House of Lords
Thursday 23 November 2017
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Brexit: Devolved Administrations
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in discussion with the devolved Administrations relating to the establishment of an agreed intergovernmental forum between Westminster and the devolved Governments to decide on appropriate competence for powers relating to devolved functions repatriated from the European Union following Brexit.
My Lords, the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) facilitates engagement and collaboration between the UK Governments and devolved Administrations on the UK’s exit from the European Union. Important progress was made at the most recent meeting on 16 October in agreeing a set of principles that will underpin the establishment of common frameworks as powers are repatriated from the EU. Following agreement of the principles at that committee, the Government are working with the devolved Administrations to make quick progress on the potential role for frameworks in some specific policy areas. The committee is due to meet again in December, ahead of the European Council.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, when repatriated powers return from Brussels over wholly devolved functions such as agriculture, those powers should be transferred automatically to the devolved Governments, but an intergovernmental mechanism should immediately be put in place to resolve any issues that might distort the UK single market? Does he accept that the fear in Cardiff and Edinburgh is that any such mechanism will deliver only token consultation, with substantive decisions being taken here at Westminster? Could he give an assurance that decision-making will be on the basis of unanimity or qualified majority voting within such a forum, as is currently the case for EU decisions taken in Brussels?
I think those fears—that Westminster will hang on to all the powers that are repatriated from the EU—are misplaced. We want to release as much as we can to the devolved Administrations, consistent with our ability to maintain a single market in the UK, our ability to maintain international treaties that the Government have entered into, our ability to negotiate new trade agreements post Brexit, and our responsibility to manage common resources and assure justice in cross-border areas. Subject to those constraints, we want to make quick progress and devolve as much as we can to the devolved Administrations.
Repatriation of powers from the EU opens opportunities to devolve powers down to local government. We are in consultation with the city region mayors, the local authorities and the LGA as we leave the European Union, to understand the impact and challenges of Brexit, but also to see what repatriated powers can be devolved from Westminster down to local authorities at all levels.
My Lords, I welcome the very positive response from the Minister, but there are clearly a number of significant decisions still outstanding in this regard. I urge the Government to consider at the end of the day, when these discussions have all taken place, having an independent element in the final judgments, because there will be a question of interpretation between the position of the UK Government on reserved responsibilities and the devolved Administrations and Governments on devolved responsibilities. It is vital that we respect the devolution settlement and the principles behind it from 1999 but, at the same time, reach an agreement that does not lead to increased tension inside the United Kingdom. Could there be an independent element in the final judgment when those discussions are reaching their conclusion?
We want to reach consensus with the devolved Administrations on which powers go straight through and which are retained under what is called a common framework. If one looks at the communiqué that was issued at the end of the last meeting, one can see that real progress was made. I think the devolved Administrations concede that some powers will have to be subject to what is called a common framework, for the reasons that I outlined. Greater clarity on this will be obtained once we hit Clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the other place. There are a number of amendments along the lines of those referred to by the noble Lord on resolving that issue but, at the moment, we believe that the Joint Ministerial Committee is the right place to try to seek agreement quickly. It may be possible to release some of the powers immediately we leave the European Union, if good progress can be made.
My Lords, do the Government recognise that the interests of the English regions, which are different from those of London and the south-east, risk being pushed to one side in dialogue between the devolved Administrations and the central Government in London? The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, has already touched on this. The population of Yorkshire is slightly larger than that of Scotland; the economy is as large. As a region it will be affected quite severely by the loss of EIB funding and a whole range of other things. What mechanism do the Government envisage to bring the interests of England outside the south-east into this dialogue?
I recall a powerful case made by the noble Lord and others when we debated a report last year on the northern regions, but the answer is the one I gave to my noble friend Lady Eaton: there are regular meetings between Secretaries of State, the city region mayors and leaders of local authorities to understand the impact and challenges of EU legislation. I am sure that ministerial colleagues in DCLG, among others, are anxious to see that the interests of the regions are taken on board as we leave the European Union.
The Minister has made a significant and important statement to the effect that certain of the powers now held in Europe will be devolved and delegated to the devolved Administrations. Can he give assurance that there will be a constitutional precept to the effect that there should be a transfer of all powers unless there is a clear case to the contrary and that the onus should be with those who are against devolution, rather than otherwise?
It is always slightly worrying when the Minister is told that he has said something important at the Dispatch Box when he believes that he has stuck to the departmental brief. I say to the noble Lord, who has asked me a number of questions on this, that I have set out clearly the reasons why we think there is a strong case to retain some powers at Westminster. For example, it would be ridiculous if wheat grown in one region was unable to be used to bake bread in another region because of different rules on pesticides, so we need to keep some powers in Westminster. Subject to those requirements, which were set out in the agreed communiqué, it is indeed the case that we would like to devolve as much as we can to the devolved Assemblies.
My Lords, given that the Government have undertaken to share with the EU Committee exactly the same access to the sectoral analyses, which are due in the Commons on Tuesday, can he confirm that they will arrive here that day? What plans are there then to share them with the devolved Administrations? Further, the Commons was told that the impact assessment for the whole of the Welsh economy does not exist, but the Chancellor has said that the Government’s modelling enabled the impact of Brexit to be analysed by country. Can the Minister advise the House whether such work on the impact of Brexit on, for example, Wales will be shared with this House and the devolved Assemblies?
May I write to the noble Baroness on her first Question? On the second, there is an outstanding Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, asking whether there will be an analysis of Brexit’s impact on Wales. That Question is due to be answered shortly—I think not by me. So there will be clarity on our position on whether there is a particular analysis of the impact of Brexit on Wales once that Question is answered.
My Lords, the Department for International Development has started planning for the scenario of a protracted refugee crisis in Bangladesh. Discussions with the Government of Bangladesh and key partners have begun to identify acceptable solutions that protect and respect the rights and freedoms of refugees.
I am grateful to the Minister and the department for what they have done for the refugees. As the Minister knows, I was there two weeks ago and saw for myself the appalling situation: the malnutrition, lack of sanitation and lack of hope. That is why we must welcome the provisional agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, because the only way that these 800,000 people can have hope for the future is if they return to their homeland in Myanmar. However, they need a guarantee of their safety so that there is no more persecution and, effectively, genocide, which has taken place. Will the British Government do everything they can to support this agreement and to get guarantees that the refugees will return safely and have hope for the future?
I am very happy to give that undertaking. Like the noble Lord, I welcome the news today that an agreement on safe return has been reached at a high level between Bangladesh and Burma. That is a key part of the UN Security Council presidential statement of 6 November, which called for the safe return of those refugees to their homes, and, of course, their safety while there. The noble Lord makes a very important point—namely, when they go back, great dangers await them. Therefore, the other part of the presidential statement calls for access to the area for the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission and international humanitarian organisations as an essential part of providing the safety and security to enable that outcome to happen.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Burmese military’s denials that there has been mass orchestrated rape and sexual violence against women and girls are devoid of any credibility given the numerous eye-witness accounts, and that this is a crime against humanity? While I welcome the Written Answer I have received, which states that Foreign Office experts will be deployed to assess the needs of the victims, will the Government step up urgently and for the long term the provision of specialist medical care for those victims, assistance in dealing with the stigma of rape and the documentation of these crimes for future accountability, all of which the United Kingdom is in a strong position to provide?
We are in a strong position to provide it because of my noble friend’s work when he was Foreign Secretary and the leadership he has taken in this important area. As a result of that, one of the first things we did was to ensure that counselling was available for 10,000 women who had been subjected to gender-based violence, and 2,000 who had been subjected to sexual violence in conflict. That is only part of our wider effort on this. There is no doubt that significant crimes have been committed and those responsible need to be brought to justice. The events in The Hague yesterday should remind us that, however long it takes, the resolve of the international community will ensure that happens.
My Lords, DfID’s support for the almost 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who have fled such horrific violence would be effectively demonstrated by implementing its recommitments to the Grand Bargain and releasing funds to local first responders swiftly, paying particular attention to women, so that they can lead the response to the 448,000 women and girls who have suffered devastating sexual and gender-based violence. To what extent is this happening and by what mechanism? Secondly, has the FCO team specialising in responding to gender-based violence been deployed? I understand that is now the case.
That work is going on: the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR are working there, and we are co-ordinating with all the organisations. We have committed £47 million and should take pride in the UK being by far the largest bilateral donor, with $63 million pledged. Next is the United States, with $38 million, then Sweden, with $23 million. We are proud of that, but it is not just about the money; it is also about driving the political and international pressure.
My Lords, on bringing people to justice, in addition to the security that is required, does the noble Lord accept that the root cause of this was the denial of citizenship to the Rohingya people? Will he say what discussions we have had with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Government in Burma to that effect, and whether we will impose sanctions on members of the military who have been responsible for these depredations?
The noble Lord’s point on the loss of citizenship is absolutely at the core of this. One of the recommendations made by Kofi Annan’s Rakhine advisory commission is that the 1982 law, which stripped them of their citizenship and underlies this ongoing injustice, needs to be tackled. We recognise that that is an important part of it and we want to see that situation resolved, along with the others.
I am being urged to carry on. Thank you. Does the Minister recognise that continual genocidal attacks have driven over 700,000 injured Rohingya people out of Burma, and many who remain exist in the terrible misery of detention camps? Is it not therefore clear that these realities mean that repatriation would be not a solution but a terrible punishment? Therefore, instead of hoping for the Rohingya to return, will the Government make it their absolute priority to encourage the Bangladeshi Government to enable major NGOs to provide long-term humanitarian and development aid for these oppressed, homeless people so that they do not have to fear a return to hell?
I fear that is correct. As I said in my opening Answer to the noble Lord, we are preparing for a protracted refugee crisis. However, we have to keep the pressure up by saying that we want those refugees to be able to return home in safety and for that to be part of a wider solution that addresses their human rights.
Brexit: Mental Health Research Funding
My Lords, the Government have made clear that UK businesses and universities should continue to bid for competitive EU funds while we remain a member of the European Union and that we will work with the Commission to ensure payment when funds are awarded. The Government will underwrite the payment of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the European Union. This will include mental health research funded by the Horizon 2020 programme.
My Lords, does the Minister recall the Government’s promise in the May manifesto:
“We will make the UK the leading research and technology economy in the world for mental health”?
I am reassured by some of the Answer he gave, but he has not given a firm commitment that this will continue after Brexit. Will he give such a commitment; and given the promise that was made in the manifesto, will he outline how the Government intend to increase the amount of research that will be undertaken in mental health in the future?
In our future partnership paper we have set out that we want an ambitious agreement on science and innovation and that we will continue, albeit in a new form, to collaborate with the European Union on health research, including mental health research. On honouring the bids that were underwritten, I should point out that that applies not just to bids or projects that are taking place but to bids that have been submitted up until exit day, so there is a long lead time. It is also important to point out what the Government have been doing domestically. For example, the National Institute for Health Research has increased by over 50% the amount of funding that it puts into mental health research, so the Government have been going a long way in increasing the amount of funding in this area.
My Lords, cancer research gets 25% of the UK’s annual research budget. The Minister mentioned that there has been an increase in the research money available for mental health but, as I understand it, mental illness gets only about 6% of the research budget. Why is that, and is there hope that that will be improved?
In relation to the NIHR funding that I talked about and the specialist disease areas that receive funding, mental health is second only to cancer, so it is getting a great deal of funding. I could talk about the increase in the Medical Research Council’s budget and so on, but more funding is going in specifically to mental health research.
My Lords, the UK is currently the second-largest receiver of research funding from the EU—second only to Germany—and is among the most productive places in the world in mental health research output. Does the Minister share my concern that the best will follow the money to the USA or elsewhere?
As I set out in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, the intention is to continue our relationship with and involvement in cross-EU health projects. Other third-party countries do that, and there is no reason why that would not be the case. In terms of the workforce, which I think is what the noble Baroness was referring to, the Prime Minister has been very clear that we want to continue to attract the brightest and best to this country. Once we have left the European Union, our immigration system will be set up to do just that.
My Lords, is not this yet another area where there is really no such thing as EU funding? Do the Government agree that the contribution to which this Question refers comes out of the £10 billion per annum which we pay to Brussels and which it sends back? That is not to mention the additional £10 billion per annum which we pay to Brussels in net cash. So surely the Government can agree without qualification to fully fund this very important service and, if necessary, increase it after Brexit.
The noble Lord is right that the European Union does not in itself have a tax base and that we are a net contributor to European Union budgets. As I said, our intention is to continue to have a productive relationship with the European Union as a third party, contributing to research budgets and benefiting from them, as we do, in terms of both funding and the people who work together on these important areas.
My Lords, the European Commission made it very clear in October 2017 that British researchers funded under Horizon 2020 programmes will lose access to their grants in the future. Given that the EU is the largest single funder of mental health research in Europe and that the UK is a net gainer, will the Minister inform the House when we will see the plans to ensure that the UK remains a leading contributor and beneficiary of European-wide mental health research?
As I said, we continue to bid for funds that we can draw down, and the Government are committed to underwriting any successful bids as part of the Horizon 2020 programme. Our intention is to continue in that programme. Obviously, if that is not the case, we will have funding available to support health research in this area, but our intention is to continue with the partnership that has proved so fruitful.
I totally do not accept that proposition. Mental health is certainly a problem in this country. One in six adults and one in 10 children has a common mental health disorder, and those figures are pretty devastating. However, the Government have been increasing funding for mental health. It has gone up by 8.4% over the last two years, so there is funding. There are more staff in mental health trusts and we have pledged to treat 70,000 more children. Therefore, we are putting the money in and getting better results.
My Lords, the resignation of Robert Mugabe provides Zimbabwe with an opportunity to forge a new path free from oppression and misrule. The only way for Zimbabwe to achieve a legitimate Government is through free and fair elections. As Zimbabwe’s oldest friend, we will do all we can to support a legitimate Government to rebuild the country, working with international and regional partners and addressing economic, human rights and constitutional issues, including free and fair elections.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend that Answer. I recognise that we should not intrude on an independent country, but given that tens of thousands of Zimbabweans are resident in the UK, could not their expertise be brought together to help Zimbabwe, particularly given that the IMF has identified the dramatic problems the country faces? Examples include the issuance of $100 trillion notes, which were in general circulation.
My Lords, I am very much in sympathy with my noble friend. Of course, the Government do not wish, nor intend, to interfere in the affairs of Zimbabwe. But approximately 113,000 Zimbabweans live in the UK, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a regular programme of positive engagement with the Zimbabwean diaspora and will meet several of its representatives tomorrow to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, including the need for deep and lasting economic reform.
When the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, responded to the Statement, he referred to the Foreign Secretary’s visit next month to the African Union. I fully support the noble Earl’s assertion that the only voice that really matters is that of the Zimbabwean people, and free and fair elections to take place early next year are the way to guarantee that that voice is heard. Will the Government work with the African Union to ensure that those elections are free and fair?
My Lords, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa are engaging with the region and other international partners, especially South Africa and the African Union, the EU and the UN. In fact, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa is in Harare at this moment with the aim of engaging with leading figures from all parts of the political spectrum in Zimbabwe.
My Lords, with the likelihood that President-elect Mnangagwa will form a Government of national unity in Zimbabwe, one of his key focuses will be on resurrecting the agricultural sector and job creation. What support can our Government give, whether bilaterally or through multilateral agencies, to revive the agricultural sector, possibly providing compensation to former landowners in Zimbabwe?
My Lords, DfID is already active on a number of fronts in Zimbabwe, as the noble Lord will be aware. If there are free and fair elections, Britain and indeed the international community would be prepared to support the country in whatever way is thought appropriate. We are putting together a package of support that will be tied to political and economic reform and implemented alongside international partners.
My Lords, if noble Lords gave way more quickly and asked shorter questions, everyone would get a turn. It is the turn of the Liberal Democrats for a short question and then the turn of the Labour Benches.
When Mr Mugabe took Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in December 2003 to avoid suspension, both the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and our own Foreign Secretary showed their approval for Zimbabwe rejoining, should it conform to Commonwealth principles. Does the noble Earl agree that the forthcoming London summit provides an excellent opportunity for us, as the oldest friend, to encourage Zimbabwe to reapply to rejoin the Commonwealth at the London CHOGM?
My Lords, several steps need to happen before Zimbabwe can rejoin the Commonwealth. First, it falls to Zimbabwe itself to apply to the Commonwealth Secretariat and to make it clear to the Commonwealth that Zimbabwe fulfils the criteria on human rights, the rule of law and democracy that are necessary for Commonwealth membership. Its eventual readmittance to the Commonwealth will obviously be a matter for all Commonwealth members to decide following a formal approach by Zimbabwe in the way that I described.
My Lords, effective election monitoring will be key to the holding of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. What support can Her Majesty’s Government give to the churches and other civil society organisations in the work they do on the ground so successfully in Africa, because that at least belongs to Africa, is rooted there and can be owned by the whole community in Zimbabwe?
I very much agree with the noble Lord. We are putting together a potential package of measures to support a credible election process and encourage economic recovery, to be delivered alongside our international partners—but, I emphasise, in exchange for meaningful political and economic reforms.
My Lords, perhaps I may reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said about Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth—when, of course, democracy has developed and the economy is recovering. In addition to accepting that idea, will my noble friend encourage his fellow Ministers, when they speak about these issues, to recognise the enormous value that membership of the Commonwealth can bring to a recovered Zimbabwe in due course? We should say these things in our speeches and not forget the Commonwealth aspect, which is very important.
My Lords, the new political leader has a history of abusing human rights. Will the Government raise with him the question of people who have been detained during this intervention, who have disappeared and are unaccounted for, and whether lawyers are being threatened or will be made available to those who have been detained? Abuses of human rights are one of the matters that we ask the noble Earl to raise.
My Lords, the UK regularly calls for an end to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and the restoration of internationally accepted standards. An important element of that will be the implementation of the 2013 constitution. We have raised specific cases with the authorities in Zimbabwe and we will continue to stress the importance of human rights in our engagements with any new Government that may emerge from the current crisis.
UK Defence Forces
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, in moving the Motion in my name, I should indicate that the amount of time available for the debate makes it very tight for speakers, so I will do my best to keep my comments relatively short. In doing so, I make clear that I do not intend to speak at any length on either weapons systems or troop numbers. Important as they are, there are many other speakers who are better equipped than me to speak on such matters. What I seek to do is talk about our defence strategy in relation to our foreign policy. We should start by recognising, as we always do, that defence is the handmaiden of foreign policy. I also recognise, because it is important to do so, that defence is important not only for war fighting but as a policy of war deterrence. That profoundly important issue is often underestimated.
My concern, like that of many others in recent years, is that we have a defence policy that seeks to be full-spectrum, but we are not putting up the necessary money to make that credible. History gives us plenty of lessons to show that there are few things more dangerous than the defence policy of a major power that has become incredible instead of credible. We are in acute danger of getting into that situation. In saying that, I echo comments made by many senior military experts in this country, and most important, those of many of our allies, not just the United States.
In recent years, we have seen a decline in our ability to fund our various systems to the level necessary to make them credible. I cannot overstate the importance of that point, and I know that many Members will speak to it in the debate. To put it bluntly, at the moment we are putting forward a defence posture for the United Kingdom that looks sophisticated, arguing—as the Minister has often done—that it is the fifth most expensive defence policy in the world, but we are not putting in the money to make it credible. One of the main messages I would like to get over in this debate is that although I look forward very much to the forthcoming strategic defence review, this is now such an important issue, particularly following Brexit, about which I shall say more in a moment, that we need to revisit it frequently over the coming year or two. This is a fast-moving situation and one to which we will not get a quick answer in one strategic defence review. I ask the Government to start thinking hard about how Parliament—indeed, the Government itself, most obviously—can think about this in the long term and be prepared to react to the changes that are taking place in the world.
The budget for defence should be increased. I know the Minister is likely to say that we aim to increase it to 2.5%, but if we are to maintain our current posture, we are more sensibly talking about 3%. My worry, which I will come back to, is whether we will be prepared to afford that with our economy, particularly in relation to Brexit. It is affordable, but will we be prepared to afford it? If not, we have to cut our defence posture to make it more relevant to what we are prepared to pay. I repeat: the most crucial thing is having a credible defence force, not one that people think is unlikely to be delivered effectively.
As I think most people have noticed, in recent years the world has become a much more unstable place, due to emerging new powers, which are rising very fast. To some extent, it is a success of the West that, over the years, we have seen a number of countries develop with good governance, even if it is not the type of government we would choose for ourselves. As a result, their economies are improving; as they do, they will spend more money on defence. That is one reason why we are unlikely to remain the fifth-largest spending nation in due course. Those new, rising powers are also challenging the status quo. History tells us that wars develop when there is a rapid change in the balance of power between nations. We know that, going back to the wars in Athens a couple of thousand years ago; we recognise that when there is a change in the balance of power between existing states, peace is at risk.
It does not follow that I am therefore full of doom and gloom that we are about to be launched into a major war. There are many checks now that did not exist before—on international institutions, the global economy and a range of such options—which make it less likely. Nevertheless, it is a serious danger; there is also a danger of major wars, in any event. We need look no further than the Middle East to see that, as sadly we so often have to do; the relationships there are changing very dramatically. If we look at the recent movement in Turkey, we see an example of a country moving away from its recent posture of close engagement with Europe and the West to a different role. Look at the development of the strange alliance emerging in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab states in the face of what they see as a greater fear—Iran. That conflict between Iran and the Arab states dates way back to the origins of the divisions in Islam, which caused so many problems for the Islamic community, just as the divisions in Christianity did. It would therefore be a mistake to put these problems down to any one religion; they happen in all religions. People do not always like it, but I often say that God is an idea but religion is an ideology and, like all ideology, subject to splits. Splits happen in religion and, unfortunately, people are prepared to fight and die for them. That is an important point that we sometimes forget.
The other reason to be concerned about instability is the rise of nationalism in the West, with the election of Donald Trump, Brexit in the UK, the situation in Turkey—as I have already mentioned—and other events. Nationalism is not something to be totally ashamed of, but it is something to be wary of. As someone born in the 1930s, although I do not remember the nationalism of that period, I am close enough to its history; having grown up during the Second World War, I have seen the effects of nationalism and how it can destroy communities, civilisations and nations. We need to be aware of that as another factor in change.
The third factor, which is incredibly important—I know that the Government take it seriously, but we will need to come back to it—is changing technology. We are all aware of cyberwarfare; we are increasingly aware of robots; we all know about drones; and we all know about intelligence, although the nature of that is changing rapidly. I shall give just a simple example. If I had longer, I might spell out others, particularly in robotic development. If we look at the use of drones, which I do not object to, in either Afghanistan or Syria, we see that they are effective in limiting civilian casualties, because otherwise air power or artillery are used less effectively. However, we should be aware that the technology that allows drones to be used in the way that we are using them can also be developed, and will be developed, by non-state actors, including by even very small groups. We should beware the dangers of such technology being used in existing civilisations and societies. In the age of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, those early warnings were perhaps relevant to what we have to say.
I have already indicated that my preference would be for an increase in defence expenditure. I do not think there are any shortcuts to this. Some in my own party and elsewhere will say, “We need to get rid of Trident”. I have no problem with dealing with such issues multilaterally; I have every fear about doing so unilaterally, because major changes in the defence policy of a significant power inevitably have a knock-on effect on other powers. That is another factor that can increase the risk of war, which is why I say that defence is an important way of preventing war and not just of fighting it.
We need a radical review of our defence posture. One SDR will not be enough. Post Brexit, it is difficult to know what will happen. I have taken the view for a long time—since it happened, actually, although I think it was a mistake—that Brexit can be made to work, but we should recognise, first, that it will take a long time and, secondly, that we are underestimating its political impact. We all talk, quite rightly, about the economic impact, but the political impact is enormous. I had lunch with an old contact of mine in the Chinese embassy from quite a few years ago. He is now the first secretary, and he came along with the second secretary to meet me here. I asked him what China thought about Britain’s exit from the European Union. He gave a very quick and clear answer: “I think both the European Union and the United Kingdom have lost influence as a result of that action”. Whether we agree with him or not, let us please recognise that this view is common across the world. Let us bear in mind that it has been United States policy since the end of the Second World War to have Britain in Europe, because it saw Britain as a stabilising influence within it. It also saw it as a necessary bridge between the US and Europe. The problem, as I have said on a number of occasions, is that many Europeans, for very good historical reasons, with all the wars, occupations and defeats, saw the European Union as a politically emerging state—we might even say a superstate, although it is a wrong term—whereas the British always thought of it as a super-market. We did not see the commitment to the politics of Europe as they see it in Europe itself.
That change is profoundly important. It might mean that we have to accept that, in changing our defence policy, despite Brexit, we have to work much more closely with the European Union. I am not one who takes the view that Europe should not develop its own defence policy. It is important that we link it with NATO, but I do not believe that Europe will avoid developing the outlines—as they will be at first—of both a defence policy and a foreign policy. It is in our interest for it to do that; it is not in our interest to go back to a system where each state had its own arrangements. We often forget how relatively new the nation states are. The other day I saw that, until about 100 years ago, Poland was part of Austria. When we look at things like that, we should recognise that the way change happens in Europe can be dangerous.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to comments in the Library briefing on my debate made by Professor Chalmers, the deputy at the Royal United Services Institute. He points out that we need to look at,
“UK national security and requirements in the form of contributions, military and developmental”,
along with other allies. Secondly, and very importantly, he says that,
“a new SDSR would need to ask whether or not there should be a Pivot to Europe”,
the very point I was making a few moments ago. Thirdly, he says that,
“a new SDSR would provide an opportunity to review the case for, and against, a more global approach to foreign and security policy in the light of the exit deal”,
but also in light of the other issues I have mentioned.
I want a close relationship with the European Union—anyone in their right mind will want that—and it has to be political and economic as well. It does not mean that we do not have to exit the European Union, as the electorate have decided. What I want more than anything else from the next SDSR is a serious, in-depth look at the problems I have described. This is a major strategic crisis for the United Kingdom. “Crisis” may be too strong a word; it is perhaps more like what happened in the 1960s, as I remember well, when we looked, under Harold Wilson’s Government, at withdrawal from east of Suez and at cancelling advanced weapons systems, such as the TSR-2 and others, all of which we did because we were driven by the economics of it. The acute danger is that something similar is happening now but we are not facing up to it. We really have to get a strategy that works and that we have paid for. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, very strongly on the excellence of his speech and on the persuasiveness with which it was presented.
I start from the premise that the Government should not take any steps which could lead to the United Kingdom losing its permanent place on the UN Security Council. More defence cuts could also mean that our position as a leading member of NATO could be put in jeopardy. I do not need to remind the House that there have already been severe cuts. The removal of Nimrod dealt a significant blow to our maritime capabilities and to photoreconnaissance. We now learn with alarm from press reports that the specialist landing ships HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark” may become the victims of further cost-cutting and that the strength of the Royal Marines could be reduced by 1,000.
Our allies have expressed concern about any such move, claiming that cuts to the Royal Marines and the loss of two amphibious ships could have an impact on the defence relationship between the United States and the UK. In a Remembrance Day interview Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said:
“We continue to evolve our force structure to match the threats we face and an amphibious capability is part of that force structure”.
At a recent local Conservative meeting very close to where I live, next to Muirfield in Scotland, the new Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, promised the gathering that he would fight for the Armed Forces. I wish him every success. Can the Minister today shed any light on the most up-to-date Government thinking on what should be the appropriate size and capabilities of our armed services?
I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the famous story of those Royal Marines who became known as the “Cockleshell Heroes”. Their exploits were recalled in a BBC television documentary called “The Most Courageous Raid of WWII”. It was presented extremely well, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and the men he talked about were some of the bravest of the brave. Before setting off on their daring raid on ships serving the enemy in Bordeaux, they were told that they were not expected to return, yet not one of them wished to opt out. Only two of them survived.
For the Treasury to consider further cuts which could result in standing down up to 1,000 marines would be no way to treat some of the best servicemen in the world. If the answer is that we could always expand the Royal Marines again later, I can confirm from my own limited experience that highly trained service men and women bear no resemblance to untrained recruits.
Indeed, as a volunteer officer with the Cameronians, I witnessed the day of the disbandment of the regular battalion when a Government had axed three-quarters of the Territorial Army. The ceremony was on a lonely Lanarkshire moor, and to my astonishment no fewer than 22,000 people came. The minister taking the farewell service offered some memorable words. He said: “You who have never been defeated in battle are being eliminated by the stroke of a pen in Whitehall”. A few years later, I joined a Cameronian company in the newly formed 2nd Battalion of Lowland Volunteers but immediately learned that the new battalion had a great deal of hard work before it to be on a par with service personnel who had fought in a variety of wars, including the Second World War.
Today, many years later, it is feared that as a result of the latest defence and security review our Armed Forces could be pared back even further, without any regard for the excellence of the training of those involved or their achievements in recent conflicts and in supplying humanitarian relief after grave natural disasters. It will be dangerous if we do not correctly weigh in the balance the nature of the perils which face this country, including terrorism, cyberattacks, other threats which are continually changing, and the urgent need to build up and modernise the Armed Forces who protect our national security.
I hope that government Ministers can be persuaded that this is not the time to force cuts which would heavily reduce the manpower of our most outstanding units. Administrative convenience and yet more tightening of the purse strings should not be allowed to take precedence over operational necessity. We have an inescapable duty to protect our country men and women, and to give the United Kingdom the capability to play a beneficial and significant role on the world stage.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for arranging this timely debate. Of course, we should strive for a better world order. But to do so demands achieving and sustaining a position of strength, both moral and physical. The moral strengths are for others with greater insight to profess, but in recent years our physical combat strength has much reduced and is now too often belittled by friends and allies. Numerous pleas to correct this decline have failed to gain much traction in the minds of Governments. Yes, some financial uplift is forecast, but its promised benefit is greatly reduced, even nullified, by a mismatch between the essential purchases of new equipment—much funded by more expensive dollars—and unachievable economies in support and running costs. Constant claims about the 2% input do not focus minds on the one thing that really matters: the fieldable strengths and enduring capabilities that today’s Armed Forces can muster.
