House of Lords
Tuesday 20 February 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.
Retirement of Lieutenant General David Leakey and introduction of Sarah Clarke
My Lords, I have to inform the House that Her Majesty has appointed Sarah Clarke to be Lady Usher of the Black Rod, in succession to Lieutenant General David Leakey, CMG, CVO, CBE, and that she is at the Door, ready to receive your Lordships’ commands.
My Lords, it is the custom of the House to pay tribute to the outgoing Black Rod on the day that their successor assumes the office. I would like to take this opportunity to thank David for his tireless service to the House during the seven years that he served as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.
Noble Lords will be aware that, since David’s retirement in December, the Yeoman Usher, Brigadier Neil Baverstock, has stepped in to serve as acting Black Rod. I am sure I speak for us all when I say that we are extremely grateful to Neil for taking on these essential duties with his typical calmness, good humour and effectiveness, and preparing a smooth handover to Sarah.
With the leave of the House, I would like to pay tribute to David’s distinguished career. He assumed the office of Black Rod in February 2011, following the sadly curtailed tenure of Sir Freddie Viggers, after a distinguished career in the Army spanning four decades. He commanded forces and operations in a number of areas, including West Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia. He used his service experience in the latter country to play a critical role as the UK’s military representative during the talks which led to the Dayton agreement in 1995, ending three and a half years of devastating conflict. David also held other senior defence, security and international appointments in the Ministry of Defence and in Brussels, most recently as the director-general of the EU military staff from 2007 to 2010.
As noble Lords know, behind the scenes during his time as Black Rod, David was responsible for arranging six State Openings—a huge operation, which he and his team, including the doorkeepers, always managed with skill and sensitivity. David supervised nine state visits and six addresses by a number of notable Heads of Government and States. As I am sure your Lordships well remember, the successful visits of President Obama and the King and Queen of Spain, as well as the celebrations to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, were all significant operations, conducted with enormous care. The novel arrangements in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, which allowed parliamentarians and the public to pay their respects to Lady Thatcher, Tony Benn and last year to PC Palmer in advance of their funerals, were also conducted with his characteristic thoughtfulness.
Throughout his time as Black Rod, David enjoyed close working relationships with three Serjeants at Arms in the Commons, and oversaw a good deal of change. His open-minded approach to changes in security governance, in particular, was essential in ensuring that the new arrangements under the parliamentary security director have worked well. The fact that those arrangements are now taken for granted by his successor will be one of David’s lasting legacies to this House.
During his tenure David also played a significant role in improving Parliament’s relocation contingency arrangements, overseeing, as one of his final acts as Black Rod, a successful relocation exercise which helped to provide reassurance about the robustness of these arrangements. He leaves Parliament as a whole better equipped to handle the considerable challenges to be faced in the coming years, for which we are grateful.
It would also be remiss of me not to acknowledge the degree of fame that David achieved last year, or rather his legs as adorned by Ede & Ravenscroft’s finest 60 denier tights, when they appeared in the BBC’s “Meet the Lords” documentary.
Beyond David’s professional achievements, many noble Lords will also be aware of his extracurricular musical activities and achievements. He was an active supporter of the National Children’s Orchestra, serving as the chairman until 2014, and within Parliament was a stalwart of the Parliament Choir, overseeing a successful joint concert with the Bundestag choir in Westminster Hall in July 2014. I trust that his retirement will provide ample time for the continued pursuit of these interests.
It simply remains for me to warmly welcome Sarah Clarke to the House. I look forward to working with her. I end by reiterating our thanks to David Leakey for the service he has given to this House, its Members and Parliament as a whole. I wish him, and his wife Shelagh, many happy years of retirement.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has provided a very rounded picture of our outgoing Black Rod, Lieutenant General David Leakey. Like his predecessors, he brought his considerable military experience to Parliament and, as we have heard, he has used his logistical, management and diplomatic experience and skills to great effect, both in good times, for national celebratory events, and in very difficult times, when his diligent and considerate nature was greatly appreciated.
The role of Black Rod has changed over the years, and David’s time in office was one of significant change, particularly in relation to how Parliament manages the security of the estate and of those who work here. The noble Baroness the Leader was right to highlight his flexibility and professionalism in managing such change.
On a personal note, I was very grateful when David supported my campaign for a commemorative brass plaque to recognise the Westminster Hall lying-in-state of those killed in the R101 airship disaster of 1930. After two years’ of Questions and lobbying, finally, with David’s strong support, we were able to welcome the descendants of those who had died and lain in state to an unveiling service in Westminster Hall, where the new plaque is proudly on display—a missing piece of parliamentary history now recognised. Thank you, David.
One of my favourite stories about David was told to me by my noble friend Lord Collins. When he asked Black Rod whether it was compulsory for Peers’ spouses to wear tiaras at State Openings, he was told very firmly and succinctly, “Yes, of course”. “That’s good”, replied my noble friend Lord Collins, “my husband has just bought one”. David’s response is not recorded—it may have been a rare speechless moment—but no tiara was worn.
From men in tiaras to men in tights: the Leader mentioned that the collective memory of your Lordships’ House has been deeply affected by the sight of David on national television in just his long white shirt, quickly and I have to say rather expertly managing to pull on his ceremonial black tights. One day, feeling quite courageous, I summoned up the nerve to ask him why. How did the crew manage to get him to dress in front of the camera? Somewhat embarrassed, he replied that he had got so used to them following him around that, “I just forgot they were there”.
One of the highlights of the parliamentary calendar has to be the State Opening of Parliament, when TVs around the world show that slow parade from your Lordships’ House to the other end of the building, so that Black Rod can summon Members of the elected House to hear the Queen’s Speech. As 2017 brought an unexpected election, the Queen’s Speech unfortunately clashed with a previous commitment in the royal calendar—Ascot. In a full House of Commons, with such formal ceremony, it was a delight to watch David struggle to keep a straight face as Dennis Skinner quipped, “Get your skates on. First race is half past two”.
The Leader paid tribute to and thanked the Yeoman Usher, Brigadier Neil Baverstock, for stepping up as the acting Black Rod following David’s departure. On behalf of these Benches, I add our appreciation and thanks. Neil has served as Yeoman Usher in good and in difficult times, and his calmness under pressure alongside an easy, yet highly efficient manner has been greatly and warmly appreciated.
And now we move into a new era with our new Lady Usher of the Black Rod, Sarah Clarke. When Sarah first saw the newspaper advert, she knew that that she would have to demonstrate that her experience would enable her to fulfil the responsibilities of this position. Following her interviews, we were absolutely confident that she has the skills, the understanding and the personality to take on this role. Who knows, her Wimbledon experience could be very useful during any parliamentary ping-pong—although some things take more time. We warmly welcome her and look forward to working with her, although she may not appreciate the ping-pong joke.
The last word has to be for David Leakey. We wish him and Shelagh a long and enjoyable retirement.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I too welcome Sarah Clarke very warmly to the House. I and my colleagues look forward very much to working with her. I also express our thanks to Neil Baverstock for serving as acting Black Rod in the intervening weeks since David Leakey’s retirement. We are extremely grateful to him for filling this role with his customary professionalism.
David Leakey had an extremely distinguished career in the Army before he became Black Rod. One of his military roles was particularly useful preparation: from 2004 to 2007 he was commander of the European Union’s peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His civilian opposite number was my colleague and noble friend Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, then the EU’s high representative. I doubt whether they saw their regular dealings in Bosnia as training for their eventual roles here, but in any event it clearly stood Black Rod, at least, in good stead. Being a professional peacekeeper would, I am sure, have proved extremely useful training because, in addition to the ceremonial roles played by Black Rod, sorting out disputes between Members of your Lordships’ House has traditionally been an important element in his work. I know from my own period as Chief Whip on these Benches that there were times when Black Rod had to deal with disputes between Peers, sometimes of an essentially trivial nature but of great importance to the Peers concerned. He did it with calm authority and due seriousness.
It takes much meticulous planning to ensure that the great ceremonial and state occasions referred to by the Leader of the House run smoothly and without a hitch. David approached all of these with great skill and care and ensured that they were all flawlessly executed time after time. We are all deeply grateful to David for his dedication to public service and this House. We on these Benches wish him and his wife extremely well in his retirement.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I join the Leader of the House in welcoming Sarah Clarke most warmly to the House and in expressing our thanks to Neil Baverstock for the exemplary way in which he has served as acting Black Rod since David Leakey’s retirement. We are very fortunate indeed in our Yeoman Usher—and to have such a worthy successor to fill the place that David left behind him.
I am sure I am not alone in being glad that David Leakey was in his usual place in the Chamber on 21 December last year to hear the loud chorus of “Hear, hear” when the Lord Speaker told us that he wished to place on record his thanks and the thanks of the whole House, and to wish him well for the future. The warmth of that response was as good a tribute as one could have wished for, to show the affection in which he was held on all sides in this Chamber.
I think our best memory of him will be of a slim, dapper figure in his Black Rod’s uniform. As we have heard, he made no secret of the fact that he liked dressing up. Perhaps this was because of the bulky clothes, designed for outside duties in a cold climate, which a photograph on a website shows him wearing when, as a brigadier, he was in command of operations in Kosovo. He certainly was not slim and dapper then. He put all of that behind him when he came here. As for the disciplines which guided him during his long and distinguished career in the Army, happily they were not so easily discarded. I recall his attempts to instil some sort of discipline into the very unmilitary combination of the Lord Speaker, the three party leaders and myself as Convenor—I hope my colleagues will forgive me—as we rehearsed for our appearance as commissioners in the Prorogation ceremony at the end of the previous Parliament. We did our best, several times, but I am sure our drill was not really up to his high standards. But if he was disappointed, he was far too polite not to show it.
For most of us, much of what David did was unseen. There were the grand occasions that had to be planned for, of course. No state visit is complete without our welcoming the visitor to Parliament. But these things do not just happen. Like all the other ceremonial occasions in which he was involved, they have to be planned for. Nothing must be allowed to go wrong. If anything did go wrong during his time, the mishaps were so small that no one ever noticed. Security issues occupied his time, too. They, too, had to be planned for, and one of his legacies is the improvement of the oversight of the parking of cars in Black Rod’s Garden. But there were occasions when he had to cope with the unexpected, as happened during that dreadful terrorist incident last March, and others when a swift and sympathetic response was called for to attend to the needs of someone who had fallen ill. Unseen to most of us this part of his duties may have been, but the fact that he was here to be called upon as needed and to respond so quickly was a reassurance in itself. For that, as much as for as his ceremonial duties, we are most grateful.
David is not one who is likely to be short of things to do during his retirement. On behalf of these Benches, I join all the others who have spoken in wishing him and his wife well in whatever he may wish to do to occupy his time in the future.
My Lords, from these Benches I emphasise our gratitude to Sir David, particularly for the steadfast and dependable way he supported this House during quite a challenging term of office, with threats to the building from without and within. He will be remembered by the Lords spiritual especially for the time he took to welcome each one of us when we first arrived, and of course for his self-deprecating sense of humour.
On a personal note, there has been a long connection between my diocese and holders of the office of Black Rod, and we both serve as officers of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. I am personally grateful to him for the support he gave me when I took up my role as Prelate to the Order. I shall miss our conversations about Kenya, and I hope his retirement from this House will afford him more time to spend on his smallholding. We wish Sarah all the very best in her new role as Black Rod.
My Lords, lastly and briefly, I once again pay my own tribute to David Leakey for his dedicated service to this House and I wish him a long and well-earned retirement. I also thank very sincerely the Yeoman Usher, Neil Baverstock, and his team for stepping into the role for the past two months so very ably. I, too, extend a warm welcome to the new Black Rod, Sarah Clarke, and on behalf of the House I wish her all the best in her new post. In this centenary year of the first enfranchisement of women, I am so pleased that this most historic of roles has finally been taken up by a woman. I hope that her appointment will demonstrate to women everywhere that no job or position is beyond their reach. I very much look forward to working with Black Rod in the years ahead.
Charities, Social Enterprises and Voluntary Organisations
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to improve the regulation of charities, social enterprises, and voluntary organisations.
My Lords, the Charity Commission was recognised by the National Audit Office in November last year for making significant progress in improving its regulatory effectiveness. Additional funding of £5 million per year for the Charity Commission was announced in January, as was the preferred candidate for its chair, my noble friend Lady Stowell. The Charity Commission has been clear that safeguarding is a key governance priority. In response to recent safeguarding revelations, the commission has announced a number of measures to ensure that charities learn the wider lessons and that trustees strengthen their own safeguarding arrangements.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Perhaps more than ever, we need a Charity Commission that is strong, effective and respected by all charities, big and small. Yet for the second time, the Government have nominated as its chair someone who has no noted experience of charities and no noted experience of regulation. Does the Minister agree that to safeguard the independence and authority of the commission, there now needs to be a depoliticisation of the appointment process?
My Lords, the appointment process is a fair and open recruitment process, in line with the Government’s code for public appointments and regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, so there are no plans to change the process. My noble friend Lady Stowell has already said that if she is appointed as the chair, she will renounce her party membership and move to the Cross Benches. She is well aware of what it takes to be impartial and I am sure she will do a good job, as has been said by many people in the charity sector.
My Lords, while I am sure the Minister will wish to pay tribute to the retiring head of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, he might be minded to take note of his final comment that some of the huge NGOs now hire extremely expensive lawyers to combat the good advice that they receive from the Charity Commission. Perhaps he might consider fining or getting some reimbursement from those enormous NGOs to heighten the Charity Commissioners’ rather slender budget, as William Shawcross recommended.
My Lords, the subject of charging for the Charity Commission to enable it to be sustainable is an open question and it will consult on that. I realise that there is an issue of principle here but my noble friend is right that some of these very large charities have considerable means. The suggestion on which the Charity Commission will consult is that only those charities with incomes of over £5 million will be involved. I think that would be about 2,000 charities out of about 168,000 registered charities.
My Lords, we all know that charities have to be regulated in accordance with charity law, but will the Government resist proposals for including social enterprises and voluntary organisations in any enhanced regulation? Surely the variety within civil society, and its constantly branching out into new and creative directions, is a national asset and should be left alone.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. I do not think there is any suggestion of further regulation of civil society, as such, but we expect all organisations which deal with the public to obey the law. That includes charities but also all civil society. It is one thing that can be considered in the new consultation on the civil society strategy that we are going to launch soon.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing to our attention the connection between the activities of the Charity Commission and bodies like it and recent incidents of which we are all too well aware. I have long and profound experience of Haiti and could make my question centre on that, but that is not where the Question laid before us is. Granted, in times of heightened anxiety, such as this, we are all tempted to put regulatory strangleholds on those at the top, whether an NGO, the Charity Commission or even the Government. However, is not the best way of ensuring improvement—so that these things do not happen again—to have adequate procedures as near to the place where these incidents happen as possible, and proper ways of monitoring those activities? Is that not better than finding other rules and regulations simply at the top?
My Lords, there is lot of sense in what the noble Lord said. One of the things we want to do is to strike a balance. We should remember that all these organisations do good work; that is what they are in business for. We have to be careful about things such as safeguarding. I take the noble Lord’s point about making it near the action, as it were. One thing we are doing is convening two summits, one to focus on international aid charities, which will be jointly chaired by the Secretary of State for International Development, and another, chaired by the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, to concentrate on domestic charities, to look at what we can do to strengthen the safeguarding capability and capacity of charities working across that area. The fact remains that charities and organisations like them do good work on the ground.
My Lords, charities are affected not just by regulation but by policy developments. Will the Minister say whether there is a protocol across government to investigate how new policy developments impact on charities and their ability to do their work?
I do not know whether there is a protocol but the Minister for Sport and Civil Society is the focus for work in policy areas that go across government. We are currently working closely with, for example, the Department for Education and the Department for International Development to make sure that policy development is joined up. The Office for Civil Society, which is based at DCMS, is the focus for that.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Charity Commission should have powers to require charities to have clear lines of accountability and to be transparent, not only in how they spend their money but in how they handle their staffing issues?
Yes, one of the issues is the Charity Commission having sufficient resources, not only for regulatory functions but for advice functions. Increasingly, the charitable sector is asking for advice from the Charity Commission and we have to find a sustainable way for it to do that.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to promote the forthcoming Commonwealth Summit with schools, universities, non-governmental organisations, and businesses.
My Lords, we have undertaken an extensive public engagement programme across the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth to complement and promote the formal summit programme. The Department for Education recently launched a Commonwealth schools pack, which is available to all schools in the UK, to further pupils’ understanding of the Commonwealth and its values. We are engaging schools, universities, non-governmental organisations and businesses and encouraging them to celebrate the Commonwealth and raise the summit profile.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. It is often stated in this Chamber that the Commonwealth is an underutilised intergovernmental network and has little profile among these institutions and the general public. After the Heads of Government meeting, the UK will be the chair of the Commonwealth for two years until the next Heads of Government meeting. So what plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to promote this with those institutions? Could my noble friend outline the Government’s priorities for this period in office?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The Commonwealth is desperately underleveraged in terms of what it brings together in common languages, common history, common cultures and common opportunities for the future. I am delighted, as all noble Lords will be, that we now have an additional Commonwealth state; the Gambia has joined the Commonwealth family. On my noble friend’s specific questions, the priorities of the Government will reflect what will be decided during the course of the Heads of Government meeting itself, but already we are seeing some real focus on the important areas of empowerment, girls’ education and 12 years of quality education; on areas of cybersecurity; on trade; on tackling issues around climate change; and on the broader agenda of human rights. All these will be reflected during the two years of the UK’s chairing during this period in office.
My Lords, is not one of the important aspects of the Commonwealth relationship that of higher education? I have taken part in two conferences on that in two citadels of learning, New Delhi and Aberystwyth, both of which are very successful. Can the Minister tell us anything about the degree of prominence that this might have at the Commonwealth summit?
The noble Lord is correct in his statement that the university sector is an important part of the Commonwealth. In this regard, the Commonwealth summit unit within the Cabinet Office is working very closely with the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which has over 500 members, and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, which has 900 scholars and thousands of alumni. As for our own commitment, we are giving over £25 million in the current year on the issue of Commonwealth scholarships. These are all part and parcel of the engagement. I am sure all noble Lords will be pleased to know that there is a specific youth forum during the Commonwealth summit week, which is being organised by those 60% of people under 30 across the Commonwealth family.
My Lords, one of the aspects of the CHOGM event is that it is an opportunity for Heads of Government to meet civil society. The Minister has mentioned the several different forums that will be taking place. It is also an opportunity to welcome the new South African President to this country. As chair of the constitution committee, he created a first with the constitutional protections for gay rights in the constitution. Will the Minister take the opportunity to ensure that Cyril Ramaphosa is able to meet civil society and the Commonwealth Equality Network so that we can have a voice from Africa standing up for LGBT rights?
My Lords, the noble Lord has put forward a very practical and helpful suggestion and I will follow it up with the Commonwealth unit and the South African high commission. On the broader point about LGBT rights, which I have talked about previously in this Chamber, I have just returned from the Gambia. I assure all noble Lords that during the various meetings that I had with senior members of its Government the issue of LGBT rights, among other human rights, was raised directly.
My Lords, the UK will indeed chair the Commonwealth for the next two years. Will the Cabinet Office unit that is currently planning for CHOGM stay in place for those two years? Will there be a focus on increasing trade with the Commonwealth, given that at the moment only 9% of UK trade goes to the Commonwealth even though it has one-third of the world’s population?
To begin with the final point that the noble Baroness raised—the important element of opportunity within the Commonwealth—she is quite right. I myself mentioned from the Dispatch Box a few moments ago the underleverage and the opportunities of the Commonwealth. Trade will be mentioned specifically in the communiqué, and we are hoping for agreements across the piece on that issue. On the specific issue about the organisation, she is quite right: the current unit sits within the Cabinet Office. It is the intention during our period in office to move the running back to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but all parts of government will be represented within that team.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the global malaria summit, which will be held during the week of CHOGM, gives a great opportunity for all the groups mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, to give their common commitment to a programme to reduce the death toll of malaria in the Commonwealth and beyond?
I totally agree with the noble Baroness and pay tribute to her work on the important issue of fighting and eradicating malaria—we had a very constructive and helpful meeting in that respect. Yes, we are working closely with the organisations Malaria No More and Global Citizen to ensure that eradicating malaria across the Commonwealth 53 and beyond is prioritised. There are 85 NGOs accredited by the Commonwealth, and we are working closely with them as well.
I am sure my noble friend agrees that this will be a summit with a difference in that it will involve to an unprecedented degree not only businesses and universities but schools, cities and regions right across the United Kingdom. That is very welcome and the preparation has been very thorough and encouraging. Does he agree that the task now is to ensure strong outcomes and results, so that the benefits and opportunities of the modern Commonwealth network, which is quite different to anything in the past, can be spread to business and to the nation as a whole, and so that we support the Commonwealth more strongly than we may have in the recent past?
I totally agree with my noble friend. Of course we will ensure that all the opportunities are appropriately leveraged. He makes an important point on education. I was delighted to be with him only this weekend to celebrate the contribution of British Bangladeshi youth, among the other diasporas, to making our country what it is, also demonstrating the strength and benefits of the Commonwealth not just to the United Kingdom but across the world.
Disabled People: Social Care
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to improve social care for disabled people below retirement age in the light of the change in title of the Department of Health.
My Lords, the Government are committed to making sure that everyone who is assessed as having a care need can access high-quality support to maintain their independence. While the social care Green Paper will focus primarily on care for older people, it will also address questions relevant to adults of all ages with care needs. In addition, the Government are taking forward a parallel programme of work so that issues specific to working-age adults are considered in their own right.
I thank the Minister for his reply—but, as he will know, the Government have transferred responsibility for the social care Green Paper for older people from the Cabinet Office to the Department of Health. Will he confirm that the Government will use this opportunity to review the scope of the Green Paper to include younger disabled people, because the proposed parallel process, which is not a Green Paper, is simply not acceptable when half of social care spending now goes on working-age disabled people? Please will the Minister confirm that both older and younger disabled people will receive parity of status and attention from the Government?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. She is quite right to highlight the importance of reform for this group of people. We are talking about 250,000 people now, but that is projected to rise to 400,000 working-age adults in the next 15 years. I want to reassure her that, while the Green Paper itself is focused on care reform for older people, a parallel programme of work is going on. There is an important round table coming up which is being chaired by both the new Minister of State for Care, Caroline Dinenage, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government, with Mencap, Scope and others. We are giving the issue equal seriousness, as it deserves.
My Lords, the charity Together for Short Lives last year put in a Freedom of Information Act request and found that one in five local authorities and one in six CCGs have absolutely no provision for respite care short breaks for the most seriously ill and disabled children. Since then we have received reports from across the country of more and more centres under threat or actually closing, such as Nascot Lawn, which I have raised in your Lordships’ House before, which is in court again tomorrow to try to save it. What is happening about this social care and nursing care provision for children? Normally, for adults, there is a negotiation between the NHS and the local authority about what is nursing and what is social care. But for these children there seems to be no such relationship; both local authorities and the NHS just point fingers at each other, and the result is children and their families not getting breaks.
I am very aware of this issue. Indeed, we have had the opportunity to speak about it in specific cases. Local authorities of course are obliged to provide respite care. The noble Baroness highlights an important point about care, which seems in a way to slip between the boundaries of the two. I shall write to her about the general policy work that is going on, but I know that we need to solve this because we have children who are now living longer who before might not have lived so long and who require care, as do their families. It is essential that they get the care that they deserve.
My Lords, I know that the Minister will tell me and the House again about the extra billions that the Government are putting into social care. However, when everyone else says that there is clearly a social care crisis, we have some dissonance here. The evidence of this crisis is the regression of opportunity and care for young disabled people, which is there to see in personal cases where people are not receiving the sort of support that they need. I am not convinced about the Green Paper looking at social care for older people. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, is right—that makes me more concerned, and I join her in that concern. Will the Minister explain how the Government will achieve their target of 1 million more disabled people being in work by 2027 if they cannot get out of bed and travel to work without help because of this combination of cuts and the stalling of a coherent support policy to make that possible?
I do not want to disappoint the noble Baroness, but she is aware that more money is going in. To address the specific issue that she talks about—and I obviously can talk about it only from the point of view of the Department of Health—we want and are seeing more disabled people going into work. I would point to one big investment that the Department of Health is making, which is the disabled facilities grant. That is about making sure that disabled people can live at home and have their independence, which of course is critical to maintaining their physical health and confidence to make them, in a way, ready to go into work. I know that there are other programmes being put through job centres and the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that they are supported, too.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for laying before Parliament today the government response, 11 months after the report was produced, to the House of Lords Select Committee report on the long-term sustainability of the NHS. We will now get an opportunity to debate the report and the Government’s response in due course. One recommendation that was accepted was the renaming of the Department of Health as the Department of Health and Social Care. Attached to that was the recommendation that the budgets should be amalgamated so that we can provide social care to all those who need it—both care for the disabled and adult social care. Would he like to comment on that?
I am glad to be able to publish the response at last, and apologise again for how long it has taken. I am pleased to report that we have not just changed the name of the department but given the strategic direction for social care policy back to it. That also includes strategic direction of funding—but the actual funding settlement happens through the local government funding settlement. I have to disappoint the noble Lord on that because there are no current plans to change it.
My Lords, in his Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, my noble friend referred to a forthcoming round table that will address some of the issues that provoked the Question. Can my noble friend assure me that the noble Baroness will be invited to participate in that round table?
My noble friend makes an excellent suggestion. It is not my round table, so the invitation is not mine to extend, but I shall certainly be seeing my colleague the Minister of State this evening and shall do everything that I can to encourage that invitation to come.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not put off taking up apprenticeship scheme places.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as patron of YMCA Fairthorne, Hampshire.
My Lords, ensuring that apprenticeships are accessible to people from all backgrounds is a priority for this Government. Our funding policy recognises where additional support is necessary through extra funding. We have launched a new partnership with five major cities in England to drive up apprenticeships among under-represented groups. In addition, our careers strategy will mean that young people will have a better understanding of the world of work, including apprenticeships, to help to decide their future careers.
I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, a major concern is that disadvantaged students who rely on benefits lose that entitlement when they take up apprenticeships. My colleagues at the national YMCA tell me that 50% of young people say that their apprenticeship salary does not enable them to afford basic living costs. What action are the Government taking to address issues in the benefits framework which adversely affect the ability of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to successfully complete their apprenticeships?
My Lords, one of the core principles of an apprenticeship is that it is a genuine job, and it is treated accordingly in the benefits system. Therefore, a young person on an apprenticeship will receive at least the national minimum wage, which will increase to £3.70 per hour for apprenticeships from this April. The Low Pay Commission estimates that up to 34,000 apprenticeships will benefit from that. However, for apprentices claiming benefits in their own right, financial support is available for those on low incomes and young people may be able to claim universal credit or tax credits to help with living costs. As the House will know, universal credit is an in-work benefit, so those young claimants in work on low wages, including apprentices under contract, can continue to claim support for housing.
My Lords, I know from experience that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds may need extra help and support to enable them to take up, and make a success of, apprenticeships: for example, in areas such as travel, dress, punctuality and behaviour at work. What are the Government doing to support employers, particularly smaller employers, to enable them to provide that kind of support?
There are a number of initiatives. For example, the DfE and the Department for Transport are looking at ways to ease young apprentices’ travel from home to work. That could take the form of providing extra money or practical ways of getting them to work. It is important that young apprentices are not put off taking up this great opportunity to get a good start in life.
My Lords, are the Government aware of the scepticism I have encountered when talking to people in Yorkshire involved in this area over whether the new apprenticeship scheme really will be used to encourage 18 year-old school leavers to take up new apprenticeships as their first job rather than companies using it to upskill those they already employ? Can the noble Viscount assure us that the Government will make every effort to develop links with schools to ensure that children are helped to make the transition to work, particularly in areas such as the construction industry where skills are in desperately short supply?
The noble Lord is correct: in Britain we desperately need to grow certain skills ourselves. Encouraging employers to go into schools is very much work in progress. The Careers & Enterprise Company has pushed for employers to go into schools to talk to young people about opportunities. Linked to that, the traineeships, which the noble Lord will know about, provide quality training for thousands of young people who need to develop initial skills to help them into the pipeline of getting into apprenticeships and on into a meaningful career.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that if we are no longer in the single market and under the European Union requirement for the free movement of labour, there will be much greater incentive for employers to increase the number, and improve the quality, of the apprenticeships they offer to our disadvantaged young people?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: that is why we are putting so much effort into developing our own apprenticeships. The Institute for Apprenticeships is looking particularly at setting high standards to ensure that employers have the right people on board and that this country has the necessary skills to ensure that we can stand on our own two feet after Brexit.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the shortage of apprentices in the engineering sector, due, sadly, to a lack of encouragement on the part of their secondary schools? I speak as a former chairman of the Engineering Training Authority.
That may well be the case, but, as I said already, there are several initiatives with employers going into schools, to ensure that schools can push further to encourage apprentices. It is important to create parity of esteem between apprentices and those going along the academic path. A lot of work needs to be done. There are advertisements on the radio at the moment—I heard one on my way in last night—and a full marketing or promotional campaign is going on.
My Lords, when the Prime Minister announced her review yesterday, she called for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes, to create what she called,
“a system of tertiary education that works for all our young people”.
That is certainly a worthwhile objective. Yet, bizarrely, the Department for Work and Pensions does not class apprenticeships as approved education or training, which leads to the sort of problems outlined by the right reverend Prelate in his Question. Can the Minister envisage a situation in which a 16 year-old goes to his or her parents and says, “I’m considering an apprenticeship or going to further or higher education, and in one of those cases you will lose my child benefit and your tax credits”? It is not difficult to see what road the parents will usher him or her down. To deal with this structural barrier, will the Minister speak to his colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions to get them to understand that there will have to be some change if a level playing field is to be created for apprenticeships?
The Government are doing an enormous amount to encourage apprenticeships for all, and in particular for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The noble Lord mentioned parental input, but it is a joined-up effort of parental input plus schools, led by our own careers strategy. As the noble Lord will know, schools have a mandatory obligation to give proper careers guidance to young people. It is very important indeed that we raise the level of advice that is given to young people on careers.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, as announced in the Industrial Strategy last year, automated and electric vehicle technology forms an important part of the “future of mobility” grand challenge. This grand challenge sets out the ambition to create a long-term, strategic dialogue and partnership between government and industry, and to support sectors that can drive growth in the future. The Bill creates a framework to support automated and electric vehicle technology as it continues to develop and becomes more commonplace in our lives. It will lay the insurance framework as we prepare for fully automated vehicles on our roads, and provides for infrastructure that is easy to use for electric vehicle owners. Along with electrification, automation will make profound changes to our future vehicles and mobility.
First, on automated vehicles, it is over 85 years since the UK first introduced compulsory motor insurance for drivers on British roads to protect victims of collisions involving motor vehicles. The advent of a motor insurance framework in the Road Traffic Act 1930 revolutionised the car industry, enabling the mainstream sale of vehicles and changing the way people travelled throughout the country. Today, we face another revolutionary change in how we travel by road, thanks to innovative advances in computing and sensor technology. Vehicle manufacturers are already delivering advanced driver-assistance systems, and in the near future we will see the arrival of vehicles capable of safely driving themselves, at least in some circumstances or situations.
