House of Lords
Monday 21 March 2016
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.
Introduction: Lord Price
Mark Ian Price, Esquire, CVO, having been created Baron Price, of Sturminster Newton in the County of Dorset, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Gardiner of Kimble and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Oaths and Affirmations
Baroness Hanham took the oath, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Health: Neural Tube Defects
My Lords, the Government are looking at all aspects of preconception health and preventive medicine. We currently have no plans to introduce the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid. We plan shortly to engage with relevant stakeholders to identify other measures that can promote good preconception health, including how to redress the low blood-folate levels of women, which can lead to neural tube defects.
The Minister’s Answer is clearer than some of the others, but we now know that the answer is no; that is what he has told us. English Ministers are knowingly doing nothing, basically. They know that half of all women who become pregnant are taking supplements, and only a small percentage of them actually take the correct amount. Moreover, does the Minister know that some food manufacturers are starting voluntarily to reduce the folic acid in their products, which they were going to do on the basis of mandatory levels being introduced following scientific advice? The Government are therefore relying on 80% of pregnancies being sponsored abortions as a management tool. That is the reality of what we are dealing with in England at present. Is this not like English Ministers having a polio vaccine and refusing to use it?
My final point is this. Does the Minister accept that it has never really been made clear that there is a direct and indisputable link between neural tube defects, lifelong serious disability in babies who are born alive and folate vitamin deficiency? It was the UK that told the world this in 1991, and 83 other countries have thanked us by using the policy to reduce the number of abortions and babies born with lifelong disabilities. The Minister should be ashamed of the situation he has been forced into by his colleagues.
My Lords, I am not going to argue the science, because the link between folate levels and neural tube defects is fairly well proven. Although our decisions should be informed by scientists and doctors, I do not think that they should be determined by them. The balance between individual responsibility and state responsibility is best left to political judgment.
My Lords, given that the Minister accepts the link between a lack of folic acid in the diet and neural tube defects, why will he not look again at the advice from, for example, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Food Standards Agency and the BMA that we should be putting folic acid into food products, as is done in many other countries, including the United States of America?
Fortifying bread with folic acid is not a silver bullet that would cure all babies with neural tube defects. The estimate is that it would have an impact on between 15% and 30% of babies. Some 965 babies suffer from neural tube defects a year, so we are talking about fortifying flour for the whole population in order to reach about 120 babies.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that we have debated this issue many times and that the view around the House has been almost unanimous that something should be done to deal with this problem? Why, therefore, is it not done? On a previous occasion, I clearly remember someone saying that if you do not want the supplement you can have bread that is specifically made without the additives. In that way, the ordinary population can be catered for. Of course, women need the supplements before they get pregnant, not afterwards, when it is already too late.
My Lords, speakers in this House have by and large very much supported the views of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—I entirely accept that. But I do not think that the case has been made outside this House perhaps as strongly as it has in other areas. If we are going to change the way we produce white bread in this country, a much stronger and broader case has to be made.
But, my Lords, it is not just in this House, is it? It is in the Scottish Government, who I understand are now laying out plans to introduce fortification. They are supported by the Administrations in Northern Ireland and in Wales. Why is England taking this isolationist view when across the world it has not been taken? Is it correct that Sir Nicholas Wald, the leading scientific expert in this field, was granted an audience with the Minister for Health in Scotland, but not in England?
My Lords, I cannot answer the latter question, but I will try to find out and write to the noble Baroness. She is right that Scotland is considering this and looking at the practical issues around implementation. She is right that other countries in the world—I think 50—have done this, but many others have not, including all European Union countries.
My Lords, I realise that the noble Lord is in the hands of his scientific advisory committee and cannot say anything without it, but I ask him to draw to its attention the fact that it may be using outdated research evidence if it believes that adding the small amounts of folic acid to bread has the same metabolic effect as taking 1 milligram of tablet a day. It does not. The very remote possibility that there is danger in taking 1 milligram of tablet a day is eliminated completely if you add it to food and take it during the day. Will he draw that to the committee’s attention and ask it to think again?
I will certainly draw that point to the attention of the SACN. It would be surprising if it was not already aware of that fact, but as I said I am addressing not really the science but whether it is right or proportionate to fortify bread for everybody to reach such a small number of people.
My Lords, the noble Lord made it clear that this is a political decision, for which we should be grateful. He also made it clear that the Government have decided that it is not going to happen. But does he accept that a 30% improvement is actually a large, positive outcome? The fact is that the voluntary approach that this Government have been wedded to is simply not working. If the answer is no, and if the voluntary approach is not working, what, then, will the Government do?
My Lords, the evidence given by the SACN is that it affects between 15% and 30%. My honourable friend in the other House, Jane Ellison, is bringing together a round table of all stakeholders interested in preconception health to discuss this matter.
My Lords, does the Minister think that the resistance to this is in the general public or among the food producers? My discussions with many young women across the country do not give me the impression that it is among the general public. If it is among the food producers, of course they would be resistant if it does not benefit their profits. Where does the Minister think that attitude is, and can he advise us where we should put our energies in order to change it?
LGBTI: Human Rights Conference
My Lords, the composition of the UK’s delegation at the conference in July is not yet finalised. It is expected to include selected officials with experience of working on LGB and T human rights issues, for example from DfID and the UK’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva. The chargé d’affaires at the British embassy in Montevideo will also attend.
I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Under the previous Government, DfID built up a great deal of expertise on handling sensitive issues across social, political and religious lines. This conference is an opportunity to leverage that expertise with other international donors and the private sector. Will the noble Baroness tell us what the Government plan to announce at the conference regarding the implementation of DfID’s new approach to LGBT rights?
My Lords, I am not able at this stage to say what is going to be announced as far ahead as July. As the noble Baroness will realise, these matters are usually announced at the event itself. But I can say, to assist her, that DfID has assured me that it recognises that the realisation of human rights underpins sustainable development and that across its work it will seek to protect the human rights of LGB and T people and ensure that all groups are able to share in the benefits of development regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That will underpin the announcements it makes in July.
My Lords, I have to express some concern that there is no clarity about who is responsible for LGBTI issues, either within DfID or at the Foreign Office. Given this very important conference taking place in Montevideo, I ask the Government to reconsider their position and follow the lead given by President Barack Obama and the Labour Party and appoint a global LGBT envoy—or, at the very least, a Minister to lead on these important issues.
My Lords, I lead on issues of equality and human rights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I have the great advantage of knowing that, around the world, there are 267 Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts and that the heads of those missions, whether they be ambassadors or high commissioners, play a very strong role in promoting equality and human rights, paying particular attention to LGBTI issues. I might add that during my visits last week to Colombia and to Panama I saw this at first hand.
It is comforting to hear the noble Baroness commit the Government to human rights. Can we be certain that when it comes to considering the application of Turkey for membership of the European Union there will be a similar, wholehearted commitment, all in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria?
The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. We have made it clear to Turkey that accession to the European Union comes only to those countries that abide by human rights rules. Of course, Turkey would have to do that. We are concerned about some of the human rights violations which have taken place, particularly with regard to freedom of expression. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made that clear at recent meetings.
My noble friend is right to raise this. The UK Government believe that laws to criminalise consensual same-sex relations are wrong and should be changed and this underpins the work that we do, both as Ministers and throughout our posts around the world. We have, of course, carried out a lot of lobbying on this and I am very pleased to see that Mozambique recently changed its penal code so that “acts against nature”, which had previously been widely interpreted as homosexuality, have now been decriminalised.
Indeed. That is a very important point. Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and my noble friend Lady Verma, the DfID Minister, raised these issues at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In fact, my noble friend Lady Verma held a side event on these very issues. I have undertaken to take these matters forward at the Human Rights Council and in the United Nations.
Will the Minister advise the House whether, since the 2015 general election, as part of the official development assistance programme, a budget has been allocated specifically to LGBT issues? If so, what is the criteria for bids against that budget?
My Lords, funding from the Government with regard to promoting equality of action comes not only from DfID but from other sources: for example, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I explained earlier that DfID has ensured that equality for LGBTI people will underpin the work it does generally and will always be considered when funds are to be disbursed. There is no specific hived-off part of the funds, as far as I am aware—if I am wrong I will, of course, write to the noble Lord—but I point out that this year the Foreign Office has doubled its Magna Carta fund for human rights and democracy to £10.6 million, which is the most we have ever had. I understand that bids are already coming in for LGBTI projects.
My Lords, would it not be a good idea if a government Minister from either DfID or the Foreign Office attended this conference as well as officials? I say this because no Minister from either department turned up at the last two world AIDS conferences. That was a great pity.
My Lords, I will certainly take back my noble friend’s view to the FCO for consideration. I am, of course, aware that because this event is being co-hosted by the Governments of the Netherlands and Uruguay, their Ministers will be there. As far as I am aware, other attendees are intended to be officials but I will take further advice on that.
NHS: 111 Service
My Lords, NHS 111 is a vital service helping people to get medical advice quickly and easily. It has received more calls this year than in the same period in 2014-15 but continues to perform well overall. The Care Quality Commission has announced that it will inspect all NHS 111 providers by September 2016. The CQC will assess whether the services are safe, caring, effective, responsive to people’s needs and well led.
My Lords, is not the problem that when the excellent NHS Direct service was replaced, very many experienced nurses ceased to work for the new 111 service and were replaced by call handlers with a few weeks’ training who have to follow instructions on a computer rigidly? The evidence is that there have consequently been misdiagnoses. One ambulance trust fiddled the response time for 999 calls routed through 111 to meet the targets. There have been a number of personal tragedies as a result. Therefore, in addition to the CQC’s inspection, will the noble Lord institute a review of the safety of 111 and return to having qualified nurses handling the calls?
My Lords, the decision to stop NHS Direct was, of course, taken in 2008, when I think the noble Lord was in post. He shakes his head, so perhaps he was not, but the decision was taken in 2008, before this Government were in charge, if you like. The new system uses the NHS Pathways algorithms developed by the Royal College of GPs, on which the BMA and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health sit, so we have considerable confidence in the algorithms used. We will also increase the number of clinicians. I accept the noble Lord’s point that we need to have more clinicians answering these calls rather than call handlers, as he puts it. It is our intention progressively to increase the number of clinicians in these 111 hubs.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of University College London Partners. What assessment did the Government make of the training needs of the individuals who were to deliver the 111 service prior to its introduction, and what determination have the Government made subsequently of the appropriateness of that training?
My Lords, as I said, the decision to set up 111 was made back in 2008. The operation of 111, which includes the training and the capabilities of the people working in it, is carefully monitored by the CCGs—which commission 111 services by the licence under which 111 operates the NHS Pathways algorithms—and, of course, by the CQC.
My Lords, is the Minister confident that the NHS England workforce development plan will ensure that no chief executive or senior NHS staff can support covert operations, as we saw with South East Coast Ambulance Service, which affected up to 20,000 people? Is the Minister confident that this will be put in place?
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware of the very severe problems at South East Coast Ambulance Service. The chairman has resigned. The chief executive is, I think, on gardening leave at the moment. NHS Improvement is very clear that it needs to sort out the management structure in that ambulance service.
My Lords, the 999 service runs in parallel with the 111 service. If you have an emergency, you should ring 999; if you have an urgent request you should ring 111 and a decision will be made then on whether to call an ambulance. Interestingly, of the 27% of people who ring 111 who would otherwise have gone to A&E, only 8% are actually referred to A&E.
There have been a number of terrible tragedies. The most recent of these was William Mead, a very young baby who died as a consequence of not getting the right treatment quickly enough. NHS England has done a root-cause analysis. Some of the problems lay within 111 but others were with the out-of-hours service and with diagnosis by the GPs concerned. The noble Lord is wrong to say that the 111 service is not operating well throughout the country. Some 90% of all those who use 111 believe they get a good service from it.
My Lords, there are two things which we need to do to improve the 111 service. First—and this is in response to part of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—we need to have more clinicians within the 111 hubs. Secondly, people need to have access to the patient’s electronic summary care record so that they can see what has gone on before coming to a final judgment.
My Lords, 100% is clearly the only acceptable level but, realistically, it would be extremely difficult to get to that. Referring back to the charge of complacency, we recognise that significant improvements need to be made to the 111 service, but it can be a vital part of the way that we deliver urgent care in Britain.
My Lords, it may sound trite, but we need to make continuous improvement in all aspects of the NHS. We can never be satisfied with where we have got to. Interestingly, the licensing arrangement which underpins the NHS Pathways—the algorithm developed by the Royal College of GPs—has within it an audit to ensure that continuous improvement is being made.
Food Safety: Glyphosate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the European Union Ombudsman’s finding of maladministration by the European Commission over pesticides, published on 22 February, and given that several EU countries including France, the Netherlands and Sweden have indicated that they will not support an assessment by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) that glyphosate is harmless, whether they support the EFSA view that that chemical should receive a licence for a further 15 years.
My Lords, the Government support pesticide use where scientific evidence shows that this is not expected to harm people or to have unacceptable effects on the environment. UK experts participated in the European Food Safety Authority’s assessment of glyphosate and support its conclusions, particularly that glyphosate does not cause cancer. The Government therefore support the continuing approval of glyphosate. If glyphosate is approved, we will review the authorisations of glyphosate products, to ensure that they meet current standards.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Is she aware that the World Health Organization’s IARC has found glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen? Research over the last 20 years has found that it is genotoxic, cytotoxic, is an endocrine disrupter and is a powerful chelator—in other words, it blocks out the essential minerals and trace elements from our food.
The European Union looked only at glyphosate, whereas the World Health Organization looked at the commercial formulation and found that some of the additives make it 10,000 times more powerful as a poison than the original glyphosate itself. The authorisation in this country, by the Chemical Regulations Directorate, is for the commercial formulation. Will the noble Baroness ask the directorate to look very carefully at the distribution of glyphosate and perhaps restrict it, like other organophosphates, to professional agricultural and horticultural use and remove it from domestic use?
I thank the noble Countess for her Question and I know she has been at the forefront of looking into all pesticides. If the European Commission approves glyphosate, the UK will be required to reassess every product containing the substance, and these products will get new authorisation only if they fully meet current safety standards. But I should add that there is a hold-up with the licensing process. The European Chemicals Agency is to come out with a report next year and several member states have stated that they would like to see that report before licensing glyphosate. If there is not a vote before June, glyphosate will not be licensed and it will be withdrawn over a period of time to allow manufacturers to replace it.
My Lords, given that laboratory tests show that caffeine is 10 times more carcinogenic than glyphosate, that glyphosate is non-volatile and non-persistent, and that it has made a significant contribution to eliminating hunger and malnutrition from large parts of the world, and indeed to improving the environment through no-till agriculture, will my noble friend the Minister encourage the European food standards agency to stick to its guns?
What my noble friend says is true. There are arguments for glyphosate. It is highly effective. It adds to the yields. You need to sow less, which leaves more headland, hedges, et cetera, for the environment. What my noble friend says is certainly true.
My Lords, there is a dispute among scientists about glyphosate. As I think the noble Countess alluded to, the International Agency for Research on Cancer last year said that products containing glyphosate are “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Is it the case, as is being alleged, that some of the research that the European food standards agency is relying on has not been published or peer-reviewed? Should not such research studies and reports be in the public domain so that all those who are experts can look at them and assess them?
UK experts certainly participated in the EFSA’s detailed review of the health data. The EFSA concluded that,
“glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard”.
and we agree with that conclusion. A wealth of studies is taking place. There have been huge studies in America and studies in various places in the world. From all these studies, the majority of experts concluded that there was very little evidence for an association between glyphosate-based formulations and cancer.
Is my noble friend aware that the branded product in the UK for use in gardens has been on the market since the 1970s? Is it not unbelievable now, with the evidence from Europe, that this product, in its slightly diluted format for people to use in their gardens, can possibly be causing any real problems?
What my noble friend says is true. Each pesticide has specific conditions of authorisation, which are set out on its label. The level of safety must be achieved without reliance on training or special equipment. As my noble friend says, for domestic use glyphosate is very much diluted and comes mainly in trigger packs, which means that it is very safe for use.
My Lords, in the light of the conflicting research which I think has been acknowledged exists on this matter, is not the common-sense approach to apply the precautionary principle, given the potential danger? Should we not only take immediate steps in any way we can to limit the use of glyphosate but make sure that the public are much more aware of the potential threat to their health, while the ongoing research and licensing process is reviewed?
If the European Commission approves glyphosate, all member states will be required to reassess every single product that contains it. These products would get new authorisation only if they fully meet current safety standards. We will not know what is going to happen until we know more about whether the European Commission will vote before June. If it does not vote before June, the licence will not be allowed in this country.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I am sorry to detain the House, but I wish to draw your Lordships’ attention to today’s business, last Thursday’s business, tomorrow’s business and Wednesday’s business, as well as business on 11 and 13 April. The eagled-eyed will have spotted that they have one item in common: the Housing and Planning Bill. I know we are in the middle of a housing crisis, but this is overkill. Today’s business concludes with the Housing and Planning Bill, and it is said that the government Chief Whip intends the House to sit until midnight and is prepared to do the same tomorrow.
This cannot be right. Four consecutive days on one Bill—what precedent is there for such a process? The Companion is clear about business intervals and about concluding at 10 pm, and we have generously stretched that, probably too far, on many occasions so far. Noble Lords need to know that this part of the usual channels does not agree to this as a way of working. Our office offered the Chief Whip four different ways of managing the business which would have avoided this unfortunate car crash, but none of them was accepted. The current plan makes it impossible for opposition parties to do their job properly. It is well-nigh impossible for our research staff to assist. We have only one staffer supporting our shadow Ministers, while the Government have an army of civil servants as back-up, and even then the poor Minister gets so tired that she cannot give us answers.
Can the Chief Whip please consider this issue urgently and give the House an assurance that the Government will not do this again? Can he assure the House that they will not do this on Report? Finally, can the government Chief Whip ensure that in the future his office has a more realistic view of how long difficult, incoherent, inchoate, poorly drafted and badly thought through Bills take in your Lordships’ House? We stand ready to be helpful, but we can be helpful only if the conditions exist in which we can do that work.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has strayed slightly into a critique of the Bill rather than focusing on the substance of his objection, but I am grateful for the advance notice he gave me that he wished to raise this matter. Because he and I have been discussing this for perhaps three or four weeks—it certainly seems quite a long time—he will know that we have had to try to find ways of accommodating this slow-moving Bill in the Government’s programme.
There have been extensive discussions in the usual channels, and I have been very grateful for the co-operation that I have had. We have discussed the Committee and Report stages of the Bill—the noble Lord referred to some dates for Report on the Bill. As a result of those continued discussions, we have provided an additional, eighth day tomorrow, 22 March. Following the good progress we made on the Bill last week, for which I am grateful to noble Lords, we agreed in the usual channels that we would table the Bill for Wednesday as well. We aim to allow the House to have proper time to perform its role in scrutinising this Bill. This scrutiny will continue after the Easter Recess on Report. I know that my noble friend has undertaken to make available a great deal of information, which the noble Lord has highlighted. It is proper that that is for discussion when the Bill itself is discussed.
