House of Lords
Thursday 1 March 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the article in Public Health Reviews, Public health failure in the prevention of neural tube defects: time to abandon the tolerable upper intake level of folate, published on 31 January; and whether they will meet with the authors.
My Lords, the study was referred to the Committee on Toxicity, an independent expert committee which advises Her Majesty’s Government. It agreed that, as maximum intakes of folic acid were last considered in 2003, it was time to review the evidence that underpins them. Reconsideration of the maximum recommended intake will be undertaken by the COT, which has the discretion to consult the authors if appropriate.
I thank the Minister for that Answer—which is a move, I fully accept, because the science always has to be tested. Do she and her officials agree that this paper in effect removes the last scientific barrier to a more humane policy than allowing two terminations a day and more than two live births a week with lifelong disability due to neural tube defects?
Recent Written Answers given by the Minister indicated that there had been no discussion with the Scottish Government, the food industry or the wider scientific community—and, what is more, no discussion with countries with high and low rates of pregnancy affected by neural tube defects. This paper, which is only 11 pages long, publishes on page 4 the up-to-date list of 81 countries that do folic fortification. Which countries have been contacted since the new advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the new information became available to check out the pros and cons? Have the Government started talking to anybody?
My final point, which is slightly unrelated—
No, I will not make it; I will stick to that.
I do not know whether the Government have talked to other countries about this issue, but the Secretary of State is very keen to make progress and any delay is not intended. I am sure that the noble Lord will understand that getting this under way takes time, gathering together personnel, et cetera, and relevant cross-government approval, which needs to be attained, but I can assure him that it will happen—not fortification, but looking into it, and the times will be communicated once clearance has been received from various government departments.
The Minister referred to taking time. The original study into this was published in 1991, when I had four small children and was involved in issues of maternal health. In the intervening time, I have had four small grandchildren. Eighty-one countries have acted on this British, publicly funded research, which has saved untold suffering throughout the world. Is it not a disgrace that we have not got to the point of preventing that suffering in our own country? If the Secretary of State is interested in this issue, will he agree to the meeting suggested in the Question?
Obviously, I cannot answer for the Secretary of State—
Well, I cannot. I am sure that he would be willing to meet, but I cannot answer for him. The noble Baroness is completely right. One reason that there has not been movement on this until now may be because of problems with the upper level, which this report says is not a problem. If the upper level is no longer needed, that will provide reassurance on the safety of mandatory fortification and we will be able to proceed.
My Lords, much of the first world, and indeed parts of the rest of the world, are heeding the advice of British scientists, and I am delighted that we are here now getting a bit nearer to putting folic acid in flour. The Minister said that several departments would need to be involved in this. Will she tell us which departments?
Yes, Defra and the Department of Health.
My Lords, time was mentioned, but the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition backed this in 2006 and again in 2017—not to mention the earlier study referred to by the noble Baroness. The evidence is backed by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I accept that the Minister cannot control the Secretary of State’s diary, but could we have an assurance that they will talk to their Welsh and Scottish counterparts about why they feel strongly about it? Will she make a positive recommendation to the Secretary of State—and, if his diary is too busy, will she agree to meet these representatives and listen to what they have to say?
I know that the Secretary of State is always willing to meet people, and I am sure he will. We know that this is a complex issue, involving many interested stakeholders from the scientific community, industry and the general public. All aspects and impacts will need to be fully understood. But there is no doubt that the Secretary of State is aware of the fact that Wales and Scotland are also interested in this. That is partly why we are trying to proceed with this as quickly as we possibly can.
My Lords, there are two main reasons why the Government may feel resistant to this. One, which I think we have discarded now, is the dosage level, which we now know is not toxic. The second is that we do not want to be described as a nanny state. If the noble Baroness buys a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich in the Bishops’ Bar, she will find that in the wheat we already add calcium, iron, niacin, thiamin, preservative E282 and treatment agent E300. Nanny state? This folic acid is certainly vital. Does she agree?
I do not think that the nanny state comes into it—certainly not as far as we are concerned. It is interesting that Department of Health officials have told me that its mailbag from the general public has been saying that they do not want mass fortification in their food—but that will all be part of any proceedings going forward in discussions, and it is not what is holding us up at the moment.
My Lords, the last time we debated this, I described the molecular basis for the prevention of the tragedy that the noble Lord described of two terminations a day and two babies born with neural tube defects. The only scientific basis for prevention of this is supplementation of folic acid. Do the Government know of any other scientific evidence without using supplementation that could prevent these tragedies?
No—I think that the noble Lord knew when he asked the question what the answer was. I can only keep reiterating that the Secretary of State is very keen to proceed and that there is no intended delay on this. As I said earlier, it is just a case of getting cross-government approval from the various departments before we go ahead.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting will discuss the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and what objectives they have for Commonwealth action on those goals.
I thank the noble Lord for his Question. The last time he stood here, I think I promised him he would not get me again, so I am very sorry about that.
The agenda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is developed in partnership with Commonwealth member states and the Commonwealth Secretariat. We anticipate that discussions will cover four key themes relevant to the sustainable development goals—fairness, sustainability, prosperity and security. The meeting will look to advance a number of issues relevant to the sustainable development goals, including promoting trade and inclusive economic growth, fostering sustainable development of the world’s oceans and tackling human trafficking.
My Lords, while we would all welcome the fact that the Gambia has rejoined the Commonwealth in recent weeks, as a country it is a place that reminds us of the importance of strong institutions and strong democracy as an underpinning for development. Will the leaders at CHOGM address the vital issues encompassed in goal 16 of the sustainable development goals—the objective of strong and stable institutions underpinning peace? Will the Commonwealth use its track record on human rights, justice and peacebuilding to try to reinvigorate the international effort on this particular goal?
May I say that we are delighted that the Gambia has rejoined the Commonwealth, and delighted to see the flag flying outside Marlborough House?
The UK was at the forefront of pushing for goal 16 and is committed to delivering it at home and around the world. Peaceful, inclusive societies, access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions underpin the entire sustainable development agenda. We are working with member states and the Commonwealth Secretariat to develop an ambitious agenda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which we expect to include a range of discussions relevant to sustainable development goal 16. We also expect that the three-day people’s forum, which will take place prior to the ministerial discussions, will have a significant focus on the themes in SDG 16.
My Lords, while agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, does my noble friend also accept that it is not just through Governments and government action that the Commonwealth can make its greatest contribution but through non-governmental civic society and the huge connectivity among the 2.4 billion people of the Commonwealth, working with youth, universities and all the professions and with common law and common standards in trade and business? This side of it—the non-government side—is the one that will reach out and connect in a very positive way, which is extremely welcome.
I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I am a great believer that none of us is as clever as all of us. My noble friend’s point about civil society and non-governmental communities having an input into the summit, and into changing the Commonwealth and making it better, is well made.
Will the Government encourage other Commonwealth leaders to increase their commitment to replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education? I understand that at the recent replenishment conference in Addis Ababa, good progress was made but not as much as was hoped. Full funding of the Global Partnership for Education is crucial to achievement of SDG 4, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.
I am very pleased to tell noble Lords that this week sees the conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers take place in Fiji. It will provide a forum for UK Ministers and officials to discuss the key issues affecting education systems in the Commonwealth and facilitate the sharing of good practice. I have no doubt that they will also discuss the fiscal resources that need to be invested to make the situation in education better.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is absolutely right about the role of civil society and I am pleased about the range of fora taking place to help inform the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. One key goal, of course, is decent work and I am disappointed that there has not been sufficient emphasis on bringing together trade unionists in the fora, particularly the People’s Forum. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, met with the TUC but, unfortunately, only one representative is present. I hope that, in future, we will reinvigorate those civil society fora and engage particularly with trade unions to meet goal 8.
I thank the noble Lord for his point. I do not have any briefing on trade union involvement so I hope he will allow me to talk to officials and write to him to give the assurances that he needs.
My Lords, the sustainable development goals recognise that girls and women are the poorest and most vulnerable globally. How will the Government ensure that all the benefits and work of the last 10 years are not seriously undermined by recent developments? Will it be on the agenda for the meeting?
The summit is an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in the education of young women and girls—the noble Baroness makes a valid point about its importance. We will use the Commonwealth to eliminate the barriers that hold back half the world’s population. The Foreign Secretary has made it very clear in Parliament that the education of young women and girls can change lives across the Commonwealth—I know all noble Lords will agree with that—and can promote the shared Commonwealth objectives of freedom, opportunity, democracy and peace. This will be a very important theme in the week.
My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say if and how young people are to be involved in the summit?
That is a very timely question, given that the Commonwealth Youth Parliament is meeting this week in Jersey. As the Prime Minister has said, the aspirations of the Commonwealth’s young people will be at the heart of this year’s summit.
Police and Crime Commissioners
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of Police and Crime Commissioners in holding their chief constables and police forces to account.
My Lords, police and crime commissioners have brought local accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform, and work hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing. As the Home Affairs Select Committee recognised in its March 2016 report, PCCs are here to stay and their introduction has worked well.
Is my noble friend the Minister aware of what has prompted this Question, namely the Wiltshire Police investigation into Sir Edward Heath and the way in which it was conducted by the then chief constable, Mr Mike Veale? The police and crime commissioner has the power, and some would say the duty, to commission an independent inquiry but, for reasons I do not understand, he has set his face against doing so. Does this not make a mockery of the policy that chief constables are accountable—and should be seen to be accountable—to their commissioner? There really is a need for an independent inquiry.
I certainly understand why my noble friend has brought this Question forward today, and I understand the frustration felt by him and other noble Lords on this matter. A few noble Lords came to see me about this issue and I wrote to them outlining the position on it. I also wrote to the PCC of Wiltshire and I will outline the position again today. Under Section 79 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, the Secretary of State has issued a policing protocol which PCCs and chief constables must have regard to when exercising their functions. This protocol provides scope for a PCC to commission an independent review into a force’s investigation to assist that PCC in their statutory duty of holding the chief constable to account. I could not have made the Government’s position on this clearer, and thank my noble friend for his Question.
My Lords, I refer the Minister back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, on 11 October, when he said that,
“the Chief Inspector of Constabulary is the person to whom a Government should look for an inquiry to begin into whether this has been done properly”.—[Official Report, 11/10/17; col. 231.]
Was that followed up by the Minister? She has now come up with an alternative of a protocol, which I understand can probably be ignored by police commissioners if they choose to do so. Finally, is not the reality that this Government have stood by, watched and witnessed the total destruction and trashing internationally of the reputation of a former Prime Minister? That is quite outrageous.
I recall the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Blair. If I recall, I answered at the time that the route for such an inquiry would be through the PCC. The position is no different now. The police are operationally independent of the Government and that is the route.
My Lords, may I make it absolutely clear that the Government can take further action? The whole legal system is based on the Government intervening at a higher level when something is transparently wrong. Give or take the fact there are protocols, I am quite sure that the Government could commission a judge-led inquiry into this appalling report on Sir Edward Heath. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours; it is a disgrace and pathetic that the Government have not acted long ago.
My Lords, I repeat the assertion that I made earlier: the police are operationally independent of government. On this matter it would be for the PCC, perhaps in conjunction with the chief constable, to commission an inquiry.
My Lords, did the PCC reply to the Minister’s letter, and what was the reply?
I know that the PCC has been in correspondence with other noble Lords. I am reluctant to talk about individual correspondence at the Dispatch Box. I am sure the noble Lord will understand why that is, but I think he will also understand why this Question has come up again today.
My Lords, I would like to broaden this out. Can the Minister explain how party-politically aligned police and crime commissioners can effectively hold chief constables to account? We have a situation at the moment with Labour and independent police and crime commissioners blaming central government real-terms cuts to police budgets for reductions in policing services, while Conservative police and crime commissioners toe the Conservative Party line, claiming that budgets are being maintained. Who is really to blame for drastic cuts in police numbers? Is it inefficient chief constables or is it the Government?
My Lords, there certainly are PCCs who stand under party-political banners. There are also independent PCCs. I do not think that there are any Lib Dem PCCs, although the Lib Dems are very good at political campaigning. It is for PCCs to hold their chief constables to account. It is also for police and crime panels to scrutinise PCCs, and they do.
We will hear from the noble Lord on the Conservative Benches. If he is quick, we will have time and will go over to the Greens.
My Lords, those of us who had concerns about the appointment of these commissioners are doubly concerned now because of the behaviour of the Wiltshire commissioner—and that of the Cleveland commissioner, who has sanctioned the appointment of the police chief who acted so deplorably and so manifestly unfairly. Can we not have a review of the whole system?
My Lords, people can always bring out individual reasons why such a move is not the best, but HASC in 2014 and 2016 praised the advent of the police and crime commissioner for visible accountability and leadership on the appointment of chief constables. That is for the individual forces to do through an open and transparent appointment process.
Public Bodies: Appointments
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following publication of the report of the Commissioner for Public Appointments on appointments to the Board of the Office for Students, what steps they are taking to ensure that future appointments made by ministers to the boards of public bodies are in line with the Governance Code 2016.
My Lords, the Governance Code on Public Appointments was introduced in January 2017. Ministers are required to make appointments in accordance with the code as well as the relevant legislation. The Commissioner for Public Appointments provides independent assurance that the governance code is followed. The Government are grateful for the commissioner’s report on the appointments process to the board of the Office for Students. We will consider his recommendations carefully to ensure best practice for future public appointments.
My Lords, in addition to his department’s lamentable performance over the appointment of Mr Toby Young, the commissioner’s report identified a number of problems which relate to many public appointments. They include all-male appointment panels, failure to provide information to the commissioner in good time and risking, as he said, the independence of boards by a too-partisan approach to appointments. The Minister referred to the code. What is the point of the code if Ministers such as Jo Johnson can ignore it with impunity? What action will be taken against Mr Johnson for so grievously breaking the code?
There is no evidence that the Minister broke the ministerial code. In terms of the governance code, there are some failings and the noble Lord will be aware of those. This Government set up the governance code following the independent review by Sir Gerry Grimstone and I am pleased that that is the case. The commissioner himself pointed out that in his experience, this episode is unrepresentative of the hundreds of public appointments that take place each year.
Can my noble friend reflect on the appointments made by the previous Labour Government and perhaps advise the Opposition that people who live in glass-houses should not throw stones?
I appreciate what my noble friend says but I am not going to be drawn into that because the issue at hand is what we are doing about these issues. We are taking action. We recognise the need to learn from this campaign and accept that our due diligence for Toby Young was not extensive enough. We are reviewing our due diligence and the Department for Education has established, as I said earlier, a nominations committee.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will accept that the argument, “Well, you lot were as bad as we are,” is not one of the best defences one could offer. Given that this Government are committed both to greater transparency in government and to restoring parliamentary sovereignty, is it not time to consider that at least the chairs of public bodies appointed by the Government ought to be confirmed by parliamentary committees? To take a clear example, I can recall that successive appointments to the chair of the Charity Commission, under both Labour and Conservative Governments, have been challenged and deeply controversial. There is going to be unavoidable controversy in such an area, and it would be appropriate to lessen the partisanship of the criticism by submitting such appointments to the approval of a parliamentary committee.
I take note of the noble Lord’s views. I think that the Government would be grateful for many views in this respect because many public appointments can be controversial, and that has been the case not just during this Government’s time in office but during successive previous Governments. However, the Cabinet Office is looking at these matters seriously and the Centre for Public Appointments is working with all government departments to provide greater clarity on the principles around due diligence and appointments.
