House of Lords
Tuesday 27 February 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
European Free Trade Association
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether remaining in the European Single Market, post-Brexit, would require the United Kingdom to retain membership of the European Economic Area and associated European Union agencies through re-joining the European Free Trade Association.
My Lords, the Government’s position is clear: the United Kingdom is leaving the EU and will no longer be a member of the single market. As such, we have no plans to join EFTA in order to continue to participate in the EEA agreement beyond the implementation period. Instead, we are seeking a bold and ambitious economic partnership that is of greater scope and ambition than any existing agreement.
I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. The customs union and the European single market are, from a practical and industrial perspective in the advanced economies, intertwined—technical standards being a good example. Is not the way to make the best of a bad job to move from where we are now, in Pillar 1 of the European Economic Area—namely, the EU—to Pillar 2, namely EFTA? We would not be at the EU table, it is true, but to make that complaint on the way out is palpably risible. Is not one indisputable advantage that EFTA is a vehicle which actually works, as opposed to one which has not yet been designed, let alone road tested? It has been a nice runner, without any engine or transmission failure since 1959, and we would get it for half price or, to use a different metaphor, for half the annual subscription and country membership.
I was not totally clear what the noble Lord was asking me there, but of course not all of the EFTA countries are in the EEA: Switzerland is not. We will clearly want to continue our relationship with the EFTA countries afterwards, as they are close friends and neighbours. After the end of the implementation period, we will of course want to continue our association with them.
My Lords, could my noble friend confirm that Donald Tusk’s words—
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”—
also apply as far as we are concerned, in particular to the contribution of money to the EU?
My noble friend is of course correct. It is a basic factor of all EU negotiations that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Having said that, we are a law-abiding country, and when we make agreements, we do not rat on them.
My Lords, I am sorry I ran into the Chamber, but it was because I had been to inspect the border between Camden and Westminster. When I told my noble friend Lady Blood that this morning, she was delighted—she cannot wait for the Tube to be put there, from northern to southern Ireland. Is this level of understanding in the Minister’s department about how a border between north and south would work actually the level of discussion going on there?
I am not aware that anybody in my department has said anything of the sort. The point the noble Baroness is referring to is that of course we want no border in Ireland between the north and the south. We are committed to the Good Friday agreement. It has been the basis of lasting peace and prosperity in Ireland, and it is important that we come up with suitable arrangements in future negotiations with the EU to ensure that there is no border.
My Lords, can the Minister give a precise definition of “ambitious managed divergence” and the other new buzz-phrase, “European traded goods area”? Can he also explain the three baskets, which sectors are in which baskets and whether suppliers to a sector, such as the textile-makers of a car seat, are permanently or temporarily in a basket? Does he agree that so-called EU red tape ain’t got nothing on the bureaucracy involved in the Government’s plans?
I am tempted to make a comment about a basket case but that is probably not a good idea. The noble Baroness is referring to the point that when we leave the EU, we will start off with identical rules and regulations, as she well knows. The issue then is how we diverge in the future and how that divergence should be managed, should the EU want to adopt different regulations or should we want to do so. If we do and it does not affect the functioning of the ambitious free trade we want between us and the EU, why should we not be able to? Clearly, there needs to be a mechanism to manage that.
My Lords, now that the leader of the Labour Party does not seem to believe any longer that the European Union is a capitalist conspiracy against working people, does my noble friend the Minister agree that his support for the single market can serve only to undermine the standing of this rather successful organisation?
I am slightly confused about what the Labour Party’s position is this week. Last week, they were against the customs union; this week, they seem in favour of it. Perhaps next week they will be in favour of a single market, then against it again the following week. I can say only that I agree with Barry Gardiner, their international trade spokesman, who said in another place that,
“in voting to leave the EU the British people voted to leave both the single market and the customs union”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/16; col. 47-48WH.]
He then went on to write an article in the Guardian—a well-known journal of record—saying that retaining membership of a customs union would be “deeply unattractive” because it would stop us negotiating our own trade deals. He is supposed to be their trade spokesman.
My Lords, bearing in mind that more and more people now think that staying in the customs union is a very good idea—led by that subversive body, the CBI—what on earth will the Government say on Friday to reassure an increasingly desperate public?
I am sure that we all await with interest what the Prime Minister has to say in her speech on Friday, but the point about joining a customs union is a serious one. We are the fifth-largest economy in the world and the normal state of affairs in the rest of world is that large countries negotiate their own trading arrangements. It baffles me why people want to contract that out to the European Commission. We collect tariffs that we would then send to the European Commission; we would be totally in its control. Surely, if anything, the EU referendum means that we need to take back control in this country and do not want to contract out our trade policy to another organisation.
My Lords, can I ask about the three baskets? It seems that there is detached, semi-detached and alignment. Which of those baskets will take employment rights and workers’ rights? Can we please be told?
I think the noble Lord will have to wait to see what the Prime Minister has to say about the issue on Friday. I am building up the sense of anticipation.
My Lords, the Irish Government believe to have a frictionless border, we have to be members of both the single market and the customs union. On what basis do the British Government disagree with the Irish Government on that matter?
We think the Irish Government are wrong on this matter. There is already a fiscal border in Northern Ireland but we have been very clear that we are not going to impose a hard border. We set out in a paper last year how we think this could be achieved by various electronic and technological means. However, we accept that this has to be the subject of further discussion, and we look forward to having those discussions. The Taoiseach of Ireland has accepted that that has to be part of the end-state agreement.
Disabled Students’ Allowance
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to removing the need for candidates for higher education with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities to pay for new assessments for the disabled students’ allowance if they have an existing diagnosis acquired before the age of 16 and a history of support.
I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw the House’s attention to my declared interests.
My Lords, disabled students’ allowances do not meet the costs that students incur in providing evidence of their disability. We committed to reviewing the need for post-16 diagnostic assessments for students with specific learning disabilities and have sought expert advice on whether the need for this remains. The result of that review will be published in the spring and I would not wish to pre-empt it.
Would the Minister agree that there is a very good case here for not needing a review? The second assessment for somebody who has already been identified as having a lifelong condition can cost up to £600. You cannot get rid of dyslexia—I know; I tried. Can the Government give us some idea of why they are not just getting rid of this? On receipt of DSA, you get a needs assessment. This is a total waste of time and money.
I do not agree with the noble Lord. We gave a commitment to seek expert advice. For example, there are very important questions that we need to ask, to which we are getting answers. For example, is it necessary to require a diagnostic assessment to have taken place when the student is a specified age or older? If so, what age should that be? Does the assessment need to have been undertaken recently? If so, how recently? If a new assessment is still needed, does it need to be a full assessment or could it be a more limited one? There are a number of questions that we seek answers to, and we are going to come back to the noble Lord as soon as we can in the spring.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s review and am grateful that we will see the results some time soon. However, there is an issue when vice-chancellors are paid significant sums of money while disabled students who have previously had assessments need another assessment to get their benefits. That seems to go against the natural grain of justice. When the payment for the assessment is made, who receives that payment?
The Government are clear that disabled students should receive support wherever and whatever they choose to study, so that they are able to study alongside their fellow students on an equal basis. They are paid in respect of the additional expenditure that a higher education student is obliged to incur because of their disability. I should say that they are not intended to cover disability-related expenditure that the student would incur even if they were not in higher education.
Without pre-empting the outcome of the Government’s review, will the Minister at least agree in principle that it is desirable that there should be continuity of support for people with clearly diagnosed disabilities, and that there should be the minimum of impediments to disabled people taking part in study and in all other aspects of our national life?
I partly agree with the noble Lord. As I said earlier, it is important that we give the correct form of support to those who are disabled. It is also up to the individual providers—the universities and colleges—to make the right decisions themselves as to how they can look after those who are disadvantaged and who have disabilities. There is evidence that this is happening, but more should be done.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the additional expenses that disabled students often have. What is the Government’s response to the disincentive of the £200 charge for any computer equipment that is imposed on any disabled student to get the technology that they need to assist them? What are the Government doing to help the students with that additional charge?
The £200 student contribution towards the cost of a computer is something that all students get. I realise that some evidence and figures show a reduction in the cost. We are looking into that but we are adamant that all students, disabled or not, should receive the £200.
My Lords, will the review look at the fact that prospective students have to pay a charge, often amounting to hundreds of pounds, for the second assessment? Given that many of the people we are talking about come from lower-income households, how is that consistent with the Government’s approach to widening access? As I understand it, the review is not looking at the issue of charges. Will the Minister agree to extend it?
We have made it clear that the review is not considering the issue of who should pay for such a diagnostic assessment. The reason for that is that we want to see the result of this review as to whether the diagnostic assessment should occur post 16 or before that.
My Lords, as I understand it, the Equality Act recognises learning disabilities and other forms of mental and physical disabilities in the same way. Yet until now, the Government’s position has been to separate learning disabilities out into a different category. I welcome this review but can the Minister assure us that it will lay out the basis for that different treatment?
I cannot confirm that the review will cover that but I have no doubt that the review panel will look at the different types of specific learning difficulties. The right reverend Prelate will know that there is a big spread between dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder. The panel will look at all these issues as part of this review, focusing particularly on the diagnostic assessment.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has put his finger on what appears to be a pretty simple, straightforward case. My noble friend’s Answer reveals that the Government may have many further considerations before they are in a position to resolve this question. That being the case, will he talk to the usual channels and arrange for us to debate the result of the review when it comes to us?
I am certainly happy to talk to the usual channels through my noble friend the Chief Whip, but would not like to promise anything. We await the results of this review in the spring and will make them apparent.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to rebuild the lives of people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
My Lords, the Government are clear that our highest priority is to ensure that survivors receive the humanitarian support they need. This includes financial, practical and mental health support, as well as making sure that the survivors are provided with a permanent home on the same terms as before.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I must admit that this was not my question. It came from Conner Pollitt, a student at the Wellacre Academy in Urmston, Greater Manchester, which I visited under the Peers’ outreach programme sponsored by the Lord Speaker. I recommend the programme to all Members as an excellent way in which to engage with students and young people, and explain what we do, and sometimes what the other place does. Will the Minister undertake to write to Conner Pollitt with a slightly fuller answer? If a 15 year- old boy, 200 miles away from London, who knows nobody at Grenfell Tower and nothing about those families, cares that much, an answer from the Government would be much appreciated by him. It would show that we in the House of Lords not only talk the talk but sometimes walk the walk.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much indeed, both for his involvement in the Lord Speaker’s schools outreach programme—which is very valuable and in which I know many Peers are involved—and through the noble Lord I thank Conner Pollitt very much for his interest. Obviously, the Grenfell disaster affected everyone in the country. It is of note that somebody who is that far away and has not visited London has shown that interest— along with the school, the Wellacre Academy. If the noble Lord would care to speak to me separately, perhaps we can organise a visit from Conner Pollitt to see the work of the House of Lords and of the department.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as outlined in the register. It is more than eight months since the fire at Grenfell Tower, and to say that the local authority has been slow off the mark is an understatement. The noble Lord told the House before Christmas that the local authority was completing the purchase of a number of properties for the victims who lost their homes in the fire. Has that process been completed and when does he expect all the families to be finally rehoused, which will be one major step towards rebuilding their lives?
My Lords, the noble Lord rightly raises the issue of the rehousing of the households affected by the fire in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk. There are now 209 households, because some of the households split and we have honoured that: some wanted to become more than one household. Of those 209, 175 have now accepted offers of temporary or permanent accommodation and 123 of those have moved in. I think that means that 89 households have yet to be relocated. Progress, in short, is being made. It is sometimes slow, but we bear in mind that sometimes people will make a decision about a property, perhaps close to where the fire was, and then change their mind—there have been instances of that happening. We are now reaching the end game, as it were, and are putting pressure on the local authority to ensure that people are made aware of the choices available. There are enough properties, but not always in the right place—but work is going on and progress is being made.
My Lords, the information I have suggests that only 60 of those households have been given permanent accommodation. What is the timetable for the rest of those households, who are in temporary accommodation? How long does the Minister think it will take for all those households to be given permanent, long-standing new homes?
My Lords, it is not quite as simple as the noble Lord makes it sound. Some of those in temporary accommodation will, after a period, elect to stay there permanently, once they have got the feel of the temporary accommodation and find they like it. That is happening a fair amount. The important thing is that progress is being made. The noble Lord is right that there are about 60 in permanent accommodation and about 60 in temporary accommodation, roughly speaking—but each week that goes by, more people are moving into permanent accommodation, more people are accepting offers and, as I said, we are approaching the end game. The important thing is that households should have the benefit of making a decision themselves about when is the appropriate time and where is the appropriate property.
My Lords, there are 160 other high-rise blocks of social housing with this cladding, where residents—and tenants in particular—face a difficult choice. Either the cladding comes off and they face frost and damp or it stays on and they have the risk of fire. What is the timetable for issuing clear advice on what replacement cladding should be used? In the meantime, what support can the Government give to tenants and residents who face increased heating bills because of the taking off of that insulation?
My Lords, the most important thing, as the noble Lord will appreciate, is the safety of tenants and others in those buildings, and that is the Government’s prime concern. Work is progressing on those blocks, as he identified, and also in the private sector—it is not just social housing and it is important that we press ahead in both areas. Safety is the watchword. If the noble Lord is aware of people who have particular problems with heating, I encourage him to tell them to get in touch with the local authority in the first instance to see what can be done.
Balkans: Euro-Atlantic Enlargement
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact of the government of Russia’s policy towards the Western Balkans on prospects for Euro-Atlantic enlargement in the Balkans.
The Government remain concerned about increased Russian interference in the western Balkans, seen most starkly in the Montenegro attempted coup plot. This behaviour by Russia is destabilising for the western Balkans and for European security. We support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of all six western Balkan countries, a point that our Prime Minister made to the region’s six Prime Ministers in London yesterday.
I thank my noble friend for her Answer. There are credible reports of sustained Russian effort to prevent western Balkan countries from joining NATO and the EU. There has been the opening of the so-called humanitarian centre in Serbia and the providing of arms to Serbia, the attempted coup in Montenegro, the support for secessionists in the small entity of Republika Srpska, the deliberate stoking of ethnic tensions in Macedonia and recent reports of apparent support for the partition of Kosovo. What action will the Government take with our EU and US allies to ensure that these deliberate attempts to destabilise the region are rolled back?
I thank my noble friend for her question, and obviously her experience in this region is to be noted. The Government remain committed to the security and stability of the western Balkans region. We uphold the commitments made in the Dayton peace agreement and in the United Nations Security Council. The priority for all the countries in the western Balkans, including Kosovo, is to make progress towards their respective Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The Government believe in particular that the region needs to do more to uphold the status of Bosnia, and to normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo on the basis of recognition of independent sovereign nations within their current borders. We invite Russia to engage constructively on this agenda, as she has from time to time in the past, but we and our NATO and EU allies and partners are clear that we shall continue to resist and overcome current and future Russian attempts to destabilise the region.
My Lords, the catalogue provided by the noble Baroness of Russian attempts to destabilise the western Balkans is both serious and dangerous. Instability is deepening in the western Balkans again, and there are many who should know better who are now calling again for a “Greater Serbia” and a “Greater Croatia”. Do the Government agree that at this point it is essential and urgent that the European Union should now state explicitly—as, indeed, it has not yet provided an explicit statement—that it is not prepared to countenance any change of borders in the western Balkans because it sees this properly as an essential prelude to further bloodshed?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. One thing I have worked out is that there are giants in certain subjects dotted around this place, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is one on this subject. The Government share his concerns and we remain actively engaged, and do not wish to see any changes to borders within the region.
Does my noble friend have a date for the conference on the western Balkans that is to be called in London some time this summer?
I understand that the conference will be in July.
The noble Baroness in her original Answer makes a very good point. There are aspirations in the western Balkans: there are aspirations to join the EU. Joining the EU has been the bulwark for defending liberal democracy, and certainly that is the view that the Government have held in the past. Is the Minister still of that view, and how does she tally that with the Foreign Secretary’s view that somehow the EU represents a model against democracy?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. The UK wants a strong, stable and prosperous neighbourhood. We remain of the view that the EU accession process is important to delivering security and prosperity in the western Balkans, and we will do all that we can to support that process.
My Lords, what assurance can my noble friend give us of the UK’s commitment to the western Balkans?
The Prime Minister has been very clear, in her Munich speech and in public statements, that this is a region in which the UK has played, and will continue to play, a leading role in promoting European prosperity, stability and security. Our commitment is demonstrated through action and engagement, and we have increased our funding this year to £27 million. I understand that this is to be further increased next year. We are also deepening our security, defence and operational engagement within the region, and we intend to focus in the summit, referred to by my noble friend Lord Howell, on three priority areas: first, to strengthen regional security; secondly, to increase economic stability; and thirdly, to foster political co-operation.
Has the noble Baroness seen reports that the Russians used people in Macedonia who use social media—and did so during the EU referendum campaign—to support the leave campaign, because President Putin wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union to destabilise the West? Is that not an indication that we should stay in the European Union and strengthen the West?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for his question. I am aware of different cyber issues and of information being tampered with and used incorrectly. I do not wish to annoy or frustrate the House—OK, I will. As I understand it, we have made a decision to leave the European Union, and nothing Mr Putin can do is going to change that.
My Lords, the biggest challenges in the western Balkan countries are to the rule of law and anti-corruption. There are also worrying developments in EU countries. Is this not precisely the moment when the UK, with its strong—if not perfect—record on the rule of law, democracy and human rights ought to be contributing to the collective European effort to uphold the highest standards, rather than abandoning the field?
It is my understanding that, even though we are on a journey to leave the European Union, on these sorts of matters there is nothing to stop us continuing to engage and play our part.
My Lords, not co-operating with the European Union cyber agency ENISA would be akin to failing to support the Prime Minister at the recent Munich security conference. Can we, therefore, take it as a given that there will be co-operation with ENISA?
I believe that the answer to that question is yes. However, rather than giving the noble Viscount incorrect information, I hope he will give me the luxury of checking it with the officials and writing to him.
My Lords, may I offer a piece of advice, which I hope will be superfluous, to the Minister and her colleagues in the Foreign Office? They should read the history of the years preceding the First World War and the implementation of Russia’s policy of pan-Slavism, which carried them into precisely the same territory. We do not want a replication of the consequences of that.
I am very happy to pass on my noble friend’s recommendation and suggest a reading list for my colleagues at the FCO. The more important point is that we do not want history repeated in that way.
Yarl’s Wood: Hunger Strike
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to respond to the hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, the Government take detainee welfare extremely seriously. Any detainee who chooses to refuse food and fluid, for whatever reason, is closely monitored by on-site healthcare professionals. There are a number of established ways in which detainees can make representations on their individual case and about conditions of detention. Individuals are detained only for the purposes of removal from the UK.
