Tuesday 2 April 2019
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Aid: Anti-Corruption Measures
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they take to ensure that anti-corruption measures are supported as part of (1) aid to developing countries, and countries recovering from natural disasters, and (2) the reconstruction of former conflict areas.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate. I thank other noble Lords for participating in such numbers, even though it has an impact on everyone’s timing. I also thank the House of Lords Library for the research briefing we all received, which I am sure everyone agrees is excellent. I am especially pleased that today we have the privilege of my noble friend the Minister finding time in his busy schedule to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government.
I begin by making absolutely clear that I am a passionate advocate of the Government’s commitment to investing 0.7% of GDP in international development. It is now more important than ever that the UK is seen to be at the forefront of international development, and I echo the ambition of my right honourable friend in the other place, Andrew Mitchell, that the UK must be a development superpower as we find our way forward in a post-European Union environment. Too often, corruption in recipient countries is used by some as a reason for the UK to reduce its aid programmes. It is my view that it is our responsibility to try to eliminate corruption in recipient countries, whether at a governmental level or, as is often the case, at an endemic cultural level, and not to stand aside from it.
I very much welcome the Government’s joined-up corruption strategy, especially the focus on joint working resulting from the 2016 anti-corruption conference and the five-year plan from 2017 to 2022. However, while not wishing in any way to underestimate the importance of the Government’s international efforts, I should like to focus this afternoon on the country-by-country strategy that I believe is necessary to deal with corruption in much of the developing world.
My interest is in seeing the UK use its significant development muscle to ensure that the corruption that blights so many of the developing countries we wish to support is reduced. This corruption does much to undermine the social and political contract necessary for developing countries to succeed. There is little point in our investing in the stability of these states if the populace do not have confidence in their state. It is also essential that our international development programmes have the flexibility to react to new types of corruption formed in reaction to natural disasters and post-conflict situations. All too often, this corruption manifests itself around the issues of internally displaced persons, refugees, human trafficking and the abuse of minorities.
I refer to my registered interests and to my visit last year to Baghdad with my noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, as guests of the Iraqi Government. Time and time again, when speaking to young people, religious minorities, government Ministers and representatives of civic society, we were told that corruption was the greatest obstacle to reconstruction. From the ability of internally displaced people to return, to the ability of young people to get on and not have to think constantly of emigrating to North America or Europe, it was the insidious low-level corruption that follows war—as night follows day—that was raised with us. The Iraqi Government were trying their best to deal with the problem, but it was clear that there was an expectation that at least some of our development support should be directed towards supporting them in that task.
In Iraq and elsewhere, it is frequently minorities—for example, Christians and Yazidis in Iraq—who find corruption the biggest obstacle to remaining in their own country. Emigration then becomes the only option for many and, as the critical mass of the minority decreases, the corruption faced by the remaining minority increases. Corruption undoubtedly falls more heavily on minorities, and raises significant human rights issues. That is why an important part of the work that DfID should do is to develop a country-by-country strategy, identifying both victims and potential victims of low-level corruption, and how aid and partnership—working with the relevant Governments—can reduce pressure on these minorities. Day-to-day corruption, focused on specific minorities or certain geographical areas, can easily become a human rights issue, and I would be grateful if my noble friend would confirm that there is regular interaction between the various country desks in the FCO, human rights monitoring and DfID on these issues.
The report on overseas corruption by the International Development Committee in the other place clearly identifies that it is only through bespoke country plans that corruption can be dealt with at source. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for corruption in any individual country; it needs to take into account the culture, customs, history and demographic make-up of any individual state. The department has correctly been praised by, for example, the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, for being able to focus a bespoke plan on countries. What progress has been made in producing new country-by-country anti-corruption strategies? I am disappointed that the last publication of a large number of country-by-country strategies was in 2013. I recognise and applaud the enormous strides the Government have made in supporting anti-corruption in Afghanistan, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. However, unless there are broader strategies beyond these countries, the department may lose reactive flexibility.
Likewise, there clearly needs to be a serious focus on low-level, day-to-day corruption, along with a requirement to reverse what can be a deeply embedded culture, which will take a long-term timescale. We are in danger of always looking at five-year cycles, and of short-termism when dealing with issues that have been embedded for many decades. Even in these unpredictable times, with the support of all major parties, DfID has an enviable position, in contrast to other departments, of being able to develop a long-term plan beyond the usual five-year cycle. Would the Minister reassure me that a longer-term approach can be used on anti-corruption methods in individual countries, beyond the five-year cycle?
We are all rightly proud that, through DfID, we as a country are available to help immediately after a natural disaster, or to help those fleeing conflict zones. As well as day-to-day, low-level corruption, there is a danger of any emergency aid programme being reactive and, in a fast-moving environment, that systems protecting programmes from corruption may not yet be in place. As part of disaster prevention, can bespoke strategies be identified for potential disasters in vulnerable and developing countries, so that on arrival in that country, British aid and emergency help may be prepared for any corruption endemic in that particular country?
I do not share the cynicism of some in this country about the benefit of the work DfID carries out. We have a humanitarian responsibility, and it is fundamentally in our own interests, to support developing countries across the world. It would be helpful, however, in dealing with the naysayers in the United Kingdom, if there was a clear country-by-country strategy on what corruption we are determined to remove from these countries.
I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords this afternoon. We have much to be proud of in all that DfID does, but we must move beyond just a commitment to 0.7%, to ensure that everything we do deals with the corruption that gets in the way of so much development work.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his initiative and on his challenges, particularly on long-termism.
My concern is that, with so much evidence of serious corruption and malpractice, those in the field and on the front line will become demotivated, and the public—the taxpayers—will become demoralised and turn against development aid. There are many such stories. Last week, for example, I read of the position in Haiti. Ten years after the earthquake, little has changed and, after 18 years, PetroCaribe has become a vast cash machine: $2.4 billion has just disappeared, at a time when there is so much need in that sad country.
Yet we in Europe should be hesitant about throwing stones at those in the developing world. For example, the Nordics top the league tables of the least corrupt countries in the world, but there is increasing evidence of their defences against corruption crumbling before the incoming tide of Russian dirty money. If a branch makes a healthy profit, why should the head office worry about it? Take Danske Bank; over €200 billion of questionable Russian money flowed through its Estonian branch. Last week, the biggest bank in the Baltics, Swedbank, was revealed to be the conduit for €135 billion of Russian and other ex-Soviet money.
How well do we do at combating this? How clean are our hands? At the risk of complacency, overall our record is good. We are just eighth in the Transparency International index. The anti-corruption strategy from 2017 to 2022 is impressive, showing a clear awareness of the problem domestically and internationally, and a determination to establish monitoring procedures. The noble Lord mentioned the problem of Iraq; I hope that when we turn to reconstruction in Syria, we will have learned some of the lessons from there. It is absurd that Russia is looking to the West to take a major role in reconstruction in Syria, having wreaked so much damage itself.
Most troubling of all is the claim trumpeted in the strategy document:
“We will put transparency at the heart of our approach to government. This will include continuing to champion the adoption of public registers of company beneficial ownership and working with the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to implement strengthened arrangements. It is our ambition to ensure all countries adopt public registers”.
Since then, an amendment has been moved in Parliament. We note, for example, that only after the Skripal outrage in Salisbury did the Government yield to all-party pressure and bring the overseas territories, such as the British Virgin Islands and others, into the net of a public register—to yelps of pain from the overseas territories. Equally, when faced with a similar all-party coalition in the other place to make the Crown dependencies have public registers, the Government unexpectedly withdrew a whole Bill, to which the all-party coalition had tacked the question of the Crown dependencies. If we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that we should set a great example ourselves, coming to the table with clean hands when we lecture the developing world, we should clearly look carefully at what we have done on transparency, with regard to the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies—Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man—or we shall rightly be accused of hypocrisy. Dickens defined hypocrisy as a signpost that points the way to go but does not go there itself. We should be well aware of that danger. Our record is good, but there are omissions and problems of which we should be well aware.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for raising this important Question. I draw attention to my non-financial interest as a vice-president of the Leprosy Mission. I hasten to add that, to the best of my knowledge, that excellent organisation has not been infected by the scourge of corruption.