Noble Lords may recall our debate in December on last year’s report Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The Future? from the Lords Science and Technology Committee, which highlighted how automated vehicles could present an enormous opportunity for the UK, flagged some of the challenges and made recommendations to government. I thank the committee, led by my noble friend Lord Selborne, for the helpful and insightful contributions to this exciting field of automotive technology, and I look forward to this discussion continuing through the passage of the Bill.
The benefits of this new technology, for both mobility and wider society, have huge potential. The public could have their lives transformed for the better by the introduction of new and innovative mobility solutions. This could be particularly transformative for those who cannot currently drive: for instance, the elderly and people with disabilities that impair them from easily accessing different transport modes. Automated vehicles also have the potential to improve road safety by reducing the influence of human error. In 2016, human error was involved in over 85% of all reported UK road incidents. By automating the driving task, human lives could be saved on our roads.
Along with opportunities, there are many challenges in the area of automated vehicles, not least ethical questions and public acceptance of this technology. The Government are taking a number of steps to address these wider issues, including carrying out a three-year project with the Law Commission to set out proposals for a long-term regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles and investing in public demonstrations of these vehicles. The Bill that we are discussing today focuses on just a few elements of the Government’s work in this area.
To ensure the safe arrival of automated vehicles, we will need a compulsory motor insurance framework that is fit for purpose to support consumers and businesses involved in accidents. The Bill provides that framework. Currently, as the driver’s use of the vehicle, rather than the vehicle itself, is insured, collisions involving automated vehicles that occur when the driver is legitimately disengaged from the driving task may not be covered. Having consulted widely and worked closely with parliamentary colleagues, the automotive industry and the insurance industry, the Government are creating a new compulsory insurance framework within the Bill that covers motorists both when they are driving and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle. This framework will place a first-instance liability on insurers so that they can pay out to victims and, where they can, recover costs from the liable party.
We will ensure that victims continue to have quick and fair access to compensation by taking steps to align the way that consumers can buy insurance to the way they do now. As the Bill has progressed, we have been reassured of this approach by the support offered by both the insurance and the vehicle manufacturing industries. James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers, has said:
“We support the approach the Government has taken in the Bill, as this will give the industry time to prepare for the commercial rollout of fully automated driving technology”.
As I said, these measures are part of a broader programme to ensure that automated technology is developed here and that, once ready, we are prepared to see it deployed on our roads.
While we prepare for the advent of fully automated vehicle technology, the Bill also seeks to encourage the use of electric vehicles by expanding and improving the network of charge points and hydrogen refuelling stations for plug-in and fuel cell electric vehicles. It is this Government’s ambition that by 2050 almost every car and van will be zero-emission. This commitment to zero-emission vehicles is technology neutral and should be industry-led but the Government have an important role to play. We are acting now to ensure that the right infrastructure is available right across the UK to meet the needs of current and future electric vehicle drivers. More electric vehicles on our roads will reduce pollution and improve local air quality, as well as deliver economic benefits. One in five battery electric cars sold in Europe in 2016 was made in the UK.
As numbers on our roads increase, owners need to be able to drive their vehicles and have confidence that they will be able to easily locate and conveniently access public charging infrastructure if they need to. We are investing nearly £1.5 billion between April 2015 and March 2021 to boost the number of electric vehicles on UK roads, and the Bill is a key enabler in delivering the infrastructure to support this.
The measures in the Bill will give the Government powers to make it easier for electric vehicle owners to charge their vehicles. To improve the consumer experience of using public charge points, the Bill includes the power to mandate a common method of payment and ensure that they are equipped with certain types of physical connector. This will give consumers confidence that, when they arrive at a public charge point, they will be able to plug in and pay conveniently.
The Bill also includes powers to mandate the provision of open data on the location and availability of charge points to a common standard. This will help drivers find charge points quickly and easily when they need to. To ensure the provision of sufficient infrastructure at strategic sites and overcome fears of range anxiety for anyone undertaking longer journeys, the Bill provides powers to require motorway service areas and large fuel retailers to provide charge points and hydrogen refuelling facilities.
The Bill also provides powers to require charge points in the future to be “smart”—that is, they will be able to receive, understand and respond to signals sent by third parties, such as National Grid. The Bill also provides a power to ensure that data transmitted from charge points to specified bodies such as National Grid is not stopped or disrupted so that energy demand can be accurately mapped and addressed. These requirements will enable the flexible management of electricity supply and demand and the ability for electricity networks to balance themselves at times of peak demand. This will also make sure that consumers can take advantage of managing their own charging patterns—for example, charging up when electricity is cheapest and potentially even selling electricity back to the grid at times of peak demand.
I fully acknowledge that with both automated and electric vehicles, there are many areas that the Government need to focus on, take action on and invest in. The Bill addresses just some of these issues but, taken together, the measures in it demonstrate the readiness of the UK to be part of this latest transport revolution to deliver easier, cleaner and safer journeys for everyone. The Bill is designed to put the UK on the front foot, ready to take advantage of the social and economic benefits these technologies will bring. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise to the House because my voice is a little frail today, after a rather difficult week.
I regret to say that I have mixed feelings over the introduction of the Bill, although I particularly welcome provisions dealing with battery technology. I believe that the moment the industry can claim 450 or 500-mile ranges for vehicles, particularly motor cars—with adequate charging points at home, on the roadside and in commercial areas—the market will take off.
However, I see two impediments. First, the price of home-charging units will inevitably go up because the Exchequer will have to compensate for the revenue loss on hydrocarbons, particularly taking into account the fact that some people will use their electric vehicles far more regularly than others. We need a little more information about how hydrocarbon revenues will be made up. Also, if home-charging rates are put up, we might get tax evasion—as we have with pink diesel, which has been a major area of tax evasion over the years. Secondly, the introduction of electric vehicles has consequences for west African and Middle Eastern politics: oil-producing countries that are dependent on hydrocarbon production will be in a rather difficult position. I am not opposing it at all, but I am not sure that we have altogether thought through the political consequences for those parts of the world.
Although I welcome the provisions on battery usage, I take a very different view on driverless vehicles. From the 2017 Budget report, I understand that the Government want to see some of them on the road by 2021. That worries me. I regard the development of driverless car technology as premature and, in the main, probably unnecessary—a huge black hole down which millions, perhaps billions, of pounds will be lost as promoters increasingly experience regulatory problems, software failure problems, contested legal liability—despite the first-instance arrangements that the Minister referred to—roadside vehicle control technology problems, road pricing arguments, public expenditure or infrastructure constraints, traffic delays leading to congestion and, most of all, driver frustration, which does not appear to have been considered to date. I foresee huge driver frustration with the technology. I am not suggesting that driverless vehicles will never happen; they will come one day, but only after the increasing problem of congestion has been resolved—particularly as every year there are more and more vehicles on our roads— public transport has been hugely improved and there have been developments in as yet unexploited overhead transport systems in inner-city areas. The high-speed agenda currently being pursued is premature.
I will take two areas where the Bill seeks to reassure us. On insurance, we had a report from the Science and Technology Committee in February 2017. Paragraphs 54 to 59 of that excellent report are on liability and insurance and describe occasions,
“when an accident occurs and the car is in fully autonomous mode. In this case the ‘driver’ is not necessarily liable and liability could lie with the manufacturer of the vehicle”.
The report goes on to state that there were,
“some remaining issues, particularly around product liability”.
That is the understatement of 2017. The whole approach to vehicle liability will turn into a legal nightmare in the end despite the assurances given by the Minister. It is a lawyer’s dream, with different legal jurisdictions internationally drawing up different protocols, law, appeal arrangements and perhaps even immunities.
If noble Lords want more evidence of that, we need do no more than examine the provisions in the Bill. Clause 3(2) states:
“The insurer or owner of an automated vehicle is not liable under section 2 to the person in charge of the vehicle where the accident that it caused was wholly due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so”.
“Inappropriate to do so” will be very expensive words, because the lawyers will make a mint out of it. They will love that one. How about this one?
“An insurance policy in respect of an automated vehicle may exclude or limit the insurer’s liability … for damage suffered by an insured person arising from an accident occurring as a direct result of …a failure to install safety-critical software updates that the insured person”—
once again we are into an area that the lawyers will love—
“knows, or ought reasonably to know, are safety critical”.
That is also worth a few bob.
We will end up in trench warfare between the likes of Microsoft, Tesla, Dyson, Ford, Mitsubishi and the big insurance companies and poor old Joe Bloggs, the innocent man caught in the middle, with 100 cars barping and beeping behind him as he sits at a congested roundabout with two software systems in two separate cars screaming and arguing with each other over who should go first. If the wrong one proceeds and clouts the other, there will be some very angry queueing drivers behind. It will be like a road traffic accident in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s—some noble Lords may recall them. Whenever there was an accident there would be a huge crowd of people surrounding the cars. The reason was of course because there was only third-party insurance and someone was going to pay. That is the kind of argument that I see us getting into.
I have another example on software conflict. Clause 2(2)(d) states that:
“Where … an accident is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself”,
“a person suffers damage as a result of the accident”,
the insurer is liable for the damage. But which car’s insurer? I heard insurance companies referred to, but will they stand up at the end of the day? People pay premiums to insurance companies and there comes a point where someone has to take a decision on conditions of software conflict.
I ask myself a simple question. Should a vehicle owner who is not driving, an attendant driver, a passenger or any other person be held responsible in law in any way for a software malfunction beyond their knowledge or control that leads to damage to another vehicle or injury to others? By others I mean people in the car allegedly at fault, persons in another vehicle, pedestrians in the street or persons on private property. What about a multiple accident on a motorway? That will be an interesting one for the lawyers.
That brings me to the equally important issue of offences under the road traffic Acts. Again, I ask a simple question: who is liable when the software leads the vehicle to drive down a cycle lane, which is punishable in law? Who is liable if the vehicle turns right at a “No right-hand turn” sign, which is punishable; or exceeds the speed limit, which is punishable; passes through a red light, which is punishable; or enters a one-way street the wrong way—punishable? I have no reason to believe that these issues have been sorted out.
Finally, I have been referred to case law which is based on a House of Lords decision of 1925: Donoghue v Stevenson, known as the “snail in the bottle” case. It established the civil tort of negligence and obliged manufacturers to observe a duty of care towards customers. I should make it clear that I am not a lawyer; I am simply referring to the comments of others. In that decision, it was established that a manufacturer owes a duty to the consumers who it intends to use its products. This arose out of the need for negligence to be dependent on contract. It enforced the concept of a duty between the parties concerned. The lawyers will argue that in the case of the driverless car the software manufacturer, or even the vehicle manufacturer, stands in the front line of responsibility in both accidental damage and injury, and perhaps even in the unimaginable circumstance of road traffic Acts penalty fine payments. As I say, I am most unhappy about this latter part of the Bill. I know that the noble Baroness has given us assurances on first-instance responsibility, but I do not believe that it is going to work, or at least not yet.
My Lords, I must first declare my interests in the register as the chairman of the advisory board for the GATEway Project, the Greenwich automated vehicle test project which is running automated pods around the Greenwich peninsula. It is particularly concentrating on the human reactions to automated vehicles. Historically, I was the executive chairman and founder of an engineeringly fascinating but financially disastrous business called Modec, which manufactured and sold 400 pure electric delivery vehicles. We sold them around the world to brave pioneers like UPS, FedEx and Tesco. This was a zero-emission, battery-powered truck where the only emissions of carbon dioxide came from the driver. Alas, the idea came around too early, by at least 15 years, and I had to shut it down, but it did teach me a few things about electric vehicle manufacture—notably, that pioneering is expensive.
I first welcomed this Bill as a good step forward, but when I looked at it in detail, I did not think that it had been fully thought through. It seems to be a Bill that says, “Something must be done!”, but it does not really say what is to be done. Take, for instance, the definitions set out in Clause 8 in Part 2 of the Bill. There is a definition for a “hydrogen refuelling point”, but those points are not mentioned anywhere else other than in the definition, nor does the Bill aim to legislate for them, so why are we attempting to define hydrogen refuelling points in this Bill? In fact, one might argue that Part 2 provides powers only to regulate and does not produce new legislation at all.
I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will agree that it is important to get more electric vehicles into the market, not least because of the enormous improvements to air quality that can be delivered as a result. She will no doubt agree that leadership is better than legislation to achieve this. Would she therefore agree to add what pressure she can to the authorities in this noble House to ensure that electrical charging points are installed in our noble car park at the front of the Palace? Should we not install the very same sort of points that we are contemplating requiring large petrol stations to have?
Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking a test drive in a new Nissan Leaf, a car that will be made in Sunderland very soon. It can be recharged quickly, in about 40 minutes, so you can imagine that during a long journey that will be a chance for the driver to have a welcome cup of tea while the Nissan Leaf is recharging. But in a motorway service station, the restaurant is always some way away from the pumps, for health and safety reasons. Will the regulations contemplated in Part 2 deal with installing the charge points somewhere more convenient to the driver?
My noble friend the Minister has mentioned that the Bill is important to achieve the ambition of making the UK a centre of excellence for electric and autonomous vehicles. I share that ambition, but I am not sure that the Bill as presently drafted and without the regulations helps to achieve it.
I have quite a few comments about Part 1, specifically about the insurance of automated vehicles. I noticed the word “must” in the first line of Clause 1(1). I do not understand the implications of it. Does it make the Secretary of State liable if he fails to do this task? Why do we have “must” when the more usual “may” would do? The words in Clause 1(1)(a) and (b) are different, in that paragraph (a) defines that the vehicle travels on the roads but paragraph (b) does not. I can imagine an agricultural tractor driving on the roads manually, but autonomously only in a field. This would fall into both categories, but would not be an autonomous vehicle in most people’s opinion. Similarly, the self-parking function of a vehicle such as a Nissan Leaf might make it fall into both paragraphs (a) and (b), were it not for the qualification in Clause 7.
What is the meaning of Clause 7(1)(a),
“does not need to be monitored”?
In the Bill, it is a phrase used to define autonomous vehicles and whether they are to be included in the list, but in my opinion its meaning is uncertain. Does this mean level 5 in the worldwide accepted standard for autonomous vehicles, those of the SAE, the Society of Automotive Engineers? “Monitored” means different things to different people and is not defined in the Bill. If the Government are unwilling to accept other organisations’ standards, does it mean actually monitored by a driver with a suitable licence, or that it actually needs someone sitting in the driver seat?
What does “monitored” mean? Does it include operating the vehicle from a connected iPad, as might be done by a disabled driver in their wheelchair? When I take the tube, there is a lever to pull in cases of emergency. Does this not mean that the carriage is monitored by the passenger? Similarly, with an autonomous vehicle, if there is a button to press that stops or overrides vehicles in cases of emergency—I hope that it does have that—does that not therefore mean that the vehicle is constantly monitored for emergencies? If that is the case, surely the interpretations outlined in Clause 7 mean that there will be no vehicles on the list at all until level 5 vehicles are sold.
What does the word “safely” in,
“capable … of safely driving themselves”,
mean? As this will be used only when there is an accident, will someone argue that the vehicle cannot drive safely if it cannot avoid an accident? I have received an email from the Bill team that explains the need by saying, “A requirement for a vehicle to be capable of driving itself safely is not a requirement for it to be incapable of driving itself unsafely”. Could we have a meeting in which the Minister can explain to me slowly—very slowly—the meaning of, “a requirement for it to be incapable of driving itself unsafely”?
There is another “must” in Clause 1(3):
“The Secretary … must publish the list … each time it is revised”.
Is this practical when the Tesla, for example, may have the ability to safely drive itself turned on or off by remote software? When Tesla remotely downloads software, must a new edition of the Secretary’s list be issued? Is my noble friend sure that this is practicable?
One of the biggest costs in the insurance industry comes from ignorance, either of the driver or other road users. One of the advantages of autonomous vehicles is in the number of television or LIDAR cameras that they will carry. This trend is already starting with dash cams, but I would like to ensure that the guilty party in a crash does not feel tempted to delete the evidence from their car cameras. More cameras ought to reduce the cost of insurance.
Finally, I suggest that the regulation-making clauses should be amended. I have discussed this Bill with lawyers who have suggested that these powers are limited to Part 2 and therefore are relevant only to charging points. Similar powers are needed for the autonomous vehicle industry as they are likely to change faster than the electrical charge points. The focus should be on putting in place legislation which is as agile as it can be. This will enable it to develop, adapt and evolve with the technology that it tries to regulate. It could also help to remove obstacles, clarify grey areas and provide short, medium and long-term solutions which help demonstrate that the UK is a centre of excellence for the future development, testing and commercialisation of CAVs.
To summarise, I share the Government’s aim to put the UK at the front of the pack in developing and using these new technologies. The Bill as drafted does not yet help us achieve that ambition, because it merely enables future regulations. I hope that the regulations will help us achieve that ambition. Can my noble friend the Minister give us an indication of when these regulations will be published?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, with his incisive critique of many aspects of the Bill. I understand that the Government are keen to be seen to be helpful and supportive of this new technology. The content and thrust of the Bill before the House today amply demonstrate that enthusiasm. It smacks of a “just do it” approach to this topic. I have no wish to be a spoil-sport but I am astonished that almost nothing is said, let alone covered, about safety: that is, road safety.
Not one element of the Bill has any realism unless the listed driverless vehicles are known to be safe for use on motorways, on all other major or minor roads up and down the country, on streets and avenues and in other urban settings wherever they may be cleared and allowed to roam. The safety not only of the occupants of the driverless car but of all other road users must be fully considered and regulated.
There must be negligible probability that they will behave like bumper cars, banging into each other or other vehicles or road users, or striking and damaging property. However, the Bill’s total coverage of this critical issue is limited to,
“in the Secretary of State’s opinion”—
in Clause 1(1)(b)—and a number of references to “safety-critical software”. It may be that the Secretary of State’s opinion will be that a particular type of vehicle can be used driverlessly only on motorways or dual-carriage highways, or he may have other ways of bracketing or classifying different makes or models of driverless vehicles and where, or where not, they may go.
While manufacturers’ undertakings will be an important guide, they surely cannot be the last word. One has but to recall the problems over diesel exhaust emissions to know how to answer that question. How is the Secretary of State to be satisfied that some enthusiastic DIY driverless car maker’s pet construction passes muster for safety—the safety, that is, not only of the occupants of the driverless car but of all other road users? It and all driverless-capable vehicles must be well described and regulated in ways that address the fundamental point of “safe to use”. Surely some MOT coverage of the automatics and its software will be necessary, too, as the vehicle ages.
Whatever methods the Secretary of State might use to arrive at their opinion, there must be some clear, publicly transparent criteria that underpin the opinion and manufacturers’ claims. In her letter of 8 February the Minister stated that the,
“approval process, which ensures that all”,
“vehicles on our roads are safe, is still in its infancy”.
She also mentioned discussions with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe on this topic. But surely we must have our own national standards set out if we wish to be in the vanguard of using this new technology.
The repeated use of the phrase “safety-critical software” worries me, too. It is presumably meant to sound reassuring—until we ask how “safety-critical” is defined and who decides. Does it not imply that the vehicle was unsafe before the software update? There are also the so-called ethical and moral issues touched on in debates in the other place. I shall not dwell on them, but of course they will need resolution.
Without in any way trying to detract from the purpose of the Bill, I invite the noble Baroness to give some indication or explanation as to how the Government view and will deal with the road safety and ethical aspects of these vehicles and give insurers confidence in the safety performance of the new vehicles that they will be asked to insure. On a perhaps slightly lighter note, I hope that a more user-friendly word or expression than the phrases “driverless vehicle” or the even more legalistic and laborious “automated vehicle when driving itself” might be adopted. Once these vehicles become more than a pipe dream, the public will surely have coined a word. Look how the word “mobile” has been coined for such telephones. Might the now archaic word “autocar”, unhyphenated, first in use in the 1880s, and “autovan”, et cetera, be adopted? Perhaps the Minister might consider this use, with a definition in the Bill that resurrects this 19th century word—or suggest another more user-friendly descriptor should the magazine Autocar decide to claim prior rights to the word.
While I might have no difficulty sitting back and reading the paper or answering my mobile as my automated vehicle—my autocar—takes me safely along a motorway or major dual carriageway, I doubt that I could feel safe on the many narrow and winding roads I frequently use when at home in Norfolk. Often, when another car approaches and the road is too narrow for both to pass, one courteously backs to a spot where the verge has been sufficiently flattened to allow enough space for the other to squeeze by. Will driverless cars display such courtesy or be able to decide which should reverse? How about roadworks that require vehicles to queue and pass in turn? Will the autocar approaching a stationary queue of cars ahead, waiting for the controlling traffic lights to go from red to green, too far ahead to be visible from the back of the queue, be able to distinguish that back of the queue from a couple or more vehicles parked by the side of the road, or will it erroneously decide to overtake?
Getting such autocar decisions wrong would have obvious safety risks. Even if such roadworks are hazard-signed and preregistered on GPS, there are also so-called mobile roadworks, with traffic control being maintained by two individuals with stop and go boards. Could an automatic vehicle cope with that as well, or would such roadworks have to be banned? These are but a couple of examples of my actual road traffic experiences in the past couple of weeks. Until such issues are resolved, the hype about the benefits that autocars will bring to those unable to drive themselves seems wildly premature.
To conclude, will the noble Baroness explain the Government’s thinking on their approach to safety in the regulation, approval and use of autocars? I am of course confident that her department will have been giving safety much thought—so, if the noble Baroness prefers, I am happy for her to write to me. With that, I have no other points to raise.
My Lords, I say at the outset that I very much welcome the Bill. The Government are indeed to be commended for making a start—it is really only a start—on the creation of a regulatory framework for the operation of autonomous vehicles and for enhancing the infrastructure to support electric vehicles. I add my usual, somewhat tangential, declaration of interest in that I work for an executive search firm which serves the high-technology and manufacturing sectors, among others.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that this is a field which is developing incredibly rapidly and is therefore unbelievably difficult to legislate for with any degree of certainty. We should all understand that while we are not quite ready for the operation of fully autonomous vehicles, what we are discussing is not a pipe dream or science fiction: although it must be considerably refined, the core technology exists now. The challenges are much less about the physical operation of the vehicle and more about the interaction with other parties and the regulatory and safety framework that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to a moment ago.
Commercial aircraft have been utilising auto-land and fully automatic control systems for many years, with extremely high levels of reliability and integrity. Of course, they are operating in a highly controlled environment, but in terms of the physical operation of very complex machines in three dimensions, in all weathers and at high speeds, there are no concerns. In the military sphere UAVs are rapidly displacing manned airborne systems. At the other end of the spectrum, even consumer drone technology is quite extraordinarily capable in this regard. I have seen demonstrated one machine costing a few hundred pounds which can fly many kilometres and return to its launch site, avoiding collision with fixed and moving objects, and which is even capable of following a moving vehicle autonomously. These are the guides to the future.
We know that on the road real progress has been made in the development of autonomous vehicles, particularly their computing power and sensing capabilities. In some jurisdictions prototypes are even now operating on the roads; that is not without incident, but we should be in no doubt that the industry is moving ahead at great pace. As we have heard, already many cars are supplied with automatic—as opposed to autonomous—systems such as lane assist, park assist and various systems to apply the brakes to prevent collisions on motorways. But these do require oversight from the driver—at least, legally. I suspect that there will be a degree of confusion over what is required of the driver when he or she is operating a vehicle fitted with this type of system. There is an important role for the Government in making drivers aware of their continued responsibility for collision avoidance, no matter how clever their vehicles are, until those vehicles are specified by the Secretary of State in the manner envisaged by the Bill, which is many years off.
What is missing now is a regulatory regime to allow the operation of this type of vehicle. As we have heard, it is exceptionally difficult to legislate in this fast-moving technological arena. We can be sure that whatever we envisage in your Lordships’ House this afternoon will be outdated and superseded within just a few years. None the less, that is not an excuse for doing nothing. There is not an option to wait and see what develops. These initiatives are being pursued around the world, so we need to move forward and take the first steps towards creating that framework. Of course, technology does not recognise national boundaries, and if ever there was an area of the law which demanded co-operation with other countries, surely this is it. Whatever happens in our settlement with our European partners over the coming months and years, clearly it is absolutely vital that we pursue a transparent regime that is fully aligned in terms of standards, approaches and interoperability.
As I said earlier, we have to start somewhere, and the Government have chosen to prioritise dealing with insurance issues as the best place to start. I can understand the pressure from manufacturers and insurance companies to set the ground rules, and we should recognise that the Bill is a creditable and important first step. However, it is only that, and on its own it will achieve very little until we see the other areas of important regulation which will actually facilitate the operation of these vehicles. None the less, it is a start and the Government are to be congratulated on it.
The structure for how we approach the broader regulation of AVs is both highly complex and evolving. I think that the boundaries between the regulation of road vehicles and of other forms of automated transport, such as aerial drones, will become increasingly blurred; whether a vehicle travels along the road and whether it leaves it for certain sections remains to be seen. The regulatory, moral and ethical questions are legion, particularly as we are considering not just how machines interact with each other but how they interact with humans as fellow road users and pedestrians, and even with animals. For example, what happens with policemen trying to deal with a fast-moving situation on a motorway—how can they communicate in the way that they do with vehicles that are operated by human drivers?
Along with other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I ask my noble friend the Minister to give at least an indication—not in any detail—of the Government’s thinking on how they would approach the broader regulatory environment. Particularly contentious areas will include the certification of the autonomous systems themselves, as we have unique regulations. Our Highway Code in the UK is not the same as that of other countries, so the Government will have to have the capability to evaluate the assumptions and algorithms that lie behind the computing for these highly complex systems. Another area is that of training for human drivers in how they interact with autonomous vehicles. There is that critical lack of eye contact, through which one can gain an understanding of the other driver’s intentions—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, gave a great example of a driver reversing courteously to prevent a traffic jam. We also need to consider integrity and the protection against hijack, for want of a better term, of these vehicles.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, presented a very pessimistic view, if he will allow me. He almost seemed to say that we should not really do anything right now because it is very complicated; indeed it is, but we need to make a good start now. He should be reassured that machines really are very much better at performing many mechanical and computational functions than humans. I suspect that if we were moving from an autonomous environment to allow the manual operation of vehicles, there would be a bigger outcry and the risk might well be higher. The prize is there in terms of road safety and particularly, I suggest, of environmental reduction.
On the subject of electric propulsion and that section of the Bill, briefly, it is indisputable that such propulsion has many significant benefits, particularly in environmental factors but also in terms of performance. We are seeing an unstoppable wave of investment and new product development from almost all established automotive manufacturers and from some exciting new entrants. We know the limiting technological factors—battery capacity and the length of time it takes to charge the battery—and they are being addressed rapidly. But the Government have their part to play in seeking to address the current charging infrastructure. I suspect that once the electrical vehicle movement gains critical mass, as it almost has now, then commercial imperatives, innovation and the operation of the free market will solve many of the problems that we seek to solve through the rather clunky method of primary legislation. I also suspect that areas of the Bill will become otiose quite quickly. None the less, the Government have a clear role in helping to co-ordinate and align interoperability, nationally and internationally, and to facilitate the provision of greater infrastructure.
Finally, I want to say a word about power and the degree to which we take electricity for granted. I direct your Lordships’ attention to a video clip on YouTube that shows the German Olympic cyclist Robert Forstemann, an immensely powerful sprinter, nearly killing himself at maximum effort on a static bicycle connected to a generator. He struggled to maintain 700 watts of output for a number of minutes—the equivalent of climbing a 40-degree incline. His challenge was to produce enough electricity to toast a single slice of bread; he just about manages that but afterwards was completely shattered and collapsed in agony on the floor. It is a great illustration of how we take for granted the flick of a switch, whereas to move these vehicles around takes enormous reserves of power, which is itself a scarce resource.
My Lords, like many noble Lords, I also welcome the Bill as an heroic attempt to deal with the challenges. It certainly has not dealt with them all but it is a good start.
The complexity is well illustrated in the schedule, which to me demonstrates the need for a comprehensive review of all road traffic legislation. I know we will not get that at the moment; it would be a lawyer’s paradise. But the Minister mentioned some work by the Law Commission, which I found interesting. Its work seems a bit delayed. Five years ago, the Law Commission produced an excellent report on making level crossings safer not only for trains but for cars, lorries and so on, and we still have not seen any legislation about that. If there is to be legislation, I hope this Bill does not jump the queue.
The term “automated vehicles” also applies to railways and shipping, where they are happening. We have not yet heard how you would rescue a ship in the middle of the Atlantic if the whole thing fails, but no doubt we will. I think drones are excluded, but the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, talked about air. It all comes back to public acceptance. There is already a trucking experiment—probably more than that—going on in Germany. What are called “platoons”—of three trucks, I think—are driving down what I think is a private motorway. I am told that they have even found a way of having two platoons driving together in adjacent lanes and automatically hitching and unhitching the second or third truck with no driver in it between one and the other. I shall not explain where they could have come from, but they would all be going along at the same pace. How you deal with other people who want to overtake in a car, goodness knows. That is happening, and one of the failures of the Bill is that it does not take into account the road freight sector, where the challenges are probably different. The results may be different, but it is definitely happening. On the whole, a greater number of professional drivers are driving or controlling them than there possibly are in the private car sector.
Clause 1 refers to listing of automated vehicles and their data. I think many noble Lords will have received a briefing from the Association of British Insurers which sums up the problems of insurance very nicely. For me, the most important thing is for the Government to ensure that users of automated vehicles are able to demonstrate that their vehicle was in a fully automated mode to exercise their rights under the legislation. What commitment can the Minister give us that the data confirming the status of the vehicle at the time of a crash will be made available to insurers and the public? I hope the answer is that it will be, because it is fundamental.
What happens to pedestrians and cyclists on a road where some of the vehicles may be in automatic mode and some may be being driven by one’s stepmother who cannot drive, has never had a licence and has forgotten how to turn a corner? Then there are many examples that we know of, involving people on scooters and things like that.
I worry about the definition of a vehicle driving itself, which the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, mentioned. It may be going along by itself, but it is under the control of somebody. It may be a computer or a human being playing some kind of game of Matchbox cars or something, but somebody is in control. This whole idea of the vehicle driving itself will be a bit of a get-out somehow.
The other issue is that if a vehicle is in an automatic mode, I do not believe it can possibly break the law. If it did, like a lot of motorists and truck drivers do today, it is not just about the weight of the vehicle, its speed and whether it has turned right in the wrong place, because that is all recorded, or it should be. We have to accept that everybody will be watched by Big Brother all time and will not disobey the law; otherwise they will presumably have their password removed and will not be able to control the thing any more.
There is another question related to that. You get power failures and breakdowns of computers. At some stage, these vehicles will break down, for whatever reason, and one has to find a way of rescuing them and making them go again. As many noble Lords will know, if your computer breaks down, someone—whether it is you, the retailer or someone else—has to try to start it again, and that sometimes takes a long time. That is a question that we need to look at.
On charging points, I do not think the needs of the trucking industry have been looked at. There need to be many more such points. In the future, I think most of them will be smart, for the reasons that the Minister and other noble Lords have given. There will be a need to get a quick charge and for your vehicle’s battery to feed back into the grid, if that is thought to be a good idea and it makes money, to get rid of the peaks and troughs.
