House of Lords
Wednesday 20 December 2017
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leeds.
Oaths and Affirmations
Lord Coe took the oath, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Carbon Capture and Storage
My Lords, I am grateful for the report of the Parliamentary Advisory Group on Carbon Capture and Storage, which the noble Lord led. Our response was set out in our Clean Growth Strategy, published in October, and I can only apologise to the noble Lord that we did not write to him to let him know. His report has been and will continue to be a key consideration in shaping our ongoing work.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his apology. It was a little surprising not to have received a reply to a report commissioned at a time of some desperation in the former department of DECC, when the Chancellor pulled the rug from under the department’s energy strategy. The group was set up by Amber Rudd, the then Secretary of State, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who was then the Energy Minister here.
Will the Minister write to me—I will transmit his reply to the rest of the committee—giving an answer to each of the six recommendations that the report contains? That we have not had, and it is not contained within the clean energy strategy. Furthermore, he will recall that the report contained a detailed and carefully worked-out time plan for decarbonisation of the country’s energy system. As things now stand, it looks as though the Government have lost about a year on that fairly prudent plan. Does he agree that this means that the fifth carbon budget will now be something of a stretch? It would be good if he could also place in the Library a copy of a new plan.
My Lords, I repeat the apology I gave to the noble Lord. I will certainly write to him and place a copy of my reply in the Library, with a full response to the six points that he makes in his recommendations—I have a copy of his report here and I have studied it. I also assure him that it remains a priority to work on both zero-growth and low-growth options. My honourable friend Claire Perry is committed to that and we will do all we can. As the noble Lord will be aware, in our industrial strategy we made it quite clear that we saw clean growth as one of the major challenges facing us. It is one of the grand challenges and very much a priority for the department.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. I make the point to the Minister that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, actually shows that carbon capture and storage is affordable. The fact that the Government have ignored that report—and I welcome their statement today—together with the cancellation of the competition, and now the fact that we are perhaps seeing carbon capture and storage by 2030, leads to some doubts about the passion of the Government for this aspect of industry. Will the Minister guarantee that those involved in the clean growth strategy will at an early point in their meetings in the new year look in some detail at how to move this forward? We have already lost competitive advantage to Norway, which is already in this country selling its capability with carbon capture and storage.
The noble Baroness is right to stress the importance of carbon capture. In fact, I visited Imperial College, of which the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, was a very distinguished rector in the past, where I understand considerable research is being done into carbon capture. I hope to visit that in due course.
As for the other points that the noble Baroness made, yes, we accept the importance of this, and we will respond—I shall respond in a letter. We will continue to do work on this. As regards the cancellation of the competition in 2015, the noble Baroness will be aware that very difficult decisions had to be made in budgetary terms, which was why that decision was made at the time—and that is what we said at the time.
My Lords, obviously, everyone is agreeing that carbon capture and storage is absolutely vital to an emissions reduction programme, but the certainty that business had and its faith in the Government was shot to pieces by the removal of the manifesto pledge for the £1 billion and its replacement with £100 million. What will the Government do to restore confidence and certainty to green finance and green business, which is vital to the future of our economy?
My Lords, I have dealt already with that change in 2015 about the removal of the £1 billion. The clean growth strategy sets out—and I make this point to the noble Baroness—that there will be further investment now as a result of the clean growth strategy. Some £2.5 billion is being invested by the Government to support low-carbon innovation between now and 2021. As well as that investment from the Government, as I said, there is considerable other investment, both in academe and in industry, to look at other possibilities.
Further to the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, on the work of his committee, would not it make more sense to give a priority to investment in clean coal through carbon capture and storage, supercritical boilers and other means of reducing carbon, rather than reinforcing and subsidising the burning of wood pellets, which is going on now, which means tearing down the world’s forests and generating quite a lot of additional carbon?
Well, my Lords, we are where we are. I rather agree with my noble friend about the importance of zero-carbon options, and that is why we want to look at carbon capture and storage. But we should look not only at zero-carbon options but also at low-carbon options.
My Lords, the clean growth strategy will still keep the UK on track to miss the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, whom I congratulate on his drive to take this technology forward, went into detail on how CCS could help to achieve these budgets. As for the energy-intensive industries, would the Minister agree that CCS would be a better value answer to these polluting industries than merely giving them dispensation from paying for climate control measures that every other industry has to adhere to?
My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Lord says about us missing the fourth and fifth targets. We will do what we can to meet them; it will be difficult, but that is why we made it quite clear in the industrial strategy and the clean growth strategy why we want to invest in this area.
My Lords, we welcome the progress made in the fight against Daesh, including the liberation of Raqqa. However, the Syrian crisis is far from resolved. Violence continues and the humanitarian situation is dire. Eastern Ghouta, which is besieged by the regime, is a particularly tragic example. A political transition is the only way to bring sustainable peace to Syria, and we support the Geneva process. All parties must work constructively towards a political agreement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, during a recent visit to Syria, I and colleagues met faith leaders, medical professionals, intelligentsia and parliamentarians, including the political opposition? All expressed deep anger at the UK Government’s massive funding, of at least £200 million, of bodies allied to jihadists. A recent BBC “Panorama” programme showed UK taxpayers’ money given to police assisting atrocities such as stoning victims. Can the Minister say when the UK will stop funding Islamists? As the end of the war against ISIS and other Islamist militias approaches, will the UK Government help all the people of Syria with urgently needed funding for reconstruction to enable people to return to their homes?
My Lords, on the second question raised by the noble Baroness, the Government’s position has been clear: we will aid the reconstruction of Syria once a peace process has been resolved and the prevailing conditions are such that there is stability in Syria. On the noble Baroness’s first question, she referred to the “Panorama” report and the £200 million. That relates to the CSSF, which the Foreign Office administers. As she will know, there are various parts of that funding; the component part that was reported on in the “Panorama” programme related to funding of the police force. The source of that funding, including who we fund through, has been put on hold pending full investigation. I am sure, however, that she would also acknowledge that £45 million of that particular funding pot supports the initiatives—and indeed the incredible courage—of organisations such as the White Helmets.
My Lords, sadly, it looks like the Geneva talks will collapse, mainly because Assad’s brutal regime refuses to talk to anyone who opposes his view. I appreciate the Government’s commitment to the process but, in the light of this, what is their plan B if Assad refuses to participate at all in the Geneva talks?
The noble Lord raises an important point about the current regime. As he, and indeed many noble Lords, will know, while the regime is being represented at the Geneva talks, which the Government and other international partners support, it is not engaging directly in the substantive discussions with the Syrian opposition that are taking place in Geneva. We remain absolutely focused on making those talks work. In our bilateral discussions with other key players, such as Iran and Russia, who have greater influence over the Syrian regime, we are imploring them to ensure that the Geneva talks get the kick-start that they desperately require.
My Lords, are there not constructive steps that Her Majesty’s Government could take now: first, to have some level of diplomatic representation in Damascus, since we have full representation in such places as Russia, Iran and even North Korea; and, secondly, to start to eliminate sanctions, beginning with those on education, culture and sport? All the non-government Syrians whom we met on our recent visit assured us that the sanctions do more harm to the Syrian people and affect very little the Syrian regime.
First of all, the Government have no plans to reopen an embassy in Damascus until such time as we see a meaningful transition away from the Assad regime—that position has been made clear—and the position is in the hands of the civilian population and the communities themselves. In terms of the sanctions, I do not agree with the noble Lord. As I am sure he is aware, the sanctions that have been imposed include travel bans and asset freezes against 300 persons and other entities that are linked directly to the Assad regime, and they remain in place.
My Lords, barring the unforeseeable, President Assad will remain in place until 2021, or until the Syrian people elect a successor. Three years is a long time, and mention has twice been made of sanctions on Syria. I do not think anyone expects sanctions to be lifted on the Syrian military, for example, but the country is, as the Minister recognised, suffering severely from food, clothing and especially medical shortages. As the formal position is that humanitarian aid is not embargoed, but in practice the controls on the mechanisms for financial transfers are considerable, and the acquisition of medical aid is severely sanctioned, does the Minister see scope for a review of humanitarian aid in Syria based on a more calibrated policy of exemptions or licences for the purchasers and purveyors of humanitarian aid?
I assure the noble Earl that, as others in your Lordships’ House know, the Government have taken a very firm line on ensuring, and, indeed, leading the way on ensuring, that in particular the NGOs working in the context of the Syrian conflict and in Syria get the necessary exemptions to allow them to deliver humanitarian aid. He will also be aware of the UK’s contribution: we are second to only one other in our contribution of close to £2.5 billion-worth of aid, assistance and humanitarian assistance. He may also be aware that we were very pleased to note the renewal of UN Resolution 2165, on the cross-border provision of humanitarian aid directly to Syria without the approval of the regime. That underlines the humanitarian commitment and support that the UK Government are delivering to the war-afflicted people of Syria through DfID and other NGOs working with great courage on the ground.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Bishops’ Benches.
My Lords, would the Minister agree that there is a danger here that support for, and funding of, anti-Assad forces, however understandable that may seem from the outside, might lead to exactly the same unintended consequences that we have seen in Iraq—namely, the strengthening of anti-democratic Islamist forces who have no intention of delivering the freedoms that we assume they should?
I assure the right reverend Prelate that the Government are very cognisant of the situation he has illustrated. We remain absolutely determined to ensure that all the delivery mechanisms for any funding that is provided, through the Foreign Office funding pot or DfID agencies, are robustly challenged and checked. In the case illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we will cease funding until we are satisfied that those in receipt of the funds fulfil the mandate of ensuring that they bring peace to the civilians of Syria and ensure equity and justice for all communities across Syria.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish the advice they received from the Attorney-General on the revocability of the notice to the European Council that was given by the Prime Minister on 29 March 2017, in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union.
As the noble Lord will know, there is a constitutional convention set out in the Ministerial Code that the Government do not comment on the fact of, or content of, advice that may or may not have been given by the law officers. The Government have been clear that as a matter of firm policy our notification to leave the European Union will not be withdrawn.
Although I am not surprised by that Answer, I thought that the Government might at least have allowed parliamentarians to view this opinion in some dark corridor at the far end of Whitehall. This is a very important issue. We have been advised many times by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that the notification is revocable. Yesterday, Mr Barnier said that it is revocable but only with the consent of the 27 other countries. Last week, Sir Oliver Letwin claimed that if Dominic Grieve’s amendment went through and Parliament did not agree on the deal, the effect would be for us to remain in the European Union and not to fall out. This is a very important question. What is the Government’s stance or is it their policy to keep this issue fuzzy so that the people of this country are misled and deceived by it?
I am of course sorry that the noble Lord is disappointed but this is a historic convention, also recognised in Erskine May, which states:
“By long-standing convention, observed by successive Governments, the fact of, and substance of advice from, the Law officers of the Crown is not disclosed outside government”.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that Erskine May continues, that,
“if a Minister deems it expedient that such opinions should be made known for the information of the House”,
that is perfectly permissible? Will he accept also that there have been many occasions over the years when the advice of the law officers has been published, and will he accept the conclusion of Professor John Edwards in his authoritative book, The Attorney General, Politics and the Public Interest, that the decision whether to publish particular advice of the law officer depends on,
“considerations of political advantage or embarrassment to the government”?
Does he agree?
My Lords, many eminent noble Lords want to speak. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.
My Lords, I know that the House wants to hear from the author of Article 50, and of course it should. However, whatever the subjective interpretation he may have of Article 50, it is ultimately a question of objective interpretation. Will the Minister agree with me that whatever the advice may be in respect of Article 50—if there is indeed advice—it is a matter ultimately for the European Court of Justice, and we do not know what it will decide?
This being the season of good will, I absolutely do not want to get the Minister into hot water again. Does he recall the view of the President of the European Parliament:
“If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour”?
On the legal issue of unilateral withdrawal of an Article 50 notification, does he recall the article enjoining honesty published on 9 November by his distinguished predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley, in which the noble Lord made it clear that there is “no legal basis” for the view that a notification cannot be unilaterally withdrawn? Does this perhaps explain why the Minister is so reluctant to reveal the law officers’ opinion?
My Lords, the Prime Minister wrote to Cabinet colleagues recently in a letter headed “Government Transparency and Open Data”:
“The sunlight of transparency also acts in itself as an important check and balance, and helps ensure the highest standards of public life amongst elected representatives”.
Will the Government follow the advice of the Prime Minister on this matter of publishing Article 50 legal advice?
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that this Question has been a waste of time? There is simply no doubt that the British people voted in the referendum to leave the European Union and it is their will that must be upheld, not that of a bunch of tame lawyers or other people on the Liberal Benches or anywhere else.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, talks about this being a waste of time. This morning, the new negotiating mandate came out from the European Union and it talked about a much shorter transition period than I think the Government have been thinking about. Perhaps we could ask the Minister to make sure that the negotiations take place with a little more speed than they have been doing so that we are fit to end the transition period at the end of December 2020.
Of course, we are very keen to get on with the negotiations as quickly as possible. As I understand it, the European Commission this morning proposed an implementation period of around 21 months. The Government have stated that we would prefer a period of around 24 months, so it seems to me that the positions are not too far apart, and we shall have some interesting negotiations on the subject.
Royal Navy: Operational Capability
My Lords, the House will appreciate that I cannot go into the details of the United Kingdom’s anti-submarine capability. However, I assure the noble Lord that any threat to UK infrastructure is taken extremely seriously. In respect of submarine cables, there is considerable resilience in the UK network, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working closely with industry to improve this further. Undersea cables support the whole global economy, and states are well aware that any deliberate attempt to interfere with cables would have wide repercussions, including for their own interests.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Indeed, in the spirit of Christmas, I shall not raise the fact that for the first time in centuries we do not have a single frigate or destroyer deployed overseas. However, for a Chief of the Defence Staff to mention a specific threat—something that has always been very sensitive in the past—is very worrying. This issue stems from the Policy Exchange report, and that is why it has been raised, but there is no doubt whatever that this nation’s anti-submarine warfare capability has been seriously degraded. We used to be pre-eminent in the world. Going back to when the Soviets first carried out attacks on undersea cables, when they did not carry all the digital information they do today, we had 20-plus submarines, an MPA force and 48 anti-submarine warfare frigates, and we had all the supporting infrastructure to carry out anti-submarine warfare to monitor these things. Today, we have eight anti-submarine warfare frigates and seven submarines, with no maritime patrol aircraft. It is extremely worrying when someone like the Chief of the Defence Staff mentions this.
My question relates to the frigates. We have now, at last, ordered the first of the Type 26 frigates, which is super, but it is going to take five years to build the first one. It took one year to build the ground-breaking battleship “Dreadnought”. We are taking five years, and we have ordered only three. Does the Minister agree that we need a steady drumbeat of orders of anti-submarine ships to drive down costs, to improve British shipyard efficiency and to counter this threat?
My Lords, the noble Lord has immense experience in this area and I acknowledge that immediately. He is of course quite right about the need for a steady drumbeat of shipbuilding. That was one of the themes in the national shipbuilding strategy that we published recently. I do not think we should underplay the cutting-edge capability of the Type 23 frigates, of which we already have 13. However, as the noble Lord will know, defence uses a variety of assets and means to monitor potentially hostile maritime activity in the UK area of interest and beyond. For example, the Royal Navy routinely escorts non-NATO vessels transiting through the UK area of interest. However, I can tell him that this whole area is a central consideration in the national security capability review, which is currently under way.
My Lords, the training budgets of all three services have been heavily reduced by savings measures, imperilling operational capability across our Armed Forces. Anti-submarine warfare is an art form as much as it is a science, and sufficient training is absolutely critical. Will the Minister say whether anti-submarine warfare training has been affected by the cuts I have just mentioned and by the lack of manpower that is keeping some of our ASW specialist ships alongside?
My Lords, my understanding is that the quality of our training in anti-submarine warfare has not suffered, but the noble and gallant Lord is right to draw attention to shortages of skills in key technical areas such as nuclear and other types of engineering. The Royal Navy has this agenda very much in hand but it is a challenge—the Royal Navy is competing with industry for those skills. However, the picture is steadily improving.
My Lords, an attack on undersea cables would be an illustration of hybrid warfare, or to put it otherwise, of using any available means for attack. What concern is being addressed in the Government’s current security review to hybrid warfare and the resources necessary to meet that challenge?
The noble Lord is absolutely right that hybrid warfare presents particular problems and issues for decision-makers. The Ministry of Defence’s contribution to the cross-government capability review is looking actively at our future defence posture and how we can best spend our defence budget—our rising defence budget, I should emphasise—in the light of the various threats we face.
My Lords, bringing the Minister back to the Question about the cables, the Policy Exchange report written by the Conservative MP Rishi Sunak said that Russian submarines are “aggressively operating” near Atlantic cables which are,
“inadequately protected and highly vulnerable to attack at sea and on land, from both hostile states and terrorists”.
The Minister will have heard concerns expressed around the House about operational capability. Does he understand the lack of confidence among the public and in the House when we find that the six Type 45 destroyers are all in Portsmouth and not at sea because of a combination of the need to give sailors leave, mechanical problems, routine maintenance and the shortage of manpower? Does he accept that this is damaging to morale in our Armed Forces?
It would be damaging if the story were entirely accurate. Over the Christmas period, the Royal Navy has about 1,500 personnel and 13 ships and submarines deployed on operations and defence tasks all over the globe including the Mediterranean, the Gulf, home waters and the Atlantic. In addition, it has assets and personnel at high readiness should there be a requirement to activate them. However, it should not surprise anybody that, wherever possible, the Royal Navy programmes leave over the Christmas period so that personnel can spend time with their families.
Brexit: Justice for Families, Individuals and Businesses (EU Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, this report was prepared by the Justice Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee, which I chair. I should like to thank the members of this committee: they are as stimulating a group of people as you could ever find—intelligent, analytical and always great company. I thank also the staff of the sub-committee for their support and hard work. We had some of the finest lawyers in government service helping us to prepare this work and wonderful civil servants. I especially want to commend Amanda McGrath, whose quiet competence ensures that our work is effective.
The Government’s view is that once we leave the European Union there can be no jurisdiction for the Court of Justice of the European Union. That step would have profound ramifications for the UK’s continued participation in the European Union’s programme of civil justice co-operation—the so-called Brussels regime—that ensures that civil court decisions handed down by a court in one member state of the European Union will be respected and enforced in another member state.
That may sound arcane to non-lawyers, but will noble Lords please bear with us in understanding just how important this is? These three regulations—the Brussels I Regulation (recast), the Brussels IIa Regulation and the Maintenance Regulation—together play a significant if hitherto unheralded role in the daily lives of UK and EU citizens, their families and businesses in our nation, who work, live, travel and do business within the European Union. These regulations regulate a pan-European system of civil justice co-operation, which has been proved to work.
The regulations really do work. They provide certainty, predictability and clarity about where the resulting legal dispute should be pursued. They also provide for the automatic recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions and judgments throughout the European Union. To put that into lay terms, it means that if you are a small business in Britain doing business with Poland, and your Polish contractor does not supply you with the widgets you need and fails in the contract, you can go to a local court in Britain and get an order against him for that failure. It can then be enforced in Poland, so that you get either compensation or the follow-through of your contract. If you are a British woman whose marriage to an Italian ends in divorce and you have problems securing maintenance for your children, you can secure in the family court here an order on maintenance and have it put into effect in Italy in short order, as others on my committee will explain. The effect is that there will be distraint on the wages of a worker in Italy so that the mother of the children can receive maintenance. These things work smoothly. They have been developed over decades and I assure noble Lords that it is very difficult to replace what has been developed with the great input of British lawyers.
Far from being an imposition, the Brussels regime reflects the UK’s legal culture. The UK has been instrumental in shaping its content and it serves our country very well indeed. The UK Government had the choice of whether to opt in to these regulations or to opt out, and they chose to opt in. They did so with a sensible rationale. Since the referendum result, the Government have decided to opt in to the current renegotiation of the Brussels IIa Regulation, which will seek to update its provisions. That updating, perfecting and improving continues, depending on the development of our societies and ensuring that there will be effective remedies across Europe.
Clearly, by their actions, successive UK Governments from across the political spectrum have recognised that these regulations offer effective, predictable and clearly defined solutions to the legal issues encountered by UK citizens and businesses. These issues will not cease when we leave the European Union. So the question that our inquiry sought to resolve was: what alternative plans do the Government have to replace the Brussels regime once we leave the European Union? The Government state that they want close co-operation with the European Union on these matters—an aspiration the committee strongly supports. The issue, however, is not the aspiration, but rather the details. I am sorry to weary noble Lords with them, but they are rather important. If only some people actually bothered with the small print on some of these problems. Our concern is that very little is known about the Government’s thinking on these highly complex matters. We have found that there are alternatives, but any option that avoids the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will be less effective and more complicated than the existing system. Indeed, since the publication of our report, the committee—and other committees in Parliament—have found an ever-growing body of evidence that highlights the deep complications that will be caused by the Government’s red line on the European Court of Justice.
Turning first to the Brussels I Regulation (recast), covering civil and commercial matters, the UK could seek to use a combination of matters to fill the gap that will be created. The Lugano convention operates between EU members and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland; it applies to jurisdiction and the enforcement and recognition of judgments. We should be very clear that the Lugano convention is inferior to the Brussels regulations, operating as it does under an earlier and less effective iteration of the regulations that did not participate in the upgrading of regulations; it is stuck in aspic, as it were.
The Rome I and II Regulations deal with applicable law, namely which law ought to be applied in any given legal dispute with an external element. The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements sets out uniform rules determining which countries’ authorities are competent to take child protection measures. This combination appears to offer at least a workable solution to the post-Brexit loss of the Brussels I Regulation (recast). However, it seems likely that there would be greater recourse to arbitration, which is thrown up by government as the answer to everybody’s prayers, but I assure noble Lords that it is not perfect. I support arbitration in the right circumstances, but although such arbitration would allow for judgments, it would not allow for enforcement. It would be harder—perhaps sometimes impossible—to compel courts in other EU states to support judgments made in the UK, and vice versa.
For the Brussels IIa Regulation—covering matrimonial matters and parental responsibility—and the Maintenance Regulation, finding an alternative poses a greater challenge than for the Brussels I Regulation (recast). Only yesterday morning, I spoke to a colleague at the Bar who described being involved in matters concerning a child with one parent in the United States and one here. They are not super-rich people—the kind who hit the headlines in our media—but an ordinary, middle-class family who will be crippled by the expense of American litigation, because they do not have the same arrangements in America as we have in Europe.
The Government have proposed to apply the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements that covers most, although not all, of the same ground as the EU family law regulations, including rules for jurisdiction and for recognition and enforcement in child matters. The concern is about which matters would not be covered; we questioned that again and again. The Lugano convention would offer some support in cases involving maintenance. The 1996 Hague convention would offer some support on parental responsibility and measures for the protection of children, but less clarity and protection than the Brussels regulations.
Overall, there is no obvious replacement for the Brussels IIa Regulation and the Maintenance Regulation, so it seems likely that obtaining justice in these areas will be harder and less reliable. In the absence of clear replacements for the Brussels regime, our report also considered the fallback position, namely a return to common-law rules. Some of those who are romantic about common law and advocate a return to it do not realise the advancements that have been made, building on common-law principles. It was interesting that all the witnesses who assisted in our inquiry—bar one, who was an academic and not involved in practising law in the courts, dealing with real citizens’ lives—were concerned by the prospect of a simple return to the old ways of common law, as we had in the 1950s and 1960s. Their observations included that common law would be particularly detrimental to those involved in family law litigation, especially with the increase in cases for the already stretched family courts.
I said that the Government want close co-operation with the European Union on these matters. This should be an absolute priority, to give proper protections to citizens and businesses. So it is concerning that the Government’s formal response to our inquiry conceives of an eventuality in which the UK does not agree an arrangement for future civil judicial co-operation and in which ongoing co-operation in this area would be wound down.
I finish by highlighting the personal dimension to this matter. As with many aspects of Brexit, citizens face uncertainty about future rights and protections. The longer we wait for decisions and clear commitments from the Government, the greater the uncertainty for our citizens. Furthermore, the loss of the so-called Brussels regime will be felt most profoundly by those families who rely on its provisions, for example for the enforcement of judicial decisions. Small businesses will feel it, too. We know that the big corporates can lawyer themselves up to the eyeballs and get themselves lawyers in other nations. That will be no problem for them, but it is a problem for small businesses, families and people who go on holiday where something tragic happens and they want justice. We have these arrangements, which work effectively. To compound the issues, the UK’s family court system has said it would struggle to cope with such a radical change to the current arrangements. This is a matter of some seriousness. I beg to move.
My Lords, I pay tribute to our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who not only rules us with a rod of iron but seems able to make us all turn up and make our committee meetings fun. We get a lot of work done. I thank her.
The common law rules the noble Baroness refers to are, as most witnesses said, except the one non-practising witness, a recipe for confusion, expense and uncertainty, particularly in family law, in which I practice. I will pick three different topics to illustrate this.
The reality of life is that European citizens intermarry and inter-divorce. We have for some time been ruled by the Brussels convention, where the first past the post wins. You may have two French nationals living in this country with French passports. It would be possible for them to divorce in France or in England—the first person to file a petition wins. That takes away a lot of law. It takes away a long-contested forum conveniens argument and a lot of anti-suit injunctions, such as Hemain injunctions, to prevent the foreign jurisdiction proceeding until the English jurisdiction catches up, for example.
We have not used this in European law for many years. The judges are not qualified to deal with it or have little practice in it because we have not been doing it. There is no legal aid. The judges are completely overwhelmed with very serious child matters. Absent Brussels II being reinvented, we will be flooded with litigants in person trying to plead before a judge as to whether the jurisdiction in England is more convenient for the family than the jurisdiction in, say, in the example I gave, France. That will have a very serious effect on our already overburdened courts.
The second area is the enforcement of maintenance regulations. Lugano exists, but it is not the same as what we have under European law. It is a poor relation. It is of some significance, but nobody can find out how many people obey the law because they are too scared not to. If there is a void in the law, it is likely that more people will default. If there is not proper enforcement, the applicant will not be able to collect their money. The same is true in relation to children. We have been told that the Hague convention is not as good as the Brussels II Regulation. More children may be abducted. This is all at a time when legal aid is practically non-existent and judges are overwhelmed by litigation.
