened, and poor ventilation—that makes them prone to overheating. This will be a real problem in the future, but the Government’s response does not consider it necessary to take any further action. We need to act now to prepare for the effects of climate change in the decades ahead.
My final point on overheating is that we are losing urban green spaces. Some 7% of urban green space has been lost since 2001. We all know that green space is an important element of the urban environment, which reduces the effects of overheating.
The Government clearly recognise the importance both of mitigation and of adaptation. In many areas good progress has been made. However, if our buildings, towns and cities are to be both carbon efficient and adapted to the future climate, additional urgent action is needed. I hope the Minister will reassure us that the Government have got the message and are prepared to act.
My noble friend has drawn our attention to climate change on many occasions. He is absolutely right to do so again in anticipation of the summit in Paris. The Paris agreement is intended to make sure that increased warming does not exceed an internationally agreed limit of 2 degrees centigrade. Of course, you cannot force countries to cut their emissions, so, in preparation for the Paris agreement, nations have been submitting voluntary plans to show how they propose to cut their emissions from 2020.
To help understand what is going on, the Financial Times has produced a handy climate change calculator, which I have been looking at. The calculator shows that the best pledges come from the United States and the European Union, and the worst from India, Russia and, yes, China.
That is what the calculator shows. Only Brazil is pledging to match the efforts of the European Union and the United States, while other countries are somewhere in-between. The calculator also shows that, if all pledges are kept, warming will be restricted to just under 4 degrees—well above the target of 2 degrees. While I welcome the Government’s ambitious pledge to reduce emissions, do they have any thoughts on how we can persuade other nations to be more ambitious and increase their promises to cut emissions?
Calculators of this kind are good at giving a general picture, but the regular curve implies that climate change is a gradual linear shift over the years, which, of course, it is not. As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Stern, explained, the shifts will be sudden and erratic. They will be unpredictable and may not always be in one direction. One region can suffer rising sea levels, causing homelessness, water shortages and inadequate harvests. In another, sudden surges in temperature and drought can lead to a lack of food supplies, and to disease and epidemic. These are changes that will have the practical effect of compounding the problems of poverty, poor health and, in particular, weak government. My noble friend Lady Kennedy explained that these changes would force even more people to migrate across the Mediterranean or through the Balkans. The case for action is not simply humanitarian; it is also economic.
The Government have made a real effort to seal a climate change accord in Paris. They have promised to contribute nearly £6 billion over five years to help the climate change fund and we are doing quite a lot to phase out coal. Why, then, did we go in the opposite direction of cutting support for wind and solar power? If subsidies have to be withdrawn, surely they should be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry.
To help support the US pledge, President Obama obtained the support of 81 major American corporations. There are many British corporations that take a similar view. Will the Government take steps to acknowledge and work with them? In their recent paper Fixing the Foundations, the Government commit themselves to:
“Reliable and low-carbon energy, at a price we can afford”.
This can only be done jointly with business. How? First, convince people that climate responsibility is not in conflict with economic growth. Why? Because the present path is not sustainable. A low-carbon, cleaner environment is. This is the message from companies that have pledged to support a cut to carbon emissions.
Decarbonising the economy can take many forms and offer many economic possibilities, but individuals can help, too. At home we have virtually stopped using the car and we are the proud owners of electric bicycles.
My noble friend Lord Hunt and other noble Lords are concerned about protecting the urban environment. They are right. Air pollution is already causing a large number of premature deaths and serious illnesses. As my noble friend Lord Prescott reminded us, in places our level of pollution is above EU limits. A Supreme Court judgment earlier this year requires the Government to submit plans to make us compliant. There are now both moral and legal arguments for us to act.
The recent consultation document has a number of welcome elements, such as a national framework of clean air zones, retrofitting and alternative fuels for vehicles, as well as electric cars. I draw the Minister’s attention to the work of the Environmental Industries Commission—I declare an interest as a past president. Member companies are actively engaged in air pollution control. These firms show how cleaner air can be achieved more speedily in practice by using more cost-effective technologies, and which technology is right for which geographical area. Adopting these technologies, instead of buying them in from elsewhere, would help to drive the growth of the UK air pollution industry.
I return to the Paris summit. I have tried to show that we can have rising living standards while taking a responsible attitude towards the management of air pollution and climate change risks. Let us hope that the Paris summit is a start to the world acting together.
My Lords, I join with those who thanked my noble friend Lord Hunt for introducing this timely and vital debate. We should also thank him for his lifetime of hard, committed work and leadership in this sphere. We wish him well for the continuation of that.
Britain led the Industrial Revolution. We therefore were the leaders in the accumulation and acceleration of the destruction of the environment, with pollution and all the huge issues that we are discussing. That demands of us a leading role in ensuring success in Paris. We cannot just go to Paris. We cannot just have hard-working, committed civil servants negotiating like mad; we have to have political leadership with commitment on this score. I want to hear from the Minister an assurance that the Prime Minister himself will focus on and go to Paris, and that the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development will go.
My next point is: let us not just think that it is a matter of leaving it just to DfID or the Department of Energy and Climate Change to get on with it. As has been said very well—not least by the Minister’s noble friend Lord Borwick, in what I thought was an incredibly interesting speech—this demands disciplined and committed support and work by almost every government department. I do not see the signs of that at all. In fact, I see a contrast. On the one hand we take security threats extremely seriously. I congratulate the Government on having concentrated on setting up a security council of their own that brings a cross-section of ministries together to work on that issue. But this is a far bigger threat than terrorism or anything else that we are discussing. It is the survival of the species. If that is the case, where is the evidence of disciplined, interdepartmental leadership on this—to which, of course the Prime Minister’s commitment will be essential—and of the drive that is necessary?
We have talked a great deal about hopes of an agreement in Paris. I, too, hope that there will be agreement in Paris, but if I have learned anything in my life—in public life, in Parliament and, indeed, in government—it is that there is a hell of a difference between an agreement and the effective application of that agreement in practical policy. That is why we must resist any intellectual or theoretical temptation to say, “If we get agreement, that’s victory”. It is not at all. It is essential that we get agreement, but the agreement is the gate to the action that will then be necessary.
I will make one other point. We have regretted the failures in international negotiation in this sphere in the past. I have regretted them, too, but, because of my work in what we have traditionally called the third world, I have not been surprised. That is because what we are doing is asking the majority of humanity to sign up to a strategy devised by the advantaged industrial nations and to produce a contribution which is essential to success. Let us look at that in perspective for a moment. Those nations are being asked to sign up to, and get involved in, the disciplines which will be necessary before they have even begun to get access to what we take for granted in our way of life and our economic and industrial organisation. They have to do that, of course; that necessity cannot be escaped. However, that demands of us imagination and real commitment to ensure that this agreement is as fair as it can be in the burden that it places—of course, burdens can create opportunities for humanity—on the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world. Therefore, redistribution of resources to enable those people to organise their society in such a way that they are helped to make that contribution is absolutely crucial.
My last point is that it is not just fairness and justice that will be important in this sphere; there must also be a sense of ownership across the international community. If it is felt by the leaders of the majority of the world that this is something devised by others with which they are having to co-operate, we are in danger of having a minimalist approach to its application. However, if those leaders feel that it is something in which they have participated and which they own as a policy, we are in a strong position. Therefore, I repeat that the leadership of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, of course, the Secretary of State for International Development, and the full-hearted commitment of leaders and Ministers in many other spheres, are absolutely indispensable.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, set out the terms of this debate on climate change and the urban environment. It has inspired colleagues outside your Lordships’ House to contribute to my words today. I will focus on fashion and I am therefore grateful to Professor Dilys Williams, director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at University of the Arts, Gillian Mead of Hubbub and Dr Andrew Brooks from King’s College, London, for their helpful comments on this subject.
Cities are hungry beasts. Given that the percentage of the world’s population living in cities is now 53%, and that, according to World Bank data, 82% of the UK’s population lives in urban areas, with this figure set to rise, how we learn to live in cities will shape how well we are able to live in the world. While many people now seem to have accepted the science of climate change, lifestyles played out in our urban environments do not reflect this understanding. Our production, consumption and management of waste associated with fashion in particular is problematic.
As co-chair of the APPG on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, as a member of the advisory council for Fashion Revolution and a board member of Cotton Made in Africa, I have heard from a wide range of people working in all parts of the fashion industry’s long, complex supply chain, and all agree that there is a huge problem that needs urgently to be addressed. You do not need to be a climate scientist to understand that.
In so many ways the British fashion industry is a huge success story, contributing more than £20 billion to the economy and employing 800,000 people. Fashion enables us to express our identities and its importance is economic, social and cultural, but our rates of consumption are unsustainable. In 2010, the global apparel industry produced more than 150 billion garments—enough to provide more than 20 new articles of clothing for every single person on the planet. Here in the UK, where 90% of our clothes are made overseas, we are importing finished products made predominantly from oil-based materials, or land-intensive and water-intensive cotton. And after all that growing, processing, use of toxic dyes and transportation across the world, what happens? We wear the garments briefly, clean them excessively, then discard them, creating low-value waste. According to the WRAP report in 2011, we throw away 350,000 tonnes of clothing into landfill each year. One senior Marks & Spencer executive told a recent APPG meeting that 10,000 garments went into landfill every five minutes in the UK.
The way in which we produce, consume and dispose of clothing not only has negative environmental impacts for us but affects those in other, vulnerable parts of the developing world. If our unwanted clothing does not go into landfill, what we do not want is exported to other markets, where local industries, often in south Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, may be diminished and local creative and craft talent frustrated by the lack of opportunities because of a clothing market saturated with the West’s unwanted clothing.
The toxic processes of the fashion industry are devastating, as demonstrated by Greenpeace’s Detox report. On receiving an award for her creation of an ethical and sustainable fashion brand at a recent event, Eileen Fisher told the audience that fashion was the second most polluting industry in the world after oil. And let us be clear about the impact of pollution. As a number of noble Lords have said, it kills. Pure Earth claims that in the developing world more people die as a result of pollution than die from disease.
One area where government could work more effectively with the industries concerned to help the public to change their choices and habits is with respect to the care of clothes once they have been bought. I would like to hear from the Minister his sense of what more the Government can do in this respect. A 2009 Defra report, Reducing the Environmental Impact of Clothes Cleaning, points to evidence gathered in France which shows that the use phase of a pair of jeans contributes between 35% and 59% of climate-changing greenhouse gases and water eutrophication, and between 10% and 34% of ozone layer depletion and water consumption. Washing, drying and dry cleaning clothing use large amounts of energy, thus contributing to global climate change, and can cause air and water pollution and toxicity that have a significant impact on urban environments.
Everyone has a part to play in diminishing the impact of these destructive practices. Behaviour change such as reducing washing temperatures from 40 to 30 degrees can help reduce the problem. Less frequent washing and cleaning of clothes would also help. Recently, cleaner alternatives based on water and natural soaps rather than toxic chemicals have been identified for use for clothes that would otherwise be dry cleaned. More and smarter campaigns targeted at specific markets are needed to raise awareness of “clever care” in the public at large.
More generally, there are some signs of hope within the industry and of change. For example, collaborative consumption in fashion that creates wider social benefits, such as Rentez-Vous and Swishing, are examples of social interaction through the exchange of fashion; Antiform in Leeds and Here Today Here Tomorrow are examples of businesses based on creating community cohesion and operating as a hub rather than as just another retailer; and business models based on the whole life of a product, such as Nudie, offer a mending and alteration service as well as a take-back scheme for its jeans.
Action on climate change and the protection of the urban environment depend critically on what citizens consider to be socially acceptable habits. We need to make taking action on climate change more visible, the social norm, culturally appropriate and enjoyably creative.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, not only on introducing this debate but on his lifetime of work on this issue, and I am going to continue the theme that he mentioned at the beginning of the debate—Psalm 23 and the preciousness of the global environment. Why do I say that? Last week, I attended an event hosted by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Two trustees of that organisation, my noble friend Lord Donoughue and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, gave a very critical response to the papal encyclical Laudato Si’—or “Praise be to you”, taken from the canticle of St Francis, “Laudato si’, mi’ Signore”. Their conclusion was that the gentle idealism in Laudato Si’ meant that the Pope and others wanted to see cats no longer chase mice. That so misconstrued the encyclical.
I am not sticking up for the Pope but I am sticking up for the message that is in Laudato Si’. The essence of the encyclical is an invitation to every living person on the planet to enter into a dialogue for the care of our common home. As a background, Pope Francis spent his vocational life in the marginalised areas of Latin America, where he saw the impact of the rainforest being logged, the oceans being overfished, the fresh water being polluted and the mines scarring the landscape and poisoning the habitats.
That environmental degradation is something that the noble Lord, Lord Stern, referred to in his excellent book, Why Are We Waiting?. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, has given great service in this area. As chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, I was very grateful to him for coming along over the years and educating us on this issue. He and Pope Francis share the same goals, in that the noble Lord, Lord Stern, says that one of the overriding humanitarian goals in the 21st century will be,
“the elimination of mass poverty and risk of catastrophic climate change”.
Laudato Si’ addressess not just a single issue but the great global challenges of our time—yes, pollution and climate change, but also water, biodiversity loss, the quality of human life and global inequality. As someone with a science background, I think that the science is compelling, particularly that presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says that the “severe and pervasive” impacts of climate change will be felt everywhere. Even in our own country, the Governor of the Bank of England, at a meeting of Lloyd’s of London in September, stated that,
“climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity”.
He said that,
“once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late”.
He said there was still time to act but that,
“the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking”.
It is important that we have the best possible outcome from the Paris conference, where we will have 196 countries together. I do not think it will be possible to deliver a credible path away from potential disaster but it may slow the pace of us approaching such a point.
Laudato Si’ also mentions social problems. It says:
“Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds”.
Its twin aims are an “ecological conversion” and a “community conversion”, upon which not only the physical survival of the poor but the spiritual welfare of the natural world depend. Many religious and non-religious people agree with that point.
Laudato Si’ has reached out to a global constituency and the message is liberating and empowering. Its call to protect and respect the beauty of creation is one that was taken up by George Monbiot—no fan of the Pope—when he said:
“Pope Francis reminds us that our relationship to the natural world is about love, not just goods and services”.
I am reminded of another Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who visited the area that I represented for 23 years in the House of Commons, Loch Lomond. His poem “Inversnaid” encapsulates that reverence for the scenic beauty of nature:
“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”.
Francis has provided us with global moral leadership. If we do not heed the scientific evidence and the rational voices that we have heard here today and elsewhere, I suggest that not only will the wet and the wildness be bereft but our children, grandchildren and future generations. Action is important and I hope that the Government help in that process.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton. We have had some really excellent speeches. I think we are unanimous in expressing concern about climate change and urban air pollution—and I would add the failure of the government policies to support them. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, and others gave us a long list of what I would call policy failures or changes, including the built environment—maybe that is pandering to the builders, who do a lot of funding for some parties—flooding and sustainable urban drainage systems. I have been fighting a long time for SUDS to be part of an alternative to the Thames Tideway Tunnel—cheaper, less risky, more environmentally friendly but of course not so good for the bankers and the building industry. There is also air pollution and, of course, energy. It is rather a long list.
I fear that the lack of interest of this Government is evident from the lack of Tory speakers—except, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, who gave a really good speech. He could have been sitting on any of the Benches, really. He gave opinions similar to those of many other noble Lords. He must be feeling a little bit lonely on the Back Benches today. Is he the only Tory Peer who actually believes in the environment, air quality and global warming? We will see.
Indeed. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, it needs political leadership. If the lack of support from the Back Benches in this House is rather evident, I hope that does not put off the Minister and his colleagues from having the courage to do what I think all speakers have urged them to do in the coming months.
I certainly believe that we have a serious problem with climate change but, as other noble Lords have said, it must not be at the expense of other pollutants, which, according to a press release from the European Parliament yesterday, cause more than 400,000 people to die prematurely each year across Europe due to poor air quality. That is a different figure from that given by some other noble Lords, but it is a very big figure. I am pleased that the Parliament and the Commission have now agreed to fix national emissions ceilings on several important pollutants—not just one—to fight air pollution. I hope that gets taken forward because, as other noble Lords have said, it is not just CO2.
The Volkswagen scandal is probably just the tip of an iceberg because people believed that the silver bullet of reducing CO2 would sort out all the other problems. But, as other noble Lords have said, PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxides are really serious. The worrying thing is that the European engine emissions standards are not technologically neutral because the EU has set much looser emissions standards for particles and oxides of nitrogen—NOx—for diesel vehicles than for petrol ones, which is the opposite to what is happening in the United States.
Yes, people have realised that diesel is a problem these days, but it is very much worse than petrol. Transport for London says that diesel cars emit somewhere between 90% and 95% of the most harmful exhaust emissions from cars in London. That is a very big percentage.
Another myth that I would try to put to one side is that Euro 6 standard engines will solve the problem, because they will not. There is already plenty of evidence that real driving emissions for Euro 6 standard diesel cars are about four times worse on average than for the current Euro test standards. As one or two other noble Lords have said, let us not listen to the manufacturers who are lobbying very hard for what I think they call a conformity factor to reduce the limits or change the way that the tests are done. This is really serious.
I agree with the Clean Air in London campaign, which has said that:
“Diesel is … the biggest public health catastrophe”,
in UK policy history. It will be interesting to see whether the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants—I cannot pronounce its acronym, COMEAP—produces a most authoritative first national estimate of the mortality attributable to nitrogen dioxide. It may also update its estimate attributing 29,000 deaths in the UK to PM2.5 in 2010. That figure might go up and, as other noble Lords have said, it is an awfully large number.
One of the solutions is for the Government and a lot of other people to look at this as a one-atmosphere problem instead of trying just to reduce one gas, CO2, important though that is. Perhaps they could have a policy hierarchy that would start with lifestyle changes such as driving less and using bicycles. My noble friend Lord Haskel uses an electric bike but he also uses ordinary bikes for shorter distances. Provided that electricity is generated, it is probably all right. There are many things like that, such as travelling less and using more public transport, but the key is to have a much more stringent ban on diesel cars in the centre. Let us also not forget that although particulates in big cities such as London are important, an awful lot of pollution comes in from outside through shipping, farming and other things that need to be addressed. I hope the Minister will look at this one-atmosphere idea and try to turn it into a win-win package of emission reductions and health benefits. That would both benefit climate change and protect the UK’s environment in the short term. I can only hope that Ministers will pursue this, with or without the support of some of their Back-Benchers.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for this debate. On a personal basis, I also thank him for his great contribution to the Arctic Select Committee, whose report we are debating next week. I am not going to go through the list of all the things in green and environmental policy on which the Government seem to have gone into reverse. My noble friend Lord Greaves did that very adequately at the beginning.
However, I would like to ask the Minister about something where I have a real concern: the recent announcement by the Treasury during Report in the other place on the Finance Bill about changing the tax regime on community energy schemes. I know that in my own area, the south-west, community volunteers in the Exeter area have spent some two years building up these schemes. They have no chance of getting to where they need to be by 30 November, which will now be the cut-off date for taking advantage of that regime. That will really hit communities and volunteers—the people who do this because of their belief in their own communities. I would be interested to hear the Minister comment on that.
I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, raised a specific area that does not otherwise feature in this Government’s policy. It did not feature during the coalition period either but I would like to raise it too. For most of this year, I have been privileged to have been asked by the University of Birmingham to chair a commission for it on “doing cold smarter”. This is the opposite side of the coin to heating as it is about refrigeration and cooling, which are increasingly important. I will illustrate that in a minute but, clearly, we use cooling for ourselves through air conditioning in our homes and cars. We use it increasingly for our data in data centres worldwide. We use it for keeping food eatable and at the right temperature, through refrigeration in our supermarkets and homes. But perhaps even more importantly for some of the themes I will develop, we use it in transport, for medicines and for various scientific processes and implements as well.
It is estimated that in this country now, some 16% of our generated electricity is used to cool rather than to heat. Globally, it is estimated that some 10% of total carbon emissions come from refrigeration and cooling. Internationally, that is important and a good thing because some 50% of vegetables and fruit in the developing world are wasted or spoiled before they get from field to market. This area will grow over the next few decades, partly because in developing countries, particularly in cities, the middle classes and those with greater disposable income will use more refrigeration and air conditioning. This is why the urban environment is important as part of this debate. The most recent statistics I could find were for 2010, when 50 million air-conditioning units were purchased in China alone—in just that one country in one year—because of rising affluence and the issues of temperature and personal comfort which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned.
It is estimated that by 2060 the world will use more of its generating capacity for cooling down than it does at the moment for heating, so this is a real issue. I am pleased that the Committee on Climate Change mentioned it in this report. It is the only area of policy and political debate I am aware of that focuses on buildings being designed to dissipate heat in future, as well as to conserve it for fuel poverty and keep it in winter.
One challenge of this area is not just that growing demand, which, to come back to what we are discussing, is particularly in urban areas. It is about much dirtier and more toxic technologies than what else is in our energy landscape. I have to admit that I have blood on my hands because most of my business career was in the freight sector. Latterly, I operated fleets of trucks nationally that were temperature-controlled to distribute to supermarkets. Those of your Lordships who know that industry, or who even look at the streetscape when you walk outside, will know that the majority of refrigerated vehicles have diesel units on the front, which essentially keep the temperatures right for the products inside. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned the Euro 6 standard. The fact is that those standards do not apply for transport refrigeration units. In fact, to come back to the important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, about nitrous oxides, they create something like 30 times more nitrous oxide emissions than diesel engines. They also perform very badly when it comes to particulates. We do not do that smartly but there are fantastic technologies coming forward in the United Kingdom to challenge some of these problems. I hope that the Minister can take an interest in this area, as I am sure he would want to, and discover some of those differences.
One other area relates particularly to the urban environment. I expect all noble Lords who have been to cities in the developing world but also in North America and other places will have walked down a street and seen all these air conditioning units sat outside windows, banked up on high-rise buildings as part of the urban landscape. Of course the outcome of that is that the residents inside manage to remain cool—at huge energy cost—but you also have whole heat islands in urban landscapes, which cause urban heat to rise, so you have this cycle and spiral in terms of energy needs, emissions and everything else.
There are answers to this and ways round it. For instance, although we are not very successful at them, we talk about local district heating networks. There are opportunities for district cooling networks as well—that is one of the technologies we could do. We should be able to change, through liquid air and other technologies, how these refrigerated transport systems work. I was fascinated by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, relating to fashion. Supermarkets will not, on the whole, put doors on their cooling units and displays, because we as consumers would then stop buying as many of those products. Supermarkets therefore have shelves without doors in order to keep their sales up. I cannot criticise that as such—it is our consumer behaviour that maybe is the problem.
When I was very close to Ed Davey and others in the coalition Government, I have to say that I did nothing about this issue—I am guilty. But this is an area where there are big, serious energy challenges into the future, particularly around the urban environment, and about not just carbon pollution but nitrous oxide pollution. This is something for the future. I commend the Committee on Climate Change and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for bringing this to people’s attention. We really need to pay attention to this in the future and I hope the Minister will take this up and pursue it. I am very happy to help him to do that.
My Lords, I lend my voice to the many before me in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for securing this debate and indeed for his lifetime of contribution to this important area. We are a matter of weeks away from the Paris negotiations and this is therefore a very timely debate to be having, which has shown some of the strengths of our House. The Government Benches have perhaps been slightly underrepresented, but there may be other things happening today that we are unaware of.
Notwithstanding that, it has been an excellent debate. I always find when I sit and listen to debates in your Lordships’ House that I learn something new, and today has been no exception. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing a whole new topic for me, about the fashion industry and its relationship to this. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for her perspective as a lawyer on the things that we need to start preparing for, such as how arbitration will be carried out and what we can look forward to in terms of legal cases and the tools that we will need to enable us to see proper justice in this area. That was fascinating.
