House of Lords
Monday 26 November 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to split payments in Universal Credit.
Split payments are already available on request for universal credit claimants. We have processes in place to record complex needs for individual claimants and have introduced a new IT function so that these claimants are instantly visible to the staff helping them. We are also examining how claimants tell us about their complex needs, how we record those needs and how we can extract data which can help us monitor and improve support.
I thank the Minister. To mark White Ribbon Day yesterday, I want to ask specifically about the impact of universal credit split payments on people suffering domestic abuse. At present money for children is paid in tax credits to the main carer once a fortnight, and that supporting low-paid work to the main earner once a fortnight. Universal credit rolls up all those payments with housing, childcare and disability payments, and is paid once a month into the bank account of one member of a couple. There is widespread concern that this may exacerbate economic abuse. Domestic abuse survivors can request a split payment, but charities such as Women’s Aid are concerned that simply asking for it can put them at risk because of course it triggers the evidence that they have done so concerning the abusive partner. My noble friend Lady Lister raised this in a Question in July and presumably the Minister has been thinking about it. But the latest statistics show that only 20 households have split the payments, even though 40% of awards are to couples. Can the Minister please tell the House what action the Government are going to take?
The Government support White Ribbon Day—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—and will be making a number of announcements over the 16 days of action, which I am sure all noble Lords will welcome. The Government are committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. It is important to stress that it is the responsibility of government across Whitehall to support victims of domestic abuse. The single payment of universal credit usually allows both people in the household to make the money management choices that are best for them in considering how their decisions about work affect their household income. The reality is that I and my honourable friend in another place, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson, are working hard with stakeholders to see what improvements could be made.
My Lords, the Minister said that split payments are available on request but, as my noble friend said, if somebody asks for a split payment, her abusive partner will know. How many of us would be willing to take the risk of further abuse? Can the Minister tell me why the Government think that they know better than survivors of domestic abuse and the organisations working with them, and continue to put the onus on the survivor and put her at greater risk?
My Lords, it is important to stress that claimants can request a split payment during a face-to-face meeting and a phone call could be made away from the perpetrator of domestic abuse or online, via the journal. Research carried out for the department suggests that only 2% of married couples and 7% of cohabiting couples keep their finances completely separate. Indeed, a number of legacy payments have always been paid as one payment.
My Lords, many people who have experienced domestic abuse would find it extremely traumatic to relate the details of what has happened to them. Does the DWP require details of the abuse before they can receive split payments?
My Lords, that is a very helpful question—
Well, it is helpful because it is constructive. No, we do not expect people to disclose the details of domestic abuse. Any individual can be accompanied by a third-party organisation to provide expert support when discussing their situation with a work coach. Each case is unique and the work coach will therefore ensure that the process is claimant-centric, to best support the needs of the individual. We treat all personal information in confidence and do not disclose it to third parties without explicit consent, but we also ensure mandatory training for our work coaches to give the support that people who are in a vulnerable situation require.
My Lords, what assurance can the Minister give that split payments will be part of the test and learn DWP pilot scheme to be introduced early next year? Can she also give assurances that any results will be published before the managed migration takes place in 2019?
My Lords, the noble Baroness may know that during the test and learn phase, we will be working within a co-design phase for seven months on a number of projects with stakeholders from all parts of the welfare system to assist us in the kinds of questions that we need to ask. But we are also going to look at how Scotland implements this. Scotland has made its own decision, which it is entitled to make, to go ahead and implement split payments. We want to learn from Scotland, too, about how this can be done, what challenges there might be and how practical it will actually be when six benefits are being brought into one under UC.
My Lords, if we are to learn from Scotland, is it not time that we decided how quickly we might learn from other countries? It seems to me that this will kick it into the long grass, rather than resolving the situation for split payments in England. Could the Minister please comment?
My Lords, we should not do this in haste. The reality is that Scotland has proposed split payments and is going to implement them. We would much rather watch what Scotland is doing—this is known there. Meanwhile my colleague in another place, whom I have already referenced, is working with various stakeholders on how we can improve support for those victims of domestic abuse through the welfare system.
My Lords, I currently chair a commission which is looking at services and support for women who have experienced violence and abuse. Through that, I have met many of the women whom other Members here have been trying to alert the Minister to. I am sure that the Minister has every good intention, but I have to tell her that these women really do feel that they cannot disclose what is happening to the DWP and why they need separate payments. Even if they did, their partner would then be so angry that they would suffer. Will she therefore agree to meet people who are working on this to hear of direct cases, which I do not want to put in front of the whole House, so that she hears about the concern, fear and anxiety, and then the mental health problems that come as a result?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We take this extraordinarily seriously. I have already met representatives of Women’s Aid and Refuge, but it is important, as the noble Baroness will appreciate, that split payments in universal credit cannot be the solution to what is ultimately a criminal act. Domestic abuse is still a huge problem in our society. The solution to it is complex and should be delivered through the judicial system. If they feel it is appropriate, anyone in a joint claim, including individuals suffering from domestic abuse, can request a split payment, but I should add that we now have more and more work coaches in jobcentres who have not only been through the mandatory training but are specialists in understanding and detecting domestic abuse. We are learning as we are going on, and we are continually working hard to improve the system, bearing in mind that as at August this year only 20 people had requested this.
Shipbuilding: Appledore Shipyard
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the importance of the Appledore shipyard as part of the United Kingdom's future shipbuilding strategy.
My Lords, the Government were very disappointed to learn of Babcock’s decision to cease operations at Appledore. While it is a commercial decision for Babcock, I recognise how concerning the news is for Appledore employees, their families and the wider community. Appledore is not central to successful delivery of our national shipbuilding strategy. However, more broadly, we are committed to encouraging a more competitive industry, driving innovation and growing the Royal Navy fleet.
I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. I am glad he shows that feeling for Appledore because this is highly destructive of the whole of that community. Appledore shipyard has been amazingly competitive in producing survey ships for the Navy, parts of the Type 45 and parts of the carrier, and it won the latest competition for four Irish OPVs. It is a very efficient and very capable yard. I find it extraordinary that a firm has to close it because it has problems on its balance sheet elsewhere in its structure. However, that is not my question.
My question relates to the amount of work that is available for shipbuilding in the United Kingdom, because other yards will go the same way unless there is a core, basic loading of building. The loading of building that we have at the moment is insufficient. We are paying for fleet solid support ships to go elsewhere out of the UK, but that is an opportunity to add to the loading, enabling us to keep key shipyard workers and these key industries going. I am sure the Minister feels that that would be the way to go. I would be very interested to know the Government’s position on this. Does he feel that those in Appledore ought to fight, fight, fight again, like those from Appledore and Bideford who fought with Sir Richard Grenville down in the Azores some 427 years ago against huge numbers of Spaniards? We must keep fighting to keep it open.
My Lords, the noble Lord asks a very serious question about government spend on naval shipbuilding. I do not think it is a fair charge if his implication was that the Government have not been supporting our yards at home. Babcock alone has had £1.7 billion-worth of business just in the last year. It recently started work on a £360 million contract to be the technical authority and support partner for the Navy’s new aircraft carriers. In general, we are seeing in Scotland, for example, a £3.7 billion contract for the first three Type 26s, and at Cammel Laird there has been a £619 million support contract. Then there will be the competition for the Type 31e frigate, which is worth £1.25 billion. Those will be built in the UK. As regards the fleet solid support ships, there is no bias on the part of the Ministry of Defence. This is an open competition and we encourage British shipyards to bid.
My Lords, is it not true that the noble Lord, Lord West, was told, when he ordered the aircraft carriers and there was no money to pay for them, that they would have to be paid for by reductions in the surface fleet, and that is what is happening now?
My Lords, I do not accept that. We are committed to maintaining a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers. That is what we have at the moment. The Type 26 frigates will replace some of the Type 23s and the Type 31s the rest of the Type 23s. I do not accept that the fleet is somehow dwindling because of the aircraft carriers.
My Lords, I cannot restrain myself from the observation that if the Royal Navy had as many ships as we have Questions about ships, we would be in a pretty good position altogether. The last time that this issue was discussed, the Minister told the House and myself that, notwithstanding the worst-case deficit in the Ministry of Defence equipment budget of £14.8 billion, the MoD would still be able to balance the books. Will that include cancellation or creative accounting, as has happened in the past?
Not at all, my Lords. We are committed to our capital programme. If there has been any creative accounting in the past, we want to put that behind us because we want to be absolutely transparent about what our spending plans consist of. With regard to shipbuilding, as I said in my initial Answer, part of the trick will be to make the British shipbuilding industry more productive, innovative and competitive, and that is what we are seeking to do through the strategy.
My Lords, having been vicar of the parish in which the Swan Hunter shipyard was when that yard went into the hands of the receivers a number of years ago, I am acutely conscious of the devastating effect that such closures have not just upon individuals but upon whole communities. The Minister has acknowledged that. Will he undertake, if the yard does go under, to provide necessary assistance both to individuals and to the community, which will suffer terribly?
The right reverend Prelate focuses on a very important issue. There is no doubt that the site is regarded as at the heart of the local community, with generations of families employed there. Naturally, as a result, local councils for one are very keen to find a solution. I can tell him that Babcock has offered all affected employees other positions, included at Devonport. It is planning to hold discussions with affected individuals about their long-term options, and it has committed to being as flexible as possible in accommodating travel and relocation needs.
Verify: Digital Identity System
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of their plans for Verify, the Government Digital Service's digital identity system.
My Lords, over 3 million people have used GOV.UK Verify to perform over 8 million secure transactions. My honourable friend the Minister for Implementation made a Written Ministerial Statement on GOV.UK Verify on 9 October. The Government have an immediate and growing need for a secure digital identity service.
My Lords, this is a very sorry tale. The Government Digital Service started with high hopes for its flagship Verify digital identity system, aiming for 25 million users by 2020. Now, with constant changes in leadership, the imminent cutting of the entire project budget and the refusal by departments such as HMRC to adopt it, the Government are now, after £130 million of investment, simply handing it over to the private sector. Is it not extraordinary, when the need for a trusted universal UK-wide secure identity system has never been higher, that the Government are abdicating all responsibility in that way? Where does that leave Verify’s 2020 target? Is this not an admission of total failure?
I would not describe the service in quite the terms that the noble Lord has just used. Progress is being made towards the target of 25 million users by 2020. It is not the case that HMRC is not using Verify. Noble Lords who want to can upload their self-assessment tax return using Verify, and if they so wish they can check their income tax account using Verify. More and more government services are now subscribing to Verify; the MoD recently added an additional service, and some 18 services are now available. It is not the case that we are abdicating the whole thing to the private sector. Verify, which is a government service, will continue to provide a digital identity service to the public sector, and it is talking to the NHS and to local government in order to continue to broaden the base.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House clearly what went wrong?
I challenge the premise on which the noble Lord based his question. Verify was launched in 2016 and, as I said in my initial reply, now has 3 million subscribers who have completed 8 million transactions. I signed up to Verify over the weekend and, if noble Lords have not, I suggest that they make themselves familiar with this new and innovative service.
My Lords, is not the simple truth that, following pressure from the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, Labour’s national identity card scheme, which would have dealt with this problem, was abolished? Is it not odd that it has finally dawned on the Government that identification is vital to protect against entitlement fraud? It has taken them a long time to learn that lesson.
Verify was started under the coalition Government—I think Nick Clegg was in charge of the Cabinet Office when it started—but there is a difference between providing a secure online identity, which Verify does, and an ID card which you have to carry with you. The key difference between Verify and an ID card system is that Verify is voluntary and the ID card was to be compulsory.
My Lords, I declare an interest, having worked in government with Nick Clegg on precisely that. I was very impressed by the Government Digital Service and frustrated by the extent to which departments across Whitehall resisted its moves to modernise government handling of data and abandon the separate legal frameworks under which departments manage and keep data. There was much discussion in the coalition Government about introducing a new Bill to update those rules to cope with rapidly moving technology. It has not yet appeared. Do the Government still have plans to do so?
The noble Lord knows much more about this than I do. It is the case that HMRC has its own service, the Government Gateway. Since it developed that service, Verify has come along. Obviously one would like to migrate from Government Gateway to Verify and encourage other departments so to do. I am not wholly convinced that we need legislation to do that—I will go back to my department in the light of what the noble Lord said—but we need to win the hearts and minds of government departments and persuade them to make more services available on Verify. That impetus is, I hope, gathering momentum.
My Lords, can the noble Lord explain what Verify will do to make our borders safe after Brexit? Will he now review his position on compulsory and voluntary ID and agree that the only way for us to have safe borders is by a compulsory form of recognition?
I am not convinced that compulsory ID cards would stop the illegal entry into this country of a whole range of people. The noble Lord will know that in 2010, legislation was passed to scrap the ID legislation introduced by the previous Labour Government. We have no plans to reintroduce such legislation.
Can the Minister say how much has been paid in consultancy fees on this issue? Given that departments and the Government centrally keep no records of how much they are spending on consultancy, is it not about time that we were more transparent?
There is an issue of commercial confidentiality in publishing the amount paid to the five identity providers, but if the noble Lord wants to know the cost of the Verify programme, I should be more than happy to write to him and place a copy in the Library.
My Lords, we electronically tag all our animals—I speak as a former farmer. Why cannot we electronically tag humans? We could all have microchips, and then we would know where we were.
Noble Lords will have their own reaction to that suggestion, but the thought of going along to a vet to have something implanted in my neck is not something I find immediately attractive.
My Lords, I am tempted to ask the Minister why it took a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for him to sign up to Verify, but instead I shall ask him about his other revelation—that there is a Minister for Implementation. What are his or her—I do not know whether it is a he or a she—other responsibilities?
His name is Oliver Dowden and he is a Minister in the Cabinet Office. Noble Lords will find his responsibilities set out in the list of ministerial responsibilities.
My Lords, can the Minister explain why he has the misfortune to be answering this Question today, given that responsibility for digital identity policy has transferred to DCMS?
Well, it is a question that I may have asked myself a few days ago as I find myself answering questions on a whole range of responsibilities that I never knew were mine. The answer is that although overall responsibility has been transferred to DCMS, the Government Digital Service remains within the Cabinet Office, for which I have responsibility as a spokesman.
Gender Pay Gap
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to require organisations to produce action plans to respond to their gender pay gap reports.
My Lords, I am delighted that over 10,000 employers reported gender pay gap data in the first year, but reporting is just the first step. We believe that the transparency created by reporting will motivate employers to take action. However, to close the gap we need wider cultural change, which cannot be imposed from above. That is why the Government are working with employers to tackle the drivers of the gap, and we have introduced a range of initiatives to support that work.
Well, sometimes I am a bit speechless over all this. It goes on year in, year out, and nothing really happens. I welcome the initiative to publicise the gender pay gap, of course, and I welcome the work that is being done to encourage more women on to public boards. However, the pay gap is actually at its most pronounced among slightly older women who have given up more productive or lucrative careers to have children, and who then cannot afford paid childcare and so move into part-time employment.
There are a number of tried and tested initiatives which have proved very helpful to this cohort of women, and which have been run in the past through the Government Equalities Office: for example, women-only skills programme initiatives to break down full-time jobs into part-time jobs. Do the Government have any intention of introducing any programmes to enable women to work to their capacity and at the same time help them to contribute more to business and the economy?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for asking that follow-up question. I am slightly disappointed that she was speechless at my initial Answer—maybe she was speechless with joy. One of the things on which I was speaking to the Women’s Business Council this morning was precisely the cohort she talked about—older women who have perhaps left work for certain reasons and then gone back later—and how it can help. The Women’s Business Council is focused very much on the cohort of women from 50 to 64 in particular, on what support it can give, and on what the Government can support in this endeavour. So we are doing things around the gender pay gap from which that cohort in particular should benefit.