However, all of us involved in third sector aid must be vigilant and realistic about the temptations even for those whose careers and lives are essentially altruistic. The diocese I serve used to have what the Anglican Communion calls a companion link with a diocese in a very poor area of a very poor African country, where corruption is rife at all levels. We found it extremely difficult to support church work, rural clinics, schools and so on without significant amounts of money going astray—despite our best efforts as required by the Finance Act 2010 and by our own ethical standards.
The Finance Act 2010 requires those giving money for charitable purposes to assure themselves that it is being spent as the donors intended. Although this is absolutely right, it makes it almost impossible for relatively small donors to give to anything other than large, well-managed appeals. The easy way out of this problem is to pull out of offering or providing aid in those contexts where corruption is most rife. On the small scale at which a parish, or even a diocese, operates, this might be the right and only option, unless we can afford to have our own people on the ground, which in any case adds a whole new layer of difficulty and potential for corruption.
Sadly, I suspect that the days of small organisations giving money for small projects in difficult areas may have to end. But on the scale of major NGOs and Governments, that approach will not do and cannot be countenanced. The sad fact is that the very poorest are the main victims of corruption. It is they who suffer and lose most, but they are also the ones who suffer even more if corruption is punished by the withholding of aid.
It is widely recognised, including by our Government and the United Nations, that we must design and deliver aid programmes so that corruption becomes as near to impossible as we can make it. I venture to hope that, as the Government and the larger NGOs address this issue, they will also consider how smaller charities and even individuals can safely offer aid and support to the sort of small-scale projects that can make a real difference to people but come under the radar of much of the policy-making in this area.
I am proud of our national 0.7% commitment to overseas aid, and of the wonderful work done by government, NGOs and faith bodies to serve and support the poorest people in the world. May we not put that noble task and responsibility at risk because of corruption, but instead lead the world, as we should, in finding effective ways to give aid that reaches the most needy people and communities.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this short debate. Of course, the Government have a statutory requirement to spend 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance. They have a duty to be accountable to the taxpayer for the appropriate and effective allocation of those funds to projects worldwide, but in the real world of delivering humanitarian aid, the challenges are to assess the extent and nature of corruption in the host country and how effectively we can still deliver aid to those in dire need; and to judge if it can ever be in British interests to refuse aid or withdraw it once granted.
In June last year, the International Development Committee in another place highlighted concerns over whether money spent outside DfID is subjected to the same rigorous evaluation as that spent by the department. The chair, Stephen Twigg, said that spreading ODA across government created potential for new partnerships in aid delivery, which can be useful but also risked undermining its quality. What steps have the Government taken to ensure coherence across government in delivering aid overseas which takes account of the need for anti-corruption work in recipient countries and with what success?
Action on this matter is vital because we know that the British public are not quite as committed to the 0.7% pledge as most of us in Parliament are. That was recognised by Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary at DfID on his appointment last year. He said that when you ask people why they do not support the 0.7% pledge,
“they say they don’t think it works … Or they think the whole thing is corrupt and money never ends up where it should. Those are both … criticisms and we need to address them”.
What progress does the Minister believe DfID has made in addressing those criticisms over the past year?
The very nature of DfID’s work means that its officials operate in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions around the world, as in South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example. In South Sudan, civil war has raged for years and its Government seem to have no care for their peoples and treat the national treasury as a personal bank account. The level of corruption and disarray means that DfID cannot do capacity-building before allocating aid, as would be the “normal” way of its doing business. Cash transfers are used to provide health services and girls’ education that give them a minimum ability to function. The education is extremely basic, but it keeps girls at school and less likely to be married off at 11 years old. That is vital in a country with high levels of sexual and gender-based violence and early marriage. I hope the Government will continue to give full support to DfID’s programmes in South Sudan.
I also welcome our humanitarian presence in the DRC in the face of sporadic violence and continuous government corruption. Can my noble friend the Minister outline the anti-corruption work carried out by the UK there and how it co-operates with other international donors?
There is evidence that UK aid work in the DRC can succeed. When at the FCO, I visited La Pépinière in Kinshasa, an excellent DfID-supported project which focused on the economic empowerment of women and girls. Can my noble friend say what gender-specific projects are supported by DfID in the DRC today?
To add to all that, the DRC has now been hit by its worst ever outbreak of Ebola; it is the second-worst ever outbreak globally. Adding to the crisis, rebels in the region have begun attacking the clinics treating Ebola sufferers. What is the Government’s assessment of the aid they can give to those trying to contain the spread of the virus?
UK humanitarian work in countries such as South Sudan and the DRC demonstrates how important it is that international donors do not “walk away” but stay to deliver aid to those who need it and persist in both anti-corruption measures and capacity-building with host Governments who cannot, or will not, help their own peoples.
My Lords, the World Bank identifies corruption as a major obstacle to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and its detrimental effect on the poorest 40% of people in developing countries. It is estimated that, every year, up to £2 trillion is lost globally to corruption.
My brief remarks will centre on the dangers of corruption in the post-conflict, post-ISIS Iraq referred to by the noble Lords, Lord McInnes and Lord Anderson, and on British aid to Pakistan—I should declare that I am co-chair of the Pakistani Minorities All-Party Group and visited Lahore and Islamabad last November.
On 11 October 2017, Ministers confirmed to me funding for 80 projects benefiting Yazidis and 171 benefiting Christian communities targeted by the ISIS genocide; £40 million had been earmarked for urgent humanitarian assistance and more than £25 million for UN stabilisation efforts. On their return to the region, 746,000 Iraqis from minority communities were meant to benefit from these Funding Facility for Stabilization projects managed by the United Nations Development Programme. Over subsequent months, news circulated that the money was not reaching the affected communities. One of the main reasons for this failure was corruption. NGOs drew this to the attention of the Government and I attended a meeting with Ministers at which the details of a phantom project were described.
At the end of 2017, in response to a freedom of information request, the Department for International Development refused to provide information describing how these projects were benefiting those minorities and how they were being implemented. DfID relied on several exceptions, saying that disclosure would or might prejudice relations between the United Kingdom, Iraq and international organisations or courts, and would or might prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. In reality, the information could easily have been disclosed without identifying any details that could jeopardise the various interests cited. As many NGOs assisting survivors in Iraq insist that the money does not reach the intended recipients, such a lack of transparency is extremely disturbing.
Retrospectively, DfID now uses independent monitoring, which should have been in place from inception, rather than coming into play months if not years after the projects began. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the department’s current assessment is of the situation in Iraq. What issues concerning corruption have been detected, how have they been addressed and what steps have been taken to address the issues identified by several NGOs and raised in 2018 in a letter to the Government from Dr Russell Blacker on behalf of the National Caucus for the Persecuted Church acting on behalf of communities targeted by ISIS? This is public money and taxpayers are entitled to know the answers.
When comparable concerns about corruption in Iraq were raised with the US Administration, they responded with admirable urgency, transparency and openness, initiating internal inspector-general investigations into the final destination of US funds sent to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization. The UNDP has itself initiated several internal investigations into allegations of corruption, and we should do the same.
A comparable challenge applies in Pakistan, which receives a staggering £383,000 of British taxpayers’ money every single day—£2.8 billion over 20 years. The World Economic Forum identifies corruption as the third-greatest problem for companies doing business in Pakistan, after government bureaucracy and poor infrastructure. It affects all Pakistanis but it disproportionately affects vulnerable populations— the poor, women, and religious minorities. In its report Equality in Aid, the International Dalit Solidarity Network recommended that DfID should prepare vulnerability mapping tools, inclusion monitoring tools and methods for inclusive response programming, issues I have probed with the Minister in Questions for Written Answer. Two weeks ago, I sent him news reports that one of the top three DfID spending programmes in 2018-19, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Sector Programme, which secured £41 million, also needs to be carefully scrutinised. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has asked officials to do that. It is alleged that in several districts, money allocated to establish new educational institutions and refurbish schools was misappropriated and that these are phantom projects—ghost schools. How does the Minister intend to establish the facts? Waiting for NGOs or newspapers to report such cases simply is not good enough.