I am not going to be able to do justice to all noble Lords who have spoken in the 10 minutes that I have, so I apologise. I always hear new acronyms: the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, introduced SUDS—sustainable urban drainage—to my vocabulary, for which I am very grateful. We have had fantastic speeches with great use of imagery. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, gave the apt analogy of us prodding the environment with a stick. We are conducting a global experiment which we do not know the consequences of. That is something we must take very seriously. I was also fascinated to hear the eloquent defence by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, of the Pope’s encyclical and the call to arms that it represents. Like him, I am no great defender of the Pope, but the symbolism of what he said and his overarching call for us to take more care of our common home and to have more respect for it resonated with everyone from every religion.
In addition to these wonderful new additions and perspectives, we heard from some of the greats in our ranks today. The work that the noble Lord, Lord Stern, is doing in every area is absolutely remarkable. Knowing that he is a friend of the chair and is working with Christiana Figueres to secure a deal in Paris makes me feel very confident that we will make progress in December. I wish to mention everybody and apologise if I have skipped over anyone. I should mention the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his role on the Committee on Climate Change, which has to be one of the best aspects of the UK’s governance structure for climate change. The Climate Change Act 2008 created it as an independent committee, and it has served us very well, helping to depoliticise what is essentially an overarching priority for a Government of any hue. The Committee on Climate Change does excellent work, and I know we will be meeting soon to discuss the setting of the fifth carbon budget. I am sure we will return to that debate in the coming weeks and months.
I apologise if I have missed anybody out. The role played by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, in the Kyoto negotiations and since then with the GLOBE network in visiting countries such as China and India, to forge a consensus and to build the sense that we are not working in isolation but that this is a global effort, has been most remarkable. I think I will mention everybody now, because I have almost done so, but I apologise again if I miss anybody. I would also mention the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, introduced a whole new concept about cooling and how we do cold, which, again, is a new area that I have not paid too much attention to. I am grateful to him for bringing that up.
In the remaining six minutes, I hope to pick up some of the themes that have been discussed and ask the Minister to offer us some insights into the Government’s perspective. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, used the phrase “disappointingly vague” to describe the Government’s response to some of the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations or at least the Government’s thoughts on where they were going. I am optimistic and hope that this new Government, despite perhaps having got off to a bit of a shaky start, will come forward with a clearer plan for what they intend to do in relation to energy policy. At the moment, if you are simply observing from the side-lines, it does look like a big reversal in the direction that was set under the last, coalition Government. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, set out some of the examples of where we have seen some unhelpful—or perhaps just misinterpreted—events in recent months, which have given the impression that the Government are no longer committed to solving climate change or to the low-carbon agenda.
I hope and suspect that is not the case, but I also suspect there is a rather large battle going on within the Government about the mechanism by which we decarbonise, which is what is causing the friction. I imagine, as with everything, that it will be the Chancellor and the Treasury who are playing a hugely important role in this debate. It is incumbent on all of us to put forward a vision that the Treasury can accept and embrace. I say that because although it is of course interested in longer-term issues, its focus will primarily be on short-term economic issues. The problem is that climate change is not a short-term issue. The timescales involved are very lengthy, which makes it very difficult politically for it to compete with the shorter-term, pressing political priorities that the Treasury or the Prime Minister may be facing on a day-to-day basis.
For example, we need look no further than the steel problems of this week, which we have all seen in the media. We are losing industrial activity in the UK, with obvious social and economic impacts. That is bound to press on Ministers’ minds, but we must always bear in mind that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the global environment and that we should not see climate change as a purely environmental issue—it is a social issue and an economic issue as well, and is of overriding importance. As the noble Lord, Lord Stern, has said, the stakes are incredibly high. We are talking about whether we can keep a habitable planet. This is the only habitable planet that we have yet discovered. We inhabit a unique planet, from all that we can see so far. Our generation bears a huge responsibility for ensuring that that planet remains habitable.
It falls to our generation because 20 or 30 years ago, some people may have been aware of the impact of burning fossil fuels and deforestation on our global climate, but it was a marginal issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, began his brilliant speech by bringing us back to Rio in 1992, which was the first point when the global community started to wake up to this issue. Since then, we have seen faltering moves forward to try to address it, but still not the urgency or co-ordinated effort that we need. I am very hopeful that Paris will see the beginning of that. Paris will mark a real watershed in our approach to climate change, because it is the first time that we will have all the major emitting countries in the same room debating the same set of commitments. I am delighted to read today that 155 countries have now submitted INDCs, representing 88% of the global population and 87% of global emissions. It is clear that there has been a change. We are now moving forward in a much more holistic and equal way.
That is not to say that it will be adequate because, as we know, the sum of the pledges does not add up to a safe climate. It is imperative that the Minister and his colleagues, when they go to Paris—indeed, we hope, the Prime Minister himself, when he attends—stress the need for a proper ratchet review mechanism to be included within the new deal. We cannot lock ourselves into lengthy targets which we know now to be inadequate; we must be able to revisit them, certainly within five years, to ratchet them up. Why should we do that? Because almost every target that has ever been set on climate change has been beaten. We always find that it is easier to deliver than we first thought. That is true of the UK and of Europe. We are already ahead of our 2020 targets on climate change, and we can go much further. Let us bank what we have at Paris, but let us make sure that we create the right framework not to lock ourselves in but to enable more ambition as things progress far faster than we can now imagine.
I want to end on this. As we sit here today and consider our roles as legislators in this great House, what can we contribute? Some of us will be attending Paris, which will be an historic contribution. For those of us who do not attend, our job lies in monitoring, scrutinising and advancing expert opinions on the laws and regulations which pass through this House. We have already seen with the Energy Bill how well this House can work in embedding the issue of climate change into government thinking. Together, we have improved the Energy Bill in its passage through this House, and I hope that we can hold on to some of those improvements until it returns here. It is not just the Energy Bill: there is the Enterprise Bill and the Green Investment Bank issue, the Bank of England Bill, which I spoke about because I consider this to be a financial as well as an environmental and social risk, and countless future regulations and laws that we will need to pass to tackle this issue.
The UK is at the forefront with the Climate Change Act. We are a seeding ground for good ideas. We have fantastic lawyers, policymakers and politicians. We have already contributed a huge amount and we can go on to do a great deal more, but it will need political consensus, and we should ensure that that remains. I hope that the Government will do all they can to reassert that consensus in the coming weeks.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, for raising this very important topic in the House and for all he has done in relation to meteorology and the Hadley Centre, which is much valued in government. He has made an outstanding contribution.
This has been a debate of extraordinary quality with contributions from people who really know an outstanding amount about this area—people such as the noble Lords, Lord Stern and Lord Krebs—and statesmen who have been involved in it for a considerable time in relation to Kyoto, such as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and who really understand it. There is an awful lot in this debate which I will try to address.
At the outset, along with others, I would like to say how valuable the intervention of the Pope has been on this issue—and not just the Pope but other faith leaders, not limited to Christianity. Our own right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury was part of the Lambeth declaration, which involved many other faiths, including the Islamic and Jewish faiths. That needs to be recognised: they, too, have an important role to play.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for what I thought was an outstanding contribution. I absolutely agree about the need to build consensus on this: there is more at stake than domestic political differences; this is an area where we really need to take united action, not just within our country but globally.
In that connection, this debate has raged over a massive number of government departments. Those people who have been in government—I know that there are many of them in the House—will recognise the silo nature of operations in Whitehall and Westminster, so I will ensure that the debate is circulated to other government departments so that they are aware of the impact that all government departments have in this area.
I will try to address all the remarks that have been made. In so far as I miss any, I will ensure that a letter goes to all Peers who participated in the debate picking up any points I miss or where I undertake to write because we do not necessarily have the answer immediately or it is a more complex issue than can be covered in a short period.
First, I shall say a few words about the domestic situation, which is important but only in so far as it feeds into the international position. I shall say something about the domestic position from the perspective of energy and climate change, then about air pollution and then about the international position. Noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned the importance of the Climate Change Act. He said that it is crucial that we are committed to carbon budgets; I entirely agree with that comment, which was made by other Peers as well. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, mentioned the importance of that, as did many others by inference because of their involvement—the noble Lords, Lord Stern and Lord Krebs, and so on.
Turning to our domestic position and our priorities as we try to develop policy for this Government, we are not turning our back on renewables. Renewables will remain of crucial significance. We will actually be spending more on renewables this year than we did last year. I met some industrialists this week who were keen to go forward with renewables on a no-subsidy basis, because the cost of renewables is coming down. That is a very good sign. I have discussed this previously with the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. Renewables will continue to play a key role, and so will nuclear.
I think that nuclear has not been mentioned in this debate, or barely—I beg your pardon; it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his introduction. Nuclear power has a key part to play. We will not get to where we need to be—I know that the noble Baroness opposite agrees on this—without the impact of nuclear, and that will remain the case. We are looking at other types of nuclear, small modular reactors and thorium—we had a very good debate on that last week—and that is being taken forward.
CCS has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others. It is an important part of our policy. As the noble Baroness mentioned, it is being embedded into the Energy Bill. I again pay tribute to the cross-party and Cross-Bencher involvement in trying to develop consensus on that; I think we have consensus that that is of key importance.
Air quality is of course a Defra lead, and it is consulting on draft air quality regulations to make us compliant as quickly as possible with the legal position. The diesel challenge in London and elsewhere, but particularly in London, is considerable. That is an important issue, as my noble friend Lord Borwick reminded us. I pay tribute to the British Lung Foundation, which he mentioned; it does fantastic work on what is a real issue. It is not just a domestic issue, as these issues rarely are. Countries such as Singapore and Malaysia take domestic action—certainly Singapore does—but are badly affected by forest fires in Indonesia. Nothing can better illustrate the fact that we need international agreement on many of these issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, made the point about the importance of a legal order here.
Picking up the point on rules-based systems, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. We need a firmer rules-based approach. That is being developed at Paris. It is certainly key to ensuring that we have an effective scrutiny and review system to make sure that these rules are applicable and followed.
I just make it clear that I am fully in favour of a rules-based approach, but in international relations there is no system of enforcing those rules in the way that there is in the national legal system. Therefore, power counts for an awful lot. What the large powers do could really be crucial, alongside the Paris agreements, if we are to get traction in countering climate change.
I thank the noble Lord for that—it was a fair point. It is also fair—I entirely agree with the noble Baroness opposite on this—that in practice there has been overdelivery on this area by countries. That is certainly true of the United States and China. Yes, of course there need to be review and rules-based systems. That is very much the way that the United Kingdom is approaching this, and many other countries as well. It is something that is very much discussed.
Let me say something about the international position ahead of Paris. I think we all accept the need for action, and that Paris is important and a step change very different from Copenhagen in that we have 155 countries already which have declared their INDCs—their contributions in relation to emissions. That will grow and there will be more of them. It represents the vast majority of emissions but other countries will join in with that process. It is very different.
I pay tribute to the way that the French have approached this. They have organised this conference very effectively. To illustrate the key role we have played at DECC, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Amber Rudd, has played a leading part on finance, working with Ségolène Royal in response to requests from the French to try to put an effective financial provision into what will happen at Paris. That is a vital part of what will happen there.
Noble Lords will be aware that the question has been raised about the commitment of the Prime Minister. He personally made the commitment at New York of £5.8 billion—a significant amount, widely welcomed throughout the developing world—towards adaptation and mitigation. It is split 50:50 because we recognise that both adaptation and mitigation play a key part in this—a point quite rightly made to us by small and developing island nations. There is a particular challenge for small island nations. I met the Prime Minister of Tuvalu and representatives from the Maldives. Even if we get agreement on the 2 degrees, it will not be nearly good enough for them: they will still cease to exist as countries unless we go beyond that.
I am optimistic about Paris, but it is a staging post. It will not get us there on its own. We need to look beyond Paris. It is certainly a step on the process towards getting things right, but we need to move beyond it. Ensuring that we have a road map as well as review and rules-based systems is essential if we are to protect countries such as Tuvalu, the Maldives, Bangladesh and so on, which we must as a moral imperative—hence the need in the mean time for the adaptation to help those countries. That is a real part of the approach of the United Kingdom.
I will pick up some points made by noble Lords. As I said, any that I miss I will pick up in writing. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about a government commitment on fuel poverty. Some 1 million homes will be insulated under this Government. That is a manifesto commitment and we are obviously committed to following that.
The noble Lord, Lord Stern, rightly referred to the interconnection between the economy and the environment. The two can go forward together. He spoke of addressing poverty and the challenge of climate change. That is absolutely right. The noble Lord’s seminal report demonstrated just how right it is that those two can go forward together. They are doing so at the moment. Indeed, emissions are at the moment falling slightly and the economy is growing. That illustrates what can be done. The annual turnover of United Kingdom firms in the low-carbon sector was £122 billion in 2013. That demonstrates the opportunity that exists for—
Of course I do: there is no shortage of challenges here.
Just to bring us back to the reality, which was again outlined by the noble Baroness opposite, there are three key aims for the department. I do not think they have changed from the previous Government. Those aims are affordability, security and decarbonisation. Noble Lords will recognise the reality of government that sometimes hard decisions must be made. There is no better example of that than the steel industry. I was at the steel summit. Many Labour MPs, understandably—and, in one sense, rightly—argued that there should be relief for those businesses. We seek to go forward with all three aims together. I do not disagree with that.
All I am saying on this particular point is that there is a massive opportunity for British businesses. I will come on to that in a minute. It is not just the Government that must address these issues; it is also cities, businesses and individuals. We have touched on all that. A massive part of the UK economy is already low carbon. If we translate that, say, to the opportunities for zero-carbon cars, again we are already the second-largest producer of those. This is another massive opportunity for the United Kingdom. Work is being done on this, but again it is not simple. It is a question of ensuring that we have battery storage and so on. This work is going on.
It is a challenge and there needs to be cross-departmental thinking, but I always feel that at the heart of this is the Treasury. A positive statement from the Chancellor on the kind of approach that the Treasury wants us to take—that is, least cost, focusing on those win-win situations where we can attract inward investment into the UK—would be enormously helpful to reassure people ahead of Paris that the whole Government share this agenda. Could the Minister commit to speaking to the Chancellor to get him to say something positive on this, please?
The noble Baroness is not wrong about the need for messaging. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has on many occasions spoken of the importance of addressing the two challenges of climate change and the economy at the same time, and noted that we can go forward on the two together. I will endeavour to get her copies of that. Of course the Treasury is central to this. It is central to it in any Government. That almost goes without saying.
I addressed the points from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I understand the points she made about the great advantage we have with the United Kingdom’s strong position on law and order, and the importance of the legal system, and so on. I absolutely agree with that.
To illustrate the fact that this is being taken forward internationally, and that not only the United Kingdom has moved on in climate change policy, since 1997 there have been globally 750 new policies enacted. Now, we all know the challenges in making sure that those translate into action, but at least there is a recognition internationally of the nature of this challenge. That is really one of the very heartening things about the position at the moment. Of course there are differences of opinion on the way forward in the sense that each country will want to puts its own particular case, quite naturally, but there is an international recognition of the nature of this challenge.
I certainly do not need convincing about the scientific case. I do not believe that the great bulk of the overwhelming scientific evidence is wrong; it is right. I do not believe that 155-plus countries are wrong; they are right. This is a massive challenge and one we need to address. Indeed, it is one we are addressing. I was talking with representatives from South America yesterday, and there is recognition across the board that this is a crucial issue that needs addressing quickly.
I shall pull my comments to an end because, although I have not got to the end of my 20 minutes, I think that the debate has run out of time. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, also raised the issue of economic growth and climate action going forward together, and I entirely agree with that.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has vast experience of overseas matters. He asked, perhaps slightly mischievously, if the Prime Minister will be going. He will know that the Prime Minister’s diary would not be public at this stage—but, suffice to say, the Prime Minister, DfID, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Foreign Office are all very closely involved with this, and all regard it as imperative. We have had a state visit by President Xi, when these were discussed. We are about to have a visit from Prime Minister Modi of India, when these things will be discussed. These are all crucial.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, asked some very interesting points, although I was slightly blindsided because I had not thought of this dimension. I shall get a detailed response to her on those points, but it is certainly true to say that she raises relevant issues on air and water pollution and the use of energy.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for endorsing the Pope’s encyclical in this regard; that is entirely right.
On domestic adaptation, we are doing many things domestically; it is partly about mitigation and change of policy and partly about adaptation. That means things like coastal protection on the east coast, in Clacton, and flood measures in Leeds, as well as the Boston barrier. We are looking at how effective the Thames barrier is. Thank goodness that we have it, but we need to look at it again in the light of changing circumstances.
I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in relation to the tax regime on community energy schemes, because I do not have the answer to hand. I have a feeling that it was recognised in the consultation as a special case. However, I may be wrong on that and I shall write to him in detail.
This has been an excellent, first-class debate. I shall make sure that a detailed response goes to noble Lords on points that have been discussed and that I have not covered, and that those points will go to all government departments. Once again, many thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
I thank the Minister and other noble Lords for their participation in this debate. We have had very interesting speeches—I am looking forward to hearing about whether the fashion dimension will also go to Paris and upstage the conference—and many other important aspects were introduced.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, no one can fail to be moved by the harrowing scenes that we have witnessed on the beaches of Greece and in the mud and rain of the Balkans. The Syrian refugee crisis is a humanitarian disaster of epic scale and biblical proportions. Europe has not seen such a forced movement of people since the end of the Second World War. The Syrian people are a proud people with an ancient civilisation. They are not leaving their country because they are economic migrants but because they have to. Four million people have left already, and more than 11 million, half the country’s pre-crisis population, have been forced to flee their homes. Overall, an estimated 12 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, half of them children. The figures are mind-boggling.
The Minister will no doubt tell your Lordships’ House how much Her Majesty’s Government are already doing to help. The UK has committed over £1 billion in aid to support the refugees, doing more than any other European country, and is the second largest bilateral donor. Britain has provided over 18 million food rations, given almost 2 million people access to clean water, and provided education to 250,000 children. The Government have provided sanctuary to 5,000 Syrians in the UK, and promised to take in another 20,000 by the end of this Parliament. All these efforts are highly commendable, yet they provide no solution to a refugee crisis that threatens to overwhelm Europe by its sheer scale. They partially address the symptoms while failing to offer a solution to the cause.
As the Prime Minister told the other place on 7 September last:
“This issue is clearly the biggest challenge facing countries across Europe today”.
He added that in helping the refugees, including those from beyond Syria,
“we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences. That means helping to stabilise the countries from which the refugees are coming, seeking a solution to the crisis in Syria”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/15; col. 23.]
The issue here is that the Government appear to have no strategy whatever to stabilise the situation in Syria. In effect, we have contracted out our foreign policy in Syria to others. Without bringing peace to Syria, Europe will never stem the flow of refugees who are understandably fleeing the civil war, and facing death from both the Assad regime and its opponents. If the war continues, millions more will leave and head to Europe. The UK’s offer to take in 20,000 people will be less than a drop in the ocean.
In August 2013, the Government’s policy was to join the United States in bombing the Assad regime. Over two years later, the policy is to bomb President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents, ISIL, ISIS or Daesh, if the other place allows it. Back in 2013, a historic opportunity was lost to work to achieve a diplomatic solution in Syria with the Russians, who managed at least to get the regime to give up most of its chemical weapons. Today, the West’s approach to the Middle East is in tatters. The policy of regime change in Iraq and Libya led not to democratisation but to chaos and a flood of refugees. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is resurgent, leading to yet more refugees heading towards the UK and Europe.
In supporting regime change in Syria and the removal of the indisputably brutal Assad regime, why does the West expect an outcome different from Libya or Iraq? In Syria, the West seems to have very quickly forgotten the lessons of history. In Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US and UK trained and armed the mujaheddin, including a certain Osama bin Laden. We are still suffering the effects more than 30 years on. The US has spent $500 million in a programme to aid Assad’s rebel enemies, with the result that just four or five US-trained individuals are still in country, and some of the weapons that the US paid for ended up in the arms of ISIL, which is particularly barbaric, executing hundreds of people and beheading hostages—but other jihadi groups, such as the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, which operates in north-west Syria, are hardly benign.
The Syrian civil war has become a proxy war between the Shia Alawite-dominated Assad regime, backed by Shia Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, against Sunni rebels backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United States. In the mix are the Kurds, detested by the Turks but one of the most effective fighting forces against the extremist Sunni ISIL. The allegiances are fluid, both between jihadi and rebel groups and their allies and opponents. To try to pick the “good guys” in such a struggle is not an easy task. Instead, the Government should make an effort to promote a political solution to the Syrian conflict. This may mean making a choice between the lesser of several evils.
US and Western policy to date to defeat or even contain ISIL has failed. We have all witnessed the tragic destruction of Palmyra’s irreplaceable antiquities and the growing threat that ISIL poses to our domestic security and well-being here at home. Some humanitarian groups have said there is no difference between Assad and ISIL. I would disagree; while both are barbaric, it is only the latter that poses an existential threat to our very society here at home. However bad Assad may be, he does not pose a terrorist threat on the streets of London.
There was an enlightening and erudite exchange on the Syrian crisis in your Lordships’ House last Thursday, when the noble Lord, Lord West, said:
“Unless we start to discuss and talk with Russia, Iran and—I am afraid—the butcher Assad, and all the coalition, we are not going to be able to put together a package that will enable us to destroy ISIL, which is the group that we have to destroy because it is the greatest threat”.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, talked then about shooting,
“the wolf nearest the sledge first”.—[Official Report, 22/10/15; cols. 783-85.]
He meant ISIL—and he quoted Winston Churchill saying that if Hitler invaded hell, he would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, broadly concurred.
There has been much discussion about Russia’s aims in Syria, a country where it has had an alliance and a strategic interest since the 1950s. It is perhaps worth quoting Churchill again:
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia: it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
What is often not quoted is the next line, which is,
“but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest”.
We do not have time today to discuss Russian foreign policy. I have been following Russia for almost 30 years, and my books on Russia will show that I am not an uncritical friend of the country. Almost 20 years ago, I wrote that those who felt that Russia would follow the path of western-style democracy and a market economy were deluding themselves. I see the world how it is, not how I would like it to be.
There is scope for a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Russia has no intention of turning it into another Vietnam or even Afghanistan. It seeks an exit strategy that maintains its bases and influence in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean and the wider Middle East. It has stepped into the vacuum created by the United States, and it has genuine concern that the 4,000 citizens from the former Soviet Union fighting in Syria do not return home to further stir up Islamist fundamentalism. President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, at both the recent talks in Vienna and the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, talked about having broad discussions with all opposition groups to secure a political settlement. They also asked for co-operation and co-ordination from the West in the fight against ISIL.
It makes no sense, as the Times reported recently, to freeze out the Russians in the fight against our common enemy ISIL by refusing to share intelligence or co-ordinate air strikes against it. The Government should join a broad coalition to eradicate ISIL once and for all, and that means working with Russia, Iran and the Kurds to do so. I welcome the fact that Russia and Iran will be represented at tomorrow’s Vienna summit on Syria. The Assad regime, whether we like it or not, as the only effective opposition to ISIL on the ground, along with the Kurds, has to be part of the diplomatic talks to seek a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
On Tuesday, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said:
“My noble friend is absolutely right about this. We are treating the symptoms, but we need to address the cause, which is the carnage that is happening in the wider Middle East and particularly in Syria. A political solution has to be brought about by the international community working together in harness”.—[Official Report, 27/10/15; cols. 1093-94.]