My Lords, I hear the Minister’s answer, but I think law can be a driver of culture. Does she agree in principle with the recommendations of the Commons committee on business that, as half of all employees are not included in the gender pay gap reporting requirements, all companies with 50 or more employees should be? I said when the requirement came in that what you do not measure, you cannot manage. Let us get SMEs measuring their pay gap so that they can at least start on the path to managing it.
I agree to a certain extent with the noble Baroness. It would be interesting to see some of the figures from SMEs. Over 300 have, in fact, reported their gender pay gap even though they have not had to do so. It is important to note that the Government are not pushing against a closed door on this. Businesses want to do this and the success of employers in future will be down to the diversity of their workforces.
As the noble Baroness will know, McKinsey has estimated that bringing more diversity to the workplace—particularly women—will increase the economy by over £150 billion by 2025.
My Lords, what are the Government’s plans to monitor progress? In particular, do they have plans to include a sectoral analysis?
In terms of monitoring progress, businesses with over 250 employees will have to do this exercise every year. I am pleased that all the businesses in scope actually reported their gender pay gap. There is clearly scope to start to disaggregate those figures by sector, and I hope that that will be where we get to at some point soon—but I think we have made a great start.
My Lords, I beg the Minister’s pardon for interrupting her earlier in my misplaced enthusiasm. The change of production from “just in case” to “just in time” means that there is no continuous process. It has been fragmented into home-based production where people are employed “as and when”. This means that they cannot accumulate a background of paying regular contributions to entitle them to any kind of benefits. Is the Minister thinking of a way to deal with the new way of production that now prevails?
The noble Baroness asks a very pertinent question. There can be a break in national insurance contributions for people who work and then step out of work, or who work from home. A flexible workforce is important to the future economy, but it must not disbenefit people’s pension take when they retire.
My Lords, it is nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed and women still earn a lot less than men. The most recent statistics show that the gap is now 13.7%. Does the Minister agree that we should take much stronger action? The legislation is good as far as it goes, but women have been patient on this issue for an awfully long time and it ought to be strengthened. The pay gap audit, where companies employing over 250 people have to produce plans, is very good. Will the Minister have another look at this and see what can be done to strengthen it and make progress a lot quicker than it is now?
To a certain extent I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness. The Equal Pay Act was brought in in 1970 and strengthened through the Equality Act 2010, but we still hear stories about huge disparities in pay between men and women who do pretty much the same job. The legislation has recently been updated, and any employer who is not paying men and women who do the same or a similar job equally is liable to court action. There is a very strong regime in place for that.
Russia and Ukraine: Seizure of Naval Vessels
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Russia regarding their capture of three Ukrainian naval vessels in the waters off the Crimean Peninsula.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have not held bilateral discussions with the Russian Government on this issue. Emergency meetings of the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the OSCE will today discuss Russia’s flagrant breach of the rules-based international system. The United Kingdom position is clear—ships must be allowed free passage in the Sea of Azov. We urge all parties to act with restraint.
My Lords, I am reassured that we are working through NATO and, I hope, through the European Union co-operative mechanisms while we still have them for a few more months. Are we confident that our major allies—the French, the Germans and the United States—hold as strong a position on this as we do? If the Russians succeed in converting the Sea of Azov into an internal sea, that will have a devastating effect on the economy of a substantial chunk of Ukraine because of the port of Mariupol.
Regrettably, these developments represent a step change in the creeping annexation by Russia of the Sea of Azov. Indeed, Russia’s use of force, including the use of firearms against Ukraine’s vessels, marks a clear aggression. The actions are a breach of international law and of various multilateral and bilateral conventions, including the 2003 bilateral agreement with Ukraine on freedom of navigation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. The United Kingdom and our allies have made clear our profound disquiet at that action.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s commitment to continue to work with our EU partners, as the noble Lord suggests, which is vital, as is suggesting that we have restraint—which has to be based also on the effective measures that we are taking. Will she make representations to the Government of Ukraine to suggest that they avoid using this incident to introduce martial law or to cancel next year’s elections? Such a move would be a backward step, certainly for democracy in Ukraine.
I understand that, as we speak, the Ukrainian parliament is considering a declaration of martial law, and it is entitled to consider its options. Ukraine certainly has found itself the victim of conduct that invites global condemnation, and we must respect the role of its parliament to take whatever action it thinks fit by way of response.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that this act by the Russians is not, like all the other things they do in eastern Ukraine, deniable in any way, because it is an act by the Russian navy? Also, is not the use of force to enforce a blockade in fact an act of war?
I hear the noble Lord’s definition; it is certainly an act of aggression. It is a further example of Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The UK regards the annexation of Crimea as illegal, as was the construction of the Kerch bridge earlier this year. We issued a Statement on 19 November calling on Russia to allow free passage through the Kerch Strait for merchant ships travelling to and from the Sea of Azov.
Does my noble friend agree that this is all part of a strategy? The Russians will never leave Ukraine alone. This is all part of a bigger plan to increase the reliance of western Europe, particularly Germany, on Russian gas, to undercut the Americans and to cut Ukraine out of the transmission system. Does she accept that this is Russia’s strategic aim and that we should recognise it in both our foreign policy and energy policy?
It is certainly indicative of a grave attitude to a sovereign country. There has been global condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the response of the international community to this recent breach of international law is important. The international community, in the form of the United Nations Security Council, the OSCE and NATO, is well placed with its member participants to consider an appropriate response to this unacceptable conduct.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that it has been stated that we are sending a warship to the Black Sea but, as I understand it, it is in fact a survey ship. If things are hotting up in the Black Sea, to send a ship into harm’s way that is not capable of looking after itself is not a clever idea. Should it be reviewed? Perhaps we should send a ship such as a 45, which is able to look after itself in these circumstances.
I am very reluctant to comment on specific operational matters for reasons that your Lordships will understand. The MoD response to such situations is carefully assessed and reviewed; any decision to deploy our ships would be made after only the most careful assessment of all the circumstances.
My Lords, following from my noble friend’s comment that this is a step change in Russian aggression, does she not think that the Ministry of Defence should perhaps look more closely at what it spends our money on and whether it should spend more on, for instance, cyber measures and, indeed, conventional warfare, given what the Russians have just done?
With all the recent—by which I mean over the last few years—reviews of MoD and defence capacity and strategic assessment of what the future holds, I can reassure my noble friend that significant investment has been made in our defence capability. That includes very sophisticated work with our security and intelligence services.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Russians feel more able to do this while western Europe is preoccupied with Brexit and while the United States is coping with Trump? Russia interfered with the referendum and his election. Would it not make us more skilful and adept in reacting and responding appropriately to Russia if we were to abandon the foolishness of Brexit?
We have to deal with global situations as they arise. I happen to think that this issue probably has nothing whatever to do with Brexit. What the international community has to do is exactly what it is doing: in a responsible and swift fashion, at very senior levels of engagement at the United Nations, NATO and the OSCE, considering the best way to respond to the situation.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that calling on Russia to show restraint in such circumstances is a completely pointless exercise? It will just provoke a lot of belly laughs in the Kremlin. The one thing the Russians understand is concrete sanctions. Will the Government, jointly with our EU allies, consider how the sanctions that they are already imposing on Russia as a result of its failure to observe the Minsk agreement can be suitably enhanced on this occasion?
As the noble Lord will be aware, the EU has recently strengthened sanctions related to Crimea by listing individuals and entities who were responsible for the construction of the illegal Kerch bridge. We continue to work closely with all our international partners to ensure that sanctions remain in place as long as Russia’s control of the peninsula continues.
I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes: this is no accident of timing. The Kremlin does not take such actions unless there is a clear understanding of what the consequences might be. It is no secret that Mr Putin hopes to destabilise NATO and undermine the European Union. This action is clearly part of that concerted plan.
The UK has made its response clear. I reaffirm that it is very important that we do not act exclusively and on our own in relation to such an incident, and that we act with the appropriate senior partners in NATO, the United Nations and the OSCE. That is the effective and appropriate way to respond to something like this.
My Lords, are territorial waters in the Azov Sea clearly delineated and accepted by the powers involved in this struggle?
My understanding is that, unlike the Black Sea which is regarded as an area of international waters, the Sea of Azov—being virtually landlocked by two countries—has been the subject of bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine. That was a 2003 agreement; it dealt with freedom of navigation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Those two countries are perfectly entitled to make that bilateral agreement but one expects both sides to honour and respect it, and not so blatantly to contravene and breach it as has been evident recently.
Stalking Protection Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Parking (Code of Practice) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2018
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 17 October be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 21 November
Infrastructure Planning (Water Resources) (England) Order 2018
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 18 October be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 21 November
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House, but I could not be in the Grand Committee on Wednesday and I have a very simple question. I congratulate my noble friend on bringing this order to the House, but my concern relates to the provisions of the Reservoirs Act 1971. We need more reservoirs and more water to be retained on land by farmers, landowners, golf clubs and caravan parks. Can he put my mind at rest that this provision will be entirely in keeping with, or even amend, the Reservoirs Act to make that possible?
My Lords, I understand that it is the Reservoirs Act 1975. This provision deals with the Planning Act 2008 and, as I described in Grand Committee, this is an entirely separate matter. All matters relating to safety encompassed by these major projects also come within the prism of the Reservoirs Act 1975, so these are extensions of the Planning Act 2008.
Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill
Order of Commitment Discharged
That the order of commitment be discharged.
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill
Clause 1: Voyeurism: additional offences
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, before “humiliating” insert “invading the privacy of B, whether or not by”
My Lords, Amendment 1 is in my name and that of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I apologise for not having been present at Second Reading. I was in Udaipur, India, for the wedding of my son Joel to Dhara Shah, and very enjoyable it was. However, as the Minister knows, I have taken an interest in this Bill since before it arrived in this House.
I strongly support the Bill. It will provide much-needed criminal sanctions for offences that cause substantial distress to victims, but my concern is that, as drafted, it might fail some victims. The problem is that each of the offences created by Clause 1—that is, operating equipment or recording an image beneath the clothing of another person—is dependent on proof by the prosecution that the defendant has acted for a purpose mentioned in new Section 67A(3). There are two unlawful purposes: obtaining sexual gratification, and humiliating, alarming or distressing the victim.
My concern is that it is absolutely inevitable that some men—it will almost always be men—who are accused of this offence will say that they did the act of voyeurism not for the purpose of sexual gratification or for humiliating, alarming or distressing the victim, but for the purpose of “having a laugh”. Of course, there is nothing remotely funny about these offences for the victim. I recognise that the prosecution will invite the magistrate or the jury to reject any such defence, but there is a real risk that the defence may succeed in at least some cases, perhaps because the jury will be confused by the need for the prosecution to prove one of the specified purposes.
I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, at Second Reading. At col. 789 of Hansard, she talked about defence barristers seeking for their clients “a legal loophole”. There is a potential loophole here; indeed, one so large that it would be more appropriate to described it as a manhole. My amendment is designed to deal with this by providing that the defendant commits a criminal offence if the prosecution can prove that the defendant acted for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification or for the purpose of invading the privacy of the victim, whether or not by humiliating, alarming or distressing them.
The amendment would not alter the structure of the offence. It would retain the need for a mental element—that is, proof of the defendant’s purpose. It would retain the imposition of notification requirements only on those who commit the offence for reasons of sexual gratification, which the Government are rightly concerned about. However, it would prevent defendants adding to the distress of their victims by running a wholly unmeritorious defence which may, in some cases, result in them escaping justice. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment and I also support the Bill. I say to the Minister that the amendment is intended to be helpful.
I have been reflecting on the possibility that this might happen to me. From time to time, I wear very wide skirts, and more than once, in going up and down the stairs to the Tube, the skirt has come right up. I can just imagine a young man thinking it irresistible to stick his iPhone under my skirt as it goes right up for a lark. He might then say that it was not intended and that he did not think he would humiliate me. Quite simply, I would not be humiliated, alarmed or distressed. I would be extremely angry. And if I got the chance, I would put my leg exactly where you think I might. Bear this example in mind. In my view, it is not covered by the current wording of the clause because the action lacks intent and, much more importantly, was done to an elderly woman who then did not suffer any of the suggested reactions. As my noble friend Lord Pannick said, there is a gap—a manhole—and victims such as myself would not be covered.
I am sure the Minister had no hand in drafting this, but it is a well-meaning example of male paternalism. Nice, decent elderly men think that this is how all women would feel, but I am one who does not. For that reason, I strongly support this amendment.
My Lords, I too support the Bill. I have seen something happen to a man’s kilt that was almost exactly as described by the noble and learned Baroness and equally embarrassing.
With great respect to those who tabled the amendment, I am not quite sure that they have found a solution to the problem they have identified for a reason I shall try to explain. New Section 67A has a number of subsections and, as I read it, subsection (1) describes the action of the person and subsection (3) describes the purpose for which the action is being taken or resorted to. The trouble with “invading the privacy of B” is that those words describe the action. The words in new subsection (1)(a),
“operates equipment beneath the clothing of another person”,
is an example of invading the privacy of that person by operating something beneath their clothing.
Therefore, I wonder whether the amendment is entirely right. The purposes are set out in new subsection (3) and my problem is that the wording of the amendment describes acts rather than purposes. We are in Committee and it might be worth reflecting on the aim—which I quite understand is being properly addressed by the words suggested.
My Lords, I, too, fully support the underlying objective of this legislation, and apologise for not having played a part in any of the earlier processes.
Reading these amendments today has given me pause for thought along the same lines as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. My noble friend Lord Pannick describes this as a manhole or loophole in the legislation that can be got round. However, the whole point, surely, of new subsection (2)(c) is to limit the application of this provision. You look for a purpose and then you define the purpose in new subsection (3). However, if you include within that any invasion of the privacy of B, frankly, you might as well strike out the whole requirement for a purpose. Whether, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope said, this is to be regarded as a purpose at all, if you do what is set out in new paragraphs (a) and (b), inevitably you are invading the privacy of B. Therefore that makes it otiose to have any reference to a purpose at all; it is unlimited.
As for an unlimited provision, I am agnostic—or hesitant—as to whether that is a good idea, but it is no good persuading ourselves that you are consistently with a purpose and then accommodating the amendment.
My Lords, I too apologise for not having been here at Second Reading, but I have had the opportunity of reading the short debate.
In Section 67 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, there is a mens rea, as it were, simply for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification. Unfortunately, one has to pose the question of why anyone is doing this at all—I think it used to be assumed that it must be for some form of rather strange sexual gratification—and this addition of “humiliating, alarming or distressing” is added to cover the possibility that there might be some other motive. Those words are familiar and often interpreted in one context or another in the criminal law, whereas I am unaware—I will be corrected if I am wrong—that the concept of invading privacy finds much resonance in the criminal law, although of course it is reflected in other aspects of our law, not least in Article 8 of the European convention.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, rightly said that we do not want anyone who should be capable of relying on a defence to have one in circumstances where it would be unattractive if they did, and he cited a particular instance of someone having a laugh. He then gave the game away by saying it would be unfortunate if they could say this despite the distress that might be caused to the individual who had been the victim of this. Whose laugh are we talking about? Presumably we are talking about misjudged humour on the part of the perpetrator, not the amusement of the victim of this invasion. I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, that if there is to be a purposes clause, it is sufficiently wide. I think a magistrate directing himself or herself with the addition of a clerk would have no difficulty in considering this; nor would a recorder have any difficulty in directing a jury to consider this, so that if somebody said in their defence, “I was only doing it for a laugh”, they simply would not be believed.