My Lords, about 400 people are detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, nearly all of them women. One Algerian woman came to this country at the age of 11 and has been here for 24 years. It was not until she applied for a passport that she was found to be undocumented and detained at Yarl’s Wood. She has been there for three months so far. Does the Minister agree that one of the main reasons for the hunger strikes is that people are being detained unfairly, unreasonably and indefinitely? One woman has described it as like being kidnapped, not knowing when it will end or what will happen to her. The Minister will, of course, say that the Home Office detains people only for as short a period as possible, but at the end of 2017 one person had been in immigration detention for four and a half years. Does the Minister agree that it is time to introduce a 28-day limit on immigration detention, except in wholly exceptional circumstances?
There may be a multitude of reasons for refusing food and fluid. As the noble Lord has pointed out, they may be in protest against their detention but there may also be dietary and religious reasons.
It is true; it is not a simple issue. The noble Lord pointed out that detention was not indefinite for the case he outlined. In fact, the lady had been detained for three months. Every four months, a detainee is reassessed for immigration and bail. It is fair to say that 92% of people in detention do not stay there for more than four months. The notion that someone might be detained indefinitely simply is not there. The purpose of detention is removal; it is not to detain indefinitely.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that rape is a form of torture and that victims of sexual abuse, including rape, are being held at Yarl’s Wood, despite government policy stating that victims of torture must not be detained for immigration reasons? What action will the noble Baroness take to enforce the policy of her Government in this respect?
The noble Lord is right about victims of sexual abuse being deemed vulnerable adults. Stephen Shaw made recommendations about the treatment of vulnerable adults in detention. As the noble Lord will know, we are working with NGOs on the definition of torture, because the courts challenged us on it, but we are alive to some of the vulnerable people who might be in detention for a number of reasons, including sexual abuse.
My Lords, after my noble friend Lord Hylton and I visited Yarl’s Wood, we reported back to your Lordships’ House that we had seen significant progress and improvements there. Does the noble Baroness not agree that there is a danger that that could be jeopardised for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, describes? There are some 400 people there now, some feeling a sense of real desperation. The shadow of fear hangs over them, such as the woman who came here as an 11 year-old girl and is now 35 years of age. After living in this country for 24 years, she has been taken to Yarl’s Wood. Does the noble Baroness not agree that it is worth looking at specific cases, such as of those now on hunger strike? Can she tell the House any more about the health and well-being of those currently on hunger strike and whether they have proper access to legal aid and representation?
The noble Lord is right that individual cases should always be treated sensitively. If the noble Lord could outline an individual case for me, I will certainly take it back. The last thing we want for people in detention is for them to be refusing food and fluid. Legal representation is available to people. There are specific rules on how we should treat sensitively those with mental health problems, vulnerable adults and traumatised people in detention.
My Lords, the point about indefinite detention is not that the person is never released; it is that they do not know when they will be released. We know from the evidence given to Stephen Shaw, including from a psychologist, that this has a devastating impact on mental health. Will the Minister now ask Stephen Shaw, who is reviewing how his recommendations are working, to widen his brief to include whether indefinite detention should be ended, which is in line with what happens in other countries?
As I said to the noble Lord, 92% of people in detention do not stay there for more than four months. I appreciate the noble Baroness’s point about people with mental health issues in detention. In addition to the implementation of the Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention policy in September 2016, NHS England commissioned the Centre for Mental Health to carry out research to support the Mental Health Action Plan, which is part of the Government’s commitment to review and improve the provision of mental health services in immigration removal centres and short-term holding facilities. We appreciate the stresses and strains that this can have on people’s mental health. As the noble Baroness says, it follows one of the major recommendations of Stephen Shaw’s Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons. We have now invited Stephen Shaw to carry out a short review in the autumn to assess progress against the key recommendations for action in the previous review of the welfare of vulnerable people in detention. The work will be completed in the spring and its findings laid before the House.
Can the Minister inform the House what percentage of those held in immigration detention centres are released back into the communities from which they came and what that tells us about the appropriateness of the numbers being detained in that way?
In terms of releasing people back into the community, somebody would be in detention only for the purposes of removal, and immigration bail would be in line with a risk assessment done on that person. I do not know the exact percentages. I will see whether they are available and, if they are, I will write to the right reverend Prelate and put a copy in the Library.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Government’s policy on achieving pretty swift removal when someone should be removed and the operation of their guidance on adults at risk in immigration detention are not working? Surely one reason for the action taken by women in Yarl’s Wood, which is the sort of response one might expect from people who feel unjustly imprisoned, is that detention should be detention and not imprisonment, which is how it is regarded. Will the Government not reconsider looking at the mechanisms used in the Scandinavian countries, where work is done successfully within the community to encourage people to leave when they have no right to be there, and applying a more humane and, frankly, more effective policy such as the ones we see in those countries?
My Lords, I do not have concerns that the Government’s policy is not working. The policy is most certainly that action to get people out of detention should be taken as quickly as reasonably possible, but a reason for someone remaining in detention for longer than they might have done is that they might themselves have launched further appeals against their removal. The reasons for detention are many and complex, but the purpose of detention is to enable swift removal.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that we need a little balance on this subject? In particular, does she agree that the credibility of the immigration system depends on being able to remove people who no longer have a right to be in this country? Clearly there will be difficult cases and clearly they must be dealt with in the best possible way, but fundamentally we have to be able to remove people or the entire credibility of the system disappears.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. The purpose of detention is necessary removal. I also take his point that, although we need to deal sensitively with people who may be traumatised or have mental health problems or other reasons for being vulnerable, the ultimate aim of the detention centre is removal.
City of London Corporation (Open Spaces) Bill
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat as a Statement the response to an Urgent Question given by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“The Government welcome the CQC’s latest annual report, which it produced as part of its statutory duty to monitor how mental health providers exercise powers and discharge their duties when people are detained under the Mental Health Act.
We are committed to ensuring that the Mental Health Act works better for patients and their families, and that is why we have commissioned an independent review led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, who will make recommendations in the autumn.
We are also investing more in mental health than ever before—spending an estimated record £11.6 billion this year. We have seen that the number of detentions under the Act has been rising year on year: it rose 2% last year and 9% the year before that. We also know that black people are disproportionately affected. These were both driving reasons for the Prime Minister’s decision to call for a review of how the entire Act is operating.
This Government have already acted when they saw that the Act was not working properly. Last year we legislated to make it illegal to use police cells as places of safety for children under the Act, and to ensure that police officers consult health support staff before using their detention powers.
Sir Simon, his vice-chairs and the independent review’s team are consulting actively and widely with service users and professionals and today are taking part in a major stakeholder event in Newcastle. Indeed, I welcome the fact that the CQC takes care in its report to state:
“We have confidence that the independent review’s solutions-focused approach to identifying priorities, based on the feedback and experiences of people across the country, will offer a review of the MHA that has the confidence of patients and professionals”.
The CQC is of course directly involved in the review. The CQC’s report has found examples of good practice, but we recognise that more needs to be done to ensure that people’s voices are heard and their rights respected. Where possible, we expect all patients to be involved in their care planning, and we expect that providers should consider how best to do this in light of the CQC’s recommendations.
In the spring, the review will provide an interim report identifying priorities for its work. It will then develop a final report containing detailed recommendations on its priorities. The final report should be delivered by autumn 2018.
There are problems with the Act and we will address them. But we should remember that today, no one gets sent to an asylum only to disappear within its walls. There are regular reviews, clear rights of appeal, and checks to ensure that people are lawfully detained, only in order to get the treatment they need. But our society is changing the way we think about mental illness, and we do want to ensure that people have as much liberty and autonomy as is possible”.
I thank the Minister for her Statement. I declare an interest as a lay member of a CCG.
I think we would all agree how disappointing the CQC’s Mental Health Act report is, given that the CQC found that there has been limited—or no— improvement in key concerns which it raised in previous years, and given that the number of people detained under the Mental Health Act continues to rise. Added to that, last week’s analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that mental health services have less money to spend than they did in 2012. That does not weigh with what the Minister was saying about the amount of money going into mental health services. How will the department address that failure? I accept that there is a review going on. That is very important and we support it. There could not be a better person to lead it than Sir Simon Wessely—there is no question about that. However, there seem to be some immediate problems, one of which is whether the money allocated to mental health services is actually spent on mental health services. What do the Government intend to do about that? Indeed, will the Government pledge to ring-fence mental health spending so that the money is not siphoned off to be used elsewhere in the system?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question, and indeed, some of the CQC report is disappointing. That is why it is so important that it is working with Sir Simon’s review to feed its thoughts into the review. I know that he will take a terrific interest in what it says.
As to ring-fenced funding, there was an overall increase in spending of £11.6 billion, which was up 8.4% since 2014-15. NHS England has strengthened the mental health investment standard in its planning guidance. This means that as of 2018-19, every CCG will be required to increase its spend in excess of its overall increase in funding. Commissioners must be given the freedom to make decisions about the needs of their population. At the moment, we believe that the investment standard strikes the right balance in allowing that freedom while ensuring that crucial mental health services are properly funded. However, I believe, as the noble Baroness said, that the review will look into this. It is very important that the money going to the commissioners is spent on what it is meant to be spent on.
My Lords, the consistent theme running through the findings of the CQC report is that patients are not being fully involved in decisions about their care. A particularly worrying concern was whether clinicians are recording evidence of their conversations with detained patients about their proposed treatment, particularly about whether the patient has consented, refused to consent or, indeed, is incapable of consent. In too many cases it is clear that this is simply not happening. Given that the ability to impose medication is unique to the Mental Health Act, could the Minister say what steps the Government will take to ensure that this is addressed as a matter of urgency? I do not think that this can wait for the review, good as I am sure it will be.
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I think that we will have to wait for the review. An interim report will come out in the spring and then the final review will come out in autumn 2018. At the centre of that review will be the rights of the patient. It is very important that the patient is taken along by healthcare professionals in the process in terms of how they want to be treated. This will be one of the highlights of the review.
My Lords, what can be done to encourage those who do not wish to come to terms with the possibility of their situation to make it as painless a journey as possible to assessment and assistance?
That is always a very difficult problem; it is difficult for the carers and the loved ones of the person concerned, as well as for those who are involved. As the noble Viscount will know, it is hoped that a person seeking mental health help will be able to go to their GP and get the help that they need. If they are seriously ill, a different process can take place through which they can be put into a place of safety to be assessed and looked after in a greater way.
My Lords, the Minister will know that many mental health problems arise at a young age—some 50% before the age of 14. The excellent Green Paper on child mental health is ambitious for change. However, only 7% of the overall mental health budget is spent on children, although children make up 20% of the population. How will the Government address that?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right: early intervention is essential. The Green Paper is very much welcome. Its proposals are supported by a commitment of more than £300 million of additional funding, and there will be a brand new workforce supporting schools to intervene early before specialist mental health services are needed. We are working with the Department for Education, incentivising each school to have a designated senior mental health lead, in addition to our current programme of rolling out mental health first aid training to every school across the country. We are currently consulting on the proposals and have received more than 1,000 responses. We are aware that the responses from specialist child and adolescent mental health services are a concern, so we will pilot a four-week waiting time in this area.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. One difficulty for the police is that they are often called when someone is acutely disturbed, and they have to deal with the situation as it arises. In some police forces in Wales, particularly in Gwent, there has been an active programme to educate the police. Are there plans to involve the police at a national level in the review of the Mental Health Act? If not, they will end up being the front-line person who is called on to cope with an acutely distressing situation.
That is true. It is often unfair to ask the police to deal with such a situation. Police forces are now meant to have a liaison officer to take with them and that is working quite well. However, as the noble Baroness said, this will also be looked at in the review because, quite often, the police are the first ones called to go to someone’s house, and it is important that they have with them someone who is trained and knows how to deal with the particular person.
My Lords, can the Minister say how far the Government have taken into account some of the recent research looking into the earliest indicators of mental problems in children and, therefore, the ability to intervene early?
I thank the noble Baroness for the question. The issue of early intervention is part of the Green Paper and we are looking into it. As we know, there are children in primary schools who are suffering from mental health issues, so it is important that we have mental health first aid training in every school across the country. This will obviously take time because people need to be trained to deal with this particular situation.
My Lords, around 50,000 people a year are detained in mental health institutions and the rise in the past few years is worrying. It is not perfect to be detained under the Mental Health Act and to be locked away but at least there are some protections in the Act for such individuals. However, what about the tens of thousands of people who are de facto detained—that is, those who are locked in nursing and care homes and cannot leave—but who do not have the protections of the Mental Health Act because they are not detained? Will the review look at that issue?
Yes. I can say categorically that the review will look at that issue because it is important. As I said in the Statement, people do not go into asylums and are not locked away. There are no such things as asylums—I should not even use that word. People do not go into mental health institutions without being looked after and reassessed to find out what care they need. However, the issue will be looked at in the review.
My Lords, at the moment people can be detained under the Mental Health Act simply by virtue of having a learning disability with behavioural associations. A significant number of people are thus detained, and delayed discharges are notorious. I know the review will look at this issue—I have certainly discussed it with Sir Simon Wessely—but to what extent has the Transforming Care programme succeeded in speeding up the discharge of people who have been detained through the development of skilled and adequate community treatment and support?
I do not have the figures so I will have to get back to the noble Baroness. As she pointed out, however, the idea is that people should be discharged into the community. I will get back to her on the numbers.
Office for Students
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat as a Statement the response to an Urgent Question made in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, the Office for Students, which will be operational from April this year, is the biggest regulatory change to higher education in 30 years. It will run a new regulatory framework that will for the first time put the interests of students at the heart of higher education regulation. It will focus relentlessly on student choice and value for money and will ensure that the concerns of all students of higher education in England are heard in the corridors of power. It has a commensurate wide-ranging remit and powers to deliver for students.
It is ably lead by Sir Michael Barber, who has a long record of working for Labour and Conservative Administrations, including advising a Labour Prime Minister and Secretary of State. He has also been a Labour parliamentary candidate. Nicola Dandridge, the CEO, has a background in Universities UK and as an equalities lawyer. They are supported by a board of 12 further members with a wide range of talents and from different backgrounds, including senior leaders in higher education, graduate employers, legal and regulatory experts, as well as a student representative. I am particularly pleased that Chris Millward, the Director for Fair Access and Participation, sits on the OfS board, putting widening participation and fair access at the heart of the organisation. Toby Young would have been just one non-executive member of this board.
The board will put quality of teaching, student choice and value for money at the heart of what it does. The Commissioner for Public Appointments advised the department on 11 January, two days after my appointment, that he was looking into the appointments process for the OfS and the department provided him with the relevant paperwork. We are grateful to him for forwarding his report yesterday. His report recognises the good intentions of Ministers and officials, and that the advisory panel did judge candidates on a fair and impartial basis. That said, we note his findings and will carefully and seriously consider his recommendations. The commissioner raises important points about due diligence in public appointments. We have already accepted that in the case of Toby Young, due diligence fell short of what was required and the department has therefore already reviewed its due diligence processes and will seriously consider the further advice from the commissioner.
The commissioner has rightly observed that it was wrong not to have made a formal request to him regarding the approach the department took in appointing the student experience role, and therefore this was in breach of paragraph 3.3 of the governance code. We should also have clarified in the announcement that it was an interim position, although the candidate had been informed of this and all failing candidates in the process had also been informed that the appointment was an interim one. I understand that informal contact was made but I do accept this should have been formalised with the commissioner. Without this formal advice, and under pressure to make an appointment by 1 January, it meant that the announcement was not made in line with the commissioner’s expectations. I can also confirm that in line with the commissioner’s steer, we will shortly be launching a recruitment campaign for a permanent “student experience” representative and intend to appoint before the end of June this year. We are glad that the commissioner agrees that the incumbent in the interim role, Ruth Carlson, is free to apply. I would like to put on the record that she is doing an important job and extend my thanks to her for agreeing to accept the interim appointment.
There are lessons to be learned here and we will learn them. I will be writing to the commissioner shortly with an initial response to his findings and the next steps we will take with regard to his recommendations”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I have to say that the response in no way measures up to the seriousness of the case and the commissioner’s report. The Government only recently told the House that the process to appoint Mr Young was a fair and open competition in accordance with the code of practice, but the commissioner has found that this was not the case. Indeed, it is a damning indictment of the department and of the Minister responsible, Mr Jo Johnson. The department delayed responding to the commissioner, which held up the investigation. The appointments were not conducted in respect of all the candidates on an equal basis, and an all-male appointment panel was used twice. Moreover, can the Minister tell me why it was impossible for the department to check Mr Toby Young’s past social media activity when it was quite easily able to check the social media activity of the candidate found suitable for appointment to the student experience representation role? Why was it not made clear in the advert that Ministers had decided not to appoint someone with close links to the National Union of Students? Will the Minister tell me why being elected by students somehow makes someone unsuitable to represent them?
The commissioner concludes that the code was broken. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Cabinet Secretary is now investigating that breach and other breaches raised by my noble friend Lady Prosser in a recent debate? Further, does the Minister believe that after this level of interference, we can possibly call the Office for Students an independent body? Finally, can the Minister tell me why Mr Jo Johnson, who was responsible for this debacle, has not resigned?
My Lords, the noble Lord asked a number of questions and I will attempt to answer them. On the question about delay, we understand that this was the first formal investigation under the Government’s code, and formal timelines had not yet been identified for such an investigation. This necessitated liaising with colleagues in the Cabinet Office who led on the Government’s code. Much has been said about the failings in respect of the Toby Young appointment, as the noble Lord put it, and I informed the House of our views on that. As I promised, lessons are being learned and have been learned. The department has set up a nominations committee as a result of the issues that have arisen, so action is being taken within the department to ensure that these problems do not occur again. That action particularly focuses on the due diligence involved. I emphasise that the 40,000 to 50,000 tweets were obnoxious and salacious and must not occur again; the department must improve the due diligence. I assure the noble Lord that the Office for Students is independent, but as he will of course know from the debates on the Higher Education and Research Bill, the ultimate responsibility lies with the Secretary of State.
My Lords, clearly, the Minister, who is an honourable person, is as annoyed and embarrassed as we are about this report, and I understand that. The Government have failed in every respect to follow their own governance code: they interfered in an appointments process that was not transparent, fair or open. To secure the appointment of Mr Young, the Minister invited him to apply; inadequate due diligence was undertaken in respect of a person infamous for his extreme views, and inaccurate press statements were issued that were not immediately corrected. The Government also took steps to ensure that other candidates for the student places were not appointed. The failure of the Government to follow their own code is a damning indictment and will do nothing to restore public confidence in the probity of such appointments. Will the Minister assure us that Ministers will not be inappropriately involved in future appointments and that the governance code will be followed to the letter?
The Minister mentioned the establishment of a nominations committee. Perhaps he can tell us its terms of reference and its membership. Mention was also made of social media. I understand that the DfE has already put into place changes in its approach to social media. Will the Minister go a bit further and talk some more about that? Finally, Mr Young is also the chief executive of the New Schools Network, and the work of supporting free schools—the raison d’etre of the New Schools Network—has been put out to tender. Bids are currently under consideration for this multi-million pound contract. Will the Minister assure us that the award of this contract will be properly managed and that correct procedures will be followed in every detail?