If we take history as our guide, this country has failed to be well prepared for conflict when it came. But, like the digital age in which we live, the outburst and speed of conflicts today will far outstrip experiences of the past. This critical point should highlight our current most serious weaknesses. Today we must face a foe with just what is to hand in the front line. It is the scarcity of key fighting tools, the stocks of weapons with which to arm them, and sufficient manpower to keep them going, even when taking casualties, that most concerns and alarms me.
Fortuitously, since the 1982 Falklands conflict, when six high-value ships were sunk and others crippled, aircraft brought down, and hundreds killed or wounded by a small and far from Premier League air force operating at extreme range from its bases, our expeditionary operations have enjoyed unrivalled air superiority in all subsequent conflicts. There is thus a danger in concluding that, like rebooting some virtual digital game, the next conflict will again be fought in a benign air situation. That is far too complacent a view.
What then? Our air forces would face losses in conflict; surface, and sub-surface forces too, might become vulnerable to loss if we could not provide mastery of the air. Unit losses counted on the fingers of one hand, let alone on the scale of those we suffered in three short weeks of combat in the Falklands, would amount to significant percentage setbacks to available strengths. Even small daily rates of loss could not be sustained.
Within a matter of days, not weeks, withdrawal or worse might become the only options available to government. Nor should Governments forget that the deterrent relies not solely on the horror of nuclear war, but on the capability first to resist an aggressor conventionally and with strength. How else should we show national resolve? Surely it would never be by quickly deciding to launch a Trident or two.
So my plea, even while supporting the many worthy activities that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and others will espouse, is for all to realise how much such success depends on a vital precursor and enabler for this work: our assured ability to deter, and if necessary to fight off conventionally, any foe that challenges our military strength and resolve and threatens our freedoms and our ways of aiding others.
My Lords, I join others in commending the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate and for framing it in this way. He made it clear that UK defence forces exist not only for the protection and promotion of immediate British interests but to contribute to global peace, stability and security. The scale of that task has obvious implications for the size of the defence budget and its distribution.
Unlike other noble Lords taking part in this debate, I am no expert at all in defence policy but I would like to make a case for continuing expert defence engagement in post-conflict situations, carefully co-ordinated with political processes and humanitarian assistance, to assist the war-damaged country to rebuild itself on every level. Indeed, I contend that British involvement in conflict brings with it a moral responsibility to remain engaged in the long-term reconstruction of the cities, societies and institutions which have been deconstructed—perhaps almost destroyed—in warfare. I also contend that this sort of activity is necessary for the prevention of future conflict and therefore that it pertains directly to our national security strategy, and so needs proper funding.
In 1945, the Allied control commission stationed Gwillym Williams in Kiel as the British branch officer for building. When the mayor of Kiel discovered that Williams came from Coventry, he was deeply moved: “This man had immediately done everything in his power to help a town which had shared the fate of his native city”, he wrote in a Kiel newspaper. The mayor called on his city to reach out to Coventry so that, in his words, “the names of our ravished cities can become the symbol of our spiritual and moral reawakening”. The Lord Mayor of Coventry reciprocated by visiting in 1947, and I joined the current mayor this year to celebrate 70 years of that relationship.
That is a story from a particular time and place, but perhaps it illustrates that commitment to the post-conflict reconstruction of buildings, institutions and security is a strategy for peace because it restores stability and reduces the risk of violence reoccurring. Post-Daesh Mosul is very different from post-war Kiel, but the critical issue there and in other liberated Iraqi cities is similarly: how can the cycle of violence that is a mark of modern Iraqi history be broken? To use an image of Jesus, if I may: how, having expelled one demon, can every effort be made to prevent seven returning?
Most of what I have said will be familiar to Her Majesty’s Government in principle. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which includes involvement, albeit limited, from the MoD, is the sort of integrated, cross-departmental approach to post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation which I have advocated. Does the Minister consider that the MoD’s contribution to that fund reflects the strategic value of post-conflict reconstruction as a means of conflict prevention and achieving long-term British defence objectives? To put it in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Soley: is our investment in a combination of defence, diplomacy and development assistance credible?
My Lords, if Ministers get defence wrong the nation will never forgive them, and the costs in blood and treasure are enormous. It was discovered that the decision to remove HMS “Endurance” from her role in the south Atlantic in the 1981 defence review was the trigger for Galtieri’s invasion of the Falklands, with a final cost to our nation of almost 300 British lives and £6 billion.
When armed forces are deployed properly and at the right level of strength, the outcome is very different. They stop wars happening. A good example was Operation Vantage in 1961 when the Iraqi regime threatened to invade Kuwait, which it did some years later. The immediate deployment of in-area assets—including Royal Marines from 42 Commando on HMS “Bulwark”, fixed-wing aircraft on board HMS “Victorious”, and 45 Commando on other amphibious shipping—stabilised the situation, war was averted and huge costs and many lives were saved.
The UK needs a stable world environment not only for the security of the nation and our people worldwide but for creation of wealth, and Brexit adds further weight to that. We are responsible for the defence and security of 14 dependencies worldwide. Global shipping is still run from London. We remain the largest European investor in south Asia, south-east Asia and the Pacific Rim. Return on these investments is hugely important for our trade figures. Shipping forms the sinews of our global village. It needs unimpeded global access.
Beyond this, we became a permanent member of the UN Security Council because we were one of the victorious powers in World War II. Military capability was a key part of the equation, and I argue that it remains so in the UN context and more widely. Yes, soft power is important and we are blessed in this country with an exceptional hand of factors that give us considerable clout, but soft power is as nothing if there is not hard power to back it up.
The significance of how our military capability was—and I stress “was”—perceived is shown by the numerous defence alliances we are involved in. As a key member of NATO, we and the US ensured the defence and security of Europe throughout the Cold War, which is illustrated by the fact that the US and the UK fill the key NATO command positions. Hollowing out of our Armed Forces since 2010 has led the rationale for that to be called into doubt by a number of our allies.
For 60 years we have had a mutual defence agreement with the United States. Separately, there are bilateral defence agreements with a number of European countries, and we have a web of agreements in the Gulf region and the five-power defence arrangements in south-east Asia. These commitments demand hard combat power, and I fear that our military is being hollowed out to such an extent that we are no longer capable of providing it.
Few of our population realise that SDSR 2010 cut our military capability by one third. It is quite extraordinary, and SDSR 2015 has not resolved that. The Americans have expressed growing concern about this diminishing military capability. It was most recently expressed by General Ben Hodges, commander of US forces in Europe. Despite what the chattering classes may say and jibe about, there is no doubt that in military and intelligence terms there is a special relationship with the United States which is extremely important to us. In a highly unpredictable and very dangerous world, the United States has until recently seen us as an ally with which it can stand shoulder to shoulder, and it will not be good for the world, the United States and, certainly, the United Kingdom should that change.
There is no doubt that the growing threat and modes of warfare have changed—indeed, they are always changing, but the terrorists’ threat is not an existential one unless they get their hands on an IND or a lethal pandemic pathogen. We also delude ourselves if we think that because of the importance of the digital domain—and, my God, it is important—we can avoid spending on hard combat power and replace it with spending on cyber, making huge savings. The two things are complementary. Cyber is not a panacea that will allow us to spend less money.
I thank my noble friend Lord Solely for instigating this debate. Defence does not get the attention it deserves, despite successive Prime Ministers and, indeed, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer mouthing the mantra that the defence and security of our nation and our people is the first duty of any Government. Do they really believe it? Yesterday was the Budget, and we saw no plans to increase defence spending—it was not even mentioned. The Government do not seem to care about the damage being done. We are standing into danger.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for giving me and others this chance to mention conflict resolution. In departmental budgets today, as the right reverend Prelate said, diplomacy, defence and aid are now entwined. Some 16 years ago, the FCO, DfID and MoD were brought together into a new conflict fund, whose life became quite hectic, as I will explain.
Of course, there are always fears that the MoD will have some claim on the aid budget, and one can see the reason for this. One problem is the difficulty of separating events such as refugee movements, which normally come under emergencies, from the need to prevent conflict, which is seen as a form of long-term development. In countries such as South Sudan, the two run side by side, because long-standing attempts at peacekeeping through the regional powers foundered in 2013 when the new SPLA national army and Government fell apart and created yet another world emergency.
The noble Lord, Lord West, although seeing the necessity for aid, has constantly raised this question, asking whether the defence budget is overstretched by our aid commitments. I completely understand his concern about that—although he did not mention it today—but I would say to him, first, that our Armed Forces, being highly trained, naturally do a superb job during emergencies. Secondly, it is surely part of the training of our Armed Forces that they are called upon and carry a degree of responsibility when an emergency occurs.
With Srebrenica in the news again this week, my mind often goes back to our commitments in the western Balkans and the tireless work done by our soldiers in rapidly erecting refugee camps for ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo into Albania and Macedonia. You can argue that these were NATO and KFOR defence commitments but they were not yet, to my mind, aid commitments calling on the DfID budget—they were a proper defence responsibility. But increasingly since that time there have been new emergencies and conflicts requiring new commitments, notably in implementing the relatively recent UN concept of R2P, the responsibility to protect.
It was partly for this reason that the Government established the Conflict Pool in 2001. Over the years, as someone who periodically visits countries in conflict such as Sudan, Nepal and Kosovo, I have heard from various sources that there were problems surrounding the Conflict Pool. Its performance was finally reviewed in 2012 by the very competent aid watchdog, ICAI, which rated the programme “amber red” and found that,
“its governance and management arrangements are cumbersome”,
and it has,
“little capacity for measuring results”.
On 1 April 2015, perhaps in response to this criticism, the fund converted into the CSSF—the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund—as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. In 2016-17, the CSSF had a total budget of over £1.1 billion and funded 97 programmes across the world, with an average expenditure of £5 million per programme.
I am delighted that the fund, in turn, is currently being scrutinised by ICAI. The commission started work in August. It is already collecting the findings and will report back next April. One finding will be that the MoD is contributing comparatively little. In the calendar year 2016, it gave an estimated £14.9 million, compared to the FCO’s £417 million and DfID’s £108 million. However, this was a considerable increase on the previous year.
I hope that the Minister will comment on the importance and the performance of the fund, and say whether he sees the MoD’s role expanding in future. Incidentally, I am delighted that the CSSF’s programme in Mali has been chosen for review, showing that Francophone countries are still a concern of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating this most timely debate. I thought his speech was one of the most brilliant encapsulations of what is necessary today.
I think it is today that the cream of the international one-star military officers are attending a strategic forum held each year by the Royal College of Defence Studies, based in Belgrave Square, where they study for a whole year. I have had the pleasure of being present at these forums several times, and many of these young officers have risen to the very top of their countries’ command structures. For me, the most interesting aspect was that many were prepared to ask the most pointed and radical questions of the three-star and four-star officers addressing them, including His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan. I can say with great pride that many of these officers have trained at Dartmouth, Sandhurst and Cranwell and have always looked up and respected this country for having one of the world’s finest powerful armed services of the highest moral standing.
The questions are always totally polite but heavily loaded, just like in this House. The NATO 2%, quoted often and sometimes in a rather triumphant manner, seems to include everything but the proverbial “kitchen sink”. To complete the present programme, an extra £2 billion per annum is needed now, and that does not include our expanded role following Brexit.
I have been involved in international business for most of my working life. I bring that up because I think it might possibly help in our deliberations. In the international commercial world, one is up against some of the finest brainpower and the finest in technology every day of the week, and training is at the highest level. In this ever-changing world, though, innovation is crucial. If you do not innovate, you are dead in the water; indeed, you can raise capital to expand and retain your competitive edge only if you allow radical thinking its head and are always reinventing and ditching outdated ideas. Through the ages, and certainly since the Industrial Revolution, this has been the formula that has been the key to improving the lot of humanity worldwide in most fields of endeavour.
I bring these views to your Lordships’ attention because I strongly suggest that they can be applied to the present position of the Armed Forces. My personal view, as I have said before, is that we are at a crossroads and, sadly, we are moving quite fast down the wrong road. Although it is not surprising that most democratic countries reduce their armed forces after major conflict, accompanied by heavy reductions in their budgets, over a period of years inertia sets in, creating a creeping bureaucracy, and in time the senior thinking can easily become wedded more to yesterday than to tomorrow. Further, lack of money causes the three services understandably to protect their own endeavours rather than pull together.
Are we attracting our finest young people today, or are the Armed Forces their third choice because other careers look a lot more attractive? Is the ethos to serve as great as ever?
Most spheres of activity of endeavour of a global nature fall when they go below a critical mass, and then rapidly go into a decline from which it is very difficult to climb back and which damages reputation. Radical thinking, innovation and making the best use of assets, which I illustrated is vital in the commercial world, does not seem to have been sufficiently fast-tracked in the Ministry of Defence. If we went on a war footing tomorrow—or, worse, experienced a military catastrophe—I am sure the transformation would be immediate.
So what should be the way forward? We as a nation are most fortunate in having such a splendid body of people ready to serve our country in such a special way, and we must give them the resources to be powerful enough to have the right deterrent. Both Russia and China, possible adversaries, are steaming ahead of us on many fronts. Together with our key ally, the United States of America, we must be seen to maintain our role as a serious hard power. I hope the Minister will take back the message that further funding is essential now, not tomorrow. Defence of the realm is, after all, our primary responsibility.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Soley for giving us the opportunity today to have a very important conversation about the future of our national security and Armed Forces. Like my noble friend Lord West, I think there was probably a broad consensus in 2015 about the outcome of that security review. It recommended Joint Force 2025, an expeditionary force of nearly 50,000 people, with significant land, sea and air elements. It embarked on a hugely significant programme of defence equipment procurement across land, sea and air, and contained a promise to keep spending on defence at 2% of GDP.
But there was obviously major concern at the time, confirmed now by the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Defence in another place, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, senior retired officers and think tanks—pretty well everyone—that the MoD would not be able to sustain the ambitions of the 2015 SDSR. There was and remains no clear path to realising the significant efficiency savings on which all that spending was predicated, other than continued pay restraint for members of the Armed Forces—and that is perhaps not a brilliant recruitment and retention tool over the long term. Since then, we have had to add into the equation the significant impact of Brexit and the dramatic fall in value of sterling—the pound is 30% down against the dollar and the euro—when so much of that defence budget is spent in dollars and euros.
Two years on, we have the announcement of a new security capability review. Every Defence Minister learns the mantra that everything is kept under review, which can sometimes get them out of trouble. On this occasion, it has probably got them into a little more trouble. There are probably two principal justifications, two years after a significant SDSR such as the 2015 report, for having another look at things. One would be any significant or material change in the threat situation facing the UK. By common consensus, that has got worse, not better. The other would be any significant change in technological development and science—technology that might allow us to think again about how we equip our Armed Forces and where we want to spend our money. Neither of those justifications is plausible for this midpoint review of the SDSR. There is only one obvious conclusion for us all to reach: this is really a review about money.
The question cannot be answered by Mark Sedwill, who I think is a brilliant official. I have absolute confidence in Mark’s ability to conduct a rigorous review. The questions that we are debating can only be raised with Ministers. I think there are two: do they stand by the 2015 SDSR and, if they do, are they now willing to commit the necessary resource to complete that programme?
I am absolutely opposed to the United Kingdom acting unilaterally—for example, by announcing the end of our effective amphibious capability. I do not believe that the QE2 class carriers—they are brilliant ships and I am proud to see them serving in the Royal Navy—have the equivalent capability. Nor do the Bay class ships. They are incapable of supporting and mounting large-scale amphibious operations with the fighting vehicles that the Army now has. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan led us, rightly, to conclude that they needed to be better protected: they needed to be stronger, heavier vehicles. We need “Bulwark” and “Albion” to retain that capability.
So we must tread pretty carefully. I am all in favour of the defence industry co-operating with government in the efficiency review: I think it should. I am certainly in favour of our thinking carefully about how we use the overseas aid and defence budgets together to secure greater security results. But it is hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that we will need to spend more now to preserve UK effective capabilities. The painful lesson from history is that spending less on defence does not make us more secure; it does not make those threats go away, it just makes us less able to deal with them.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate. His choice of wording is most appropriate. He speaks of a “sufficient level”—nothing excessive or gilded—
“to contribute to global peace, stability and security”,
which is the first duty, as we surely all agree, of any responsible Government. Yet there are well-founded fears that our defence capability is to be cut once again. Yes, we all know that the current Front-Bench response is to reassure us that these are only options that are being looked at, at present, and no decisions have been taken. But the real world is that options can quickly become decisions, and then the damage is done. In 1996, axing the royal yacht was an option, but that option became a decision, saving a paltry £60 million and causing lasting damage to the standing of the United Kingdom and great hurt to Her Majesty.
Today, it is also said that the defence budget, pegged to 2% of GDP, is rising year on year in cash terms, to which is added a 0.5% rise in the equipment budget. That fools no one who has any understanding of the realities of funding defence. Defence inflation has historically stood at a higher level than general inflation. Moreover, with an increased dependence on buying US equipment, we are subject to adverse exchange rate movements and, in terms of equipment procured from domestic industry, our product runs are small so there are no economies of scale, and our requirements are at the cutting edge of technology because we want the best for our people. Therefore, risk is high, delay is commonplace and cost over-runs are an inevitable consequence. It should not be like this, but that is the reality of defence procurement, which has stood resistant to change despite the reforming efforts of successive Governments.
So what is to be done? There are three choices: either cuts to our capabilities have to be made to save money, or there have to be further efficiencies, which are more cuts by another name, or there has to be an increase in our defence budget—an unlikely prospect, given the silence of the Chancellor on this subject yesterday. Therefore, in a national zero-sum game, this inevitably takes us back to the debate about the balance between defence spending at 2% of GDP and our spending on overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP. A 0.25% adjustment between those two figures in favour of defence would see a reallocation of some £4 billion to £5 billion from the overseas aid budget to the defence budget, a figure that would largely solve the crisis in defence spending over a 10-year period.
While we are obsessing over internal budgetary matters and over our approach to Brexit, I fear that there is a danger that we forget to lift our eyes to the horizon and reflect on how others see the United Kingdom, both our allies and our potential foes. It is only a few weeks ago that US General Ben Hodges commented with evident sadness that the UK was in danger of losing its leadership role among European nations as our defence capabilities diminish. He was expressing a strongly held view in the US that the UK is sliding towards military irrelevance. In Oral Questions the day after General Hodges made his comments, I asked the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, whether it was still the Ministry of Defence’s policy that our land forces should be able to deploy a division of at least two UK combat brigades in a future conventional war. It was, I admit, an unfair question to the noble Earl, but that question still stands today to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as that capability is an important yardstick by which the Americans judge our utility as an ally. Not to be able to deploy a division takes us off the top table in a future conflict, and thereby our influence with our closest ally is much diminished.
What does Russia make of our internal obsessing? Surely, Russia sees military weakness and an opportunity to exploit chinks in the solidarity of NATO. President Putin would love to see nothing better than doubt over Article 5 of the NATO treaty and a fracturing of the cohesion of NATO itself. What stronger message could we send to our allies, our European partners and our potential foes than by announcing a rise in our defence spending? That 0.25% rebalancing from overseas aid to defence would show that this UK Government took their defence responsibilities seriously, wished to retain a leadership role in Europe and yet were continuing to make a significant contribution to the alleviation of poverty worldwide. When you cannot do everything, choices have to be made, and the first duty of Government, as today’s Motion indicates, is to provide sufficiently for peace, stability and security.
My Lords, I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to my entry in the register, which mentions my engagement in the Bangsamoro peace process in the Philippines, funded in the past by Her Majesty’s Government. I welcome today’s debate and the efforts of my noble friend Lord Solely in securing it, as well as the powerful case he made for maintaining UK defence forces at a sufficient level for global peace, security and stability. I recognise the importance of that case, but I want to argue in the time available this afternoon that such a case on defence is not enough for global peace, security and stability.
There are noble Lords who speak today, and have on many previous occasions, in favour of deferring the expenditure from the development budget of the United Kingdom to the defence budget. But it seems to me much more important that we make the case today for an integration of our work on defence, development and diplomacy, coming together both nationally and internationally to secure greater prospects for peace and a reduction of conflict, not simply a management of conflict.
Conflict today is on the rise again, reversing a trend that had been fairly consistent since the end of the Cold War, with a rise in the number of individual wars and the number of deaths, both in battle and among civilians. The nature of conflict, however, has changed dramatically. Conflicts are no longer cross-border; they are no longer about building empires or resource grabs from other places. Today, they are about resource-sharing, inequalities, historical discrimination and identity—and clashes of identity within borders rather than across borders. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out just last week in London, the vast majority—over 90%—of terrorist attacks across the world since the end of the Cold War have taken place in countries that are known and mapped for their extrajudicial killings, imprisonment without trial and other human rights abuses.
Force can contain conflict, but you cannot bomb grievances out of the minds of young men and women. We need to also address the key issues of opportunities, jobs, human rights, inclusion, institutions they can trust and the quality of life that they experience. That is why long-term, sustained investment in peacebuilding—not just defence—is so important. It must be peacebuilding that recognises the crucial importance of women at the negotiating table, women as signatories and women as peacebuilders in local communities and national forums; peacebuilding that recognises the critical importance of the neighbourhood, whether it is in an African region, the Middle East, south-east Asia or anywhere else, and the crucial importance of the countries of the neighbourhood helping and supporting, rather than those sitting in New York or in the developed world dictating what should happen next; and peacebuilding that recognises the critical importance of political settlements. Here in the United Kingdom we have experience that we can use to assist those making new political settlements, including federalism or devolution, some form of sub-state and governance that recognises those identity clashes and gives political voice to the minorities who have felt oppressed.
We know that peacebuilding works and that investment in peacebuilding produces a far higher return than investment in armed conflict. Every £1 of investment in peacebuilding secures a return of at least £10 and, according to some studies, perhaps £14 or £16. We know that, today, only 2% of global expenditure on conflict is spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention. That is a shocking figure at the start of the 21st century and it is something that this country should take a lead in tackling.
I should like the Minister, if he has time in his response, to address the fact that, despite the world having changed since 2011—when it looked as though there were good prospects in Libya, Yemen and a number of other parts of the world—our Building Stability Overseas Strategy has never been updated since it was first published by the then Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, in 2011. Since then, the Government’s commitment to spending on conflict-affected states, fragile states and peacebuilding has gone from 33% to 50%, but the strategy has never been updated. Since then, we have also agreed internationally to goal 16 of the sustainable development goals. We need to update this strategy and give a UK focus to this work at home and abroad. I hope the Minister will agree.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on securing this debate. Thanks to the evidence given to the Defence Select Committee last week by former senior military figures, we now have confirmation of what many of us have been saying for so long: our Armed Forces have been dangerously hollowed out and inadequately funded for many years. I have read the full transcript and I quote General Sir Richard Barrons:
“The people who are in defence have to keep going every day. They are never going to say publicly, or to themselves, their enemies, or their allies that we are broken, but when they fly, sail, or deploy on the land and they look at their equipment, their sustainability, the shortfalls in their training, and at their allies, they know that they are not fit for purpose”.
We should also read the Times article today on our Type 25 destroyers.
Admiral Sir George Zambellas said:
“If you take as a premise, what certainly the three of us know, that defence has been under-resourced for years, the challenge that is being set to the Chiefs of Staff now is try to make further savings”—
all this against a background of a very dangerous world with Daesh, the Taliban, North Korea, and Russia and China substantially increasing and modernising their defence capability, to say nothing of cyber. The head of German foreign intelligence said very recently:
“Russia’s military has undergone an ‘amazing’ modernisation”.
I repeat: “amazing”.
Of course, we will be told by the noble Earl, in his usual conciliatory and soothing way about the 2%, the new naval orders and the current defence review. However, we know from the evidence given at the Select Committee hearing by the former National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, that defence reviews are compromised and effectively nobbled. He said:
“So there was a Treasury official seconded to the Cabinet Office team who was in regular touch with the Treasury to ensure that whatever ended up being in the review would be affordable”.
We cannot go on like this. Enough is enough. We have to find more money to rebuild our defence capability; tinkering will not be enough.
Last week, I asked an Oral Question on the ratio of overseas aid to defence expenditure and was told that it was 3:1 one in favour of defence. I cannot accept this ratio. The 0.7% GDP commitment is very laudable when we can afford it but circumstances change. All domestic government budgets are under huge pressure, particularly defence, where the fall in the value of the pound creates exceptional pressure because of the necessary purchases from abroad, particularly from the United States. In our present situation there can be no sacred cows. I agree very much with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt: the time has come to revisit our aid commitment and reduce it from 0.7% to 0.5%. I know that I will have no support from any of the Front Benches but that would release approaching £4 billion, of which £2 billion could go to defence and the balance to other programmes. It would still leave us with a £9 billion overseas aid budget, which is a very substantial figure.
I have also doubted, as others have, whether overseas aid needs a separate department of state. The Times recently advocated that it should be subsumed into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Certainly, overseas aid, defence and foreign expenditure should be considered as one.
Of course, our defence assets, personnel and equipment frequently play a significant role in humanitarian relief—yet another reason to retain our amphibious capability—and our new carriers could, given their size, operating theatres and potential helicopter lift add a whole new dimension of scale to our humanitarian effort. In addition, the requests for our military training missions, so important around the world, always exceed the resources available. Enhanced funding would enable us to do so much more.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on his excellent speech and on procuring this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, on his incisive analysis of the situation.
Discussion has focused largely on equipment, preparedness and procurement but the other main area, the nature of the threat—what is a sufficient level and what is needed overall to make the contribution suggested?—has been defined by SDSR 2015, which, for better or worse, is the road map in use until the current quasi-review reports. Indeed, while it is clearly evident that procurement has been far slower than expected, it has to be accepted that thus far SDSR 2015, in naval terms at least, is our only set of directions, unless some of the darker rumours reported in the press about the axing of the LPDs “Albion” and “Bulwark”, and the consequent loss of an amphibious capability, turn out to be true.
However, I wish to look at a more immediate and pressing problem—namely, the people who will be required to man and fight these systems. Recent statistics indicate major shortfalls in personnel, which are not being made up by recruitment. It is clear that service morale and recruitment have suffered badly from a combination of factors: the reduction in conflict operations in the Middle East, with the consequent lack of a sense of purpose and direction; stagnation of pay and conditions; failure to incentivise enough young men and women to join the reserves; and regular and prolonged separations. This all leads to low morale among serving personnel, and further leads to retention rates being below recruitment rates.
The Royal Navy has a target of 30,450 personnel and is currently 1,000 short of that. Of this total, some 8,000 are Royal Marines. The Royal Marines is the only European marine force currently capable of conducting amphibious operations at brigade level. Therefore, the naval personnel available to man the new aircraft carriers and the other assets expected to come into service amount to fewer than 20,000. This is a shockingly low figure given the requirements of training, rotations, family life and so on, and must be the main impetus behind the proposals now being voiced to remove the Royal Marines’ capability to land a brigade-sized force anywhere in the world. This was a major plank of SDSR 2015 and Joint Force 2025 and, at the very least, should be maintained. Vague talk about giving one of the carriers an amphibious capability should be dismissed for what it is: a red herring. However, if there is no alternative to withdrawing “Ocean”, “Albion” and “Bulwark”, has consideration been given to laying them up in maintained reserve until such time as the recruitment situation has improved or we suddenly have a pressing need for their services? These are highly specialised vessels with much service life left, and selling them off to a foreign navy or, worse, to a scrapyard, will go down very badly in the public prints and with the public at large.
There is no simple way to increase recruitment at a time of pay restraint and lack of challenging service, but there are plenty of arguments for improvements in the X factor component of service pay. A five-yearly review of the X factor is currently under way, and it would be an admirable moment to use it to improve service pay and conditions after so many years of being shackled to minimum pay increments by an austerity-obsessed Treasury. Indeed, I note that the Chief Secretary has recently written to the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body outlining her guidance that a 1% pay award would be appropriate. Will the Minister undertake to investigate this avenue?
Finally, to return to a question I raised in this House a year ago, the naval reserve figures are dreadful, at a total strength, including some 750 Royal Marines reservists, of 2,400 against an establishment of 3,100; that is, 23% below target. This clearly has a lot to do with lack of opportunities for naval reserve personnel. Will the Minister undertake to consider the handover to the Royal Naval Reserve of the older River-class offshore patrol vessels when the new deliveries arrive, to provide an incentive for seagoing training and promotion, as well as a means of providing fishery protection and Border Force support after Brexit?
My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend on his initiative and on a Motion which begs many questions. For example, have we adjusted sufficiently to our important but diminishing role in the world? Can we afford to be, or indeed not to be, a global UK punching above our weight in defence matters? What is the state of our defence readiness?
Sir Richard Barrons, the former commander of Joint Forces Command, told the Commons Defence Committee on 14 November—the transcript of that debate is well worth reading—that currently we have,
“a Navy that is structurally underfunded, an Air Force that is holding together a bunch of very good equipment but is really at the edge of its engineering and support capacity, and an Army that is now broadly speaking 20 years out of date”.
For example, today’s Times reports that HMS “Diamond”, our Type 45 destroyer, is aborting its mission to the Gulf for engineering reasons, when its five sister ships are in Portsmouth for maintenance, shortage of staff and engine failure.
Have our people recognised the scale of the changes since the Second World War in our potential world role? Nostalgia and myths clearly played a role in the referendum debate. It is perhaps relevant that the Chancellor did not mention defence in yesterday’s Budget.