My Lords, I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I am not sure that invading the privacy is not just as much a purpose as an activity. I shall be brief in support of Amendments 2 and 3 in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lady Burt of Solihull.
I made it relatively clear at Second Reading that I would have preferred the specified purposes provision to be omitted altogether, and in that regard I go further than the agnosticism of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. That would mean that an offence would be committed by anyone taking upskirting images without the consent of the victim, though I would add a different proviso: so long as the action of taking or recording the images was not accidental. This could have been quite easily achieved in the legislation by the use of a word such as “deliberately”, and would have constituted an acceptable required level of mens rea—or guilty state of mind—to constitute the behaviour criminal. But my chief concern, and that of my noble friend Lady Burt and others, has been to ensure that no one is permitted to avoid criminal liability by running the defence that he lacked the required purpose. The amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is designed to achieve that end.
I would add another problem that has not been covered. There is a concern that the specified purpose in new Section 67A(3)(b)—that is “humiliating, alarming or distressing” the victim, would be entirely absent, not only in the case of the robust constitution professed by the noble and learned Lady, Lady Butler-Sloss, but also in a case where the perpetrator intends to avoid detection by the victim by taking or recording the images without the victim knowing. If the victim is not to know of the behaviour, then she cannot be humiliated, alarmed or distressed by it. In such a case, the only remaining—
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The distress may not be something the victim is aware of at the time it takes place, but were they to become aware—which ex hypothesi they would in the case of a prosecution—surely then they would suffer humiliation and distress, having found out what had been done to them.
I do not accept that, because in some cases these images would be published and a prosecution would follow without the victim ever being traced. The victim may not know the images are of her—there may be distinctive parts, there may not—but there may be cases where distress can come either with the prosecution or later. In the proposed new section as it stands, the prosecution has to prove that the intention of the perpetrator was to bring about that distress. That seems an unnecessary complication and hurdle to erect in front of the prosecution so that it has to prove that purpose to secure a conviction.
There may well be cases in which the perpetrator can say that sexual gratification, whether for himself or another person, was not his intention or purpose—the example has been given of “having a laugh”. In Amendment 2, we have identified financial gain, where these images are to be published to make money, as another intention. In Amendment 3, we have identified entertainment or amusement, which is another way of saying “having a laugh”, as another.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, has argued that financial gain will be achieved by the creation of these images or recordings only if they are to be sold for someone’s sexual gratification. I am not sure that this is entirely true. I believe that, in some circumstances, financial gain may be made by unscrupulous individuals peddling sick humour arising from such images, with no intention on the perpetrator’s part to secure sexual gratification for anyone, whether others may view them for that purpose or not. The purpose of the perpetrator must be proved, not the coincidental fact that others may get sexual gratification from viewing such images later.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is elegant and cleverly covers our point. However, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, indicated to us that he might look on that amendment favourably even if I have not persuaded the Government—I am not sure that I have persuaded the Minister—of the merits of our amendments. I hope that I have done so; I do not see the difficulty in accepting our amendments. We regard them as improving the Bill by specifically outlawing taking or recording images for financial gain or for entertainment or amusement. Our amendments can be taken with those in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, which I hope the Government will accept in any event. The point is to avoid people who clearly should be convicted of offences under this new and welcome legislation unjustly running defences of absence of the relevant purpose and getting away with it.
My Lords, I will add briefly to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss and my noble friend Lord Marks. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, will already have gathered, we welcome Amendment 1, which would widen the offence to include,
“invading the privacy of B, whether or not by”,
humiliating, alarming or distressing them, for the reasons he has given.
Amendment 2 would widen the motivations to include financial gain by the person who took the photo or whoever has distributed it. Upskirting images are freely and easily available on the internet; this amendment spells out that anyone profiting from their distribution is committing a criminal offence.
Amendment 3 cuts off the defence that a group of “lads”—however old they may be—were bonding, having a laugh and did not mean any harm. It is not okay, whatever the motivation of the perpetrator or perpetrators, if the person has not consented. I believe that it is worth spelling that out. These points deserve to be made even if they do not make it into the Bill.
My Lords, once more I rise in support of the Bill, and I know that it is rightly supported by Members on all sides of the House. After a lot of thought and some discussion, including with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I will stick to my Second Reading position that the Bill should pass through this House swiftly and completely unamended. I have two reasons for sticking to that position, the first pragmatic, but no worse for it, and the second a legal policy reason.
I will take the amendments in reverse order. I am very glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has abandoned his earlier preference for strict liability sex offences, which would be a very illiberal innovation in our criminal law. I take his point about accidental occurrences and so on, but I do not find either Amendment 2 or Amendment 3 to be particularly attractive or to add anything to the Bill.
That brings me to the trickier conundrum of the unsurprisingly elegant amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I will be clear: I prefer their drafting. It is a more perfect, forensic approach to this criminal activity that we are trying to catch than the Bill’s wording. But here is my problem: the pragmatic concern is that I do not want to send this Bill back to the House of Commons in its current state—for the avoidance of doubt, I mean the current state of the House of Commons, not the current state of the Bill. I do not want this very important additional protection for women in England and Wales to fall by the wayside. I do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good at this febrile political moment, when legislators are not able to do everything we would prefer them to do.
That is my pragmatic point, but there is a serious legal policy point as well: the language with which this offence has been formulated comes from the criminal statute book of another jurisdiction not very far from here—it comes from Scotland, where, we are told, this offence has been in operation without the spurious defences that great legal minds in your Lordships’ House have posited. These defences have not successfully been made and the narrow interpretation of the word “humiliate” has not been used in Scotland. I am concerned about your Lordships’ House doing and saying anything on the public record that would cast that broader interpretation of “to humiliate” into doubt in the Scottish jurisdiction. While I absolutely would prefer the formulation from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I want, at least for the time being, because I believe that the Government say that this offence will be under review for a short period, to prefer, in concert with other noble Lords—especially the Minister, whose words will really count for the purposes of Hansard—a more objective reading of this concept of humiliation, which is not necessarily about the feelings of the victim of the offence. It is about the intended action of the perpetrator.
In thinking about this, I have looked at many dictionary definitions of the verb to humiliate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and other noble Lords, I too was concerned that the test of causing a humiliation might be too high: it sought too dramatic and negative an emotional effect on the victim. However, if noble Lords look at dictionary definitions of the verb “humiliate”, or at synonyms in thesauruses and so on, they will find that the test is not as high as they might think. To humiliate means to humble, to lower, to demean, to crush, to interfere with the dignity—that is a phrase I have seen in such dictionaries and thesauruses. Surely in 2018 we can agree that to intrude on a person’s privacy in this way—usually a woman, although I agree that it could be a man in a kilt—can only be to somehow lower, crush, demean, humble, et cetera. Otherwise, there is no laugh, no entertainment. If it were not intrusive, it would not be funny, entertaining, amusing, et cetera. That is one reading, the reading that has clearly worked to date in Scotland. It is the reading I prefer, in order not to cast doubt on that criminal offence and its enforceability in Scotland and to be in solidarity with that system and those victims.
If I am proved wrong down the road, so be it. Then there would be a further conundrum about how to ensure that both jurisdictions improve the formulation of the offence, but for the moment I do not see that it is necessary and I make that argument of interpretation alongside the pragmatic one about the need to complete the passage of this vital Bill, on which we can all agree, through this House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The Bill creates two new offences to capture instances where a person takes an upskirt image for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification and/or causing humiliation, distress or alarm to the victim. It also ensures that the most serious offenders, where the purpose of the offending is for sexual gratification, are made subject to notification requirements—colloquially known as being put on the sex offenders register. In speaking to Amendment 1, I will speak also to Amendments 2 and 3.
Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, does not add an additional purpose but replaces the purpose of humiliating, alarming or distressing the victim with a purpose of invasion of privacy, whether or not the perpetrator intends to humiliate, distress or alarm the victim. The prosecution would therefore need to show that the perpetrator intended to invade the victim’s privacy—or to obtain sexual gratification under the existing first purpose—to be guilty of one of the new offences.
Amendments 2 and 3, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, would add a third and/or a fourth purpose for which a perpetrator could commit either of the new upskirting offences contained within the Bill. They seek to ensure that those who commit upskirting for financial gain, or for entertainment or amusement, would be caught by the offences. There is support, as we have heard today, from all sides of your Lordships’ House to ensure that the law is suitably robust to protect victims from the distressing practice of upskirting. I recognise that these three amendments are well intentioned and that noble Lords are trying to be helpful, but they are unnecessary and may delay the passage of what is a good Bill as drafted. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for her support in this.
Amendment 1 seeks to address concerns that perpetrators can argue that they had no intention to humiliate, distress or alarm the victim and, by doing so, get away with this heinous behaviour. The amendment is based on the view that, because by its very nature the act of upskirting is an invasion of privacy, it would be easier for a perpetrator to be caught by the Bill if it was drafted in this way, compared with the need to establish an intention to humiliate, alarm or distress the victim, as it is currently drafted.
The amendment would include those who may claim they committed an act of upskirting for financial gain, such as the paparazzi, which is the issue that Amendment 2 seeks to address; those doing it “for a laugh” or for entertainment or amusement, which is the issue that Amendment 3 seeks to address; or indeed those who claim that the victim could not have felt humiliated, distressed, or alarmed because they did not know that upskirting had taken place.
However, I am not convinced that Amendments 1, 2 and 3 address these specific concerns any better than the purposes as currently drafted, and I remain confident that the existing purposes will capture all those who should be criminalised for this behaviour, including those who would come under the proposed purposes set out in the amendments. Obtaining sexual gratification and humiliating, alarming or distressing a victim is terminology which is clear, appropriate, and familiar to criminal justice agencies and the courts. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for her definition of “humiliating”. I too have looked it up in a dictionary and it is indeed very broad; nor is the bar set particularly high, I think.
Perpetrators of upskirting will likely have several different purposes or motivations when conducting themselves in this way. For example, if someone took an upskirt image because of their voyeuristic tendencies or because they were going to put it on a pornographic website, or have it published in some other way, they would likely be captured because there is a clear inference that their purpose was to obtain sexual gratification or so that another person could obtain sexual gratification.
It is no defence, with regard to the current purposes, to say that the victim was not aware that an upskirt image had been taken and therefore would not actively feel humiliated. It is the intent of the perpetrator when upskirting their victim which is key here: this is a fundamentally covert practice and the victim may not know it is happening at the time. The fact that the victim is therefore spared the humiliation, alarm or distress when the upskirting occurs does not change the fact that this was the perpetrator’s intent in taking the image in the first place. If it was not, the most likely alternative is that the perpetrator intended to obtain sexual gratification, which remains the other purpose in any event.
In relation to Amendment 2, if an upskirt image of a celebrity is published in a newspaper or shown on any other media outlet, the image will be of interest and therefore may have value because of the humiliation, alarm or distress that is, or is intended to be, caused to the victim. Whether or not a person was paid for the image does not detract from the humiliation caused, but the act of offering it for publication might be taken into account at the sentencing stage as making the offence more serious. It does not matter whether it was the person who took the image or the person they intended to share it with who has the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification or causing humiliation—the new offences apply in either case. Indeed, where there is sufficient evidence that the purpose for taking an upskirt image was, for example, to humiliate the victim, a perpetrator could be charged regardless of any other reasons, financial or otherwise, they might have for taking the photograph. There is also a concern that “financial gain” is itself not defined and would need to be in order to be properly understood and interpreted in the context of upskirting and other sexual offences legislation.
Turning to Amendment 3, if someone takes an upskirt image “for a laugh”—or, to put it another way, for entertainment or amusement—it is clearly implicit that the laugh, entertainment or amusement derives from the humiliation, alarm or distress caused to the victim. The primary reason the upskirt image has entertainment value, to the perpetrator or anyone else, is again because of the humiliation, alarm or distress caused to the victim. Therefore, this behaviour will be caught by the purposes as currently drafted.
It is worth noting that Amendment 1 could limit the flexibility the Bill currently provides—for example, the existing purpose of intending to humiliate, alarm, or distress covers a case where a person takes an upskirt image to bond with friends or peers. It is less clear that the courts would consider that the friend—or “the lad”—looking at these images could be said to have the purpose of invading the victim’s privacy. This could be termed as a loophole.
I also wonder whether Amendment 1 would overcome the evidential issue that the noble Lord is concerned about. It is at least as arguable that the intent to humiliate is as intrinsic to the practice of upskirting as the intent to invade privacy. Surely the likely effect of the amendment would be to shift the focus of argument from whether a person intended to humiliate or distress a victim to whether they intended to invade their privacy. At this point I turn to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and her blowing up skirt. Would she have the expectation of privacy if her skirt had blown up? That argument would be had in the courts—another possible loophole, or indeed a manhole.
When considering how this amendment is framed, we must also keep in mind the specific gap in the law which these new offences address: those cases of upskirting which happen in a place or in circumstances where it could be argued that there was no reasonable expectation to privacy or no privacy to be invaded. It is therefore possible that by introducing a notion of privacy into these new offences, uncertainty would once again arise in relation to the same problem that they are being introduced to address.
The Bill reflects the parameters of similar offences in Scotland, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. Changing the purposes in this Bill, which applies to England and Wales, might suggest that we feel that the Scottish legislation does not go far enough. However, our Scottish counterparts have advised that, following an analysis of reported cases since the introduction of the offences, there has been no indication that their provisions are unduly restrictive or that they have caused problems for prosecutors. There is therefore no evidence to suggest that the legislation will fail, as feared by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, or that the purposes are not helpful, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Marks.
The new offences, once in place, must work as intended. That is why the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer MP, committed on Report in the other place to the Government reviewing the operation of these offences two years after they come into force. This will include working with the police and the CPS to carry out a review of cases to identify any issues with the legislation. We will report our findings to Parliament on completion of the review.
I have listened carefully to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate this afternoon. I recognise that the amendments in this group are well intentioned and designed to be helpful. However, I am confident that the Bill as drafted achieves what it sets out to do. Any amendments made in your Lordships’ House will need to be considered in the other place in due course. I do not believe that any of these amendments improves the Bill in a way that merits a potential delay. On that basis, I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for her thoughtful and detailed response to my amendment, and to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, distress for the victim is almost inevitable once she knows of the act of upskirting—though not in all cases, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has told the Committee. The problem is that the offence as defined in the Bill will require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that “humiliating, alarming or distressing” the victim is the purpose of the wrongdoer.
I see the force of the Minister’s point that the “laugh” can be said to be the consequence of humiliation, alarm or distress. The difficulty remains, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out, that it will almost always be the intention or purpose of the wrongdoer that the victim should not know of the act of upskirting. That would enable the wrongdoer to argue that it was not his purpose to humiliate, alarm or distress, although he will be forced to concede that once the victim knows what has happened, she—with the exception of the noble and learned Baroness and others who think like her—will be humiliated, alarmed or distressed. The prosecution have to prove purpose. That is the problem, as I see it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, told the House candidly that she would prefer the drafting in Amendment 1—I see her nodding. She expressed two concerns, which were echoed by the Minister. The first is a pragmatic concern that this Bill should not be sent back to the other place because that will cause delay and there are uncertainties about what would happen to it. With great respect, that is a wholly unrealistic concern. If this amendment has force, and if the Government were to accept it—I know they do not—or were to accept some redrafting that addresses the concerns that have been expressed, it is simply inconceivable that the House of Commons could not find government time to consider the matter again. How long would it take? On ping-pong, the House of Commons deals with the most complex matters in 30 minutes or an hour. I simply do not accept that this a real concern—it could be raised about any Bill on any important subject. It is surely our job to try to get legislation right.