First, in response to the noble Lord’s comments about the Office for Students, I have made it clear that lessons needed to be learned. Altogether there were 14 appointments, and the process of due diligence normally went well for the other appointments. Let me make it clear, however, that we are learning lessons from the Toby Young appointment. It is important to get a bit of perspective on this. On the student appointment, we have said that lessons need to be learned about the Government’s failure to make it clear that this was an interim appointment. I reassure the noble Lord that, for future appointments, with the lessons learned, this will not happen again. In putting some perspective on this, however, it is in order for Ministers to recommend names, but it is not in order for them to go further than that. They can recommend names, and then it is over to the panel to independently select suitable candidates. On the make-up of the nominations committee, it is led by a number of non-executive directors—three to be precise, but I will need to confirm that with him.
On social media, I feel that I have covered that already, notwithstanding the Urgent Question today. Lessons have been learned on undertaking due diligence in looking at the social media issues that arose over the Toby Young appointment.
As for the noble Lord’s question about the New Schools Network, that is very much a matter for it. The New Schools Network is a small independent charity. I do not want to go further on that front.
My Lords, as the Minister said, the Office for Students is an influential and powerful body and should therefore have appropriate people on it. However, given the flaws that have emerged in the way the appointments were made, is it not time for the Government to look again at whether there should be representation from further education and the unions? He has addressed the matter of the student representative—which really needs to be sorted out; there is no great clarity on that—but those other representations would be useful for the Office for Students. Can I also press the Minister on the point raised by noble Lord, Lord Hunt: why was the interview panel an all-male panel?
I think the noble Baroness and I have had an exchange on the make-up of the Office for Students before. It is important that the members of the panel represent a broad range of areas within the higher education sector, and indeed the further education sector. I reassure her that there are some representatives covering further education. However, I also reassure her that that issue will be borne in mind when further and final appointments are made.
My experience in six government departments over 12 years—true, it was at a low level, as a Minister of State—and in a non-ministerial department for four years subsequently was that the Civil Service was meticulous in ensuring that Ministers followed the rules. That was also my experience with a range of independent committees, Permanent Secretaries and chief executives. My question is—I have only read the press reports on this—what are the lessons to be learned? Will there be any changes to the Ministerial Code? It seems to me that the Ministerial Code should cover this, which it clearly does not, because we still have a Minister in post. The issue here is not the code for appointments, but that the Ministerial Code has clearly been breached, if not in the letter then certainly in the spirit.
I think I have made it clear to the House—and I shall make it clear to the noble Lord—that lessons are being learned. We will respond to the views of the Commissioner for Public Appointments on this process. It may well be that we look at the Ministerial Code, but I cannot confirm that. We have already said that lessons need to be learned regarding the mistake that was made in not declaring that that this was an interim appointment for the student representative.
Space Industry Bill [HL]
Motion on Amendments 1 to 5
That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 to 5.
1: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Grant of licences: assessments of environmental effects
(1) This section applies to—(a) a spaceport licence;(b) an operator licence authorising launches of spacecraft or carrier aircraft.(2) The regulator may not grant an application for a licence to which this section applies unless the applicant has submitted an assessment of environmental effects.(3) In this section “assessment of environmental effects”—(a) in relation to a spaceport licence, means an assessment of the effects that launches of spacecraft or carrier aircraft from the spaceport in question, or from launches of spacecraft from carrier aircraft launched from the spaceport, are expected to have on the environment;(b) in relation to an operator licence authorising launches of spacecraft or carrier aircraft, means an assessment of the effects that those launches are expected to have on the environment.(4) If or to the extent that the regulator directs, the requirement imposed by subsection (2) to submit an assessment of environmental effects may be met by submitting—(a) an equivalent assessment prepared previously in compliance with a requirement imposed by or under another enactment, or(b) an assessment of environmental effects prepared in connection with a previous application. The regulator may make a direction under this subsection only if satisfied that there has been no material change of circumstances since the previous assessment was prepared.(5) The regulator must take into account the assessment of environmental effects (including any assessment submitted as mentioned in subsection (4)) in deciding—(a) whether to grant a licence to which this section applies;(b) what conditions should be attached to such a licence under section 12.(6) The regulator must issue guidance about—(a) the form, contents and level of detail of an assessment of environmental effects;(b) the time for submitting an assessment of environmental effects;(c) the circumstances in which the regulator will or may give a direction under subsection (4).Guidance under paragraph (a) may specify matters that are to be dealt with in an assessment of environmental effects only if the regulator so requires in a particular case.”
2: Clause 34, page 25, line 15, leave out “may” and insert “must”
3: Clause 34, page 25, line 22, after first “or” insert “duty under subsection”
4: Clause 34, page 25, line 26, after “may” insert “or must”
5: Clause 34, Page 25, line 29, after “or” insert “duty under subsection”
My Lords, these amendments cover issues debated during the passage of the Bill through both Houses.
I know noble Lords will agree that the Space Industry Bill is an important step to ensure that the UK space sector is at the forefront of a new commercial space age. It is important that our scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are equipped to take advantage of this opportunity.
On Amendment 1, noble Lords may recall our useful debates on the requirement for environmental protection to be set out in the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their valuable contributions to this debate. These debates resulted in an additional licence condition being inserted into Schedule 1, enabling the regulator to require an assessment from an applicant of the impact noise and emissions are expected to have on the local community. Noble Lords did not consider that this amendment alone went far enough to afford the environmental protection to which spaceflight activities ought to be subject. On Report, I committed to the Government tabling a further amendment in the other place to address this. I am pleased to report that such an amendment has been inserted into the Bill by way of a new Clause 11. Amendment 1 places a mandatory requirement on an applicant for either a launch or a spaceport licence to submit an assessment of the environmental effects of their proposed activity. The regulator must take the assessment into account before a licence is granted. I hope noble Lords will agree that the amendment provides robust environmental protection in the Bill as requested.
I turn to Amendments 2 to 5, which also reflect a commitment I made on Report to ensure that the uninvolved general public have easy recourse to compensation if something goes wrong. This followed a helpful debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for leading the way on this issue and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his support of it. As highlighted throughout the passage of the Bill, safety is our priority. The provisions are designed to ensure that spaceflight activity is as safe as possible and that risks to third parties are minimised. However, where injury or damage occurs, third parties should have easy recourse to compensation; this remains the case even when an operator’s liability to third parties is capped. These amendments turn the discretionary power in what is now Clause 35(3) into a duty. This means that if an operator’s liability is capped under Clause 35, the Government are required to pay compensation to the public for any claims for injury or damage above the capped amount.
I hope noble Lords will agree to support the Motion to approve these Commons amendments, which reflect commitments I made during our discussions on the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, very briefly, I am particularly pleased to see Amendment 1. The Minister gave those assurances during the debate and we tabled an amendment relating to the need to take environmental considerations into account. I recall saying at the time that one has to think of the impact on local people; just because it is exciting and being done in rural areas does not mean that we can ignore the impact on the environment. A great deal was made of the rurality of these space sites and it strikes me that the noise, road closures and impact of heavy vehicles will be of more concern in rural areas than they would if it was being done in an urban area, which of course cannot be the case here. As with any building works in previously greenfield sites, there will be a huge impact and I am reassured that the Government have now taken this rather more appropriately into account.
My Lords, perhaps I may cover the other amendments to which the Minister referred. I welcome what the Government have done; she promised to do it and she has, and for that we are very grateful.
This gives me an opportunity to repair an omission from our earlier debates. These were much dominated by the prospect of the Moynihan international spaceport up at Prestwick—the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is not in his place at the moment—but I saw something a few days ago that took me back to my youth, if not to my childhood. It was the name Goonhilly hitting the headlines, with the fact that there is to be an £8.4 million investment by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership to upgrade Goonhilly Downs. I can still hear “Telstar” in my head as I think of the way Goonhilly captured the imagination of the world many years ago. It is good to know that Cornwall Airport Newquay is also an active bidder for the idea of being one of these new spaceports.
The other factor to bring to mind is that the UK Space Agency says that the global market for space is expected to increase from £155 billion per year to £400 billion by 2030. Although sometimes during the debate in both Houses there was a feeling that these matters are a long way away, they are really just around the corner, and the activities of people such as Elon Musk are proving that to be so. That is why this amendment is so important. We have to give people the assurance that if they go into this exciting new industry, they will not be left with unlimited liabilities, and that public safety will be adequately covered. By her action, the Minister has made sure that the industry is investment-friendly, and that is all to the good.
My Lords, we raised the issues covered by these amendments in the Lords, and the Minister assured the House that changes would be brought forward in the other place to address those concerns. We are pleased the Government have delivered on those assurances and warmly welcome the amendments. During the passage of the Bill, I referred to early aviation legislation and its failure to envisage the growth of that industry or the impact it would have on our future. These amendments are vital to ensuring that we look not only at the needs of the industry but at the impact it will have on the environment and, importantly, surrounding communities.
When we began the Bill, there was not a huge amount of reference to the environment in it and—as the Minister no doubt finds it hard to forget—there was no mention at all of the word “noise”. We have come a good way since then. The new clause ensures that the impact the project will have on the environment is put front and centre as part of the application process and will be duly taken into account by the regulator. We welcome this and put on record our hopes and expectations that this will be a rigorous part of the application process.
The amendments to Clause 34 will ensure that the uninvolved general public—those of us who are not planning to launch into space any time soon—are fully protected if a catastrophic incident occurs and causes damage. It is right and proper that the Government have afforded their citizens that protection. We thank the Government for listening and acting on our concerns.
My Lords, first, I thank noble Lords for participating in this short debate and for their support for the amendments to the Bill. Indeed, this cross-party support has been clear during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships’ House. As ever, the scrutiny and analysis of noble Lords has improved the Bill.
The Bill will deliver on the Government’s ambition to take the UK into the commercial space age by enabling small satellite launch and suborbital spaceflight from UK spaceports, whether it be the Moynihan Prestwick one or the McNally Newquay one, as we might now call it. There is no shortage of ambition in the UK, with a number of potential spaceports and launch companies developing plans to offer UK launch services. The Bill provides the modern regulatory framework needed to enable this exciting and empowering opportunity for our thriving space sector, but also addresses the important concerns around the environment and communities. This will help ensure that the UK is one of the best places to start, grow and invest in space businesses.
Motion on Amendment 6
That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 6.
6: Clause 71, Page 47, line 11, leave out subsection (2)
My Lords, this amendment removes the privilege amendment and is a procedural technicality. I beg to move.
Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [HL]
Clause 1: Offence of shining or directing a laser beam towards a vehicle
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “on a journey” and insert “moving or ready to move”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 1 and speak to Amendment 3, which is grouped with it. Amendment 1 would replace “on a journey” with “moving or ready to move”. At Second Reading and in Committee, the definition of “on a journey” was the topic of extensive discussion and I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Balfe and Lord Rosser, who contributed to those discussions and made such helpful suggestions.
Our intention in the Bill has always been to capture when a vehicle is in motion and also when it is stationary but about to travel, as there is still a safety risk if the person in control were to be dazzled or distracted at this stage. This includes journeys of any length and journeys that begin and end in the same place, such as training flights. It also includes taxiing in the case of aircraft, as well as temporary stops, such as at a train stations, bus stops, traffic lights or when waiting to take off. To clarify this, the Government have laid the amendment to remove the references to “journey” and refer instead to when a vehicle is “moving or ready to move”. This wording is wider than “journey” and removes the ambiguity of what actually constitutes a “journey”.
To strengthen this further we have, in Amendment 3, defined that when a mechanically propelled vehicle’s engine or motor is running, it should be treated as being ready to move. It is important that we include all safety-critical points, for example when an aircraft is at a stand, as this could have safety implications for persons on the ground in the immediate vicinity. The amendment does not change the policy intention of the Bill but does provide greater clarity, which I hope noble Lords will welcome. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness and the Government have made some good changes to the Bill, but I have one or two questions, which I am sure she will be able to answer. They relate to the definition of a “vehicle”. The word “vehicle” appears in Clause 1(1)(a)—“on a journey”, as the noble Baroness said—and subsection (2). She is then introducing—on page 2, line 9, through Amendment 3—“a mechanically propelled vehicle”, which seems to substitute the wording of subsection (6), which includes an,
“aircraft, motor vehicle, pedal cycle, train, vessel, hovercraft or submarine”.
I am glad she has got rid of some of those because that could be quite difficult.
However, she goes on to say in the interpretation—I know it is not in this group but I might as well mention it now—that Clause 7 defines an aircraft, but a “vehicle” also includes an aircraft. Presumably you can get done both ways, in either Clause 1 or Clause 2 or something. Perhaps she could explain whether these definitions include trains or bicycles, I just wonder whether a little bit of tidying up might be a good idea before the Bill reaches the statute book.
My Lords, noble Lords may recall that I moved some amendments to this important Bill, which of course has my full support. One of them dealt with the phrase “on a journey”. As is evident from the amendment, and others in the noble Baroness’s name, possible weaknesses in the original wording—that is, a risk of loopholes in the intended coverage of the Bill—have all now been addressed. I support the amendment and I am very grateful for the noble Baroness’s receptive consideration of the points made in Committee.
My Lords, we, too, welcome these two amendments. Put simply, I agree with my noble friend about further tidying up. If the noble Baroness wants to come forward on Third Reading with any tidying up, we would be grateful for it—but we are very pleased that the spirit of the debate has been taken on board.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, perhaps we could wait to discuss the definition of “vehicle” until the fourth group, as Amendment 5 refers to exactly that. The amendments in this group clarify what we intend the Bill to cover and ensure that all safety-critical points are included. On that basis, I beg to move.
Amendment 1 agreed.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out paragraph (b)
My Lords, while I am not going to get carried away and divide the House on this issue, I will press it just once more. In my view, Clause 1(1) and (2) in fact describes two crimes. Clause 1(1)(a) says,
“the person shines or directs a laser beam towards a vehicle which is on a journey”,
which is great,
“and … the laser beam dazzles or distracts”.
That is a straightforward crime because I have stopped before the word “or”, so it is not a problem. Then there is a second offence, where,
“the person shines or directs a laser beam towards a vehicle which is on a journey, and … the laser beam … is likely to dazzle or distract … a person with control of the vehicle”.
In my view, it will be incredibly difficult to prove this second crime of being likely to dazzle or distract. That is why I would like paragraph (b) deleted so that it would simply be a matter of proving that a person had shone or directed a laser beam towards a vehicle that was on a journey. That is my reason for pressing the amendment again.
The noble Lord has my support in wanting to push this issue a bit further. I recall raising in Committee the issue that it would be difficult to imagine why people would be walking around carrying a laser and pointing it at either objects on the road or planes in the air unless they were intent on doing some mischief.
It is also possible that people would find it very difficult, as the noble Lord has said, to prove the intent that is in the Government’s proposed legislation. I understand where the Minister is coming from on this—the Government do not want to criminalise people simply for walking around with a laser pen in their pocket—although I go back to the point, which I believe I made at Second Reading, that we have a situation with knives where we all own them and use them on a daily basis but it is an offence to be carrying a knife in certain situations. So we have managed to sort out the law in such a way that it is possible to distinguish between people who happen to have a knife in their rucksack because they were cutting up their apple for lunch and people who are carrying a knife with the intent to use it as a weapon. I say to the Government that it is probably worth while going back and looking again at applying that approach to the carrying of laser pens and lasers in general.
My noble friend has made a very good point, as has the noble Baroness. It is a question of what evidence would be needed to secure a conviction for the intention to dazzle. It seems to me that, taking the noble Baroness’s example of having a knife in one’s pocket, evidence that a laser is switched on is not hard to find. Evidence of intent to dazzle is very difficult. I hope that she can give some examples of the type of evidence that would be likely to be accepted in order to secure a conviction. If she cannot do so after she has had time to consider the matter, it may be that my noble friend’s amendment is the right one, and the paragraph should be thereby deleted.
I used to prosecute some years ago. I take the noble Baroness’s example regarding the carrying of knives. There was of course a real scourge of young people carrying knives in the street, but it would have been extremely difficult to secure convictions of people roaming the streets in Glasgow, where I prosecuted, on the basis of what was likely to happen. That is why the safer course was followed of defining knives of a particular size, those exceeding six inches or whatever it was. Anyone who was carrying one was guilty of a crime. There should be some way in which to achieve certainty. One has to remember that north and south of the border the standard of proof in criminal cases is high—proof beyond reasonable doubt. It is that aspect that makes the issue so difficult. If one was dealing with a civil test, the balance of probability, then likelihood would be fine. That comes up from time to time in various other situations, but it is the criminal standard of proof that makes the point important.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and I have discussed this matter and I have written to him on the subject. I have also discussed this at length with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, and I will attempt to set out the reasoning behind why we are resisting the amendment.
The Government believe that removing the requirement to dazzle or distract would widen the offence more than is appropriate, thereby criminalising behaviour that would not cause harm. It is government policy and part of the better regulation agenda not to criminalise behaviour unless it is absolutely necessary, which includes focusing any offence on the behaviour it seeks to address. Criminal law ought not to be more extensive in scope than is necessary to achieve its purpose. In creating criminal law, a balance has to be drawn between protecting society and individual rights, and an act generally should not be condemned as criminal where there is no risk of a harmful effect on the public or society.
The offence in this Bill has already been widened from the original contained in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill because it now covers when pointing a laser at a vehicle is,
“likely to dazzle or distract”.
This means that the prosecution will not necessarily need to prove that the laser dazzled or distracted if it presented a clear risk and potential to do so. Evidence of that could come either from the person whom the laser is attempting to dazzle or distract, or from eyewitnesses.
Furthermore, this will be a strict liability offence. Such an offence requires no proof of intention or knowledge of wrongdoing and therefore should be kept within appropriate bounds. There is no need to prove intent to harm, or to dazzle or distract. When the police try and prosecute more serious cases under the offence of endangering an aircraft, they are required to prove recklessness or negligence, which can make prosecutions difficult. Under the new offence, it will no longer be necessary to prove that the accused was reckless or negligent. It is therefore the Government’s opinion that the offence as it is now drafted will make it easier to prosecute without going further and criminalising behaviour that does not present a risk to the public.
I hope that that explains the reasoning for resisting the amendment and satisfies the noble Lord. However, I have heard the arguments and would be interested as to whether he would like us to consider the matter further.
I thank the noble Baroness for setting out the arguments. As a non-lawyer, I remain underwhelmed and hope that she will look at this debate and once again consider coming back at Third Reading with some change to allay the fears that have been expressed in the debate. However, it would not be appropriate to press the matter further at this time, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 9, leave out subsections (6) and (7) and insert—
“( ) A mechanically propelled vehicle which is not moving or ready to move but whose engine or motor is running is to be treated for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) as ready to move.”
Amendment 3 agreed.
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 14, leave out from “any” to end of line 15 and insert “person on the aircraft who is engaged in controlling it, or in monitoring the controlling of it.”
My Lords, as I mentioned, this, like previous amendments that I tabled in Committee, aims to plug any possible legal loopholes in the Bill. This amendment improves on my attempt in Committee. It is vital that both the pilot of an aircraft and other flight deck or crew members whose contribution to the control responsibilities of the pilot are critical to the safe operation of that aircraft are fully covered in the Bill. This form of words achieves that additional coverage. I am grateful for the discussion I had with the noble Baroness and for her Bill team’s helpful guidance on precise wording, so I look forward to her agreement to the amendment, which I beg to move.