I therefore hope that today’s debate will point us towards the far more rigorous and effective use of British resources. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for giving us the opportunity to raise these issues.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McInnes for tabling this important debate. It goes without saying that the health of a nation’s governance has a material impact on its prosperity. It is also clear from our work at the Legatum Institute—I refer to my interests as set out in the register—that the rule of law and strong institutions contribute significantly to economic growth. It should therefore not be surprising that, when hampered by corruption, a nation is not able to fulfil its true potential. According to the World Bank, the average income in countries with a high level of corruption is about a third of that in countries with a low level.
Corruption can take the form of small amounts of money—for example, a bribe to an official to speed up or approve an application—and we saw evidence of this in 2015 when 32 judges in Ghana were caught accepting money and even livestock in exchange for passing shorter sentences. It can also be the large and more systemic misuse of public or private funds. Again, we saw this in Honduras when the former director of the Honduran Social Security Institute was accused of awarding $200 million-worth of contracts to phantom companies.
If we want to see the nations and people we support through our aid budgets thrive, it is essential that anti-corruption measures are embedded and supported as part of our response to disaster relief and post-conflict reconstruction. Corruption hinders this development and rebuilding process, but the converse is also true. Eradicating corruption restabilises society, builds trust and strengthens the very institutions that support citizens. It creates an environment where entrepreneurship can flourish and people can build their own ways out of poverty, disaster zones and conflict. It also builds political trust where fragile nations can begin to build more stable Governments and even see healthy oppositions develop.
What does it take to stamp out corruption? Eradicating a practice that runs deep and, in many places, is cultural does not happen naturally. Reducing corruption takes deliberate action, supported by a combination of strong political will and credible leaders, effective institutions and cultural transformation.
The challenge is not insurmountable. Issues will be, in part, as we have heard from noble Lords, specific to the culture of each nation. However, countries can learn from the example of others where corruption has been successfully reduced. As mentioned, best practice shows us that strong leadership and a consistent message of intolerance towards breaking the law has a significant impact.
In Liberia, while there is a long way still to go, the post-war commitment of President Johnson Sirleaf to reducing corruption saw her suspending her own son, along with 46 other senior government officials, for failing to disclose his assets to Liberia’s anti-corruption officials. This is strong messaging. Can the Minister outline what steps we are taking to support those leaders of fragile nations demonstrating the greatest commitment to eradicating corruption? This material was difficult to find and what I did find was evidence of how we are protecting DfID’s budget but not of how we are driving out corruption in the nations to which we are giving money.
Just as strong and effective leadership is essential in the fight against corruption, so too is the building of effective institutions. In Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s, an exciting new era of growth was marred by significant widespread corruption. It was common for bribes to be required when applying for schools, housing and other public services. Even ambulance crews would ask for a bribe before collecting patients and a corrupt police force was turning a blind eye to, or even protecting, illegal activities. After increasing unrest and protest by the people, the independent commission against corruption was established. By creating an institution responsible for enforcing anti-corruption measures, Hong Kong has seen a remarkable shift and now, according to Transparency International, ranks as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Can the Minister outline where we are supporting the building of anti-corruption institutions as a crucial part of our post-conflict strategy?
Just as strong leadership and the building of effective institutions are essential in the fight against corruption, so too is a change of culture. To create cultural transformation requires concerted effort. One of the ways in which South Korea, Estonia and Latvia have sought to achieve this is through a commitment to e-government by creating an environment of transparency where bribery is no longer feasible. It has begun to create a shift in cultural norms in public services. Can the Minister outline what steps are being taken to support the development of e-systems that contribute to a change of culture and the eradication of corruption when supporting nations recovering from conflict or natural disasters? I look forward to hearing from him shortly as he outlines how his department’s strategy is harvesting these opportunities.
My Lords, I shall perforce be brief speaking in the gap, but I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McInnes for calling this debate. I have limited, and rather outdated, experience of the developing world. I used to be chairman of an organisation called the Halo Trust, which was and may still be the world’s largest charity engaged in lifting landmines and clearing the debris of conflict from the developing world. I saw the work it did and was very impressed. I was also a founder member of the International Development Committee in the other place and spent six or seven years on it. I saw dedicated people doing excellent work on our behalf.
I believe we have a Christian duty to help those less well off than ourselves. I suspect that the right reverend Prelate, and perhaps others in the room, would agree with me, because we are extraordinarily well off and we must help other people. However, I shall give a little story. I am older than I would wish, but 50 years and more ago, at school, we had an excellent organisation called Brothers to All Men. I do not know whether it still exists. It was a Christian charity that dug wells in the developing world for those who had no access to clean water. I was so impressed that I put pennies, or perhaps even shillings, in a money box—do noble Lords remember money boxes?—to support that charity. When I was on the DfID committee—this was 15-odd years ago—we saw wells that had been dug with British aid money around the developing world.
I now see advertisements on the television imploring me to give money to charities to dig wells around the developing world. The one point I wish to add to the debate, which I have much enjoyed listening to, which perhaps the Minister will answer is: what has been going on for 50 years? Travelling around the developing world when on the DfID committee, I saw the tanks, the fighter aircraft, the conflict and the Mercedes cars provided for politicians, but I have still seen people who have no access to clean drinking water. That should have been happening through their Governments over the past 50 years.
I know it is a very difficult situation, but—I say to my noble friend Lord McInnes, that this is what the debate is all about—what can the Government do to ensure that the countries we assist with every good intention actually spend that money on helping the people they are meant to help? That includes all Governments around the world, including in developing countries.
My Lords, I also draw attention to my entry in the register of interests and commend the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for securing this debate on a very important subject. Like other noble Lords, I shall refer to Iraq. I strongly believe that development assistance is not the Government’s money: it is from the British public and therefore should be directed towards its intended purpose and spent properly and, where possible, used to lever in better governance and anti-corruption measures. In some respects, because it is diverted to the most vulnerable in the world, there should be even more transparency and probity over this kind of government expenditure than all others.
I had the privilege of taking through the Lords the 0.7% Act referred to. Some of the criticism levelled against it at the time was that if there was an increase in expenditure over a fixed period, that would increase the likelihood that it would be wasted. The Act’s purpose was to enshrine it in law so that government could plan on a much longer basis, as the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, said. It is a fact that now we can plan further ahead, we can take a longer view of some of the deep, systemic issues, and corruption is one of those. It is also a fact, however, that development assistance is now only a very small proportion of all aid transfers, given the depressing need for much greater humanitarian assistance around the world. Therefore, the focus on anti-corruption measures in humanitarian assistance is even more important.
I wanted to make one comment of sensitivity on this issue. On some of my visits to the least developed countries, and those in a post-conflict state, over the last couple of years, I have also heard comments about countries where a President has been elected, and then shown grotesque nepotism by putting a daughter, son- in-law or other family member in office, with other members of the President’s cabinet making huge profits out of that situation. I have heard comments about a Government elected on a minority basis, then granting serious cash flows to a minority party representing one sector or group for it to be sustained in government.
We must also be sensitive to the fact that we are not immune from unfair practices in the West. That said, the UK has a strong record on transparency and aid. I am a strong supporter of the International Aid Transparency Initiative to secure development and humanitarian resources, so that their results address poverty and crises. I am also a strong supporter of Publish What You Fund, and the Aid Transparency Index—the only independent measure of aid transparency —shows that the UK ranks the highest of all Governments in the world for transparency in aid and development assistance. When we reach 90.9 out of 100, compared to China with 1.2, it shows that other large and important countries can learn from the UK.
We can also learn from the work of Transparency International. A recent interesting report looking at the DRC, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan—as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned—Yemen, Libya and Somalia also highlighted that those countries are the lowest performing in the Corruption Perceptions Index. There is a link to instability, poor transparency and corruption. In referring to some of those countries in the post-conflict scenario, a high level of corruption leads to constant instability. The work of the World Bank shows that even in those fragile countries at peace, if there are high levels of corruption, the likelihood of violent conflict increases when Governments do not adequately prevent corruption or ensure justice. In that regard, I have visited Iraq on many occasions over the last two years, one of them with the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and corruption in some parts is, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, an inhibitor to proper social reconciliation, stabilisation and reconstruction.