My Lords, that really is not good enough. Peter Riddell’s report says:
“My investigation uncovered a number of areas where important principles in the Governance Code were breached or compromised in the appointments to the board of the Office for Students ... it is important that lessons are learned”.
First, what evidence do we have that these lessons will be learned, and will the Minister comment on that observation from Peter Riddell? Secondly, will the Minister undertake to ensure that the fourth recommendation in the report, which says that “trip wire” social media searches should be undertaken, is implemented and put into the Government’s code as a matter of urgency?
With great respect, the noble Lord may not have been listening to my earlier answers, because we have been taking action on these matters. The commissioner’s report recognises Ministers’ good intentions in seeking to appoint a diverse and balanced board to the Office for Students on the basis of fair and open competition. In terms of the issues at hand, I have mentioned some actions that we have already taken, but, further to that, we have acknowledged that the Department for Education has made mistakes in failing to formally consult the commissioner on the intention to appoint a student-experience member on a temporary basis. We are dealing with that right now in making a permanent appointment, and that is planned to be completed by the end of June this year.
My Lords, the Minister said in response to my noble friend that the Government want to hear a variety of voices, but surely the report points in the opposite direction. I read—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that student representatives or anyone connected with a students’ union was not welcome, and it also seemed that, following screening, anyone who had expressed concerns over the Prevent strategy would certainly not be appointed to this body. How is that looking at a diversity of voices to represent students across this country?
I am afraid that the noble Baroness is not correct about the student representative. A student representative is there on a temporary basis—that is the clarity that we wanted to give. In addition, an NUS student panel is being set up and will be linked to the board. It is very important that we have proper student representation on the OfS because that is the whole reason behind it—it is the Office for Students.
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 40(4) (so far as it relates to Thursdays) and (5) be suspended until Monday 4 June so far as is necessary to enable notices and orders relating to Public Bills, Measures, Affirmative Instruments and reports from Select Committees of the House to have precedence over other notices and orders on Thursdays.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on 8 March to allow the Finance (No. 2) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That, in the event of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill being brought from the Commons and read a first time, Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 13 March to allow the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 40(1) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on 7 March to enable the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to continue before oral questions that day.
For the last time, I beg to move the fourth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
My Lords, we are going to work very long hours during the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Can the Minister assure us that we will not be in danger of breaking the European Union working time directive with the number of hours we will be sitting?
Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018
Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018
Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Automatic Enrolment (Earnings Trigger and Qualifying Earnings Band) Order 2018
National Employment Savings Trust (Amendment) Order 2018
Motions to Approve
That the draft Orders and Regulations laid before the House on 15, 29 and 31 January be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Motions to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 18 December 2017 be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2018
Motions to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 19 December 2017 be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2018
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 11 January be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
Nuclear Safeguards Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Nuclear safeguards
7: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 41 to 45 and insert—
“(9) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must—(a) consult —(i) the ONR,(ii) the International Atomic Energy Agency,(iii) the National Audit Office,(iv) such other persons, if any, as the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to consult, and(b) lay before Parliament a written statement declaring that, after consultation with the above parties, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the ONR—(i) has sufficient staffing and financial resources to implement nuclear safeguards regulations, and(ii) is sufficiently independent to implement nuclear safeguards regulations.(9A) The statement under subsection 9(b) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”
My Lords, there is ongoing concern over nuclear safeguard regulations—more accurately, both Houses are generally concerned at the deluge of regulations resulting from the Brexit legislation—and there has rightly been a great deal of criticism. This amendment seeks to put further protection around the regulations to give assurance. That assurance needs to take two forms. First, in advance of any regulations, the Secretary of State must seek the views on said regulations of interested parties and responsible bodies, such as the ONR, the Atomic Energy Agency and the National Audit Office among others.
Secondly, after that consultation, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a Written Statement that assures that the ONR has sufficient staffing and financial resources to implement nuclear safeguard regulations. That begets a question which I hope the Minister will answer when he responds. At the beginning of this process we need to set the benchmarks for staffing and resourcing. To do that, we need to understand, on the record, what both the IAEA standard and the Euratom standard of implementing nuclear safeguarding will require in the way of staffing and resourcing.
At Second Reading in this House and in the other place, concern was expressed about what would be achievable by 29 March 2019, and the view was expressed that the ONR would not be ready on day one. Can the Minister confirm that, on day one, the standard that the Government are expecting is that of the IAEA? Can he also put on record what the IAEA standards of nuclear safeguarding are, what staffing is needed to deliver those standards and what resource has or will be made available to the ONR to deliver those standards?
Can the Minister then confirm how long after reaching the IAEA standards he would expect the ONR to reach the Euratom standard of implementing nuclear safeguarding? Given that Euratom holds to a higher standard than the IAEA, can the Minister tell us how many more staff the Euratom standard will require? Can he also put on record what level of extra resource that will require, and can he assure the House that the extra funding between the two standards will be available on demand? The Government have made clear that Euratom is their intended standard, if not on day one then on a later date.
In his letter of 20 February the Minister makes it clear that there are currently 11 safeguards officers in post who are training to become inspectors by 29 March 2019. He also states that the ONR estimates that it will take 20 safeguard inspectors to deliver its functions to a standard equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to Euratom. As I have said, the Government have been clear that their intent is to reach the Euratom standard—but, worryingly, the Minister goes on to say in his letter that reaching the equivalent Euratom standard is dependent on a wide variety of factors. That seems very loose. Can the Minister enumerate what the “wide variety of factors” is, as it cannot be left open-ended?
Moving beyond the nuclear standard regulations and their resourcing, we are concerned that the ONR must be wholly independent of its paymasters. We cannot have a situation where the Government can influence or hold any sway over this organisation. It must be unfettered in its implementation of nuclear safeguard regulations, and the reporting structure must ensure that the Secretary of State cannot direct the ONR. Can the Minister reassure us on that point?
Finally, can the Minister assure us that the statement on these issues, as amended, will be laid before both Houses of Parliament? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this and the other amendment in the group. One of the concerns we have, as expressed on the first day in Committee and at Second Reading, is about disclosure of the actions and steps that have been taken by the Government to meet the undoubtedly genuine, real and merited concerns that have been expressed about the process of leaving Euratom and this Bill.
In that context, I thank the Minister very fully for the letter he wrote to me on 28 February, which has been placed in the Library, relating to the activities that have taken place between the Government and the IAEA, the European Commission and various third countries, which he named in the letter. He has provided a wealth of information which enables us to understand more about the part of the process with which it deals. The amendments seek disclosure about other parts of the process.
Although I support the amendments, I do not regard it as necessary for statutory provisions to be created to provide the information that is set out. What I do regard as essential is a similar generous and helpful approach by the Minister in which the items set out in the two amendments are the subject of an undertaking that the Government will keep the whole of Parliament fully informed about the process and progress of discussion of the items referred to. That is not an unreasonable demand, but is the least the House can reasonably expect.
My Lords, I agree about the importance of consultation, as noble Lords will know, and also about the proper resourcing of the ONR. However, I am nervous about the precedent set by proposed subsection (9)(b) in the amendment. It would be very difficult if this was established as a new approach to SIs. As the Minister knows, resources are sometimes constrained when you bring in new legislation, but that is not a reason not to proceed with regulations. I recall milk quotas, where a vast amount of administrative work was involved—but that did not mean to say that it was not right to proceed with that part of EU policy at that time.
It is also not clear how many people will need to be involved in resourcing work. I accept that this is a problem in the nuclear area, but I would guard against putting that sort of provision into legislation—although it might be that the amendment is purely exploratory. I very much agree that we need comfort on resourcing for the ONR, and I thought that the Minister gave us some comfort when he last spoke.
I have another question for the Minister about transition. The draft withdrawal agreement published yesterday covers Euratom—slightly to my surprise, because I believed and hoped it would be in a separate instrument. But that is as it is; it is in the draft document. I am interested to know, since the document also covers transition, whether that means that Euratom will be part of any transition agreement likely to be agreed in the coming weeks and months. Confirmation of that would be helpful because it bears on some of the other concerns we have had about the process of bringing nuclear safeguards into UK law—and of course the resourcing and the time for the ONR to do a proper job are critical.
My Lords, I discern from the letter sent on 20 February by the Minister to the Lords who have participated in the various stages of the Bill so far that the Government intend to impose most of the costs of a nuclear safeguarding regime on the civil nuclear industry. It is clear that the regime will deal mainly with matters that are remote from the everyday concerns of the civil industry. Therefore, it seems inappropriate that it should be asked to bear most of the costs. Be that as it may, it is appropriate that it should be consulted regarding provisions of statutory regulations. This is not what is being called for directly in the amendments. However, unless the Government signal clearly that they intend to consult the industry, this is something they should be enjoined to do by an amendment to be brought forward on Report.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend, Lady Neville-Rolfe, just said. I would also be cautious about including in the Bill a requirement to ensure that there should be sufficient staffing, because it is not a good reason to decide whether to put in a certain control. Obviously everything the Government undertake to do must be properly staffed.
I ask the Minister to confirm whether the Government consider that a transition period will be necessary for Euratom as well as for the EU generally. I had understood that the Government expected to put in place a satisfactory accredited nuclear safeguards regime before March next year, although I understand that certain doubts have been expressed about whether that is feasible in the time available, given the necessity to obtain the consent of various other countries’ legislatures, with which we would have to establish new nuclear co-operation agreements. Could the Minister tell the Committee whether a transition period for Euratom is envisaged?
I question what the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, said about Euratom standards being better than IAEA standards. I understand that the Government’s intention and commitment is ultimately to reach Euratom standards, but I am not sure there is any evidence that Euratom’s standards are better than IAEA standards. Two weeks ago at a briefing by a representative of EDF, together with the NIA, we heard that, in his opinion, the safety standards set by the IAEA are more robust on process, procedures and controls than those set by Euratom and that Euratom concentrates heavily on verification processes that may or may not add anything to achieving a satisfactory level of safeguards. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on that.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment, but want to follow up what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who made the obvious point that the more the Government keep us in touch with what is going on, the more confidence everybody, including the industry, has; we might then avoid half the debate we have every time we discuss Euratom. That is true of the whole process of EU withdrawal, but if we could just get it right in this niche area of Euratom, we could save the Government, Ministers and Parliament a whole load of time just by understanding what is going on.
To be honest, I think the Government undersell their position in this area in all sorts of ways. I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, for her letter to me in response to my question at the end of the last session about the transition for Euratom, because, so far as I could see, there was no disagreement between Brussels and the UK about it. The noble Baroness’s letter effectively confirmed that. In the legal draft framework on withdrawal and transition, there is a whole area on Euratom—I read it through yesterday; I do not have it here. In terms of the EU-UK relationship, the withdrawal from Euratom, particularly in respect of the transitional period, seems fairly well agreed, and I welcome that. The difficulty I still have is around third parties. There has been good communication on where we have got to with nuclear co-operation agreements, but I am still unclear as to whether the International Atomic Energy Agency and third countries are happy to accept that, while not being a member of Euratom, we can still use all those provisions as a safeguarding regime.
I also noted in the document the expectation of the UK to come up to Euratom standards on nuclear safeguarding. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s explanation of that and what it means for the transition and withdrawal process.
My Lords, I do not wish to put a dampener on proceedings, as the word “transition” seems to have lifted your Lordships a little, but does the Minister agree that for there to be a transition there needs to be agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the terms of leaving the European Union and that, in the event of there being no agreement, we go into a period where there is no transition? If that is true, I refer your Lordships to that little lecture I gave on risk on the previous day in Committee: there remains a finite risk that we need a safeguarding regime in March 2019. This provision does not take the pressure off us to get this sorted out and to have a process that delivers the safeguarding regime we need, whether or not the prospect of transition is increased.
I want to speak to Amendment 18, which is in our name, but also to respond to Amendment 7, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Amendment 7 would specify in new Section 76A(9) further consultees the Secretary of State must consult before making any regulations and add the requirement to lay before Parliament a Written Statement on the resourcing and preparedness of the ONR. In conjunction with the other amendments taken last week on Euratom and the UK’s levels of standards, we agree that this would be most useful. However, it may not go far enough, in that it would be the Secretary of State doing the interpretation of any evidence received and judging its sufficiency. Notwithstanding the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, these matters were debated last week and it would be the Government making the declaration. The Committee was not inclined to take at face value many of the Government’s assurances last week. Unfortunately, I have not seen the recent letter to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, nor the letter from the noble Baroness to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I request that in future the whole Committee be copied in to the letters, so that we can keep abreast. Many thanks.
Amendment 18 does not mention staffing levels or the independence of the ONR, however this last important matter is the subject of a further amendment, in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, which is about funding the ONR appropriately and goes further than seeking government assurances. Prospect, the trade union for nuclear engineers and specialists, has stated that the Government have already cut the ONR’s budget in recent years and that now more than 90% is funded by industry, a figure the Government confirmed in that letter to Peers dated 20 February. Are the Government going to play fair by this industry? Are they committed to the industry?
In the letter of 20 February, the Government say they will allocate to the ONR the funding necessary to establish the new domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime. In the Written Ministerial Statement of 2 February, the Government state that they have secured £2.275 million for this purpose ahead of UK withdrawal from Euratom. Is this enough? Will the Government confirm that it is the full figure that will be needed to cover the list claimed in the letter of 20 February; namely, establishing and running a project team, procuring an IT system, recruiting and training inspectors, drafting the regulatory framework, providing technical support to the department’s international negotiations, as well as the asset purchases of existing Euratom equipment in UK facilities? Prospect believes that a figure nearer to £10 million would be more realistic, especially to complete the necessary asset purchases, and is concerned that this would not fund the decommissioning costs inherent in the equipment being purchased. Will the Minister clarify the full amount of the investment inventory needed for the UK’s safeguarding regime, the commensurate full cost and that all of it will be funded?
Then there is the ongoing running cost of operating the monitoring and inspections that are presently funded by EU budgetary contributions of £9.5 million a year. The industry is very concerned that the Government will require it to self-fund the safeguarding amount in addition to funding already passed to it for safety and security. The costs of Brexit should be disclosed in full and the Government should play fair by the industry. The Minister agrees, in his letter of 20 February, that they will carry out a full consultation, including close engagement with industry and key stakeholders. Are the Government willing to show their commitment? In answering these questions, will the Minister clarify the position of ownership and retained rights of EU customers to UK operations, such as uranic material at URENCO in Cheshire, that EU customers have the right to use? This could cause operational difficulties of physical segregation. I would be quite happy if the Minister were to write to me on this last, technical note.
My Lords, as we are in Committee, it may be helpful if I quote article 77 of the draft treaty published by the European Commission yesterday, which is specifically around nuclear safeguards. It states:
“The United Kingdom shall implement a safeguards regime applying a system offering equivalent effectiveness and coverage as that provided by the Community in the territory of the United Kingdom until the end of the transition period”.
That accepts that there is to be a transition period, as long as we are not in a no-deal situation. There is a transition period—there is no disagreement between us and the EU about that—but the EU expects that to be at Euratom standards. I cannot see that that can be any different if we remain within the acquis during that period, which I think both sides are agreed to anyway.