It is essential that we have one common socket. That may seem a very small point, but many people drive to the continent—we will still go there after Brexit, I am sure—and many continental cars and vehicles will come here. Let us learn from the horrible divergence of power sockets in Europe at the moment. The Swiss have one, most of the rest of the continent has another and we have a different one again. There are very good reasons for that, but let us try to have one common socket everywhere so that they are completely interchangeable. I think we shall need one socket outside everyone’s property, if they still own a car. I am not convinced that everyone will own cars by then; I think they will hire them when they want to travel, which is another challenge. We must have many more smart charging points, taking into account not just heavy goods vehicles and so on but taxis—Uber, black cabs or whatever we like—because otherwise how will they work when the vehicle works 24 hours a day and they want a very quick charge?
I am sure a lot of interesting amendments will come up in Committee and thereafter, but I wish the Bill well. Let us hope we all try to improve it.
My Lords, I too welcome the Bill. I hope we will be able to persuade this House and the Government to strengthen it a bit because we need a Bill that is capable of dealing with standards, as many noble Lords have said, and we need to respond to emerging standards fast rather than having to wait for other Bills to come through, because we hope to be at the forefront of development in this area. We hope this is going to be one of our emerging industries. If we have to spend two years putting through primary legislation every time there is a new standard, we are very quickly going to fall off the wave front.
As many noble Lords have said, standards will be needed for how vehicles detect each other, how they react, how they resolve conflicts, how they communicate with each other and with the overall structure of what is going on, and indeed how they behave in particular circumstances—when they are not allowed to turn right, how fast they are allowed to go in built-up areas and how they deal with pedestrians and cyclists. This will all have to be covered by standards. Those standards will evolve over time, and we must be in a position to react fast to them. So I really hope the Government will allow us to add to the Bill some powers for them to make regulation in this area. I cannot see how a process of primary legislation is possibly going to allow us to succeed in this area.
As the Minister knows, I am a proponent of transforming our extensive slow rail network into a set of dedicated highways for autonomous vehicles, thinking of autonomous vehicles as standard passenger road vehicles. That, to my mind, has enormous advantages. First, it allows us to begin this transformation immediately because we are dealing with dedicated highways. There is no problem with pedestrians. There may be the odd cow—there certainly is round our part of the world—but generally, there are no manually driven vehicles, no pedestrians and nothing to obstruct the dedicated highway. We can use current vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, and current technology, or certainly that available by the time we get around to making the transformation.
It is a low-cost transformation, because essentially the roadbed is there and just requires some relatively inexpensive adaptation. The charging structure is there—it certainly is around us—the third rail is there and you can just use that, because no people are using these highways. Using current technology, you would get a service which was more reliable, because there would be lots of vehicles rather than the occasional train that breaks down, and much more convenient. It would be much easier to deal with things going wrong, because it is easy for a car to steer around a car which has stopped and there is plenty of extra space on a two line railway.
We as a nation would quickly get a very large population of autonomous vehicles—much larger than anything happening anywhere else in the world. We could upgrade their facilities as the technology became available, perhaps to allow them to be driven out of the stations and become manual vehicles, perhaps to allow them to trundle back very slowly to the station. You get a system that can evolve because it is big enough to afford to change, not a series of small experiments. We have tens of thousands of such vehicles, so it is much easier for us to make a big industry out of it and to have a voice in evolving it. It gets around all the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours: you do not have to deal with them until you have the technology to do so. It would allow us, rather than to be trotting along behind the French, Japanese and, doubtless, the Chinese, to be at the forefront because we would provide the place where such vehicles could be used on a large scale.
One feature of that system, and possibly of automated vehicles generally, is that the vehicles would not be owned by individuals but by a much larger organisation—perhaps the railway. That has great advantages, because the whole business of ensuring that a vehicle is up to spec, has the latest software installed and all its parts are working would become the responsibility of a large-scale supplier, which could be made the person liable under the insurance policies if such things were not done. My computer keeps itself up to date with software, but most people let their software get out of date. The idea that all sorts of different versions of software would be trundling around the roads is a nightmare. I do not think that is possible. To make automated vehicles possible, we will need some form of common ownership. We ought to reflect that in the insurance clauses in the Bill. A problem that does not seem to be dealt with is the transfer of control from autonomous to manual. How does the autonomous vehicle, owned by some large corporation, know that the person who wishes to drive it manually is entitled to do so? I want to ensure that the data flows necessary to achieve that will be allowed under the Bill.
This is a Bill with great possibilities. I shall certainly propose amendments to widen the Government’s powers, so that they can take on board the sort of developments that I would like and have the powers that I think they will need to govern how vehicles are owned and how they operate on our roads. I suspect that the Government, and particularly the Department for Transport, have got used to seeing Southern Rail as an insoluble problem and a complete pain in the fundament—and certainly that is the way in which its passengers view it—but it is not. It is an enormous and wonderful opportunity, which we should seize, and I really hope that I can persuade the Government of that.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who exhibited his normal entrepreneurial and visionary flair.
I have no doubt whatever that, one day, all vehicles will be electrically powered and autonomous and that, as a result, travel by road will be safer, faster and carbon-free. However, this Bill is but a modest, incremental step towards that very distant goal.
Electric vehicles are not new. In 1899, a Belgian electric vehicle, “La Jamais Contente”, which looked like a torpedo with a man perched uneasily on the top, was the very first vehicle of any kind, anywhere in the world, to break the 100 kilometres per hour speed barrier. All new cars in the UK will have to be electric by 2040—earlier in some countries. Anyone purchasing a car in or around 2030 will be wary of buying anything other than an EV, because the resale value of a carbon emitter will become so low. So, in a little over 10 years, the rush to buy EVs may well have begun.
Currently there are 37 million vehicles in the UK, of which only 140,000 are plug-in electric—and these EVs have access to only 15,000 charge points at the moment. Think how much energy is required to move nearly 40 million heavy metal objects across long distances—the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, gave us a very vivid illustration of that. Full electric mobility will exactly double our current demand for electricity. Moreover, at the very same time, to meet our carbon targets to which we have all agreed, gas and oil heating will itself be replaced by electric heating and overall demand for electricity will be triple what it is now. EVs will be by far the most power-hungry devices connected to the low-voltage grid, so a massive investment in the local grid will be needed to cope with the huge increase in domestic demand.
My first question is: when will the Government produce a plan for the transformation of the electricity generation and distribution system to accommodate this tripling of demand—a demand that must be served by non-carbon means? Furthermore, the Government’s thinking on a charging infrastructure for tens of millions of EVs appears to be in its infancy, as the Bill demonstrates. My second question is: when will the Government produce a strategy for charging to match the scale of the demand that will surely occur?
I turn to CAVs, connected and autonomous vehicles—a far less mature technology than EVs. The Secretary of State has said that we shall have,
“fully self-driving cars, without a human operator”,
on UK roads by 2021. This Bill provides a framework for authorising such vehicles. I have been heavily involved with organisations at the forefront of digital technology for 25 years, including leading global players. I have the most direct experience of the awesome power of these technologies and of their transformative impact. However, in every single organisation in which I have worked, digital technology has also often gone wrong. This is an embryonic, still nascent technology. For instance, we cannot get wi-fi to work reliably in the Palace of Westminster. On almost all technology platforms, one piece of software exposes bugs in another. Malign elements at home and abroad penetrate deep into our systems. The notion that we can reach level 5 autonomy by 2021—what the Secretary of State described—is a fantasy.
Toyota was the most innovative car maker in the second half of the 21st century. It invented lean manufacturing and produced reliable vehicles, thus ending the era—an unwelcome part of my youth—of push-starting cars in second gear on cold winter mornings. When the careful, measured CEO of Toyota’s research arm recently said that,
“we are not even close”,
to level 5, I found it all too easy to believe him. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, illustrated brilliantly, how can technology reliably master 100% of the extraordinary complexity of the driving experience, in all circumstances, overnight? In a Renault test, the sensors fogged up and the system tanked. I invite noble Lords to look at the BBC website to see the driverless Nissan in east London. It stops impressively at zebra crossings and traffic lights but it is completely thrown by the—admittedly unusual—sight of a broken-down emergency vehicle with fluorescent flashes being ferried on the back of a trailer with a big blue turn-right sign on the rear. It would have flummoxed me and it certainly flummoxed the driverless car.
There have been many crashes of autonomous vehicles in California, not least because the way CAVs currently move confuses human drivers and thus triggers human error. We must be extremely cautious about allowing CAVs on to our roads. It will certainly be a very long time indeed before I will be trying out a CAV on a crowded M6 on a stormy winter evening and risking meeting one of the double platoons of heavy goods vehicles described by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. So my third question to the Minister is: how will the licensing system for CAVs work? I simply do not understand it and I suspect other noble Lords do not, either. What criteria will be applied before these vehicles are allowed on our roads?
Finally, bold, unevidenced statements appear to be a growing feature of our modern politics on all sides. In recent times Ministers and officials have loudly proclaimed, “We will keep Britain at the forefront of CAV technology”, or, “We are at the front rank of electric vehicle technology”. There are many more such examples. My fourth question to the Minister is: what evidence is there to support these confident claims? I can find none. If you look at the sector analysis, the global leaders of these technologies are, unsurprisingly: GM; Ford, which acquired Argo AI, a collaboration between former Google and Uber executives; Honda, working with Alphabet’s Waymo; and Renault and its partners, including Microsoft. No British names appear in the global tech analysis.
I will offer some hard numbers. In the past few days I have looked at patent applications for CAV-related technologies to the end of 2016. US companies had 10 times, German five times and Japanese 4 times the number of patents applied for by UK-based companies. What evidence does the Minister have to persuade us that the Government’s rhetoric is justified and that we are leaders and not laggards in this important new technology? We must prepare for electric vehicles and we should be alert to the potential of autonomous vehicles, but we need a far bolder vision and plan for both than we have yet seen from the Government in this Bill.
My Lords, there is general agreement that this Bill, while modest, is nevertheless an encouraging start. I think it is a start to something far wider than transport and driverless vehicles; I refer particularly to the employment implications of robotics, and of course autonomous vehicles are part of that story. Over the next decade, or probably much longer, the Government will have to deal with a whole succession of issues about how to bring legislation in line with transformative, often disruptive, technologies. We agree that the Bill is a modest start to that. It is easy to look at insurance as a discrete issue and the industry has done some work on that, which I welcome, but I particularly welcome the Government’s recognition that a start has to be made. We should not disguise from ourselves the fact that, if we are to attract inward investment in these essential new technologies to deliver the industrial strategy which was published last year, we need to have legislation, in successive stages, in place to assist the overall policy.
We can all speculate about the speed with which these transformative technologies will be introduced. However, as has been pointed out, we have developed autonomous vehicles for shipping, rail and air transport, and discrete vehicles in isolated tracks. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned platooning in Germany. I can see that it would not be very difficult to fence off or bollard off a lane of a motorway and reduce it from four lanes to three or three lanes to two and simply have platooning going down that track. My noble kinsman Lord Lucas has a more adventurous proposal with regard to railway tracks. I am not sure whether I go the full way with him on that, but I would at least like to see some of Dr Beeching’s tracks restored in that way, even though cyclists might object.
We can say with absolute certainty that, with the advent of robotics, existing jobs in many sectors will disappear—in the transport sector, drivers will, of course, disappear—as they always do when transformative technologies are introduced. The secret is to try to ensure that we get the required inward investment. It does not have to be UK companies that are developed, although it would be good if that were the case, but we have to make ourselves fit for purpose in terms of inward investment.
What will make companies from around the world choose the United Kingdom as the preferred place for investment? I suggest that, first and foremost, it is our science and engineering base and skilled workforce. It is certainly helpful to companies to have a research infrastructure which will advance their cause. Many of the companies involved in this area are not necessarily existing car manufacturers but new entrants—for example, computer companies. They will certainly wish to work closely with university groups leading the field in this highly fast-moving area. Therefore, we must make sure that we promote our national research base. Above all, we need to deal with an issue that we have discussed many times in this House—namely, the skills gap and the shortage of qualified engineers in this extremely fast-moving area. Again, I refer not just to autonomous vehicles but to robotics as a whole.
We also have to ensure, as several noble Lords said, that we are around the table setting the international standards. It would be disastrous if we found that our initial enthusiasm proved to be redundant because the international standards were different from those we had pioneered. It is not just about having one common socket, which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to, although that would certainly be a start; there are many other common standards which we will have to favour. We therefore need to think about how we look at the whole sweep of new technologies, of which autonomous and electric vehicles is one.
That brings me back to the Bill. Modest though its scope may be, with most of the provisions concerning driverless cars, which address the insurance issues, the Bill represents a start on the legislative programme which will be of critical importance to the successful implementation of a much wider industrial strategy. If we look at some of the detail, which has already been referred to by several speakers, in particular my noble friend Lord Borwick, there is a complete mystery as to what in fact a driverless vehicle is. It cannot just be level 5, which is some years off. If you look at the table from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which was reproduced in the Science and Technology Committee’s report, which the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to, you can see that there are quite a lot of situations, and that levels 3, 4 and 5 might meet the definition of a car which in certain situations is capable of safely driving itself. Therefore, in Committee, unless we are to give a bonanza to lawyers, we must chisel down and decide exactly what we mean by an autonomous vehicle. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that the lack of adequate definitions in the Bill seems to be a hostage to fortune so far as legal fees are concerned.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill generally. As the Minister stated when she moved the Second Reading, the Government have said that, by 2050, nearly all cars and vans should be zero-emission vehicles. As other noble Lords have said, that is not a particularly stretching target compared to the ambitions that are being laid down by many other countries, but to reach even this goal we will need major improvements in both the availability and reliability of electric charging points. I will concentrate on Part 2 and will essentially try to be practical in looking at what is happening around us and fairly close to us.
While the Bill starts to address the key risks and issues in rolling out electric charging points, it falls short on two fronts. First, it does not give the Secretary of State the power to require electric charging points to be installed at workplace car parks or residential developments, or in other large public locations. Secondly, it does not give the Secretary of State the power to require a minimum standard of reliability. This has not been picked up greatly in the debate so far; at the moment we have a system which is in many respects quite unreliable. People who use these cars often find that the connections do not function. It is quite disastrous if you are out on the road and get to a charge point but then find that it does not work. We need to address this point much more closely to ensure that effective infrastructure is rolled out.
It might seem a good idea for the Bill to give the Secretary of State the power to require petrol forecourts to install charging points, but the average person will not want to leave their car charging at a forecourt for long periods; they will want to charge it at home. The Bill should go much further than just forecourts and allow the Government to require charge points to be installed at public places such as shopping centres, leisure centres, stadiums and airports. There are massive parking areas at airports with very few facilities, despite all the pollution that we get there. When my noble friend Lord Adonis was in power, we were suggesting bringing that to a halt if there is a problem with pollution at airports. However, very little charging is planned for those areas and little encouragement is being given to people to install it. We should extend charge points to train stations, local golf clubs and National Trust centres, where, in some cases, hundreds of cars are parked. There are no such facilities in those places and, from reading the Bill, there is no indication that this has even crossed the Government’s mind.
Then we come to where 98% of people are located—domestic residences, with many people living in flats. What is in the Bill to assist people to charge their cars at blocks of flats and residential developments, as well as at large office car parks, where vehicles are parked for a lot of time? Electric charging points are needed there. Before making it a mandatory requirement, the Bill should lay the groundwork for incentives to be introduced in many of these areas so that people can look positively at effecting changes. For example, there could be lower council tax rates for premises that provide electric charging infrastructure. Have the Government looked at any new incentives that they might offer to people who change their infrastructure? I would like a response from the Minister on the possibility of council tax being one area that could be reviewed.
Speaking personally, I have been trying for two years to persuade the management board of the private estate where I live to introduce electric charging points. We are still talking about it but are no further forward. I live in a flat but I also have a garage, which is situated well away from the flat. We have a whole battery of garages with no electricity in them. Cars are parked all over the place and nobody uses the garages. If only the garages had electricity, people would put their cars in them to charge them and we would have a better life all round because the cars would not block the roads. It would be a double-win situation, but trying to get people to move on that is extraordinarily difficult.
The Bill needs to be strengthened to a degree to encourage local authorities, groups of individuals and landlords to look for ways in which they can start working together and make early changes. Achieving win-win situations is possible if we approach this matter with an open mind. As I said, it is essential to install charging points where people live and work, and a start needs to be made on that. We need to go way beyond just the forecourts mentioned in the Bill.
If we look at the size and scale of the electric charging infrastructure being rolled out in countries such as China, we see that our economy is at great risk of falling way behind. If we are to be at all competitive, we need to scale up much faster and require many more charging points and much more infrastructure than we are currently planning.
Earlier, I mentioned reliability. The Bill makes reference to the 11,500 charging points around the UK, but nobody has referred to how many of them actually work. What data do we keep on which of them do or do not work? Although it is good to see that, through the Bill, the Secretary of State would be given powers to require data on charging points in the future, it appears that it does not enable the Secretary of State to require a minimum standard of performance from them. Why not? If we look at similar utilities—such as water and electricity—for households and businesses, we find regulations on minimum levels of reliability. It is the same for telephones: obligations are placed on utility providers to ensure that they provide a reliable service to the public.
Running out of power in an electric vehicle is not only a major inconvenience; it could damage a business and its prospects, particularly if it relies on only electric vehicles for deliveries. What a problem it is to find a charging point for your delivery van, but find that it does not work because minimum standards have not been required and are not being met in any way. The charging point can be left unrepaired for considerable periods of time—as is the case with many of them, which are not immediately righted when they break down. We need to have a look at this and see whether we can find ways to avoid the frustrations that people currently encounter when they find so much unreliability in the existing network.
I ask the Minister whether the Government have been thinking about this and what ideas they have in mind for regulation. Is there any possibility of bringing something on standards into the Bill when we come to debate it in Committee? I look forward to the answers to the questions I have posed.
My Lords, I am the happy owner of a new all-electric car, so I have a strong personal interest in this. Although I am proud to be a green driver, and delighted with the quiet ride and freedom from queuing at petrol stations, at the same time I have two considerable problems, one of which is addressed by this valuable Bill.
The unaddressed one is being a pioneer. Every year, the battery life of electric cars is increased by technology, and new cars are selling with longer mile ranges than mine. So the 2017 model I have will not only suffer the usual depreciation, but will frankly be valueless: not in a year or so—I gather the selling price is quite good for about a year—but quite soon, because no one will want a short-range car when they can have a longer-range battery. We pioneers deserve all the subsidies we can get as we lead the way in persuading all, or many, drivers to go electric.
The second problem, which the Bill begins to address, is the range. My car’s is 120 miles maximum. The distance from my home to Westminster and back is a 126-mile round trip. Therefore, I dare not make it without being assured of being able to recharge, let alone allowing for any unexpected diversions on the way. I am like a goat tethered to a stake, going 50 miles this way, 50 miles that way, or round in circles—as tethered goats tend to go—but always going back to the centre and the comfort of the electric socket in my garage.
I echo the noble Lord, Lord Borwick: the Palace of Westminster should be leading the way. However, there are no charging sockets in the House of Lords car park. I have been agitating over this for nearly a year. I was told that it was impossible because this is a heritage site, not to be despoiled. However, all it takes is an ordinary three-prong socket, perhaps in the lamp posts dotted around our parking area, to allow charging during debates; indeed, they provide the most convenient length for this exercise. Those spaces, if we can get them set up, would have to be reserved for electric car owners. Nothing is more off-putting than to arrive at a charging point in a car park, only to find a petrol car parked there so that there is no hope of charging.
I support as urgent Clauses 8 to 16, which give the Government power to support the charging point infrastructure. Indeed, it needs to go further. Right now, the Government should mandate operators to provide uniform charging points and one method only of information about them and about payment and access. We have multiple confusing memberships, information packages and payment options now, which only add to concerns on a long trip. We need public charge points right now at every large garage, car park, motorway service area, supermarket, station car park, park and ride, in new buildings, offices and in residential areas, not to mention the House of Lords. It is not good enough to wait until this place is refurbished. There are lots of reasons to refurbish it but we should not have to wait to get simple, three-point plugs installed in our car park. The information about charging needs to be consistent and transparent right now. It is not good enough to wait for the market to do this itself.
I say that because it is no surprise that, as I have read, the Petrol Retailers Association does not agree with pushing ahead, and there is a risk that progress will be delayed indefinitely. The Government must send a positive message. Potential buyers will not buy until they are assured of charging convenience, and charging points will not come about in sufficient quantities until the purchases take off. The same was true as we moved from horse-drawn transport. The horses were always ready to go, despite the heavy maintenance, the mess and the smell, but we moved to petrol even though there were so few petrol stations at the start. Let us embrace this new progress.
Northern Ireland Update
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission I should like to make a Statement about the current political situation in Northern Ireland. Over recent weeks, there have been talks involving the main political parties in Northern Ireland, particularly the two largest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin, to see if there is a basis for re-establishing the Executive. The UK Government have facilitated and supported these intensive negotiations. We have been in close touch with all the parties, and responded to requests for advice and support.
The Irish Government have also been involved in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach. I would like to place on record my appreciation of the contribution made by the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, and his team. In addition, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been consistently and closely involved, speaking to party leaders and visiting Belfast last Monday. I have continued to give her up-to-date reports as the talks have progressed.
The aim of those talks has been very clear: to bring about the re-establishment of inclusive, devolved government at Stormont, which Northern Ireland has effectively been without for over 13 months. In so doing, we have been able to build on the progress made by my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who I warmly welcome back to this House today”.
I share that welcome. The Statement continues:
“In the Government’s view both the DUP and Sinn Féin participated in discussions seriously and in good faith, and we believe that progress towards reaching agreement on all the key substantive issues has been made. It became possible in the light of this progress to identify a basis for a possible agreement to allow an Executive to be formed, embracing how the parties ensured the Executive was sustainable and how they reached a balanced and fair accommodation on the difficult issues of language and culture and how this was reflected in a package of legislation. Many other issues were addressed too, if not always resolved. Unfortunately, however, by last Wednesday it had become clear that the current phase of talks had reached a conclusion, without such an agreement being finalised and endorsed by both parties. As I said then, it is important for everyone to reflect on the circumstances which have led to this and their positions, both now and in the future.
What is important today is for me to give some direction as to next steps. First, as our manifesto at the last election set out, this Government believe in devolution under the terms of the 1998 Belfast agreement. We want to see local politicians taking decisions over local matters accountable to a local Assembly. We need devolved government to help deliver a stronger economy, to build a stronger society and to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is properly heard as we leave the European Union. In addition we want to see all of the other institutions of the agreement operating in the way that was intended.
I cannot reiterate too strongly that devolved government is in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland because it ensures that their interests and concerns are fairly and equitably represented. It is also in the best interests of maintaining and strengthening the union, to which this Government remain fully committed, consistent with the principle of consent. So we will continue to explore with the parties whether the basis for a political agreement still exists, and, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has reaffirmed, we stand ready to bring forward the necessary legislation that would enable an Executive to be formed at the earliest opportunity. That is this Government’s clear hope and desire, and something that I believe is shared widely across the House.
Secondly, however, things in Northern Ireland cannot simply remain in a state of limbo. A number of challenging decisions will have to be taken. Ultimately, the Government have a responsibility to ensure good governance and the continued delivery of public services. In particular, as the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has made clear, there needs to be certainty and clarity about a budget for Northern Ireland for the next year as soon as possible. I intend to take steps to provide clarity on the budget and I will update the House as soon as I am in a position to do so. This is clearly not where I want to be, but in the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland, I will have no other choice.
Over the longer term, the Government will not shirk our responsibilities to take whatever steps are necessary to provide certainty and stability for the people of Northern Ireland while maintaining our commitment to govern with rigorous impartiality in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. But we will do that only once we are sure that all other viable options designed to restore devolved government have been properly considered, including my current statutory obligation to call an Assembly election.
In the absence of devolution it is also right that we consider the issue of salaries for Assembly Members. At the end of last year, my right honourable friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup received recommendations on this from Mr Trevor Reaney, a former Clerk to the Assembly. The Government will need to decide shortly on the next steps. I acknowledge the public concern that while a number of Assembly Members continue to carry out constituency and representative functions, current salaries are being maintained while the Assembly is not meeting.
On the issue of addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past, the Government have manifesto commitments to consult on the implementation of the bodies set out in the 2014 Stormont House agreement and to support the reform of inquests. I would much prefer to do this in the context of an agreement that sees the restoration of a devolved Executive, but I am conscious of the Government’s responsibilities to make progress in this area to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors, the people who suffered most during the Troubles. We will continue to proceed toward a full consultation as soon as possible so that everyone can have their say.
As the House will recognise, this April marks the 20th anniversary of the historic Belfast agreement. That agreement, along with its successors, has been fundamental in helping Northern Ireland to move forward from its violent past to a brighter, more secure future, and this Government’s support for the agreements remains steadfast. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has taken huge strides forward in the past 20 years. In my short time as Northern Ireland Secretary, I have seen a place full of wonderful talent and huge potential, yet any commemorations this year will look decidedly hollow if Northern Ireland still has no functioning government of its own. So everyone needs to continue striving to see devolved government restored and to build a Northern Ireland fit for the future. That remains the clear focus and determination of this Government”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating today’s Statement, and I say at the outset that we understand and appreciate all the effort required to seek the agreement needed to re-establish the political institutions. The UK Government, the Irish Government and all the political parties have worked hard to try to rebuild trust and deliver a deal. Although this round of talks has ended in failure, I commend all of them for their efforts. But on listening to the Statement, I have a sense of déjà vu and it is hard to understand where, despite all this effort, progress has been made.
I took the opportunity to reread a Statement made last July by the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire; I am pleased to see that he is back in Parliament today. Both Statements, from July and from today, say that progress has been made. Both say that gaps still exist on key issues, but before we were told that they were few in number. We had more information in the last Statement back in July on where progress had been made. Both Statements say that the Government remain optimistic and that a deal is achievable.
Is the Minister to say anything more about where progress has been made this time? When the Prime Minister visited Belfast she said that there was a deal on the table. That was corroborated by the Irish Government and Sinn Féin, but it was then disputed by the DUP. To provide reassurance that progress has been made in the last 13 months, the details of where there was agreement and where gaps remain should be published. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that he will encourage the Secretary of State to commit to providing that detail for the people of Northern Ireland and for Parliament? Only then can there be a real understanding of why the talks have failed so far. Such transparency may offer greater support for those who really want to see the institutions re-established.
I will give the noble Lord a personal example. At the end of last month, on 31 January, the report of the inquiry into deaths related to hyponatraemia was published, 14 years after I set it up as a direct rule Minister, following the deaths of young children. That report makes difficult reading into why those children died. It also makes a number of significant and very important recommendations for action. Some of those recommendations may have been taken forward already and others can be put in place by the relevant authorities, but others need the involvement of locally elected politicians in both the Assembly and ministerial roles, which Northern Ireland has been without for the last 13 months. I use that example because I have a personal connection to it, but it is not the only issue on which Northern Ireland needs its locally elected representatives to step up to the plate. They have a duty to those who elect them. Surely local people have a right to know what the areas of agreement are and the areas of disagreement that remain. They can then raise these issues with the decision-makers and negotiators.
Disappointingly, in the other place the Secretary of State said that this was a matter not for the Government but for the political parties. I put it to the Government that this is a matter which they should discuss with the political parties and, if they refuse to agree to publication, the reasons should be made public. Transparency is now essential.
Some in Northern Ireland are looking to the Government to make difficult decisions and have even encouraged direct rule. Direct rule is far harder to remove than it is to set up. I was told in 2002 by my noble friend Lord Reid that I was going to be a direct rule Minister for around three months. I was then in post for two and a half years and direct rule lasted for three and a half.
Many of us have been alarmed by those who have used this situation to oppose power-sharing and the Belfast agreement. That is a dangerous and reckless approach. The efforts of those from all political parties, here and in Northern Ireland, over time ended a conflict that claimed 3,500 lives. As a former Victims Minister in Northern Ireland, I met with many more who had had their lives changed for ever through injuries and loss. I trust that when a former Conservative Secretary of State for Northern Ireland makes such comments, he is not in any way at all acting with the agreement or even the acquiescence of the Government. I welcome the comments in the Statement about the Good Friday agreement. Can the Minister confirm from the Dispatch Box that the Government fully support the Good Friday agreement as the only viable long-term option for peaceful governance for Northern Ireland, and that the Government believe that its unique form of power-sharing is indispensable?
We have heard the Secretary of State say that she intends to introduce legislation here at Westminster to directly set a budget for Northern Ireland. The Minister confirmed that. They have our support in doing so, though it is deeply unsatisfactory to have unaccountable civil servants taking decisions about schools and hospitals, and the example I gave of the inquiry. However, we acknowledge that resources must be allocated for services to be delivered. Obviously full-scale direct rule for Northern Ireland would regressive.
Political problems are nothing new to Northern Ireland, but the current impasse that has left the people of Northern Ireland without a Government for almost 400 days is a profound crisis. The Government have a clear duty to resolve it, and to preserve the Good Friday agreement and the principle of power-sharing.
Many in your Lordships’ House, and many here today, have been involved in Northern Ireland and retained an affection and an interest. I am sure that we all want the Government to continue to seek resolution and we will support them on legislation where necessary. However, we will hold them to account to preserve the letter and the spirit of the Good Friday agreement.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. On these Benches, we add our voice to those who feel a sense of deep disappointment, and indeed some bewilderment, at this latest failure to reach a workable agreement.
Just over one week ago, when the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister went to Stormont, we were led to believe that a deal was possible. That a positive outcome has once again proved elusive inevitably leads us to ask questions about the structure, participants and transparency of the negotiation process. As Naomi Long, the leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, has said, there was a degree of inevitability that,
“without a more structured approach, we would not see a successful outcome”.
This latest failure is a missed opportunity and yet again leaves the majority of ordinary people in Northern Ireland feeling deeply frustrated and without a democratically elected voice at this critical time.
Much-needed decisions have to be taken about how to ensure effective public services for the people of Northern Ireland—decisions about long-term provision for education, health and infrastructure development—and how to build the shared society that we all want. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has just said, civil servants have played an excellent and vital role in the past 13 months during this political vacuum—and we should pay tribute to their professionalism—but without an Executive in place there remain inevitable questions about democratic legitimacy.
Three weeks ago, on a visit to Northern Ireland with the EU Select Committee, I was struck by the excellent and imaginative work being carried out by so many people in the business community, as well as in local government and civil society, to strengthen the Northern Irish economy, most particularly at this time with the additional and complex challenges of Brexit. However, their deep frustration that many of their plans were on hold because of the absence of an Executive in Stormont was palpable.
On these Benches, we continue to believe firmly that power-sharing devolution is vital to local democracy and representative decision-making. It must be possible to find creative solutions to the current impasse. In that regard, can the Minister say whether thought is now being given to bringing in an external mediator to chair the negotiations? I appreciate the difficulties in identifying such a person given the sensitivities, personalities and challenges involved, but the events of last week show that such a person is now needed more than ever. In the light of last week’s failure, will Government consider making the talks all-party rather than just two-party as they are at present?
In the new circumstances, I repeat an earlier question that I put to the Minister: in the continued absence of an Executive, will the Government now give serious thought to the creative proposals put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Trimble, among others, for allowing the Assembly to play a role in ensuring that the views of the Northern Irish people can be heard during the next few months, most especially during the Brexit negotiations?
Given what the Minister has said on inquests in the Statement, will the Government release funds for inquests into historical deaths, as was promised by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister?