Last week—this did not receive much reporting in the UK—100 people drowned in a ferry disaster on the Tigris in Mosul. The Iraq Council of Representatives sacked the former governor, with whom I had a number of difficult meetings in Ninawa in the last two years over misuse of funds. I met the anti-corruption commission representative on some of those visits and, yes, the commission has an office, but it is one person with no computer, no ability to bring cases and no ability to properly tackle the challenges.
If we are to show leadership in meeting our target, we can also show leadership in meeting global goal 16 on good governance being a condition of our support, and making sure that our long-term planning drives better standards of governance. There should not be a choice between getting aid through to the people who need it and building up good institutions. Both are necessary if we are to ensure that aid goes to those who need it most.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for initiating this debate. It is positive that in a debate on corruption, we have made a strong case for development support. I thank the noble Lord for that. As he pointed out, corruption does not just steal money from where it is needed most; it leads to weak governance, which in turn can fuel organised criminal networks and promote crimes such as human trafficking and arms and migrant smuggling.
At the end of last year, the G7’s Financial Action Task Force gave the UK its highest ever ranking in recognition of the initiatives taken to help tackle corruption at source. The UK has created the first open data register of beneficial ownership, introduced measures of accountability for senior bankers and passed laws requiring individuals to explain unexplained wealth. But are these measures enough? The National Crime Agency describes the scale of the problem as,
“a strategic threat to the UK’s economy and reputation”.
By allowing the criminal and corrupt to launder their money through our financial system, we encourage and enable more organised crime and authoritarian regimes who threaten our national security.
At the time of the Salisbury attack, Global Witness analysed cash flows from Russia, which revealed that £68 billion had been invested in the UK’s overseas territories, with the British Virgin Islands the second most popular destination for money leaving Russia. As my noble friend Lord Anderson highlighted, Parliament forced the Government to require the overseas territories to bring in public registers of company owners by 2020.
I am sure the Minister will refer to the International Anti-Corruption Conference in October, where the Government announced that they were launching a campaign for global beneficial ownership transparency. For that to be credible, however, the UK must ensure that all its jurisdictions play by the same rules. As noble Lords have indicated, fighting corruption and ensuring that aid and development finance improves development outcomes requires greater levels of transparency and new ways to engage citizens to promote accountability. It is about a system of checks and balances.
I recognise the strong measures put in place by DfID to counter fraud and corruption but, as a major donor, we could advocate more. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, about making the case for a longer-term and country-by-country strategy; I wholeheartedly support that. I hope the Minister can agree that when we are proactive in publishing comprehensive, detailed and timely information on aid and development finance, we go beyond the basics and do more. I acknowledge just how much we are doing, but if we worked with partner Governments on supporting their efforts, that would also increase transparency.
My final point concerns the importance of civil society in the transparency process. It is not just about focusing on Governments and politicians; it is about ensuring that we promote the idea of checks and balances in the system. That means that when we give support, we should properly engage with civil society and citizens to ensure that they have the information so that they can hold their parliaments and parliamentarians to proper account. That is certainly what I saw when I was in Zambia last year: there were corruption scandals but, when local leaders of communities could challenge their MPs about the information that we brought to them about that corruption, we heard a different tone. I hope the Minister will be able to respond to that point.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord McInnes on securing this debate. I thank him and all noble Lords for their contributions during this short debate, which has gone impeccably to time, urged on no doubt by the gentle interruption at the outset from my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott.
It has been a wide-ranging debate. My noble friend Lord McInnes began by talking about how corruption can sometimes be used by those who would seek to undermine the value of overseas development assistance. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about transparency, particularly in the banking system. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough talked particularly about the pressures on small charities. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, spoke about some specific examples of work done in South Sudan and the DRC, particularly around gender. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the importance of monitoring and the inclusive approach. My noble friend Lady Stroud powerfully drew a direct link between institutions, governance and economic prosperity. My noble friend Lord Robathan talked about the importance of Governments’ responsibility to their own people and ensuring that that is the prime responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, highlighted excellent third- party sources of data, such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative and Transparency International’s corruption index, and how important it is that they can be used in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, concluded by pointing to the link between corruption and organised crime and the role which civil society can play.
Let me put on record what DfID is doing in this area and then I will turn briefly to the questions that have been addressed to me. The noble Lord, Lord McInnes, rightly began by talking about the importance of tackling corruption, not only as a priority for DfID but as part of our commitment to sustainable development goal 16. Corruption impoverishes developing countries. It diverts public resources from productive use and deters business investment. It hurts the poor the most, a phrase repeated by many of your Lordships.
Tackling corruption and illicit finance is not only essential for development but is firmly in the UK’s national interest. Fighting corruption helps keep the UK secure and opens up new business opportunities and trading partners for the UK. DfID operates in a diverse range of difficult and fragile environments such as Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and in areas recovering from natural disasters and conflict, many of which have been mentioned today.
The UK is a world leader in humanitarian response and the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, urged us, in the words of my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell, to be a development superpower. That is already there if one looks at the response of the British public and DfID to the events in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
We have robust measures in place to reduce the risk of aid diversion. We conduct regular assessments of our partners’ financial capability systems and processes, including those of partners further down the delivery chain. This gives us confidence that our partners are well prepared to deliver aid in emergencies and that the aid will go to those in need.
The UK has led global efforts to tackle corruption. Effective measures against corruption require action at three levels: with our partners in developing countries to tackle corruption in their systems; internationally to stop the flow of corrupt money across borders, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned; and, in rich countries also, to show that we are not a haven for corrupt money, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also referred.
We can be proud of our achievements working with partners in developing countries. Due to our work, corrupt officials in Sierra Leone have been sanctioned as a direct result of data produced by the DfID-funded Pay No Bribe digital platform, which maps real-time anonymous reports of bribes. Helping countries to address corruption after conflict is vital, because if a country has been destabilised, there are new and greater opportunities for corruption to occur. DfID expertise helped in Afghanistan to establish the flagship Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, which brings together law enforcement and justice institutions to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate high-level corruption cases. My noble friend Lady Anelay talked about DfID’s work in Sudan. She has been a distinguished Minister in these roles and I pay tribute to the DfID staff who work in that difficult posting. It has been a testing time and we appreciate what they do in respect of the girls’ educational challenge and many of the other things happening there.
In addition to supporting change in developing countries, the UK must also ensure that we have our own house in order and that we are not a safe haven for corrupt money. We have a good story to tell here, although we should not be complacent. DfID funding has enabled the National Crime Agency to investigate and prosecute money laundering and bribery overseas where there is a UK link. Since the programme began, 30 people and companies have been convicted of corruption offences and almost £800 million of assets stolen from developing countries have been restrained, confiscated or returned to the developing countries.
I turn briefly to the questions that were raised during the course of the debate. I should say at the outset that if time does not permit for me to give all of the responses, of course I will write to follow up on them. My noble friend Lord McInnes asked whether regular interaction takes place between the FCO and Human Rights Watch. DfID continues to work closely with the FCO on anti-corruption and human rights issues, including with the main human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International. He asked what support we are giving in terms of country strategies. DfID country teams are working closely with HMG colleagues to implement country anti-corruption strategies. They are updating those strategies at the most appropriate time for the country context—for example, after elections—rather than in line with a UK publication timetable.
The UK is seeking to develop more cross-HMG country anti-corruption strategies as set out in the UK anti-corruption strategy published in December 2017. My noble friend asked about the anti-corruption strategy specifically for Iraq, an issue also raised by my noble friend Lord Robathan and the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Alton. DfID country teams work closely with HMG colleagues on anti-corruption strategies in Iraq and I will write with further information on those.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, talked about the role of overseas territories and the Crown dependencies as financial centres and asked what is being done in that area. They are committed to global transparency standards such as the provision of information to law enforcement and for the automatic exchange of tax information. We expect the overseas territories to have fully functioning public registers by 2023.