My Lords, I start by offering my apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, as he did not receive a copy of that letter. I will make sure that copies are made available. I thought that I had arranged for copies of all the letters—those I sent on the 20th, the one on the 28th to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the one from my noble friend, I think again on the 28th, to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—to be placed in the Library. After 40 years in this House, I still do not quite know exactly what that means—I think one can go along to the Library and get a copy, but I leave that to noble Lords. I will certainly make sure that copies are made available to all those who want them.
One does not wander to the Library just in case there might be something there, so it would be useful.
I fully accept that. I think the idea is to make it clear that they have been made public and are available. I will make sure copies are made available to noble Lords.
Before dealing with precise matters relating to the amendment, I shall say a word or two about the implementation period and transition because that was raised by my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe, who has great experience in this matter as a former Minister in the department that I have the honour to represent, my noble friend Lord Trenchard and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who was in receipt of a letter from my noble friend Lady Vere. The second paragraph of that letter sent on the 28th stated that details and terms of an implementation period have yet to be agreed, that it is assumed that the United Kingdom will no longer be a member state of the EU or the EEA during the implementation period, that the base case for the length of the period is around two years and that the UK will continue to mirror the EU acquis—the entire EU legal framework—during that period.
We also note that the Commission has published its draft of the withdrawal agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to this. It is just a draft at the moment. The exact content of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement from the EU will be a matter for negotiation, and we are working hard to deliver the best possible outcome for the UK while making good progress on negotiating our deep and special future partnership with the EU. I do not think I can take the noble Lord or the Committee any further on that matter at this stage.
Amendments 7 and 18 ask for much greater consultation to be set down in law. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe was rather worried by the precedent, should it be enacted, that we make a Written Ministerial Statement at certain stages. I hope I can give the appropriate assurances about what we intend to do to keep Members of the Committee and the House fully informed about what we are doing over the course of the coming year.
First, I shall clarify my Second Reading response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I think, about the potential cost to industry of the new regime. I referred only to the cost to the ONR of setting up the domestic regime. The department has already committed to allocate to the ONR the funding necessary to establish the new regime. In respect of ongoing funding—the matter which this amendment is aimed at addressing-–I can make a clear commitment now that a decision on cost recovery and charging arrangements will be subject to close engagement with industry and other key stakeholders, as well as public consultation.
We intend to publish a public consultation and an impact assessment on the regulations later this year. I repeat to the Committee that we have made those regulations available in draft already. It is estimated that the ongoing costs of operating a domestic safeguards regime—
Can the noble Lord give an assurance to the Committee that the industry will not be penalised as a result of Brexit—that is to say that the contributions that will be required of it post Brexit to fund the new regulatory regime that he has been describing will not be greater than any costs that it currently incurs under the present Euratom regime?
The noble Lord will obviously not expect me to give firm commitments of that sort in advance of any consultation. This is a matter for consultation, but we are talking about the need to make sure we have the appropriate safeguarding regime. We are already charging industry, as he puts it, for the cost of safety and other matters. As I said, I will not give any commitment of that sort because this is a matter for consultation, but I will say that the ongoing costs of operating a proper domestic safeguarding regime—I am not talking about safety or security, but purely about safeguarding—will be broadly in line with the current cost to Euratom of its safeguards activity in the United Kingdom. This is estimated to be about £9.5 million a year, as set out in the impact assessment for the Bill.
I turn to the outstanding issues raised in Amendment 7. As the Committee will be aware, the Bill already requires that before making regulations under new Section 76A of the Energy Act 2013, the Government must consult the ONR and any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate. This is consistent with the approach for making nuclear regulations under Section 74 of the 2013 Act, which the noble Baroness will be familiar with. The amendment seeks to include a duty to consult both the IAEA and the National Audit Office. I agree wholeheartedly with the importance of consultation on the new domestic regime—I stressed that at Second Reading. Consultation is of vital importance in the development of any new regulatory system and even more so with a subject of such national importance.
As I have already made clear, we have published a pre-consultation draft of the regulations and have already begun early engagement with the industry on this. Prior to this, and since the referendum, the Government have had detailed and ongoing discussions with the nuclear industry and other interested parties. We have made it clear that the development of these draft regulations establishing the new regime will be subject to detailed consultation with both the regulator and industry, with which we have already been engaging.
The Committee will be aware that it is not standard practice for the Government to consult international bodies such as the IAEA on matters of detailed domestic legislation, and for good reason. The IAEA’s focus and expertise in respect of the United Kingdom’s safeguards lies with the voluntary international agreements rather than with the domestic legislation underpinning the domestic regime. The amendment also proposes including the NAO. I believe the NAO plays an incredibly important role, but I do not think that mandatory consultation, as proposed by this amendment, is appropriate, as it already has an established process for scrutinising public spending for Parliament.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with industry and other stakeholders to take the development of the new domestic regime forward. I particularly welcome, at this stage, any comments noble Lords make on the draft regulations, which were published in January and which I imagine all those interested in the Bill have been studying with great care ever since.
Amendment 7 would also require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a Written Statement that the ONR has the capacity and independence to implement a new safeguards regime. Again, the Committee will be aware that the Government have already committed to provide Parliament with quarterly reports on progress from across the Euratom programme. They will include information on ONR capacity and readiness.
We accept the immediate importance of this issue; that is why I wrote to all Peers on 20 February. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, received it and I think others did as well. I wrote twice on that day to all noble Lords and I have copies of those letters, but I do not think it is necessary to refer to them. At the same time, a bit later I also wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. Again, I have that letter available here and will make it available to other noble Lords if—
In the Library?
I will make it available in the Library, as well as to other noble Lords who want copies of it.
To summarise briefly what I tried to set out in that letter, and for the benefit of the Committee, we are working closely with the ONR to ensure that it will be in a position to regulate the new safeguards regime. The ONR is in the process of expanding its safeguards function by recruiting and training additional inspectors, building additional institutional capacity and developing the necessary IT systems. I want to stress—having made a visit to Sellafield, which has two of the three sites in this country where nuclear safeguarding takes place, with a senior representative from the ONR and others—that on the information given to me it is my assessment, based on current progress, that the ONR will be in a position to deliver to the international standards as required by the IAEA on withdrawal from Euratom in a year’s time, in March 2019.
At this stage, I intervene only to ask: is the Minister aware of the full costs of all the measures to be implemented to enable the ONR to go ahead with this regime, or is that work still in progress?
As I said earlier, we think that the costs will be broadly in line with the current costs of what we pay to Euratom, which is £9.5 million a year. But there may be certain funds to pay for the changeover, which again I dealt with at Second Reading by saying that money would be made available for it. Ongoing costs will be broadly in line with where we are, and that will be satisfactory.
I apologise for coming back to the Minister but, as I understand it, we are talking about two items. One is the ongoing cost of £9.5 million, which I quite agree is defined already by the EU’s contributions to us for the Euratom programme. I meant the full cost of the set-up, which initially had a £2.275 million contribution from the contingencies fund. What does he think the full cost will be, and is he happy and confident that it will be kept within that contingency fund? Has he now completed the inventory and can he update us on what the full cost may be of implementing all the measures necessary?
I think I answered that question at Second Reading and gave a figure to the noble Lord. Rather than trying to guess or remember what I said on that occasion, I will write to him. But I am perfectly happy that we have made that commitment. There will be sufficient funds and then there will be ongoing costs—the noble Lord is right to distinguish between the two—and again, we are happy about that.
When the Minister writes that letter, and assuming we all get it, can he please include some indication of the Euratom assets that will be assumed by the new organisation and some estimate of the liability that comes with those assets?
Obviously the noble Lord is right that assets belonging to Euratom are in there. I do not think I am giving away any secrets if I say that on my visit I saw physical things that were Euratom assets; there will also be software and other things. I am sure that deals will be done as part of the negotiations, and some of those will be transferred over. I do not think I can go any further at the Dispatch Box and I would not want to, but if there is anything more that I can say in a letter then I shall. I will make sure that my letter goes to all noble Lords by whatever means in this inclement weather—we will get it to the noble Lord—and place copies in the Library, which is where people like to find them.
Email is also very useful these days.
My Lords, we have discovered email. I can use all possible methods.
I have given the assurance that I will ensure that noble Lords are kept informed. As I think I have made clear, I do not think the amendments are necessary or, for that matter, particularly helpful, and I hope the noble Lord will accept that we will do our bit to keep all noble Lords appropriately informed of these matters and will make the precise Written Statements that are necessary at the appropriate moment. With that, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Having listened to the debate across the House, I think it appropriate that I ponder what the Minister has said. For the moment, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
8: Clause 1, page 4, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) In section 156 of that Act (commencement), after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) Section 112(1B) expires at the end of the period of two years beginning with the day on which that section comes into force.””
I shall also speak to Amendment 13 in this group. At Second Reading we on these Benches drew attention to the powers that the Government wish to confer on themselves through the Bill. At that time we signalled that we would take into consideration the views of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the Bill. The committee has now reported its findings in its 13th report of this Session, drawing attention to three areas of concern. My noble friend Lord Hunt highlighted the first in an amendment last week, that “civil activities” should be defined under new Section 76A(5) in Clause 1(2) of the Bill.
Amendments 8 and 13 draw attention to the other issues drawn attention to in the report. Amendment 8 concerns the definition of “relevant international agreement” in the power conferred on the Secretary of State under new Section 76A(1)(b) to give effect to any future relevant international agreement. When this happens, the functions of the ONR are extended to include taking the necessary steps to ensure compliance with that agreement. In the present situation where the Government are in negotiation with the IAEA and several key partners, the report does not find it unreasonable that the Government extend their powers in this way. However, the committee is correct when it states that this should not result in the Government having an enduring power into the future, long after the UK has withdrawn from the Euratom treaty.
Amendment 8 would set a sunset provision so that in new Section 112(1B) in the Energy Act 2013 these powers may not be exercised after a period of two years from withdrawal from Euratom. This two-year period would reflect Clause 8(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, where powers to amend legislation to prevent breaches of international obligations arising from the EU withdrawal will cease two years after exit day. This comfortably sits alongside any transition period that the Government are set to announce, maybe as early as tomorrow, in response to the announcement yesterday by the EU Commission.
Amendment 13 concerned the powers being conferred on Ministers under Clause 2 of the Bill to amend the legislation listed under Clause 2(1) relating to nuclear safeguards. The memorandum prepared by the department for the Delegated Powers Committee explains the provisions and agreements between the UK, the IAEA and Euratom. At Second Reading it was acknowledged that these tripartite agreements would need to be replaced. Necessarily, the voluntary offer agreement, the VOA, and additional protocol, AP, will become ineffective on the UK’s withdrawal from the Euratom treaty.
As in Amendment 8, the committee agreed that the Government may take the powers to amend both primary and secondary legislation to ensure compliance with the UK’s international obligations after withdrawal. However, once again, there is no justification in the memorandum for these powers to continue indefinitely. We agree, and therefore Amendment 13 similarly sets a sunset provision to Clause 2: that the powers to be conferred cease after two years and may not be exercised following the end of that period.
At Second Reading, the Minister replied that he would look carefully at any recommendations forthcoming from your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee, and I would appreciate hearing from his noble friend that they will bring forward government amendments on Report to give effect to these recommendations. I beg to move.
I support Amendments 8 and 13 and do not intend to speak at length. When the Minister was responding to Amendment 6 in the Committee’s previous sitting, he expressed a high degree of approval of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I trust that that continues through these amendments. The case has been set out by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the DPRRC, and I hope that on these two amendments the noble Baroness can give us similar encouragement to that given by the Minister on Amendment 6. We on these Benches support the restricted use of these measures to give the Government the flexibility that they need. This is a good compromise between untrammelled power and the power they need for the flexibility to ensure the necessary regime.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Fox, for their contributions. The amendments apply sunset provisions to two key powers in the Bill, Amendment 8 in respect of new Section 112(1B), which enables the Secretary of State to specify in regulations international agreements relating to safeguards that should be treated as “relevant international agreements”, and Amendment 13 in respect of the Henry VIII power in Clause 2.
I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its considered report on the Bill. We are considering the recommendations carefully, and my noble friend Lord Henley hopes to respond positively to many of the recommendations soon.
I welcome the principles that appear to be behind these amendments, namely those of scrutiny, certainty and restriction of powers. However, as the underlying purpose behind these powers is very different, the proposed two-year sunset clauses must be considered in each context specifically.
The noble Baroness may accuse me of being pedantic, but she said that her noble friend “hopes” to be able to respond. Does that really mean “expects” to be able to respond, or is it merely a hope? If it is an expectation, most of us will be content; if it is merely a hope, we will be troubled.
My noble friend Lord Henley has just whispered “expects” to me.
I am most grateful.
Noble Lords will recall that I updated the House last week, during the first sitting of this Committee, on the progress the Government have made in discussions on our new agreements with the IAEA and key NCA partners. These discussions provide important context for the amendments as, despite having made significant progress, we do not expect all of them to have been concluded by the time of the Bill’s passage through Parliament.
Amendment 13 would apply a two-year sunset provision to Clause 2, which contains the power to amend the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004. It can amend these pieces of legislation only in consequence of a relevant safeguards agreement.
This is a narrowly drawn power to amend references in that legislation to provisions of safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Those references enable the IAEA to carry out its activities in the UK, including by providing the IAEA with legal cover for the UK activities of its inspectors. It is essential that the legislation specified in Clause 2(1) of the Bill can be amended to make correct reference to new safeguards agreements that the UK enters into with the IAEA.
The 1978 Act and the 2000 Act are extremely unusual in that they make detailed references to specific provisions of existing international agreements. As such, these references are likely to change—the numbering may change to specific articles—as a result of any amendment of or change to these agreements. The power in the Bill is therefore necessary to make the changes to the relevant Acts to update those references when the new agreements are in place.
The proposed sunset clause recognises the necessity of retaining the power in Clause 2 while seeking to limit the period of time for which it can be used. In its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said that there was a good case for the Government,
“to have powers to amend both primary and secondary legislation to ensure that the UK will comply with its international obligations upon withdrawal from Euratom”.
However, the report highlights that the power is currently indefinite and recommends a two-year sunset. As I have mentioned, we very much welcome the Committee’s view of the powers in the Bill. We are still in the process of considering its recommendations and expect to be able to respond positively on this particular recommendation shortly.
This very narrow power cannot be used outside a very narrow range of purposes and circumstances. It is not a power we are taking just in case; it is absolutely essential and underpins the entire regime. The matter of negotiations means that we are tied to timing uncertainties, and this power constitutes the only way we can address that uncertainty. However, we are considering carefully how we might set a time limit on this provision, and we hope—we expect—to be able to give a definitive response on this by Report.
In relation to Amendment 8, the Government also note that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report made a similar recommendation to sunset the power to give effect to relevant international agreements. I cannot accept this amendment, as the need for this power goes beyond the immediate impact of withdrawing from Euratom. I think it is important to emphasise that the very nature of safeguards—a critical non-proliferation measure—is international by design. The power this amendment relates to therefore goes beyond “fixing” issues arising from Brexit. At its core is the need for the new safeguards regime to be able to adapt to the inevitable international changes that are made—for example, IAEA recommendations that the UK adopts, or new NCAs.