I certainly support the principle behind the amendment, but I am aware that the Government are keen to keep the Bill as simple as possible, and I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade us that it is already covered in other ways. It is essential that co-pilots are also covered. Attempts have been made in government amendments to broaden the Bill—for example, to include towers at airports. That is welcome, but it is important that we ensure that the co-pilot—the person sitting alongside the pilot —is covered, because if the pilot is dazzled, undoubtedly anyone sitting next to them will be as well.
My Lords, we support the amendment and hope the Minister will consider it. First, I can see no harm in it and no perversity that might come out of it. It is always dangerous in high-tech industries to be too constraining in one’s language. For all we know, the illustrious title of pilot, which both the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and I enjoyed at one point in our lives, may fade away as the operation of aircraft becomes more automated. This catch-all amendment would improve the Bill just that little bit.
I am very grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for tabling the amendment. As I said, it has always been our intention to cover all persons in control of a vehicle, and it is of course important to include all members of the flight crew who are in control of the aircraft or have a safety-critical role in monitoring its control. I hope that my acceptance of the amendment reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that a co-pilot will indeed be covered. I reiterate my thanks to the noble and gallant Lord for lending his expertise to this and other areas of the Bill. I fully agree that the amendment strengthens the legislation, and the Government support it.
Amendment 4 agreed.
5: Clause 1, page 2, line 19, leave out subsection (10)
My Lords, in moving Amendment 5, I shall speak to Amendments 7 to 12, which are grouped with it. Amendments 5 and 7 relate to which vehicles are covered by the offence. During earlier stages of the Bill, it was highlighted that, although the Bill in its current form lists most type of vehicle, including submarines, the list is not comprehensive. We have therefore taken a more complete approach through the amendments. We are removing the list of vehicles covered and have provided a broad definition to cover all vehicles. Amendment 7 defines a vehicle as,
“any vehicle which is used for travel by land, water or air”.
Therefore trains, and indeed submarines, will be covered.
Inserting this broader definition simplifies the Bill and removes any ambiguity about which vehicles are included in the offence and which are not. It sends a clear message to the public that it is unacceptable to shine a laser towards any vehicle. Furthermore, I am pleased to confirm to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, following his contribution to previous stages of the Bill, that this broad definition means that horse-drawn vehicles are now also covered by the offence.
In making this change, some types of vehicles now considered devolved in Scotland are now captured by the Bill, and I am grateful to the Scottish Government for agreeing to bring forward a Legislative Consent Motion in the Scottish Parliament to cover those aspects. This definition of a vehicle will be contained in a new interpretation clause. The clause will include other definitions that were part of the Bill as introduced, such as aircraft and vessel. I hope that clarifies things somewhat for the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The definitions of aircraft and vessel relate to subsections (8) and (9) on who is in control of the vehicle, so they do not change the definition of a vehicle for the purposes of the offence.
Amendment 7 also introduces the definition of the term “laser beam” as,
“a beam of coherent light produced by a device of any kind’.
The amendment addresses concerns from noble Lords during earlier stages of the Bill over potential loopholes. The definition includes laser guns and pulse and burst lasers, which emit laser beams of short duration. We have drafted this in consultation with a range of experts in this field at University College London and Newcastle University, as well as the Department for Transport’s chief scientific adviser, and I am grateful to them for lending us their expertise on this matter. These experts agree that this definition uniquely identifies the concept of a laser beam and leaves no room for ambiguity. I hope noble Lords will be content with this amendment.
The other amendments in this group are technical amendments required to reflect the other amendments we have tabled. They relate to commencement and bring the Bill into line with normal practice on commencing technical provisions. The Long Title of the Bill, which we discussed earlier, has also been changed to reflect the amendments tabled. The previous Long Title comprehensively stated the content of the Bill, so the words “for connected purposes” were not included. As we are proposing that the Bill now includes an offence of shining a laser beam at a person providing air traffic services, which we will come to, that is no longer the case, so the words “for connected purposes” have been added. I beg to move.
I very much welcome this approach, and the tidying up of the original interpretations in Clause 1(10). It has sensibly removed references to submarines and pedal cycles, neither of whose operators seem particularly at great risk from a laser beam. It will cover the coachmen of horse-drawn vehicles, which provoked some examples of misinformed or imprecise reporting following the Committee stage. I wish to record that for horse-drawn vehicles, as for all other types of vehicle, the person responsible for controlling the vehicle—in this case, the coachman—is who I had in mind. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her positive consideration in arranging for these improvements to the Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I just want to clarify something I said earlier, because if I do not, the lawyers will start nitpicking at vast expense. Presumably “vehicle” in Amendment 7 includes trains—I think it should. Does it include bicycles, and people on bicycles? The controller of the vehicle is the person at whom the laser may be directed. Then we have things called segways, scooters and single-wheel segways. If they are all vehicles, that is fine by me, but I hope people will not start nitpicking and say, “Well, it’s not this, it’s the other”. I hope the definition is comprehensive.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her amendments. They demonstrate that she has approached this Bill with very much an open mind. Because of the Bill’s technical nature, some experts in the House were able to add some very useful amendments, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, being an example. But it perhaps gives us pause for thought that the Bill, which has been pretty narrowly drafted—fortunately the noble Baroness has tabled amendments to broaden it significantly—still needed quite a lot of amendment. Although this is an issue that the Government have been considering for many months, there were still technical issues that needed to be addressed. That does not suggest that the proposals had been consulted on sufficiently. However, in relation to the Minister’s approach, I am very grateful to her for her assistance.
My Lords, we have examined this group of amendments and believe they have significantly improved the Bill. I thank the Minister for bringing them forward.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions on this group. All the vehicles mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, would be covered under the definition of a vehicle as,
“any vehicle which is used for travel by land, water or air”.
We have brought forward this amendment so that the definition does cover things comprehensively, not just a limited list.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, the Bill has changed during its progress through the House. It is an excellent example of the improvement that this House can bring to a Bill. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to that improvement.
Amendment 5 agreed.
6: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Offences relating to air traffic services
(1) A person commits an offence if—(a) the person shines or directs a laser beam—(i) towards an air traffic facility, or(ii) towards a person providing air traffic services, and(b) the laser beam dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, a person providing air traffic services.(2) It is a defence to show—(a) that the person had a reasonable excuse for shining or directing the laser beam towards the facility or person, or(b) that the person—(i) did not intend to shine or direct the laser beam towards the facility or person, and(ii) exercised all due diligence and took all reasonable precautions to avoid doing so.(3) A person is taken to have shown a fact mentioned in subsection (2) if—(a) sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it, and(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.(4) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine or to both;(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both;(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both;(d) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, to a fine or to both.(5) In relation to an offence committed before the coming into force of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in subsection (4)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to six months.(6) In this section—“air traffic facility” means any building, structure, vehicle or other place from which air traffic services are provided;“air traffic services” has the meaning given by section 98(1) of the Transport Act 2000.”
My Lords, Amendment 6 creates a new offence of shining or directing a laser towards air traffic control which dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, a person providing air traffic services. The inclusion of air traffic control in the Bill has seen cross-party support, including from the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who tabled amendments on this subject in Committee. We have listened to these concerns.
Air traffic control personnel have an important responsibility in controlling and monitoring the movement of aircraft. I agree that a laser attack on a person carrying out these duties presents clear safety concerns and could endanger aircraft. The Bill was originally drafted to deal with the safety risks faced when a laser distracts or dazzles the person in control of a vehicle, but including air traffic control fits with the underlying principle of the Bill and goes further to protect the travelling public.
Before tabling this amendment, we consulted a range of stakeholders including BALPA, NATS and the UK Laser Working Group. They are all supportive of this new clause. We are treating shining a laser beam at air traffic control in the same way as shining a laser beam towards vehicles, with the same defences and punishments. There is a clear case for this amendment in the interest of public safety, and I am grateful to noble Lords for highlighting this and so improving the Bill. I beg to move.
We welcome this amendment. We moved into interesting territory in Committee and, sadly, the Government may come back at some point to address the whole issue of the laser as a weapon. However, they have chosen the right point in that progression and we support the amendment.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register. The Bill is a good example of a common endeavour in this House. Because they are passionate about aviation safety, all sides of the House wish to have a successful Bill. I thank the Minister for listening to all the groups that have responded, particularly BALPA, of which I serve as vice-president. We are extremely grateful to the Minister for the efficient and open way in which she has handled this matter. I place that on record as we come to the end of this stage.
My Lords, I welcome the support for the creation of this new offence, which strengthens the Bill. I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions in favour of the proposal. Thanks to this, and the other improvements suggested by noble Lords and discussed today, the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House as a better piece of legislation than it was when it arrived.
Amendment 6 agreed.
7: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
In this Act—“aircraft” means any vehicle used for travel by air;“laser beam” means a beam of coherent light produced by a device of any kind;“vehicle” means any vehicle which is used for travel by land, water or air;“vessel” has the meaning given by section 255(1) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.”
Amendment 7 agreed.
Clause 2: Extent, commencement and short title
Amendments 8 to 11
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“( ) This section and section (Interpretation) come into force on the day on which this Act is passed.”
9: Clause 2, page 2, line 34, leave out “This Act” and insert “Section 1”
10: Clause 2, page 2, line 37, leave out “This Act” and insert “Section 1”
11: Clause 2, page 2, line 42, at end insert—
“( ) Section (Offences relating to air traffic services) comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”
Amendments 8 to 11 agreed.
In the Title
12: In the Title, line 1, leave out from “creating” to end of line 2 and insert “new offences of shining or directing a laser beam towards a vehicle or air traffic facility; and for connected purposes”
Amendment 12 agreed.
Transparency of Donations and Loans etc. (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2018
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 23 November 2017 be approved.
My Lords, this statutory instrument, the Transparency of Donations and Loans etc. (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2018, will provide for the full publication of donations and loans received by Northern Ireland political parties and other regulated donees or participants on or after 1 July 2017.
The current regulatory framework already provides for information on political donations and loans to Northern Ireland recipients above relevant thresholds to be reported to the Electoral Commission. However, the commission is forbidden by law from publishing or revealing this information to anyone, other than in very limited circumstances. This contrasts with the position in the rest of the United Kingdom, where information on donations and loans to political parties is published quarterly.
Party funding regulations were introduced across the United Kingdom by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, these arrangements did not apply to Northern Ireland at the outset due to concern about the risk of intimidation of donors, which remained a major concern at the time. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 provided for the 2000 Act requirement to report donations to the Electoral Commission to extend to Northern Ireland, but with provisions in place to prohibit their publication. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 made UK-wide provision for the reporting and publication of loans to political parties, similar to that already in place for donations. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 (Regulation of Loans etc. Northern Ireland) Order 2008 extended the 2006 Act provisions to Northern Ireland—but again with modifications to prohibit publication of details relating to loans for political purposes.
The donations and loans confidentiality provisions were always considered to be temporary, and public support for transparency has remained strong and consistent throughout the period that the provisions have been in force—and this Government have consistently made clear their desire to increase the transparency of Northern Ireland political loans and donations.
In January 2017, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wrote to the Northern Ireland political parties to seek their views on moving to full transparency. For the first time—I stress—all parties that responded agreed that the time was right to introduce transparency to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State also asked the Northern Ireland parties for views on a date from which transparency should take effect. Of the parties that responded at the time, the Alliance Party was alone in suggesting that publication should be backdated.
The issue was further discussed as part of the political talks that followed the Assembly election in March 2017. Again there was consensus that transparency should be introduced, and again only the Alliance Party suggested that publication of donations and loans should be backdated. The Secretary of State subsequently announced that the Government would bring forward secondary legislation to introduce transparency, and I am pleased to bring this important legislation before noble Lords today.
In light of the responses received from the political parties in Northern Ireland on the date from which transparency should take effect, and to ensure consistency with the Electoral Commission’s quarterly reporting schedule, the order will provide for the publication of details relating to all donations and loans received on or after 1 July 2017. I am aware there has been some criticism of the fact that the order does not provide for backdating of transparency to January 2014. However, the important point to note here is that when the decision was made, it was made on the basis of broad support among the Northern Ireland political parties. With the exception of the Alliance Party, the parties did not suggest backdating. Indeed, the opposition spokesperson on Northern Ireland in the other place was quoted as actively welcoming the decision not to backdate transparency to 2014 as the best decision because it had the support of the majority of the Northern Ireland parties.
In addition, much has been made of the position of the Electoral Commission. I hope that all noble Lords have had an opportunity to see the latest briefing note issued by the commission last week. The briefing made it clear that the commission fully supports this piece of legislation. It recommended that the Government bring forward a second, additional order that would see the provisions backdated to 2014—but again I stress that the commission continues to press for this order to be brought into force and implemented as soon as possible.
Although the primary objective of the order is to provide for publication of donations and loans from 1 July 2017 onwards, it also contains provisions to address a range of related issues, particularly in relation to the operation of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It may be useful if I now summarise these technical provisions.
Noble Lords will wish to be aware that the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 does not permit provision to be made in this or any other order allowing for information on donations or loans made or entered into before 1 January 2014 to be published. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 provides for details of donations and loans received over the calendar year by a recipient from the same source to be published when their aggregated total exceeds the reporting threshold. Articles 2 and 3 of the order therefore provide for the publication of details about a donation or loan received before 1 July 2017 if it is aggregated with a donation or loan received on or after 1 July 2017, provided it is within the same reporting year.
Loans, unlike donations, may not be one-off events, and changes to a loan may be made over time. Certain changes to a loan, such as a change in the value or rate of a loan, a change of the repayment term, a change to the parties to a loan or the loan coming to an end, must be reported to the Electoral Commission. Article 3 provides for reportable changes taking effect on or after 1 July 2017 to be published if the loan was entered into on or after 1 January 2014. The effect will be that a change to such a loan which takes effect on or after 1 July 2017 will result in the publication of all details relating to that loan, including from the pre-1 July 2017 period. However, the order provides that such publication will not take place if the change to the loan is simply the repayment of the whole of the debt, or all of the remaining debt under the loan.
The prohibition on commission officials disclosing information relating to Northern Ireland political donations and loans is supported by a criminal offence. This will remain the case in relation to information about donations and loans unless that information is permitted to be disclosed by this order.
Articles 2 and 3 also provide that the commission will not act contrary to the prohibition on disclosure if commission officials publish information relating to a donation or loan received after 1 January 2014 and before 1 July 2017 if the relevant donation or transaction report does not state that the donation or loan was received before 1 July 2017 and commission officials believed that the donation or loan was received on or after 1 July 2017 and were reasonably entitled to hold that belief.
Your Lordships may be aware that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 permits donations and loans from certain Irish citizens and bodies to Northern Ireland recipients. In such cases, additional information must be provided to the Electoral Commission in respect of these donors in order for them to confirm their identity. This includes passports and statements of naturalisation. It would clearly be inappropriate for the commission to publish sensitive personal information such as passport and naturalisation documentation, so Article 5 provides that such sensitive personal information will not be published by the commission. However, I can assure the House that all other information, such as names and addresses, relating to Irish donations and loans received from 1 July onwards will be published in the normal way.
Articles 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the order require political parties and regulated donees or participants to provide the dates on which donations or loans are received, particularly those received before 1 July 2017. This will minimise the risk of pre-1 July 2017 donations and loans being published in error.
Articles 10 and 11 ensure that the current verification steps undertaken by the commission to verify Northern Ireland donations and loans will continue to apply to Northern Ireland donations and loans received on or after 1 July 2017.
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 provides for reports to the commission to be submitted and published at different times, depending on whether the recipient is a political party or a regulated donee or participant. Article 12 provides that the first publication of regulated donee information can take place only at the same time or after political party information has been published.
I hope that this brief summary of the provisions of the order has been helpful and not too confusing.
The Electoral Commission will have responsibility for implementing the arrangements set out in the order. Your Lordships will want to be assured that the Government have fulfilled their statutory obligation to consult the commission in respect of the order, and I would like to place on record my thanks to the commission for its close co-operation and constructive input into the drafting process. Once again I emphasise that the Electoral Commission has made it perfectly clear in its public statements that it fully supports the order and is keen to see it in force as soon as possible.
In summary, there remains widespread support for full transparency among the people of Northern Ireland. There has been a welcome recognition by the political parties of the importance of transparency to the broader political process, and the Electoral Commission has placed on record its support for this order. While there is much work to be done in re-establishing the Executive in Northern Ireland, I hope that this order will help strengthen confidence in and support for the democratic process of Northern Ireland more generally. I hope that noble Lords will support the order. I commend it to the House and I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but this House regrets that the draft Order does not provide for transparency of political donations in Northern Ireland dating back to 1 January 2014 as provided for in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, thereby preventing proper scrutiny of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland during the European Union referendum campaign.”
My Lords, I would like to thank the Minister for that very detailed and at times complex explanation. I would like to make it clear that we welcome this order as a first and long overdue step towards greater transparency of donations and loans given to political parties in Northern Ireland. As the Minister has said, subject to the order coming into force, for the first time the Electoral Commission will be allowed to publish information about loans and donations given to Northern Ireland political parties dating back to July 2017. This step towards bringing Northern Ireland in line with the transparency provisions in the rest of the United Kingdom is to be welcomed. However, it is deeply to be regretted that the order is not backdated to 2014, as the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 allowed. That is why we have tabled this amendment today.
The 2014 Act anticipated that the names of donors to political parties in Northern Ireland could be made public dating from January 2014. We have to ask two fundamental questions. Why has it taken so long to bring forward these proposals? Why have the Government chosen to backdate them to July 2017, rather than January 2014?
I should pay tribute at this point to the former MP for Belfast East, Naomi Long, now leader of the Alliance Party, for her tireless work in campaigning for greater transparency of political funding in Northern Ireland. It was her amendment to the 2014 Act that has allowed full transparency dating back to January 2014. It is also worth noting that in response to the tabling of this order, the Electoral Commission, in its letter of last December to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, recommended that another order be brought forward to allow for full transparency dating back to January 2014, as the 2014 Act had anticipated. The Electoral Commission is already in possession of all of the relevant data to allow this.
That this order has not been backdated to 2014 is clearly of particular importance. During the three-year period in question—January 2014 to July 2017— there have been two general elections and the EU referendum campaign. It is also important because it has since come to light that a very significant donation of £425,000 was given to one political party in Northern Ireland during that referendum campaign, and it has been said that much of that donation was spent elsewhere in the United Kingdom during the campaign.
Public confidence in political parties and political campaigns is worryingly low, at a time when there are accusations of foreign interference in elections throughout the world and of dirty money in politics. Transparency is therefore more vital than ever in providing voters with trust in the democratic process.
When the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act was introduced in 2000, there was general acceptance that Northern Ireland should be exempted because of genuine concerns about the security and safety of individuals and potential risks to the safety of donors if their names were put in the public domain. But the 2014 Act provided for Northern Ireland to be brought more in line with the provisions for the rest of the United Kingdom, subject to the laying of the order before us today. The provision ensured that, at a point determined by the Secretary of State, any donation of more than £7,500 from a single source to a political party could be subject to publication from January 2014. It has therefore been clear to political parties in Northern Ireland since that Act that donations made after 2014 could be made public. The Electoral Commission also made this very clear in its letter to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in December last year.