My noble friend Lady Anelay raised the issue of anti-corruption measures in DRC. DfID’s public financial management accountability programme supports the use of public resources to enable better service delivery and more accountable government in DRC.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about Pakistan. He has been in regular contact about this issue and I know of his concerns. We are certainly not complacent and want to look into the situation carefully. DfID Pakistan takes a holistic approach to addressing corruption through various programmes including on education, health, taxation and economic growth. It addresses corruption by delivering programmes to engage citizens to demand better services in order to create more transparent, effective and accountable institutions. However, I am in the process of writing further on that particular issue.
My noble friend Lady Anelay also asked about aid for DRC. A robust planning process involving the relevant partners has been undertaken to determine the activities required to end Ebola. These activities have been worked into a single strategic plan that the UK and other donors are working on.
My noble friend Lord Robathan asked how we can ensure that overseas aid is being spent effectively. He made the point that Governments have prime responsibility for this. I commend the speech of the Secretary of State to the Wellcome Foundation last year. She pointed out that in future, one test we should have is that the UK Government should not step in where the domestic Government can and should be doing things themselves, such as providing clean water.
My noble friend Lady Stroud asked what steps we have taken to build anti-corruption institutions and e-systems in fragile states. Where possible, we work with Governments. DfID has programmes such as the Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, which I have already mentioned. The corruption centre helps to achieve our targets under sustainable development goal 16 on reducing corruption and illicit flows. Helping to reduce threats to our security is firmly in the UK’s national interest. The UK is proud of the global momentum we have built up to fight corruption, but we cannot be complacent. We will continue to work with our partners around the world to reduce corruption. This will build a fairer future for people in developing countries and a better future for the people of the UK.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I do not intend to rehearse the threats, challenges and opportunities presented by climate change, as these have been well covered in previous debates, but we know that climate change is real, it is here, it is now and we have to confront it. It cannot be dealt with tomorrow or the day after; it must be done today, every day of the year, and every year of every decade. It is the number one issue—not Brexit, not economic growth, not any of the other issues that we might feel passionate about.
My question today is whether the Government intend to treat the climate crisis with the urgency that it demands by declaring a climate emergency. We know from the world’s scientific community that fewer than 12 years are left to prevent 1.5 degrees of warming, which will cause huge problems for humanity—it is a massive threat. The Government’s policies and plans do not come close to meeting this deadline. An urgent and rapid global response is necessary, as has been recognised by 44 local authorities in the UK which have declared a climate emergency—that is since Carla Denyer’s motion in Bristol, with all those other councils following suit. Some 17,000 people have signed a petition on this issue, and thousands of young people across the country have been taking part in climate protests and school strikes to protect their future. And, of course, the campaign, Extinction Rebellion, and many other planet protectors are putting their bodies on the line to stop the disaster.
If we are to tackle the climate emergency, we must first call it a climate emergency—we have to acknowledge it. That would send out an essential signal to business, to industry and to the financial markets that our policies will be more ambitious and more stringent with time. Sending signals to the financial markets is crucial; fossil fuel companies and their reserves are heavily overvalued at the moment. There is a strong likelihood that we will see a fossil fuel crisis similar to the 2008 credit crisis once financial investors finally realise just how much of those fossil fuels have to stay in the ground.
That is why many people are calling for pension regulators to assess exposure to high carbon risk, for the Bank of England to factor in the carbon exposure of banks in its reserve requirements and for the London Stock Exchange to require all companies to make disclosure on fossil fuel risk. Pension funds, banks and other institutional investors have to be weaned off fossil fuels as a matter of urgency or their investments could go up in smoke.
There is no economic growth without the complex web of biodiversity that supports life on planet Earth. Climate breakdown will impact adversely on our ability to supply ourselves with water, food and safe shelter. It goes to the very heart of humanity’s safety.
The cumulative effect of CO2 means that it is not just a matter of hitting a target by 2030 or 2050. If we fail to act today, we have to do more tomorrow. If we fail to reduce CO2 now, the target for reductions in 2030 has to reduce even further to take into account our failures. Every failure of today’s generation imposes a new cost on the next generation. Today’s excesses are a cost that they have to pay.
It is a worldwide problem and we in the UK have to hit the brakes hard because of our historical legacy of the industrial revolution and the vast amount of CO2 that we import from other countries—we take that for granted and tend to ignore it. Everything has a cost somewhere to somebody. It does not matter whether it is toys for Christmas, circuit boards for our computers, or exotic fruits—everything we import has a CO2 burden.
No doubt the Minister will direct us to the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy as proof of how seriously they are taking climate change, but it is a very poor effort and extremely overoptimistic about the potential for change. Optimism is not enough. Optimism is often based in ignorance. We have only to compare the Government’s strategy to the scale of the government response to the investment in the project of delivering Brexit. The Clean Growth Strategy justifies inaction by looking at “a long term trajectory”, exploring “voluntary” standards and having aspirations,
“where practical, cost-effective and affordable”.
That is all absolute rubbish.
Meanwhile, Brexit is seeing billions of pounds ploughed into contingency planning, two-thirds of civil servants in some government departments are being told to drop everything to focus on this one issue, soldiers are ready to take over essential services, and several Bills have been rushed through Parliament alongside some 800 statutory instruments—all to fulfil a self-imposed deadline of two years, which has now been extended by a mere two weeks. If the Government can pull out all the stops to deliver on the so-called will of the people, I absolutely do not see why they cannot do the same for a climate emergency, which is the largest threat facing humanity.
Declaring the climate emergency is just the first step to treating the situation with the urgency it needs. The real policies come next. We need a green new deal which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and a low-carbon economy, to enhance the Committee on Climate Change and to carbon-proof all new laws and policies—and we need billions of pounds invested by the Government to do this. The Treasury must not be afraid to increase the public debt substantially to head off this emergency.
Local authorities that have declared climate emergencies should be given a fund of money to go carbon-neutral by 2030. They deserve recognition by the Government for doing the right thing. The Government should set high standards that are enforceable and enforced, such as all new homes being carbon-neutral, and all existing homes being retrofitted to modern standards.
We have the Queen’s Speech coming up in May and the comprehensive spending review this summer. Now is the time for the Government to announce several new Bills alongside billions of pounds of funding to cope with the climate emergency. I see people taking a lot of notes, which I am very happy about; I hope it translates into action.
I assure your Lordships that Brexit planning is a drop in the ocean compared to the effort that we must put in to tackling the climate emergency; our great-grandchildren probably will not care whether or not we left the EU, but their lives will be permanently altered by whether or not we handled the climate emergency.
My conclusion is simple: when we fail to act today, we have to work twice as hard tomorrow. The Government must declare a climate emergency, taking climate change seriously in a way they simply have not envisaged so far. I therefore urge the Government to act now—today.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on her introduction to it.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the average temperature of the Earth has warmed by an average of nearly one degree centigrade, and it is all the better for that. From the physics I studied at Cambridge, I am convinced that a part of that at least is attributable to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, and that if we continue to burn fossil fuels, the temperature of the world—other things being equal—will continue to rise. We have to decide at what point the benefits of warming are exceeded by the costs, and whether those costs constitute an emergency.
According to the BBC website—we know we can trust the BBC, because it is so unconfident of its position that it will not allow anyone else to broadcast it—the principal danger threatening us as a result of rising temperatures is a rise in the sea levels as a result of melting ice caps. Certainly, if the ice caps melt it would raise sea levels by over 30 metres, which would, as the BBC adds, submerge many low-lying cities. However, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that it will take millennia for the ice caps to melt even if we continue using fossil fuels at a high and unabated rate. I cannot help feeling that, at least in the next centuries, we may harness fusion and have limitless energy, enabling us to cope with these problems or find other ways of solving them. They certainly do not constitute an emergency.
The BBC goes on to list other disasters which could be more imminent, such as flooding, droughts, storms and declining crop yields. All these things happen already. They may or may not be becoming more frequent but what is undoubtedly true is that fatalities from any of these events have been declining rapidly decade by decade. In developed countries such as ours, the risk of dying from any such natural event has declined dramatically and is extremely unlikely. It is most unlikely that any of us will suffer loss of life or even major damage to our property as a result of these things.