It is relevant also that the Government have just replaced a Defence Secretary who knew his job and was highly respected by the military with a man who has apparently shown little or no interest in defence and security matters and whose expertise lies in party management. The pressures on the Chancellor were shown in yesterday’s Budget, with the financial context, including the cost of equipment, worsened by the dollar/euro/sterling exchange rate post Brexit, and hard choices on whether to buy more cheaply off the shelf from the US or develop national capabilities.
As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, key questions include deciding how vital to our core interests amphibiosity is in general, the future of the Royal Marines and the potential loss of HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark” in a trade-off with the Navy. Technical developments, such as artificial intelligence, have changed the debate, and of course the nature of the debate is changing so rapidly that the 2015 SDSR already needs a review.
Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the current problems with a group of Welsh Guards. They all agreed that they were being asked to do too much with too little. Are our military being asked to do too much? They spoke of too many peripheral tasks, such as training others countries’ forces, and questioned whether our 20 current active overseas missions are justified.
Does our military have too little? That depends on the role that we assign to it. A key question is: should our military be expected to have excellent capabilities across the full spectrum? Where do we seek to link with our allies, particularly with France, after Lancaster House and St Malo? What about our EU and NATO alliances? NATO is challenged by Trump’s ambivalence on the Article 5 commitment and by Turkey’s pivot to Russia, as evidenced, for example, by its purchase from Russia of an air defence system which is non-NATO compatible. Our EU critics may question the added value but, in response to the US President and Brexit, on 13 November 23 of the 28 EU states began a process of permanent structured co-operation in the defence field, which could include the development of a new combat aircraft to replace Eurofighter and Rafale. Where does all this leave us? Should we just remain on the sidelines, or do we become more reliant on the US?
As a final reflection—this was said by my noble friend Lord McConnell—clearly hard power will not defeat terrorism. We need also to rely on our excellent soft-power facilities, but we also need to constantly evaluate the relevance of all our current commitments and not ask our military to do too much with too little.
My Lords, as we have heard, the UK has the fifth largest defence budget in the world and we meet our NATO 2% commitment, but we have heard in this debate, including from the noble Lord, Lord Soley—I thank him and congratulate him on initiating this debate—that perhaps that figure should be 3% of GDP.
When commenting in July this year on the role of the Armed Forces in responding to the spectrum of threats, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy highlighted its concern that the Armed Forces would,
“not be able to fulfil the wide-ranging tasks described in the … SDSR 2015 … with the capabilities, manpower and funding”.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee stated that,
“the Ministry of Defence’s … Equipment Plan is at greater risk of becoming unaffordable than at any time since … 2012”,
and that it is, quite frankly, optimistic. It also says that the devaluation in the pound caused by Brexit could increase the cost of procurement by £5 billion. Does the Minister agree with that? In fact, the defence editor of the Times thought that the funding shortfall would be £10 billion. A senior partner at PwC, Roland Sonnenberg, thinks that the figure is approaching £30 billion, driven by the cost of new defence expenditure. Does the Minister agree with that? Turning to our own Defence Minister, Tobias Ellwood said that the capability review was required because there had been changes to the international situation since SDSR 2015. He pointed out the growth in terrorism and extremism, state-based aggression and cyber—all points that have been brought up. Sadly, there have been five recent terrorist attacks in this country.
The strength of our Army, at 82,000, does not even fill Wembley stadium. The SDSR in 2010, headed by Liam Fox, was awful. It projected an Army of 95,000 by 2015 and 94,000 by 2020. Now we are at 82,000 with 30,000 reserves to be achieved by 2020. A former Armed Forces Minister, Mark Francois, said recently that:
“A combination of lower retention than expected and failure to achieve recruiting targets means this under manning is”,
worse than ever. He continued:
“The Royal Navy and the RAF are … running … 10% short of their … recruitment target, whilst … the Army … shortfall is … 30%”.
Will the Minister confirm that?
Will the Minister give us an update on the nine new Boeing Poseidon aircraft that are replacing the Nimrods that, awfully, were destroyed? We have had a decade without an aircraft carrier. Do we have the aircraft carrier force capabilities to support the aircraft carriers that the Minister has confirmed? Probably, what is required with all of these changes is a new SDSR. Does the Minister agree that we need one right now?
Then there is the role of NATO and the threat of Trump’s comments and now, on top of all that, the head of the Defence Police Federation has said that years of cutbacks risk leaving,
“many of the UK’s critical military assets and sites at unacceptable risk”.
Even the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that,
“we’ve reached, as a consequence of … cuts … a tipping point in our ability to keep Londoners safe”.
Of course, many noble Lords have mentioned General’s Richard Barrons’ claim that the Army is now,
“20 years out of date”.
“Defence is close to breaking … Unless we put more money in it, it will fall over”.
He also said:
“The armed forces are in a denial … They cannot hold this together”.
“They are effectively fielding holograms of capability in some cases”.
Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, has said that the UK would be unable to keep up its international commitments if forces were cut further.
Can the Minister confirm that HMS “Albion” and “Bulwark” will not be taken out of service and that the Royal Marines will not be cut by 1,000? Lieutenant-General Jerry Harris of the US Air Force said that he too was against a reduction in the size of the Royal Marines.
This is about defence capability, but it is also about credibility. We were a global power but, thanks to Brexit, the perception is that we no longer are. I host Indian civil servants in Parliament and they unanimously think that we should remain in the European Union. One went so far as to say that he felt sorry for us. We have an abundance of soft power, but it is useless without hard power. Barrons described the cut in the Marines as “madness”, which was echoed by Admiral Sir George Zambellas, who has just retired. He said that the Marines are the “Premier League fighting force”, made up of a small proportion of the total number of troops, but they contribute half our Special Forces. He said that the services have been underresourced for years and that the choice being offered to service chiefs amounted to whether to cut off a right arm or a left one.
My Lords, the issue before us all is that defence expenditure has to be increased. There can be no ifs or buts about that. For the next five years, the National Security Council will have to find an increase from 2% to 2.5% as the bare minimum. That body is looking at cyber, development, defence and foreign policy. It is the right body to give a remit to this new review that it will be funded to this extent. Without that, frankly, it will not be serious.
Europe has been freeloading on the United States, as far as NATO is concerned, for long enough. Britain, coming out of the EU, has to demonstrate to the Americans that we are committed to NATO’s defence. Without that, we will not maintain the support of the American people for their commitment to NATO. Everything that we see indicates that that is vital. Why?
President Putin has admitted that he considered putting Russian nuclear forces on full alert at the time of maximum tension over Crimea, which shows how unwise it is to assume that Russian nuclear strategies are anywhere near the same as ours in NATO. It is also true that President Putin has threatened to base nuclear forces in Crimea and that he has deployed missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in the Baltic Sea which neighbours Poland and Lithuania. I do not wish to exaggerate—Russian Federation military power is far less than that of the old USSR. The relevant concern we have is the growth in the belief among informed NATO military opinion that Russian conventional forces are now able to punch a hole in NATO’s conventional defences, particularly in the Baltic region. This is the rational case for increased NATO defence spending. Not to allow it is, in my view, to put NATO’s whole deterrent strategy at risk.
It is also vital that in this review we look at the role of the aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are huge and hugely expensive, so we have to find a way of making a contribution worldwide through a rapid reaction force committed not only to NATO but, more importantly, to the UN. It should operate worldwide from Oman, and be part of a global British strategy for the next decade that will be beneficial to us in achieving greater prosperity and a global profile. In that context, we must look at the amphibious forces. What is envisaged for the Royal Marines, and for the ships that are necessary, raises very serious questions. How many of us were pleased about the intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000? Without that amphibious capability, our capacity to intervene would have been negligible—in fact, the intervention would have been so dangerous that we could not have undertaken it.
There are big tasks ahead. We now have an integrated structure that looks at our overall international policy. If that means we have to take more from the overseas budget, I would, extremely reluctantly, accept it. There are ways of achieving it within the normal rules, provided that they are changed. For instance, the HMS “Ocean” mission to the British Virgin Islands during the emergency was not a defence expenditure and should be met out of the foreign aid budget. It is ridiculous to be told that OECD rules imply that we cannot use our foreign aid budget because this country was previously considered to be a medium-sized economy. A lot of those OECD rules are out of date and if they cannot be changed, we have to change them unilaterally. The foreign aid budget is potentially extremely important, but day after day we hear how it is grotesquely badly used. The British public will not go on accepting that. It may be that the House of Commons does not have the will power to change the present resolution, but we in this House have a responsibility to remind Commons Members of their responsibility to the defence of Europe and not to allow this burden to be borne only by the American people.
My Lords, I find myself very much in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has just said about funding, as I did with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in what I thought was an extremely impressive introduction to the debate. We are all in his debt not only for securing the debate but for the way in which he introduced it.
I have to take issue with my friend the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He is normally the most genial of men, but he was a bit mean-spirited when he talked of my successor as the Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire, Gavin Williamson. When I first entered the House of Commons in 1970, a wise older Member who had an MC, as did so many of them in those days because they had fought in the war, said to me, “Whatever you take an interest in, you must always take an interest in defence. Every self-respecting Member of Parliament must do that”. I believe that my successor, although he has had to be fairly quiet as first PPS to the Prime Minister and then the Chief Whip, has also imbued that lesson. He is a vigorous young man with an agile mind, and I believe that he can bring those qualities to the role. I also believe that the manner in which he was appointed ought to give him particular strength when he is arguing with his Cabinet colleagues, in particular with the Treasury. I wish him every possible success.
I wish to concentrate on only one point. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, touched on Russia, and I believe we must re-examine our relations with Russia. When I entered the House, the very first thing I did in a semi-official capacity was co-found, and be chairman of, the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. We have travelled a long way since. I rejoiced, as so many did, at the falling of the Iron Curtain and the ending of the Cold War, but at that time frequent visits to Moscow made me realise that people there felt that they had lost position in the world. Putin is not my ideal statesman, but nevertheless he has given his countrymen back their self-respect. I believe that we have been ill-advised publicly to criticise too much. Of course, I do not believe in the way that he annexed Crimea, although I believe that if the referendum had been under international observation, the result would have been very similar.
It is important to remember the words of that brave and sadly slaughtered MP, Jo Cox, when she said that,
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/15; col. 675.]
In this global context, in a world where terrorism is such an ever-present and unpredictable threat, there is more that unites us with that great European power, which suffered so much in two World Wars and therefore has an understandable hesitation when it is suggested that Ukraine should become a member of NATO et cetera. I urge the Government to back off the strident public criticism and try to get alongside a nation alongside which we must be, if we are to have a peaceful and stable world.
When I entered the House, the words of Dean Acheson were still echoing around:
“Great Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role”.
In a post-Brexit world, one of our roles can be to get alongside all the nations whose influence is necessary for world peace.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating the debate, especially as I have just had the honour of joining the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. As part of that, I have been invited to dinner this evening on HMS “Victory” in Portsmouth, to hear more about the Navy’s capacity. In preparation, I have been reading about Nelson. This quote struck me as very significant:
“Never break the neutrality of a port or place, but never consider as neutral any place from whence an attack is allowed to be made”.
How would Nelson think about our world now, when decisions about what constitutes neutrality are so much more complex?
The internet is the most complex of places. It would be absurd to talk about our defence resources without recognising the role of the internet in global peace. It is an enormous challenge. When it comes to resourcing and defending the UK, and maintaining our role in global peace, we must recognise that threats have changed forever. Our resourcing must reflect that. I believe that we in the UK do not yet understand the full power of the internet.
We must look at that issue through the lens of countries that, arguably, understand the internet’s power. I agree with the thesis of the academic John Naughton that those countries are Russia, China and, to a lesser degree, North Korea. Surprising choices—but consider their strategies.
Russia was quick to refine its military doctrine to incorporate information operations, which lays out a new theory of modern warfare—one that, according to Naughton, looks more like hacking an enemy’s society than attacking it head-on. As the news site, Politico, wrote:
“The approach is guerrilla, and waged on all fronts with a range of actors and tools … hackers, media, businessmen, leaks … fake news … conventional and asymmetric military means”.
I am sure I do not need to remind colleagues of the role that played in the US elections. I am equally sure that this is the tip of the iceberg. As has been admitted, we were caught off-guard.
China is clearly very different but as threatening. It is highly technocratic but has decided to have the internet without its liberal tendencies. As Naughton writes,
“China now has a very large and vibrant Internet, huge online industries and formidable technical and hacking capabilities. They have invented what the scholar Rebecca Mackinnon calls networked authoritarianism”.
I call it a parallel internet.
North Korean prowess in cyber operations is steadily mounting. In 2016, North Korean hackers stole nearly $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve. They were stopped only by a spelling mistake: a bogus misspelled “fandation”, rather than “foundation”. They still got away with over $80 million. Two years earlier, they led the devastating attack on Sony Pictures. Kim Jong-un’s regime understands how digital technology can overcome its industrial and economic weakness and turn it into a strength.
So, we have three regimes using the internet in different, but terrifying, ways—ways which I believe we are neither resourced nor, equally importantly, structured to fight. However, that is not my only concern. We will never make the right decisions about how to have a sufficient level of resources if politicians and policymakers fail to understand the internet and, worse than that, make it a kind of scapegoat.
As I have said here before, after the hideous attacks in the UK over the past year, politicians and commentators used inflammatory language that was knee-jerk and unhelpful, leading the public to believe that if the internet could be shut down, we would all be safe. As RUSI recently wrote,
“Scapegoating tech companies for online radicalisation is not only misguided – it detracts attention away from the crucial responsibility that society must bear in fighting the spread of violent extremism where it matters most: in the real world”.
As a director of Twitter, I declare an interest; I have seen first-hand how it wrestles with these issues. However, as RUSI argues,
“how would social media companies go about designing a tool that could automatically detect and block ‘extremist content’? What constitutes ‘evil material’? And who determines what these are? As Brian Lord, former deputy director for Intelligence and Cyber Operations at GCHQ, pointed out … content that is seen to be ‘free speech’ in one country might be seen as incitement to violence in another”.
Welcome initiatives, such as the National Cyber Security Centre, are building our cyber resilience, but they are a drop in the ocean and relatively insignificant. We do not have time to waste. This is one of the gravest moments in my lifetime. We need a dramatic rethink, not only about overall levels of funding, but, crucially, about how we structure ourselves to collaborate across disciplines and deploy diverse skills.
What boldness in long-term thinking can the Minister reassure us that the Government are working on? To end again with Nelson:
“Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat”.
Imagine: that was in 1800. Thank goodness the world has slowed down.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Soley for this pertinent and important debate and congratulate him on his excellent speech.
The record of this Government on discharging their responsibility for national defence is truly awful. In the 2010 Parliament, they cut a number of essential defence capabilities, including long-range maritime surveillance, as has already been mentioned. The worst thing they did was to cut the Army. As they knew perfectly well, that has a gearing effect; whereas for years we were able to successfully deploy 9,000 men and women in Afghanistan, now we can only deploy perhaps 3,000 on a permanent, long-term basis. That is a puny number for a country that considers itself a serious military player, important ally and permanent member of the UN Security Council.
On top of all that, we now face the prospect of getting rid of our amphibious capability—HMS “Albion” and “Bulwark”; not replacing HMS “Ocean”—and, quite extraordinarily and horrifyingly, 1,000 of our very brave and professional Royal Marines. I find that almost unbelievable; it is an absolutely crazy solution to the problems of the modern world. Our amphibious capability is essential to our ability to deploy in parts of the world where crises and threats arise in unexpected ways. We cannot predict them in advance; in most of the crises we have had to cope with, our interventions and operations were caused by events that were unpredictable only a few years, or even months, before.
So, that decision is quite extraordinary; it can have only three effects, as I see it. One is to greatly encourage our potential enemies, who want to take risks with world peace. If other countries follow our example, that will happen even more.
The second effect of that would be to discourage our allies—we already hear the sadness expressed by the Americans at prospective cuts. The third point, which has not really been made today, is that it will discourage recruits. We have always managed to recruit the best and the brightest into the British military—thank God we have; we have really depended on them and they never let us down—but the best and the brightest do not join organisations subject to constant cuts. How could you possibly want to start a career in any organisation where, every year or two, the Government will come back for more cuts? This is a very worrying situation. I do not think that the Government care about it at all. They say that they are under financial constraints. They are happy to spend money on hiring thousands of new civil servants. The other day, I saw that they were about to hire 2,500 new customs officers. That is nothing to do with the referendum, by the way—the referendum did not deal with whether we should stay in the EU customs zone; this is an entirely gratuitous obsession of the Government. They are perfectly happy to hire far more customs officers, yet they are ready to release and make redundant excellent marines. It is quite an extraordinary order of priorities and a frightening, perverse and bizarre set of values. It was enormously eloquent that defence was not mentioned even once in yesterday’s Budget presentation. What a sad situation we find ourselves in.
I want to ask two important questions. I hope that, this time, I get answers from the noble Earl, because I am not very successful at doing so when I ask him questions in debates. The answers will clarify a number of doubts that many people in this country have. First, is it correct that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to receive compensation from the Treasury for the impact on its expenditure of the devaluation of sterling, although the MoD will not? Secondly, a rumour is going around—by raising it, I think I am doing a good service to everybody because if it is not true it will be of great service to the individual concerned that it has been formally denied on the record— that, alone among Ministers with major spending responsibilities, the new Secretary of State for Defence did not ask the Chancellor for a private interview in the weeks leading up to the Budget yesterday? I hope that it is untrue, but it is important that we should dispose of this potentially damaging rumour by getting a clear answer to that question.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate and for his excellent speech in introducing it. The noble Lord speaks in the Labour tradition of the progressive and patriotic internationalism of Attlee and Bevan. So much that has been said from the Labour Benches this morning has been precisely in that tradition. That is a great comfort, because we need in this matter above all matters a bipartisan approach.
That tradition is not dead. It is worth referring to a speech given at Chatham House on 26 October by Chuka Umunna, “A Bolder Britain: Remaking a Major European Power”, which expresses it with great force. Towards the end of it, he said clearly:
“One of the priorities for a Labour Government must be a Strategic Defence and Security Review to give the electorate, our allies and our potential enemies a clear message of our intent and purpose. Our spending commitment should rise above NATO’s two per cent of GDP, lifting it incrementally to 2.5 per cent over a five year period. This will allow us to maintain our conventional forces at an adequate level”.
It is clear from so much that has been said today that we have a problem of morale in our Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that the best and brightest do not join institutions which are subject to constant cuts. We have probably all noticed with some pleasure the presence in the House of Commons of relatively young former Army officers on the Benches of both parties who are making major contributions to debates such as these. I am as impressed by them as many others. I am also slightly worried. Do we have quite so many of them because they are no longer so conscious of the desirability of a long-term career in the armed services?
I have made it clear that I am in favour of raising the level of our current defence expenditure, for reasons that have been so eloquently stated today. I want now to refer to some of the difficulties, because I know they exist.
First, there is inevitably wastage in defence expenditure. There is no silver bullet about this; there will always be some wastage, because nobody can precisely guess what our future priorities might be—I acknowledge that. However, there is public concern, and the battle has to be won here, about revolving-door issues through the Ministry of Defence and the defence companies and about expenditure which sometimes seems very large and which our Armed Forces do not seem to have benefited very much from. Attlee first raised such concerns in 1925, and they will not be sorted out in any short order—and I am not expecting the Minister now to do so. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, when she took office, made a number of speeches acknowledging her awareness of public concern about these issues. If we are going to win the battle, we will have to deal with it.
The matter is made extremely difficult now because of Brexit, because it places the Government in a situation where they have to bring people into government very quickly to solve technical problems. It is very difficult for government to deal with such issues. In the short term, there is no silver bullet, but in the medium term the Government should send out a signal that they acknowledge public concern about this issue—so much is written in the press about it. I am certain that practice can be improved. There is a battle to be won here. Part of the battle to ensure that we have a proper level of defence expenditure will be to reassure public opinion.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Soley not only for having introduced this debate but for having spoken so outstandingly well. It is a good time for us all to put on record our eternal tribute to the men and women who make up our services, both uniformed and civilian. It is a good time also to think about the living evidence of warfare in those who are maimed and incapacitated for life. It is a good moment, moreover, to think about the vital importance of avoiding overstretch, which in my view is criminal policy, because it puts people into positions in which they cannot be properly resourced, either in personnel or in equipment.
Three issues have to be covered in any serious defence review. One is the threat. We must keep asking what threat we are setting ourselves up to deal with. In doing that, we have to look at what ideally we need to meet that threat and then look at what we have inherited, and we have to see what compromises are possible. In that process, there must be no sacred cows. If we decide that a nuclear deterrent is still vital—I am one of those who believes that—we then, honestly and searchingly, have to ask whether the way in which we are organised for that nuclear deterrent is the best way.
The second question is: what about our global responsibilities? I do not think that any Member of this House would suggest that we give up our seat on the UN Security Council, but if we are members of the UN Security Council, what are the responsibilities that flow from it and how should we meet them?
Thirdly, what will be possible when we take into account the indispensable need to have a strong economy and a strong, prosperous nation—a nation which is well cared for and in which alienation is unlikely? One of the biggest dangers we face is alienation in our own society and people preying on it. We have a very good example in the cuts to community policing, which strike at the whole stability and security of our society. It is crucial that we have police who are close to the community, part of the community and able to watch what is happening very closely. In that context, we have to take those issues into account in determining the size of our defence budget.
I am confident that in any future we have to concentrate on flexibility. Here I join those who deplore any thought of cutting the Royal Marines. The Royal Marines is exactly the kind of organisation we need in the unstable, insecure world in which we live: marines can be rapidly deployed to contain situations. There must be an emphasis on integration in the services, because the services are totally interdependent in anything we do these days, and we need to make sure that we are strengthening the organisation of that interdependency.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry said something tremendously important: of course, we must talk about post-conflict situations but we must also talk about conflict resolution, pre-emptive diplomacy and all the things that are necessary to deal with situations before they get out of control and become disastrous. It is a complex task and I wish all those involved well.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for this debate and for his speech. Being this far down the speakers list, I make no apology for a certain repetition of what has been said: I agree with just about everything that every speaker has said.
As we have heard, the defence budget is not in a good place and soothing words from the Government that all is in order run counter to every single other commentator on defence—academics, journalists, experienced ex-servicepeople and so forth. The extra money that is being promised is having to be found from efficiency savings, and since this has been the case for some years, proper efficiencies can no longer be identified; therefore, savings measures are being run that are not efficiencies at all but capability cuts. Meanwhile, cuts in running costs, especially in the supply chain, are already hollowing out the services, where, additionally, the manpower situation is dire, a casualty of inept decisions in SDSR 2010 that remained largely uncorrected in SDSR 2015. In the case of the Royal Navy, for example, ships are constrained from going to sea because they cannot be properly manned.
As for the subject of today’s debate, the UK, as a member of P5, G8 and so on, has a significant responsibility to step up to the plate and assume some obligation for world order by contributing to global peace, stability and security. Indeed, when the Prime Minister met HMS “Queen Elizabeth” on her first arrival into Portsmouth in August this year, she said,
“as Britain forges a new, positive, confident role for ourselves on the world stage in the years ahead, we are determined to remain a fully engaged global power ... Britain has an enduring responsibility to help sustain the international rules-based order and to defend the liberal values which underpin it”.
Noble Lords may say, “Well spoken”, and, indeed, this should be deliverable, most likely through maritime, since the problems of getting overflying, basing rights and so on can be avoided by operating from the high seas. The three key maritime pillars to enable this are theoretically in place: continuous at-sea deterrence, carrier strike and amphibiosity, all supported by a force of destroyers, frigates, nuclear attack submarines and suitable fleet support ships. Continuous at-sea deterrence seems assured, with steel having been cut for our new class of SSBNs, the Dreadnought class, although it seems irresponsible to put the costs of this political capability into the defence budget, where those costs of build are gravely distorting the conventional programme. The 2007 defence White Paper on this subject sensibly made it clear that this should not happen and the Government should reconsider this. I would be grateful if the Minister would say something about it.
On the second pillar, carrier capability is rolling but threatened, in particular, by undermanning and an insufficient number of F-35B aircraft. The other key capability, amphibiosity, by which theatre entry can be achieved from the sea at a time and place of our choosing, is under threat. The Minister will no doubt say that this is speculation and no decisions have been taken; but is he prepared to deny that cutting the Royal Marines by 1,000 and disposing of HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark” are not being contemplated? Were this to happen, we would lose a crucial global capability and an important leg on our stool of pillars for defence.
The supporting force of destroyers and frigates for these three pillars is also in a fragile state. That fragility and lack of resilience could not be better demonstrated than by today’s news of the withdrawal of HMS “Diamond” from the Gulf with a mechanical problem and the fact that she cannot be replaced. The numbers of our destroyers and frigates are too low in any case. We should be concerned, additionally, that the ageing Type 23 frigates will not be able to hang on long enough to be relieved by the new Type 26 and Type 31 ships. Will the Minister assure the House that we will not at any time drop below a force of 19 destroyers and frigates? Does he agree that this number is too low in any case to meet a proper global deployment capability? I recognise that the new ships will be more capable, but they cannot be in two places at one time.
The land and air environments are equally assailed. The fact is that the defence budget is not fit for the purpose of delivering our global aspirations. As has been said, it must be increased. It is not sufficient, for example, for the Minister to vaunt that we spend more on defence than our European allies: they do not flaunt a global role.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, posed the underlying question for this debate: are we prepared to pay more to maintain our status and influence in global security, or do we have to reduce our ambition? The related question, which has come up in several speeches, is: will Brexit further reduce our diplomatic and global status or our importance both to the United States and to our European partners, or will it somehow enable us to regain our sovereign status as “global Britain”? There is a third, unspoken question: if we are to spend more on defence, what other public services are we going to cut or which taxes are we going to raise? Juggling with the aid budget, as several have suggested, might assist at the margin with the humanitarian role of defence, but it will not raise spending to 3% of GDP. Of course, the Brexit shock is likely to squeeze tax revenues and has already raised the cost of overseas procurement from the United States and elsewhere.
There are dangers of nostalgia about our global status and illusions about our global standing and influence. The image of a global Britain, re-established by freeing ourselves from the chains of EU membership, has formed a frequent theme in our wonderful Foreign Secretary’s speeches, in which he announces that we are back east of Suez, that Diego Garcia is now a major British base and that we intend to send an aircraft carrier task force through the Malacca straits. He has not mentioned whether we have to have the aircraft on it first. The reality of the 2010 defence cuts was that, as the United States recognised, we had reduced ourselves below the level at which the United States regarded us as a fully capable partner. We did that and are now in a situation where our relationship with the United States is much less clear than it was before. We lost our overall capability and found ourselves dependent on the French and others for maritime surveillance among other things. The focus, over a long period, on high-end, prestige capabilities—the independent deterrent force and the large carriers—has meant that we lack the supporting ships, forces and helicopters that we also need.
I asked the Minister not long ago where we would find the frigates to complete the task forces for aircraft carriers. His reply was, “They don’t necessarily have to be British frigates”. That is a very interesting reply, because it raises the whole question of how far we are trying to have an independent capability, or how far our future posture depends on close collaboration with others, and if so, with whom. There has been a suppressed history over the past 40 years of co-operation with our European partners. The UK-Dutch amphibious force has been there for 40 years, rarely celebrated in Britain—rarely reported in Britain. In 1999 the then Labour Government signed a UK-French defence agreement. A stronger one was signed—by Liam Fox, of all people—in 2010. He thereupon did his utmost to prevent press interest in the whole dimension of UK-French collaboration. I am told that he told the civil servant responsible that he was glad to meet him but he did not want to know too much about what he was doing.
That is part of the illusion between Britain standing alone and the realities of where we are. Fear of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph is such that Liam Fox also resisted taking a press team to see what I thought was the rather splendid Operation Atalanta joint command centre at Northwood, which had almost every single member of the European Union engaged in a joint operation. Even in the commemoration of World War I we run into problems about recognising how much we did things together with others. I am told that the commemoration of Third Ypres/Passchendaele downgraded the input of the French and Belgian troops in the battle. After an effort, there is to be a small but “modest” commemoration next year of the point at which British troops came under French overall command in April 1918. I think “modest” means, “We hope the TV won’t notice it”.
That feeds the whole idea that we are somehow an independent power on our own and we can do it all even though we do not spend enough money. The position paper published two or three months ago on foreign policy and defence co-operation with the EU after Brexit was remarkable. It was the most positive government statement I have ever seen of the importance of European foreign policy and defence co-operation to Britain’s national interest. I assume it was written by officials and Ministers did not actually look at it in sufficient detail before it was published, to cut some of that out.
More recently, the Government have welcomed the European Union’s proposals on closer defence co-operation and expressed hopes that the United Kingdom will be closely associated with it—for obvious reasons. There is logistical co-operation that saves money. There is joint procurement, which is of active interest to our arms industry. There are joint forces and joint exercises, and operations in the Mediterranean and Africa, which are dealing with the sorts of humanitarian crises, conflict prevention and conflict resolution that others have spoken about in the debate.
Can the Minister tell us more about how the Government propose to maintain co-operation in defence with our European partners as we leave the European Union? We have not heard anything in detail from the Government on this. Does he recognise that the Government are working against the onslaught from the right-wing media? I saw a one-and-a-half-page article in the Daily Mail yesterday warning about what was happening. Apparently there is a populist surge on the European continent—not here, of course—and Britain should disengage from the European continent as far as possible.
Brexit is reducing our global status and influence. Our prospects for economic growth have just been downgraded. Our public services continue to be cut and our public infrastructure is desperately short of investment. I, for one, cannot go out and persuade people in West Yorkshire, who are facing real cuts in education and further cuts in public services—local services, child support services, social services and social care—to accept further cuts in order to increase our defence spending and prop up our global status. My answer to the challenge posed by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is that we must modify our posture and ambitions. We have to admit that we cannot claim global status for Britain on its own, whatever fantasies Liam Fox or Boris Johnson may still be pursuing. Our contribution to global peace, stability and security must be a shared one, in which our defence forces work closely with those of our allies and neighbours.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Soley for procuring this debate. It seems to me that the essence of the debate is the question: are the Government maintaining United Kingdom defence forces at a sufficient level to contribute to global peace, stability and security? I put it to your Lordships that at least 12 of the noble Lords who have spoken so far have answered that question with a no, but obviously the Government will try to persuade us that the answer should be yes.