Some have said that political donations were given during this period on the continued assumption of anonymity. But to make such a claim is simply not in line with the facts. Since the 2014 Act, it has been very clear that any political donation given since January 2014 could at some stage become public. Indeed, as the Minister has already said, it is explicit in the 2014 Act that the identity of a person who donated before 1 January 2014 cannot be disclosed as they were donating under a different system with the expectation of privacy.
The Alliance Party has been consistent in stating that it believes that the transparency of donations should be backdated to 2014. As the Minister outlined in his opening remarks, it was the only party opposed to commencing these provisions in July 2017 during the consultation last year. The other political parties in Northern Ireland accepted the date of 1 July 2017 but as I understand it, when they were consulted they were unaware of the £425,000 donation to one political party during the EU referendum campaign.
When this order was debated on 19 December last year in the Delegated Legislation Committee in the other place, both the Labour Party and the SNP voted against it on the basis that it was not backdated to 2014. Today, we are not talking about rejecting this order. As I have already said, it is a welcome, if belated, step in the right direction. This is unquestionably a delicate time in Northern Irish politics and a time when steps forward, however small, are to be welcomed.
In conclusion, I would like to ask the Minister to explain why the date of 2017 was chosen and not 2014. It would be very helpful to hear whether the Government, as well as civil society organisations in Northern Ireland, intend to follow the advice of the Electoral Commission on this matter by bringing forward a further order in the near future to backdate these provisions to 2014. If so, when? This would allow proper transparency of donations given during the period 2014-17, including in particular any donations made during the EU referendum campaign.
These are not just Northern Ireland issues but key issues of public interest concerning the donations given in the period 2014-17. They are central to the Brexit referendum campaign and how it was funded, and key issues of transparency and trust in our electoral process. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment to the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Suttie. However, before I give my detailed reasons for so doing, I want to touch on the role and responsibilities of your Lordships’ House in matters of this sort.
Last night, in concluding the debate on an amendment relating to Europe’s foreign and security policy, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire made a number of references to the present Foreign Secretary. This was especially relevant, since there had been some very instructive comparisons to previous Conservative Foreign Secretaries, including the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Douglas Hurd and Geoffrey Howe, as they then were. There was an especially trenchant speech along these lines by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, himself a former Foreign Office Minister, to which the noble Baroness answering for the Government failed completely to reply—perhaps because his case was unanswerable. At that point, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, intervened to say:
“I think it is against the rules and the spirit of this Chamber to criticise a Member of another place by name. I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to moderate his comments accordingly”.—[Official Report, 26/2/18; col. 508.]
Like many others in the Chamber, at that moment I was so stunned by this suggested new rule that I did not have time to consult the Companion, although I did have my copy with me. However, I have since read it very carefully and I simply do not understand what the noble Earl was saying. I mentioned to his office that I was going to raise this issue this afternoon because it is relevant to all the business of your Lordships’ House. I have checked the Companion today and, frankly, I do not understand what exactly it was that caused such concern to the noble Earl. As my noble friend referred only to the Foreign Secretary by his correct ministerial title—not by his name—I do not understand what the noble Earl was alluding to. This is a key issue for the way in which we do business in this Chamber. If we are not free to criticise a Minister and his or her words in their ministerial capacity, then clearly that restricts and constrains the work of your Lordships’ House. I hope the noble Earl will reconsider that statement. In the meantime, I believe that I am at liberty to criticise the Government—and hence, individual Ministers speaking and acting on their behalf—in relation to this order.
My noble friend Lady Suttie has fully explained the origins and circumstances of the order. At its heart there is a continuing suspicion of serious political money laundering. The basic facts are not in dispute. The DUP received a sum approaching £500,000 from an undisclosed source for its campaign in the 2016 EU referendum. Despite supporting leave while the majority in Northern Ireland supported remain, the DUP chose to spend £425,000 on paying for wraparounds for the Metro newspaper, which does not circulate in Northern Ireland. Exclusively, therefore, that was targeted at electors on this side of the Irish Sea.
I have a few specific questions for the Minister to underline and supplement those that have already been posed by my noble friend Lady Suttie. First, why was the order not brought forward, at the very latest, in the last Parliament? As we have heard, it was anticipated that the transparency provisions could be extended to Northern Ireland at any time after January 2014 under the 2014 Act. This was the firm intention of the then Alliance MP, Naomi Long, at that time. Why the delay?
Secondly, was it a coincidence that the ministerial decision to restrict the retrospectivity to carefully avoid any reference to the transaction to which I have just referred came just a few days after the Government had to pay a price for DUP support in the Commons having lost its majority in the summer of 2017? What representations did the DUP make about timing? Was that part of the deal? Having accepted the retrospective application of this order, albeit by only a few days, surely the Secretary of State should at least have been prepared to explain why that retrospectivity could not have been extended that bit further on the lines that my noble friend has said. His letter to MPs of 6 July 2017 sidesteps that issue.
Was the Secretary of State briefed on the potentially illegal donation involved? Had any checks been undertaken at that stage as to whether it had been made through any intermediary—perhaps by a foreign agent? We now know that the Russians took a considerable interest in the outcome of our referendum. Perhaps it was Russian money being channelled by this means and covered by the particular process that was used. Was the Foreign Office consulted on this potential interference in UK politics? Has it been since?
What detailed analysis and recommendations have any Ministers received from the Electoral Commission on this episode? Has not the Northern Ireland commission head argued for the transparency to go back to 2014? The outgoing head of that commission has stated that:
“The deal on party0 donations and loans must be part of the DUP-Conservative deal. No other explanation”.
“Every party in Northern Ireland understood that the publication of political donations over £7,500 was to be retrospective to Jan 2014”—
as my noble friend has already emphasised.
Meanwhile, have not all the Northern Ireland parties, including the UUP but not the DUP, now confirmed that they would be happy for retrospection to go back to the originally planned date in 2014? The Minister and my noble friend have mentioned the possibility of further action to undertake this reform. When will we see that, because surely there need be no delay? It is a simple matter.
Finally, has the DUP privately informed the Secretary of State or the Electoral Commission who the original donor was? What was the source of that very considerable sum? Are the Secretary of State and the commission both fully satisfied that the donation was legal under the PPER Act 2000?
If any Members of your Lordships’ House doubt the public significance of this order and think that it is just technical, let me read, from the excellent advice provided by our Library, this list of relevant publicity. I will take only a few examples but there are plenty here: the Belfast Telegraph article of March 2017, “End the secrecy over political donations in Northern Ireland”; Julia Paul’s article of June 2017, “Bringing Northern Ireland’s political process in line with the UK”; the BBC News articles, “Political donations: NI Secretary to address transparency issue” and “Donations to Stormont parties to be published”; the Open Democracy articles from October 2017, “The ‘dark money’ that paid for Brexit” and “UK Government set to ignore Northern Ireland parties’ transparency calls”; the Open Democracy article from 19 December 2017, “Why is Theresa May protecting the DUP’s dirty little (Brexit) secret?”—that of course was while the House of Commons committee was looking at this issue; the Belfast Telegraph article on 19 December 2017, “DUP calls for foreign donations to Sinn Fein to be made public”—the DUP seems to be selective in terms of what transparency it supports, although it seems to be okay to demand it of Sinn Fein, which is somewhat ironic in the circumstances when the DUP has defended its own secrecy; and the Guardian article of 19 December, “Labour criticises move to let past donations to DUP stay hidden”.
These are serious concerns and issues that do not touch only on Northern Ireland. As my noble friend Lady Suttie has said, the integrity of our whole democratic system is involved in this issue. It was the subject of some debate in your Lordships’ House, including on my Private Member’s Bill on the issue of money and its power in British politics.
Unsurprisingly, the members of the Delegated Legislation Committee in the other place took this order very seriously indeed, and allowed it through by only nine votes to eight on 19 December last, under government pressure. I suggest that we, too, should take it very seriously indeed and demand answers to these questions from the Government.
My Lords, I rise to support this order, which I firmly believe will provide a framework of openness and transparency in relation to donations and loans to political parties in Northern Ireland. Given the improved security situation, it is now the right time to bring Northern Ireland legislation in this field into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom.
As we have heard, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sought the views of all the local political parties in January 2017, and there was general support for full transparency. At the time, only one party suggested that the implementation of the new rules should be back dated to January 2014. However, in recent months there has been considerable debate in the other place concerning this date, and the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, supports retrospective implementation backdated to 2014. I acknowledge that this earlier date was referred to in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, but in my view retrospective legislation is acceptable only in exceptional circumstances. It is simply not fair to reveal the identities of those who made donations on the assumption that the law as it stood at the time would apply.
Several critical comments have been made in the debate concerning the donation which the Democratic Unionist Party received during the 2016 European Union referendum campaign from the Constitutional Research Council. I would simply point out that the donation was declared and the name of the organisation was provided. The uses to which the money was put were fully disclosed to the Electoral Commission, which accepted the bona fides of the council.
I recognise that current UK legislation relating to donations by and to political pressure groups is perhaps inadequate in some respects. I am sure that we are all aware of the recent controversy concerning the large donation to the political pressure group Best for Britain by the Open Society Foundation. However, this is perhaps a matter for consideration by the House at a later date.
In concluding, may I ask the Minister for clarification regarding the treatment of foreign donations to Northern Ireland political parties? As noble Lords will be aware, foreign donations to UK political parties are prohibited under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, but donations and loans from certain Irish citizens and bodies to Northern Ireland recipients are excluded from these provisions. This order now provides that certain sensitive personal information relating to these persons and bodies will not be published by the Electoral Commission. Will the Minister confirm that all the transparency requirements, including personal identification, that will apply to United Kingdom donors will also apply to Irish donors? I am pleased to support this order.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his statement today and express my support for this proposed legislation. I declare my interest as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. In our fifth report, on The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom in 1998, in our 13th report of 2011 and in a statement in April 2014, we called for the changes that the Government are finally bringing about.
From the point of view of transparency in our electoral law, this is a wise move: whether it has been delayed too long because of exaggerated fears about violence, I am not quite sure. It is useful to remember that, although at times we now hear people claiming that the peace process is on the verge of collapse, we all seem confident enough to do this, which would suggest that, whatever the tensions that arise out of Brexit, the peace process might not actually be on the verge of collapse.
I have one issue to raise that has already been alluded to by the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Browne of Belmont, and that is the issue of foreign donations. The truth of the matter is that our electoral law does not only impose a demand for transparency—and on this, we are now bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom—but is opposed to foreign donations in principle, and we are bending it radically here. The Minister used the laconic phrase, “certain Irish citizens”. The point about this is that, as one of his predecessors from the Labour Party said at this Dispatch Box in the summer of 2007 in exactly this context, Ireland has a very capacious definition of its citizenry. It is a fact that you can be an Irish citizen living in New York city, having never set foot in Northern Ireland, and be contributing money under the terms of what we have agreed.
I completely understand the unease that the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and others have expressed about a particular donation connected to the Brexit campaign. That unease is entirely legitimate, but the truth is that it is really as nothing compared to the fact that we now have a situation in which the Government might conceivably fall, if the seven Sinn Féin Members turn up in Parliament, because of the votes of MPs who were elected with money from foreign sources. This is obviously a rather larger problem looming on the horizon. That is worth alluding to, because the reason why we have not in recent years—in both Houses of Parliament—been too concerned over this breaching of the principle on foreign donations has been to do with the fact that the Members of Parliament concerned do not actually turn up. We cannot assume that this will carry on for ever, and I think it is very unlikely that it will carry on for ever.
There are two problems: it is not only the Brexit donation. There is a point on the other side of the ledger, which is likely to be considerably more important and sensitive in the future. Can the Minister respond on what he means by “certain Irish citizens”? I accept that he has explained the terms under which they would give, but are we still in the framework, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said 10 and a half years ago, of the capacious definition of Irish citizenship? If so, this is foreign donation in the normal sense that our law disapproves of strongly.
Although this is not a happy circumstance, the Government are right to, as it were, look the other way and tolerate it. We are in a very difficult moment with Brexit. There is great sensitivity among Irish nationalists that the balance of identity has been shifted against them in certain ways. I regard some of those fears as exaggerated, but it does not really matter; that is what is in their mind. The Government are quite right as part of their acknowledgement of the nationalist identity in Northern Ireland to leave the door open for certain Irish citizens to donate. However, they should say, “We are doing something quite remarkable here. We shouldn’t just stick it away in a corner. We are doing our best to be fair across the border in Northern Ireland and we are taking a bit of a risk which could be highly controversial. We are doing it because of our commitment to equality of esteem within Northern Ireland”. If one is going to make a concession at this point, there is no point in hiding it away; one might as well openly declare that the Government are doing something generous, risky and, in my opinion, absolutely right. However, they should say, “This is a broad-minded move on our part”.
My Lords, as we have heard, the draft order provides for the full publication of donations and loans received after 1 July 2017, which is the bone of contention that we have with it. I absolutely agreed with my noble friends Lady Suttie and Lord Tyler, who outlined the problem so clearly.
All have to abide by the rules that govern information on political donations and loans in the rest of the UK, so Northern Ireland—which is still part of the UK, is it not?—must now abide by the same rules as everyone else. We are all obliged to publish such donations quarterly, so it is now time for Northern Ireland to do the same.
The real problem, of course, is when the measure should be imposed. The confidentiality clauses, arising out of fears of intimidation of donors, were always considered to be a temporary measure, and we can see that the people of Northern Ireland have always wanted transparency in this matter—but it appears that the two main political parties have felt otherwise.
In January 2017, all parties agreed to this measure. On these Benches, we have spoken many times—and certainly for as long as I have been a Member of this House and speaking on Northern Ireland matters; I am in my 19th year—about transparency being essential at the earliest possible time. It took a member of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, the former MLA for Belfast East, Naomi Long, to remove some of the severe restrictions about disclosure in 2014, in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, where the Secretary of State had the power to give the Electoral Commission permission to publish the details of individual donors if he or she felt it expedient to do so.
So it is safe to say that the Alliance Party has urged transparency for many years. I well remember dealing with legislation coming out of the Belfast agreement where these Benches echoed those views—but to no avail until now. I hope that it is accepted that all political parties in Northern Ireland now see the importance of transparency rather than using the old arguments against it.
This order, however, should be backdated to 2014, especially as we see the incredible lack of progress on any matters dealing with Northern Ireland. I am afraid that the DUP, in particular, cannot have it both ways: being a part of the UK but not wishing to abide by any laws that do not suit its particular brand of politics. When it suits the DUP to receive a huge donation of money—which, we understand, was not used in Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign —but not to have the legislation applied to a time before it accepted that donation, it is time to ask why the Government went along with this shabby and entirely political manoeuvre in allowing a later date for the order to be implemented. So will the Minister answer the questions from my noble friends Lady Suttie and Lord Tyler about when the Government intend to bring in the further legislation which will backdate this order to 2014, as strongly recommended by the Electoral Commission? We should be told.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating if rather short debate on an important subject. I recall that about 21 years ago, the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland visited me in my ministerial office with a suitcase. In the suitcase were about 300 to 400 fraudulent ballot papers. I suddenly realised that things were a bit different in Northern Ireland from my constituency in south Wales. They were of course impersonated ballot papers and I often wondered whether they resulted from intimidation. It is quite possible that they did. The reason why the transparency laws in Northern Ireland have not always coincided with those in the rest of the United Kingdom is precisely because of intimidation. For example, if people wanted to donate to this or that party and it was made public, they could well face intimidation. That was wrong and therefore it inevitably took some time for it to change over the last two decades.
I certainly welcome the order; it is a step in the right direction to normalcy in Northern Ireland. But I see the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made with regard to the donation by a particular body—I think it was in Scotland—to the DUP with regard to the European Union referendum. I understand that a lot of that money was used in Northern Ireland and in London; but it did not do much good, because in both those places people voted to remain in overwhelming numbers. Nevertheless, that rather bizarre and controversial donation is an important issue. It was aired very widely in the debate in the other place by my honourable friend Owen Smith and others, and of course it has been aired here. So the idea that the donation has somehow or other not been debated is wrong; it is being debated today and has been debated in the House of Commons as well.
But—and this is an important but—the Electoral Commission has indicated in response to this legislation, which of course it supports, that the Government should bring in another order that would reflect on the situation and go back to 2014. The Minister has rightly told the House that when the political parties were asked about whether the provision should be retrospective, with the exception of the Alliance party they said, “No, it should not be”. They had reasons for that, which again probably relate to intimidation and such factors—but there is a case for the Government to take seriously the Electoral Commission’s recommendation and consult again the political parties in Northern Ireland as to whether it should be backdated. That should not mean that the order should be held up; it should not.
I also take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, with regard to donations from Irish citizens and various bodies on the island of Ireland. This reflects the different situation in Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom—of course it does. There are obviously people in Northern Ireland who regard themselves as Irish and not British, and people who regard themselves as British and not Irish. Donations from Irish citizens and bodies to political parties in Northern Ireland therefore are and have been acceptable, but they have to lie properly alongside Parliament’s view that foreign donations in general should not be allowed. But I do not think you can disallow Irish citizens—as long as, again, there is an element of transparency in all this.
I hope that we will agree to the order going through, but I also ask the Minister to reflect on the commission’s recommendation on retrospection. This is part of the journey towards reconciliation and the establishment of the institutions in Northern Ireland. This is set against the background of where we are at the moment—which is, frankly, disastrous. We do not want direct rule in Northern Ireland; we want the restitution of the Assembly and of the Executive. This order helps towards that.
My Lords, I thank your Lordships for their wide-ranging contributions to the discussion this afternoon. I begin by thanking noble Lords for the support for the order before us, which will establish transparency from 1 July 2017. I believe we all welcome that particular feature—we can agree on that part.
I will address the question of backdating head-on. When the then Secretary of State consulted the political parties in Northern Ireland, he asked them when they wished the order to commence. In response, the parties themselves were quite explicit. The Alliance Party, as we have heard, wished to see the order backdated to 1 January. The DUP and the UUP both explicitly wanted it to be a forward order from the point at which it was agreed in 2017. The SDLP and Sinn Fein did not address this specific question in their responses. It is important also to stress that since that consultation, we have received no further update from those main political parties on the backdating question. I put that as a matter of record.
On the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, many of these questions cannot have been germane to the decisions of last year, for one very simple reason. Although the Electoral Commission was gathering the data at the point, it was not able—indeed, it would have been illegal—to release that data to the United Kingdom Government, whichever party held office. It could not therefore have been part of those ongoing discussions. We have heard at least one noble Lord today make reference to the details of that donation, and that is now a matter of public record. But it is a matter of public record as a consequence of other elements, not of its registration during the electoral gathering of data. It is important to stress that. That is why many of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, fall at that point.