If we lived in developing countries it would be different; they are at far greater risk. People in poor countries are vulnerable to climate disasters because they are poor—and they are poor because they have not yet harnessed energy in the same way as we have to improve their living standards, their infrastructure and their environment. If we prevent them using cheap fossil fuels to develop, they will remain poor longer and exposed to these emergencies, these threats, these risks. That is what we threaten to do.
What we do in this country is negligible. If we stopped using fossil fuels and stopped eating meat tomorrow, that would reduce the total emissions in the world by 2%, less than one year’s growth in China. If we are to treat this as an emergency, we are talking about keeping poor people poor by stopping them using cheap energy. That is not worthwhile because it exposes them to emergencies. The real emergency, the real crisis, would be in developing countries if we were to follow the logic of the noble Baroness’s position and keep them in the undeveloped state in which not using fossil fuels and not making emissions would leave them.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this short debate. I was thinking of talking about melting ice and the serious problems facing us and, after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, which I do not agree with—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—I wish I had decided to do so. However, given the three-minute speech limit, I have decided to talk about something different: why the battle for public opinion on this matter has not yet been won. We have just heard an example of how it has not been won.
People have been conditioned to think of the natural environment, including climate, as a relatively benign thing which can be solved by technical fixes but this is not right. There are two reasons for this. One is that the climate of this planet has been relatively stable for some 6,000 or 8,000 years—perhaps a bit more. This has been absolutely crucial for the development of human existence as we know it. Farming settlements in the fertile crescent, the establishment of towns, trade—particularly in coastal towns and ports— learning, recreation and complex systems of government have led to relatively stable and complex societies, economics, geographies, networks and cultures. There is a general assumption that the environment is there and that it will be okay.
I also think that some people in academic circles and those who did A-levels and so on have an understanding of the natural world which is not quite as alarmist as it might be. Based on academic concepts from the 19th century onwards, natural change is an evolutionary and gradual, incremental thing. In biology, there was Darwinism and theories of evolution; there are geological concepts dating from pioneers such as Hutton, Playfair and Lyell, who were right at the time; there were geomorphological models based on the cycle of erosion developed by William Morris Davis; there were similar theories on climate and oceans and the structure of the continents; there are theories based on uniformitarianism—“The present is the key to the past”—associated with gradualism: that small incremental changes in climate and ecosystems, and all these other things, are the basis of change.
In the longer term, there is much truth in this, and it was a rational scientific alternative to ideas such as creationism, the great flood and other catastrophic ideas, but we all know of catastrophic changes. After all, the dinosaurs no longer rule the earth. At every physical scale—and scale is vital here—what pans out over time as gradual change often consists in practice of a vast number of catastrophic events, some small and some large, like landslides and the melting of ice. These can be global, continental and oceanic, regional, local and small. As human beings, we are at the bottom of the pyramid. Our civilisation and societies exist at small, local scales, and we are ourselves short-term people because we have not been here very long. Frankly, cata- strophic events, if we are not careful, will wipe us out.
My Lords, yesterday on social media, there was a small, viral video of two deer battling in the foreground, while far in the distance —as you could determine after watching it for a few seconds—a lion slowly emerged that, in one efficient movement, jumped on these fighting deer, killing them both. I draw a parallel: I feel as though the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, today is that lion, while many other debates in this building are the deer in the foreground.
I was determined to speak this afternoon, because I have been through—to use a word from my own sector, technology—a pivot over the last six months, partly on the back of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, and partly because of my partner’s establishment of a marine conservation charity, which has meant relentless tussles at home. I now feel it is not only the responsibility but the only moral thing that somebody with any small voice can do to constantly challenge and question why the climate emergency/climate crisis is not debated in public opinion in the way it should be, in the sectors I see, on the boards I sit on—certainly within technology, and with the inventors and innovators of the future. To give an example, I use Twitter, and after watching deer being devoured by a lion yesterday, I used it to ask what percentage of venture capital around the world was given to climate-related businesses. It would be bad if it was under 50% right now, because venture capitalists look to the future, imagining the solutions for the things we should be most concerned about. Imagine my horror at discovering that the percentage of venture capital investment in climate-based innovations has just decreased year on year. In Europe, it has gone from 3% to 2%, and in the US—get this—it has gone from 2.5% to 1%. This is a complicated number—there are investments across healthcare that you might determine are a climate issue, or possibly in fintech and so on—but even if it is 10 times that, it is half as much as it should be.
This is just one example of where it feels that we are wrestling deer in the corner, when the lion is approaching us from behind. As a technology innovator, I feel that we must demand more of the people that think they are inventing the future, because they are not inventing the future that I want to be a part of. We have to make sure that social media companies manage disinformation about the climate on their platforms; I declare an interest as a board member of Twitter. We have to demand that venture capital companies invest in solutions for everybody. This is fundamental, and these will not be challenges we can solve if we do not deploy all the weapons at our disposal. These are people who have proven in the past that they can solve complex problems, but the debate is not happening at the level that it needs to. That is why I could not support more whole- heartedly the notion of a climate crisis and emergency declared by the Government, because Governments lead and people follow, and that is what we need to encourage this Government to do.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on introducing this debate. Her enthusiasm for the subject is in inverse proportion to that of my noble friend Lord Henley on the Front Bench. I must remind him that he still has not replied to the questions I posed to him in the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on 24 January, despite having reminded him three times to do so.
The noble Baroness has raised an important matter and asks us to look at whether this is a climate emergency. The subject is hugely important but I will not follow her down the line of an emergency for two reasons. First, it is a climate choice. If you have a climate emergency, you may actually forget about the rest of the environment that is equally important: plastics, water, soil and all the things that she and I have been debating for the past couple of years. To make one factor within the overall environment an emergency rather demeans the others.
However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to say that the International Energy Agency reported that last year emissions of CO2 rose by 1.7%, which is the fastest rate of growth since 2013. The United States, having seen its emissions declining for some years, has experienced an increase. However, the main problem is in the Far East—China and India. What I am pleased about is that Europe’s emissions have fallen. Luckily, the UK is doing well in this area. We are a world leader and we have seen a fall of 42% in our production emissions from 1990s levels while still growing the economy by 70%. As my noble friend Lord Lilley said, growing the economy is important as the background to all this.
We must have more energy from renewable sources. I am glad that the Government have announced huge spending over the next decade on 30 gigawatts of offshore wind. That will produce a third of our electricity in 2030. The message must be sent out that we have to stop burning fossil fuels. When I was the Environment Minister, we were considered to be the dirty man of Europe. It is interesting to note that of the top 10 European emitters of carbon at the moment, not one is British. Seven firms are in Germany, which is supposed to be the clean man of Europe; now it is the dirty man. This is an important subject but it is not quite an emergency yet.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this important debate. I agree with her completely that we do indeed have a climate emergency. It is not just a question of moving away from fossil fuels, or of empty slogans. I am thrilled that 44 local authorities have declared this issue to be an emergency. While I was at the Greater London Authority I ran the London Food Board. We declared London to be a hunger-free city and everyone signed up to that with great excitement. However, that was in 2008 and actually there are even more hungry people today, so these must not be empty words.
For any policy in local authorities or indeed in central government to be at all effective, it must not be put in a box. It has to stretch right across, whether it is a question of energy, plastics, the marine environment or whatever it might be. Perhaps I may give an example from the work we did in London. When we think about working an environment strategy into transport, we would probably just consider getting people off the roads, on to bikes and into public transport. However, we have to think a little more: put up living walls by busy road junctions; plant edible green walkways between estates and schools so that children can walk; grow food in parks and plant trees on busy roads; and fund schools, which takes us into the area of education and building. Schools should be given funding to plant gardens. We ran a scheme called Capital Growth through which we created 2,500 new community gardens in the four years leading up to 2012. That cost as little as £250 per garden but in the end we had 180,000 volunteers, and 200 acres of otherwise derelict land in this city became green spaces full of bees and other insects as well as people gardening. It was easy to do, but it is about will and leadership.