I have investigated what the essence of that claim will come from, and I assume it will come from Command Paper 9161, the racily titled National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, which was published two years ago. Delving among its pages, its reference to defence is to be found on page 29 under the heading “Joint Force 2025”. It says:
“We will ensure that the Armed Forces are able to tackle a wider range of more sophisticated potential adversaries. They will project power, be able to deploy more quickly and for longer periods, and make best use of new technology. We will maintain our military advantage and extend it into new areas, including cyber and space. We will develop a new Joint Force 2025 to do this, building on Future Force 2020”.
The Government committed at the time to produce an annual review of that paper. The first annual review came out in December 2016 and essentially reiterated that Joint Force 2025 would be the answer to its commitment. En passant, I ask the Minister whether there is going to be a second annual review, because if there is, it should be presented next month, in December.
If Joint Force 2025 is the answer to the question, let us look into it. Essentially, defence is made up of equipment and people; 40%-plus of the expenditure is on equipment. The equipment for Joint Force 2025 is covered by the Defence Equipment Plan 2016, published in January 2017. The Government were bullish about this plan. Harriett Baldwin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, said in the introduction:
“This built robust foundations for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review which now sets the vision and future structure for our Armed Forces, taking us from Future Force 2020 and on to Joint Force 2025”.
I do not find this credible. The plan is a 10-year £178 billion programme that assumes £14 billion—by my calculations, because the numbers are all over the place—of unidentified savings. All history says that that will not happen.
I am not alone in my pessimism. The National Audit Office simultaneously produced a report on the plan, published, once again, in January this year. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office—a moderate person—said on the publication of the plan:
“The affordability of the Equipment Plan is at greater risk than at any time since its inception. It is worrying to see that the costs of the new commitments arising from the Review considerably exceed the net increase in funding for the Plan. The difference is to be found partly by demanding efficiency targets. There is little room for unplanned cost growth and the MoD must actively guard against the risk of a return to previous practice where affordability could only be maintained by delaying or reducing the scope of projects”.
The Joint Force 2025 equipment plan is simply not credible.
Let us now turn to the other side of any force: the people side. The people plan for the future, according to the Library Note, has a 2020 target for the military to have a full-time trained strength of 144,200. The latest figure is 137,720—4.5% down on that 2020 target. One might feel that margin could be built up over the period, but history says that over the last two years our net full-time trained strength has gone down by 3,670 individuals.
Further, according to the UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey,
“Satisfaction with Service life in general has decreased since 2009, especially for Other Ranks”.
The figures are frightening. In 2009, the satisfaction level recorded in that publication was 61%; it is now 42%, which is a reduction by almost a third. Elsewhere in that report, it says:
“The proportion of personnel who perceive Service morale as being low has increased since 2016”—
one year before—
“driven by the Army (up 12 percentage points)”—
up meaning worse—
“and changes in the Royal Marines (up 15 percentage points)”.
I contend that despite the Government’s statements, Joint Force 2025 is failing. There is not enough money to fund the equipment programmes; there are not enough trained military personnel to populate it; sadly and worst of all, the morale of the personnel is declining.
However, I wonder whether the Government agree with me, for on 20 July 2017 the Cabinet Office—not the Ministry of Defence—produced a statement which said:
“The government has initiated work on a review of national security capabilities, in support of the ongoing implementation of the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review … The work will be led by Mark Sedwill, the National Security Adviser, with individual strands taken forward by cross-departmental teams, and will be carried out alongside continued implementation and monitoring of the 89 principal commitments”,
in those plans. What does this mean, and how is it to be done? Is it just code for more Treasury-forced defence cuts? Will foreign policy be taken into account? As my noble friend Lord Soley said, in the final analysis defence is the kinetic element of foreign policy, so when will the report be published and how will Parliament be involved?
Labour’s position on defence is straightforward. We said in our manifesto:
“As previous incoming governments have done, a Labour government will order a complete strategic defence and security review when it comes into office, to assess the emerging threats facing Britain, including hybrid and cyber warfare”.
Elsewhere in our manifesto, we committed to the 2% and to ensuring that we,
“have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of obligations”.
We also committed to the nuclear deterrent. Sadly for the nation, and particularly for the wonderful people work who work in defence, defence is in a mess. We look forward to the challenge of putting it right.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on securing this important debate and by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken for their thoughtful and informed contributions. The wording of the noble Lord’s Motion reminds us of our nation’s proud history as a global force for good, and I agree fully with what he said about the role of the Armed Forces in that context. For the UK, it has long been a matter of principle that we should play a leading role in upholding global peace, stability and security. In many respects, in preparing to leave the European Union we prepare for a moment of great change for our country, but not in this regard. The Government are committed to an ordered, open and fair world, and to having Armed Forces that can contribute fully to maintaining that reality.
I agree with the overall approach of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, to the Motion he has tabled. At a time when the global security context is becoming increasingly challenging, it is right that we should reflect on our place in the world. State-on-state competition and regional instability are on the rise. The coalition is close to defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria but this will not bring an end to the larger conflict. Meanwhile, Libya and Yemen continue to be gripped by unrest, while Lebanon is fighting to avoid political crisis. We have all witnessed the growing tensions in that region, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the Asia-Pacific region, North Korea’s tests of nuclear and ballistic missiles cannot be tolerated. Kim Jong-un risks destabilising the entire region and undermining the UN’s nuclear non-proliferation treaty. This grave situation is not helped by high tensions in the South China Sea, where the threat of militarisation looms.
Closer to home, violence and discord have flared on NATO’s eastern flank. I listened with respect and care, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Cormack but in Crimea and in the Donbass, Russia has employed deceit, pretence and brute force to violate Ukrainian sovereignty. In Syria, Russia is propping up a regime that holds no qualms about the use of chemical weapons, including on civilians. In the North Atlantic, it is probing NATO’s resolve through increased maritime activity and of course, whether through hacking high-profile targets or polluting national conversation, Russia has sought to influence and disrupt democratic processes across the NATO membership. Of course, dialogue with Russia is desirable but we can judge Russia only by its actions, and many of those actions are unacceptable.
Russia is not alone in using cyberactivity to target UK interests. There has been a steep rise in cyberactivity by both state and non-state actors. In its first year, the National Cyber Security Centre has responded to almost 600 serious incidents. We all recall the WannaCry ransomware in May and the hack on Parliament in June. In addition to these high-profile cases, hundreds more have targeted British businesses and private citizens, threatening our prosperity and our peace of mind.
Finally, we have recently seen a dramatic rise in terrorist activity. In the Euro-Atlantic region alone this year, there have been incidents in the United States, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and of course on five occasions in the UK. Throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, violent Islamic extremism has blighted the lives of countless innocent civilians.
This daunting list makes clear the extent to which global peace, security and stability are under threat. The Government’s 2015 strategic defence and security review anticipated these challenges and we set out an ambitious plan for defence in response. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that we are committed to publishing the annual reviews on the SDSR. But we underestimated the pace at which the challenges would accelerate, and their cumulative impact on us and our allies. In the light of this, the only responsible action is to review our plans to make sure that we are as efficient and effective as possible in securing our homeland, and in strengthening the institutions that safeguard global security.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, was again right that the UK has a unique role to play on the world stage in matters of defence and security. We must consider how best to play that role in this more troubled strategic context. The Ministry of Defence aims to use the current review of national security capabilities to address that question. I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that this is a cross-government review and we expect Ministers to consider its outcome towards the end of the year. It will then be for the Cabinet Office to determine the next steps.
Your Lordships, in particular my noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, will appreciate that there is little I can say at present about potential outcomes of the review. Evidence is still being considered, analysis conducted and options developed. Absolutely no decisions have been reached. Indeed, recent media reporting on potential NSCR options, whether HMS “Bulwark” and HMS “Albion” or anything else, has been highly misleading, speculative and deeply unhelpful to the men and women of the Armed Forces. However, I can tell the House about some of the principles guiding the department’s work on this review. First and foremost—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Soley, will welcome this—we must understand how to spend our growing budget more intelligently to emphasise those capabilities that are most effective at keeping us safe, most valued by our allies and most feared by our foes.
As ever, that begins with the foundation of our collective security: NATO. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord West, said on that theme, and with the experienced observations of the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Today, in the face of the growing threats that I have described, we must reinforce the alliance once more. We aim to modernise and strengthen our Armed Forces, as well as NATO. For the UK, that means identifying and bolstering what is unique about our contribution to the alliance. For NATO as a whole, that means ensuring that together we possess the right combination of conventional and innovative capabilities to deter and defeat our adversaries. This includes refining our ability to combine all the levers of national power—military, economic, diplomatic—in the service of our security.
Beyond NATO, the UK must continue to use its status as a global power for good. I listened with care and respect to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. To safeguard and strengthen the Euro-Atlantic alliance, UK defence must also be able to strengthen international security more broadly. Our leading role in the UN is vital in this regard. This year, we have increased our commitment to UN peacekeeping operations, notably the almost 400 troops we are contributing to the UN mission in South Sudan, which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. In fact, South Sudan is a classic example of the UK supporting peace and stability in fragile areas of the world. Equally important is our network of alliances and partnerships throughout the world. That is why we are also using the review to consider how we can do more to make our Armed Forces even more complementary to, and interoperable with, those of our allies and partners across the world. By doing so we stand to deepen our collective defence.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who put this conversation into the European context, we are a global player. We will remain engaged in the world and central to European foreign and security policy after we leave the EU. This is very much the desire of Ministers. As we have repeatedly made clear, we are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. We are committed to playing a leading role on Euro-Atlantic security. Our defence budget is the largest in NATO after the US and we are one of two European nuclear weapons states. Opportunities to engage are continuous, so it is not possible for me to capture the full range of what those extensive engagements might look like, but we have seen several examples in recent years.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, said that we should be spending 3% of GDP, not 2%, on defence. That call was repeated by my noble friend Lord Sterling, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and other noble Lords. Of course we could do more if we had more money, and 2% is a minimum, not a target. We are in fact spending more than 2% at the moment and the defence budget is rising every year of this Parliament, but we have to balance the demand for funding across the whole of government. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was right to say that the real issue is not inputs but capabilities, including, as he pointed out, resilience. I encourage the House to think in terms of what defence is able to do around the world, and not about size alone. The Government are committed to ensuring that Britain’s Armed Forces can continue to make their crucial contribution to Britain’s status as a global power.
The noble Lord, Lord Hutton of Furness, expressed scepticism about the rationale for the NSCR. The national security capability review is being conducted in support of the implementation of SDSR 15. Its aims are clear—to ensure that our investment in national security capabilities is as effective, efficient and joined up as possible. It is a strategic exercise as well as, of course, a financial one, as all such reviews should be.
However, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, was completely wrong in what he said about the efficiency programme. The department is more than a year into its five-year efficiency programme, and it is already forecasting line of sight to 90% of our challenging £7.4 billion formal target, as set out by Her Majesty’s Treasury. As this is an efficiency programme, it is about savings that need to be made without adversely affecting defence outputs. We are achieving this by, for example, saving more than £2 billion in the way we procure equipment and £600 million by implementing the single-source contract regulations and equipment support contracts, and by how we procure complex weapons and a reduction in the size of our civilian workforce. A mass of work streams is contributing to that effort.
The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the hollowing out, as he put it, of the Armed Forces. I cannot agree with those comments, any more than I can with similar comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lee. It is an overplayed mantra. The Armed Forces are meeting all their commitments across the world within all the bilateral and multilateral relationships that the noble Lord, Lord West, named. The Government will ensure that they continue to do so. Of course recruitment is challenging across the piece. The Armed Forces are fully funded to recruit the current liability and the force structures set out in SDSR 15. They are currently recruiting through active and targeted campaigns and are increasing engagement and activity in those communities from which the Armed Forces have historically not recruited.
Is it not true, however, that there was a reduction of 4,000 in the recruitment ceiling in the Royal Navy as part of SDSR 2010 and the Navy has been allowed only 400 back? Therefore it cannot recruit to a higher level to try to fill the spaces that are missing. This is part of the reason that it has ships alongside because it cannot man them and part of the reason for the pressure to look at other ways of manning. That is the reason that this has happened. It is because there is insufficient money to set a ceiling that makes sense tying in with the equipment that the Navy has to man.
Opinions can differ about what that ceiling should be. All I can tell the noble Lord, Lord West, is that the Navy tells us that it is working towards a target that it believes is credible and workable.
Turning to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, between October 2016 and September 2017 we have seen a positive degree of progress in recruitment and retention, especially in outflow. Outflow has improved with fewer people leaving the full-time Armed Forces over that period compared to previous years. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are progressing. The noble Earl also questioned whether we would have enough personnel to man the aircraft carriers. There is no direct relationship between the size of a vessel and the manpower required to operate it. Technology has allowed manpower efficiencies over time. I can assure the noble Earl that the carriers will be appropriately manned to ensure that they can always operate effectively and safely. We are confident that with the uplift in numbers that has been announced and through an ongoing process of internal reprioritisation, the Navy will have sufficient manpower to crew both aircraft carriers and the Dreadnought submarines.
The noble Earl also mentioned pay. We welcome the Treasury’s decision to allow greater flexibility for public sector pay, and we acknowledge that the Armed Forces are among the most extraordinarily talented and hard-working people in our society. We are committed to ensuring that the overall package that they and other public sector workers receive reflects the value that we place on their work. Armed Forces pay rates are recommended by the independent Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body and the Senior Salaries Review Body for the most senior officers. The Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body reported earlier this year that it believes that the 1% increase in base pay recommended for 2017 would broadly maintain pay comparability with the civilian sector. We look forward to their recommendations for 2018-19.
The noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Bew, referred to morale in the Armed Forces. We recognise that satisfaction with Armed Forces pay has declined since the introduction of pay restraint, although traditionally pay has not been cited as an important factor in influencing decisions either to join or to stay. The remuneration package for service personnel, which includes a good pension, subsidised accommodation and a range of allowances on top of the basic salary, remains, I believe, very competitive.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, expressed his fear that the UK risks becoming militarily irrelevant and referred to the recent comments of General Hodges from the United States. The UK has been a world leader in matters of defence and security for centuries. We will ensure that we retain our long-held military edge by strengthening and modernising our Armed Forces to meet the harder threats that we face today. He also asked about our commitment to the Army. I reassure him that the Strategic Defence and Security Review set out our plans for investment in new Army capability and a modernised war-fighting division, which will enable our Armed Forces to respond to a wider range of more sophisticated potential adversaries and complex real-world challenges. In answer to both the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, Joint Force 2025 is being designed to sustain a higher level of concurrency of smaller-scale operations which better reflects the real-world demands in place today. However, at the same time we want to develop the ability to deploy at large scales where this is required. The plan is to be able to deploy at appropriate readiness a force of around 50,000, which includes up to 40,000 from the Army. The restructuring of the Army will offer more choice for policymakers in that context.
I will touch on equipment and procurement. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred to the carriers. The carrier-enabled power projection programme will allow the UK to project military power from a floating corner of Britain anywhere in the world for the next 50 years. Aircraft and amphibious forces will be able to launch from the carrier, and represent tremendous value for money given the unprecedented level of flexibility they will offer to the Royal Navy. Are we confident, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, asked, that we can protect the carriers? Yes, we are confident that our new carriers are well protected thanks to the defensive systems we have invested in as part of our equipment plan. I can say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, that, yes, nothing has changed as regards our commitment in the SDSR to a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers.
I will write on specific procurement questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, about maritime patrol aircraft, and by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, on offshore patrol vessels. My noble friend Lord Sterling pertinently referred to a very important topic, innovation. That is why, in 2016, the Ministry of Defence launched the defence innovation initiative to develop a culture that is innovative by instinct. Innovation is a big challenge for defence. My noble friend mentioned the risk of complacency, and he is absolutely right. We aim to establish a mindset across the department that incentivises our people to think and act more innovatively, and I would be glad to talk to him further about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, referred to an extremely important part of our armoury, which is the internet and cyber. I assure her that the Government recognise the importance of the internet as a domain of competition and conflict. The MoD and the National Cyber Security Centre are committed to working closely together and exploiting each other’s expertise and assets. There is more on that topic that I can usefully tell her.
I will write to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry about the MoD’s contribution to post-war aftercare, but the key point of that post-war aftercare is overseas aid. Again, I can comment on that topic in a letter, as I will on the CSSF, a topic touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.
I am afraid I have received a message to say that I am over time already. I will just ask noble Lords to be patient as the NSCR progresses. We have taken no decisions on this, and any suggestions to the contrary are mistaken. I look forward to further discussion in this House once the review has reached its conclusion.
The noble Lord has just taken the words out of my mouth. I thank all noble Lords for their thoughtful and constructive comments. As usual, the noble Earl has made a thoughtful and encouraging response. But—and this is an important but—there is an acute danger that he and the Government are underestimating the concern that has been expressed for months now by very senior military officers, by various groups such as RUSI, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and others, and by many people among our overseas allies. That concern is real. If we duck it or ignore it, we will not do ourselves any favours.
Secondly, I simply make this point. I do not expect the defence review to give all the answers, certainly not to the questions that I raised in my opening speech, but I hope that it is a step on the road which we need to look at intensely carefully over the next year or two. We are in a bad place right now and we need to get into a better place.
Finally, I was pleased to hear the involvement of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, because I would like to have talked more, as I did only a little, about the new technology. The reason Russia, China and North Korea—the three nations she identified—are using these technologies is precisely because they are still militarily weak in the face of the West. That will not last for ever. Russia still has a weak economy, but countries in that state use other technologies, which is what it is doing. It will not be just Russia, it will also be Iran fairly soon.
My Lords, by leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in the House of Commons regarding universal credit.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, following the announcement made by the Chancellor in his Budget speech yesterday, I would like to make a Statement on universal credit.
Universal credit is the biggest modernisation of the welfare system in a generation. It supports those who can work and cares for those who cannot. Under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. Once fully rolled out, universal credit will boost employment by around 250,000—equivalent to around 400 extra jobs for every constituency. Universal credit was introduced to replace the complex and failed benefit system of the previous Government, which created cliff edges discouraging people from working more than 16 hours a week and trapping 1.5 million people on out-of-work benefits for nearly a decade. Colleagues from across the House have all voiced their support for the principles underpinning universal credit. It is a modern welfare system which, through one simple monthly payment, ensures that work always pays, mirrors the world of work and supports people to earn their way out of financial insecurity and welfare dependency.
As we introduce universal credit, we are constantly improving how the system works. We recently introduced changes to ensure that everyone who needs them has access to advance payments and we are making our telephone lines freephone numbers. I have consistently made clear that we would continue to introduce universal credit gradually. Of the total number of households that will eventually move on to universal credit, 9% are currently receiving it, and this will increase to 12% by February. This enables us to make improvements over time.
Colleagues have had concerns about the waiting time for the first payment. I am grateful to my parliamentary colleagues for their constructive engagement on this issue. There have been several debates here and in the other place. This Statement responds to these and fulfils the commitment made on behalf of the Government in relation to the resolution of the House on 18 October 2017. We are now offering a balanced package of improvements that puts more money into claimants’ hands earlier, ensuring extra support for those who most need it. Next month, new guidance will be issued to staff to ensure that claimants in the private rented sector who have their housing benefit paid directly to landlords are offered this option when they join universal credit.
In January, we are making two changes to advances. First, the period of time over which an advance is recovered will increase from six months to 12, making it easier for claimants to manage their finances. This will apply regardless of the level of advance claimed. Secondly, we are increasing the amount of support that a claimant can receive from up to 50% of their estimated entitlement to up to 100%, interest-free. In practice, this means that new claimants in December can already receive an advance of up to 50% of their overall entitlement, and may receive a second advance to take it up to 100% in the new year. Taken with the first payment, this means that claimants in need could receive nearly double the money they would usually get. In addition, from spring next year, we will be making it possible to apply for an advance online, further increasing accessibility for those who need it.
From February we are removing the seven-day waiting period, reducing the length of time claimants might wait to receive their first full payment. From April, for new claimants already receiving support towards their housing costs we are providing an additional payment of two weeks of their housing benefit to support them as they transition on to universal credit, helping to address the issue of rent arrears for those who most need it. This is a well-targeted measure that will support 2.3 million people, including the most vulnerable, with an unrecoverable, automatic payment worth an average of £233 each. This is a one-off investment of £550 million to ensure that universal credit supports those who need it. In April, as a short-term measure, we will change how claimants in temporary accommodation receive support for their housing costs to ensure that local authorities can recover more of their costs and can therefore continue to offer this valuable support to those who need it most. We will also consider longer-term solutions to this issue.
The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their finances. However, personal budgeting support and digital skills training is provided to claimants through universal support, delivered through local authorities. Building on this, we are exploring with Citizen’s Advice the scope for greater collaborative working to help claimants locally as they move to universal credit.
We must remember that universal credit is aimed at supporting those out of work to move into work and, once they are in work, to progress and increase their earnings. That is why, in addition to these measures, the Government have allocated £8 million over four years to conduct a number of tests and trials to support development of the evidence about what works to help people to progress in work. This is a comprehensive and wide-ranging package worth £1.5 billion, offering significantly more support than a simple reduction of the wait for the first payment to one month. To deliver the package, we have carefully revised the UC rollout plan to ensure that we continue to safely and gradually roll out this important welfare reform. I will place the updated rollout plan in the House of Commons Library. This does not change the final point at which the rollout of universal credit will be completed.
To help to ensure a smooth transition to full service, we have also decided to close new claims to our prototype universal credit live service. This will not affect any existing claims. In addition, currently any new UC claim from a family with three or more children will be routed back to tax credits until November 2018. With the extension to the rollout plan, that will now shift to the end of January 2019.
This is a comprehensive package that responds to concerns raised inside and outside the House. We have a clear objective: to ensure that as many people as possible get the opportunity to work and to maximise their potential to better their circumstances. We will continue to roll out universal credit in a steady and considered manner and, in doing so, deliver a welfare reform that will positively transform lives. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for advance sight of it. We welcome the concessions, modest though they are. However, we also need to recognise the limitations of what is on offer compared to the scale of the problem, an issue to which I shall return in a moment. The decision to remove the waiting days is particularly welcome. That period was increased to seven days by the Government as a cost-saving measure and it has significantly added to the pressure on universal credit claimants. So that is good news, although it is disappointing that that will not start until next February.
It is good that people who are in receipt of housing benefit when they begin to claim universal credit will have their housing benefit payments run on for two weeks. However, I have a number of questions about that. There is quite a lot of ambiguity in the documentation—one hopes it is not studied ambiguity, but certainly it is not clear quite what a lot of these things will mean. First, can the Minister confirm that that payment will be available to anyone moving on to universal credit, not just those who are going to get moved on en masse by the DWP in what it calls the managed migration programme? I am sure the answer is yes. If it is not, that would of course mean that if you happened to live in a universal credit area and something changed in your life—you had a baby, you started a new job, you got married or divorced—you would be forced on to universal credit, and you would need that money every bit as much as someone who was moved on in a year’s time. So will the Minister clarify that?
Secondly, if it is available to those who are “migrating naturally”—as the jargon has it—as opposed to in a group, what will someone get in housing benefit? Is it two weeks of whatever they happen to be getting? For example, if I were in low-paid work and getting a little bit of housing benefit, do I get two weeks of that, even though the reason why I am going on to universal credit might be that I have lost my job and normally I would get all my rent paid? Is it two weeks of my little bit or two weeks of the amount that I would be entitled to? Who will pay that? Is it the local authority? Is it actually a run-on of housing benefit or is the DWP paying an equivalent amount from the centre? If it is the latter, will anyone have to apply for it?
On the advances, it is good that from January 2018 new claimants will be able to borrow a 100% advance on their first month’s universal credit and that all advances can then be repaid over 12 months, as I believe is the case already for those transferring in from benefits, rather than six months for new claimants. When this is discussed in another place, though, Ministers often sound as if they think that giving people access to money is the same thing as giving them money. My bank gives me ready access to money. Unfortunately, that is called an overdraft; it is not in fact extra money. The Government have created a problem by forcing poor people on to a system where they have to wait six weeks—now five—for money, and the solution that they have come up with is to make them take on more debt. In effect, the system moves them from a six-week wait to a five-week wait and a large extra amount of debt. If you can borrow twice as much money but over twice as long a period, you are still paying back the same amount each month. The fact that UC is less generous than before also means that for a whole year, as well as getting less money, you have to survive on even less because you have to repay each month some of the debt that you were given to enable you to get through the first month.
So I ask for some clarification. Will this higher advance of 100% be offered to all claimants, not just to those coming over through natural or managed migration? Will it be an entitlement? At the moment, the DWP can refuse to give you an advance if it thinks either that you cannot afford to repay it or that you have money anyway or could get it. Will everyone be allowed to do it?
Most obviously, why did the Government not just move to two-weekly payments? There is already provision in DWP guidance for some people to ask, and to be allowed, to be paid fortnightly. Why did they not let everyone choose to do that instead of creating this five-week problem? Most people will not benefit from the housing benefit extra bit and will just get a six-week wait reduced to a five-week wait.
My other big point concerns the rollout. The Minister explained that the Government will slow down the rollout of universal credit, but the various things that she mentioned come on at different times. Some things start in January, there are other bits of help in February and the housing help starts in April. Why do the Government not pause universal credit for, say, six months, so that at least by the time it starts again, all those bits of help are in place? Otherwise, if you have the misfortune to find that it comes to your area in January, February, March or April, you will not benefit from some of them, although that is not your fault. Why do they not just pause it?
The Government pledged that universal credit will be simple to access, make work pay and lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty. In the excellent debate we had last week led by my noble friend Lady Hollis, we heard that it is failing on all fronts. During that debate, with the exception of a few touchingly loyal Members on the Government Benches, Members raised a whole range of problems about universal credit, of which only the most obvious was the six-week wait. None of those have been addressed at all. There was nothing in the Budget Statement to improve the taper or restore work allowances to make work pay, nothing to deal with the mess for self-employed people on UC.
The Minister mentioned in the Statement the problem of cliff edges in the previous system, but there is nothing to deal with passported benefits. A consultation out at the moment suggests that if a family earns over a certain amount, it immediately loses all entitlement to free school meals, so an extra hour’s work can mean that you lose free school meals for all your kids. That is the very definition of a cliff edge. Crucially, there is nothing to deal with the year-on-year cut in the real-terms value of universal credit, which has been frozen, along with most other working-age benefits. So I am sorry to say that there is nothing to stop the inexorable rise in inequality—especially child poverty, which the IFS has modelled so carefully.
I really do welcome these measures, but they are modest. They are worth about £300 million a year in the context of many billions of pounds of cuts. I fear that universal credit is like a great big liner. As it steams along, the Government have put a bit of water on the fire on the deck that everybody was pointing to while not, I am sorry to say, doing anything to stop the ship heading for the rocks, having already been holed by the Treasury in successive, very significant cuts. I urge the Minister to turn her attention next to the substantial problems within universal credit.
My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and I agree that the statement that we had in the Budget deals only with the journey on to—the gateway into—universal credit. I welcome the Statement. To be realistic, if the Government had not said something, it would have been impossible to resist the pressure to delay the further rollout of universal credit, and I do not agree that that would be sensible—I never have.
I have two questions for the Minister. For the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, set out at length, the delivery of these changes will be difficult. Can she assure us that they will land, be locked in and operate to the benefit of claimants in future, without fear of further disruption, letdown and distress? It is a very tall order. Some of these changes start next month. Given the background to the operational implementation of universal credit, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious about the implementation of the immediate changes that have been announced, welcome as they are. Can the Minister assure us that she personally will ensure that they all work and will make claimants’ lives easier, and that she will report to the House regularly on the success or otherwise of the rollout?
But these are only gateway measures; they are only easing the transition to universal credit. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is quite right: the rising costs and fixed benefits that low-income households are facing will condemn some of these families to a very bleak future. That necessitates my second question: will the Government start planning to use some of the £3 billion annual savings within UC alone—never mind the other ongoing cuts and freezes—to ease people’s road into work by increasing work allowances and tapers? If we do not do something of that kind, it will be very difficult successfully to promote the programme of progression through work into sustainable longer-term jobs and careers.
Once the difficulties of getting people on to universal credit are overcome, and people are in a steady state of receiving their universal credit payments monthly, the next big political battle will be trying to get the Government to be more realistic about the money available to support people when they are on universal credit.
My Lords, I will do my best to reply to the multitude of questions. I will begin by saying that they seem to be in contrast with the response made in another place by, for example, the right honourable member for Birkenhead, who was very congratulatory about what we have achieved in this package.
Let me be clear: today’s package is worth £1.5 billion over the scorecard period, and will ensure that claimants get money, and get it sooner. We should remember that we are already spending more than £95 billion on benefits for people of working age. So all that I am hearing about cuts and how terrible it all is—all it is doing is frightening people. That has to stop.
No, I am sorry—it is frightening people. The leader of the Opposition in another place said that 200-plus people in one area of the country—one in eight—had been evicted from their houses, but in fact it turned out to be only eight, and one of them had left his house 18 months earlier.
We have to stick with the facts. Our measure on advances means that where there is underlying entitlement, a household can have access to a month’s support within five days. I have seen it in operation in a jobcentre, where somebody who was very much in need was able to have it in a matter of hours. Housing benefit transition payment measures support housing benefit claimants’ transition on to universal credit by an average of £233. Yes, that £233 average will be two weeks’ rent, which is unrecoverable and automatic. It will be equivalent to what that person is paying in rent, and does not have to be paid back.