The second concern related to Scotland, where these defences have not so far succeeded. There is limited experience there. Our concern is not to cast doubt on Scottish legislation but to raise real concerns about what will happen in practice. We are enacting legislation, and we should get it right, not just follow the Scottish experience if we are persuaded that amendments are required.
I found the points made by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, more troubling. As I understood them, neither disputed that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, other noble Lords and I have raised real concerns about potential loopholes—or manholes. I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, nodding. Their concern is whether the solution we are proffering is the right one. I will consider that, as will, I am sure, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, before Report.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with all interested noble Lords and the Minister whether we can reach agreement on an amendment that in no way damages the strength of the Bill but removes a potential loophole. I am not wedded to this particular solution; I am concerned about the problem. I think we have to get this right. In the other place, when this subject was discussed in June, Diana Johnson MP asked,
“how many hours of debate … will be required for Members to arrive at the conclusion that the taking of photographs underneath, mainly, women’s clothes by perverts is a bad thing?”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/18; col. 48.]
We have taken 45 minutes, which I think that is a valuable use of parliamentary time. I think this is a subject we should return to, no doubt briefly, on Report, and a subject that may well require an amendment to the Bill, which I hope we can achieve by agreement. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“(3A) It is an offence for a person (A) to disclose an image of another person (B) recorded during the commission of an offence under subsection (2) if the disclosure is made without B’s consent. (3B) It is a defence for a person (A) charged with an offence under subsection (3A) to prove—(a) that disclosure of the image was necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, or(b) that (A) did not disclose the image with the intent of disclosing an image of another person’s genitals, buttocks or underwear.”
My Lords, Amendment 4 stands in the names of my noble friend Lord Marks and myself. The proposed new subsections (3A) and (3B) in Amendment 4 would widen the offence to all disclosures made without consent, with a get-out clause to cover the situation if a picture is inadvertently taken—for example, by a member of the paparazzi.
Researchers from Durham University have found that upskirt videos are easily and freely available on mainstream pornography websites. Over a period of just six months they found close to 2,500 videos on the landing page of the UK’s top three most accessed porn sites, depicting acts that can be classed as forms of image-based sexual abuse. Importantly, these titles were on the very front page of these mainstream sites, freely and easily accessible for a first-time user. They are not hidden.
We know from victim-survivors that their intimate images often end up on porn sites, viewed thousands of times and seriously amplifying the harms that they experience, making things worse. Once the images are uploaded to porn sites, getting them taken down from all sites is then extremely difficult.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, mentioned Scotland. As we know, Scotland has recently criminalised the distribution of upskirting images. Its new law came into effect in July last year. Since then, 421 incidents have been recorded by police. Analysts have concluded that while some of these cases may have been recorded as a different crime or offence had they occurred prior to the new law coming into effect, it is likely that the clear majority of them would not have been classified as a sexual crime.
It is also the case that the enactment of that legislation extended the criminal law to criminalise certain conduct that previously may not have been illegal. This analysis demonstrates that an offence of distribution is a useful tool for the police, and I hope the Minister will also recognise the value of such an offence.
My Lords, I have one quick question: does this apply to men wearing kilts as well as to women wearing skirts?
My Lords, I can address that question very quickly: yes, it does. This is a non-gender-specific piece of legislation.
Amendment 4 would create a further offence of disclosing an upskirt image to another person without the consent of the person in the image. It would also provide for two defences for this offence: namely, that the disclosure of the image was necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, or that the image was not disclosed with the intent of disclosing an image of another person’s genitals, buttocks or underwear.
The Government share the concerns around the onward sharing of upskirt images and understands the very real harm that this causes victims. It is important to send a clear message that sharing such images without consent is unacceptable and causes humiliation, alarm and distress. It is therefore important that we ensure that the law is sufficiently robust to protect victims from this disturbing practice. However, the Bill is intended to close a small gap in the law around the taking of upskirt images, which is just one aspect of a far wider problem. Legislating for the non-consensual sharing of intimate or naked images, including upskirt images, is a far more complex issue than the offences covered by the Bill.
That is why the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice committed in the other place to ask the Law Commission to review the taking and sharing of all non-consensual intimate images. This will be a broad review looking at how technological change has enabled new types of harmful behaviour and how the law needs to evolve to tackle it. The Ministry of Justice is currently working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Law Commission to consider how best to take this important and wide-ranging piece of work forward. This will build on the detailed and insightful report on online and offensive communications published by the Law Commission on 1 November. The report makes several recommendations about how the criminal law could be reformed to tackle abusive and harmful online communications.
The Government are committed to providing a cross-government response to those complex issues to ensure that such abuse is tackled appropriately and effectively. As drafted, the new offences in the Bill capture someone who records an upskirt image for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification for themselves or so that another person can do so. The same is true for the second purpose of humiliating, distressing or alarming the victim.
If someone convicted of taking an upskirt image has also shared it, whether on a pornography site or elsewhere, any additional harm caused by this would also be taken into account in sentencing. The two-year maximum sentence for the new offences is a serious penalty that fully reflects the harm caused.
Furthermore, a matter which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, which may include the distribution of non-consensual intimate imagery, such as an upskirt photo—or the threat to distribute the same—are activities already criminalised under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988. If there was a course of conduct in relation to this type of behaviour, because it happened on more than one occasion, it could also be captured by the Protection from Harassment Act.
We have laws to cover distribution, but we recognise that we need to review all of them to ensure that there are no gaps. There is also an important role for industry to play in tackling online abuse. That is why YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others all have terms and conditions that state that they will remove upskirt images.
However, important questions remain that must be considered before we can legislate effectively in this area. The amendment could criminalise someone who receives and shares an upskirt image, even if they did not know that it had been taken without consent. It is not always obvious from images whether the person being photographed consented.
Legislating for the distribution of upskirt images in the Bill risks over-criminalising or inappropriately criminalising all aspects of this behaviour. By legislating for upskirt images in isolation, there is a risk of cutting across broader work under way in this very important area and potentially jeopardising the opportunity to legislate more widely. On this basis, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. I very much take her point that this is a complex issue and that other laws have been effected and could be used. It will have become apparent to the Committee that I am not a lawyer, but I feel a strong sense that this is an issue that we should consider. I take the point about the Law Commission review, which is under way at the moment, and with my noble friend Lord Marks and others, we will reflect on the Minister’s comments. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2 agreed
Bill reported without amendment.
Leaving the European Union
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the conclusion of our negotiations to leave the European Union. At yesterday’s special European Council in Brussels, I reached a deal with the leaders of the other 27 EU member states on a withdrawal agreement that will ensure our smooth and orderly departure on 29 March next year; and, tied to this agreement, a political declaration on an ambitious future partnership that is in our national interest.
This is the right deal for Britain because it delivers on the democratic decision of the people. It takes back control of our borders. It ends the free movement of people in full once and for all, allowing the Government to introduce a new skills-based immigration system. It takes back control of our laws. It ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK and means instead our laws being made in our Parliaments, enforced by our courts. It takes back control of our money; it ends the vast annual payments we send to Brussels. So instead we can spend taxpayers’ money on our own priorities, including the £394 million a week of extra investment in our long-term plan for the National Health Service.
By creating a new free trade area with no tariffs, fees, charges, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks, this deal protects jobs, including those that rely on integrated supply chains. It protects our security with a close relationship on defence and on tackling crime and terrorism, which will help to keep all our people safe. It protects the integrity of our United Kingdom, meeting our commitments in Northern Ireland and delivering for the whole UK family, including our overseas territories and the Crown dependencies.
On Gibraltar, we have worked constructively with the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar, and I want pay tribute in particular to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo for his statesmanship in these negotiations. We have ensured that Gibraltar is covered by the whole withdrawal agreement and by the implementation period. For the future partnership, the UK Government will be negotiating for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar. As Fabian Picardo said this weekend:
‘Every aspect of the response of the United Kingdom was agreed with the Government of Gibraltar. We have worked seamlessly together in this as we have in all other aspects of this two year period of negotiation. Most importantly, the legal text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement has not been changed. That is what the Spanish Government repeatedly sought. But they have not achieved that. The United Kingdom has not let us down’.
Our message to the people of Gibraltar is clear: we will always stand by you. We are proud that Gibraltar is British and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change.
The withdrawal agreement will ensure that we leave the European Union on 29 March next year in a smooth and orderly way. It protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU, so they can carry on living their lives as before. It delivers a time-limited implementation period to give business time to prepare for the new arrangements. During the implementation period trade will continue on current terms so businesses have to face only one set of changes. It ensures a fair settlement of our financial obligations—less than half of what some originally expected and demanded. It also meets our commitment to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—and no customs border in the Irish Sea—in the event that the future relationship is not ready by the end of the implementation period.
I know that some Members remain concerned that we could find ourselves stuck in this backstop. So let me address this directly. First, this is an insurance policy that no one wants to use. Both the UK and the EU are fully committed to having our future relationship in place by 1 January 2021. The withdrawal agreement has a legal duty on both sides to use best endeavours to avoid the backstop ever coming into force. If, despite this, the future relationship is not ready by the end of 2020, we would not be forced to use the backstop. We would have a clear choice between the backstop or a short extension to the implementation period.
If we did choose the backstop, the legal text is clear that it should be temporary and that the Article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. There is now more flexibility so that it can be superseded, either by the future relationship or by alternative arrangements, which include the potential for facilitative arrangements and technologies to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
There is also a termination clause, which allows the backstop to be turned off when we have fulfilled our commitments on the Northern Ireland border. There is a unilateral right to trigger a review through the joint committee and the ability to seek independent arbitration if the EU does not use good faith in this process. Furthermore, as a result of the changes we have negotiated, the legal text is now also clear that once the backstop has been superseded it shall ‘cease to apply’. So if a future Parliament decided to then move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one the backstop could not return.
I do not pretend that either we or the EU are entirely happy with these arrangements, and that is how it must be. Were either party entirely happy, that party would have no incentive to move on to the future relationship. But there is no alternative deal that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland which does not involve this insurance policy, and the EU would not have agreed any future partnership without it. Put simply, there is no deal that comes without a backstop, and without a backstop there is no deal.
The withdrawal agreement is accompanied by a political declaration, which sets out the scope and terms of an ambitious future relationship between the UK and the EU. It is a detailed set of instructions to negotiators that will be used to deliver a legal agreement on our future relationship after we have left. The linkage clause between the withdrawal agreement and this declaration requires both sides to use best endeavours to get this legal text agreed and implemented by the end of 2020. Both sides are committed to making preparations for an immediate start to the formal negotiations after our withdrawal.
The declaration contains specific detail on our future economic relationship. This includes a new free trade area with no tariffs, fees, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks—an unprecedented economic relationship that no other major economy has. It includes liberalisation in trade in services well beyond WTO commitments and building on recent EU free trade agreements. It includes new arrangements for our financial services sector, ensuring market access cannot be withdrawn on a whim and providing stability and certainty for our world-leading industry. It ensures that we will leave EU programmes that do not work in our interests, so we will be out of the common agricultural policy that has failed our farmers and out of the common fisheries policy that has failed our coastal communities. Instead, as the political declaration sets out, we will be ‘an independent coastal state’ once again. We will take back full sovereign control over our waters, so we will be able to decide for ourselves who we allow to fish in our waters. The EU has maintained throughout this process that it wanted to link overall access to markets to access to fisheries. It failed in the withdrawal agreement, and it failed again in the political declaration. It is no surprise that some are already trying to lay down markers again for the future relationship, but they should be getting used to the answer by now: it is not going to happen.
Finally, the declaration is clear that whatever is agreed in the future partnership must recognise the development of an independent UK trade policy beyond this economic partnership. So, for the first time in 40 years, the UK will be able to strike new trade deals and open up new markets for our goods and services in the fastest growing economies around the world.
As I set out for the House last week, the future relationship also includes a comprehensive new security partnership with close reciprocal law enforcement and judicial co-operation to keep all our people safe. At the outset we were told that, being outside free movement and outside the Schengen area, we would be treated like any other non-EU state on security. But this deal delivers the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history, including arrangements for effective data exchange on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, as well as extradition arrangements like those in the European arrest warrant. It also opens the way to sharing the types of information included in the ECRIS and SIS II databases on wanted or missing persons and criminal records.
This has been a long and complex negotiation. It has required give and take on both sides. That is the nature of a negotiation. But this deal honours the result of the referendum, while providing a close economic and security relationship with our nearest neighbours, and in so doing offers a brighter future for the British people, outside the EU. I can say to the House with absolute certainty that there is not a better deal available. My fellow leaders were themselves very clear on that yesterday.
Our duty as a Parliament over these coming weeks is to examine this deal in detail, to debate it respectfully, to listen to our constituents and decide what is in our national interest. There is a choice which this House will have to make. We can back this deal, deliver on the vote of the referendum and move on to building a brighter future of opportunity and prosperity for all our people. Or this House can choose to reject this deal and go back to square one. Because no one knows what will happen if this deal does not pass. It would open the door to more division and more uncertainty, with all the risks that would entail.
I believe our national interest is clear. The British people want us to get on with a deal that honours the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted. This is that deal—a deal that delivers for the British people—and I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
Well, my Lords, another day, another Statement. I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating today’s Statement.
Exactly 886 days have passed since the EU referendum, and it is more than 600 days since the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council to invoke Article 50. At that point, the clock started ticking. Many of us struggled to understand why, in her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister tied her own hands with a series of hard red lines. Having set out what appeared to be a hard Brexit before talks had even begun, the most enthusiastic Brexiteers felt emboldened.
The problem for the Prime Minister is that all too often, rather than taking a clear position she has sought to please one or other of the many camps in her own party, and her message for home has at times been different in both tone and content to her message to the EU. So, as time went on and with negotiations stalling, Mrs May had to fly to Florence to extend an olive branch to the EU 27. But for many of our EU neighbours their good will had already been tested. After she failed once again to make a breakthrough in Brussels, the Cabinet met at Chequers in July, agreeing a proposal that could not even survive a weekend before the first Brexit Secretary resigned, goading Boris Johnson, the then Foreign Secretary, to follow suit. Despite such high-profile resignations, the Prime Minister insisted that her way was the only way. She was clear: there is no alternative. That has a familiar ring. As ever, she forged on.
I have reflected before that the Prime Minister’s strategy is to live in the moment—to simply get through each week at a time. This has never been as true as it is now. Last week, with a defiant flourish, the Prime Minister presented the political declaration to Parliament, which was a clear admission that the Chequers deal was dead in the water—the deal that she had defended so strongly. Yet again we are told that this is the only proposal on the table—the only show in town. I think I am not alone in failing to understand why the Prime Minister is continuing on this course. She must know that her deal, which is little more than a blind Brexit, cannot possibly win a majority in the other place. As we discussed on Thursday’s Statement, it is pretty much an aspiration without promises or guarantees.