Even the current regime, which is heavily reliant on Euratom’s international role, provides for this type of flexibility through Section 93(2)(d) of the Energy Act 2013. The Bill repeals Section 93, reflecting the change in the regime, and the flexibility to incorporate international safeguards commitments in the new legislation is indeed drawn more narrowly. I shall give an example of the type of international change we might see in the future: we expect to agree NCAs beyond those with the four countries in the first tranche. Where such NCAs require particular nuclear safeguard reporting measures, it is vital that our regime can accommodate that—both in the scope of the ONR’s purposes, and in the scope of the relevant regulations—without significant uncertainty or delay. I stress that the power to which the “relevant international agreements” relates is specific to nuclear safeguards. The power is there to ensure that we can incorporate additional reporting obligations resulting from international commitments into our safeguards regime: I do not think we could claim to have an effective, future-proofed safeguards regime if new primary legislation were required every time we entered into a new agreement that included new safeguards obligations.
I thank the Minister for giving way. She has just referred to every time that we have a new agreement, but could she give us an estimate beyond the two-year period of how many additional agreements she would expect to have to insert into the regime?
Of course, it is very difficult to be specific on that but, as we know, we are focusing on four NCAs in the first tranche. The noble Lord will know that there are many other countries with which we would like to have an NCA in future which perhaps do not fall within the first tranche. The second thing to recognise is that this is not just about entering into new NCAs; it is whether new obligations arise as conditions change within the international community for safeguarding. This gives us the flexibility, but it is not drawn so widely that we can do whatever we like.
While we cannot accept Amendment 8, I would like to provide reassurance of the scrutiny that will be in place to ensure that there is proper oversight in the use of this power. Pursuant to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, we would expect any new international treaties relating to safeguards to go through the ratification processes set out in that Act. Use of the power to make regulations specifying agreements as “relevant international agreements” is itself subject to the draft affirmative procedure in all cases, and any regulations made under the power that relies on these agreements must be consulted on. I am therefore confident that an appropriate level of scrutiny and restriction of powers is already in place.
I recognise the principles which lie behind the proposed amendments, and I hope that noble Lords will accept why I cannot accept them today. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that very full response and am grateful, too, to hear the whispers between her and the noble Lord the Minister on the Front Bench. Our expectations are always full of hope, but I am rather troubled by her response to Amendment 8, and we will need to consider her reply very carefully. I am not sure that the power should be enduring. However, she said in her response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that it is important that there continues to be scrutiny and oversight of these agreements. We will study her response very carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 9 not moved.
10: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Freedom of employment for specialists
Article 2(g) of the European Atomic Energy Community Treaty, ensuring freedom of employment for specialists, continues to have effect in UK law in relation to those who work in nuclear safeguarding, after the United Kingdom leaves Euratom.”
My Lords, let me say first that the last thing that I would expect—and this will be a great relief to the Government—is for this amendment in its current state to be in the final Act as it is passed. It is in many ways a probing amendment, but an absolutely critical and important one. I quote Article 2(g) of the Euratom treaty to which this amendment relates. It says that the Community shall,
“ensure wide commercial outlets and access to the best technical facilities by the creation of a common market in specialised materials and equipment, by the free movement of capital for investment in the field of nuclear energy and by freedom of employment for specialists within the Community”.
So it is all around being able to take advantage of that freedom of movement of nuclear specialists, particularly as this amendment has to relate to safeguarding only—but really it is much more general than that, into the future and beyond our withdrawal from the Euratom treaty.
One great privilege that I have in this House is to chair one of the European Union Select Committee sub-committees, the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. We have undertaken a number of Brexit reports over the last year, including on environment, energy security—from which I shall quote in a minute—agriculture and fisheries and animal welfare. We are currently looking at food security. One key theme of all those reports, very much on a cross-party basis, is the issue of supply of specialist labour after Brexit has taken place, and how a number of those sectors, from agriculture right the way through to the nuclear industry, are dependent on specialists. Those specialists are not always the great and the best and the Nobel Prize winners whom we want in this country, but they are the people who have their own specialist skills in things that you would not necessarily take degrees in—particularly in the agricultural sector—and we can take advantage of those skills because they are not available in the United Kingdom.
I just give one or two examples from our report Brexit: Energy Security, for which we are still waiting a government response—which is not overdue at the moment, I would add. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, quoted these examples on our previous day in Committee, but I will go back through some of them, particularly around energy security and the nuclear industry workforce. In paragraph 41 of the report, we quote EDF, which stated:
“The highest concentration of non-British nationals as a percentage of the total employed workforce is within Nuclear New Build”.
Angela Hepworth, the corporate policy and regulation director of EDF provided some detail saying, on Hinkley Point, which is new nuclear,
“we are going to need 1,400 steel fixers. At the moment, the total population of certified steel fixers in the UK is 2,700 so we would need more than half of the total”.
The Institute of Mechanical Engineers stated that,
“the nuclear sector relies heavily on skilled workers from Europe”,
as did the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London:
“The free movement of skilled professionals within the nuclear industry is critical to its long-term success”.
Energy & Utility Skill told us that,
“any new immigration policy must avoid arbitrary distinctions between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ skilled jobs, based on inaccurate criteria such as whether or not it requires a degree”.
I am well aware that this is broader than safeguarding itself, but safeguarding is also a part of that nuclear skill set and this is the only way that I could really get this in the Bill, because our safeguarding regime is a key area where we have this challenge. I emphasise again that I am quite satisfied that the UK and EU 27 can come to an agreement on a transitional period that gives us extra time; I am relaxed about that, but I am not relaxed about the point made by my noble friend Lord Fox that, with the other issues that there are around the withdrawal treaty—not least around Ireland—the possibility of coming to no deal has perhaps gone up. We still need to have a strong contingency so that we are ready in this area by 29 March next year.
The only way that I can see for us to do that is to make sure that we continue freedom of movement for nuclear specialists beyond our withdrawal from the agreement. On this, I remind the Government that the nuclear industry is one of the key sectors identified in their industrial strategy and, if that is to be fulfilled, we need to make sure that freedom of movement continues in this area—and, I would say, more widely than just safeguarding.
My question to the Minister is: will BEIS have enough backbone to really confront the Home Office, and perhaps No. 10 as well, on this issue, because the Home Office is naturally resistant to anything to do with migration? Will we be able, through the discussions between BEIS, the Home Office and perhaps No. 10, to make sure that this freedom of movement within the nuclear industry, not least in the safeguarding sector, continues after Brexit? I beg to move.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for this amendment. I also commend his sub-committee, which has done excellent work.
I looked with great interest at some pieces of evidence submitted to the committee, particularly that from Energy UK, which made the point that,
“Overall, the energy industry’s workforce is made of between one and five percent of EU/EEA employees”.
That is not a huge percentage, but Energy UK makes the point that,
“Although there are not a proportionately large number of non-UK nationals employed within the energy industry, the majority are employed in skilled roles which are difficult to fill from the UK resident workforce”.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has already cited the evidence of EDF and referred to steel fixers. Interestingly, EDF examined the impact of restrictions on freedom of movement on its current workforce when thinking about what challenges might arise in the future. EDF said:
“For EDF Energy direct employees, … the majority of our current employees would meet the existing UK Points Based System requirements. The same cannot be said for our supply chain workforce, most of whom would not meet the current entrance criteria”.
This is a very important issue because, if freedom of movement is restricted, there is currently no route of entry for semi-skilled workers, such as construction workers, to enter the UK under the existing points system. I find it surprising that steel fixers are not classed as skilled workers, but the fact is they are not, so they would not be able to come in under the points-based system. Yet we have heard from EDF that we simply cannot meet the demands of constructing Hinkley C nuclear power station and other civil engineering demands with the number of steel fixers that we have.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, ended his remarks with an interesting question about the backbone of the Minister’s department. I do not think it has had a particularly easy ride. I know that it has done its best on visas for overseas students but has come up against an obdurate brick wall in the shape of the Prime Minister. But can we hope that there will be a positive response on this issue, as it is so crucial to our future industrial strategy?
My Lords, I accept that this is a probing amendment and that the noble Lord wanted to go wider than the Bill itself and beyond safeguarding to problems facing the entire nuclear industry, and in particular the need for skilled workers. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Teverson, are worried about whether I and the department have sufficient backbone to take on the Home Office and others in these matters. I give him an assurance that we accept the importance of getting the right skilled workers in, just as we always have. I understand the importance of that because on my recent visit to Sellafield I saw some of the construction work and how very specialist it is. It is not just the skilled workers but the type of concrete that has to be used and all such matters—other noble Lords will know this far better than me. More generally on that point, BEIS knows that there are shortages in certain areas and will do its bit within government to make sure that the Home Office understands the importance of our being able to attract the right staff more generally.
On the question of having the right staff in the very specialised field of nuclear safeguarding, the amendment attempts to ensure freedom of employment for specialists employed in that area. That is obviously a matter of particular interest in the light of the Government’s preparations for establishing the domestic nuclear safeguards regime which, among other important work, means securing high-quality safeguards staff in the right quantity for the ONR.
We are working very closely with the ONR to ensure that it is in a position to regulate the UK’s new civil nuclear safeguards regime that will follow withdrawal from Euratom. That includes, among other preparations, recruiting and training additional inspectors and building additional institutional capacity. I have already outlined the ONR’s staffing numbers and estimates. I referred to that in the letters sent on 20 February—so all noble Lords should have had copies of those, even the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
Given the importance of attracting the right staff to work in this specialist field, the Government are committed to ensuring that the United Kingdom nuclear industry has the required skilled personnel to deliver robust regulatory regimes. The Prime Minister has been clear that we will always welcome those with the skills and the expertise that we need, whether they come from Europe or the rest of the world—as we do now. We will also ensure—if the noble Lord will bear with me—that we manage our immigration system in the way that best serves the national interest. That is why we will be using our best influence with the Home Office—and I am sure that the Home Office in due course will be able to respond. I give way now to the noble Lord.
Picking on the language, the Minister talked a number of times about skilled people. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made the point that the definition of “skilled people” is the problem. Will the Minister acknowledge that issue and carry that point in the discussions he is having with other agencies?
As I said, we are in discussions with the ONR in relation to the Bill to make sure that it can get people with the appropriate very specialist skills that we need for safeguarding. That is why we are going to have the right regime in place by next year.
The noble Lord then asked me to go further on the more general point—it might be construction for the nuclear industry or a whole host of other things. Yes, BEIS will continue to operate as it always does and to offer help and guidance to the Home Office as it develops policy in this field.
For information, some of the researchers who work in the nuclear fusion project, for example, are paid below the threshold that gives them the privilege to come into this country. We are not just talking about steel fixers but about quite serious researchers who, because they have taken an academic career, are not paid above the threshold. So it is a very serious issue.
I am fully aware of the concerns of the noble Lord and of the industry. Obviously it is a matter for the Home Office to develop these policies, and I am very grateful that a Home Office Minister—just by chance—happens to be sitting near me; she will listen to this and take it back to her colleagues. I repeat that we are satisfied that we can deal with safeguarding. Our concerns, the noble Lord’s concerns and other concerns will be dealt with. Proposals for a future immigration system will be set out shortly. That is something that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will play his part in.
The noble Lord said that his amendment was a probing one. I hope that I have given the appropriate assurances for him to withdraw it.
I thank the Minister for his response. No doubt this debate will continue when we debate the Brexit and energy security report on the Floor of the House. I will just say—to all Ministers who are present—that the whole of history tells me that this is going to be a very difficult ask. It seems obvious, in terms of getting it right for the nation, that it ought to happen, but I suspect that it will be a lot more difficult than perhaps the Minister hopes. I will reflect on the answer and see whether there is anything more exacting we can say on Report—but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw.
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, as he said he would, I have noted that this debate has been entirely about new build, but surely one of the great problems in this area will be the experts needed for decommissioning.
I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. He is absolutely right. Experts are needed not only for decommissioning but for keeping going the existing fleet of nuclear power stations, which provide some 20% of low-carbon energy to our energy system at the moment. We also need nuclear co-operation agreements so that we have not just people but spare parts and everything else for this sector. I can see that the Minister wishes to intervene.
I just want to interrupt the noble Lord to offer him one further statistic to indicate how long this will continue. Again during my trip to Sellafield, I was reminded that decommissioning there will continue well into the next century—in other words, the grandfathers of the people who will be working on it then have not yet been born.
The whole area of the financing and decommissioning of Sellafield is the subject of another debate—and a contentious one—which we will not get into. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
11: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“The ONR to become a Non-Ministerial Government Department
(1) The Energy Act 2013 is amended as follows.(2) In section 74, omit subsection (3)(a).(3) In section 77, after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The functions of the ONR are performed on behalf of the Crown.(2B) In the exercise of its functions the ONR is not subject to the direction or control of any Minister of the Crown or of another government department.(2C) But subsection (2B) does not affect—(a) any provision made by or under any enactment; or(b) any administrative controls exercised over the ONR’s expenditure by the Treasury.”(4) In section 85—(a) in subsection (1), omit “with the consent of the Secretary of State”; and(b) omit subsection (3).(5) In section 86, omit subsection (6).(6) In section 89, omit subsection (6).(7) In section 92—(a) omit subsections (1) and (2); and(b) in subsection (5) omit “(1) or”.(8) In section 93—(a) omit subsection (2)(d); and(b) omit subsections (3) to (5).”
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I want to explore the status and independence of the ONR. I have great respect for the ONR and its work, and I wish to enhance its status.
In this crucial area of nuclear safeguards, the ONR will replace Euratom in overseeing the UK’s obligations to meet international nuclear safeguard standards, ensuring that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons use. This is a distinct responsibility and is separate from the ONR’s current role in relation to nuclear safety. Essentially, the ONR will be policing the UK in respect of its international commitments, and on that basis its independent status needs to be enhanced.
A Cabinet Office memorandum of 2014 made the situation clear:
“Non-ministerial departments do not have direct ministerial accountability. Their need for independence from ministers is … greater than for NDPBs, and includes regulators and tax authorities”.
They are government departments in their own right. The memorandum continued:
“There will be a ‘sponsor minister’ who has residual policy responsibility for the continued existence of the non-ministerial department, the overall policy and statutory framework within which it operates, and represents the non-ministerial department in Parliament. However, a non-ministerial department operates independently of ministers, generally receiving funding directly from Parliament”,
negotiating with Her Majesty’s Treasury,
“and is accountable directly to Parliament”.
My argument is that the ONR should be established as a non-ministerial government department to recognise the important new responsibilities that it has been given. Some of the bodies that have that status—the Competition and Markets Authority, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Food Standards Agency, HMRC, Ofsted and Ofgem—have been considered by one Government or another to have needed that status to show that they are robustly independent. Looking at nuclear safeguard responsibilities, there is a very strong case for enhancing the status of the ONR in that way, and I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic. I beg to move.
I support Amendment 11. Part of Amendment 7 said something similar. It is very important that we are satisfied on this point so that we know for sure that there can be no interference and no misdoings—if that is the right word.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, knows, I am always sympathetic, particularly to his amendments. On this occasion, what he wants are some reassurances, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, about the genuine independence of the ONR and, importantly, that the IAEA sees it as an independent body and accepts it as such. I hope that, quite briefly, I will be able to provide those reassurances.
We have international obligations to ensure that the regulator is effectively independent. The provisions of the 2013 Act, which created the ONR and which I am sure the noble Lord knows well, were specifically designed to ensure that the ONR had appropriate independence. Those measures to guarantee its independence include providing it with independent public corporation status; significant restrictions on the Government’s ability to direct the ONR in the exercise of its functions; constraints on the conditions for dismissing senior ONR members; and transparency obligations that act as a safeguard against powers—which are already constrained—being used in an improper manner.