I would like Her Majesty’s Government to be a bit more proactive on that score. In any event, we should prioritise the destruction of ISIL and the diplomatic peace process. Only peace will stem the otherwise inevitable continuing flood of humanity from Syria and its neighbouring countries to our shores.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, so vividly reminded us, the horrors in Syria continue. I am grateful to him for affording us another opportunity to look at what we can do to help the people caught up in this prolonged and vicious sectarian war. I declare my interests as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan and the Palestinian territories and as president of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
In our previous debate on the Syrian refugee crisis, I spoke of the desperate plight of the Palestinians of Yarmouk camp caught between Daesh and Assad’s forces, their only choice to stay and face near starvation and typhoid in the camp, or to chance their fate with the people traffickers, although for many even that horrific choice is unavailable as they simply do not have the funds to pay those evil people. The Minister wrote following the debate, and I am most grateful to her for her thorough and thoughtful reply. I am enormously grateful for the work of UK aid in addressing the immediate need for food and blankets for those fleeing the camp, and for the millions of pounds the Government have allocated to UNRWA to help the Palestinian refugees affected by the violence in Syria. Despite all this, their situation remains precarious, and they really are some of the most vulnerable people in this whole sorry mess. I wonder whether it would be possible for my noble friend to arrange a meeting with her and the Minister for Refugees, Richard Harrington, to discuss the Palestinians in Syria.
I shall spend my last couple of minutes on the Syrian refugees in Jordan. The world owes Jordan and the other countries surrounding Syria a huge debt for having so selflessly opened their borders to those in need. This has placed an enormous strain on their services and economies and that all-too-precious balance between helping others and looking after their own. On the third of this month I visited Zaatari camp in Jordan, which is situated just 10 kilometres from the Syrian border. I was proud of the new wells that UK aid and UNICEF have provided and of our work in providing education. I was enormously impressed by our DfID team in Jordan led by Jeff Tudor and by the international aid workers I met at Zaatari, especially the wonderful Hovig Etyemezian, the camp leader, but however good our aid, and however talented our aid workers, the people of Zaatari need hope, and that is in very short supply.
Many of the refugees had hoped that Daraa would fall and that they could return home, but that did not happen, and now the Russian intervention has led to more uncertainty. The young with no access to higher education or training and no prospect of a job have a stark choice: do they stay in the camp, do they return home—as one refugee put it, to “live, or to die quickly”—or do they set sail for Europe? Many of the younger ones are choosing the third option and starting to sell their land in Syria to raise the money to get to Europe. The provision of jobs is essential to stabilise the refugee population and curb the mass exodus to Europe, as is access to higher education and training, but it has to be done without taking jobs away from local Jordanians. That is why the Prime Minister’s visit to the camps last month was so welcome and so timely and why I hope that the talent that resides within DfID will be addressing these problems.
It is always easy to say we should do more, but I have been privileged to see just a tiny fragment of what the British Government and the British people are doing to support the Syrian refugees, alongside all our other commitments. We combine compassion with ingenuity and good common sense, and we can hold our heads high and be proud of our contribution to this heart-breaking situation.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for obtaining this debate. Aleppo has tragically been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of this war, which has destroyed an historic city which bears the marks of so many of the great civilisations of the past. The most sustained urban fighting of the brutal Syrian civil war has divided the city between Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the central and western neighbourhoods and the Syrian rebels, including various Islamist factions, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, in the eastern parts. Despite the city’s strategic location only 50 kilometres from the Turkish border and its role as a commercial hub, it is particularly important to the conflict because the loss of the city would deal a substantial blow to the Assad regime. It would entrench the demarcation line that has already emerged between the interior areas and regime-controlled areas around Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, where the Alawite minority is concentrated.
Because of the city’s importance, Aleppo’s civilian population has been subjected to severe and sometimes indiscriminate violence from both sides of the conflict since mid-July 2012. This includes the regime’s infamous use of barrel bombs, which have claimed thousands of lives. As early as January 2014, the REACH Initiative, a UN-affiliated group focusing on humanitarian action, estimated that up to half a million people from the eastern side of the city were displaced due to the random bombardment of opposition-held areas by regime forces and the lack of basic services in the city. There are some estimates that, of the 1 million inhabitants of the eastern part of the city, only 40,000 remain. Given the severity of the bombing of civilian targets, will the Minister say what consideration the Government have given to referring those acts to the International Criminal Court?
The regime, Iran and Russia have largely focused their efforts over the past month on rebel groups in northern and central Syria, including those which have received weapons from the US. The assault they launched against rebels south of Aleppo earlier this month has allowed them to recapture some villages but has failed to substantively reopen the Aleppo-Damascus highway.
Tens of thousands of refugees have left Aleppo alone. On a recent visit to Lebanon I was able to see at first hand what that small country has done in taking in over 1 million refugees, 42% of them children. In Lebanese schools they now teach Lebanese children in the morning and Syrian children in the afternoon, a level of generosity humbling compared to the position of most European countries. I hesitate to make the comparison with what Europe has done or the UK, but could the Minister at least assure us that we will continue to support Lebanon generously and consider intensifying our support for children and education there?
This war has raged now for more than four years. Only with a political settlement can the refugee question be finally addressed as it was in other post-conflict situations where I served in the 1990s, such as Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia. In this context I warmly welcome the talks beginning tomorrow in Vienna between the United States and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The involvement of Iran and Saudi Arabia is absolutely critical to advancing the cause of peace. Coming soon after the nuclear agreement with Iran, it is encouraging that the Government in Tehran are coming to the negotiating table. Equally, Saudi Arabia is to be commended for its willingness to sit with the Iranians, with whom it has been at odds for so many years. We must push for a negotiated settlement. I am pleased that the UK, together with Turkey, Germany, France and the Gulf states, is now attending. In this regard can the Minister say whether the Government are reviewing the level of representation that we have in Tehran with a view to announcing a new ambassador soon? This would send an important signal and would further advance the possibilities of peace.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, and his very wise words.
The great city of Aleppo was of course the beginning of the Silk Road but is now the beginning of a very different road for a large number of people who are now—quite rightly, from their point of view—trying to get out and are moving to other countries, particularly Turkey, and on to Greece and perhaps Bulgaria. There has been a lot of publicity recently about the position in Lesbos. That is not surprising, because of the Greek islands just off the Turkish coast, Lesbos has taken the most refugees. I have figures which suggest that it has taken 273,000 refugees this year—it is probably higher than that now, two weeks later. However, there are other islands in that area: Chios, Samos and Kos, which have taken 45,000, 63,000 and 69,000 refugees according to these figures. The figures suggest that Leros has taken 26,500, and only three days ago it took 730 in one day. People are being held up there by the bureaucratic necessity that is being put on them to register, and the situation in those islands is desperate.
From Greece, the refugees move on to Macedonia, Croatia and now to Slovenia. These countries are doing their very best to cope with the crisis within their borders; the crisis is nothing to do with them, it is not their fault, yet they are having to cope. Hungary has put up borders and is behaving in a way which is quite disgraceful for a member of the European Union. Croatia is trying to cope—they are building a new winter transit centre in Slavonski Brod as the desperately cold Balkan winters approach, but that will take only 5,000 people. How many people are trying to cross Europe now? Nobody knows, but we know that some half a million people have sought asylum in European countries this year already—I do not know how many of those are Syrians, but very many of them are—including all those who are setting off from their camps in Turkey and trying to cross the Aegean. Those who get across successfully are crossing Greece, the Balkan countries and Austria, which is now talking of putting up fences.
When my wife was looking at the internet to discover for me what the situation is for people crossing Europe she came across an astonishing Facebook site, which I will put on the record for anybody who wants to look at it. It is called People to People Solidarity: Southern/South-East Europe. It is full of stories of people—not necessarily the refugees but people across Europe who are helping the refugees trying to cross Europe. People in this country are collecting, making and buying stuff to send over there, which was the original purpose of the site. Some are organising transport in vans, not to Calais any longer but to Croatia, Slovenia and to wherever they think it is necessary; other people are flying to Greece and going to Lesbos. Some are volunteer drivers, others are going to provide help and support for people, and others are medical people who are going to give medical advice. There is a huge, spontaneous movement in this country of people who are trying to help.
However, one theme that comes across by reading the huge amount of experiences, questions and discussion on this Facebook site is that there is a lack of co-ordination, support and help for people trying to do their best. This at least is perhaps something the Government might look at doing rather better than they are doing at the moment. At present these people are on their own, doing their best, working together and with some NGOs, and they appear to me to be getting no support and help from the Government.
My Lords, I have the honour to be a patron of the charity Embrace the Middle East and visited Syria in May of last year for the enthronement of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, His Holiness Aphrem II, at Maarat Saidnaya, just outside Damascus.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for giving your Lordships the opportunity to discuss this pressing matter. With over half its population displaced, Syria is now a land of the dispossessed, and we are looking at a topography of dust, rubble and dried blood. This is the land where we read in Acts that the designation Christian was first used but where all minorities are now especially vulnerable in the particular context of the destabilisation of the state. We are witnessing a humanitarian disaster in slow motion, with repercussions which are impacting on many nations including our own.
Some in your Lordships’ House can speak with more expertise than me on diplomatic process, military options and geopolitics. Noble Lords will know of the Bishops’ letter to the Prime Minister, which called for a more generous response on the number of refugees from the Syrian conflict who will come to this country during the life of this Parliament. Today, however, I will concentrate on two areas only. One is the condition of the refugee camps in the countries bordering Syria and the second is the role that development agencies and churches are playing in the region and within Syria itself.
I pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government for their financial commitment, which in bilateral terms is second only to that of the United States, which is a far larger economy. Indeed, UK government aid to Syria is significantly ahead of our European partners, although of course the refusal to work with other European Governments with regard to the migrants now in Europe significantly reduces their authority in encouraging others to help with aid in the region. I do not say that Her Majesty’s Government cannot do more, but it has done a great deal through DfID to help to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable people in Syria and of refugees in the region, although it needs to be noted that the UK’s investment overseas in aid will decrease given the Government’s decision to use the aid budget to meet the costs of the 20,000 Syrian refugees to be brought to this country. Nevertheless, there is a pressing diplomatic need for the Government to pursue: it is for our European and international partners to invest more heavily in aid to the region in a way they have not done before. Why? The answer is simply that life in the refugee camps is not sustainable on the current levels of funding. No amount of resettlement will mitigate the continued failure of the international community to address the refugee crisis at source. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has calculated that for what was needed in the way of humanitarian aid, in three successive years the amount raised fell—from 71% in 2013 to 57% in 2014 and to a mere 37% by October this year.
What will Syria’s youth, when they are old, tell their children about this conflict? They will talk of cowering in flimsy houses while watching the regime’s barrel bombs fall, of watching beheadings and crucifixions of family members at the hands of ISIS, of payment of the extortionate jizya tax as humiliated minorities, of the deadening existence in refugee camps and of hazardous journeys to foreign lands. All will have stories that reflect the trauma of this avoidable tragedy. A recent study by the University of Saint Joseph shows that in Lebanon 24% of Syrian refugees are getting married before they are 18 and are becoming more vulnerable as a result.
Secondly, parishes and churches in this country are continuing to support a range of charities and mission agencies at work in the region, including Christian Aid’s Syria emergency appeal. The Jesuit Refugee Service may well be the largest Christian organisation working in and around Syria, serving, by its own estimates, nearly half a million people in the region. Our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, is also active in Jordan and Lebanon, supported by the British charity Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association.
I recognise that mass resettlement is neither possible nor desirable. The English bishops share the concern of the Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo but also distinguish themselves from him on a number of points.
In conclusion, I have a few questions for the Minister. First, I note that the Home Secretary, speaking at the Conservative Party conference, made a commitment to community sponsorship schemes to bring refugees to the UK. It would be good to know from the noble Baroness in what way this is being taken forward. I trust that Her Majesty’s Government will persist in their generosity in this crisis. The United Nations’ humanitarian summit in 2016 may prove such an opportunity, not least in seeking to restore some sense of international order in dealings with refugees. I would therefore also be glad to know from the Minister what steps are being taken to use that summit early next year to regalvanise the international community’s commitment to refugee protection and support. Lastly, what steps are being taken to reverse the declining mobilisation of funding for the UN humanitarian effort?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for giving us the opportunity to speak in this highly important debate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for the extraordinary work that her department has been undertaking. In my remarks I will focus not on aid but on some of the other broader issues, so perhaps if the Minister cannot answer me without a departmental input immediately, she can ensure that written answers are provided to me.
My first question is a very simple one. What are Her Majesty’s Government’s plans for the aftermath of the current violence in Syria? We are faced with a society that, for whatever reason, has disintegrated. The international record of rebuilding societies in the Middle East and north Africa is not a good one. I would single out the United Nations, which, despite its immense attitude of well-meaning for the public good, is essentially powerless—people can just choose not to obey it. Sometimes the United Nations’ concepts in the region seem to be almost wholly unrealistic. I recall with pain and grief the first election in Afghanistan. The enormous complexity of the electoral system that the UN itself put forward was such that, when I invited the UN to comment on it privately—I was monitoring the election—I was told that it was a system that had never been tested anywhere in any democracy in the globe, yet it had been put in a country that had never had democracy in its entire history. So the record of the United Nations in rebuilding disintegrated societies in this region is not a desperately good one.
That leaves us with the coalition. I do not think that the different coalitions have proved adequate for this particularly complex and difficult task. You have only to look at Yemen collapsing, as it is, or at Libya. Indeed, there are other nations in the region and elsewhere where coalitions which come together to try to create peace are not equipped to rebuild a society. A good example of how that can be done is the European Union enlargement process. It is highly detailed and long-running, and is very descriptive of what should happen. I ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans we have for rebuilding Syria when the aftermath of violence has calmed. We must remember that the military make the space, but the question is: who will fill that space? Whom are we planning to put into that space? I suggest that the only people who could really rebuild the society are the people themselves.
I come to my second question. I had the opportunity recently to bring over to the United Kingdom three Yazidi victims. Mercifully, thanks to the good efforts of Germany, they are now in Germany or on their way there. Why are Her Majesty’s Government looking solely at Syrians? As I said a year and a half ago in a speech to your Lordships’ House, it would appear that genocide is being carried out against the Yazidis. Last night I was at the service in Westminster Abbey for the Armenian martyrs. We have a huge track record in Britain of picking up those who suffer from genocide. I ask Her Majesty’s Government very seriously: why not the Yazidis? It will be very difficult for them to return to any former home once the calming has taken place, as we anticipate it will.
My final question is a very simple one. In Germany there is a huge programme for the integration of refugees as they arrive. The Yazidi victims—the young ladies whom I hosted here—were in German language classes within a week of arriving there. They have futures: they may well go to university, and they are being offered training, jobs and skills development. I saw a similar excellent programme recently in Utah, America, called Pathway. It is run by LDS Charities, headed up by Sharon Eubank. It is a non-governmental programme and does not take any national or local government funding. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have for the real integration of the refugees whom we take here? I believe that the plans should be transparent and open, and I firmly believe that the plans for reintegrating institutions, civil society and a community in Syria should be just as open and transparent. May we have sight of those plans now? I urge the Minister to speak.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and her very wise words. I agree with a lot that she has said. Above all, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for taking the initiative in launching this debate. It is extremely timely, with the tragedy that has been laid out so clearly in the speeches that we have already heard. I agreed with most of them wholeheartedly, particularly those that set out the tragic statistics of this later stage—the refugees, the deaths and so on—and the great tragedy of the disintegration of Syria, which has always been a very great country. Therefore, it behoves us all to think very seriously about how we resolve these matters.
I am also saddened by looking back at the examples of how the West has miscalculated so much on these foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East and elsewhere, but mainly, and tragically, in the Middle East itself. I am going back a long way now and thinking about the 1 million, or maybe even 1.5 million, people marching down Piccadilly to object to the Iraq war. I was one of them. There is a notion that there was another motive behind the war and not just the ones that were stated at the time. Regime change was hinted at last week by a very prominent international figure who used to be the Prime Minister of this country. That, as we know, is illegal under international law unless it is certificated in advance by the United Nations through the appropriate machinery and resolutions. That did not happen in that case. Saddam Hussein before then had invaded Kuwait and quite rightly was expelled by the international community, with the United Nations leading the way, a year later. I am a life-long admirer of the state of Israel, but I find it rather peculiar, in contrast, that Israel is still in Palestine, 50 years after the 1967 war, because of the way in which the United States has allowed that to happen and international law to be violated in that way by the key democracy in the Middle East, which is Israel.
None the less, we look now at the results of the West’s mistakes in Iraq and what happened there. Whether the eventual judicial murder of Saddam Hussein was right or wrong is a very interesting question and a difficult one to answer properly. The situation in Syria is that Assad is still in power. Even if one finds a regime obnoxious and the leader of that regime even more obnoxious—people have different views on that—it is not for the West to determine who is in charge of running a country or how a country is run; that is for the United Nations to determine. Look at the situation in Libya. Again, having had a friendship agreement with Gaddafi, he was then killed by his opponents in Libya, which was regarded by many as a good thing. But is it a good thing when those countries are now broken countries? They are not operating properly at all, and that is partly the responsibility of the West, led by the United States, which has made many mistakes in the Middle East. Thank goodness that now, at long last, the United States has agreed to let Iran attend the conference. It took a long time to be persuaded, but now Iran and other parties essential to this will be there to try to resolve the problem.
I believe that the problem can be resolved, but only with a different approach. Church leaders, and Christian Aid’s excellent memorandum on the subject, called this approach an “inclusive peace gathering” to achieve peace in Syria. It cannot be selective, with some people excluded and others included. That is a great mistake in the West, and the more we do it, the more mistakes we make. It must be put to an end now.
I make my final request to the Government, echoing what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said: we must be more generous in taking more Syrian refugees than the figures that were enunciated for the five-year period to 2020. In comparison with other European countries, this is a very niggardly number. Once again, church leaders are quite right in saying that the number should be at least doubled, and perhaps more than that. There is a lot that we can do to resolve the situation with humanity and common sense.
My Lords, I was a little puzzled by the introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, to a debate on the strategy for tackling the refugee crisis, in the light of the current violence in Aleppo. It seemed to me that he focused on the Russian narrative of how the conflict began and how we had to accept the Russian terms for resolving the conflict.
We will leave that to one side. I simply say that I do not accept his interpretation of the origins of the conflict.
On the immediate crisis, we see that Aleppo, the largest city, is now being substantially destroyed by barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian Government in Russian-made helicopters and by Russian planes that are bombing rebel forces in Aleppo and not ISIL. We know that that is going to lead to a further surge of refugees leaving the country. The weather is now turning worse—I am told that the temperature in Damascus and Aleppo goes down to minus 10 degrees or lower in winter—and there is no heating. They will try to get to Europe, and many more will die on the way because it will be cold, and next summer, we will face a very large surge. That is the immediate issue and concern for us. As some of us were saying to the Russian ambassador last week, “We have interests in what you do in this conflict, because the refugees will not try to get to the Crimea; they will try to get to Europe”.
That is where our immediate concerns have to be and we have to deal multilaterally with all the other actors in the conflict: supporting the Lebanese and the Jordanians; encouraging the Turks—whatever is happening in Turkish politics—to maintain their assistance; and saying to the Saudis and the Gulf states that they also have to accept their share of the responsibility and their contribution to a multilateral solution.
The violence that the Syrian state has conducted against its citizens is horrifying. When I saw pictures of Yarmouk, a part of Damascus that I visited seven years ago, and how appallingly it now has been almost completely destroyed, I was horrified that a state could do that to its own citizens.
The question is: how do we begin to work towards a situation in which we resolve this conflict, before Syria becomes a country in which only a very small minority of its 22 million people feel it is safe to live? It of course has to be by a multilateral approach, and certainly we need to include the Iranians, the Saudis, the other Gulf states and the Russians. As a country, we need to approach it in the way that we approached our negotiations with Iran—as the E3. That was very effective, with William Hague, his French and German counterparts, and the European Union special representative working multilaterally.
This morning, I heard Kate Hoey on the “Today” programme say that the one thing in which we do not want anything to do with our western European partners is foreign policy co-operation. Frankly, without foreign policy co-operation, we will not get anywhere. In the Middle East we have to work with our neighbours and our partners and say to them that they should be contributing more financially to the immediate effort for the refugees, but we have to work with them also in trying to build a multinational coalition.
An immediate concern has to be the refugees. We have to anticipate that it will get worse next spring and summer. We have to attempt to persuade the Russians that what they are doing—assisting the Syrian state to destroy those parts of Syria that have not yet been destroyed—is absolutely wrong-headed. Let us remember that ISIL now controls the most thinly inhabited parts of Syria. The areas that are being fought over by the other non-ISIL rebels and the state are the heavily inhabited parts. Beyond that, we have to attempt to negotiate with the major Middle East states, as well as with the Turks, the Russians and the others, to find a solution that will not be easy to reach.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for initiating this timely debate, especially with international talks resuming in Vienna today and with Iran joining them tomorrow.
The Syria war has killed a quarter of a million people, contributed to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and become a breeding ground for Islamic State and other extremist groups that threaten not only Syria but its neighbours and all the powers supporting one side or the other. Desperate conditions in the refugee camps are driving more and more to risk their own lives and that of their families to reach Europe.
But, as we have heard others ask, what of the strategy? A June summit resulted in a voluntary agreement to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from front-line states. August saw the western Balkans emerge as the route from southern to northern Europe. The Vienna summit of regional leaders did little to prevent Hungary and Macedonia unilaterally stopping migrants from crossing their borders. In September, there were two more summits, at which a majority vote finally pushed through the use of mandatory quotas to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other member states over two years. There were also pledges of more aid for regional responses to the Syrian crisis, particularly in Turkey—the main launch point, as we have heard, for Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe. This month, October, EU leaders backed an action plan to offer Turkey various incentives in return for its co-operation in stemming the numbers of migrants and refugees boarding boats for Europe from its coast. Next month will see the major summit in Valletta, in Malta, which will focus on gaining more co-operation from key origin and transit countries, particularly in Africa. What sort of agreement with the African countries does the Minister hope will come out of Valletta? What incentives and support will be given in return if one is achieved?
I, too, pay tribute to the support provided to the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but clearly we need to apply pressure on other European countries to increase spending so that the current cuts to the World Food Programme budget are halted. Britain is the biggest donor, but this effort needs to be matched by other EU countries in order to provide adequate financial assistance. Perhaps the Minister can outline what the Government are doing to encourage other donor countries to give their fair share in addressing the refugee crisis.
Finally, as we have heard in the debate, the Prime Minister told the other place in September that the UK will now accept 20,000 Syrian refugees, but over the course of this Parliament. The crisis is getting deeper and deeper. In light of the deteriorating weather conditions in Lebanon, how many refugees do the Government plan to take from the camps before Christmas?
I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for securing this debate and all noble Lords for their contributions. It is a short debate, but it has been a very well-informed one. We could have spent much longer discussing the issues that we all feel so passionately about. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, has pointed out a number of things that DfID and the UK Government are doing but, as with all these things, it is good and right that we remind ourselves that as a country we have taken the lead in many areas in ensuring that we persuade others to make their mark to try to help those who live in such terrible conditions, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said.
In Syria and the region, the Syrian conflict has taken a terrible toll. The humanitarian crisis has reached catastrophic proportions. The UN estimates that 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and almost 4.2 million refugees are in neighbouring countries. The UK has a proud record of leadership on the response to the Syrian crisis. As has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords, we have pledged more than £1.1 billion to date. That is our largest response to a single humanitarian crisis. Again, as was rightly pointed out, we are the second-largest bilateral donor after the US. By the end of June 2015, our support in Syria and the region has delivered almost 20 million food rations. Each ration feeds one person for up to a month. We have provided more than 2.5 million medical consultations and access to clean water for 1.6 million people in Syria.
We have been at the forefront of efforts to push the United Nations and other agencies to co-ordinate better and deliver more effectively. There have been substantial improvements in co-ordination which have saved lives over the past year. We have also co-sponsored and lobbied hard for UN Security Council Resolutions 2165 and 2191, which have enabled the UN to deliver aid across borders without the consent of the regime. By 30 September this year, the UN and its partners had delivered 189 convoys of aid across the border since the adoption of Resolution 2165 in July 2014. These convoys of aid have helped to provide food, blankets, water kits and vital medical supplies to thousands of people in Syria.