From January, claimants who started their UC claim in December and had up to 50% of their payment advanced will be able to claim an additional advance to bring their total advance payment up to 100% of their estimated monthly entitlement. Their repayment period may also move from six to 12 months accordingly. They do not have to take that. They may want help only with the first few months; it is up to the claimant to decide. The noble Baroness talked about going into her bank. Her bank will charge her interest. This is interest free—that must be made extremely clear.
Waiting days will be abolished from February. When we had our debate last week, the focus appeared to be on the whole operation of moving on to universal credit. In this Budget, we have dealt fairly and squarely with this issue by the measures that we are bringing forward. Waiting days will be abolished. However, the most vulnerable are already exempt from those waiting days, including care leavers, victims of domestic violence and those with serious illnesses. I also say to the noble Baroness that waiting days are not something that the Conservative Party or this Government introduced. They have existed for many years, with the exception of two years about three years ago.
We will continue to roll out our universal credit to ensure that the real improvements that it is delivering are extended to more people. Reprofiling our plans enables us to deliver significant improvements while continuing rollout.
Reference was made to debt. We are making sure that the claimant is able to access all the money they need to manage until their first payment by increasing the maximum amount of advance available. Extending the period of repayment to 12 months will enable claimants to be able to repay the advance without incurring higher monthly repayments. However, of course, in addition we already have budgeting loans—which, again, are interest free and which we have had for some considerable time to help claimants who are in need.
I would like to make a response on the housing benefit transitional payment. We can confirm that natural migration and managed migration claimants with housing benefit will get the transitional payment. We will have a short-term solution through local authorities initially before incorporating this payment into the automated system from DWP. But we do not want to wait for that—we want to get on and introduce this very substantial support.
Everyone who needs an advance can get an advance—and get one quickly. Almost 70% of people are paid monthly or four-weekly, which is why we have a monthly payment. We want to reflect the world of work in that sense, which is why we are moving people on to monthly payments in arrears.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, yes, there is no question about this—not just myself but the whole team at the Department for Work and Pensions, the team running universal credit and the ministerial team are looking at this constantly. And we are not only looking at it but talking constantly to people actually on the ground, which is the most important thing. We are actually communicating twice a month. Every jobcentre is looking at how it is working and relaying its thoughts, concerns and ideas for improvement through to the Department for Work and Pensions. That is very important. That is why also we are rolling this out slowly and gradually—because we want to make sure that we get the system to be as good as possible. Noble Lords should remember that, when it is fully rolled out, about 7 million people will be on universal credit, including families, which means that we have to get the system right. This is not easy. I commend and praise those who work within the Department for Work and Pension team who are thinking through all these issues on a daily basis.
I fear, listening to members of the party opposite, that they seem to prefer the legacy system that has trapped people on benefits. By the way, if someone went on to the legacy system in the middle of December, they would get nothing before Christmas. And if we were to pause, we would have chaos—which would make people’s lives so much worse. With universal credit, people are entitled now to an immediate advance and immediate help for that which they need through the Christmas period into the new year—and then they can get another 50% advance on that first month’s payment, if they so wish.
We have been thinking this through and want to do everything that we can to support people in need. We are working to transform lives. Universal credit is a much better system than the legacy benefits that have been so discredited. With this package of measures, it will become even better in the months to come.
My Lords, it is the function of Oppositions to pour cold water on the efforts of the Government, even when there are elements to please them. I think that my noble friend the Minister will agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, made a very responsible response in an extraordinary context in which there are attacks on this policy, inside and outside Parliament, that are entirely unjustified. I wonder whether my noble friend heard on Saturday, on the “Today” programme, the assertion, widely repeated thereafter in the media, that on Christmas day 100,000 people would lose their universal credit. Can she put that straight? Since I am allowed on my feet only once, can she also tell us what is being done to steer people taking on advance payments in the direction of debt management counselling? I take the point about the dangers of increasing debt.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his support. He is quite right about the noble Baroness opposite, who, of course, knows so much about this system and the whole system of social security—and I pay tribute to her for that. But the reality is, I genuinely feel, that these attacks are unjustified, as my noble friend said. Indeed, I think that he referred to the “Money Box” programme with Paul Lewis, which stated that 100,000 people would not receive something over Christmas. That is so wrong. We are looking to “Money Box” at the moment to correct that and apologise. I have always put a lot of trust in that programme, but now I say loudly and clearly to Paul Lewis that the jury is out. I look forward to him responding in a far more positive way, because it is simply not true and is continually adding to the scaremongering.
We are hearing about people who are afraid to go on universal credit now, and that is appalling. We need to get behind the system, and we are doing everything that we can to make it work. We are trying to transform people’s lives and get them out of that system of being trapped in appalling welfare dependency, with no confidence and isolation in their lives. We want to transform their lives and we are doing everything that we can to do that.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. After our last exchanges I dropped her a note because I think that I was rather unfair on her in my intervention. Would she accept with all sincerity that we welcome the changes? As I said in my contribution in our debate, I urge the Government to go further—because the negative cases that you see us representing are not imagined. As I said, again in my contribution, they have been brought to our attention by NGOs such as Scope, Shelter, Crisis, St Mungo’s, the Residential Landlords Association and London Councils. While it is wonderful that she visited the London Bridge centre, I encourage her to visit others. Does she agree with me that we are truly representing those cases that are brought to our attention—which, as I said in my contribution, were brought to me by the MP Jim Fitzpatrick?
I very much welcome the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, although, unfortunately, it has not arrived. However, I look forward to reading it when it does. I am very grateful to him. I was not feeling terribly well last week, and probably looked pained because I was worrying more about responding to an important debate than about what the noble Lord had to say—although I took very much on board what he was saying.
This is serious, of course, and we want to be clear that every single case that any noble Lord may hear about they should please send in to us. We will do our best to try to sort it, because we want the system to work. We are looking at a number of things; this is not the end of the road for our thinking through the system, as I have already said. For example, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place made clear earlier today, we are looking at the taper rate. I know that is something that has exercised noble Lords. The Government are committed to ensuring that universal credit supports people into work but, as the Chancellor set out in his Budget, the taper rate will be kept under review and the Government will continue to consider the case for further changes. That is one example. In every other way, where we can, we will certainly look at how we can improve.
The noble Lord made reference to St Mungo’s, from which we had a response saying:
“We have been calling for a new strategy to tackle homelessness. I welcome the opportunity to work with the taskforce to end the national scandal of rough sleeping altogether. We are also pleased to see a number of changes to Universal Credit that St Mungo’s had been calling for, particularly the removal of the 7 day waiting period and extension of the repayment period for advances to 12 months”.
We have had terrific support, including from Citizens Advice, with which we are working very closely.
My Lords, I share with the Minister and the House a bit of local information. We find ourselves in an interesting situation in Coventry, with rising employment and yet a 30% increase in usage among those in the city—mostly single males—among whom universal credit has been rolled out. Like others, I very much welcome the changes and I am sure they will help enormously but, at the same time, I still have reservations about whether they have gone far enough and address other issues that some of us on the ground have identified.
I was glad to hear in the Statement the reference to universal support, although there were not many details about its rollout. I was also glad to hear about the partnership with CAB and other bodies; I am conscious, though, of the long queues each morning outside the citizens advice bureau in Coventry. Can the Minister say what sort of funding will be provided for universal support? In particular, on the issue of debt, which is important, will dedicated funding be made available for impartial debt advice for those who are running into difficulties?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his intervention. While we are very proud of the fact that we are getting more people into work, one issue that we really must tackle and which we have been thinking about—hence our response—is the need now to focus our efforts on in-work progression. That is why the Government have allocated additional funding of more than £8 million over four years to run a suite of tests and trials inside and outside government to support the development of evidence about what works to help people progress in work—we have already had ministerial meetings to discuss this—including those who are insecure at work and women returning to the labour market. The Social Security Advisory Committee at the Department for Work and Pensions—which is entirely independent of us—has just published a report on this which is extremely helpful in terms of our thinking. We need to complement record-high employment and record-low inactivity with a labour market that increases living standards, with economic security for everyone across the country. That is why the right reverend Prelate is completely right; we have to focus on that.
With regard to debt, when someone goes on to universal credit, they will have a work coach, with personalised support and assistance. There are noble Lords across the House who have been very involved, as I have, with the passage of the single financial guidance body Bill which, at its heart, is all about financial capability. This is extremely important in complementing our work and progression of universal credit. It is about education from an early age, helping people to manage, signposting people who are in difficulty to really good support. At the moment, support comes from three different bodies, but one purpose of the Bill is to bring them into one single financial guidance body that everyone can have access to for free advice, debt support, guidance and further signposting of what might help them. I am rather proud that we have seen that through your Lordships’ House. Through its passage—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—we have also sought to clarify our commitment to introducing a debt respite scheme with breathing space, which I am confident will help thousands of people who are in debt and in difficulty. Again, this Government are very proud of that and we wish the passage of that Bill well in another place.
I know that I am taking up time but, briefly with regard to universal support, we have invested £200 million in universal support and all claimants can access help with managing their finances when they come on to UC through those different channels.
My Lords, why are people being sanctioned so unfairly, as reported in the debates last week in both Houses, or does the Minister think those reports are being exaggerated? Is it because the people did not let the Jobcentre Plus office know that they were, say, in hospital, or that a bus had broken down? Supposing they do not have a mobile phone—are all UC claimants given a phone number to ring if they are unavoidably stopped from getting to an appointment at the jobcentre?
My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, I have to say that, on sanctions, we believe it is right that there is a system in place to reinforce conditionality and to support and encourage claimants to do everything they can to move into or towards work or to improve their earnings. Imposing a sanction is not something that we do lightly. Claimants are given every opportunity to explain why they failed to meet their agreed conditionality requirements before a decision is made.
Based on last year’s data, each month, on average, fewer than 1% of ESA claimants in the work-related activity group had a sanction in place and fewer than 4% of UC claimants had a sanction in place. We are still quality-assuring the data for JSA but, in August, the DWP published a new sanctions statistics release with a revised methodology showing how many people were undergoing a sanction. This development is part of DWP’s commitment to the PAC to improve its published statistics and to be absolutely clear about what we are doing. The important thing is that we do not impose sanctions lightly; there has to be a tangible issue at hand.
My Lords, I wish some people had realised how much work my noble friend Lady Buscombe has done since we were last here debating this problem—and it was a problem. It is incredible to think that nobody has said, “Well done” to her and the Chancellor and that, instead of saying that we are touchingly loyal, saying that actually we have worked at it.
My Lords, the Minister will remember the comments made last week by my noble friend Lord Low of Dalston and myself about the impact of universal credit on people with disabilities and autism. I am sure she will be familiar with it because I have also tabled some Questions. Can we live in hope that there will now be something positive to benefit people with disabilities and autism, because we certainly have not heard anything in the Statement today?
My Lords, I want to make sure that I say the right thing. All I can say is that we are spending over £50 billion on disability, which is a record, and expenditure is going up. We spend over £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and we are proud of that. Spending on people with health conditions is up by more than £7 billion since 2010. As a share of GDP, this is the second highest in the G7.
Almost 3.5 million disabled people are now in employment, which is really fantastic. We want to help as many disabled people as possible into work. They want to work and to be part of the world that they inhabit—that has to be our ultimate goal. But the noble Lord is right: we closed our debate last week with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, saying that this is a work in progress. I entirely agree with her. It is a work in progress and it will continue to be until rollout in 2022.
My Lords, I am sure that we are grateful to my noble friend and also glad that she is feeling rather better than she was last week as, clearly, she was labouring under difficulties. We are grateful, too, to the Chancellor for responding, but can my noble friend consider very carefully some of the points that came up last week? I quoted a parish priest, who happens to be a godson of mine, who had written about sanctions and the way they were being administered, to his certain knowledge, in a very deprived urban area of Lancashire. Can we please take very careful note of what people like that say as they have no personal axe to grind but are merely concerned about some of the most deprived people in our communities? Can we listen and try to be continually responsive? This is a good beginning but we still have far to go.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. In our debate last week, I remember that he referenced another contact, who said that our work coaches had targets. That is entirely wrong. Let me be clear: we have sanctions. A Work and Pensions Select Committee report in 2015 stated that sanctions are,
“a key element of the mutual obligation that underpins the effectiveness and fairness of the social security system”.
Evidence shows that sanctions have a positive impact on behaviour. This has to be seen in the context of people whose families have for generations not had work in their lives. The Select Committee is right about this issue as over 70% of JSA claimants and over 60% of ESA recipients say that sanctions make it more likely that they will comply with reasonable and agreed requirements.
That is not to say that we ignore those desperately in need. We have a well-established system of hardship payments available as a safeguard if a claimant demonstrates they cannot meet their immediate and most essential needs, including accommodation, heating, food and hygiene, as a result of their sanction. A legislative change came into force on 23 October 2017 to extend the list of JSA vulnerable groups to include homeless people and those with mental health conditions so that they can, if they qualify, receive hardship payments from the first day a sanction is imposed.
My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister two questions. As regards online training for those in difficulty, what will be done to ensure that they are capable of gaining online access? Secondly, I may have missed this but when will the costly phone line be replaced with a free line? Has that happened already? If not, it is very urgent indeed.
On the second point, that is happening as we speak. It has not happened in every situation but it is happening very quickly. It was wrong for anyone ever to say that it was a premium payment; it was not. There was no question of the DWP making any profit out of it. However, we are very pleased to say that we are moving to a free phone line as quickly as possible, and I know the work coaches are supportive of that. It is literally happening now, as fast as we can get our telephone lines shifted in each area.
One of the huge advantages of having work coaches—again, I have seen this in action—is they can help somebody who is in difficulty and teach them how to access the system online. Indeed, a couple of hours ago, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place that one of his constituents was very proud that, having gone online to access UC, they will now order their groceries online. That may seem a small thing for us, but for that person it was a huge step forward in feeling they were becoming part of the world we all inhabit, which is constantly changing and developing and can be quite frightening for some. We want to give people confidence through the work coach system.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very pleased to have secured this debate today, which provides for the first focused debate that we have had in this House on online gambling since the passing of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act in March 2014.
I am acutely aware that in recent months there has been considerable discussion about the challenges posed by fixed-odds betting terminals. I want to make it very clear that I completely share the concerns of those who have spoken out against FOBTs and I am very pleased that the current DCMS consultation asks about stake reduction and includes the option of a £2 stake.
I have not sought this debate because I take a different view and want to distract attention away from the FOBT debate. Indeed, as a Northern Ireland Peer, I am bound to say that there is real doubt about whether FOBTs are even legal in Northern Ireland. In raising this debate today, I am simply saying that there is another problematic aspect of gambling that we also need to talk about—namely, online gambling. The Gambling Commission itself recognises that in addition to 430,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain, there are a further 2 million at risk. However, I have decided to use that term in today’s debate because everyone knows what it means.
Having made those broad introductory points, I shall define the online gambling sector. According to the Gambling Commission, the most recent figures for 2015-16 demonstrate that the online gambling sector is the largest gambling sector in Britain today. It is worth £4.5 billion. However, this figure does not account for the fact that now 42% of National Lottery transactions are online. If you account for this, the true value of the online sector is £5.9 billion. To put that in context, high street betting is worth £3.3 billion and that of traditional casinos £1 billion. Online gambling accounts for 44% of all gambling in Britain today. Britain’s online gambling sector is, moreover, the largest regulated sector in the world, with 21 million active accounts. In addition to this distinctive claim, UK online gambling has another which is less talked about. The latest problem gambling prevalence figures, published by the Gambling Commission in July, show on page 30 that the highest overall prevalence of at-risk gambling was observed among those who participated in online gambling on slot, casino or bingo games—some 34.9%.
Problem gamblers—defined as those who gamble to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits—were estimated to comprise 0.8% of the adult population of Great Britain, with such individuals far more likely to be men than women. This translates to an estimated 430,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain in 2015, with a further 2 million having been deemed at risk of problem gambling.
It is no great surprise that online gambling should have the greatest claim on problem gamblers because, unlike other forms of gambling, online is available 24/7 and it is much easier to engage in problematic play without your family finding out because you do not even have to leave your bedroom to do it. Moreover, the fact that it is all done electronically without exchanging real money makes it easier to get caught up in problematic play. Mindful of this, we should be in no doubt about the devastating effects online gambling can have on people’s lives.
There is the case of the 23 year-old accountant, Joshua Jones, who, unbeknown to most people, was an online gambling addict. He committed suicide in 2015 with £30,000 of gambling debts. Then there is the case of the 18 year-old Omair Abbas, who committed suicide after generating just over £5,000 worth of debt from online gambling in 2016. Then there is the case of Adam Billing from Liskeard, who at the age of 27 threw himself off the 120-foot high Moorswater viaduct because of spiralling debts resulting from an online gambling addiction. If you want to get a sense of the misery caused by online gambling, it is well worth visiting a problem gambling website and reading the posts of problem gamblers as they describe the dreadful situations that they face and seek to support each other.
Last week saw the publication of the Gambling Commission’s Strategy 2018-2021, which highlights this through recent polling. It states that,
“our most recent research published in 2017 showed that 78% of people believe that there are too many opportunities to gamble; 69% of people feel that gambling is dangerous for family life; and only 34% believe that gambling is fair and can be trusted, down from 49% in 2008. There are also significant public concerns about the volume, nature and scheduling of gambling advertising and the impact this could have on future generations”.
This is hugely important.
Having defined some of the contours of online gambling today, I will now examine some specific public policy options for helping online problem gamblers. My first engagement with online gambling came in 2014, when I responded to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act, which was narrowly concerned with online gambling. During the debates on the Bill I argued that online problem gamblers are discriminated against because they cannot access one of the main protections for problem gamblers—self-exclusion—on anything resembling a level playing field with offline problem gamblers. On a strong day, an offline problem gambler might be able to self-exclude from the four betting shops in his or her town and thereby cut himself off from local gambling opportunity for the duration of his self-exclusion. If an online problem gambler manages to self-exclude from four online sites, however, there is no sense in which he can cut himself off from the opportunity of gambling for the duration of his self-exclusion because there still are hundreds if not thousands of other sites he can visit without even leaving his bedroom. It is physically impossible for him to self-exclude from all the available sites.
In response to this I proposed, through amendments, multi-operator self-exclusion, whereby the online problem gambler needs to self-exclude only once with the Gambling Commission or its nominated body, and all online sites with a Gambling Commission licence are required to respect the self-exclusion. On Report the Government announced that they were finally persuaded of the need for multi-operator self-exclusion, but explained that they did not want to implement it on a statutory basis. I was asked to withdraw my amendment on the basis that the Government had asked the Gambling Commission to introduce multi-operator self-exclusion and it would make substantial progress towards its realisation in the next six months. Mindful of the Government’s willingness to compromise, I decided to withdraw my amendment. In June this year it was finally announced that the Remote Gambling Association would run multi-operator self-exclusion—or MOSES, as it is now referred to—for the Gambling Commission, and that it would be called GAMSTOP and would be up and running by the end of the year.
As we address this subject nearly four years later, I make the following points. First, we should be in no doubt about the importance of MOSES. On Tuesday this week, I was very privileged to welcome to Parliament, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, a number of recovering problem gamblers. I was delighted that other Peers were also able to be present, including the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. One recovering problem gambler explained how, when his wife discovered his addiction, they worked at tackling it together, and she stood alongside him as he self-excluded from the gambling site he had been using. All went well for a while until, a couple of weeks later, he received an email from another gambling provider offering him a free bet for £50 and he got sucked back in again. I asked him whether he felt that multi-operator self-exclusion would be helpful. He said, “It would have saved my marriage”. I asked another recovering online problem gambler whether he had ever tried to self-exclude. “Oh yes,” he said. “I have self-excluded from 20 different sites. The problem is, though, that there are always lots of other sites”.
Mindful of that, I make the following points. First, it is regrettable that nearly four years on from when the commitment was made we still do not have multi-operator self-exclusion up and running. We cannot afford to waste any more time. Secondly, it is important that no corners are cut in implementing GAMSTOP and that it operates effectively. Can the Minister please inform the House how the Government are monitoring progress to ensure that GAMSTOP is implemented robustly? Thirdly, part of the success of GAMSTOP will be letting all online gamblers know of its existence in an ongoing way. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will ensure that the existence of GAMSTOP will be properly promoted, not through a one-off campaign but in a sustained and ongoing way?
Fourthly, I draw the attention of the Government and this House to some real concerns that have been expressed by online problem gamblers about the proposed remit of MOSES under the Gambling Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice. Provision 3.5.4 mandates a self-exclusion system for each website. Provision 3.5.5, meanwhile, mandates multi-operator self-exclusion for online gambling sites. This suggests a two-tiered approach to self-exclusion, which is causing considerable worry. One problem gambler described the concern in the following terms: “You only want to self-exclude when you are desperate. When you reach that point, no one wants to self-exclude from one site and not another”.
Online problem gamblers’ key concern is that having a two-tier system will undermine the efficacy of MOSES. First, if individual websites are trying to run their own independent self-exclusion mechanism as well as MOSES, that means resources which could have been focused on MOSES to make it work well are diverted elsewhere. Secondly, if there are different levels of self-exclusion, it will inevitably cause confusion. Some problem gamblers will find out about one means of self-exclusion and not the other. There is a significant risk that some will assume that their self-exclusion will cover all sites when it actually covers only one.
It does not take a genius to see that a two-tiered approach would be in the short-term interest of the industry. Can the Minister provide an undertaking that he will tell the Gambling Commission that self-exclusion must be provided on a single-tiered basis through MOSES? In any event, I ask him to arrange a meeting, which he would chair, of the Gambling Commission, the Remote Gambling Association and myself, to which I can bring the concerned problem gambling groups. This would be a very worthwhile exercise.
Having dealt with measures that cut people off from gambling through self-exclusion, we must look at provisions that should be made earlier in the process. In this regard, I welcome a series of changes that are being made to the Gambling Commission codes of practice and technical standards from 1 April next year, which will help. However, in the current context, more could be done. In Sweden, players gambling on the state-owned gambling operator Svenska Spel have the option of using a programme called Playscan, which uses behavioural analytics. It prompts players about behavioural change, indicates that a problem might be developing, and provides information about how to limit their gambling or where to find help. In Finland, mandatory daily and monthly loss limits are required by the gambling regulator. On top of that, there is a limit of €5,000 on the amount of money which can be held in a gambling account. The maximum daily loss is set at €500. In addition, transfers from bank accounts to a gambling account cannot be made between midnight and 6 am. This creates a natural boundary for gamblers akin to betting shops.
On the question of a levy, the industry is supposed, by voluntary agreement, to contribute 0.1% of gross gambling yield to the charity GambleAware, which allocates the money to service providers that help problem gamblers, such as the Gordon Moody Association. In the last year, however, the industry failed to invest even 0.1% of gross gambling yield. It managed just £8 million. GambleAware has pointed out that as well as failing to reach 0.1% of GGY, this is also completely inadequate. If there are 430,000 problem gamblers, it is fair to assume that at any one time at least 10% of them—43,000—will be looking for help. The £8 million, however, only enabled it to reach 8,000 people, thus falling short by some 35,000. Meanwhile, it left no money at all for investing in helping the 2 million at risk.
GambleAware has now called for the levy to be made statutory and suggests that it needs to be in the region of £45,000 per annum to address the present need. Professor Jim Orford, an expert in problem gambling, has suggested that rather than being calculated on the basis of 0.1% of gross gambling yield, the levy could be 0.8% to reflect the general problem gambling prevalence figure. In some ways, however, he points out that a more just approach would be to base the figure on the takings that come from problem gamblers, which, writing in 2012, computed to 14% of GGY and which would have come in at £780 million. I clarify that neither he nor I am asking for that, but I hope that it puts in context how grossly irresponsible the £8 million is. Using the regulation-making powers of the Minister with respect to the levy would obviously benefit all problem gamblers. Clearly, however, given that the highest problem prevalence rate pertains to online, this proposal would greatly benefit online problem gamblers.
I very much look forward to listening to the contributions of noble Lords to this debate and especially to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, and congratulate him on securing this very important debate. I must first, as always in these situations, declare the interest that one of my children is head of policy for Google in the UK and Northern Ireland.
Public concern with gambling suggests that we are at a very important crossroads. On the one hand, it is perfectly clear that the people running gambling are thriving. Last week, we read that the highest-paid woman in the United Kingdom—indeed, the highest-paid boss in the country—is the head of a gambling firm with a 2016 pay packet of £217 million. The Daily Mail reported that, according to the Sunday Times rich list, the wealth of the British gambling industry’s tycoons, who include five billionaires and 15 multimillionaires, increased by nearly 20% last year to a total of £19 billion. On the other hand, as the noble Lord has pointed out, from a social standpoint more than 2 million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of gambling addiction.
I feel that constructive debate and sensible lawmaking depend to a significant degree on the quality of the information and research on which they are based. Particularly since the debate that I introduced on 14 September on the effects on children of advertising gambling, I have continually been asked: is the research from the Gambling Commission and from GambleAware, on which arguments and legislation may ultimately be based, genuinely independent of the gambling industry, which funds it, particularly as several of their trustees were recently chief executives of the very companies that provide the money?
The questions about problem and online gambling, to which we need answers, are becoming more and more pressing. For example, do we feel confident that we have well-grounded, long-term trend analysis of problem gamblers in the UK and the causes of their addiction? Is traditional and online advertising encouraging young people to believe that without gambling online they cannot enjoy a fulfilling social life? How far is gambling undermining family life? What are the lessons to be learned from other countries such as Sweden and Australia, where legislation is more advanced, as the noble Lord has just pointed out? Personally, I advocate increasing the levy on gambling industry profits—I would also make it statutory—so that we can fund research into these and other questions.
However, in these days of increased public cynicism, it is not enough actually to be independent of the industry; it is also essential to be seen to be independent and to be transparently so. For my own part, I believe that these organisations are independent, but will the Minister consider increasing the levy on the industry and confirm that he is satisfied with the independence of GambleAware, the Gambling Commission and similar organisations and, most importantly, the subjects they choose to research? Does he believe that there should be any additional protections or compliance procedures? Perhaps, when the final gambling review is published, the Government would also consider adding a profile of the organisations they have used for their research and say why they feel confident that the methodology and conclusions are entirely independent and can be relied upon.
For a number of years I was chairman of Action on Addiction. We believed that the longer we could delay young people experimenting, even with cigarettes and alcohol, the less likely they were to become addicted in later life. Young people who experiment with gambling today, particularly online and therefore often secretly, are in danger of becoming the problem gamblers of tomorrow. A 30% rise in the number of problem gamblers in the UK in the last three years suggests to me that we may—I repeat “may”—be seeing the beginning of a worrying trend.
In my view, some firms are now offering online gambling games specifically designed to appeal to children. Recent press reports refer to an operator offering a Peter Pan game with 20p bets, and Unicorn Bliss has a minimum bet of just 1p. Games such as Goldilocks and the Wild Bears can also be played for free. At noon today I checked: all these sites were up and running and open for business.
Interestingly, the Gambling Commission found that 6% of 11 to 15 year-olds have gambled online using their parents’ account. But on and offline is a blur to the young. They watch programmes when they choose on whichever device they choose. A TV watershed protecting the young is becoming less and less relevant, although the average age at which children watch TV after 9 pm, and unsupervised, is lower than 12.
The government review states:
“Problem gambling has remained statistically stable despite the rise in advertising … Children’s participation in gambling and their levels of problem gambling have declined since 2007”.
Can it really be the case that, despite a 63% increase in advertising since 2012—up to a staggering £312 million—and the proliferation of online gambling opportunities, over the last 10 years there has been no increase in problem gambling?
This is too important to get wrong. There is much debate about the health warnings on gambling advertising, and there is a plan in the review to launch advertising campaigns designed to,
“raise public awareness of risks associated with gambling”.
I wish to make three points. First, this educational campaign is being outspent by the gambling industry 50 times over. Secondly, the important issue for advertising such as this is the tone of voice, as well as the content. Thirdly, my professional communications experience suggests that this campaign may heighten young people’s interest in gambling, which in turn could lead to further experimentation. My experience as a father and a grandfather is that, the more society tells a young person not to do something, or that it is excessively risky, the more likely they are to do it.
I ask the Minister to protect the young of today and thereby reduce the number of problem gamblers for tomorrow by urgently considering severely curtailing or even banning all gambling advertising and promotion on and offline.
I want to make a specific point about the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme—MOSES—which, by the way, I enthusiastically support. It is a very positive step. As I understand it, around 100 online gambling operators are licensed by the Gambling Commission, and they are covered by the multi-operator scheme. However, I have also seen that there are 30,000 sites worldwide. Are the Government reviewing all software and artificial intelligence options, such as gamban, to exclude all these sites?
This is such an important debate, and this issue is moving up the national agenda. If, based on transparent and independent research which we could all accept as correct, we could reduce gambling advertising offline and online, particularly when targeted at the young, and help problem gamblers manage their addiction with the assistance of MOSES and of new software and artificial intelligence solutions, we would, as a result, have a healthier and safer society.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for securing this important debate and for arranging the hugely successful event on Tuesday at which Peers were able to meet recovering online problem gamblers.
For too long, online gamblers have, in a very real sense, been afforded separate treatment. That is particularly inappropriate given the challenge that it presents. Online gambling is available 24/7 without even leaving your bedroom, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has already said. As such, it is a profoundly solitary pursuit. Unlike in a betting shop, there are no members of staff in your bedroom to intervene if you exhibit a problem with gambling behaviours.
There is an irony because, for many purposes, online gambling provides a greater scope for protection than offline. Indeed, the Government recognise precisely that point in paragraph 5.19 of their current consultation, which states:
“Unlike land-based gambling, all online gambling is account-based, which means operators know who their customers are, what they are spending their money on, and their patterns of gambling. This provides opportunities for operators to use customer data to identify and minimise gambling-related harm”.