My Lords, I want to make one thing clear. I did not agree it, but I certainly acknowledge that the noble Lord put this forward as a way of doing the business. I do not think that it is right that the House does business in this way. There is plenty of time in which we can consider the Bill; we do not need to push it so far and so fast that it makes it impossible for our side to do our job, and well-nigh impossible for the Minister to perform her duties.
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Scotland Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Before the House begins the Third Reading of the Scotland Bill, it may be helpful for me to say a few words about Third Reading amendments. In line with our procedure on Third Reading amendments, the Legislation Office advised the usual channels last week that the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, and the further amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, on the Marshalled List for today’s Third Reading, fall outside the guidance. On the basis of that advice, the usual channels, who met today, have agreed to recommend to the House that Amendments 1 and 2 should not be moved. However, I expect my noble friend to address the issue raised by those amendments in his opening remarks on the government amendments in the same group. I hope that this approach will commend itself to the House, which is the ultimate arbiter in these circumstances.
Clause 2: The Sewel convention
Amendments 1 and 2 not moved.
3: Clause 3, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“The subject-matter of section 43(1AA) of the Representation of the People Act 1983.”
My Lords, before turning to the government amendments in this group, I should like to address some points that noble Lords have previously expressed in relation to Clause 2. This clause is to implement the provision in the Smith commission agreement that the Sewel convention should be put on a statutory footing. The Smith commission agreement did not suggest any change in the effect of the convention. The clause recognises that this Parliament will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, but the convention recognises that the decision whether to legislate is for this Parliament to take.
I have noted the points made by noble Lords who have made clear in previous discussion of this clause their view that the word “normally” is not a word sufficiently precise for a statutory restriction. Of course, we are not seeking, and nor are we able, to impose a restriction on parliamentary sovereignty, and it has also been made clear in discussion that the word is suitable for indicating how a discretion will be exercised. This clause is clearly intended to indicate that the discretion of Parliament to legislate for devolved matters will continue exactly as before and that it is not intended to subject that discretion to judicial control. I would add that the words “it is recognised” that appear in Clause 2 also reflect the continued sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament and that it is for Parliament to determine when a circumstance may be considered not normal. This is not a matter that the courts could meaningfully engage with.
I turn to a number of technical amendments that we have tabled to Clauses 3 and 5 of the Bill. Noble Lords will recall that we gave notice on Report that we would table these amendments, which are necessary to ensure that the clauses in the Bill relating to elections work as intended. Under the Bill, and in line with the Smith commission agreement, the timing of Scottish parliamentary elections is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, subject to the provision that Scottish parliamentary ordinary general elections may not be held on the same day as a UK parliamentary general election, a European parliamentary general election or ordinary local government elections in Scotland. We have tabled amendments to Clause 3 to improve the drafting of the part of the reservation relating to the timing of ordinary local government elections in Scotland. These amendments do not change what is reserved, but rather clarify the drafting to ensure that the reservation achieves the intended outcome—that an ordinary local government election in Scotland may not be held on the same day as ordinary general elections for the Scottish Parliament.
In addition, we have tabled amendments to Clause 5 of the Bill to improve the drafting of the new provisions to be inserted into Section 43 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. These provisions relate to the reservation of the timing of ordinary local government elections where they clash with the date of an ordinary general election to the Scottish Parliament, and provide a mechanism for the Scottish Ministers to change the date of the local government elections where such a clash occurs. The amendments improve and clarify the drafting of the provisions providing a mechanism for setting an alternative date.
Amendments 3 to 9 are technical amendments, which will ensure that there is clarity in the clauses in the Bill relating to elections and that they operate as intended. I beg to move.
My Lords, I accept that Amendments 1 and 2 could not be moved, and will not be moved by me or by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. However, in the light of the Minister’s statement, I make a brief comment. It sounds to me very like a Pepper v Hart type of statement, designed to guide a court, when a court sits down to decide on an ambiguity in the interpretation or application of the provision. I am not at all sure that it will work, but it is no doubt the best that the Minister could come up with, even with the assistance from behind him of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who is unfortunately unable to be here today. It does not solve the problem, but it is better than nothing.
The very fact of making the statement appears to be to concede the point that we were all making, that the provision in the clause is just a shibboleth, because Pepper and Hart statements have no locus at all unless in a court of law when a statement is invoked to assist the interpretation. However clear the statement is, it is not binding on the court, which has a duty to apply the words of the statute to determine what it means. However, I welcome it, while regretting that the Government did not pick up on the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, which would have solved the problem within the statute itself, and we would not have needed this. However, in the light of the Government’s attitude, we have to leave it there.
My Lords, following on from the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, it was with some considerable regret that I agreed not to move Amendment 2, part of which I shall come back to in a moment. I welcome the Minister’s statement as far as it goes, which is not very far. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, that it is an attempt at a sort of Pepper v Hart statement, but I make two observations on that. First, for Pepper v Hart to come into play, there has to be an ambiguity that has to be resolved. If, in fact, there is no ambiguity—and I am not sure whether the absence of something that has been debated in Parliament and expressly rejected by the Government could amount to an ambiguity as they have made it very clear that they do not wish for Devolution Guidance Note 10 to be part of what is on the statute book—I am not sure that Pepper v Hart would come into play.
Secondly, the point would be conceded that there would be litigation. It may be litigation that the Government could conceivably win. Who knows? Once the genie was out of the bottle and the case was in court, a number of things could happen, which is the why the amendments, which have been debated previously—the amendment which the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, put down for today but has not moved and the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stephen—make it very clear that the application of this clause,
“shall not be questioned in any court of law”.
That would have settled it. It would not even get to the stage of a case being raised. The wording that we used was taken from the Parliament Act 1911, and 105 years is a reasonably good test of time as to its effectiveness.
I note what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, said about “normally” and that he said that the exercise of the legislative consent Motion will continue exactly as before, but I want to push him to be even clearer, because by using the words in the statute, which were used by Lord Sewel in 1998, the implication must be that that is all that is covered by the statute in fulfilment of the Smith commission recommendation. In fact, the Government seem to be trying to take this as narrowly as they can.
Therefore, it is arguable that we have a two-tier legislative consent Motion convention. There are the Sewel words, which are in statute, and the provisions that have triggered legislative consent Motions since the outset of the Scottish Parliament, and are found in Devolution Guidance Note 10, which are not in statute. Does Clause 2 have legal meaning? In which case, does the Minister accept that there are two tiers of legislative consent Motion? What are the implications of that? Or is Clause 2 legally meaningless, a bit of legislative window dressing, in which case why have we spent so much time debating it? Will he clarify which it is? Is this meant to have some legal meaning or not? If the courts were asked about this, it is not unreasonable for them to think that Parliament, having spent hours debating it, meant something to be said. How does he expect that would be interpreted?
Will the Minister address the concerns that have been reflected in the evidence to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee of the Scottish Parliament, which produced its final report on the Scotland Bill on 11 March? These concerns reflect the interaction between legislative consent Motions and future legislation on the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the possible establishment of a British Bill of Rights. There was some concern that the Government might be trying to provide themselves with a loophole to get out of any means to get the Scottish Parliament to agree to things they might bring forward in their much-heralded and long-awaited reforms to human rights legislation.
Indeed, in May last year at the launch of the report by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, A Constitutional Crossroads: Ways Forward for the United Kingdom, the very distinguished Professor Adam Tomkins, who was a member of the Smith commission and advises the Secretary of State for Scotland on constitutional matters, speculated whether a legislative consent Motion would be needed in the Scottish Parliament to repeal the Human Rights Act, but appeared very clearly to take the view that if any British Bill of Rights contained new rights infringing on the Scottish Parliament’s legislative powers or Scottish Ministers’ executive powers, a legislative consent Motion would be required, no doubt by reference to Devolution Guidance Note 10.
The Minister can make it very clear and allay all these concerns from the Dispatch Box in the next few minutes by saying that it is certainly not the Government’s intention to, as it were, thwart the Scottish Parliament having a legislative consent Motion if one were required under DGN10 in the event of a British Bill of Rights that would confer new responsibilities within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or new legislative responsibilities on the executive competence of Scottish Ministers. These matters may not lead to litigation, but they could well do. In recent times, we have seen that the Trade Union Bill and the Immigration Bill, both currently before your Lordships’ House, have produced disagreements between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government, so the question is by no means academic.
The final point, which is a new one, is on the words “devolved matters”, which appear in this clause. We are particularly disappointed that the clerks did not see fit to think that this fell within the rules for Third Reading. I certainly give notice that I will take this to the Procedure Committee, because if something happens between Report and Third Reading, surely it is reasonable that the House has an opportunity to consider it. What has happened here is that we have had the final report of the relevant Scottish Parliament committee, which specifically recommended that the words “devolved matters” should be clarified. It says:
“Furthermore, the Committee also seeks clarification from the UK Government on the legal meaning of the term ‘devolved matters’”.
I think I am right in saying that those words do not appear anywhere in the Scotland Act at the moment. Reserved matters are defined in Section 30(1) and by reference to Schedule 5, but of course there are other matters not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament that Section 29 of the Scotland Act sets out, and in so doing it brings in Schedule 4 to the Scotland Act. I would be interested if the Minister took this opportunity to give us a very clear understanding of what the Government mean when they use the words “devolved matters” in the Bill. It is a term that, as I understand it, has no legal definition at the moment, yet it clearly could be of some importance. I am sure that the Minister will welcome an opportunity—albeit that he could not do it in response to an amendment—to help the House by defining what the Government mean by “devolved matters”.
In conclusion, it is very regrettable that the Government have made no attempt whatever to move on these issues, despite some very compelling arguments. These are serious matters that are ripe for some constitutional conflict. If that happens, the Government have brought that upon themselves.
The noble and learned Lord talked about the likelihood of litigation. Is he aware—I am sure he is—that the Human Rights Act itself is extremely productive of legislation at all levels of our courts in Scotland and elsewhere? Therefore, if the Government proceed with their intention to introduce a domestic human rights Act, and that has a direct effect upon the Scotland Act and the Human Rights Act in Scotland, then there is bound to be litigation that in turn will raise the question of the meaning of this so-called clause.
As I said, these are not academic issues but very real ones. The Human Rights Act could certainly give rise to them as indeed could measures in the Trade Union Bill. They would not necessarily be issues between Governments; they could be issues that impacted on other public bodies in Scotland, for example. That is why it is regrettable that the Government have not been more forthcoming and willing to look at the proposals that we want to put on the statute book.
My Lords, both noble and learned Lords have made powerful points. I do not wish to make anything other than a very brief intervention, but I have amendments, strongly supported both in Committee and on Report, concerning the word “normally”. I am extremely sorry that the Minister has not really met that point. It has been made with great eloquence by noble Lords learned in the law, and it was made by those of us throughout the United Kingdom who share the concern of the two noble and learned Lords who have just spoken. I am sorry that their amendments have not been deemed admissible. Of course they have done entirely properly in not seeking to move them, but this is an unsatisfactory Bill and we are in an unsatisfactory situation.
I put it on record that I remain extremely concerned about the use of this very loose word “normally”. I believe as a layman that it is clearly something that could be justiciable. I know not what will happen, but I fear that we are not putting on the statute book something that recognises what noble Lords in all parts of this House have recognised. In my opinion this is a flaw in the Bill, and it has been demonstrated as such by many people. I am sorry that the Minister has not felt able to move on this issue.
My Lords, when I spoke on this matter on Report, having tabled an amendment which dealt with the issue in slightly different terms from those proposed by Amendments 1 and 2 on the Marshalled List, I said that I would come back to the issue at Third Reading. But, on consideration of the various rules and practices, I decided not to renew my amendment in recognition of the fact that it would not be proper to bring it forward in those terms.
I am grateful to the Minister for the statement he has made, which goes a little way to addressing the problem. But I feel very strongly that this is an example of a missed opportunity, which could have been taken to clarify exactly what the Sewel convention is, to remove some of the problems to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, referred, and to deal with the complications raised by the use of the word “normally”.
As I stressed on Report, my concern was to preserve the sovereignty of Parliament, which the Minister mentioned in his brief address. The problem with the method he has chosen is that it opens up the possibility of a challenge to the sovereignty of Parliament, which is the greatest danger of all, because it puts at risk the enforceability of legislation where the spectre, if I should put it this way, of the Sewel convention may be hanging over it. I understand that the Minister has gone as far as he believes he can—but, like others, I regret that he was not able to go further.
My Lords, it seems that the Government had an important decision to make on this issue. Did they want the Sewel convention, or the legislative consent convention as it has now become known, at least in the Scottish Parliament, to continue as a convention or did they want to convert it into statute? In truth, the answer is that they are making a mess of that decision. In a sense they are trying to do both, and in doing so they are creating bad legislation. They are continuing the convention—we have been told that and I certainly hope that that is the case. I hope that all legs and all elements of the convention will continue to be operated between the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament, the Scottish Government and the UK Government. But the Government have decided to take one rather limited and narrow—although, I accept, important—part of the convention into statute, and to do so in as limited and as loosely worded a way as possible, with words such as “normally” and with new expressions such as “devolved matters” that have not previously been used or defined in statute.
I now believe that the use of these words and the introduction of this vagueness has been quite deliberate on the part of the Government, to make it as ill-defined and declaratory as they possibly can. Why are they doing that? They are doing it to technically comply with the Smith commission’s recommendations, but this is not in the spirit of the Smith commission and it is not being done in a clear, sensible or coherent way. In summary, it is not a good way to legislate. If the Government’s excuse is that this is what the Smith commission told them to do, frankly, that is not a good enough excuse, because they can depart from the Smith commission—they have done so on the issue of abortion, for example—and the Smith commission was not perfect in every respect. On this issue it referred to only part of the Sewel convention—a mistake that I think the commission would readily admit to.
We should therefore try to get this right in legislation. When the UK Parliament legislates on devolved matters, we should refer not only to the Scottish Parliament but to a situation where consent is given by the Scottish Parliament to the UK Government altering the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or the executive competence of Scottish Ministers, because that is the full legislative consent convention. Is that serious? Yes, I believe that it is. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who is the constitutional expert on these matters—not only in the Conservative Party but, in many respects, for the whole of this Chamber—highlighted the problem in Committee, saying that,
“I am quite clear that we really cannot proceed with Clause 2 as presently worded. As I say, either we have a convention or we have legal certainty in statute. I do not think we can try to have both”.—[Official Report, 8/12/15; col 1495.]
Yet that is exactly what the Government are trying to do. There has been no change whatever from the Government: no variation, no compromise and no amendment.
Since the Second Reading debate on 8 December, more weight has been added to the argument against the Government’s position. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness has already referred to the Scottish Parliament’s report. Very recently—on 11 March—the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee of the Scottish Parliament produced a 210-page document that looks at the proposals in the Scotland Bill, and in particular at Clause 2. That this sort of weighty, well-considered document has come forward at this late stage is complete justification for considering the amendments tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace and the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey. The committee’s report has a section on the legislative consent convention which makes it clear that that is the correct term for the Sewel convention, as we have said before. With the exception of the Smith commission and the UK Government, it seems that that term has fallen into desuetude. The Bill should therefore refer to the legislative consent convention.
Professor Neil Walker, who is the Regius Professor of Public Law at the University of Edinburgh, stated in evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Committee:
“I think that ‘Devolution Guidance Note 10’”—
which, we should remember, is a 1999 devolution guidance note, so the UK Government have been somewhat slow to catch up—
“has to continue to apply, because it specifies a convention that applies regardless of what the law says. If we are to reduce conventions to law, it would certainly help if we did so fully and not just partly”.
I hope that those words from the professor echo some of the comments I have already referred to, in particular the words of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, because this is exactly the point the noble Lord made. It was also made by my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace, and by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Mackay. My noble friend Lord Steel, a former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, has confirmed the same point and it is my point, too.
In its conclusions and recommendations the Scottish Parliament Committee stated that the UK Government’s approach, as currently drafted, has,
“the potential to weaken the intention of the Smith Commission’s recommendations in this area”.
It wished all strands of the convention to be covered by the Bill and noted its disappointment at the lack of a response from the UK Government on this issue. It regretted that no changes have been made by the UK Government. It stated its view, which is shared by the Scottish Government, that the Scotland Bill still falls short and that this failure to fully incorporate into statute all strands of the legislative consent convention, as set out in Devolution Guidance Note 10, will only cause difficulties in the future.
That is also the view of many noble and learned Lords from around the Chamber. Some of them have considerable parliamentary and ministerial experience; others have very considerable legal and judicial experience. But sadly the Government, of course, know better, and we find ourselves where we are today.
My Lords, it may be stretching the tolerance of the House for a fifth Scottish lawyer to join in this discussion, so I will confine myself to two issues. The first is Pepper v Hart. It is well worth understanding just how limited the application of that doctrine may be. If the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General is looking for an illustration of the approach recently taken by the Court of Session, he will find it in the case of British Petroleum v Edinburgh and Glasgow licensing boards.
Secondly, this is about the most political piece of legislation that one could possibly imagine. Within its terms is the opportunity for great political disagreement. It seems to me that the way in which the Government are now proceeding will in some respects justify that disagreement by leaving open an important porthole for those who wish to challenge the will of this House and indeed of the other place.
My Lords, I am obliged for all the contributions from your Lordships in respect of this matter. I will not seek to repeat the arguments that were rehearsed so fully in Committee and on Report but I wish to make some observations.
The Smith agreement was explicit in its reference to putting the Sewel convention on a statutory footing, and that is what has been done—essentially as the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, noted—in a declaratory sense.
Mention has been made repeatedly of the case of Pepper v Hart. I am not going to go there in any detail, but the starting point for that case is ambiguity. A number of noble Lords indicated that there was no ambiguity. I am inclined to agree with that—but not necessarily for the same reasons. However, it appears to me that if there were room for ambiguity then of course Pepper v Hart might come into consideration.
Reference was made to the LCM—the legislative consent Motion—process and the suggestion that it should be incorporated into the clause. With respect, the LCM is a process of the Scottish Parliament, not of this Parliament—it is what the Scottish Parliament does in response to us applying the Sewel convention—and therefore it would not be appropriate to bring it into Clause 2.
There is then the question of what is or is not a devolved matter. This point—and indeed the difference that I have with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace—is perhaps highlighted by the amendment that he originally proposed. The last part of that amendment says:
“For the purposes of subsection (8), the words ‘devolved matters’ means any matter not reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament under this Act”.
With respect, the Scotland Act 1998 is a great deal more sophisticated than saying that all matters listed in Schedule 5, which are reserved, are the only matters not requiring the consent of the Scottish Parliament. It entirely ignores the fact that, for example, it is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to modify any of the protected enactments listed in Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the Scotland Act.
Rather than read out his brief, will the noble and learned Lord acknowledge that I said that parts of Schedule 4 also exclude matters from being within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament? If I have not, with my own resources, got the amendment right, can the noble and learned Lord, with all the great resources that he has in his office—I know the expertise that he has there—say what definition he would give of “devolved matters”?