The Prime Minister also knows that no deal would be as disastrous for UK families, communities and businesses, yet she continues to present this flawed, inadequate deal as though it is “my deal or no deal” and seeks to pray in aid EU Presidents Juncker and Tusk. I can understand senior EU figures lending their support to the Prime Minister at this exceptionally precarious time in her premiership. But, despite the Prime Minister’s “carry on regardless” approach, there are other options on the table, including that, as Michel Barnier has always been clear, the EU’s offer can, and will, evolve if the UK changes its red lines. This is in relation not just to the withdrawal agreement, but to the terms of the future relationship as well.
We have been very clear that we could accept a deal only if it delivered a permanent UK-EU customs union, a strong, ongoing relationship with the single market and high-level protection for workers, consumers and the environment. Also, it remains obvious that too little consideration was initially given by the Government to the complex issues affecting Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement. That is equally true of Gibraltar, which I first raised in your Lordships’ House just four months after the referendum in 2016; for both, the details have yet to be resolved. So, this deal does not deliver on the key priorities. Indeed, leaked emails describing it as “not a good deal” explain last week’s lacklustre response from the CBI. In fact, the only support the Prime Minister has been able to garner is pretty lukewarm and seems to be more about the fear of a no-deal exit if she cannot get her deal.
There are many, many questions that I could ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. I know that she has been inundated with questions in response to recent Statements; it is always hard to answer everything. I therefore want to be very clear and straight to the point with just two questions: Does she consider that the deal before us is the very best that is available? And does she consider that the deal before us is better than what we currently have?
If Ministers are unable to honestly answer yes to both these questions, then they have failed all those who voted in the referendum, whichever way they voted.
My Lords, I too thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. We now have the agreement signed and sealed; the time for wishful thinking is over. Given the constraints that she imposed upon herself, I agree with the Prime Minister when she says that she has probably reached the best deal available. Even if she had had a dream team of negotiators, drawn from the Brexiteers normally to be found on the Conservative Privy Council Bench in your Lordships’ House, she could not have achieved the “cake and eat it” deal which so many of them have advocated.
In normal circumstances, we would now concentrate on questioning the Government on what they meant in various particularly vague clauses of the political declaration. We might, for example, probe paragraph 107, which is about space and simply reads:
“The Parties should consider appropriate arrangements for cooperation on space”.
This is not a policy on space; it is a waste of space. We might equally probe paragraphs 73 to 76 on fishing. But the truth is that there is absolutely no point in worrying about the details of the declaration because it is now abundantly clear that it will not be approved by the Commons, and this is despite the time-honoured Whips’ tactic of offering baubles to wavering Conservative MPs. Clearly the offer of a knighthood does not do the trick. I would be extremely worried if I were the noble Lord, Lord Burns; I suspect that his hopes for reducing the size of your Lordships’ House are now in vain.
The Government are promising us an economic assessment of the consequences of the deal later this week. We already have one today from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which estimates that the cost of the deal could be up to £1,100 per person by 2030. I know that some people will pooh-pooh this, as they do all forecasts, but no reputable forecast argues that we will be better off, and I suspect that later in the week the Treasury will confirm that. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House why the Prime Minister repeatedly claims that her deal is good for the economy. It clearly is not.
If the deal is dead, what are the options? There is much discussion among fevered Conservative MPs about plan Bs, but the problem for them is that all these plans have been examined and rejected by the Government because they are either practically or politically unworkable, and they have not become more workable now.
The Prime Minister is right to say in the Statement that voting against the deal would take us “back to square one”, if by that she means that the only realistic alternative to the deal is remaining in the EU. Can the Leader confirm that this is indeed what these words mean?
In her letter to colleagues yesterday, the Prime Minister said that no one should be in any doubt that that there are some who want a second referendum, which she then bizarrely describes as a politician’s vote—Alice in Wonderland in action. Well, too right—they do want a referendum on whether this deal is better than continued EU membership. I suspect that the 59% of people in her own constituency who would now vote remain would like a vote, as would the 56% of the population as a whole who would now vote to remain.
I understand that the Prime Minister is about to embark on a nationwide tour to promote the Brexit deal. Given that she knows that the deal is dead in the Commons, I can only assume that these are in fact her opening shots in a campaign to win popular support in advance of a people’s vote on the deal. We look forward to joining her on the campaign trail.
I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. In relation to the noble Baroness’s comments on Gibraltar, we have ensured that Gibraltar is covered by the whole of the withdrawal agreement and implementation period. Our position on Gibraltar’s sovereignty has not changed and will not change. The words of the Chief Minister quoted in the Statement were strong. They showed our commitment to Gibraltar during the negotiations, and that will continue.
This deal will deliver an economic partnership with the EU closer than that enjoyed by any other country, and it will ensure an unprecedented security partnership. It is a good deal and, as Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier have all said, it is the best one available.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about Galileo. Of course we have been in discussions with the EU about this, but we could not depend on Galileo for defence and security on the basis of the existing and proposed security restrictions for third countries. We are therefore rapidly advancing the development of a domestic system that will fulfil our defence and security needs and support the world-leading British space sector.
The noble Lord also talked about the vote, and of course it will be one of the most significant votes that Parliament has held for many years. However, as the Statement made clear, we do not know what will happen if the deal does not pass. All we do know is that further uncertainty and division would inevitably follow, and I do not believe that any of us wants that for this country.
As we still have time for the noble Baroness to reply, will she answer the second question that I asked? Does she consider that the deal before us is better than what we currently have?
As I said, this deal will deliver a strong economic partnership with the EU and will allow us to develop an independent trade policy—so we will have a bright future going forward under this deal.
My Lords, on the second question, it seems to me that the Prime Minister is seeking to operate on the decision of the referendum. In other words, she is operating on the view that the people want to leave the European Union. Therefore, the second question is not appropriate. The question is: is it the best deal that can be obtained if we leave the European Union? I have a feeling that, if this deal is not accepted, the proper question will then be what to do next—and it is for Parliament to answer that question rather than for there to be a further period of delay and indecision, which will damage the livelihoods of so many of our fellow citizens who work in businesses that depend on trade with the European Union.
My noble and learned friend is right, and the political declaration sets out a clear vision for our future relationship, covering an economic partnership, a security partnership and specific agreements on cross-cutting co-operation. It will deliver economic benefits and shows that, in our relationship with the EU, we are not just another third country. This will be the most ambitious free trade agreement that the EU has with any other country, and it will allow us to develop our own independent free trade policy to ensure that we remain a global Britain.
My Lords, do the Government accept that there has already been a people’s vote, in 2016, and that the major parties undertook to honour its result? Do they accept that to break faith with those undertakings and agree to hold a second referendum would be to intensify and perpetuate social division, political disaffection and economic uncertainty? Will the Minister confirm that, in the event of the House of Commons rejecting the withdrawal deal, the Government will not renege on their stated refusal to accept the calls for a second referendum?
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. The Prime Minister has been repeatedly clear, as we in this House have been, that we have had a people’s vote—he is absolutely right—and the people voted to leave. We have now brought forward a deal to the House of Commons—we were told we would not be able to come to a deal, but we have—and it will make its decision. But we do not believe that there should or will be a second referendum.
Does the noble Baroness agree that, on this occasion, and very unusually, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, misspoke? The question I think he posed was: given that we will leave the European Union, this is the best deal and there is no alternative. But that is patently not the case. Whatever the merits of EFTA or the European Union moving from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2, the option is available and has been well covered in many recent pamphlets.
An EEA-type agreement is not comprehensive and would not cover issues such as customs, external and internal security, the CAP, the CFP or Euratom. It would leave significant gaps in our wider relationship with the EU. This is a deal that covers all those areas.
My Lords, if the EU Court of Justice concludes tomorrow that Article 50 is unilaterally revocable, will the Government give an assurance that they will not rule out the possibility of a temporary pause to avoid unnecessarily crashing out with a shambolic no-deal Brexit?
I am sure the noble Lord will realise that I cannot comment on ongoing legal matters.
The Minister has just sketched out the enormous agenda that we had to negotiate with the European Union in 21 months, with a Government that seem to still be unprepared and divided as to what they want. The Statement says:
“Both sides are committed to making preparations for an immediate start to the formal negotiations after our withdrawal”.
There are European elections next May and then a change of Commission, which means that there will be four or five months in which the European Union will not be in a fit state to negotiate. We lost three months last year by having an election. Do we anticipate that we really can begin to negotiate with a clear mandate from our side as well before the end of next year?
The noble Lord is right. Before our withdrawal in March, both sides have agreed to undertake preparatory work to enable negotiations to begin as soon as possible. There is also a clear programme to deliver an ambitious timetable, which will include the structure of negotiations and the schedule of rounds. He will also be aware that the withdrawal agreement includes a legally binding commitment to ensure that both sides use best endeavours to negotiate the detailed agreements that will give effect to the future relationship, in good faith, so that they come into force by the end of 2020.
My Lords, I first thank the Government for their support of the people of Gibraltar. But will the Minister confirm that no concessions whatever have been made to the EU in the past few days over Gibraltar? Will she confirm also that it is not acceptable, either to us or to the European Union as a whole, that Spain should have the right of veto at the last stage of the overall agreement with the EU—if there is such an agreement—because it wants a separate agreement between Britain and Spain on Gibraltar?
We are absolutely committed to ensuring a deal that works for the entire UK family, including Gibraltar. Our position on Gibraltar sovereignty has not changed and will not change.
My Lords, given that the head of HMRC, Jon Thompson, has again confirmed that, in the event of no deal, no hard border will be built in Northern Ireland; given that the Prime Minister of Ireland offered the same assurance last month; and given that the backstop remains the main source of dispute in this country over the Prime Minister’s deal, can the Leader of the House help us to understand why there is any need for a backstop at all?
As we have repeatedly made clear, this is an insurance policy no one wants to use. It is needed in case the future relationship is not ready at the end of the implementation period to ensure that there is no hard border. However, as we have also made clear, it is not the only option. There is a possibility of a short extension to the implementation period. It has also been made clear in both the withdrawal agreement and political declaration that both sides will consider how facilitative arrangements and technologies can be used to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. There are other options that we will all be exploring rather than the backstop.
My Lords, there is an extraordinary sentence in the Statement that,
“if a future Parliament decided to then move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one, the backstop could not return”.
The Prime Minister rightly said that the EU would not have agreed any future partnership deal without the backstop but then this red meat is thrown to Brexiteers. If the backstop is superseded in the future by moving to a looser trade relationship, the Government will show themselves as being completely untrustworthy and saying, “Yah boo, the backstop cannot come back”. How is that generating trust in the long-term commitment of the Government to avoid a hard border in Ireland?
It states in the documents that any backstop—which we have repeatedly made clear we do not want to be implemented—will be superseded by a future relationship. Both sides are signed up to that.
This political declaration is full of ambiguities and contradictions. Citizens, businesses and consumers have no certainty, stability or sense of security in going forward. Do not this Government continue to set sail on a journey but have no idea where it will end—where the boat will berth, which port it will berth at or what the final destination will be? That is surely why this deal should be rejected and we should move to a position where the country has an opportunity to decide whether it wishes to remain or whether it is willing to put up with this total shambles.
The political declaration sets out a clear vision and framework for a future relationship. Once we leave the EU, we will begin negotiating the detail of that. It is set out. We all want an ambitious economic and security partnership and that is what we will be working towards. Of course any final agreements with the EU will be put forward to Parliament in the usual way.
My Lords, my noble friend referred to “best endeavours”, which appears to be a crucial phrase in the agreement. Given that we have already seen what “best endeavours” actually means—the EU 27 doing their best to do us over, to be competitively advantageous compared to the UK—why should we suddenly trust that it means completely the opposite: that the EU starts to play fair and that, crucially, it avoids using the backstop or allowing it to come into force?
As I said, the withdrawal agreement contains a legally binding commitment to use best endeavours and to ensure that we negotiate in good faith. There will be a mechanism for resolving disputes, first through consultation at the joint committee, with the aim of reaching a mutually acceptable resolution. If that does not work, after three months either party can refer a dispute to independent arbitration. It is there in legally binding text, and that is how we believe both sides will go into the negotiation.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm that, if a matter is referred to independent arbitration and if any issue of European Union law should arise, it should be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a binding ruling, with the arbitration panel obliged to settle a dispute in accordance with the ruling given by the CJEU? That makes a nonsense of saying that the CJEU will not have any relevance after Brexit.
The arbitration panel would be the body to consider, decide and resolve disputes. The panel will consider a dispute, make a ruling based on findings of fact and reach conclusions on questions of law or of interpretation of the agreement, other than on points of EU law. If the panel decides that there is a question of EU law which requires interpretation, it will submit a question to the CJEU, but it is for the panel alone to decide whether to refer that question or not, and the resolution of the dispute remains solely with the arbitration panel.
My Lords, I apologise—
The noble Lord was not here to hear the Statement. He should not be heard.
Very well. I was about to apologise and put a point. I think noble Lords will allow me—
I will sit down.
My Lords, I shall return to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and draw attention again to an entirely new sentence in the Statement that we have not heard before from the Government—that:
“if a future Parliament decided to then move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one, the backstop could not return”.
Does the Minister agree that this is the Michael Gove sentence, put in to satisfy him; that it suggests that Conservative MPs will be persuaded to vote for this agreement on the basis that it can later be abandoned without any care for what happens to the situation in Northern Ireland; that looser standards can be introduced—we can have a regulatory competition with the rest of the European Union and do free trade deals with the United States that no one wants—and that the Conservative Party is contemplating reneging on what it is putting before Parliament?
I do not accept that. For instance, we have been clear that we propose to maintain current social and employment standards, that we want an independent trade policy, and that we want a strong economic partnership with the EU—one of the most ambitious that it has had. That is what we will work towards.
My Lords, I first refer to my interests in the register. The Prime Minister has said that we will be able to strike free trade deals around the world. Will that not mean that large swathes of British industry will have added competition from the free trade of imports from all around the world but, where British industry exports similar products to Europe, those exports will have to jump the common external tariff of the 27? Am I right in thinking that this would be one of the most monumental double whammies for British industry for a long time?
No. First, we will be able to develop an independent UK trade policy. The political declaration sets out a plan for a free trade area for goods with the EU, including zero tariffs, with ambitious customs arrangements to enable that. It will be the first such agreement between an advanced economy and the EU.
Last Thursday, the Minister told your Lordships that the financial settlement on the deal would cost between £34 billion and £38 billion, but she did not answer my question on when that money will be handed over. In particular, I want to press her on whether it will be handed over only when all the pious hopes in these agreements have been fulfilled. If they are not, surely we will not hand over a penny.
It has already been set out that the money will be paid over a period of time. Some of it will be paid up front to cover legal obligations but some of it will be paid according to a schedule, which is available. Not all the money will be paid up front.
My Lords, can the Minister clarify her answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern? From what he said today and last week, I understand that if the deal does not go through, he is not in favour of a people’s vote but wants Parliament to accept responsibility for deciding future action, which would include staying as a member of the European Union. That is a very tempting way forward. Does the noble Baroness agree with the noble and learned Lord on that?
I agree that the House of Commons faces one of its most significant votes for many years. I will not prejudge the outcome of that vote. The deal is a good one, and I hope that the Commons will vote for it.
My Lords, is it not the case that the country is heartily sick of the political shenanigans around this subject? The people voted to leave. There is enormous admiration for the Prime Minister’s tenacity, courage, level head and patriotic heart. It is time to settle for the best deal on offer and put the interests of the country and our people first.