The Government’s response to the concerns caused by the loss of this EU legislation to the UK’s family law system post Brexit is, to put it mildly, disappointing. The committee was not convinced that the Government had a coherent or workable plan. To suggest that we can just be “wound down”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned, is purely defeatist and inadequate. Proper law has to be put in place. The good that has been done by harmonious European relationships—a judge in England phoning a judge in Italy to try to retrieve a child; the cross-border co-operation between member states—cannot be underestimated. It has taken decades to build up such relationships. If we do not continue with them, we as a country will be poorer.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton. I thank her and other committee members for their support for this non-lawyer on that committee and, in particular, their patience. I also pay tribute to our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who has led us brilliantly. I came on to the committee very recently and have seen how, particularly when dealing with the public and taking evidence, she has used her skills and her charm to the benefit of Parliament and the committee.
I served as a Member of the European Parliament and was deeply impressed by the engagement of the British Government, the British legal system, NGOs and others with Commission proposals and those that subsequently became regulations. Here we are talking about three very important regulations which affect people’s lives.
The report considers the ramifications of Brexit for the EU’s programme of civil justice co-operation, whose regulations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to, are known collectively as the Brussels regime. The evidence in the report clearly illustrates that the three regulations and the system they engender play a significant role in the daily lives of UK and EU citizens—families, businesses and people who live, travel and work across not just one or two but in some instances 28 member states, of more than half a billion people.
As we know, human relationships can sometimes go wrong in many unpredictable ways: divorce; disputes over custody of children; medical negligence claims; litigation arising out perhaps an accident abroad; and employment disputes. Particularly given freedom of movement, all three regulations provide, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, certainty, predictability and clarity about where the resulting legal dispute should be pursued. They also provide for the automatic recognition—extremely important—and enforcement of judicial decisions and judgments throughout the 28 EU member states. They regulate a pan-European system of civil justice co-operation, which has been proved to work.
However, because of the Government’s ideological opposition to and obsession with the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union after Brexit, the certainty of civil justice co-operation directly overseen by the CJEU will cease. The Government’s stance is unhelpful and casts serious doubt on the future application of these three regulations and many others, and on the reciprocal rules they preserve between member states.
I return to the consequences for individuals, families and businesses seeking justice, its implementation and enforcement. This is deeply problematic and not helped by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill—the Minister has heard me say this before on another occasion in your Lordships’ House—particularly Clause 6 on the development of jurisprudence post Brexit and its relevance to retained EU law. Senior Law Lords have already expressed their concerns to the EU Justice Sub-Committee on this matter on a separate occasion. I shall not go into further detail, but the uniformity and certainty given to general civil litigation by the Brussels I Regulation is very important because it brings certainty to all citizens and does not discriminate.
One of the fundamental principles of the current EU system is that it is there to protect people, reinforcing, I believe, the fundamental values at the heart of the European Union. The Brussels II Regulation, as we have heard, addresses important issues: divorce, legal separation, marriage annulment and parental responsibility, including rights of custody, access, guardianship and placement in a foster family or institutional care. These are vital issues for families, individuals and children. The maintenance regulation rules address matters relating to maintenance obligations. It is worth quoting Mr Tim Scott QC, who gave evidence on behalf of the Bar Council. Explaining the rationale of the two regulations, he said,
“there are 3 million citizens of other member states living in the UK and 1.2 million UK citizens living in other member states … A certain proportion of this very large number will experience contentious family breakdown”.
He said that the certainty provided by both regulations was “vital” and that,
“it is the ordinary citizens for whom this level of certainty is the most valuable”.
Another witness said of Brussels IIa that,
“it has overlaid all our pre-existing domestic legislation, so it spreads into every area of our domestic law … it has transformed the way family law has operated over the last 11 years”.
This is very important because EU law will continue to develop but we may well be left behind and there could be greater divergence between our laws post Brexit. Therefore, the uniformity introduced by the regulations, underpinned by the Court of Justice of the European Union, will be lost and people and businesses will suffer. It is worth repeating that it is not just people and businesses: families, individuals and children will suffer. I quote the report:
“To walk away from these Regulations without putting alternatives in place would seriously undermine the family law rights of UK citizens and would, ultimately, be an act of self-harm”.
I too have read the Government’s responses to the committee’s concerns and I share those concerns. I am not convinced that the Government have a coherent or workable plan to address the significant problems that will arise in the UK’s family law system post Brexit if alternative arrangements are not put in place, and I look to the Minister to convince me otherwise. I fear that those least able to deal with the consequences of Brexit—in this instance, the 3 million EU 27 citizens here and the 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU 27, and many others—will pay the price of this narrow, dubious referendum and their lives and their futures will be harmed irrevocably.
My final plea is to the Government: they must compromise and accept that it is in our mutual interests and in the interests of all citizens to accept a role for the Court of Justice of the European Union where to date, in terms of all judgments, we have fared extremely well.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. If he will forgive me, I am afraid that this is a contribution by another lawyer—although not with anything like the experience and insight into these matters of the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton of Belgravia. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on her committee’s excellent report. I extend my compliments to the members of the committee, many of whom are present.
At the risk of some repetition, I shall concentrate on the section of the report which deals with Brussels IIa and the Maintenance Regulation. This is a little technical but these are the measures that are concerned with the rights of adults and children with regard to matrimonial matters; parental responsibility, including rights of custody and access; and the very important issue of child abduction. They supplement the Lugano and Hague conventions on these matters. As I shall mention in a moment, they do so in a way that is crucial to the points to which the report draws attention.
It struck me that there were two words that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, stressed several times: predictability and certainty. That is what these measures give us, against the rather looser background of the conventions—much to the advantage of everyone involved in these matters, be they commercial entities or families.
At the end of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, drew attention to the passage in the report which says:
“To walk away from these Regulations without putting alternatives in place would seriously undermine the family law rights of UK citizens”.
I do not think it was an exaggeration for the report to go on to say, as the noble Lord did, that to do that would be,
“an act of self-harm”.
That underlines the crucial nature of the issues we are talking about.
The issue is of concern to UK citizens in all parts of the United Kingdom, not just the jurisdiction in which we are today: England and Wales. It might be worth inviting the Minister to study an article by Janys Scott QC—whose name, I am sure, is familiar to him; she is a senior practitioner in family law in Scotland—in this month’s edition of the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland. She draws attention, as the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, did, to the risk of conflicting proceedings if our domestic courts are bound to resort to our own procedures without the benefit of the reciprocity in family matters that the regulations provide. She points out that the withdrawal Bill does not create that reciprocity: in fact, it removes it, and puts nothing in its place. The risk is of conflicting actions in different countries ongoing at the same time, with conflicting decisions and no way of deciding which must prevail. That surely is a recipe for much delay and expense and is quite contrary to the principle that gives priority to the best interests of the child. As I mentioned, there are other international treaties, but they are less clear and less decisive than the Brussels measures.
That point is illustrated very clearly in the European Commission’s guide to the provisions for the return of the child. In the table you find phrases such as “not obliged to” and “may refuse” in the Hague Convention, when for the same stages in the procedure the regulations say “cannot refuse” and “shall ensure”. There you see the certainty and predictability that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, drew attention to. We cannot rely on the conventions to provide the certainty we need. We need to maintain the same reciprocity, attention to detail and standards of precision that operate across the EU. As Janys Scott says, family law deserves serious attention if Brexit is not to result in confusion and expense for families who find themselves stretched between one or other of the jurisdictions in the UK and other European states when the misfortune of break-up strikes.
This brings me to the Government’s response, bearing in mind the sub-committee’s warning that it was not convinced that the Government had, as yet,
“a coherent or workable plan to address the … problems … if alternative arrangements are not put in place”.
We have now been told in the response that the Government are seeking,
“an agreement with the EU that allows for close and comprehensive cross-border … co-operation”,
in family matters, which would provide a range of reciprocal rules. I am not wholly reassured, so I have two questions for the Minister.
The first is: can he give us an assurance that, when the Government are seeking an agreement with the EU in these matters, the aim will be to achieve the same high degree of reciprocity and predictability that we have now? The response talks about “close” cross-border co-operation, but the words “close” and “closely” are not really good enough. Precision, predictability and certainty are what we are looking for, leaving no room for doubts that could give rise to dispute. Will that be the aim? I very much hope that it will.
The second question is: can he assure us that everything will be done to ensure that there will be no cliff edge on these matters when we leave the EU? If the current arrangements are to continue during the transitional or implementation period after the exit date, can we be assured that they will continue even after the end of that period if an agreement cannot be reached and the replacements put in place by then? The Minister will, I am sure, appreciate how highly charged family disputes can be. We must surely do everything possible to avoid a gap in the cross-border arrangements: a black hole, one might say, which would make their resolution even more difficult than it already is.
My Lords, it is indeed an honour to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The Government were correct in response to our report because, since it was published much earlier in the year, things have happened. Article 50 was triggered, papers were published in August on the cross-border and civil co-operation framework and a time-limited implementation period was announced by the Prime Minister. I think that progress is being made.
I am by nature an optimist—I see the glass half full. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, I am a non-lawyer on the Justice Committee, which is so ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Non-lawyers can occasionally be useful, if only to ask the often obvious questions that need answering. It is also a great pleasure to serve with other members of the committee. It is a particular pleasure to work with a colleague who I am sure will allow me to call him “my noble friend” Lord Judd. We both endeavour to stress the importance of the individual, so that the public will be able to understand how these important and complicated issues affect them individually, and their families, and we endeavour to do this in simple, plain English.
I also want to stress, and make it very clear, that I have great sympathy for the Government’s negotiating team and position. I firmly believe that it is deeply unhelpful that almost every cough and sneeze has to be discussed in the public domain, is spun by the press and becomes a political football, when anyone who has been involved in any sort of negotiation knows clearly that to reveal one’s hand prior to sitting down and negotiating is just plain daft.
That said, I believe that that work of the committee is vital and more than useful as a reminder to the Government—almost an aide memoire—that there are some key issues that HMG and the negotiators will need to deal with, as has already been explained today, in a satisfactory manner on behalf of the citizens of the UK.
In view of the time restraint, I am going to concentrate my last few remarks on certainty—or perhaps uncertainty. But before doing that, I shall flag up an important issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, raised at the end of her speech: good reciprocal enforcement procedures for business, perhaps especially for small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy. Those small businesses and the people working in them may suffer because the firms will not be able to afford expensive lawyers abroad if there is a breach of contract.
Throughout the report, the committee again and again referred to the importance of certainty. For example, paragraph 37 states:
“The predictability and certainty of the BIR’s reciprocal rules are important to UK citizens who travel and do business within the EU”.
I am grateful that the Government’s response states that they,
“are seeking the best possible deal for the UK in order to ensure a smooth transition to future arrangements”.
It seems eminently sensible that the Ministry of Justice was involved in the establishment of the sector-led Brexit law committee bringing together the Bar Council, the Law Society, “magic circle” firms and others. Besides acting as a further group reminding the Government of their obligations, surely it may also be a historic first: a group of lawyers sitting around a table all in agreement.
It is also important that the Government have proposed this time-limited implementation period based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations, so that the UK and the EU would have continued access to each other’s markets on current terms. Although it could be—and is being—argued that the Government appear not to take the report seriously and have not replied to many of the committee’s recommendations, I look at this from a slightly different perspective. As I said earlier, I am by nature an optimist, and I believe that the negotiators for both the UK and the EU will ultimately agree to do what is best for the citizens of the 27 and the citizens of the UK. Again, I do not expect to receive chapter and verse updates from the negotiators, because that would be unhelpful to all.
I have no doubt we will keep pressing and reminding the Government of some vital points, and I have every confidence that the Government will listen. But I am also cognisant of the fact that this is indeed a negotiation, which by its very nature adds to the uncertainty until it is at an end and leads to an agreement. My one plea to the Government and to the Minister is that, throughout their discussions, concern for individual citizens and their family should always be centre stage and at the forefront of every discussion. The people of this country deserve legal certainty, not uncertainty, as we leave the EU.
My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, professed himself humbled by the speakers who had gone before and the Minister who is going to respond, imagine how we non-lawyers feel following him. It was a great honour to be on the committee for the production of this report. In the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, we have someone who blends, in equal large measure, charm, wisdom and utter determination. I also express my thanks to the clerks and the supporting team, who have done such a terrific job in producing this very good report.
The report once again makes clear that there are a series of linked regulatory systems in a single space, rather than individual states with cumbersome and often expensive barriers between them. The central advantages of these systems, which come up time and again in the different areas our committee and other committees look at, are clarity, reciprocity and enforceability—words that we have already heard today and which I am sure we will hear again. Those are beneficial to all concerned, be it a parent with a child abducted to another country or a businessperson with a cross-border contract. The objective of our committee was not, as too often happens in this House, to refight the Brexit debate but to establish what Her Majesty’s Government’s plan is when we leave the EU so that the benefits of these well-established systems are not lost.
The Government’s written response and the paper which they continuously refer to throughout entitled Providing a Cross-Border Civil Judicial Cooperation Framework, are—I speak as I find—frustrating and a repetitive confection. The response is not the practical, reasoned reassurance that I was hoping for. It tends to repeat the very points in our own report, or responds in a fairly banal way. I take entirely the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, about negotiation, but nevertheless I had hoped for more. It acknowledges the lack of certainty, reciprocity and enforceability, but we knew that from our own report and evidence. What it offers in response is,
“a new relationship based on mutually beneficial rules and processes”.
I think I can remember that as the sort of thing my mother used to say as she served out the apple pie. Another response is:
“We will need to build a bridge from our exit to our future”.
That almost sounds like the closing song from a Christmas panto. I do not really know what it means.
The Government say they are “seeking an agreement” and assert that that activity itself will provide confidence and certainty to businesses and individuals. We did not see any such evidence in front of the committee. The Government paper provides “general principles” for “ongoing cooperation” in the context of separation and “without prejudice” to the ongoing negotiations. Again, I am sure my mum would have approved of that. To replace the very effective existing Brussels I and II Regulations, the plan appears to be to fall back on the 2005 Hague convention and the 2007 Lugano convention, which are less clear and comprehensive than the existing set-up, which was created expressly to improve upon them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, explained. Lastly, and I will try not to quote too extensively, we are told that the Government will consider the coverage of alternative international agreements when deciding how best to ensure ongoing reciprocity and mutual recognition. Again, I did not find a great deal of substance there.
So, what about the timescale? On the one hand, the Government favour a strictly time-limited implementation period, which they define as around two years. In the meantime, we carry on as now—or, rather, based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations. The matter of the ECJ has already been touched on. We know the Government are keen to eschew the ECJ but they have not really offered anything clear to us as a mechanism to replace it. That makes for more uncertainty.
In conclusion, there is a common recognition that there are real and troubling problems here, and everyone agrees that reciprocity and cross-border enforcement need to be protected. However, a recurring theme across all the committees whose reports I have read or been a part of is the lack of actual practical mechanisms to deliver this. The only tangible quantifiable in the Government’s response is “in about two years”. We are not told the mechanisms. Such assurances are wearing thin.
Naturally, to return to the very wise point made by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, it is very difficult to be specific when negotiations are under way. Nevertheless, in all the evidence that we took, we really did not find evidence that actual mechanisms were being devised or discussed to safeguard the individuals, families and businesses that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, spoke so movingly about a few minutes ago.
The Minister is known for his robust, factual and penetrating answers to questions and comments. I hope that when he responds he will go beyond the generalities and shine his very bright and piercing light on the mechanisms and how they are going to deliver outcomes at least as good as Brussels I and Brussels II.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell. I found myself in agreement with much of what he said, particularly the emphasis at the end of his speech upon the absence of any firm indication whatever about mechanisms—the working arrangements that will ensure the right outcome. This is becoming deeply disturbing because there are countless thousands of people out there who are uncertain and worried stiff, not only on this count but about so many aspects of Brexit and what is going to happen. Effective reassurance on this is terribly important.
It is significant that the report has had the endorsement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and what he said was important. He emphasised the importance not only of reciprocity but of certainty, and he is absolutely right. For him to bring all his legal experience to bear in emphasising those points is indeed significant.
Other noble Lords have spoken about the need for clarity, relating again to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, that we need to be clear about the structures and arrangements for enforcement. Clarity cannot be overemphasised.
It has been a great joy to serve on the committee, not least because of the very special nature of our chair. She is one of the most effective chairs I have ever served under. She brings a firmness which we all recognise, together with her, if I may use these words, kindly and in the best sense wicked, devastating charm—look out when it is in operation; she is ruthless at times—and her incisiveness. We had a very good indication of that in the way that she introduced the debate.
It has also been a joy to serve on the committee because of the commitment, seriousness and quality of fellow members of the committee. I have never gone away from a committee meeting without feeling challenged and impressed by what is gathered around that table. The House would do well to take its findings seriously.
Sometimes, we fail to thank our witnesses. We owe them a great deal for the candour with which they spoke. I am one of those who learns from personal experiences; I learn from them all the time. I therefore always take away from something in which I am really involved anecdotes which help to inform my attitudes to life. I shall never forget the occasion on which two very distinguished and highly qualified lawyers were giving evidence to the committee, but broke off to say—I am not quoting them literally, I am reporting what I heard—“We are lawyers. What we want to say now is not necessarily professionally in our personal interest, nor in our interest at all, because if things do not work out satisfactorily, there will be lots of work for lawyers in times ahead. But we are dealing with family matters. Surely everyone around this table cares about children. What is so awful in the handling of family matters in the legal system is how children can so easily be trampled on. We want outcomes that are in the best interest of children. What is significant is that it is beginning to work”.
I was taken to task by our chair the other day in a private conversation to say that they did not say “it is beginning”, they said that it is so effectively working on a cross-border basis. Of course, that is related to the role of the European court, enforceability and the system by which every member country is in the end legally accountable to one authority. We must have something very good indeed if it is to replace what the European court has brought.
The other thing that has come across to me in the work of this committee, which has come across day after day—and it has come across to me in other committees in which I have served—is the gap in which we are operating between reality and myth. I cannot find, in all the experience that I have been through on European matters, anything to substantiate the myth about the wicked nature of the European Court and the reasons why we have to extricate ourselves from its operation. Of course, there was a building and learning experience—but those who work in the system find it so effective and important. On the whole European issue, I hope that in this House, if nowhere else, we will want to feel that we have made a contribution not just to the well-being of British people but to the evolution of law within the European Union in the interests of people throughout the European Union. We do not hear enough about that argument. What is going to happen to that? Our lawyers and legal profession has played a key part in the evolution of European law, which is just not recognised or understood by the British people.
The myth has reigned too long. We must have reality—and that reality rests on making sure that, whatever happens, we have something that is as good as the European court.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. “K” seems to follow “J” quite a lot. He always brings great passion and the wisdom born of many long years of public service, and we are very lucky that he does. I am glad to say that he brings it to every committee meeting, too. I feel that he needs a large carpetbag—in my case, I need a very small toothpaste bag for such things.
I add my thanks and congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on her leadership of our committee. She brings the most marvellous crispness and robustness to meetings, which I find energises us—and we had a strong flavour of that in her speech in introducing the debate. What an excellent survey of the report and state of affairs that was.
I add, as others have, my heartfelt thanks to committee staff for their hard work. They in fact work on every report of the EU Select Committee, being the legal resource. In the 18 months or so since the Brexit vote, there have been 24 Brexit reports from the EU Select Committee, and the standard of work has been high throughout. I do not know how they do it, but they continue to exude an atmosphere of calm efficiency and good humour. I can see some of them there, but I hope that the others are having a mild afternoon off.
Although this report is only 37 pages long, it represents a rounded and important summary and analysis of vital issues that need to be addressed as part of the Brexit process. It was published on 20 March, but I regret that the government response arrived only on 1 December, more than eight months later, well outside the conventional two-month period, even taking into account the election period. I note that the response itself relied heavily on the government paper, Providing a Cross-border Civil Judicial Cooperation Framework, of 22 August. The Minister has a strong personal reputation for getting things done on time, being a good Scot, and I ask him to explain briefly some reasons for this delay on this very important topic. As we have heard today, so many people are relying on certainty in this area.
In my remarks I shall confine myself substantially to the perspective of business. Business thrives on certainty. I started the debate by noting down the names of all the noble Lords who made more or less the same point on certainty. However, as that includes everyone who has spoken in the debate so far, I shall not list them. But the certainty point is what everything comes back to; anything that can be done to provide greater certainty benefits business and thus our economy.
From the business perspective, the uncertainty falls in two broad areas. They are what I am calling the “pipeline”, or civil law matters in train at the date of exit, and the “new future”, or matters that arise after the date of exit. I have assumed that any transitional period matters would be part of the pipeline, not only because of recent comment but because it would simply make submissions far too complex to try to analyse them separately.
Turning, therefore, to the pipeline, I feel that the news has seemed quite good. The EU published its views on 12 July in its paper on judicial co-operation in civil and commercial matters. The UK responded with its paper of 22 August, which I referred to earlier. Annex A of that paper deals with the UK’s views on pipeline issues. The pleasing thing is that, between the two, there is quite a lot of common ground, I feel. In the interim, we have had four months where, presumably, more discussions have been held. Indeed, we have had some further evidence in paragraph 91 of the joint report of 8 December:
“On cooperation in civil and commercial matters there is a need to provide legal certainty and clarity. There is general consensus between both Parties that Union rules on conflict of laws should continue to apply to contracts before the withdrawal date and non-contractual obligations where an event causing damage occurred before the withdrawal date”.
Can the Minister tell the House how close the parties are in terms of agreeing pipeline matters?
I move to the new future—matters that arise after the date of exit. The evidence that we took painted a remarkable picture concerning the development of judicial co-operation in the EU and, in particular, the Brussels I Regulation (recast). This was—and I am disapplying my normal British reserve—that the UK had a huge influence in the legal developments that made judicial processes work well within the EU. The wonderfully named legal tactic, the “Italian Torpedo”, was widely employed to frustrate proceedings prior to the Brussels I Regulation (recast). The lis pendens rule used to apply so that, where proceedings involving the same parties and same causes of action were brought in different member states, any court other than the first court seized stayed its proceedings until such time as the jurisdiction of the first court seized was established—a good rule to prevent parallel proceedings, but misused in the regular commencement of Italian proceedings, where progress is notoriously slow.
The Brussels I Regulation (recast) defeated this by disapplying the “first in time” rule where an exclusive jurisdiction clause existed between the parties. This Brussels I Regulation (recast) change was thanks to pragmatic British pressure and diplomacy. Indeed, the British-engineered Brussels I Regulation (recast) regime is very helpful to commerce, providing certainty and a good framework. The Government paper of 22 August clearly aspires to that and the second half of paragraph 91 of the joint report that I referred to a moment ago states:
“There was also agreement to provide legal certainty as to the circumstances under which Union law on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgements will continue to apply, and that judicial cooperation procedures should be finalised”.
Again, I am mildly heartened, but the detail and certainty is not there and is not what business seeks.
The Bar Council has published a series of papers in this area, The Brexit Papers, which I commend to the House. Paper 4, Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments, suggests a practical route forward with admirable certainty:
“Enter into an agreement based on the Denmark-EU Jurisdiction Agreement, both with the EU and with Denmark albeit with a clause providing not for interpretative jurisdiction of the CJEU but for ‘due account’ to be taken of the decisions of the courts of all ‘Contracting Parties’”.
“Sign and ratify the Lugano II Convention, to preserve the present regime vis-à-vis Norway, Iceland and Switzerland”.
“Sign and ratify the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements”.
“Enter into an agreement based on the Denmark-EU Service Agreement, both with the EU and with Denmark”.
I found this and its associated reasoning clear and convincing and a good route forward. In closing, I therefore ask the Minister to comment on this Bar Council proposal.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this very important debate. I too pay tribute to the vigorous chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Indeed, it is a pleasure to serve on the committee; we are a happy band. Unfortunately, I could not attend yesterday’s session and believe that I missed some seasonal goodies. That was very unfortunate.
The current regime of mutual recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions and judgments provides simpler, less expensive and speedier justice. It is for those reasons that it is valued by the Government. In their August future partnership paper on civil judicial co-operation, the Government said that the EU system,
“plays an important role in enabling businesses to trade with confidence across borders, providing legal certainty in cross-border transactions and avoiding delays and excessive costs where individual and family rights need to be protected in cross-border situations”.
The benefits of predictability and certainty have been highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. That explains why successive UK Governments have chosen to take part in a whole series of civil law EU measures—to opt in, in the jargon. One can weigh the importance of those opt-in decisions compared with, for instance, criminal procedure law, where the UK has declined to opt into most of the instruments. The same applies in the area of international migration, where the UK has stayed apart.
The UK influence in the EU civil justice regime is considerable. Our lawyers, judges and legal system make a very strong contribution to it. The idea that it is alien to our legal traditions is very wide of the mark. I wish that the British Government had been more proactive, in line with our legal strengths, in improving the rule of law across the EU. Today, the European Commission has taken the decision to trigger Article 7 of the treaty, saying that Poland risks causing a serious breach of EU rules and values by politicising the judiciary. Frans Timmermans, the Vice-President of the Commission, rightly said that the erosion of the rule of law in one member state is a problem not just for that member state but threatens a breakdown of the,
“functioning of the Union as a whole”.
I saw it reported in the press that the UK Government did not approve of this move by the Commission, and I think that is a mistake.
I also happen to have a positive view of the EU scoreboard, which, unfortunately, is not comprehensively shared across the committee. That scoreboard is a comparative overview of the efficiency, quality and independence of justice systems in member states. The point of that exercise, which may well be imperfect, is to help build the trust essential to the operation of mutual recognition, which underpins the single market and legal enforcement.
Our report said that uncertainty about the future is,
“having an impact on the UK’s market for legal services and commercial litigation, and on the choices businesses are making as to whether … to select English contract law”,
to govern their commercial relationships. This is borne out in a remark by the Bar Council’s Brexit working group, to which the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred. It said:
“It is likely that, if parties consider that the answer to the questions of ‘Will my jurisdiction clause be respected?’ and ‘Will my judgment be enforced?’ will involve adding time and expense as well as uncertainty to any transaction, then this may encourage them to amend their contractual clause in favour of resolving disputes before other Member State courts”,
so taking business away from London and other legal centres. We know that courts working in English are being set up in other member states, notably the Netherlands. Even more importantly, there will be an adverse consequence for companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, from losing the EU regime.