It is vital that the hard-won gains of recent decades are not discarded without exploring all the options and alternatives. Northern Ireland and its political leaders have in the past overcome seemingly insurmountable problems, but this situation requires a degree of leadership and flexibility and a spirit of compromise that, sadly, seem all too absent at present. Short-term party-political gain must not be allowed to jeopardise two decades of progress.
I thank the noble Baronesses for their insightful questions. I welcome the support—I think from all sides of this House—for trying to move this matter forward. It is true that the sense of déjà-vu is to some degree palpable. We have been speaking of the closeness between the parties involved. Indeed, that closeness brought about such proximity that it was anticipated that we would be making a very different Statement today, but we are not. We are instead making a statement, I suspect, of regret that we have not been able to bridge those gaps. The important thing to stress here is that the UK Government have acted in good faith to try to bring together the two key parties that will be instrumental in forming a functioning, sustainable Executive. We have done all we can to facilitate that dialogue.
I shall answer the specific questions raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, put her finger on it when she reflected on the inquiry she set up all those years ago and recognised that it is important that we are able to deliver, but it is, in truth, the people of Northern Ireland who must deliver, and it is an Executive who must deliver. There is no substitute—we are not a substitute and nor is the other place—for that functioning Executive and it is right that the civic society of Northern Ireland must feel a degree of frustration that this has been going on for so long. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear that nothing will now be taken off the table: all aspects of the negotiations will be moved forward as best we can to try to bring about some sense of movement.
Again, let me move on. I recall the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who spoke about direct rule being like walking down the steps of Stormont: it is easy to tumble down but very hard to claw your way back up. Direct rule, indeed, cannot be taken off the table but nor should it be a priority or a single focus. There are too many other avenues that we must explore. I am conscious, again, that we must recognise that the Belfast agreement and the successor agreements are all part of and core to what we will use to go forward. I welcome the remarks of the noble Baroness: the Opposition need to hold us to account and make sure that we do not slip in any way from our clear commitment to deliver, on an impartial basis, a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland. Progress has been made; the problem, of course, is that an agreement has not been reached. The bilateral discussions have taken place; the question is whether that information should be made public. At the moment, the parties themselves would prefer that information not to be made public and we would prefer to allow that to continue on that basis.
Turning to external mediation, nothing is off the table from this point onward. Again, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider every possible way of taking this matter forward. Indeed, the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and my noble friend Lord Trimble will be part of all consideration to make sure that every possible means we have to bring about a rekindling of this spark, to allow these talks to deliver an Executive, will be used. Nothing is off the table; indeed we have high hopes that there will be an opportunity for the parties to reconvene and to once again seek to bridge the ever-diminishing divide between the sides. This is what I believe all in this House, the other House and all the people of Northern Ireland so clearly and needfully desire at this moment.
My Lords, the Minister is working, through no fault of his own, in some very dangerous circumstances. I think they are even more dangerous than some of the experiences my noble friend Lady Smith outlined. Let me put it this way: will he now take the opportunity to respond to the question contained in my noble friend’s opening remarks and distance himself, unequivocally, from any sympathy or support—even any understanding—for those who have called in the past few days for the unravelling of the Good Friday agreement, or the Belfast agreement? I say this because, without casting any aspersions, if one of the parties causing the deadlock is also now, apparently, calling for direct rule by the British Government and is the same party that is propping up the British Government, and has now gone further with some of its members calling the Belfast agreement “unsustainable”, there cannot but be suspicions that this had an effect on the conduct of these negotiations. Will he therefore make it absolutely plain that the Good Friday agreement, which has now been in place for two decades and resolved problems of tragic conflict in the island of Ireland that lasted for several centuries, will be maintained, in the spirit and the letter, by this Government?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Reid, for his question. He is right to raise it once again. I will be unequivocal and as plain as I can be: this Government do not support any of the remarks made by those who believe that the Belfast agreement is in some way dispensable, erodible or dismissible. It is not. It is the cornerstone of our approach and of bringing about a restored Executive. I am happy that the noble Lord has given me an opportunity to make that point very plain.
My Lords, I also welcome the Statement but I am slightly disappointed by some of the content. We all want a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. I will be pessimistic: I cannot see it happening in the near future. In the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland, we urgently need ministerial decisions in many, many departments, none more so than on a budget for Northern Ireland. For some 400 days now, senior civil servants have been coping without ministerial direction. When will the Minister begin to take day-to-day decisions on the affairs of Northern Ireland and, especially, when will a budget be set? Civil servants wanted it to be by 8 February. Today is 20 February.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it plain that she will now begin serious discussions on a budget and she will return to the other place by the end of March to deliver on that commitment. We cannot continue to kick the can down the road. That is why these deliberations will need to be much more far-reaching than the discussions we had what seems only a few months ago, when we brought the previous Northern Ireland budget through this place. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, for his comments.
My Lords, as one who was present at many meetings with the late Ian Paisley—Lord Bannside—when he was breathing new life into the Good Friday agreement, Mrs Foster’s statement last week brought a chill to my heart. Will my noble friend pursue with vigour the suggestion contained in the comments and questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and look with real, earnest and urgent seriousness at the Trimble-Alderdice suggestions? The people of Northern Ireland deserve no less than that their Assembly, which they elected, should meet, even without an Executive, much as we would like to see that established at the earliest possible date.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his comments. As I said, nothing now can be off the table. The Trimble-Alderdice suggestions will be given due consideration. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to deliver better government than we have thus far managed to achieve.
My Lords, I ask the Minister whether the issues that actually matter to the people of Northern Ireland—the economy, Brexit, dealing with the past, health, education—have been discussed at all between the parties in the 400 days since we ceased to have a representative Government, or is it that for these past 400 days there has been discussion of same-sex marriage, the Irish language Act and the Ulster-Scots language Act? If it is, we are going nowhere. He has just said that there are too many avenues to explore to move to direct rule. I am not advocating moving to direct rule but the people of Northern Ireland think that ultimately there are two outcomes to this: one is devolved government, which we need, and the other is direct rule. Are there other options? Northern Ireland has become more and more divided over the past 12 months. This sectarian division has got worse and worse. I do not think re-establishing the Assembly but with non-executive powers—no powers to make decisions—would improve that situation; I think it would make it worse.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for her comments. The discussions inside the room remain inside that room. I suspect that we are quite familiar with the points at issue; they stem from the questions of sustainability, culture, language and respect. But when you talk to the people of Northern Ireland, I suspect that other issues dominate their concerns, not the least of which are health, education, wider economic growth and the questions of Brexit. This is a time when the voice of an Executive is required—in fact, it is overdue—in those discussions and, again, the people of Northern Ireland are the ones who are losing out because of that situation. There is no doubt that all options are to be considered—but, at heart, we must recognise now that the people of Northern Ireland deserve a functioning Executive and that it is beholden on all the parties to deliver it. The United Kingdom Government remain committed to facilitating that dialogue in any way that they can, but we need to get off the spot and make progress.
My Lords, with the background of Brexit, does the Minister recognise that the potential long-term damage to the peace of Northern Ireland is particularly acute at this time? I want to state my concern at the suggestion of a return to direct rule. I share the concern expressed around the Chamber. Does the Minister agree that it is imperative in the short term that the Prime Minister takes a more positive and visible lead in these events, as John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron each did in their time? Does he share my concern at the comment of Arlene Foster that the Prime Minister’s involvement last week was a distraction?
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her remarks. Direct rule is not a panacea or a solution—and, as she has already said, once the toothpaste is out of the tube it is very hard to get it back in. I can assure the House that the Prime Minister has been intimately involved in these ongoing discussions. Her commitment is without question and her actions of late have always been mindful of trying to deliver a sustainable Executive who will deliver for the individuals who live in Northern Ireland. Going forward from here, I do not doubt my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s continued commitment and that she will continue to act in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland to try to bring about a dialogue that delivers an outcome that works for them. I believe that is in the interests of all the parties there.
My Lords, I too welcome the Statement this afternoon. I also welcome the fact that Her Majesty’s Government are now to set a budget for Northern Ireland—especially to help our public services, which are going through a very difficult time. I heard the comment about an independent chair. However, knowing the politics of Northern Ireland and having been Speaker of an Assembly that lasted almost 10 years, I think that they would probably spend some time arguing over who that person might be—so I do not think we should add fuel to a very difficult situation.
At this moment in time, Northern Ireland is not in a good place. It gives me no pleasure to say that, so we all have to be careful with our words and actions while we see whether we can resolve the last remaining issue of the project. Does the Minister agree that political progress can be built only on an accommodation that can be supported by the whole community, and which is shared, fair and balanced? Despite the setbacks over the last few days, we as a party are determined to secure devolution for Northern Ireland. I say clearly in this House today that we will leave no stone unturned to try to resolve this issue. Can the Minister assure the House—and settle unionist nerves as well—that Dublin will not be involved in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland? The Minister needs to clarify that important point if we are to settle everybody down and get back to trying to resolve what I believe is the last remaining issue.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hay, for his intervention. It is in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland that we achieve good government. Now more than ever, good government will be delivered by devolution—by a functioning Executive—but at heart it will have to be delivered for Northern Ireland no matter what happens, because we cannot keep kicking the can down the road. The three-stranded approach will be at the heart of our ongoing discussions with all parties, but I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord that no joint approach to the administration of government between the United Kingdom and Ireland is on the cards.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about transparency. We have a “she said/she said” argument at home over what was and was not on the table, which I believe will be settled only when those documents are in the public domain. I seem to recall the late Lord Bannside talking many times about secret documents; well, now there is a chance to make secret documents public. Let us see what was on the table.
The Minister said in his Statement:
“First, as our manifesto at the last election set out, this Government believe in devolution under the terms of the 1998 Belfast Agreement”.
No, they do not, because the terms of the 1998 Belfast agreement are not what we have today. It was butchered in 2006 when the guts were taken out of it, after years of negotiation. The partnership at the centre of that Government, with each community having its hand on the steering wheel and the First and Deputy First Minister being identified jointly in the Assembly by a vote of the elected Members, was torn out to suit two parties, neither of which negotiated their part of the agreement in the first place. If the Minister is thinking outside the box and nothing is off the table, may I put back on to the table the 1998 Belfast agreement, as it was voted on by 71.2% in the north and over 90% in the Republic? If we are leaving the European Union on the basis of 52%, in all fairness we are entitled to have the vote that we made honoured and implemented as it was voted on in 1998.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, makes a very forceful intervention. The details of the discussions that took place between the two principal interlocutors will not be made public. At present the parties agree that, were they to be made public, they might continue to prolong the challenges that they face in trying to secure ongoing agreement. We will honour that approach.
On the broader question of the Belfast agreement and its successor agreements, at their heart is, I hope, a recognition of respect from all the participants—not just the two principal parties but the other parties in Northern Ireland as well. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, in her ongoing dialogue with the two principal parties, recognises very clearly that there are others to be taken into account when we make these positions clear. I hope—I desperately hope—that we can make progress going forward and work on a basis of respect. With the goodwill that I know exists across Northern Ireland, the urgency brought about by Brexit and the reality of the challenges faced by the various communities in Northern Ireland—whether that be on the economy, education or health—this is the time to deliver an Executive, now more than ever.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement and the rather elegant balance he has achieved between a ringing defence of the Belfast agreement and some wise and sensible words about the immediate future. Does he agree that it is even more important to defend the Good Friday agreement of 1998 at this point, because of the deal that we reached with Europe on 8 December? If paragraphs 49 and 50 of it mean anything, they require a viable working of the institutions and the agreements reached in 1998. It has therefore become the fate of the institutions in Belfast to be caught up with the wider question of the transitional agreement that was reached with the European Union at the beginning of December, so that is an even further reason for the ringing defence that the Minister has offered for the institutions of 1998. I say this knowing that the policy department of the European Parliament has just published an excellent report by Lars Karlsson, the Swedish customs expert, saying that it is possible to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland as there are technical means which will allow that to happen, even without any political settlement. Even so, and despite that important intervention from Europe on this sometimes exaggerated issue, it is vital at this point, because of what our Government said on 8 and 9 December, that the agreement works.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew, puts his finger upon it. The Good Friday agreement has to work. We are in challenging times right now; there is no question about that. It is right that during this time the voices of Northern Ireland are heard loud and clear and are allowed to speak for themselves. The last thing the people of Northern Ireland need is me speaking for them. They need to be able to articulate the concerns and issues that they live with on a daily basis. The transition agreement is going to be negotiated in coming months. It is right and proper that their voices are heard. Whether they are heard through an Executive, which we hope and pray will be reformed, or whether through individual councillors and MLAs, with all the communities represented, we cannot ignore the voices of those who will stand on the border between ourselves and the European Union. We would be short-sighted and foolish if we did. As I emphasised earlier, I hope that it will be through a reformed Executive, chastened by the 13 months in which they were absent but recognising right now that the clock is ticking and that the voices of Northern Ireland must be part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister said and I cannot understand it. He tells us in one part that it is about the people, and in another part that the people really have nothing to do with all these secret talks and that they cannot be told what is going on. I do not understand that. I do not understand why some form of what happened cannot be put to the people of Northern Ireland to let them decide. People in the street will tell you that they want to know what happened. There is no point in having another election as the same thing would happen. We have to put it to the people. I am very surprised at the Conservatives: they had no problem putting the Brexit referendum to the people when they wanted it. The Good Friday agreement came about through a referendum and I fail to understand why this cannot be put to the people in a form that is easily understood. Let us take it from there. I have to tell the Minister that we are never going to get any real agreement with what is going on at the moment.
I thank the noble Baroness for her contribution. I would draw a distinction between democracy and representative democracy. The demos—the people—have chosen particular political parties. The Belfast agreement recognises those parties and their role in delivering what I hope will be a fully functioning Executive. The people will hold their representatives to account, and they must do so in whatever way they feel to be appropriate, given the situation that Northern Ireland finds itself in. The key thing that I hope I leave with noble Lords today is that this Government remain fully committed to facilitating the ongoing dialogue. We were tantalisingly close, and we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to continue to reach across that divide. If we do not, Northern Ireland will be the poorer spiritually, economically and in its contribution to the ongoing and important Brexit discussions. Please be assured that this Government will do all they can to bring about a fully functioning Executive. I thank all noble Lords who have made clear today that there is a commitment across this House to deliver a fully functioning Executive.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the skilful way in which she introduced the Bill this afternoon. I am pleased that the Government will not be Luddite and will welcome this new technology. In doing so, they will need to be careful and interfere and legislate only when it is necessary. The omens are favourable. It may appear that the Bill does not cover all the issues, but we must not forget that the Secretary of State can do a lot with the construction and use regulations made under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Those regulations are extensive.
When I refer to a self-driving taxi, I mean a vehicle that is available for the user to call up when required but which the user does not keep, own or operate. The point is that the vehicle operator would not necessarily be a conventional taxi operator. When I use the term “self-driving vehicle”, I recognise that there are various levels of autonomy. No doubt we will discuss that in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, talked about taxation issues relating to electric vehicles. He is right to raise them. It is clear to me that at some point we will have to move to a system of universal road user charging rather than relying on taxing hydrocarbons, but overall I am rather more optimistic than the noble Lord.
I think autonomous and electric vehicles will be very disruptive but equally beneficial. Recently there has been much concern about the advent of the Uber taxi service, but that will be nothing compared to the effect of self-driving taxis. It is obvious that a major component of a taxi fare is the need to pay for a driver to be available for the next fare, but by definition a self-driving taxi will not need a driver so that cost will be eliminated. It will also have the unfortunate effect of eliminating the possibility of migrants earning their living as taxi-drivers, which is very common, while their children study to be professionals later in life. When the self-driving taxi has dropped off its passenger, it can be programmed to go to where it is most likely to pick up its next fare. Alternatively, it might go to where it can most economically recharge itself.
I welcome the insurance provisions in the Bill, which no doubt we will look at closely in Committee. I do not share the pessimism of many noble Lords. It is interesting that we can expect a self-driving vehicle never to commit a traffic violation; in other words, it will be programmed not to commit a traffic violation. That would include never going so fast that it cannot stop within the distance it knows to be clear. Furthermore, we can expect a self-driving vehicle to record all its sensor inputs for the few minutes prior to any incident. This was touched on by my noble friend Lord Borwick. Thus, if there is an accident, and there will of course be some, it will be easy to work out why it occurred and the data must be made available to all those with a legitimate interest.
There is, however, a worry about software causing an accident. Of course, how to avoid that problem is a technical issue, not one for us, even though we can be confident that there will sometimes be a problem. However, I suggest that it will be nothing compared to the risk presented by a young novice driver or someone whose driving is impaired through drink, drugs or tiredness.
Another disruptive effect of self-driving taxis and vehicles is that households may move from having two conventional cars to having one conventional car and one electric car, or to not having a second car and calling up a self-driving taxi when required. These self-driving taxis will be used far more intensively than our contemporary vehicles and there will be less to wear out. They will have no internal combustion engine or complex transmission. The useful life of a contemporary private car is about 250,000 miles with a 15 to 20-year life expectancy. It is therefore currently essential that the cost of production of a modern conventional car is kept very low, thus we have large and very efficient motor manufacturers. With self-driving taxis, the amortisation of the cost will be much better since they will be much more intensively used. This could mean that the cost of manufacturing these vehicles is less important and could allow smaller manufacturers back into the market. However, in answer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, there are already type approval regulations in place, maintained by the Department for Transport and internationally, and these can be amended to deal with electric and autonomous vehicles. So I do not think there is a problem of a lack of legislation; the Secretary of State has all the powers he needs.
I have always resisted the suggestion that a person should be licensed to maintain a motor vehicle, because I am a Conservative and do not want to regulate unless it is essential. However, there are two reasons why it may be essential with this new technology. The first is the software problems that have already been touched on. Even now, we are seeing unscrupulous HGV operators using Defeat software to avoid the use of AdBlue supplements or altering the engine mapping to achieve increased power and lower fuel consumption. The cost, of course, must be increased emissions, so playing around with the software of the vehicle is extremely undesirable. Clause 4 goes some way towards addressing this issue. The second reason for needing qualified technicians is that I understand that electric vehicles can use much higher voltages than current vehicles. This presents a real risk to the operator of the vehicle and any unqualified technician attempting to maintain it. My noble friend Lord Selborne talked about the need to train engineers and technicians. Wherever I look, the engineers and technicians are always a problem.
Some noble Lords have raised the issue of electricity supply, and I hope we will hear something on that from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, who will be following me. The population of electric vehicles is low at the moment but I expect it will grow rapidly. For instance, my neighbour already has one and when I replace my current vehicle I expect it will be electric-only. The problem is that if everyone comes home in the evening and connects their electric car to the electrical system, with each drawing 16 amps at the same time, there will be problems, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Birt. The supply system simply could not tolerate that much concentrated demand. I expect the noble Baroness will talk about smart metering, and we should listen carefully.
However, there may be a silver lining. Wind power is still generated throughout the night when overall electrical demand is lower. It is obvious to charge up an electrical vehicle in the middle of the night rather than on arrival in the early evening. What is not so obvious, although it has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is to use the battery capacity of electric cars to feed back into the electrical distribution system in the early evening when the power is needed. The car could then charge up in the middle of the night, and it would be a simple matter to programme it so that it would not compromise the minimum range desired and set by the owner. The beauty of this is that the problem of the capital cost of battery storage and wind power would be reduced. It is true that batteries will always have only a finite amount of cycles in their life, but that could be accounted for in the commercial arrangements.
While we need some understanding of the technology, we do not need to worry too much about steering it. That will happen automatically. The question that we will have to address is how much regulation of the utilities to put in place. Nevertheless, the electrical supply for electric vehicles could be a win/win situation where the capital cost of the batteries is amortised over both the operation of the car and the wider electrical supply system. I think our discussions on this in Committee will be very interesting.
One of the advantages of a fully autonomous vehicle is that a person who is medically unable to drive will in future be able to be taken somewhere by a vehicle that they do not actually have to be able to drive. I have no problem with that; it is an obvious advantage. However, what if someone is impaired through drink and drugs, therapeutic or recreational? We currently have an offence of being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle, which is very sensible, but may have to review it at some point in the future because otherwise we could have a situation where a blind person could use a self-driving taxi but a person who had been drinking a little could not. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I are very concerned about drink-driving. Surely in future self-driving taxis will mean that there is no need for anyone to drive to a pub or restaurant and consume any alcohol.
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill and look forward to supporting the Minister in Committee.
My Lords, I am pleased to be taking part in today’s debate. I will begin by declaring my interests. I have taken a role in the international NGO Environmental Defense Fund, heading up its European affiliate. One of our aims is to help to speed the transition to a net zero greenhouse gas emissions economy. My other interest is that I drive a plug-in electric vehicle and know first-hand the joys and frustrations of this mode of transport. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, I lease my vehicle, which is one way around the problem of fearing that the next generation will always be better than the one you have. In my comments today I shall focus on two main issues relating to the part of the Bill dealing with electric vehicles: the need to make smart-charging infrastructure mandatory now, and the need for firmer policy to drive investment throughout the charging and EV supply chain in Great Britain.
In my limited experience in the House I have often judged the importance of a Bill by the size of its impact assessment, and unfortunately this Bill gives itself away by the size and brevity of its impact assessment. Clearly more could be done using this parliamentary opportunity. As it stands, the Bill is something of a missed opportunity, and I hope that during our scrutiny we can work with the Government to turn it into a piece of legislation to truly put the UK at the forefront of the revolution in mobility that we are witnessing happening on a global scale.
The UK is both a large consumer and manufacturer of vehicles. In 2016, 3.3 million new cars were registered here, bringing the total number of registered vehicles in the UK to 37.3 million. The latest manufacturing figures in the UK show that 1.7 million cars rolled off the production line and 2.7 million engines were manufactured here. The vast majority of all cars made and sold are conventional cars powered by internal combustion engines. A recent study estimates that the total number of electric vehicles on the road today across the entire globe is a mere 3 million—fewer than all the new vehicles registered here in one year. As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, mentioned, the total number of EVs on the road today in the UK is around 130,000—just 0.3% of the total number of licensed vehicles.
It is clear that the demand for cleaner vehicles is increasing, thanks to heightened awareness about the impact of transport on the quality of our air and on climate change; the reducing costs of alternative designs; the increasing ranges; and the wider availability of charging infrastructure. However, there are still a number of frustrations that early adopters have to endure, and new legislation to address them is most welcome. Most users will find charging at home the most convenient option. However, the availability of public charging infrastructure is a key factor in allowing extended journeys and helping those in households without off-street parking to enjoy the benefits of electric vehicles.
There are just under 4,000 public charging points in the UK, but the network is poorly co-ordinated and access is very patchy. There is an urgent need for a standardisation of charging regimes. Vehicles are designed for mobility, yet in my experience it is common to travel to new parts of the country only to find that access to the charging infrastructure requires membership of a regional subscription-based club. There is currently no single national database of all publicly accessible charging points, and to access the widest range of points requires the installation of a number of different applications and the cross-checking of a variety of different data sources—a frustrating and time-consuming occupation. I hope that the Bill will address this.
Another aspect of EVs that must to be addressed to facilitate their widespread uptake is the need for charging to be done in a smart way, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned. This means providing the right technology and incentives to enable vehicles to be charged at times of day when power is abundant, which usually correspond with when it is cleanest and cheapest. It must be made mandatory for all the charging infrastructure installed to be connected to the internet and capable of receiving and using a data signal about the state of the grid, both in real time and projected forward.
I am delighted that the Environmental Defense Fund has collaborated with the national grid and WWF and catalysed the publication of a live data feed that already provides this data for the UK via an open source API. I am even more delighted that information about the carbon intensity of power is increasingly available on a European and international scale, thanks to the incredible talent behind electricitymap.org. These data feeds clearly illustrate that all power is not created equally: there are times of the day and year when it is much cleaner, thanks to the mix of generating sources on the system. In order for electricity to be used sustainably for transport, it is imperative that we look at the issue holistically, ensuring that the extra load on the electricity grid is timed to take advantage of cleaner sources of power. That will help us avoid the need for costly and dirty back-up sources of power when demand is high. The technology to do all this already exists; the Bill does not need to rely on secondary legislation to make it the norm. We can and should do it now in the Bill.
There are many other issues which we will surely touch on in Committee, including enabling consumers to add the cost of charging their car to their utility bills regardless of where they consume the power, and the need to ensure that planning regulations and building codes properly integrate electricity charging infrastructure into all new developments of all types and scales—something to which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, alluded.
I turn to my second point about zero-emission vehicles: the need for firmer policy to guide investment in the necessary infrastructure and supply chains. In the industrial strategy, the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke, stated:
“Britain is extraordinarily well-placed to benefit from”,
“new industrial revolution. We are an open, enterprising economy, built on invention, innovation and competition. Our universities and research institutions are among the best in the world. We have a deserved reputation for being a dependable and confident place to do business, with high standards, respected institutions, and the reliable rule of law”.
All that is true, in particular the last point about our use of the rule of law in driving change.
However, we are the home of the Industrial Revolution, and we still get about 70% to 80% of our primary energy from fossil fuels. We are making progress towards decarbonisation but there is still a long way to go. The Government’s clean growth strategy still projects that we are not on track to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets in the next decade, and the chief culprit for that is transport emissions. On air quality, too, we are failing to meet WHO and EU standards. Our cities are making us sick and we are failing to move sufficiently quickly to bring down emissions of pollutants. Clearly, more needs to be done and can be done. Today we start debating a potentially very important Bill, using scarce public resources and parliamentary time—but we are merely discussing enabling legislation. Nothing in the Bill gives the much-needed policy certainty that investors look to before committing their capital.
If we had tried to build a renewable power sector on the basis of providing some enabling powers about grid infrastructure standards, we would not now be home to a world-leading offshore wind industry and would certainly not be building new nuclear power stations. We do not have a CCS industry in the UK yet, precisely because of the absence of a policy framework. For too long we have relied on increases in renewable energy across electricity, heat and transport. This has failed, particularly in the transport sector, where emissions remain stubbornly high and rising.
Other countries and states have already learned this lesson and taken action. China most recently took action to boost the market for zero-emission vehicles by introducing a mandate that 10% of all vehicles sold in China must be electric or equivalent by 2019, rising to 12% in 2020. This mandate is based on a similar policy introduced many years ago in California and since adopted in nine other US states. More recently, Quebec has followed suit. In Europe, there were moves to introduce a similar policy as the reality of China’s enormous policy shift started to set in and the industry tried quickly to adapt, but the Commission’s proposals were watered down. In the UK we can take up the baton and move to match or even exceed the international leaders in policy-making. That is, after all, one of the things we are good at.
A market-based mandate for zero-emission vehicles would harness the efficiency of the private sector, ensure that support for electric vehicles and their equivalents did not rely on the public purse and kick-start investment that shows some signs of having stalled. The SMMT reports that last year UK car production volumes took a dip, and cited policy uncertainty as one of the reasons. Brexit surely plays a part in this, but so too must the announcement by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, that we plan to ban the internal combustion engine in 2040. That is too far away to affect investment decisions in a positive way but is certainly close enough to be disconcerting to all those invested in the internal combustion engine supply chain today.
As we found in designing the Climate Change Act, long-term targets are useful only if they are coupled with clear, unambiguous policy frameworks in the near term. I look forward to the Government publishing the Road to Zero strategy, but I must ask the Minister whether she thinks it is credible or proper that we should be debating legislation ahead of its publication. Surely we should make a strategy and then legislate with a bold vision—the kind of bold vision that the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Birt, referred to our needing.
The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that the Government need to do more to plug the gap in our carbon budgets. We have failed to adequately address air quality, which is a blight on our urban life. We have all the necessary reasons to act with more conviction than the Bill sets out. I very much look forward to hearing more from the Minister, who I am sure is, like the Government, committed to putting the UK at the forefront of the race towards the modern mobility that we all deserve. I hope that as the Bill passes through our Chamber we will succeed in making the case that it can and must be strengthened.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as the owner of an electric car. I welcome the Bill because of the huge potential of such vehicles to reduce congestion on our roads and improve air quality. However, along with others, I must add that I regret that the Bill is so narrowly focused. As always, the Government claim that it is designed to place us as a world leader. In practice, we are of course already lagging behind and nothing in the Bill will help us leapfrog our already more successful rivals.
Let us start with the Title, which is overly specific. In 2011, the UK was a trailblazer when it announced that every new car and van should be ultra-low emission by 2040, but we have already been overtaken. The Government last year committed to phasing out diesel by 2040—in itself, that was a reduced ambition from the 2011 one—but already Norway, Austria, India, Ireland and Scotland are committed to either 2030 or an earlier date. China’s zero-emission vehicle mandate has already demonstrated the surge of electric vehicle manufacturing which follows such a commitment. The UK will not get the investment in EVs, batteries or charging infrastructure unless the Government up their game.
There are already many jobs riding on this. There are 7,000 people in Sunderland working on the Nissan Leaf, which includes 300 people working on battery development. There are 1,000 or more jobs in the London Electric Vehicle Company, which is manufacturing the new electric taxi. It is time that the Government took a wider view, and with that we need a wider Title for the Bill. The Title refers specifically to electric vehicles, but Clause 8 also refers to hydrogen, which is not mentioned in the sub-headings, let alone the overall Title. I should be interested to know from the Minister why that is.
As far as it goes, the Bill is welcome, but it does not go far enough. For instance, it does not mentioned the issue of training. There is no recent precedent for the scale of change on which the industry is embarking at this moment, and the new technologies referred to in the Bill simply cannot be assimilated by engineers and car mechanics—or enthusiastic amateurs—who trained for standard diesel or petrol engines.
To illustrate the need for qualifications, I point out that households operate on 200 volt electricity but cars operate on 600 volts. That illustrates the additional danger that we are talking about for those working in the field. It is an issue of safety—and there are parallels here with the CORGI scheme for gas engineers, which has proved very resilient, effective and important in raising safety standards. The qualification already exists, and is quick and easy to access, but it needs to be made compulsory, and this Bill would be an opportunity to do that.
Clause 1 refers to a definition of automation but, like other noble Lords, I am rather confused about this, because we have cars that park themselves already, cars with cruise control and cars with automated emergency braking. In my view, they could all be judged to be driving themselves when that automatic process takes over. They are certainly not at level 5 in the standard definition of automation. Does the Secretary of State’s compulsory list, which he has to provide, include all those vehicles that are already on our roads? What about the insurance in relation to foreign cars that are automated? Where will they come into the scheme of things on this?
In respect of automated vehicles, the Bill essentially deals only with insurance, but other key issues will need to be addressed. Clause 4 touches on one of them—the issue of software, and its integrity. It is not just about ensuring that you have updated your software; it is also about the issue of cybersecurity, about data and their use. These cars produce vast amounts of very valuable data. To whom does that data belong? Does it belong to the manufacturer of the car, the manufacturer of the software, or to me? Do I have a right to privacy of my data? Is there a right for me to keep quiet about whether I shop in Sainsbury’s or in Tesco? I am not trivialising this issue; it is a really important one, which I believe needs to be addressed.
Alongside the issue of insurance, those who work in the field have also suggested to me that the current model of car ownership will change, and we are likely to move to fleets of cars that we will not own but we will summon up when we need them. That is much more efficient because, currently, the cars we own are parked for 95% of the time and cause a great deal of congestion in that process. Is the model of insurance that this Bill suggests going to be suitable for the ownership of fleets that we simply rent for particular times?