Noble Lords will be aware that as a public corporation the ONR is able to set its own employment terms and conditions, affording it greater freedom and flexibility than if it were a non-ministerial government department. If it were such a department, ONR employees would be civil servants, the organisation would be part of government and the level of its independence would arguably be more limited than it is now. The noble Lord, however, obviously takes another view.
In the factsheet we published on 19 February, we made it clear that the ONR is independent from government in its regulatory functions and decisions. The most important point to stress—this deals with the entire matter and goes to the core of the amendment—is that the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in 2013 that the Energy Act 2013 would,
“provide de jure independence, which will reinforce the de facto independence that ONR (and its predecessors) have enjoyed for many years”.
It is important that we listen to what the IAEA said; I cannot stress how important this is. The amendment the Committee is considering attempts to unpick the arrangements that the IAEA—the international body responsible for nuclear safeguards worldwide—considers provide the independence necessary for an effective regulatory safeguarding regime.
Having established that the ONR is independent, I would also like to note that, as well as fulfilling international obligations and best practice, this independence is crucial for the industry. It is important that the industry has recourse to appeal ONR decisions. Attempting to fundamentally change the ONR’s relationship with the Government by explicitly providing that the ONR acts on behalf of the Crown—the effect of the amendment—risks moving away from an approach deemed appropriate by the IAEA and would undermine the industry’s ability to hold the regulator to account.
I do not think I need to go any further than that. In the interests of time, it is probably best that I end there and ask the noble Lord whether he wants at this stage to withdraw his amendment. I hope that I have given him the appropriate guarantees.
That has been a very helpful response and I am grateful to the Minister. However, I disagree with him: it is clear from the Cabinet Office guidance that a non-ministerial government department has more independence, whatever the status of officials. But he has given me considerable reassurance, for which I am most grateful, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendments 12 to 14 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Commencement
Amendments 15 to 18 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
Security and Policing: Facial Recognition Technology
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for the use of facial recognition technology in security and policing.
My Lords, I congratulate noble Peers on their fortitude and stamina in being here today. My partner and I have to get to Dorset for our 20th anniversary party—it would not be the same without us; our guests would probably miss us—and it is hard enough for me to be here. I also express my utmost gratitude to Silkie Carlo and the NGO Big Brother Watch, who have supported me and others in preparing for this important debate.
I have asked questions about this issue before but the answers were not satisfactory. I have therefore brought this debate before the House simply because I believe that the use of automated facial recognition technology represents a turning point in our civil liberties and human rights in the UK. It has barely been acknowledged anywhere that this could be a problem, and that is the reason for today’s debate.
If used appropriately, I do not doubt that it will provide many opportunities and ways to solve crimes, just as DNA research has done over the past few decades. However, we are currently faced with an unregulated and frankly terrifying mess, which uses data illegally and disproportionately interferes with our fundamental human rights. The current system—or, more correctly, the lack of a current system—means that there is no law, no oversight and no policy regulating police use of automated facial recognition. The limited trials that we know about have shown that it can be completely ineffective and potentially discriminatory.
The truth is that we are being watched all the time. People have had concerns about CCTV for some time but now it is beginning to recognise and identify us. The purpose of today’s debate is to understand how much we are being watched and automatically identified. I want to know how that is being governed—if it is being governed at all—and what legislative frameworks need to be put in place to properly regulate facial recognition.
In response to today’s debate, I call on the Government to do two things. First, they should place an immediate ban on police forces using automated facial recognition with surveillance cameras. The reasons for this will become clear during my speech. Secondly, I call on the Government to automatically remove the thousands of images of unconvicted individuals from the police’s custody image database. I will come back to this, but it is nearly six years since a court ruling said that the current system is illegal, so I am not sure how we are still using it.
Automated facial recognition uses technology to identify people in real time against pictures stored in a database. South Wales Police has been leading on its deployment and testing in the UK, funded by a £2 million grant from the Home Office. It has used it at a whole range of sports events, concerts and shopping centres. The Met police has also used facial recognition technology at a number of events, including Remembrance Sunday and the Notting Hill Carnival. Very little information has been released to the public on the accuracy and reliability of these tests, but the anecdotal evidence from police using it at Notting Hill Carnival was that they had 35 false positives, with only one positive match. Some five people were asked to prove their identity to the police, having been flagged up on the computer, all of whom turned out to be innocent. Big Brother Watch itself saw two people identified by the computer, the problem being that the computer had matched them with the police records of two men.
It is not looking like a great start. The Government cannot stand idly by while allowing this intrusion into individuals’ rights and identities. Big concerns about equality issues arise from this technology, particularly the risk of misidentifying people of colour, who are already disproportionately affected by policing tactics. If these concerns turn out to be correct, that will be another legal challenge in the pipeline.
If the public are ever to trust the use of this technology, it must be subject to the highest standards. We need the results of these tests to be made public and subject to rigorous scrutiny. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no legal or regulatory framework governing how the police use automatic facial recognition. I hope the Minister can give me a straight answer on that. At the moment, it seems the Government are letting police forces get on with it as an operational matter. This is clearly not just an operational matter. We have rules about road signs, speed cameras and gathering evidence, so why would we not have rules about how they use something as potentially intrusive as facial recognition? There is a regulatory gap here that must be filled.
I am very concerned that this technology is being used with a database full of illegal images of innocent people—I include myself in that number. It seems that the facial recognition technology is using the police national database, which contains tens of thousands of people who were never charged or convicted of an offence. It is six years since the High Court ruled that the policy of retaining the mugshots of innocent people was unlawful, but the police still do it and they still upload them to the police national database. The Government’s solution in 2017 was to allow individuals to write to the police, asking to be deleted. That is just not good enough. My pictures will be on the database, along with those of hundreds of other people who have been arrested at peaceful, perfectly lawful protests and never charged with an offence. So will people whose charges were dropped, were wrongly accused or were found not guilty by a jury of their peers. No one chooses to have their photograph taken by the police; it is extracted under coercion.
The burden should be on the police to delete those images of everyone who has not been found guilty of an offence. I ask the Minister whether the Home Office will take immediate steps to automatically delete those images of every single innocent person from the police national computer and prevent the database being used for facial recognition until it no longer contains innocent people. Will she also inform the House whether other sources of personal images, such as driving licence and passport databases, are available for use by the police and the security services?
I turn my attention to the security services and, in doing so, I extend my respect and gratitude to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—a true hero of our times. Among his revelations was a GCHQ programme called Optic Nerve. It is alleged that millions of innocent people were spied on through their webcams to experiment with facial recognition. Parliament has since passed laws that make bulk surveillance and interception lawful, so it seems that we are moving towards more, rather than less, of this kind of mass surveillance. I would appreciate the Minister informing the House about the security services’ use of facial recognition technology, and ask her not to hide behind the cloaking words of “national security”. I am not asking for details; I am asking for process.
There are very real concerns about the use of mass surveillance and facial recognition technology; we are moving into the kind of territory that even George Orwell could not have imagined. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden are being persecuted, when we should really be offering them political asylum for their heroism in exposing these nefarious, illegal schemes. We must look hard at this issue now; millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are already being spent on deploying such systems in south Wales, London and beyond. I do not want us to come back to this in a few years’ time only to be told, “The police have invested far too much money already for us to start making changes”.
It is easy to write this issue off by saying that it is not about privacy because everyone has their face out in public anyway, but that is to look at it from the wrong end. Our faces are now being used like fingerprints and DNA, but the difference is that our faces are so obvious and public that it makes the intrusion into our private lives all the greater. If the police were taking our fingerprints and DNA at sports events, carnivals and remembrance parades, it would cause great discomfort and concern. We should be no less discomfited and concerned about their automatically scanning and identifying our faces.
It occurred to me that we could perhaps use this technology ourselves, here in this House. We could have a facial recognition camera over the doors so that we would not have to be given a little tick by doorkeepers. Perhaps the Minister would like to consider that and see whether Members of the House like it.
I reiterate my call on the Government immediately to ban the use of automatic facial recognition and to clean the police national computer of all images of innocent people.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on securing this debate, although I wish we had more time to discuss this important subject. In addition to drawing your Lordships’ attention to my interests in police technology as set out in the register, I should mention that, from 1983 to 1996, I was responsible as a Home Office official for the provision of scientific and technological support to the police forces of England and Wales. My remit extended to biometric technologies such as automatic fingerprint identification systems and the forensic application of DNA technology.
It is worth noting in the context of today’s debate that the original and most important work on the application to the criminal justice system of both these technologies, fingerprints and DNA, was done in this country, more particularly in the laboratories of the Home Office, which, sadly, have since almost disappeared.
The role that both these technologies play in the criminal justice system is not simply to support the prosecution. Of course, they help the police to identify suspects and secure convictions, but they also prevent miscarriages of justice by identifying the innocent and thus eliminating them from further investigation—that was the certainly the case with the first use of DNA in Leicester, when someone who had confessed to a double murder was shown to be innocent and released. In the United States, DNA testing has saved the lives of hundreds of wrongly convicted people sitting on death row—this is thanks to the Innocence Project, started in 1972 by two young New York lawyers when they heard about the use of DNA technology in this country.
The same will be true, of course, for facial recognition technology. Although it is still at a very early stage of development as far as its use in the criminal justice system is concerned, I have no doubt that it will eventually be accepted by the police and the courts as a quick and reliable method for eliminating the innocent from suspicion as much as for identifying and convicting the guilty. We are still a long way from that position.
Unlike both fingerprint technology and DNA, there are no international or even national standards for the application of facial recognition technology to the criminal justice system. These standards for international co-operation, which took years to develop for both fingerprints and DNA, allow data relating to these technologies to be transmitted across national borders easily and without loss of integrity, so that someone arrested in California can be identified as wanted in Catalonia immediately—police would know immediately in California without any great effort. In addition to these technical standards, a whole set of other standards has been developed in order to enable the courts to feel confident about accepting an identification based on the use of fingerprints or DNA.
None of this infrastructure of standards is yet in place in relation to facial recognition. This does not mean that facial recognition technology is not yet useful in fighting crime and preventing terrorism today. It simply means that much more work needs to be done urgently to enable it to realise its full potential in the criminal justice system—for example, so that the courts accept facial recognition evidence as confirming identity. One of the tasks which has to be tackled urgently is to improve the quality of the main source of raw material for facial recognition; namely, the millions of private CCTV cameras all over this country. Too many of these cameras are poorly maintained, if maintained at all, badly sited and capture images at a very low resolution. This work should be taken forward with determination and speed. One way of doing this might be by building on the important work done by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, established under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
This is a matter for the Government. The simple message I would like my noble friend the Minister to take away from today’s debate is that, without national and eventually international standards and guidelines, the use of facial recognition technology will fail to realise its full potential in the criminal justice system. More significantly, without such standards, this technology could lead to miscarriages of justice, which in turn could lead to a loss of confidence in the technology and a loss of trust in the criminal justice system as a whole.
My Lords, first I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
I apologise to the noble Lord but he will have seen in the Companion, at paragraph 4.32,
“it is considered discourteous for members not to be present for at least the opening speeches”.
The noble Lord was not present for the opening speech, so I wonder whether he should reconsider his decision to take part in the debate.
My Lords, as I was about to say, it is frankly not good enough for government Whips to arrange for a notice to be sent out by email at 12.51 pm to say that a debate is about to start. If there has been any discourtesy it has been from the government Whips to myself. If the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, are content, I will say just two or three words—I do not see the noble Lord rising to his feet.
First, as I say, I apologise to the noble Baroness for not having heard her speech, but having known her for quite a number of years I can guess the tone and nature of her remarks. I start from the premise that, by and large, facial recognition techniques are extremely valuable to the police and security services and, as a consequence, extremely valuable to the general population. I read of a case only this week in which somebody had been extradited from one side of the world to the other because the facial recognition system at a point of entry had picked up that this person was on a database and wanted for multiple murders in another country. I think that taking such people out of circulation and giving them the opportunity to be tried properly is good. I suspect that the noble Baroness—although, as I say, for reasons beyond my control I did not hear her speech—argued that these very powerful techniques should be more closely regulated. My simple point is that these techniques are extremely powerful but they are out of the bag, the train has left the station, or whatever metaphor you want to use to express it.
The Chinese website Alibaba has introduced a system whereby you can smile to pay. That is China, which is different, of course, and I am not aware that any similar system is being adopted in the UK or in other western countries, but that technique is there and it is only a matter of time before non-state actors start to use these techniques far more widely than is currently the case. I just wonder whether we want to have a regulatory system that ties the hands of the police and security forces behind their back under such circumstances when those techniques are available. Of course there should be a regulatory framework, but if there is, it should apply universally. I leave it to the Government to work out how they would enforce such a regulatory framework in other sectors.
My final point is specifically for the Minister and will perhaps be more in tune with something that the noble Baroness may have said. I would be interested in the Minister telling us what arrangements are being made for the storage of the data collected by the police and security agencies. Has she put in place a system whereby those databases are held within the United Kingdom on servers that are solely within the United Kingdom and by contractors that do not have written into the small print of their contracts arrangements that would enable them to copy that material elsewhere? Before the noble Lord, Lord Young, stands up, I would be grateful for her answer.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating this debate.
“I also wanted a framework for governance and oversight, which I think is so important in this area. We need the public to trust that what we are doing is clearly legal … why we are using biometrics, and for what purpose”.
Those are not my words, but the Minister’s words to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 6 February this year. However, for facial recognition technology collection use and storage, that is not what is in place and is what we have not got. There is no legislation, codified regulation or independent oversight and therefore public trust will be diminished.
The first issue is the framework for governance. In reality, there is none. There might be a few scattered papers, but there is no combined, clear, legal governance framework for the use of facial recognition technology by UK police forces. In fact, the Biometrics Commissioner said it is a postcode lottery with inconsistent use, retention, searching and taking of first facial imagery. What we have at the moment is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach or “do as you want as long as you don’t get caught”. That is what is happening and why this issue gained prominence with the public in 2012 when somebody took the Metropolitan Police to court. That is where this started in 2012, and the use of facial recognition technology is still unregulated and non-legislative, with no independent oversight.
I say to the Minister that we are on the road to another court case and, based on the judgment in 2012, my guess is that the Government will probably lose. The letter written by the Minister on 30 November to the chair of the Science and Technology Committee states that a decision to deploy facial recognition systems is a police operational matter. Of course it is, but it should be within a framework of legislation and regulation, the same as other operational requirements of the police. For example, Durham Constabulary is now using body-worn cameras to create a database of troublemakers. That is totally against the principles of data protection and the spirit of not using this type of technology as an intelligence gathering tool. As there is no legal status, there are no proper regulations and no independent oversight and Durham Constabulary is getting away with it.
Pippa King, from Biometrics in Schools, made an extremely good FoI request in January this year. It is telling that out of 32 forces that responded, 27 could not provide any national or local guidance for the use of biometric facial recognition technology—27 out of 32. In addition, 32 out of 32 had not done a privacy impact assessment. Five stated that the Home Office has a PIA and they were using that. Has the Home Office done a PIA on the police use of facial recognition technology? If so, when did it share the assessment with police forces and where is it public? There is no body with oversight powers or independent checks—none whatever. Particularly in light of the fact, it is really important that many people on the database will have no idea that they are on it. They may have been to a train station, a pop concert or a memorial service. When will the Government look at giving power to an independent oversight body with the power of sanction to check that the police are using this technology correctly?