But the harm to those who rely on the EU regime in regard to divorce, child custody and maintenance goes far beyond inconvenience and could amount to serious distress. Some witnesses suggested that a complicated combination of the Lugano and Hague conventions, and retention of the Rome I and II regulations through the withdrawal Bill could offer some kind of workable alternative solution. However, it was not clear to the committee how we would accede to the Lugano convention, which is between the EU and three EFTA countries. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on that.
Our conclusion in any case was that this approach will come at a cost and would anyway apply only to civil and commercial proceedings, since, as our report said,
“there is no satisfactory fall-back position in respect of family law”,
and a return to common law rules would be detrimental to litigation in family law. Apart from the increased burden on domestic family courts—extra pressure our evidence suggested they cannot take—there would be that distress for families; hence the need to maintain the EU framework is acute in this field.
However, not only can we not do this unilaterally, but we keep coming up against the Government’s dogmatic red line on the Court of Justice of the European Union. Our conclusion, in paragraph 29, was:
“We remain concerned … that if the Government adheres rigidly to this policy it will severely constrain its choice of adequate alternative arrangements”.
We would be giving up the utility of the regime we have now because of an ideological obsession with the Luxembourg court.
The Government’s partnership paper we found devoid of detail and consisting of aspirations and platitudes. The paper said that,
“it is vital … that there are coherent common rules to govern interactions between legal systems”,
and the Government claimed in their response to us that this paper sets out a “clear position”. We did not find such clarity. To continually repeat the mantra of “deep and special” does not magically solve all the problems. The Government’s lack of a real plan is inadequate and disappointing. Perhaps the Minister can provide such a plan this afternoon.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, remarked, the Government seem to be preparing for failure and disengagement as regards,
“how ongoing cooperation in this area could be wound down”.
That was a dismaying apparent admission of failure before we have even started. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us more encouragement in his response.
My Lords, I refer to my interest as an unpaid consultant at my former solicitors’ firm. I should add that it gives me two tickets for Newcastle United matches, but in the present circumstances I do not regard that as much of a benefit.
It is now 18 months since the referendum and nine months since the Article 50 notice was given. We are only 15 months away from the deadline, yet the first meeting of the Cabinet to discuss the details of a post-Brexit future has only just taken place. Astonishingly, the meeting lasted all of one hour and 25 minutes, with 25 Ministers participating, giving an average of three minutes and 24 seconds per member—possibly exceeded by the likes of the three wise men leading the charge: Boris Johnson, David Davis and Michael Gove.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Kennedy both on securing this debate and on the European Select Committee’s report, published nine months ago tomorrow. This debate has been a long time in gestation, due primarily to the dilatory response of the Government, which emerged only on 1 December.
Some Members of your Lordships’ House may recall a television series called “Candid Camera”. The picture portrayed by the Government is more like “Candide Camera”, emulating Voltaire’s famous character and giving the impression that all will be for the best in the best of all Brexit worlds. Its eight-page letter contains all of 25 paragraphs of reassurances, many of which, to put it mildly, are somewhat less than convincing.
It begins with the complacent claim:
“Our justice system and our legal sector will continue to be the envy of the world after EU Exit”,
which seven years of attrition in access to justice in this country and growing difficulty in making judicial appointments somewhat belie. It goes on to assert that the Government will,
“need to build a bridge from our exit to our future partnership”.
It is the same aspiration repeatedly voiced by the Government over other areas but not one, apparently, shared by the EU. So, far from building a bridge, we appear in danger of walking the plank. What response has been received to this aspiration and its proposed,
“strictly time-limited implementation period”?
The Government’s response to the committee’s call for provisions in any withdrawal or transitional agreement to address specifically the Brussels I Regulation is, to put it mildly, less than confident.
In the important area of family law, mentioned by a number of speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, there is clear concern about the problem of cross-border cases, including international child abduction and financial provision. The Government’s response in August was that they are seeking an agreement to achieve cross-border collaboration in these areas. Perhaps the Minister could indicate what progress, if any, has been made.
As an article in the New Law Journal in October pointed out, while the August paper on cross-border co-operation affirmed an intention to continue to participate in the four Hague conventions to which we subscribe directly and the two to which we subscribe by virtue of EU membership,
“no mechanism for this to happen”,
was included in the paper.
We are dealing here with highly sensitive issues, from divorce and separations to child abduction and protection, adoption, the enforcement of orders for maintenance and the choice of court. Both the former and current President of the Supreme Court have called for clarity on these matters. Where do we now stand in terms of both timescale and substantive proposals?
Paragraphs 27 to 31 of the committee report raise the issue of the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which the Government rejects, although the committee was,
“left unable to discern a clear policy”.
The response was flaccid, proclaiming the,
“need to ensure future civil judicial cooperation takes into account regional legal arrangements”.
How do the Government propose this is to be achieved?
The report’s conclusion called for a “coherent plan” for addressing the three sets of regulations covering families, individuals and businesses, to which the response, characteristically, falls back on the platitudinous assertions that:
“Where disputes arise, these will also continue to need to be settled. Cooperation on the civil judicial mechanisms and procedures which underpin these relationships is essential, and the best way”—
I interpolate “in the best of all possible worlds”—
“to deliver that cooperation is through a close and comprehensive agreement between the UK and the EU, that sets out coherent common rules”.
The Government’s contribution to achieving such an agreement consists of an eight-page letter sent on 1 December, but can the Minister say what, if any, progress has been made in the last four months in discussions with the EU?
Much is at stake, not least in relation to the UK’s legal services. The Law Society, in a fuller paper than that provided by the Government, calls, among many other issues, for the ability to recruit skilled individuals from Europe, access to practise in the UK and the maintenance of recognition and enforcement of judgments with EU states. It places emphasis on the need to deal swiftly with cases involving children and asserts that the UK should sign up to international conventions on family law, now covered by its EU membership. It also calls for maintaining participation in the process of serving documents and taking evidence. Do the Government agree, and what assurance can they give that these objectives will be met?
Not unnaturally, the Law Society also points to the significant contribution of legal services to our economy, including £3.7 billion of net export value. It points out that the UK is the second largest legal services market in the world and the largest in the EU, accounting for as much as 20% of all European legal fee income. All of that is under threat. Other countries are already believed to be following the trend in the banking and financial services sectors in seeking to displace the UK as a forum for dispute resolution and the source of legal advice and representation.
The society, in its report of January 2017, referred to two reports it published as long ago as September and October 2015 covering a wide range of substantive issues as well as the implications for the profession. Have the Government responded to that document and to what extent are they reflecting the society’s concerns in their approach?
The committee’s report also addressed the critical issue of the Brussels I Regulation and the potential impact on citizens and businesses of failing to reach agreement on its application after Brexit. In their response, the Government, inter alia, said that they had proposed a time-limited implementation period pending the preparation of new processes and systems. Again I ask: what response have they received?
The Government have also stated that,
“in the event that we do not agree an arrangement for future civil judicial cooperation with the EU, it will be important to have reached a common view on the general principles that would govern how ongoing cooperation in this area could be wound down”.
Given that both the Government and the EU have published their general principles in this area, can the Minister indicate how close or distant the two approaches are?
Today, in an interesting judgment, the European Court of Justice has ruled that Uber is a transport company, not a digital service, and as such its drivers should have employee rights. Is this a decision welcomed by the Government or one they would seek to change under Brexit?
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are embarked on a voyage into uncharted waters with no clear destination, a potentially mutinous crew and an indecisive captain. I wish only that we had the equivalent of my noble friend Lord West at the helm.
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s last point, it is not for me to anticipate the Uber decision but the hint might be in the existence of the motor vehicles.
I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on securing this debate. The question of the EU’s departure from the European Union is well-trodden ground in this House by now, but the question of future civil judicial co-operation between the United Kingdom and the EU has perhaps not received as much attention. I commend her and her sub-committee for the work they have done to address this. I would also like to thank, through her, the witnesses who contributed to the inquiry and whose experience and expertise we value very highly. It is because of that expertise that this is such a commendable report.
The debate gives me the opportunity to set out to your Lordships the Government’s position on this technical but important subject, to the extent that I can while we are in the course of a negotiating process. Before addressing the specific issue of civil judicial co-operation, and dealing with the points made by your Lordships, it may be worth some scene-setting.
Since June, we have worked intensively with our European partners to settle the issues in the first phase of our negotiations to leave the EU. We have made good progress and reached agreement with the EU’s negotiators on some very difficult issues. Nearly two weeks ago, the United Kingdom and the EU negotiating teams issued a joint report on the progress they have made on the three areas covered in the first phase of the negotiations. It proposes a fair deal on citizens’ rights that allows for UK and EU citizens to get on with their lives broadly as now in the country in which they live; it agrees a financial settlement that honours the commitments we undertook as members of the EU, involving a fair delivery of our obligations; and it contains an agreement on the island of Ireland that preserves the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and the stability that has been brought about by the Belfast agreement.
As your Lordships will know, last week, the European Council agreed that this report represents sufficient progress and that we should now move on to the talks about our future partnership. This allows the next stage of negotiations to proceed, and the Council has agreed that there should be quick progress on agreeing an implementation period.
On that implementation period, the United Kingdom Government’s proposal is to ensure that businesses and people have time to adjust, and to allow new systems to be put in place. We believe that any implementation period should be strictly time limited—to around two years, as noble Lords are aware. I emphasise that it should be based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations, during which the UK and the EU would have access to one another’s markets on current terms, and the UK would take part in existing security and other measures. Of course we welcome that progress. It is in everyone’s interests that the talks now move on swiftly during the second phase.
On the subject of this debate, many noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, used the term “certainty and predictability”. Let me be clear that there is consensus about that. Of course, we seek to secure certainty and predictability. But a third word was used by a number of noble Lords that I would also emphasise—reciprocity. Just as we look from the United Kingdom to the EU 27, with concern about how we will ensure suitable civil judicial co-operation following our exit from the European Union, so those 27 countries look to the United Kingdom in the same way, anxious as they are, just like us, to ensure certainty and predictability, because that is what reciprocity brings.
Of course, what we call civil judicial co-operation is the framework that governs a whole spectrum of legal systems work and cross-border situations and provides rules not only in the context of commercial cases, but in the context of family law. As has been noted, the current EU rules are contained in regulations such as the Brussels Ia—the revised regulation on jurisdiction recognition and enforcement of judgments—the Rome I regulation on choice of law in contracts, and the Brussels II regulation, which covers jurisdictional rules for recognition of divorces, and for recognition and enforcement of parental responsibility and other matters. It does not stop there. There is also the insolvency regulation, which is equally important to commerce across the whole of Europe and which covers jurisdictional rules on the recognition of insolvency proceedings, and there are others. There is a guide to them in the paper that was issued by the Government in August this year.
These instruments provide a legal route to resolving, with certainty and predictability, difficult cross-border situations that can arise whether in the context of commercial law or family law. Clearly, these various measures have over the years benefited many citizens of the United Kingdom. Equally, they have benefited many citizens of the EU 27. They have benefited small and large businesses throughout the United Kingdom and small and large businesses throughout Europe. I am obliged for the noble Lord’s encouragement on that.
It is against that background that I emphasise that we are all concerned to secure certainty and predictability. For example, we know that about 3 million EU citizens currently live in the United Kingdom. We wish to ensure that their rights can be certain and predictable going forward. Equally, about 1 million British citizens live in the other EU 27 countries and we wish the same for them. Again, I underline the point about reciprocity. It is not essentially in anyone’s interests to move backwards and wind down from such a position.
Indeed, that certainty is a key foundation of economic growth. Confidence in cross-border commercial contracts and investment relationships is underpinned and enhanced by clear rules governing each country’s jurisdiction, its courts’ responsibility for resolving disputes and its ability to avoid what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred to as the Italian torpedo, which was a feature of commercial litigation in Europe until the revision of the Brussels I regulation some years ago. Everyone understands the need for an effective system of cross-border judicial recognition, if I can call it that, in the context of the choice of law, choice of jurisdiction and enforcement proceedings. That is not cut down by any red line. I will return to that in the context of something that was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy.
The Government are seeking a future agreement with the European Union that allows for close and comprehensive cross-border co-operation. I will return to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about what we are seeking in that context. But what we want to do is reflect as closely as possible the substantive principles of the current framework. They work well for citizens in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. In addition to other regulations, I mentioned such things as the insolvency regulations, the EU service regulations, the taking of evidence regulations and, in the context of Brussels II and family matters, the Maintenance Regulation. They are all-embracing.
To touch on one or two points, under the repeal Bill, we will incorporate into domestic law the Rome I and Rome II instruments on choice of law and applicable law in contractual and non-contractual matters. If we do that, and Rome I and Rome II already apply in the other EU 27 states, then essentially we will have achieved a level playing field in those matters. There is no need for us to do more than that in the context of Rome I and Rome II.
Of course, in other areas, it will be necessary for us to engage in negotiations with certain parties. The matter does not just stop at the stage of Brussels and the EU; there are countries beyond the European Union. We have signed up to agreements in civil judicial co-operation that apply well beyond the EU: reference was made to the council of the Hague Conference, which gives rise to a series of Hague Conventions in this area. There are also the UNCITRAL—United Nations Commission on International Trade Law—provisions as well, which apply beyond the EU. We will continue to embrace all of those.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, suggested that there were perhaps three Hague Conventions that we were interested in, but it goes much further than that. The UK is a signatory to the 1965 Convention on Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters; the 1970 Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters; the 1970 Convention on the Recognition of Divorces and Legal Separations, which I accept does not go as far as Brussels II; the 1980 Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; the 1993 Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption; and the 1996 Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children. So, there is a great deal more to this subject than just Brussels I, Brussels Ia and Brussels II.
Reference was also made to the Lugano convention, which is the convention on judicial co-operation between the EU and the other EEA countries—Norway, Ireland and Liechtenstein. Denmark has a separate agreement, which I will not go into detail on at the moment. I want to make one point about the Lugano convention, which I accept has not caught up with Brussels Ia —although it is up to speed with Brussels I. It is wrong to suggest that any red line, as it is termed, with regard to the CJEU’s jurisdiction is a barrier. The Lugano convention is not subject to the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU, even though the EU is a party to the Lugano convention. So, there are instruments through which we can achieve judicial co-operation, outwith the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU. That reflects the steps that we are endeavouring to take in present negotiations, and indeed what drives them.
The point that was made in our report, which I certainly tried to make, was that we were not sure how it would be possible for the UK to accede to the Lugano convention in practice, given that it is between the EU and three EEA countries. I did not mention the red line about the CJEU in the context of the Lugano convention; the question was more about how we could manage to insert ourselves into the Lugano convention.
There is no legal barrier to us becoming a party to the Lugano convention, but that would be a subject of negotiation with the council to the Lugano convention. I believe it was the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who suggested that the CJEU was somehow a red line in this respect. I emphasise that it is not a red line, but it is an issue that has to be addressed in the context of the present negotiations.
I will touch on one or two points made by noble Lords in the debate, beginning with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Again, I go back briefly to her suggestion that our rejection of the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU had a profound effect on civil judicial co-operation. I simply cannot accept that. It does not apply in the context of the UNCITRAL rules, the Hague convention or Lugano. Therefore, there are clearly areas where we can negotiate and determine judicial co-operation without accepting the direct jurisdiction of that court.
The noble Baroness also observed that Lugano had not been upgraded. I think she suggested it was essentially stuck in aspect, or something of that kind.
Indeed so. I am familiar with it—absolutely ghastly stuff.
It is not stuck; it so happens that the convention has moved more slowly than Brussels in this context. Lugano was essentially in parallel with Brussels I. When Brussels moved on to Brussels Ia Lugano did not accelerate at the same speed, but that is not to say that it is in aspic.
I may have misheard the noble Baroness, but she suggested, in the context of arbitration, that there was no allowance for enforcement of arbitral judgments. That is not the case, because the New York convention provides for enforcement of arbitral judgments. That applies right across the world. It is not limited in any sense to the EU. Again, it seems arbitration—and commercial arbitration, which is particularly important in the context of the City of London, for example—is not affected by these issues of reciprocal judicial agreement and enforcement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton of Belgravia, suggested that the Government’s response was disappointing. I hope we have moved on from that point. She suggested that the reference to things being wound down would not do, but with great respect, we have no desire to see any of this wound down. We seek certainty, predictability and an outcome that we can say is in parallel with Brussels Ia, Brussels II and the other regulations referred to.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, referred to the Brussels regulations having a significant role. He is absolutely correct about that and we acknowledge it. Indeed—I believe I can get this far—we certainly agree as to our goal. He may feel that we are a little less certain than others about how we get to it, but there is no suggestion or intention of us walking away from these regulations. We will have to address the question of the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU and we acknowledge that.
I apologise for interrupting, but I did not invent the phrase “wound down”. I can quote it directly back to the noble and learned Lord. The Government’s reaction to our report was,
“in the event that we do not agree an arrangement for future civil judicial cooperation with the EU, it will be important to have reached a common view on the general principles that would govern how ongoing cooperation in this area could be wound down”.
That is absolutely correct, but the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, brought this out more fully when he distinguished between cases in the pipeline and those that arise post Brexit. As paragraph 91 of the joint report points out, there will essentially be agreement—or consensus; let me put it that way—on how we deal with existing cases at the point when we leave the European Union. But there is no desire to see us walk away or wind down the existing regulatory regime.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, posed two questions in the context of the Government’s response, where we talk about a “close and comprehensive agreement”. It cannot be a mirror of what is already there, because of the jurisdiction of the CJEU, but “close and comprehensive” is what we seek.
The noble and learned Lord’s first question was whether we could give an assurance that the aim is to achieve the same degree of certainty and predictability. The answer, I would suggest, is yes. The aim is most certainly to achieve that. I assure him that there will be no cliff edge. We have no desire for there to be any cliff edge anywhere, but that will be the subject of negotiation because we are now entering the second phase. Perhaps it is more important to point out that the Government’s aim in this context is to ensure that we have certainty, predictability and continuity.
If at the end of the transition period there had been no agreement, there would be no basis for reciprocal enforcement pursuant to Brussels Ia, Brussels II and those regulations, because we would no longer be a member of the EU for those purposes. That would appear to follow. Nevertheless, there would still be recourse to the Hague convention, although I am the first to accept that the convention provisions do not replicate or achieve the level of predictability and certainty that is in the Brussels regulations.
I absolutely concur, which is why we and the EU have expressed a desire to move forward to the second phase of negotiations as swiftly as possible. I emphasise that this is about reciprocity. It is about the interest not only of the United Kingdom but of the EU. It appears to me that those interests will eventually prevail.
I am afraid that I keep on getting a note saying that I have one minute to go and I keep on stretching that one minute. I have not expressly addressed all points raised by noble Lords, but perhaps I may touch on one or two. I entirely concur with the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, that one cannot negotiate in public. We can express our intentions and our aims, but it is very difficult for us to give a running commentary about where we are on these issues any more than on other issues, but I underline our aims in this context.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred to the delay in the Government’s response to the report. I apologise for that. The report was followed by the general election and then by the Summer Recess. The government paper was issued on 22 August, when I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, was invited to take part in a briefing on the matter, but I accept that it took until the beginning of December for the response to be published.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about progress in “discussions”. These are not discussions; these are negotiations. The noble Lord is a very experienced lawyer and knows perfectly well that one cannot have or maintain a running commentary on such matters when one is hoping to achieve consensus at the end of the day. However, we verily believe that we will achieve certainty and predictability, which, I emphasise again, is our aim.
I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and her sub-committee for the report.
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken, to all my committee members and to others. I am grateful also to the Minister for his recognition of this committee’s work and of the very high quality of evidence that we received from voices that should be listened to by government on the problems that will arise if we do not succeed in achieving the close co-operation referred to throughout this debate and the certainty that flows from it.
I hope that the Government, as they continue to negotiate Brexit, will take note of the concerns that have been expressed in the report, today and by our witnesses. Predictability and certainty, as the Minister has said, rely upon reciprocity. Rome I and II do not give reciprocity; they do not need reciprocity to work and I think the Minister will know that. It is different. The Brussels regulations give us something much more profound and the concern should be to make that possible in whatever is negotiated henceforth. Our concern is that we are likely to get something less: because of drawing a line around the court, we will no longer be party to the development of law.
One important thing—and I do not say this as a British lawyer, but on behalf of all colleagues and brilliant people I know in the law—is that the law has developed in Europe with a huge input from British lawyers, such as the Minister himself. To pull ourselves out of that discourse, which often takes place in the courtroom as well as in the committees and the other processes that develop law, would be a great shame and a great step back from the development of very positive co-operation.
So I hope that in the negotiations the Government will take note of this report, which is really urging that citizens will lose something serious if we do not maintain the current framework and if we are not party to developments as we go forth; that has been one of the great riches to emerge from the great collaborations across Europe. I say this not just of these matters but of all other rights, be it intellectual property rights, our rights as consumers, our rights as citizens—all our human rights. It is really important that we play a part in that development. We have done so, to our great credit, so far. Please, let that continue: that is the message of this report to the Government. I beg to move.
Licensing Act 2003: Post-Legislative Scrutiny (Licensing Act 2003 Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it was an immense privilege to chair the Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 and it is an equal privilege to be opening today’s debate. I refer to my interests as set out in the register, including membership of a number of all-party groups relevant to the inquiry, such as those on beer, on whisky and on wines and spirits. My husband has worked for many years for international airlines and more recently with the London School of Mediation.
We were extremely fortunate to have had an excellent, knowledgeable clerk, Michael Collon; a specialist adviser, Sarah Clover; and policy analysts, initially Tansy Hutchinson and then Ben Taylor. They were a pleasure to work with and we are very grateful to them. The committee is also indebted to all those witnesses who gave us such valuable written and oral evidence. I had hoped that we might visit various establishments at which alcohol is licensed, such as pubs, clubs and casinos, but sadly, time and resources did not permit. However, I did visit Amsterdam in a personal capacity to meet the night mayor and hear how they manage their night-time economy so successfully. The committee was enjoyable, interesting, disturbing and challenging. It was enjoyable because of its strong team of members who took to their task with great gusto and expertise, and I am glad to see so many noble Lords who were members present today.
What was disturbing was the evidence showing how much was wrong with the Act itself and, even more so, with its operation. It was challenging to formulate recommendations which, if implemented, might help to remedy the situation. The words “if implemented” are of course key. We reported in April. Seven months later we received the Government’s response, aspects of which we welcome, including recommendations which the Government accepted or were prepared to consider. However, there were also major recommendations that the Government rejected. I am glad to see my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford in her place to answer the points that I and other noble Lords will be making. The committee reached a number of conclusions on which we would like to see government action.
In the 11 years the Licensing Act 2003 has been in force, hardly a year has passed without major amendments to it. Historically, licensing applications were determined by justices of the peace to control the sale of alcohol, a practice which lasted for 500 years until the Licensing Act 2003 transferred this duty to local authorities, acting through licensing committees. We believe it was a mistake and a missed opportunity to set up new licensing committees when the planning system was already available to regulate the use of land for many different purposes. The planning system is well suited to dealing with licensing applications and appeals, in which the interests of residents are always taken into account.
In evidence we received, hearings before licensing committees were described as “something of a lottery”, lacking “formality”, and “indifferent”, with some,
“scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors”.
The committee was told of the deep disconnect between licensing and planning. The two need to be joined up. The planning system works much better because of the greater volume of work and better support from professionals. That is why we recommended that licensing applications should be heard by planning committees. The system of licensing committees had its defenders—the councillors themselves, local authorities and the Government—but also its critics, particularly the users of the system. Applicants, businesses, residents or the lawyers representing them were all critical of the decision-making generally and, in some cases, the denial of basic justice.
The Government say in their response that,
“we do not intend to take the approach recommended by the Committee at this time”.
They believe that it is enough to improve training and provide stronger guidance—which we did recommend —on how licensing committees should be conducted. While better training and guidance may help, they cannot mend the basic flaws of the system. If the Government do not intend to follow our recommendations “at this time”, I ask the Minister to tell us at what time she thinks this would be appropriate.
Our report recommends that appeals from planning committees on licensing matters are heard by planning inspectors, not magistrates, who until 2005 dealt with applications. The committee cannot understand how a magistrate, who is no longer considered by the Government to be the right person to consider a licensing application, should nevertheless be the right person to hear an appeal. Instead of appealing, parties are increasingly seeking judicial review, which of course is costly. I commend to the Minister the committee’s idea that appeals should go to the appropriate court, as for gambling; appeals against the Gambling Commission now go to the First-tier Tribunal and thence on a point of law to the Upper Tribunal.
We heard in evidence that there could be scope for mediation between the parties with a view to aligning the interests of the licensing applicants with the needs of local residents. We welcome the Government’s acceptance of increased mediation. We believe that a full “agent of change” principle should be adopted in both planning and licensing guidance to help protect both licensed premises and local residents from consequences arising from any newly built development in their vicinity.
On occasion disabled people have difficulty accessing licensed premises, sometimes because of lack of access to appropriate facilities owing to the age of the building, and occasionally younger customers are excluded for failing to produce proof of age. Last year the Government rejected a proposal by the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability that compliance with the Equality Act should be an additional licensing objective. We recommend that the law be amended to require, as in Scotland—I declare an interest as a non-practising Scottish advocate—that an application for a premises licence should be accompanied by a disabled access and facilities statement, putting more of an onus on the applicants to ensure that the premises are disabled-friendly or to explain why not. As the Government say they are sympathetic on the issue of accessibility and point out that the 2017 Conservative manifesto made a commitment to review disabled people’s access to licensed premises, why, when we offer them a cheap, easy and painless way to achieve that, would they not want to seize the opportunity?
On pricing and taxation, the committee urges the Government to look at ways in which taxation and pricing can be used to control excessive consumption, particularly with regard to the health aspects. We welcome the announcement in the Budget of an undertaking to consult on measures to raise the duty on white cider.
The Government are on the record that they will consider the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and their response to our report repeats that minimum unit pricing remains under review. In 2012, the Scottish Parliament passed an Act to introduce a minimum unit price. Will the Minister agree that—assuming that MUP is brought into force in Scotland, that Scottish Ministers publish their statutory assessment of MUP and that the assessment demonstrates that the policy is successful—MUP should be introduced in England and Wales without further delay? It is a matter of ongoing debate whether taxation, minimum pricing or minimum unit pricing is the most effective as a tool to encourage responsible drinking.