Furthermore, the UK continues to play a leading role in encouraging the international community to make generous pledges in response to the humanitarian crisis. We have lobbied hard and mobilised funding from other donors ahead of the third Kuwait pledging conference in March, which raised $3.6 billion. Now we are exploring with the UN and other major donors how best to ensure that the momentum on fundraising is maintained over a longer period, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about.
Longer term, Syria needs hope and opportunities. To increase Syrians’ prospects of being able to stay in the region close to home, specifically we need to give Syrian children education and the adults the chance to earn a living. That is why the UK helped to launch and continues to support UNICEF’s No Lost Generation initiative to provide education protection and psychosocial support for children affected by the crisis.
We are also scaling up our support for longer-term stability and resilience-building work inside Syria and neighbouring countries, which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, asked about. It is not just about the now, but about the rebuilding once this crisis is resolved—sooner rather than later, we hope. We want to make sure that we help to expand job and education opportunities for refugees and assist with the impact on local services. All that requires a long-term sustained and scaled-up commitment from donors.
The conflict in Syria has intensified in recent weeks with major regime offensives on several fronts, with Russian air support. One such front is Aleppo, as the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, identified. Hundreds of thousands of people living in areas under the control of armed opposition groups are at risk of displacement. The United Nations and NGO partners are reviewing and revising the Aleppo contingency plan. A negotiated political settlement in Syria has never been more pressing. The worsening conflict has already led to hundreds of thousands of people being killed, and left millions in need and displaced from their homes. It has created space for extremism to spread through the region and beyond. Political transition by mutual agreement of the Syrian parties, supported by the international community, remains the only way to bring about sustainable peace in Syria.
The UK’s vision for Syria is for an open democratic society with greater social, economic and political participation, where violent extremism does not have a place and where refugees will feel safe to return. To that end, the UK has committed more than £84.5 million to support governance, security and livelihoods in Syria and the region. In particular, we have trained and equipped civil defence teams to carry out search and rescue operations, trained Syrian journalists and activists to help develop an independent Syrian media, and funded local-level peacebuilding projects within Syria and between communities in neighbouring countries where refugees are based. We are also supporting the Free Syrian Police, which is responsible for providing basic civilian policing in large areas of opposition-controlled territory.
A great range of questions has been asked today. I will endeavour in the remaining five minutes or so to answer as many as I can. However, in the event that I do not, I undertake to write to all noble Lords and place copies of those letters in the Library.
The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, said that the emphasis should be on a political solution. I could not agree more. A negotiated transition in the Syria area is the only way to end the conflict and alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Political dialogue remains active between the UN and the international community, but we have to make sure that those who are in this conflict do not add to the complexity. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, it is really important that debates and discussions are held collectively with a common goal of peace for the people in that region. Ending the conflict in Syria and addressing the national security threats posed to us from there will of course take time, resolve and determination. Defending our national security means that in Syria we must support moderate groups and tackle extremists and the drivers of extremism. That does mean tackling ISIL directly, as we and our allies are doing, and there is a case, of course, for doing more. In parallel with that, we must put pressure on Assad. We need to build the conditions for political settlement and a Government who can represent all Syrians. The only way that will happen is if we work together to undermine the extremists and defeat ISIL in the long run.
I know that my noble friend Lady Morris is incredibly passionate about her work. She asked a number of questions about what she has seen being done with Palestinians in Syria. As my noble friend is aware, we have been supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other UN partners for Palestinian refugees in the Near East to ensure that the needs of highly vulnerable Palestinians are addressed both within Syria and in neighbouring countries. To date, the UK has allocated approximately £59 million to UNRWA to provide food parcels, relief items, hygiene packs, education and cash assistance for Palestinian refugees affected by the violence. She asked if I would agree to a meeting with herself, a group from the Refugee Council and Richard Harrington MP. I am happy to do so and I will ask my office to contact her directly to put the meeting in place.
As is the way with these things, I am running out of time so I need to gallop on a little to address a few more questions. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about our support for Turkey. We have allocated £34 million for programmes supporting Syrian refugees, including the provision of food, shelter and primary healthcare, and we are working in partnership with multiple Turkish institutions on targeted projects in order to build capacity to target irregular migration. He also asked about the cuts made to the UN World Food Programme. As I stated earlier, we are the second-largest donor to this programme. Since the start of the crisis, we have committed £227 million to provide food support in Syria and the region, but we acknowledge that the needs continue to grow and that the UN World Food Programme is underfunded. We will be working to secure more funding with our partners, but we know that we need to direct what we are delivering into the areas where it is most needed and encourage others to do the same. The noble Lord also asked me how many people we will have taken in by Christmas. I think that the number in my brief is 1,000, but I will correct it if it is not.
I have run out of time and I still have a huge bundle of questions to go through. I apologise that I have not been able to answer them all, but I think that we all realise that a transition away from Assad to a more inclusive Government who can represent everyone is what we envisage the Geneva process delivering. We will continue to work with our international partners and, as I said earlier, I undertake to write to all noble Lords.
Prisons: Young People
Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of the case for taking action to address the problems of young people before they enter the criminal justice system in order to reduce the prison population, improve conditions within prison, and focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners, as set out in The Harris Review: Changing Prisons, Saving Lives.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate. I should make it clear that this is not out of any sense of self-promotion, but because I believe that the issues raised by the independent review that I led are so important. Indeed, I believe that they are important for the Government, because as they wrestle with the comprehensive spending review, they need to recognise that prison is a hugely expensive intervention and yet the benefits of this spend are questionable. It has a relatively low impact on crime, and indeed rates of reoffending are high, particularly among young adults.
Last year, I and my team were commissioned by the then Minister for Prisons to review the 83 self-inflicted deaths of young people in prison from April 2007 to the end of 2013. We also looked at the deaths of the four under-18s who died in the same period. Uppermost in our minds throughout the exercise was that every single one of the young people who died and whose cases we examined was someone’s son or daughter, sister or brother, partner or even parent. Each of the deaths represents a failure by the state to protect the young people concerned, which is a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a failure by the state which is all the greater because the same criticisms occur time and time again. Lessons have not been learned and not enough has been done over the years to bring about substantive change.
We considered an enormous volume of evidence that included submissions from 54 organisations and individuals. We conducted 26 hearings and consulted senior experts through a series of meetings and seminars. We visited prisons and young offender institutions, spending time at each one listening to the views of young prisoners themselves. The excellent charity INQUEST, which does so much valuable work supporting people who have had a loved one die in the custody of the state, helpfully organised for us two listening days with the families of those who had died. We surveyed young adults in institutions and received 50 audio submissions from prisoners following broadcasts that I made on National Prison Radio. Then there was the detailed examination of the 87 cases themselves.
Our conclusion was that all young adults in custody are vulnerable. Some had led chaotic lives and had complex histories, while others had been subjected to child abuse, or had been exposed to violence or repeated bereavement. Many had been in foster or residential care, and often their problems had been further compounded by mental health issues. In the 87 cases we examined, many of the young people’s problems and vulnerabilities, including their mental health issues, had been evident from an early age. Why did so many of them end up in custody?
Billy Spiller was 21 when he died in prison in November 2011. His mother said:
“Throughout Billy’s life I tried to get proper care and support for him but all the doors were shut in my face. From the moment he was sentenced to imprisonment, I knew that they wouldn’t be able to look after him. They should have diverted him from the courts or made sure that everybody in the prison had training to deal with him”.
The same mistakes have been repeated time and time again. Nicholas Saunders was 18 when he died in April 2011. The pre-sentence review had recommended a community disposal but the judge decided that prison was the best option for him. The documents describing his vulnerability and a previous suicide attempt were not transferred with him when he was moved from HMP Woodhill to HMYOI Stoke Heath, where six weeks after the transfer he was found hanging in his cell from a ligature attached to a light fitting—despite a similar suicide, also from a light fitting, at the same establishment just a few years earlier.
In an earlier case, Joseph Scholes was 16 when he died in 2002. He had a long history of vulnerability, repeatedly told staff he would kill himself, and was never seen by a psychiatrist. When he did make a noose from a bed-sheet and hang himself from the bars of his cell, he left a message for his mother and father telling them he could not cope and that:
“I tried telling them and they just don’t fucking listen”.
We have heard the same stories time and time again over the past 13 years, and the cases do not stop coming. There were 69 self-inflicted deaths in the first nine months of this year alone, and 12 of those were of young people under the age of 24.
There are no simple and easy solutions to such deaths, but the weight of evidence shows the need to look broadly at the reasons for the deaths and how they might have been prevented by much earlier intervention. Our conclusion was that there must be a commitment to support vulnerable young people before and after their contact with the criminal justice system, and the objective of policy must be to assist them to become productive citizens.
I am pleased, therefore, at the hints that have been dropped by the Secretary of State for Justice that this is the direction of travel that he wants to follow, but on Monday our review will have been with the Ministry of Justice for seven months, and even now there is still no sign of the Government’s response. Last week, the grandly titled Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody met, but apparently it did not have the time to discuss the review at that meeting. Indeed, the review has yet to be presented to it, let alone considered. I know that the review raises some difficult issues and I know that the National Offender Management Service is extremely defensive about some of its findings, but if the Government do not act decisively, the distressing cases we considered will be repeated and more young lives will be wasted.
Indeed, there is already evidence of backwards movement. NOMS has been reviewing the ACCT process—the existing arrangements for addressing the needs of those considered to be at risk of self-inflicted death. The NOMS conclusion, I am told, is that these arrangements are overused and that it should be easier to take a prisoner off the process. Presumably this is intended to save money, but it runs directly against the research that was done for us on the clinical reviews of those who had died, which found that in many cases the young people had been taken off the ACCT process prematurely or inappropriately.
Let us be clear: prisons and young offender institutions are grim environments, bleak and demoralising to the spirit. The experience of living in a prison or a young offender institution is not conducive to rehabilitation. What is more, when this is coupled with the current impoverished regimes caused by staff shortages—a situation that can only get worse with the likely budget cuts that the Chancellor will impose in a month’s time—it makes the experience particularly damaging to developing young adults who are in those institutions.
It was clear to us also that young adults in prison are not sufficiently engaged in purposeful activity and that their time is not spent in a constructive and valuable way. Indeed, the current restricted regimes that we observed—again because of staff shortages—do not even allow for the delivery of planned core day activities that might help rehabilitation. We came across repeated examples of medical and mental health appointments being missed because there were insufficient staff to escort the patient—the prisoner—from their cell to the medical practitioner.
There needs to be a fundamental shift in the philosophy of prison. We recommended a new statement on the purpose of prison: its primary purpose should be rehabilitation, along with keeping prisoners and the public safe and secure. This will require leadership and that must start with Ministers.
Leadership in individual establishments is also critical. In some prisons, the governors have a positive vision of what they are trying to do, and that feeds through the culture of the entire prison. In others, the governors say all the right things, but they are not borne out by what you see as you go round the prison. As young prisoners said to us on at least one occasion, “It’s all different when the governor is on the wing”. And there are some prisons where the governors are completely overwhelmed by the administrative and managerial challenges that they face, so that concern for the welfare of individual prisoners seems to have been crowded out.
There is a disconnect between what those in charge think should be happening and what actually goes on in individual prisons. NOMS Prison Service instructions are by and large sound and, if implemented, would deliver good practice, but there is a yawning chasm between what they contain and what happens in practice. There are also some ominous gaps. In many of the 87 cases examined, the vulnerable young adults were going through a period of particular distress that might have passed if they had not been spending so much time locked inside their cells with nothing to do other than stare at potential ligature attachment points. But NOMS centrally does not know how many functional safer cells—those where ligature attachment points have been by and large removed—exist in individual establishments because it does not collect the data. Nor does NOMS know—again, because it does not collect the data—how many hours prisoners spend out of their cells on purposeful activity. There are other omissions. Frankly, we found it surprising that NOMS does not have a discrete policy on bullying or on the management of gangs.
So there are issues of leadership and issues of policy, but then there is the question of who takes responsibility for the individual prisoner and her or his journey through the prison. A central recommendation of our review was that the prison workforce needs to be trained and developed to a higher professional standard. There should be a new role: we called it the custody and rehabilitation officer, who would take personal responsibility for the health, education, social care, safety and rehabilitation needs of each individual prisoner. These officers would be suitably trained professionals with a small enough caseload—we were thinking 15 to 20—that they would know the individual prisoners well, would deliver the right package of services to assess their needs and deliver their support and rehabilitation.
Our central message was that much more needs to be done to support young adults not only after they come into contact with the criminal justice system but before they ever get into trouble. I repeat: these are young people whose problems have been evident from an early age, so why was nothing done long before they ended up in custody?
We looked at the work of the Government’s troubled families programme, which concentrates the efforts of all public agencies to resolve the problems of families whose problems, if left unresolved, are a drain on the state’s resources. Why is it not possible to adopt a similar approach to the needs of troubled adolescents? Reinvestment and redirection of resources to the health and welfare system to resolve the issues creating problems for the troubled child or adolescent before they ever enter the criminal justice system, or investment in effective alternatives to custody if they do get into trouble, will be money well spent and will reduce the numbers in prison so as to enable better support and rehabilitative efforts for those who do become prisoners.
Delaying action until the resource position is easier is not an option. It would mean young people continuing to die unnecessarily in our prisons and we will continue to waste countless millions of pounds on failing to rehabilitate those who could be rehabilitated, locking up those for whom a non-prison option would be more appropriate, and failing to intervene early enough to prevent people entering the criminal justice system in the first place. Our proposals were rooted in the impressive body of evidence we received and considered.
We recognise that they involve substantial changes and a significant shift in approach, but they are changes that are urgently needed if the waste of resource that is our present penal policy is to be stemmed and if—even more importantly—the tragic preventable loss of young lives is to be halted. Those who ignore the lessons of past failure are condemned to repeat them. That will be the fate of policymakers who fail to act on these recommendations. The 87 tragic cases considered by our review deserve as their memorial that this time it must be different. We owe them no less. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate and to lend my support to the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and his team.
This is an outstanding report dealing with self-inflicted deaths of young people in custody. Like many serious and persistent young offenders, the young people concerned—as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, identified—often had a combination of problems and experiences such as physical or sexual abuse, family conflict, parental neglect, traumatic loss, exclusion from schools, drugs or alcohol misuse or mental health problems. I have highlighted these factors in previous debates; almost all the research that I have studied points to these factors, so I am saying nothing new. However, how we deal with such issues has a direct impact on the criminal justice system.
I declare an interest. I am president of Nacro, formerly the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. Its mission is to positively change lives, strengthen communities, enhance social inclusion, reduce crime and prevent new offending behaviour. All available evidence points to the fact that young adults require a distinct approach that takes into account their unique needs and vulnerabilities. The current strategy is grossly inadequate; for example, there is no specific system-wide provision for young adults, and the lack of provision for young women and minority-ethnic young adults is even more evident.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, rightly argued that tackling this problem requires a wide-ranging strategy, an approach I fully endorse. We need to ensure that vulnerable young people are diverted from the criminal justice system wherever possible, that custody is used for young offenders only when absolutely essential, and that custodial regimes can provide young people with care, support and rehabilitation that takes the particular needs of this age group into account.
The Government should adopt the same approach for young adult offenders aged 18 to 24 as that for under-18s, which has produced a significant fall in the number of juvenile offenders in custody in recent years. This is not science; it is common sense. For example, the Sentencing Council could be asked to produce a set of overarching principles for sentencing young adults, similar to the old Sentencing Guidelines Council’s principles for sentencing juveniles, which helped to create a climate in which significantly fewer juveniles were sentenced to custody. Measures such as the restorative caution and the referral order, which have worked well for juvenile offenders, could be extended to young adults. The Government could set targets for reducing first-time entrants to the young adult criminal justice system, similar to those which helped to increase the diversion of juveniles from the youth justice process. They could also set targets to reduce the number of young adults entering custody, as the Youth Justice Board did for juveniles. The intensive alternative to custody sentence for young adults, which was successfully piloted a few years ago in Manchester, could be introduced nationwide.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, should take credit. The Youth Justice Board is one of the few success stories in the criminal justice field. He will not thank me, but let us work to increase his workload by ensuring that these nationwide objectives are also implemented for young adults. Unless we take measures of this kind, it will be very difficult for overstretched prisons to provide the regimes that vulnerable young adults need.
In almost all previous debates on this matter, I have argued that far too many young adults are still being put into custody for short sentences that serve little purpose. They are too short for sustained rehabilitation programmes, but they are long enough for young people to lose jobs and accommodation and to weaken their family ties—all of which makes them more likely to reoffend. This is a root cause of the repeat offending that clogs up our criminal justice system and our prisons. Many offenders return to prison repeatedly, in a pointless and depressing revolving-door process. Many of them would be better dealt with by community orders, which can provide a longer period of supervision, better support and more intensive work to change offending behaviour. If they were removed from the prison system, custodial establishments would have a more realistic chance of providing suitable, supportive regimes for those young people who genuinely need to be in custody. This is not a soft option; it is the right option.
The report from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has highlighted the way in which prison regimes have suffered as a consequence of the large reduction in the number of prison staff over the last few years. This is a result of spending cuts. Inaction now would be a recipe for future disaster. The amount of purposeful activity in prisons has fallen in consequence, as reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons have repeatedly made clear.
Since resources are so stretched, we need to make sure that we are using them in the best possible way. We need to rethink an approach that incarcerates so many young people and impoverishes regimes for those young people who genuinely need to be in custody. I have repeatedly urged successive Governments to legislate to make sentencing guidelines that take into account the capacity of the prison system. This proposal was first made by the Carter report on the prison system in 2007 and it still makes sense. At a time when all other parts of the criminal justice system have to work within the reality of limited resources, there is no reason why sentencers should be exempt.
Reducing the number of young adults who are unnecessarily imprisoned would enable the Prison Service to provide more constructive and caring regimes for a smaller number of young prisoners. These regimes should include increased opportunities for work, training and education, as well as healthcare provision that is at least equal to that in the outside community.
It is particularly important that the Government should implement the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for young adult prisoners to have a suitably trained custody and rehabilitation officer with a small enough caseload to give adequate support to vulnerable young people. As the noble Lord’s report proposes, young prisoners should also have individual custody plans based on a multidisciplinary assessment project.
Above all, we need a determined and co-ordinated strategy from central government to ensure that everything humanly possible will be done to avoid the tragic and all-too-often avoidable deaths of so many vulnerable young people in custody. Any nation that aspires to civilised values must surely treat this as an overriding moral priority.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and his panel on their most impressive and wide-ranging review. It makes harrowing reading, particularly the individual case studies. These are young people whom our society failed. There is evidence in the individual cases of failure to take steps that might have prevented their deaths and the review makes practical recommendations aimed at preventing those failures. But, much more significantly, it concludes that the deaths are extreme symptoms of an attitude to the purpose of imprisonment that needs to be fundamentally changed.
One section of the report looks at steps that should be taken to keep young people out of the criminal justice system altogether. I must declare an interest: I have in my time sent quite a lot of people to prison, some of them to serve lengthy sentences, but I have an interest in keeping people out of prison. That is evidenced by my involvement, in one way or another, in a number of charitable organisations that help to do this: the St Giles Trust, Endeavour Training and Youth at Risk.
The review emphasises that, if there is to be change, it must come from the top down. The top is, of course, the Secretary of State for Justice. When responsibility for prisons was passed from the Home Secretary to the Justice Secretary the judges had reservations. We were concerned that the funding demands of the Prison Service might be met at the expense of the court system and the administration of justice, but it seems to me that there is something to be said for the same Minister considering the actions that will give best value for money in both areas. Value for money is critical. We are in a period of financial stringency and it is not realistic to expect Ministers to take actions that will increase overall demand for resources. Some of the review’s recommendations call for an increase in the resources devoted to looking after those in prison, but I suggest that these resources can and should be funded by a reduction in the overall size of the prison population.
As the review points out, the prison system costs in excess of £3 billion a year. The cost of a single place in a male young offender institution is approximately £40,000 a year. The substantial savings that can be made by a reduction of the prison population is obvious. How can this be achieved? There are three ways. The first is by diverting young people away from the criminal justice system. The second is by rehabilitating those in prison, so that they do not reoffend. The third is by reducing the length of sentences served by those who are sent to prison.
Most young people who end up in custody have a history, going back in many cases to early childhood, of disability or disadvantage. Many have mental health problems. Almost all have one thing in common: a lack of self-respect. They do not believe in their own worth because no adult has ever suggested that they were worth anything. Rather, they become used to denigration and abuse. If you do not respect yourself, you do not respect others. The Harris review emphasises young people’s need for peer example and approval. It is this that the charities with which I am involved, and many other charities, provide. They show young people that they are capable of achievement and that their worth is appreciated. I have seen in practice young lives literally transformed in this way.
Such organisations are having a hard time. Many of them rely on funding from local authorities but cash-strapped local authorities are withdrawing that funding. This is perhaps not the best day to emphasise the value of government support for charities that work with young people, but I do so none the less. Of course, those providing funding must be satisfied that it is being put to a use that is cost-effective.
Young people who offended under the influence of mental illness should not be given custodial sentences when what they really need is psychiatric help. It is critical that the sentencing judge is fully informed in such cases. The review draws attention to the fact that many defendants are being given custodial sentences on the basis of presentence reports completed on the day of conviction. This surprised me, for it was not my experience. I endorse the recommendation that a custodial sentence for a young adult is serious enough for a full and comprehensive written report to be prepared for the court.
I turn to rehabilitation of those in prison. It is a depressing fact that a large proportion of those who come out of prison soon go back in again, having reoffended. Anyone who has read the Harris review and some of the reports that it considered will not be surprised by this. The review paints a depressing picture of prison life today. Shortage of staff means that prisoners are spending a disproportionate amount of time locked in their cells. Opportunities for constructive activity are very limited. The review rightly comments that this is “impoverishing to the spirit”. It is a vicious circle because employment in such an environment is not attractive, so that some staffing vacancies are not being filled.
A fundamental recommendation of the Harris review is that there should be a change in attitude as to what prisons are there to do. They are there to impose the punishment of deprivation of liberty by holding prisoners securely and safely. That said, the prison regime should not itself be designed to be punitive. It should be primarily designed to rehabilitate. Restrictions should be the minimum necessary. Life should approximate as closely as possible to the positive aspects of life in the community. I hope that the Justice Secretary will endorse that recommendation.
I turn to my third and most controversial source of savings—reduction in the length of sentences served. The objects of sending people to prison are punishment, rehabilitation and protection of the public. I believe that we are sending people to prison for longer than is necessary to impose the appropriate punishment. The review provides the figures. On 31 December 2014, there were 84,691 people in prison—almost double the figure in the early 1990s. Why is that? Courts have been sending more people to prison and for longer terms. The average sentence length has increased by about 15%. Why is this? Are people more wicked than they were 25 years ago? I do not believe so. I think that the increase in imprisonment is in part attributable to statutory imposition of minimum terms for murder, which have had a knock-on effect on other crimes, and in part to media pressure for longer sentences. How does one reverse this trend? Keeping old men in prison for years and years when they no longer pose a danger to society is, I believe, disproportionately expensive when the money could be better spent preventing young people becoming criminals in the first place. Government should try to get this message across to the public and look for ways of reducing, rather than increasing, sentence length. For all these reasons, I support this Motion.
My Lords, I welcome today’s debate and thank my noble friend Lord Harris for producing his excellent and ground-breaking report Changing Prisons, Saving Lives.
The issue of self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18 to 24 year-olds must be addressed, the rate of which increased in 2013 for this group, who make up 21% of the prison population. As the report states,
“all young adults in custody are potentially vulnerable”;
and it goes on to ask,
“why were so many of these young adults in custody in the first place?”.
The case studies are heart-rending to read. The statistics are damning. As of 31 December 2014, 101 people under 24 have died in our prisons since April 2007. As the report makes clear,
“some radical changes are needed if we are to bring about a reduction in the number of deaths of young people in our prisons”.