There is no strict requirement to go into the definition of “devolved matters” at this stage, but it is perfectly clear from the amendment that the noble and learned Lord originally intimated that he contemplated it listing only the matters in Schedule 5 to the Act. I appreciate that in making observations in this House he qualified that statement, but the point is that the question of what is reserved goes well beyond Schedule 5 and includes all those protected enactments in Part 1 of Schedule 4.
The point that I was going to come to is this: one of the protected enactments is the Human Rights Act. This Government were elected upon a manifesto to address the Human Rights Act and to amend its terms by way of a Bill of Rights. That matter will be addressed in due course, but this is not the time or the place to consider what the implications of that may or may not be in the context of all the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. I would not consider it appropriate to go there.
I am not asking the Minister to tell us what is going to be in it but, if a proposed new British Bill of Rights confers new responsibilities on Scottish Ministers, does he believe that is a matter to which Devolution Guidance Note 10 would apply and that the United Kingdom Government would respect it as such and expect a legislative consent Motion in the Scottish Parliament? He can clear this matter up if he is prepared to say yes to that. If he is not, we can only suspect the worst.
There is no reason to suspect the worst. What we have to do is await the relevant Bill of Rights. Then, when we have considered its terms, we shall see whether it does or does not intrude upon matters covered by DGN10. If it does, then DGN10 will be addressed, as it always has been. There is a clear and consistent record of the United Kingdom Parliament and this Government proceeding in accordance with DGN10 in the context of devolved issues. I do not anticipate, and have no reason to anticipate, that that will change in the future. However, I am not going to comment on a Bill that is not before this House and the terms of which have not yet been finalised.
In these circumstances it appears to us that Clause 2 is sufficient for the purpose of expressing, essentially, a declarator of the Sewel convention in accordance with the Smith commission agreement.
Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, although that was perhaps his final point from the Dispatch Box on this, he said in response to my noble friend Lord Stephen that this is now stating in a declaratory way that the Sewel convention exists. However, it is worth reminding the House that paragraph 22 of the Smith commission report said:
“The Sewel Convention will be put on a statutory footing”,
not that it will be declaratory that it exists.
Amendment 3 agreed.
4: Clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 30 to 33
Amendment 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Timing of elections
Amendments 5 to 9
5: Clause 5, page 6, line 11, leave out “(1ZA)” and insert “(1AA)”
6: Clause 5, page 6, line 12, leave out from beginning to first “The” in line 13 and insert “After subsection (1A) insert—
7: Clause 5, page 6, line 13, leave out “date specified by” and insert “day specified in or fixed under”
8: Clause 5, page 6, line 14, leave out “date is the same date as” and insert “day is the day of”
9: Clause 5, page 6, leave out lines 16 to 22 and insert—
“(1AB) Where subsection (1AA) prevents the poll being held on the day specified in or fixed under subsection (1), the poll is to be held on such other day as the Scottish Ministers may by order specify.
(1AC) An order under subsection (1AB) is subject to the affirmative procedure.”
Amendments 5 to 9 agreed.
Clause 40: Roads
10: Clause 40, page 43, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) In paragraph (d) of that reservation, after “the Road Traffic Act 1988” insert “, except so far as relating to the parking of vehicles on roads,”.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 11 to 16 and 19 to 21. As I indicated on Report, a number of technical amendments are necessary to the roads provisions. Amendments 10, 11, 13, 16 and 20 are technical amendments and complement the amendment that the Government brought forward on Report on the issue of responsible parking. That amendment, which commanded cross-party support on Report, gives the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for parking vehicles on roads, an issue that is of interest to many people in Scotland. That amendment now appears in the Bill at Clause 40(4). Following helpful discussion between the Department for Transport and the Scottish Government, these technical amendments will bring full clarity to the power. I will briefly set out the effect of each of these amendments.
Amendments 10 and 11 amend the amendment made on Report, which gave power to the Scottish Parliament to make provision for parking on roads. Amendments 10 and 11 make clear that on-street parking is excepted from the reservation of the subject matter of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and is not a general exception from all road transport reservations.
Amendment 13 removes a reference to the regulations made by Scottish Ministers being subject to the negative procedure. The reference is unnecessary as it is subsequently replaced by Amendment 20, which amends the Road Traffic Act 1988 to stipulate that regulations relating to parking made by Scottish Ministers will be subject to the negative procedure.
Amendment 16 transfers the functions of the Secretary of State under the Road Traffic Act 1988 in relation to parking of vehicles on roads in Scotland to Scottish Ministers so far as is exercisable within their devolved competence. It does this by changing references to the Secretary of State to “national authority”, which for these purposes is Scottish Ministers. Amendment 16 also includes a provision that will require the Secretary of State for Transport to consult Scottish Ministers if making regulations relating to parking of vehicles on roads in Scotland.
I can assure the House that the amendments, while necessary, do not alter the substance of the policy. They do not provide any further powers but simply seek to ensure that the implementation of the powers is effective. As I explained on Report, irresponsible parking has been of concern to many people across Scotland, and I am glad that we have been able to bring clarity to the legal position.
Amendments 12, 14 and 15, to which I alluded on Report, ensure that the functions being transferred to Scottish Ministers in relation to speed limits and road signs in this Bill are aligned with the powers being transferred to the Scottish Parliament. They are also consistent with the functions being transferred to Scottish Ministers for parking. Amendment 19 preserves the effect of amendments previously made to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 by the Scotland Act 2012.
These amendments therefore ensure and clarify that the Secretary of State continues to be responsible for, for example, exempting vehicles used for the reserved purpose of defence from parking and speed limits and road signs in Scotland. The Secretary of State will need to consult Scottish Ministers before exempting such vehicles. Scottish Ministers will have powers to make provision by virtue of the Bill for road signs, parking and speed limit exemptions to the same extent that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for these same policy areas. Amendment 21 is a minor drafting correction to an amendment made on Report which will enable the Secretary of State to make provision in connection with reserved matters. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these amendments. We particularly welcome those relating to pavement parking and recognise that the others are largely technical in nature. We are therefore more than happy to support them.
The amendments on pavement parking reflect amendments which this side of the House tabled both in the other place and in Committee in your Lordships’ House and which were welcomed honourably by the Minister. The work of the organisations, Living Streets and Guide Dogs Scotland, was invaluable and I extend my thanks to them.
I know that in the grand scheme of things the amendments might be regarded as minor, but they are important to a big section of our community. Pavement parking is dangerous for pedestrians, especially people with sight loss, parents with pushchairs, wheelchair users and other disabled people. People with sight loss are particularly affected, as they can be forced into oncoming traffic which they cannot see. A survey by Guide Dogs Scotland showed that 97% of blind or partially sighted people encounter problems with street obstructions and some 90% of them had experienced trouble with a pavement-parked car. Pavements are not designed to take the weight of vehicles, and cars cause paving to crack and tarmac to subside. This damage makes pavements uneven, creating a trip hazard for pedestrians, particularly blind and partially sighted people. I know that the cost of repairing pavements is a parochial issue, but it is a burden for local authorities, which in Scotland are under particular pressure as a result of government cuts—SNP Government cuts, I hasten to add. We are therefore glad that the Scottish Government now have the necessary legislative competence to put measures in place to prevent this happening. I repeat my thanks to the Minister and welcome the amendments.
My Lords, before the Minister responds perhaps I could repeat a point I made in Committee about Clauses 40 to 42 and Schedule 2, and the amendments that the Minister has rightly laid before us today. I am emboldened to do so by a phone call from the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, who is a former constituent of mine. He wanted me to make it clear that there was never any risk of him voting for me, but on this issue we speak with one voice.
Those of us who live in the borders, whether on the Scottish or the English side, are naturally concerned about the growth of what appear to be quite minor changes in legislation concerning parking, traffic signs, speed limits, vehicle regulations and even the drink-driving laws. There is a danger that these regulations will become self-aggrandising. We have different regulations just for the sake of having different regulations. We find ourselves having to make journeys by road that cover both jurisdictions, and it is extremely confusing if there are too many regulations that differ. The point I want to put to the Minister is this. He referred several times to discussions between the Department for Transport and the Scottish Government. Can we be assured that those discussions will continue so that we can seek to minimise the differences in regulations on each side of the border?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his comments and support. This was an issue that the party opposite raised in Committee and the Government are pleased to have been able to address what has been a long-standing lack of clarity in the law. With regard to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, yes of course I can assure him that discussions will continue between the Department for Transport and the Scottish Government. A theme that has run through all our debates on this Bill is the need for close intergovernmental co-operation. That is something which I feel strongly about, given my responsibility for these matters, so anything I can do to improve those intergovernmental relations, I will certainly do.
Before we move to the final group of amendments, as we near the conclusion of the Bill I want to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for all their work, in particular all those who have moved amendments or spoken to them, and who have taken the time to meet me and my noble and learned friend the Advocate-General to discuss their concerns. I would also like to thank the Constitution Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for their very careful consideration of this Bill. Indeed, I thank my noble and learned friend the Advocate-General, who is no longer in his place because no doubt he is preparing for the Immigration Bill to come, and my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie for all their support. Finally, I thank officials from across Whitehall who have provided invaluable support throughout the process. We have covered a lot of ground and many subjects, and their support is much appreciated.
Noble Lords have provided robust challenges at times; I recognise that opinions have been divided on aspects of the Bill and I respect the strong views that are sincerely held. Your Lordships’ House has fulfilled its customary role of providing a thorough and penetrating scrutiny of the legislation. I said at Second Reading that I thought it was a precondition of earning the trust of the Scottish people, after the independence referendum, that we should keep the promises that were made during that referendum. That is exactly what this Bill does, as well as making the Scottish Parliament more financially accountable. I am particularly grateful to the Front Benches opposite for their support. It recognises that the promises made during the referendum were joint ones.
There was much talk during the independence referendum of Project Fear, and I think that it has already been observed elsewhere that the fears raised by the supporters of the union have proved all too justified while the fears put about by those arguing for separation have proved to be groundless. They have proved to be groundless because we have delivered on the promises we have made. I think that we have established beyond any doubt that pulling Scotland out of the United Kingdom could never satisfy the Smith no-detriment principle, and in its heart of hearts I suspect that the leadership of the SNP knows it.
Political discourse in Scotland is already changing as a result of the Bill. Now we must move the debate on from what the powers are to how they are used. I am confident that the new Scotland Act will prove an enduring settlement, strengthening Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I echo a lot of what the Minister said. There was a lot of contention and division in our country during the referendum following the vow, thanks to the Daily Record, and the Smith commission, about which a lot of mistrust was put about as to the final conclusions of how we would deal with it. I am proud of the part that my party and its members played in arriving at these conclusions. We have shown Scotland that the people who do not wish to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom can deliver, by all accounts, the demands and wishes of the Scottish people to have more powers for the Scottish Parliament without necessarily separating from our friends and colleagues throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
Collectively, this House, despite some rumbustious moments, some slight scepticism and very heavy scrutiny, has fulfilled its role in passing the Bill and ensuring that it is a better Bill than when it came here. We will send it back to the other place and hopefully it will be accepted there.
Westminster as a Parliament has delivered the wishes of the Scottish people. We can regain their trust, despite the cynicism put about at the time of the referendum. Collectively—although there have been various differences, which no doubt will continue—I have no doubt that we have delivered for the people of Scotland and we can look them in the face.
Amendment 10 agreed.
11: Clause 40, page 43, line 14, leave out subsection (4)
Amendment 11 agreed.
Clause 41: Roads: traffic signs etc
Amendments 12 and 13
12: Clause 41, page 44, leave out lines 34 to 37 and insert—
“(a) in relation to a function so far as exercisable within devolved competence, within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998, means the Scottish Ministers;(b) otherwise, means the Secretary of State;”.”
13: Clause 41, page 45, line 10, leave out subsection (24)
Amendments 12 and 13 agreed.
Clause 42: Roads: speed limits
Amendments 14 and 15
14: Clause 42, page 46, line 30, leave out “relevant” and insert “national”
15: Clause 42, page 46, line 39, leave out paragraph (g)
Amendments 14 and 15 agreed.
16: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) Section 20 (parking on verges etc: definition of “heavy commercial vehicle”) is amended as follows.
(3) In subsection (5) for “Secretary of State” substitute “national authority”.
(4) At the end add—
“(8) In subsection (5) “national authority”—
(a) in relation to a function so far as exercisable within devolved competence, within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998, means the Scottish Ministers;(b) otherwise, means the Secretary of State.(9) Before making any regulations under subsection (5) in relation to vehicles used on roads in Scotland, the Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers.”
(5) Section 41 (regulation of construction, weight, equipment and use of vehicles) is amended as follows.
(6) In subsection (1) for “Secretary of State” substitute “national authority”.
(7) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) In subsection (1) “national authority”—
(a) in relation to a function so far as exercisable within devolved competence, within the meaning of the Scotland Act 1998, means the Scottish Ministers;(b) otherwise, means the Secretary of State.(2B) Before making any regulations under this section in relation to the parking of vehicles on roads in Scotland, the Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers.””
Amendment 16 agreed.
17: After Clause 70, insert the following new Clause—
“The Barnett Formula
Within 30 days of the date on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State shall publish as a memorandum, supplementary to the agreement between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government on the Scottish Government’s fiscal framework, a document containing a full description of any agreement reached between the governments relating to the future of the Barnett Formula or its application, amendment, reassessment or replacement in the future, including any agreement as to when any such change is intended to be considered by the two governments in the future.”
My Lords, I promise to be brief. I have been in this House just short of four decades and I have noticed that the easy way to empty the House at the end of Oral Questions is to read out the name of a measure that contains the word “Scotland”. In raising the matter that the amendment raises, I also realise that, to get a collective groan from around the House, the words “Barnett formula” are a pretty good start.
I do not want to repeat any of the arguments made. My one purpose in raising the amendment, which I think speaks for itself on what it seeks, is to assist the people of Scotland to understand the truth of the manner in which Scotland’s public expenditure is to be financed following the arrangements made under the fiscal framework. I do not think that very many people in Scotland have grasped what has happened. Indeed, there has been no opportunity to discuss the matter in the other House before the Bill is passed. My only purpose in moving the amendment is to encourage the Government to produce a publication of the kind requested that shows the truth of that financing so that we can all go out, talk about it explicitly in the face of the superb SNP propaganda machine, which feels no obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I would have sat down at that point, but because the Minister has made some general remarks of a kind that would normally have been made, in my early days here, on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, I simply say that I am unhappy with the Bill. It subordinated the United Kingdom Parliament to a group of 10 Members of the Scottish Parliament, who took eight or nine weeks to produce a document. Since May last year we have been obliged to spend our time implementing the Government’s version of that document. I do not think that all the proposals in the Smith commission report were fully thought through and, of course, Ministers in this House were plainly given a brief to accept no amendments. They did particularly well in dealing with that difficult brief, but I do not think that their position was a very sound one.
One of our purposes was to give the other House an opportunity, before the Bill passed into law, to discuss the fiscal framework. I repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, often said, which is that the other House should have been given that opportunity.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will recall, in speaking about the role of the United Kingdom Parliament, that my noble friend Lord McFall of Alcluith suggested that the Government should deliver annual reports to both the UK and Scottish Parliaments on the progress of the fiscal framework discussion and the devolution settlement in general. This was surely an important development.
I shall conclude by saying that I acknowledge that that is exactly correct. It was an extremely worthwhile proposal and I am thankful that, one way or another, as the months and years pass by, we will be able to get the whole truth out about what has happened in relation to this settlement.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, says that he has been involved in these matters for some 40 years. I have been involved, at one end of the building or the other, for 50—33 at the other end and 18 or so at this end—dealing to a large extent with financial and Treasury matters, but I have to say that I cannot recall any financial issue, in either House, that has been dealt with in such an inadequate way as the legislation that we have in front of us. The fiscal framework, which is at the heart of the Bill, has still not been debated at all in the House of Commons. We had a very truncated debate in Committee, with no debate on the fiscal framework, and very limited debate thereafter.
The Minister referred, in the debate on the previous group, to the promises made in the course of the referendum campaign. He described them as joint promises, but they were made, of course, with absolutely no consultation. The so-called vow was made during the referendum campaign and the statement by the Prime Minister was made the morning after the referendum took place. The deal that has been struck perpetuates a grossly unfair balance for those paying taxes and involved with financial matters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and perpetuates the very substantial subsidy that is given to Scotland. Members of Parliament have not had any opportunity whatever to debate this. One must hope that their constituents will hold them to account when the details begin to sink in to the consciousness of the public at large in the parts of the United Kingdom other than Scotland.
The noble and learned Lord’s amendment is very much to be commended. We are stuck with the Barnett formula, which we all know the late Lord Barnett himself decided was obsolete long before his lamented departure. The reality is that we are now going to go on doing this with virtually no prospect of the matter being changed again in five years’ time or beyond. That is a dreadful situation as far as taxpayers in the rest of the United Kingdom are concerned. I certainly support the noble and learned Lord’s suggestion that we at least ought to know the details of what has been agreed.
My Lords, a constant theme in your Lordships’ House is that the other place has inadequate opportunity to scrutinise legislation thoroughly. When we say that, we always then go on to say that in your Lordships’ House things are different. In this case, they are not. It is nothing short of disgraceful that the other place has not had an opportunity to debate the fiscal framework. Twenty-nine of us put our views on that on the record when we had a Division a few weeks ago, but it was a vain gesture.
I speak as a Member of your Lordships’ House who feels proud of our reputation for scrutiny and our ability to look at Bills forensically and to get change by either passing more amendments or, more regularly, by getting the Government to recognise that points of substance have been made and that alterations of substance should follow. In this case, that has not been possible.
It is deeply regrettable that that is the case. I make no personal criticism of my noble friends on the Front Bench; they are men of great charm and ability. However, they have been working under orders and have not been able to respond to points of real weight and substance because the brief has not allowed them to do so. In so many ways, this is a one-off Bill. I trust, above all, that in the context of scrutiny it will remain a one-off Bill.
My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, I thought that the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, in replying to the last amendment, when he thanked everybody, were more suitable for the Bill do now pass debate. However, although I did not take part in that discussion, I would not wish in any way to lessen the appreciation I express on behalf of my colleagues to those who have helped to get the Bill to its present state, not least the Bill team, with some of whom I have worked in the past and know of their exceptional quality and hard work. I particularly thank the Minister, who with his customary courtesy has gone out of his way to meet us, engage with us and discuss issues with us—regrettably, not always to any effect from my point of view, but no doubt from his point of view it has been very effective. That is very much appreciated.
Aspects of this process have not been at all satisfactory. The short period that we had in which to look at the fiscal framework was not satisfactory. The Bill could be in a better state than it is and perhaps more favourably reflect the spirit of the Smith commission. The House has not done much to respect, or even give proper consideration to, the points made by the Scottish Parliament’s committee that looked at the Bill. Those are matters of regret and do not augur well for having mutual respect and trying to improve the relationships between the institutions of the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments. But that is where we are.
This amendment addresses the Barnett formula. The Minister referred to the vow in his wind-up speech. I happen to believe that the referendum was won in spite of rather than because of it. However, it is important that we celebrate the fact that we won the referendum and are not facing independence day on Thursday of this week, with one dreads to think what consequences.