The committee looked into the exception made for the sale of alcohol airside and portside, with the Licensing Act 2003 being expressly disapplied. Currently, premises airside can be open 24 hours day and can sell alcohol to young people and to drunks. We believe that the increasing incidence of air rage—a 34% increase in one year alone—is fuelled largely by the generally relaxed sale of alcohol at airports once a passenger has passed through customs. Incidents on flights are notorious and particularly alarming given the height, the confined space and the pressure, and such episodes can lead to the diversion of flights, at huge expense. In its evidence, Jet2.com told us that it had to deal with 536 such disruptive incidents in the summer of 2016 alone, more than half of which were reported to have been fuelled by alcohol. Its disruptive-passenger data for 2017 show an increase in incidents of 58% on 2016, and those incidents are year-round, not confined to the summer. We recommend that the 2003 Act should fully apply airside, as it does in other parts of airports, and as it should apply portside at ports and hoverports too. The Government continue to argue that there may be practical problems allowing inspectors to operate airside, although there seem to be no problems allowing access to those selling alcohol airside.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to the safety of passengers and the undertaking to hold a consultation to seek views on how to minimise the impact of disruptive passengers on the travelling public. Yet I would confidently predict the results of any such government consultation: the airlines will favour the application of the Act airside but the airport and retail industry will oppose it. At that stage the Government will have to make up their mind. We have shown a straightforward way to do so now by a simple order lifting the exemption. The Government should do so as a matter of urgency and certainly before flights in the summer of 2018. The Government accept that what they call disruptive events are on the rise, so why would they not want to act now? We further urge the Government to act expeditiously to ensure that Section 141 of the Licensing Act, which makes it an offence to sell or attempt to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, is properly enforced, thus helping to prevent preloading and reduce the excessive drunkenness and anti-social behaviour often linked with it.
Undoubtedly, the night-time economy and the retail trade are potential growth areas and contribute greatly to urban and rural economies. It is a matter of note that the number of pubs and nightclubs have reduced while the off-trade has expanded. In 1994, 58% of alcohol was sold by the on-trade and 42% by the off-trade. By 2005, when the Act came into force, the position was reversed. Today, 70% of alcohol is sold through off-licences and supermarkets. With lower overheads and high volume of sales, supermarkets can sell high-strength alcohol at very low prices, often leading to the very worst anti-social behaviour and disorder.
Voluntary responsibility deals, local schemes and community partnerships are not enough on their own to tackle the problem. The committee is persuaded that the more sophisticated measures targeted at the off-trade selling alcohol should be followed in England and Wales. We considered the measures in the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010. Measures such as banning BOGOFs—buy one, get one free—and restricting promotion and advertising seem to have worked. In any event, transparency and scrutiny of the guidance issued by the Home Office is essential.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say in answer to the points I have raised and to hearing all the other speakers who will contribute to the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, it was a privilege to serve on the committee. I greatly enjoyed the experience and found it very instructive, and there was a very good and productive relationship among the members of the committee. All of that was made possible, largely, by the extremely sympathetic but also efficient way in which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, presided over our activities.
The subject is not entirely unimportant. A very large number of people are employed by the entertainment industry in this country, if you take pubs, clubs, bars, discos and so forth, and it is an important part of many people’s social lives. We had a lot of evidence, as the noble Baroness has just said, that the strong tendency in the last 10 years has been to move from purchasing alcohol and consuming it in a bar or pub to purchasing it in a supermarket, rather more cheaply, and taking it home—probably to drink it watching a screen and often, I fear rather sadly, alone. The running down of pubs in this country and their replacement by people drinking at home is not necessarily a happy change in our society. However, it is not for us in a free society to tell our fellow citizens how they should conduct their private lives; it is merely our job as legislators to see whether there are any problems which affect the interests of third parties and therefore may need to be dealt with.
On that point, when anybody talks about licensing, you soon find that although the group does not split—we certainly did not split and there were no extremists on our committee—it develops two different tendencies. On one side, there are always those who see themselves first and foremost not so much as protectors of morals—which would have been the case 100 years ago when licensing was being discussed and was a matter of great political controversy, as your Lordships will recall at that time—but certainly as protectors of health, public order and other things. On the other side are the more libertarian-minded people who feel that the entertainment industry is above all meant to make sure people have a nice time or some happy occasions and that regulations should be imposed reluctantly and with a relatively soft touch if at all possible, although obviously serious abuses have to be dealt with and the public protected from malefactors of different kinds.
That tendency duly emerged in our committee, as might have been foreseen. One lively discussion led me to recall that wonderful play of Shakespeare’s, which I think is his most amusing although not his greatest, “Twelfth Night”, and the dialogue between the puritan, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and the bon viveur, Sir Toby Belch. They had a slightly angry discussion on this precise matter, which ends with Sir Toby Belch saying:
“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”.
I do not think any members of our committee thought there should be no more cakes and ale, and we came to a good consensus on our main recommendations, which the noble Baroness has outlined. Clearly, I do not need to repeat what she said on airports, as there is absolute agreement about that.
She mentioned something very important: we came to the clear decision that we should not add to the criteria for obtaining a licence to run a pub. There has been quite a lot of agitation in the country in favour of a public health criterion, but after considerable debate there was complete consensus that that would not be a good idea; it would be taking regulation rather too far.
The most important recommendation that we came to was that licensing committees should be merged with planning committees. You might think that that was a common-sense proposal; after all, it is pretty ridiculous—we had evidence that this has happened on a number of occasions—for a local authority planning committee to decide that yes, it is a good idea to have a pub in a particular location and give planning consent, while simultaneously the licensing committee says no, it would be a bad idea and it will not give licensing consent. Does the developer have consent to build his pub in those circumstances? No, he does not. Does he perhaps think he has, and does he spend money on that basis when he gets planning consent, assuming that there will not be incoherence within the public authority and that the licensing committee will not say something else? Yes, he could well do. That is an abuse and a bad situation. There is a much greater potential risk of it happening than any actuality but it does happen, and anyway it is simply a bad area of law. Our job, above all, is to make sure that the law is sensible, clear and coherent and has the respect of the public, and none of those causes is well advanced by a mess and muddle of that kind.
I was very disappointed, therefore, that the Government did not accept that recommendation. My strong impression was that their rejection was on the purely bureaucratic basis, which we all know too well, that it was not invented here. The arguments in the Government’s response are purely bureaucratic, such as that one of those committees—I cannot remember which—is set up on a statutory basis and the other on a non-statutory basis. That was not relevant at all to the functional issues at stake; if anything needed to be amended to put both committees on a statutory basis, that could be done with one line in a statutory instrument, so that was not a convincing answer. The Government did not really address that issue in the way that I hoped they would, and the issue remains very much on the table.
The experience persuaded me that a retrospective review of legislation is an excellent idea. When you have something like the Licensing Act, which affects an awful lot of people, after a decade or so—more than a decade has gone by in this case—it is a good idea for Parliament to look systematically at what it has done and whether it is right, and to draw conclusions and report to the public. That is something we should continue to do. It is a good use of our time and the various talents and expertise that this House can bring to bear for the Lords to take on that task from time to time. I hope we continue to do it.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and to discuss the committee’s report into the effectiveness of the Licensing Act 2003. It was an inquiry that I was pleased to join, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her chairing of it. As well as having the pleasure of serving on this committee and in this House, I have also been the leader of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and chairman of the LGA.
I know from my experiences in this House and in local government just how important it is to have a licensing system that is fit for purpose. The committee’s report called for a radical overhaul of the Act, and I certainly support the need to revise and improve the legislation. To take the late-night levy as an example, I have been concerned for some time about the targeting of the money raised and the way it is invested. It is important that the police and crime commissioners spend their portion of the money in the areas where it is raised and ensure that it supports the local businesses that are paying the levy. After hearing about the unsatisfactory nature of the levy’s implementation, the committee recommended its abolition. Two police support officers paid for by the levy whose duty hours ended as the late-night levy period began were just one example of the unsatisfactory practices that we heard about.
Another area of concern was the statutory requirement that at least 70% of the funds from the late-night levy must be allocated to the police while 30% or less was being retained for the local council. No limitations exist on how the police can spend the money, but strong limitations are placed on local councils. The levy has not been widely adopted by councils—in fact, by only eight in total—and some that joined have scrapped the scheme and left.
The LGA does, however, make the case for the effectiveness of late-night levies in some circumstances and in some areas, as councils can utilise the levy to bring forward new ideas and innovative ways of working that cannot otherwise be funded. Business improvement districts are an alternative which some councils prefer. It is surely appropriate to allow local government the flexibility to decide which schemes are best for its area. If the levy is to continue, it is important that the Policing and Crime Act gives councils the power to define specific areas for the levy to apply to.
One of the committee’s recommendations that attracted a lot of attention was the proposal, as we have heard from the chairman, to merge the licensing and planning systems. I know that the Local Government Association is opposed to this, as councils see licensing and planning as fundamentally different. From the work done by the committee, it is clear that there needs to be much improvement in the licensing system.
The Government have said that rather than merge licensing and planning, they will look at how co-ordination between licensing and planning committees can be improved. That is at least a start, as I know that councils are exploring how to join up licensing and planning policies to help shape local areas and their economies.
While there are differences of opinion about the scale of change needed to modernise the Act, there is general recognition that we need to look at how fees are set. The Local Government Association has raised concerns that the Licensing Act is significantly underfunded as a result of fees being set nationally in 2005 when the Act was first introduced. According to the Local Government Association survey, this means that local government subsidises this work by £10.3 million each year.
The report concluded that it would be logical for licensing fees to be set locally. The Local Government Association is also calling on the Government to localise licensing fees. That would allow councils to respond to the individual needs of their communities more effectively. It would ensure the long-term sustainable funding of licensing across the country. I would like the Government to consider this carefully. If they are not in a position to localise fees, I ask the Minister to look at the LGA’s proposal that the Government should uprate the existing nationally set fees from their 2005 level and redress this funding imbalance.
I finish by saying how pleased I am to have had the opportunity to serve on the committee and to speak in the debate. It is an important debate, as licensing affects so many aspects of our daily lives and our local economies. It is also important that the Government continue to work with this House, councils, businesses and other interested parties to ensure that we have a licensing system fit for the challenges ahead.
My Lords, I too was a member of the committee and was very pleased to serve on it. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on securing this debate and for chairing an excellent committee. I also pay tribute to the staff who supported us, led by Michael Collon, with our specialist adviser Sarah Clover.
I have only three points to make. First, this was a good report, and the Government’s response is disappointing and defensive. It says, in summary, “Everything is fine; please leave us alone”. That is the message.
The second point, as noble Lords have already said, is that the proposal was to experiment with the combination of licensing and planning. It was a bold and interesting idea, and it is a great pity to see it rejected out of hand.
But my main point is one raised both by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and by the chairman of the committee, on almost the last of our recommendations—and it is so blindingly obvious. The committee was literally astonished to find that airports were entirely exempt from the Licensing Act. I do not think that anybody who has passed through them would necessarily grasp that. As a former police officer, I am surprised that I never grasped that they were completely exempt. To follow on the noble Lord’s comments on “Twelfth Night”, normally in the debate led by Sir Toby Belch between virtue and cakes and ale, I am on the side of cakes and ale, but the idea that people can just go into an airport at seven o’clock in the morning and drink themselves stupid before they get on to a plane seems entirely astonishing. We have all seen it—seen the groups of people standing around with lagers and wine and then getting on to the plane. And we know that air rage incidents, as the chair of the committee has said, are rising.
The Home Office arguments against extending the Licensing Act to airports are simply fatuous. The argument is, apparently, that it would be difficult to arrange for licensing officers to go in airside. As the noble Baroness said, the people supplying the drink can go airside, so why cannot the licensing officers? That means that the offence of selling drink to someone who is already drunk does not exist in an airport—of all the places you could think of where you would want that power to exist, it is in an airport before somebody gets on a plane. We need licensing officers to be able to enter airside. That is not difficult. We need the powers of the Act to be enforceable airside. That is not difficult.
Above all, we need to protect passengers from being joined in the cabin by people who are already drunk. That is desperately important. Flying at 30,000 feet in a metal tube with somebody who has gone mad with drink is a pretty awful experience, I should imagine. You end up enduring it when you are going to Zanzibar, which is pretty difficult—or, of course, you fall out of the sky, because it really has gone wrong.
I do not understand the Home Office’s position on this, and I think I speak for almost all the members of the committee in saying that nobody understood what was stopping people doing this. If, for instance, it is about the airlines wanting to keep their business lounges in a different place, that is quite possible, because nobody sells alcohol in the business lounges. With respect, you are also dealing with a slightly different population. If that is the problem, forget it—just deal with the idea that people can get “tanked up” before they get on the plane. Sooner or later, we will end up with people dying because somebody has got so drunk and so violent on a plane that the plane gets into real difficulties.
I would really ask the Minister to make this happen. It requires only a simple amendment to Section 173 of the Licensing Act 2003 to extend licensing to airports. We have said that we do not want to see it extended to railways, for instance; we can see the reasons for that. But it is not right about airports. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and people will die as a result.
My Lords, I, too, would like to congratulate my noble friend on chairing the committee and so ably opening the debate. I cannot usefully add to the report or the Government’s response, or to my noble friend’s opening remarks, but I shall make three points.
The first is similar to the one that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, made a few minutes ago on scrutiny committees, which are relatively new but important animals in your Lordships’ House. I served on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee—I can only say that this early in the evening—on the 2005 Gambling Bill, as it then was. Gambling was a subject in which I had, and retain, some interests. It was a very big Bill and the committee, which was a committee of both Houses, sat for almost a year. It had some extremely controversial areas in it, but the Bill was very much sought by the industry—it had been pushing government for some time for a new regulatory Bill. The committee recommended quite a lot of changes, most of them technical, and advised the Government that they needed to amend their philosophy. The Government took absolutely no notice of that, although they took notice of some of the technical changes that the committee suggested. The result has been what I think could be regarded as a bad Bill becoming a bad Act. In recent weeks, noble Lords will have heard noises about fixed-odds betting terminals and the problems there, about the excessive gambling advertising that resulted from that Act, and about the considerable concerns raised about children gambling. It is difficult not to conclude that it was a bad Act.
So it was very interesting for me to come and sit on the post-legislative scrutiny committee on another Licensing Act, in this case for alcohol, in which I had no particular interest. I make that point about interest and no interest. It is important on these Select Committees to have a few members who know the subject pretty well, but it is also true that it needs one or two members of the committee who do not know the subject very well and come to it with a fresh mind.
Any report is obviously going to focus on those bits that do not work in a Bill. My noble friend in opening the debate, and other speakers, as well as the report itself, have concentrated on the bits that we thought did not work, particularly on the recommendations that we made that the Government have rejected, which is always disappointing for a committee. But if one stands back from the Act, this is not to say that it is a good or a bad Act, but it is a successful Act, in that it does what it set out to do—what it says on the tin—and fulfils its objectives. That in itself is a good thing. What is not such a good thing is to take the trouble to have a Select Committee, to take evidence and write a report, taking quite a lot of trouble on it, and then the Government can only be bothered to reply seven months later. I think that Cabinet Office rules say that the departments should respond to Select Committees within two months. “Justice delayed is justice denied”, but government delayed is bad government. Whether on this or any other subject, the Government need to pay attention. It is a combination of how government works on a daily basis and how Parliament operates that makes for good government. When the two do not work hand in glove, people get bad government—and to that we need to pay attention.
If we were to look at the process, I would say that on pre-legislative scrutiny the jury is out, but like the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I think that the post-legislative scrutiny was a successful process. If any of the powers that be in your Lordships’ House are listening—and I do not blame them if they are not—I would say that this is a process that we should continue and develop, and I think that it is good for Parliament and for government.
The major point that I would like to make is on the dog that did not bark in the night—that is, health. As we have heard, health is not an objective of the Act. Therefore, technically, it was not within our remit. But it was the elephant in the room, and not to have discussed it would have been ridiculous. The whole reason for licensing is because alcohol can cause crime and disorder and also causes health and social problems; if that were not so, we would not bother to have a licensing regime, period. Having discussed this at length—and the committee wrestled with it for a bit, rightly—we came to the conclusion that it is right that health is not an objective in this Act, and nor should it be. Although it is the overall objective of the strategy of licensing, this is a licensing and not a health Act—so it was right that we left that out.
I make two final points, relating to that health point. When the 2003 Act was born and bred, the major focus, as has already been said in the debate, was on the on-trade, the licensed trade: pubs, clubs, et cetera. There is absolutely no doubt now that, if there is a social problem—and indeed there is, as we all know—and a health problem, it is mostly related to the off-trade. It is the sale of cheap alcohol in shops and supermarkets that causes the bulk of the problem. It is in this direction that the Government and future Governments should focus their attention if we are to resolve some of the health and social issues that result from excessive drinking, and I urge the Government to do so. At the same time, I hope that they do not completely reject, as they have to date, minimum unit pricing. I hope that they look at it and keep an open mind and that, if it is successful in Scotland, they think carefully about how it might be extended to England and Wales.
My Lords, I first draw attention to my interests as set out in the register and to my membership of the all-party groups for beer and for wine and spirits. I too express my appreciation to the chair of the committee for all her hard work and relentless scrutiny of the issues raised, and my thanks to our clerk, Michael Collon, and most of all—for me—to our specialist adviser, Sarah Clover. Not only was her knowledge of the Licensing Act truly encyclopaedic, but she knew what was happening and how the Act was being implemented up and down the country. It was that reality—not government assumptions about what might be happening—that shaped our report, and which the Government must do more to acknowledge and respond to.
The Government’s view of the Act is that, broadly speaking, it is working well as part of a coherent national and local strategy—they would say that, wouldn’t they? Those who responded to our call for evidence; the innumerable amendments, changes and additions in nine Acts of Parliament; secondary legislation; and the Section 182 guidance to licensing law and practice all suggest otherwise. This should not surprise anyone because, as our chair reminded us, the 2003 Licensing Act brought about a major change, with licensing responsibilities moving from local magistrates to local authorities. This placed a heavy burden on councils and we should not be surprised that some were able to cope with their responsibilities better than others.
The burden is not evenly distributed. Inevitably, it is councils in metropolitan areas and across major cities that carry the heaviest load. Licensing fees are set nationally, as we have heard, and it is in these busy licensing areas where fees do not meet costs and are subsidised from other parts of the council budget. This is inequitable but, unfortunately, the Government have told us that they have no plans to change the way licensing fees are set. This is a shame, and I support the suggestions of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, on how this needs to change, because there should not be these subsidies from other parts of council budgets.
The biggest issue that was repeatedly raised was inconsistency, with people talking about the wide variation in the quality of local licensing operations. While some licensing committees are undoubtedly efficient and effective, we had innumerable examples of deviation from Home Office guidelines, of improper procedures being adopted and of inappropriate behaviour during sessions. While there are training requirements for councillors, they do not seem to have improved performance in some localities or brought about more consistency. I welcome the Government’s acknowledging the pressing need for improvement in this area, although I was puzzled by references to an LGA handbook for licensing committees, which I had not heard of or ever seen. As I recall, it was not mentioned to us when we took evidence from the LGA—but if it is a new innovation then I welcome it.
For local councillors who are not cabinet members in their authorities, licensing and planning are their major functions. When we looked at licensing and planning, we could not help but contrast the rather permissive licensing landscape with the much more coherent planning process, which is more clearly defined and more closely observed and understood by those involved. The planning process does not vary noticeably from one part of the country to another in the way licensing appears to, according to the practitioners we listened to. Local people also have much greater understanding of what they need to do to express concerns and objections about planning. As we have already heard this afternoon, the committee agreed that a more radical solution was required—the transfer of licensing to planning committees.
I am not surprised that the Government have backed away from this recommendation; I have to say that the local authority leaders I have spoken to are not keen on the idea either, and nor is the LGA. I am encouraged, however, that the Government are willing to consider the proposal as the start of a debate and that they acknowledge that licensing and planning should work more closely together than they clearly have been doing. Importantly, local residents, who are often well versed in appealing planning decisions, should be helped to gain a greater understanding of licensing processes and how they can most effectively get involved in them and express their concerns.
I find it strange that, on the one hand, the Government are happy to tolerate considerable diversity in licensing across the country and yet, when it comes to the night-time economy, they are extremely prescriptive. As we have heard, since 2003 there has been a considerable expansion of late-night drinking and entertainment venues in our major towns and cities across the country, which has placed great burdens on the police and councils, although the evidence we looked at suggested no resulting increase in violence or major disorder. None the less, the effects of the night-time economy’s expansion need to be managed and controlled and a balance sought between the interests of residents and businesses. The committee took a close look at early-morning restriction orders—none have been implemented as yet—and late-night levies, so far adopted by only seven or eight local authorities out of 350.
These very prescriptive national approaches to dealing with local nuisance and disorder compare very unfavourably with the much more flexible and proportionate initiatives, as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, mentioned, such as business improvement district schemes and the promotion of responsible drinking through the Best Bar None and Purple Flag initiatives. Yet the Government insist on continuing with their late-night levy scheme, rather than working with local authorities in a constructive partnership on initiatives that work, which is rather unfortunate. I hope the Government’s revisions to the late-night levies work but, sooner or later, they will have to recognise that their approach is too inflexible to achieve the objectives they are seeking and change tack in that area.
I conclude by mentioning two areas where the committee wanted to see more decisive government action. Both arise from the off-sales trade, which is where the biggest change has taken place since 2003, as we have heard. The problems of preloading and street drinking of super-strength alcohol have arisen because 70% of alcohol is now sold through off-trade. The Government are very reluctant to deal with the consequences. The committee heard about super-strength three-litre bottles of white cider that could be bought for £3.50—15p per unit—and about high-strength beers being sold very cheaply, often by small food retailers who rely increasingly on these sales for their profits.
New duty bands are being considered for higher-strength alcohol, but the Government must look at what else they can do to tackle the growing volume of alcohol being sold cheaply at supermarkets and corner grocery shops. Since we finished our inquiry, the Scottish Government were finally given the legal go-ahead to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The Government say that they will watch this. I think the committee would have welcomed a more positive response of intent to proceed in this direction from the Government, given the tremendous health hazards posed by the level of cheap alcohol available.
Finally, as we have heard, the committee wanted to see a more vigorous government response to licensing air-side in airports. We know that commercial outlets make a lot of their revenue at airports from alcohol sales, but the consequence is drunken passengers staggering on to planes and a rise in air rage. The Government have talked of developing a new UK aviation strategy and of looking at this problem within that context. Let us hope that, among all the talk, there might sooner rather than later be some action.
My Lords, it was extremely interesting to be a member of the committee which undertook this scrutiny of the Licensing Act and I thank the chair, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the clerk and the specialist adviser to the committee for their leadership and support in the work we undertook. It was a great pleasure to work with so many other noble Lords and I thank them for initiating me with humour and patience in equal measure into Lords’ committee work, of which this was my first experience.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has outlined the scope of the review and the subsequent recommendations, as have other noble Lords, so I will not rehearse these issues further. Rather, I wish to focus on one element of our inquiry: the availability of alcohol. It was a theme to which our inquiry returned on several occasions and on which we collated a significant amount of evidence. How much the availability of alcohol had been influenced by the passage of the 2003 Act was a key line of inquiry.
One of the primary foci of the Act in relation to licensing objectives is “the protection of children”, with particular reference to the granting of licences for the retail sale and consumption of alcohol. The Act made it illegal for people under the age of 18 to purchase alcohol, and, more importantly, made it an offence to sell alcohol to children anywhere in England and Wales. This objective seems to have been very successfully achieved and indicates that part of the Act is working well. However, purchasing may be increasingly difficult to monitor given the changing nature of shopping—from physical retail outlets to online purchasing. In some instances, you can order alcohol via an internet retailer using a simple app and have it delivered within an hour. If the retailer who sold the alcohol subcontracts delivery to another party, it is very difficult for the authorities to monitor whether it is received by a responsible adult or a child. This issue is noted in paragraph 60 of the report, where the point is made that, while recognising that an increasing proportion of alcohol is sold online, we were unable to get separate figures for this emerging market, even from substantial supermarket retailers. We urge the Government to keep this issue under review to protect children from receiving, and possibly consuming, large amounts of alcohol without adult supervision.
The evidence we took on alcohol consumption from a range of stakeholders clearly indicated a fall in consumption over the last decade. However, it was also clear that the liberal approach, resulting in alcohol being freely available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in many areas, may be fuelling the increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths in England. The report outlines these issues in depth, and not only the associated costs to the NHS but the very real long-term misery suffered by people who abuse alcohol, and the effects on their families and friends. The committee therefore reached a view that it is indeed inarguable that an increase in the price of alcohol would decrease consumption further, particularly in high-risk groups. Indeed, the report from Public Health England of December 2016, to which our report refers, concludes:
“Implementing an MUP is a highly targeted measure which ensures any resulting price increases are passed on to the consumer, improving the health of the heaviest drinkers who experience the greatest amount of harm. MUP would have a negligible impact on moderate drinkers and the price of alcohol sold in pubs, bars and restaurants”.
On Recommendation 3 of our report, assuming MUP is brought into force in Scotland and is successful, it is recommended that MUP be introduced in England and Wales, as other noble Lords have said. I welcome the Government’s saying that they will consider this issue once the evidence is available. However, how long will we wait? At what point will the Government conclude that the evidence is sufficiently sound either way to make a decision?
The Scottish model has estimated that if a minimum unit price of 50p were introduced in the first year, there would be 58 fewer alcohol-related deaths and 1,299 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions in the first year. So will we watch and wait for a year, see whether this success is achieved, and then adopt a minimum unit price in 2019? The consultation document, Improving Scotland’s Health: Minimum Unit Pricing of Alcohol, also acknowledges that it may take 20 years for all the benefits of the policy to be realised. The Scottish Government must report to their Parliament on the impact of the MUP within five years. I welcome the Chancellor’s proposal, announced in the Budget, to look at additional taxation on very cheap alcohol products, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has just referred, and I believe this will have beneficial results. However, many experts who gave evidence to our committee said that the adoption of MUP would have a positive effect on the nation’s health and save the NHS money.
I therefore conclude with two questions for the Minister. First, how will the Government maintain their responsibility to protect children if the latter receive and potentially consume alcohol purchased via the internet and delivered by third parties? Secondly, what period do the Government believe would be appropriate within which to judge the success or otherwise of the introduction of MUP in Scotland? If, in year one, there is the expected fall in alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions, will we act then? Or are we to wait for five or even 20 years until we judge the evidence to be sufficiently strong to act in England and Wales, while Scotland improves its health?