Automation is not going to be an overnight change. It will happen gradually but swiftly—but it will, of course, reduce the number of accidents, because the overwhelming majority of car accidents are due to driver error. The other aspect that the Bill does not deal with is the process of modernising road layout and smart signage and the issue of road safety. What are the Government proposing to do to prepare us for automated cars in that respect?
In Part 2 of the Bill there is a more engaged approach to creating the right infrastructure for electric vehicles. This is a field that is developing very rapidly indeed. It always costs less to run an electric vehicle but it is estimated that, by 2020, it will cost a comparable amount to an ordinary, conventional vehicle to purchase one up front. Range anxiety is still something that is with all of us who own them, and every long journey still needs careful planning. That is ironic, as everyone has electricity, but it does not seem to be available to all of us. The Bill contains some sensible ideas on developing a market, and I welcome in particular Clause 13 and the attempt at standardisation.
As usual, many organisations have been in touch with us, and it has been very informative, but I received one email complaining about Clause 10 and the requirement for large fuel retailers to provide charge points. I wondered whether the organisation sending us that email had considered to whom fuel retailers will be selling fuel in 10 years’ time if not to electric vehicle owners. That is called preparing for the future.
I have a couple of questions. First, on the use of data, it is reasonable applied to public charge points, but are the Government planning to make requirements on the use of my data if I have a charge point on my house, as indeed I do—and what do the Government mean by a charge point? Will the regulations distinguish between the different speeds? You can have standard and fast or you can have rapid, and fast is not as fast as rapid. I am sure that there are other sorts in future in a process of development. Are the Government sensitive to those technicalities, and will the regulations take that into account?
We need a wider approach to the development of charging points. It is not acceptable for electric vehicles to be owned only by people who happen to have drives. We need a very much wider strategy—this Bill does not provide it—to provide additional charge points. The Government should be looking at a planning process to ensure that all new developments provide such charge points. If not, when we look to the future, this Bill will already be out of date. We need to work together to improve it and make it future proof and still useful in 10 years’ time.
My Lords, we on the Labour Benches are broadly supportive of this Bill. Our colleagues in the other place supported it the first time round, when it was part of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. The Government have said that this Bill is about getting ready for the changes that we will see in motoring over the next decades. We are told that 85% of car accidents are in some way due to human error, and automated vehicles have a huge potential to radically improve road safety, reduce human error in incidents, improve traffic flow and combat our air quality and pollution crisis. They could also broaden access to mobility for elderly, disabled and vulnerable people. This is all to be encouraged.
The key provisions in the Bill are welcome, but they seem to be just part of the story when it comes to preparing ourselves for transportation of the future. I wonder if the Government have thought ahead to the impact that automated vehicles might have on our already stretched infrastructure. If the cost, dangers and environmental impact of driving are brought down, how many people might drive their own vehicles, or be driven in their own vehicles, in 20 or 30 years’ time, rather than taking public or other modes of transport? That is something we should think about.
The Bill updates the regulatory regime around motor insurance, removing uncertainty for insurers and manufacturers for claims relating to automated vehicles. It also seeks to address the inhibitors to widespread take-up of electric vehicles. In doing so, it gives the Secretary of State a large number of secondary legislative powers in relation to standards for design of charging points and transmission of data, which I will return to in a minute.
While we broadly support its aims, there are areas of the Bill on which we intend to pose questions and suggest amendments. Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to keep a list of automated vehicles. The definition is therefore in the hands of the Secretary of State, an issue which remains unaddressed as the Bill reaches your Lordships’ House. The Bill assumes that there is a clear distinction between a vehicle that is automated and one that is not, when the distinction may be more complex. The Government should make sure that they draw on all available expertise and consult before drawing up such a definition. We should not underestimate the size of the task of creating an appropriate regulatory environment for these vehicles. The history of creating a safe regulatory environment in transport is extremely grim. In virtually every mode of transport—aviation, railways or motoring—regulation has caught up with the need to secure safety only after multiple crashes. It is important that a well-resourced and thought-through approach is applied to developing these regulations. We have to recognise that high reliance on digital technology platforms is a very new area. My personal view is that the technology is pubescent: it is full of promise and deeply unreliable.
We welcome the Government’s action to facilitate automated vehicle insurance policies in the future but we need to ensure that changes to insurance processes in the Bill do not result in policyholders being left with additional costs and that there are clear lines of responsibility between manufacturers and insurers. With the introduction of new technology, we must ensure that we have in place cybersecurity measures against hacking. We do not want automated vehicles or charging points to become vulnerable or dangerous. As with other forms of software, automated vehicles will need to be updated and remain so to prevent safety risks. The Government should require automated vehicles to be up to date for the automated function to be used. They should also make clear how the large amounts of data stored in automated vehicles and their charging points will be shared and regulated.
There are currently 11,840 charging points for electric vehicles across the UK and only seven hydrogen filling stations. There are multiple charging point operators, each with their own plugs, software, customer charges and payment methods. If we are to increase the take-up of electric cars, we must make sure that charging points are universally standardised across the country. The Government should ensure that they assess the costs, benefits and feasibility of charging points so that we end up with a national network for both commercial and public use. We are glad that the Government have agreed to publish an updated strategy for promoting the uptake of electric vehicles by the end of March this year and look forward to seeing it in due course.
In making way for the number of electric vehicles on our roads to grow, we need to consider the effect this will have on the current workforce and the potential for a skills gap. Electric and hybrid vehicles need fully trained technicians and a recent study on behalf of the Institute of the Motor Industry showed that 81% of independent garages found it difficult to recruit technicians with the skills to work on such vehicles. Provisions must be put in place for mechanics and small businesses to upskill, so that we may prepare the workforce as we develop this new technology.
As I mentioned, Part 2 of the Bill is full of regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State. Regulations may impose requirements and prohibitions in relation to payments at public charging points, services and facilities available and the transmission of charge point data, to name but a few. We are concerned about the Government’s liberal use of wide-ranging secondary legislation and will examine the Bill more closely to see whether they are using such powers inappropriately. We look forward to hearing the view of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on this.
We support the Bill but we are disappointed that it is not accompanied by a broader strategy to combat poor air quality and climate change. This is an important opportunity missed. The proportion of renewable transport fuels in the UK fell from 4.93% to 4.23% in 2015 and the Government are in danger of missing their legally binding renewable fuels target of 10% of transport fuel coming from renewable sources by 2020. Electric vehicles are one way for the Government to confront the air quality crisis that they are presiding over, but the Bill could have been a much more ambitious vehicle for tackling pollution and improving public health. We look forward to discussing these and other issues further with the Minister as the Bill progresses through your Lordships’ House. I am particularly looking forward to the many amendments promised by the debate this afternoon.
My Lords, this Bill is an important piece of the Government’s broad programme of work to ensure that the UK continues researching, developing, manufacturing and deploying innovation in order to harness improvements in vehicle technology. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I think it is fair to say that there is more concern from noble Lords on the measures related to automated vehicles than electric ones, so I will begin by addressing those.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and my noble friend Lord Lucas raised the question of legitimate handover. Transferring control of an automated vehicle from a human driver to the automated system will, of course, require a handover process which ensures that the vehicle is always under the control of either the driver or the automated system. We envisage that vehicle manufacturers will design that system so that it provides prompts to the driver, making them aware when it is legitimate for them to hand over control. We will need to ensure that a driver does not undertake a non-legitimate handover and tries to force the vehicle to take control when it is inappropriate or operate the automated system when it is not designed to be operated. If they do so, they may ultimately be liable for the consequences of those actions.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and many other noble Lords raised the complex issue of software. It is not the policy intent or function of the Bill to provide the regulatory framework for safety and security standards of the software. That is being developed with international standards at the level of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and, domestically, as part of our ongoing regulatory programme. We are playing a key part in the United Nations Economic Commission and chair a number of its committees. Based on discussions with manufacturers, we expect that they will inform the owners of cars when a safety update to the vehicle software is needed. However, the overwhelming majority of these updates will be made automatically. The wording in the Bill places the onus on the manufacturer to communicate effectively about the need to install updates, but it is a complicated issue. As and when software updates are developed further, we will need to ensure that there is clear guidance on this for both manufacturers and vehicle owners so that it is clear where the responsibilities lie.
There are several factors which could influence the reason why a collision occurred. At this stage, we are keeping the process of determining liability as it is now, with the courts ultimately making judgments based on the facts. Under our proposals, the insurers will compensate the victim and be able to recover from the liable party, which could include the manufacturer or any other party. The three issues of legitimate handover, software and liability are examples of how complicated and complex this area is. I look forward to getting into the detail of it in Committee.
My noble friend Lord Goschen, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and other noble Lords raised the issue of ethics. There are many important questions to be asked about ethics when driving. One of these is how drivers respond when a collision appears unavoidable. Right now, we expect drivers to do the best they can. Given that, as many noble Lords have highlighted, the majority of road collisions involve some form of human error, the advent of automation promises to reduce the number of unavoidable collisions. However, it raises additional question about ethics. As my noble friend Lord Attlee highlighted, with automation we can avoid the risks of novice drivers or someone driving impaired through drink, drugs or tiredness, but reduction is not elimination and at some point automated vehicles will be involved in unavoidable collisions.
We expect the automated vehicle will be able to identify where there is a pedestrian present but may well not be able to identify any more details around the pedestrian’s age or gender. We do not yet know about these details. When faced with such a collision, we imagine that the automated vehicle will be programmed to maximise safety, but, again, this is still being developed. We must address these issues publicly and transparently. Ethical issues were an important focus of the Lords Science and Technology Committee’s report, which calls for further government-commissioned social research. We are taking forward several actions from that report to help in that discussion.
My noble friend Lord Goschen also asked about the wider regulatory framework. I spoke about the Law Commission in my opening remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also mentioned that. I will give a bit more detail on that which may address some of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. The Law Commission is undertaking a three-year programme to review the regulatory framework for road-based automated vehicles with a view to enable their safe deployment. Its task is to provide recommendations for a legal framework which can remain effective in the face of vehicles that may no longer require a human driver, and its work will be part of a national conversation on this important future technology. The commission is likely to consider how automated vehicles could fit within the existing regulation of public transport frameworks and look at on-demand passenger transport provision, a point raised by my noble friend Lord Attlee. Again, where ethical considerations are relevant, the Law Commission will highlight the choices which need to be made regulation-wise. It will avoid judging what may or may not be desirable ethical outcomes but will set out possible approaches to promote consistency and transparency. The review is being undertaken to explore the law relating to the deployment of automated vehicles in the United Kingdom and will consider changes necessary to provide a robust and future-proof legal framework to support the deployment of the vehicles. It will also look at areas such as civil and criminal liability frameworks as they apply in the context of automated vehicles, product liability, sellers’ liability, the law of negligence and criminal sanctions et cetera.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked what data will be available from automated vehicles. My noble friend Lord Attlee highlighted the importance of ensuring that this data is available to all those who need it. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, rightly raised concerns about the safety of sharing this data from automated vehicles. These vehicles will generate a huge amount of data during their day-to-day operation. How this data is shared, and with whom, will have an impact on an individual’s privacy. This, of course, is an issue which the Government take very seriously. It is expected that the data recorders, like most new vehicle technologies, will be regulated at an international level. The international debate on what data needs to be collected beyond who or what was in control of the automated vehicle still needs to take place. As I said, we are actively engaged in the relevant discussions on that at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. We have also begun speaking to relevant parts of the industry to build our understanding of who will need to access the data, how it should be shared and how to manage concerns over privacy. We will continue this engagement as the technology develops. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out, who actually owns that technology is an important question too.
Many noble Lords raised the issue of standards. I take this opportunity to reassure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and indeed all noble Lords, that the Government take very seriously the approval process which ensures that all vehicles on our roads are safe for use. As my noble friend Lord Attlee pointed out, the Government already have the power to make regulations under the Road Traffic Act 1988, which could be used for automated and electric vehicles, but we certainly anticipate the need to legislate further to safely facilitate the deployment of automated vehicles. It is too early to legislate for standards at this time. As many noble Lords have pointed out, the development of automated vehicles is in its infancy and legislating too early or unilaterally may hinder our development of the technology and constrain our ability to steer consensus on international standards.
On additional regulation-making powers to cover automated vehicles as suggested by my noble friends Lord Borwick and Lord Lucas, that would indeed allow more flexibility in the future and potentially future-proof this legislation. I am used to being much more defensive when I am asking for Secretary of State powers, so I am very happy to take that suggestion away and consider it further ahead of Committee.
The definitions of “monitoring” and “safely” were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and my noble friends Lord Selborne and Lord Borwick. It is, of course, imperative that we get these words right and that we do our best to avoid complex legal arguments in the future. I will take that issue away for consideration. I am very happy to meet noble Lords to discuss this further ahead of Committee, but look forward to discussing it further then.
My noble friend Lord Lucas makes another convincing case for automated vehicles on rail lines. I was very interested to discuss this issue with him recently and look forward to discussing it further as plans develop.
I turn to electric vehicles and the electricity system. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, and several other noble Lords mentioned managing loads on the system. Of course, more electric vehicles on our roads means that we will need more electricity to power them. Unmanaged, this could add to the pressure on power generation in the grid. However, the measures in the Bill are designed to allow us to manage future demand and control the cost to customers. The national grid predicts only a 10% increase in demand by 2040 from electric vehicles, which is around 6 gigawatts, and is confident that it can cope. In July 2017, the Government launched their smart plan which set out how the system, including new sources of demand from electric vehicles, can be managed more efficiently. The measures in the Bill are designed to relieve the pressure on the grid from electric vehicles charging during peak time. When drivers arrive home in the evening, they will most likely need their car to be charged only for when they leave in the morning. It is not necessary for this charging to take place during the evening peak time. Ideally, it will be shifted to the early hour off-peak times.
As my noble friend Lord Attlee highlighted, smart charging will encourage electric vehicle users to charge their cars at a time when it is most beneficial for both them and the energy system. This should be cheaper for consumers as well as reducing peak loads on the energy system. This is an important area, and I look forward to finding the YouTube clip illustrating this mentioned by my noble friend Lord Goschen. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, made a compelling case for smart charging. Clause 3 contains powers to make new charge points capable of monitoring energy consumption and transmitting that data. Clause 12 contains the power to require this data to be sent and made available to relevant third parties, so there is a lot in the Bill on smart charging, but again I look forward to discussing that further.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked about freight. We want all road vehicles, not just cars, to be zero-emission vehicles. Personal use cars are perhaps more developed than haulage vehicles in this regard, but this is a key area which we want to support. We have funded £20 million-worth of innovation trials that have put around 500 low-emission vehicles into UK fleets of companies such as Waitrose, DHL and UPS. That funding has included supporting infrastructure. The measures in the Bill cover electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cell trucks as well as cars, but it will be interesting to see whether we can do more on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, spoke about the importance of extending the availability of charge points, as did many other noble Lords. The Bill provides powers to require the installation of public charging points only at motorway service areas and large fuel retailers. The idea behind that is that these strategic locations are particularly important to address anxiety about range for drivers on longer journeys. However, it is clear that we will need many more charging points across the UK in the future. The recent Budget committed us to place greater emphasis on locating charge points at rail stations. We have enhanced capital allowances to offer tax relief for companies to install recharging equipment. Noble Lords also mentioned golf clubs, which is a very good idea. We are looking at charge points being installed at supermarkets, hotels and retail centres. We shall consider adding the wider provision of charge points to the Bill but, as I said, currently the focus is just on the large fuel retailers.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and other noble Lords pointed out, planning policy is an important tool in encouraging both residential and non-residential developments to bring charge point infrastructure into their thinking. Local planning policies are guided by the National Planning Policy Framework, which stipulates that developments should, where practical, incorporate charging facilities. In the Budget we announced additional initiatives. After the Grenfell review, the Government will update the building regulations to mandate that all new residential developments must contain the enabling cabling for charge points. The Government will also update road works guidance for local authorities so that infrastructure is installed when these works are happening anyway. Officials in my department are working on the details of these measures with our colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, of working together with communities to deliver these charge points is good, and we will take that forward.
My Lords, have the Government ruled out at this stage a differential in the unit price for electricity used by someone to charge their car as against the unit price for electricity consumed in the home for, say, white goods, lighting and heating?
I do not believe that that has been ruled out. I will come on to our strategy, which we will publish shortly; it will look at those kinds of issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, made a number of wider and compelling points about transport emissions and how we can better influence investment decisions. I am afraid that I do not have time to go into those now or to begin to address them, but I hope that the noble Baroness will meet with me so that we can discuss that further.
The noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked when we will publish our updated strategy, which will look at managing electricity and increasing charging points. We last set out our strategy on electric vehicles in 2013, so it is due an update. While our ambition that nearly all cars and vans should be zero-emissions vehicles by 2050 remains unchanged, obviously the market and technology have developed hugely since then, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, pointed out. It is therefore right that we review the steps we need to deliver our ambition on this. We plan to publish the strategy by the end of March, and I hope that it will address many of the wider points raised today by the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Worthington, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and other noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made the sensible suggestion that we should have one universal charging point. The shift to electric vehicles is being driven by the global automotive industry. The Bill does not set out precisely which charging connector could be used as the common standard in any regulation. However, it will allow technical specifications to be set so that drivers can be confident that they will be able to plug in and charge when they arrive at public charge points. I am afraid that I do not have the information about how many of these charge points are operational, but I will go back to see whether we can find that out. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is quite right that we must ensure that these all function as well.
My noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, highlighted the importance of skills, and I agree that we must ensure that the UK has a suitably skilled workforce. Motorists with electric vehicles will clearly expect the same level of knowledge and customer service that they have come to expect in connection with conventional vehicles, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, points out, it is important that we make sure that those trained in these vehicles are trained safely.
As a professional body for the automotive industry, the Institute of the Motor Industry is well placed to help government understand the challenge of ensuring that maintenance and repair is carried out in a professional and safe manner. There are already some level 1 to 3 qualifications in electric vehicle maintenance and repair, and between 30 and 50 UK colleges and training providers offer these courses. However, we can of course do more, and I will look closely at the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on this. We recognise that this is a potential barrier for the uptake of electric vehicles and we are already taking steps to address this.
On the Parliamentary Estate—I wondered whether this would come up—there are currently only two charging points in the underground car park. A major project is under way to refurbish the car park, and around 80 car charging sockets are planned—10% of the planned car parking spaces—with the capacity to add more in the future. The car park refurbishment project started in the summer of last year and is due to finish in summer 2019.
I add, as a piece of useful information, that in the underground car park there are also a lot of three-pin plug sockets, and you are entitled to park your car overnight and recharge it there using an ordinary plug. So the facility is there, but of course there is nothing in the House of Lords car park.
Absolutely. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, will be able to benefit from that and from the new charge points; as a pioneer of the new technology she certainly deserves to. However, I take the point that those are only for the underground car park and I will certainly follow up on whether we can do anything for the House of Lords car park.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Randerson, and other electric vehicle users all highlighted the need for interoperability and access to these charge points. We recognise this, and the Bill has powers to address the inconvenience to drivers of carrying around lots of different means of access to the services, whether that is multiple memberships, regional memberships, access cards or unique applications. Obligations that the UK agreed to in the European Union alternative fuels infrastructure directive 2014 were implemented nationally in October and go a little way towards rectifying the current problems. That means that memberships or an advanced notice period can no longer be required before charge point access is granted, which should, we hope, assist in removing the necessity for multiple memberships. However, it does not remove the problem of a lack of consistency in the way consumers are expected to access different public charge points. Each operator remains able to determine whether access is by smartphone app, SMS text, phone number or any other method. As there are currently no statutory duties on operators, our only option is to take powers to legislate to ensure that drivers are offered a common method of access, and the Bill gives this power.
My noble friend Lord Borwick and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the issue of hydrogen. The use of “public charging points” throughout the Bill includes hydrogen refuelling as per the definition in Clause 8—although, I acknowledge, not particularly clearly. These words are very much designed to cover hydrogen refuelling, but we will consider whether we can do something more on that in the Bill.
On the question of level 3 vehicles, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the Bill does not cover cars which are currently on the road; it is designed to cover only fully automated vehicles, or so-called level 5 vehicles.
My noble friend Lord Borwick and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised the use of delegated powers. That is of course important. We aim to be as transparent as possible in the Bill as to what will follow in regulations. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is considering our memorandum and is due to publish before Committee. Policy scoping notes are being prepared, which outline the policy intent, the proposed content, the approach to preparing the regulations and the indicative timings for each power, and we will make sure that these are available to Peers prior to Committee so that they can be properly scrutinised.
Time is running out: if I have not been able to answer all the questions raised today, I will follow up in writing. Noble Lords have highlighted the narrow scope of the Bill, which indeed addresses only specific issues in this area. However, as my noble friend Lord Goschen said, this is a first step but an important one. The Bill will help ensure that the UK is ready for the change coming in vehicles and mobility. I hope that the advent of automated vehicles will not lead to the type of world that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, described. To use a term that is popular today, it sounded like a “Mad Max” dystopia.
The powers in the Bill will help us deliver one of the world’s best recharging networks to support the Government’s ambition for almost every car and van to be a zero-emissions vehicle by 2050. Looking to the future, the Bill brings forward an important step by providing an insurance framework for autonomous vehicles, which will put the UK at the forefront of automated vehicle ownership and use when this technology becomes available.
As I said, I am grateful for the contributions from all noble Lords this afternoon, and for the knowledge and experience that will help to improve the Bill as it passes through your Lordships’ House. Many interesting points have been raised, and I will consider these carefully before the Bill reaches Committee.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.
Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun Freezing Order 2018
Motion to Approve
That the Order laid before the House on 19 January be approved.
My Lords, the 2018 order was laid before both Houses on 19 January of this year and came into force on 22 January. This was to ensure that there was no gap in the freezing measures enforced against Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun the day after the publication of the Litvinenko inquiry report on 21 January 2016. The order was debated and approved in the other place on 8 February.
Noble Lords will not need to be reminded that the independent inquiry, chaired by Sir Robert Owen, concluded that Alexander Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned in 2006 by Lugovoy and Kovtun through the use of polonium-210, a radioactive isotope. The inquiry also concluded that there was a “strong probability” that Litvinenko, an ex-KGB and ex-FSB officer and critic of the Russian Government, was murdered on the order of the FSB, the Russian domestic security service. Furthermore, the killing was “probably approved” by the then head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
In response to the seriousness of the report’s conclusions, the Treasury imposed an asset freeze on Lugovoy and Kovtun on 22 January 2016 by making a freezing order under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The 2016 freezing order had the effect of freezing any funds or assets that these two individuals held in the UK or with any UK-incorporated entities, denying them access to the UK financial system and prohibiting UK persons from making funds available to them. The Treasury routinely monitors information provided on financial sanctions on all designated persons. During the two-year period, no relevant information was received in respect of Lugovoy and Kovtun.
Under Section 8 of the Act, the duration of a freezing order is limited to two years. During that two years, the Treasury is required, by Section 7 of the Act, to keep the order under review. In order to maintain the asset freeze, the Treasury was required to review the case and to decide whether to make a new order. The Treasury has conducted such a review and has decided to make a new freezing order.
The Treasury believes that making a new order remains an appropriate and proportionate measure to take. It will ensure that any assets discovered in the UK that belong to the two individuals are immediately frozen, and it will prevent the men trying to access the UK financial sector. The relevant conditions required to be met, in accordance with Section 4 of the Act, are still being met today—the Treasury reasonably believes that action constituting a threat to the life or property of one or more nationals of the UK or residents of the UK has been or is likely to be taken by a person or persons resident in a country or territory outside the UK.
The freezing order is one of a limited number of measures available to the UK authorities as a means of acting directly against Lugovoy and Kovtun. The other actions include Interpol red notices and European arrest warrants, which also remain in place. The Russian authorities’ refusal to accede to extradition requests following the murder of Mr Litvinenko and their lack of co-operation with the inquiry have blocked progress being made by the Metropolitan Police investigation into Lugovoy and Kovtun. There is therefore little prospect of bringing them to trial in a British court.
However, we continue to believe that the freezing order acts as a deterrent and as a clear signal that this Government will not tolerate such acts on British soil and will take firm steps to defend our national security and rule of law. Failure to renew the asset freezes against Lugovoy and Kovtun would, I believe, risk reinforcing a damaging signal that the consequences of murder carried out in the UK are few and time-limited, and that it is possible to evade the UK justice system by fleeing overseas.
Noble Lords will be aware that the UK’s relationship with the Russian Government remains strictly limited as a result of the Litvinenko assassination and the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. We continue to engage with Russia on a guarded basis, defending UK national security where necessary. We will continue to pressure the Russian Government do more to co-operate with the investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s death. This includes the extradition of the main suspects, the provision of satisfactory answers, and an accounting of the role and activities of its security services.
This new freezing order maintains the asset freeze originally imposed by a similar order passed in 2016. It acts as a deterrent and a signal that the UK will not tolerate such acts on British soil and that we will defend our national security and the rule of law. I beg to move.
My Lords, following the protocol to declare such interests, I do so, informing the House that I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia.
It is the nature of the challenge—the noble Lord, Lord Young, touched on this—that UK/Russia relations can charitably be defined as fraught. However, for ever wishing to see justice adhered to, and given that Russia is highly unlikely to agree to the extradition to the United Kingdom, not least because under the Russian constitution no Russian can be extradited if it undermines their citizens’ rights—in addition to the concern that in the UK the proceedings were, I understand, held in camera, thus suggesting to the Russians that this process is all being conducted in secrecy—I understand that there is a willingness by Russia to make these two men available for interview or for a process through a mechanism such as Skype or some other such means.
I want to make one point about something that troubles me. The Foreign Secretary travelled for a bilateral meeting in Moscow with his opposite number, Foreign Minister Lavrov, on 22 December, but I understand that the Foreign Secretary failed to discuss this case with Minister Lavrov. Since the case of Mr Litvinenko is a plank of UK foreign policy towards Russia, this is surprising to me, to say the least, as it sends conflicting messages to the Russians.
Given that background, would it not be more practical to consider encouraging other jurisdictions to assist—for example, by calling on the International Court of Justice to play a role and, in effect, lend good offices to allow for a fair hearing to be conducted? That would in no way suggest that the individuals in question would not receive a fair hearing here in the UK.
My Lords, I commend the Government for taking this action. I also commend my right honourable friend the Security Minister in the other place for his comments about the assets of many people that have been brought here. They are probably illegally obtained moneys and are now held by oligarchs in this country who are laundering them through the banks here and buying up a great deal of London real estate.
I have been put on a stop list and cannot go to Russia. I would rather like to go to St Petersburg, never having been. I have probably been put on the stop list because I said something slightly disobliging about President Putin a few years ago. I urge the Government not just to pursue this matter but to be really fierce with the Russian Government, as I believe our Foreign Secretary has been. If the Russian Government get away with it, they will continue to get away with it and life will get worse, not better.
My Lords, I support the continuation of the freeze on the assets of Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, but they had years in which to reorder their finances before the first asset freeze came about in 2016. I point out that there is a lesson there: in the future the Government need to act quickly. The delay in the public inquiry and in acting to freeze the assets was, frankly, shamefully long. Beyond this just being a heinous crime, the murder was also, as my colleague in the other place, Tom Brake MP, said at the time of the public inquiry, an assault on our sovereignty. Those are two fundamental issues that should have urged us to rapid action.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Having reread the order, I am unclear about whether it applies to cryptocurrencies. If it does, I wonder whether the Minister can guide me to the relevant article or paragraph in the order and explain to me how on earth action against cryptocurrencies will be enforced. Because those currencies are beginning to play a major role in many areas of asset purchases and payments, it is important that we make sure that the issue is covered, and I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on that.
I also want to ask the Minister about the situation in the British Overseas Territories. The Government have firmly refused to require the overseas territories to make their registers of beneficial ownership open to public scrutiny. They have argued that the facility for UK authorities to inquire whether beneficial ownership is associated with individuals such as these two is sufficient for them to be able to enforce. How often have the relevant British enforcement authorities investigated this and are either of these men using the overseas territories and shell companies to continue to access financial services and markets? If the Minister does not have an answer now, could he write to me on that issue?
Carrying on in somewhat the same vein, the Government have said that they intend to have—but have not yet put in place—a public register of the beneficial owners of trusts or companies owning property in the UK. Can the Minister tell me whether enforcement authorities have ever checked the property records, taking them back to beneficial ownership, to be sure that no shell company or trust has been, or is being, used by these two individuals to take proceeds or payments from the UK? Having been told that enforcement action, not transparency, is the mechanism, I would very much like to know how enforcement is working in these instances.
Lastly, I pay particular tribute to Alexander Litvinenko’s wife, Marina, who persisted in her pursuit of a public enquiry, despite the resistance at the time of Theresa May, the then Home Secretary. Picking up the themes of earlier speakers, I hope very much that the Government will not let this issue go, will recognise that it is fundamental and will continue to pursue genuine justice in this case.
My Lords, I am very glad indeed to hear the resolute terms in which the order has been brought forward.
It is very important to remember just how brutal and horrible the murder was and how it was deliberately arranged in a way that would send a message to dissenters and others in Russia itself. From that standpoint, I think that this issue, quite apart from its legal rectitude, has important political significance in terms of our relationship with Russia. I could not agree more with the noble Baroness about the widow, who is an absolutely delightful woman and has come through this remarkably well. It must have been sheer, undiluted hell to see her husband dying in that way. The only way that the present regime in Russia gets messages is by being tough. Any tendency to rationalise or prevaricate on the issue would be disastrous; that is wrong.
I want to make one other point, quite apart from the victim himself. Two weeks before this happened, I heard him speak at a meeting in London, in which he was outspoken in his criticism of the cold-blooded brutality of the regime. He was a very courageous man, standing by the very principles we like to claim as central to our society. My point is this: do we really let agents of a regime like that travel around London trailing radioactivity with impunity? Where are they going? At the time, I found it astounding that they were just wandering round London and leaving trails of radioactivity. This is a very serious case indeed, with the most important issues behind it. I therefore do nothing but commend the Government on the resolute terms in which they have brought it forward.
My Lords, I welcome this order but I think it would be helpful to the House if the Minister could tell us how many persons are subject to orders similar to this one and what the approximate total of the now-frozen assets is? I apologise to him for not warning him of these two points but I hope he can deal with them.
My Lords, we on these Benches accept and believe that the order is an appropriate, commensurate and proportionate response in relation to the specified persons. In coming to that conclusion, we have of course looked at the order with care. I also looked up the time when the first order was initiated—two years ago—only to discover that I was in fact the Opposition spokesman then. Time has not changed much.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, answered all my questions at that time, except one. I quote him:
“As the noble Lord may know, Mrs Litvinenko’s lawyers provided a list of people who she felt should have further action taken against them. Some are members of the Russian authorities who are already under sanctions relating to Crimea and activities in Ukraine. The rest of the list is being considered by the Home Secretary, but so far no action has been decided upon”.—[Official Report, 10/2/16; col. GC 228.]
Has any further action been decided upon for individuals on that list?
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their broad support for the order. I will try to deal with the points that have been raised, but I may have to write in respect of some of them.