I note that, when I stood where the Minister stands now, the most difficult question I ever had to answer in one of these debates came from the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who referred to the vow. It says:
“We agree that the UK exists to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably across all four nations to secure the defence, prosperity and welfare of every citizen”.
It goes on to refer to the,
“continuation of the Barnett allocation for resources”.
I was asked how I could square the equitable sharing of resources with the continuation of the Barnett formula. I struggled to find an answer. I will allow the Minister to find his.
My Lords, when the Calman commission sat, the most important principles that it was trying to support were equity and accountability; this echoes what the noble and learned Lord has just said. I remind the House that on 7 September 2004, the day the Scottish Parliament opened at Holyrood, the Reverend Charles Robertson, minister of the Canongate church, was first to speak during the regular time for reflection. He reminded us of the previous uses of the site for the newly-built Parliament. It had been a house of refuge, a soup kitchen for the destitute and Scotland’s largest independent geriatric hospital, not to mention the site of a profusion of well-known and much-loved breweries. Given this history, it is perhaps not surprising that, on that day, the then First Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, urged MSPs to “raise their game”.
This legislation—the amendment relates to the heart of it—will bring about major changes in the powers and competence of the Scottish Parliament as, for the first time, the majority of funds that the Scottish Government spend will come from revenues raised in Scotland. When the prevailing philosophy has been a culture of spend, spend, spend, popularity is relatively easily won. That will now change as tough decisions will have to be made on how services will be financed.
There seems to be some uncertainty about who observed:
“With great power comes great responsibility”.
Some attribute it to Voltaire. In a debate in the other place in 1817, William Lamb, later Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, made an exhortation to the press. He begged leave to remind them of their,
“duty to apply to themselves a maxim which they never neglected to urge on the consideration of government—‘that the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/1817; col. 1227.]
Similarly, on the same subject, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill said:
“The price of greatness is responsibility”.
What Churchill meant was that anyone who aspires to greatness must also be willing to shoulder the accompanying responsibilities. His advice still holds good today.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, said, the Barnett formula has been the subject of significant debate during the passage of the Bill and has been raised in various statements and at other opportunities. I do not propose to go over well-worn ground, but I recognise the strong views that the formula evokes, particularly in this House. As has been said at other stages in the Bill’s progress, the retention of the Barnett formula is a manifesto commitment not just of the Government but of all three of the main UK parties. It will therefore continue to determine changes to the block grant resulting from changes in UK government departmental spending.
However, as my noble friend Lord Selkirk noted, the significance of the Barnett formula will be reduced, as over 50% of the Scottish Government’s budget will, in future, come from taxes raised in Scotland. As has been said before, the size of that budget will be determined increasingly by changes in Scottish taxes.
The amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord call for a memorandum to be published within 30 days of the Scotland Act passing, providing additional detail on the future of the Barnett formula. We are already delivering the intent of these amendments. On Friday, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury placed in the Libraries of both Houses a supplementary technical annexe to the fiscal framework agreement. This sets out in detail how Barnett will operate in future, alongside the adjustments for new tax and welfare powers. Much of the detail of how Barnett operates is already published in the Statement of Funding Policy, which was last updated in November. The details of how the devolution settlement operates are also set out at each fiscal event.
In addition, we have listened to the views expressed in this House about transparency and reporting. The UK Government and the Scottish Government have agreed to report annually on the operation of the fiscal framework. Finally, in response to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, the Treasury has undertaken to look at how the whole operation of the Barnett formula can be made more transparent. We on this side of the House fully expect scrutiny to continue beyond the passage of the Bill and therefore I urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I can be brief indeed. I am encouraged by what the Minister has said. Indeed, I have been encouraged by the remarks of other noble Lords who have supported me. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, mentioned the concept of responsibility. I believe that it is our responsibility, having been fortunate enough to be here and to be informed about the details of what has been happening, to use what influence we can in Scotland, and indeed in the rest of the United Kingdom, to make known the truth about all the circumstances surrounding this settlement. I shall do my best. In the mean time, encouraged by what I have heard, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Clause 71: Commencement
Amendment 18 not moved.
Schedule 2: Roads: consequential and related provision
Amendments 19 to 21
19: Schedule 2, page 80, line 25, leave out paragraphs 8 and 9 and insert—
“8 (1) Section 86 (speed limits for particular classes of vehicles) is amended as follows.
(2) For “national authority” in each place substitute “relevant authority”.
(3) Omit subsection (9).
9 In section 88 (temporary speed limits) for “national authority” in each place substitute “relevant authority”.”
20: Schedule 2, page 84, line 30, at end insert—
“Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52)In section 195 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (regulations) after subsection (4) insert—
“(4ZA) Regulations made by the Scottish Ministers under section 20(5), 36(5) or 41(1) are subject to the negative procedure.””
21: Schedule 2, page 87, leave out lines 20 to 26 and insert—
“(a) make any provision under section 87(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 that could be made by the Scottish Ministers, and(b) in connection with any provision made by virtue of paragraph (a), make any provision under any of the traffic signs powers mentioned in paragraph 33(3) that could be made by the Scottish Ministers.”
Amendments 19 to 21 agreed.
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House for more than a moment, but the passing of this Act by the House today is a major step in the history of Scotland. Donald Dewar was fond of repeating that devolution was not an event but a process, and so it has proved to be—and I have no doubt will continue to prove to be. This Act completes a process begun correctly in the original Scotland Act 1998. However, as I said at the time, that Act created a Parliament with substantial powers over expenditure but no responsibility for raising any of the money that it spent. This change is therefore of major significance and brings us closer to a quasi-federal relationship in Britain—closer in fact to the ideas in the Solemn League and Covenant way back in 1643.
In his magisterial new book Independence or Union, Professor Tom Devine says that his own preferred choice in the referendum,
“would have been to support a more powerful Scottish Parliament via some form of enhanced devolution. That opinion was in the end not available in the wording of the referendum. Many of those who thought like me were effectively disenfranchised”.
That is what we have delivered and I believe that it now accords with the views of the majority of Scots, recognising as they do that we had a lucky escape in the referendum following the collapse of the global oil price.
That is nothing new. We have always been interdependent in these countries. One of our greatest Secretaries of State, Tom Johnston, put it thus during the great depression:
“What purpose would there be in our getting a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh if it has to administer an emigration system, a glorified poor law and a desert?”.
We needed the strength of the United Kingdom then and we need it now. This Act creates an obligation and indeed an expectation that our two Governments will act together in the best interests of our people. That means that Ministers such as George Osborne need to abandon silly anti-nationalist rhetoric when dealing seriously with annual budgets and that the SNP need to stop blaming London for every one of its own shortcomings. Scottish people expect better than that and this Act provides a sensible foundation for the way forward.
I have one final thought. We in this House have been able to adjust and improve the Bill since it left the Commons. We have had to do that without the assistance of the SNP, which continues its absence from this institution. I hope that that may change, not least so that it can join in the efforts to reform this Chamber and make it even more of a sounding board for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Report (3rd Day)
116A: After Clause 62, insert the following new Clause—
“Unaccompanied refugee children: relocation and support
(1) The Secretary of State must, as soon as possible after the passing of this Act, make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.
(2) The relocation of children under subsection (1) shall be in addition to the resettlement of children under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.”
My Lords, ever since I tabled this amendment, I have been surprised at the level of interest, and above all support, from the wider public over the need to do something for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. I declare an interest at the outset, as I arrived in this country in the summer of 1939 as an unaccompanied child refugee. This country at the time offered safety to some 10,000 children. It is thanks to Sir Nicky Winton, who helped to organise Kindertransports from Czechoslovakia, that I got here at all—I almost certainly owe my life to him. In tribute, last week a postal stamp was produced in commemoration of his achievements, and I saw photographs of the stamp with the Home Secretary when it was launched.
I also happened to meet Theresa May at a birthday party at Nicky Winton’s house in Maidenhead a few years ago. She was of course his MP and paid many tributes to him. I cannot help but feeling that he would be gratified if this House were to adopt this amendment today. In May, there is to be a memorial event for Nicky, who died last year at the age of 106, and it would be fitting if this amendment were on the statute book by that commemoration. Some years ago he expressed concern to me about unaccompanied children—in this case from the Horn of Africa—and wondered at the time whether similar schemes should be put in place. Although I cannot discount my personal experiences, the case for this amendment does not depend on them. There is a much stronger case for the amendment than what happened to me all those years ago.
Once in a while, there are major challenges that test our humanitarianism, and Europe’s refugee crisis is surely one such challenge. But within that, there is a need to do something about unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. They are believed to be mainly Syrian, although I am sure among them there are also some Afghans and Eritreans. There is estimated to be some 24,000 such children in Europe at present. Save the Children, which has been particularly involved in making these estimates, has suggested that the UK’s share should be something in the region of 3,000. I stress of course that we must deal with children who have claims for asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention—there may be others in Europe, but they are not the subject of this amendment.
These children are in a vulnerable state. Some apparently have disappeared and there are fears that they may have become the victims of child traffickers and perhaps forced into prostitution or slave labour. According to the Italian Ministry of Labour, of the 13,000-plus unaccompanied children who arrived in 2014, some 3,700 have disappeared. In 2015, nearly 6,000 are unaccounted for. Is it not a dreadful thing that children have just disappeared in modern Europe? In any case, the winter is not over. In many parts of Europe, children may be sleeping rough, without adequate food or water. Many may be in Greece or Italy, but some are elsewhere, perhaps even in the Calais and Dunkirk areas.
I think that there are clear signs that the British people want to respond, and many have offered to be foster parents. It just so happens that early this afternoon, I received an email, which I should like to quote from. It says, “Please keep fighting for the rights of the refugee children who are unaccompanied. It is very distressing how these children are having such a dreadful time to just survive. England has plenty of room for these children and, just to show our humanity, our doors should be open to them. I would be happy to offer a place of safety for one or two, as I have been a foster parent many years ago. The best of luck today.”
I believe that that is a typical response; I have certainly had such responses, and I am sure that many others have as well. I am confident that a widespread appeal by the Government and local authorities would achieve a positive response from people. Not everyone who wants to be a foster parent is qualified to do so, and we would have to set the highest possible standards, as we would for all other children in local authority care, to ensure that anyone wanting to foster is qualified to do so.
We have heard a lot about pressure in Kent, and I accept that Kent as a county has had difficulties, but I believe that there would be a response all over the country that would meet the need identified in the amendment. We do not want to put children and young people into care homes. Clearly, the aim of the amendment is that such children should be fostered and properly cared for, as were many of those on the Kindertransport, unless they already have relatives in this country, when the right course would be for them to be with them.
Local authorities have a key part to play in all this. Of course, they may need some extra help: it depends on the pressure on any individual authority. Let me stress that these children should be additional to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. I accept that that is a good scheme—a bit small, but it does useful work. I think that 1,200 have already come in under that scheme and we are talking about 20,000 over the next four or five years.
The amendment deals with a different need. The figure of 3,000 is small, but would make an important contribution to helping a vulnerable group. It is surely right that we in this country should take a fair share of the responsibility. I hope that other countries in Europe would also share in doing that.
I have tried to understand the Government’s objection to the amendment. I thank the Minister for several conversations with him; indeed, I have had a conversation with the Home Secretary as well; and I appreciate the frank exchange of views that we were able to have. The Government believe that if some of the children currently in Europe were allowed into this country, that would exert a pull factor and many more would arrive. That seems to be the nub of their argument against the amendment.
I do not think that there is that much hard evidence to support that belief, but in any case, the consequence of doing nothing for these children who are now in Europe must be much more serious than the possibility that an amendment such as this would attract others to follow. We are dealing with a desperately important crisis at the moment; that is the key to the amendment.
I am currently a member of one of our European Union sub-committees, and we are considering naval operations in the Mediterranean, especially Operation Sophia. Those operations are certainly saving the lives of people crossing from Turkey or Libya. To the extent that they do so, they lessen the risks of the sea crossing, so one could argue that they are also a pull factor, but that is no reason not to save the lives of people at risk in the sea, and no one suggests that those naval forces should cease their life-saving operations.
We are dealing with a refugee crisis in Europe of such magnitude that, frankly, the number in the amendment is rather small, and I have had people ask me: “Why so few?”. Some people in European countries have family members in this country. The amendment is not intended to cover those children: provided that they can be identified, they already have the right to come under existing arrangements. The priority must surely be: what is in the best interests of the children? Some may already have parents or close relatives in another European country, and it would clearly be in their best interests to join them there, wherever they are.
In the House of Commons on 25 January, the Minister James Brokenshire said—and I think that the quote summarises the purpose of this amendment:
“The Government are clear that any action to help and assist unaccompanied minors must be in the best interests of the child, and it is right that that is our primary concern”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/16; col. 39.]
In 1938-9, there was a crisis in Europe, as many Jewish children in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were helped to escape to safety on the Kindertransport. At that time, most countries—in fact I think all countries—refused to help. Britain was the only country that said that it would help; we set the lead at that time and set a standard that I hope we can follow today. We said that it could be done and, as a result, thousands of children thank Britain for this humanitarian gesture. Many of them have developed successful careers here and made an important contribution to this country, and I think that the children that we are talking about in this amendment will go on to make a contribution that is also important to this country.
I have one other thought. Let us not insist that these young people will not be allowed to stay here beyond the age of 18. That is not the subject of the amendment, but it must be implicit that anything that helps those children should surely not say, “And when you’re 18 we’ll throw you out”. In the best interests of those children, it might be that they should be allowed to stay. We cannot just turn them out to a country to which it might not be safe to return.
Noble Lords may not all be aware that just off the central Lobby there is a plaque in which the 10,000 children who came to this country on the Kindertransport gave their thanks to the people of this country. I was there when the plaque was put up, and it is an important thing to say—that people who are given safety are also grateful to this country. It was not just children from central Europe; some Basque children were also allowed to come here, following the bombing of Guernica.
It is only a few months ago that Sir Nicky Winton died, aged 106. He was the person who saved many children from Czechoslovakia. I would like other children who are in a desperate situation at the moment to be offered safety in this country and be given the same welcome and opportunities that I had. I beg to move.
My Lords, I, too, speak with a little, although rather different, experience of this matter. The church in Colchester, in the diocese where I serve, is at the forefront of welcoming refugee families to this country and is a wonderful example of what can be done when local government, the local church and local community work together. It is not just about welcoming people but about integrating them into a community. What we have started to do with adults and families we must urgently do with unaccompanied refugee children. As we have heard, it is estimated that there are 24,000 of them in Europe at the moment, many living on the streets and very vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution and other forms of modern slavery. This is the thick end of the wedge of the humanitarian crisis that we are facing, and it is an obvious and very identifiable need that we could do something about.
Why 3,000? Well, that feels like a fair share for the UK to take in terms of our size and place in Europe. This was debated in another place on 25 January, and the Government undertook to work with UNHCR to resettle unaccompanied refugee children from conflict regions and to set up a fund for this work. But of course this does not quite amount to an undertaking to bring unaccompanied children here, which is why this amendment is so important and why I am so happy to put my name to it.
The Government are concerned that, if we take unaccompanied refugee children, their families might claim asylum for family reunification at a later date. Yes, this might happen—but against this, we must look at the plight of these 24,000 children right now. The church, therefore, with others asks the Government to work with UNHCR to bring refugee children who are in extreme risk to the UK in addition to the other pledges that we have made. The hard truth is that at the moment there are no refugee children like this from Europe being resettled in this country.
Clearly, if this were to happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, the availability of foster parents will be an important issue. But I assure noble Lords that this is another area where the church, other faith groups and other charitable bodies stand ready, able and willing to help. Just last week, I was with a priest in Rayleigh who has fostered two children. One is a boy of 14 who is seeking asylum in this country, having escaped conscription in Eritrea for an unspecified and unlimited period. I spoke with him and was amazed at how, even after a few months, he is integrating into British society and feels that he has a future. There are also charities such as Home for Good which help with the work that we could do. Like the Kindertransport in 1938, we, too, could be part of a story of hope and generosity for children abandoned, bereft, perplexed and in danger in Europe today. This is a small but beautiful thing that we could do.
My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate I am a signatory to this amendment. I am delighted to be able to offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who made a compelling and eloquent case in support of Amendment 116A.
In opposing this, the Government have used various arguments. One is that you cannot distinguish between groups that suffer, but all of us who think about that for very long know that it is at best a disingenuous argument and at worst an unworthy one. The noble Lord referred to the other argument that the Government use about so-called pull factors. In the case of children, surely that cannot outweigh all the points that the noble Lord has just advanced.
Then there is the question of numbers. I was looking today at the total number of refugees who have come to the United Kingdom and the total number who have come out of Syria. Some 4.8 million refugees have come out of Syria over the past five years. Turkey is currently hosting some 3 million refugees, and we will no doubt hear more about this later in the Statement that will be given to the House. Before anybody else suggests that this country is being swamped, just look at the numbers: 5,845 Syrians plus 1,337 under the vulnerable persons scheme is 0.15% of the total. So to ask just for 3,000 unaccompanied minors to come into this country is far from being unreasonable.
In Committee on 3 February, I asked the Minister about a report which had appeared in the Daily Telegraph and Observer newspapers which reported the comments of Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff. He said:
“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children, who are unaccompanied and who have disappeared in Europe ... Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with”.
He said that 10,000 was likely to be “a conservative estimate”.
Arising from those shocking and disturbing figures, I hope that the Minister will tell us when he comes to reply what discussions the Home Office has had since 3 February with Europol about the children who have disappeared and what percentage Europol believes to have been unaccompanied. If thousands of child migrants have simply vanished in Europe while we have argued about how many angels you can fit on the top of a pin, it will be a lasting stain on our collective reputations.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also referred to foster parents. I hope that when he replies the Minister will tell us what discussions he has had with local authorities about promoting fostering arrangements for these children. For obvious reasons, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also referred to the Kindertransport. The reputation of politicians and diplomats from that era is redeemed by the extraordinary bravery and determination of men such as Sir Nicholas Winton, the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and Eleanor Rathbone, “the refugees’ MP”, as she was known. This year is the 70th anniversary of her death.
In 1938, after Kristallnacht, she established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940 in a six-hour debate, she intervened on no fewer than 20 occasions to insist that Britain had a duty of care to the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution—in her words,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/40; col. 1212.]
In words that have an echo in the debates we have been having during the course of this Bill, she wrote that discussions about asylum seekers and refugees,
“always … begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small, leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-Semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”.
It is hard not to see the parallels. The debates about the Kindertransport continued in Parliament until literally hours before war broke out. In 2016 we should do no less than those who preceded us.
The amendment would require the Secretary of States to relocate 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in European Union countries to the United Kingdom. These vulnerable young people have already had traumatic experience of the chaos and violence of war, the abandonment of hearth and home, horrendous journeys and separation from families, with some placed into the hands of smugglers and people traffickers and some facing exploitation of every kind. They are entitled to international protection and to respect for their rights as refugees—even more so than adults. Surely the lifeboat rule must apply.
Nelson Mandela once said:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.