While I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised that, the proposals in their consultation do not appropriately marry the potential for protection with the measure of public concern.
Online gambling now has the highest overall problem prevalence figure, with devastating social consequences, including family breakdown, suicide and other horrifying stories that we have already heard. In that context, it is not surprising that public faith in gambling has fallen, as the noble Lord noted, from something like 49% to 34%. We have now reached a stage where we require legislative change, which currently is not proposed by the Government’s consultation. I will focus on some specific legislative changes that the Government should make, but I want first to address the matter of financial transaction blocking.
While MOSES will protect problem gamblers from legal sites, financial transaction blocking protects them from illegal sites. Although the Government rejected my amendment to require financial transaction providers not to process transactions between people in the UK and illegal sites, they accepted the need for it on a non-statutory basis. In response to that amendment, they asked the Gambling Commission to secure the agreement of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal that they would not facilitate transactions from websites accessing the UK market illegally.
I have since tabled Written Parliamentary Questions to assess the efficacy of voluntary financial transaction blocking. They reveal that, as of April 2016, the Gambling Commission had written to 60 foreign sites asking them to cease activities in the UK. Of those, three went on to obtain a licence, 41 ceased offering facilities for gambling and 11 were subject to payment blocking by payment providers. Given that there are nearly 200 countries in the world, many of which will no doubt host multiple gambling websites, the figure seems a little low to me. However, I accept that even if there are thousands of gambling websites in the world without UK Gambling Commission licences, it is only problematic from our point of view if they seek to access the UK market. I would be interested to know what the gambling websites operating legally in the UK think about those figures.
In the meantime, I have two questions for the Minister. First, does he have any more up-to-date financial transfer blocking figures for the House? Secondly, given the sustained interest of this House in the protection of UK consumers from illegal gambling, will the Minister undertake to provide a detailed annual report of the Gambling Commission’s warning to illegal sites and financial transaction blocking activities with the payment providers? That would be good for transparency and much appreciated, I am sure, by Members of your Lordships’ House.
Having addressed financial transaction blocking, I now turn to three specific areas where we need legislative change. The first and most important is MOSES. It is clear from Tuesday’s meeting that online problem gamblers view MOSES as hugely important. They were very upset about the four-year delay and exercised about the dangers of a two-tier system of self-exclusion. It is such a shame that the coalition Government did not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, in March 2014. If they had done so, it is likely that MOSES would be up and running today. It is vital that this is now implemented as quickly and robustly as possible. That means that it must be introduced on a single and not a two-tiered basis, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, explained. In implementing it, it is vital to remember that this is one of those areas where online protections can be made to operate more effectively online than offline.
Secondly, the time has come for the Government to look at providing a means whereby they create a single, integrated MOSES covering all legal gambling whether online or offline. That would mean that if any problem gambler self-excludes from any licensed provider of a gambling product in the UK, all such providers should be obliged to respect that self-exclusion for its duration. I am informed by experts that that would be entirely possible. It just depends on whether we have the political will. To be frank, in the context where public confidence in gambling is in free fall, we need the Government to come forward with precisely that kind of bold vision. It would really help the Prime Minister, too, in realising her goal of creating a Britain that works for everyone. If there is a concern about who should pay, I have no doubt that the industry should, as part of its customer care. However, I do not believe that it should proceed on the basis of self-regulated donations, which brings me to my third point.
Gambling creates social environmental pollution. In the same way that an actual environment-polluting business should pay, so too should a social environmental-polluting business. Ever since the Gambling Act 2005 became law, Section 123 has given the Minister regulation-making powers to introduce a statutory levy. Those powers have never been used and the industry is supposed to voluntarily donate 0.1% of its gross gambling yield. It contributes only £8 million. In a context where we have 430,000 problem gamblers needing help and a further 2 million at risk, that donation is, frankly, a joke. The Government should introduce a statutory levy requiring sufficient funds to deal with the social environmental pollution and to help manage it through MOSES. That should include the funding of a joined-up online and offline MOSES.
The final statutory change that I would like to mention pertains to the current inability of a problem gambler immediately to withdraw all money from a gambling account. If you are a problem gambler and you reach a point of resolution and want to stop gambling, amazingly, it takes three days to withdraw your money. At any stage in the process over the next 72 hours, you can cancel that application to withdraw and start gambling again. If you only manage to resist the compulsion to gamble for 24 hours and end up reversing your attempt to withdraw money, you are then back at square one. In the event that you summon up fresh strength the next day and try to withdraw again, you will then face another wait of a full three days with all that that entails. I have to say that it is hard to imagine a system that is designed to make it more impossible for problem gamblers to withdraw their money and take steps to deal with their problems, but perhaps that is the point. As legislators we simply cannot allow it to continue and I hope that the Minister will show that he is going to take some significant action.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Browne of Belmont on securing this important debate. Like him, I want to make it clear from the outset that I am also deeply concerned about FOBTs, and this debate should not detract from the need to deal with them. From a Northern Ireland perspective, there are reasons to believe that FOBTs are not legal at all. If the courts rule that they are legal, I would want to see a maximum £2 stake. It is interesting to note that the machines have been banned in the Republic of Ireland. Having made these points, however, I want to be clear that it is just as important that we deal with the equally serious challenges presented by online problem gambling.
In May this year the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland published a gambling prevalence survey for 2016. More than 1,000 people were surveyed about their gambling habits and were asked to consider public attitudes to gambling. The survey illustrates that problem gambling both online and offline is a significant issue in Northern Ireland. It found, as did the previous survey conducted in 2011, that Northern Ireland has a significantly higher incidence of problem gambling than any other region of the United Kingdom. The survey found that 2.3% of the respondents were deemed to be problem gamblers compared with 0.8% in Great Britain. Broadly speaking, this equates to between 32,000 and 43,000 individuals in Northern Ireland, depending on how the figures are calculated.
Many noble Lords will be aware that the Gambling Commission estimates that there are some 430,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain today. If Northern Ireland is added, the figure comes to around 460,000 or 470,000 problem gamblers in the United Kingdom, a figure which includes individuals betting both online and offline. As I am sure is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom, over recent years Northern Ireland has seen a significant increase in the number of individuals who are gambling online. In 2010, 5.4% of those surveyed had gambled online in the past year, but that figure approximately doubled over the next five years, rising to 10.6% in 2016. Among those who responded to the survey and indicated that they gamble, online gambling was engaged in more by younger people. Some 23.6% of those aged between 16 and 24 indicated that they gambled online, compared with only 3% of those aged over 65.
We all know that problem gambling can have a devastating impact on individual lives. I want to tell the tragic tale of one young man from County Fermanagh whose story was reported in the Belfast Telegraph in March this year. Peter and Sadie Keogh told the Belfast Telegraph about the death of their son Lewis, who took his own life having run up debts of more than £50,000 due to his gambling addiction. Peter and Sadie had no idea that Lewis had a gambling addiction and discovered it only after his death. As Peter put it, “Lewis was gambling on the internet, he was gambling on his own in bed and he was gambling at night”. Peter and Sadie told Lewis’s story to warn others of the dangers of gambling addiction and where it can lead. They have bravely told Lewis’s story and I highly commend them for doing so. One of the things I find striking about this tragic story and the others that have been related is the age of online problem gamblers who are committing suicide. They are all either very young or quite young. This fits with the online gambling demographic highlighted by the Northern Ireland survey. In light of that, I ask the Minister what focused support is being made available to young online problem gamblers.
Another striking thing I found when studying problem gambling is its impact on families. One online problem gambler who spoke to parliamentarians this week talked of how, at the height of his addiction, he had popped into the house to get a coat for his son, who was in the car. In the few moments he was in the house he had a strong urge to go to his laptop. He emerged two and a half hours later to find his young son asleep in his car seat, his face still wet with the tears he had cried himself to sleep with. Another problem gambler testified that when you are driven by the addiction, anything that stops you gambling is an annoyance. It thus has the devastating effect of making wives and children an annoyance. Some may regard this as the necessary price to pay for a deregulated gambling sector, but I personally do not.
When we seek to measure the social and environmental pollution caused by online and offline gambling by saying that 470,000 problem gamblers are affected, we kid ourselves. The truth is that for every problem gambler there is a family and countless lives impacted in untold ways. Even if we cannot be moved by the suffering, we should surely be moved by the figures. Speaking as I do the day after the Budget, it is worth remembering that the annual cost of family breakdown is £48 billion. In this regard, I was particularly struck by the following observation made in a recent article by Dominic Lawson:
“Divorce Online, a firm which logs all uncontested divorce petitions, last year revealed that gambling is now cited as a cause for marital break-up in no fewer than one in five of such petitions. Only a few years ago, it was cited in only one out of every 15 such claims”.
That is an extraordinary development with far-reaching implications. The well-being implications of marriage breakdown on adults and children are huge. Working on the basis that the polluter pays, I wonder whether the Minister could clarify how much money the industry is paying back to invest in marriage support services.
We as legislators have a responsibility to take concrete action to protect and help individuals suffering from gambling addiction. In the rest of my contribution, I would like to focus on the specific steps that I believe we need to take. First, I echo everything that has been said by other noble Lords about MOSES. We should be in no doubt about its importance. I regret that the coalition Government did not place it on a statutory footing and hope that, in the context of the present gambling consultation, the current Government will reconsider. I am particularly pleased to see in the briefing from GamCare that MOSES will be UK-wide. It is certainly very much needed in Northern Ireland, given our significantly higher problem gambling figures.
Advertising will be crucial and needs to be sustained, not a one-off. The gambling industry in the UK is certainly not shy about advertising its services, so I hope it will be willing to invest in a campaign to protect some of its own customers. There must be an initial review of the efficacy of GAMSTOP with a view to fine-tuning it after the first year. Given our higher problem gambling prevalence figure, this review should particularly consider the impact of GAMSTOP in Northern Ireland.
Secondly, I want to talk about the gambling levy. At the moment, my understanding is that it does not apply to Northern Ireland. This is odd, given that the Province embraces gambling providers and has a higher problem gambling prevalence figure. No doubt this is informed by the fact that standing behind the voluntary levy is Section 123 of the Gambling Act 2005, which applies only to Great Britain. For as long as the levy remains voluntary, however, and is not actually constrained by the Act, it certainly should extend to Northern Ireland. What is really required is a statutory levy, which may require two separate pieces of legislation, one for Great Britain and one for Northern Ireland. In a sense it does not matter how it is mandated, just as long as it is mandated. In my opinion it should be worth at least the problem gambling prevalence figure, which would be 2.3% for Northern Ireland. The industry should certainly pay for all the relevant treatment services and for MOSES.
Thirdly, I want briefly to agree with a legislative ban on gambling sites taking bets between midnight and 6 am. In this regard, I particularly highlight the observation of the father of Lewis Keogh that most of his gambling was done at night. I should like to say more, but the Clock has caught up with me.
My Lords, I too warmly welcome this debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, on his speech and on initiating the debate. I wholeheartedly agree with and endorse his remarks, along with those of the other preceding speakers.
In preparing for the debate I have been struck by the fact that the problem gamblers I have spoken to are also passionately against the two-tier system referred to by the noble Lord. One of them, Justyn Larcombe, emailed me this morning, giving me permission to quote him. He said:
“I am at a loss to understand why the Gambling Commission would have settled for this approach. Given that some companies own multiple sites, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why the industry might have pressured the commission into this bizarre arrangement … When you want to self-exclude, you are desperate and, by definition, you want to cut yourself off from all gambling opportunities. The idea that anyone reaches that point and wants to cut themselves off from bet365, but not Paddy Power, is farcical”.
Endorsing a point that we have heard in preceding speeches, he adds:
“It is in the middle of the night that the most destructive online gambling takes place. If it could be shut down overnight in the UK, as in Finland, that would really help increase protections for problem gamblers”.
I will return to each of Mr Larcombe’s points in my remarks.
For 25 years, as a city councillor or Member of the House of Commons, I represented inner-city neighbourhoods in Liverpool. Time and again, I saw the destructive effects of various forms of addiction. Addictive gambling had a corrosive and pernicious effect, with men in particular gambling wages or benefits that their wives and families desperately needed to keep hearth and home together.
Fast forward to today and into the world of anti-social media; and as the Gambling Commission reminds us, the overall prevalence of at-risk gambling is at its worst among those who are enticed into online gambling. That tears lives, families and communities apart—and we should all reflect on the sometimes tragic consequences, which include suicide and other well-documented mental, physical and emotional consequences, as we have heard. We have been reminded of tragic cases: the 23 year-old trainee accountant, Joshua Jones, who in the summer of 2015 leapt from the ninth storey of a London skyscraper to his death because his gambling debts had risen to £30,000; the 18 year-old, Omair Abbas, who committed suicide in 2016, having accumulated just over £5,000 of online gambling debts; and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, reminded us of the death of a young man in Fermanagh who had accumulated staggering debts. This waste of life, full of promise, is desperately unnecessary. Gambling addiction destroys lives, but it can also destroy communities.
Fast forward again to 2017 and visit our hollowed-out high streets, where the dominating prevalence of charity shops and betting shops tells its own story of modern Britain. In a telling and sharp contrast, as local communities are disfigured and struggle for resources, the Local Government Association is right to remind us that the gross gambling yield from fixed-odds betting terminals rose from £1.05 billion in April 2008 to £1.73 billion in March 2016—an increase of 65%. Those figures hardly suggest that the Gambling Act has struck the right balance between the needs of local communities and the rights of multimillion-pound businesses. I particularly agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, who told us that we ought to enforce many more restrictions on gambling advertising.
The fact that our laws lack balance is also illustrated by the findings of the Gambling Commission, which tells us that the UK now has the largest regulated online gambling market in the world. In one recent year, the remote gambling sector generated a gross gambling yield—defined as the amount retained by operators after the payment of winnings but before the deduction of costs—of a staggering £4.5 billion. That is a 32% market share of an even more staggering £13.8 billion generated over the same period by the gambling industry as a whole. Again, it was the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, who reminded us of the obscene levels of remuneration by some of the captains of this industry.
Problem gamblers in Great Britain—defined as those who gamble to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits—are estimated to comprise some 430,000 people, mainly men, with a further 2 million deemed “at risk” of problem gambling. To combat that, the commission says that we can harness technology to provide some degree of protection; in particular, it points to the online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme, mentioned by noble Lords in the debate, scheduled to be in place by 2018. However, again, as Justyn Larcombe told me:
“I am at a loss to understand why the commission would have settled for this approach”.
The Gambling Commission licence conditions and codes of practice, in paragraphs 3.5.4 and 3.5.5, appear to suggest that individual sites should continue to run their own self-exclusion system in addition to MOSES. I am underlining the point of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, which is extremely important. I can see that the Minister may be tempted to suggest that having two systems is better than one; in some situations there can be wisdom in a belt-and-braces approach, but not here. The existence of two systems is likely to generate confusion, whereas problem gamblers, such as Mr Larcombe, want to be able to self-exclude from all legal sites at the same time. I very much hope that we are misreading paragraphs 3.5.4 and 3.5.5 and that GAMSTOP will replace all individual online self-exclusion provisions. However, if it does not, I must ask what evidence the Gambling Commission and the Government have from genuine problem gamblers that there is a desire for a two-tier system. I hope the Minister will reflect on that.
As others have done, let me say something about the statutory levy. I particularly endorse what my noble friend Lady Howe said to the House a little while ago. I raised the issue of the Government’s Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper in another context with the Minister who will reply to the debate. I find it quite extraordinary that, without a hint of irony, at the conclusion of page 16 and beginning of page 17, the paper states:
“While the Secretary of State has the power in legislation to bring forward a gambling levy, in practice the sector provides voluntary contributions and support. The majority of these voluntary payments go to GambleAware, a leading charity in Britain committed to minimising gambling-related harm”.
Reading that, it sounds as if the Government are relaying a good-news story of successful self-regulation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The industry is supposed generously to contribute 0.1% of gross gambling yield, £14 million, and yet it cannot manage even that. Last year, it managed only £8 million, sufficient to enable GambleAware to fund treatment for 8,000 people. Yet there are 430,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain. The Secretary of State should use the regulation-making powers afforded to her by Section 123 of the Gambling Act to give effect to the statutory levy. In my judgment, it should be at least at the level of the problem prevalence figure: 0.8% of gross gambling yield.
Justyn Larcombe also told me:
“It is in the middle of the night that the most destructive online gambling takes place”.
He referred to the situation in Finland. To deal with this challenge will necessitate legislation requiring gambling sites not to accept bets between midnight and 6 am, and financial transaction providers not to process gambling transactions between those hours. As well as reducing the hours during which people can gamble, I hope the Minister will consider reducing maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals—B2 gaming machines—to just £2. The current maximum stake of £100 is significantly out of line with the maximum amounts that can be staked on other types of gaming machines. There is also credible evidence that these machines may be addictive particularly to problem gamblers and therefore pose a greater risk to them, as well as being linked to anti-social behaviour and crime in betting shops.
Then there is the role of the commission. The commission notes, as others have observed, that in 2008 public confidence and trust in gambling stood at 49%. Today, it stands at just 34%. The commission needs to ask why there has been that decline in public confidence. Along with others in your Lordships’ House, I think that we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for giving us the chance to raise these points and ask these questions today.
My Lords, I wish to keep my comments fairly brief and concentrate on the gap in regulation concerning online advertising and general activities of tipsters and affiliates, and affiliates masquerading as tipsters.
This is a topic on which I have previously spoken in the House, in my noble friend Lord Chadlington’s debate on advertising in connection with online gambling. The reason I feel it is important to raise this topic again here today is that, in many cases, the activities of tipsters and affiliates could easily undermine the aims of the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme about to be introduced.
It has been widely reported that some online gambling companies are investing proportions of their advertising spend specifically in paying tipsters and affiliates, who to all intents and purposes are totally unregulated, rather than spending their advertising budgets on traditional regulated advertising such as on sidebars of websites, on television and radio or in the press.
The problem with this stems from the intrusive and calculated way in which tipsters and affiliates work. For those who may not know, tipsters and affiliates are people behind social media profiles who prolifically post gambling tips. They use whatever attention-grabbing methods they wish to get people to place the bets that they “advise”, using methods which traditional advertisers would certainly be reprimanded for, and then continue to hound their customers, encouraging them to sign up to betting accounts and to place bets, then more bets and more bets, and so the frenzied cycle continues. One report estimated that it is not uncommon for a person to put on an average of 35 bets before a win is realised.
Tipsters and affiliates send out a constant stream of links to betting companies, free bets and offers, together with relentless messages of encouragement and so-called tips which are totally unsubstantiated, making money from signing-on fees for each person a tipster or affiliate manages to convince to sign up to a betting account. They then make money from a percentage of the revenue made by the said betting company for the life of each account. This means that a tipster or affiliate makes his or her money from bets on which a punter has lost while also being the person telling that same punter which bets to make. As they operate on social media, everyone is exposed to them. There is no watershed here and no age limit beyond which they cannot reach. Poignantly, there is no self-exclusion rule by which they must abide.
The blanket multi-operator self-exclusion measure is a sensible move by the gambling industry and could, in theory, help a lot of people who are having problems if it is properly enforced. Making a system where it is easy and quick to turn off the tap has to be a good idea, rather than having a situation where a person has to go back and revisit all the places that he or she may be finding the hardest to resist to shut down activities one by one. I hope it works, and I hope we do not continue to hear reports of companies targeting people again who have excluded themselves.
However, tipsters and affiliates undermine this earnest scheme, since they are not bound by the blanket self-exclusion policy, or by indeed any policy. There lies the problem. Many online gambling companies know that their affiliates cross those lines of responsibility or, at the very best, come close to them. Indeed, two months ago, Sky Bet entirely shut down its affiliate programme, stating that,
“the regulatory landscape in which the industry operates is developing and maturing and operators are experiencing increased obligations regarding their regulatory responsibilities and level of compliance. In order to continue to operate in a compliant manner, we feel that operating the Programme is no longer viable and that managing the output of affiliates presents a significant risk to our business from a regulatory perspective”.
Sky Bet should be commended for this, but the operations of tipsters and affiliates should at least be subject to some investigation. Could the Minister undertake to look into this within his department?
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a supporter of gambling. I like to have the occasional flutter, but I am a supporter only of responsible gambling and a responsible gambling industry. Therefore, I really hope that grey areas such as the one I have mentioned can be bridged so that a person facing problems who really wants to stop gambling when it is harming his or her well-being or lifestyle can do so swiftly and has the ongoing help and support they need.
Behind every problem gambler statistic is a man or woman, and often a family, with real problems. We should help them as much as we can and not stand by when outside influencers, motivated by their commercial and financial aims, threaten to disrupt or destroy the progress of an individual who is struggling to get their life straight. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating this debate today.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on securing this important debate. I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate because many people have contacted me to raise their concerns about children becoming addicted to online gambling and being targeted for this abuse. To fully comprehend the situation that children are being lured into, think of how children are offered free drugs at the school gates by drug dealers to get them hooked. This can be compared to children and young people being targeted to gamble online. I was shocked and horrified when I looked online and saw how the nation’s children are being targeted. Gambling addiction is not given the attention that it desperately needs, like drugs and alcohol abuse, especially in relation to young people, yet it is just as disastrous and much more common than a lot of people think, sadly with an alarming suicide rate.
Gambling addiction devastates lives. It goes under the radar and is extremely embarrassing for victims, especially for pre-teens and teenagers in secondary school. As they have no income, pupils are often cornered into stealing for a stake—it produces out-of-character actions that will impact negatively on their home and school life. The organisation Odds/Off has set up a gambling awareness and abuse prevention programme and has found that nine out of 10 problem gamblers started gambling between the ages of 11 and 16 and did not understand the severity and reality of this dependency until it was too late.
My concern is how easily children become involved in online gambling. Believe it or not, it is surprisingly easy for a young person to download a gambling app, open an account and start actively gambling. All they have to do is lie about their age. It is rare for gambling companies to ask for any form of photo ID until the user attempts to withdraw winnings, yet they can credit their account with unlimited funds without photo ID. This means that, as long as the child is losing their or their parents’ money to the bookmakers, the gambling company will not make any attempt to stop them. This has to change.
Before I get on to the facts and figures, I want to raise an important point of policy, which I hope the Minister will respond to. The question is: where does the responsibility for protecting children from online gambling-related harm lie in the current flurry of strategy documents that are being published? The Government’s Consultation on Proposals for Changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures says at paragraph 5.11:
“The Government is committed to ensuring young and vulnerable people are protected from gambling-related harm—both online and offline”.
It goes on to refer to the recently published internet safety strategy Green Paper as addressing,
“the responsibilities of companies to their users, the use of technical solutions to prevent online harms and government’s role in supporting users”.
However, there is little mention of online gambling harm in the Green Paper. I am concerned that there is a risk that the protection of children from the harms of gambling online will fall through the gap and that this aspect of regulation will not receive the attention that it fully deserves.
Why should I be concerned about this? Because, as the Government acknowledge in their Green Paper,
“there is an association between early gambling participation and problem gambling in adulthood”.
Statistics published by the Gambling Commission on 14 November show that public trust in gambling is falling dramatically. It says:
“There are also significant public concerns about the volume, nature and scheduling of gambling advertising and the impact this could have on future generations”.
We should be concerned about what is happening to our children now and the impact that it could have on them in later life. According to figures published in 2016, more young people are gambling than are smoking or drinking. Not all of the gambling is online, but some of it is. Some 3% of 11 to 15 year-olds have spent their own money on online gambling, but 6% have gambled online using their parents’ accounts, either with or without permission. Even if children are not gambling online, they are seeing adverts for gambling online. Some 63% of 11 to 15 year-olds have seen gambling ads on social media and 57% have seen them on other websites; 9% of young people are following gambling companies on social media.
Gambling seeps into our children’s consciousness. Some of this enticement is very subtle. An investigation by the Times in October revealed that more than 30 online gambling games targeted children through the cunning use of children’s storybook characters, cartoons and things that are relevant to them in their life, such as sporting heroes, especially football stars. Some of the products did not involve real money and were a fairly blatant example of the online gambling industry trying to entice our children into gambling. Professor Mark Griffiths of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University has said:
“Research has shown that when we look at those children who are problem gamblers, the number one risk factor is playing games online for free”.
I welcome the joint letter of 20 October from the Gambling Commission, the Advertising Standards Authority, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Remote Gambling Association, all saying that action would be taken against such ads. But, like many others in this House and the general public, I am concerned that letters such as this are just not going far enough and that more effective action is needed. I refer again to the Government’s gambling paper, which says:
“The Government is clear that on gambling advertising, as with other aspects of social responsibility, more should be done by operators and others who benefit from gambling to minimise the risks to vulnerable people”.
The Government are consulting on a number of proposals to give more teeth to the Gambling Commission’s licensing code if there are breaches to the industry’s advertising codes. However, I question whether these actions go far enough. One of the three licensing objectives in the Gambling Act 2005 is,
“protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling”.
Given that, why are the Government not prepared to go further and amend the Gambling Act to make it an offence to provide any form of game for children that involves the act of gambling, even if the currency is not real money? Perhaps the Minister can tell the House why this option is not being pursued. Can he also tell the House how the Government are ensuring that the current regulatory framework provides sufficient protection to children at a time when gambling and online safety are under the spotlight once again?
I am concerned that the industry does not seem sufficiently motivated to address any of these issues. It would be far more effective for the Government to use their regulatory powers in Section 123 of the Gambling Act 2005 to introduce a statutory levy. This money would have to be sufficient to meet the needs of Britain’s 430,000 problem gamblers and to develop preventive measures to help the further 2 million people who the Gambling Commission says are at risk. More important, the Government must also ensure that sufficient attention is given to preventing children and young people from becoming addicted to online gambling and protecting them from the long-term misery associated with it. It is our moral duty to do so because, let us not forget, childhood lasts a lifetime. So this debate is a wake-up call—to parents, teachers, the Government, the industry; in fact, to the whole of society—if we truly care about our children’s future and want to save them from falling into the pit of despair of addictive gambling abuse. Let us work together to protect and safeguard our children and young people from online gambling abusers.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful for this debate and for the carefully argued and knowledgeable speeches that have been given so far. I have learned an awful lot about a subject about which I knew quite little.
Until recently, I was the minister of a Methodist church in Enfield, which hosted a group of Gamblers Anonymous. They were a wonderful and varied group. They met weekly to tell each other how long it had been since they had had their last bet and to encourage and support each other in their efforts to get themselves out of what they had recognised as problem gambling. It was a really good experience to be in their company. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the way in which they faced their demons and helped each other to get rid of them.
Your Lordships may notice that two Methodist ministers are taking part in this debate. Perhaps that is not surprising, for if you tell anybody you are a Methodist they will say, “You don’t drink or gamble, do you?”. It is a long time since that has been a real part of the Methodist church, so there will be many people who do not and many who do. It was never a prohibition.
There is still a kind of understanding of our society as one in which Christian principles apply: of honest work for just reward; of the sense of caring for our neighbour—by not seeking that for me to win, our neighbour has to lose—and of recognising that gambling, on the whole, appeals to our baser instincts of selfishness and greed. Of course, it can be a harmless and entertaining activity. A little flutter on the horses, a visit to the amusement arcade with a pocket full of 10p pieces for a coin drop, even a bet on who will be the next Prime Minister or when the House of Lords will be abolished can be great fun and harmless activities. Betting has become normalised largely through the public acceptance of lotteries and scratchcards, which are a good way of supporting charities. Where is the harm?
It is an extremely lucrative activity, as we have heard, for those who are the operators and it is a useful activity for criminals. For growing numbers, it is an extremely harmful activity that compromises, disrupts and damages family life and relationships and often leads to crippling debt—we have already heard all these things. It has serious repercussions for health and society; it is associated with anxiety, depression, suicide, crime and domestic violence. The people most at risk are, as we have heard, those for whom it is a private, lonely activity exercised through internet gambling sites that are poorly regulated, so that immense sums of money can be lost in a short time. Chance is artificially created and the gambling is repetitive, with no interaction with others and no distractions. The very short gaps between the stake and the result are known to lead to more addictive behaviour.
The role of government is to ensure that gambling is well and safely regulated. As we have heard, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is consulting on making changes to the maximum stakes and therefore the maximum losses on betting terminals. This is to be welcomed, although I hope that the betting level will be nearer the £2 suggested than the £50 that might be on offer. I also welcome the promise, as I understand it, of multi-operator self-exclusion. That scheme is promised for next year, although I note that many people feel that there is a lack of sanctions within the legislation.
I commend the work of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, with its 12 priority actions relating to increased understanding of the effects of gambling, identifying harm and highlighting the need for education and intervention strategies. To go back to those in my group in Enfield, they are working hard for their own self-benefit and for the benefit of those friends whom they meet. It is up to us to do all we can to encourage that and make sure that some of the temptations and opportunities are regulated, so that people can thrive, and for their well-being.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, for reasons that will shortly be evident. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, for introducing this most timely of debates.
In my childhood in non-conformist rural Wales, gambling of all sorts was a sin, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, will no doubt recall. People were expected, in line with Methodist orthodoxy, to work for their entitlement and never to expect anything for nothing. That day and age has clearly changed, not necessarily for the better, for there were many good social reasons on whose foundation that orthodoxy was built, and some of those social reasons are relevant to today’s debate.
I am glad that noble Lords who have participated, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Browne, in opening this debate, have made the essential link between problem gambling and the growth of online gambling facilities and their accessibility in a domestic setting. In addressing this subject, I do not for one moment take a fundamentalist line that all gambling is, of necessity, evil and that nothing but harm will come to those who participate. How could I, having entered elected politics, the biggest gamble of my life?