To the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, I say that the Russian authorities should be in no doubt about the position the Government have taken in relation to Litvinenko. We have reinforced our message several times: we have made very clear our profound concerns to the Russian Government in Moscow, we have summoned the Russian ambassador to the Foreign Office in London and we continue to demand that the Russian Government do more to co-operate with the investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s death, including extraditing the main suspects, providing satisfactory answers and accounting for the role of their security service. The noble Viscount raised the issue of the ICJ. I think that is probably a matter for the ICJ but I will make further inquiries.
I speak from an intelligence background. Does the Minister agree that when one looks at patterns of operation, the way in which this whole affair has been dealt with by Russia is exactly the same way as it dealt with similar things when it was the Soviet Union—particularly its normal, KGB-type way of reacting and acting when these sorts of things happen?
I agree with the noble Lord. It is very disappointing that these practices have reappeared in the Soviet Union and have damaged our relationship with that country.
My noble friend Lord Robathan asked what we were doing to stop Russian criminals from exploiting the UK financial system. He may know that we passed the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which introduced criminal offences relating to companies that failed to prevent tax evasion. We made a commitment at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit to publish an anti-corruption strategy, setting out a work plan through to 2022. We have created a new National Economic Crime Centre within the National Crime Agency to bring together all our capabilities to fight economic crime, including the specific instances mentioned by my noble friend.
My noble friend may also know that we recently introduced unexplained wealth orders, so in addition to the action we have taken to deal with money laundering—such as the register of beneficial owners—we have taken powers to require people who own property that would ordinarily be beyond their obvious means to prove how they lawfully acquired it. On 31 January this year, the regulations that introduced UWOs came into force. A UWO requires a person who is reasonably suspected of involvement in—or connection to someone involved in—serious crime to explain the nature and extent of their interests in a particular property and to explain how the property was obtained where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the respondent’s known, lawfully obtained income would be insufficient to allow the respondent to obtain the property.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked whether cryptocurrency was included. In Schedule 2 of the order, “funds” is fairly embracing, meaning,
“including (but not limited to) … gold, cash, cheques, claims on money”,
et cetera, and Schedule 4, which deals with freezing prohibitions, refers to,
“making available the proceeds of realisation of property belonging to a specified person, and … making a payment to or for the benefit of a specified person”.
So my advice is that the order includes cryptocurrency. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is unlikely that these individuals will come to the UK or indeed that they have any assets in the UK.
The freezing order applies to overseas banks. The noble Baroness asked a more specific question about shell companies. I would like to write to her about that, but if the money from a shell company went through a bank, it would be caught by the order. She also asked about the delay in introducing the freezing order. She will know that there was a sequence of events—the inquiry that culminated, eventually, in the Sir Robert Owen inquiry. It was some time before we knew who to go for after the tragic death of Litvinenko. I agree with what she and other noble Lords said about the widow, Mrs Litvinenko.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, has had to wait two years for an answer to the question that he asked last time. The Government decided not to implement asset-freezing orders against those individuals mentioned in the letter under this legislation with the exception of Lugovoy and Kovtun but, as was indicated in 2016, a number of individuals on the list provided by Mrs Litvinenko’s lawyers have been designated for other reasons under sanctions relating to Crimea and activities in Ukraine. There is an ongoing police investigation into the two individuals that we discuss this evening.
I will have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in answer to his questions about the total volume of assets frozen under freezing orders. I think he went just beyond the order that we debate this evening and his question applied to all freezing orders, so I will write to him. I am sorry if I have not answered all the questions raised by noble Lords. I will write in respect of those that I have not been able to answer.
Review of Post-18 Education and Funding
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will now make a Statement on the review of post-18 education and funding. While I am not announcing new policy today, I welcome the opportunity to confirm to the House details of a major review across post-18 education and funding, as announced by the Prime Minister yesterday.
Before I discuss the specifics of the review, I should highlight some of the strengths and successes of our existing post-18 education system. We have a world-class higher education system. Sixteen British universities are in the world’s top 100, and four are in the top 10. We have record numbers of young people entering university, including from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our student finance system removes up-front financial barriers and provides protections for borrowers so that they have to contribute only when they can afford to do so. A university degree provides significant financial returns for individuals—graduates on average benefit from their university education by over £100,000 over their lifetime.
The Higher Education and Research Act sets the foundation for further improvements, with the Office for Students to be a strong voice for students and ensure minimum standards; the Director for Fair Access and Participation to drive social mobility; the Teaching Outcomes and Excellence Framework—TEF—measures; and the facilitation of further diversity with new providers and shorter degrees delivered at a lower cost to students.
The Technical and Further Education Act 2017 extends the responsibilities of the Institute for Apprenticeships to include technical education, as well as introducing degree-level apprenticeships. New institutes of technology will be established which will focus on higher-level technical skills and will be eligible for access to loans and grants for their students. T-levels are in development—a true equal-standing alternative to A-levels.
It is these important reforms that we will build on in this review, and we will also look at parts of the system that are not working as well as they could be. While we have seen further growth in three-year degrees for 18 year-olds, the post-18 system does not always offer a comprehensive range of high-quality alternative routes for the many young people who pursue a technical or vocational path at this age. In universities, we have not seen the extent of increase in choice that we would have wanted. The great majority of courses are priced at the same level, and three-year courses are the norm. Meanwhile, although the funding system is a progressive one, with in-built protections, these elements are not always well understood.
It is for these reasons that the Government are committed to conducting this major review across post-18 education, to look further at how we can ensure that our post-18 education system is joined up and supported by a funding system that works for students and taxpayers. The review will look at four key strands: choice and competition across post-18 education and training; value for money for graduates and taxpayers; accessibility of the system to all; and delivering the skills that our country needs. This means identifying ways to help people make more effective choices between the different options available at and after 18, so they can make more informed decisions about their futures, and making sure there is a more diverse range of options to choose from beyond classic three- or four-year undergraduate degrees.
We will look at how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies to ensure that funding arrangements across post-18 education in the future are transparent and do not stop people accessing higher education or training. We will examine how we can best ensure that people from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to progress and succeed in post-18 education, including considering how disadvantaged students receive maintenance support, both from the Government and from universities and colleges. We will look at how we can best support education outcomes that deliver our industrial strategy ambitions, by contributing to a strong economy and delivering the skills that our country needs. We are clear that we must maintain and protect key elements of our current post-18 education system that work well already. We will maintain the principle that students should contribute to the cost of their studies, and we will place no cap on the number of students who can benefit from post-18 education. We will not regress to a system like in Scotland, where controls on student numbers continue to restrict the aspirations of young people.
The review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post-18 education, business and academia, chaired by Philip Augar, a financial author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education. To inform its advice, the panel will carry out extensive consultation and engagement with the sector and, among others, people currently or recently participating in post-18 education. The panel will publish its report at an interim stage before the Government conclude the overall review in early 2019.
The UK is truly a world-leading destination for study and research. Record numbers of young people, including from disadvantaged backgrounds, are entering university. But we recognise concerns and that we must look at how we can go further to provide choice, open up access, and deliver value for money for students and taxpayers to ensure that the system as a whole is delivering the best possible outcomes for young people and the economy, supported by a fair and sustainable funding system. That is why we are carrying out this review. I commend this Statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I remind the House of my wife’s role as a consultant to the Education and Training Foundation. I should like first to ask the Minister about the status of the advisory panel. Can he assure me that it is going to be allowed to work without ministerial interference and direction? I would not ask him this except for the statements made by the Secretary of State at the weekend which seemed to set out most of the conclusions he expects the advisory panel to reach. On that, I should raise one particular issue that has struck me, which is that of charging lower fees for degree subjects with lower salary outcomes and the suggestion that it would mean that the fees for, say, arts courses would be lower than those for science and engineering courses. I cannot think of a more stupid outcome than that. In particular for poorer students, it would act as a huge disincentive to take up the very subjects that this country excels at. I hope that the Minister will tell me that that was just a whim of the Secretary of State and that the advisory panel will be given a clear indication that it is to come to its own conclusions on the issues it has been set.
I turn to the terms of reference. The Statement rather glosses over the important point in the terms of reference that the review cannot make recommendations on tax and must follow the Government’s fiscal policies. Does that mean that the review cannot address anything that would increase spending—and, if that is the case, does it mean that it cannot consider recommending the restoration of maintenance grants, reducing the current interest rates or increasing the teaching grant?
The Minister has made much of the T qualifications and the extension of education, but I remind him that his party’s manifesto promised a review of tertiary education across the board. Despite that, hundreds of thousands of 16 to 18 year-olds studying in FE colleges do not form part of the review. Perhaps he could say why that is.
In closing, the noble Lord set out the core principles under which the advisory panel and Ministers will work and said in particular that the review would look at value for money for graduates and taxpayers. On that, will the review look at the current rate of interest being charged? It is three percentage points above RPI, which all observers believe is unjustified and based on a discredited level of inflation. I remind the noble Lord of the Treasury Select Committee report published this month which states:
“The Committee sees no justification for using RPI to calculate student loan interest rates. RPI is no longer a National Statistic and has been widely discredited. In its Autumn Budget the Government acknowledged that the use of RPI was unfair for business rates, and the Committee is unconvinced by the case put forward for its use”,
by the then Minister. The committee goes on:
“The Government should abandon the use of RPI in favour of CPI to calculate student loan interest rates”.
I notice that the review is not looking at value for money for students. I would say to the noble Lord that what I find difficult about the RPI rate is that it is applied to students’ loans from the moment they reach university. That really needs to be looked at.
On the question of student loans in particular, will the noble Lord remind the House what percentage of graduates are expected to repay their loans in full and what percentage of the loan is likely to be repaid? Will he also say what the Department for Education wrote off in respect of student loans in the last financial year, and for how much below its value has the loan book been sold so far? Will he also say what sum it is now estimated will have to be finally written off at the end of the 30-year term? Will he also confirm that, due to the quirks of accountancy rules, the annual write-offs are missing from the deficit figures, but that while the value of the loan book is not netted off against the national debt, any cash for which it is sold is netted off? In fact, does he agree with the Treasury Select Committee, which described student loan accounting as being a “fiscal illusion”? Up to £7 billion of annual debt write-offs has simply gone missing, allowing the Government to artificially reduce the deficit by saddling young people with the debt. I very much hope that the advisory panel will be able to look at that.
Oh so wearyingly we hear more about a market in higher education—despite the fact that the Government have said that we have the most outstanding higher education system in the world. I shall make one further comment in relation to the report of the Treasury Select Committee. It notes:
“Without adequate information, an efficiently functioning market will struggle to develop. Prospective students face the unenviable task of determining whether to participate in higher education based on increasing quantities of university marketing material coupled with a lack of proven, reliable metrics for judging the quality of courses”.
If the Government are determined to go down the market route, they will have to ensure, first, that prospective students have information that they can use effectively. Secondly, they must ensure that the education sector does not repeat the problem of the health sector, which is to introduce a quasi market and then attempt to micromanage it through the regulator. My great fear about the Office for Students is that, while ostensibly it is there to encourage a market, in reality it is there to micromanage the sector. The outcome of that will be an unholy muddle and a higher education sector that is less than it ought to be.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this review. Without seeking to prejudge its outcome and indeed the Government’s response, we need a post-18 education system with a guarantee that it is accessible to all. I am particularly delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich, is to be a member of the panel. She will bring a tremendous amount of wisdom and understanding to the question of vocational education.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, one term that is not mentioned in the Statement is “interest”—but I am sure that every single young person racking up a huge debt on their student loan will wonder why they are paying way above the market rate. The word “maintenance” appears only once, as does the word “grants”—and unfortunately they do not appear consecutively. Maintenance grants must be an essential recommendation of the panel. I wonder if the Minister could comment on that.
The review does not seem to do anything to improve opportunities and financial support for people who enter higher education at a later stage in life. Will equalising funding support for older students be part of the review? I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on the subject of variable degree course costs dependent on the subject being studied. What will that do to help boost application rates for courses that are more expensive to deliver and which universities might expect to charge more for, such as medicine and engineering, in which it is incredibly important that we continue to train enough people? Will this not exacerbate skills shortages in those areas and mean that people from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular are deterred from studying these subjects?
Finally, we have talked about universities going down the market route. I fear that they have already gone down it with a vengeance. UK higher education allows publicly funded universities to both validate and franchise degrees, and they can subcontract the teaching of their students to private providers. Students are registered with the university and subcontracted colleges provide the teaching. We see tiny companies with no track record getting subcontracted teaching. They can be part of a larger group of firms that are owned by equity companies which are registered in places like Jersey and Luxembourg. I hope that the review might be permitted to look at some of the excesses in current practices. However, overall I welcome the review.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Storey, for their input and their questions, which I will attempt to answer. The first point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was about the panel. First, I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, about the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf. I am sure that she will be a valuable addition to the panel. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that it is absolutely clear that Philip Augar and his panel will be independent. It is vitally important that it can carry out its work without interference—perhaps that was the word that he used—by the Government. Again, it must be fully independent.
Both noble Lords referred to the issue of differential pricing between courses. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised the issue that has been much in the press in recent days about the difference between arts courses and engineering courses, and perhaps some comments that might have come from Ministers. I must admit that I have not read any of those comments. Those issues are in scope. I have no doubt that the independent review panel will look at the different courses between, say, humanities and engineering or science subjects as part of the review. I am not willing to be drawn on any other comments about that. I am sure that it will come up with some conclusions on that.
Equally, both noble Lords raised maintenance loans. It is the case that some students are finding it quite tough to live in expensive areas, including London. I know that maintenance loans are within scope. It will be up to the panel to decide whether they wish to look at that, but I clarify that it is within scope.
On the review of tertiary education, I reassure noble Lords that we are looking at a complete review of post-18 education. That includes those who are post-18 in further, higher and technical education; it is catch-all post-18. Again, it is one of the issues that the panel will look at.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about interest rates. Again, interest rates have been much in the press and have been much discussed. They will indeed be in scope. I am not willing to comment on the difference between RPI and CPI. I note what the noble Lord said, but that is again something for the panel to look at.
Both noble Lords are correct that we are still looking to be sure that students have value for money. They must be sure that, for their choice of course, they go in with a transparent view as to what they will be paying, the course that they are doing and the outcomes that will come from it. Obviously, the advice to them is very important.
There were a number of questions from noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on loan repayments. I will need to write to him with the detail on that, but he will know that the RAB charge, as we might call it, has gone up to 45%. That is the write-off rate. There is always a subsidy, which has gone up to 45% because the thresholds were raised recently, as he knows—up to £25,000 and at the higher level up to £45,000. Along with a number of questions that he has raised, I will write to him with those specific details.
Finally, on the comments made about the market, one thing that is certain is that we absolutely believe that the basics behind the tuition fee system should remain in place. It is right that there should be a marketplace, that students should be in the lead and that they should be able to choose the right universities and courses. What we are leading on to, which is linked to the TEF, is to have assessments of courses, not just universities. That was always the intention behind the base laid during the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act. I hope that I have answered the questions from the two noble Lords.
My Lords, why is there no mention of the anomalous position of what used to be student nurses, who now have to take out loans, as do other students, in particular having regard to the pressure on the health service and the difficulties that it has in recruiting nurses?
Again, they will be in scope in terms of making sure that the support we give to nurses, who are so important in our society, is there. That is within scope and it is noted.
My Lords, the review had some very interesting things in it. I must give the Government some credit for the best back-down I have ever read in any document:
“Many elements of our current post-18 education system work well”—
if ever there was a way of saying some do not. I have never heard of anything like it before. The section on “A system that is accessible to all” talks about those with a disadvantaged background. I draw the House’s attention to my declared interests with the British Dyslexia Association and as a chairman of Microlink. We have a situation where disabled students have different provisions made at different universities doing the same courses. Are the Government going to make sure in the review that there is some way of allowing a student to know what is effectively happening to those disabled students, particularly those who do not qualify for the disabled students’ allowance, as there is currently a very confused system? The Government have refused to put in any outside quality control on them, saying that they will all make their own way forward. Will there be something in the review that dictates that you will know the type of support you will get?
Also, as the old provisions of the old system mean that the level 1 and level 2 provision of the four-band system are now provided by the institution, how well do they function with the DSA? Will this be made available? Will all those colleges undertaking any degree tuition be brought into this system so that people can find out what they are going to get? If you want anything that is market-driven to be effective you have to have knowledge of that market for those who access it. At the moment it is confused and almost like a quagmire. Unless the Government can tell us that they are addressing that in some way, they will still continue not to achieve.
The noble Lord again raises the issue of the DSA. I know that he has done a huge amount of work over many years for the disabled and disadvantaged sectors. I reiterate that the Government are very much committed to ensuring that all students with disabilities receive the very best possible support to enable them to study alongside their fellow students on an equal basis. Disabled students have access to a package of support to cover additional costs that they may face to participate in higher education. I reassure the noble Lord that this is in scope, but I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the review. I am certain the panel will want to look at it. Beyond that, I cannot really comment because the panel is independent.
My Lords, this is a review of the burdens being placed on students and young graduates, so can the Minister tell us what is the age of the youngest person on the review? Looking down the list of the six members, it does not look to me as if any of them are under the age of 50. Does he think it a good idea that there are no students on the review? Will he explain why there is no current student experiencing higher education and paying these fees on the review? Could he undertake that the Secretary of State will meet members of the Youth Parliament with me to discuss their views on student fees and loans and how the system should be reformed, given that they have no membership of this review?
On the noble Lord’s first question, I will not be drawn on the ages of the members of the panel. I think that was the gist of his question. Even if I knew the ages, I would not wish to be drawn on that.
Will the Minister write and tell me the ages? It is a material factor given that this is a review of student finance.
I am certainly not going to commit to that. I do not feel terribly comfortable giving out the ages of the panel. It may well be in the press, but I am not prepared to do that. We have a very strong panel.
On his second question, which was to do with the representation of students, he is absolutely right, but the point is that this panel will deliberately be kept small to make it more manageable. They will be engaging with a complete range of stakeholders, including students and student representatives, business and many other areas. I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that this is a wide-ranging stakeholder engagement process with a small and neat panel.
Will the Secretary of State meet members of the Youth Parliament with me to discuss their views on these matters?
On that third question, I am very happy to pass that on, but I do not want to give any guarantees that he will agree to do so.
My Lords, I accept that the Minister will not want to prejudge the work of the panel, but he set out in the Statement one or two principles that are set down to guide the work. I do not think that this is a question that he answered in response to the Front Bench questions about the introduction of variable fees. Will he give the House an assurance that one of the principles he will set out for the panel is that the price of the course should not be a determinant in a student’s choice of degree course or eventual career?
I take note of the question from the noble Baroness but, as she predicted, I will not be drawn on giving a commitment on that. I have no doubt that the panel will want to look at it, as I indicated earlier.
My Lords, I welcome the review. I have a couple of questions. The Minister said that there would be an interim report. When is that likely to be? He gave us the final date.
The Statement refers to participation to drive social mobility, the teaching outcomes and excellence framework and,
“the facilitation of further diversity with new providers and shorter degrees delivered at a lower cost to students”.
That is something for which I have been arguing for quite a while. However, alongside that greater flexibility and, I hope, the use of new technology, we need to ensure that we get the quality as well. There have been some worrying developments in apprenticeships recently where we have warned about focusing not on the quantity but on ensuring the quality.
The Statement also talks about,
“identifying ways to help people make more effective choices between the different options available at and after 18”.
I still think that the current drive in secondary schools is to push most young people towards university and not look at the alternative vocational route. Given that schools rely on ensuring that their sixth-form colleges are full, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that they really are made aware of alternative routes?
The noble Lord asked a number of questions. First, I am not able to give an interim date for the review. I made it quite clear that the full results of the review will come out early in 2019. Obviously, I would want to keep the House updated as to when that would be—that would of course come from the review panel.
The noble Lord also made an important point about shorter degrees. I would like to add to that part-time courses. As we know, there has been a fall-off in part-time courses, which is a concern and one of the issues that the panel will definitely want to address. We want to be sure that the courses are right, that they are at the right price and that take-up is much better than it has been. That is within scope. Again, beyond that, I do not want to prejudge what the panel will come up with.
I stressed the importance of quality; it is not just about the price.
I was about to come to quality. Of course, the noble Lord is right that it is extremely important that the quality of the courses in higher education is outstanding. He mentioned apprenticeships. He will know that the Institute for Apprenticeships is focused solely on making sure that quality of apprenticeships is as high as it can be. We want to replicate that in university courses as well. One of the main remits of the Office for Students is to monitor the quality of courses.
On choices for students, I know that the noble Lord has quite a lot of experience in this field. I think I am right in saying that he was instrumental in introducing the concept of employers going into schools and giving careers advice. That is important and valuable. On students being informed, it is a mix of parents being better informed and being able to talk to their children—who probably become less child-like as they move into the higher education system. Schools and employers certainly have a role. One of the most things we want to do—I hope it will extend into the review—is to look at the vocational and technical routes as opposed to the academic route. It is important that they are marketed and sold appropriately. I said earlier in the Chamber today that I was driving into town last night and heard on the radio an advertisement for apprenticeships. We want to hear more of that and more promotion for these areas.
My Lords, there will be a wide welcome for the emphasis on technical education. The Minister has just referred to it, and it looms large in the Statement. Can my noble friend tell us when T-levels are likely to become available to students? At the conclusion of the review early next year, will there be a government document that indicates not only what conclusions have been arrived at but the action that will be taken thereafter?
Yes, indeed. On the second question, my noble friend will know that the review will conclude in 2019. The Government have pledged to give a speedy response to it. I cannot give any timescales, but “speedy” means that they will want to move quickly to look carefully at what the panel has come up with and to respond accordingly. I feel sure that they will do that.
On T-levels and the timings for them, I will have to write to my noble friend to be sure that I am accurate.
Safeguarding in the Aid Sector
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier in the House of Commons by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, I would like to update the House on my department’s response to the sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by charity workers in Haiti in 2011 and the measures that we are taking to improve safeguarding across the aid sector. I would like to start by paying tribute to Sean O’Neill of the Times and the two sets of whistleblowers, those in 2011 and later, for bringing this case to light.
On 9 February, the Times reported that certain Oxfam staff, when in Haiti in 2011, had abused their positions of trust and paid for sex with local women. These incidents happened in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions more homeless and reliant on aid for basic needs such as food and shelter. This is shocking, but it is not by itself what has caused such concern about Oxfam’s safeguarding. It was what Oxfam did next.
In chaotic and desperate situations, the very best safeguarding procedures and practices must be put in place to prevent harm, but when organisations fail to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing that occur, it undermines trust and sends a message that sexual exploitation and abuse is tolerated. We cannot prevent sexual exploitation and abuse if we do not demonstrate zero tolerance. In such circumstances, we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they occur.
In this duty, Oxfam failed under the watch of Barbara Stocking and Penny Lawrence. They did not provide a full report to the Charity Commission; they did not provide a full report to their donors; they did not provide any report to prosecuting authorities. In my view, they misled, quite possibly deliberately, even as their report concluded that their investigation could not rule out the allegation that some of the women involved were actually children. They did not think that it was necessary to report to the police in either Haiti or the country of origin of those accountable. I believe that their motivation appears to be just the protection of the organisation’s reputation. They put that before those they were there to help and protect—a complete betrayal of trust. It was a betrayal, too, of those who sent them—the British people—and a betrayal of all those Oxfam staff and volunteers who put the people they serve first.
Last week, I met Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, and Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s chair of trustees. I made three demands of them: that they fully co-operate with the Haitian authorities, handing over all evidence they hold; that they report staff members involved in this incident to their respective national Governments; and that they make clear how they will handle any forthcoming allegations around safeguarding, historic or live. I stressed that, for me, holding to account those who made the decision not to report but to let those potentially guilty of criminal activity slip away was a necessity in winning back confidence in Oxfam. As a result of those discussions, Oxfam has agreed to withdraw from bidding for any new UK government funding until DfID is satisfied that it can meet the high safeguarding standards we expect of our partners. I will take a decision on current programming after 26 February, as I will then have further information which will help me decide if I need to adjust how that is being delivered.
Given the concerns about the wider sector that this case has raised, I have also written to every UK charity working overseas that receives UK aid—192 organisations—insisting that they spell out the steps they are taking to ensure that their safeguarding policies are fully in place and confirm that they have referred all concerns they have about specific cases and individuals to the relevant authorities, including prosecuting authorities. I have set a deadline of 26 February for all UK charities working overseas to give us the assurances that we have asked for and to raise any concerns with relevant authorities. We are also undertaking, in parallel, a similar exercise with all non-UK charity partners, 393 organisations in total, and with all our suppliers, including those in the private sector—more than 500 organisations—to make our standards clear and remind them of their obligations. We are going to do the same with our multilateral partners too.
The UK Government reserve the right to take whatever decisions about future funding to Oxfam, and any other organisation, that we deem necessary. We have been very clear that we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require. I will also be sharing details of this approach with other government departments responsible for overseas development assistance spending. Although this work is not yet complete, it is clear from the Charity Commission reporting data, and the lack of it from some organisations, that a cultural change is needed to ensure that all that can be done to stop sexual exploitation in the aid sector is being done. We need to take some practical steps now. We should not wait for the UN to take action. We must set up our own systems now.
My department and the Charity Commission will hold a safeguarding summit on 5 March, where we will meet UK international development charities, regulators and experts to confront safeguarding failures and agree practical measures, such as an aid worker accreditation scheme that we in the UK can use. Later in the year, we will take this programme of work to a wide-ranging global safeguarding conference to drive action across the whole international aid sector. I am pleased to say that the US, Canada, the Netherlands and others have already agreed to support our goal of improved safeguarding standards across the sector. The UK is not waiting for others to act; we are taking a lead on this. I will also be speaking to colleagues across government and beyond about what more we can do to stop exploitation and abuse in the UN and the broader multilateral system. Our message to all parts of the UN is clear: you can either get your house in order or you can prepare to carry on your good work without our money.
I welcome the UN’s announcement on 14 February that the UN does not and will not claim immunity for sexual abuse cases. This sends a clear signal that the UN is not a soft target, but we must hold the UN to account for this. Further actions we have taken in the last week include the creation of a new safeguarding unit. We have also promoted our whistleblowing and reporting phone line, to encourage anyone with information on safeguarding issues to contact us. We have appointed Sheila Drew Smith, a recent member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who has agreed to bring her expertise and her challenge to support my department’s ambition on safeguarding. She will report directly to me.
I have asked to meet leaders of the audit profession to discuss what more can be done to provide independent assurance over safeguarding to the organisations that DfID partners with globally. I have held my own department to the same scrutiny that I am demanding of others. I have asked the department to go through our centrally held HR systems and our fraud and whistleblowing records as far back as they exist. I am assured that there are no centrally recorded cases that were dealt with incorrectly. Separately, we are reviewing any locally reported allegations of sexual misconduct involving DfID staff. To date, our review of staff cases has looked at 75% of our teams across DfID. It will complete within a fortnight. Our investigations are still ongoing and if, during this process, we discover any further historic or current cases, I will report on our handling of these to Parliament.
DfID, other government departments and the National Crime Agency work closely together when serious allegations of potentially criminal activity in partner organisations are brought to our attention, and we are strengthening this. The new strategy director at the National Crime Agency will take on a lead role for the aid sector. I am calling on anyone who has any concerns about abuse or exploitation in the aid sector to come forward and report these to our counterfraud and whistleblowing team. Details are on the DfID website and all communications will be treated in complete confidence. Later today I will have further meetings, including with the Defence Secretary regarding peacekeeping troops and with the Secretary of State at DCMS regarding the charity sector.
My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. It is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continue to exist in the aid sector. The recent reports should be a wake-up call to all of us. Now is the time for us to act, but as we do so we should note the good people working across the world in this sector, saving lives, often by endangering their own, and all those, from fundraisers to trustees, who make that work possible across the entire aid sector. In the last week alone, UK aid and aid workers have helped vaccinate around 850,000 children against polio. We should also recognise that that work can be done only with the support of the British people. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement and of course I welcome him back to the Dispatch Box. I am very pleased to see him there. I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s Statement and her swift and robust action in dealing with this appalling situation of vulnerable women and girls being exploited by men with power acting with impunity in an appalling culture of silence. We must not, however, allow the actions of a few to undermine the efforts of the vast majority of people who carry out their work with integrity and commitment in often dangerous and difficult circumstances. Nor must we let this damage the commitment of the British people, who daily support charities such as Oxfam to save lives in crises and tackle the root causes of injustice. Of course, most importantly, we must not let this stop us helping those who need our help most.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has written to taxpayer-funded charities to ask for written assurances that they have safeguarding in place. While I note that she will be sharing this approach with other government departments, can the Minister give us a categorical assurance that all departments with ODA spend will adopt the same processes and that they too will report to Parliament on the outcome of those efforts? I also welcome her swift commitment to a safeguarding summit on 5 March. Out of that summit must now come real commitment to reform: tightening international criminal regulation, establishing a global passport or register for humanitarian workers, and setting up an independent regulator or centre of excellence. I was pleased to note in the Statement that our global partners have been invited to that summit in preparation for a perhaps even bigger one later in the year.
However, reform must not be just about policies and procedures. It must also be about a change in practice and culture. This appalling situation, as the Secretary of State pointed out, came to light only because of whistleblowers. Trade unions play a critical role in supporting workers in such circumstances. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that trade unions representing workers in this sector are also fully represented at the summit? In the evidence given this morning to the International Development Committee, the point was made that short-term contracts often prevent people speaking out. I welcome the commitment by Oxfam’s chair of trustees that employment procedures will also be reviewed and reported to Oxfam’s governing council in March. But can we be assured that that sort of review looking at those sorts of issues will also be undertaken by other NGOs and charities so that we look across the board and not just at Oxfam?
I note that Oxfam has agreed to withdraw from bidding for any new UK government funding,
“until DfID is satisfied that they can meet the high standards we expect from our partners”,
but can the Minister clarify what the criteria for restoring funding will be? What exactly does the Secretary of State mean by “high standards”? I hope that, apart from all the policies and procedures, these will include a clear commitment to ensure proper consultation with workers’ representatives.
My Lords, we are all shocked that aid workers from a respected organisation such as Oxfam could abuse the trust of vulnerable people in Haiti, whose lives had been shattered by the earthquake in 2010. Action must be taken to ensure that such abuse at high levels of a world-renowned charity cannot be repeated, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s Statement.
However, having read the Statement in full, I am disappointed that it talks only about strengthening safeguards going forward. What we really need is a wide and far-reaching inquiry into the scale of historic abuse and that which exists in the sector today. All the indications are that this is but the tip of the iceberg and, to deal comprehensively with the situation, we must have all the facts. In 1999 the national crime agency said that the charity sector was susceptible to being targeted by paedophile rings. We must know if that is the case. Reports that men in positions of power have acted with impunity in exercising control over young women are rife in the sector. There are allegations of abuse in the awarding of short-term contracts by those in permanent senior positions. What we really need is an independent inquiry into the global aid sector—failing that, at least into the UK aid sector—that will leave no stone unturned. Unless we know what has gone on in the past and hold people accountable, we cannot hope to go forward with confidence.
This is also an issue about governance. Oxfam has been found wanting on many levels, and the whole sorry saga has highlighted the failure of good governance by those to whom it answers—the Charity Commission and DfID. Both accepted without question the charity’s version of events and did not probe further into what “sexual misconduct” meant. Both failed to ask the obvious question of whether minors, of either sex, were involved. Both have questions to answer and improvements to make if they are to avoid future failures. Any inquiry must encompass their role in the Haiti cover-up.