Many of us will be dead when these children come to maturity, but they will never forget, as the noble Lord who moved this amendment has never forgotten, the values that made their futures possible. I am very happy to support an amendment that says the very best about the values of this country.
My Lords, as one who signed the amendment, I am delighted to follow the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Alton. The heart beats strongly on this issue, but it has to beat strongly in the future as well. I imagine that as the years go by, with all sorts of issues such as climate change, war and famine, we will be discussing this issue time and again. We must somehow sort out our approach in the long term, and this is an opportunity to do so. It is an opportunity to say to 3,000 children, “You are welcome in our country”. It is an opportunity to show the world that we are not going to be dragged kicking and screaming into receiving refugee children but that we are happy to do so.
It is seven or eight months since Save the Children started its appeal for 3,000 child refugees, and now we have the chance to bring it into being. What an opportunity for us in the House of Lords today to say, “Yes, we welcome children”. The message will be carried to the Commons, and I do not see that they will be able to resist joining in with that welcome.
Alternatively, we could be hesitant and obstructive and say no, but I do not know what would influence anyone to vote against this amendment. Why should anyone go into the Not Content Lobby against children? Your Lordships had grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers and fathers—surely we can look at other children who are less fortunate than our own and say, “Yes, you are welcome, and we in the House of Lords will raise the banner of hope”. That will demonstrate that we are determined to tackle this problem, not only to Dunkirk, Calais and other places but also to the future.
Let us be brave. Let us have a unanimous vote of welcome today. We do not have to vote against this. We do not just have to say no. I do not know how on earth anyone who is a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt will be able to say, “We are going into the Lobby to stop these children coming over”. I am delighted to be able to support the amendment.
My Lords, I take a different view from the noble Lord who has just spoken, although I have a great deal of sympathy for the underlying sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for example—I agree with much of what he and the right reverend Prelate said. But there is a difference between making an obligation mandatory, as is contemplated by the amendment, and exercising the discretion of government. There may very well be a good case for the Government to admit much larger numbers of unaccompanied children than is provided for under the existing scheme, and I would have no objection at all to that number being 3,000 or more. However, I object to it being mandatory, because it deprives the Government of any discretion.
The House needs to keep two things in mind. First, if you admit children who are not accompanied at the moment of admission, you expose the country to a whole range of further applications by those who are related to them; and if you make it mandatory, you have deprived yourself of the ability to regulate that flow. The second, and different, point is the pull factor. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for example, is not right to disregard that. We have seen the consequences of Chancellor Merkel’s statement, which resulted in a very great pull factor. My own fear is that if the House made this obligation mandatory, that would encourage people to send their children from where they now are into Europe, unaccompanied, in the hope that they would take advantage either of this provision, if it is carried, or of a future provision which they might envisage being carried forward. I am not against the concepts and arguments which have been very eloquently expressed by noble Lords, but I am against making it mandatory.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in sharing the feeling behind this amendment, and I congratulate him on moving it. He is one of many distinguished examples of people who have contributed a lot to this country since they arrived here as part of the Kindertransport.
I want, if I may, to mention my own sister. She was born in 1937 in southern Poland and is my only sibling—in fact, she is my half-sibling; her mother died in Auschwitz after four and a half years as a prisoner there, but that difference in parentage has never affected us. I am afraid that I frequently telephone her and remind her how much older she is than me. Over the period of our lives together she has frequently reminded me of what she suffered as a child who did not have the opportunity to take advantage of the Kindertransport. Throughout the Second World War, from the time her mother was taken by the Nazis, she fled from persecution. She moved from place to place, and although people who had feelings for her tried to protect her, she did not have that carapace of parental protection which most of us have enjoyed and which to a great extent was enjoyed by the Kindertransport children. A few years ago she was able to have published her memoirs of the time between her third birthday and the end of the war, such as she remembers it. It is there for all who wish to read it and it is a searing story.
If by this amendment we can save one child from the sort of experience that my sister went through or save the children of one family from the feeling of being lost in an uncaring world, at no real disadvantage to this country, we should do it. Nothing in this amendment would disadvantage this country. If the Government wish to carry out a cost-benefit analysis, they need only to carry out a similar cost-benefit analysis of the Kindertransport children. These 3,000 children would be a jewel in this country’s crown and would appreciate what this country had done for them, like my sister appreciated what it eventually did for her when she was able to come here as an eight year-old in 1946.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the wonderful speeches that we have heard today. Your Lordships’ House is a truly remarkable place. When I last spoke on this matter in Committee I cited the case of three unaccompanied refugee children and a dependent adult trapped in Calais, in whose favour the Upper Tribunal had ruled in January this year. The ruling that they be allowed to join their family in Britain forthwith was made under a clause of the Dublin III regulations that permits family reunification. It acknowledged that the proper process of applying through the French authorities had been followed, but that that process had failed and the children faced up to a year fending for themselves in the Calais camp while the French Government’s request to the British Government to take charge languished, as these cases are wont to do in the dysfunctional French immigration system.
The initial euphoria on the part of those children has ebbed away as they await the outcome of our Government’s sad decision to appeal the finding. That is the reason I support the laudable amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Although it is not necessary to enshrine in law our request that 3,000 of the 26,000 unaccompanied refugee children currently in Europe be allowed sanctuary in Britain, it is clear that the Government, despite their earlier protestations that they will look into the matter, have set their face against it.
Last Friday I was in Calais again. In the wake of the recent demolitions, I wanted to meet the heroic volunteers who have done so much to keep some of the most desperate people alive in wretched conditions through this winter. The Governments of France and Britain make much of the “pull factors”—as though making the atrocious conditions just that little bit more humane will be a magnet. However, the millions of people on the move are not fleeing their homes, their livelihoods and their communities for a better life in the West. As one Syrian told me recently, what they are leaving behind used to be so much better than anything they can hope for in Europe; but they have no choice. Among these refugees are children, some travelling without adult protection—some left home on their own, because parents could afford smugglers’ fees for only one; some children’s parents died on the journey or became separated from them. The best estimates are that there are some 28,000 refugee children fending for themselves in Europe, and 10,000 are now unaccounted for. Some of those children have family in Britain. With a will, using the safe and legal routes available to us, we could fast-track the assessment and processing of these child refugees and give them sanctuary. Lord knows, we have many able and willing volunteers ready to house them.
A census carried out in Calais just before the demolitions showed there to be 423 unaccompanied child refugees in the camp. Surely it is time for the Government to accept their moral obligation to look after those children with a legal right to come to Britain, and set up processing centres? Safe and legal routes is the right way to thwart the smugglers—not partaking in tortuous contortions of international law and returning refugees from whence they came.
It is my belief that in years to come all of us in Europe—save possibly with the exception of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel—will look back at this period in our history and hang our heads in shame. A small piece of redemption would be to accede to this request to give sanctuary to 3,000 children, alone in Europe.
My Lords, I want to respond briefly to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. In September, Save the Children made the proposal to bring 3,000 children to this country. Six months have passed and the Government have chosen not to exercise their discretion to do so. We have heard strong arguments as to why we should welcome those children here and, because the Government have chosen not to exercise their discretion in that respect, my noble friend Lord Dubs is putting forward this amendment to make it mandatory. We can wait no longer. Every day we hear of children being exploited and abused, and whose mental and physical health is deteriorating. Let us use this opportunity.
My Lords, perhaps I may also say something in response to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. The short answer to the very practical point that he made is for the Government to come forward with an alternative that does not tie them to taking in 3,000 children on the understanding that, if the amendment is accepted, they will be under a moral obligation to do something very similar. One argument that the Government have raised is that this may encourage other children to be put on boats and sent over. That may be but, if the Turkish agreement is to be of any use, one hopes that everyone will then go back to Turkey, certainly from Greece. However, there is a chance that that will not happen.
What really worries me—and I am obviously not the only one to be worried—is the plight of the very young children. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about Calais. I understand that at least one child there is only nine. However, I am concerned about children under 14 and especially children under 12. They are particularly at risk not just from people traffickers but from those who would enslave them. Speaking as the co-chairman of the parliamentary group on human trafficking, I can say that there is a real problem with these children. Ten thousand-plus have gone missing. How many have gone into the hands of those who will use them for prostitution, benefit fraud, thieving and even forced labour?
We absolutely must do something to stop those children being victims. They are already victims by being in Europe if they are unaccompanied, but they are in danger of becoming slaves. As many have said much more eloquently than me, we have an obligation to look after at least some of them. As has already been said, we have a noble record of looking after children who are at great risk.
I admire the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for putting forward this amendment and I support it in principle entirely. I have the feeling that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, does not object to the proposal; he just objects to its mandatory nature. Therefore, I put in a plea to the Government. As I have already said, if they do not like the way in which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is expressed, the very short answer to that is to bring forward a government amendment at Third Reading and they would have the whole House behind them.
My Lords, if I may say so, the noble and learned Baroness made a very important point. I imagine that there is a particular concern on all sides of the House about the very young children, but the problem is that, as I understand it, the amendment would apply to anyone up to the age of 18. That goes far too wide, particularly when the de facto age of maturity—or whatever the legal position is—has come down significantly. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government might consider looking at an arrangement of this kind for children up to the age of, say, 12. I believe that as currently drafted, applying to children right up to the age of 18, the amendment goes far too wide. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider the Government coming forward with a statesmanlike compromise.
My Lords, of course our hearts go out to unaccompanied children, especially the younger ones and particularly those under the age of 12—these are children who have somehow managed to find their way to an EU country. However, one thing rather concerns me about the provision as drafted, and it is this: ex hypothesi, the refugee children in other countries in Europe to whom this provision applies are already entitled to asylum in whichever EU country they already are. If we are to bring in some mandatory provision of this sort, for my part, I suggest that the requirement for them to be “refugees” be dropped. If the clause is restricted, say, to those under the age of 12 or to younger children, for them, frankly, the difference between being a refugee strictly entitled under the refugee convention and an economic migrant is vanishingly small.
My Lords, I have the good fortune to know my noble friend Lord Dubs personally as a great friend, and we have worked together on many issues. The thing about Alf—if I may refer to him colloquially, because I cannot think of him in any other way—is that he has never forgotten what happened to him and, throughout his life and his whole career, he has been guided by what action that demands of him as a member of society. This is not a one-off by my noble friend Lord Dubs; this is another indication of the man who has put this forward.
I have listened to the legal arguments and complexities that are again being raised. However, I believe unashamedly that from time to time in life, and in politics, there comes a moral imperative, and when there is a moral imperative it is not just to speak; it is to act. My noble friend Lord Dubs has given us an opportunity to act and give substance to our words.
However, this must be seen against the frightening background. In the world at the moment, there are 19.5 million refugees, which is around 2.9 million more than in 2013. Of those, 5.1 million are Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA. Who is looking after these refugees? Who is hosting them? The overwhelming majority—86% of the world’s refugees—are cared for by developing countries that are desperately impoverished themselves, with many of their citizens not knowing what it is to live life as we live it. Think of that, and then think of this small action that we are being challenged to take today by my noble friend Lord Dubs. Beyond the refugees, there are of course all the internally displaced people—millions again.
This action gives hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, put it so eloquently. It is an indication of what, if we have any morality at all, that morality demands. It also means that we have to face up to the reality of the world. With climate change and all the conflict in the world, this problem will continue to grow. If we take this action, as I hope we do today, it must spur us on to consistent action as a nation in leading an international response to the global challenge that is increasing in size and complexity all the time.
I wonder whether it is too far-fetched to think that there might be an element of self-interest in this. My mother has often talked to me about what it was like for her as a five year-old girl being evacuated from Croydon in south London to the Midlands during the Second World War. It was a very difficult experience for her and, of course, many of our children were sent off to the United States at that time for their own safety. We face an uncertain Europe. Perhaps one day we might need to turn to the United States or Canada to look for help for our children, and they might turn to us and ask, “Well, what did you do for the children arriving in Europe when they needed your help?”. If we do not stand up now and show ourselves to be willing to accommodate these young people, it will make it harder for us when we are in desperate need and want the support of other nations to say, “We need your help for our children. I know that it is a bit far-fetched, but it is not impossible and it has happened in the past.
My Lords, I support the amendment and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on moving it. My uncle came here at the age of 13—he would have failed the 12 year-old cut-off point—as a semi-unaccompanied refugee from Nazi Germany; my mother was an adult when she came. I want to say something about the courage of the British Government at that time. When we talk about not wishing to accept the amendment, we should think about just how brave were the British Government against other Governments who did not wish to show such generosity and kindness in the late 1930s and in 1939 itself. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, paid tribute to Sir Nicky Winton, but, wonderful as he was, he was not alone—there was Trevor Chadwick, who worked with him. There were also British diplomats around Europe, particularly in Germany and in Austria, who played a major role in helping Jews and left-wingers get out of Germany and Austria. I pay particular tribute to Robert Smallbones, Arthur Dowden and the MI6 spy, Frank Foley, who does not receive enough tribute.
The reason for supporting this amendment is not only the moral one—it is the least that we can do—but something about what Britain is and what Britain should be and setting some kind of example. We could do it in the 1930s. Why cannot we do it now?
My Lords, this is a very difficult issue. The heart indeed speaks strong and it beats particularly strong, it seems, in this Chamber, but we also have to think it through a little. I entirely understand the good intentions behind the amendment, and nobody is better placed than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to propose it and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to speak to it. I would be perfectly content to support a Motion calling for HMG to accept a larger number of children and their families from the refugee camps elsewhere in the region. It is not a question of cost; it is a question of need and one that we should be ready to meet.
My concern is that the amendment refers specifically to unaccompanied children in Europe. These children are already in Europe and are initially the responsibility of the Governments in the countries where they find themselves. The idea seems to be that we, the UK, should take a fair share of these children, who indeed find themselves in terrible circumstances. But there is a risk, which we cannot dismiss—it is a serious risk—that in doing so we will make a bad situation even worse. We are not dealing here with a finite number of children—it is no use saying, “There are 24,000 children; we will take 3,000 of them”. We are dealing with a situation in which the families concerned have come to the view that if they can only get their children into Europe, they will be looked after, and as a secondary consideration they themselves might be able to follow them up later.
To my mind, the follow-up adults are not the issue, rather it is the risk that still more children will be put at very serious risk. A well-intentioned action could have the perverse effect that many more thousands of children will be sent off to face the terrible conditions that have been described. If so, we would not be solving the problem, and indeed we might be exacerbating it. That is why I believe that the Government are right to take refugees from the region, but not from Europe. It is unsatisfactory, but it is perhaps the least bad outcome. We have to consider this carefully. A point which has frankly been ducked in this debate—I think only one speaker has mentioned it—is the risk that this will generate very large numbers of children being put at risk and make a bad situation worse.
My Lords, I rise to make two brief points. The first is in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who talked about anyone over the age of 12 not being vulnerable. I find that a quite incredible thing to say, not just in the sense that 13, 14 and 15 year-olds are vulnerable, but because when we talked about votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in your Lordships’ House, people on those Benches were saying that 16 and 17 year-olds were not mature. So there is a form of hypocrisy here in terms of the age of those who are seen as vulnerable.
My second point is that it is a complete nonsense to suggest that this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would act as a pull factor. It suggests that parents and children are sitting in a war-torn part of the world and suddenly say that because 3,000 children have been accepted into the United Kingdom they are going to send their children here. People are fleeing because they fear for their children’s lives and their own lives, not because of some rational thought about what is being said in the sanitised, oak-panelled walls of this Chamber.
I end by saying this. I was brought up to do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing or the technical thing about the territorial boundaries of where a child in need is. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. It sends a message about the morals of this country: that we open our hearts and our arms to those in greatest need. We do not turn our backs on vulnerable children.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, including my noble friends who have managed to restrain themselves from speaking—that is probably all of them—I want to say that the word “vulnerable” is overworked but entirely apt; this is not just about the youngest children. I have heard it said that a 14 or 16 year-old who has made his way from Afghanistan or Eritrea all the way across Europe is not a child. Well, he will certainly have had a lot of life experiences. Children come in a lot of shapes, sizes and ages, and a 14 year-old who is caring for his eight year-old brother still has the needs of a 14 year-old. The number of children who have disappeared must give us more than a hint of the abuse, exploitation and trafficking to which children can so easily fall prey. Even those who have not disappeared are unlikely to have avoided abuse and criminality entirely.
The Government have also claimed, although I do not think it has been referred to today, that accepting unaccompanied children risks separating them from their families. But the proposal, as I understand it, would apply to children who have been registered by the UNHCR as having no identifiable family in Europe or in their country of origin.
I turn to the pull factor. I will simply put it this way: there are so many push factors that we do not need to think about the pull factor. Something that has shocked volunteers working in northern Europe is the number of children involved, including some very tiny ones—their ages vary somewhat between the camps. This is not to deny the importance of assisting those who are in the camps in the Middle East, but to accept this amendment would be to acknowledge the huge public concern. When the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the contribution of refugees welcomed almost 80 years ago, I could see the nods of agreement right round the Chamber.
As to the mandatory nature of the amendment, I agree that it is not desirable to use legislation for a purpose for which it is not needed, but it would not have taken the form of an amendment if the Government had shown more movement towards the objective. Although the children in question may have rights in another European country, the situation surely is such that the UK should take the lead towards some sort of resolution.
I mentioned abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, did not mention the Modern Slavery Act, but I suspect that it was in her mind. The Government are proud of that legislation, which addresses exploitation, abuse and trafficking. Let us join up the dots.
My Lords, estimates from Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggest, as has been said, that there are some 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Europol estimates that more than 10,000 unaccompanied children registered after arriving in Europe over the past 18 months to two years have disappeared.
The Government’s policy is to provide assistance to help those in Syria and those from Syria who have moved to adjacent countries. That is welcome, but it does not answer the question of what will happen to those unaccompanied refugee children already in Europe and what effective help will be directed towards them. Are we really going to say, based on an unsubstantiated argument, that relocating just 3,000 such unaccompanied refugee children to the UK will act as a serious pull factor for more children to be sent by parents and that we intend to do nothing to help along the lines called for in the amendment?
Where children have been identified as being unaccompanied, on their own and having fled from a country ravaged by civil war, where tens or hundreds of thousands have died, with many being brutally murdered, is it really still the Government’s policy to overlook them as far as any relocation to the United Kingdom is concerned because they landed on their own on a Greek island, for example, rather than being in or near Syria? Should we, as a European nation, not accept responsibility for some unaccompanied children already in Europe? Doing nothing will not mean that those children will return to where they came from. It will simply mean that they will become more likely than ever to be exploited and abused by people traffickers and others of ill intent.
We support the amendment. If, having heard the Government’s response, my noble friend decides to test the opinion of the House, we will vote for it.
My Lords, I preface my remarks with a few comments. First, no one doubts the situation that many of these people find themselves in and the enormous humanitarian crisis unfolding across the world. As all people agree, it is the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War and it is happening right on Europe’s doorstep. There is no question, in any shape or form, of the Government not getting it; this is an enormous crisis.