I end with the Minister’s own words. “These things are potential monsters”, she said at the same meeting, “which is why the Government need to be absolutely clear why they are collecting this data and for what purpose”. When will the Minister bring forward regulations and when will an independent oversight body be appointed?
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on this debate and draw attention to my interest, as declared in the register, as an adviser to Facewatch Ltd.
I think we would be making a mistake if we were to overemphasise the risks of this technology, given that it provides so many opportunities. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, I was an official in the Home Office in the 1990s, albeit at a much more junior level, and was responsible for VIP protection policy. In that context, I was continually bombarded by supposed facial recognition companies about the value of their products. Broadly speaking, they did not work. However, today the situation has changed: these systems are starting to work and the pace of development, particularly of data analytics and machine learning, means that they will get better quickly over the coming period. As a result, the sort of criticisms we have seen from Big Brother Watch, including that they do not work, may or may not be true today, but I am confident that they will not be true within the next few years.
By way of anecdote, I was going into a building the other day. There was a facial recognition system at the door, which immediately and accurately identified me, and was able to do it on the basis of a 12 year-old photograph taken from the internet. This is not just about police custody records: you can do it without any of that stuff, and a lot of people are doing so in the private sector. We are moving from promise to reality, and I suspect that within a few years, facial recognition systems—of course there are a lot of different technologies here—will probably be better at identifying individual human faces than we are ourselves, and we would be foolish in my view to deny ourselves the potential benefits of that technology.
I draw attention particularly to the opportunities in counterterrorism here, given my own background. Your Lordships only need to imagine the value of being able to confidently identify individuals checking in for airline flights, for instance, irrespective of what particular documentation they happen to be using on that day or what identity they might have been using. I can remember in my previous career watching individuals applying for asylum who found that their asylum application was turned down and therefore went on to their second or third application using different identities. We are in a position potentially to get over those sorts of problems using this technology.
The opportunities for identifying hostile reconnaissance activity are also very important. The attacks that we saw last year at London Bridge and Borough Market were very likely preceded by reconnaissance activity. One can envisage facial recognition technology being able to identify that in advance and enable pre-emptive action to be taken. Particularly on the terrorism side, we already know the faces of most of those who would like to attack us. We have them on record, so to be able to identify their hostile activities in advance is a very valuable intelligence tool. I am talking here about using it for intelligence purposes rather than evidential purposes, although it may be that we will come on to that once appropriate procedures and standards have been installed.
In regard to everyday crime, this also offers us real opportunities. Given the pressure on police budgets, we should welcome anything that makes policing more effective and efficient, rather than viewing it with deep suspicion. The same applies to potential victims: transport operators, shopkeepers and entertainment providers should be able to use this technology to protect themselves, their businesses and their clients. This will, in my view, add to the public good.
I look forward to clarity from the Home Office on its biometrics strategy, but I very much hope that it draws an appropriate balance, which encourages the use of facial recognition technology for the public good while providing a proportionate degree of regulation over it. We should not smother innovation, and it is important that any oversight or accountability mechanism for this does not become too bureaucratic or process heavy in such a way as to provide a disincentive to use the systems. It is also important that this should not become a bonanza for the lawyers.
I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for this debate. My guess is that most of us see some very useful ways in which this technology can be used, but many people are also concerned that it may have other uses as well, which they are less keen on. I speak as someone who has little knowledge of the actual technology, of modern-day policing or indeed of the complex legal issues involved, but I have taken the trouble to talk to a number of people over the last week to ask them of their awareness of this technology. I was very struck by the fact that hardly anybody I spoke to realised what was already going on. Some were horrified, some were puzzled and every one of them had questions and worries. As a minimum, we need to have the time—I hope that the Government will give much more time than a very limited short debate—to look at this important area, which touches on fundamental human freedoms, human rights and a whole range of issues about the sort of society we want and how we relate to one another.
In these sorts of debates, we often trade off fear. There is the trade-off fear of, “We’ve got terrorists coming, and therefore we’ve got to do something”, but if we take that line, everybody would be permanently tagged and we would all be linked up to computers and so on. None of us wants that. On the other side are people who have some real worries, which I think are justified by past evidence showing that sometimes when Governments and businesses collect data, they do not use it for the originally intended reasons. When I started talking with a number of people, those were the stories raised immediately: there was talk of Edward Snowden and of the collection of data by GCHQ and so on. This is the material that is kicking around. We have a duty to have a proper debate so that we start to understand and make conscious decisions on how we wish to collect and use information, so that we can plan for it rather than, as it appears at the moment, simply being overtaken by a lot of experiments.
We need this debate because as with, for example, many of those ethical issues that we debate in your Lordships’ House, we should not leave it just to the specialists and experts. This is a democratic issue about what it means to be a citizen—about what our rights but also our responsibilities are. How do we balance the state’s right to collect and use data? How do we balance the rights of businesses, when there are stories of plans being made so that, when we walk into shops, we will be identified so that we can be specifically targeted with certain sorts of products based on our customer profile? Do we want that sort of intrusion? We need to have that type of debate now.
I ask the Minister: when will Her Majesty’s Government create a proper space for us to have a more leisurely debate? Will the Government bring forward some sort of draft code, and indeed probably legislation, so we can begin to try to tease out how we want to use this technology? I totally concede the point, which has already been made, that in some senses we are already being overtaken by what is going on. When are we going to have an independent commissioner to look over this area, as we have commissioners for other areas, so that we can have the confidence that there is accountability is built into our national life?
My Lords, we are very lucky that we have people like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and organisations such as Big Brother Watch. In some ways, I start from the same premise of the requirement that fundamental human rights have within democracy. However, I quite quickly come to a different fork. I would illustrate that fork by suggesting that it depends on which country you live in. If, for example, you live in—to take the ultimate—North Korea, or—to take the intermediate—perhaps Russia or Venezuela, it is rather different to living in a European country, or at least most European countries, and many other countries in the world. For me, that is a practical and philosophical distinction. I describe it as the “two Ts”: T for tyranny and T for terrorism. I do not happen to believe that we in this country are faced with potential tyranny, let alone have tyranny already, but we all know that we are faced with terrorism and other forms of organised crime. That is what makes it essential that we use the implements that are available to protect us.
As I said at the start, I have sympathy for the general need to conserve our liberties. Indeed, I would even suggest that I have a minor credential in that: along with other noble friends in this House, I have been in the advance of trying to limit and check the use of powers of entry into premises without warrant, of which there have been far too many. We have a lot of our people on our side over this, and the committee that looks at statutory instruments now keeps a close eye on that.
However, we need to make the fullest use of all the techniques available not just to keep a check on terrorism and crime but for the proper organisation of the state. I shall like to use my remaining two minutes to say that what is really needed is that the state is aware of who its citizens are, which at the moment it is not. What is needed, therefore, is some form of proper identification. I do not believe in identity cards; still less do I believe in identity cards with biometrics, because biometrics on identity cards can be used fraudulently by terrorists or criminals who, with modern technology, can put their own biometrics on them and therefore appear to be any person that they represent themselves to be.
What we need are national identity numbers. Surely we can have no objection to this. We need our biometrics, whatever the best biometrics are, to be stored within the Government centrally and securely, not on bits of paper scattered around. They should be online and available to those people who should have them. In that way, we would have one number, a national identity number, instead of the current plethora of numbers, so many of which have been devalued by being misused, such as national insurance numbers, national health numbers, HMRC numbers and passport numbers. I was amazed that the noble Baroness was concerned about photographs on passports; of course they are available to the police. It is essential for our national security that those who need to know, as the jargon goes, have access.
I hope the Government will reconsider their repeated refusal to introduce national identity numbers and look at this system, which would make a huge difference to the administration of our public services, social services and National Health Service and guard better our national security.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating this debate. Your Lordships may wonder why I am speaking in it. It is true that my interest in facial recognition is more linked to medicine in identification and progression of disease, but that is not why I am speaking today. I am speaking because of another interest, which is that my university, the University of Dundee, has a strong forensic science department, analysing all aspects of biometrics for both crime detection and human identification. I am also chairman of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships’ House, which conducted a brief seminar on the use of forensic science in the detection of crime and elsewhere, and may well conduct a more detailed inquiry on the subject.
Facial recognition comes under the purview of the Forensic Science Regulator, which is not a statutory authority, but also the Biometrics Commissioner and the CCTV commissioner. Research in this area is therefore very police-needs driven, and a commercial element has therefore crept into software provision. Three areas of work have lately raised questions about facial recognition. The first relates to so-called super-recognisers. This concerns research out of Greenwich, and although there is strong evidence to suggest that some people are indeed better at recognising faces than others, there is some evidence that they are not the golden bullet that everyone hoped for.
A second issue concerns the ethics associated with retention of images when the person has either been released without charge or been found innocent of charges. Facial images are taken routinely in custody, and at present, as has been mentioned, there is no mandate for them to be deleted from the police national computer. This may come in due course, but the suggestion that someone may have to apply to have their images deleted cannot be satisfactory.
The third is linked, and is about using faces of known persons of interest when scanning crowds to find those individuals. As has been mentioned, this was employed at the Notting Hill Carnival and more recently at one of the 6 Nations rugby matches. The police state that widespread awareness notices are used in such places, that they check only against faces that they are looking for, and that no others are stored. This is an issue of questionable ethics and is currently under discussion, with the issue of covert versus overt collection of faces highly relevant.
We need to: define clear legal roles for collection of data; limit the type and amount of data stored and retained; limit storage to only one biometric in a single database, not all biometric data; define clear rules for the storing and sharing of data; impose strict security procedures to prevent improper access and data compromise; use mandatory notice procedures when technology such as I mentioned is used at Notting Hill and on other crowds—clear notices that the technology is being used—and define and standardise audit trail accountability and independent oversight of the use of data. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for raising this very important issue. As she says, there is no law, policy or oversight on facial recognition. As my noble friend Lord Scriven said, there is no framework for common governance across the UK in terms of the way in which the police use this technology.
I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Wasserman and Lord Evans of Weardale, that there are some very exciting and potentially extremely positive uses for this technology, but it has to be regulated. It cannot just be a free-for-all. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, clearly there will be legitimate reasons for the use of facial recognition. In terms of “smile to pay”, I can pay using my phone where my phone recognises my face. Thankfully I do not have to smile because I am not usually smiling when I have to dole out money.
One of the worrying anecdotes we have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, was the fact that when he went to a particular place, the camera recognised him from a picture on the internet. We are not just talking about innocent people being arrested who have never been charged, given a caution or been convicted, and that database being used potentially by the police to identify people who are at, say, a demonstration. There is also the potential for using internet images, passport or driving licence photographs. At the moment there is nothing in law or regulation to stop the police integrating those databases—if the Government allow the police to use them—to identify people.
People will say—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, will say it—that the police and security services have no interest in following everybody around. But the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, at the same time as being a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, was also on its database of extremists without good cause—I am sure. So she could be followed around by these cameras. We really have to ask questions about what is going on. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that the train has left the station. It may have done, but it is time the Government got in control of this runaway train.
I have four brief points. There is an urgent need for regulation and oversight of the police use of facial recognition. It cannot be right that the policy on this use of technology is left to the police alone to decide for themselves. There is an urgent need to examine what databases are used in conjunction with facial recognition. I will not repeat all the arguments that we have heard from a number of noble Lords about the custody image database, and the fact that images of innocent people are being held potentially illegally on such databases. As I say, there is a potential for completely innocent people who have just applied for a passport or a driving licence, or even people who for some reason are in the public eye whose images are on the internet, being used in conjunction with police and facial recognition technology.
Something that has not been covered in as much detail is the fact that much machine learning, including automated facial recognition algorithms, tend to be discriminatory—in this case disproportionally misidentifying women and black faces as there are fewer black people and many fewer women on custody image databases from which the automated system learns.
Without regulation and oversight there is the potential for Nineteen Eighty-Four to become a reality, albeit 34 years later than originally envisaged. Will the Minister acknowledge that there are genuine and reasonable causes for concern and reassure the House that the Government are urgently looking into these issues?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for tabling this Question for Short Debate today. As other noble Lords have said, this is a very important matter and I hope we can come back to it in a much longer debate—maybe even as part of a government Bill as it is a very important issue. It is certainly time that we considered the issues of facial recognition technology today in relation to security and policing. As this is a short debate and I have no additional time for my contribution, I shall not respond in detail to the points other noble Lords have made, although I shall make some reference to them in my remarks.
The first duty of government is to keep its citizens safe, and the types of crimes being committed today and the role of computing—the internet, cybercrime, terrorism and so on—has changed dramatically. If you look back to the 1980s, or the 1960s or 1970s, completely different crimes were being committed; that is just a matter of fact. Technology itself has also provided the vehicle for these new forms of crimes to be committed—things that we would never have heard of when I was growing up. So it is important that we are able to use this technology to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
As many noble Lords have said, the challenge is for both government and Parliament to set the right balance between ensuring that the police and security services have the right tools, with the appropriate safeguards, to keep us safe and, on the other hand, to protect people’s personal liberty and privacy. That is the basic balance and the challenge for us all; it comes down to that. When she responds to the debate, I am sure the Minister will set out clearly what safeguards are in place at the moment, how the Government strike the right balance and, particularly, what arrangements they have in place for holding facial images. It has been suggested that there are no government arrangements in place. How will the Government ensure that they review that, and how will they do it as other technologies come into force and become more sophisticated? I am conscious that there other technologies are potentially in the marketplace that can recognise you through your voice and other images. As these become more sophisticated and more widely used, how will we make sure that we strike that proportional balance and get that right? That is a very important issue for us all. I hope that the Minister can address those points, and particularly the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised. As I said, the issue is about keeping us all safe with the appropriate safeguards in place.
My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey highlighted how powerful these tools are. As he says, they are out of the bag—I think we all accept that now. These things are changing by the day. He then went on to make another important point about the issue of databases and how they are held. That is the important issue: who holds the databases? Are they held by the police or the security services, or are they held by third parties? What right to people have to use them? Can they be copied and used for other means? We need to make sure that those things are regulated and we get them right.
The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, made the important point about the need for national and international technological standards in facial recognition. He talked about DNA and fingerprinting, which again is very important. I agree with his point about the fact that there are all these cameras around and their quality can vary dramatically, from very grainy images to very detailed images. So it is also important that we get the standards correct so that they can be used to protect us.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, highlighted the important role that these technologies play in the fight against terrorism, for the security services. I fully support the use of such technologies in that respect but, again, we should always ensure that they are used with the appropriate safeguards. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans set that point out in terms of the debate that we need. I talked at the start of my remarks about data: what it is, what we have and how we protect it. We need to come back to the issue at a later date, but I shall end my remarks there.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for that and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for bringing forward this debate on a very important issue, now and in the future. I start by stressing the importance the Government place on giving law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent terrorism and cut crime. However, it is also important to build public trust in our use of biometrics, including the use of facial images and facial recognition technology.
Biometric data is of critical importance in law enforcement, and various forms and uses of biometric data have an increasingly significant role in everyday life in the UK. However, the technology is of course changing rapidly. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about gait analysis technology, voice technology and other types of technology that are rapidly emerging. We are committed to producing a framework that ensures that organisations can innovate in their use and deployment of biometric technologies, such as facial recognition, and do so, crucially, in a transparent and ethical way. Noble Lords have talked about ethics in this as well. Maintaining public trust and confidence is absolutely key; achieving this involves a more open approach to the development and deployment of new technologies. We remain committed to ensuring that our use of biometrics, including those provided to law enforcement partners, is legal, ethical, transparent and robust.