I thank my noble friend. That chimes very strongly with the message from the public on this issue.
Can the noble Baroness think again about her answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness? This is the third time that we have been round this course. Surely it is clear in the documents negotiated by the Prime Minister that, if there is a matter of interpretation of European law, the arbitration panel cannot decide it; it has to go to the European Court of Justice, and the European Court of Justice’s ruling on the interpretation of European law is valid. And is it not the case—I have never had an answer from the Government on this—that this withdrawal agreement or withdrawal treaty will be, necessarily, if the European side can conclude it finally before 29 March, European law?
As I said, the CJEU would give a view only on the interpretation of the specific point of EU law. The arbitration panel would then take a decision on how to resolve the dispute.
My Lords, if the subject of the referendum had been this deal, how many people does the Minister think would have voted for it?
The British people voted to leave. They now have a deal that achieves that for them—a deal that many in your Lordships’ House said could not happen. A deal is on the table and it is a good one. Let us hope that the House of Commons sees that and votes for it.
My Lords, is there a difference between the £39 billion that was promised and our legal obligations on exit? Is there a difference between what we owe and what we have promised?
The financial settlement represents a fair settlement of our obligations as a departing member. As I said, it will between about £35 billion and £39 billion, which is significantly less than many people anticipated. It has been agreed in the spirit of our future relationship.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the decision to allow Kindertransport children to come to the United Kingdom.
My Lords, many of you will be familiar with the plaque just off Central Lobby in the House of Commons, which was unveiled in 1999 and says:
“In deep gratitude to the people and Parliament of the United Kingdom for saving the lives of 10,000 Jewish and other children who fled to this country from Nazi persecution on the Kindertransport 1938-1939”.
It is a big thank you that we rededicated about a year and a half ago in the presence of the Chief Rabbi, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker of the Commons. I was one of the children who came under that scheme.
The House of Lords Library has produced an excellent briefing on this, for which we should say thank you. It helps to inform our debates and it is a pretty good way of getting the debate started.
The importance of 1938-39 is that, in under 12 months, Britain accepted 10,000 unaccompanied children. It goes without saying that we are all familiar with Nicky Winton’s contribution to those who came from Prague. He died about two years ago, but he made an enormous contribution: 669 children came from Czechoslovakia. Others came from Germany, Austria and I think some from Poland.
I understand that the British Government set a condition that children were to be aged 16 or under and were to come to Britain strictly on the condition that they would be emigrated when they reached 18. I say to the Government and the Home Office: I am still here.
A couple of weeks ago we held a commemoration, hosted jointly with Barbara Winton, daughter of Nicky Winton, and arranged by Safe Passage at Friends House. We had a very distinguished group of people there: the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, the emeritus Catholic Bishop of Southwark, a German Protestant bishop, Islamic scholar Sheikh Babikir, the Immigration Minister and Dame Esther Rantzen, as well as Kindertransport survivors and recently arrived child refugees. We had 1,000 people there. It was intended to set off a campaign for us to do better than we are doing at the moment. Last week there was another event in Speaker’s House. Many MPs and others read excerpts from Hansard of late 1938 leading up to the decision of the House of Commons to agree to accept child refugees.
We have set out all along that there should be all-party support as a basis of the campaign for unaccompanied child refugees. Many amendments were moved from the Back Benches. We deliberately sought to gain the support of Government Back-Benchers, as well as those of opposition parties. We called the campaign that started at Friends House Our Turn—our turn to do more. The best way to commemorate the 1938 decision is for the UK to agree to accept 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees over the next 10 years. That is 1,000 per annum, or three per local authority. It is a very modest request indeed, but with an additional difference that these would come from not just Europe but the region. We already have schemes in the region; I will refer to those in a moment. Recently, I visited a refugee camp in Jordan, and a little bit earlier I was on the Greek island of Lesbos, looking at the camps there.
In 2017, nearly 33,000 children arrived in Europe, mainly unaccompanied. In Greece there are estimated to be 2,800 children waiting for a place in a shelter, living in camps or on the streets—and conditions are pretty awful. On Lesbos, which I visited, conditions are very depressing. I appreciate that the Greek authorities are doing their best, but they are not able to cope very well and they really need a bit more international help than they are getting—although I will say that refugees in Athens are better placed than those on the islands. In Zaatari camp in Jordan, where I was two and a half to three weeks ago, physical conditions are better, but if there is one characteristic feature of refugee camps that is most alarming it is the lack of hope. Even if physical conditions are depressing, where there is hope, human beings can sustain themselves—children can. But where there is no hope, it is absolutely depressing, and what I saw in the camps on Lesbos was a lack of hope. Even in Zaatari in Jordan, where the physical conditions are better, because people are now in prefab huts rather than in tents, there is still a lack of hope.
To date, our record is not wonderful. Under Section 67—the amendment I moved—we have accepted 280 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe. The Government arbitrarily said that they would cap the number at 480. It was quite an arbitrary decision and I will refer to it in a moment. Then, under the Dublin treaty we have taken about 800. That is the treaty whereby a child in one EU country can join relatives in another: and 800 came from France and some from Greece to join relatives here. I am pleased to say that Parliament passed an amendment to an earlier piece of legislation to say that the Dublin III treaty should be maintained even after Brexit. In other words, we will go on acting as if we were members of that treaty, so we can still accept children from those countries—or, indeed, if they are here they can join relatives in other EU countries.
Then we had the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which the Government set up to take 20,000 refugees—not just children—over five years. To this were added 3,000 mainly children. I understand that of the 3,000 mainly children we have had only about 200 so far, although it was a government commitment. Maybe the figure is better than that and I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that. In the original Section 67 the Government set the cap at 480 because it was alleged that local authorities did not have enough foster places for the children. I have to say that my evidence is different. Recently we have had pledges from local authorities offering 800 places, and even before we asked for these pledges quite a number of local authorities said they were willing to come forward—so I am disappointed that the Government have put on an arbitrary cap. Not that we have reached that figure; we are only just over half way there.
The answer is simple: we should keep the scheme going and accept unaccompanied child refugees at the same speed that local authorities come forward with places. It seems very easy and straightforward. There is, however, a problem, which is funding for local authorities. Some are finding it quite difficult because they get some money for the first year, after which the going is much more difficult. So a little bit more funding would be extremely helpful.
I want to make one thing absolutely clear: I do not argue and have never argued that Britain should take all these unaccompanied child refugees—far from it. That would be unrealistic and not very helpful. I think we should share responsibility with other countries. Some other countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have done a pretty good job. Some deny that refugees are anything to do with them, such as the Hungarians. They say that refugees are not their problem and they are interested only in white Christians—which is really not in keeping with the best humanitarian traditions of Europe. So we should share responsibility and in a sense my plea in this debate is not just to the Government but to all European countries, as well as to Northern Ireland and the Crown dependencies.
I will say a quick word about Northern Ireland. There are people in Northern Ireland who have said to me that they are quite willing to take child refugees. The issue has got stuck on whether there is a power for Northern Ireland to take unaccompanied child refugees under Section 67 in the absence of an Executive. Opinions vary on this, and I understand that the Government are looking into it to see whether it might be possible. I cannot see for the life of me why Northern Ireland should not be able to take refugees: I am not sure what the Executive would have to do with it. I deeply regret that there is no Executive there, but I do think we could make progress there and that the people of Northern Ireland would like to go ahead. The issue has also been raised with the Crown dependencies and they are thinking about it—although the Isle of Man defeated a proposal to take refugees by one vote last week. Northern Ireland is there waiting for the Government to respond and say, “Yes, something can be done”.
The crucial part of all this is public opinion. We must get public opinion onside. In 1938-39 public opinion was by and large supportive of child refugees. I believe that the same is true today. Whatever the arguments and concerns around immigration, I believe that if it is put to the British people that we can do more for unaccompanied child refugees than we have done until now, most British people will say, “Yes, we could. Yes, we should”. There is no public opinion to be frightened of. I urge the Government to make a positive contribution by responding to this debate in a positive way.
Does the noble Lord have any estimate of the number of unaccompanied children still wandering about somewhere on the continent, without any care or reception or anything? If he could give that, it would stimulate the generosity of potential fosterers and adopters in this country.
My Lords, these figures are rough estimates but I understand that in 2017, 33,000 children—many unaccompanied—arrived in Europe. In Greece nearly 3,000 children are currently waiting for a place in a shelter, living in camps or on the streets, in deplorable and dangerous conditions. There are also several hundred in France and an unknown number in Italy.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing the debate and for all the work that he has done and continues to do. If I may say so, we are all glad that he is still here.
In preparation for my short contribution, I made one visit and one phone call. The visit was to Dr Hilda Cohen, a close friend of my wife’s family, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. I visited her on Friday morning because as a 10 year-old girl she was sent on the Kindertransport to the UK. She brought Kristallnacht to life for me. She talked of the flames, the burning and the destruction of her own synagogue in Frankfurt on the night of Wednesday 9 November 1938. Just two days later, her father was taken away from the family Shabbat table. Incredibly, Hilda recalled that the discussion was more about whether or not her father should take a suitcase with him as it was forbidden to carry in the public domain on the Sabbath. He was held for a month but was then returned to the family—probably, she recalled, due to the fact that he had received an Iron Cross for his service in World War I. In July 1939 Hilda was taken by her parents to Frankfurt station. They were not a kissing and hugging family but Hilda recalled, some 80 years later, that there was kissing and hugging as she left with a small bag containing her prayer book, her Bible, some silver ladles and a few photos. That, of course, was the last day she saw her parents and brother. The story is all too familiar.
On 3 September 1939, Hilda, aged 11, found herself in Merthyr in south Wales, and she was looked after by a childless couple who showed her selfless kindness. Hilda went on to study medicine. She became a doctor and worked for many years in the blood transfusion unit. She became a Cardiff city councillor and a JP serving on the Bench in south Wales for more than 40 years. Serving the community and doing for others, Hilda has been an inspiration. She has three children and 16 grandchildren and is expecting her 10th great-grandchild imminently. Hilda’s story is about the selfless kindness of the host family and the generous decision of the Government of the day.
That sense of community led me to the phone call, which I made yesterday. I called the renowned playwright Diane Samuels, who was in my class in school in Liverpool. Diane wrote the play “Kindertransport”, which was first performed here in the UK in 1993. I recommend it to those noble Lords who may not have seen it. Diane cited three reasons for writing that play, which she published. The first was that she saw a friend, whose father had been on the Kindertransport, struggling with the concept of survival. The second was when she heard another friend being shocked to find out that his mother was in Auschwitz—he did not know this all his life. The third reason was the admission of another woman in her fifties, who had come on the Kindertransport, and had expressed a feeling of rage at her dead parents who had abandoned her, even though that abandonment had led to the saving of her life.
These are challenging issues but on the call yesterday, I reminded Diane that as young teenagers in Liverpool we and our friends were inspired by Stanley Morris of the Shifrin Foundation. This was an educational drama group that played a huge part in our upbringing and taught us a massive sense of community. Diane was a superstar then, as she is today.
For me, the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport is a reminder of acts of kindness and bravery, a commitment to one’s fellows and a striving for a better world. It is the inspiring story of Hilda and the educational creativity of Diane that give me hope for a better future.
My Lords, I must say that I am a personal friend of my noble friend Lord Dubs and if there is one person whom we should mention in our debate today, it is Lady Dubs. When my noble friend has been so frantically and tirelessly committed, she has given him stalwart support throughout the whole enterprise.
It is important that when we are confronted with issues such as this, we do not just agonise but do something. When something can be done, we should do it; my noble friend Lord Dubs has illustrated that this is true. But the best way in which we can honour those who were courageous enough to stand up and organise the transport for those who were able to come—the best tribute—is to remember those who were not able to come: the millions who died in the concentration camps and the Holocaust. We should also recommit ourselves to an overriding drive to ensure that such things cannot happen again. We must work effectively and internationally to deal with the causes of what we were confronted with in the 1930s.
I would be glad to have clarification from the Minister on one very practical point. Families are psychologically crucial to the developing and maturing child. Can we really not become more imaginative about the arrangements that can be made to enable some relatives—at least one—to come and join a child who has made it to the UK? This could have a tremendous impact on the future of the child and on their well-being and security. At the moment, the Government take the line that this would only encourage still more to come, but I have seen no evidence whatever for this. If the Government are going to take that hard line, they really must produce the evidence of why it is the case. I am much more concerned about the child and the child’s future. That demands action on that front.
It is great that my noble friend Lord Dubs has taken this action and has had so much support from across the House for doing so, but we live in the reality of the world as it is. We talk so much here about immigration, and we do not talk enough about the huge global issue of migration. With the help of the Library, I have dug out some statistics. At the moment, in the world there are 19,941,347 refugees, 3,090,898 asylum seekers and 39,118,516 internally displaced people. If we are struck by and compelled to respond to the situation in Europe that confronts us and the distressing scenes that we have all witnessed, we must remember that those distressing scenes are being repeated all over the world on an almost unimaginable scale. This is a tremendous humanitarian challenge, of course, but it is also a security challenge, because I do not see how we can have a peaceful, stable world if we have that number of people being stunted in their upbringing, frustrated and so on because many are extremely able, intelligent people who feel completely excluded, and that will not lead to a peaceful world.
We have heard a Statement this afternoon about the latest developments on the European Union. I am deeply disappointed that when we talk about the political declaration, we talk in theoretical, analytical terms about the things that we need to do structurally in this situation, but what are we doing to address the issues that confront us around the globe morally and security-wise? Please can we hear some specific language about how we can, by whatever arrangements we make, do something more effective, together with our partners in Europe, to meet those challenges?
My Lords, I too appreciate the opportunity to join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others in this debate. At the moment, we are particularly busy with Syrian refugees, youngsters and so on, and with the kids of the Yemen and so many others in the world, yet there is one place that really stirs my heart, and that is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It is the memorial to the 6 million Jewish people who were slaughtered in Hitler’s Germany. Of that number, 1.5 million were children. When you go into that memorial, you hear the voices of kids, you see the lights representing every child there. Their names are not John, Philip, David or Roger. They are the names of children who were still children even though they had different names.
Everywhere people ask me, “Who do you support?” I support anybody who works with children. It is children we need. Whatever the child’s nationality, it is not his fault. It is not his fault that he might be Welsh; he is just born. We have an opportunity and an obligation to help any child anywhere, of any religion or nationality. We should look to them and say, “We are your guardians, your brothers, your sisters, your uncles and aunts”.
When I was a lad—I was, once—I remember going to the Palace Cinema in Conwy in 1945. It was a good cinema, although it is closed now. There we saw the newsreels showing the release of the folk who had been detained in the camps. I will never forget those human scarecrows who could hardly move and the others who had long given up any hope of moving. I said, “This must not happen again”. That is why I became a Methodist minister and I think it is why I took part in politics: to try to build a world where every child could have an opportunity and we could treat them with great respect and regard.
However, it has happened again. Various numbers have been mentioned, such as 39 million people without homes in the world, and there are scores of thousands who are starving or casualties of war. It must not happen again. We tighten immigration controls but the people and the need are all still there. We can close the borders but the children in need are still there. When we tighten immigration controls, we are doing something that continues that desperate need. Children have been mentioned on Lesbos and among the 4 million people in camps in Turkey. We have an opportunity to change that. You do not change by building walls; you change by changing people’s hearts. We do not change by saying, “We’re going to pull up the drawbridge”; instead, we change people’s hearts and lives and the approach towards them.