Secondly, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who not only is a great parliamentarian but speaks with great moral authority in this area because of his personal story. We acknowledge that. I know from meetings with the Home Secretary that she takes a personal interest in this, because Sir Nicholas Winterton was a constituent of hers until he sadly died last year. She has been a great supporter both of him and, of course, of the wider Kindertransport tradition, and of what that says about the generosity of spirit of this country, which has been repeated on a number of different occasions, whether in the case of the Ugandan Asians or the Vietnamese boat people.
Thirdly, I want to say something about Save the Children. No one doubts its analysis, which is at the centre of the debate, the quality of that organisation or the incredible work that it is doing, which I have had the privilege of seeing for myself in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. I had the privilege of visiting those camps and seeing what they were doing. It had a transformative effect on me, not least because it inspired me to come back and walk 518.8 miles to raise money for Save the Children to help in those very camps. So I am not critical. Nothing here understates the crisis or seeks to take away from the great moral authority and history with which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs introduced his amendment, and nothing that I am about to say takes away from our admiration for the work that Save the Children does on this campaign.
The area that we take issue with was probably summed up by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She said that this report by Save the Children came out in September and that since then the Government have basically sat on their hands and done nothing about it. I put on record that, in September, the Prime Minister announced that we were going to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the lifetime of this Parliament. When we were in coalition we struggled ever to get more than a couple of hundred under the Syrian resettlement programme. Of that 20,000 who have come so far, 51% have been children. One can therefore extrapolate that what the Government announced in September is more than three times the number of children the amendment seeks to support.
Moreover, the Prime Minister has led the charge in raising funds to help people in the refugee camps. Oxfam’s latest report, which is entitled Syria Refugee Crisis: Is Your Country Doing its Fair Share? and was published in February 2015, highlights a figure of, I think, 227%. That is how much of our fair share the United Kingdom has placed in financial support to Syria. So when people start talking almost as if we should be hanging our heads in shame at the Government’s record in responding to the crisis, I simply say that the facts do not add up to suggest that. We are doing an incredible amount. The Prime Minister led that excellent summit in February, which raised a further $11 billion for the crisis in Syria. Of course, further work is ongoing.
In the specific instance when the Prime Minister was asked about this case—I think by Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats in December in the Commons—he said that he would go away and look at it. Again, the suggestion was somehow that the Prime Minister went away, shrugged his shoulders and forgot all about it. Far from it: he said that he would talk to the UNHCR, with which we work closely in the region, to put the best interests of children first.
We listened to its advice and concerns and we came back with an interim report in a Written Ministerial Statement on 28 January by James Brokenshire, which said that we were first looking at whether we could introduce a scheme not that far away from what my noble friend Lord Lawson, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, talked about. We said that we would look at that and discuss it with the UNHCR. That is exactly what we are continuing to do. The UNHCR has just enabled us to receive that report; it was received by James Brokenshire. We are now considering it and we will come forward with our proposals on how to respond to it. We need to be clear when we talk about the numbers that those numbers were an estimate. Save the Children recognises that. When it said 26,000, it was an estimate of the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that had made their way through Italy and Greece in the period up to August 2015. That was an estimate. It is not as though those people are waiting in a particular area inside Europe.
My second point relates to age. This is a material point, because our Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, which has brought 1,000 Syrians to this country already and has pledged to bring 20,000, is aimed at the most vulnerable. Questions can be asked, and I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said about age, but we need to consider that 61% of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive in the UK are aged 16 or 17. We know that the prime country from which they come is not Syria but Albania, followed by Eritrea, Afghanistan and then Syria. The majority, 90% of those who arrive in this country as unaccompanied asylum seekers, are male. The central focus of the Government’s strategy in supporting Syrians has been the protection of women and girls in particular. Therefore, again, the question is whether we are helping the right people.
My next point concerns the pull factor. I am not going to get into that kind of language, but here is what Europol says. Europol says that of the people who arrive in Europe seeking asylum, 90% have got here through a criminal gang. These criminal gangs are vast money-making machines exploiting human misery. I would have liked to have heard a great deal more moral anger directed at those criminal gangs and the way that they are exploiting these children and encouraging them to put their lives in peril by embarking on that journey. I would have liked to have heard a bit more about that. We have set up a task force to seek to clamp down on those criminal gangs that are at work and causing so much misery.
Are people from Syria arriving in the UK? Yes, they are. Every week they are arriving in the UK. They are arriving at airports such as Glasgow and Newcastle, they are arriving into London and they are being welcomed and hosted by British people. They come here not on their own but because we invite them in family units. They come here not to sleep in cardboard boxes but to go into local authority social housing, and they are provided with care and support, including healthcare and psychiatric care, and with the opportunity to work and earn a living. I think that that is in the best traditions of what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, called for in this country. It is happening day in, day out in this country and it will continue. It may well be that it will actually continue at a faster pace as a result of the Prime Minister’s initiative in asking us to look again at the report that Save the Children did and engaging with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
What is my central argument on this amendment? Basically, I question whether it identifies and provides help to the right people. The people who are in Europe, wherever they are in Europe, have the right to claim asylum here. The people most at risk—the most vulnerable— are those who are still in the region. That is why our scheme is designed to take people directly from the region to the UK. Noble Lords may seek to belittle some of what the Government are doing, but compared with our European colleagues, we are doing a great deal. We have relocated 1,000 already, as the Prime Minister said we would by Christmas. There was some scepticism as to whether he would deliver on that pledge; he actually exceeded the pledge and we are continuing to do it. In the whole period, the 27 other countries in Europe have managed to resettle 650. Only six countries actually take children, so when there is moral outrage at what the UK is doing in response to the Save the Children report that asked us to take our fair share, I hope that that moral outrage is being directed also at the 21 countries that have not actually taken one Syrian refugee.
This country is doing a significant amount. Could it do more in the face of the crisis? Of course, it could do more in the face of the crisis, but is it working diplomatically? Yes; it is at the heart of the diplomatic efforts. Is it working on security? Yes; we have boats and ships in the Mediterranean seeking to stop people. We have people trying to clamp down on the people smugglers. We announced a new £10 million fund just last month—the debate proceeded as if it had not even happened—from the Department for International Development to help identify children at risk who have come to the European Union. That £10 million will be spent on helping to identify children at risk. We are dispatching the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to visit the particular reception centres referred to as the hot spots with child protection officers and come back and give us a report.
I have listened to what the noble Lord has said about how well the Prime Minister and the Government are behaving. Do I take it that it is the Government’s position that they will not take any of the children who are identified by Interpol as being loose in Europe? Yes or no?
The noble Lord presses me to say yes or no. I am about to give him a yes-or-no answer, which is to say, no. We have a principled objection. The people most at risk are in the region. That is why we have doubled the amount of aid we are giving, which was already 227% of our fair share, from £1.1 billion to £2.3 billion. We did it because we wanted to help, as we are helping—keeping 223,000 people in schools, providing 2 million bits of medical assistance, and helping 600,000 with livelihoods and medical care there in the region, because we believe we can do that. We believe that we should not be doing anything that encourages one child to make that perilous journey, where they fall into the hands of the criminal gangs and put their lives at risk to cross those seas to get to Europe. We want the action to be taking place there. That is our principled objection to this amendment. The noble Lord may disagree on that but we are clear where we stand.
I hope the House will recognise, and that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will recognise when he responds to this debate, that the Government are not immune to the argument that has been put forward. We are not doing nothing in the crisis; we are doing a great deal more than any other country in the world to respond to the initiative that is happening. We will go on doing so, not because of the amendment but because it is the right thing to do. I will be very grateful if the noble Lord will do two things when he winds up. First, will he comment on my analysis of the numbers and the vulnerability? Secondly, will he say something about other countries in Europe which are not doing a fraction of what this country is doing?
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford talked about the generosity of British people. I work with Richard Harrington, whom we have appointed as a Minister, by the way, to look after the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and I know that every day he has a battle to persuade local authorities to take the children we already have coming through that scheme. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, in a previous debate, undertook to write to other dioceses to encourage them and their local authorities to come forward and offer spaces.
We currently have an 8,000 shortfall in the number of foster parents required, so all the offers to provide foster care are welcome. We desperately need those places for young people everywhere but there is no surfeit of people registered as foster parents waiting to take people in. As I say, there is a shortfall of some 8,000 that we definitely need to fill. I hope that the noble Lord will respond to the points I made about local authority capacity, and what other countries are doing, and to the questions I raised about the numbers and how they have been arrived at by Save the Children, and consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. It has been an emotional debate, which is not surprising as the subject is very emotional. I shall deal with only a small number of the points that were made as most Members of the House supported the amendment.
Of course we all condemn the gangs who have caused a lot of the tragedies in the Mediterranean and other tragedies and exploit vulnerable people for financial gain. They cannot be condemned enough and I agree entirely with the Minister on that point. As regards the numbers and the point made by, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, the amendment talks about children. If, in seeking to co-operate with Save the Children and the UNHCR, the Government can identify the younger ones, there is nothing in the amendment which says that they should not concentrate on those. There is a figure in the amendment simply because we need to get the Government to respond clearly, as it were. If the amendment said simply “take some”, there would be no pressure on the Government. It is better to have a number in the Bill. If the Government chose to focus on the under-14s, that would be perfectly acceptable in terms of the amendment. After all, although the Minister talked about 60% being over 16, that means 40% are under 16, which is still a fair number, and enough for us to get on with.
Some other countries—Germany has become the conscience of Europe in the last year or so—are doing a great deal. Others are not. But surely as a country we have set our own standards on how we should adopt a humanitarian approach to this enormous crisis. It is because I want Britain to take a lead in humanitarian action that I am keen that the House should pass this amendment. I appreciate what the Minister said about foster parents. He also commented on this issue in Committee. People have said to me in other parts of the country—not just south London—“We want to respond”. Given that response, I believe sincerely that if the Government and local authorities said that they were looking for qualified foster parents who have passed the local authority vetting process—as they must—and who would play their part, the people of Britain would respond handsomely. A typical example could be a family with two children who want to take another child. I pay tribute to the Minister, who has done a lot of good work for Save the Children. Indeed, he went on a sponsored walk. I should have said at the beginning that I appreciate that, and he deserves credit for it.
The Minister said that some of these people were Albanians. I have said emphatically that we are talking about refugees—children who qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention as having a well-founded fear of persecution, torture and death. They are surely the priority and they are the ones on whom we ought to concentrate. We are faced with an important decision. Our country will be judged on the decision we make tonight. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Schedule 10: Support for certain categories of migrant
Amendments 117 and 118 not moved.
119: Schedule 10, page 168, line 26, at end insert—
“(1) Section 166 (regulations and orders) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (5) (regulations subject to the affirmative procedure) for the “or” at the end of paragraph (c) substitute—
“(ca) section 95A, or”.(3) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) No regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 8 which make provision with respect to the powers conferred by section 95A are to be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.
(5B) Subsection (5A) does not apply to regulations under paragraph 1 of that Schedule which make provision of the kind mentioned in paragraph 3(a) of that Schedule.”
(4) In subsection (6) (regulations subject to the negative procedure) for the “or” at the end of paragraph (a) substitute—
“(aa) under the provision mentioned in subsection (5A) and containing regulations to which that subsection applies, or”.”
Amendment 119 agreed.
European Council: March 2016
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council, which focused on the migration crisis affecting continental Europe. The single biggest cause has of course been the war in Syria and the brutality of the Assad regime. But we have also seen huge growth in the number of people coming to southern Europe from Afghanistan, Pakistan and north Africa, all facilitated by the rapid growth of criminal networks of people-smugglers. More than 8,000 migrants are still arriving in Greece every week and there are signs that the numbers using the central Mediterranean route are on the rise again. So far 10,000 have come this year.
Of course, because of our special status in the European Union, Britain is not part of the Schengen open border arrangements—and we are not going to be joining. We have our own border controls and they apply to everyone trying to enter our country, including EU citizens. So people cannot travel through Greece or Italy onward to continental Europe and into Britain and that will not change. But it is in our national interest to help our European partners to deal effectively with this enormous and destabilising challenge.
We have argued for a consistent and clear approach right from the start: ending the conflict in Syria; supporting the refugees in the region; securing European borders; taking refugees directly from the camps and neighbouring countries but not from Europe; and cracking down on people-smuggling gangs. This approach of focusing on the problem upstream has now been universally accepted in Europe, and at this Council it was taken forward with a comprehensive plan for the first time.
As part of this plan, the Council agreed to stop migrants leaving Turkey in the first place; to intercept those who do leave while they are at sea, turning back their boats; and to return to Turkey those who make it to Greece. There can be no guarantees of success but, if this plan is properly and fully implemented, in my view it will be the best chance to make a difference. For the first time we have a plan that breaks the business model of the people-smugglers by breaking the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe.
I want to be clear about what Britain is doing—and what we are not doing—as a result of this plan. What we are doing is contributing our expertise and our skilled officials to help with the large-scale operation now under way. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship “Mounts Bay” and Border Force vessels are already patrolling the Aegean. British asylum experts and interpreters are already working in Greece to help to process individual cases. At the Council I said that Britain stands ready to do even more to support these efforts. Above all, what is needed—and what we have been pushing for—is a detailed plan to implement this agreement and to ensure that all the offers of support that are coming from around Europe are properly co-ordinated. Our share of the additional money, which will go to helping refugees in Turkey under this agreement, will come from our existing aid budget.
But let me also be clear what we are not doing. First, we are not giving visa-free access to Turks coming to the UK. Schengen countries are planning to give visa-free access to Turks but, because we are not part of Schengen, we are not bound by their decision. We have made our own decision, which is to maintain our own borders, and we will not be giving that visa-free access.
Secondly, visa-free access to Schengen countries will not mean a backdoor route to Britain. As the House knows, visa-free access means only the right to visit. It does not mean a right to work. It does not mean a right to settle. Just because, for instance, British citizens can enjoy visa-free travel for holidays in America, that does not mean that they can work, let alone settle, there. Nor will this give Turkish citizens those rights in the EU.
Thirdly, we will not be taking more refugees as a result of this deal. A number of Syrians who are in camps in Turkey will be resettled into the Schengen countries of the EU but, again, that does not apply to Britain. We have already got our resettlement programme and we are delivering on that. We said that we would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over this Parliament, taking them directly from the camps, and that is what we are doing. We promised that 1,000 would be resettled here in time for last Christmas and that is what we delivered.
The other 27 EU countries agreed to two schemes. One was to relocate 160,000 within the EU, but by the time of last December’s Council, only 208 people had been relocated. The second was to have a voluntary resettlement scheme for 22,500 from outside the EU, but by the end of last year just 483 refugees had been resettled throughout the 27 countries.
We said what we would do and we are doing it. Britain has given more money to support Syrians fleeing the war, and the countries hosting them, than any other European country. Indeed, we are doing more than any country in the world other than the United States, spending more than £1 billion so far, with another £1.3 billion pledged. We are fulfilling our moral responsibility as a nation.
Turning to the central Mediterranean, the EU naval operation that we established last summer has had some success, with more than 90 vessels destroyed and more than 50 smugglers arrested. HMS “Enterprise” is taking part and we will continue her deployment throughout the summer.
What is desperately needed is a Government in Libya with whom we can work, so that we can co-operate with the Libyan coastguard, in Libyan waters, to turn back the boats and stop the smugglers there, too. There is now a new Prime Minister and a Government whom we have recognised as the sole legitimate authority in Libya. These are very early days, but we must do what we can to try to make this work. That is why at this Council I brought together leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Malta to ensure that we are all ready to provide as much support as possible.
Turning to other matters at the Council, I took the opportunity to deal with a long-standing issue that we have had about the VAT rate on sanitary products. We have some EU-wide VAT rules in order to make the single market work, but the system has been far too inflexible and this causes understandable frustration. We said that we would get this changed and that is exactly what we have done. The Council conclusions confirm that the European Commission will produce a proposal in the next few days to allow countries to extend the number of zero rates for VAT, including on sanitary products. This is an important breakthrough. It means that Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the tampon tax. On this basis, the Government will be accepting both the amendments put down to the Finance Bill tomorrow night.
My right honourable friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green spent almost a decade campaigning for welfare reform and improving people’s life chances and he has spent the last six years implementing those policies in government. In that time, we have seen nearly half a million fewer children living in workless households, more than a million fewer people on out-of-work benefits and nearly 2.4 million more people in work. In spite of having to take difficult decisions on the deficit, child poverty, inequality and pensioner poverty are all down. My right honourable friend contributed an enormous amount to the work of this Government and he can be proud of what he achieved.
This Government will continue to give the highest priority to improving the life chances of the poorest in our country. We will continue to reform our schools. We will continue to fund childcare and create jobs. We will carry on cutting taxes for the lowest paid. In the last Parliament, we took 4 million of the lowest-paid people out of income tax altogether and our further rises to the personal allowance will take many more out, too. Combined with this, we will go on with our plans to rebuild sink estates, to help those with mental health conditions, to extend our troubled families programme, to reform our prisons and to tackle discrimination for those whose life chances suffer because of the colour of their skin. In two weeks’ time, we will introduce the first ever national living wage, giving a pay rise to the poorest people in our country. All of this is driven by a deeply held conviction that everyone in Britain should have the chance to make the most of their lives.
Let me add this. None of this would be possible if it was not for the actions of this Government and the work of my right honourable friend the Chancellor in turning our economy around. We can only improve life chances if our economy is secure and strong. Without sound public finances, you end up having to raise taxes or make even deeper cuts in spending. You do not get more opportunity that way; you get less opportunity that way. When that happens, it is working people who suffer, as we saw in Labour’s recession. So we must continue to cut the deficit, control the cost of welfare and live within our means. We must not burden our children and grandchildren with debts that we did not have the courage to pay off ourselves. Securing our economy and extending opportunity, we will continue with this approach in full, because we are a modern, compassionate, one-nation Conservative Government. I commend the Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister earlier today. I have to say that it was not quite the Statement that we were expecting after the media noise over the last day or so. She may have noticed when she was speaking that noble Lords were flicking through the Statement that was released, because the last part that she read out was not released to the Opposition or to your Lordships’ House in the usual way. I do not imply any discourtesy, but I suspect that the crescendo that we heard in defence of compassionate Conservativism at the end probably had not been written in time for the printed copy.
As MPs and Peers left Westminster on Thursday evening, no one could have foreseen the events of the weekend. Clearly, problems were simmering at the heart of the Government, which led to the dramatic resignation of the Work and Pensions Secretary on Friday evening, just as many of us were about to turn in for the night. In the Statement, the Prime Minister paid fulsome tribute to Iain Duncan Smith for his work in government. But for those who read his resignation letter and watched him on TV yesterday, it is clear that his concerns and the reasons for his resignation are deeply held. Although some feel that this had been building up for some time, others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, took to the airwaves to condemn it as a more recent conversion. We may never know the truth.
I genuinely welcome the fact that, despite these distractions, the Prime Minister was able to focus on what was an extremely important EU Council, on which I want to focus. Europe is facing the most severe migration crisis since the Second World War. Many have observed that this is the biggest challenge that the EU has ever faced. Given the scale and the seriousness of the crisis, and the importance of the EU Council meeting, I find it disappointing that internal government political problems dominated the weekend’s news coverage.