The scheme had all sorts of other good benefits, as is the case for a lot of environmental schemes. For instance, the police reported less need for policing in the area. There was a reduction in the rate of depression along with a reduction in the rate of crime. However, to do this, fantastic leadership is needed. Even though I went to work for his predecessor, I am the first to step forward to applaud London Mayor Sadiq Khan for the ULEZ initiative. You need to be tough and you need to be bold. In Singapore—not a state that I am necessarily going to say is a great place to live—when it was realised what was the matter with diesel cars, they were banned from one day to the next. We need that kind of bravery and visionary leadership.
I am thrilled that our metro mayors, just this afternoon, are being afforded greater responsibility over their own transport policies, because then they can start to make a difference. If we can all feel engaged from the ground up, we may be able to make a difference. If we show our politicians that we care about this and that it is indeed an emergency, then maybe it will move out of the box and into the middle of government debate where it affects every single law that we make.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for making this important debate possible. I draw attention to my interests in the register.
The natural world is our life support system. It provides our food, air and water, and cleans up our waste. However, it faces a complex and dynamic ecological crisis resulting from human activities, and climate change is but one symptom. Sir David Attenborough told the UN in December that,
“the collapse of our civilisations and extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”,
while scientists tell us that we have only a short and closing window in which to act to limit this unfolding catastrophe. Despite the current attention-grabbing, high- octane constitutional drama of Brexit, this climate emergency is an infinitely greater threat and is the real crisis that we face. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last October on the enormous increase in harm that 2 degrees of warming would do to the climate, including risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth.
The global poor are feeling, and will feel, the impacts of climate change most acutely. However, the implications will also be felt here in the UK, whether through forced migration from other regions or through disruption to our food supplies. Global temperatures are currently around 1 degree above pre-industrial levels. Within a handful of years we may face tipping points—such as an ice-free Arctic, which I have personally seen for myself is approaching—beyond which climate change may accelerate and impacts multiply, bringing unimaginable dangers. The IPCC report told us that we have just 11 years to complete, not begin, an unprecedented transformation to our infrastructure and lifestyles to decarbonise the economy and avoid climate breakdown. The good news is that halting climate change will bring us many other benefits, including warm homes, energy independence, a boom in green jobs, pleasant and healthy urban environments, affordable public transport, clean water and air, and the restoration of natural habitats.
Since the report’s publication, momentum has been building behind grass-roots movements such as Extinction Rebellion and the 1.4 million young people who last month joined school climate strikes worldwide, including several hundred in my home city of Bath, whom I warmly congratulate on their activism. They seek immediate environmental action proportionate to the enormous risks that we face. Last month my local council, Bath and North East Somerset, joined a rapidly growing group of UK local authorities—around 44 at the last count—to declare a climate emergency. With overwhelming cross-party support, my council also became one of a smaller group to set an ambitious target date of 2030 for its carbon neutrality. Councils demonstrating real leadership on this existential problem now require the full support of Parliament. The Government must acknowledge the scale and immediacy of this crisis and put forward a transformational plan for the future. They must also provide those authorities willing to step up to the challenge with powers and funds commensurate to the task.
Business as usual simply will not cut it. This truly is a climate emergency.
My Lords, it is true that the UK Government have been on the front foot on climate change and have commendably taken a lead internationally on the issue since the Paris agreement, but they still need reminding that the least developed countries are still suffering the worst effects and some—not just island states—face imminent threats from floods, drought and other disasters.
In 2018, we had some of the worst emergencies ever. We had some experience of it: the UK had unusual extremes of weather last year, and California’s autumn fires were catastrophic. But in the southern hemisphere, Kerala had its worst floods for more than 80 years last August, with more than 2.5 times the normal rainfall from the monsoon. More than 500 died and more than 1 million were forced from their homes, with 10,000 houses destroyed and roads damaged at a cost estimated at $3.5 billion. The warming of the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions is an obvious cause of such dramatic turns in the weather, and India is one of the countries that will suffer most.
South Africa, on the other hand, experienced three consecutive years of low rainfall, and Cape Town faced its worst drought ever a year ago. Taps ran dry in the city and residents were severely restricted. Again, scientists found that climate change made the drought three times more likely.
Argentina also ended its worst drought in 50 years last April, but the economic consequences for farmers were considerable. The soybean and corn harvests were down by 31% and 21%, and lost production cost Argentina $6 billion, plunging the country into recession. I am grateful to Christian Aid for providing those figures.
Very few people in Parliament or among the general public doubt that these major emergencies were linked to climate change, as has been reaffirmed at successive conferences. The Katowice conference in Poland made good progress last December towards implementing the Paris rulebook. In recent Westminster debates, the Government have sounded upbeat. One Minister has since even admitted that the UK will need to legislate for a net zero emissions target “at an appropriate point in the future”.
But the situation is urgent. According to Christian Aid, overall global emissions must reach zero—meaning that human activities absorb as much greenhouse gas as they release—by the middle of the century if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade, the target set in the 2015 Paris agreement. Next year, there will be an interim meeting in Chile, but the real decisions will have to be made very soon in Europe.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for securing this incredibly important debate. Anyone looking at our newspapers might think that the single most important issue facing the whole world was Brexit, but of course, far more urgent, with far greater risks to humanity, most particularly to developing countries, is climate change. Measures to cut carbon emissions are growing but at nothing like the rate needed if we are to tackle the problem in due time.
I first mention solar energy, because the sun has almost infinite energy, if only we could trap it. Yes, solar panels are cropping up all over the place, but two major obstacles stand in the way of significant use of solar energy: the problems of storage and distribution, as I am sure most noble Lords know. Research programmes in a number of countries are working on those two problems, but they are too small and not co-ordinated to achieve the speed of progress so desperately needed. Can the Minister explain what the Government are doing to enhance research in this vital field? It is far too important to leave to the private sector, but too many Governments are just leaving it to private companies. It must be government-led and co-ordinated.
The second area of potential breakthrough after solar, which I see as the absolute number one, is the use of hydrogen. I have received a helpful note from the Hydrogen APPG and wanted to convey a few of its main points. More than 30% of all UK carbon emissions come from domestic heating and cooking. Can we get that down to zero? We really need to. The H21 North of England report 2018 examined the potential for a large-scale conversion of homes and businesses from natural gas to hydrogen and found that such a conversion could, by 2050, achieve 17% of the Government’s carbon reduction target, set in the Climate Change Act 2008. No doubt we need to go faster than that, but it would be one hell of a step.
There is growing support from the Government for a large-scale hydrogen conversion project. For example, the Chancellor’s Spring Statement announced that the Government would explore options for decarbonising the gas grid. Can the Minister explain to the Committee what options the Government plan to explore, and over what timeframe? That sentence from the Chancellor reads as though he may not be doing very much at all, but it would be very interesting to know precisely what he has mind and how fast he plans to do it.
There are also significant benefits to a large-scale hydrogen conversion for the transport industry. What steps have the Government taken to convert cars, buses, lorries, trains, ferries or even aeroplanes to hydrogen use, and do they have a planned timeframe for such reforms?
It is of interest that the trade unions are supportive of the potential of hydrogen to create highly skilled jobs, especially in the north of England. That would be pretty helpful in the years ahead. The UK could become a world leader in hydrogen technology and a leading exporter of skills and technology. We can achieve such heights only if we get on with the changes so urgently needed. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this important, if short, debate.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has rightly asked us whether we see this as an emergency, and I put my hand up and say, “It absolutely is”. With this particular emergency, as with many national emergencies, there are lots of down sides in that there are all sorts of negative consequences to war, threats or security. Today, however, I want to go through all the positive things that come out of genuinely calling this an emergency.
First, even in conventional terms, we have economic growth. As we saw during the 2008 recession, the green sector was one that grew in 2017—those are the most recent figures. GDP growth rose by some 1.8%, but economic growth in the green sector was something like 7%. There are more or less 250,000 jobs just in the green growth and energy efficiency sector.
Clean air is one of the consequences of decarbonisation; King’s College London estimates that in recent years there have been some 36,000 premature deaths per annum because of dirty air. There are 2.5 million households still in fuel poverty, yet through proper efficiency programmes and the housing stock, we could eventually reduce that to zero. That would also help winter deaths, of which there are some 50,000 per annum. Indeed, with heatwaves these days, it is estimated that in the last couple of years there have been some 600 to 900 deaths due to excess heat. Obviously, figures have been far higher on the continent, which may show what is still to come.