My great day of despair in this House was when we were discussing the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to bring in 3,000 children from Syria. I will never forget seeing the troops going into the No Lobby. That hurt me very much and it did not help anyone. Now we have maybe between 200 and 400 of those children in this country instead of 3,000. We could have accommodated them—of course we could. I come originally from Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley, and I remember the day in 1940 when the buses came bringing evacuees from some of the English cities. People might think, “You can’t remember that! You were only a little nipper!”, but I will never forget the kids coming off those buses and being accepted with love by people in those communities. With that situation in mind, I wept at the sight of Peers walking through the No Lobby. We chose to build a wall.
We are going to face even greater problems in the future, such as Yemen or Bangladesh. Then there is global warming, which could have a terrible impact on the prosperous maize fields of Africa and destroy so much. It could leave many people looking for sustenance and hope, and they will be trying to find welcome in various places. Are we preparing for them? Do we have any strategy, or will we just say, “Come on, let’s build another wall”? We could do that, but that is simply saying, “Look after yourselves. We’re not going to stretch out to greet you”.
I suggest that if we want a memorial to the Kindertransport of 80 years ago, the best one would be a new attitude and for us to show renewed care. That is a memorial that would change people and it is what I would like to see us, as a Parliament and as a people, embracing. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing this debate and for all he does as the living embodiment in this House of the Kindertransport legacy. It was also my privilege to be present at the event at the Friends’ meeting house a couple of weeks ago, which was deeply inspiring.
In 1939, as a 10 year-old refugee, Paul Willer and his family were quietly sponsored to come to the UK by the then leader of the Opposition. The Attlees’ hospitality provokes us to consider both wider community responses to welcoming strangers and government plans. My first question is: what will each of us do in our communities to commemorate the hospitality of those who went before?
When we concern ourselves solely with what the Government should do about asylum and the resettlement of refugees, the focus becomes too narrow. Disproportionate attention is given to questions of affordability and enforcement. They are not where discussion should begin. Any action to welcome and integrate refugees must be a whole society effort, in which the Government play a crucial part, but only one part.
British Future and HOPE not hate’s recent national conversation on immigration gives us a rigorous evidence base for the singular importance of one’s local experience in shaping how we view wider policy questions about integration and immigration. Local consent is crucial. When it comes to doing more for unaccompanied minors, the will, even if sometimes fragile, is there.
This predominant view is well expressed by one participant at the Durham panel of those conversations, who said:
“We do need immigration, and we also need compassion as well, for people who need refuge. I think it should be controlled but it should be controlled with a heart, but not some open door policy”.
Since September 2015, the charity Home for Good has had 14,000 people register their interest in becoming a foster carer for an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child. Of course, not all will be suitable, but many would. The way that Home for Good works means that behind each name is a person embedded in a series of communities and institutions who would support them.
Meeting community sponsorship groups, I have seen the remarkable depth of skills and assets that groups can leverage to resettle and welcome refugee families. There is then the sheer ingenuity and commitment that foster carers and community sponsors who care for vulnerable children demonstrate daily. The salient question is how, not if, the Government harness and develop the compassion and capacity already there in communities across the UK.
Finding an answer will require courage, imagination and collaboration. This is exemplified in the success of the VPRS scheme and in community-based pilots such as that at Yarl’s Wood. In the context of this debate, all three virtues have been in evidence at the Home Office, particularly in the work of Paul Morrison and his directorate, to whom I pay respect. There remain many questions about the current approach to resettlement, asylum and migration, but there is much to cheer.
Working out how the UK can best offer welcome to more of the most vulnerable children in the world will be a complex conversation. As it was 80 years ago, it will be difficult and costly. However, in pushing forward, we will be doing the right thing.
The Church of England—as, I know, do other faith communities—stands ready to work with the Minister to design a scheme to facilitate the expanded welcome and flourishing of these children. Will the Minister commit to a further deepening of engagement with civil society and businesses to create a fully rounded way forward to ensure that we take an increased number of such children? Eighty years on from the Kindertransport, we stand in the legacy that was marked both by local acts and national leadership. It is clear that the only appropriate commemoration is to go and do likewise. It is now our turn.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing this debate. I should declare a personal interest in what we are commemorating today. I am an indirect beneficiary of the Kindertransport. Had Hanus Weisl, the teenager who would become my orthopaedic surgeon, not made it on to the last train out of Prague before the Nazis closed the border in June 1939, the chances are I would not have made it here to your Lordships’ House. It was due, in large part, to his expert care between birth and 13 that I had the best possible medical start to life.
So today I speak with gratitude and with a sense of debt, as someone who, like him, would have been regarded by the Nazis as Untermensch or subhuman. For both Hanus Weisl and I would have been destined for extermination—he for being Jewish, I for being disabled, as part of the Nazis’ Aktion T4 programme. I think of him and his parents who also miraculously escaped. But I speak, as many other noble Lords have done, with a sense of sadness as well, because I think of those who did not escape—those family members who probably waved Hanus off that summer’s day, none of whom would survive the Holocaust.
Thanks to the remarkable Wiener Library, which was founded by Dr Alfred Wiener, the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, I can not only put names to those family members. I know what journeys they themselves made. It is probable that Anna Weisl, Hanus’s maternal grandmother, was on the platform that day. Within four years, her journey would take her from her home, which still stands today at Klatovy, to Auschwitz via Theresienstadt. She arrived at her final destination on 15 December—which is in just over a fortnight’s time. She probably perished in the gas chambers in July 1944. Hanus’s aunt, Babette Pollak, was possibly also on the platform to say goodbye to her talented teenage nephew. She and Hanus’s uncle, Pavel, and their daughter, Zdenka, shared the same address as his maternal grandmother, Anna. Tragically, they also shared the same ultimate destination.
Although, of course, the family members who gathered at Prague station that June day would have been gripped by a deep sense of foreboding, could any one of them have foreseen the full extent of the Nazis’ murderous, racist intent? No. But 80 years on, we have no such excuse. For if the Holocaust teaches us anything, it is surely that we now know how far and how fast humanity is capable of falling and how important it is always to remember and learn from that very painful lesson.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree that there could be no more fitting commemoration of both the Kindertransport and those who did not escape to safety than a renewed commitment, by all parties, to combat the racism that is anti-Semitism.
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs, not just on securing this debate but on all the work he has done over the years helping refugees, refugee children and their families. My Aunt Alice, whom I never had the opportunity to know, faced an agonising dilemma after Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938: should she put her two young sons on the Kindertransport scheme and send them away from danger? She made that heart-breaking decision and, a year or two later, found herself, her husband and a new baby son trapped in an overcrowded ghetto in northern Germany, where they all soon died from typhus fever. Her sons, my cousins, were by then safe and settled in the United Kingdom. The real question is, surely, why Alice and her husband, along with many thousands of other Jews, could not leave with them. The Nazi Government were happy for them to leave, but they could not take money or possessions. They needed a visa to go to another country, a sponsor, a job offer or access to funds abroad. For many, this was impossible to organise.
My father found one solution to this. In 1936, hearing from a friend that the Gestapo was after him, he drew out all his savings, taped them to the underside of his car, and drove across the German-Dutch border, telling the guard that he was on a business trip. Fortunately, the border guard did not examine the car in any way and waved him across the border. Once safely in Holland, he applied for political asylum and was granted it. However, so many people found themselves trapped in Germany—a country whose venomous attacks against them grew ever more lethal. As noble Lords have heard, as the 1930s went on fewer and fewer countries offered them a way out.
Against this background, saving 10,000 Jewish children was undoubtedly a great achievement, but the British Government’s role was decidedly minimal. They issued the vital visas and facilitated entry for the children, but the people we should really celebrate are the religious groups—mainly Jewish and Quaker—which raised the funds and shouldered most of the administration of the scheme, the families who took in the children and the sponsors who liaised with them. My cousins were brought up by a family in Reading, but never lost touch with their sponsors, the Sainsbury family. My elder cousin, on leaving school, went to work in Sainsbury’s. When he later told Lord Sainsbury that he really wanted to become a journalist, he was helped with that too. The sponsors played a major role in the scheme.
The reason for that was the Government’s view that the children must not be a burden on the public purse. Thanks to the organisers, host families and sponsors, they were not. Reading the House of Commons debate from 1938 about the plight of Jewish refugees—which the Library briefing helpfully made available—was a depressing experience, because little has changed in the intervening 80 years. Governments are as unaccommodating as ever. People are sympathetic, but not to the point of doing anything concrete to help. Sir Samuel Hoare’s warning in that 1938 debate rings even truer now than it did then: that there is an,
“underlying current of suspicion … rightly or wrongly, about alien immigration on any big scale”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/1938; col. 1468.]
Are we challenging it? Quite the contrary; we are now asked to clamp down even on the freedom of movement that currently exists. Yet those refugees and immigrants who have made it into the UK since the 1930s are among the most patriotic of our people. It was the proudest day of my father’s life when he became a British citizen. These people are patriotic—they want to join and to be in Britain, and it is so difficult for people to get here.
Philip Noel-Baker was absolutely right to say in the 1938 debate that the refugee problem could not be solved by private charity. It could not then and it cannot now. Only concerted action by states or international bodies can tackle the issue with any success. In the next 30 to 50 years, the movement of individuals fleeing oppression, war and poverty will be one of the most pressing issues we will all have to face. We cannot keep ignoring it. We cannot just keep fishing desperate refugees out of the Channel and the Mediterranean and returning them to north Africa, or wherever. Can the Minister say what our plan is as a country, to learn from the heart-rending experiences of the past and to deal with this most pressing of human issues?
My Lords, there is no one better to have opened tonight’s debate than the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
The 80th anniversary of Kindertransport prompts the question: what would Sir Nicholas Winton, Trevor Chadwick, Florence Nankivell, Doreen Warriner, Beatrice Wellington, and others involved in organising escape routes for children threatened by Nazism, make of our present-day response to refugees and their children and to new ideologies and new forms of violence?
While we are right to praise the singular individuals—heroes like Bonhoeffer, Kolbe, Schindler, Frank Foley and Raoul Wallenberg—who all refused to accommodate anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities, we must not become too self-congratulatory or slip into a sentimental nostalgia. Overwhelmingly, people actively collaborated or remained silent. Kindertransport saved the lives of an estimated 10,000 children, each and every one of them precious. But never forget that the Nazis and their collaborators killed as many as 1.5 million children—including over a million Jewish children—who are commemorated at the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, which I too have visited. They also murdered tens of thousands of Romany children, German children with physical and mental disabilities—a point alluded to by the noble Lord, Shinkwin—and children from Poland and occupied Soviet territory. Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and most Kindertransport children would never see their parents again.
In 1938, after visiting the harsh, freezing conditions refugee camps in Sudetenland, and following Kristallnacht, Nicholas Winton decided to do something about it. Weeks later, he saw the first 200 Kindertransport children arrive at Harwich. They included many who would become notable and illustrious citizens, including four Nobel laureates, and Members of your Lordships’ House.
When the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, moved his amendment to receive some of today’s fleeing refugee children, I was honoured to be one of the other signatories. But to be clear, according to Safe Passage, only 220 of the 480 places to be provided under the scheme put forward by the noble Lord have been filled. Like the noble Lord, I would be grateful if, when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, comes to reply, he would clarify whether that still remains the case. Meanwhile, Safe Passage also says that the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme for unaccompanied children in conflict zones has given just 20 unaccompanied children resettlement, out of 3,000 places. As it also points out, UK-funded detention centres in Libya are places of torture and abuse of children. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply he can respond to what Safe Passage says about that.
Elsewhere, children of Christians and Ahmadis fleeing from Pakistan are kept like caged animals in detention centres. In 2015, I visited one of those detention centres, and in 2016, I wrote a report about it. Recently, many of your Lordships have raised the continuing systematic persecution of minorities in Pakistan—the reason why people are fleeing in the first place. Children were forced to watch as a mob of 1,300 burned their parents alive in a kiln in Kot Rada Kishan in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a mother of five, Asia Bibi, remains at risk of her life in Pakistan while we refuse to give her or her children asylum and repeatedly say that minorities in Pakistan do not face persecution, but simply discrimination. Only today I have received a letter from the Prime Minister, who says:
“You asked whether the UK would be willing to offer Asia Bibi and her family asylum in the UK. It is the long standing policy of the Government not to comment on individual immigration issues”.
This is not just an immigration case. This is a woman who was falsely held in prison for some nine years, and who has been acquitted by the Supreme Court. This is a woman on behalf of whom the former Governor of the Punjab, a Muslim, Salman Taseer, and his friend, a Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, both spoke out—and were murdered for doing so. It is not a run-of-the-mill immigration case; it is something about which the Government should speak. I was deeply concerned to read in the Sunday newspapers—whether this is accurate others must decide, but I would welcome the Minister’s response—that both the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary had been overruled by Downing Street in wanting to provide asylum for Asia Bibi. Just as our Government refuse to recognise that minorities in northern Iraq and Syria have been subjected to genocide, I fear that we have done precisely the same in this case concerning Pakistan. I hope that we will look seriously at our asylum policies so that we can make better judgments in the future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to the 1938 debate. Like her, I have read what Sir Samuel Hoare, the then Home Secretary, had to say in that debate on 21 November. The remarkable Philip Noel-Baker, in his opening speech, called for a co-ordinated plan and said that,
“a co-ordinated plan means a strong international administration to carry it through”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/1938; col.1439]
In reply, the Home Secretary said:
“How can a question remain exclusively domestic when it involves scores of thousands of men, women and children, destitute and penniless, seeking admission into other countries? … however deep may be our sympathies, this problem is, and must remain, an international problem. No single country can hope to solve it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/1938; col.1464]
That remains the challenge today and I hope it is a challenge to which the Government will rise.
Reading the speeches of the day is deeply moving because this issues seem to have come back around. What Nicholas Winton said however, is perhaps what should inform us all:
“If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it”.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this debate. It is a chance to reflect on what the Kindertransport programme symbolises still today: Britain’s moral courage in the face of injustice; Britain’s compassion for people who suffer; and Britain’s belief in opportunity for all. These values are the very definition of what it means to be British and we would do well to remember and honour that.
I also pay tribute to the moral courage of those families who sent their most precious possessions—their children—to the UK in the hope and faith that they would find a better future. We heard Hilda’s story from my noble friend Lord Polak. I cannot begin to imagine the agony suffered by those parents who faced the cruellest of choices and made the greatest of sacrifices, never knowing when or if their families would be reunited. Most were not. What I do know is that those refugees, like many who came before and after them, grew up to be exemplary citizens. The Jewish community is the best of British; it has enriched this country and provided positive role-models for all immigrants, including the British Indian community, who look to the Jewish community for inspiration.
Like my Jewish friends, a large number of East African Indians were welcomed to this country when they were no longer welcome in their own home because they were cast as “different”. Like the Jews in 1930s Europe, British Indians in 1970s East Africa were singled out as scapegoats for society’s ills, and, as in the Jewish experience, many of my own people who were refused safe passage to other countries faced a terrible fate. However, the Jews were victims of the darkest chapter in humanity’s history: the Holocaust. We learned from the Jewish community in the UK that no matter how great the obstacles, how challenging the circumstances or how painful the past, the future is yours, and yours alone, to shape. The three greatest lessons that I learned from that community in my early days in the UK were these: be grateful for the opportunities you have been given; do not bear grudges or grievances; and never, ever take your freedom for granted.