The majority of those who gamble do so responsibly, but there is always a danger of pressing that line too far. Everyone will want to identify himself or herself as a responsible person yet still may be in the minority for whom gambling can be a devastating affliction, leading to considerable harm. In reality, there are unacceptable consequences of gambling that go beyond the group identified as problem gamblers, as has been described very effectively in the research paper by Langham and others that was published by BMC Public Health last year. That paper is well worth studying. Its aim, as noted in its conclusions, was,
“to create a dialogue that will lead to a more coherent interpretation of gambling harm across treatment providers, policy makers and researchers”.
It identifies a number of elements as dimensions of harm; namely, financial harm, relationship disruption, emotional or psychological distress, detriments to health, cultural harm, reduced performance at work and criminal activity. That is quite a list, and we, as policymakers, would be negligent to ignore it.
A study of gambling-related harm undertaken in Victoria, Australia, by Matthew Browne and others was published in March this year. It aimed to calculate the burden of gambling harm on the quality of life of the population. The conclusion was that gambling-related harm was associated with 101,675 years of life lost in Victoria. Significantly, this is equivalent to two-thirds of that caused by alcohol use and dependency. Problem gamblers suffered 50% worse than moderate-risk gamblers in that analysis and three times worse than low-risk gamblers. However, because of their greater prevalence, moderate and low-risk gamblers accounted for 85% of the population level harm that was done. However, it is clearly problem gamblers who rightly demand our attention today.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly focused on the links between problem gambling and online gambling, and I am totally convinced that the availability of gambling opportunities within one’s own home, facilitated by online gambling, is a very serious component in tempting people into gambling. People who would never be seen dead in a bookmaker’s shop or in a roulette salon can be drawn in by the ease of opportunity and sometimes by the boredom of being at home, perhaps alone or in a caring capacity, for long hours. It is revealing that two of the groups most prone to problem gambling are those who are economically inactive and, sadly, those who are carers.
It is one thing to identify a problem; it is quite another to put forward a solution or even policies which may alleviate the problem. However, it strikes me that there is one glaring opportunity to try to reduce the number of those who get seduced into gambling online, and that is to do something about the television advertising of gambling which seems to be quite overbearing in proximity to televised sport on commercial television channels. We get in-your-face advertising of gambling before, during and after sporting events. Every possible aspect seems fair game for a bet: who scores, when they score, the most likely scorer, and all the rest. It seems that the slogan is, “Where there's a point, there’s a punter”. Their frequency is matched only by their vulgarity.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, emphasised a moment ago, young people are particularly attracted to sport and are among the most committed viewers of televised sport. It is surely fundamentally wrong that such a vulnerable captive audience should be targeted with adverts that will lead some—yes, perhaps a minority, but some—down the path that eventually makes them problem gamblers.
To my mind, for the protection of such groups, the advertising of gambling on television should be banned by law. Other anti-social activities which can have an addictive element, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, have been subjected to restrictive legislation—rightly so—and I believe that the promotion of gambling on television should be treated in the same way. If it were possible to ban it also from social media, that is something else which I would support, because of the vulnerability of young people to those media, although such action may be more difficult to enforce.
I am sure that we will hear the squeals of commercial television companies whose profits might be marginally lowered by such an intervention, and I am sure that some sporting activities will complain that if money does not come to them from television companies, there will be less paid by them for transmitting live sports. But I am going to take a lot of persuading that soccer has too little money available—on the contrary, the wages paid to top players are scandalously high and a sad reflection on the values of our society. I will equally take much persuading that bringing big sums of money into rugby has done very much for its well-being.
Restricting, or banning, advertising of gambling on television is only one of many initiatives which are needed in relation to problem gambling. I hope, however, that it is one the Government will seriously consider as they address the concerns emanating from today’s debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, for instigating this debate, which highlights the worrying and escalating situation of the addiction of gambling, especially among young people gambling online. I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Howe of Idlicote, who has campaigned endlessly on the challenges facing problem gamblers arising from online gambling.
I declare an interest associated with this debate. A few months ago, I had the details of one of my credit cards stolen, unknown to me. When I looked at my statement from Coutts, I noticed three strange withdrawals. When I investigated and telephoned the bank, I found £60 had been taken out three times and used for online gambling. It must have been used to buy credits for the person’s own online gambling account. Does the Minister know how big a problem this pilfering is? How much money are the banks losing and is there any way there could be more protection for innocent victims? The dark side of the internet is an escalating conundrum. It is a huge problem, and I hope it is now going to be solved.
Some time ago, I had to visit a pub in Yorkshire, and I saw a young teenager completely mesmerised by his computer. It looked to me that he was in another world, with glazed eyes and totally transfixed. It made me realise how serious this is for young people’s lives. Gambling seems to have become socially acceptable, and there are many different platforms on which it can take place. To mention a few: casinos, bingo, the National Lottery, scratchcards, betting shops, racing and betting online. What worries me is what happens when people become addicted.
Addiction is a registered mental disorder that causes the person to need to gamble. I quote from the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
“Persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the following in a 12-month period … Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement … Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling … Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling … Is often preoccupied with gambling (e.g., having persistent thoughts of reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble) … Often gambles when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed) … After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing” one’s losses) … Lies to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling … Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling … Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling”.
An addictive gambler can wreck family life and cause catastrophic results, as many noble Lords have said. Gambling when depressed can get to a point of no return and cause the ultimate, which is suicide. With the ease of accessibility of the internet and online gambling with an account and credit card, accumulating debt can easily get out of control. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what controls and support mechanisms are going to be put in place to alleviate this growing infectious disease. Can the gambling industry help to support treatment and rehabilitation? I hope so.
My Lords, I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for raising this important matter and for his powerful and moving speech. I want to declare an interest of a sort: I have been instructed in a number of cases involving addicted gamblers who have sought to self-exclude. While for obvious reasons I will not go into the detail of those cases, the pattern that recurs is as follows. The gambler, in what the Gambling Commission refers to as a moment of lucidity, decides to stop and presses the button on the screen marked “self-exclude”. That button has alongside it a period of time. It is normally not less than six months, for reasons that I do not understand, and at present it is normally not more than five years—I shall come back to that a little later.
The moment of lucidity passes and the gambler decides that he or she—it is almost always he—wants to go back to gambling. It is often possible to circumvent the self-exclusion simply by using some other operator. Sometimes, in cases where gamblers want to wager very substantial sums of money, there are a limited number of sites that will provide the necessary service. Then, the gambler has to use some sort of subterfuge to get back online; a different name is used, for example. Money inevitably is lost and, in the cases I am talking about, astonishing amounts of money are lost in a very short period. Then the gambler may try to recover that money from the bookmaker provider. Issues then arise as to the steps the bookmaker has taken to satisfy itself that the gambler has not self-excluded. Issues tend to arise as to whether the bookmaker actually knew that a self-excluded gambler was coming back to the tables, or at least turned a blind eye to that fact for commercial reasons that are not difficult to understand.
That sort of problem is arising in the courts. Until now, disappointed self-excluded gamblers who have brought such claims have found it difficult to make them good because they have run into a defence which is of some relevance to the policies under consideration in this debate. The defence that the bookmakers tend to run—not a particularly attractive one—is a causation defence. They say, “Yes, we probably should not have let you gamble all that money, but if we had not let you come on to our virtual tables and lose hundreds of thousands of pounds, you would have found another online provider who would have taken your money. Therefore, you have suffered no loss. Therefore, you have no claim”. There is a case involving a gambler called Calvert, who was suing William Hill, in which the claim failed for that reason.
That is the legal context. In working on those cases, I have had occasion to look at the change in the law that occurred in 2005. I went back to the White Paper, which the Government produced before the Gambling Act 2005 was enacted. I noted that the White Paper was entitled, rather troublingly, A Safe Bet for Success. Yes, perhaps, but the success in question would be that of the bookmakers. The paper characterises the existing legal framework as it then stood as being one of grudging toleration. Some of the powerful speeches that the House has heard this afternoon may indicate that that is precisely the attitude that the legislature should have to gambling.
The position taken by the Government before they enacted the Gambling Act 2005 was very different. It was expressed as follows. In the Government’s view,
“the law should no longer incorporate or reflect any assumption that gambling is an activity which is objectionable and which people should have no encouragement to pursue … It is an important industry in its own right, meeting the legitimate desires of many millions of people and providing many thousands of jobs”.
That passage appeared in a very short section headed “Dealing with the downside”. This debate is concerned with the downside and, in the time I have available, I shall make one or two practical observations about the reforms being discussed.
Before I do that, I want to say something about the profits that are being and will be generated by online gambling. Some of the figures have been mentioned. I was struck by this useful briefing paper to be found in the Library. The gross gambling yield, which is the return to the bookmaker, taking into account any winnings that have to be paid out to the punter, has risen year on year from £12.6 billion to £13.8 billion—the latter figure is for 2015-16. That is a rise of £1.2 billion in a year and, give or take, about a 10% increase. Those are good figures for the bookmakers. During the same period, the gross gambling yield from remote gambling—online gambling of the type we are discussing—rose from £3.6 billion to £4.5 billion, a rise of £0.9 billion. So one can see that a large part of the increase in the profitability of the industry that has occurred in that period is attributable to such online gambling.
A further consideration indicates the power of the commercial motivations that will affect bookmakers’ operations. The provision of online gambling is, relatively, very cheap. That is obvious, because you do not have to build and pay for a casino building or pay for the employees in a betting shop, and so on. This striking statistic caught my eye: just over 6,000 employees are employed in the remote sector—the online sector—whereas some 106,000 employees are employed in the entire gambling sector. That rather brings home just how profitable online gambling is for those who provide it.
Members of the House have spoken eloquently and movingly of all the moral problems and personal tragedies caused by online gambling. There are moral questions here. If one goes into a betting shop, as I do occasionally—for research purposes, obviously—and one looks around, one sees dead-eyed men, and they are almost always men, hunched over the FOBTs, occasionally exploding into impotent rage. First of all, you are reminded of similar scenes that must be taking place in the bedrooms of our children all around the country, which is disturbing. I am also reminded of a line in a piece by Rebecca West, which I adapt. She said that a visit to the casino is a foretaste of death, where the dominion of the will gives way to the dominion of the worm. That is a rather dramatic way of expressing what, in my view—and I think that of many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—is a moral question.
In the time available, I make three or four short practical observations and points. First, will the new multi-operator self-exclusion scheme leave open the possibility for UK gamblers to access non-licensed foreign sites that do not subscribe to the scheme? If so, the new scheme will not do its job. I would be very interested to know what protection might be provided in that respect. Secondly, I echo the compelling arguments against a two-tier system and in favour of a one-tier system. Thirdly, I am most anxious to know whether it will be possible for addicted gamblers to exclude themselves for life—they should be able to do that. Fourthly, I would be very interested to know what sanctions are to be imposed for non-compliance by bookmakers with the new system. Their commercial interests lie elsewhere. For them, the bigger the problem, the bigger the profit.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on securing this important debate and on the work that he has done in ensuring at least progress towards the establishment of the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme for online gambling.
Listening to the debate, I have been struck by four things. First, I was struck by the call by the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, for more independent, transparent, quality research on which to base public policy on this issue. Secondly, we have heard far too many horrific examples of the problems caused by problem gambling—from, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, himself, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who drew attention to the impact on families, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who reminded us, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, of the impact that can be had on entire communities. Of course, we had that very powerful description by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, of the circumstances that can lead to such misery. Thirdly, I have been struck by the unanimity in your Lordships’ House on the very many ways forward that have been talked about that could help to improve the situation, from preventing a two-tier MOSES to moving towards a statutory levy. Fourthly, I have been struck by the concern in your Lordships’ House about children and young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, gave a description of the young person mesmerised by online gambling, and the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, talked about the need for protection of children and young people—an issue that has been so powerfully raised by my noble friend Lady Benjamin, who pointed out that it is completely unacceptable that online gambling apps are made available to children with pretend currencies. Since the Gambling Commission cannot act because its remit pertains only to gambling that involves real money, I hope that the Minister will see if there are ways in which the Government can take action on this.
I served on the committee in the other place that considered the 2005 gambling legislation. We spent much time on super-casinos, which thankfully never materialised, and on the maximum allowable value of teddy-bear prizes in amusement arcades. We did not spend enough time on online gambling or on category B2 machines—or FOBTs, as they are more commonly known. For many years, I have argued that the maximum stake for FOBTs should be £2. Like the noble Lords, Lord Browne, Lord Morrow and Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and others, I hope that a £2 maximum stake will be the outcome of the current review. The stories of the misery caused by FOBTs are numerous and so I hope that we will also be able to reduce the spin rates, so that fewer games can be played per hour, reduce the number of machines in each betting shop, require increased staffing levels, and strengthen local council powers to tackle the blight of clusters of betting shops on our high streets. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that such measures are being seriously considered.
If FOBTs are the crack cocaine of gambling, it is online where we see the wild west of gambling. Online, there are no limits, no time when sites are closed, no supervision, easy access and constant availability. It is no wonder that the highest prevalence of gambling problems comes from the online sector, with its 44% share of the gambling market, 21 million active accounts and huge growth in associated advertising and marketing strategies, such as the so-called “free bets”. I hope that the Minister will take note and consider acting on the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about gambling advertising, not least that linked to sport.
The 2005 gambling regulations are, frankly, wholly inadequate to deal with the current situation caused by the technological explosion since then. I acknowledge that some improvements have been made in respect of advertising and the regulation of offshore gambling sites, but more certainly needs to be done by policymakers and, as the chairman of the Gambling Commission said on Tuesday, by the industry itself. There are a number of measures that have been raised in your Lordships’ House that I entirely support: the rapid introduction of the too-long delayed online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme—to be called GAMSTOP and run by the Remote Gambling Association. As many others in your Lordships’ House have said, I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the scheme will be carefully monitored, that there will be a review within three years and that it will be backed by a major ongoing advertising campaign. There would be little point in introducing such a scheme if online gamblers are unaware of its existence.
Crucially, I hope that the Minister can tell us what sanctions will be applied to any licensed operator who does not offer GAMSTOP. Does the Minister also agree with the point made by so many people that, once the online MOSES is in operation, the single-site exclusion schemes that currently exist should all be dropped so that we do not have a two-tier system? I also hope that he will agree with the need to work towards a single MOSES scheme that covers all forms of gambling.
I welcome the other measures that have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked very passionately about the need to have effective monitoring of transaction blocking mechanisms, and she is absolutely right. Others have talked about the importance of behavioural change prompts, loss limits and bank transfer time limits. I know that if my bank manager agreed to loan me money to go gambling, I suspect that it would rightly be frowned upon, so can the Minister explain why we let people generate huge online debts by allowing financial services to lend them money to gamble through credit cards? Will he at least agree to look into this?
Like others, I do not believe that the current level of funding for research, education and treatment to help problem gamblers and to limit problem gambling in the first place is adequate—£8 million is simply not enough. The 2005 Act gave the Secretary of State the power to introduce a statutory levy for such purposes, but effective industry lobbying persuaded the Government to accept a voluntary approach. However, it is simply not delivering anywhere near the level of funding required to meet the demands placed on GambleAware—demands that all the evidence suggests will increase. The industry fell 20% short of the target last year. Seven months into the current financial year, the industry was 60% short. Such were GambleAware’s concerns about cash flow that in August it notified the Gambling Commission that the services it funds were at risk. No wonder the trustees of GambleAware have criticised the industry’s willingness to address the problem. I am pleased that they intend to name and shame those parts of the industry that do not contribute their share, but I am particularly pleased that they are also lobbying for a ring-fenced statutory levy. It is worth noting that the chair of the Gambling Commission believes that a statutory levy would be a fair way to address the weaknesses of the current system.
After all, a statutory levy is not a new concept for the gambling industry. We have had one for horseracing since 1961, and next year it is estimated that it will generate £90 million. This means that the gambling industry will statutorily donate 10 times more to look after horses than it voluntarily gives to look after people. Staggeringly, the voluntary levy for greyhounds raises almost as much—at £7.5 million—as the voluntary levy to support people, so far more is raised for horses and greyhounds than for people. It is tempting to think that the industry believes in the maxim, “four legs good, two legs bad”.
The time has come for us to take decisive action to ensure, as the noble Baroness put it, that the polluter pays equitably and fully for the cost of gambling-related harm by introducing a statutory levy, and at a higher level than the current 0.1% of gross yield. Requiring no primary legislation, it is an easy win for the Government. It should have been included in yesterday’s Budget. Done quickly, it could still be their own early Christmas present but also one for all those afflicted by problem gambling and their families, who may not have much to look forward to this Christmas because the budget for presents is now sitting in the profits of the gambling industry.
This has been a wide-ranging, well-informed and interesting debate, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, the weight of opinion from all round the Chamber has fallen equally in one direction—the Minister’s head. I look forward to his handling of the responses. The contributions have been the best possible vindication of the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, in bringing this matter to our attention. We do not have to say thank you; the gratitude has been expressed in the way that people have rallied round him and supported the cause. That makes it incumbent on us to do something with the unanimity expressed. I hope that a moral force will have been let loose that will yield its own results in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, and some other noble Lord, who have contributed to this important debate are veterans in a cause which is too often laughed off by people who consider those who raise these concerns to be cranks, do-gooders or zealots. In case noble Lords think that I am exaggerating, I should tell them that after my contribution to the previous debate on gambling, which was only three or four weeks ago, I had some such comments from other Members of the House. Therefore, I hope that they read the record of this debate and realise that I am in such good and worthy company that I can be spared any of those epithets.
In the New Testament there is a story about a woman who goes on knocking at the door of a judge in her demand for justice until, finally, though grudgingly, worn out by her persistence, he lets her in and hears her case. Taking that as our example, it would be apposite to think of these proceedings therefore as the parable of the importunate noble Lord, Lord Browne. I hope that the knocking on the door that he continues to do will yield its results and allow us to consider these matters that affect the moral fibre of the country in which we live.
It is only a short time since we debated fixed-odds betting terminals. Most speakers in that debate were mystified by the news that the Government were about to conduct a consultation to reach a decision about the amount of money that could be staked on those machines. We felt that any number of consultations had taken place in the fairly recent past and failed to understand the particular nature of this one. The problem is so urgent that one consultation after another hardly seems the best methodology. A figure between £2 and £50 has been mentioned more than once, and those who mentioned it expressed the hope that £2 would be nearer the point at which judgment sits than the £50 at the other end of the spectrum. I begin my remarks by asking the Minister and the Government whether any progress is being made with this consultation and whether any clarity is beginning to emerge, and when they feel they will be able to announce the outcomes of the consultation as well as the level set for those stakes.
That is the past, but I begin there for a reason. In March 2014, the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, was persuaded to withdraw his amendment to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill with an assurance that the Government would bring forward non-statutory proposals for a multi-operator self-exclusion scheme. We have heard about that from various noble Lords this afternoon. An undertaking was given that it would appear before the end of this year, although that was presented as an ultimate delay. Yet those goalposts too have now been shifted again and the summer of next year is now being spoken of. Can the Minister throw some light on this? If it is true, can he tell us whether we can have greater confidence in the latest projected date than in previous ones, and why exactly it is taking so long? Can the proposal be put on a statutory basis when it eventually comes our way?
The online self-exclusion proposal is not by any means a solution to the problem facing us, and we should not kid ourselves that it is. At the very least, we should find a way to enable someone who wishes to end their online gambling to have a one-stop route to cutting out all online sites, whether they are operating under a Gambling Commission licence or not. Some 200 such sites are quoted as having a licence, and an innumerable swarm lie beyond that. Various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Foster, have asked precisely for that. Even if we get that assurance or that provision, of course it is nothing like enough. I have worked in the field of addiction long enough to know that the hardest thing of all for an addict of any kind is to be sufficiently self-motivated to take such an action in the first place. The very nature of addictive behaviour is the erosion of self-determination, where one’s will is dulled and overwhelmed by habit and where realism gives way to fantasy. It is a big ask to expect such people to opt for even a well-constructed self-exclusion scheme. It is like asking an alcoholic to give up drinking or asking someone suffering from depression to pull their socks up. The work I did for 17 years with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in establishing Addiction Today set its sights on the 12-step method—which again, is reviled by some but a proven rescue line for others—because it is a social remedy: an attempt with others to solve a problem. I am personally committed to that method myself.
We are told—we have heard the figure many times—that there are 430,000 problem gamblers, with five times that figure at risk of falling into the same category. Their habits are difficult to detect. Many of them are children. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made her passionate case for children. The plea is made to protect children from being groomed—why do we not use that word?—for the gambling industry with games that feature the likes of Peter Pan and Sherlock Holmes, which have also been referred to.
The Minister is only too aware of recent debates on how best to protect children from the dangers of the internet. The Data Protection Bill is going through this House at this very moment and these matters are being discussed in great depth. I know that the Minister will certainly be smacking his lips at the prospect of debating the amendment to that Bill in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Harding, on the question of child-friendly design in the use of the internet—a concept that started to emerge in services where kids spent a considerable amount of time on social media and there was concern that they would be exposed. Initially, that concern was primarily about grooming for sexual exploitation, but it became more about exposure to all kinds of harms and criminality. Can we promise ourselves to look at proposals to protect children in the area of gambling by looking to the provisions that we seek to make to protect children from the harm imposed on them by the internet in more general terms? The wisdom there might be helpful here. We could also look at the proposals relating to age verification—that, too, has been mentioned in this debate—with a view to bringing them into play to help us deal with children at risk from gambling.
It is a fact universally acknowledged that, by its very nature, gambling will produce victims. Experts differ on the numbers but, as already mentioned, we are speaking here of hundreds of thousands. Eventually, treatment regimes will be needed to help with their mental and physical health—that is, they will be a charge on our health and social care services. In acknowledging this, will the Government consider imposing a levy on the gambling industry to meet these costs—a proposal made by many in this debate? The 0.1% contribution from the gambling industry’s £13.8 billion is derisory. A statutory levy—I was intrigued to hear about the horses and greyhounds—could produce much more money for GambleAware and related bodies to do their work and even generate finance that could be hypothecated, perhaps as a direct contribution to NHS budgets. Do the Government agree with reasoning of this kind, and would they be led to consider such a levy? If not, why not?
I could go on—there is much to say. Noble Lords have raised a number of points. They have made us all aware that, far from being cranks, do-gooders or zealots, they care deeply about the well-being of our citizens and the communities they live in. I look forward to hearing a recognition of this concern and a serious engagement with the issues raised in this most welcome debate when the Minister makes his reply.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this informed and very interesting, although somewhat alarming, debate. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for securing it and for sharing his thoughts with me beforehand. I am also pleased that the A-team on the Data Protection Bill, which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, is in place.
The issue here—in a sense, the dilemma—is that for millions of people gambling is an enjoyable leisure activity with no harmful consequences. Sixty-three per cent of adults gambled in one form or another in the last year. However, the Gambling Act makes it clear that gambling is subject to the licensing objectives set out by the Gambling Commission, including the protection of young and vulnerable people from gambling-related harm. Headline rates of problem gambling have remained relatively low over time, at below 1% of the adult population. As noble Lords have mentioned, the latest statistics found that 0.8% of the adult population—some 430,000 people—were classified as problem gamblers in 2015, but a further 2 million people were identified as being at risk of problem gambling.
I do of course realise, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, reminded us, that, in addition to those headline numbers, there may be severe consequences for families. I generally agree with the many statistics that have been mentioned in this debate—too many to come back on. The basic fact is that online gambling is big and growing, and 5% of those online gamblers are problem gamblers. The Government are clear that more must be done to protect people from harm, and on 31 October we published a consultation on proposals for changes to gaming machines and social responsibility measures across the gambling industry. The consultation sets out a package of measures to improve player protection for the online sector, including strengthening existing protections and outlining further measures relating to gambling advertising to minimise the risk to the most vulnerable.
Although online gambling is widely accessible and available 24 hours a day, it also has unique characteristics that provide opportunities to protect players. For example, all online gambling is account based, unlike land-based gambling where customers can often gamble anonymously. That means that online operators can know exactly who their customers are, what they are spending their money on and their patterns of gambling behaviour. We have seen some progress in this area with a number of operators adopting the use of behavioural analytics and algorithms to detect problem gambling on their websites. Recent research has found—this might address some of the identity issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey—that operators are able to detect problem gambling using the data they collect from customers today.
While that is encouraging, the Government have made it clear that industry must act on the findings of the research to date and trial a range of harm-minimisation measures to strengthen player protection. We want to see the industry evaluate the action it takes and share best practice. In addition, the industry must continue to engage in GambleAware’s research and commit to implement the findings of this ongoing work. The next phase of the research aims to provide a best-practice model that can be used by online gambling companies in their responsible gambling operations, including recommended interventions which have been evaluated for their effectiveness to reduce the risk of harm.
In the light of those issues, what is the Gambling Commission doing? The Gambling Commission is monitoring this area closely and is encouraging operators to increase action to identify harmful play, design and pilot better interventions and put in place measures that work. The commission has already concluded that it will need to consult on changes to the licence conditions and codes of practice next year in order to raise standards in this area. The commission will also issue guidance to the industry setting out expectations in relation to operator interactions with customers.
I turn now to the issue of self-exclusion—an important tool for those who recognise that they have a problem with gambling and a vital means of protecting consumers from harm. All operators must offer self-exclusion to customers on their request, and more than 800,000 online self-exclusions were reported last year. However, as the average player has more than one account, that does not necessarily translate to 800,000 people. The Government understand just how important it is for recovering problem gamblers to be able to self-exclude from all licensed online gambling platforms in one step. A new multi-operator self-exclusion scheme for online gambling, called GAMSTOP, will be launched in spring next year. A range of stakeholders, including GambleAware and GamCare, have provided advice during development of the scheme. I am aware that the proposals for such a scheme were debated by noble Lords during the passage of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, who was a vocal champion of such a scheme back then and has remained a leading advocate for it since.
The new scheme will allow customers to self-exclude from all online licensed operators in a single step. The website will also set out other measures that are available to help people manage their gambling and will signpost specialist advice and support services. It will significantly strengthen the self-exclusion arrangements available for online gamblers and provide improved protection for those customers who have previously self-excluded from individual gambling websites, only to open an account with other operators. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked, we want to see the industry promote awareness of the scheme and do more to increase its take-up along with other responsible gambling tools such as time-outs and deposit limits which are available. These are in the consultation that we have just published.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, asked why this has taken so long. I share the noble Lord’s frustration, and I would have liked to have seen the scheme in operation sooner. Indeed, we called for the gambling consultation and review for implementation of the scheme to be completed at the earliest opportunity. The truth of the matter is that there have been a number of complex issues to consider which I will not bore noble Lords with, but it is absolutely vital that when GAMSTOP is launched, it actually meets its objectives and can ensure that customers who register with it are prevented from gambling online with licensed operators. It is an industry scheme, but the Gambling Commission is working closely with the industry on its development to ensure that it is robust and effective, again a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. Certain technical barriers have had to be overcome, not least in relation to data protection. The system must be capable of dealing with millions of checks being made by operators every day in real time. It must provide a service to consumers that is effective and easy to use, and therefore while the delay is frustrating, it is important that it is robust and will work across all licensed operators. However—in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths—we expect it to be up and running by March 2018.
While self-exclusion is a useful tool, it is often the case that an individual who chooses to self-exclude may do so as the result of having suffered harm in relation to their gambling. The Government are clear that operators must act quickly to improve approaches to identifying problem gambling on their platforms and interacting with their customers to protect vulnerable people before serious harm occurs.
I turn now to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Chadlington. Where gambling operators have used children’s characters to front games, the Gambling Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority have written to them to make it crystal clear that they are in breach of advertising rules that prohibit gambling marketing material aimed at children. My noble friend also raised the question of independent research and transparency, as did the noble Lord, Lord Foster. We agree that this is an essential tool in building an evidence base and enhancing our understanding of gambling-related harm. GambleAware is an independent charity with an independent chair, and the majority of its board members are from outside the betting industry. We want to see the industry continue to fund GambleAware and others in this important work, as they do research, education and treatment for problem gamblers. We welcome the additional funding of £5 million to £7 million a year for the next two years that the industry is to invest to support a responsible gambling advertising campaign. This is a large sum in advertising terms which compares well with major national health campaigns.
If the current arrangements fall short, the Government will consider alternative options, including the introduction of a mandatory levy. But it is worth reminding ourselves that the current funding target to meet the needs of research, education and treatment, set by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, has been suggested to be around £10 million by 2018-19. This target is being actively pursued by GambleAware, but as and when funding targets change, the voluntary system must gear up to meet that need. I repeat: the consultation made it clear that the Government will consider alternative options, including a mandatory levy, if current arrangements fall short.
Let me address some of the points made by noble Lords in their speeches. As far as the two-tiered approach to self-exclusion is concerned—mentioned by, among others, the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe—we want to see the industry build on the existing protections. Some consumers may wish to self-exclude from certain individual products and not the entire online sector, but we want to encourage self-exclusion. Websites are required to set out clearly the gambling management tools available, including self-exclusion. The important thing to remember is that self-exclusion is only part of the problem. Lots of problem gamblers do not self-exclude, so we must deal with the harms caused to others with perhaps worse problems than those who are prepared and self-aware enough to self-exclude.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned FOBTs in the consultation, as did others. I can confirm that we are considering potentially going down to as low as £2 for the stake, and are consulting on that specific issue. We have asked the Gambling Commission for more information about how better tracking and monitoring of play on FOBTs can help with interventions to protect players and whether spin speeds on games such as roulette should be looked at.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, asked about how the consultation is going and whether clarity is emerging. The consultation is ongoing and clarity may well emerge from it but we will not be certain until January next year. He also asked when we will produce our results, and he will not be surprised to hear that we will do that in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, talked about the problem of gambling in Northern Ireland. It is a bit difficult for me to address the issue here as it is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, talked about children and what we have done to protect them online, and, more importantly, the issue of what we might do to protect them online and whether we will legislate. Under the Gambling Act, the Gambling Commission has broad powers to place new licensing requirements on operators and respond to the pace of change in the online gambling market. In addition, the Gambling Commission has powers to suspend or revoke a licence, impose financial penalties or take criminal action where there is a failure to prevent underage gambling. However, we are not complacent, which is why the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board are currently examining the relationship between children and gambling to determine whether further action is necessary. We expect the gambling industry to play its part in protecting children online, in line with the Government’s internet safety strategy. We will keep the issue firmly under review, acting accordingly where necessary. As for her questions on age verification, children and free games, all licensed operators must have robust policies to prevent underage gambling. Where age verification is not satisfactorily completed within 72 hours, the operator must return any money that the customer has paid into their account and not pay out any winnings.