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering on securing this debate and I thank her and her committee for using their inquiry as an opportunity to look at an issue of huge importance to the UK’s more than 11 million disabled people—disability access, in this case to pubs and other licensed premises. Equal access is a fundamental tenet of disability equality, so I welcome the committee’s pragmatic consideration of how we can make practical progress on the issue, almost a quarter of a century after the then Conservative Government introduced their landmark disability rights legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act, or DDA, and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Twenty-two years is an awfully long time to wait for a pint. Sadly, it is no laughing matter because, if the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendation is anything to go by, disabled people could still be waiting in another three years’ time, when the DDA turns 25. To put that in the context of yesterday’s debate, had the Burns report’s recommendations been implemented in 1995—the same year as the DDA became an Act—a person could have been ennobled, served in your Lordships’ House for 15 years, retired seven years ago and yet still be waiting to be able to get into their local pub! So to say that the Government’s response to Recommendation 25 of this report is inadequate, particularly their intention to hold yet another consultation with disabled people, is, I am afraid, to be charitably polite.
Of course, I welcome the manifesto commitment, which the response highlights, to review and amend regulations relating to disabled people’s access. I helped write it. I most definitely did not help write the response to this recommendation, which I fear is a carefully worded, sensitively put, insult. In contrast to the manifesto, it is a feeble fig leaf for yet more of the same— more inaction. What worries me most is that we seem rapidly to be getting to the point where my party is in danger of effectively disowning its own DDA. How can I say that? Sadly, all too easily, because, had we pursued such a passive approach to tackling disability discrimination 20 or so years ago, there would never have been a DDA. It simply would not have reached the statute book, and the Conservatives would not have been able to claim the credit for having accepted that, in the case of disability rights, change does not just happen by accident. It requires government action. In its absence, we are instead going backwards.
Why am I banging on about disability equality for the fourth time in as many weeks? The reason is simple: this matters, and more than some would care to imagine. Our commitment to equality says so much about us, about the kind of society we want to be and about the kind of party which my party, the Conservative Party, wants people to see us as.
Disability is the last preserve of prejudice. No longer, thank God, do we believe that we can treat people less equally because they are women, of BAME heritage or members of the LGBT community, or perhaps all three. But we still treat disabled people less equally, and as a matter of policy and of attitude. How else could the Equalities Minister—the Minister charged with promoting equality—have believed that she could somehow get away with compromising the Government and my party by colluding in getting rid of the disability commissioner? How else could the Equalities Minister have believed that she could do this without consulting No. 10, which oversees public appointments, or the then Minister for Disabled People, or disabled people themselves or—heaven forbid—the disabled person who only accepted her offer to join the board of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission because he thought he was being appointed to the position for which he had applied and been interviewed: that of disability commissioner?
As noble Lords will know, I have withdrawn my acceptance of that offer, which was made under false pretences. The irony is that I was misled only because I am disabled. I am not important but the position is, because it gave disabled people the last powerful voice, in the form of a designated champion, that we had. Justine Greening, the Equalities Minister, would never have presumed she could act in such an underhand, disdainful way were I black or gay. Had she done so, her career would already be in the past tense. Her involvement in getting rid of the position of disability commissioner has brought discredit upon the Government. It has also, undeservedly, brought dishonour upon my party. I fear her actions and the Government’s inadequate response to this committee’s particular recommendation on disabled access are regrettably all part of a narrative which, bizarrely, we are helping our opponents to construct. The message to disabled people might as well be “What do they know? What do we care?” That is not a message any party can afford to give, and especially not my party, if the Prime Minister’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone is to command credibility.
In conclusion, to restore their honour and to reclaim their credibility on disability rights the Government need urgently to rethink their attitude to disability equality. That is why I reiterate my request that the Prime Minister start that process by dissociating the Government from the decision to abolish the position of disability commissioner and by ensuring the release of all the relevant communications without delay.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on securing the time for the debate and on the work she has done, and I thank all others who were associated with producing the report.
I take the opportunity to wish all my colleagues, the noble Baroness and the staff of the House—and in particular Hansard reporters—a joyful Christmas. I mention the Hansard reporters as I am not doing my set piece because so many of my points have already been covered, so this will be off the cuff. I wish everybody a joyful Christmas and a happy new year, and that we may look forward to great progress being made in dealing with the problems that face us in the coming year.
Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I had never previously served on a Select Committee on post-legislative scrutiny. I was attracted to join this one as I thought it was not just about seeing whether the original objective of an Act had been achieved—the objectives of this Act have been achieved; it was about liberalising the sale of alcohol and, by God, it has certainly done that in great spades—but looking at whether other consequences have arisen en route that were not foreseen when the original Act was devised in quite different circumstances. There have been changes; the Government realised fairly early in the 2005 to 2010 Parliament that they needed to do something about what was happening with the night-time economy and the disorder that was arising, so a variety of pieces of legislation were put through.
The coalition Government came into power in 2010 and saw that there were other consequential problems—notably also about excess drinking—in many respects related not to the Act but to cheap booze. They came up in 2011 with a quite outstanding strategy devised by David Cameron, which was to tackle some of those fundamental topics. Regrettably, as with so many of Mr Cameron’s policies, it never saw the light of day. Indeed, within two years the now Prime Minister, Mrs May, who was then Home Secretary, delivered a judgment on many of those recommendations Cameron had made, and said that we do not need to take a hammer to sort out some issues—although she certainly took a sledgehammer to deal with some of the recommendations. The Government virtually abandoned MUP—yes, it is under review, but it was virtually dropped, and a whole range of other issues was set to one side. Instead, they opted for an attempt to work with the industry and the health representatives on a collegiate basis whereby legislation would not be required but we would effect a change. We would try to reduce the volume of alcohol consumed by the country and, in turn, we would hope that we might get an improvement in the deteriorating state of health. All the evidence that was amassed at the time seemed to indicate that the health service was carrying a great and growing burden, much of which was attributable to excess abuse of alcohol.
The responsibility deal worked for a period and then was set to one side. Why? It was primarily because the Chancellor of the day, Mr Osborne, decided to drive a coach and horses through the principal recommendation to try to reduce the volume of alcohol by freezing the amount of tax and excise duty on alcohol. The reality is that pricing works. If you increase the price of petrol, people drive less. If you increase the price of alcohol, people drink less. Ask the drinks industry what it does; it spends all its time lobbying for a reduction in taxes and in the price of alcohol. It achieved it under George Osborne, and recently in this last Budget with Mr Hammond. Yes, he is having a look at white cider—he has taken 18 months to consult on that and there is no guarantee that there will be any change—but he has frozen all the other duties. I recently asked the Government what the consequences of that are. Did they do a risk assessment for the NHS of how many poor people they will deal with and the cost of that? The Treasury has come back saying that it did no risk assessment whatever.
What we have before us now is a diversity of approaches to dealing with alcohol, all coming from different angles. I caused the committee some difficulty because to a degree I went outside the terms of reference—for which I apologise—but, given my time over again, I would continue down the same line because I believe there is a need to bring this all together in some way and for there to be a constructive approach from the different parties. One party is the Treasury. I sought to persuade my colleagues to take evidence from the Treasury about its interest in this topic.
I come to the response that the Minister sent the committee. She will be happy to hear that, in contrast to some of my contributions to our previous debates on alcohol, I am quite pleased with the response. When she gave us her first piece of evidence at the start of the committee, she barely mentioned health and the problems that existed then. It was only by delving down into the detail that we saw the extent to which health was a big factor that needed to be addressed. This time round, certainly in the preamble, the Minister has given quite extensive coverage of the wider problems relating to health, as well as the social problems, with violence in families and so on, and she agrees that something should be done about them.
However, the response says that the Act is not a suitable mechanism for solving all those problems, and, to a degree, the committee agreed, although I am at variance with it on that. The Minister says that she has to bring all the partners together to see how to move forward but that these are not necessarily issues relating to the Act. Can she tell me, first, who the partners are that she believes are involved in the development or otherwise of an approach to alcohol? She has said in response to recent Written Questions that there will not be a strategy on alcohol. So who are the partners and how do we bring them together, and how quickly will that be done? The matter is now urgent. We have a health service desperate for extra funding and desperate to reduce its burdens, yet here we have a Chancellor putting extra burdens on the NHS while giving it extra money. We need to try to stop people going to hospitals in the first instance, and one way of doing that is to look at alcohol—particularly the cost of alcohol—and the way it is now being marketed. It has shifted from being sold in pubs to being sold by supermarkets and off-licences, as the noble Baroness has demonstrated. Action is needed on that front too, so we need business to be involved as well.
I would be grateful if the Minister could find a sensible approach that brings people together. I hope we will find a way forward that starts to solve the new problems that were never envisaged when the Act was first introduced.
My Lords, it was an honour to serve on the Licensing Act Select Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I refer to my various interests as set out in the register—in particular, as the CEO of the Association of Conservative Clubs and, more recently, as the chairman of Best Bar None, a Home Office-backed scheme that works with licensing stakeholders to promote responsible alcohol consumption and higher professional licensing standards.
The Select Committee’s report was widely regarded by the industry and applauded in the licensing media as both fair and relevant. Today, I would like to limit my contribution to a total of four topics raised within our report where I consider that the Home Office response could have been more positive, but I shall do so as promptly as possible due to the restrictions of time.
I think it would be useful to underline that the Licensing Act is the legislative backbone of the hospitality industry, which is the third-largest private sector employer. Three million jobs are directly supported through “hospitality UK”—that is, 9% of all UK employees. If we take out from that figure the statistics relating solely to eating and drinking, our pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants generate £63 billion turnover each year, returning a third of that in taxes and funding vital public services. In fact, one in three of all new jobs created last year were created by the eating and drinking industry.
Turning to my first point, I believe that the late-night levy effectively remains a form of additional taxation on some businesses which operate during the evenings and night time. The fact that since its creation in 2011 only nine of the 350 local authorities in England and Wales have introduced a late-night levy, while 13 others have issued consultations on it but have not subsequently introduced it, makes me really wonder why the levy has been kept, particularly as councils are obliged to spend their 30% late-night levy share on tackling alcohol-related services connected to the management of the night-time economy, whereas the police have no obligation to spend their 70% on any such measures but can in fact spend it on anything of their choosing. This simply does not seem fair to me.
I wish to make the point that the contribution made by the night-time economy and licensed trade generally already helps to pay for the police and other public services either directly or indirectly through tax, business rates and high-street spend. I would also like to point out that much of the alcohol consumed during the evening, or preloaded before the evening, is purchased from the off-trade supermarkets and convenience stores, which contribute little or nothing to counterbalance the effects of late-night drinking, despite the fact that more alcohol is now purchased through the off-trade than the on-trade sector, with possibly one-fifth of all alcohol off-sales now being purchased online. It is astonishing to me that there is not more parity between on-trade and off-trade in terms of regulatory responsibilities and liability. I do not believe that the current late-night levy, even with the suggested amendments, will achieve this. Generally, I believe that we should be wary of adding financial burdens to on-trade premises when night-time economy premises are very often day-time premises as well—hurt them in one respect and you hurt them in every respect.
That leads on to my second point, which concerns a further form of indirect—and, in my view, unfair—taxation of the licensed on-trade by way of the additional fee paid to councils known as the “multiplier”. This increased annual fee is charged to reflect the fact that consumption of alcohol will take place on the premises. The multiplier effectively doubles or triples the fee paid depending on the rate band. Therefore, for example, the Dog and Duck pub located across the road from a 24-hour supermarket pays, in most cases, a significantly higher annual fee to the council just to maintain its premises licence, even though it is selling a fraction of the amount of alcohol. In our report, we recommend that the fee multiplier should at the very least be extended to supermarkets, but my own view is that, following the case of Hemming, which is also referred to in our report, doubt has been cast over the legality of the fee multiplier as it is currently enforced. It will be interesting to see whether in the future there is a legal challenge on whether the multiplier is in fact lawful.
My third point concerns early morning restriction orders, or EMROs, which were introduced following the repeal of the even less popular alcohol disorder zones. For some reason, EMROs continue to be defended by the claim that aspects of the processes that were identified as problematic have now been addressed. Given that more than two years have passed since these problematic processes have been addressed, with no greater enthusiasm for them, I maintain that EMROs are a draconian measure, fundamentally in opposition to the liberalising spirit of the Licensing Act, impossible to implement and unworkable in practice. As with the late-night levy, I consider that business-led partnership approaches are much more effective. Can the Minister please give these issues some further consideration?
The final point that I would like to make—it is one which stuck out like a sore thumb from the evidence we heard—is that the current appeals system is not working as it should in an industry that is so important to the UK economy. I was pleased that the Government agreed that this too was an area that needed to be addressed, although it would seem that they do not wish to go quite so far as our report recommended. In my view, the beneficial elements of our recommended changes to the current appeals system were: having an expert decision-maker experienced in the field; flexibility and choice of procedure, not necessarily a full re-hearing but possibly an appeal on the papers where appropriate; a dedicated tribunal not competing with a criminal list of cases to get through; decisions as precedents; and time efficiency.
Clearly, however, the best way in which to avoid the need for any appeal is to ensure that councillors sitting on the licensing sub-committees are adequately trained in the subject of licensing. If a person wants to run a pub then they must be trained and qualified to hold a personal licence. The same does not apply for the person granting the premises licence to the property. To me, this seems counterintuitive. It is a matter which could be very easily resolved without having to create something from scratch or break the bank, since there is a lot of expertise in this field which could be harnessed and training already in place that could be adapted.
The Licensing Act 2003 was created before Google, Facebook or online shopping, and is increasingly looking like a cheque book in an online world, with too much emphasis and regulatory liability on the on-trade compared with the off-trade. Whatever the final outcome of our report on the Licensing Act, I hope that our conclusions will at least be a reference point in future years when the subject of licensing is debated. I also hope that it will create a better understanding between those who are tasked with enforcing the Act and those who are obligated to operate under it.
My Lords, I too served on the Select Committee and wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for both chairing the committee and securing this debate. I also thank the excellent staff and advisers who served us so well and the other members of the committee, from whom I learned a great deal.
Our task was a difficult one, which was made more complicated by the large number of amendments that have been made to the legislation since it came into force. Indeed, further amendments were being debated as the committee was sitting. We also had to consider many other changes such as the one raised by the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins—namely the changes to the way that alcohol is now consumed, with the closure of thousands of pubs and the significant growth of off-trade and online purchasing. All this made it difficult to assess the impact of the legislation.
This difficulty is illustrated by the statistics. Alcohol-related violent crime has decreased but—as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, so powerfully described—alcohol-related illness has increased. Nevertheless, the committee made some powerful suggestions for future action. The Government’s much-delayed response was somewhat disappointing—it was certainly a mixture of disappointing and defensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair, put it. I hope that, as a result of today’s debate, the Government will at least be prepared to reconsider their response to some of our recommendations. Nobody can claim that all is well and no further action is needed. The worrying health statistics alone should give us cause for concern.
We should also be concerned by many other issues, including the failure of current legislation to apply airside and port side, the consequences of which were described by the noble Lord, Lord Blair, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh; and the inadequacy of resources to police and enforce existing legislation. Surely if our proposal to localise licence fee-setting is not to be accepted, the Minister should at least accept the well argued for need for a flat-rate increase. We should also be concerned about the absence of a useful national database of, for example, personal licence holders.
We should be especially concerned by the significant dissatisfaction we found with the licensing application and appeals processes. The licensing application procedures were variously described to us as “a lottery” and “a pantomime”. We heard of “standards falling far short”; “meek and mild” legal advisers; responsible bodies not engaging effectively, and often not at all; a lack of transparency, with decisions being made “behind closed doors”; and inadequate councillor training. We heard all too frequently of the lack of co-ordination between licensing and planning. We concluded that there would be considerable merit in the licensing application procedures mirroring those for planning applications, which, as we heard, include professionally qualified officers; a requirement for officials to proactively gather and analyse the views of interested people; and the preparation of a wide-ranging pre-meeting report offering detailed analysis, professional judgment and legal advice. We argue that, combined with improved training, that should all be part of the licensing procedures. Better still, as so eloquently argued by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, planning and licensing should be combined.
Although the Government have rejected that proposal, I welcome their recognition of the need for improved training, for greater synergies between planning and licensing, and for stronger guidance on how licensing hearings should be conducted. I hope that in her winding-up speech the Minister will provide details of the action to be taken and the timescales involved. Will she also do the same for licensing appeals, given the Government’s acceptance of the committee’s concerns about those procedures?
Of course, what emerges will lead to changes not to legislation but to guidance. So it is particularly disappointing that the Government have so easily dismissed the committee’s call for a return to consultation on and parliamentary scrutiny of draft guidance. The Government argue:
“The guidance is updated to reflect legislative changes; as these are factual changes it is not necessary to carry out a formal consultation”.
But this argument simply does not bear scrutiny. In their response to the committee’s report, the Government said that,
“there are a significant number of recommendations”—
at least 12 by my count—
“that the Government agrees will help improve the operation of the Act, for example clarifying points of practice for licensing committees by amending the statutory guidance”.
These are not simply “factual” or resulting from “legislative changes”, but rather—because, after all, this is what guidance is for—they will reflect and interpret legislation, improving, as the Government put it, the operation of the Act.
My noble friend Lady Grender, for instance, will wish to scrutinise the changes to guidance in respect of simultaneous temporary event notices given for adjacent plots of land. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, I was deeply disappointed by the Government’s rejection of our pragmatic proposals on disabled access, and I know that my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who is keen to see more licensed premises engage with the problems of access for people with disabilities, will wish to scrutinise any changes that arise following the now promised further consultation. Where the Government offer new interpretations of legislation, there should be consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the Minister will agree to look again at this decision.
In passing, since some of our recommendations are to be affected by changes to the LGA handbook, I ask for details of this mysterious publication and the status it has or will have.
The committee’s report covered numerous other issues, but I finish by touching on just one. Despite the undoubted benefits of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones’s Live Music Act, in which I played a small part in the other place, live music venues and other licensed premises still face significant challenges with, for example, 35% of music venues closing in the last decade. The committee considered one measure that could help: the introduction of a full “agent of change” principle into planning and licensing law. It has already been introduced for permitted developments, such as the change of an empty office building to residential use. But with music venues facing closure as a result of planning decisions, the committee proposed the introduction of the agent of change principle for all new developments. Since the Government’s consultation on such an approach ended over eight months ago, will the Minister update the House on progress? Will she tell us whether she supports the Bill from John Spellar MP—it has cross-party support—which seeks to put a full agent of change principle on a statutory footing?
Members of the committee and other noble Lords have raised important points and posed numerous questions for the Minister. Like them, I look forward to her response. I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for chairing the committee and securing today’s debate. I end by echoing the Christmas greetings of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to one and all.
My Lords, I first draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests; in particular, I am a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I should also mention that I am a member of the Campaign for Real Ale and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group. I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the members of her Select Committee for the excellent report they have produced and the detailed work they undertook to consider and report on the Licensing Act 2003.
As the noble Baroness said, it is disappointing that the Government took so long to respond to the report, but at least they have responded to it before we had a debate today. That is progress. As we have heard in this debate, the Licensing Act 2003 changed the law governing the sale of alcohol. I agree very much that, in moderation, alcohol can enhance community cohesion, bring people together and is enjoyable with family and friends. But in excess it can have a devastating effect for the individuals drinking, for their family and friends and for the community more widely.
We have all seen reports in the media of the effects of drinking to excess. There is a clear link between drinking to excess and violent crime and general anti-social behaviour. I agree with the general thrust of the report that the Act needs to be reviewed and overhauled. It has been in force for 11 years and piecemeal amendments do not enable a comprehensive look to be taken at licensing, alcohol consumption, what the trends are, what is good, what has worked and what has not worked so well.
I note that the Government do not intend to be “hasty” in instigating such an overhaul, which is a word sometimes used when responding to reports and reviews. I am always sceptical when I hear from the Government such phrases as “keeping matters under review”, or “will deal with it in due course”. I am very much in favour of the Government introducing, reviewing and updating legislation on the back of evidence and careful policy consideration, and with the benefit of pre-legislative or post-legislative scrutiny reviews, which we have here, as my noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, mentioned. It is a better way to legislate, and we have two recent examples from this House of how to do it and how not to do it.
The Modern Slavery Act was a comprehensive, world-class piece of legislation, tackling a real problem and getting it right. It became law after detailed consideration in this House and excellent pre-legislative scrutiny. Then there is the Housing and Planning Act 2016, which must rate as one of the worst pieces of legislation put on the statute book by a Government in recent times. Largely, the provisions contained in the Act—all devised on the back of an envelope from the Policy Exchange—have been formally dropped or quietly forgotten about.
I remember when I became a councillor, many years ago, to get permission to sell alcohol you had to appear in front of the licensing magistrates, as we have heard—a specific group of magistrates who had received specific training. But that all changed with this Act and these matters became the responsibility of the local authority. The new system has generally worked well, but it is a lot of work for councillors, in my experience.
One of the recommendations that I am not convinced about, although other noble Lords are, is the trial merging of planning and licensing committees. I serve on the planning committee of Lewisham Council and it is a significant time commitment. In Lewisham, every member of the authority has the option of serving on either the planning committee or the licensing committee. The licensing committee undertakes a significant amount of work and meets regularly. Members of both committees take their responsibilities seriously and receive training. I am not convinced, from what I have seen of this proposal, that it would enhance that, but I accept that it is different in other places, as I have heard from other noble Lords this evening. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton.
The proposal from the committee was not to merge the two systems but to experiment with merging the two systems. That is a significant difference and worth considering. A complete change would, I agree, be inappropriate, but the proposal is to experiment in limited areas with that change.
I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. I am always happy to experiment and we could look at that, but in my experience, from what I have seen so far as a councillor in my own authority, the current system works well. In other places that may not be the case.
As I was saying, I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, about the setting of fees locally. We had a similar debate about planning fees and my noble friend Lady Henig made the same point in her remarks. What is important is that whoever deals with these matters receives good-quality training that is refreshed at regular intervals. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead, and other noble Lords made that point. Training is important and it should be refreshed regularly.
As to where the appeal goes, I am not opposed to looking at some other body rather than the magistrates’ court where they go at present. Expertise and knowing the local area are important, as is being properly trained, as I said. I would not want to see the appeal process being too remote. One benefit of local magistrates is that they are drawn from the local community.
The 2003 Act was never going to deal with the problems around excessive drinking and all the problems associated with alcohol misuse. There have been many benefits to the liberalising of the law. Many cities have developed thriving night-time offerings that have become an important part of the local economy, and that is to be welcomed. The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, made the important point about the risks of selling alcohol to young people or them buying it online. I am well aware that the police and trading standards officers have initiatives whereby they send police cadets into off-licences and other premises selling alcohol to see whether they will be served, but that cannot be done when alcohol is bought online.
There are, though, serious problems with alcohol misuse and the link between alcohol misuse and violence is there for all to see. I have been spending a few weeks completing the Police Force Parliamentary Scheme and I am very grateful for the time the Metropolitan Police has given me and for showing me different aspects of its work. One of the most distressing things was my visit to the domestic violence unit at Greenwich, where a really professional group of officers do an excellent job and make a real difference. But it is distressing to be briefed on the real horror of domestic violence and then see the role that alcohol played in many, but not all, of the incidents the police had to deal with.
As part of the same scheme, I was present when a very drunk man was being violent on the streets and was arrested by police officers. He told them he had swallowed a bottle of pills, so the officers had to call for an ambulance. He was assessed at the scene and taken to A&E with the police officers. They had to remain with him while he was seen because he was very aggressive and violent and could have hurt himself or been a danger to others there. Of course, the officers were then unable to assist other colleagues if any other problems happened later that day. These are all serious problems related to alcohol misuse. It is all down to excessive drinking.
My noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford referred to how important the hospitality industry is to our economy, as did the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead. That leads on to the issue of off-sales and the reversal in terms of the amount of alcohol sold in premises licensed for alcohol to be consumed on those premises and alcohol sold through off-licences and supermarkets.
There is a very real problem with supermarkets, which can, using economies of scale, buy huge quantities of high-strength alcohol, usually lager, and sell it very cheaply. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe raised the importance of tax as a determining factor in the amount of alcohol sold. When noble Lords next go into their local supermarket, I suspect they will not get far before being met by a large beer mountain or maybe, at this time of year, a prosecco or sparkling wine mountain right next to it. These are issues that we need to deal with. My noble friend Lady Henig made a point about the growing problem of super-strength alcohol being sold in supermarkets and corner shops.
While there are some very good local voluntary schemes in place to deal with specific problems, we should look to other jurisdictions to see how they deal with the issue. I note that the committee made reference to and recommended the introduction of legislation based on that presently in force in Scotland, with amendments to the guidance presently in force in England in the meantime.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that a disability access statement for the premises is something the Government should quickly seek to introduce. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, that holding another consultation is inadequate, but it is an unfortunate problem that we often experience across various parts of government. I have lost count of the number of consultation reviews that were introduced for mandatory electrical safety checks, despite the Government announcing from the Dispatch Box that they were going to introduce them.
Introducing this new legislation and guidance is very sensible. While people want to enjoy themselves, the massive change to more drinking at home cannot be a good thing, both for the reasons I highlighted earlier and the effect on our pubs, which are closing at a rate of nearly 25 a week—despite the valiant efforts of Pub is The Hub, CAMRA and other campaigns. The closure of such community assets is regrettable. I know that the Government see the value of local pubs. The Localism Act introduced the assets of community value scheme, but CAMRA does not recommend that members seek to list pubs any more because there have been unintended consequences as banks and financial institutions do not like the charge held over the premises. There have also been problems with landlords raising finance for pub improvements because they see the charge listed there. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is looking at this matter; I have raised it with him previously.
When your pub is gone, it is gone and it is not coming back, despite the boom in new breweries selling a number of fantastic products. The issue of the late-night levy was addressed by the committee; I concur with the thrust of the report that business improvement districts, or something similar, should be explored and that the late-night levy should probably be abolished at an appropriate point. The committee also looked at live music; I think the Live Music Act 2012 has been very welcome, making a positive contribution to the live music scene with proportionate deregulation. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, deserves much credit for skilfully taking that Bill through your Lordships’ House. I agree with the committee that the Act is probably working broadly as intended.