It is important again to recognise that we have an opportunity here in looking at establishing transparency. Right now, we are not ruling out the re-examination of the period that precedes 1 July 2017. Indeed, the draft order will allow consideration of it, once we have had an opportunity both to bed in the transparency order and to examine the details reflected therein. We will not rule anything in or out on that point. I stress that. It is important that we recognise it.
It is also important to recognise that the data has been gathered from that period in 2014—the data exists. Those who believe that it will be for ever concealed need fear nothing; there is nothing to be seen here and we can move along. In truth, that data will remain there. If it is determined that we should examine that in greater detail going forward, there is an opportunity for us to revisit this item. We should not lose sight of that fact.
As for the donations and loans that come into Northern Ireland from outside, from the southern part of the island of Ireland, I assure both the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Bew, that there will be full transparency of those donations and loans. There must be—there can be nothing but that. That is why, again in relation to Irish citizens, the prescribed condition is that at the time of making a donation to a Northern Ireland recipient, the individual must be eligible to obtain one of the following documents: an Irish passport, a certificate of nationality or a certificate of naturalisation. There will be a full gathering of all the data of moneys coming into the electoral process in Northern Ireland. It is important that we recognise what that means.
We just heard a definition of “certain Irish citizens”. Does that definition apply to Irish citizens in the United States of America? Let us be fair, when the IRA was active, it was not the southern Irish who gave it the most finance; Irish citizens in the United States of America were the major financers of the IRA terrorist regime. I hope that such people in the United States will not be able to finance elections in Northern Ireland.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, for his intervention. Again, I stress this point. As a frequent visitor to North America, I have discovered many people who invoke their affinity to the homeland. I have met many Scots—who may indeed be fourth or fifth-generation Scots—who proudly wear their tartan as frequently as they possibly can. I do not fault that; I celebrate it. That is true for citizens of whichever homeland might be in question.
However, in terms of their rights and abilities to donate money to Northern Ireland, they must hold a valid Irish passport—not an Irish passport held by their grandparents, which might entitle them to play for Ireland—or a certificate of nationality or naturalisation. The order does not allow someone simply to invoke Irish heritage to be able to donate. One would hope that the transparency revealed by the order will help us to be attentive to the risks raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney. If any failings become apparent as the data is gathered, the Electoral Commission will be able to draw those to our attention and they can be examined in the cold, hard light of day. That will be very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, made a number of important context-setting remarks, which I endorse. We are at a delicate time and there is no better time for transparency than right now. There should be no escape from that transparency. As many noble Lords have heard me say more than once, we need to establish a sustainable Executive in Northern Ireland. I believe that the order will go some way to ensuring that the people of Northern Ireland have the utmost confidence in the electoral process. The order is right and timely.
I recognise that the issue of backdating will remain sensitive. If, on consideration of the data as it is gathered, ascertained and seen, there are deemed to be issues that need to be examined further, the Government will consider them at that point. We are ruling nothing in and nothing out. On that basis, I commend the order to the House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short, but extremely important and valuable, debate. I also thank the Minister for his characteristically courteous, detailed and open response.
I stress that we on these Benches will continue to press the Government to live up to their earlier commitment on backdating these provisions to 2014—I welcome some of the Minister’s comments in that regard—and to follow the advice of the Electoral Commission in bringing forward another order at the earliest convenience to make this possible. I also agree with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, that, at the very least, following changes in circumstance, we should discuss again with the political parties in Northern Ireland and hear their views on backdating to 2014.
On this occasion, however, it would be inappropriate to test the opinion of the House. We do not want to see further delays to the order. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [HL]
That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, the UK’s road haulage sector directly contributes £13.1 billion to our economy and plays a major role in carrying £35 billion in trade between the UK and the EU. It is estimated that almost 200,000 people are directly employed in the road freight sector in Great Britain. These figures alone highlight the importance of the sector to the UK economy. The commercial haulage industry is critical to ensuring the continued movement of goods between the UK and EU. Hauliers are planning for the years ahead and they want certainty that any future deal can be implemented smoothly.
I hope noble Lords will welcome that the UK’s overall aim in the negotiations with the EU is to maintain the existing liberalised access for commercial haulage. We anticipate success in the negotiations, building on the progress made last December. However, it is only right and responsible that the Government should prepare for a range of scenarios. As part of the Government’s EU exit legislation programme, the Bill provides a sensible framework for the UK to use, if required, as part of our agreement with the EU. The Bill also ensures that the UK can fulfil its international obligations and be ready to operate in the international arena when we leave the EU. I hope noble Lords from all sides can support the Bill’s intention.
There are two parts to the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill. The first will give the UK Government the ability to introduce arrangements to operate a road haulage permit scheme, if that is what is required as part of our deal with the EU. Currently, hauliers have to hold an international operator’s licence and an EU community licence to operate on the continent. The Bill puts in place a legal framework for the Government to establish an administrative system to issue permits, if required, as part of the final deal. This part of the Bill is designed to provide a flexible framework for any system that may be needed, without placing any undue regulatory or financial requirements on the industry. It will come into effect only if our international agreements require it, and it applies only to UK hauliers travelling abroad.
Permits are a key feature of almost all international road freight agreements outside free trade areas. Indeed, the UK already has several permit-based agreements with non-EU countries, including Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, the Russian Federation, Tunisia and Ukraine. The UK also has liberal non-permit agreements with Serbia, Albania and Turkey. While we currently administer some types of permits, the numbers that we issue are very small, so the Government are putting in place plans to deal with future international agreements that may require permits. The Bill will allow the UK Government to distribute permits that we negotiate with overseas authorities to UK operators. The type and form of permit will depend on the agreements that we negotiate. It also contains powers to determine how to allocate permits in the light of any agreement reached, based on criteria that will be set out in the regulations with further guidance on how they will be applied in practice.
This section of the Bill also allows the Government to recover the cost of the scheme through the charging of fees that will be in line with current arrangements for international permit schemes. We are committed to ensuring that any additional requirements or costs to the road haulage industry are minimised. There are a total of 13 provisions containing delegated powers within the Bill to establish the permitting system, should we need it, and a trailer registration scheme. Of course it is important that we get these regulations right, and we will be consulting with industry on the detail later this year.
Before moving on to Part 2 of the Bill, it may be helpful if I say a few words about the 1968 Vienna convention, which is subject to a separate parliamentary process but is related to the trailer registration section in the Bill before us today. The Government have recently laid a Command Paper with the intention to formally ratify the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which the UK signed in 1968. We intend that our ratification will be completed on or before 29 March 2019. The convention was introduced by the United Nations to enable international road travel and to increase safety by establishing common traffic rules. The convention builds on the earlier 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic and the 1926 Paris convention, both of which the UK has already signed and ratified.
Moving on to the second part of the Bill, the Government are seeking powers to establish a trailer registration scheme to meet the registration standards in the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic which I just mentioned. Many EU countries already comply with this convention and have similar registration schemes. This part of the Bill will ensure that UK operators will comply with the obligations of those countries that require registration of trailers travelling on their roads.
The Bill provides powers to set the scope of coverage for a trailer registration scheme. While the detail of the scheme will be set out in regulations, our intention is to require only operators who take trailers abroad to register their trailers. The scheme will apply to commercial trailers over 750 kilograms, and all trailers over 3.5 tonnes. I would like to reassure noble Lords that private-use trailers such as caravans and horse trailers would not fall within the scope of the mandatory registration scheme. Furthermore, this scheme would not apply domestically.
This section of the Bill also allows the Government to recover the costs of running this scheme through the charging of fees. The fees will be significantly lower than those currently set out for the registration of motor vehicles. It is of course important that these new arrangements are complied with. Offences will be created in relation to trailer registration that mirror existing offences for motor vehicle registration.
On devolution, the Bill covers the whole of the United Kingdom. Haulage permitting and trailer registration are reserved matters in Scotland and Wales, and this matter is devolved to Northern Ireland. The department has been working closely with all devolved Administrations as the Bill has been developed.
On the Bill’s application to the island of Ireland, this legislation supports the commitments made in the December joint report. These commitments include avoiding a hard land border and preserving the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. We want to see trade and everyday movements over the land border continue as they do now. The Bill will not create a permit regime or a hard border on the island of Ireland. Trailers travelling only between the UK and Ireland will not need to be registered.
Your Lordships will be well aware that there are many other considerations when considering the movement of goods across to the EU, including the future customs and border arrangements. Separately to the Bill, my department is working closely with the Department for Exiting the EU and HMRC as part of the cross-government borders working group to manage impacts to borders after we leave the EU. I can confirm that the Bill will not impact on border arrangements and that there will be no new transport-related checks at our borders.
I look forward to this Second Reading debate on the content of the Bill. As I have already outlined, this Government are committed to ensuring that this sector can continue to prosper as we leave the European Union. As part of the Government’s EU exit legislation programme, the Bill prepares us for a range of scenarios and will ensure that the UK can fulfil its international obligations and be ready to operate in this sector when we leave the EU. The Government have been supported by industry for bringing forward these measures. I hope that noble Lords will recognise this Bill as the Government taking a responsible approach in their contingency planning, and I welcome your Lordships’ expertise in ensuring that this legislation is as well designed as possible. I beg to move.
My Lords, towards the end of my time as part of the usual channels the Government Chief Whip advised me that we would be receiving this Bill as a Lords starter. I recall thinking at the time that it was not one of those mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, and becoming instantly suspicious. I should tell the House that suspicion is an integral part of a Whip’s training. Later it comes as second nature.
Despite the distinct lack of interest in the Bill displayed in the Chamber today, I was right to be concerned. It is the first major piece of Brexit contingency legislation I have seen and is in essence a panic measure. Sam Coates of the Times got it right when he said on 7 February, “Last week No.10 said there was no date for the bill; there wasn’t a date and there was lots of work to do. Six days later it was published”. Someone in the department finally persuaded Mr Grayling that it was not a given that there would be agreement on road haulage arrangements after 29 March 2019.
It is a fact that without a system of fully effective multilateral road haulage arrangements, our businesses would literally grind to a halt. In the event of no deal, this legislation is hugely important. The alternative is chaos at our borders and ferry ports. It would make Operation Stack look like a minor hold up in B-road Britain. Thinking about it, I am staggered at Mr Grayling’s complacency in not requiring the Bill earlier and not ensuring that it had Queen’s Speech clearance.
In her customary charming way, the Minister has set out the Bill’s main provisions. Currently, we benefit from eminently sensible EU regulations that flow from the International Road Haulage Permits Act 1975—legislation, I might add, so old that it was enacted the year I graduated. The current regulations require road hauliers to have a Community licence for all operations in or through EU countries. Post Brexit UK-issued Community licences will no longer be valid, unless of course we have secured agreement. UK hauliers would be able to use European Conference of Ministers of Transport permits. These provide for a multilateral quota scheme, are limited in number and do not cover the full range of haulage operations currently permitted by the Community licence.
The problem with the ECMT permit scheme is that it is limited to 102 permits annually. These are specifically allocated to a company for use for one international journey at a time. If the permits are allocated to only the most modern vehicles—Euro 6—the number increases to a maximum of 1,224 permits a year. Currently, approximately 300,000 UK registered powered vehicles travel from the UK to the continent, and that is without adding in those travelling to the Republic of Ireland, so reliance on ECMT permits alone would cripple our haulage sector and is simply untenable. It would be a bit like tickets for Glastonbury: you just about get online and they are all sold out in seconds. The permits will be gone. Even with rationing, some sectors would be given first refusal—and who would want to decide between essential medicines and fresh foods for supermarkets? These are decisions we should not have to make.
The second part of the Bill introduces a trailer registration scheme, which will be required following the UK’s ratification of the 1968 Vienna convention. This makes sense even though ratification triggers the need for a registration scheme. A failure to put one in place would mean that unregistered trailers could be turned away at the borders of countries that have ratified the convention.
As the Minister recognised, the road haulage sector is vital to the UK’s economy. It contributes £11.2 billion to it and enabled the UK to import and export 8.9 million tonnes of goods in 2014 alone. Additionally, foreign-registered HGVs carry 34.2 million tonnes of goods as part of the current Community licence scheme. It keeps supply chains working for our vital food and agriculture sector. The Community licence arrangements secure our industrial base, facilitate economic growth in EU trade and keep the construction industry and high-tech sectors moving forward. Without it, business here in the UK would grind to a halt and we would cease to be a major trading nation.
Eighty per cent of goods go by road, 47% of goods we exported in 2015 went to the EU and 54% of goods imported came from that same source. The impact of a failure to put in place either an agreement following a Brexit deal or a scheme, if there is no agreement, can be judged by the scope of the current Community licence. It is issued free of charge to the UK hauliers who sign a standard international operators’ licence. Community licences are issued to operators. Office copies must be retained and certified copies held on each vehicle on each international journey. Certified copies are not specific to each vehicle. At the end of 2016, 9,745 UK hauliers possessed a licence and more than 35,000 certified copies had been issued. This scheme is extensive and essential to our nation’s economic health and success.
The most effective option, so that we do not have to rely on the Bill, will be to negotiate and agree a bilateral road transport agreement with the EU, which in turn could be part of a wider trade agreement or a stand-alone agreement separate from a customs union. This should be done as a matter of priority and be in place before Brexit, or before the end of a transition period, if one is agreed. Frankly, anything short of an agreement replicating existing arrangements with no quantitative restrictions will greatly disrupt and constrain cross-channel trade.
We need arrangements that place no additional administrative or financial burdens on hauliers. It is only by achieving this that people avoid damaging the road haulage sector and the economy as a whole. It is difficult to see how a Brexit that does not include, as a minimum, membership of a customs union could be compatible with preserving the current ease of transit of goods. In that context, can the Minister say something about costs when she sums up? I ought to add that I made the mistake yesterday of taking a look at the DfT’s memorandum accompanying the Bill and the two impact assessments of costs to government and business. It is worth reminding ourselves that at present, the Community licence comes at no cost to hauliers. The memorandum makes it clear that there will be full cost recovery. Those costs will cover the issuing of permits for both road haulage and trailers, and the enforcement of the scheme, including compliance inspection.
Will the Minister tell the House how much each permit will cost, how long the application process is expected to take, whether it will be an online system, what it will cost the Government to establish the scheme, how much the trailer registration scheme will cost and how much registering each trailer will cost? Given that this Government are supposed to be concerned about the cost of regulatory burdens on businesses, have they done any cost modelling of the impact on the businesses affected?
If the haulage sector is looking for sympathy from the Government it will not find much in the impact assessments, which simply say that larger businesses will require more permits and incur higher costs. They say that 99.6% of the haulage sector is made up of SMEs, which account for 45% of road freight turnover. The Government say that,
“smaller businesses may find it harder to absorb the additional costs of a permit scheme. Operators typically have tight profit margins and smaller scale businesses may have more difficulty in absorbing the new costs”.
That is a pretty sobering assessment, and my worry is that Ministers have yet to realise the seriousness of the position.
Rightly there has been concern in the aviation sector about the failure to agree a deal, leading to a cliff edge for the European aviation market. As yet, freight has not achieved that degree of realisation. The Freight Transport Association has estimated that the logistics sector contributes over £121 billion GVA to the UK economy. We need the Government to safeguard that return. We also need to ensure the mutual recognition of driver qualifications. This needs to be agreed early on in negotiations to secure cross-border operations for drivers and operators. Currently drivers and transport managers need to hold certificates of professional competence to operate a heavy duty vehicle in the EU. The haulage sector will require legal certainty post Brexit, as the Minister acknowledged, to guarantee mutual recognition. Can the Minister provide a timetable for resolving this and say what progress has so far been made?
The Government are keen to present this Bill as a last resort, but the lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations make it increasingly unlikely that the DfT’s preferred outcome will be achieved. I worry that insufficient thought has been given to the unintended consequences of Brexit on freight haulage. The Government have not reassured me by publishing this Bill, which is a panic measure. They have published no-cost assessments for the sector, nor have they given any detailed assessment of the impact of added bureaucracy on businesses or the on-costs.
As a result, I intend to table amendments asking the Government specifically to negotiate a deal which replicates the benefits of the current Community licence and brings the UK within its purview. I shall also be asking the Government to report on the impact of the international road transport permits regime on the efficiency of haulage between the UK and the EU. If we cannot have an agreement that allows business as usual for haulage, we could end up with one of Mr David Davis’s dystopian fantasies—only it would not be a fantasy, but a fact.
The Bill should, and no doubt will, be supported by Parliament in an attempt to prevent chaos on day zero for Brexit, but it is a far from satisfying way of dealing with a problem almost entirely of the Government’s making—for example, the shoddy way they have dealt with negotiations. I worry about this Bill, and this House should too.
My Lords, I had the great privilege and enjoyment of working in the road freight industry for the first 17 years of my career. It was rather different from my parliamentary career but it was just as competitive—in fact, it was more competitive. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, this is probably the most competitive sector in the economy, with a large number of SME companies operating in it. Any costs, charges, delays or extra bureaucracy—red tape as we normally call it—will have a very negative impact on the sector. This is an unintended consequence of the Brexit negotiations, particularly the red lines on the customs union and single market that the Government have chosen. I shall come back to that theme later. This is an unnecessary and—in the sense that it was not in the Queen’s Speech—unexpected Bill, which promises the industry quite a substantial amount of extra red tape.
Looking at the size of the issue, there are some 4 million cross-border truck movements in and out of the United Kingdom per annum. This is an addition to the customs issue, which the Minister herself mentioned. There will be extra costs there, too: an average of £500 a day for the delay of a truck going across a border. The number of customs declarations will have to go up from 55 million to something like a quarter of a billion. In Dover, there are 10,000 freight movements a day, with no holding space for delay. There are issues around rules of origin and phytosanitary conditions. Hauliers and road transport operators will have to deal with all those issues post Brexit, based on the red lines the Government have put down. So this is an important Bill, but it is part of a larger problem and challenge to the industry to adjust over a relatively short period to the new, post-Brexit situation. This will be challenging financially, time-wise, bureaucratically —in every way—to an industry that is always under pressure.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has given an excellent summary of the majority of the issues, so I will ask the Minister a number of questions. I, too, would like to understand the cost to hauliers of these permits. In her introductory remarks, the Minister said that it would be comparable to the cost of permits in countries that we deal with elsewhere in the world. Presumably we have a fairly good idea of what those are; the analysis will be there. I would be interested to hear about that. Are we certain, as negotiations stand, that we can keep the community licences we have at the moment during the transition period? Having seen the correspondence on the offer from Brussels on the transition deal and the Government’s response, I do not see this as an issue. I hope we will have a breathing space of two years, 18 months or whatever it is. It is important for the industry to understand how much of a breathing space it might have, provided we do not come to no deal in the meantime.
On trailer registration, there is an absolutely huge number of trailers. I am slightly reassured by the Minister that it will relate only to trailers used on international movements. However, hauliers may often not be aware which trailers they might or might not want to use and feel they have to register their whole fleets. Does the Minister have an estimate of the number of trailers and semi-trailers in the United Kingdom that will have to be registered?