In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, we will publish the Home Office biometrics strategy in June this year, as I outlined to the Science and Technology Committee. The strategy will address the use of facial recognition technology. There is ongoing work to implement last year’s custody images review, which provides a right to request deletion, and we are planning improvements to the governance of police use of custody images and facial recognition technology.
Automatic facial recognition, or AFR, is a rapidly evolving technology with huge potential, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and others powerfully illustrated. There have been some suggestions that there is no guidance on police use of AFR. The Home Office has published the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which sets out the guiding principles for striking a balance between protecting the public and upholding civil liberties. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Evans, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans all pointed this out, as did others. Police forces are obliged under the Protection of Freedoms Act—POFA—to have regard to this code. Similarly, the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a code of practice, which explains how data protection legislation applies to the use of surveillance cameras and promotes best practice. However, to address the point of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, we believe that more can be done to improve governance around AFR and we are discussing options for doing this with the commissioners and the police. I am very pleased to see the really good practice already being followed in this area, such as the work being done by South Wales Police, which I will go into in a bit more detail in a few minutes. We are working to ensure that this is consistently applied across all areas by tightening up our oversight arrangements of AFR.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others talked about the retention of custody images and whether that was illegal, following the 2012 High Court ruling. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also alluded to this. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives police the power to take facial photographs of anyone detained following arrest. The regime governing the retention of custody images is set out in the Code of Practice on the Management of Police Information and statutory guidance contained in the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice. The Police Act 1996 requires chief officers to have regard to such codes of practice. In addition, the Information Commissioner and Surveillance Camera Commissioner promote their respective codes of practice.
Following the custody images review, people who are not subsequently convicted of an offence may request that their custody image be deleted from all police databases, with a presumption that it will be unless there is an exceptional policing reason for it to be retained, such as if an individual has known links to organised crime or terrorism. Assuming that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has links to neither—
Not yet—you heard it first at the Dispatch Box. I suggested some months ago that the noble Baroness should request that her image be removed. I am assuming that she has now done so and that, therefore, it is in the process of being removed. But the police should automatically review all the custody images of convicted people that they hold, in line with scheduled review periods set out in the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice to ensure that they retain only those that they need to keep.
On the point about illegality suggested by a couple of noble Lords, the court did not rule that there was an issue with applying facial recognition software to legitimately retained images. Following the CIR, we are clear that unconvicted people have the right to apply for the deletion of their image, with a presumption in favour of deletion. However, the police, as I said, have the right to retain an image in the cases that I outlined.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talked about oversight. This is a very good question which was brought out by the Science and Technology Committee. Noble Lords also talked about the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group. In line with the recommendations of the triennial review of the Home Office science bodies, the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group’s remit has been extended to cover the ethical issues associated with all forensic identification techniques, including, but not limited to, facial recognition technology and fingerprinting. The Government are exploring the expansion of oversight of facial recognition systems. They are also seeking to establish an oversight board to enable greater co-ordination and transparency on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that we are consulting with stakeholders such as the NPCC, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, the Information Commissioner and the Biometrics Commissioner.
Noble Lords mentioned two specific instances: Notting Hill and the South Wales police. I think that I have time to talk about both events. In 2016-17, when facial recognition technology was piloted at the Notting Hill Carnival, the Metropolitan Police published this on its website. This is in line with the fact that it is a pilot and that it is important that police let people know about it. The public were informed that the technology involved the use of overt—not covert—cameras, which scan the faces of those passing by and flag up potential matches against a specific database of custody images, and that the database had been populated with about 500 images of individuals who were forbidden to attend the carnival, as well as individuals wanted by police who it was believed might attend the carnival to commit offences. I must stress that this system does not involve a search against all images held on the police national database or the Met systems. The public were also advised that if a match was made by the system, officers would be alerted and would seek to speak to the individuals to verify their identity, making arrests if necessary. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who talked about mismatches with BME people, even between men and women. That goes back to the point that this is evolving technology and in no way would it be used at this point in time other than in a pilot situation.
South Wales Police took a very proactive approach to communications in its pilot. In addition to the more formal press briefing notices, it used social media in the form of YouTube and Facebook to explain the technology to the public and publicise its deployment—and, most importantly, it published the results. In its publicity, South Wales Police has been very aware of concerns about privacy and has stressed that it has built checks and balances into its methodology to make sure that the approach is justified and balanced. It consulted the Biometrics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, all of whom are represented on the South Wales Police automatic facial recognition strategic partnership board, and gave them the opportunity to comment on the privacy impact assessment that was carried out in relation to the pilot. This resulted in a very positive press response to the pilot. The force also published a public round-up of six months of the pilot on its Facebook page.
I will go on now to the PIA, which links to that point. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked about the Government doing a privacy impact assessment. I can confirm that the Home Office biometrics programme carried out privacy impact assessments on all of its strategic projects to ensure that they maximised the benefits to the public while protecting the privacy of individuals and also addressed any potential impact of data aggregation.
The noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Kennedy, asked about arrangements for the storage of images. The Police National Database is based in the UK. Images are taken from custody systems run by each police force and then loaded on to the PND.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether passport and driving licence photos were available to police. They are not used by the police when deploying facial recognition technology. They may be used under specific conditions for other policing purposes.
I thank noble Lords once again for their participation in this debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
Leveson Inquiry Update
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Statement is as follows:
“With your permission, I wish to make a Statement on the Leveson inquiry and its implementation, and the freedom of the press.
Over many centuries in Britain our press have held the powerful to account and been free to report and investigate without fear or favour. These principles underpin our democracy and are integral to the freedom of our nation. Today, in a world of the internet and clickbait, our press face critical challenges that threaten their livelihood and sustainability—with declining circulations and a changing media landscape. It is in this context that we approach the Leveson inquiry, which was set up seven years ago in 2011, and reported six years ago in 2012, in response to events over a decade ago.
The Leveson inquiry was a diligent and thorough examination of the culture, practices and ethics of our press in response to illegal and improper press intrusion. There were far too many cases of terrible behaviour and, having met some of the victims, I understand the impact this had. I want, from the start, to thank Sir Brian for his work.
The inquiry lasted over a year and heard evidence from more than 300 people, including journalists, editors and victims. Three major police investigations examined a wide range of offences, and more than 40 people were convicted. The inquiry and investigations were comprehensive, and since it was set up, the terms of reference for a part 2 of the inquiry have largely been met. There have also been extensive reforms to policing practices and significant changes to press self-regulation.
IPSO has been established and now regulates 95% of national newspapers by circulation. It has taken significant steps to demonstrate its independence as a regulator. In 2016, Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations. There have been further improvements since and, I hope, more to come. In November last year, IPSO introduced a new system of low-cost arbitration. It has processed more than 40,000 complaints in its first three years of operation and has ordered multiple front page corrections or clarifications. Newspapers have also made improvements to their governance frameworks to improve internal controls, standards and compliance. One regulator, Impress, has been recognised under the royal charter.
Extensive reforms to policing practices have been made. The College of Policing has published a code of ethics and developed national guidance for police officers on how to engage with the press. Reforms in the Policing and Crime Act have strengthened protections for police whistleblowers. It is clear that we have seen significant progress, from publications, from the police and also from the newly formed regulator.
The media landscape today is markedly different from that which Sir Brian looked at in 2011. The way that we consume news has changed dramatically. Newspaper circulation has fallen by around 30% since the conclusion of the Leveson inquiry, and although digital circulation is rising, publishers are finding it much harder to generate revenue online. In 2015, for every £100 that newspapers lost in print revenue they gained only £3 in digital revenue.
Our local papers, in particular, are under severe pressure. Local papers help to bring together local voices and shine a light on important local issues—in communities, in courtrooms, in council chambers. As we devolve power further to local communities, they will become even more important. Yet over 200 local newspapers have closed since 2015, including two in my own constituency.
There are also new challenges, which were only in their infancy back in 2011. We have seen the dramatic and continued rise of social media, which is largely unregulated, and issues like clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse, which threaten high-quality journalism.
A foundation of any successful democracy is a sound basis for democratic discourse. This is under threat from these new forces, which require urgent attention. These are today’s challenges and this is where we need to focus, especially as over £48 million was spent on the police investigations and the inquiry.
During the consultation, 12% of direct respondents were in favour of reopening the Leveson inquiry, with 66% against. We agree, and that is the position that we set out in our manifesto. Sir Brian, whom I thank for his service, agrees that the inquiry should not proceed on the current terms of reference but believes that it should continue in an amended form. We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward. Considering all of the factors that I have outlined to the House today, Sir Brian has been informed that we will be formally closing the inquiry. But we will take action to safeguard the lifeblood of our democratic discourse and tackle the challenges our media face today, not a decade ago.
During the consultation, we also found serious concerns that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them. Respondents were worried that it would impose further financial burdens, especially on the local press. One high-profile figure put it very clearly. He said:
‘Newspapers...are already operating in a tough environment. These proposals will make it tougher and add to the risk of self-censorship…The threat of having to pay both sides’ costs—no matter what the challenge—would have the effect of leaving journalists questioning every report that named an individual or included the most innocuous data about them’.
He went on to say that Section 40 risks,
‘damaging the future of a paper that you love’,
and that the impact will be to,
‘make it much more difficult for papers...to survive’.
These are not my words but the words of Alastair Campbell talking about the chilling threat of Section 40—and if anyone knows about threats to the press it is Alastair Campbell. Only 7% of direct respondents favoured full commencement of Section 40. By contrast, 79% favoured full repeal. We have decided not to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to seek repeal at the earliest opportunity.
Action is needed—not based on what might have been needed years ago, but action now to address today’s problems. Our new digital charter sets out the overarching programme of work to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice. Under the digital charter, our internet safety strategy is looking at online behaviour and we will firmly tackle the problems of online abuse.
Our review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism will address concerns about the impact of the internet on our news and media. It will do this in a forward-looking way so that we can respond to the challenges of today, not the challenges of yesterday.
The future of a vibrant press matters to us all. There has been a huge public response to our consultation. I would like to thank every one of the 174,000 respondents as well as those who signed petitions. We have carefully considered all the evidence we received. We have consulted widely with regulators, publications and victims of press intrusion. The world has changed since the Leveson inquiry was established in 2011. Since then we have seen seismic changes to the media landscape. The work of the Leveson inquiry, and the reforms since, have had a huge impact on public life. We thank Sir Brian Leveson for lending his dedication and expertise to the undertaking of this inquiry.
At national and local levels, a press that can hold the powerful to account remains an essential component of our democracy. Britain needs high-quality journalism to thrive in the new digital world. We seek a press—a media—that is robust and independently regulated; that reports without fear or favour. The steps I have set out today will help give Britain a vibrant, independent and free press that holds the powerful to account and rises to the challenges of our times.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for—is it D2CMS? I forget how you pronounce it these days, with “digital” being added to the department name.
We need to consider three main issues addressed in the Statement. First, this announcement of the Government’s formal decision, albeit it was prefigured in their manifesto, terminates the Leveson inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005. It also gives notice that the Government will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. But we gather from the Statement that Sir Brian Leveson, who has rightly been consulted about this, agrees that his inquiry should not proceed but believes that it should continue in an amended form.
But is that what is happening? Could it be, as was patently clear from the huge response to the consultation carried out by the Government, that Sir Brian believes that there are still many unanswered questions? Do they include which editors and other senior newspaper executives were commissioned or otherwise responsible for data theft, phone hacking and other illegal conduct by journalists and investigators? Does it cover the full extent of hacking and data protection breaches at certain national newspapers, the extent of alleged corruption between some politicians, media representatives and the Metropolitan Police, and the nature of the relationships between the police and the press, in particular the long-term cover-up of police responsibility for the Hillsborough disaster?
The Statement gives the impression that this has all been sorted. It says that,
“the terms of reference for a part 2 of the inquiry have largely been met”.
Well, I do not think that Sir Brian agrees with that—or that the victims will agree with it. I certainly do not. It would be very helpful for your Lordships’ House if the noble and learned Lord could explain what precisely the words used by Sir Brian meant in that enigmatic phrase that he believes that the inquiry should continue in “an amended form”. Will he put copies of the correspondence in the Library so that we can all see it?
Secondly, on Report on the Data Protection Bill your Lordships’ House voted by 238 to 209 to add Amendment 127A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. This new clause effectively requires the Government to proceed with a second part of the Leveson inquiry. The House also agreed amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which replicate Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act for data protection claims only.
It is possible that the Government will find the arguments—I have every confidence that we will listen to them with great interest—that will persuade the other place to remove these two amendments—but, the parliamentary arithmetic being what it is, I am not sure that that is certain. In any case, if the amendments are reversed, they will come back here on ping-pong under considerable time pressure. After all, the Bill has to have Royal Assent by 25 May. Could the noble and learned Lord speculate about what might happen on the assumption that the Bill remains unamended? Perhaps we should explore the common ground here, because there is potential for working together on this. I look forward to discussions that were started prior to discussions on the Data Protection Act.
Will the noble and learned Lord also explain what the timetable is for the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act? The Statement says that it will not be commenced—again, that was in the Conservative manifesto—but the Statement adds that the Government will seek repeal “at the earliest opportunity”. When is that? “Soon” and “before Christmas”, which are the usual words in the lexicon used by the noble and learned Lord, will not be sufficient on this occasion. I look forward to more detail.
Thirdly, the saddest thing about this Statement is that it makes it clear that the all-party consensus that informed the Leveson report and oversaw the parliamentary process immediately after its publication has been destroyed. The Conservatives have reneged on the promises made by successive Prime Ministers not to let down the victims of press intrusion, and they are clearly setting their face against ensuring that we learn the lessons of the past. It is a disgrace that the Government are betraying the trust placed in them by the victims. Who now will stand up for them and make sure that their pain and suffering will not be repeated?
I believe that there is a willingness in Parliament to encourage an independent system of press regulation, as recommended by Sir Brian Leveson. I will go further: I am sympathetic, and I think others are, to the idea that if IPSO would clearly meet the standard for recognition establish by the PRP, it might be sensible for Parliament to revisit the complex set of interrelated measures of inducements and penalties set up under the rather baroque arrangements of the Privy Council.
Alongside this, we need to take into account the parallel developments mentioned in the Statement. Mainly because of loss of sales and the collapse in advertising revenues, the traditional press is in serious decline. The new, unregulated electronic sources of news and information are growing rapidly and the internet is constantly innovating and expanding news, fake news and other services. I agree with the Secretary of State that one result of these trends is that we may be witnessing the end of a fine tradition of serious journalism and the elimination of space for independent opinion which has always underpinned our democracy and polity in the UK. I agree with him that this is really important.
I welcome the proposal for a review of the sustainability of high-quality journalism and suggest to the noble and learned Lord that there may be considerable advantage in making the review cross-party and ensuring that its evidence and proceedings are open to the public. Perhaps he could comment on that—and if he cannot do so now, will he be ready to respond to an Oral Question on this later in the month, of which I have given him some notice?