I agree with the recommendations of the committee’s report on the need for some form of licensing on the airside of airports and, similarly, on the portside of ports. I totally agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, in this respect and hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will take those concerns back to her department. I have been at airports early in the morning and seen people sitting there, drinking pints of high-strength lager at 8 am. It is just ridiculous. We need to deal with that. Getting on to a plane in a poor condition is just not good enough. We need to be careful and proportionate, but there are issues here that need to be carefully considered.
In conclusion, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for instigating this excellent debate, which has provided a number of important issues to be responded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering on securing this important debate. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their varied and thoughtful contributions. I also thank the committee for its thorough and detailed scrutiny of the Licensing Act 2003 and for the very comprehensive report it produced.
This debate is important for many reasons. First, the costs of alcohol-related harm are estimated at some £21 billion each year. Crime survey data show that in around 40% of all violent incidents, the victim believed the perpetrator to be under the influence of alcohol, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pointed out. He also mentioned the pernicious effect of alcohol in exacerbating incidents of domestic violence, which the Government are very keen to deal with. Alcohol-related hospital admissions and the incidence of certain alcohol-related health conditions have all increased; although alcohol-related death rates have remained relatively stable in recent years, the rate in 2015 was still higher than that observed in 1994. However, as was pointed out by both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Smith, the production and sale of alcohol is important for the UK. Pubs are woven into the fabric of our nation and continue to be places where we meet our family and friends. The continued success of our alcohol and pub industry is definitely in everyone’s interest.
The committee made a total of 73 recommendations and conclusions in its report. The Government did not accept all of those recommendations outright. However, the committee highlighted a number of important issues that need to be addressed to ensure that the Licensing Act remains effective. Although we may not have accepted all the committee’s recommendations, the Government are committed to address many of the issues that the committee highlighted. I want to focus my response to this debate on how the Government are responding to the issues raised by noble Lords.
Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, talked about planning and licensing, as well as the experimental merger of local authority licensing committees and sub-committees with planning committees, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. We have not accepted that recommendation; interestingly, the views of noble Lords in the House from the local government perspective perhaps indicate why. Although the basic structures of the two regimes are similar, they have fundamentally different purposes. It is for local authorities to determine how they organise committees to deliver their statutory functions and meet the needs of their communities. The legislation already allows that where a matter relates to a licensing function and to another function of the local authority—planning, for example—the matter may be referred to either committee. This allows for the licensing committee to discharge functions other than licensing matters and, vice versa, for a planning committee to discharge a licensing function.
However, we accept the important points raised by the committee on the effectiveness and consistency of implementation of licensing processes and decision-making across local areas. We agree that improvements in practice could be made. Instead of transferring the functions of licensing committees to planning committees, we are focusing on improving training and providing stronger guidance on how licensing hearings should be conducted. There is good practice in many local areas that we will build on and we will work closely with partners—the Institute of Licensing and the Local Government Association, in particular—to assess the training needs for councillors and the police and, where appropriate, to develop specialist training programmes with partners. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering said that licensing appeals should not be heard by local magistrates. We have noted the committee’s comments on the appeals process. We do not intend to change the system at present; however, we accept the committee’s findings that the licensing appeals system could be approved and we are aware that some local areas find the system unwieldly and prone to delay. We will explore with partners whether there is good practice in the existing regime and similar regimes that might offer some ideas for consideration.
My noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lord Shinkwin talked about disabled access. The Government are sympathetic to the issues that have been raised on disabled access and the problems with ensuring that business and service providers comply with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010. Many of us choose to socialise in licensed premises; they are therefore an important part of our daily lives. Too many of those venues are difficult for disabled people to access. However, we agree with the committee that adding to the licensing objectives is not the answer. The Act and the licensing objectives must be used to address issues that apply to the licensable activities, and are therefore unique to licensed premises. The Act should not be used to control other aspects of licensed premises; that would be outside the scope of the licensing regime and contrary to the principles of better regulation. We will consult disabled peoples’ organisations to better understand the extent of the problem from the perspective of people with a broad range of disabilities. We will work with the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers and representatives of the licensing trade to explore what practical measures can be taken. We hope that this will result in significant improvements for disabled people without the need for additional regulations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, and many noble Lords who have spoken in the debate talked about minimum unit pricing, or MUP. Since the publication of the committee’s report the UK Supreme Court has found in favour of the Scottish Government regarding the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol. The committee recommended that, should MUP be found to be effective in Scotland, it should be introduced in England and Wales. Our position remains as detailed in our response to the committee. MUP remains under review pending the impact of its introduction in Scotland and the Government will consider the evidence of its impact once it is available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, also talked about timescales. Interestingly, the Scottish Government are required to report on the impact of their legislation after five years. It is possible that evidence will begin to emerge before then. As I said, we intend to keep this issue under close review.
Wales has taken the decision to proceed with introducing a minimum unit price, but it is not entirely free to implement it without the authority of the UK Government. Will it be required to wait until the Scottish review has been completed?
The noble Lord will know that this is not a devolved matter. That is the rationale behind Wales not being able to move on this, but when the Scottish Government review the impact of their legislation I am sure the UK Government will note it with great interest. That is all I will say on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, mentioned that HM Treasury committed to introduce a new higher duty band on cider between 6.9% and 7.5% alcohol by volume from 2019. This targeted measure will tackle high-strength white cider to encourage reformulation to lower alcohol levels and to discourage consumption to help reduce the harm associated with these drinks.
Quite a few noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lords, Lord Blair and Lord Kennedy, talked about consumption of alcohol at airports. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blair, I was unaware of the airside rules regarding alcohol. We are all aware of them now. The Government share the committee’s view that everyone should be able to enjoy a safe and disruption-free environment when travelling. There are tough penalties in place for being drunk and disruptive on an aircraft, including imprisonment for up to two years or an unlimited fine. Pilots already have the power to deny boarding or to force passengers off the plane if they are drunk and the safety of the aircraft or its passengers is threatened—I am sure we have all seen incidents where that has happened.
Although the number of disruptive events remains small compared with the total passenger numbers, occurrences seem to be on the rise. The Government believe further engagement with airports and airlines is required to consider the full effects of the committee’s recommendation. As part of this work, the Government will issue a call for evidence on the committee’s specific recommendation to assess carefully the practicalities and resources required to implement the Act in these environments, as well as the impact that extending the Act will have on businesses. This call for evidence will be published in the new year.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh also talked about sales to drunks. While the number of people prosecuted for selling alcohol to a drunk is low, it provides a useful tool by which the police and enforcement bodies can remind licensees of their obligations under the 2003 Act. Several areas in our local alcohol action area programme are looking at ways to improve how this is enforced. We are supporting them to identify good practice.
My noble friend also referred to the Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010, which included a ban on multipack pricing, BOGOF, as she pointed out, or any other offer including free alcohol. It restricts advertising on drinks promotions to designated areas in off-licence premises and requires that all premises introduce a Challenge 25 policy as standard. Research published to date on the impact of the provisions suggest that these restrictions have had a limited impact on the amount of alcohol sold by the off-trade and the manner in which it is sold. Although the research cited by the committee conducted by NHS Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow suggests that the legislation was associated with a decrease in off-trade sales of wine in Scotland in 2013, other studies have shown little or no impact. The Public Health England evidence review also concluded that bans on price promotions are not as effective and are quite easily circumvented.
My noble friends Lady Eaton and Lord Smith of Hindhead talked about the late-night levy, which obviously enables local authorities to collect a financial contribution from businesses that profit from selling alcohol late at night and for the funds that are raised to be used for late-night policing and other costs associated with the night-time economy. Changes introduced by this year’s Policing and Crime Act will improve the late-night levy and aim to increase its use by making it more flexible, fairer to business and more transparent.
I think my noble friends also mentioned the 70:30 split. The guidance on the levy states that there is no bar to a local agreement between the licensing authority and the PCC to vary that split by allocating all or some of the PCC’s share of the revenue back to local authority initiatives. We therefore consider that the split is appropriate. We do not have plans to change it. The Government understand that the levy is also not suitable for all areas. We support areas that decide to introduce other schemes, such as BIDs, which my noble friend mentioned. Councils can offer a levy discount to premises involved in BIDs.
My noble friend Lady Eaton also talked about licensing fees. Recent Budgets have offered business rate relief to pubs following the recent revaluation of business rates. A move to locally set licensing fees or an increase in the centrally set fees at this stage would undermine the assistance that the rate relief has given licensees. The Government therefore considered that now is not the time to make changes to licensing fees, but the policy will be reconsidered in due course.
On health aspects, the committee did not recommend introducing health as a licensing objective. We are broadly in agreement with that position. However, public health teams have an important role to play in the licensing system. That is why they have a statutory role as responsible authorities under the 2003 Act. My noble friend Lord Mancroft also talked about the health aspect of alcohol. Directors of public health in England and local health boards in Wales have been responsible authorities under the Licensing Act 2003 since 2012. As responsible authorities, health bodies are automatically notified of new licensing applications and can make representations based on existing licensing objectives. Licensing authorities can take into account health data where it links to existing licensing objectives such as hospital or ambulance data relating to alcohol-related incidents or injuries. We are encouraging A&E departments to share their data with community safety partnerships through the “information sharing to tackle violence” programme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lord, Lord Foster, were intrigued by the LGA handbook. The LGA is currently writing its licensing handbook. It will be a valuable guidance document for those working in the licensing regime on a day-to-day basis, and it fulfils a role that the statutory Section 182 guidance cannot.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, talked about online sales. It is illegal to supply alcohol to children via any medium. Under the mandatory conditions of the Licensing Act, all licensed premises are required to have an age verification policy in place. Where alcohol is sold online, licence holders need to make sure that age checks are done at the point of delivery to ensure that alcohol is not sold to under-18s. It is therefore the responsibility of the person serving or delivering the alcohol to ensure that age verification has taken place and that photo ID has been checked if a person appears to be less than 18 years of age.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, talked about the alcohol strategy or lack thereof, as he put it. We are delivering on our commitments in the modern crime prevention strategy to improve local intelligence, establish effective partnerships and equip police and local authorities with the right powers to take effective action. The second phase of our local alcohol action area programme focuses on local action and demonstrates our commitment to work with industry, police, local authorities and other partners to tackle alcohol-related harms. I think it was the noble Lord who asked who the partners were. They are diverse and include the police, local authorities, children’s and adult services, health partners and licensing bodies such as the Institute of Licensing—that is to name just a few of those with whom we are engaged. The Government keep alcohol policy, including the need for a cross-government strategy, under review.
My noble friend Lord Smith of Hindhead talked about the multiplier. The fee multiplier is applied to premises which predominantly or solely sell alcohol in high volumes. These are often referred to as vertical drinking bars and make up a very small percentage of premises subject to a licensing fee. The high fee reflects the high volumes of alcohol sold in the night-time economy.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, asked about the timelines for training. We have begun initial discussions with a number of partners to develop this work and will continue to drive it forward next year. On the Private Member’s Bill and the agent of change principle, I will write to him.
I hope that I have given a fairly comprehensive response to the debate. I thank my noble friend and the committee once again.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank all who have contributed to the debate and my noble friend the Minister for responding. Clearly, this is a subject to which we will return, and the committee will once again wish to record its disappointment that many of our recommendations have not been snatched up, including the need for urgency on the MUP and the need to look at reducing the number of retail offers, which I believe the evidence will show compellingly have worked in Scotland. As emerged from contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead, and others this evening, the committee is not persuaded of the effectiveness of late-night levies or early-morning restriction orders. I am delighted that the Government will look more closely at BIDs as an alternative in this regard.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blair, is proved wrong and that we will not see more serious incidences of air rage. I take note of what my noble friend said regarding existing rights for pilots to expel someone from an aircraft who is plain drunk. There is increasing evidence this year that passengers are drinking duty-free before they even board an aircraft. That is causing enormous concern and needs to be watched. Our primary concern is passengers, but I do not believe that crew, many of whom are quite young in some carriers, should be placed in a difficult situation in this regard.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and his campaigning zeal on the health aspects, closely followed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Watkins and Lady Henig—there was a bit of competition on the committee in that regard. We just need to find another mechanism to use rather than the licensing aspect.
I echo the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Foster, at the resources being put out to enforcement. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, talked about funding for local authorities. Although the committee no longer meets, I am sure we will seek to use other mechanisms such as questions to keep the matter under review.
I wish all of you, including the staff of the House, a merry Christmas, mindful of those who will have to work, including in the health service and the Armed Forces, during the Christmas period and beyond.
Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (Science and Technology Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, any committee report which attempts to forecast the pace of technological change will inevitably look rather stupid in years to come. In the fast moving field of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, the one statement that can be made with certainty is that the impact of these disciplines on society will be profound, and no more so than in the field of connected and autonomous vehicles—which I shall refer to as CAV.
Our report hedges its bets with a question mark in the title. We considered other titles. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, suggested that for a report which largely considers the prospect of driverless cars, the title should be “Goodbye, Mr Toad”. I was too cowardly to accept this suggestion.
The coalition Government identified robotics and autonomous systems as one of the “eight great technologies” to be supported by their industrial strategy, and the recent Industrial Strategy White Paper has followed up with a sector deal for the artificial intelligence sector to boost the UK’s global position as a leader in developing artificial intelligence technologies.
The possible, and existing, applications of connected and autonomous systems include: aerial, where automatic pilots have long been with us; marine, where early economic benefits can be identified; metro and rail; space; military; ambulance services; precision agriculture, where trials are already in place; working in hazardous environments; off-road vehicles, where the application has been in use for some years in the mining industry, particularly in Australia; and on-road vehicles. All are supported by robotics and information technology.
The committee decided to launch this inquiry into CAV in September 2016 in response to concern that, in an area in which technology was developing at a rapid pace, our Government needed to make policy decisions and investment decisions to enable the UK to receive the maximum possible economic benefit as well as to anticipate some of the transformational impacts, for better or worse, on society. This report is our contribution to encourage not just the Government but other stakeholders to think through the implications of these potential changes. I thank our specialist adviser Professor Eric Sampson, our clerk Anna Murphy and our policy analyst Daniel Rathbone for their most helpful contributions to this report.
I have listed the range of sectors in which CAV have potential or existing applications, yet the vast preponderance of evidence we received, and the main media interest, was in the development of road vehicles, from level 1, where a modest task is performed, such as assisted parking but with the driver performing the driving task, through to level 5, where no driver is required and every driving task in all situations is delivered by full automation—what we familiarly know as driverless cars. The intermediate stages are listed in figure 1 at page 15 of our report: level 2 is partial automation; level 3 is conditional automation; and level 4 is high automation.
Our first recommendation was to suggest that the Government must broaden their focus so that their work on connected and autonomous vehicles cuts across all sectors and does not focus so heavily on road vehicles. I therefore welcome the report of Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Dr Jérôme Pesenti, commissioned at the time of the publication of our report in March 2017, called Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK. This report was published in October and focused on job creation, economic growth and whether a coherent AI industrial sector might emerge in the United Kingdom.
Our second recommendation refers to the need for a robotics and autonomous systems leadership council to provide clear co-ordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors. Dame Wendy Hall and Dr Pesenti’s report also calls for an AI council to be set up to co-ordinate the necessary initiatives, with the Government providing AI challenge funds. I welcome the Government’s response to our second recommendation. I accept that a sector deal is a positive way forward to ensure that strategic leadership is provided across the full breadth of the robotics and autonomous systems sector and that this will bring industry together with the research base in United Kingdom universities. We await to hear more specific information from the Government on the make-up and role of the industry-led AI council and the office for AI, both of which were proposed in the Industrial Strategy White Paper. Only government can provide the critical mass of investment in fundamental scientific research in robotics and information technology, so the announcement in the Industrial Strategy White Paper of increased government funding for science and innovation is to be welcomed.
On pages 24 and 25, we refer to the skills shortage in the CAV sector and more specifically for robotics and autonomous systems. The Industrial Strategy White Paper recognises the need to take action to close the engineering and digital skills gap and thereby ensure that the UK can benefit from the emerging CAV technologies. The government response to recommendation 6 of our report lists a number of initiatives to address the skills challenge. This is a subject which has been frequently raised in this Chamber, and I have no doubt that the Science and Technology Committee will want to return to this subject as the various initiatives run their course.
In chapter 3, we review whether the possible potential social and economic benefits stand up to rigorous analysis. Many claims for the benefits of autonomous vehicles are made, from increasing mobility for those less able to use traditional vehicles, to improved road safety and reduced costs for freight movement, as well as the economic benefits of improved productivity and increased trade. All these claims need to be treated with caution. We agreed with the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation that,
“There is relatively little data available to substantiate the listed potential benefits and there [may be] unintended consequences that could provide dis-benefits”.
We recommend that the Government commission a detailed cost-benefit analysis to provide a realistic indication of the economic benefits CAV could provide in all sectors, differentiating clearly between the different applications of CAV, actual monetary gains from deployment, estimated job creation and social benefits. Our evidence indicated that platooning of trucks could be an early example of CAV deployment on our roads, and the Government should carry out an early evaluation of the potential applications of connected and autonomous larger vehicles used for freight and logistics.
As human error is the cause of the majority of road accidents, it is reasonable to assume that CAV have the potential to lower the number of road fatalities, but the eradication or near eradication of human error will only be realised with full automation at level 5. In the preceding years before that stage is reached, we face the prospect of automated and partially or not at all automated vehicles sharing our roads. We need a better understanding of how CAV will affect the behaviour of drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. Level 3 autonomy may require a CAV to hand back control to the driver when it is unable to deal with a certain situation. We received evidence, which I entirely accept, that handing back in this way to a potentially unprepared driver could be very dangerous. Perhaps it would be wiser to eliminate level 3 altogether: the risks might be too great to tolerate.
We took evidence on the risks that CAV could be susceptible to hacking and used for malicious, criminal or terrorist purposes. This is a very real threat, which calls for collaboration to establish international standards of cybersecurity, and we urge the Government to take a lead on this. International standards are needed to address the ethical issues, such as ensuring that the data produced by CAV comply with the relevant privacy and data protection legislation. The announcement in the White Paper of funding for a new centre for data ethics and innovation is welcome.
I will now touch on infrastructure requirements. Connected vehicles will require improved digital connectivity, removing not-spots on British roads. Consideration needs to be given now by Highways England and local transport authorities to how we can ensure that new infrastructure can be future-proofed so that it does not need expensive retrofitting.
The funding of research and development for fully automated vehicles should be left to car manufacturers and new entrants. They will undertake this if their business case can justify it. The Government’s role is to support the basic science, to attract inward investment in this country by providing the best testing facilities, to ensure that our infrastructure is fit for purpose as the technology develops and to contribute to establishing international standards of regulation.
CAV technology is not yet sufficiently developed to enable a precise description of just what will be required. This is a fast-moving area of technology, and the Government have much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the United Kingdom so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, because it gives me an opportunity to thank him for his leadership of the committee, which he did with his customary firmness, urbanity and unfailing courtesy. He had to deal with some fairly unruly committee members at times, which he did with great dexterity.
As the noble Earl has already pointed out, the public interest in autonomous vehicles focuses largely on road vehicles and surface transport. This is understandable, but in many ways this is probably not the main area of change in the immediate future: seaways and the air tend to be less congested and more firmly under external traffic management control. I suspect that in both those areas we will see seriously autonomous vehicles in the not too distant future: this looks like an opportunity for air freight and sea freight in particular.
As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, pointed out, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders produced the rather useful table, which we reproduce in our report, with the levels 1 to 5, and level 0 being zero automation. In fact, as far as surface vehicles and motor vehicles are concerned, we have been living with what I would describe as creeping automation for quite a long time. With the first vehicle that I ever owned, as a student, one had to adjust by hand not only the fuel mixture but the timing, and of course double declutching was standard. These are things which have moved into our vehicles and made them easier to drive—almost imperceptibly—and we simply take them for granted.
Anyone who has had the opportunity to drive one of the relatively modern vehicles that are around today will find themselves with all sorts of driver-assisting technologies which we did not dream of 10 years ago. We have already mentioned automatic parking; there is also automatic switching on of your lights when the external light drops to a particular level and automatic switching on of the windscreen wipers—a whole range of activities which make driving easier. Particularly valuable, I think, is the so-called lane assist, where sensors sense the track and alert the driver if he drives out of a marked lane on the road. These things are coming. Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the series that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, described represent increasing levels of automation, using these and probably other devices and assists that we have not yet thought of or certainly are not aware of, with less and less driver involvement.
It is worth pointing out that modern passenger aircraft are probably somewhere between levels 2 and 3. It is well known that passenger aircraft travel on autopilot for long distances. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for modern aircraft to land automatically; take-off has a few more complications. But we are very much in those areas.
The existence of these levels perhaps suggests that the differences between them are more or less equidistant, of similar length, and we just progress from one to the other. But in fact when one moves from level 3 to level 4 there is a big jump in the technology requirement, and certainly an even bigger one when one moves to level 5. Level 4 allows a vehicle to travel under a certain degree of direction. Fundamentally, this means that its application on the surface will be in the automated control of shuttle vehicles or public transport vehicles travelling along well-defined routes—trams and light rail are the obvious easy applications. It would be perfectly possible for there to be movement on marked highways where there were clear lines or electronic markers of other kinds, but these would be limited and the vehicles would not be able to move outside them.
Level 5—default full autonomy—is another kettle of fish. There you are talking about the vehicle taking full responsibility for everything—in so far as a vehicle can be responsible for anything, and that raises some interesting legal and insurance questions. Here I think we have prodigious challenges of data processing and data management. I was discussing this recently with a friend who works in artificial intelligence and he said that, for full autonomy in one of these vehicles, you have to have the ability to process images and interpret those images in real time, like a human being can do, which means exceedingly quickly. He said that if we look at the computational capabilities that are available today, you would need about as much power to drive a computer that can do that as you would need to propel the vehicle. That is not to say that this is not going to happen, but it emphasises that it will not happen tomorrow.
My Lords, I am grateful to the committee for a very fine report, but I will devote my speech to an opportunity that I think the Government are missing: the creation of dedicated highways for autonomous vehicles.
We have in this country a great deal of slow rail. I live in the Southern region, where almost the entire network can be described as slow rail, with average speeds of around 50 mph from one end of the journey to the other. In such a network, we have a track which could easily be converted to a highway for autonomous vehicles and we have a power supply in the third rail, which, again, could easily be converted to a power supply for autonomous vehicles. If we have vehicles—probably just standard electric cars—travelling at 60 mph on a dedicated highway, and 10 mph when they are off that, when they are taking you home from the station, we have the technology to handle that. We do not have to worry about fast image processing because radar is good enough if you are going at 10 mph. It is what we all use for reversing. It picks up the problem soon enough for an automatic system to react if you are going slowly enough. On a dedicated highway, where there is no other traffic, and given the stability of modern cars at 60 mph, we have the technology to make that happen.
My journey from Eastbourne is slow. It has an average of 40 mph, even on the faster services. It is irregular and unreliable. It requires a vast subsidy. It has an enormous maintenance backlog. We do not have a good road service, either. The A27 is single lane for large parts of its length around us, and there are no funds available to change that. Changing the Coastway—the line that runs from Brighton to Ashford—to a dedicated highway for autonomous vehicles would make an enormous difference to all our lives in that part of the world. Noble Lords might think that Eastbourne is prosperous. It is not: it has one of the lowest rates of children with free school meals proceeding to university of any town in the country. Transport is a very big reason why it is like that. It is very cut off and isolated. But a dedicated highway would make a great deal of difference.
As a dedicated highway, the Coastway suddenly puts you in easy touch with Brighton and Ashford. Journey times on a dedicated highway are much shorter. You set off when you want. You do not have to get to the station 20 minutes early. It is a much more individual and, in effect, faster service. It is fail soft because it is easy for little vehicles to get round a problem—you do not have to close down the whole network for two hours because there is some problem at a point. It delivers you door to door. It would make an enormous difference to tourism and business generally, and it would create a lot of business in the north because that is where the vehicles would be made. To my mind, this is a big opportunity, just within the UK, to take a world lead in an area that we are supposed to be taking seriously.
It is the ideal solution for the Oxford-Cambridge route. Why, if you are travelling from Oxford to Cambridge, do you want to go by railway? You want to go from door to door. How do you do that? You do that with a dedicated autonomous vehicle highway. Then things work much better. In a city such as Cambridge, where the centre is occupied largely by old buildings and the new industrial estates are spread around it, you want something which easily gets you from the railway station out to where you want to go. If you are travelling in your own autonomous vehicle, you get there straightaway.
I do not understand why the Government are not investigating this, but I have talked to the department and indeed they are not investigating it. I very much hope that my noble friend will confirm that this is something they will at least take a look at and that they will do a relatively cheap pilot study on what it would take, what it would cost and where the technology is. I very much hope that that might involve a meeting with me at some stage.
Returning to the main subject, we have a Bill heading in our direction on this. My main interest in that Bill will be standards. I really do not want us to get into a situation where the autonomous vehicle business can be captured by an Uber or an Apple, a service provider or a hardware provider, by dominating standards. We have to take control of our own standards and make them open to make it easy for all sorts of people to compete in what will, at some stage I think, become the dominant mode of transport.
My Lords, I was one of the unruly members of the committee, and I too add my commendations to the excellent chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who kept us all in order. I should declare an interest in that I am chancellor of Cranfield University, which is involved in providing a research road test environment for the testing and validation of new autonomous vehicles, so I am a bit conflicted in my views on the way in which the Government are progressing this issue. It seems to be a statement of faith rather than progression on the basis of an evidence base. We experienced that a bit in the committee. It was delightful to see a string of providers of evidence and witnesses who were all absolutely mustard-keen on this technology and what it could potentially deliver, although sometimes when we poked them a bit with a sharp stick, they had to admit that the benefits were somewhat theoretical rather than as yet evidenced.
It was quite sobering for me when we had the chap from the RAC Foundation as a witness—being an environmentalist, I have never been a huge fan of the RAC Foundation because we were on different pages. The RAC Foundation was always pushing motor transport at a time when the environmental movement was trying to move people into public transport, reduce journeys et cetera. Being faced with the RAC man was not something that I felt was going to illuminate my life, but the reality was that he was a breath of fresh air. He was fairly sceptical and very realistic about the pace at which fully autonomous vehicles are likely to come forward in any realistic fashion, other than on a test-bed basis, and he was also fairly realistic and sceptical about the range of applications which would be likely to bring benefit. So good on you, man from the RAC Foundation.
One of the much-vaunted benefits of autonomous vehicles which the Government are still committed to and which is heralded in the Industrial Strategy White Paper is the benefits for older people. It states:
“One of the main groups benefiting from this revolution is older people who may no longer be able to drive or have other difficulties with mobility”.