The powerful recommendations that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, sets out must be seen in the context expressed by his review that young adults in custody, and indeed those under 18 who share similar characteristics, are young, vulnerable and still developing individuals who need to be nurtured and supported safely to navigate through the complexities of their lives into purposeful, mature adulthood.
But why are so many young people sent to prison? There must be better ways to divert them earlier in their lives. I very much hope that the liaison and diversion services are fully rolled out across England by 2017. I ask the Minister to reassure me on this point. These services identify those with mental health problems, learning disabilities, autism, substance misuse problems and other vulnerabilities as early as possible as they come into contact with youth and criminal justice services and can lead to more community sentences and fewer custodial ones.
If fewer young people were sent to prison, there would be more resources devoted to keeping those unavoidably detained more secure and safe and enabling them to receive appropriate therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said:
“Some of the young people had had chaotic lives and complex histories. Some had been subject to child abuse, been exposed to violence or suffered high levels of bereavement. Others had been in foster and residential care”.
The review states:
“Each of those deaths represents a failure by the State to protect the young people concerned”.
It points out that lessons have not been learned and not enough has been done to bring about substantive change and calls on the Government to make a number of key policy changes to help these vulnerable young people to become productive citizens, desist from crime and be kept safe while in custody. I welcome its call for,
“an inherent shift in the philosophy of prison”.
My noble friend Lord Harris has already set out the key recommendations and I support the call for the new custody and rehabilitation officer who would replace the personal officer and be a specialist, suitably trained professional, with a small enough case load so that enough time can be given to each vulnerable adult. It is especially important that one of the roles of the CARO should be to ensure that better links are maintained with the families of young adults, ensuring that they are involved in the management of vulnerability.
The review also recommends that young adults should be,
“able to spend a reasonable part of the day (8 hours or more) outside their cells, engaged in purposeful activity of a varied nature”,
and that never again should access to books be denied as a punishment or used as a “perk and privilege”. The review is concerned that the IEP—incentives and earned privileges—scheme does not take into account the impact of what may seem like small privileges on mental well-being in the austere prison environment, and that fatal incidents occurred disproportionately among prisoners on the lowest level of privileges, which reduced protective factors such as association, activities and access to television. In evidence, the Criminal Justice Alliance said that,
“restricting books, television and artistic materials also limits the activities of prisoners who face being locked up for longer due to staff shortages. All of these factors may in the future be shown to increase prisoner vulnerability and a propensity to self-harm”.
Imprisonment should be the last option, not the first. Another shocking statistic is that between 1978 and March 2014, 26% of all the deaths of young adults aged 18 to 24 were within the first week of their arrival in prison; 46% died within the first month and 86% died within the first six months. The National Offender Management Service—NOMS—must urgently identify and keep a record of the number of certified “safer cells” both in use and available for use across the prison estate. Tragically, all the children and 78 of the 83 young adults whom the review looked at died as a result of hanging through utilisation of a ligature point, such as a window, light fitting or upturned bed, within their cells. Proper use of safer cells must be an immediate and achievable priority.
Other noble Lords will, I am sure, highlight the plight of certain groups within the young adults in custody—women, BAMEs and those leaving care, all of whom have particular vulnerabilities that I would like to raise but time does not permit me to. I will just point out that 27% of the adult prison population are care leavers, despite the fact that less than 1% of under-18s enter local authority care annually.
Finally, I ask the Minister to look at the findings of a report published last week by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness. Mindful Nation points out that:
“Nearly half the prison population have depression or anxiety … suicide rates are considerably higher than in the general population”,
and that in the year after release prisoners who have these conditions are more likely to be reconvicted. Given the evidence of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy—MBCT—preventing recurrent depression, it could be very useful for helping those in prison, especially the young adults this debate is concerned about.
It would be far better for young people to be diverted away from imprisonment at a much earlier stage, but if this cannot always be the case, greater efforts must be made by prisons and the politicians who dictate policies to ensure that the young are kept safe and are successfully rehabilitated.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for bringing this important debate to the Chamber. I declare my interest as chief executive of Turning Point, a health and social care charity and social enterprise which works with people with complex needs—including mental health, substance misuse and learning disabilities—many of whom are young people. In a sense, we are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff which works with the results of failure, I guess.
I reiterate the call in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on deaths in custody of 18 to 24 year-olds that more needs to be done, in and out of prison, to ensure that the number of self-inflicted deaths is reduced. Indeed, I agree with all the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill. We need to start looking more carefully at this group of young people, and the requirements for sufficient numbers of appropriately trained staff in young offender institutions and prisons; a wider range of better-resourced residential placements outside the prison system for young adults in conflict with the law; adequate sharing of information across and within agencies; and mechanisms to monitor, audit and follow up recommendations from investigations and inquests.
It is important, as many Peers have mentioned, that one reads the stories of these young people to understand the impact of the failure to provide adequate services properly. One case study sticks in my mind after reading through the Inquest and T2A report Stolen Lives and Missed Opportunities. It is that of Alex, a 15 year-old mixed-race boy who was found hanging in his cell by his shoelaces in 2012 and, sadly, died while in custody. Alex was placed in long-term foster care at five years of age after being sexually abused by a member of his maternal family. He suffered trauma from the abuse later on and became difficult to manage due to his complex needs: ADHD, attachment issues and educational difficulties. He had a total of eight different social workers from the age of five until his death. In 2011, he received a 10-month custodial sentence. This was his first time in custody but, due to his age and vulnerabilities, he was sent to an institution where he was one of the youngest children.
On the day of Alex’s death, he was in a clearly heightened state of distress and had made a disclosure about his sexual abuse to a prison officer for the first time. It was found that adequate support was not given. The failures included: having no named social worker; a lack of communication with external agencies; no support for Alex’s specific mental health needs; not having an adequate level of support for him or other vulnerable looked- after children; and that youth offending workers did not have enough responsibility for Alex’s care needs while in custody—and before he arrived in custody, there was no evidence of an appropriate forensic psychiatric assessment. When you look at that case, you can see the litany of errors. There was no adequate psychiatric assessment when he could have been diverted from custody and subsequent fatal actions. This is clearly a tragedy and one which could have been avoided.
It is a welcome statistic to note that the number of young adults in custody is declining, but there are still too many with complex needs entering the prison system. We know that management of young adults requires a distinct approach. Those who remain in custody are some of the most vulnerable, troubled young adults with complex needs such as family discord, substance misuse, mental health difficulties and learning disabilities. They are often the victims of exploitation, abuse and trauma, underpinned by poverty and inequality. We need to change the cycle that exists between poverty, complex needs and prison so that the number of people entering the criminal justice system with complex needs is reduced. My view is that young people with the needs that Alex had and who end up in prison should be seen as a “never” event. It is a crisis, not something that we should accept as a given.
It is therefore clear that we need to intervene early, but there is a significant group of young people who we still too often ignore. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill, made this point about children in care but I wish to emphasise it. There are 69,540 children in care at any one time, with 6,000 leaving each year. We know where they are and when they leave. Statistics released by the Department for Education show that as of 31 March 2015, there were 260 looked-after children in England’s YOIs out of a custodial population of 706—a proportion of 36.8% were in care. As has been pointed out, less than 1% of all children in England are in care but, according to the Beyond Youth Custody report, looked-after children make up 33% of boys and 61% of girls in custody. These children are meant to be looked after by the state; that is evidence that it is just not happening. Prison is overused, due to the shortages in the health and care systems to address their complex needs. Young people need interventions, not incarceration.
Children in care are there because of abuse and neglect; that is not an excuse for their criminal behaviour but the pattern that leads to that behaviour is clearly established, well before they come to the attention of the criminal justice system. Such children are four times more likely than their peers to have mental health difficulties, less likely to do well at school than their peers and more likely to experience even more abuse and/or neglect when in care. There are clear patterns that health and social care professionals can work with.
It often strikes me as odd that we know where these children in care are. For example, in Stoke, I am told there are 500 kids in care at any one time. I do not think it is beyond the wit of woman or man to create a life care plan for each of these young people within the population of a county, town or borough such as Stoke. Such a care plan should start with understanding the dreams, desires and wants of that young person. They are not unlike my kids or kids that any of your Lordships might be privileged enough to have. What do they want to do? How do they want to do it? Using the private sector, public sector and voluntary sector resources in such a town, it should be possible to create a life care plan for each young person, which they are involved in and engaged in. It could be reviewed annually, or on a six-month basis, so that that individual gets attention and knows that they are surrounded by the kind of soft boundaries within which they can experiment, not unlike most middle-class children. That is surely possible, and if it were to happen, we would have fewer cases of children needing the criminal justice system in the first place. Where children have the complex needs that Alex had, they can be signposted and approached with the appropriate individual health and social care interventions. They are an ever smaller proportion of the 500 or so in a place such as Stoke.
Sweeping that to one side, let us look at the cost. Some 72% of children released from custody reoffend in one year, according to Barnardo’s. Doing nothing is not only immoral but expensive, as is carrying on what we are doing. If we know this, we need to do something about it and address the stock and flow problem that currently exists. It is surprising, and a bit sad, that the learning from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is similar to that from the report I did with the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing, which I chaired. The conclusions are similar, and frighteningly so: a lack of clear communication between agencies; a lack of adequate resources to staff these agencies; and those involved in criminal justice, health and social care not being fully trained to deal with complex needs. Indeed, the criminal justice system, just like the police system, is being used as a care resource rather than a resource of last resort. This is not the care that these young people should be getting. As I say, we need to change the cycle. The thinking that got us into this state cannot be the thinking that gets us out.
One way of doing this is through more community or residential-based institutions which work with children and young adults who are in the stock, as it were, of prison and young offender institutions, to progress them back into the community and keep them there. As I say, I think that is perfectly possible—I know the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, is going to shut me up in a moment, but I will continue for one more minute. It is possible to provide the care that these individuals need.
I close by reiterating my support for the noble Lord’s report. Prevention needs to be funded adequately and children in care need to be prioritised, because the maths is obvious. If we can deal with children in care, we can make inroads into this problem. On behalf of Alex and many others, there is no excuse. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is an excuse remover: we know where these kids are, we know where they come from, we know what the challenges are and we know we can put the services in to prevent them ending up like Alex. Let us just get on with it and do it.
My Lords, I welcome the very thorough and wide-ranging review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. The Bishop to Prisons, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, regrets that he cannot be in his place today and contribute to this very welcome debate. The Harris inquiry took every opportunity to talk to young people and to the families who have tragically lost their children while they were in the care of the state in prisons and young offender institutions.
That terrible toll has of course been the subject of more than one inquiry. Fatally Flawed was a joint report by INQUEST and the Prison Reform Trust into deaths between 2003 and 2010. In 2014, the Youth Justice Board issued its report, Deaths of Children in Custody. In late 2013, the National Offender Management Service launched a consultation on integrating 18 to 21 year-olds into mainstream prisons. The main reasons were, first, that concentrating this relatively volatile age group into dedicated establishments increased the tensions and risks and, secondly, that integration would enable young adults to be placed in resettlement prisons relatively near to their home area and to receive better resettlement services. As far as I am aware, there has not yet been an outcome from this proposal, and the findings of the Harris review about the specific needs of the 18 to 24 age group must place some question marks against it.
The Harris review emphasises that young people continue to develop physically and neurologically into their mid-20s in ways that affect not only their behaviour but their ability to cope with custody and separation from their families. They have particular care and support needs, therefore, and the review proposes a new role of custody and rehabilitation officer: a person properly trained to work with young people, with awareness of mental health and risk issues, replacing the personal officer scheme, which is not working effectively in most establishments. The key may not be that that entire proposal should be embraced but that there should be staff trained sufficiently to manage this age group. The needs of care-leavers tend to be especially acute.
The Harris review rightly emphasises the impact of lack of purposeful activity in this age group. It draws attention to the persistent evidence of inspection reports that purposeful activity and time out of the cell are seriously inadequate. At the simplest level, the impact of a lack of time in the fresh air—just 30 minutes a day in many adult prisons—is significant for the health and well-being of younger people. The review notes a similar shortfall in rehabilitation and resettlement work. It also observes:
“NOMS management have no proper means of assessing whether sufficient care is being given to vulnerable young adults or, indeed, whether minimum standards are being met”.
Those convicted of crimes need to have as much access to rehabilitative work as possible, not least so as to prevent crime, and the impact and suffering caused to victims of crime.
Finally and importantly, I add a warm tribute to the hard and effective work of custodial prison staff. Many young people are given support at crucial moments by staff who have learnt to spot signs of anxiety or low mood. Many lives are saved by a timely word or action. The review mentions the valuable role of prison chaplains. They play an important part, not only in offering the resources of faith but as part of the team in the assessment, care in custody and teamwork processes which are used actively to support those at risk of suicide or self-harm.
The Harris review confirms the growing sense that, just as childhood continues to the age of 18, so the process of physical, neurological and psychological maturity to adulthood goes on from there into the 20s, and that the penal custody system should take account of that.
My Lords, first, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for this challenging report. I found it extremely timely and urgent, and he was right. The way he spoke this afternoon reinforced that.
There are of course all the individual relationships and how they are handled, to which speakers in this debate already referred. However, we cannot overlook what comes to me from this report. It is an indictment of society as a whole and its leadership—that cuts across party lines; I am not making party points here—that we can have a situation of this kind in 2015, in a country that keeps talking about how successful it is, if perhaps not always, as an economic force and of all the material achievements of our society, while in the face of all that is this story which society chooses to push under the carpet and refuse to acknowledge as a grave challenge which cannot be tackled with enough urgency. I thank the noble Lord for giving us the opportunity to see this so clearly.
I had for a number of years the privilege of being the president of the YMCA in England. I got very fascinated by its work in detention centres, particularly for young people. I was interested in all its work, but I was very interested in its important social housing programme for the young and vulnerable. Let me give two examples of perturbing situations I came across. One was a retired chief constable with quite a reputation who worked as one of our volunteers in a detention centre. He had a story about talking to a young chap with whom he had been dealing in the centre. This chap began to cry and he said to him, “But why are you crying? You are about to be released”. The youngster said, “That is why I am crying—I am so frightened of the world outside. Whatever I might have encountered here, I am terrified of going back into society and all the immediate pressures and realities that will face me. I am just not equipped to handle them”.
In the context of this consideration, the issue of mental health comes out. Of course, it comes out throughout the whole penal system and in much else of society. Here I must declare an interest because one of my daughters led a team of counsellors for a number of years working with women with mental health problems in deprived communities. The thing that repeatedly infuriated her—she used to get really worked up—is that her work was officially recognised and appreciated, and she would be sent more and more people from border authorities, the health service, the police and all sorts of sources. They were asked to cope with the situation. However, the money did not come, too. She said, “If you look at mental health practically here, and the work I am trying to do with my team, we see ourselves as the forgotten factor in the health service and the rest”. That is a social responsibility that comes home very strongly.
The other example is simply that I went to visit a team working in quite a big young offenders’ institution in the Midlands. They were very worried because their contract—I am uneasy about this contract culture generally—was to get people into jobs. Working with youngsters, they very quickly recognised how complex the situation was, and they would say, “For some of these youngsters, the very last thing to do is to push them into a job—they are not equipped for it. They need help and support, and they need preparation to work outside”. That threshold between the institution and the outside world is terribly important, but they were told in firm terms that their contract was to get people into jobs, and they were not to start using the money on consultation work and discovering that people were not ready for jobs. That was not their job. They were told explicitly that if they did not concentrate on that, somebody else would get the contract who would. That kind of situation has to be faced.
It is good to hear the noble Lord emphasise the fact that we need a total culture change in our penal system. The culture should not be dominated by considerations of custody, although of course that is important, or by considerations of punishment, although of course we need to make it clear that some activities and practices are not acceptable. It should be dominated by a culture of rehabilitation.
To go back to the YMCA for a moment, we had a chap that I liked immensely, a senior superintendent in the police in the north of the country, who was central to many activities of the YMCA, not only in the north but nationally. He once confided in me, saying, “I always think that the moment when a person is sent down is absolutely crucial—it is a very lonely moment indeed. People react in different ways, some with bravado, some with fear and apprehension, and some clearly totally broken at that point. In an ideal society, that is the very moment when somebody should take the elbow of the sentenced person and say, ‘Come on, this is a terrible mess, how are we going to sort it out?’”. The right reverend Prelate made the vital point that what are indispensable are friendship and support—to have an identifiable friend, walking with that person through the sentence and the threshold and back into the world, and back into a full and positive life. These people are so often victims themselves. When I talked to them, I thought that it would be amazing if with such a nightmare story they were not in trouble. So why are they in this situation, and how do we help to rebuild?
My Lords, this timely debate, initiated by the review of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, invites discussion of a pretty broad spectrum of prison issues. I should like to narrow it down a little for a moment, and focus on two areas that I regard as worthy of more attention than they are sometimes given. The first is the question of whether prisoners of voting age should have the right to vote. Remand prisoners are allowed to vote as it is, of course, but the right to vote is withdrawn from all others. My second topic is the conditions under which we incarcerate many of our 85,000 prisoners, and I will come to that in a minute. First, I should declare two interests. The first is that I am an ex-chairman of the Prison Reform Trust, and the second is that a member of my family was, until recently, a probation officer in Wandsworth prison.
On voting rights, I have never understood the high passions that are aroused in some quarters at the very thought of giving prisoners the vote. It seems self-evident that the more a prisoner is treated as a responsible citizen while incarcerated, the more likely that prisoner is to behave as a responsible citizen on release. My preference is that the right to vote be given to all prisoners, other than those who will never be released, provided they are properly qualified to exercise it under the same rules as the rest of the voting public. But I realise that this may be asking too much of a Government who have set their face against such a move for so long, so as a start I suggest that all prisoners should be entitled to vote within a year of release, providing they are properly qualified to do so, and that those serving sentences of less than a year should not have the right to vote withheld at all.
I dare say that some prisoners would say that the right to vote is not very high on their worry list, but I believe that anything that can help prisoners, many of them with personality disorders, to adjust to the concept of life outside as a responsible citizen must be desirable. This would at least be a step to lessening the appalling rate of reoffending in this country, especially by prisoners of younger age, in the signal it gives to prisoners that the outside world has not given up on them.
The fact that we would in initiating this change be moving towards conforming with EU requirements is, in a way, neither here nor there, but if it takes some of the tension on the issue out of our relationship with Brussels, so much the better. Surely if we do it, we should make such a change voluntarily and not with ill grace. Anything we can do to reduce reoffending must, of its very nature, be encouraged. As a postscript, I add that Britain is almost alone in western Europe in imposing a complete ban on prisoner voting. While we still have one of the highest reoffending rates in Europe, not to mention one of the highest per capita prison populations, prison is not working.
As to the condition of our jails, I wonder if noble Lords saw the recent prison inspector’s report on Walton prison. It was described as dirty, overcrowded and unsafe. There were 10 deaths there in 14 months, three of them suicides. The routine for prisoners was described as “chaotic and unpredictable”, and prisoners’ accommodation was described as,
“dirty, overcrowded and poorly equipped”.
There were some positive findings, and I am not suggesting that the problems there are necessarily replicated everywhere else, but one things stands out to me when considering the life of a prisoner in our older jails, and that is the number of prisoners sharing cells built for one only.
When I last asked a Question about this shared accommodation, the Answer was that no less than 20,000 prisoners are sharing single cells. This is a wretched state of affairs. I was, though, delighted to hear some distinctly encouraging intentions from the Ministry of Justice about the prison estate, and I sincerely hope that that promise is fulfilled. I hope that the Minister will be able to encourage some optimism. At present, such is the size of the prison population and such is the shortage of prison staff that many of these prisoners sharing cells will be locked up together pretty well all day and all night. What could possibly be worse for young men and women, many of them with mental health problems and personality disorders, as they prepare in cramped and squalid conditions to meet the world outside?
Surely, if we believe in the Churchill maxim that a country should be judged in term of fairness and decency by the way it treats its prisoners, we fail his test. More power to the elbow of those who have expressed their determination to improve the prison estate and to enable our prisoners to lead a less cramped and disfiguring life in preparation for release. Prisoners’ punishment is their loss of liberty, and every effort thereafter should be devoted to releasing them at the end of their sentence as responsible citizens of this country. I support the Motion.
My Lords, there is a great deal of evidence in this debate of the need for action and change in the way in which young prisoners are treated. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on his report and on instigating this debate, as well as on producing unanimity on all the main issues under discussion—so far, at least. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lord McNally, who is now chairman of the Youth Justice Board. The YJB has done a great deal of positive work, particularly in the area of reducing the numbers of young people held in custody and in improving the way in which they are treated. Shortly we shall also hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, who some time ago now produced a seminal report on the issues arising from mental illness occurring when people are in custody.
In June 2014, sponsored by the Michael Sieff Foundation and the National Children’s Bureau, I had the privilege of chairing an all-party parliamentarians’ unofficial inquiry, which took evidence into the youth justice system and which contained Members of all political parties in both Houses, including, significantly, the current Solicitor-General, Robert Buckland QC, who had very clear views that are consistent with everything that has been said in this debate. We produced a report recommending numerous changes in the youth justice system, some of which I shall refer to in a moment.
The point of mentioning all those reports is to show how much learning there is, and how much advocacy there has been, for change in the youth justice system. I urge upon the Minister that the Government need no more evidence of what is needed by way of change. Indeed, in listening to this debate, if all the Minister did was to listen once again to the eight-minute speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, he would see a summary of the changes in policy that are required.
Of course, one of the main issues is overcrowding, not in the youth justice system but in the adult system. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, mentioned some numbers, as did the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, a few moments ago. As they gave those figures I recalled that when I first became a Member of another place in 1983, many MPs at that time were expressing outrage that the prison numbers had reached 35,000. I do not notice that our country is a much more lawful place now, with 84,000 people in custody, than it was in 1983, when there were 35,000. Perhaps there is something to be learned from that simple statistical comparison.
Very specifically on the youth justice system, I will start with a kind of metaphor. If a child is ill and needs a routine elective operation, inevitably it is sent to a paediatrician before a decision is made as to what treatment should be given. The paediatrician is not someone who simply has the label “Paediatrician” attached to him or her, but has to have learning, education, experience and qualifications, all specific and expert to the paediatric advice which they give. One of the conclusions that was reached by the parliamentarians’ inquiry to which I referred a few moments ago was that that sort of experience does not exist in the youth justice system. Yes, of course there are some very expert people, but it is pure chance whether a real expert is involved in a case. Somebody can be called a youth justice although they have no education, knowledge or training in youth justice—at least worth the name.
A solicitor or a barrister can prosecute or defend in a youth court without having any understanding of, or training in, the specific requirements of dealing with young people. Over my 45 years at the Bar, nothing has changed in that respect. My first ever contested case as a barrister was in the Camberwell Green juvenile court, as it was called, when I defended a young person charged with an offence of criminal damage. I had no idea what I was doing. Happily for the young person concerned, the result of the case was favourable, but I had absolutely no idea, and have none now, how that result was achieved, because I had no material training.
Today, young solicitors and barristers prosecute and defend in youth courts and they still have no such specific understanding or training. One of the recommendations of our inquiry was that no justice—whether a full-time district judge or a part-time justice—should sit in cases without such training. I greatly value the work of youth justices and am delighted to see a very distinguished one, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in his place, but there is currently no requirement that they should have any real expertise in what they do. Indeed, there is no requirement that someone who is regarded as a youth justice should always sit on a case involving a young person.
Furthermore, we recommended that what I think in the trade is usually called “ticketing” should be applied to lawyers, whether they be solicitors or barristers, who appear in the youth court because it is a specialised area. Understanding what has happened in a young person’s life is much more difficult than most other things that advocates do. The Bar Standards Board, to its credit, has set up a review of this matter with an in-depth investigation into the ticketing issue. The Law Society has been much less compliant and shows real resistance to any form of expertise ticketing in this area because, of course, it would limit the number of solicitors who are able to appear in such cases. I hope that it will soon change its mind.