I welcome that the UK intends to work closely with the UN. This is a global issue which the global aid community must address collectively, so the proposal for a sort of passport for workers in the UK aid sector is welcome. Will there be government support for a global aid worker accreditation scheme? Inevitably, unless answers to these questions are forthcoming, attacks against the 0.7% of GNI that is devoted to overseas aid will increase. But this would not only be a kick in the face of the vast majority of aid workers, who work tirelessly to alleviate extreme poverty, but jeopardise some of the really worthwhile programmes bringing health, education and sanitation solutions to those in desperate need. We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so I ask the Minister about the Secretary of State’s decision to bar Oxfam from receiving new government funding. Last year it received £31.7 million from DfID. What assessment have the Government made of the impact on programmes serving the poor and destitute if support is withheld this year? What are they planning do to mitigate the extra hardship this will inflict on aid recipients?
I will mention just one other thing, which has disturbed me throughout the media coverage over the past few weeks, and that is the use of the term “beneficiaries”. Will DfID consider using a term other than beneficiaries, which sounds as though people are in receipt of an inheritance rather than baby milk? Perhaps “aid recipients” would better describe their vulnerable state. It is no more of a mouthful than beneficiaries: both have five syllables.
I am very grateful for the comments and the general support of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for the Statement and the action proposed. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is absolutely right that we have to call for a significant culture change. It is about an abuse of power by men often in positions of authority, the likes of which we have seen in other settings around the world, and it needs to be addressed in robust and forceful ways.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about other government departments. This is very important. That is why the Secretary of State met the Secretary of State for Defence today and will be meeting the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. She will also be meeting the Minister for Civil Society in the course of this because there has to be a cross-government approach to ensure that we are entirely consistent in seeking the changes that we wish to see.
I am concerned specifically about the FCO, which has an increasing proportion of ODA spend: it has risen from 13% to nearly 18%. It is funding organisations that we need to look at very carefully.
That is correct. The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State will be meeting tomorrow morning to discuss these matters, among others. But the noble Lord is absolutely right. I totally accept his urging in that area. We have received his advice on that point and it will be responded to.
The noble Lord raised a very good point about trade unions. As to whether the invitation would more probably be to the 5 March event, which is aimed particularly at UK charities and regulators, or whether it is more about how we engage them perhaps in the international conference later in the year, I will come back to him. But he is absolutely right to say that trade unions have a very important role to play in ensuring that people in employment, particularly on short-term contracts, understand what their rights are and can have representation. I will certainly take that back.
The noble Lord asked what requirements would be made of Oxfam before it would be considered for government funding. It is clear that it will have to fully co-operate with the Haitian authorities by handing over all the evidence it holds, that it reports staff members involved in this incident to their respective national Governments, and that it makes clear how it will handle forthcoming allegations around safeguarding, historic or live. That is the basis on which decisions will be made and the Secretary of State said that she will take those decisions next week, when she has received responses to those points.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, who said the Statement was about going forward, that we have taken steps. I point out that, in terms of DfID, we have gone through our centrally held HR systems and our fraud and whistleblowing records as far back as they exist, to check that no cases have escaped the scrutiny that they should have.
I was really asking for an independent inquiry. This will have a huge impact on the public mood about giving to charities and we have to show to the public that it is not just us investigating ourselves but that an independent eye has been cast over everything.
Yes, that point is well worth making. It is one reason why we have brought in independent expertise from outside to strengthen our ability to review. I would also point out for the record that Oxfam itself has voluntarily agreed to withdraw, as opposed to being barred, from the position. As regards other government departments, the Permanent Secretary has written to all those that administer ODA, including the Foreign Office, to drive the cross-Whitehall message that there will be zero tolerance in this area, and asking them to mirror the actions we are taking at the Department for International Development.
In recognising the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, in relation to work that is undertaken in particularly dangerous and difficult circumstances, I was in Iraq last week, as my noble friend knows, where I met DfID, charity and voluntary workers. They are working in incredibly dangerous and difficult circumstances. It would be a disaster for the communities if the work being undertaken was deferred by even a few days or weeks. Will my noble friend therefore exhort all contributors, whether large or small, to continue to make donations to the charities to which they contribute, so that those charities can continue to make their crucial contribution to societies, whether in Iraq or around the rest of the world?
I am very happy to give that undertaking. My noble friend is absolutely right that British people are generous to people around the world. In many ways, the great tragedy of what has happened is that the failure to act in a transparent and timely way has genuinely put lives at risk, because people might stop giving in the way that he talked about. Oxfam alone has around 10,000 people in 90 countries; it is working with DfID at present in places such as Yemen and South Sudan, delivering life-saving materials. In everything we do, we are going to ensure that our prime concern is for the people whom we are trying to help. We will not deal with contracts in a pre-emptive way until we are absolutely confident that those people who need our help, whether they are called beneficiaries or aid recipients, are our number one concern. They must be protected at all times. That is what the charities themselves should have been thinking all the way through.
My Lords, there are several references in the Lords register to my voluntary positions with charities in this sector, so I should reference that before asking my question. I will say, though, that I would like the Minister to convey to the Secretary of State that the way in which she has handled this issue in the last 10 days has been impressive. To take a constant position through these days that has put the interests of the children first and not used the issue as a political football or been defensive in any way about the role of the department or other agencies, has been the right approach. I hope that she will continue to do that.
The Statement today has been comprehensive and impressive on where we are right now. However, it contains one omission: what did DfID know in 2011? There is a reference in the early part of the Statement to the lack of reporting in full to the Charity Commission and to the authorities, but there is no reference to any reporting to DfID. What, if anything, was done by Ministers or officials with any such report? It is important that we have some clarity on that.
Secondly, it is important to be clear that when traffickers, and in some cases the Mafia, move into emergency zones in the absence of effective government—as with the earthquakes in Haiti or Nepal, or the typhoon in the Philippines, when hundreds of young children were targeted by traffickers to be taken immediately to brothels and slave labour elsewhere in the world—it is the large NGOs that are usually first on the spot to protect those children. In some cases, as on the Nepalese-Chinese border after the earthquake there, they have saved hundreds of children from moving into some form of slavery or perhaps worse. So it is important to register that, while this is essential work to expose the problems that have been going on, which demands a zero-tolerance approach, we should also reinforce our commitment to ensure that children will be protected by some of these NGOs, in the absence of effective government, in some of the world’s worst disaster zones.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord and will certainly convey to the Secretary of State his remarks about her handling of the crisis thus far. I also recognise his deep experience of leadership in this field. He asked a very specific question about what we knew when. I should say that the chairman of the IDC in the other place has confirmed that the committee is commencing an inquiry into this, and we will be co-operating fully.
The Charity Commission is also going to undertake an inquiry into this. The elements of who knew what and when are very important issues, but they will be addressed at that time. At the moment, all we would say is that, although DfID was informed that the investigation had concluded on 5 September 2011 and that all members who had been found not to have followed Oxfam’s code of conduct had left the organisation, its letter states that no allegations involved beneficiaries or the misuse of DfID funds. That was the reason for the very strong line that the Secretary of State used in her Statement in the other place about how DfID was potentially misled in this respect. Again, that will be something on which there will be full disclosure and transparency so we understand what happened and when. We will be co-operating with the Charity Commission and the IDC on those inquiries.
My Lords, I have a family interest to declare inasmuch as my daughter has worked for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development for the past 10 years. That is not a material interest, but it is one I should properly declare. Does my noble friend share my view that there may be very inadequate ethical training in many of our charities? Ethical training is not a central part of their DNA, particularly in the larger and more bureaucratic charities. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, that cultural change is desperately needed, particularly in some of our larger charities. Bringing about cultural change takes a very long time. It takes years and it needs ethical training of the highest level. That is something which many charities need to turn their attention to urgently.
My noble friend is absolutely right on this. There is a core problem which we have seen across different organisations. We have had to wrestle with these issues in recent years: the fear of asking the difficult probing questions when they are needed or the failure to be transparent about what has happened. Organisations are doing that—one does not like to say “for understandable reasons”—because they want to protect the reputation of the organisation. If anyone wants to know whether that works, ask Oxfam today when its reputation has been so tarnished and damaged by the failure to take that kind of prompt action and to ask the most difficult and searching questions in these areas at the right time.
My Lords, this is a very painful affair for all of us who have been concerned with aid over many years. I have not worked directly with Oxfam, but I have worked alongside it and on this occasion I want to pay tribute to what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, achieved over many years in bringing standards up over that period. We must not forget what has already been done. The Secretary of State is new and it is quite right that she should send a powerful message to the aid agencies, especially those in receipt of public funds. It is obviously a shocking affair. However, the Minister has considerable experience and knows that there are limits on outrage that can be expressed. Does he not think that collectively the Government and the statutory agencies have gone over the top on this? It is not happening on the scale suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. As other noble Lords have said, the danger is that it is affecting the work that is going on all the time all over the world. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, made this point, and Andrew Mitchell said it, as did Anna Soubry. The Secretary of State seems to understand this, but only in the last sentence of the Statement.
We need to communicate that, but the noble Earl will recognise that we have had many debates on these things and we are almost always on exactly the same page. The message needs to go out that there is zero tolerance on this. We need to come down very hard to change the culture within the aid sector. That was one of the reasons why the previous Secretary of State took such a strong approach on the allegations against UN peacekeepers and was at the forefront of driving that up the agenda, to the extent that it was at the UN General Assembly and the Secretary-General has taken action on it because it goes to the heart of the problem. People who are there have a duty to protect, not to exploit. As in every type of organisation and institution that faces allegations of this type, the very few people who are doing this are having a devastating effect on the 99% of people who are carrying out that work selflessly and, as my noble friend said earlier, putting their lives at risk to help others, which is in the great tradition. It is in their interests and for them that we ought to be so ruthless in rooting it out.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as from 1985 to 1991 I was director of Oxfam. I was a long-standing supporter of Oxfam before that and I remain a firm supporter of Oxfam. Last weekend, I was in my local shop in Cockermouth talking with the volunteers, who have obviously been affected by this story. For all of us involved in that work over the years—right back to 1942 in the middle of the war, when Oxfam was founded to try to get relief to the Greeks under German occupation—this has been a terrible nightmare. What happened in Haiti was wrong and despicable. It was a complete contradiction of the purpose of Oxfam in its exploitation of individuals, who will remain harmed. I am very glad that the organisation has not just issued an email but been to see the Government to talk to them about how genuinely sorry it is.
We must remember certain points. First, the Government have a responsibility for public funds, and that must be recognised by everyone. Secondly, it is terribly important to recognise that charities, not only Oxfam but right across the field, must be accountable, and, as the Minister has said, being accountable involves transparency, complete integrity and openness. Anyway, it is stupid to do anything else because, as we have seen, almost inevitably it will become known in one way or another and do even more damage than it would have done at the time.
I shall conclude by making a couple of observations. The current leadership, including Mark Goldring and the new chairman who took office only last year, were nowhere near the situation when it occurred; they have been dealing with a situation that they inherited. A lot of very hard work has been going on in seeing how proper standards, regulation and accountability can be put in place. If that is not sufficient, it is quite right that the Government should challenge it, and I am sure that if they work together it can be tackled. However, it is interesting to note that the highly esteemed Tufts University in the United States, which has done an inquiry into this problem, has said that during its inquiry it became convinced that the best regulations now in place were those of Oxfam. There is therefore a certain paradox in the situation.
I thank the Minister for the understanding way in which he has handled this Statement. It is quite right that the organisation has to look to its governance and its transparency. It also has to face up to its responsibility to those countless volunteers; the saddest part of the whole story is what these wicked people in Haiti did to their very own colleagues and the work that they were trying to do. I would like a reassurance from the Minister that in all that the Government are doing, and I totally understand that the Government have to be very firm in the public interest, their objective is to enable Oxfam to be in a convincing position to continue the work that started in 1942—it has been in the front line of so many situations, such as in Kampuchea, South Africa in the bad years, Latin America and the Middle East—and to face the public and speak with authority and morality again.
I thank the noble Lord for his significant contribution. If he has a question, may we please have it? There are other people who still wish to ask questions.
I thank the noble Lord. I realise that what is happening to the organisation to which he has given so much of his life must be breaking his heart, and that he feels passionately about it. I think his words, which he has said in forthright terms on the record, will speak more to the organisation that he cares for than anything that I can add, and I thank him for that.
My Lords, I note that letters have been sent to charities which have received UK aid. I am a patron and supporter of a charity which is undertaking work in 12 countries. I had a long meeting with the trustees yesterday, and we decided to tighten and toughen our safeguards. My point is: could charities which have not received such aid be written to to ask them to tighten up? I am deeply concerned about what can go on, and if they are not UK-aided there are possible concerns and problems.
That is a really good idea and I am happy to take it away and think about it. It may be something for the Charity Commission to take leadership on, but if there is anything we can do to support and strengthen safeguarding, particularly for charities working overseas, we will want to consider it.
Would my noble friend consider taking further action?
As I said, I am happy to take back that suggestion about what more could be done, but the very fact that my noble friend as a trustee is now asking those searching questions of his organisation, although it is not in receipt of government funding, bodes well for the approach which is being taken more generally to improve safeguarding across the sector.
My Lords, the Minister said that difficult, probing questions need to be addressed. Is he aware that that there are not shy of 80 Metropolitan Police officers serving with overseas responsibilities? That does not include those seconded to the International Court of Justice investigating purported international crimes. Would he consider their being marshalled to make further in-depth investigation of the horrors that are before him and reporting back to the Government, who can then address them with host nations?
I am very happy, as I set out, that we are in contact through the National Crime Agency, which has a dedicated director looking into the aid sector more generally. One of our arguments all the way through has been that the law enforcement authorities for those alleged to be guilty of wrongdoing should be informed, whether they are in Haiti or other countries. It is absolutely right that the authorities should be informed and involved as soon as matters come to light.
I remind the House that this is not the first time that large charities have brought the sector into disrepute. It was only a short time ago, your Lordships will recall, that Olive Cooke threw herself off a bridge in Bristol because she was being pursued by large charities. At the time, the then Prime Minister asked me, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, to form a short, sharp committee to investigate what had happened and produce our results, which led to the formation of the Fundraising Regulator chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth. We managed to do that in three months, unlike a long investigation. Does my noble friend agree that it is the trustees’ responsibility? The trustees need to know what is going on and the trustees need to be held accountable for the actions taking place in their charities.
The trustees’ responsibilities are onerous, detailed and should be taken very seriously. I would expand further on that, but I am conscious that the time limit has been reached and will therefore save my further comments in writing to my noble friend.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the outcome of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading to Their Total Elimination.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. I thank all noble Lords who will contribute their considerable expertise this evening. Many noble Lords taking part in this debate will have spoken in the debate in 2013 that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, introduced, which was really the last substantial debate that we had on the issue generally.
What has changed since 2013? Certainly not my views. I still see nuclear weapons as an immense danger to the future of the planet. But the nuclear landscape has changed significantly, and there is a growing consensus that luck is running out—because we have been lucky that there has been no catastrophic accident, and no accidental launch. In the words of former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now the CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the,
“margin for error in avoiding disaster is getting thinner because of the introduction of new, smaller weapons, the broadening of circumstances in which their use is being contemplated, and a lack of high-level communications between major nuclear weapons powers”.
He said that the chance of nuclear use was,
“higher than it’s been since the Cuban missile crisis”.
His words are, rightly, chilling.
That increased threat was one of the factors that led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is about to become international law. It was voted for by 122 countries, with one against, and some abstentions—of course, all nuclear weapon states abstained. The treaty, widely known as the ban treaty, will become international law when 50 states have signed and ratified it. The ban treaty prohibits states parties from developing, testing, producing manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, so it is pretty comprehensive. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, known as ICAN, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for its work on the ban treaty.
The treaty results from the frustration of the vast majority of countries of the world with the few nuclear weapon states, which have completely failed to honour Article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Noble Lords will know that Article 6 requires that nuclear weapons states make meaningful steps towards nuclear disarmament. In return, other countries agreed not to develop nuclear weapons. It is 50 years since that agreement was signed and, although there have been steps to limit the number of nuclear weapons, there has not been the disarmament envisaged by Article 6.
In this very House, 50 years ago, Lord Chalfont, the then Minister, said that,
“we regard the Non-Proliferation Treaty as an essential first step in achieving the ending of the nuclear arms race and making progress towards general and complete disarmament”.—[Official Report, 18/6/1968; col. 514.]
So, 50 years on, my first question to the Minister is whether multilateral nuclear disarmament is still a UK Government aspiration. It seems to me that our Governments always say that it is an aspiration, but then always say that “now is not the time”.
An example of this would be when the UN convened the open-ended working group to try and kick-start the process, stuck ever since 1996, of the UN Conference on Disarmament. The UK boycotted that opportunity—but why? I asked that question in March 2016, and this is the reply:
“The UK is not attending the Open Ended Working Group … on nuclear disarmament in Geneva …The Government believes that productive results can only be ensured through a consensus-based approach that takes into account the wider global security environment”.
But how can consensus ever be reached when those with nuclear weapons will not even attend meetings to debate the issues?
The UK boycotted the first two international conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. Why? Does closing our eyes to the reality of a nuclear war really change those realities? Of course it does not. The president of the International Red Cross said at the conclusion of those conferences that,
“if a nuclear conflict happened today, there is no humanitarian assistance capacity that could adequately respond to such a catastrophe”.
Of course, beside the appalling immediate deaths, the world would face the much wider threat of a prolonged nuclear winter.
Nuclear weapons are now the only weapons of mass destruction that are not subject to a categorical ban. Chemical and biological weapons are rightly banned, but nuclear weapons, the most apocalyptic WMDs, remain legally acceptable. Now the ban treaty fills a major gap in international law and will change that.
The treaty was adopted, in July last year, before the increased dangers posed by President Trump’s new nuclear posture, which Senator Ed Markey says,
“isn’t deterrence—it’s an invitation for America’s adversaries to expand and diversify their nuclear arsenals too”.
The accuracy of his quote is echoed in the Chinese PLA Daily, which responded to the new American posture by saying that China needs more nuclear warheads to deter the US threat. Just this month the news is bad. Russia is reported to be deploying nuclear weapons on the borders of Poland and Lithuania. The US Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, said that Pakistan is developing new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical ones, which will bring more risks to the region. All of this has led atomic scientists to move the Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes to midnight. The situation is extremely urgent.
In the light of that, the UK must become a much more positive influence for progress, just as it did on climate change when we were the first country to introduce a climate change Act with mandatory targets. This example was crucial to getting the final Paris accords. I am asking the UK Government to stop boycotting global efforts to even discuss this massive issue and take an active part. I am sure that other noble Lords will mention some of the positive moves that can be built on: the Iran deal—held to be a success despite President Trump’s attempts to sabotage it—and the resumption of the NPT review cycle, with a preparatory committee this May hopefully leading to a reinvigorated NPT.
I ask that the UK should play a constructive part in the forthcoming UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament. This conference could make all the difference. It could set the scene for immediate steps in changing policy, such as no first use and de-alerting, before moving the agenda on to longer-term issues of a phased programme to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Will the Minister confirm that the UK will take part in the conference, to be held in New York in May? We have plenty to offer. The UK has done some valuable work on verification; Aldermaston could be a global centre of excellence in nuclear disarmament. We also owe participation to our NATO partners. Having asked them to oppose the ban treaty process, it is now time for nuclear weapon states to provide something in return: a commitment that we are willing to engage with serious nuclear disarmament initiatives.
There is a clear choice. Although this serious subject is not really the time for a joke, this one does illustrate the stupidity of the situation we have got ourselves into. There are two aliens, and the first one says, “The dominant life forms on planet Earth have developed satellite-based nuclear weapons”. The second alien asks, “Are they an emerging intelligence”? The first alien says, “I don’t think so; they have them aimed at themselves”. We have the nuclear weapons aimed at ourselves as mankind. It is time that we made a choice to start on the road to disarmament. It will be a long and difficult road, but we have to start talking. We have to attend the UN high-level conference in New York and I hope that the Minister will have a positive message about that for this House this evening.
My Lords, the disinvention of knowledge is just as difficult as the abolition of sin or crime, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—who are, happily, both speaking in this debate—would attest. Nuclear knowledge cannot be just wished away. Indeed, it gives much benefit to men and women in invaluable nuclear medical applications and in its use for the nuclear generation of clean power. By comparison, the dangers presented by nuclear weaponry need little elaboration, save to note a fundamental point. It is manifest that, since World War II, their possession by some stops their use by others.
I say this with a little background. We in this place rightly are enjoined not to clutter up our speeches with otiose or redundant declarations. However, in the interests of transparency, I think it would be wrong not at least to note that in the 16 years up to 2015 I served as an adviser and then non-executive director of Lockheed Martin. In parallel, I declare my current holding of some of the common stock of that company in the United States.
As further background, it has always been good to learn from our service men and women as well as from those civilians in the western nuclear defence industry whom I have met who think deeply about the morality and practicality of what they do. They have families to lose, after all. While they may not keep the thoughts of St Thomas Aquinas exactly by their bed every night, they do without exception, at least in my experience, seem to have the concept of just war principles front of mind—that any war must be, like any weapon, properly considered and undertaken for a good purpose, just as this brave country took exactly that sort of decision back in 1939, but also that the outcome to be aimed for is peace. That is the underlying strength of our present position and our attitude towards regrettably having to have nuclear weapons.
In saying that, it is no virtue signalling on behalf of Christianity in mentioning St Thomas Aquinas, as the Hindu epic Mahabharata of the pre-Christian era, with its description of five brother rulers thrashing out exactly what was a just war, so clearly demonstrates. Trying to work out what is right and the balance between protection, defence and attack is an eternal and vital concern, and no more strongly than in the matter of nuclear deterrence and multilateral disarmament. I am hopeful that one day we will get going on this much more rapidly around the world, but between now and then there are all sorts of difficulties to be dealt with.
As neither knowledge nor stocks of nuclear weaponry can be wished away, the first task is to stabilise and then to stop proliferation. Declarations of hope and interest at the United Nations will not achieve this by itself or by themselves. I have noticed rather few calls to eliminate nuclear weapons from Russia, China, India, Pakistan or indeed from Israel, let alone from what can understandably and reasonably be called the rogue state of North Korea, and we have certainly not heard much cheeping about this from terrorist groups such as IS or Daesh or al-Qaeda.
Proliferation risk is at a dangerously high level and other state players such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have nuclear status high on their agenda and wish list. They are on their way, I believe. While one authority with very deep background in this area told me recently, “Look towards any Sunni state and you look at states mulling nuclear weaponry as a desirable possession in the longer term”, I think that, if they start, they will go shopping in Pakistan to get the necessary material. Yet, more cheerily, de-escalation happily has worked, with the UK, the US and France leading NATO-wide efforts post the Cold War, none the less leaving present day Russia with a superiority in numbers, if not in efficiency and effectiveness, of nuclear warheads.
To continue this process of measured nuclear disarmament is, as I know the noble Baroness recognises, grinding, difficult and long-term work. It can be achieved only by the current possession, however, of the very weaponry that we wish to abolish in the end. That is a practical paradox but a real one, which is why I support the replacement of our current fleet of deterrent-carrying Vanguard boats by their Dreadnought successors in close co-operation with the US, and admire the efforts of France. These three countries have together declared that they will never sign or ratify this undoubtedly well-meaning but hopelessly unrealistic treaty. The UN division list, as it were, on 7 July last year when a division was called shows countries, with some dubious virtue-signalling, for sure seeking to ban nuclear weapons but via a treaty that does not enjoy the support of, or engage, any state actually possessing the weapon. So this will not by itself reduce nuclear arsenals.
The UN treaty is extremely well-meaning naivety on extremely high stilts, and it will not contribute to international safety nor to the development of practical international law, let alone persuade any rogue state or terrorist organisation to come to the negotiating table tomorrow afternoon. Only realism will do that—the realism that was demonstrated to me clearly in an open and unchaperoned conversation with a chief petty officer in one of our Vanguard-class Trident-carrying boats during a visit on board. Mercifully for this poor sailor, the particular boomer I was on board was moored at the dockside of Faslane rather than being “out and under” on patrol. This chief petty officer of many years’ experience demonstrated the process to be followed, with multiple verifications that might lead to him using the trigger in his hand if ordered so to do. He has used it on a number of occasions during demonstration and shake-down operations to launch unarmed Trident test missiles on test. We talked—no one was listening; the commanding officer was not there—about the reality of war, and he talked a bit about his feelings. He was a human being like us and, like us, he had a family to hold in front of his eyes as he discussed his duty. I asked him what he felt, and very bluntly—he had a straightforward and appealing personality—he said, “Well, they know we have got the weapon, and if we have to, we will use it. It stops them”. Just so.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, particularly my work with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on securing this valuable debate.
Whether we like it or not, there is a growing consensus about the increased risk of nuclear weapons use, including by accident or miscalculation. In January, when the hands of the Doomsday Clock moved to two minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said:
“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the … threats of nuclear war … making the world security situation … as dangerous as it has been since World War II”.
Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more, not less, usable because of nations’ plans for their nuclear arsenals. Earlier this month, the US released a new Nuclear Posture Review, which reflects several worrying trends: new, smaller yield nukes for “more optionality” for deterrence purposes, of which a New York Times editorial said “this logic is insane”; an expanded role for nuclear weapons in national security strategy; and expanded circumstances when nuclear weapons might be used. Unlike his predecessor’s review, this President’s review does not mention a role for diplomacy, arms control or means to address the threats it generates. It does not consider the effect of proposed policies on strategic stability, proliferation or the impact if other nuclear armed states adopt similar policies—and they are doing so. The US is not alone in going down this path. But they are our closest ally and, unlike Germany, we have been silent. Previously, we were encouraging.
In June 2015, on the “The Andrew Marr Show”, Philip Hammond, then Secretary of State for Defence, was asked whether he would back plans to station such weapons here in the UK. He said, “We would look at the case” for doing so. For those of us who live in the Euro-Atlantic space, where over 90% of the world’s nuclear arms are deployed some minutes from use, these risks are compounded by heightened tensions between NATO and Russia, dangerous rhetoric and brinkmanship from nuclear-armed states, and the growing risk of cyber threats to nuclear command and control systems, which we grossly underestimate.
Across Europe, there is an ongoing collapse of the suite of arms control treaties that for decades have provided stability. There are no ideas on how to arrest that collapse and no intent to pursue alternatives. With allegations of cheating on both sides, no one has any idea how to defend the INF treaty, secure the extension of New START, or repair the collapse of the CFE regime. Now we are heading to another crisis in the NPT review cycle. Last year, frustration over the lack of advancement in the disarmament pillar of the NPT caused the agreement of the first international treaty banning nuclear weapons. Some 122 countries negotiated a treaty that will prohibit nuclear weapons, just as the international community prohibited biological and chemical weapons. Who thinks that the world is less safe because these weapons are banned?
However, before the treaty was even negotiated, our Government made it clear that they would have nothing to do with it. Consistently over the years, the Government have declared opposition to this idea. Every ministerial statement says the same—so much so that I could paraphrase the Minister’s speaking notes. The component elements of the justification for opposition are that the treaty does not deliver any progress on disarmament, does not take account of the international security environment, which apparently compels the retention of nuclear weapons, or address the threats to international peace and security posed by nuclear proliferation, and will cause divisions in the international community over its opposition to the DPRK’s behaviour.
Positively, sometimes the Government repeat that they are committed to progress on global nuclear disarmament and tirelessly work with partners to press for key steps, including the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the successful negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty. So it is no surprise that, in response to the treaty, the UK, France and the US issued a joint statement in the usual terms. The treaty, it said,
“does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary”,
“cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance ... international peace and security”,
and, in particular, it is a threat to the unity of purpose essential in the face of growing threats from the DPRK’s proliferation efforts.
Let us look at the elements of this position. What exactly are the “security concerns” that make it necessary for us to rely on nuclear deterrence? This is all set out in the SDSR 2015, a document that in January in the other place the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said “remains sound”. The relevant paragraph states that we need nuclear deterrence because there is,
“a risk that states might use their nuclear capability to threaten us, try to constrain our decision making in a crisis or sponsor nuclear terrorism”.
So it is clear that the reason we have nuclear weapons is to prevent the eight other nuclear armed states, two of which are our allies, threatening or using their nukes against us—not for some vague security concerns or to deter proliferation, as all statements to date imply. We do not have nuclear weapons to deter proliferation. In fact, we have a positive approach to non-proliferation, with an unqualified negative security assurance that the UK,
“will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against any Non-Nuclear Weapons State party to the … NPT”.
Within months of the agreement of the ban treaty and the ludicrous statement in response, the North Korea fears were dispelled. Three United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing the toughest sanctions yet on North Korea were passed, with no division, and in January in Vancouver the Foreign Secretary claimed that,
“the world is not being intimidated or divided by the threat from North Korea ... actually … there was an unprecedented measure of global consensus about what to do”.
So, at least the Minister can spare us that DPRK nonsense when she responds.
Ironically, today the biggest threat to international peace and security through proliferation comes not from the ban treaty but from the extant threat by President Trump to the Iran deal. That is the Government’s position too, as both Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister have made clear—Boris Johnson most recently in Brussels in January.
I am suggesting not that the UK signs up to the ban treaty or that the treaty does not have flaws—I accept that it does—but that the reasons given for not engaging the international community do not stand up to any level of scrutiny, and nor do our repeated statements in support of our alleged commitment to global disarmament. In truth, we are not even doing the minimum that we claim we are.
As far as the entry into force of the CTBT is concerned, only eight states matter. Theresa May has met with the Heads of State or Government of five of them. Can the Minister confirm that when the Prime Minister met Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping and Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, she raised the issue of entry into force of the CTBT? I am happy to await a written response, as I do not expect it to be available immediately. Regarding our ambition for a fissile material cut-off treaty, only Pakistan matters. Did David Cameron ever raise this issue when he met Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif? Likewise, I will wait for a letter.
In this environment, the challenges that we face need to be addressed by nuclear armed states working together in a responsible way, yet when there are meetings among the P5, there are no meaningful discussions about disarmament or even risk reduction. In fact, the only issues on which the P5 seem to be in agreement is their disdain for the ban treaty and calls for further disarmament, and the alleged but bogus risks that they—the treaty and disarmament—pose to global security.
First, we need to reduce polarisation and live up to our existing commitments and responsibility by engaging in—and encouraging other nuclear weapon states to engage in—UN discussions on disarmament in good faith. We need to focus on the NPT review conference, because if there is further failure on this issue in 2020 due to a lack of progress in disarmament, we may damage the future of that treaty irreparably. With 2020 only two years away, the UK needs to do more and push others to do more to demonstrate progress in meeting its NPT disarmament responsibilities and pledges—including, for a start, those in the 2010 NPT action plan.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on asking this very important question.
I speak in a personal capacity about the greatest threat to mankind and the planet: nuclear war. I believe that there are no safe hands for these weapons of mass destruction—not even ours. Global warming is a very major threat, but the threat of any detonation of nuclear weapons is even greater. Yet, despite the lead the UK has shown on the issue of global warming, we are not showing the same leadership on getting rid of nuclear weapons. Of all weapons of mass destruction, only nuclear weapons will kill not just one generation, but kill and maim future generations, resulting in the starvation of 2 billion people, even when used on a small, regional basis, as my noble friend said. It has also been made clear by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent that no medical response to a nuclear detonation would be anywhere near adequate.