I am slightly anxious about that because I have visions of these small autonomous pods that you dial up scooting up to the house of an older person who is signally unable to get downstairs, carry a suitcase, deal with a walking stick and get themselves into an autonomous pod, having the same problem at the other end, and being hugely vulnerable if they are in a pod which fails to move—and we had a little difficulty when we tried the test car in Greenwich which got stuck. I am not convinced that autonomous vehicles are going to be that much better for older people than my nice local taxi service which I phone up and whose driver carries my bag out for me, puts it in the boot and makes sure that I get home and that I have the door open and the lights on before he leaves me at the end of the day.
However, the Government are committed to moving forward on this issue; it is now a grand challenge in the Industrial Strategy and there is quite a lot of pressure and reliance on cutting a sector deal. I am not sure what the really quite clear statement:
“The government wants to see fully self-driving cars … on UK roads by 2021”,
means. Does it mean that we are all going to be in fully self-driving cars by 2021, which I think is probably unlikely, or will there be the odd fully self-driving car on the roads by 2021? Are we talking about there being a number of vehicles that are smart enough to be called autonomous or are we talking about a need to develop roads that are truly smart?
I welcome some of the priorities that the Government have outlined in the Industrial Strategy White Paper and the new grand challenge in this area. The flexible regulatory framework is a really brave move, but will be a very interesting one in terms of Britain becoming a hot spot for research and development on the use of autonomous vehicles in practice. That is good. I very much welcome the commitment to a future urban mobility strategy because one of the points that we raised in the committee’s report is that we must not forget that people travel on small roads, not just trunk roads, and local transport authorities are way behind the pace compared with the Government’s ambition.
I also heartily welcome the fact that if you are on a road you are going to have 5G. It would be quite nice to have 4G in my little rural village, or even 3G on occasion.
I would like the Minister to ponder on a few things before I finish. One is the very valid point that was made about the risks associated with tier 3 and tier 4 before we get to the fully autonomous tier 5 and the risks associated with autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles being mixed on the road. I think a considerable amount of testing needs to be applied to that before we move forward. Mostly, I would like the Government to come out with a joined-up transport strategy. It was interesting that in their response the Government listed seven policy areas that they had strategies or plans for, and followed that up by saying that those documents were,
“not a comprehensive survey of everything the Department for Transport does”,
but went on to say that they did not have a joined-up transport strategy. We need a joined-up transport strategy that puts autonomous vehicles in the context of that strategy, looks at the reality of transport as a service rather than at vehicles on the roads, other modes of transport, the future role of public transport, congestion and pollution. Will the Minister ponder on just how many of the responses to our report indicated that further research would be needed? It seems to me that the Government are very committed to the idea that Britain will be a technology leader and a leader of research in this area. That is an admirable thing to push forward with, but we need also to bear in mind that we have not yet got clarity on where that will benefit people in the UK in a practical and applicable way. It would be unwise to be a global leader in competitiveness in the technology but still guddling around in the weeds with insufficient research and a lack of a strategy for exactly how this would work in the UK.
My Lords, this is the second time this week that I have taken part in a debate which has concentrated on a historical document, in that this committee report, like the one we debated on Monday, is nine months old—which is ironic in a field such as this where technology is moving so fast. At least in this case we have a government response, and I want to concentrate this evening on that response, because it reveals a slow-moving, bewildered Government, with no clear focus, no clear idea of where they want to go and unwilling to take a real leadership position. Leadership is about a lot more than repeatedly stating that we are world leaders. As the noble Baroness has just pointed out, this is a very competitive field. We are not world leaders in this—not with security—and after Brexit we are much less likely to be, because we will not have those strong European links.
I am unashamedly excited about autonomous vehicles and their huge potential, but so much still has to be decided on the direction in the future. This week, the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, unveiled his vision of Uber-style CAVs replacing buses—presumably all of us in our individual pods, which we summon up when we need them. I take issue with that image. I agree that in rural areas the concept could be really useful, especially for older or disabled people who are unable to drive, but in urban areas the big issue is congestion. Urbanisation is expected to increase average city density by 30% over the next 15 years. I accept that CAVs will drive much more closely together and will move off much more smartly at traffic lights—there possibly will not even still be traffic lights—but, even so, the Grayling free-market vision could well turn out to be a chaotic, congested nightmare. It is much more likely that we will continue to have buses, but, in more responsive mode. But neither this response nor the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill tackles the overall vision.
Another issue I want to emphasise is exactly how automation will develop, which has already been tackled by other speakers. It seems to me there are two constraints: consumer acceptance and the readiness of our infrastructure. I can illustrate the issue of consumer acceptance by saying that I have travelled in an autonomous vehicle, and it takes a bit of a leap of faith. Many new cars are currently at level 3, and we will probably evolve towards level 4 and then level 5 step by step, rather than by taking a big leap forward. Indeed, the manufacturers I have talked to have spoken about this. When we get to level 5, there will be great social opportunities, especially in rural areas, but the Bill in the other place at the moment really just deals with the insurance side of things. It does not have the vision. We need social preparation, which we did not have for electric vehicles, for example—people look amazed as a silent vehicle moves towards them. I suggest that a great deal more work is needed, as referred to in the committee’s report, on social preparation for the changes that will take place.
Another huge issue that will come from this is the impact on jobs. There will be job losses, mainly among drivers—from taxis to HGVs, from tractors to ships, from pilots to tank drivers. Your Lordships might think that not having to do some of those jobs would be a huge advantage—no one would voluntarily be a military tank driver, where lives are at risk—but there are of course social changes that would come with that. We also need—the Government need—to prepare for the jobs of the future, and I want to draw out an ancillary issue. The Government’s response refers to apprenticeships, but when I asked the Government in November how they were preparing for this and,
“whether they intend to introduce a licensing and accreditation scheme for technicians working on electric and automated vehicles”,
the Answer came back that,
“it is too early to develop a training, licensing, and accreditation scheme for automated vehicles”.
Given that we are already at level 3 in many places, that is a very complacent reply, and the Government need more vision.
Finally, there is the issue of infrastructure and the road network. The government response does not tackle the hard facts of our outdated, complex and congested infrastructure. I listened carefully this morning to the “Today” programme as the Minister outlined, in very careful wording, his vision that we should all have the right to request access to broadband by 2020. Now, that is very carefully put. I live in Wales, and there are vast swathes of the country with no mobile phone signal and no wi-fi. We have so far to go if the Government’s vision is to be implemented, and time is very short.
The Government have an important role as facilitators of research, for example, as initiators of the structure for skills and as facilitators of the necessary infrastructure and legislative framework. They also have an important role as guardians of our safety and security. The data issues associated with these vehicles are very serious and need to be considered; for example, the interface between the need for public data, to keep us safe, and the need for privacy of data for those aspects of our lives that we have a right to keep private. But that data is valuable, and the Government have a lot of thinking to do on this.
My Lords, I too sat on the committee during this investigation and thank the noble Earl for his very able chairmanship. Most of us on the committee thought there would be fully automated cars on the UK’s roads by 2030, but we all thought that driverless mobility would come more easily and sooner to fields of movement other than on our roads. The difficulty will be to get investors and Governments to invest in these other fields, because the rewards for AV cars are of course enormous and are already attracting billions in terms of private research funding. Details on progress, due to reasons of obvious brand competition, were sadly not available to our committee, which probably undermined the accuracy of our report.
One of those other fields is agriculture, where the advantages are many. In western agriculture, we currently look to use bigger tractors where possible, because one man—the most expensive component—can do a lot of work in the shortest period of time in very large fields. But myriad small connected and automated tractors—perhaps I can call them CATs—about the size of a garden tractor could change all that. For a start, they can work day or night. Being small, the soil damage will be minimal. There is no advantage to ripping out hedges and forming big fields for big tractors. Being small and, I hope, mass-produced, they should not be too expensive in the end, and maybe even smallholders in the developing world will be able to afford them. I envisage a day when each field will have its own CAT in charge of its crop. It will assess the soil, cultivate the field and ask its manager for the right seed, and it will then sow and manage the crop. It is already possible for a CAT to recognise pests and diseases in crops and then spray not the whole field but the individual plants affected. The savings in chemicals, from the point of view of the environment, and in the cost of food will be considerable. Bear in mind that satnavs on modern tractors are already accurate to within an inch and they already talk to their manufacturers’ computers, which can let the farmer know when something is going wrong. Many problems today in driving big tractors stem from operator error in handling the complicated technology, so driverless tractors could be an advantage.
Another non-road field for AVs is the high seas, as has been mentioned. To my mind, the advantage here is that the changeover can be gradual; you can have a huge ship running on only a skeleton crew to take over if things go wrong. In a car, it would be impossible for a passenger to take over in that split second when things have gone wrong, but a boat normally has a much slower timescale when it comes to approaching disasters. Rolls-Royce told us that a greater use of autonomous marine vessels could save the global marine industry up to £80 billion per annum from reductions in capital costs, manning costs and fuel costs.
Turning back to automated cars, the advantages, particularly when combined with electric power, are enormous. Elon Musk of Tesla fame believes that he can develop a self-driving capability that is 10 times safer than manual cars via, in his words, “massive fleet learning”. He also believes that just by tapping a button you can add your car to, say, the Uber 2 shared fleet and have it earn income for you when you are at work or on vacation. We use our cars for less than 10% of the time, and this extra money earned could pay for the cost of the car and more, making AV cars affordable to anyone—though, if you are like me, you probably ought to remove the golf clubs from the boot.
Certain changes will be needed. We will have to change the law to stop jaywalkers. As in the US and elsewhere, we will be able to walk across the road only at certain points. In trials in Italy, people tended to walk out in front of AVs just to test them. Still, I think that if the law is changed and all AVs have cameras and black boxes, people will soon learn. Everything around an AV will be being recorded; you might even think twice about picking your nose. Other necessary changes include the insurance framework. Google, Volvo and Mercedes have already announced that they will accept full liability for collisions involving their self-driving cars.
Meanwhile, as far as the UK Government are concerned, apart from putting in place the surrounding legal framework, which will be considerable, I personally do not think they should get too involved in funding automated cars. As I said, there are already billions and billions of pounds of private sector research being invested. All the major car companies are competing in secret against each other, and the Government cannot hope to be anything more than a bit player in the field. Buses and public transport might be different, and especially investment in their route infrastructure, as several noble Lords have mentioned, but there is enough private investment going into automated cars to mean that this is not an area for the Government to waste their money on. By all means create testing facilities and make it clear what we expect from the private sector, but leave the actual investment to those who will reap the rewards. The same probably applies to the world of automated ships, where the rewards are also considerable, but again the governance here will need serious attention.
The one area where Innovate UK really must get involved, along with DfID and Defra with their research budgets, is the area of automated tractors, which I have dubbed CATs and which I feel have great advantages. There seems to be a remarkable reluctance by normal tractor companies to get involved—they seem to hope that this advance will go away—but the public benefit could be enormous, and I believe there is a serious role here for even this cash-strapped Government.
My Lords, the number of road vehicles is growing, which is government policy. They are still powered by fossil fuels, leading to air pollution and carbon emissions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has just explained. These damage people’s health. There are millions of deaths per year, especially in urban areas; in the UK the figure may be about 30,000 and rising. Carbon emissions affect the global and regional climate, and there are many impacts on people’s health, forests, food production and the biosphere generally. These damaging consequences are forcing nations around the world to plan for the widespread introduction of electric vehicles, which will be powered by new sources of electric power such as renewables, fossil and fusion.
Recent technology developments mean that electric vehicles can travel fast enough for reasonable people but, as I am sure noble Lords know, there are fanatics who want to go very fast. These vehicles can be controlled by human drivers or by remote control, with the controller in the vehicle or, with some technologies, with controllers distant from the vehicle—tractors and mining, for example.
The government response to the report from our Science and Technology Committee points out the challenge to the UK car industry and associated technological industries. Currently much of the financial ownership and control is in the hands of foreign-owned automobile companies, although these companies certainly invest in the UK’s R&D and work with UK subcontractors and institutes. Our report rightly emphasises that training in computing and electrical systems will be critical. As I learned last week when talking to people at Nissan, small garages will be dealing with very high voltage systems that could be extremely dangerous. That is just an example of where we need new thinking on training.
As the committee learned, these large international companies are steering many of the new developments, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was saying. These developments are being looked at by international panels, which are developing international standards. It was extremely difficult for the committee to obtain clear evidence about the UK’s exact role—indeed, the whole report was UK-centric—but in Germany and Europe there is much greater co-ordination in this respect. So it is essential that in future the UK participate more strongly in these groups but, as I have said, there is little indication in the report that that will happen.
Recently Nissan presented the first mass-market electric semi-automatic car, the Leaf, which will be available in January 2018. I and others who were shown the vehicle in the showrooms on Horseferry Road—maybe noble Lords can go down there—were given a briefing. My concern was that this car and its drivers will operate on British and European roads in ways the Government and companies simply have not taken into account; indeed, I am not sure that the people selling it had any idea how much of the technology was working. Compare that with the knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, had of his car when he first got one.
The safety of semi-automatic and fully automatic cars is of considerable concern, and it has not been explained—certainly not to the people buying them. There are various levels of technology that they need to understand, as other noble Lords have commented. Some of the vehicles that are already on the roads partly monitor various features of the car’s surrounding environment, including neighbouring cars, as well as the car’s interior, and they are partially controlled by the driver. There are considerable differences between the Audi, which uses the driver’s eyeball to detect whether they are responding to what is happening, and the Nissan, which can measure the pressure of their grip on the wheel and even the blood oxygen level in their hand. So the training for full-time and part-time drivers is really important in order to know what the vehicle’s responses are, its function and how it will relate to other vehicles. For example, recently the driver of a vehicle in Britain suddenly began to lose consciousness, or at least his concentration, and he found to his astonishment when he came round that the car had already moved into another lane, but he had never been told when he bought the car that it would do that. It is a curious phenomenon that we are going to have these much more complicated cars, but there is no standard arrangement for how people learn about them and use them.
It is interesting that Elon Musk’s company, which has one of the most complex cars in the world on the market, gives people 90 minutes’ training to use one of its fancy cars. I know someone who had a car like that and he crashed; they are not easy to drive. That is extraordinary.
However, coming to the rescue over the horizon are the transport commissioners. I used to be a transport commissioner. Most people have never heard of them. They live in remote little offices in various boroughs, and they are meant to say what qualification bus drivers need and whether you can park a bus in someone’s back yard—really subtle things. They may well be necessary in future to teach people and organisations about these new systems; there should surely be standards for them.
As other noble Lords have mentioned, all autonomous vehicles should have a visible sign on them. That is particularly important when autonomous vehicles travel along country roads, where they may crash into traditional road vehicles. If you have had a near fatal crash, as I did once when hitchhiking in a Jaguar which nearly crashed into a tractor, you understand what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is saying. This is the real world that vehicle designers must allow for with the latest technology.
Finally, following our excellent chairman’s remarks, data issues will become dominant in every aspect of traffic vehicles and drivers, just as our committee is looking at data throughout the National Health Service. This general theme for the future is well stated by our chairman, and he deserves a big thank you.
My Lords, I add my appreciation to the noble Earl, Lord Selbourne, and his committee for their balanced report, particularly for its emphasis on the need for testing and innovation, combined with cautionary concerns about the downsides of autonomous vehicles.
The public focus is on levels 4 and 5—fully self-driving road cars—and whether they would be safer than human drivers or not in coping with real road conditions. If an object obstructs the road ahead, could a robotic driver distinguish between a bag, a dog or a child? The claim is that it cannot infallibly do this, but will do better than the average human driver. Is that true?
Be that as it may, it is important to realise how much has been achieved in improving safety. The long-term trend is gratifying. In 1930, when there were only a million cars on the road, there were more than 7,000 fatalities. By 2000, the annual death toll had halved, and since 2000 it has halved again to about 1,700 last year, although the number of cars now exceeds 20 million. The trend is due partly to better roads, but largely to safer cars and, in recent years, in particular to the electronic gadgetry incorporated in them and to sat-navs. This trend will surely continue, making driving safer and easier, leading to better lane discipline on motorways, platooning of goods vehicles and suchlike. There is obvious scope for driverless machines in farming and harvesting, operating off-road.
Big data will increasingly allow smart systems of traffic management to enhance flow. This will not eliminate congestion, but should make it less ubiquitous than it would otherwise become. We can foresee and unreservedly welcome these incremental advances, which will make levels 2 and 3 feasible. But, as the report makes clear, the transition towards level 5—completely driverless vehicles on ordinary roads carrying mixed traffic —would be a truly disjunctive change. We are justified in being sceptical about how feasible and acceptable this transition would be.
The report is none the less right to encourage experiments in limited areas and new technology, and it is welcome that the Government support that. Driverless cabs may be quickly accepted where they have roads, or at least lanes, to themselves—in city centres or perhaps on motorways—just as we already accept driverless trains on, for instance, the Docklands Light Railway. It will be a long time, however, before truck and taxi drivers are completely redundant. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, emphasised, the transition to full automation would be exceedingly difficult.
As a parallel, think of what is happening in civil aviation. Most flying is on autopilot. A real pilot is needed only to cope with emergencies, but may not be alert at the crucial time. The 2009 crash of an Air France plane in the south Atlantic exemplified that. On the other hand, suicidal pilots have actually caused devastating crashes. Do we really think the public will ever be content to embark on a plane with no pilot on board at all? I doubt it, although for air freight, pilotless planes may be acceptable. Pilotless aircraft without passengers, especially small delivery drones, seem to have a promising future. Indeed, in Singapore, there are plans to avoid robotic delivery vehicles at ground level by replacing them with drones flying above the streets. But even for these, we are too complacent about the risk of collisions, especially if there is a huge proliferation in numbers.
For ordinary cars, software errors and cyberattacks cannot be ruled out. We are already seeing the hackability of their ever more sophisticated software and security systems. Can we confidently protect brakes and steering against being hacked? Computers can handle big data. AI will enable machines to control traffic flows, through smart motorways and so forth, and that should lead to an unalloyed benefit in reducing congestion for human drivers. But, as the report says, the effect of driverless cars on congestion when mixed with ordinary traffic could go either way.
An oft-quoted benign advantage of driverless cars is that we will hire and share them rather than own them. This could have the huge benefit of reducing the amount of space needed for parking in our city. But what is not clear is how far that will go: whether the wish to own one’s own car will indeed disappear, except among the Mr Toad or petrol head tendency, or if, on the other hand, it will remain widespread, in which case we will lose the benefit.
Finally, if driverless cars catch on, they will clearly boost road traffic at the expense of rail. Many of us now prefer the train for a 200-mile journey: it is less stressful than driving, and we can work or read. I certainly do. But if I had a chauffeur, I would go by car, with the advantage of door-to-door service. Therefore, if I had a driverless car, I would go that way, too, as I am sure would many. So if fully driverless cars on ordinary roads became safe and acceptable, they would surely reduce the capacity required on long-distance train routes, and quench the already dubious justification for the Himalayan investment in HS2. That is another reason why we need the studies to firm up if and when fully automated vehicles could be deployed.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Earl and his committee on a thorough report, which made fascinating reading. Some of the government responses are pretty good, too, but they do not go far enough. I agree with the committee that there is too much focus on highly automated private road vehicles, as the report says in the summary.
Other noble Lords have talked about some of the other sectors that need to be discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, talked about preventing jaywalkers, but what about me on my bike? Do I want to be controlled automatically, or do I have to have a special bike lane? Will I have to use exercise to move it or will it be electric, as it is at the moment? There are lots of things to talk about; that needs looking at at some stage.
The other issue that I have been looking at in the past few months is that of cruise ships in the high Arctic and Antarctic, and what happens when something goes wrong and people have to evacuate and be picked up again. I hope to have a debate about it in the new year. I am honorary president of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association. One of my pilot friends told me that you have to be careful in the Arctic. There are lots of rocks and islands there, as we all know, but there is also very bad GPS coverage because nobody goes there—and therefore there are no satellites. I am not sure whether that is true, but it is something that will be vital if we want to get this one-inch accuracy that has been talked about. It will be just as important to have that accuracy further north and in other places as it will be around the UK. I shall leave that—I am sure the Minister will not necessarily be able to respond to me tonight, but it is something we need to look at in future.
I want to concentrate on the role of government and the private sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, the Government’s role is to facilitate and sometimes fund research and ensure that there is value for money and fair play in competition. Industry develops the systems at high cost, as noble Lords have said, probably worldwide and generally in competition, because that is what drives the innovation. Where do those meet?
When we talk about infrastructure, whether roads, cable or rail, we probably want only one set of infrastructure because it is so expensive, even if some people want to build new roads around the place to go faster, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested. In most places, one set of infrastructure is probably a good thing. You get several competing suppliers of the kind of kit that goes on the vehicles and the infrastructure. Recently, I chaired a conference on cable infrastructure—nothing to do with broadband, I am afraid. But somebody from Virgin broadband said that they would have to dig up every street in the country to put parallel cables to BT’s because their cables would be better than BT’s. That may be the case—I do not know—but what we should have done 10 or 20 years ago was say that there was one piece of infrastructure, cables or whatever type they were, with one infrastructure manager, properly controlled, who would then be able to allow all the different cable companies and so on to use that infrastructure on a fair basis. Where it will go now, I do not know—but it is an example of where we got it wrong in the past.
The railways have got it wrong, too, in a different way, because they have a new signalling system called ERTMS, which we are told will increase the capacity of railway lines by between 20% and 30%. Network Rail is doing quite well with this, but it relies on four or five different suppliers—at least European, if not world suppliers—providing the kit. For the last 10 years, the industry has been fighting, because these suppliers all produce wonderful kit but it is not interoperable. If we got Siemens equipment on a train and Alstom on the track, it did not work. The European Commission and our Government have been trying very hard to get this interoperability, and I think that they have just about got there, but has taken 10 years. I would have started encouraging the Chinese to add a bit of competition to see what would happen. But it has taken a very long time. The question in people’s minds has always been whether the four suppliers were trying to run a nice cartel, screwing the Government and the customer for delays and high costs. I do not have an answer to that, of course; I do not think anybody has. But it is very important that, when the same thing happens on road, as I am sure that it will, there is a clear definition of who is doing what, where the private sector can provide a really good service and where the Government have to facilitate.
The last issue that I would like to raise is one that the noble Earl raised in his opening remarks about the benefits and costs. Government does not have a very good reputation on cost benefits, whether with the Navy, the railways or roads. The west coast main line was going to increase capacity by 30%, as I said, and the costs shot through the roof; it got stopped, and now we are having a high-speed line instead. With all these things, it is very difficult to judge what happens at junctions. Straight roads and railways are fine—but when you get to junctions it gets much more complicated and reduces the capacity.
There is also the question of what costs of accidents one puts into this model. A year or two ago, I think I established from government figures that the cost of a fatality on the road was about £300,000. That means that, if you could stop the thing happening again for under £300,000, you would do it but, if you could not, you would not, so to speak. On the railway, it is £2 million. Those two figures should be the same. Somebody is hurt or has died; the cost of putting it right should be the same. That needs to be very carefully looked at by the Government as we take this forward.
I conclude by repeating that the relationship between government and industry suppliers is fundamental to success, whether in agriculture, roads, railways or anything. I am not sure that this was recognised as strongly as it should be in the report and the government response—but I am sure that it will be in future. It is a great step forward even having this report at all.
My Lords, it was a privilege to be on the Select Committee producing this report under the wise and excellent chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I begin by declaring my relevant interests: I am chairman of the Department for Transport’s Science Advisory Council and the current president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and I also head the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction at Cambridge University.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has already referred to the recently published Industrial Strategy White Paper, which states that:
“The government wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human operator, on UK roads by 2021”.
This is a bold ambition. It has to be asked: how realistic is it to put fully driverless cars on the public roads within four years? Our report addressed a range of issues to be resolved before we anticipate the widespread use of driverless cars on our roads. I will briefly comment on four: congestion, data sharing, skills and research.
My first point relates to congestion, which has been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Many witnesses told our committee that CAVs for the roads sector are expected to improve traffic conditions and reduce congestion. But this is not obvious. It is likely that the theoretical potential of CAVs to reduce traffic congestion varies, depending on the level of vehicle autonomy and the proportion of CAVs on the roads. We were unable to say with any certainty what the impact on congestion will be. We thought it possible to imagine a situation of total gridlock as CAVs cautiously crawl around city centres. The Government acknowledged this uncertainty in their response to our report, highlighting the need for research to understand the possible impacts of CAVs on congestion on our road networks.
In the future, driverless cars could well bring a wide uptake of personal mobility as a service—one of the great potential benefits. In which case, car ownership could very substantially reduce, and city streets would no longer have nearly as many privately owned cars. This point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. This could be highly beneficial for our city road networks; a widespread absence of parked cars would certainly reduce congestion.
My second point relates to data sharing. Our report highlighted that it is essential that any data gathered from CAVs is used in accordance with data protection law. However, we pointed out that the meaning of personal data is unclear in the context of CAVs. It will be important to achieve privacy for individuals and communities while also using data to achieve efficiency and safety of CAV operations. But data relating to an individual’s vehicle on position, speed and performance on the road cannot be regarded as entirely personal. Such data is needed for public benefit if a CAV system is to operate effectively as a whole. Good data governance will therefore be required to secure appropriate protection of personal information while safely using and linking open and non-sensitive data. Sharing data for the public good means that some datasets are public, while others will be available only to certain parties. Distinctions will need to be made between commercially sensitive data owned by technology providers and open data.
This important point is also highlighted in the National Infrastructure Commission’s report Data for the Public Good, launched at the Institution of Civil Engineers last week. The report emphasises that data protection is fundamental to the development and successful deployment of smart city models and functions—this of course also applies to CAVs. The data governance review recently produced by the Royal Society and British Academy addresses the same issue. Public confidence in regulation and governance of data will be key to the successful exploitation of CAV technologies.
My third point relates to skills. Our report highlighted the urgent need to close the engineering and digital skills gap to ensure that the UK can benefit from the emerging CAV technologies. Last year, the Transport Systems Catapult published a report entitled, Intelligent Mobility Skills Strategy: Growing New Markets in Smarter Transport. It concluded that, in the wider intelligent mobility sector, which encompasses CAV technologies,
“The UK faces a potential skills gap of 742,000 people by 2025”.