Before we get into the detail, we should just reflect on how the human misery at the heart of the crisis is too often lost in the language of EU agreements and treaties. This is nothing less than a matter of life or death for the people involved. You just have to imagine being a parent and paying your life’s savings to someone you know full well to be a criminal just to try to possibly escape the horror that has convulsed your country, with no real prospect of peace in sight. We have seen this in Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa. Many of these families know that they face a great risk, but they believe that staying is a greater risk for them. We just have to imagine and think how absolutely desperate they must be. They have not packed suitcases to go off on holiday, nor have they have been able to sit down and make a rational choice to leave their homes. They feel that there is no alternative but to seek refuge and a better, safer life for them and their children elsewhere.
In 2015, more than 1 million people made that dangerous journey to Europe in a desperate search for safety. Upon arrival, if indeed they make it that far, despite the best efforts of charities, the authorities and volunteers, they all too often face appalling conditions. There is no proper access to all those things that we take for granted: homes, food, sanitation, healthcare and schools. They do not have them in the way that we expect to have them. This is a humanitarian crisis on the most enormous scale. Talk of migrants—especially “bunches of migrants”, a phrase that we have heard—merely dehumanises each and every individual tragedy that we are faced with. Perhaps we should all try to remember that and think about how we speak.
It is right that our response to a crisis of this magnitude is an EU-wide response. It is also right that, through the EU, we engage with Turkey. The need for Europe-wide co-operation underlines the case for remaining in the EU. Labour supports Turkey’s application to join the EU, but we also recognise that this is certainly not an immediate prospect: important issues have to be addressed first and conditions met. We want to be satisfied with regard to human rights, governance, free media, the rule of law and Turkey’s relationship with Cyprus. However, the agreement reached over the weekend, if implemented properly and fully, could relieve some of the pressure that both Turkey and Greece are facing. I welcome the clarification on Turkish visas and Schengen. We also pay tribute to those from our Armed Forces and military engaged in the EU naval operations for their vital work on this issue.
However, questions remain both on refugees and on the wider issues, which I hope the noble Baroness can address in her response. For those seeking refuge who are to be returned, what measures will be taken to ensure that they do not again fall into the hands of traffickers and that they are protected by international law? What measures are guaranteed for those claiming asylum in terms of access to interpreters and to legal advice and representation? Is the noble Baroness able to confirm whether Turkish travel documents have a sufficient level of integrity and security in line with EU standards, including on fingerprints? In repeating the Statement today, she gave some figures on the number of refugees who have settled in the UK. If she could update those figures, that would be helpful.
What progress has been made with ensuring that Turkey fully respects the Geneva Convention on human rights, to ensure that all those arriving from other countries receive formal international protection? What steps are being taken to ensure that those arriving in Turkey do not simply shift via other routes—for example, through Libya? What support is being given to Greece to enable it to execute the terms of the deal at such notice?
Finally, on the other issue that the Prime Minister mentioned, the tampon tax, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Primarolo, who is in her place. She tells the story of how, as a Treasury Minister, she sought and, in 2000, succeeded in reducing VAT on female sanitary protection to the then lowest level of 5% from the higher level that we as a Government inherited of 17.5%. It was not easy. She was told the justification for why it could not be reduced to the lower level of 5% in a scene worthy of “Yes Minister”. She was told: “But Minister, it is only for essential products”. When she asked for examples of what those could possibly be, she was told, “Well, Minister, essential products like razor blades”.
Today, we welcome the progress made and recognise the efforts of my noble friend in getting us to this point. The right decision has been made. The Chancellor said last week in his Statement that the money raised from that 5% VAT would go to charities. Does that mean that charities will not receive that income, or will the Chancellor find some other way to make up the deficit of the money that they were expecting? I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to answer my questions.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. Given that much of it was about Turkey, I am sure that she and the House as a whole wish to place on record our condolences to the families of those who have been the victims of recent terrorism atrocities in both Ankara and Istanbul.
Faced with such an immense challenge, it would be unreasonable to doubt the good faith of those who have strived to reach some agreement between the European Union and Turkey over the past few days, but it should not come as a surprise when I say that we on these Benches have serious misgivings about the EU-Turkey deal which has emerged from the European Council meeting. The United Kingdom should be leading by example in the response to the refugee crisis. We should be using a significant influence to fight for an EU-wide response that is fair, just and respect the values that this country holds dear. Credit where credit is due: where this Government have played a leading role, such as in encouraging humanitarian relief in Syria and the region, we have been successful, not least at the Syria donor conference in London last month.
However, when we look at the agreement and the Statement from the Prime Minister, we find it shameful that the United Kingdom is demonstrating such reluctance to stand up for vulnerable refugees who have fled from war and terror. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, gave very clear substance to what those people are facing. Our continued inaction does not do justice to Britain’s history and values.
When one reads the Prime Minister’s Statement, one finds that we will not be taking more refugees as a result of this deal. Put that in a context where people are facing misery and need. One wonders whether this is really a manifestation of compassionate conservatism.
Safe and legal routes are crucial for moving the current process forward. The vast majority of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq choose to stay in the region, as close to their homes as possible, but for those who cannot survive in the region, routes must be available to apply for asylum not only in the United Kingdom but in other countries as well. On these Benches, we support the measures set out by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees on 4 March: humanitarian admission programmes, private sponsorships, family reunions, student scholarships and labour mobility schemes. Direct resettlement from the region is part of that, and we should be scaling up our resettlement programme. Twenty thousand people over five years is insufficient. The United Kingdom should use its leadership in Europe to encourage other European countries to scale up their own programmes of direct resettlement.
We also need a system in place for those already in Europe, including the estimated 26,000 children who arrived in 2015, 10,000 of whom are now missing. In the vote in the earlier Division, the House made its view very clear on that.
On previous occasions the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and other Ministers have tried to argue that, by accepting those seeking asylum who have travelled the fraught journey to continental Europe, we are only encouraging more people to do so. I have always thought that it was a bit like saying that the Good Samaritan should really have passed by on the other side because, by stopping to help, he was only encouraging more acts of highway robbery on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. If, as the Statement hopes, the agreement breaks the business model of the people smugglers, what reason is there then for us not taking an equitable share of those who are already in continental Europe?
Clearly, the Dublin system is not currently sufficient to deal with this crisis. Instead, the United Kingdom should encourage the European Union to develop European-wide systems of responsibility for asylum seekers, including setting up a system for asylum requests to be distributed equitably across EU member states which takes account of different demographic projections, such as the high net migration in the United Kingdom, compared to forecast population decreases elsewhere.
Turning to the specifics, many people and well-recognised organisations have expressed concern that the proposals as they stand seek to address only the short-term concerns over European borders. Serious questions were raised after the 7 March proposals were published as to their standing in European Union and international law. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House give the House the Government’s assessment of the international legal position in relation to this agreement? Can she give details of how full and proper asylum determination procedure will be carried out in Greece in full compliance with European Union law? The agreement states:
“People who do not have a right to international protection will be immediately returned to Turkey”.
Can the noble Baroness provide more detail on who that covers? What provision is made for families and children, given that children and women now make up 60% of those crossing to Europe? Will those who have the right to international protection be granted asylum only in Greece, or will they be relocated elsewhere?
The one-for-one arrangement appears to apply only to Syrian refugees. What is the position regarding other nationalities, such as Iraqis and Afghans, who are also fleeing conflict areas? Not surprisingly, Greece is having great difficulty processing the number of people through the relocation provisions, so can the noble Baroness give us some detail as to how quickly people will be assessed and indicate what provision the United Kingdom is making for the assessment process?
There appears to be little in the way of concrete proposals to tackle trafficking within Turkey and other launch points, including Libya. Although we would like a full investigation into the cash flows of the smuggling businesses, in the mean time, can the noble Baroness assure the House that the money provided by the European Union to improve humanitarian conditions for refugees in Turkey will be closely monitored and, where possible, be funded through international organisations, including UNHCR, UNICEF and other NGOs?
Finally, the EU-Turkey statement reaffirms a commitment to re-energise the accession process. We have supported Turkey’s application, but I do not think that anyone can be under any illusion that, however important it is, it will be a difficult and probably long process. Can the Leader of the House assure us and confirm that, given some of the actions of the Turkish authorities in recent months, there will be no watering down of the justice and rule-of-law requirements of EU membership?
In conclusion, we have seen in recent days the real colour of this Government on this and other issues. Whether it is in relation to the incredibly vulnerable unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge in Europe or the Chancellor of the Exchequer trying to pay for his bonus for the wealthy by punishing disabled people, it appears that, time and again, this Government’s choices are driven by cynical politics and public image rather than economic necessity or indeed humanitarian concern.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord for their responses. First, I join the noble and learned Lord in his tribute to and concern for the people in Turkey who have suffered at the hands of recent terrorist attacks.
I start by emphasising that a major development came out of the Council meeting last weekend. For the first time, there is now a serious and comprehensive proposal to deal with this very serious migration and refugee crisis in Europe. We, the United Kingdom, played a part in getting the programme in place, and we are proud that we are at the table and doing just that. As has been acknowledged, if it is properly implemented, the deal with Turkey will break the business model of those very wicked people, the people smugglers, by breaking the link between getting in one of their boats and getting resettlement in Europe. The purpose of that is to deter the most desperate people—the noble Baroness is absolutely right—from embarking on a very perilous journey to find refuge. This European Union programme for refugees in Turkey is comprehensive, and builds on the bilateral support that the United Kingdom is already providing to the many Syrian refugees in Turkey. One thing that is important for me to acknowledge, which is in a way a response to some of the points that have been raised by the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord, is the generosity of the people of Turkey in providing that refuge to so many people in their country. What we and the European Union are doing by introducing this programme and providing the financial support for Turkey is for that money to go very much to providing respite, refuge and an alternative, albeit temporary, way of life, until those very desperate people can return to their country.
The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord asked how we could ensure that this new programme could comply with international and European law. Of course, there is no way that we would sign up to any scheme that was not compliant with international law—and nor would any member of the European Union or the European Union itself. Of that we can be confident. As for the support to those who arrive in Greece and seek refuge and asylum there, the new processing centres or hotspots will include interpreting advice and ensure that they are all treated as individuals, in terms of their cases, as international law requires.
The noble Baroness asked about Turkish travel documents. Clearly, most of the people coming from Turkey are from Syria, but there are people coming through that route from other countries who are not from Syria. For the one-for-one scheme to apply, when a refugee from Syria is returned to Turkey, another refugee has the opportunity to be settled in Europe. Those who use that route who are not from Syria, whether they come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, will be returned to Turkey but not be part of that scheme.
The noble and learned Lord asked how quickly people would be processed. I do not have any further details on how the scheme will be implemented at the moment, except to say that the implementation phase now is under way, which is one of the things that the United Kingdom is contributing to—actually getting that expertise there on the ground, to assist Greece in being able to process people. The noble Baroness asked about support to Greece so that it can handle this situation. That is very much part of this arrangement, and we have contributed additional funds to Greece for that purpose.
We can be confident that this programme is a response to the leadership that our Prime Minister took in Europe to come up with a plan very much targeted at addressing the root cause of the terrible situation and crisis in Europe at the moment. We have to deal with the political situation in Syria, clearly, but we have to support people as far as we can in countries close to their own country and break this terrible, wicked scheme, which criminals are making money out of and which puts so many people at risk.
On the other points that were raised, and on what the noble Baroness said about the tampon tax and VAT on sanitary products, and the story that she relayed from the time of the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, in the Treasury, I find that absolutely shocking. I cannot believe that razor blades are considered essential and sanitary wear not. I also find it quite surprising to hear men on the television and in Chambers such as this using the word “tampon”. I still find that in itself quite a revelation, but I am pleased that finally after all this time we have been able to address that unfairness and do something about it.
In response to some of the points that the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord made about recent events, as I said in concluding the Prime Minister’s Statement, I say again that this is a one-nation Conservative Government, and we are very much determined to support everybody in this country. I make it clear to your Lordships’ House how proud I am to be a member of this Government, alongside everybody who sits around that Cabinet table.
Would it be fair to say that this is a very important moment for the European Union, having for the first time agreed something concrete, if very difficult to implement, in this Statement? It goes to show that, when we are at the table, we can play a positive part in the deliberations of the European Union, as a country, and the result in this case is one that we would not have been able to contribute to if we had not been a part. Therefore, the moral of the story is very clear: whether or not we were part of the problem, we are certainly shaping up as a European Union, together, to be part of the solution.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord that it is because we are there at the table that we have been able to be influential in coming up with this comprehensive plan to deal with this very serious situation. Not only is that good, because it makes sure that we can fight for Britain’s interests in coming up with a solution, but also, if we were not at the table, this problem would still exist, and we would not have been able to ensure that in its design we would protect the United Kingdom’s interests as well as supporting these very desperate and poor people who need Europe’s support.
Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House explain why, notwithstanding her remarks just now, the Government stubbornly refuse to put their own efforts—their laudable humanitarian aid contribution and rather less admirable resettlement offer—squarely into a European policy framework, and then add a relocation effort under the criteria that my noble and learned friend mentioned? Surely, EU asylum policy is part of the European security agenda, on which the Prime Minister has rightly declared an intention to lead. Why cannot what we are doing be squarely in the European framework?
Because, my Lords, we work in Britain’s overall best interests, and we are seeking to assist Europe in making sure that, in the package as a whole, what Europe does in protecting its borders and supporting people is very much in line with what we believe is the right thing to do, while retaining control of how we support these refugees. That will in future be very much in line with what Europe is doing. It is Europe that is following our lead—but what we are able to do is to retain control ultimately of the number of people who come into this country. That is what the British people want us to do—to be able to influence but to retain control. That is why, to coin a phrase, it is the best of both worlds.
Could the Minister say whether she thinks that the Turkey deal is realistic? After the assessment of immigration status has been approved—either genuine refugee status or none—those who have been declined could amount in Europe to hundreds of thousands. They will have to return to Turkey, but suppose they just sit there and refuse to go to Turkey with their wives, their children and their sick parents. Will there be forcible repatriation? Whenever we have had to do this in Britain, there has been only a handful of cases a year and they are always very difficult. I should have thought that with hundreds of thousands it is well-nigh impossible.
I am sorry that my noble friend is quite pessimistic about the chances of this scheme working. It clearly requires a lot of expert planning to make sure it works properly. It will be regularly reviewed to ensure that it works. One of the main planks of this plan is for Turkey to protect its borders and ensure that people are not leaving there in the first place. The plan is not just about dealing with people once they get to Greece. It is about limiting the number who leave Turkey in the first place and about being very proactive in the water in terms of turning boats back before they have left Turkey’s shores. This is a comprehensive plan, and it has to be executed in a very comprehensive way.
My Lords, as the weather improves, the longer sea routes from Libya to Lampedusa, Sicily or Malta will increasingly be used. There may be a new Government, albeit a feeble Government, in Libya, but ISIS controls a substantial part of the coast, including the port of Sirte. How can we possibly hope for progress without the military defeat of ISIS, which plans to send jihadists from Libya to the European mainland? Can there be any serious progress without the military defeat of ISIS in Libya? What plans, if any, have we to do that?
The noble Lord is right to highlight that the root cause of all this is ISIS, or Daesh, and the appalling atrocities that it is performing in that part of the world. There is now a new Prime Minister in place in Libya and a new unity Government have just been established. The Foreign Secretary has already been in touch with the new Prime Minister. We stand ready to assist in Libya, but we will not take any action there without it being in response to a request. Clearly, if there was any extension of any activity in that part of world, the Prime Minister would want to return to the House of Commons. In the mean time, we have increased our presence as part of the NATO regime off the coast of Libya to try to do more to tackle smuggling before people leave the Libyan coast.
My Lords, I confess my heart sank slightly when the first sentence of the Statement said that this was a migration crisis affecting “continental Europe”. However, since the rest of the Statement said that it is quite clearly a crisis that affects the whole of Europe, I think we can pass that over in silence.
The Government have until now attached and still attach huge importance to taking Syrian refugees only from countries such as Jordan and Lebanon with the co-operation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I think it is a bit excessive that they refuse even to contemplate those who reach Europe. Does the Statement mean that from now on they will accept refugees in Turkey who are registered as being genuine refugees? Will our 20,000—I am not seeking to raise the issue of numbers—include refugees taken from camps in Turkey and thus, of course, be helpful to the commitments that the European Union has entered into to help Turkey handle the increased number of refugees it will get when many are returned from Greece?
Yes, my Lords, we will of course take refugees from Turkey. Some of the refugees we have already received as a consequence of the Syrian crisis will be based in Turkey because they will be in some of the camps which are outside Syria on the border with Turkey. I can certainly reassure the noble Lord on that.
My Lords, following the events of the weekend, I wonder whether the Leader of the House can imagine with what delicious schadenfreude we on these Benches recall Mr Osborne’s comment in the Budget that he had abolished the Liberal Democrats. I bet he is missing us now for we could be relied on in government whereas it is perfectly clear that his shambles of a party cannot.
Turning to refugees, the Government’s case for refusing to assist a single refugee currently fleeing from the Syrian battlefield has been that to do so would encourage more to come. Since by the Government’s own admission the Turkish scheme overcomes that problem, will we play any part in it and, if not, what dishonourable fig leaf of an excuse will they now raise in order not to assist a single refugee coming now from the Syrian battlefield?
I completely reject the way the noble Lord has described what we have done and what we are committed to do. We are supporting refugees from Syria in two very clear ways: first, by providing financial support and aid to those who are based in these camps at a rate unmatched by any country in Europe and second only to the United States. Our resettlement programme, which we put in place last year, has already started to deliver refuge to people who were in camps near Syria to a greater degree than that of those countries in Europe which were party to the relocation scheme. It is working.
If children who have fled from Syria and are in mainland Europe and have claimed asylum have family ties to the United Kingdom, our policy is to assist them in being reunited with their family, but they have to claim asylum in the country they are in. That is the policy, but it also reflects how much support we want to give.
As to the noble Lord’s comments on the Liberal Democrats, the Budget did a huge amount to ensure that we are supporting future generations of this country. We have increased funding for our schools, we have taken yet more low-paid people out of tax, we have frozen fuel duty to help hard-working people and we are helping the poorest to save. We have done all that on our own in government, and we will continue to do that and to deliver our long-term economic plan because that is what people voted for, that is what they want from us and that is what will secure their future and that of everybody in this country.
My Lords, I suspect I am not the only one in your Lordships’ House who is grateful to the Prime Minister for having reminded us of the decisions of the two previous EU Council meetings and the number of people who were going to be helped as a result of those decisions and for telling us of the paltry number of people who actually have been helped. Given that stark contrast, does my noble friend really believe that the decisions taken this time are in practice going to turn out to be effective, as the other two sets of decisions have apparently not been?
My Lords, I believe they will be. The proof will be once this is fully implemented. The reason why I believe it will be effective is because this new European programme reflects the programme that we have already adopted, which is seeing better results than that which has been already used in Europe.
My Lords, I would refute what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said about the Budget. All independent commentators say that it will exacerbate intergenerational strife.