It should hardly be necessary to restate that it is illegal to possess such weapons, let alone use them, but that is what the new UN ban treaty seeks to do. In my contribution, therefore, I urge the UK Government to demonstrate by their actions their commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, which they frequently express to Parliament and at the United Nations. Although the UK is a signatory to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, very little progress has been made for five decades on the incremental reduction of nuclear weapons to which the treaty commits us. It is time we did something about that. Indeed, it seems that weapons are proliferating rather than reducing. It saddens me, therefore, that the UK Government refused to sign the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—negotiated by the UN last July—and still seem not to have made up their mind as to whether they will attend the UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament in May. If not this way, which way?
The new ban treaty lays out a process leading to multilateral disarmament. The conference to discuss urgent next steps will be held in a climate of increasing possibility of a nuclear exchange between North Korea and the United States, or India and Pakistan, or Russia and NATO. There is no better time for world leaders to come together to take nuclear war off the table. The principal aim of the conference is to make progress on effective measures for nuclear risk reduction and disarmament. Membership of the NPT already commits us to that, so we really must take part. If we do not, we will increasingly be seen as out of step with the international community and rejecting the opportunity for global leadership that it presents.
The UK should not wait for other states to take action: surely we should make our own decisions about something as important as this. The non-nuclear countries have shown the way by agreeing the resolution last summer, and many have now signed and ratified it. But without the participation of the nine nuclear countries, the threat—not just of intentional detonation, but of accidental detonation too—remains acute. The presence of nuclear convoys on our roads brings the latter very close to home.
The treaty calls for progress to be made on a global agreement, which would include the nuclear-armed states and provide a phased and verified process for prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons. Verification is an area where the UK has considerable expertise to offer, so we should take part in discussions about how this can be done. Such processes have been very successful in reducing the use of chemical and biological weapons, and it is essential that the global community learns from that success in relation to nuclear weapons too. Chemical and biological weapons were banned first and then eliminated, so making them illegal was the essential first step.
Parliamentarians and civil society organisations have called on world leaders to commit to attending the conference at the highest possible level. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, which includes the Parliaments of France, Russia, the UK, the USA and 52 other members, adopted declarations in 2016 and 2017 calling on member Governments to reduce nuclear threats, adopt no-first-use policies and support UN negotiations, including on the nuclear ban treaty and at the 2018 UN high-level conference. Even though we might be leaving the European Union, we are being told that we will still be in Europe, so there is no reason why we cannot continue to play an active role in this organisation and to support its demands.
Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute and UN representative for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, said recently:
“Nine nations continue to hold the world at risk of nuclear annihilation. Although 120 non-nuclear weapons states have negotiated a treaty to ban the weapons, the states with the weapons remain deadlocked in inertia. It is time for leaders to come together … to discuss measures to reduce nuclear threats”.
So will our Prime Minister attend? Frankly, I would not trust the Foreign Secretary to make a positive contribution, but the Prime Minister might. If not now, when?
While millions starve, over $100 billion per year is spent globally on nuclear weapons, including many millions of pounds by the UK. Personally, I believe that this is a terrible waste because I do not believe that the deterrence principle makes us any safer. On the contrary, possession of these weapons makes us a potential target, as it clearly does for the United States. Certainly the people of Scotland think so, which is why they are overwhelmingly against the location of these weapons on their soil. The money could be better spent to create jobs, support renewable energy, protect the climate and clean air, maintain our conventional defence forces and implement the sustainable development goals.
The ban treaty also has something important to say about the ongoing humanitarian legacy of past nuclear weapons use and testing, and obliges states to provide medical rehabilitation and socioeconomic assistance to those affected by nuclear weapons and to make affected environments clean and safe again. The UK has nuclear test veterans, so I ask the Minister: what are the UK Government doing for them and what contribution are they making to assist victims in other parts of the world? Taking the first steps to engage with the ban treaty by attending the conference is not only compatible with our membership of NATO, the NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, it is a vital step towards fulfilling our legal obligations in relation to nuclear disarmament.
Given the aggressive stance of the current holder of the office of US President, it is time for us, one of the United States’s oldest friends, to show that jaw-jaw is better than war-war by participating in the high-level conference, even as an observer. Even if the other nuclear states refuse to take part, the presence of the UK would prove what the Government have recently been claiming—that even after Brexit, the UK will remain an outward-facing country, engaged with the rest of the world and taking a leading role in efforts for peace. I challenge the Government to prove their claim by attending the conference.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for bringing this timely and important debate. One of my predecessors, H A Wilson, Bishop of Chelmsford from 1929 to 1950, only ever made one speech in the House of Lords. Prelates nowadays tend to have more to say. This may or may not be a good development.
Shortly after the Second World War a Motion was before this House on the subject of nuclear weapons. Drawing on Christian just war theory, he rose and spoke about how the use of nuclear weapons broke one of the few conventions that civilisation had succeeded in setting up to mitigate the brutalities of war. In his memoirs he recalls how the speech was received:
“Nobody took the slightest notice. I sat down in dead silence and I was conscious that all the noble Lords considered that I had made an ass of myself. Well, probably I had, but the ass’s burden no longer included an uneasy conscience”.
I speak with a similar conviction and perhaps a similar dread. I want to say simply that nuclear weapons are immoral, that they are a lethal extravagance, and that we must find another way. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, spoke about sin and that we cannot go back to Eden. He is quite right—but, my dear brother, there is also repentance. What he said about nuclear weapons could also be said of chemical weapons, yet we have succeeded in ridding the world of those to a certain extent. I am sure that rogue people will always do rogue things, but we have made progress, and similar progress can be made with nuclear weapons.
The truth is that these weapons of mass destruction are also weapons of mass deception. They provide the illusion of security while actually making the world less secure than ever. North Korea now joins the nuclear club. Who will be next, and do we really feel safe with Donald Trump’s finger upon the button? Will we ever be told the truth about their cost, their unusability, their increasing detectability, their vulnerability to cyberattack, and the near misses and accidents that have happened over the years? The fact is that there are military people today who acknowledge their redundancy in the face of the security threats and military needs of a much changed world—or simply that, if we do have all these billions to spend on something we claim we will never use, how about a few more hospitals instead?
The world needs to find another way and to do this the world needs to work together. Obviously, nuclear disarmament cannot be left just to nuclear states, but we do not join in the conversation. The impact of nuclear weapons—their threat, their cost and, God forbid, their use—affects everyone. The most hopeful sign of this happening is the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It confirms that the long-standing obligation to negotiate disarmament is an obligation under international law, and it is because of the failure of nuclear armed states to make multilateral progress that the United Nations is now rightly taking on a more substantive role.
The very first UN General Assembly took place in 1946 just across the green from here in Central Hall, Westminster. Its first resolution focused on,
“the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction”.
As I have said, since then some progress has been made. The UK has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Chemical and biological weapons have been banned, and so have cluster bombs. A few years ago we all patted ourselves on the back when we banned them. The moral arguments about nuclear weapons are just as compelling, if not more so, for to use a nuclear weapon is suicide as well as genocide.
In the coming years, this conversation is going to take place on a wider stage, but our Government, along with other nuclear states, have met the call for wider involvement with the United Nations in disarmament with obstruction, veto and boycott. As supporters of international law, how can this be right? Even if the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is correct and people like me are well intentioned and naive, that does not stop us sitting down to talk with people about it. Yet we do not do that.
The question before us is simple: when a majority of the world’s countries are working within the UN framework to achieve non-proliferation and the ultimate goal of multilateral disarmament, why will we not even engage with the process? If we are so convinced that nuclear weapons are so helpful to keeping peace in the world, what have we to fear from discussion with those who think differently? Why cannot we even, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, send an observer? Or is it the case, as I suspect, that in our hearts we know that we can never use these bombs and therefore to own them and to perpetuate the myth of deterrence is a moral failure?
If it is right to say that cluster bombs should not be manufactured or used and that they are immoral, but nuclear weapons could, in certain circumstances, be used, then, in my predecessor’s words, we are breaking the conventions which have, through our understanding of just war that teaches that any force must be proportionate, discriminate, able to achieve its aims of peace and a last resort, mitigated the terrible brutalities of war, then he is also right that we put ourselves in a very weak position to lecture others. But our presence at the table is requested. There is to be a United Nations high-level conference on disarmament in May. My simple question to the Minister is: will we be there and, if not, why not?
Mark Twain famously said that it was not the bits of the Bible that he did not understand that caused him a problem but the bits that he did. Here is a saying of Jesus that is easy to understand: “Peace I give you, but not as the world gives peace”. I speak for many churches and many people of faith in this nation when I ask our Government simply to take part in the process.
My Lords, I first declare that I have been closely involved with the UK deterrent for some decades. Indeed, for four years I was directly responsible to the Prime Minister for the safety and operational effectiveness of the UK deterrent. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for raising this topic, because it is important.
First, I make clear my view that this UN nuclear ban treaty was a mistake and will if anything make us less safe because it will take our eyes off the areas where we should be concentrating to try to control and to restrict nuclear weapon ownership, types of devices and numbers. As has been mentioned already, it is virtue-signalling on a grand scale—something that seems to have caught on in this snowflake and social media age. While it makes the people virtue-signalling feel rather good, generally I am afraid it achieves nothing.
Shortly after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the strategist Bernard Brodie stated:
“Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them”.
I agree with that. We spend extraordinary resources on weapons that we hope will never be used, but one of the ironies of nuclear deterrence is that its effectiveness depends upon actual willingness to use nuclear weapons. I do not intend to go into that deep justification, but I will make it absolutely clear that if any nation thinks that in the final analysis of the destruction of, for example, our capital cities, we would not use nuclear weapons, they are deluding themselves. One should make that clear.
Although I disapprove of the UN treaty, I am strongly of the view that the leaders and nuclear strategists of the nuclear powers need to start focusing on what is without a doubt the greatest existential threat facing all our nations and indeed the globe. They have taken their eyes off the ball. Even if the US nuclear posture review has pushed deterrence up the agenda—although, as my noble friend stated, there are some very worrying proposals within it—I believe that there is a real risk of an inadvertent nuclear exchange. There are multiple ways of misreading or misjudging the other side’s behaviour, or miscalculating during a crisis, especially in “hybrid” scenarios of the type beloved by President Putin. Such a possibility of a nuclear exchange with Russia, starting by accident, no matter how remote it might be at present, would have such a catastrophic result that we should work hard now to ensure that it can never happen.
Part of my concern is because of Putin’s so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which is bonkers. In that, he would use a nuclear weapon at a sub-strategic level, based on his calculation that NATO could not credibly respond with strategic-level nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are not war-fighting weapons—I find the whole prospect of that horrifying. That is a very dangerous assumption and the prospects of controlling escalation and terminating a conflict according to any pre-planned scenario which he or NATO might think they have are disturbingly small. All sides would have great difficulty in limiting, managing or ending a conflict on their preferred terms.
All our leaders in the nuclear weapons states must understand the value of dialogue and signalling for conflict avoidance and management. Diplomacy and investment in coherent signalling are cheap compared to the costs of conflict. Russia and NATO should make sustained efforts to communicate their positions to each other and be able to use well-established communication channels to manage any emerging crisis. It is no good trying to cut those links; we need more and better links.
I had hoped that Presidents Trump and Putin, the great “deal makers”, might reach some accord. There was, I thought, a golden opportunity to lessen tension by establishing lines of communication and avoid misunderstandings. Indeed, reinvigorating the web of agreements and understandings between their two nations and NATO about nuclear weapons could help defuse potential escalation in time of crisis. Additionally, the START negotiations could move forward again, because, despite the achievements of SALT I and II and START I and II, we are still in a world where Russia and the US each have about 7,000 nuclear warheads in their arsenals. The Russians also have 4,000 short-range nuclear weapons, and the US fields about 200 in Europe. These are particularly destabilising, not least in their vulnerability to terrorist attack and capture, since many of the Russian weapons are held in remote storage areas. A major reduction in warhead holdings and systems would make the world safer.
We in the UK can be proud of having taken a lead in reducing our warheads to about 200 and only one system—the bare minimum to establish a credible deterrent. If the two Presidents could reach some agreement on ways of reducing tension, it would enhance global security. It would be a great coup, for example, if the US and Russian strategic nuclear forces went from a condition of instant notice to fire, which I find quite extraordinary in the world that we are in at the moment, down to a reduced readiness to fire, as we have done in the UK. The issue of alert state and readiness to fire is particularly important in the case of land-based ICBMs and bombers, as they are vulnerable to first strike. This means there is only a limited time to react to a suspected attack before they are destroyed—in the US and Russian case, it is about 15 minutes. In times of severely strained relations between the US and what was then the Soviet Union in the past, on a number of occasions missile launches were almost made on incorrect information—that is a chilling thought. Such calming measures, combined with success in a new START III, would be a substantial achievement by these two “Marmite” leaders. We would inhabit a safer world and feel bound to acknowledge, at least in this one area of endeavour, that perhaps they have some statesmanship.
Reduction in number of warheads, removal of whole types of systems and better links and understanding of the need for more dialogue will all make us safer and put no country’s interest at risk. The risks, should things accidently go wrong and we do not make some progress, are too dreadful to contemplate. Bearing in mind the worrying proposals in the US nuclear posture review, has our Prime Minister discussed in any depth with the US President ways forward on this nuclear issue?
My Lords, opening the Munich security conference this weekend its chairman, Wolfgang Ischinger, formerly ambassador to the US and later the UK, said that he was worried. He said:
“I think the global security situation is more unstable today than it has been at any time since the demise of the Soviet Union”.
The report prepared for the conference was entitled To the Brink—and Back? Note the question mark. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord West, and his contribution I feel even more unstable than I did before. He talked about the instability of the current situation and the risks that Putin was prepared to take in the belief that the West would not retaliate, and he painted a picture that underlines everything that Wolfgang Ischinger was worried about at the conference.
The noble Lord, Lord West, also referred to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My mind goes back to the black and white Pathé news reports I saw in my local Odeon when I was a boy. The burgeoning mushroom clouds from those two cities brought us initially a sense of relief that the war would finally be over. Then the full horror emerged as we saw in later newsreels the death, devastation and destruction on the ground. Later, in 1949, after the Iron Curtain had divided Europe, we learned that our former glorious ally, Russia, had succeeded in testing its own atom bomb in Kazakhstan. At meetings of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, we have a brave but deformed survivor of those tests, Karipbek Kuyukov, who carries his disabilities with great grace.
Britain was not far behind. Operation Grapple, between 1957 and 1959, saw the development of the British atom and hydrogen bombs at Christmas Island and elsewhere in Australia, and some of my contemporaries as national servicemen—21,000 of them, some dressed in no more than khaki desert fatigues—were there to turn their backs to the explosions as they occurred. A study undertaken by Sue Rabbitt Roff, a social scientist at the University of Dundee, in 1999 found that of 2,261 children born to veterans of those tests 39% were born with serious medical conditions.
In October 1962 we saw more newsreels, of Russian merchant vessels heading towards Cuba with canisters containing nuclear missiles on their decks. Air reconnaissance showed that launch sites were being constructed on the island of Cuba itself. President Kennedy said in an address to the nation on television that they had identified missiles capable of striking Washington and indeed any other city in the south-east of the United States, the Caribbean or Mexico. He declared:
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the western hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union”.
For 13 days we held our breath. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to concerns for family. I had been married for just over a year, I was starting out on my career as a lawyer; indeed, I had even stood as a Liberal candidate in the local elections. The whole world that I was hoping to build seemed to be in the gravest danger. Then Khrushchev ordered the merchant fleet to turn back and commanded his submarines, which carried nuclear-tipped torpedoes, to return to base. So did the doctrine of deterrence prevent war? Yes, on this occasion, I think it probably did, but it required stable and rational leaders on both sides who weighed the risks, considered the consequences and took realistic decisions. Contrast that with the world today.
Noble Lords have talked about Iran. At Munich on Saturday, President Netanyahu warned Iran not to test Israel’s resolve. His country—a nuclear power, of course—would not allow Iran,
“to put a noose of terror around our neck ... we will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies … but against Iran itself”.
He compared the Iranian nuclear deal with the US with the Munich attempt to appease Hitler: sanctions relief, he said, had,
“unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger”.
While in Munich at the weekend, the US National Security Advisor, General McMaster, warned of Moscow’s campaign to divide the West through subterfuge. What did the leader of the West, President Trump, have to say about it? He tweeted a rebuke to General McMaster:
“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”.
That is the so-called leader of the western world. Mr President, you are no Jack Kennedy. Meanwhile, in North Korea, President Kim Jong-un declares:
“The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat … This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment. These weapons will be used only if our society is threatened”.
Trump’s response was to claim that his nuclear button,
“is a much bigger & more powerful one than his”.
This is the context in which we are discussing the ban treaty. In an uncertain and unstable world, we have uncertain and unstable leaders. The risks of an accidental or deliberate detonation of a nuclear weapon have increased. The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the accidental detonation of these weapons. The possession and deployment of nuclear weapons can result in misjudgments and the escalation of crises, as the Cuba crisis demonstrated.
It is deplorable that this Government refused even to attend the discussions which proceeded the ban treaty. Britain has been prepared to join treaties to ban chemical and biological weapons, as many noble Lords have said. We agree that the possession of such weapons, and cluster bombs, is a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court. Each of those treaties formulated a sequence for the destruction of the weapons concerned: first, the negotiation of a prohibition treaty; then accession to the treaty; the removal of such weapons from operational positions; and a commitment verifiably to destroy stockpiles within a limited period. Perhaps the Minister will claim that the United Kingdom is committed to multilateral disarmament. But it has to start somewhere so let us make a start and commit to joining the treaty as soon as possible. The first step is for this country to be present at the table at the high-level conference in May. Why should the UK not be present, at least with observer status?
To the brink—and back? Mr Ischinger said at the conclusion of this weekend’s conference that after all the rancorous debate he had heard, the question mark remains.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for introducing this debate. She has a formidable reputation for consistency over many years, and not just in this country. I can say from direct experience how highly she is regarded internationally, particularly in Europe.
We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council. That is an immense privilege and we need to make sure that we are playing a lead role in fulfilling the spirit of the purposes of the UN Security Council. At the time of the negotiation of the non-proliferation treaty, as a nuclear power we were under considerable scrutiny. I am convinced that that treaty was only achieved partly because of the undertaking by the nuclear powers that they would work seriously and deliberately to tackle the issue of the existence of their own nuclear arsenals, and to reduce and eventually eliminate them. That was a solemn undertaking; the world is looking to us again to act in the spirit of that undertaking.
In the 1970s I moved from being Minister for the Navy, where of course I had responsibility for nuclear submarines, to become the Minister for Overseas Development. Friends used to ask me how I put the two things together. I said that I found no inconsistency whatever, because it seemed to me that in any logical and sane defence and security policy, disarmament was a critical element. They were not separate issues but went together. Of course, now we understand even better that there is another issue: the battle for hearts and minds. The world is desperately unstable. My noble friend Lord West reminded us firmly of this. It is unstable, but we shall ultimately build stability and security only when rationality prevails in the international community and we are winning sufficient numbers of hearts and minds. We are therefore being watched in everything we do as to what we are really about, particularly in areas where we have more significance, such as nuclear issues.
I have worked most of my life in the international context but I cannot share with colleagues too closely the dismay I see that we have moved from being seen as a country to be respected to being seen, too often, as part of the problem. We have to do something about this. We also have to recognise that the relationship between the nuclear powers and the non-nuclear states is not good at the moment. There is a lot of mistrust, which is of course related to the issue I just mentioned. How does security come through hearts and minds if we have distrust, uncertainty and misgivings across a wide section of the world? That will not help to create security and stability.
We need to work at improving relationships between the nuclear powers and the non-nuclear powers. The Government may not like a situation in which the NPT and the high-level conference are happening. Perhaps they would far prefer this to be discussed under the NPT processes—but the NPT itself will unravel unless common ground can be built using processes such as the high-level conference. We must recognise that non-nuclear states are setting up these additional processes only because of the failure of the UK and other P5 states to honour their Article 6 commitments.
Looking at the bigger picture, the UK needs to understand that for the “Global Britain” mantra to be meaningful, and for the UK to continue to have global influence post Brexit, Britain must be mindful of its global reputation. This kind of high-handed and insular approach to disarmament does significant damage to that reputation and reduces the UK in the eyes of non-nuclear states. Most of the world’s population and their Governments are fed up and tired of a situation in which certain arrogant powers assume that it is their job to manage the world. They want to be treated as meaningful partners, and that demands our presence at occasions such as this conference.
What should we specifically be doing? I would like to suggest several things. We should take unmistakable action to improve diplomatic relations between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states by participating in negotiations and stimulating dialogue. We should work energetically to restore the health of the NPT regime, including initiating inclusive processes to work on the 2010 64-point action plan and publishing an annual report on the UK’s contribution to its implementation. We should breathe life into the P5 process talks between nuclear weapon states, including strengthening their agenda and increasing their transparency. We should review the prominence given to nuclear weapons in the UK’s security doctrines, in close consultation with Parliament and civil society. We should use the opportunity of this 2018 UN high-level conference on nuclear disarmament to build bridges with non-nuclear weapon states, and we should do it by having senior members of the Government present at the conference.
None of us would like to be where we are. I have always been a multilateralist because the issue is how we get from where we are to where we want to be, and that will necessarily involve international collaboration and agreements. I thank the noble Baroness for having introduced this debate. The nightmare that is there if we ignore it is too awful to contemplate.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for initiating this debate. She reminded us that, on 7 July last year, 122 countries at the UN headquarters in New York endorsed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons—the ban treaty, as noble Lords have called it. The eight officially recognised nuclear weapons states, plus the unofficially recognised Israel, boycotted the process. I reiterate what my noble friends Lord Browne and Lord Judd said: the ban treaty is born out of perceived frustration by many states at the lack of progress in recent years on nuclear disarmament through the non-proliferation treaty, which was the only multilateral treaty that contained a binding commitment to nuclear disarmament through a gradual process based on good faith.
As my noble friend Lord Judd reminded us, it was a Labour Government who signed the non-proliferation treaty in 1968. In its 2017 manifesto, Labour committed to support the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent while advocating greater UK leadership in creating stronger multilateral efforts with the global community and the United Nations in order to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world. Only four countries are not a party to the NPT treaty—North Korea left the NPT, and India, Israel and Pakistan never joined it—but it commits 185 states never to develop nuclear weapons. The UK, the USA, China, Russia and France already had nuclear weapons by 1968. Since 1970, there have been review conferences every five years to pursue an incremental approach to nuclear disarmament, which noble Lords pointed out, through Article VI of the treaty. The NPT has of course come under stress in recent years, most notably at the last quinquennial NPT review in 2015. That ended without a consensus on what actions should be taken over the next five years to pursue the goal of nuclear disarmament, the first time that this has happened since 1970.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, stated, the ban treaty’s main provisions are that member states are banned from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, reminded us, though, the first major inadequacy of the ban treaty is that even though two-thirds of UN member states endorsed it, there was no involvement of the major players in nuclear deterrence. The legal provision banning the stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of a member state has implications for NATO countries such as Germany, Italy and Turkey, which have US nuclear weapons on their soil. As we have heard in this debate, polarisation between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states could be magnified by the ban treaty. As noble Lords have made clear, we should see this as a wake-up call for the countries that possess nuclear weapons to act.
The United Kingdom has been seen as one of the more progressive nuclear states, leading the way in advocating diplomatic, technological and financial policies to pursue nuclear disarmament, and it has led the way in multilateral approaches to pursue that agenda. Labour has historically been more progressive in finding solutions to nuclear disarmament and continues to be so today. Under Gordon Brown’s premiership, Labour offered a “grand global bargain” that would reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles among nuclear weapons states and vowed to cut the number of Trident submarines from four to three. The Brown Government maintained the UK’s position as the most progressive nuclear weapons state in 2008 by setting up the P5 process, the first forum between the P5 set up specifically to discuss matters surrounding nuclear disarmament, and we also had the UK-Norway initiative. Unfortunately, that process has been reduced in importance by the current Government.
This is the crux of the debate. All noble Lords have asked: where are the initiatives by this Government to maintain the commitments and pathways set out in the NPT? There do not seem to be any. As my noble friend Lord West said, the key to this process has to be a much stronger level of communication and dialogue. That is the way forward. I want to hear from the Minister tonight exactly how the Government are going to engage, particularly with the US President’s reviews that have been announced. How are we going to engage and communicate across the P5? How do we reinvigorate the process so that we avoid the threats that we have heard identified in this debate? How do we reduce tensions and the threat that nuclear weapons pose?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for tabling this debate and all noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions.
Let me state at the outset that the Government are committed to a world free from nuclear weapons. It is the Government’s view that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty remains central to achieving this. It has been at the heart of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts for nearly 50 years and it remains the only legally binding treaty on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament to receive global acceptance.
Perhaps most crucially, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty has worked. By offering reciprocal guarantees to all its signatories, it has succeeded in significantly limiting the global proliferation of nuclear weapons. As many of your Lordships will be aware, it has underpinned the massive reduction in nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, and it has allowed all countries to benefit from the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It has been successful because it is built on foundations of consensus, and because it delivers tangible benefits to all its signatories. As security threats evolve and test our resolve and our values, we should cherish the far-sightedness that the treaty embodies.
I listened with care and respect to the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I perhaps cannot share his analysis, but we both seek the ultimate objective of a world where nuclear weapons are redundant. Where we differ is on the journey to that destination.
I submit that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the “ban treaty” as it is shorthanded into, stands in stark contrast to the proven effectiveness of the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty. First, rather than building the necessary trust and consensus between states, it is seeking quick fixes. Secondly, the ban treaty offers no solutions to the complex security environment that we all face, nor to the technical challenges of verifying nuclear disarmament. Thirdly, its attempt to create a rival legal framework for disarmament is flawed. Its safeguard standards are inadequate and its restrictions on nuclear test explosions lack the rigour of those imposed by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.
My noble friend Lord Patten made the important distinction between a laudable aspiration—no one would dispute that that is what the ban treaty embodies—and a system which actively contributes to a multilateral disarmament objective. That is the problem: the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons fails to offer a realistic path to disarmament and risks undermining the effective non-proliferation and disarmament architecture that we already have in place. The noble Lord, Lord West, identified those flaws with authority.
As a result, the United Kingdom Government do not intend to become party to this treaty and we do not recognise that its prohibitions represent an emerging rule of customary law. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that, as we speak, the ban treaty has received, from the original 122 countries involved, 56 signatories and only five ratifications.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about the UK’s commitment to disarmament. Your Lordships should be in no doubt that this Government remain committed to full multilateral nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control. It is our firm belief that the best way to achieve this is through verified, step-by-step, gradual multilateral disarmament. I detected from the contributions that several of your Lordships do not disagree with those objectives.
It is important to note some essential steps along this path. The Government believe that they include: first, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; secondly, starting and successfully concluding negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty in the conference on disarmament; and, thirdly, the global adoption of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
There is no doubt that disarmament is more difficult in the current security environment. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, spoke with authority about that. Alongside our allies, we face challenges that are growing in number, scale and complexity. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, acknowledged that challenge, as did the noble Lord, Lord Judd. These challenges include a more aggressive Russia and a more capable North Korea. That is why this Government will retain our independent and credible minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation makes it necessary. This is not just essential for our own security; it is also essential for NATO’s security.
Yet even in this challenging context, progress on disarmament is still possible. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord West, made a number of interesting points in this respect. Allow me to give an example of one strand of the Government’s work that is moving us closer to the realising the goals of the non-proliferation treaty. Establishing an effective nuclear disarmament verification regime will be essential if we are to realise that long-term goal of multilateral nuclear disarmament. States need to be confident that a nuclear armed state will have its warheads dismantled in a way that makes us safer, rather than in a way the spreads nuclear know-how and inadvertently increases the risk of nuclear proliferation. Establishing effective disarmament verification has been a priority for successive British Governments.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, by reminding him and other noble Lords that the United Kingdom started working with Norway on disarmament verification over 10 years ago. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who was the Secretary of State for Defence that time. The United Kingdom-Norway initiative was the first ever technical project between a nuclear and non-nuclear weapons state in this field. This Government have built on that work. In 2015, we established the quad initiative with the United States, Norway and Sweden, which undertook the first ever multilateral disarmament verification exercise, at RAF Honington in October last year. Since 2015, we have played a leading role in the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, including co-chairing its working groups on verification objectives and verifying nuclear weapon declarations. We have co-sponsored the founding of a United Nations group of government experts on verification, and recently hosted a conference to prepare the first formal meeting of the group in May this year. So this Government are, indeed, talking.
These examples of practical and effective co-operation improve trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, and take us closer to the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons. To be fair, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, acknowledged that there had been progress over the piece on these issues.
I turn to some specific contributions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, asked about matters raised by the Prime Minister in recent meetings with different powers. He also raised the issue of cyber threats in relation to nuclear weaponry. I shall make inquiries, and shall write to the noble Lord with any relevant information that I receive.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady Walmsley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, all asked about the UK’s view of the proposed high-level conference on nuclear disarmament in May this year. The conference is sponsored by the Non-Aligned Movement, which seems divided among itself about what the conference should focus on. We believe that it is unlikely to lead to effective progress towards global nuclear disarmament. If the conference is held, which is still unclear, we shall consider our approach closer to the time.
The noble Lord, Lord West, raised the issue of the United States nuclear posture review, and the United Kingdom’s attitude to it. The United Kingdom welcomes that nuclear posture review and the continued US commitment to European security and to a world without nuclear weapons.
Nuclear disarmament requires leadership from all nuclear states so, finally, allow me to recall our own strong track record. In January 2015, we announced that we had fulfilled commitments we made in the 2010 strategic defence and security review to reduce the number of deployed warheads on each of our Vanguard class submarines from 48 to 40, and the number of operational warheads to no more than 120. We remain committed to reducing our total stockpile of nuclear warheads to no more than 180 by the mid-2020s. I suggest to noble Lords that that shows leadership by example, and I think it very important, as a number of noble Lords rightly indicated, that the nuclear powers globally are prepared to give such leadership.
This Government assess that the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons represents a significant backward step. It threatens the consensus and progress achieved by the non-proliferation treaty. It undermines the necessary safeguards established by that treaty. For these reasons, it would take us further from multilateral nuclear disarmament, rather than closer to it. That is why this Government will never recognise that its prohibitions represent an emerging rule of customary law. This Government remain committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its goal of multilateral nuclear disarmament. We shall continue to work with all international partners to build trust and confidence between states, to prevent proliferation, and to take tangible steps toward a safer and more stable world, in which countries with nuclear weapons ultimately feel able to relinquish them. That is the objective to which this country and this Government are committed. As I suggested, this Government are prepared to lead by example.
This has been a useful debate and I thank the noble Baroness for tabling the Motion. It enabled us to make a useful exploration of where we are and what the issues are. We can draw comfort from what I said in response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford: we may disagree with one another on the analysis of where we are at the moment and what we do or do not do, but we seem to be united in the ultimate objective that we want to achieve.
House adjourned at 10.01 pm.