This is a huge skills gap. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, also published last year, echoed these findings. Cranfield University told our committee that the shortage of engineers the UK faces threatens the development of CAV technology and the creation of applications for CAV. This point was also made in evidence from Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University. He questioned the effectiveness of the UK’s education system in delivering people with the right skills for the CAV sector. He said:
“I cannot overstate the importance of this: we need about 10,000 more engineers a year. We need to plough money into universities to teach information engineering, data engineering and software”.
In their response to our report, the Government acknowledged the need for investment right across the education and training pipeline—in universities, the further education sector and schools—to deliver people with the right skills for the CAV sector. My question to the Minister is, is enough being done to ensure that the potentially very large engineering and digital skills gap will be closed in the coming years?
My final point relates to research. The recent government announcement of the launch of MERIDIAN —a new co-ordination hub for CAV technologies testing—is to be welcomed. This important new initiative is part of the automotive sector deal recently announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper. It will bring the automotive sector and academia together to form a cluster of excellence in autonomous vehicle testing and research.
As mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the Government plan to continue to support scientific research in AI robotics and related information technology at academic institutions. This too is to be welcomed. We need to ensure that the UK continues to have a world-leading research base in these crucial areas. While this type of research is vital for the success of CAVs for the UK, we must not forget the need for research on human interactions with CAVs—in other words, the social and behavioural questions relating to CAVs, most of which remain largely unanswered. Our report highlighted this and the Government have responded very positively. Research to understand the attitudes of the public to CAVs will be vital, particularly in the context of mixed fleets of driverless cars and traditional cars. Predictions suggest that we will have mixed fleets for at least 20 years. There are those who will always want to drive their cars: we will always have “Mr Toads”. With driverless and traditional cars together on the roads, will the public be prepared to trust and accept autonomous technologies? Without a high degree of public acceptance, the huge potential for driverless cars on our roads will not materialise.
My Lords, it is always preferable to speak first in these debates, because to follow such a daunting array of knowledge is difficult.
For anybody who did not sit on the committee, it must be clear by now that this report was not prepared autonomously. It was not a driverless committee. We had the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, at the wheel, for which we are very grateful. We also benefited from the expert navigation of the clerk and the advisers, for which we are also very grateful. I should declare my relevant interest in GKN, which is active in the automotive sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, talked about creeping automation. My first car was a Hillman Imp, which had the fantastic innovation of an automatic choke, which, nine times out of 10, automatically flooded the carburettor. I hope that the automation of which we are speaking today will be more successful.
Despite its shelf life, as pointed out by my noble friend, this report has turned out to be well timed, because the government response has been bookended by the industrial strategy and the publication, and imminent arrival, of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. It should be pointed out that the Bill is focused largely on insurance with respect to this issue. The very important point brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on standards, with which I am in complete agreement, is unlikely to be addressed through that Bill, unless something changes. We need to look for a vehicle—if noble Lords will excuse the pun—which enables that standards issue to be discussed soon, because I know very well that other countries are working on this. Germany, for example, is working very hard in the standards vein to help to rig things in its direction.
This has been a wide-ranging debate which characterises the problems and the challenge that the committee faced in corralling that debate. I will try to stick to the less science fiction aspects and keep at the practical near-term part of the debate around: the ambitions of the industrial strategy; the near sole focus on automotive at the possible expense of other sectors; the role of LTAs, which no one has mentioned today; the huge skills gap, which we have just heard about; and some wider sociological implications. With apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I will try to do that unreasonably quickly.
On the industrial strategy, in strategic terms the Government seem bent on striking out for global leadership in automation technology. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, this is a creditable ambition but it is also a very tough one. I wonder whether the Government have either understated or perhaps misunderstood the scale of this challenge. Global investment in this area is already on a scale of tens of billions of pounds. To keep up with and match that level is a very tough ask. The artificial intelligence sector deal is clearly a statement that has been made, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, but how are the Government really planning to lead in this segment, and what is it that leads them to believe that we can lead in this segment?
On the other hand, it looks as if practical moves have been made to essentially create the UK as a test bed. That has the benefit of attracting in all-comers—that is obviously the idea—but how in essence will manufacturing, the technology and the knowledge then be rooted in this country? What is the Government’s strategy to do that? I should note that the UK is not alone. About six weeks ago, I sat down with the governor of Arizona. That state has entirely the same test-bed strategy and is one of probably at least 30 other US states and half the rest of the world involved in this. Therefore, can the Minister unpick this strategy a little for us today and perhaps set out which technologies in particular the Government will facilitate leadership in? As has been implied, a sector deal is all right, but it is not leadership. The Government need to lead and show where they are leading.
Overall, the focus on automotive is narrow; the Select Committee report also highlighted other opportunities. I understand that it would be unreasonable to expect the Minister to speak about some of these particular sectors, but the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, thoroughly and brilliantly highlighted one area of opportunity, around agriculture. It is also clear that the levels of investment required to gain that leadership in agriculture are much less than the sort of numbers that need to be punted in even to start to compete in the automotive sector. It would be helpful to have some comment on that. The fall-back response from the Government is, “The industrial strategy grand challenge process will deal with this”. It is not clear how that process will be generated after the initial topics which have been set by the Government. How will new challenges be pitched, chosen and moderated? Our understanding is that the Government set those challenges rather than UKRI; how will that process work?
Briefly, on local transport authorities, as the Minister knows, the LTAs are responsible for the vast network of the UK’s roads. While it is clear that our motorways are on the way to preparing for some sort of connectedness, it is absolutely clear that our local roads are not—a point my noble friend Lady Randerson made. So what is the vision for engaging the LTAs in all this? To reflect a theme that has come through from many speakers—the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others—there is the question of the mixed economy. It is easy to see how a convoy of trucks running up a motorway can work, but how will the mixed economy of autonomous, semi-autonomous, and manual vehicles, bicycles, people on foot, tractors, dogs, cats and whatever you like work on a local road, which currently has about zero connectivity with anywhere? What is the Government’s vision here?
On skills, again, the noble Lord, Lord Mair, absolutely nailed it when he spoke of the huge, stark shortage we are facing. This of course is just one sector and one industry. When we look across all technology industries, the skills shortage is a huge gulf. The industrial strategy response to this was not sufficient. I am something like the ancient mariner who stops one in three on the need for a joined-up UK skills strategy. Skills sits in a variety of different ministries. It has no clear champion across government; a variety of people keep shoving things back and forth. We have to have some sort of national strategy on skills. To focus again on the Ministry of Transport, I understood that next year would be the Year of Engineering. Perhaps the Minister can update us on what this seeks to achieve, how it will be measured and how we will know what a glorious success it will be.
Finally, on what I would call people, I have a sort of cry of the heart that we have to bring out the social implications of this. We have touched on some of those: data, jobs and the wider changing relationship between humans and machines which serve them. On data, my noble friend Lady Randerson and the noble Lord, Lord Mair, made absolutely clear the challenge and the dangers around data. There is a group of companies that will fund vehicles to get that data—it is highly valuable. We have to have a position, nationally and internationally, around that data. Can the Minister explain to us what the steps will be to develop that policy domestically and then to propagate it across a meaningful international platform?
On jobs, again set out by my noble friend Lady Randerson, there is a real challenge. I would like the Minister to commit to working on modelling the impact, because it is not clear to me that any impact study—dare I use that phrase?—has been done on the numbers and types of jobs that will be gained and lost in this process. We on these Benches would also like the Minister to commit to publishing the results of that impact study, so that we do not have to go to a small room and sign a book in order to see them.
Finally, can the Minister, either in her department or across government, undertake some serious social research into how people relate to machines? We heard a number of comments on the interface between automation and human intervention, which is one aspect of the social response, and an interesting part of the challenge is how vehicles will keep their nominal pilots sufficiently interested and engaged. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about people being trained to use the vehicles. Of course, people can spend many weeks of training before undergoing a driving test; perhaps under the noble Lord’s tutorship we should be talking about people taking passenger tests in order to travel in these driverless vehicles.
However, on a more serious note, there is a wider sociological issue, although this is probably not the forum for it. The interrelation between people and machines does not just rewire the hardware of the machines; it rewires the humans. We have seen that in relation to iPhones and smartphones. It rewires the way in which people act and think. More research is needed—as researchers always say—into that whole area of how people interrelate with the machines that will increasingly run their lives.
In conclusion, this report sets a milestone on an exciting, potentially rocky and quite interesting road that will create a different future for many of us, and I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate. On the pace of the change, I endorse the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that change like this usually takes longer than people expect. However, I am also of the view that, when change comes, it is often more profound and thorough than people expect. With that, I hope that this report helps to mitigate some of the issues along the way. I hope that the Government will use it as a springboard to do some of all that extra research and investigation that is needed in order to smooth our way along the road.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and his committee for their report. As has been said, it contains four main findings. These are that the Government are too focused on driverless cars when the early benefits are likely to be in other sectors; that the development of connected and autonomous vehicles across different sectors needs co-ordination; that there needs to be further government-commissioned social and economic research to weigh the potential human and financial implications of connected and autonomous vehicles; and that the Government need to do much more, including in the field of skills, to ensure that we can maximise the opportunities that connected and autonomous vehicles offer in different sectors.
I hope that the Government will take on board and act on, and continue to act on, the four main findings of the report. Their response to it seems a bit defensive in places, but then I suppose that government responses to reports over the years usually have been.
The committee is not seeking to be political or to damn, but it is seeking to offer considered and constructive findings based on genuine expertise and experience to help ensure that we can be one of the global leaders in this field and reap the benefits, and address the potential pitfalls, including over data, that will, or could, arise from being so.
We surely need to ensure that we can be up with the best, as significant change in this field is already taking place in other parts of the world. General Motors will soon begin testing autonomous cars in the far-from-straightforward transport environment of New York City, with a fleet of self-driving taxis appearing to be the initial goal, while the European Commissioner said that connected vehicles are likely to become available in the next two to three years.
On that latter issue, the Government said in response to the committee—on recommendation 27, I think— that they would be reporting back to the National Infrastructure Commission by the end of 2017 on improving our digital infrastructure on the roads network. Bearing in mind that we are quite close to the end of 2017, have the Government reported back to the NIC and, if so, what was the thrust of that report back?
I would like to raise a few points with the Government about the impact and future of autonomous vehicles in the light of some of the issues raised by the Committee’s report. In a recent Written Answer in the Commons, the Government said that,
“production of CAVs and CAV technologies in the UK will support over 27,000 jobs”.
However, that was in answer to a Written Question asking what assessment had been made of the potential effect on employment of the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Does that mean that the Government do not consider that connected and autonomous vehicles will have any negative impact on jobs in any field of transport, or at least not for a great many years, an issue about which they remained silent in their Written Answer last month? Will the Minister say what negative impact on jobs autonomous vehicles might have and over what period of time?
What impact do the Government think autonomous vehicles might have on the numbers of people who drive vehicles, fly aircraft or crew ships for a living? If connected and autonomous vehicles reduce the incidence of accidents, which is clearly a major plus point, what impact do the Government think this might have, for example, on the numbers of people employed in garages and in crash repair centres, as well as in the emergency services? If the production of CAVs and CAV technologies in the UK will support over 27,000 jobs, is it the Government’s view that that will mean fewer jobs involved in the production of the kinds of vehicles that we have today? If so, in the Government’s view, what kind of job losses are we talking about?
The committee report refers to the affordability and accessibility of connected and autonomous vehicles. Do the Government have a view on whether they are likely to be affordable for most people? If so, over what period of time will that be achieved? One assumes that the move to electric vehicles will also mean this form of power for autonomous vehicles. Have the Government given any consideration to fuel duty, or another form of power duty, that would apply to autonomous electric vehicles, as this will have an impact on cost? Fuel duty on petrol and diesel vehicles is a source of significant revenue for the Government. How will this source of revenue be replaced—will it be replaced?—as petrol and diesel vehicles reduce in numbers and electric-powered vehicles, autonomous and otherwise, increase?
What government oversight is there into research and development on connected and autonomous vehicles, bearing in mind that there are major safety issues and considerations which go well beyond simply those people owning and using such vehicles or indeed making and selling them? Have the Government laid down, or do they intend to, any minimum standards that have to be met in this key area of safety as far as the goals of research and development in this field and beyond are concerned? What provision will there be for the sharing of information on the development of autonomous vehicles and its implications, and what will be the involvement of local transport authorities?
On this latter point, the Government said in their response to the committee’s recommendation 5 that a further meeting with local authorities, described as a “forum for local authorities”, was scheduled for this autumn. What was discussed at that meeting? What conclusions were reached? How many local authorities were represented and which other bodies or organisations were present?
The committee report refers to international co-operation and the importance of cybersecurity. There would appear to be a real risk of autonomous vehicles being hacked, with potentially very serious consequences, including for safety, presumably on land, sea or in the air. Is cybersecurity being fully addressed as part of research and development objectives? Have any standards that have to be achieved in respect of cybersecurity been, or will be, laid down or set? The Government’s response to the committee’s recommendation 23 refers to the publication of a set of principles for cybersecurity of vehicles, which does not appear to be the same thing.
One of the committee’s recommendations—number three—is that the Government should bring forward a wider transport strategy that places the development and implementation of connected and autonomous vehicles in the context of wider policy goals, such as increased use of public transport and the reduction of congestion and pollution. Reading the Government’s response to that recommendation, it is not clear to what extent the Government believe that they have met that recommendation. They say in their response that they place importance on long-term planning and strategy,
“and as our work on CAVs matures we will continue to set this in the context of the Government’s wider policy aims for the future of transport”.
Do the Government see connected and autonomous vehicles increasing the use of public transport and reducing congestion and pollution, and if so, how and why? One could presumably argue that since autonomous vehicles would take away the strain of driving as well as enabling those who cannot at present drive a car or who do not wish to do so to travel by car, this might be at the expense of usage of public transport and reducing congestion.
Finally, the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendations came out over seven months after publication of the report, and not all of those seven months were taken up by the general election campaign. That was a considerable period of time to wait for an area involving rapid international change. Bearing in mind that we are talking about fields of activity where developments are likely to progress and occur with considerable rapidity, with potentially very significant impacts on the lives of all of us, how do the Government intend to keep this House advised of further progress being made on implementing or facilitating the implementation of the committee’s recommendations and on delivering whatever are the Government’s objectives and goals in this field, since this debate cannot be the end of the matter?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne for introducing this debate, and all noble Lords for their contributions. I am grateful to the members of the Science and Technology Committee for their work in producing their report, many of whom we have heard from today. I also acknowledge my noble friend Lord Henley, who has worked closely with my department in responding to the report, and I apologise for the delay in that response. This has been an interesting and thought-provoking debate and a wide range of issues have been raised. I will do my best to answer as many as I can in the time allowed.
As many noble Lords have acknowledged, connected and autonomous vehicles will have a huge impact on transport in this country, and the technology is already well advanced. So of course it is vital that we are prepared for the changes to come. We are on the cusp of a profound shift in the transport system, enabled by technology. That is why we have identified the future of mobility as one of four grand challenges in the industrial strategy.
In the Budget, the Chancellor set out a vision for fully self-driving vehicles to be on our roads by 2021. The Government are also taking forward the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill to ensure that consumers are protected and insurers are prepared for the introduction of automated vehicles to our roads.
The first recommendation of the committee is to ensure that we do not have too narrow a focus on highly automated private road vehicles, a point raised this evening by many noble Lords. We absolutely agree that work in this field must address a broader market. Although our self-driving car programme has been very successful, we are also working hard to extend the benefits of the technology more widely. One example is a facility in Oxfordshire, Remote Applications in Challenging Environments, which is conducting research and development to explore how to remove people from dangerous environments such as nuclear decommissioning.
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, in the farming sector the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre is researching advanced technologies; projects include looking at the use of robotics for planting, monitoring and harvesting crops. The noble Lord also highlighted the advantages that such technology can bring, both in the UK and abroad. I look forward to researching that and learning more. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, made an interesting point about whether we should focus more on specific industries to see the benefit of that; we will certainly reflect on that.
Automation offers clear opportunities for the aviation and maritime sectors, alongside those offered in road transport. We have already seen some early deployments of automation in those sectors; UK companies are at the forefront of that. As technology develops there, we will work with industry to ensure that we have the right regulatory framework to deal with it. These are just a few examples of the many exciting opportunities beyond self-driving cars—opportunities that will help us to deliver the transformative benefits of connected and autonomous technology to new sectors of the UK economy.
As part of our industrial strategy, we are working with industry to ensure that we have the right level of leadership in emerging sectors. In the recent White Paper, the Government set out a “sector deal” approach; those sectors deals are being developed right now in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems. The industrial strategy also outlined the role of an industry-led AI council: to lead collaboration between industry, research organisations and government. Alongside that, there is the Challenge Fund, which established the robotics and AI advisory group. I am pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Selborne welcome the approach on sector deals; I hope this provides more information and gives your Lordships some confidence that we are trying to deal with the cross-cutting nature of industrial collaboration.
Many noble Lords highlighted the importance of investment. Of course, we will continue to provide research and funding to mitigate the inherent risk of market failure in early-stage technology. That is vital to get industry on board and is already having an impact. Both Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover are running high-profile research programmes of around 100 highly automated vehicles here in the UK. By demonstrating our commitment to this emerging industry, we hope that businesses will invest in the UK with confidence.
We are establishing ourselves as a leading market for the testing and deployment of these technologies, and we intend to do all we can to stay in that position. By working closely with industry, we are better positioned to know where we should focus our resources. There are many examples of the work we are doing on this, including the Transport Systems Catapult and Innovate UK, which works with small and medium-sized enterprises in this field.
The Government have an important role to play in funding research. In the Autumn Statement last year, we announced an investment programme of nearly £5 billion over four years to boost the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation. The noble Lord, Lord Mair, highlighted the investment in the co-ordination hub, Meridian. I hope that demonstrates that the Government and industry have vital roles to play in delivering the benefits of this technology to the UK. We will support manufacturers and technology developers, large and small, throughout the process. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that it is key that we get the relationship between government and industry right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and other noble Lords raised the important issue of infrastructure. There is a huge challenge ahead of us in making sure that our infrastructure is ready for connected and automotive technology when it is available. Very different systems from those available today will be needed. However, this is an opportunity. We have a number of programmes under way to understand more about what infrastructure is required and how we can profit from that opportunity. We are engaging with all levels of the supply chain to understand what we need; that includes vehicle manufacturers, Highways England and others, covering telecommunications, data and infrastructure. We have specific initiatives in place analysing how connected and autonomous technologies will work on our roads and influence our future. The London to Dover A2/M2 connected corridor will test a variety of communications systems to help us establish how the new technologies will be deployed.
A lot of this infrastructure will also affect local roads, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. We agree with the recommendation in the report that local transport authorities will play an integral role in the success of connected and autonomous vehicles, and that the Government can help to improve learning as the technologies develop. We meet LTAs frequently; we recently initiated a forum for authorities deploying, or interested in deploying, connecting vehicle technologies. I believe the first meeting was in Newcastle a few weeks ago, so that work is ongoing. I hope this demonstrates that we are thinking ahead by ensuring that the infrastructure will be ready when we need it.
When I read the statement from the Government about local transport authorities I was concerned. I envisaged myself in some autonomous vehicle heading from one borough that is keen on the idea and has got ahead of the game to another that is not terribly clued up. It will be interesting to understand what the Minister thinks will happen at the boundary between two local transport authorities that have not quite got themselves aligned.
The noble Baroness raises an interesting point and one that we will discuss with them. When there is a different level of interest in different local authorities, there will be that challenge. We are working with them on co-ordination.
Many noble Lords raised the importance of safety, which is of course at the very heart of our approach. Self-driving vehicles, just like any other vehicle today, will have to meet internationally agreed safety standards. Vehicles will not be sold or used in the UK without having met these standards. As noble Lords acknowledged, we expect these vehicles to be safer than current cars, but I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on the importance of ensuring that the drivers—or users—of these vehicles are tested, as well as the vehicles themselves. We must consider the wider safety impacts.
We do not yet have a time. Obviously, we need to look at that vigorous testing to ensure drivers are properly capable. We need to look at the wider safety impacts on jaywalkers, on the use of drones and on cyclists.
The issue of standards has been raised by many noble Lords. As is the case for other vehicle safety technologies, we expect standards to be set internationally at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The UK has historically been very influential in those discussions. Indeed, we are chairing many of the relevant committees discussing standards for automated vehicles.
The arrival of automated vehicles will raise important ethical questions about how machines make choices that might impact on human safety. These are incredibly important issues and should be discussed publicly and transparently. The report calls for further government-commissioned social research, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others. We are taking forward a number of actions to help facilitate this discussion. We are investing with industry in public demonstrations of self-driving vehicles to raise awareness and to prompt debate. We have begun a three-year social and behavioural research programme to examine public perceptions of automated vehicle technologies. In the Budget we announced a new centre for data ethics and innovation, which will advise government on the ethical, safe and innovative use of data and artificial intelligence across all sectors, including transport. More research and debate is of course needed in this area, both within the UK and internationally, but I hope noble Lords will agree that, while we do not have all the answers to these issues, it is important that we do not stifle progress so we can make progress on these potentially life-saving innovations.
Pretty much every noble Lord raised the skills agenda. The Government absolutely agree with the conclusion of the committee’s report that skills are a key factor in achieving our objectives. That is recognised in our industrial strategy. The UK is well above the EU average in having access to the specialist skills required to develop and implement this technology, but we need to stay ahead. We will have to keep improving as the digital economy grows. For connected and autonomous vehicles this will require continued focus on a wide range of technical disciplines, from vehicle and infrastructure engineering to digital capabilities. I note the point the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made about ensuring we have the right structure in place to recognise the skills.
The industry-led Automotive Council has played a pivotal role in improving skills in the sector, with an increasing emphasis on skills requirements for these vehicles. It has developed and trialled new trailblazer apprentices, targeting areas where there are skills shortages and co-ordinating work with other sectors. Through the transport infrastructure skills strategy we are looking at what skills we should be identifying for the future. It has developed STAT—the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce—which has developed the most detailed skills forecasting tool in transport history to understand the skills we will need. That should show us where the gaps will be. It is also encouraging to see universities and industry working together to develop their own initiatives. For example, the University of Warwick will next September launch a master’s programme in smart, connected and autonomous vehicles.
The year 2018 will indeed be the Year of Engineering, as promoted kindly by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. It is a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding among young people, their parents and teachers of what engineers do. I look forward to keeping noble Lords updated throughout the campaign.
So a lot of good work is going on, but I agree with noble Lords and many of those who gave evidence to the committee that we must continue developing our skills strategy to attract the best talent to the industry in future and to keep them in this country.
The report also calls for further government-commissioned economic research on the potential financial implications of connected and autonomous vehicles, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, among others. We have published a forecast of the core economic impacts of connected and autonomous vehicle technology development and production in the UK. We are conducting analysis to refine the assumptions underpinning our economic forecasts, but it would not be productive to commission an overall cost- benefit analysis of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies at this time. There is not sufficient information to produce a realistic, meaningful or robust indication of all the economic benefits, and costs, of connected and autonomous vehicles.
Many noble Lords raised the important issue of jobs. Of course, the Government recognise that the technologies we are discussing today will have an impact on the labour market. That is why as part of our industrial strategy we are acting to ensure that the UK is well placed to succeed in the economy of the future. This technology will both create and disrupt jobs. That is true of all significant technological changes throughout history. The commercialisation of automated vehicles will create jobs in their development and production, as well as the new services they enable. We want UK businesses and people to be able to capitalise on those opportunities as far as they can. We are in a good position to achieve this as a consequence of our strength in the depth of disciplines that underpin this emerging market.
Alongside this, it is inevitable that some jobs will be disrupted, but what is important is that we are able to adapt. These changes will be tough to predict. Some of the more dramatic changes may not happen for some time. As I said earlier, making specific predictions about the impact on jobs is not possible at this early stage, so I am not able to provide the figures. However, we are ensuring that we are equipping people with the skills they need to compete in the future jobs market. I have already outlined some of the action that government, industry and academia are taking to tackle the issue of skills and the challenge of ensuring that, as this industry grows, so do jobs. As the technology emerges, we will continue to keep this issue under review.
My noble friend Lord Lucas raised an interesting proposal to make use of existing railway lines to help revive the local economy in the south-east and across the country. I understand that officials from my department are making connections with relevant UK companies to help pursue this idea, but I will certainly investigate it further and be very happy to meet my noble friend in the new year to discuss it.
On cybersecurity, we believe that industry must aim to design cybersecurity into connected vehicles. We recently published a set of cybersecurity principles for connected and autonomous vehicles to provide guidance to industry on how to address this issue. The department and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure on this issue. We are leading the international debate on the cybersecurity of road vehicles and, as I mentioned, we are chairing a technical working group in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which is developing internationally harmonised requirements on cybersecurity.
This evening’s debate has highlighted not only the challenges posed by the introduction of automated vehicles but the wealth of opportunities that they can bring to the UK. I again thank all noble Lords who have spoken, in particular my noble friend Lord Selborne, for raising this timely topic for debate. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave their time and expertise to producing such a comprehensive, interesting and thought-provoking report.
We will soon get another chance to debate this topic when the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill comes to your Lordships’ House next year. That will provide an opportunity to lay the legislative groundwork that ensures the UK is at the forefront of this growing industry for many years to come. I look forward to noble Lords’ contributions then.
It only remains for me to thank all who have participated in what I found a fascinating debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, there has been a lot of expertise and it has been a great privilege to participate. I particularly thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply; I was very encouraged by it. There was agreement around the Chamber that CAV has great potential, be it at sea, in agriculture or in freight movement, as well as for cars, on which our debate inevitably tends to concentrate. The committee was not of one mind on the timing of the introduction of driverless cars on roads: we could not make up our minds how soon it was going to be a reality. Since then, we have had the White Paper, which set a target of four years. I have a feeling that Sir Humphrey would say to his Minister, “Minister, that is a heroic target”.
Our debate has reinforced my conviction that we have some urgent issues to follow up. The skills gap was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mair. Then there are data regulation, social and behavioural questions—a fundamental point, addressed by many noble Lords, which I hope we can put more effort into—and the development of international standards, on which the Minister gave us a helpful reply. The Bill that will come from the other place soon deals more with insurance and other details, frankly, but I suspect it will be an opportunity to explore more fundamental issues that we must ensure the Government continue to recognise. I beg to move.
House adjourned at 9.26 pm.