Those precepts are important because they forge a path to integration. We should recognise that Jewish people did not integrate after they succeeded; they were successful precisely because they integrated. They did not see themselves as Jews who happened to live in Britain but as British Jews whose first loyalty was to the country that granted them protection. With loyalty comes responsibility. Jewish people embraced British values and worked hard because they knew that no amount of charity and sympathy would substitute the rewards of self-reliance—and by that I do not mean individual riches but the rewards to be had from benefiting the whole of society.
The number of Kindertransport children who went on to have distinguished careers is staggering. My noble friend Lord Shinkwin mentioned the refugee who came as a Kindertransport child and became an orthopaedic surgeon, in many ways saving his life. These refugees became not only scientists but pioneers of science; not only lawyers but campaigners for justice; and not only teachers but education leaders. If this is the contribution of 10,000 lives, imagine what the world lost from the 6 million souls who perished in the Holocaust. It brings to mind a passage from a Jewish prayer recited on Yom Kippur, which includes the words,
“our hearts grow cold as we think of the splendour that might have been”.
To this day, the former refugees maintain a deep sense of gratitude and determination to give back to the country that gave them a chance at a new life, and I know that many British Indians cast themselves in the same light. Yes, we are proud of our heritage and bonded to our customs and traditions, but first and foremost we are British. We are lucky to be British and we want to do the best for our country.
It pains me that we are commemorating this milestone at a time when Jewish people feel under threat, when we are seeing a backlash against immigrants in a climate of rising intolerance, and when millions of people around the world continue to suffer persecution. We must never lose sight of the compassion and humanity that this country stands for. The Kinder- transport legacy lives on through us all, and it is our responsibility to unite behind it, now and in the years to come.
My Lords, all noble Lords have begun their speech with a justified tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for the work that he has done. He is our moral leader in these matters and our provider of detailed information on the plight of refugees. We thank him for his unstinting work in doing this and for never giving up. The hesitations of government are one of the features that apply in every country, but the noble Lord carries on with this work and he has done so well. We thank him again for that and for initiating this debate.
I was Member of Parliament for Harrow East for 27 years, and every day I felt very proud of being the MP for that delightful area of north-west London. Because I am following the noble Lord, Lord Popat, I remember with great pride the moment when Ted Heath’s Government decided to designate Harrow and Leicester as the two main red-star centres to receive East African refugees escaping from Idi Amin. I have to say that we did have trouble from certain hard-faced people in the constituency—I will not say who—who did not like the idea at all. We insisted that they were coming and that we would accept 1,000 people to start with. The noble Lord, Lord Popat, was one of those who came, as we have discussed in debates before. I thank him for the contribution he has made in the House to these matters as well as to many others.
When those Asians came to Harrow, it became a much more dynamic place even than it already was. It was certainly dynamic without them, but with them coming, there was an extra élan in social and economic activity. We were forever grateful that they came, with their learning, experience, knowledge and business acumen—all of which were so important.
The noble Lord, Lord Popat, is sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I remember with great pride that we worked together in the House of Commons, where he did unstinting and wonderful work for the Jewish community in Britain. We worked for Soviet Jewry, with Greville Janner and others, and to promote the good cause of the Jewish community.
There is a quarterly English-language newspaper in Germany, the Jewish Voice from Germany, which I read avidly. I have contributed some pieces, and, in one article, the question from the editor was: what has been the contribution of the Jewish community in Britain? I answered that it had been just magnificent. That has been the case over the centuries, because they were here many years ago, too, but also more recently it has been a wonderful thing.
As a European enthusiast, it gives me great pride to remind this House that, in Germany now, the Jewish community has become reinstated and is sizable and growing, not only in Berlin, Dusseldorf and other big cities but all over the country. It was great to see that, when Angela Merkel addressed the Knesset, she got a standing ovation. It is hard to believe, but in recent polls in Israel, Germany came out as the most popular foreign country.
All that is very positive, and it is because of the efforts of individual Members of this House, of politicians elsewhere and of government officials. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is replying today, because he is a thoughtful and constructive Minister. We look forward to his reply and, I hope, to his responses to the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Dubs, about Britain helping more in the global matter of refugees.
The second major point of pride for me as MP for Harrow is that, in 1987, we had the 50th anniversary of the Kindertransport in Harrow, with Tim Renton, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, representing the Government. It was a very moving occasion to see the gathering of the survivors of that Kindertransport. By then, some were very successful people—some were foolishly living in Palm Beach rather than in a respectable part of Florida—and they came from all over Britain, and from everywhere else, too. It was a great occasion, when we celebrated the survival of those who came because the Government and citizens demanded humanity in response to people facing such a dreadful plight.
I think also of the brave people in the occupied territories held by the Nazis, and indeed in Germany itself, who helped and sheltered Jews. In Germany and other places, it was a capital offence to do that. You had to be very brave to do so, and a lot of people were. That shows that humanity does come together when there are real exigencies, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, mentioned in the very moving cases he described. It shows that we need to open our hearts more about refugees and not have this rather hard attitude, which worries me, as it does the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who talked about people not having a humanitarian response to those whose plight is grotesque, particularly those in the Middle East, from north Africa and elsewhere. That is not just important but primordial—the way that a civilised and wealthy country with our resources can respond appropriately in the future.
My Lords, this has been an exceptionally moving debate. As the grandson and great-grandson of people who sought refuge in this country in the late 19th century to escape the hostile environment in which the Jewish communities of eastern Europe struggled to live normal lives, I of course share the profound sympathy for those children who, unlike those who were saved by escaping to the United Kingdom via the Kindertransport, perished in the Holocaust.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs—himself, as we have heard and know, a beneficiary of the Kindertransport who has been a truly powerful advocate for decades for those in most need of safety and support—on securing this debate. It is right to celebrate what was done 80 years ago, an anniversary recently marked by the revelation, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, that Clement Attlee, then leader of the Opposition, took a young Kindertransport boy into his home, characteristically without seeking any publicity for his action.
The world has seen and, alas, continues to see too much young, innocent blood spilled with ruthless indifference in wars between and within countries—sometimes in the name of religion or nationality, but always with shameless disregard for human life and well-being. Think of Syria, with 500,000 dead and millions displaced, or the conditions now faced by 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar. Often, people flee not only from the brutality of war but from the hardships engendered by poverty, hunger and disease, or in search of the freedom to practise their own faith, or to escape regimes that deny freedom of thought and speech, ruthlessly dividing the societies they purport to govern. How we react to the problems faced by these innocent victims is a measure of our claims to uphold human rights and needs to be assessed at international, national and local levels.
Much has been said about our national policy but I want to report briefly, as an illustration, on the situation in my own city of Newcastle. Just as members of my family settled there 130 years ago, some 64 families, comprising 267 individuals, of whom 145 are children—the majority escaping the carnage and horrors of Syria —have been resettled in the city by the city council, with a commitment to resettle another 27 families by the end of the current scheme in 2020. The numbers also include families from Sudan, Iraq and Eritrea.
Further, children’s social care is currently supporting eight unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, out of a total of 20 anticipated from 11 countries, who are now considered care leavers, having attained the age of 16. In addition, the council is discussing with the Home Office arrangements to receive six more Eritrean unaccompanied asylum-seeking children over the age of 16, who are currently in France, under the arrangements secured by my noble friend Lord Dubs under Section 67 of the Immigration Act. This, of course, will be mirrored in many other towns and cities.
However, while the council receives financial support from the Government for these asylum seekers, it receives no such support for the 1,062 asylum seekers housed by G4S and its subcontractor Jomast, whose performance in this area has given rise to concerns about the quality of the accommodation and the number of people housed under a single roof. Have the Government made any estimate of the cost to local authorities, schools and the NHS of support for these large groups and, if not, will they do so as an addition to their impending review of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children funding, an important but discrete issue? What efforts are the Government making to diversify the distribution of asylum seekers and displaced children across the country so that the cost of supporting these unfortunate people and assisting their assimilation into local communities is fairly shared?
The record so far is encouraging, but in the world we now live in, in which racism is apparently on the rise—not least in eastern Europe, Italy and the White House—the spirit of the Kindertransport needs to be rekindled.
My Lords, I am pleased to respond to this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for securing it, for all the work that he has done in this important area over the years and for being such an outstanding example of the Kinder—which helps ensure that people take this issue seriously, as of course they should and must.
As noble Lords have indicated, this is part of a much broader issue. The commemoration of Kristallnacht and Kindertransport 80 years on is crucially important, but it is part of a much broader and ever more challenging problem, not just for the United Kingdom but for the world, in terms of the displacement of people. I fear we are going to see this on an increasing scale, not just because of war but also because of famine and problems associated with climate change. Despite the hallmark conference in Paris at the end of 2015, this is going to remain a massive and increasing challenge because of some countries failing to meet the expectations and the promises that were made then. That is the point I would start by making. And, since the awful events of the Holocaust and the Second World War, genocides around the world have not stopped; far from it.
Yesterday I had the privilege of opening the new Bosnian community centre in Birmingham. Bosnian British people were there from around the country. This country has a proud record of having taken 10,000 Bosnian Muslim refugees, many of whom faced issues very similar to those that were confronting people in Nazi Germany, so I was particularly keen to be there. Those people, as has been rightly said of other people who have settled in this country, were incredibly proud of Britain and their part in Britain, and regard it quite rightly as their home.
I am also, before Christmas, visiting the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark, where I am particularly keen to see the Ruth David photographic collection. Ruth came across on the Kindertransport, so both of those visits tie in with what we have been looking at today.
Other noble Lords have mentioned things specifically related to the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht and the Kindertransport; the meeting at the Friends’ meeting house for instance. I had the great privilege—my noble friend Lord Shinkwin was also there—of being at the St John’s Wood synagogue when the great musician Friederike Fechner was playing; there I had the opportunity, as I was sitting next to her, of discussing this issue with Dame Esther Rantzen, who has been mentioned already. I think we should mark the massive work that she has done and continues to do in this area: an outstanding contribution.
It is also important to mention our own UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which I know noble Lords are committed to, which will be going up next to Parliament. Work continues on that project, led by Ed Balls and my noble friend Lord Pickles. We are now at the stage of talking about the content there, which will obviously be focusing on the Holocaust but also on subsequent genocides that have occurred in the world, so it will be a very important centre for education and for people to visit next to the seat of our democracy.
I will now say something about the important issues that were raised in relation to ongoing settlement here for refugees, and try to provide some of the information that was sought. In so far as I cannot do so now, I will ensure that that information is forthcoming—in relation particularly to the numbers of people who are here and so on—but let me see what I can do in relation to the figures. These are latest figures I have, which are as at June this year. In relation to the Middle East and north Africa vulnerable children resettlement scheme, 883 have settled out of the 3,000 commitment. The MENA scheme is just children; the Syrian scheme is broader. Again as of June, for the Syrian scheme 12,851 have been resettled and the commitment is for 20,000 to be settled by 2020, so we believe we are on target. Those are the latest figures I have.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about families. I have been told by officials—I will confirm this in a letter—that both schemes are open to family members so that they can be with the children. Clearly, the Syrian scheme would be so because it is not limited to children but I will confirm this in relation to the other scheme to ensure that we are right.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about the position in Northern Ireland. I am told that the scheme is being operated there in the absence of the Executive. Again, I will confirm that, but that is the advice I have been given. My noble friend Lord Polak talked about the importance of remembering the acts of kindness and bravery exhibited, as well as ensuring that they are carried forward. I quite agree.
I know that this subject is close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno—perhaps more than any other. He spoke with great authority on the global challenges we face. That leads us to reflect on the importance of the global leadership of other countries, not just on this issue but on issues that have an impact on this, such as climate change. I very much agree with him.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke about the importance of individuals as well as Governments contributing to this area. He spoke about Clement Attlee, quite rightly. I thank him and, through him, many other faith institutions for their sponsorship of individuals coming to this country as refugees. Those numbers are added to the overall numbers; they are not taken out of them, as it were. They are in addition to the numbers provided.
Forgive me, but can the Minister check his previous answer? The last conversation I had was that these numbers are included in, not additional to, the overall number.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. That is not the information that I have, but I will certainly check that point.
We are working closely with Canada, which has provided strong leadership in these areas through not just faith organisations but higher education institutions, such as universities.
My noble friend Lord Shinkwin spoke about his personal interest in his very moving speech about the importance of continuing commitment. I quite agree with him.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, treated us to some personal, moving reminiscences about her position and that of her family. She said, quite rightly, that this cannot be solved through private action alone. I think she would accept that private action is important, but so is governmental action; I accept that. I will seek, perhaps in a letter, to say where we are precisely on the numbers and how we expect to meet targets on the other numbers.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised several issues. I want to take up the particular point about Asia Bibi; clearly, that case is of great importance. I will tread carefully because I am not quite sure where we are on that, but I know that our chief concern is that she and those close to her are protected. If I may, I will cover where we are on that issue and what we will seek to do in a letter.
My noble friend Lord Popat has led similar debates in the past and speaks with great personal integrity and compassion. He has contributed massively to society and sets an excellent example. I thank him very much for his intervention. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, who spoke about his partnership with my noble friend in Harrow East. They both have strong connections there. I thank the noble Lord for his kind words, especially those about Ted Heath’s Government, who did so much for the resettlement of Ugandan Asians.
Looking back, we are always proud of what we did but perhaps feel that we should have done more. We should always ask the question: could we have done more? Almost inevitably the answer will be yes. Obviously this is well beyond my pay grade and not in the department that I sit in, but I will ensure that the Home Office is made aware of the sentiments here and ask it about not just the numbers, although they are clearly important, but the position of the people living here to make sure that they are properly looked after and that we do what we should do. Those points were made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham.
Through the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I thank local authorities for what they do. I have certainly seen Syrian families in Newcastle, and in Taunton, Hereford and Southampton. A very good job is done by local authorities. As I said, that does not mean that we cannot do more not just in numbers, although they are important, but in ensuring that the people who are here receive proper care and attention. In short, there is a very local aspect to this in local authorities that works well in general. There is a responsibility on Governments and on individuals, and there is a global position that should worry us very much, in the context not just of some of the challenges but of some of the leadership, in particular the lack of leadership.
The Minister makes a very important point about the lack of global leadership. Given that we all want these problems tackled at the root so that there are not refugees in the first place, will he go back to some of the other departments he mentioned to see whether there could be some sort of round-table discussion involving people such as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others who have participated, so that we could do more and be rather more effective than we have been thus far? Could he also undertake to write to me on the specific point I raised about the detention centres in Libya and the allegations made by Safe Passage that children in those centres have been tortured?
I certainly will. I thank the noble Lord for reminding me of that point. Perhaps he and I could have a word about that. If he could supply me with some information I will make sure it gets to the right Minister so that we can get an answer on it. His broader point about a round table is a good suggestion. I will see whether we can organise something on that basis to look at how we can co-ordinate things, not just in our country. I am conscious that when we had the Climate Change Conference in 2015 the world came together to agree something. If it is possible on climate change, given the very different interests around the world and the very different impact it would have on different countries, you would think that it would be possible for the world to come together on so many other areas. That is something that this round table could look at. I will certainly see what I can do, perhaps working through the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Dubs.
I thank noble Lords for a very moving debate that has looked at many issues, all of them very important. I undertake to come back to them on the issues raised.
House adjourned at 7.08 pm.