In relation to the Statement, I do not think the noble Baroness has answered the question from my noble friend Lady Smith on the number of people who have already been welcomed to this country. I personally welcome the agreement with Turkey, but I am concerned that little or no heed seems to have been given to the situation in Turkey itself in relation to human rights, good governance, free media and the rule of law. Of course I deeply regret the violence that is now taking place in Turkey, but the Turkish Government must always pay heed to their obligations under international law, not just to the refugees, who are hugely important, but also to their own citizens.
The noble Baroness is right. That is why progress will not be made on the part of the deal that includes Turkey’s accession to the EU until Turkey has complied with all the demands laid out for it to meet, and they have been in place for a very long time now. All Europe—including the UK, which has long been a supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU—recognises that Turkey has a huge amount to do before it would qualify for that membership. On the concerns that the noble Baroness raises about Turkey more generally at this time, yes, there are issues that have been raised, such as freedom of speech or the arresting of journalists, and we have heard about some of them and debated them in this Chamber. Those are all of great concern, but at the same time that does not detract from the generosity that Turkey has shown to the people of Syria. We need Turkey to continue providing that refuge to people. Yes, we need to continue to apply pressure on the matters that concern us regarding human rights, but we must not do so in way that somehow undermines the very positive work that Turkey is doing in support of very desperate people.
My Lords, to follow up on the previous question, I read in the press cuttings this morning that a proposal has been brought forward by the Turkish Government that politicians and journalists could also be prosecuted for abetting terrorism if they say anything that even mildly suggests there might be two sides to the story. I speak as a long-standing friend of Turkey, but urge the Government not to lose sight of the increasing authoritarianism that I detect in that country. It is in our interests to firmly remind our friends in Turkey that the properly applied rule of law is an absolute precondition not only for coming into the EU, which is self-evident, but for being a part of the international polity of nations.
My noble friend is right to highlight these issues. As he will understand, it is not inconsistent for this Government both to raise concerns about any kind of abuse or human rights issues that exist in Turkey and at the same time to work with that country in order for it to provide the support that we think is essential to the people fleeing Syria.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an important legal snag that has been overlooked? European legislation requires that those now being dealt with in Greece should have a right of appeal. That is in the reception directive. Will the Government therefore take steps to get that directive amended?
Will the noble Baroness explain how the agreement will effectively break the smugglers’ business model, when it appears that it will do little to reduce the underlying demand for those smugglers? Would it not be more effective, and more in line with human rights principles, to introduce safe and legal routes, as mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, including the expansion of family reunion, which we will be debating shortly? Would such an approach not do more to make the smugglers redundant?
This scheme is all about making those smugglers redundant. We do not want people to think that the only way for them to leave the camps and find refuge in Europe is to get into a boat and pay money to criminal gangs and put their own lives at risk. We want to ensure that in the neighbouring countries, whether Jordan or Turkey, those camps provide a suitable way of life, albeit not at all what anyone would actually want, temporarily for them until they can go back to their own countries. Ultimately we want to see a thriving Syria. We want Syria to be back up and running in the way that it was before this terrible war and outbreak of terrible atrocities took place. If we encourage everyone to come to Europe, that is not going to work.
My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will know that Turkey does not apply the Geneva convention to non-EU citizens. Do the full rules of the Geneva convention apply to the scheme that has just been agreed and, if not, which protections are not given to those people who are sent back?
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Statement made in the Commons by Stephen Crabb, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The Statement is as follows.
“It is a privilege to stand here at the Dispatch Box as the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. First, I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, the right honourable Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. My right honourable friend came into this job six years ago with a real sense of mission and purpose to transform people’s lives for the better, and he achieved some remarkable things. I intend to build on this success.
As a one-nation Conservative, my vision is to support everyone to achieve their full potential and live independent lives. That means people having the stability and security of a decent job, and children growing up in a home with the benefit of that stability. There are now over 2 million more people in work than in 2010, and almost half a million more children now grow up seeing a mum or dad go out to work each day. We are ensuring that these opportunities extend to all those in our society, including disabled people.
Today, there are more than 3 million disabled people in work. In the last 12 months alone, 152,000 more disabled people have moved into work, 292,000 more over the past two years. That represents real lives transformed as we support people with disabilities and health conditions to move into work and to benefit from all the advantages that that brings. But we are also supporting the most vulnerable, and are determined that those with the greatest need are supported the most.
Our reforms have seen support for disabled people increase. In the last Parliament, spending rose by £3 billion. We are now, rightly, spending around £50 billion on benefits alone to support people with disabilities and health conditions. Devoting this level of resources is the mark of a decent society.
Personal independence payments were introduced to be a more modern and dynamic benefit to help to cover the extra costs faced by disabled people, something that its predecessor benefit, the DLA, did not do. PIP is designed to focus support on those with the greatest need, and we have seen that working. For example, 22% of claimants are receiving the highest level of support, compared to 16% under the predecessor benefit, DLA.
Before Christmas, the Government held a consultation on how part of the PIP assessment works in relation to aids and appliances. As the Prime Minister indicated on Friday, I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward. I am absolutely clear that a compassionate and fair welfare system should not just be about the numbers. Behind every statistic there is a human being, and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that.
I can also confirm that after discussing this issue over the weekend with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will focus on implementing.
I want to turn directly to the welfare cap. First of all, it is right that we monitor welfare spending carefully. The principle of introducing a welfare cap is the right one, given the huge increases in welfare spending we saw under previous Labour Governments—up nearly 60%. The reality is that if we do not control the public finances, it is always the poorest in society who pay the biggest price, so we need that discipline. The welfare cap strengthens accountability and transparency to Parliament—something that simply was not in place under Labour. We make no apology for this. As we are required to do, we will review the level of the cap in the Autumn Statement when the OBR formally reassesses it, but I repeat that we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will focus on implementing.
Against this backdrop, I want to build on the progress we have made in supporting disabled people. We made a manifesto commitment to halve the gap between the proportion of disabled people in work compared with the rest of the labour market. As I have outlined, we have made good progress in supporting disabled people into work, but to go further will require us to work in a way that we have not done before, to think beyond the artificial boundaries of organisations, sectors and government departments to an approach that is truly collaborative. That is why today I want to start a new conversation with disabled people, their representatives, healthcare professionals and employers. I want the welfare system to work better with the health and social care systems. Together we can do so much better for disabled people.
This is a hugely complex but hugely important area of policy to get right. Disabled people themselves can provide the best insight into how support works best for them. So I am determined that all views are listened to in the right way in the weeks and months ahead. I will be personally involved in these discussions. The events of recent days demonstrate that we need to take time to reflect on how best we support and help to transform people’s lives. That is the welfare system I believe in. I commend this statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement and for advance sight of it, and I welcome unreservedly the Government’s dramatic change of heart on this matter. However, I would like to know how we got to this point. Last Thursday, at Questions, I asked the Minister specifically about the fact that the single biggest revenue raiser in the Budget Red Book was a £4.4 billion cut over five years in personal independence payments awarded to people who need aids and appliances to get dressed or manage their continence. The Minister defended it, claiming that those people did not in fact have extra costs and, anyway, it was not really a cut because the total cost of PIP was rising, even though 370,000 people would have lost up to £3,500 each per year as a result of the change. Of course, the total cost of any benefit is a combination of case load, value and running costs. If the total cost starts to rise but a Minister then decides to change the rules so that some people will not be eligible any more, thereby saving £1.2 billion a year on the anticipated bill, that is undeniably still a cut, not least for the 370,000 disabled people affected.
However, everything has changed since our debate last Thursday. What a difference a weekend makes. Since then, the boss of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, Iain Duncan Smith, has resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, saying that repeated cuts to working-age benefits,
“just looks like we see this as a pot of money, that it doesn’t matter because they don't vote for us”.
I will not even start on what his junior Ministers said about him, or indeed about each other, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who has behaved with considerable propriety in this. The House should commend him for that. However, to offer him one small piece of advice, it might be wise to stay indoors during break time over the next week—just until the storm passes. I hope that he is having an entertaining time in the DWP at the moment, if not an easy one. Joking apart, caught in the middle of all this chaos are some confused and worried disabled people, in work and out of work, who depend on PIP, so I hope that we will be able to get some clear answers to questions today.
First, does the Minister now accept that it was wrong to propose taking £4.4 billion from disabled people to fund tax cuts that mostly benefit those on higher incomes and those with much greater wealth? Secondly, disabled people will be relieved to hear that the cut in PIP announced by the Government has been cancelled, but I think we all want to know where the money will come from to plug the £4 billion hole in the budget that it leaves. Can the Minister assure us that it will not be taken from anywhere else in the DWP budget? I am very glad to hear that it will not come from benefits, but will he assure us that it will not come from the department’s budget elsewhere—for example, from the Work Programme, or other important activities the department will undertake? Also, the Minister has been trailing for a long time a major White Paper on disability. Can he confirm that this Statement means that no changes to benefits payable to disabled people will be considered in that White Paper?
The Statement says that support for disabled people rose in the last Parliament. It does not say that spending on disabled people is falling in this Parliament. The IFS says that it has fallen by 3% in real terms, and House of Commons Library research shows that, taking all disability benefits into account, the fall is over 6%.
Disabled people have suffered greatly at the hands of this Government. They remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country. If the new Secretary of State is indeed a one-nation Conservative and committed to helping disabled people to thrive, should he not start by reconsidering the repeated cuts that his predecessor made to their benefits? Perhaps he could help those who have lost their Motability cars, those suffering because of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the two-thirds of bedroom-tax victims who are disabled, or those who will get £30 a week less in ESA in future because of legislation that we recently passed. I welcome this change unreservedly, but until those questions are addressed, it is very hard indeed to believe that we really are all in it together.
My Lords, I wish the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions every success in his new role—I mean that sincerely—and I am sorry that the Government find themselves in a difficult place. In fairness, however, they have had significant notice that there was much wrong with the way the welfare reforms have been tackled and are to be implemented.
As the Minister knows, we on these Benches have seen the welfare reforms through the prism of work, so we opposed cuts to tax credits, cuts to universal credit, the removal of support for people with disabilities, and measures that increased child poverty. We on these Benches want to ensure that government policy enables a fairer and more compassionate society, where the weak and the vulnerable are protected and people are supported to work, and supported in work when their incomes are low.
The Government have led us to believe that the weak and the vulnerable are being supported, but the events of the weekend say that this is not only about ensuring adequate support for disabled people but has been—as Iain Duncan Smith’s letter says—about unnecessary cuts to hit a politically motivated target. If that is the case, I am sad to say that the Government may have lost their moral compass. Do the Government accept IDS’s criticism, and do they not therefore owe disabled people an apology for being used as pawns in a cynical political game? I am pleased to note that the reassessment for PIPs will now be kicked into the long grass, but that is not good enough. The entire PIP cuts plan should be stopped. Will the Minister confirm exactly what the intentions for changes to PIP are? Are they to be fully stopped, as the Minister indicated, or just paused for the next six months or so?
Finally, given that the Government consulted on these proposals and until last Friday were saying that they were about giving the right support to disabled people, what is the Government’s actual view on the use of aids and adaptations by disabled people? If they have changed their mind for political reasons, does that mean that the foundation for the Government’s original claims was false, and—as IDS says—just an excuse to cut money? I am concerned about how the Government have treated the consultation process. Should there not be a review into whether they have made misleading claims in order to justify the cut, while ignoring the outcome of the consultation process?
We all have a duty of care to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to preserve their dignity and to help them live full and independent lives. All Governments should take that responsibility very seriously. To that end, I am pleased to note that the Statement says that the Government have no plans to make any further cuts in welfare, but can the Minister confirm that this applies throughout this Parliament? I am also pleased that they are re-setting the conversation, which is vital. I hope that this new conversation about welfare, health and social care will benefit the majority.
There were a number of questions there. One of the main questions is about what is happening to PIP in terms of costs—various claims have been made. I reassure noble Lords that in this Parliament we are seeing an increase in the DLA PIP budget in real terms. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, said; namely, the contrast between the PIP process we were undergoing last week and the tax cuts was wrong. This is almost history, but the reality was that we were looking at the issue in its own terms, following a report by an independent review that said there was a problem in the PIP process. Fundamentally, putting the two together has caused a great deal of upset. Indeed, Iain Duncan Smith raised that very point himself.
I shall not spend the whole time going through the PIP issue. I assure noble Lords that we have now stopped the PIP adjustment, full stop. It is not being delayed; rather, it is not happening. The question—a suspicious question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock—is: where is the money coming from? I see. The answer is that we are not seeking to replace that money within the welfare budget. That is the point of the very explicit statement, which was made twice, that, looking ahead, we are not looking for welfare savings.
The noble Baroness asked about the White Paper process. That would be a reform process; there may be changes in the way we do things and how we support people, but that is following a consultation on what will work best and is not to do with the savings process that I described. There is no intention to use it in that way.
I shall pick up some of the other issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, including, for instance, whether we will reconsider other things. There are 24,000 more people on Motability than at the start of 2013. They may be different people, but the process is being directed at the people who need it. The independent living fund was a transfer. The noble Baroness uses one set of statistics on who is disabled and the RSRS. The numbers come down very considerably when one looks at them on ESA. The final issue she raised was the ESA and WRAG. I remind noble Lords, and her, that that was voted on repeatedly in another place.
On the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, I reiterate that there is a full stop here; we are not moving things around on PIP changes. I defend the consultation process that we undertook. We made some changes as a direct result of the consultation, although we did not use four of the options. We went to one and then adapted option 5. I think I have now dealt with the Front Bench questions.
My Lords, I welcome entirely what my noble friend said about disabled people and the one-nation ambition. However, in looking at the challenge for the new Secretary of State, surely we should remember that there has always been tension between any social security Secretary and any Chancellor of the Exchequer. There have been rougher Chancellors than Mr Osborne. In future, it might be better to sort out the differences, as we did, without the intervention of spin doctors and anonymous briefers.
As to the substance and the issue of raising money, surely the time has come, with the new Secretary of State, to look again at payments such as the winter fuel allowance which, all too often, go to people who by no stretch of the imagination should be receiving social security benefits.
My Lords, as the Minister has confirmed, events at the weekend have made it clear beyond any doubt that the Government’s welfare reform programme has run out of road. Its contradictions stand revealed for all to see. Since exactly the same criticisms apply to the cuts to the employment and support allowance enshrined in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as apply to the cuts to the personal independent payment, I repeat the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock: will the Government now reconsider implementation of the cuts to the employment and support allowance? They may have been voted through, but it is still open to the Government to reconsider the matter, as they have with the personal independence payment.
The welfare reform programme is massive and we are pushing ahead with it. At its heart is universal credit, which is now moving at a pace. As I speak, more than 400,000 people have made an application for universal credit. We have a lot more to do, and we have a lot to do to implement the Bill that we have just passed. I have to disappoint the noble Lord by saying that there are no plans to reconsider the changes to ESA WRAG that we put through in that Bill.
My Lords, it is excellent news that the cuts announced in the Budget have been abandoned, but there is an existing cut that urgently needs to be reversed. It has had less attention but is badly affecting working-age claimants of PIP. I refer of course to the 20/50 metre issue in the “moving around” section of the PIP assessment, which is resulting in 400 to 500 Motability cars a week having to be handed back. Will the Minister ask the new Secretary of State to look at this again, not least because reversing the cut would save money by helping many disabled people to get into work and pay taxes?
At one level, the new Secretary of State will clearly look at his whole portfolio with a critical eye. At another level, there may be changes in who gets the higher-rate mobility component to allow them to qualify for the Motability scheme. More people are on the higher rate under PIP than was the case under DLA. Indeed, more people with mental health issues are going on to PIP than would have received DLA. So, while there is a change in who gets the top-level mobility component and is therefore entitled to the Motability scheme, the absolute number qualifying for the Motability scheme is now moving up. As I said, there are now 24,000 more people on the Motability scheme than there were in 2013.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that we recently debated issues around rent restriction policy and local housing allowance changes for supported accommodation. There is a commitment in the Statement that there are no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the substantial savings legislated for recently. Are the proposed changes to supported accommodation now off the table, and does the commitment also run to pensions and pensioner benefits?
Supported accommodation is a vital issue and I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question as it gives me a chance to offer the industry as much reassurance as possible. We have delayed two of the changes—the rent reductions and the LHA cap on supported accommodation—for a year because that will give us time to really understand the sector. In the short term, I expect to get a report on how the sector works so that we can look at how to support it most efficiently with funding and finance. The noble Lord will probably not remember how it is financed, as I do not think that anyone knew at that time. It has been quite a complicated issue. As for his question about the commitment and pensions, the pension element is growing rather rapidly, so, far from cuts, that becomes an irrelevant consideration.
My Lords, those of us who know Stephen Crabb well are very hopeful about the approach that he will bring to this very important and challenging task. From these Benches we should pay tribute to Iain Duncan Smith for what he achieved as Secretary of State and indeed even before he became Secretary of State in his ambition to help the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Coming back to the questions that arise today, will my noble friend confirm that the OBR forecast published alongside the Budget now appears to indicate that the anticipated disability benefit budget, having risen by about £4 billion since 2010, will rise over the next four years by about another £2 billion? That highlights that, if we are to achieve meaningful reform in the future, it is not about, as my noble friend said, changing the amount of money paid to people with specific needs but about helping people back into work. The focus of welfare reform should be not diminished but refocused on the work and health programme and halving the disability employment gap.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Iain Duncan Smith. He was a remarkable champion for reform in the welfare state. I say with feeling that there is a reason why no one has transformed the system in the last 70 or 80 years and that is that it is very difficult to do. He had the political guts to get on and do it, and I am very proud to have supported him in getting the programme as far as it is. I think that he will go down in history for that achievement.
As my noble friend said, the OBR forecast shows that we gave more money to the disabled in the last Parliament, and the same is projected for this Parliament. In particular, a real-terms increase in the area of PIP/DLA is now baked in. My noble friend is of course right that the next step in the process is the need to find the right way to help disabled people back into the workplace and to achieve our objective of halving the disability gap.
My Lords, the noble Lord gave an assurance that the DWP will not replace the £4.4 billion of savings from the PIP programme, which it is now going to abandon, with cuts elsewhere in the DWP budget. However, he has not answered the obvious and important question of how those savings are going to be compensated. Surely there are only three possibilities. They will have to be compensated by spending cuts in other departments, by tax increases or by an increase in the fiscal budget being run by the Government. Which is it, or will it be a combination of all three? Surely it is the height of fiscal irresponsibility simply to announce that £4.4 billion of projected savings will no longer be arriving without any idea at all of how they will be replaced.
My Lords, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State are saying that at the Autumn Statement we will look at the whole picture and at how the finances of the country should be organised. At that stage, there will be lots of moving parts and we will be able to see how this fits in.
My Lords, I agree with the part of the Statement that says that disability is very complex. There are very many different disabilities and many of them involve extra expense, such as extra food to keep fit. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, about Motability. If you live in a rural area and do not have a car, you cannot get to work and are therefore stuck. Another very important issue is the people who do the assessments, about which there has been a lot of criticism. Can the Minister arrange better training for the people doing the assessments?