The noble Lords, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey and Lord Foster of Bath, asked why operators cannot exclude for life. Data protection rules regarding data retention prevent GAMSTOP from technically offering an indefinite self-exclusion option. However, procedures will be in place to notify self-excluders in these circumstances and give them the opportunity to renew their self-exclusions. The noble Lords asked what would happen if there was non-compliance of operators. It will be a licence condition that all operators sign up to GAMSTOP and the normal penalties will therefore apply, including losing their licence.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, mentioned the academic paper on gambling-related harm. He was right to point out that harm goes beyond that of the problem gambler—a point which I made at the beginning and was made also in our consultation. In that regard, I welcome the work that the Gambling Commission, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board and GambleAware are doing better to understand and measure the extent of this issue, which we agree is very important.
My noble friend Lord Smith of Hindhead asked why we are allowing operators to use affiliates and tipsters to harvest data and target the vulnerable. All gambling operators must have a licence from the Gambling Commission to operate and are held responsible for the actions and behaviours of their affiliates. The commission published advice earlier this year on ensuring that direct marketing is not sent to those who have self-excluded from gambling. Operators and affiliates must comply with the requirements of the privacy and electronic communications regulations and the Data Protection Act, and the ICO may take enforcement action if there is evidence of a breach. The Advertising Standards Authority also has the power to take action if it were to receive evidence of irresponsible targeting.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked about financial transaction blocking. The Gambling Commission has had great success working with payment providers to prevent unlicensed websites accessing the British market. Payment providers work proactively to stop payments to and from unlicensed websites, which means that the true number of websites effectively blocked may be higher than the figures held by the commission, but I would certainly be happy to write to the noble Baroness with the latest figures held by the Gambling Commission.
I am coming to the end of my time. I will certainly write to other noble Lords, because there are several questions that I have not answered—I think that about 48 questions were asked during the debate. I will read what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said and write to him on it.
This has been an informative and interesting debate. I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for bringing it and allowing us to discuss these important issues. We have seen significant changes to the market since the implementation of the Gambling Act, as well as to public perceptions of gambling and to our understanding of harm across the gambling landscape. Our objective in engaging in the gambling review is to strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and the protection of consumers and the communities in which they live. We have listened to what has been said today. I will take noble Lords’ speeches back to the department. I encourage all noble Lords who have a view on these matters to respond to the consultation, which they have until January to do.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everyone, including the Minister, who has taken part in today’s debate. It has been an excellent debate, with support right across the House. I do not think that anyone could have failed to be moved by all the contributions. I find myself at the conclusion with a strong sense that, to coin a phrase, something must be done.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out what has been done, but the Government should not underestimate the level of public concern and I hope they will mediate on the political significance of the recent evidence from the Gambling Commission. Public faith in gambling has fallen dramatically in the past nine years. While I certainly did not hear complacency in the Minister’s response, I am not totally convinced that the Government are fully seized of the importance of this issue.
There is a mismatch between the significant technological possibilities for enhancing online gambling and the current proposals in the DCMS consultation. I very much hope that the Minister and the Secretary of State will take away all the excellent proposals that have been made in today’s debate and use them in the current consultation process. I hope that they will accept that while the current consultation proposals for online gambling are good as far as they go, they need to go further. I hope that when they respond to the consultation they make clear their determination not to allow multiple individual self-exclusion mechanisms to continue to exist but mandate their replacement with GAMSTOP. I hope that they will prohibit the marketing of gambling games to children and, even more importantly, prevent children’s access to such games through age verification. I hope that they will introduce a statutory level of at least 0.8% and that they will end the lending of money for gambling through credit cards. I hope that they will look at prohibiting online betting between midnight and 6 am.
I have listened very carefully to the Minister, but I do not think he responded to my specific request for a meeting with himself, GAMSTOP, the Gambling Commission and problem gamblers.
I welcome that. Finally, I think there is a lot more work to be done. As we do it, we should not forget Joshua Jones, Omair Abbas, Adam Billing and, back home, Lewis Keogh, and their families. We should seek to build a public policy framework that means that their suffering will not be repeated by others.
Armed Forces Act 2006
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, gave your Lordships a most helpful reply to my Question on 23 October on the review of the Armed Forces Act for the next Bill, in 2020, in so far as it deals with serious offences committed by members of the Armed Forces. That is my main concern, not the civilianisation of disciplinary procedures in general. In any event, military prosecutors will ensure the protection of the military interest.
As a young subaltern newly qualified as a barrister—I learned I had passed my exams in the cookhouse of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Wrexham—and totally without experience, I was in some demand in courts martial when I served in Germany. After that, despite 50 years at the criminal Bar, I took no interest, or, more importantly, my clerk took no interest, in court martial work. As Attorney General, I believe I signed a protocol with defence and many other agencies to confirm the supervisory role of the law officers. I was never, in fact, troubled. A further protocol was signed by the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, as he is now, and others in 2011 confirming the overriding principle of “fair and efficient justice” for persons subject to service law.
I surmise that for offences other than serious ones the present system may work reasonably well in the delivery of those aims. It is the recent case of Sergeant Blackman, heard in the Court Martial Appeal Court with considerable publicity and public interest, that has caused me to take your Lordships’ time tonight. Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 changed the jurisdiction of courts martial to deal with cases of murder, manslaughter and rape, although the court martial system could already deal with serious cases such as murder if they were committed abroad. It could convict by a majority but sentence to death had to be unanimous.
I believe that the time has come, in the Minister’s words,
“for an independent and more in-depth look at the service justice system so that we can be assured that it is as effective as it can be for the 21st century”.—[Official Report, 23/10/17; col. 766.]
I have looked at the records for 2005 to 2010 and there appear to have been seven cases of homicide/manslaughter. There were also many more cases of serious assault. It is the handling of the more serious cases that needs scrutiny. The United Kingdom’s most senior military judge is the Judge Advocate-General, a senior civilian lawyer. In 2013 the Judge Advocate-General, His Honour Judge Blackett, said that the rules for military courts looked unfair and could be challenged in future cases.
A court martial comprises a judge advocate, and between three and seven members of the jury, known as the board. They are officers or warrant officers but can include civilians. The membership is hierarchical but I understand that when they vote, the most junior member votes first. Whether seniority in membership plays a part in the discussions, I do not know; I can only guess. The verdict is delivered at the end of the trial. The defendant does not know whether or not it is unanimous. It can be by the thinnest of majorities—three to two is sufficient.
When majority verdicts were introduced in English and Welsh courts, as a mainly defence lawyer, I was troubled initially, but I can say with long experience that a system of a verdict of at least 10 to two when the jury remains 12 in number works. It succeeds in weeding out unreasonable failure to reach a verdict because of the dissent of one or two. However, the directions for reaching a majority verdict as opposed to a unanimous verdict, including an exhortation to strive for unanimity, are set out in statutory detail and are absolutely transparent to the defendant and the public. The voting figures are made known.
I share Judge Blackett’s concern that a defendant can be convicted if only three members of the court martial had voted for a guilty verdict while the other two had supported an acquittal. Three to two is not enough, in my view. Not to reveal the figures is also a matter of concern in this day and age. The House will be interested that the system in New Zealand has changed recently. It has used the England and Wales system as a model, with one difference: it decided that all convictions must be unanimous. I am conscious of the fact that the Court Martial Appeal Court, headed by the then Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in the case of R v Twaite, held that a majority verdict did not infringe the right to a fair trial or produce an unsafe conviction. It found no reason to conclude that the finding of guilt on the basis of a simple majority was inherently unsafe. I invite the review to consider this judgment and the views of the Judge Advocate-General, and draw from the experience of New Zealand.
Although I respect the court’s judgment, I believe that an in-depth review should consider, first, whether a majority verdict with such a slim majority is appropriate, in the Minister’s words, “for the 21st century”; secondly, whether the fact that the verdict is not unanimous should be made public; thirdly, whether the hierarchical system of board membership is appropriate; and, fourthly, whether the directions for a verdict should be set out, as they are in ordinary criminal law, and also consider the relevance and the working of Rule 26 of the Armed Forces (Court Martial) Rules 2009.
It was put to me recently by a most eminent lawyer that in the most serious cases, we might consider moving to a system more akin to an ordinary trial by jury. This would do away with the hierarchical system of board membership. I had also raised this possibility in my Question on 23 October. I would like to hear what might be the objections to, and particularly the difficulties in, such a system and whether it might apply only to the more serious cases.
I would like the review to consider one other issue: whether a judge advocate, given the figures for the number of homicide cases in recent years, is the best presiding judge for serious cases such as murder or rape. Only the most senior and experienced of circuit judges hear rape cases and they are licensed to do so—likewise with murder cases, I believe. While a High Court judge has in the past sat as a judge advocate in serious or unprecedented cases, I believe consideration of who should preside should be more of a routine issue.
I therefore suggest that the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, who I understand allocates the High Court Bench for the most serious cases in our courts, should be asked to nominate a High Court judge to try such cases where he sees the need. It is the fact of the rarity of such cases which calls into question whether a judge-advocate is the best form of tribunal. I am sure that the in-house lawyers of the Ministry of Defence, which I served many years ago, would benefit from outside advice. I have in mind Treasury counsel, or particularly former Treasury counsel, who have actual experience of handling court-martial cases and serious cases such as murder. Hence my welcome for a widely drawn inquiry to review the working of Section 42 and use the opportunity to consider other aspects of the court-martial system.
I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon for having secured this debate on what would, at first sight, appear a rather recondite issue but which has, from time to time, had very serious consequences for individuals. It has also caused great publicity, which is sometimes to the disadvantage of the Armed Forces.
Much has been done in recent years by the present Judge Advocate-General, Judge Blackett, to improve the system. I pay tribute to what he has done. He has certainly much more closely aligned the procedure of the courts martial in the trial of criminal cases to that of the Crown Court. However, as my noble and learned friend said, there is a real distinction in relation to jury trial, which in the modern age is hard to justify. That is to say: the composition breaches the fundamental principle of random selection and there is the fact that a majority can be a bare majority, which is not even announced. These anomalies are very difficult to justify as a matter of justice in the 21st century.
These issues are of particular importance in cases which involve action by a member of the Armed Forces against someone who is not a member of the Armed Forces, as has occurred in a number of cases. The ordinary citizen would expect a crime over which the Crown Court has jurisdiction, which includes murder overseas, to be tried by an ordinary court, by ordinary principles of law and by that bulwark of our constitution, trial by jury. It therefore seems that what the noble and learned Lord suggests is, in the present circumstances, essential: a review to see whether the provision is fit for the 21st century, particularly in circumstances where there has been a reduction in the numbers in our Armed Forces, a substantial fall in the number of cases and much-needed improvement made in the ordinary criminal justice system.
I would like to draw attention to a number of specific questions, and I shall take five by way of example because they all relate to this question. First, there is concurrent jurisdiction. It is clear that a number of cases are tried by court martial over which the Crown Court would have jurisdiction. There is a protocol between the Director of Service Prosecutions, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Ministry of Defence that covers the allocation of such cases. I think the time has come for a proper review of that protocol to determine whether it is right that serious criminal cases do not automatically go to the Crown Court.
Secondly, there is a matter often overlooked, which is the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The noble and learned Lord will have had much experience of supervising the exercise of that discretion in the ordinary courts. It is a matter which sometimes causes the Director of Public Prosecutions a great deal of anguish, but there are cases which result from historic conduct where the courts martial have jurisdiction over civilians because they were family members, not members of the Armed Forces. That is the sort of case, and there are other illustrations that could be given, where it is appropriate that as part of the operation of the courts martial system, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion—such a difficult issue—should be examined.
Thirdly, there are less serious criminal cases where it might be said that the court martial is the appropriate forum, particularly for low-end assaults or minor thefts, where sentencing considerations are, it might be said, more appropriate for a court martial than an ordinary court. Fourthly, there is the question the noble and learned Lord has raised in relation to the allocation of judges. Certainly as the number of cases in the courts marital decreases, experience becomes more important. Finally, there is another aspect of the system. Over the past 15 or so years, in the Crown Court sentencing has become much more professional, and it is carried out by the judge alone. Is it right in the 21st century that sentencing should also be done by the full board?
Those are just examples of questions that arise from the need for the review for which the noble and learned Lord has called. As I have presided over a significant number of court martial appeals, it would not be appropriate for me to say anything more about the detail of my experience, but it seems to me that the time has come for a review. It is possible to do much without primary legislation. The operation of the protocol is one of the key issues where a lot could be done without legislation, and there is the much-needed but neglected revision to the courts martial procedure rules in which the Ministry of Defence has a key role. I therefore warmly endorse what the noble and learned Lord has sought in this debate. Such a review would be welcome to everyone concerned with the administration of justice and, in particular, for the reputation of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. They are not well served by the present system.
My Lords, in March 1669 the Lord High Admiral, the Duke of York, later James II, issued a warrant to constitute a court martial. It was to be comprised of a rear admiral and six captains to enquire into the loss by fire of a ship of the line, the “Defiance”. In order to constitute the court, Samuel Pepys, then a civil servant with the title of the Clerk of the Acts, found himself suddenly and unexpectedly elevated to military rank. He wrote in his diary:
“But that which put me in good humour, both at noon and night, is the fancy that I am this day made a Captain of one of the King’s ships, Mr. Wren having this day sent me the Duke of York’s commission to be Captain of ‘The Jerzy,’ in order to my being of a Court-martiall for examining the loss of ‘The Defyance,’ … which do give me occasion of much mirth, and may be of some use to me, at least I shall get a little money by it for the time I have it; it being designed that I must really be a Captain to be able to sit in this Court”.
At the hearing, Mr Pepys managed the business, and as he put it,
“did lay the law open to them, and rattle the Master-Attendants out of their wits almost; and made the trial last till seven at night, not eating a bit all the day”.
However, he did forbear from giving judgment, lest, as he put it,
“evil use might be hereafter made of the precedent by putting the Duke of Buckingham, or any of these rude fellows that now are uppermost, to make packed Courts, by Captains made on purpose to serve their turns”.
Pepys instead left the proceedings to eat a ship-board meal of,
“salt beef … brown bread and brandy … so good as I never would desire to eat better meat while I live, only I would have cleaner dishes”.
I am grateful to my friend and colleague, Professor Eugene Fidell, of Yale University, author of the excellent book Military Justice: A Very Short Introduction, who drew these passages to my attention.
In the 1840s, a parliamentary Motion was brought criticising the Earl of Cardigan, of Light Brigade fame, who was colonel of the 11th Hussars. There were 350 men in the regiment, and in the space of two years he had conducted 107 courts martial, with 90 of his soldiers imprisoned in Lewes jail. But that was not his offence; his mortal sin was to have a soldier flogged on a Sunday at a church parade, which was what the Motion was about. Flogging was abolished by Sir George Osborne Morgan, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Wrexham—which has already had a mention and is of course my home town—who was the Judge Advocate in 1881.
I remember during my bus-conducting days in Wrexham that the bus driver I was working with was proud of the fact that he had survived field punishment number one while serving in the First World War—that is to say he was lashed, spreadeagled to the wheel of a gun carriage. Sixty thousand such sentences were imposed during that time, and at the same time 3,000 death sentences were pronounced by courts martial, of which about 10% were carried out. Their posthumous pardon is still a controversial issue.
I mention these historical occurrences because they have a left a degree of mistrust of courts martial in the public consciousness, which has not disappeared. Back in 1995, I defended a soldier before a court martial in Germany on a charge of murder. He was acquitted. Mr George Galloway MP, speaking in the House of Commons, complained of the bungling and incompetence of the investigation and prosecution, and continued:
“As a result of that bungling and incompetence”,
X—he named the defendant—
“who killed my constituent, has literally got away with murder and is currently at large in a military establishment in Telford, Shropshire. Does the Leader of the House understand that British military justice and law is increasingly seen as an ass”?—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/95; col. 1209.]
I have never heard comments like that in Parliament about an acquittal by a jury.
The parents of the deceased girl in the case of X actually picketed the next court martial I appeared in in Germany, holding placards protesting against the system. That was the case of Martin, which ended up in the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords and, finally, in the European Court of Human Rights. The 17 year-old son of a soldier—not a soldier himself—serving in Germany was charged with the murder of a British civilian who had the status of an officer in the camp. He was held on remand at Colchester for eight months and then flown back to Germany for a court martial with all the trimmings. By that time his father had retired from the Army and was no longer serving. He was convicted. My appeal on the basis of abuse of process was lost in the House of Lords. The European Court of Human Rights, on the other hand, found that there had been a violation of the European convention on other grounds, and cautioned that only in very exceptional circumstances may civilians be court-martialled:
“The power of military criminal justice should not extend to civilians unless there are compelling reasons justifying such a situation, and if so only on a clear and foreseeable legal basis”.
The Government’s position on that case was criticised and questioned by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 12th report in May 2011.
I shall cite two more recent events. One is the Baha Mousa case, in which I appeared for one of the defendant officers, and it was in fact a High Court judge in that particular case. Nevertheless, the acquittals were not acceptable to the Government, who instituted an inquiry that cost millions of pounds. Within the last year there has been the case to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, referred, the conviction of Sergeant Blackman, which led to a lengthy newspaper campaign, protests and public demonstrations in Old Palace Yard and a rehearing of his appeal on grounds that had never been advanced at his trial. The substitution of his conviction for murder with one of manslaughter led to his immediate release.
What I am endeavouring to show is that there is no public confidence in the system. I know the system and I have every confidence in the judge advocates who sit on courts martial, particularly Judge Advocate Blackett, who has been referred to. They are highly skilled and experienced, and many of them hold certificates to sit on murder trials. However, in the last three Armed Forces Bills over 15 years, I have moved amendments unsuccessfully to improve the workings of the system. Every one of the five points that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has put forward is one that I have advanced. I had one success: in 2004 I managed to have the hallowed practice of a petty officer marching the defendant into a naval court martial hearing at the point of a cutlass finally abolished. The presumption of innocence hardly applies when you have the point of a sword in your back.
Specifically, I have called for the repeal of Section 42 and for the extension of universal jurisdiction to sexual crimes so that rape, murder and serious crime could be tried in the ordinary British courts if they are committed abroad. Now, though, with the return of the Army from Germany and the ease of travel that has caused all serious trials from Iraq and Afghanistan to be heard at Colchester or Bulford, the argument of distance is no longer relevant. I have argued that the protocol between the DSP and the DPP is not a satisfactory safeguard where serious charges are laid.
In 2013, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers submitted a report to the General Assembly of the United Nations that stated:
“As a specialized jurisdiction aimed at serving the particular disciplinary needs of the military, the ratione materiae jurisdiction of military tribunals should be limited to … offences of a strictly military nature, in other words to offences that by their own nature relate exclusively to legally protected interests of military order, such as desertion, insubordination or abandonment of post or command”.
Paragraph 99 of that report reads:
“States should not resort to the concept of service-related acts to displace the jurisdiction belonging to the ordinary courts in favour of military tribunals. Ordinary criminal offences committed by military personnel should be tried in ordinary courts”.
That view was re-emphasised in a report to the United Nations on 9 June 2017, and is entirely in accordance with Decaux principle No. 8, which provides that the subject matter of military courts should be limited to offences of a strictly military nature committed by military personnel. The Decaux principles are the United Nations draft principles governing the administration of justice through military tribunals, adopted in 2006.
I therefore fully support the thinking behind the Motion, and thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, for moving it, and for emphasising a battle in which I have been engaged for a long time. I would advise those considering these matters to follow closely the case of Stillman v the Queen, which is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada. It raises the very issue under discussion. Corporal Stillman, in a private quarrel, shot an individual with his own revolver in the residential area of a military camp but was tried by court martial. The repeal of Section 42 would be wholly in accord with contemporary human rights norms and would remove the strong public prejudice against trial by court martial, starting from before Mr Pepys down to the present day.
“And so to bed”.
My Lords, I start by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, back to her place. I understand that she has been away for a couple of weeks and has been unwell. I hope that she is fully recovered, because I could not do the knockabout otherwise. I also thank my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon for bringing this issue before us.
I venture into this territory with great trepidation, having listened to three lawyers discuss the matter in some detail. From the formal point of view of the Opposition, I can do no more than say that the arguments are persuasive but, should legislation come before us, we would of course examine it, scrutinise it and take advice. We are talking about a military environment and possible military dimensions, and about service law, which must be changed only with great care.
Nevertheless, I totally agree with the call from my noble and learned friend for what he called a widely drawn inquiry. Here, I must disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, given our exchange the last time that we discussed this subject. She responded to my indication of general support, where I called for full consultation. Her response was:
“We are not conducting a public consultation but trying to ensure that the system is tweaked, if it needs tweaking, to ensure that we are in the best possible state to be in for the 21st century. But that does not preclude any interested parties from making representations to the Government on these issues, as and when they think it appropriate. The noble Lord raises a point that he might wish to consider presenting to the Government”.—[Official Report, 23/10/17; col. 768.]
I cannot believe that she was serious. The idea of an individual writing to the mighty Government and getting anywhere where anybody would consider it is, at least, amusing.
This is surely the point. Enough doubt has been expressed about how military law operates in the circumstances. We all know that we will have an Armed Forces Act in 2020. Surely the right thing to do is to have a proper consultation on this area—indeed, perhaps not just this area but others where there has been doubt and concern about cases over the previous five years. A proper consultation would mean that many more people would know that an inquiry—I do not want to use formal words—would take place or that the Government were in a formal way considering changes. It would also mean that the Government would have to make a proper public response. It would encourage involvement by interested lawyers and former serving members of the Armed Forces. It might also be an occasion when forces charities or associations would want to make representations.
One has to remember that the problem of getting things right for the other ranks in our Armed Forces is quite difficult. They do not have a trade union, and I am in no way advocating that they should, but there are no natural systems for getting how the law feels to them and how they see the process. We are making only very slow progress, although we have the services ombudsman, which is a good step forward, and so on. A proper consultation in which everybody was invited to put forward their views and through which there was a proper government response is the minimum that should take place on this issue. It would create an option whereby wider issues of public concern could be introduced. That way, we can have another Armed Forces Act.
We have made a lot of progress over recent years—I think that it was the 2006 Act that brought all the services together and we did some tweaking at the next step, five years later. Here is an opportunity to have another go at the law to make it better and fit for purpose in terms of natural justice as well as in equivalence to the civilian process, and to go through those careful considerations and make it appropriate to work in a military environment.
My Lords, as always, we have had a good debate covering a range of issues around the service justice system, and I thank noble Lords for their interest and contributions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his kind remarks. I shall do my best to respond to as many of the points raised as I can. By way of preface, I should explain that I have a blocked ear and am totally deaf on my left-hand side, so if I fail to respond to a point raised it is not selective disregard of that contribution—it is because I have failed to hear it properly. But I shall, of course, write to any noble Lord where I have omitted to deal with the point adequately.
We have heard a range of views and concerns about aspects of the service justice system. I should make it clear that, as a broad principle, it is our aim to mirror provisions within the civilian justice system and diverge from that only when it is necessary to maintain operational effectiveness. I noted the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, but I remind noble Lords that the Ministry of Defence has successfully defended challenges to the system of Armed Forces’ courts—in particular, the court martial—in cases in the European Court of Human Rights and civilian courts. The current system has been held to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, and we maintain that it is safe, independent and impartial. However, we recognise that, as we move further forward into the 21st century, we need to make sure that we have the right service justice system in place to meet the needs of our Armed Forces. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for acknowledging that progress has been made—although I also acknowledge that, from his perspective, it is not enough.
As I said in my reply to the Question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, on 23 October, the Government have decided to have a broad review of the service justice system in advance of the next Armed Forces Bill in 2020, and that review will include the handling of serious criminal offences with which the civilian criminal system deals more frequently. The review is being led by a retired civilian judge, His Honour Shaun Lyons. Judge Lyons also served in the Royal Navy and left the service in 1992 as Chief Naval Judge Advocate to take up a position in the civilian judiciary, where he served until last year. We believe that he brings the right level of experience and objectivity to this piece of work and we look forward to the report of his review in around a year’s time.
This is an independently led review and Judge Lyons will be able to consult with whomever he believes will assist him in his work. Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that I am sure this will include a wide range of stakeholders, including those who sit outside of the MoD. Indeed, those who wish to make representations are free to do so. I know the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, was rather dismissive of my previous observation that people should feel free to make their contributions but I think it would add a very positive dynamic to the process and would help the review. I am sure that the views expressed this afternoon will be listened to with interest.
Turning to the substance of the noble Lord’s Question, I should explain that Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 provides that:
“A person subject to service law, or a civilian subject to service discipline, commits an offence under this section if he”—
“does any act that … is punishable by the law of England and Wales; or … if done in England or Wales, would be so punishable”.
The Armed Forces Act provides for the service justice system to investigate and deal with these offences, whether they are committed in the United Kingdom or overseas.
With regard to the extraterritorial application of Section 42 so that it applies overseas, if that provision did not exist, we could find ourselves unable to deal with service personnel who commit civilian criminal offences overseas, and it therefore plays a key role in supporting the maintenance of discipline in deployed forces. Another factor to consider is that, without this provision, the relevant conduct overseas may have to be dealt with by the host nation’s criminal justice system—a system which, in many cases, is likely to be very different to our own.
One effect of Section 42 is that there will be some conduct which both the service courts and the civilian criminal courts in England and Wales will have jurisdiction to try. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to this jurisdiction issue. For example, an alleged assault in England by a solider could be tried in a service court or in the civilian criminal court. Less commonly, both the service courts and the civilian criminal courts may have jurisdiction to deal with service personnel who are accused of certain crimes overseas, because there are some offences under the criminal law which cover conduct overseas. One example is the offence of murder. For cases which both the civilian criminal courts and service courts have jurisdiction to try, it is recognised that it is necessary to consider in each case whether the case is more appropriately dealt with in the civilian criminal courts or in a service court.
To this end, there is a protocol between service and civilian prosecutors that recognises that some cases are more appropriately dealt with in the service system and some are more appropriately dealt with in the civilian system. The principles of this protocol have the approval of the Attorney-General for England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice. The protocol recognises that any offence can be dealt with by the service authorities, but it does not follow that the service justice system should always deal with cases involving service personnel. As I have already said, the protocol recognises that some cases are more appropriately dealt with in the service system and some in the civilian system. To illustrate this, offences alleged only against persons subject to service law and which affect the person or property of civilians are normally dealt with by a civilian court and not in service proceedings. Offences alleged only against persons subject to service law which do not affect the person or property of civilians are normally dealt with in service proceedings and not a civilian court. If the appropriate jurisdiction is not clear, then the protocol makes it clear that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Service Prosecutions should consult, but the final decision rests with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I understand, however, that there are those who are concerned that, notwithstanding the provisions of the protocol, the service justice system should not deal with certain offences. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised this issue. As I understand it, those concerns seem to focus on two aspects: first, that the service justice system is not capable of dealing with certain offences; and, secondly, that the court martial operates a system of majority verdicts which is not the system used in the civilian Crown Court.
Taking the first of these points, we take the view that the service justice system is capable of dealing with the most serious of offences. The service police are trained and able to carry out investigations into the most serious offences, with members of the Special Investigation Branch having to pass the serious crime investigation course before being selected for that unit. In addition, selected members of the service police attend a range of specialist and advanced detective training at the Defence College of Policing and Guarding, or externally with the College of Policing or training providers accredited by the college.
At the Service Prosecuting Authority, prosecutors are trained to effectively prosecute serious cases. For example, prosecution of serious sexual offences requires attendance on the CPS rape and serious sexual offences specialist training course, and the SPA ensures that decisions on charging in such cases are taken only by prosecutors who have completed that training.
With regard to the second concern on majority verdicts—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, advanced a number of views on this—the Government have been successful in establishing in both the European Court of Human Rights and in the civilian courts that the court martial system is in principle safe, independent and impartial. The current system for majority verdicts has been considered twice by the Court Martial Appeal Court in the last five years and was on both occasions held to be fair and safe. The Court Martial Appeal Court, which is made up of the same judges as sit in the civilian Court of Appeal, has held that there is no ground for deciding that a verdict by a simple majority of the lay members of a court martial is inherently unfair or unsafe. However, we recognise that there are differing views about the system of majority verdicts, some of which have been expressed in this House as recently as this afternoon, and indeed were articulated eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris. I suggest that these views and those of other stakeholders will be captured and considered as part of the service justice system review.
The noble and learned Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised a number of key issues about the broader operation of the court martial system. As I have previously said, the Government have decided to have a broad review of the service justice system and this will include the handling of serious offences in the court martial. The review will no doubt note with interest all the points that have been raised today.
This has been a useful debate. It may have been a short one with a relatively small number of contributors but the quality of contribution speaks for itself. I thank your Lordships for their valuable and very interesting contributions to the debate. I hope that I have responded to all the main points raised, but I undertake to look at Hansard and, if mental frailty or aural deficiency have been responsible for overlooking any point, I shall certainly try to address that by undertaking to write to whichever noble Lord I have not managed to respond to fully.
House adjourned at 6.03 pm.