If we had experts dealing with these cases, surely we would be able to ensure that better, more constructive non-custodial disposals were achieved. We advise that youth scrutiny panels should be established by the Youth Justice Board and local authorities to focus on diversion measures so that these trials can be avoided if possible. However, when they come to court, we advise that there should be comprehensive case assessments and family group conferences, where the real problems that affect the young person’s life can be assessed. As has been said repeatedly, the young people who find themselves in court have almost always had chaotic lives. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, emphasised, for many of these young people custody is the most comfortable place they have ever been, and we do not want that to be perpetuated.
My final point is about the rehabilitation of offenders. Young people who have been in trouble as teenagers are sometimes unable to obtain jobs because their records follow them. I urge upon the Minister that the Government should examine that carefully and try to ensure that, when young people who have been in trouble become adults, after a reasonable time they are no longer saddled with a criminal record.
My Lords, at the start I declare my health and related interests—in particular, that I am a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and the Centre for Mental Health.
I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Harris on securing this very important debate about his fine report on 18 to 24 year-olds who have died in tragic circumstances in prison. I commend his crucial recommendations, which must, I believe, be implemented.
In this short debate, I shall, not surprisingly, concentrate on the development of liaison and diversion services related to the recommendations of my own report—I am grateful for the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, about that—and other reports that are complementary to it. I believe that my recommendations dovetail very clearly with the findings of my noble friend Lord Harris. Taken together, they can make a real contribution to tackling this appalling situation.
Crucially, as noble Lords have already stated, the need for early identification and assessment of mental health, learning disabilities and difficulties, and other complex needs, and where appropriate to divert those people out of or away from the criminal justice system, is absolutely essential. They need to be passported at that point to appropriate specialist services, whether that be in-patient services or community-based services.
The report of my noble friend Lord Harris looks specifically at 18 to 24 year-olds. But we must ask ourselves what could be done earlier with children to undertake crucial identification and assessment before they find themselves in the criminal justice system, or at least hitting against it. An example of this is what we do in our schools. I am not suggesting that everyone who works in a school should be a specialist in mental health problems or learning disabilities. However, what basic awareness training could be implemented for our teachers, canteen staff and caretakers so that they are aware of the issues that they see in children and can help to passport them quickly into other appropriate services? We should not have to wait—if I can caricature it as such—for a child to go from the front of the class to the back of the class, out of the classroom, out of the school, into the park and into trouble. Why can we not identify that problem earlier in the system so that they perhaps do not end up in the youth justice system?
As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, rightly pointed out, excellent work has been undertaken by the Youth Justice Board and the youth justice services to reduce the number of children in custody. Even so, look at some basic facts from the youth justice system: young people with a mental health condition are three times more likely to be in the youth justice system; they are six times more likely than other young people to have a diagnosable conduct disorder; they are more likely to have a moderate learning disability; and they are more likely to have a speech and communication need or traumatic brain injury. Data from the previous youth point of arrest screening indicate that children on a current care order were significantly overrepresented in the youth justice system.
As we have a national rollout of liaison and diversion services, we have to look at the essential specific needs of children and young adults in that programme. It is clear that the success of such schemes is highly dependent on the existence of effective diversionary infrastructure of services. Although the extra investment over the next five years in children and adolescent mental health services is welcome, there is still a huge shortfall of services across the country, whether that be in-patient beds or services in the community. There is a shortage of therapy programmes and timely referral to them, and there is poor provision for learning disability and speech and language services across the country. With limited resources, thresholds for access to such services are raised and, therefore, become a barrier to effective diversion and liaison schemes.
As we heard from noble Lords, such schemes must take into account maturity. When children move from children’s services to adult services, the age barrier can be a real deterrent to effective continuity of care. The Centre for Mental Health set up the Bradley Commission and we looked at the issue of maturity. Our first recommendation was that:
“National government should foster a whole systems approach to ensure all young people aged 15-24 years who require specialist intervention should experience continuity of care”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on such a proposal.
The rollout of the liaison diversion service is interlinked with other important initiatives about assessment and identification—for example, street triage and the consequent reduction in the use of police cells for children. It is welcome that the Government intend to ban the use of these cells by July of next year, but we need further investment in places of safety away from the criminal justice system to ensure that people in mental health or other crises have the appropriate environment in which an assessment can be carried out effectively.
The key issue around liaison diversion is that it should start at the earliest opportunity—often when young people come into contact with the criminal justice system at the police station. The information that is gathered about their complex needs must then be shared along the criminal justice pathway from the police station to the court and to prison, if that is the appropriate next step, or, more effectively, into the community. There has to be continuity of care. If they end up in the prison system, they can link very effectively to the new officer that is recommended in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. That information must be shared in the system and dealt with in the system. Services must then be in the system so that when the individual comes back into the community they have the effective services that they need for effective rehabilitation to ensure that they do not reoffend.
To achieve all this, we need to build up those services, not just for people who find themselves in the criminal justice system, but for the community in general. We need better mental health services, better alcohol treatment services and better drug treatment services because offenders are only a subset of the community while they have offended. They need to return to the community and still need those effective services. Some 53% of rollout of the liaison diversion services has been achieved so far. I believe that 100% rollout can be achieved by 2017-18 with the Government’s commitment to that investment through the comprehensive spending review.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to raise some of the important issues covered by the excellent review of the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I am grateful to Jessica Mullen from Clinks which is an organisation working in partnership with the Young review, and Katharine Sacks-Jones, who is director of AGENDA, the alliance for girls and women at risk. I am grateful to them for their comments and contributions. I am currently chair of the steering group for AGENDA and I have chaired the Young review since October 2013.
Supported by the Black Training and Enterprise Group and Clinks, the Young review set out to examine how existing knowledge and experience could be harnessed to improve outcomes for young black and/or Muslim men in the criminal justice system. Our report was published last year. I hope the Minister and indeed other noble Lords have had the opportunity to read at least the executive summary of the report, and I would be happy to brief anyone who would like to know more about our current programme of work.
The Young review is now into a second, three-year phase funded by charitable trusts and is embarking on the challenging task of implementation. The initial review was born out of a sense of frustration about a lack of progress and the low priority given to disproportionality, race and ethnicity in the criminal justice system. We were also mindful of the changes that were about to take place through the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda. For too long, many of us have been aware that young black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and at every stage, young black and minority ethnic men report the least positive perceptions of that process and of prison life compared with all other groups. Contrary to popular belief, only approximately 1% of Muslim offenders are in prison for terrorism-related offences, but it is of concern that the percentage of young Muslim men in the criminal justice system has almost doubled since 2002.
The Young review was pleased to be able to submit evidence in writing and in person to the Harris review into self-inflicted deaths in custody. We support the noble Lord’s position that all young people in custody are vulnerable in one way or another. We would also describe black and/or young Muslim men in prison as vulnerable, particularly because of the impact of racism and discrimination on their experiences of ethnicity, faith and culture.
It can be difficult for the public to identify young offenders as vulnerable, but front-line professionals know all too well that the same person can be both victim and perpetrator. We often find with these young men that they have very poor experiences, which many noble Lords have pointed out in the debate. They have been picked up by the police over and again, they have been preyed on by adults, or they have been in the care system. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and my noble friend Lord Adebowale reminded us that care leavers are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and it is an issue which has been examined by my noble friend Lord Laming and the Prison Reform Trust. This is not intended to be an excuse for such behaviour, but if we are serious about reducing the number of young people going to prison, we need to develop a much more informed understanding of their experiences and the ways in which they shape their perceptions and world view. Only then can we challenge offending behaviour and give them the support they need, helping them to build resilience and to desist from criminal activity.
At the same time, we have to demonstrate seriousness about tackling the systems which produce racism, stereotyping, discrimination and stigmatisation, as well as the lack of opportunities that so many in these communities face. I will cite one striking example. A young man I spoke to during the course of the review, one of whose parents had died when he was a small child and the other with serious mental health issues, had been sent away to a state boarding school from where he would run away as he was desperate to see his one remaining parent and his younger brother, for whom he felt responsible. He got involved in criminal activity and was in and out of prison for several years. A local community-based organisation that works with offenders and their families helped him to sort his life out, and he left prison with some hope of turning it around. He applied for approximately 50 jobs and could not get an interview, not even for basic manual labour. He decided to become a self-employed builder and decorator. He bought a car and called to fix insurance for the vehicle. When he admitted to having a criminal record, he was quoted a cost of £12,000 a year. Of course that was completely out of his reach, and indeed it would be even for some of us. Sadly, that young man returned to prison. Aspiration needs hope, and without that, it is hard to see how we can change people’s outlook.
It is difficult for all former offenders to find work, and it is an issue that the Government urgently need to address, but research demonstrates that those applicants whose names appear to indicate a candidate of black or minority ethnic origin will have to submit more than twice as many applications for a job even to get shortlisted. The levels of prejudice and stigmatisation faced by Muslims are bad and getting worse. How can it be that we have reached a position where lawyers feel it necessary to advise their male Muslim clients to cut off their beards so that they do not look too much like extremists when they are facing trial? While for many of the Muslim offenders and former offenders that we met their faith was a source of strength, they were acutely aware of the stereotypes and stigma attached to being an offender and being a Muslim in prison. The current view of Islam perpetuated in sections of the media and elsewhere can shape the ways in which adherents are regarded and consequently treated. Training and professional development for those who engage with Muslim offenders is urgently needed, and this is an area where former service users can make a useful contribution to better understanding.
Drawing conclusions from the data around self-inflicted harm and death is challenging and complex. For one thing, information on faith is not uniformly collected across the criminal justice system, which makes comparisons difficult. We would also want to draw attention to the challenges of using the data on self-harm as proxy measures for vulnerability in the group on which we focused. The data appear to show that overall, black and minority ethnic prisoners—incidentally, they are not disaggregated in the data available—are less likely to take their own lives than their white counterparts. However, the data also show that those in the 18-24 age group are more likely to take their own lives than older prisoners in the same group, so we cannot say with confidence whether young BAME men are less or more likely to commit suicide than young white men of a similar age.
The disproportionately negative outcomes that BAME offenders experience in a range of areas will almost inevitably affect their well-being. The other point to note is that BAME covers an extremely diverse group and it is possible, although it is not able to be proven, that young men in some of these sub-categories, as it were, may be disguising outcomes for others. We simply do not know, and therefore we need the data to be broken down and cross-referenced within the system in order for us to fully understand who is vulnerable and what the risk factors are within this broad group.
During a constructive meeting with Andrew Selous, the Minister responsible for prisons, he expressed his desire to support the aims of our review and made several useful suggestions. Will the Minister take back to the MoJ this issue of data as it continues to cause unnecessary complications in our analysis? Another point is that it has been suggested that boys and men find different ways to self-harm than girls and women. Again, that is something that people are exploring through various pieces of research.
I want to say something about women and girls by referring to AGENDA, which is an alliance for women and girls at risk. It is concerned with the most vulnerable women in society—particularly but not exclusively, those who have survived domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and the mental health issues arising from such experiences. Many of these women are ending up in our prisons. Female prisoners account for a disproportionate amount of self-harm on the prison estate. In 2014, 26% of all self-harm incidents in prisons in England and Wales were attributed to women, despite them representing only 5% of the prison population. It is true that rates of self-harm have been falling among women prisoners, but as the previous levels were so high, this is not really a cause for celebration. The figures remain shocking and unacceptable.
Many of us would agree that an awful lot of women in prison should not be there. Sometimes they are arrested, or put in prison when other people have committed crimes against them, and they seem to be taking the blame. This was made clear to me by a number of women who shared their experience of domestic abuse. When they called the police because they were being attacked by their partners, the women got arrested while their partners were not necessarily arrested. This is not good enough. Some very vulnerable women are ending up in prison when it is obviously not the right place.
With regard to the voluntary sector, it is true that it has played an enormous and substantial role in developing and driving forward local intervention strategies and solutions to some of these issues. But, as noble Lords will be aware, the voluntary sector is in quite a perilous state. As it anticipates more cuts to services, and not quite reaping the rewards that it thought it might through the transforming rehabilitation agenda, we are in for quite a difficult time. There needs to be a sense that the Government are on top of this and have a strategy for dealing with it. If we do not support the voluntary sector we will be in a whole heap of trouble. As noble Lords have said, many women and young adults could be diverted from prison in the first place, thus saving the justice system significant costs and preventing so many lives being blighted.
My Lords, I pay tribute, as other noble Lords have already done, to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and his team. Added to the large library of reports and books on the whole criminal justice system, his report has brought into focus what for many of us is the real, focal issue that he is trying to address, for beyond the question of self-harm, attempted suicide and, tragically, suicide in our detention centres and prisons, he has raised fundamental issues. What is the purpose of imprisonment? What is the purpose of the criminal justice system? What is the purpose of the way in which the courts deal with young offenders?
At this stage in a long debate, I have two points simply that I want to put to the House. First, I want to raise again this issue of the purpose and our dealing with those who are offenders and are imprisoned.
David was 18 years of age, convicted of a very serious offence and put in prison. Within six months of his incarceration, he attempted suicide and, but for the fact that it was discovered in time, he would definitely have become one of the statistics of death. To cut a long story short, he served the remainder of his sentence under certain conditions. On his release, he returned to society but was a scarred and mentally tortured man. Time passed and, because of his experience at the hands of those responsible for him, those scars remained. However, unknown to us, another experience in prison had affected him: the care and attention given to his particular needs by a member of the prison staff who, in a voluntary capacity and in his extra time, saw something in David’s life that was worth helping. Three weeks ago, I visited a community organisation in a certain estate in the City of Belfast, which helps children likely to be in contact with the criminal justice system. At its head and leading it is David. The response of the community to that organisation has been phenomenal.
Now, I know that you can take individual cases and use them to prove a wide range of conclusions. I am simply trying to illustrate, from my own pastoral experience, what can happen when someone takes care to show an individual interest in the possibility of another human life. That took place in David’s case. He is not looking for praise, plaudits or honours; he is doing something that was conjured into his life by someone within the system who was prepared to take that extra bit of interest.
The contributions to this debate have already illustrated that there are things wrong with the system, which need to be fixed. However, I say earnestly to the Minister that it is not that we do not know that something is wrong; it is the fact that we have been told so often that something is wrong. The report by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has focused us once again on some of the major issues, but surely the case of David shows that, even within a failing system, success stories are possible.
I come to the second point, which I shall put briefly to your Lordships’ House. We have listened to noble Lords who, in their professional career, have sent people to prison. I was greatly touched by the speech by my noble and learned friend Lord Phillips. One of the points he brought to our attention was that information that people in the system should have received was not passed on when it was needed most. That is where the system has fallen down—and for many of us it has fallen down once too often. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who was recently in a position to tell us about the situation in my own part of the United Kingdom, knows very well that the Davids of this world, living at such a troubled period in our history, came into a system which at times was almost unable to cope with the problems we faced.
Nevertheless, I venture to suggest that David’s case shows the system is not beyond redemption; something can be done. What we are trying to suggest today—and I hope the Minister will say something about it—is that, despite the problems in the system, it is the attitude that we need to look at more than anything else.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, as he gives us a glimpse of optimism and of redemption. All of us who work in the criminal justice system can think of personal examples of individuals whose lives have been changed by the intervention of others, which is one reason why I am a great supporter of mentoring.
Like others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for both securing the debate and producing a report that could, if listened to, be a genuine landmark in advancing the case for prison reform and effective rehabilitation. Although the report is an independent review into self-inflicted deaths among 18 to 24 year-olds in custody, the noble Lord has, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, pointed out, taken on the broader challenge set out in the report’s title: “changing prisons, saving lives”.
The Motion before us sets out the core messages of the report: to address the problems before young people enter prison via an effective programme of treatment and diversion; to reduce the prison population; to improve conditions in prisons; to work upstream on diversion, and on rehabilitation in custody and post-custody so that prisoners have an option of a meaningful and law-abiding life.
I declare my interest as chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. I thank my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Carlile for their kind comments. As I listened to this I thought about what a source of advice this House is to the Minister. There is my noble friend Lord Carlile’s report on youth courts and the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on mental illness. There is the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on BAME. I am very pleased to be working closely with her on that. There is the report before us today from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, coming down the track is the report on looked-after children from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the committee on which I have the pleasure to serve.
As noble Lords will know, the YJB has responsibility for young offenders aged over 10—our age of criminal responsibility—until they reach the age of 18: adulthood in the eyes of the law. The Harris report’s remit did not cover the under-18 secure estate, but the noble Lord did examine the four deaths in the youth estate between 2000 and the last self-inflicted death in 2012. In addition, the YJB willingly gave both oral and written evidence to his committee. We made available to it our study of all 16 such deaths that have occurred in the last 15 years in the youth estate, which was published in March 2014 and entitled, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, Deaths of Children in Custody: Action Taken, Lessons Learnt.
The responsibility to keep young people in our care safe is paramount in the Youth Justice Board’s duties. But I am also aware—this is why I was eager to take part in this debate—that there is not some magic transformation at the age of 18. I recently attended a presentation based on work being done at University College London on brain development, which showed a wide variation in timings of maturity, between the early teens and the age of 25, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, said. That is why I so welcome the Harris report. The YJB recognises that young adults, much like children in our youth estate, have specific needs, entitlements and potential. These must be addressed and supported on an individual basis to mitigate their risk of self-harm and suicide, and to support their time in custody and rehabilitation.
The Harris review endorses the benefits of a multiagency and holistic approach to address the needs of those in the criminal justice system for which the YJB has been the pathfinder these last 15 years. I am proud that we now have barely 1,000 young people in custody in the secure estate, fewer than 50 of whom are girls. That compares with nearly 4,000 10 years ago. As the Harris report advocates, that has been achieved by going upstream to tackle the causes of offending. As a result, the number of people in custody and first-time entrants is now at an all-time low.
I pay tribute to the way in which police forces and police and crime commissioners have bought into early intervention and diversion. Our other partners—children’s and social services departments, probation services and health and education—have all embraced this holistic approach to diversion. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that his approach will greatly influence the approach and policies of the YJB in the months and years ahead. I agree with him that the troubled families programme often overlaps with ours with regard to the challenges posed by young offenders. However, this is a report for all ages—under 18s, under 25s, over 25s. Its recommendations make sense far beyond its narrow remit.
There is much in the report to approve of but I shall touch briefly on just one or two matters. First, I will not try to go further than the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on mental health services and, particularly, liaison and diversion services. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and others, that I think there is a little glimpse of optimism. The Minister, Alistair Burt, is building on the record of my colleague Norman Lamb in putting mental health care high on the agenda. The Youth Justice Board is working closely with NHS England to bring forward a programme of early intervention.
Secondly, on education, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made major commitments to make life in prison meaningful through better education and training. The big problem here is the gap between those high ideals and the harsh reality of delivering a safe environment in which to carry out those education and training programmes.
I also draw attention to a matter that has been raised by a number of other speakers—namely, if there is one thing which really gives me concern since I became chairman of the YJB, it is the disjoint in information as a young person passes through the criminal justice system. We have a fear—particularly, I suspect, on my Benches—of the big brother state that knows all too much about us. The reality is that people too often have to make fundamental decisions about the welfare, vulnerability and needs of a young person with incomplete knowledge about what has happened previously and who has dealt with that young person previously. A major priority should be to ensure that the journey of the child into young adulthood is accompanied by as full a record as possible of their vulnerabilities and needs, what has happened to them and what should be done for them.
On staff skills, I associate myself with what has been said by one or two speakers, most recently the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I sometimes leave the secure estate in absolute awe of what the staff do. It is not an easy environment and the young people they are dealing with are not all lovable, yet staff do tremendous work. It is important that we take responsibility for saying that nobody should have to go out to work thinking, “Is this the day I am going to be seriously injured doing my job of trying to keep order in a YOI or prison?”. We have to address that issue.
This is a landmark report and an opportunity for reform. These times of austerity are not the easiest times. However, it behoves us all to reflect that, during the timescale covered by this report, all three parties have been in government at one time or another. Like the noble Lords, Lord Fellowes and Lord Harris, who also quoted Churchill—when he was a Liberal—I believe that,
“the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”.
That is doubly true when it comes to the treatment of the young. As I said in opening, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and his colleagues for their work. It is now incumbent on all of us with responsibility in these areas to heed their wise advice.
My Lords, 400 years ago John Donne proclaimed:
“No man is an island … any man’s death diminishes me”.
How much more are we and our justice system diminished by the deaths in custody of the four children and 83 young adults for whom the bell tolled between April 2007 and December 2013?
We are indebted to my noble friend Lord Harris and his team for their careful investigation into the circumstances which led to these untimely deaths; the way they have identified the failings of the policies and institutions within which they occurred; and the recommendations they propose to improve upon an unacceptable toll of young lives. It would be churlish not to pay tribute to Ministers for establishing the review and for reaching across the political divide and appointing my noble friend to chair it.
I regret I must qualify that tribute somewhat in the light of the Government’s reaction to the recent Supreme Court judgment which outlawed the segregation of prisoners—that is, placing them in solitary confinement for more than 72 hours—including young offenders. The Government have laid an order to amend the prison rules to extend this to 42 days and have embarked upon a consultation process as part of a review of the policy, which will conclude in the new year. That will be a matter of concern for Members of your Lordships’ House.
The background to the problems identified by the report lies in the way our criminal justice system involves a low level of the age of criminal responsibility and a high level of incarceration, with the prison population virtually doubling in the past 20 years, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, pointed out. We have, or are close to having, the highest prison population relative to population of any advanced country, with commensurately high costs, both direct and indirect. It is clear that conditions in too many of our prisons and young offender institutions are unsatisfactory, with overcrowding and staff shortages, and that in turn these systemic failings are reflected in unacceptably high and costly levels of reoffending.
I must again pay tribute to the Government for recognising that rehabilitation is the key to improvement in this area, with the additional bonus of reducing costs, although arguably the policies of the previous Lord Chancellor conflicted with the aspirations he voiced. There are welcome signs that Mr Gove may take a more rounded view.
An important strand running through the report and the submissions of bodies such as the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust is the need to recognise that sentencing policy and custodial practice should reflect the reality that 18 to 21 year-olds are not all of a piece in terms of their developmental maturity, a point made by several Members of your Lordships’ House in this debate. To adopt an old-fashioned phrase, sentencing needs to be tailor-made, not merely handed down from the judicial shelf, and the same approach is required in respect of what is provided by way of healthcare, education and all that is needed to promote rehabilitation. Particular attention is needed in respect of issues such as literacy and numeracy, and facilitating and encouraging family contact, physically and remotely by telephone or Skype, where this is appropriate. That was one of the main issues which persuaded many of us—and perhaps, in the event, Mr Gove—that the secure college concept for young offenders aged between 12 and 17 was ill advised.
It is clear that the system is struggling, with poor outcomes whether young adults are housed in separate establishments or mixed with adult offenders. The inspectorate found that local mixed prisons are finding it difficult to cope, although paradoxically it also found that young adults felt less safe in prisons without adults. Nevertheless, the Prison Reform Trust supports separate provision. There is clearly a debate to be had on this difficult issue and perhaps the Minister could indicate how the matter might be carried forward and eventually resolved.
The report alludes to staffing numbers and the current pressure on staff, which no doubt contributed to the tragic loss of young lives which triggered its commissioning. But there are also questions about the level of skills and the training required to secure the capacity to detect and deal with emerging symptoms that can lead to self-harm and worse. The training of prison staff, the report states, lasts eight weeks in England—the shortest period in Europe. In Norway, it is two years. Is there the potential to devise specific qualifications for employees in this sensitive area, especially for the newly proposed post of care and rehabilitation officers? I join other noble Lords in commending that recommendation of the report. Would it not also be right to pay special consideration to the health needs of staff who are working in what are clearly highly stressful conditions?