What is happening about foreign vehicles coming into this country? This is the other side of the argument. What are we expecting as a permit system from them? Are we going to give them free access? Are we going to allow them to undertake cabotage in the UK, as we will almost certainly be stopped from doing in other European Union countries? Will we charge them road fund licence fees for operating on British roads? As I understand it, foreign or cross-border traffic by road transport is heavily dominated by EU 27 rather than British vehicles. Are we to have issues around paying for our roads and infrastructure?
Does the Bill require new IT systems in the Department for Transport and, if so, have they started to be developed? Are they complex? Are they being put out to consultants? I hope not. Can we be certain that this will happen? As we all know, IT systems are one area of development where we need urgent and rather forced change when things go wrong and we do not meet deadlines. I am unclear whether these regulations apply to or will be needed by other EU countries for own-account operations, as well as hire and reward. Most of the commentary in this area is around hire and reward, but what about the own-account organisations?
I am very pessimistic about this. If the Government stick to their red line of being outside not just the customs union but the single market, I can guarantee that this legislation and scheme will be necessary. There is not a chance that, outside the single market, we will be able to have a similar system to community licensing. That is described by Mr Barnier as cherry picking. A number of colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I met him last week, and he once again made the point that Britain would not be able to cherry pick if it is not in the single market. This is one of those areas, so I very much regret its bureaucracy and cost, and that this unnecessary act will indeed be necessary if we have a Brexit that is outside the single market.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I acknowledge his experience in the road haulage industry. It is also a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, who spent far too many years in the silent cell of the Government Whips’ Office. He reminds us today how much he was missed in the years he spent away.
It is always a pleasure to listen to the Minister. She has not been in her position long, but she has a mellifluous tone that makes it difficult to disagree with her, no matter what she says. In the early part of her speech, she said that the Government anticipate success in their long-term arrangement with the EU. I wonder whether she can tell us why the Government anticipate success. From Minister after Minister at the Dispatch Box we hear this philosophy that our future relationship with the EU will be all right on the night. This is exemplified by her opening remarks about this Bill and yet, so far, we have not seen any evidence that the Government are making great progress in this or any other area of Brexit. Perhaps when she winds up, the Minister will give us further cause for encouragement about their progress.
She mentioned in passing the 1968 Vienna convention and that it will become the fallback position for the United Kingdom if the worst comes to the worst and there is no long-term deal for the road haulage industry. We have avoided the convention for 50 years. Although we were initially involved in its preparation, the United Kingdom has never implemented or signed it. What makes that change of heart necessarily beneficial for the future? What guarantee can the Minister give us that our ratification of that convention, after five decades, will be allowed, bearing in mind that the Government have expressed their reservations about certain aspects of it. The parking of vehicles facing oncoming traffic and the lighting of parked vehicles at night are just two areas of the convention from which, as I understand it, the Government will seek exemption. Can she give us any assurance that the Community or the other signatories to the convention will be prepared to go along with our ratifying those parts of it that we find suitable? The view seems to be that our negotiations with the EU are such that it will agree to virtually anything that we propose regarding agreements and conventions.
What further grounds for optimism does the Minister have in relation to the convention? Her optimism is not particularly shared by the road haulage industry. I refer her to the latest press release on the Bill from the Freight Transport Association. It says that the biggest long-term challenge for the UK freight industry is the tiny number of travel permits that will potentially be available for British truck drivers if no other solution is found through an EU trade deal. Under existing international treaties, between 103 and 1,224 permits a year are available to deal with more than 300,000 journeys by 75,000 British trucks. There are no real grounds for optimism for the future if we are to have a rationing system and a small number of permits for British trucks. I am old enough to remember Winston Churchill talking about setting the people free and abolishing rationing back in the 1950s, yet here we are, as an act of desperation, considering legislation that brings back rationing of permits for British trucks. It is scarcely a Conservative measure, as I am sure the noble Baroness will agree.
As my noble friend from Brighton, Lord Bassam, pointed out, chaos regularly reigns on the M20. If the French ferry workers decide that there is a dispute, in no time at all the M20 motorway becomes a massive car park. If we have to fall back on the provisions of the legislation before your Lordships today, it will not be difficult to imagine—this is not scaremongering—that the chaos on the M20 may well be repeated daily. Again, I think the House is entitled to some assurance from the Minister about the future.
Part 2 of the Bill concerns the licensing of trailers. It seems to me that a triumph of hope over reality is inherent in the proposals here. The convention requires the setting up of a new system for the registration of trailers and the issuing of international driving permits if the EU refuses to recognise UK licences. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many such permits are likely to be issued and how the road haulage industry will cope with a limited number of permits for an enormous number of trailers. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to cabotage. As far as I can see, there is no provision under the Bill for cabotage to continue. Among the benefits of membership of the EU for the road haulage industry is the ability to pick up goods in one part of Europe and take them to another. There is no provision for the extension of such benefits in the Bill.
It seems that we are just striking blindly into the dark in this as in so many other aspects of Brexit, and that the Government have no real idea of how to take things forward. This measure has been brought forward at the last minute, with less than a year to go before, at least theoretically, we leave the EU. I fear that it will take more than the Minister’s optimism, refreshing though it is, to reassure those in the road haulage industry that the Government know the best way forward over the next months and years.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing her Bill. My noble friend and other noble Lords are right to draw the House’s attention to the importance of the road haulage industry, both internally and internationally. I will not weary the House by repeating the arguments so well put by other noble Lords. I declare an interest: I own two classic heavy goods vehicle tractor units and one very large trailer. However, they are not used commercially and it is extremely unlikely that they would go overseas.
My main parliamentary activity is to take a very close look at the UK prison system. We have far too many prisoners and insufficient resources to look after them properly. I am therefore pleased that Clauses 8 and 17 do not provide for imprisonment for any offences. However, the maximum fine relating to international road traffic permits must not exceed level 4 on the standards scheme, and only level 3 for any of the trailer registration offences. Given the commercial and competitive pressures that operators are under, which some noble Lords have talked about, the penalties appear to be quite lenient and I would like to understand why. The Minister may tell us that this is in order for the offences to be consistent, which would be a good reason. Also, I do not understand why the drafting in Clause 17(6) provides that offences can be tried only summarily, whereas the drafting in Clause 8, 5 and 6 is not so clear. There does not seem to be a consistent provision for offences—but I expect there is a good reason for that and my noble friend the Minister might want to write to me about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, has obviously been extremely well briefed. However, he talked a lot about the current situation with permits and not the future. We simply do not know what the future will be. The Bill is purely an enabling measure. It does not seem a panic measure to look twelve months in advance of when the provisions may be needed. I expect that the negotiations will be difficult and may go right to the wire. They nearly always do, as noble Lords know perfectly well. However, we should not forget that there would be very serious difficulties for industry, commerce and transport within the other EU states if some sensible agreement were not reached.
Having the Bill in place is only a sensible precaution. However, I would expect that the most likely outcome is little real change. It would not be sensible for ourselves or our EU friends to have anything else. I do not believe that the doomsday scenario that many noble Lords seem to enjoy portraying will ever come to pass. I assure the House that I will be vigorously supporting my noble friend the Minister.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. It takes me back about 20 years to when he and I were exchanging views on regulation of the road haulage industry. I am pleased that he is here tonight.
We should start by recognising the move that has been taken by the Department for Transport. It has produced a contingency plan for, in effect, a downbeat Brexit. In that sense, it is well ahead of any other Whitehall department I know of. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will convey her congratulations to her department and her fellow Ministers.
The first point, which colleagues have made and which I have made in this House in different debates over Brexit, is that without membership of a customs union and probably without membership of the single market, there is no such thing as frictionless trade. There are costs, both administrative costs and on-costs. There are costs to the road haulage industry itself: to the 9,000 or so independent road hauliers, to own-account drivers and to those who run great fleets. As was made clear in the impact assessment, there are also costs to the Government, and of course to the people who rely on the road haulage industry for importing and exporting. Therefore, at the end of the day, there are costs also to consumers.
In this case, the costs are quite seriously aggravated. In effect, as my noble friend Lord Snape indicated, we are reverting to a prehistoric system. The conventions that were established in Geneva and Vienna—the latter of which I think we have not actually ratified—relate to an entirely different era, when economic relations in Europe were supposedly governed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, under which the Council of Ministers for Transport operated and developed the quota scheme. It is now proposed that we take that back from 50 years ago and put it into operation in the UK now.
That scheme is archaic. It was based largely on bilateral arrangements and was not for the whole of the European Union, and it has quotas. I am not quite sure how the calculation was made but I understand that, under that system, about one-eighth of quota licences will be available compared with the community licences that are currently available to the road haulage industry in the UK. The scheme also does not deal with cabotage, and therefore cuts the UK industry out of profitable trade on the continent and beyond.
The old system has some serious deficits and difficulties. It will undoubtedly be more costly, more administratively bureaucratic and more of an inhibition to trade. It may be necessary as a stop-gap if we do not end up with a deal that gets us closer to frictionless trade—although, even in a free trade agreement, there will still be some friction and some costs. Even if part of that free trade agreement was almost a cherry-picking arrangement for road haulage—it is a large “if”—there would still be a cost involved in moving from a system of absolute access for British hauliers and EU hauliers here to the replacement archaic and limited scheme.
I will make three other quick points. The first relates to Ireland and to the broader Brexit argument. At present, Northern Ireland has devolved powers for the registration of transport vehicles, admittedly within an overall system. The agreement that provisionally was reached in December foresees the alignment of regulations in those areas that support the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. There are all sorts of arguments about whether that is a lot of areas—142 areas have been suggested—or whether it is to be limited to a number of specific areas. In the limited interpretation, transport is one of those areas. Therefore, in default of an overall agreement that allows us no border of any sort, transport would, under the agreement that we signed and which has yet to be put into legal form, require the full alignment of the Northern Irish licensing system with that of the Republic of Ireland—in other words, with the EU system.
The bulk of trade that goes in road haulage across the sea, both from Northern Ireland and from the Republic, is not travelling north-south across the border but east-west, into Great Britain and beyond into Europe. Therefore, we get a contradiction of not having alignment between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain, which will be an anathema to a number of elements —some of them fairly close to the Government—in Northern Ireland. It will also inhibit trade if we have a different system in Northern Ireland from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Irish dimension in this has not been fully addressed and may not be capable of being so until we have the final version of the December agreement. It may even not be addressed before the withdrawal treaty, or beyond that at the end of the transition. But, at whatever point we contemplate introducing this system, I plead with the Minister to take the Irish dimension into account.
I have two other quick points. If we are to introduce a new licensing and registration system, issues of road safety, environmental performance and driver standards ought to be introduced at the same time.
Finally, I will make a constitutional point. I am not making a big thing about it, but the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to penalties. As a consequence of this system, some penalties can be introduced by secondary legislation. Your Lordships’ Constitutional Committee has taken a fairly hard view on introducing new criminal offences through secondary legislation. To justify doing so, we need more justification than is currently in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill.
I started by congratulating the Minister. I still think it is a good thing that the department is thinking that it may need this contingency, because at the moment it is by no means certain that anything better will be delivered, to put it at its mildest. But I also think that the Government have to face up to some of these very important side issues and not put all their eggs in the basket of solving a problem that is not of their making by reverting to an archaic, expensive and clumsy system.
I am grateful to the House for allowing me to speak in the gap.
I am interested in the way in which the Conservative Party has done a complete U-turn on this issue over 25 years. When I was building the Channel Tunnel, one of the arrangements Margaret Thatcher was pleased about was that she negotiated cabotage mainly with France because the French haulage industry was not keen to have British trucks going into France and doing cabotage there. In return for building all the trains in France, Mitterand allowed the UK to have cabotage. That was the start of the single market in transport, and here we have the same party trying to close it down today, which I find rather sad.
I saw Barnier and his team last year, as did the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and he gave me the same message: industry must be prepared for a cliff edge and there will not be any cherry picking. Nothing seems to have changed. The Bill is a good start as an attempt to cherry pick but, as many noble Lords have said, what about the continental drivers who are going to come to the UK? About 80% of cross-Channel traffic is now provided by non-UK registered trucks and drivers, and I cannot see much point in setting out what we want unless we can reach agreement with the European Commission as to what happens the other way. Many noble Lords have referred to this.
It is worse with the issues in the Republic of Ireland, to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, briefly referred. I have an interesting paper on Brexit produced by the Irish Academy of Engineering, which gives many statistics, including that about 1 million trucks or unit loads cross the frontier from the Republic. Some of them are destined for Northern Ireland while others go straight across the sea. The report states that 95% of the units go to and from Great Britain and two-thirds of the traffic to and from the continent goes through what they call the “land bridge”. It points out that that will involve four customs checks unless the system is changed. I cannot believe that the Irish Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar, whom I have met once and who I think is doing very well in sticking up for the Republic, will be pleased about that.
I understood the Minister to say in her opening remarks that there was no need for registration, whether for trucks or trailers, between the Republic and Northern Ireland. I do not know, but I hope that she will be able to clarify that in her response to the debate. As many other noble Lords have said, I do not see how we can have no checks on registration between the Republic and Northern Ireland and no checks on registration across the sea.
Finally, several noble Lords have put this to the Minister. If we have a system for issuing licences for trailers, trucks or drivers, how long will it take to develop and how much will it cost? She will remember that HMRC was asked a similar question last autumn: what would it cost to handle the customs on trucks? The chief executive said that it would take five years to develop an IT system, he could not say what it would cost and the work cannot start until HMRC knows what has to be done. We are going to have five years of misery on the licensing, assuming the Department of Transport can do as well as HMRC—I do not know whether it can—before something good comes out of it, if it ever does. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I want to intervene only briefly. On 5 December last year, I spoke in a debate on trade and customs policy, in particular on the issue of the allocation of CEMT permits, and I expressed some concerns. Some noble Lords may well recall the debate. My experience goes back almost 50 years, when I was in business and I had trucks. We were running our goods abroad into markets in Europe and importing components into the United Kingdom. When I read this Bill, I was disturbed by one sentence, which is set out in Clause 2(2):
“The methods that may be specified under subsection (1)(d) include random selection and first come, first served”.
I can tell the Minister what that means, because I have seen it with my own eyes: corruption. The old permit system was corrupting. I know that because the hauliers used to tell us about it. The drivers told us how they would get through customs posts in various parts of Europe. At the Mont Blanc tunnel, customs officers were bribed, as they were at the Brenner Pass tunnel because very often the permits the hauliers were running on were illegal. I have some of those permits with me, which I found this morning, and they go back almost 35 years. Now I might get a phone call from the civil servants asking what I know about it, but I do not intend to tell them—it is their responsibility to find out how it was done. It was common practice throughout the allocation of permits. In his place behind the noble Baroness on the Front Bench is a former Minister of Transport who will recall what happened because I think he took over while the old permit system was still in operation, or perhaps I am wrong. I think that the old system was completely cleared out by the beginning of the 1990s, but I am not altogether clear on that.
All I am saying is that, if the system was capable of corruption then, given that the language used in this Bill is very similar to the language that must have been used in the legislation at that time, it will be corruptible in the future. Before we go into Committee, Ministers should be briefed on how the system was corrupted so that, when we start producing examples of what happened, at least they will be able to give us a sensible reply.
My Lords, this is a surreal situation. Earlier this afternoon we were discussing outer space, spaceports and lasers—innovations and challenges of the 21st century—and suddenly here we are, with this Bill and the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which is 50 years old. In a way, it is an analogy for the whole of Brexit, an attempt to return to the world of yesteryear, because if you look at the Vienna convention, you will see that it has not, in all senses—despite some updating—withstood the test of time. It conjures up a different world.
It appears that, although we signed this convention, we have never ratified it. We have to do so now, because one of the realities of post-Brexit life will be that we can no longer be assured that we will be able to travel freely abroad to the 27 EU countries. With huge sadness, therefore, I say that what the Government are setting out to do in this Bill, given their commitment to a hard Brexit and thus the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, is a sensible kind of insurance policy. It is truly tragic, however, that we are in this situation. This Bill, and the speed with which it is being pushed through, is symptomatic of the kind of crisis management we can expect from now on, as one thread after another of the EU web unravels and the Government work desperately to keep it all together. After all, this Bill, as other noble Lords have pointed out, was not on the Government’s list of Brexit-related Bills in the Queen’s Speech. It is one that the Government have only recently realised we need, and I am sure it will be the first of several.
The background to the Bill is that the UK has just weeks to ratify the convention in order to give the required 12 months’ notice before Brexit day. The current situation is that hauliers require a standard international operator’s licence and they can also request, free of charge, a Community licence, which allows them to work in EU countries. There is a single permit for all EU states, which—crucially—also allows cabotage: journeys within one EU member state made by a haulier from another EU state. So far, so simple, but it is part of a much more complex overall picture. Community licences are also valid in EFTA states. In addition, the UK has bilateral agreements and is a member of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport. There are 43 countries participating in this multilateral quota scheme, but not all are participating on the same terms. These 43 countries include all the EU countries except Cyprus and 17 others—from Albania at one end of the alphabet to Ukraine at the other. That is just a very simplified snapshot of a hugely complex set of arrangements that our hauliers will have to confront, without the core certainty of easy access to 31 other countries on the basis of one free Community licence.
The Road Haulage Association has already warned that relying on ECMT permits would be inadequate for market demand, would be very bureaucratic and would not allow cabotage. In its estimation, there will be 75,000 trucks chasing 1,300 permits, which it says will devastate the industry. I therefore ask the Minister if she could explain to us how the 80% of hauliers who are EU nationals will be affected by this. Any new scheme is likely to result in cost to hauliers and to the people for whom they transport goods, as well as to the Government—by which I mean the taxpayer—in setting up the new scheme and operating it.
Let us look at this from the EU perspective, because the Government have been very vague about what they want but the EU has been very specific about the situation as it sees it. The UK will exit the internal market for road transport. This means the end of market access based on the Community licence, of cabotage rights, of mutual recognition of driving licences and vehicle registration documents and of the cross-border enforcement of traffic offences—I want to emphasise how important that is. There are fallback positions—for example, the 1949 Geneva Convention, which can be used to deal with driving licences—but they are complex and uneven. The end of cabotage and transit rights beyond those covered by ECMT permits will mean a considerable reduction in territorial and market access.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister about haulage permits. Given that Community licences are free, what is the Government’s estimate of the likely cost of obtaining one of the alternative permits that the Bill enables? On trailer registration, the National Caravan Council has already voiced its concern that the Bill allows non-commercial trailers to be brought within its scope. How and when do the Government think that might be necessary? There is already an established NCC registration scheme. Are the Government going to duplicate that, which would of course mean significant additional bureaucratic cost and burden for people operating trailers? The Government have a voluntary registration scheme for trailers called the certificate of keeper, which is designed to deal with the issue raised by Germany having slightly different rules on trailers, involving inspection. However, only some 260 permits are issued per year. I gather that the Government have said that they cannot expand this scheme; perhaps the Minister will explain why.
The Government expect to have the trailer permit scheme in operation by the end of this year, so, clearly, work has been done in preparation for it and answers should be readily available. When will the Government consult the industries on this? What is their estimated cost of a trailer permit? What will be the basis for the cost—will it be the size of the trailer or the use? I also want to push on the definition of a commercial trailer. The briefing states that it will not apply to horse trailers, because they would be non-commercial, but what about horses being transported to horse shows? In the same competition, you can have professional riders and amateur riders, with the horses, I assume, separately classified. Perhaps the Government need to give answers on such issues.