If this marks the end of Leveson—and I echo the thanks expressed by the Secretary of State to Sir Brian for his considerable efforts—I am left with the following thoughts. The key question raised by Leveson is how in a democratic society we enshrine the press’s freedom to publish in the public interest while ensuring a proportionate balance so that individuals retain their rights to privacy and the security of their personal data. We have not got this right yet, but I do not think that we are far away from coming to a proper solution.
We must learn the lessons from the culture of abuse, illegality and criminality that has flourished for too long in our newspapers. There is no point in trying to cover over that and not look at it. We need to examine all these things and come up with reports—and we have to make sure that the victims of press intrusion can get effective redress when such abuse happens.
As I have said, there is more that unites us on this than divides us. Now would be a good time to reach out to all parties and attempt to re-establish the cross-party agreement that led to the original Leveson report and ensure that its good work is carried on.
My Lords, it is never a pretty sight to watch a Government capitulating to vested interests. At such a time, it is always useful to look around and see who is smiling. Certainly, Mr Rupert Murdoch will be smiling, as will Lord Rothermere, Mr Paul Dacre and the Barclay Brothers—owners or editors of the Times, the Sun, the Mail and the Telegraph respectively.
It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1990, that the Calcutt commission recommended the setting up of a Press Complaints Commission. The Government of the day welcomed that report and set up the Press Complaints Commission, but warned that it was a “final chance” for self-regulation, or, as the then Secretary of State, David Mellor, put it, the press were,
“drinking in the last-chance saloon”.
The trouble is, what has happened since? There was no learning of lessons or improvement of behaviour, with the addition of corruption and criminality to the cocktail of press failings under the stones that Lord Justice Leveson turned over.
This Statement is littered with high-minded declarations, such as,
“free to … investigate without fear or favour … underpin our democracy … integral to the freedom of our nation”,
“safeguard the lifeblood of our democratic discourse”,
but the truth is that none of those high-minded aspirations would be put at risk either by implementing Section 40 or by continuing with part 2 of Leveson. They are put at risk by behaviour that undermines public trust and diminishes confidence in our democracy.
Will the Minister clarify a number of points? First, will he put in the Library of the House the precise terms on which Sir Brian Leveson believes his inquiry should have continued? Secondly, when will the terms of reference and chair for the new review into the sustainability of the press be announced? Will it be that review or Ofcom that looks at the increasing overlap between print journalism, online journalism and broadcast news, which now sits with the various oversight bodies that regulate them?
The sentence in the Statement with which I agree entirely states that challenges that were only in their infancy in 2011 have now to be faced. Issues such as misinformation, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse all threaten both the quality of journalism and the fundamental rights of our citizens.
But this Statement is not a response equal to that challenge. For all the crocodile tears, it will do nothing to preserve local newspapers. It leaves the victims of press abuse with their hurt still raw and unassuaged by any sense of justice done. It was very interesting that a few hours after the Manchester bombing, journalists were knocking on the doors of victims, intruding into the private grief of people who had lost their children that night. So much for conscience and regret.
It leaves a self-serving regulator, IPSO, which is as ineffectual and compromised as its predecessor, the PCC. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, it is open to IPSO to come within the Leveson recommendations, and if there were any sense of trying to meet the all-party approach that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, advocated, that is what IPSO would do. It leaves our media landscape not, as it should be, a balance of quality, diversity and choice, but again simply an accident waiting to happen, as those guilty of past abuse remain in power, with no sense of contrition or shame, and there is still no effective means of holding the perpetrators of that abuse to account.
It is not even an outcome of the consultation. It is the fulfilment of a squalid political deal between the press barons and the Conservative Party which the Secretary of State will live to regret. What is certain is that the name of Leveson will rank higher in the list of defenders of freedom of the press than any member of this Government.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McNally, for their responses.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, that she will have an opportunity to speak, but as a matter of course at this stage I should respond to the observations already made.
One of the principal points made by both the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McNally, concerned the terms in which Sir Brian had responded to inquiries. I make it clear that the entirety of Sir Brian’s letter will be available. Indeed, I shall take steps to make sure that it is placed in the Library. It may be subject to redaction if there are particular names which have to be taken out, but I assure noble Lords that the terms of that letter will be available in the public domain and it would not be appropriate for us to give a mere summary of it. I also assure noble Lords that that was always the intention. In fact, I believe that on a previous occasion I indicated that Sir Brian’s response would be available in the public domain.
On the question of what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to as a “political deal”, there is no such political deal; there is a matter of political judgment that has been made in the light of present circumstances. I appreciate that it is not one with which everyone would seek to agree, but that is the responsibility of government and that responsibility has been discharged by this Government in the present circumstances. As for the two amendments that were alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, it is not for me to speculate on how and in what circumstances they will be reversed, but clearly this House will have a further opportunity to consider that matter as and when the Bill comes back before this House and I fully accept that.
On the timetable for the repeal of Section 40, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in posing his question already knew the answer. The words, “at the earliest opportunity” are as far as I am able to go at this stage. If I had further control of the parliamentary timetable, of course I would elucidate upon that response but I am not in a position to do so at present.
On the matter of cross-party approaches to a review, that will, I understand, be the subject of an Oral Question by the noble Lord and by that stage I may be better equipped to respond to his proposal; I would not seek at this stage to speculate.
On one final point, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that IPSO could have come within the Leveson recommendations. I remind the House that in 2016 Sir Joseph Pilling felt that IPSO had essentially come within the Leveson recommendations. He concluded that IPSO largely complied with the Leveson recommendations and I believe that that followed upon some adjustments it had made to its arbitration process. With those comments, I again commend this Statement to the House.
My Lords, after my successful amendment to the Data Protection Bill, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I was misrepresented in a leader in the Daily Telegraph which seemed to imply that I had lied to your Lordships’ House. A short apology was published at the bottom of page 2 last week. It seems that manipulation of public opinion continues, and I shall look forward to progress with the Data Protection Bill in the other place.
Sir Brian Leveson considers that an amended inquiry should go ahead, as do the victims of press abuse who believe that a very large amount of abuse remains hidden. Today’s announcement breaks promises to victims made in this House and elsewhere. How can the public have confidence in any future undertakings by Her Majesty’s Government?
My Lords, I am not familiar with the details of the Daily Telegraph article to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, refers, but I note that in due course an apology was made by that publication in respect of the article in question. That in itself might be seen in some quarters as progress.
As regards how the public should see the Government regarding this matter, they have to see the Government taking a decision in the present circumstances, not the circumstances that pertained seven years ago. We have moved on so far as the press are concerned, and I therefore believe that the public can have confidence in the Government’s decision at this time.
My Lords, first, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as having been the last chair of the Press Complaints Commission and as someone who was involved in setting up an independent regulator which became known as the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
I want to place on record my thanks to Sir Brian Leveson, who I believe did an outstandingly good job. On the first occasion I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, he gave me some wise advice. It was to call together all those involved in the publication of newspapers and other similar publications to see whether a self-regulator of the press could be created. His wise opinion was something I sought to follow, and I sought to ensure that Leveson recommendations were followed so far as the continuance of the Independent Press Standards Organisation was concerned. I was particularly pleased—although I had no part in the process—when Sir Alan Moses became the first chairman. All I will say to the Minister is that I am very pleased that he has quoted Sir Joseph Pilling’s conclusion that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations, but as the Secretary of State points out, there have been further improvements since, and I hope there are more to come.
As we seek to find the best way forward, speaking as someone who started life as a solicitor acting for a very seriously injured thalidomide child, I shall never forget the power of the press in bringing Distillers to book as the manufacturer of that drug. Ever since then I have believed that we need a vibrant, independent and free press that holds the powerful to account and rises to the challenges of our time. I shall not give up now, but I warmly commend this Statement.
My Lords, I echo the observations made by my noble friend with regard to the work of Sir Brian Leveson. I think all of us in the Chamber can appreciate the work, the effort and the expertise that he brought to bear in respect of the first part of the inquiry, and the considerable public benefit that has enured from that work and the subsequent report.
I never cease to be amazed by the ability of the press to avoid responsibility and by their ability to persuade Conservatives to back down from the threat of proper regulation which protects press freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just indicated, quite rightly, that he was a past chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, as were other Conservative party members in recent times, when the pressure was on the press.
We talk of press freedom, but can the Minister respond to this point? This all came about because of the abuse by the News of the World, a newspaper with a 187-year history and a readership of more than 3 million. During the course of that 187 years, it did some extremely good investigative journalism, holding the powerful to account. However, when it went down into the gutter as it did, the editor was fired and a couple of journalists were held to account before the court, but the owner, Mr Rupert Murdoch, one of the most powerful people there was, got away scot free. Is this what we call press freedom and holding—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said—the powerful to account? How do we hold Mr Murdoch to account? He did not lose his job; it was the journalists who lost their jobs—all the journalists of the News of the World. Is that press freedom? I do not think so.
I note what the noble Lord says, but I would observe that he referred to the editor as having been fired, and would just underline the term “editor” as distinct from that of “owner”. A person may own many and diverse publications but have no actual belief in the content of those publications and no responsibility, directly, for what is incorporated into them. Indeed, there are many who feel very strongly that the owners of our public press, who are sometimes very wealthy, should not interfere in the editorial control of their newspapers. That has been commented on before.
My Lords, one very important aspect of Leveson 2, which is now not going to take place by all accounts, is the examination of the relationship between the press and the police. I declare an interest as a former Metropolitan police officer of 30 years’ service but also as a victim of phone hacking. The Minister talked about extensive reforms to policing practice and cited the guidance from the College of Policing. But what evidence is there that there has been a change in police practice? Noble Lords will recall that, when the Guardian lifted the lid on the real extent of press malpractice, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service stood in front of Scotland Yard and said there was nothing to investigate. I ask again: what evidence does the Minister have of the extent of previous corrupt collusion between the police and the press, and what evidence does he have that police practice has actually changed since then? If the noble and learned Lord has no evidence, does that not show that Leveson 2 is necessary? From his extensive knowledge of the law, he will know the difference between evidence and speculation and the difference between guidance and practice.
With respect to the noble Lord, I also know the difference between cause and effect. What we were addressing was the potential causes of police malpractice in relation to the press. They have been addressed as outlined by the noble Lord, involving the publication of a code of ethics and the development of national guidance for police officers on how to engage with the press. It has also involved the reforms in the Policing and Crime Act, which have strengthened protection for police whistleblowers. The effect will be seen in due course, but you cannot turn around and say there is evidence of effect. The causes have been addressed; the outcome will show itself in the course of time.
Is this not a good day for local democracy in our country? It needs a thriving local press, but as the Statement made clear, a large number of local papers have closed recently. Could my noble and learned friend confirm that there was a strong fear that the enactment of Section 40 would deal a mortal blow to many of those that still remain and whose continuing existence should be given every encouragement?
I entirely concur with my noble friend on that last point. We have heard repeatedly the concerns that were voiced, particularly by the local press, over the potential impact of the implementation of Section 40 and the adverse effect it would have had upon our local press and consequently upon the maintenance of our local democracy.
My Lords, do the Government still believe that the press should be regulated by a truly independent body which fully complies with the criteria laid out by Sir Brian Leveson and was supported on all sides of your Lordships’ House?
We consider that the present arrangements, particularly those reflected in IPSO, are working well with regard to the press.
My Lords, is it not the case that, as I am sure everyone around the House has demonstrated this afternoon, there is a great change in the media? The Minister has said several times that since 2011 things have changed in a great many ways. But are he and the Government really confident that the measures he has outlined this afternoon will be sufficient to deal with the questions which were raised again by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, given that of course the digital media are in some senses much worse even than the press in how they use personal abuse and personal statements about individuals to act in an entirely unacceptable way?
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. That is why we are taking forward the digital charter, so that we can have an overarching programme of work to agree the norms and rules for that online world, as well as for the printed press.
My Lords, a number of victims of press intrusion sat in a room with the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, when he solemnly promised that the Leveson inquiry would be completed. If the noble and learned Lord were sitting in the room with those same victims today, what would he say to them in the light of the Statement about that broken promise?
I am not in a position to comment upon the broken promise but, as the noble and learned Lord observed, he was referring to the position of the former Prime Minister.
Can the Minister comment on a line from the Statement? It says:
“Sir Brian, who I thank for his service”—
I concur with that—
“agrees that the inquiry should not proceed on the current terms of reference but believes that it should continue in an amended form”.
Does the Minister believe that what he has set out constitutes that amended form?
The decision made by government was that part 2 of the Leveson inquiry would not go forward, and I commend to the noble Lord the terms of Sir Brian’s own letter. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to seek to paraphrase him; it is far better that this letter, which will be placed in the public domain, should be considered in that context.
My Lords, does the Minister agree—I am sure that if he does, he will have widespread respect—that the press has a long-standing and historical role in society? It is in many ways the lifeblood of democracy itself because a democracy can function well only if the quality and truthfulness of the press can be seen and respected. It is also the guardian of human rights and individual freedoms. Commercial pressures have always been there—on how to make newspapers pay, for example—but, ultimately, it is in fulfilling that historic purpose that they will be respected in society. How can we have a society in which journalists and writers are able to act honestly, and with a real sense of commitment to truth, if they are to be seen as subjects of a regime run by irresponsible owners?
To a large extent, I concur with the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It is for society to demand from the press the sort of press that it requires in order to maintain its freedoms and its democratic traditions. We have to remember that society is also the customer for that press and therefore carries considerable weight in that context. We see that reflected in the demise of the News of the World. It was not just a question of closing down a newspaper; it was a recognition that that newspaper had so lost its way that society—its customers—would have responded in a very particular way in any event. It was not an altruistic act but, I rather suspect, a realisation of the reality of the situation that the newspaper had found itself in.
The Minister tells us, and the House agrees, that we should all want a thriving local newspaper environment. However, the Statement talks about 200 local newspapers having closed since 2015. What are the Government’s proposals to try to ensure that we continue to have an environment in which there are thriving local newspapers? In similar vein, the Secretary of State talks about issues such as clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse threatening high-quality journalism. What are the Government going to do to reduce the amount of clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse?
On the first point, the major step that we have taken in order to protect the local press is to announce our intention to repeal Section 40, which hung over the local press like the sword of Damocles. On the question of engaging with online media, which we recognise is a major issue, we are pursuing our digital charter.
My Lords, the whole House has heard what the Minister said about the victims and, in answer to the questions of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness about the pledge by the former Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, to the victims, the Minister responded that he was merely a former Prime Minister. Would he like to take the opportunity to reflect on those words and perhaps come back to the Dispatch Box with a fuller, more compassionate and responsible answer to the question of what the Prime Minister’s pledge means to the victims of press intrusion and abuse?
I can quite understand the expectation that the second part of the Leveson inquiry would take place, but time has moved on. We nevertheless recognise the position in which these victims found themselves and the harm that was perpetrated against them. I would not seek to diminish that in any way.
It is a nonsense for the Minister to say that getting rid of Section 40 will enable there to be a thriving local press. We in this Chamber all know that the reason why there is not a thriving local press is that the value of local advertising has gone down because it has competition from online. The truth is that without the investment going in that advertising unlocks, the local press will continue to shrink. Not a shred of evidence has been produced this afternoon to suggest that with the repeal of Section 40 the local press is suddenly going to bloom and flourish.
I did not suggest it was going to suddenly bloom and flourish; it may be more a case of managed decline. There are other factors impacting on our local printed media, there is no question of that, but one of those threats was contained within the provisions of Section 40 of the Act.
House adjourned at 3.03 pm.