There is also a need to review what is happening to these young people before they begin their journey through the justice and custodial system. The report points out that the unhappy 87 young people whose cases it examined had exhibited problems from an early age and, as my noble friend Lord Harris reminded us, asks reasonably, “Why did so many of them end up in custody?”. Programmes such as the Government’s troubled families programme may help in this context but there is surely a need for a more holistic approach involving health, children’s and education services working collaboratively at local level to identify, and seek to tackle, early signs of behavioural and mental health problems. However, I fear that another large cut in resources for those already overstretched services will follow the comprehensive spending review and the local government finance settlement in December. The Ministry of Justice has an interest in these matters; I hope the Minister can assure us that he is discussing the issue with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury. The deeper the cuts in these services, the greater the eventual cost to the Ministry of Justice’s budget and to society as a whole.
The report makes some interesting suggestions about how overall management and evaluation of the service could be conducted. I am uncertain about the proposal to vest the responsibility in the Justice Committee but, in any event, I would argue for peer review—by which I do not mean another report from my noble friend—within the service, including experts and scrutiny by local authorities, for example by the combined authorities involved in the devolution process now under way. In the north-east, we undertook such an exercise in respect of the mental health of offenders some time ago. The present system of independent local oversight does not appear to be effective.
The report contains a host of recommendations, many of which have been raised in this debate. Time and the patience of the House do not permit me to refer to more of them, nor can the Minister be expected to cover today every issue that the report raises or each proposal it makes. We look forward to the Government’s detailed response to the report and hope, as my noble friend Lord Harris intimated, that it will not be long delayed—and that we can find a way to discuss it in detail, ideally in conjunction with the Justice Select Committee. I hope that in their response, the Government will look at what seems to be the best practice in other jurisdictions. In that context I invite the Minister, as I invited his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to look at the experience of Finland. In the mean time I reiterate my thanks, and I believe the thanks of the whole House, to my noble friend Lord Harris and thank all Members who have contributed to this important debate.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in thanking all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I especially thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for convening it and I welcome it as an opportunity to highlight the Government’s approach to the important issues which his report raises.
I also specifically thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody for its review into the self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18 to 24 year-olds, which was published in July of this year. I pay tribute to its thorough and comprehensive work. The noble Lord and his colleagues have given the Government a great deal to think about by their recommendations, which are being considered with the utmost care. As the noble Lord stated, there are no easy answers to these questions and the recommendations require a considerable level of care and attention.
Noble Lords may be aware—the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to this—that the recommendations are being considered in the context of a Justice Select Committee inquiry into young adult offenders in the criminal justice system, announced in July, as well as the Secretary of State’s wider prison reform considerations. The Government will respond to the recommendations of the Harris review once the interim chair of the panel on deaths in custody is in position.
This debate is not the forum for the Government’s response to the review, but what has been discussed today will certainly contribute considerably to the Government’s ongoing considerations. The Government have been clear in their commitment to make prisons places of reform, rehabilitation and redemption. In the future, prisons will not merely be places of punishment but will give those who find themselves incarcerated the chance to change.
This debate has ranged far and wide, dealing not simply with 18 to 24 year-olds but with the life journeys of many young offenders before they reach that age. It has dealt, to some extent, with older offenders, who now make up an increasing proportion of our prison population. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, this House represents a significant source of wisdom for the Government.
Crime is falling overall. Nevertheless, we know that more must be done to divert individuals even before they enter the criminal justice system. Progress has been made on this front. The newly expanded troubled families programme is now gearing up to work with another 400,000 families during this Parliament. The programme helps families struggling with multiple issues, which now include parental offending, by co-ordinating services better to get to the root cause of their problems. Where crime is an issue in these families, it means we are getting a better idea of the reasons behind it, and thus a better chance of intervening early to try and stop it happening again. I note the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the focus being perhaps on troubled adolescents as much as on troubled families.
We know that 41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child and that 24% had, at some point, been in care as children. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, emphasised the problems that those who have been in care can encounter and the fact that they so often find themselves in prison. He will be aware that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is currently leading a Prison Reform Trust review into care leavers, and we are expecting that report in 2016.
I also pay tribute to the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in the Young review, published in December 2014, which looked at improved outcomes for black and Muslim young men. I am glad that she had a satisfactory meeting with my ministerial colleague Andrew Selous and note her observations about the importance of statistics to inform trends. The next publication of statistics on race and the criminal justice system is scheduled to be released on 26 November 2015. We value the scrutiny that these figures encourage into this crucial area, and I agree with her that without examining and understanding these figures in an open and transparent way, we will not be able to make sufficient progress.
The percentages I referred to demonstrate the significance of the work, which has been led by my colleague, the Minister of State for Children and Families, aimed at improving child protection, supporting children in care and speeding up adoption—all measures which in the long term will be likely to impact positively on rates of offending, by reducing the conditions in which we know that offending behaviour flourishes.
Once an offence has been committed, diversions away from the criminal justice system may apply. Liaison and diversion services, now operating at police stations and courts across half the country, identify people of all ages who have mental health issues, learning disabilities, substance misuse issues and other vulnerabilities such as debt or homelessness when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system. Here, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley. As he knows, and by way of response to a question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Healey, this is being trialled across more than 50% of England. Further rollout is under consideration, and similar services for referral to mental health and learning disability services have been developed in Wales.
Reports from liaison and diversion services help to inform charging or disposal decisions by the police and inform magistrates and judges when sentencing. One theme that has emerged from the debate is the importance of continuity of information and the efficient transfer of information about individuals, so that those sentencing or dealing with young offenders have all the information at their fingertips. Liaison and diversion services can also identify the available treatment and support options, which may allow diversion away from custody.
I turn to reducing the prison population—a theme mentioned by several noble Lords. Many offenders are not subject to those diversions and, unfortunately, end up in front of the courts. I should confirm that the principle of judicial independence is vital and sentencing decisions must lie in the hands of magistrates and judges alone—although, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, emphasised, it is most important that timely information is available for sentencing tribunals to enable them to sentence on the best possible information. It is not appropriate for Ministers to influence the decisions in individual court cases, beyond setting the framework within which courts operate.
The noble and learned Lord sentenced a number of people for long periods in his distinguished time as a judge. As a much more junior judge, I have sentenced offenders to prison for shorter periods. He correctly identifies that sentences have been getting longer. There are a number of reasons for this. There is the possibility of media pressure. I think that there was also something of an arms race between political parties on the matter. No political party can claim innocence of that. There was a stress on trying to be tough with offenders. I think that it is probably safe to say that at the moment there is not an inappropriate battle between parties to sound unnecessarily firm on offenders. I genuinely think that there may be an opportunity for there not to be an undue escalation of prison sentences simply to respond to some perceived political imperative.
However, we recognise that judges and the public need to have confidence in community sentences. Where offenders are assessed by courts as being of no danger to others, we will aim to increase the use of electronic monitoring. We are committed to delivering a new generation of GPS tags, the technology for which is currently being tested. A comprehensive review of the electronic monitoring programme is under way to make sure that an efficient service is delivered. We are confident that the resulting system will provide the highest levels of technology available. The ability to locate and track offenders will be a valuable tool, allowing us to keep a closer watch on them without having expensively to imprison them.
The law makes it clear that custody should always be the last resort for a sentence. The custody threshold test, which all recorders and magistrates are taught about and is set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, requires a court to be satisfied that the seriousness of the offence is such that only a custodial sentence is appropriate. Only if community orders or fines are considered inappropriate can the court impose a custodial term.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made the point that sometimes sentences are too short and that in the time when a young offender is in prison, nothing much can be achieved. At various times, Governments have tried to specify the length so that it is not too short or too long, but it is a relevant factor and sentencing tribunals should very much bear it in mind.
When an offender does go into custody, it is important that we rehabilitate that person so that they do not return to prison. That is why the coalition Government took steps to introduce supervision for offenders released from short sentences. In the past, such offenders were released at the halfway point of their sentence with no supervision and no support. It is perhaps not surprising that this group had high reoffending rates. Following the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, these offenders are now subject to a year of supervision in the community, designed to break the cycle of offending that leads to short custodial sentences in the first place.
I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said about the importance of self-respect in young offenders and what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said on the importance of someone showing a bit of interest, as in the case of David which he told the House about.
There are some hopeful signs about young offenders. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke of the significant reduction in the number of young offenders in custody at the moment. Probably, the general population would be unaware how small that population is: 1,000 of them, with a very small number of young girls—approximately 50. So there are hopeful signs.
Noble Lords discussed improving conditions within prisons. Where the courts consider the crime to be serious enough, of course prison must be the punishment. When offenders are punished by being sent to prison, the loss of liberty is the punishment. However, we have a duty to make prisons safe, secure and dignified so that offenders can be rehabilitated within them.
I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the work of the Prison Service. I am grateful for the observations of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth in that regard. In challenging conditions, the men and women who work in and for prisons do a fantastic job, keeping society safe from those who would pose a danger and rehabilitating inmates so that they can once again contribute to society.
In the context of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, it is of course a tragedy if any young person commits suicide. It is also a real shock to the staff who work in these young offender institutions. They take a long time to recover from these instances, often knowing the young offenders well. The work they do goes unnoticed, but it is absolutely vital to the function of our criminal justice system and deserves recognition.
The noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Fellowes, referred to improving conditions, and we know that there is much to do. The Secretary of State set a clear direction in this area. Major estate reforms will remove those facilities that no longer suit the needs of a modern Prison Service from our estate and free up funds for the construction of modern prisons. In these new builds, we can design out the flaws in existing structures that facilitate drug-taking and violence. Such a project is already under way in north Wales.
Furthermore, we continually work to make prisons as safe as possible for both offenders and staff. One improvement in this area is the Serious Crime Act 2015, which brought in two new offences: being in possession of a knife or other offensive weapon in a prison without authorisation; and the throwing of items over a prison wall without authorisation. The Act will reduce the incidence of violence in prisons and increase our ability to safely and securely rehabilitate prisoners.
We also recognise the significant problems caused by psychoactive substances known as “legal highs” in prisons. They have been linked to specific acts of violence and erratic behaviour. Therefore, we introduced a number of measures to tackle the use of psychoactive substances in prison. Operationally, we deploy a robust range of security measures to reduce the availability of legal highs. More than 500 specialist dogs work in prisons, searching cells, visitors and perimeters. Closed visits through a glass screen may be used and we are exploring the use of body scanners to reduce the threat posed by drugs smuggled into prisons, including the threat presented by so-called plugging. There has been a major push on communications to ensure that governors and staff are aware of the associated dangers, and that prisoners are aware of the consequences of taking psychoactive substances.
The Secretary of State clearly set out his commitment to liberating offenders through learning. Time spent in prison must be used advantageously. We must offer prisoners the chance to obtain the qualifications and skills that will equip them to lead successful lives outside prison. This is a vital part of the Government’s reform agenda. We know that one in five prisons has an inadequate standard of education and two in five require improvement. The Secretary of State commissioned Dame Sally Coates to chair a review into the quality of education in prisons which will report in the spring. In the mean time, we have a number of steps and measures under way to improve support for prisoners with learning disabilities, develop more creative teaching methods and collect better management information.
Supporting offenders into meaningful employment is a vital aspect of the Government’s approach. This supports those who have committed a crime to provide an effective contribution towards society, helping to break the cycle of offending. Of course, we do not want to push them into a job, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, but we are keen to increase the number of employers who engage with prisoners and offenders to offer them employment opportunities. We hold an Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, chaired by the CEO of Timpson, James Timpson, which brings together employers who support the employment of offenders to share their experiences and promote the benefits of employing offenders to other businesses. We have also built up a relationship with Halfords that is also worthy of note. I have had a chance to meet representatives from both Halfords and Timpson, and they both stress how often these employees turn out to be extremely good, very keen to have the job and stick at it and soon completely absorbed into the working community.
I am very grateful for the Minister’s response on that point—and of course a lot of positive work is done and results are achieved. However, would he pick up the point that one must not drive out the imperative of recognising that some of these youngsters are just not prepared or ready for work and need expenditure in terms of the support that needs to be provided to enable them to join the workforce?
I entirely accept that—not everybody is ready for that sort of job, as is recognised by the potential employers. But some are, and if they are it is certainly an advantageous step to take.
Before I turn to the subject at the heart of the report from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I would like to deal with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, about prisoners’ votes, but it is a complex one. I hope he will accept the fact that, at the moment, the Government do not believe that prisoners should have the vote, but I recognise that there are different views on that issue.
As to the subject at the heart of the report from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, whenever a prisoner, of whatever age, takes their own life, it is a dreadful and tragic event. We recognise that prisons hold a particularly vulnerable population, so the prevention of such deaths is a priority for the Ministry of Justice, and NOMS. Staff do an incredible job of keeping prisoners safe and prevent many prisoners from taking their own lives. Every day, prisons manage around 2,000 prisoners deemed to be at a heightened risk of suicide or self-harm. We know that the factors that are associated with self-harm and self-inflicted deaths can become more pronounced in prison, but there is no single factor which explains why self-inflicted deaths in prisons have increased, and no simple solution to solve it.
All prisons are required to have procedures in place for the identification, support and management of those at risk of harm to themselves, known as the ACCT process. I note the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on that matter; a review of the process will report by the end of this month. We work closely with health providers to support prisoners with mental health conditions. NOMS has a long-standing and close partnership with the Samaritans, whose volunteers support prisoners to become listeners, providing trained peer support to fellow prisoners who are experiencing distress. On the issue of mental health, NHS England has developed national specifications for health and justice services. All health services for prisons must focus on delivering improved health and well-being for offenders. Learning lessons is crucial to reducing self-inflicted deaths. We welcome the work of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
There is a great deal more to be done, and a great deal more that I should like to say in response to the report, but time is against me. The report from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, requires and will receive a detailed response. It is unfortunate that the final review could not be presented at the recent ministerial board—he referred to that in opening—but I understand that the two members of the review team were present, and there was a long discussion on deaths in custody, with contributions from the director of NOMS and an external expert on suicide. I assure the noble Lord and the House that the Secretary of State has given the review careful consideration and the contents of his report and what noble Lords have said in this valuable debate will greatly assist the Ministry of Justice. I thank all noble Lords.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. It has been a very important and thorough debate, and I am grateful to everyone. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, put it very usefully when he said that the Government need no more evidence, and I listened with interest to the long list of reviews that the Secretary of State has commissioned. All of those will no doubt have to be considered before a final decision can be taken on these matters.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, highlighted the importance of defining the purpose of prisons—a matter which was also set out clearly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers—and highlighted the importance of recognising that the sentence of the court is the deprivation of liberty and we must now focus on ensuring that prisons deliver what the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, talked about: a chance to change in prison.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, also highlighted the importance of individual care and attention. That was also articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lord Beecham, both of whom endorsed, I think, the principle of the custody and rehabilitation officer and a more professional approach to these matters.
My noble friend Lord Bradley talked about the importance of effective information sharing, a theme which was picked up by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Adebowale and Lord McNally. My noble friend also highlighted the importance of liaison and diversion. That point was picked up by my noble friend Lady Healy of Primrose Hill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth rightly spoke about the importance of maturity and brain development, a point which came across in so much of the evidence we received. It has got to underpin so many different aspects of government policy. The noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, reminded us of the importance of the physical condition of the prison estate. I know that it is a matter that the Secretary of State has considered.
My noble friend Lord Judd spoke movingly about the fear that some prisoners have about leaving prison and highlighted the need to rehabilitate—a theme which I hope the Secretary of State will also pick up. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, rightly focused on issues of race, religion and gender. Those must underpin our work in this area. I was interested in the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Beecham about a greater role for local government and, in particular, for combined authorities in the oversight of the criminal justice system and prisons. I hope it will be possible to take that forward.
I conclude by thanking the Minister for responding so thoroughly to many of the issues without actually telling us anything about the final direction of travel. He told us—and I would have been shocked if he had said the opposite—that the recommendations of my review are being considered with the utmost care. It would indeed be shocking if the Ministry of Justice, having commissioned this report, was not considering it with the utmost care. The Minister listed a large number of reviews, and they will all, no doubt, have to be considered. He made one point I found puzzling. He said that it is necessary to wait for the appointment of an interim chair of the independent advisory panel. That post has not been advertised and, by its nature, is interim. Surely it would be much better, given that the post has been vacant for a month, to advertise the permanent post. It is surprising that that has not happened.
The Minister said that he wants to see that prisoners have the chance to change in prison. I hope we will also see that the Government are trying to ensure that the young people who are not yet in prison—who have not yet encountered the criminal justice system—have a chance to change before that.
Advertising Standards Authority
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I have two interests to declare. The first is as a former claimant, partly successful, to the ASA—an event that triggered my interest in its nature and procedures. The second is as a regulator myself of many years’ standing. I have regulated the BBC, IVF, student complaints and barristers; indeed, if it moves and needs regulation, I seem to get the job. I have immersed myself in what is good regulation and what is not, and this afternoon’s topic is accordingly part of a wider debate about successful modern regulation. I am entirely consistent on this topic; for years I have called for the BBC—specifically, its complaints system, which deals with topics that go to the heart of the reputation of the BBC—to be dealt with by an independent body and not by three trustees closeted with their editorial adviser at the top of a labyrinthine process.
The era of self-regulation is almost over. No doubt some speakers in this debate will tell us, quite properly, that the ASA’s rulings are good and that it has been a success for decades. That may be one view, but what matters today is perception and the distancing of vested interests from the profession or industry that is being regulated. The public demand no less. The Shipman inquiry brought about a sea change in medical regulation; the Clementi review ended the legal profession’s self-regulation; the Etherington report will lead to the end of fundraising self-regulation. The press, the BBC to some extent, and the ASA are the remaining self-regulators in that most important area of our life— information—and we have seen what vested interests are doing to attempts to reform the mode of press regulation.
Sir Brian Leveson analysed the insufficiencies of self-regulation in his report on the press. The ASA suffers from all those defects: the control of the funders over appointment and setting standards. The ASA is not a government agency, not elected, and not overseen. It is funded by the advertising industry through the levy collected by the Advertising Standards Board of Finance—ASBOF. The chair of the ASA is appointed by ASBOF. The council members appear to be appointed by the chair alone, and the fact that the majority are not connected with the advertising industry does not make the ASA independent in the regulatory sense. The codes of practice are written by an industry committee, the Committee of Advertising Practice—CAP—which shares an executive with the ASA.
Therefore the code-writing, administration, appointments and funding are entirely in the hands of the advertising industry. There is no external input at all, save for the very tiny consumer input, the Advertising Advisory Committee, which gives advice only to the Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice, and can be ignored after the advice is received. The chair and council members of the ASA double up as the company directors of the ASA with “oversight”. The ASA is not subject to freedom of information requests. Three industry panels advise the CAP and the ASA. It is not accountable to anyone outside the industry—indeed, it is hermetically sealed. Successful judicial review is very difficult, as it is directed only to the lawfulness of the ultimate review by the independent reviewer—one person—and in general cannot look at the reasonableness of the ASA decision itself.
For these structural reasons the ASA does not qualify to be a full member of the Ombudsman Association, which, like Leveson, requires members to be independent of those whom they investigate and that they have a minimum term of appointment of five years so that they are not under pressure when it comes to the question of renewal; ASA members have a three-year renewable term with a salary sufficiently generous to make a second term attractive. The Ombudsman Association requires that remuneration and employment should not be capable of being adversely affected by those who are the subject of regulation, that it should be accountable to an outside body, and should act according to the principles of natural justice, most notably showing all the material to both sides, which the ASA does not.
To reinforce its position, the ASA is a member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance, which openly promotes self-regulation and is chaired by none other than the CEO of the ASA. The ASA structure may mean that the UK is in breach of European Union directive 114 of 2006, which requires recourse to a court or administrative tribunal as a remedy.
Does this matter? I will give an example. Right now there is intense interest in obesity and sugar, and already it is being suggested that there can be no credibility in the ASA’s rulings about sweet stuffs and junk food since it is perceived to be in the hands of the advertisers.
That necessary trust cannot be established without radical reform of the self-regulatory model. That is more important than ever before because of the widespread nature of new technology, bringing ads into and over an ever-increasing spectrum and making them particularly unavoidable by children.
If the ASA observed the rules of natural justice and gave adequate reasons, and treated both sides equally, there might be trust, but more often than not the reasoning of the rulings are guesswork and subjective. As I will show, there is a lack of consistency in judgments. Some take an impressionistic line; others are more objective with scientific input, but only a handful of experts are listed on the ASA’s website and there are no guidelines on whether an expert is going to be called in on the scientific or political matter under review.
Were they not fundamentally so illustrative of lack of reasoning, some of the ASA rulings on offensive material would be risible. Occasionally the ASA is in full Mary Whitehouse mode and objects to any ad which in its view suggests sexuality coupled with women in uniform—police, stewardesses or nurses. An ad is allowed to be “sexually suggestive” but not “overtly sexual”. Your Lordships and I may be out of touch with this sort of categorisation.
At other times the ASA is very relaxed about what members of the public see as pornographic pictures of naked women, and the rulings turn on the ASA’s view of which bits of the woman are on display—her facial expression, stance and gaze, or the position of the item she is holding to advertise. Holding a giant perfume bottle is deemed provocative, but not a wrench wielded by a woman, who was deemed to be only mildly sexual. A Ryanair cabin crew charity calendar ad at a time when undressed women in calendars were all the rage was deemed offensive because the women were wearing underwear and looking directly at the reader, but naked women with a look of defiance are okay. Never was consumer input more needed than in those types of rulings, together with some intelligent reasoning to dispel the notion of randomness. An ad calling on women to be beach-body ready, showing a model in a bikini, was okay, but an ad on a Polish-language website showing an ideal man’s body, with the suggestion that it could be swiftly achieved, was not. The mind boggles at the conversations that must have gone on in the ASA offices.
On questions of race, religion and politics, the ASA sometimes seems out of its depth. All of this could be made sense of with a consumer-led and non-industry-funded body that gave considered reasons for its rulings.
What is the ASA’s purpose? Is it to prevent misinformation being given to the public by scrutinising all claims objectively; is it to hold the balance between the complainants and the advertiser; or is it to protect the industry or the consumer? The time has come, after 50 years of lagging behind best practice in regulation, to bring the ASA into the 21st century. My suggestions draw heavily on the Leveson inquiry and other studies of good regulation.
This is what the ASA should do. The chair and board members should be appointed in a genuinely open and transparent, independent way without influence from the industry or government. The appointment panel for the chair, who should be independent of any political party, should follow Nolan principles and include, for example, the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Board members should be similarly appointed for one non-renewable term, and the funding settlement should be for long enough to reduce industry influence. The code drafting should include a majority of independent members. Twenty-first century governance requires a board with non-industry individuals to oversee the council. There should be an appeal system with more members and a wider remit. All the material should be shared with both sides and neither side should be allowed to spin out the proceedings by ignoring deadlines for response. There should also be clear guidelines about the use of experts.
If the ASA will not do that, one has to ask: why not? A statutory body is unlikely to be any more expensive or complicated but will be needed if self-regulation is not abandoned. We do not want red tape but regulation is still demanded where the welfare, rights and future of the public would be at risk without it. The rise of social media and the internet make it essential that there is a public and reasoned grip on advertising.
My Lords, this is a very welcome debate tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. In Britain, we spend much too much time denigrating the things that we do badly and too little time advertising the things that we do well. Advertising regulation, I shall argue this afternoon, is a jewel in our crown. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to deal with some—unfortunately there is such a lot so I cannot deal with all of it—of the well-meaning, but in my view utterly misplaced, criticism of the Advertising Standards Authority and its governance, as advanced by the noble Baroness.
I, too, have been a regulator, but in this matter I am a gamekeeper turned poacher. I was a member of the council of the ASA for six years, first under my noble friend Lord Borrie and then under the noble Lord, Lord Smith. Since then, I have been a serial complainer against ads that seem to me to offend against the code. Indeed, I was told a while ago that I was in the top 10 complainers in Britain, and I expect to take the gold medal before too long.