I have a particular concern about the island of Ireland. The Government say that Ireland is by far Northern Ireland’s biggest trading partner and give various assurances that permits will not be required. However, their own briefing states that permits will be issued for travel on the island of Ireland only when it is at the agreement of the UK and Ireland, and that this could be part of a bilateral agreement or the UK-EU future relationship agreement. That means just about anything you want to make it mean, and I do not find it reassuring.
The Bill deals with only road transport but our industry and agriculture rely on the rail and maritime sectors, as well as air freight, of course. I have dealt with air freight in debate here on the open skies Bill that I have introduced, but I want to ask the Minister about the rail sector. Leaving the single European rail area will mean the end of the mutual recognition of operating licences, safety certificates, train driver licences and vehicle authorisations, among other things, and the end of the UK’s participation in the European Union Agency for Railways. In the maritime sector, leaving would mean the end of mutual recognition of seafarers’ certificates, of participation in the European Maritime Safety Agency and of free-as-of-right access to port services. The big question is: what are the Government doing to prepare for a no-deal Brexit and its impact on the rail and maritime sectors, as well as dealing with it in the Bill?
Finally, this Bill would not be necessary if the UK remained in the single market. It demonstrates that a hard Brexit will have a huge impact on the haulage industry, an industry on whose shoulders sits so much of our economy and our prosperity.
My Lords, I get a sense from previous speeches—most of which have stolen the contents of mine, so I shall try to be short—that an awful lot of people are trying to understand the road haulage legal environment. That includes myself, and I admit to failing, so if I make assertions I will not be upset if the Minister tells me I am wrong.
It seems that in anticipation of multiple scenarios, the Government are doing three things: ratifying the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic; introducing a registration scheme for trailers; and introducing the capability of issuing permits. The 1968 Vienna convention was, I believe, signed at the time but not ratified. I got married in 1968 and that is a long, long time ago. It is difficult to understand why we have not ratified this convention earlier. My studies tell me that we depended on the 1949 Geneva convention before that.
The Vienna convention is now being ratified, which includes a process in this House—not that it is easy to notice that. The convention was laid in both Houses on 8 February this year and it will be dealt with under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. This is a most unsatisfactory process because the only way you would know it had been laid is if you had picked up the Lords business and minutes of proceedings documents, for the fact that it was being laid was publicised on one day only, as is the convention of this House. The 2010 Act allows 21 sitting days for any Peer to pray against it. This is not the same as a negative instrument but it would create a debate. Because I would have to take the debate, I shall not pray against it. Why are the Government doing that? I quote from their own Explanatory Memorandum:
“The UK signed the 1968 Convention on 8 November 1968, and has now decided to ratify it for reasons of uniformity, to increase safety and to facilitate international traffic”.
One of the foolish things I did was to get a copy of the convention. It is quite long and in oldish language, but I assume the key paragraph is paragraph 3 of Article 3, on page 7, which states:
“Subject to the exceptions provided for in Annex 1 to this Convention, Contracting Parties shall be bound to admit to their territories in international traffic motor vehicles and trailers which fulfil the conditions laid down in Chapter III”.
It then goes on to specifics. But essentially, it seems to be the technical requirements to allow a vehicle to move internationally, and includes specifications about licences and what is to be accepted as a licence. A consequence of our decision to ratify that, as I understand it, is that it implies that trailers should be registered. This brings me to the Bill, which covers the two other things I mentioned: the registration of trailers and the issuing of licences.
As a generality, we will support the Bill, simply because, as with motherhood, you cannot deny somebody who is trying to create a contingency. It is an absolutely mad situation, but you still have to support the necessary procedures to cover the contingency. The registration of trailers more widely would seem quite a sensible thing to do. I would be interested in the extent to which registration of trailers includes the safety requirements that the registration of tractors does. It seems to me that it would be an anomaly if trailers are not required under British law to be as safe as their tractors. I cannot see, more widely, why one should be allowed to pull a trailer that does not meet the same safety standards as the vehicle you are pulling it with, although that may be outside the Bill.
We come now to the more significant part of the Bill and the fact that the Government propose to create an administration scheme for the issue of permits. It would have been irresponsible not to but, frankly, it is far from desirable. It is undesirable because it will create costs in an industry that works on very small margins and because requiring a new permit to be carried will invite friction at borders. All we learn about this industry is that friction at borders will be a significant hazard to successful operation.
What does the future hold for us? There is a contrast between the United Kingdom and the European Union here. In the United Kingdom, we have weekends at Chequers; in the European Union, they have a Commission. The Commission does not seem to know about weekends at Chequers, but just gets on and pumps out this stuff. One of the things it is doing now is pumping out documents called “Notice to Stakeholders”. I have in front of me the one created by the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, dated 19 January this year in Brussels, and titled, “Withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU Rules in the Field of Road Transport”. Its tone is hardly friendly. I quote:
“In view of the considerable uncertainties, in particular concerning the content of a possible withdrawal agreement, road transport operators within the meaning of Article 2 of Regulation (EC) No 1071/20094 are reminded of legal repercussions, which need to be considered when the United Kingdom becomes a third country. Subject to any transitional arrangement that may be contained in a possible withdrawal agreement, as of the withdrawal date, the EU rules in the field of road transport no longer apply to the United Kingdom. This has, in particular, the following consequences in the different areas of road transport”.
This four-page document goes into a number of areas, but in the part entitled, “Access to the profession/to the market”, there is the following statement:
“As of the withdrawal date, a Community licence issued by the competent authorities of the United Kingdom will no longer be valid in the EU-27. Hauliers established in the United Kingdom will no longer have access to the internal road haulage market in the Union”.
That is the document’s only bright spot in its four pages. It also states:
“However, the multilateral quota system managed by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (now International Transport Forum) would apply at that point”.
Hurrah, there is a fallback—until we look into what the fallback is. It is a convention or agreement—I am not sure of the right term—between 43 states, which includes all the EU states except Cyprus. The mechanics of that are laid out in an International Transport Forum document; that organisation now runs this scheme. Its document has many pages but I shall quote from one small part of it. Chapter 3, entitled “Issuing and limits of ECMT licenses”, states:
“ECMT licences … are multilateral licences, delivered by the ITF/ECMT, for the international carriage of goods by road for hire or reward by transport undertakings established in an ECMT Member country, on the basis of a quota system, the transport operations being performed: between ECMT Member countries; and in transit through the territory of one or several ECMT Member country(ies) by vehicles registered”.
Apparently, we have a process that we can fall back on.
However, the magic word is “quotas”. The quotas, we are told, have a maximum number—1,224—of multiple-use annual permits. The Lords Library briefing suggests that there are 30,060 certified copies of the Community licences. As far as I can see, that is the equivalent of the permit. The only problem is the difference between them—that is, the number of permits that would be available in this quota are some 4% of the certified copies that have been issued. The effect of this would clearly be catastrophic. Clearly, the Government anticipate the problem of not having enough permits, because they include in the Bill—in Clause 2(2)—a reference to how they will manage a situation where there are insufficient permits. They go on to say that the Bill will,
“include random selection and first come, first served”.
I cannot think of anything more terrifying than that system.
The Government anticipate failure and I have to say, with their present attitude to the customs union and single market, it seems that there is a very steep hill to climb. Failure would be unacceptable. Society could not exist. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, pointed out that, normally, societies avoid catastrophic situations. Sadly, looking back over the past century, often they did not. This could be just such a situation, be it in road haulage, air transport or maritime.
My only real question for the Minister is: can she set out how the Government plan to achieve transport agreements that will leave us with a viable and flourishing road transport industry?
My Lords, as always, the experience and knowledge in this Chamber has been extremely insightful, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. Many noble Lords have pointed out the importance of the Bill to ensuring that there is no disruption to the haulage industry when we leave the EU, and of course I entirely agree. This is responsible planning to ensure that we are ready to deliver the outcome of the negotiations, whatever that may be. I think we all agree on our aim to retain the existing liberalised access for commercial haulage. I welcome that agreement; it may be one of the few that we have during the progress of the Bill.
I apologise that the Bill was not announced in the Queen’s Speech, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The gracious Speech outlined that alongside the EU (Withdrawal) Bill there would be complementary legislation and that is what this is, but I apologise that it was not explicitly pointed out then.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Teverson, asked about costs and fees for both haulage permits and trailer registration. As I said in my opening words, the Bill provides powers for the Government to set and charge the administration fee. We are consulting on the details of the fees and charges for haulage permitting later this year. Again, as I said, we are doing this in order to minimise any additional burdens and costs for business. We are fully aware that this is going to be a cost for large and smaller haulage firms. The fees will be in line with the current international permit schemes. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked for some examples. An ECMT permit for one year currently costs around £133 and a bilateral permit for one journey costs around £8, so that is the kind of ballpark figure that we are looking at. However, the exact nature and costs of the permit scheme will depend on the outcome of the negotiations, so we will be setting that out.
On the question of trailer registration, the Bill again provides the powers to set the fees to cover the administration. Again, we are aiming to minimise those as far as possible in order to reduce any burden or cost to businesses. There will be no ongoing annual fees associated with trailer registration. I think the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about numbers; we expect around 80,000 or so will be registered. Once the trailer is registered, the only further fees would be for any subsequent reissue. The system for that is still in development and the cost is still to be determined. We have been doing quite a lot of exploratory work on this and are confident that the registration fee will be significantly below that of the current vehicle registration fee, which is £55.
On caravans, a subject raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the scheme will apply only to commercial trailers over 750 kilogrammes. We are speaking to the caravan society, as the noble Baroness mentioned, to further clarify that.
I raised the issue around horses and whether, if a horse was travelling to race abroad on a commercial basis, that would count. I was reassured that horses in that case would be in an all-in-one vehicle; I do not quite know what to call the vehicles, but they would not be in a trailer horsebox. My colleagues tell me that a horsebox is an all-in-one vehicle, rather than a horse trailer, so they would be covered. However, I am going to go back and clarify that further.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked about the permit application process and how it will work, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned HMRC. We are working with an existing organisation, the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency, on the system to allocate haulage permits. That will be building on existing IT systems to create an online permit application system. Obviously hauliers are already familiar with applying to the DVSA for paperwork related to domestic and international travel, so we hope that they will welcome this. Again, we are committed to trying to minimise any additional requirements, and we are working closely with industry to develop those plans. The aim is absolutely that we will be able to take applications and issue permits in advance of exit day, and we are on track to be able to issue permits in late 2018.
My Lords, are the Government so well advanced in their thinking on the permit scheme that they have scoped out an IT system with one of the providers? Are they in negotiation with companies that do outsourcing on data and so on to try to work out exactly what sort of system they might want to put in place and think about what sort of contract they might want to set?
We are working with the existing IT system at DVSA, so there would be no additional contract. I can certainly provide the noble Lord with further details on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about the implementation period. Obviously, this is being discussed. The Government have been clear that the implementation period will be based on existing rules and regulations. I hope that we will reach agreement on that soon, which should provide some reassurance to industry.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked about the recognition of driver qualifications. The treatment of drivers’ certificate of professional competence will—again—depend on the outcome of negotiations with the EU, but our objective is absolutely to ensure that following our exit from the EU, CPCs will continue to be recognised.
The noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Berkeley, asked about access for foreign hauliers, including cabotage. These, again, are important issues for negotiations that we are considering carefully for any future arrangement. In any scenario, there is existing domestic legislation to provide appropriate access for foreign hauliers coming to the UK, so the Bill does not address that specifically. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out, it is an important part of the negotiations, and it will obviously be part of the discussions.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and others mentioned ECMT permits. The permitting system operated by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport is an international agreement entirely separate from the EU and will not be part of our negotiations. The ECMT permits currently allocated to the UK are little used and we have absolutely no intention of allowing them after we leave the EU.
As much as I would love to give the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, a timeline for our transport negotiations, I am unable to do so. We are working closely with industry to understand its requirements and priorities, and have been doing so since the result of the referendum. We represent those views to the Department for Exiting the European Union. That department and the Department for Transport stand ready to move forward with the transport negotiations as soon as they begin.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, spoke about optimism. I agree with him that we do not want to return to rationing. We are optimistic in these negotiations and am pleased that at least my noble friend Lord Attlee shares that optimism. It is absolutely to the mutual benefit of us and the European Union that we maintain liberal access; 84% of the freight transported between the UK and continental Europe is operated by EU hauliers, and it is in both our interests that we have a successful outcome.
If this goes ahead and we have licences here for drivers and trucks to operate on the continent, we will presumably need some approval process. Perhaps it would not be a taxing system but it could work alongside the customs declaration for all the 80% of foreign trucks coming into the UK—either into Northern Ireland from the Republic or from the continent. Has that been taken into consideration?
Certainly not in the context of the Bill. I apologise for going back to this, but exactly what that will look like is a matter for the discussions with the European Union as part of the negotiations.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, asked about the reservations to the Vienna Convention on Road Transport. We will be making reservations in respect of six sections of the convention, relating to jaywalking, parking direction and so on. They apply only domestically and will not affect the other countries. It is usual practice for countries, on ratifying the convention, to put forward such reservations. We do not expect there to be any issue on that.
If that is the case and it is all so simple, why have we not endorsed the Vienna convention over the past 50 years?
We have been relying on the agreement that we have with the European Union, and because we are leaving the EU we have to bring forward something else.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked questions around the convention process. We are following the usual process for Command Papers and have done our best to highlight this issue. The convention is detailed and the Secretary of State has offered a meeting with all Peers and MPs to discuss the Bill and the convention. As the noble Lord pointed out, there is a process to discuss the matter further on the Floor of the House and I would be delighted to do so if anyone would wish to.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of safety for trailers. I do not believe there is a safety requirement in the Bill, but I will take that suggestion away and look at it further.
My understanding is that the tractor unit is subject to the plating and testing regulations, as is the trailer, and they are also subject to type approval regulations that are already in place.
I believe that to be the case, and that therefore the Bill will not affect safety, but I will clarify that and write to my noble friend.
My noble friend Lord Attlee asked about penalty drafting within the Bill. We have drawn up the penalty levels from the original 1975 legislation so the offences are consistent with that. I am told that Clause 8 puts the offence in respect of a permit scheme in the Bill along with the penalties, which are summary only. Clause 17 enables regulations to be made which include the offences and penalties. Clause 17(6) restricts those regulations to include summary offences only, but perhaps I can write to my noble friend further on that.
On Ireland, the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, all rightly highlighted the importance of ensuring that we get the legislation right for the island of Ireland, and I should like to say a few more words about that. The Bill does not create a permit regime or a hard border on the island of Ireland. Again, the Government are committed to ensuring that there is no hard border. We want trade and everyday movements over the land border to continue as they do now. Half of the imports and exports by road are to and from Ireland and 89% of this trade is going between Northern Ireland and Ireland. There is no history of restrictions on road haulage, and that must remain the case.
To make clear the commitment not to create a hard border on the island of Ireland, we included Clause 1 explicitly to provide that permit regulations may not apply to journeys on the island of Ireland unless there is an agreement on the provision of permits between the UK Government and Irish Governments. To reiterate, trailers travelling between the UK and Ireland will not need to be registered. I very much agree that this is an important issue and something we need to keep in mind as the Bill progresses.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and many other noble Lords mentioned borders. The provision of a permit scheme, whatever its detailed design, is intended precisely to ensure that there will be no delays for UK hauliers at our borders or any other borders in relation to their permission to travel. The haulage permits part of the Bill relates to UK hauliers, but, as noble Lords mentioned, EU hauliers also benefit from hauling to and from the UK. The DVSA already carries out checks on vehicle operating standards on our road network rather than at the borders and we would expect that to continue and include checks for permits if those are required as part of the deal with the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raised an interesting point on corruption. It is certainly something we must avoid. I will make sure that I am fully briefed on previous issues with the system ahead of Committee so that we can avoid them.
Perhaps I may make a suggestion: that the department bring in operators who were operating in the 1960s and 1970s. There will be some around and they will remember what happened.
If we can track them down, we will certainly get them in. I thank the noble Lord for that suggestion.
Perhaps I can take the noble Baroness back to an earlier point about trailer registration. I do not know whether she has looked at the department’s impact assessment, but it says that one of the indirect benefits will be improvements for road safety, and trailer registration is part of that. It strikes me that this is an opportunity, if the department wants to look at it that way, to secure some long-term benefits from trailer registration, and the Government might want to focus on it in their post-Brexit evaluation of road safety issues.
I thank the noble Lord for that suggestion and will go back and study exactly where the safety requirements fall, and whether there is an opportunity within the Bill to further improve safety. I know that there is quite a lot of work on trailer safety going on in the department at the moment.
Perhaps I can assist the House. There is already a system of trailer identification to make sure that trailers are properly tested. The issue is whether there should be registration and therefore a number plate on the rear of the trailer.
I thank my noble friend for that clarification.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the Commission’s paper setting out its general approach to the options for future partnership on rail, maritime and road transport. We think that is an opening position from the Commission, drafted with its own interpretation of EU red lines. We welcome its recognition of the importance of keeping transport flowing after we leave the EU. This is clearly part of the EU’s internal preparatory discussions and will not necessarily represent where negotiations will end up. The proposals are designed to be thought-provoking, and we are pleased that they will at least ensure that member states focus on transport issues.
I understand the Government’s view that these EU papers are just an opening position, but actually they are a factual statement. How we move forward from that is another issue, but the papers are making a factual statement. Will the Minister address the fact that those papers cover rail and maritime as well as road? My question was: how will the Government deal with rail and maritime? Will there be legislation similar to this Bill?
We do not currently believe that there needs to be legislation for the maritime and rail sectors. Obviously there is preparatory work going on, but we do not have any further updates for the noble Baroness on that. As and when we need to bring forward legislation to prepare ourselves, we absolutely will, in the same way as we have done with this.
The Government have introduced this Bill as part of the preparations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. I say again that we are committed to ensuring that liberal access continues for the commercial haulage sector. We all agree on how important it is that that continues. We are confident that a future partnership between the UK and EU in this area is in the interests of us all, and we are optimistic about the negotiations.
This legislation shows that this Government are acting responsibly—I hope noble Lords will welcome the preparations, as many have, in various tones—in case preparations are required as we move from our current membership of the EU to our future partnership. My noble friend Lord Attlee rightly called this a sensible precaution, and I will pass on the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to the department for being so well prepared. Of course, there are many wider issues relating to leaving the EU that will be of much interest to noble Lords. Many of them are being debated at length in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I hope that the sensible measures in this technical Bill will help ensure that the UK is prepared for all eventualities and I welcome noble Lords’ broad agreement on this, and their contributions to delivering it as the Bill proceeds through the House.
I thank again all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate this afternoon—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who, like me, are on their third piece of transport legislation today. We will carefully consider all the points raised, and I look forward to discussing them further in Committee. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.
House adjourned at 7.03 pm.