This role of complainer gives me some sympathy with the noble Baroness. I reckon that I have a hit rate of about 90% with my complaints—that is not surprising, because I know from my experience on the council what is likely to win. However, it is a very bruising experience to lose, when the arguments against an ad which the complainer finds so compelling are rejected by the council in its wisdom. Therefore, I quite understand why the noble Baroness is injured still by the fate of her complaint against the ad concerning Medical Aid for Palestinians, given that only four of the 22 complaints she made were ultimately upheld. We know how deeply that must have bit, because as recently as 2012, in a lecture at Gresham College, the noble Baroness said that,
“the Advertising Standards Authority seems to work well as a self regulator”.
What has changed since then is on the record. Noble Lords know that they should not cross the noble Baroness lightly, and she has since mounted a sustained campaign against the governance of the ASA.
I understand that the noble Baroness has circulated to some noble Lords an 18-point charge sheet against the ASA. I expect that the noble Baroness, thoughtful as ever, did not send it to me because she did not want me to splutter into my cornflakes.
I do not have time to deal with all 18 points, but I focus instead on the points made by the noble Baroness when she asked a Parliamentary Question on the subject on 29 June this year, and which she repeated in her speech this afternoon. She said:
“There is no obligation to share material with both sides. The authority sometimes fails to seek expertise and evidence when necessary, fails to give adequate reasons for its judgments, fails to follow precedents”.—[Official Report, 29/6/15; col. 1804.]
I do not want to be unfair, but to me, there is a smell to those arguments: that of a lawyer trying to find lawyerly solutions to problems that she has perceived. The noble Baroness is taking a process that is designed for a lay person to use and seeking to turn it into a quasi-legal system. I shall explain why that seems to me to be a gross mistake.
Let me deal in turn with the points she made in the PQ. There is no obligation to share material. Instead, the ASA executive provides a concise summary of the points made by each side, checks with both sides before the matter goes to council that they do not feel misrepresented, and, often, corrects its summary. That way, one does not have to go through huge piles of papers to find out what the argument is about. That is not legality at work, but common sense.
The noble Baroness said that the authority fails to seek expertise. It does not; it gets it when it needs it. I was recently discussing with the ASA where it might appropriately get impartial advice on my special subject—racing tipsters’ advertising, on which, at some time, I will bore the House. But it rightly and deliberately does not do so when a lay person can perfectly well comprehend the arguments—something at which the ASA’s superb young staff is exceptionally skilled.
It is said that the ASA fails to give adequate reasons. Well, I know that it failed to convince the noble Baroness on her case, but as someone who has large numbers of these cases each year, I find its reasoning is adequate even when I disagree with it. Of course, if you do disagree, you can go off to the independent reviewer, Sir Hayden Phillips, who is a former civil servant of great distinction and judgment, complain about it and get it reconsidered if he is satisfied on the point you are making. Finally, it is said that it does not follow precedents. Well that is the real giveaway. Precedents, which are beloved of judges are often appropriate in law. But in the case of advertising, as I know from my time on the council, each case is different. The facts are different. One man’s misplaced monkey wrench on a lady is another woman’s disgraceful sexual invitation. These cases can be decided only on the facts. There cannot be a general rule on sexual representation that catches all of these things.
Of course, the noble Baroness disagrees with the judgments that are made. She said so. She would like more ads to be banned. She did not produce any evidence that the public feel the same way, and we will come to the public in a minute. I cannot think of a better way of deciding complaints than having 13 very serious people concentrating closely on the arguments, with the ads set out before them, considering them in the most succinct and objective way. I would certainly prefer that to leaving it to the noble Baroness to decide what we may or may not see.
Of course, the ASA observes the rule of law. On 20 occasions, advertisers, mostly commercial advertisers, no doubt egged on by their legal advisers who were looking forward to their fees, have sought judicial review. Of those, 18 of the 20 were wholly won by the ASA and one partly because judges, thank God, are people with common sense. I understand that the noble Baroness’s explanation is that judicial review does not go widely enough. Hey ho, here we go. That means more of the court’s time, more expensive lawyers, more angels dancing on the heads of pins all, so far as I can tell, to no possible practical gain.
One of the huge advantages of the present system is that it brings about a rough equality of armaments. As a complainant, I can pursue my complaint without worrying too much about the advertisers’ lawyers. If the changes sought by the noble Baroness were made, that would start to go. I am not sure that I could go on complaining because I could not face having to read through the vast chunks of material that she thinks should be made available. There are huge legal submissions, which is bureaucracy run amok, in order to consider what is often a very simple point. There would be more and more cases in which the big battalions with their deep pockets would get their way, to no benefit to the public.
Of all the things that the noble Baroness said, the thing that I most strongly disagree with is what she said about the public. What she identifies as the faults of the present system are in fact its strengths—informality, simplicity, a remedy open to all and not just to those who can bring money to bear and have great influence. That is why the Advertising Standards Authority has such strong public support. Some 75% of those who complain are either very or quite satisfied with the ASA, which is far higher than any other regulator with which it is compared.
I am genuinely sorry that the noble Baroness is among the 15% who are dissatisfied. Some time, I will share with her some of the experiences that I have had, too, when I have had complaints turned down. But there is an old saw that we should bear in mind: some people are never satisfied. No system will satisfy everyone and I think the ASA is doing extremely well to satisfy as many people as it has. The Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asks the Government what plans they have to review the governance of the ASA. I profoundly hope that in replying, the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, will say, “Absolutely none”. It ain’t broke, so let us not try to fix it.
My Lords, I would also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for tabling this debate. Even though there are not many people here, there is obviously a rumbustious feeling about it almost before we begin. I feel somewhat intimidated speaking after the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and before the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, the eminent chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, and therefore I shall get the nice words out before I deal with the problems that I feel there are with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, talked about the Advertising Standards Authority being—I think the words he used were—the jewel in the crown. In the few words that I am going to contribute to the debate, I want to say that there is an essential flaw in the jewel, and that flaw is not something that the Government should ignore. However, I shall start with the theme enumerated by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech; that is, the rulings of the Advertising Standards Authority. Despite the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I believe that many of them show a failure of self-regulation. They reflect inadequate reasoning for decisions which seem to change.
The ASA ruling on MAC Cosmetics was essentially on posters featuring pictures of an actress with pictures of her clothed lower body—specifically, pictures of her clothed crotch. When asked, the ASA said that they were not offensive. Whereas a Ryanair advert—the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, mentioned Ryanair, but this is a different advert; obviously the company is pushing the boundaries—showed a model dressed in a short skirt posing in a schoolroom. It was banned for being provocative. Personally, I cannot see how these are consistent decisions unless the judgments of the Advertising Standards Authority are dependent on whether they are turned on by an adult model or by someone posing as a schoolgirl. This is the point raised by earlier speakers: it really depends on which group of people in the ASA is making the decision. There is a great inconsistency.
Then there was confusion regarding a television advert for safe cycling in Scotland. Was it harmful and irresponsible to show a cyclist without a helmet and safety attire cycling down the middle of a road? At first the complaint was upheld, but five months later the adjudication was replaced, making the complaint not upheld. The advert was apparently now “not socially irresponsible”. I maintain that at times confusion seems to reign in the ASA.
I thank the noble Lord for that. Indeed it is a strength, but it is also an inconsistency. It shows that there is a set of people in the ASA who are making decisions and then presumably another set of people come along and say, “That decision was not correct”. It does not generate respect for the decisions. When the Minister replies, will he say whether it matters that there is a lack of consistency in judgments or changes are made, which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, thinks is a virtue? Also, are there adequate guidelines about the use of experts in scientific and political beliefs? The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, mentioned a particular Middle Eastern question which I do not have to hand, but are there experts from all sides of what is a ticklish problem for everyone in the international sector? I do not know, and perhaps the Minister can comment on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, mentioned in passing the Leveson inquiry into press self-regulation, and its drawbacks are a useful parallel to the ASA. I want to speak in a little more detail about that in the time I have than the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Like the much-criticised Press Complaints Commission, the ASA has a chair appointed by the funding body, and an independent reviewer with a very limited remit. Leveson—vol. 1, page 219—criticised this model and lack of interest in and input from the public. He criticised press regulation because the standards were set by the editors.
The same is true of the ASA. The code is drafted entirely by advertisers. On page 1,624 of Leveson, he said that the ultimate code should be approved by an independent body. That is what the ASA should do as well. Leveson in vol. 4, page 1,759, says that good self-regulation requires,
“that the Chair and members of the Board are appointed in a genuinely open, transparent and independent way, without any influence from industry”.
The chair should be independent of any political party and an appointment panel should be used, including people such as the Commissioner for Public Appointments, for chair and board members, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.
The Advertising Standards Authority, despite its eminent chair who I accept is doing a thoroughly good job—I have no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Smith—offends against all these regulation criteria. Maybe it manages it but it does not make it right. The question for noble Lords and for the Minister, which is a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is whether the practice of self-regulation is no longer the accepted norm.
We have talked about Leveson and the press. Now we are talking about the ASA. We mentioned the Shipman inquiry, which altered medical regulation. We mentioned the Clementi review, which altered the legal profession’s self-regulation. There is also the Etherington report, which heralds the demise of self-regulation in fundraising.
The ASA is funded by the industry; it is good that the Government do not have to fund it. Its chair is appointed by the Advertising Standards Board of Finance. In this case, it is a very good chair, but it is nice and comfy. Just because there is a good chair now does not necessarily mean that the chairs will always be as acceptable to many of us. The ASA is not subject to requests under freedom of information, which it would be in another guise. What is required is: governance by a board mainly from outside the industry; an appeal system; and—dare I mention it?—transparency. This could be achieved at the same cost by a statutory or consumer-led body funded by a levy on members. In this case, it is funded by a levy on members on a board that is self-regulated and which is not what we should be aiming for in this century.
My Lords, I must begin by declaring a very firm interest in this matter as chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority.
At the outset, let us remind ourselves of the overall picture. The ASA has been regulating ads in the UK for the last 53 years, and doing so very successfully. Last year we dealt with more than 37,000 complaints relating to 17,300 adverts. In addition to responding to complaints, we also initiated—of our own initiative—1,600 cases to make sure that the advertising codes were being complied with. Out of this, last year 3,384 ads were banned, removed or amended. If anyone thinks that the ASA is toothless, just look at this past week when we banned ads by some of the major companies in this country, including Boots, Bet365 and Coral. We act without fear or favour. In addition, last year we gave more than 194,000 pieces of advice or training to advertisers in order to make sure that they got it right in the first place.
All of this happens at no cost at all to the public purse; it is funded by a 0.1% voluntary levy across the advertising spend. We provide a one-stop shop for complaints about advertising in all media, including print, press, leaflets, cinema, television and radio, as well as online and social media. The self-regulatory system is able to respond to developments in the advertising world and in society much more quickly than a statutory system could. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, pointed out, when we asked those who brought complaints to us whether they were satisfied with the way they were dealt with, even of those who were disappointed that we did not uphold their complaint 75% were very or quite satisfied with the process we went through.
I realise that of course the noble Baroness is not one of the 75%. It is worth noting that in her own case, which triggered her recent campaign against the ASA, she brought 22 separate items of complaint about an ad by Medical Aid for Palestinians. This was a highly complex case in an even more highly controversial area of public concern. Some of it related to matters of fact; some of it to matters of competing judgment. It needed very careful consideration. As well as to the ASA council, it also went to the independent reviewer, Sir Hayden Phillips. Only four of the 22 points were upheld, but no one can say that careful consideration was not given.
On one matter, I accept that the noble Baroness has a point, or at least part of a point. She believes that we should have brought in outside experts to advise on her case. We do bring in expert advice on some cases, normally to assist on detailed technical or scientific evidence. We did so in 16 cases out of 900 investigations last year. However, in a matter of political controversy, what would count as an expert? Who would qualify as an expert on all the passionately argued debates about Israel and Palestine? It is difficult, but none the less I have already made a commitment to the noble Baroness that, in future similar cases, we will give careful consideration to bringing in an outside expert if we genuinely believe that they may be able to assist the process.
However, on many other things that she said in her arguments this evening, the noble Baroness is simply not right. She said that the ASA was not able to be a full member of the Ombudsman Association. That is incorrect. The Ombudsman Association has three categories of membership: ombudsman members, which are categorised as meeting the criteria for technical ombudsmen; complaint handler members, which are categorised as having appropriate governance in place to function as best-practice complaint handlers; and associate members, who have an interest and relevant expertise in the work of the Ombudsman Association. Because it is not technically an ombudsman, the ASA is a complaint handler member. We are a full member of the Ombudsman Association and we share complaint handler status with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner and the First Civil Service Commissioner and Commissioner for Public Appointments in England.
The Ombudsman Association is perfectly satisfied with the governance and procedures of the Advertising Standards Authority. Indeed, as the noble Baroness will have noticed, the other entities with which we share complaint handler status would fit with any person’s consideration of independence and probity.
Secondly, the noble Baroness says that the codes of practice are written by the industry and that there is no external input at all. Yes, the codes are written by industry representatives, but only after very full and thorough consultation. The Institute for Government recently said, in commenting on the inadequacies of government response to consultation:
“However, an example of best practice is the way in which the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) reacted to the results of a consultation on applying advertising standards to e-cigarettes”.
It is best practice in the view of the Institute for Government, which is a thoroughly independent body.
Thirdly, the noble Baroness said that the ASA is not accountable to anyone outside the industry—that it is not overseen. First, on broadcasting ads we co-regulate with Ofcom. Secondly, we work very closely with trading standards; on occasion we refer recalcitrant advertisers to trading standards. Thirdly, we have a robust and independent review process in place. Fourthly, we are, of course, subject to judicial review. As the noble Lord noted, in 53 years we have failed in judicial review on only one and a half occasions. Finally, we have issued a commitment to good regulation, which is published and available to be viewed by anyone. We have committed ourselves to an external assessment and review of that statement of commitment next year.
Fourthly, the noble Baroness said that ASA members are somehow not independent. Two-thirds have no connection or involvement with advertising or marketing before they are appointed. That is a criterion for appointment. The chair has to have had no connection or involvement with advertising or marketing. Members are appointed not by the chair alone, but by open advertisement and interview by a panel of council members, now including an external person as part of the interview process. I invite her, as I have done before, to come and see the council in action. I dare her to suggest that it is somehow not independent.
We had a very interesting tour of the horizon of a number of complaints about the sexualisation of figures in advertising from both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. This is precisely the point: an awful lot will always depend on the precise nature of the image, the context in which it is seen and the way it will be reacted to by the public in whose presence it will be seen. These are issues that can only be judged, case by case, by a committee of sensible, rational, independent-minded people. That is precisely what the Advertising Standards Authority council is.
This is a system of regulation that works. It is admired around the world. If noble Lords ask anyone in advertising or advertising regulation in any other country in the world, they will tell you that the ASA system in the United Kingdom is the gold standard for regulation. We do not get all the things that we do right. We do, however, get most things right. We tamper with it at our peril.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. The noble Baroness made a trenchant case and is clearly on a mission, continuing the theme that she raised in an Oral Question last June. At that time, and again tonight, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, reminded us of the sheer volume of complaints dealt with by the ASA last year—37,000 complaints about 17,000 adverts—and the number of adverts that were changed as a result of its decisions. So this is a very important part of regulation and it is entirely legitimate for us to debate it tonight.
I have not always seen eye to eye with the advertising industry. After all, it opposed my tobacco advertising and sponsorship Bill on the basis that it would be the thin end of a wedge. Of course, it has not been. I probably still have an old copy of The Hidden Persuaders in my bookcase. As an in-house lawyer in the retail industry, I encountered decisions of the ASA that were sometimes unwelcome to the business I worked for. However, without a great deal of further evidence, I do not believe that the noble Baroness has made out her case tonight.
I have not always been a great fan of voluntary regulation in other areas. For example, I was critical of ATVOD in its early years. Given what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, perhaps as a lawyer I should be arguing ferociously for more statutory regulation, but fundamentally we have to judge whether a particular form of regulation works by its results. It seems to me that the ASA does a difficult job in areas where the sands frequently shift, when concerns are raised about the advertising of junk food, adverts featuring skinny models or those involving obesity, alcohol, computer games, e-cigarettes and gambling. All those areas are fraught with difficulty. It is not always easy to draw the line between a legitimate desire to protect the young and/or vulnerable in our society and general disapproval of particular ways of expression—indeed, of free speech.
Advertising is often blamed for the ills of society, when in fact it is perfectly legitimate marketing. Advertising, of course, operates in a climate where it is frequently the whipping boy for many social ills. We need to be scrupulous in insisting on evidence of harm, as I certainly did when dealing with tobacco advertising, and as I see is now taking place with the ASA’s review of junk food advertising. We should be scrupulous about adducing evidence before advocating bans.
Having done a press search for the ASA over the past six months, it is apparent what an extraordinary job it does. I do not agree with my noble friend that there is huge inconsistency. The range of complaints is extensive and the judgments are not easy. Just in the last two weeks, we have had a judgment about a cleavage competition and adverts in the Sun, which were not banned. We have had a tombstoning ad on television and in cinemas, which was banned. We have had Strongbow ads on YouTube, which were banned. All of those were rather difficult judgments. At the end of the day, however, what shines through for me is some rather refreshing common sense in the judgments. Going further back in time, there were judgments on the “Book of Mormon” adverts or the Paddy Power adverts involving Sepp Blatter and some expletives. Refreshing common sense is what comes through for me in those cases.
Where this issue really matters, however, is in the protection of children. “The Generation of Z: Apocalypse” zombie posters—I am sure noble Lords are familiar with those—were banned. I thought that was an entirely correct decision.
It is very tricky. In its judgments the ASA has to conform to what it perceives as the mainstream of taste and public opinion—and, in a sense, public morality and social responsibility. The great benefit, in my view, is the way that the ASA’s remit has been able to adapt over time, bringing consistency to advertising in different media and meeting new challenges as new advertising platforms emerge. The flexibility of the voluntary system run by the ASA is of great benefit.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, how long the ASA has been in operation—since 1962, starting in print; going into digital in 1995; its remit expanded to broadcast in 2004; video on demand in 2009; advertisers’ own marketing communications in 2010, and so on. If new platforms emerge, I am sure that the ASA will address those as well.
Of course, underpinning the ASA’s work are consumer protection regulations. It is not entirely non-statutory. The ASA has also had—and I say this in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Smith—a very distinguished series of chairmen. We have had my noble friend Lord Rodgers, then the noble Lord, Lord Borrie—who knows more about consumer law than the noble Lord, Lord Borrie?—and now the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury.
There is another reason why it is important to have a system of regulation that is flexible and responsive. It is not always referred to as such but advertising is one of our creative industries. It is in fact the largest component of the creative industries in this country, at £19 billion. It supports half a million jobs. It is of great importance and drives growth, as Deloitte established in its report, in the order of £100 billion. It funds other parts of the creative industries. One has only to look at the ITV advertising to establish that. That is all the more reason to be cautious about introducing new, untried regulation.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He stole my final line. I do not think the system is broken. The noble Baroness is a formidable regulator but, particularly in the face of what the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Lipsey, have said, I am not persuaded by her argument. She said that the era of self-regulation is over. In this case, I really do not agree. That is an assertion but it is theoretical. It is saying that the regulator is not fit for purpose but I do not see the evidence. Without further evidence, I agree with the statement in the coalition Government’s July 2013 paper that:
“The UK benefits from a healthy and successful advertising sector, underpinned by an exemplar of successful self-regulation, the Advertising Standards Authority”.
My Lords, it has been a very good debate and we all owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for allowing us to expand on the issues that she has raised here. There is tremendous expertise around the Chamber. Who would have thought that we had a gold medallist in complaining sitting in our very midst? How wonderful to hear that. It is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in fine form, as combative as ever. He is too often absent from our discussions. I wish he would spend more time here. He must tell us some time what was going on in 1962 that led to the ASA being established. It must have been an interesting time, from all that we have heard tonight.
I did feel a little uncomfortable at times because we seem to be re-hearing a private discussion, one perhaps more restricted to the halls of the ASA, and it will be difficult for us to draw very much from some of the points made here because not all of us were involved in the process. I am sure the Minister will agree with me on that. However, in the interstices of that debate there are a number of points worthy of further reflection.
First, it is interesting, as was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that most of the points that were raised for debate about what was happening in the field—apart from the political point raised by the noble Baroness—concerned the question of taste and decency. Of course, this is an area that politicians should keep well away from and we are wrong to even think about discussing it. But it makes the point, which I think was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that whoever does this job has to have good connections to the wider world to understand the way that people are thinking about the issues being used by advertisers. They should be able to design a structure of receiving and dealing with complaints that engenders trust in their judgments. That point is so important that we should hold on to it as this goes forward.
I have no doubt that all the people involved in the current systems run by the ASA are doing their very best to make a good job of it and doing it as well as they can. I do not think that any imputation was being made about that. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, asked, “Just because it is going well, does that make it right? Do we have to stick with the model we have or can we think of better ones?”. That is what the debate ought to be about. Can we do this better or fairer? There were, for example, questions about costs: “We are getting this for free, so should we not stay with these arrangements?”. However, other regulators, not least the FCA, raise their own funding. We should not be stuck on a particular model just because it happens to be cheaper than anything else.
Another matter that came out strongly in the debate is that the points raised in the Leveson inquiry seem extremely relevant to this debate. They should not be discarded simply because they do not point in the direction of advertising. The structures that were considered and the arrangements under which decisions would be taken—along with the appeals system, the role of Parliament and the role of other regulatory bodies—were all carefully mapped out by Sir Brian Leveson. There are issues here that would read across into the discussions we are having. For example, surely it is relevant that Leveson does not call for a statutory solution, at least not initially. He calls for the industry to self-regulate, but in a way which is perceived to be independent from and not attached to any interest groups, particularly those which fund the bodies that are currently operating.
Where does that leave us? Simply trying to defend the existing arrangements against any other model that might come up is not really where we want to get to. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, there are wider issues here about self-regulation, which might be helpful in trying to get to the right decision at a time of reconsideration within the wider community about how regulation operates.
I have a list of points which I suggest the Minister should respond to when he gets to the Dispatch Box. First, can we be absolutely certain that the current arrangements satisfy the EU directive in its full sense? Enough has been said to raise a question for me about whether their particularity is sufficient to do it. I am particularly struck by the points made about access to the courts should there be a problem in resolving disputes. Of course there is an independent adjudicator and judicial review, but I do not think that that is what the EU directive meant. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond on that point.
Secondly, it is not at all clear to me that the consumer interest is as well represented as has been argued in some of the discussions that should be taking place around the ASA. We in this Chamber have tried in a number of debates to find ways of improving the engagement of consumers on, for example, the FCA and the CMA. There is no perfect model, but the existing model, as far as it has been explained to us, is not the right one.
Thirdly, there are all sorts of things happening out there in the real world, as was touched on by a number of speakers, where there is currently no apparent regulatory function—good or bad. I think particularly of things such as the dark web but also of some social media. Are we confident that the existing agencies have the capacity and technical expertise to begin to think about those issues? There is no easy option.
In the modern world, given that most organisations which engage in advertising will be large companies based outside the UK—much the same as those which produce television and film materials; and even if they are in the UK, they will have a small presence here but will largely be run from elsewhere—do we have sufficient sanctions and ability to deal with penalties, should there be a need to do so, in time? The current sanctions are largely persuasive and largely reliant on the ability to shame those affected by the judgments into changing their behaviour. I am not saying we necessarily would wish to do this, but should there be need for financial penalties or custodial sentences, is it right for a body set up by industry to have that responsibility? If that is where we are going, do we not need to think more carefully about the statutory elements that might be involved in that? Ofcom obviously is a possibility, and it may be that that is an area we might want to look at.
Perhaps I may just very briefly point out to the noble Lord that at the ASA we do, if there is a persistent, recalcitrant non-complier, refer them, in the case of a broadcast ad, to Ofcom, and in the case of any other ad, to trading standards. Statutory criminal action can then follow.