We can reduce fuel bills, not just by increasing the energy efficiency of the housing stock, but by renewable energy now being cheaper than fossil fuels. Because of all this increased welfare, I hope we can increase national welfare but also reduce costs on the National Health Service. By doing all this, we are making a major move towards a circular economy, which means that the planet can start to exist within its own finite resources.
To come back to climate finance, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, rightly mentioned the decline of venture capital and the restriction on it in this sector. I was interested to hear those figures. Having said that, a huge amount of money wishes to invest, and it is about finding those opportunities; maybe government, through the public sector, can help that to happen. France has produced sovereign bonds, which have been at coupon rates that are less than standard ones. All this would also provide the UK with climate leadership again, which we are starting to miss.
I will ask the Minister only the following question. On 2 May, the climate change committee will produce its report on what we should do to achieve only a 1.5 degree centigrade increase—reckless though even that is. Will the Government accept the committee’s recommendations, whatever they are?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating today’s debate and challenging us to consider the climate emergency movement. It is more usual to apply the term “emergency” to specific events that everyone can recognise, to signal that an exceptional response is required. To apply it to the process of climate change underlines the urgency of the situation, to recognise that more extreme weather patterns are occurring across the world more frequently, and that emergency action is required to avert more catastrophic consequences, both numerically and in intensity.
While it is true that much progress has been achieved, that must not be a reason for self-congratulatory complacency. The climate emergency movement has highlighted the importance of setting a new policy framework across public institutions that recognises the urgency, sets specific tough but fair targets and relevant timeframes to prioritise policy responses and embed them in overarching governance arrangements, and to communicate this both nationally and inter- nationally.
Each organisational level of government must fulfil its responsibilities through relevant ranges of actions to reduce emissions and increase resilience. With more easily achievable low-hanging fruit having been plucked already, it is now imperative to redouble the UK’s national efforts to tackle the most intransigent areas of heating, gas decarbonisation and transport, including shipping. The Government’s official target is still to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels. With the IPCC’s recent report that recognises the tipping point of 1.5 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels, that target is likely to be breached between 2030 and 2050. Labour has recognised that this will require a net-zero emissions target, not a new cost-benefit analysis.
The pace of change must increase as the urgency is not being adequately addressed by this Government. Being science-led, Labour will tackle the structural change by resourcing a national transformational fund that will also address the behavioural change needed across society, encompassing waste, energy efficiency, transport and the environmental security of a circular economy. The scale of the response needed must be addressed at all levels of government, including internationally through international trade deals.
The estimated 1.5% fall in emissions seen in 2018 was the smallest drop recorded over the past six years. What now is the Government’s response to the Committee on Climate Change’s challenge that the Government are no longer on course even to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Will the Government now bring forward ambitious and credible proposals for reducing emissions for the lagging sector areas of transport and heat, and could they inform us of that today?
The Environmental Audit Committee recently stated that the Government are “coasting on climate change”. Does the Minister recognise that the pace of change must increase across all government departments to eliminate policy contradictions and mixed messages across government, such as those on fracking?
The UK needs a new green industrial revolution. Greta Thunberg and our schoolchildren are right to demand it, and the Government and the investment community need to resource it through environmental governance.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for securing this debate, which has been of high quality, even if all speakers have been limited to a mere three minutes each. In fact, perhaps that made the quality even higher, I do not know; it has certain advantages.
I will make the point, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, and to others who are worried that the debate is not happening, that the debate is very much happening. This might just be one very tiny, minuscule part of it, but we know—mention was made earlier of demonstrations by schoolchildren and others—that the debate is happening up and down the country. As other noble Lords put it when they talked about local authorities, it is happening at local authority level.
A number of questions were raised, and I will not be able to respond to all of them this afternoon. I have been criticised by my noble friend Lord Caithness, quite rightly, for failing to respond in a previous debate to his questions about the effect of the shifting of magnetic north and cosmic rays on global warning. I will write to him in due course, but he will recognise it is quite a difficult thing to respond to because there is not much evidence.
I also give an assurance to all those who spoke that the Government are aware of the threats posed by climate change, and that we respect the sense of urgency. We understand it, agree that there is an urgent need to do things, and accept that impacts are already being felt. The Government are responding, and we continue to demonstrate strong leadership worldwide—I will get on to that later on—to tackle it at home and abroad.
I will start with the IPCC report on climate change, and what our response will be. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change—the hottest days of the year are getting hotter, and minimum temperatures are getting milder. There is a clear trend, and I remind the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that we have not always had the stable temperature he seems to think we have. I refer him to the late Middle Ages, when there were vineyards in the south of England. The same was true in Roman times, with a colder spell in between. After the Middle Ages warm period, we had the mini-ice age of the 17th and early 18th centuries—so the climate has always changed, but something is happening at the moment. We agree that there is a trend and that something needs to be done; and we know that, without action, rising temperatures will result in even more serious effects.
For those who think we have been slow off the mark, following the IPCC’s report last October, within a week we had requested advice from the Committee on Climate Change on the implications of the Paris agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions target. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that when it comes out in May—I was not sure of the precise date but he said 2 May, which I think is right—we will respond as appropriate. He would not expect me to say at this point that we will accept everything the committee says. It would be a rash Government, possibly a Liberal Government, who would take that line. As an aside, I do welcome his genuinely positive approach to what the Government are doing—and I think one can take a positive approach.
The IPCC report offered a stark warning that our current rate of warming could see us reaching 1.5 degrees, possibly as soon as 2030. That would have devastating effects—it could do a great deal to our infrastructure, food, water supplies and so on. It went on to point out that up to 90% of coral reefs could be lost, with irreversible effects such as melting ice sheets that would continue to have impacts for centuries to come. The report is a rallying cry for Governments around the world to do something—to innovate, to invest and to raise ambition. It is therefore right that we should follow the scientists. As all noble Lords have made clear, we are now witnessing a groundswell of public concern. There is an increased sense of urgency from people all around the country—I mentioned the recent demonstration by schoolchildren—and more vocal demands for action.
The Government absolutely share their mission to solve this global challenge. To do so, we are taking action both domestically and internationally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked us—because there is no point in us just doing things domestically if we do not try to provide the international lead that I believe we can and will. I shall touch on both of those.
On domestic action, our carbon targets are among the most stringent in the world and have provided a blueprint for climate action internationally, with elements of our framework emulated by many other leading nations. We should be proud of our record, which was cited by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester when he stressed that we have reduced emissions since 1990 by 42% while—this is the important thing—growing the economy by 72%.
But there is more to do. In 2017, we published our Clean Growth Strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, called it “a very poor effort”. I have to say that I do not agree. The important thing to remember about the strategy is that “growth” appears in its name. As I have said, we have seen a cut in our emissions by 42% while continuing to grow our economy by 72%. The strategy set out our policies and proposals for meeting future carbon budgets and the illustrative pathways for the 2050 target. It explains just how the Government are investing more than £2.5 billion to support low-carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021, building on the UK’s world-leading expertise in areas such as offshore wind—where we have seen the price of offshore power come right down—and electric vehicles.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about research that we are doing in that area. It is important to emphasise what has been achieved. For example, the noble Baroness will see what a success story solar has been over the years as a result of government intervention, with deployment and cost reductions exceeding expectations to the point where two large-scale projects have already deployed without subsidy from the Government, and the planned construction of two more large-scale, subsidy-free solar projects has recently been announced. That is as a result of the investment that government have made and the encouragement and support that we have given—again, we have seen the price drop. I cite these just as examples; there is much more research in other areas.
The noble Baroness asked about storage, which I agree is the vital thing to address if we are to make renewables such as solar and wind, which are necessarily variable, of great use. Yes, research on hydrogen has been going on. I have seen some serious work being done by Heriot-Watt University in Orkney, where they are beginning to power ships using hydrogen. I also went to the Clyde to see some new CalMac ferries being built that will be powered by hydrogen. There is a future for hydrogen there; there is possibly a future for hydrogen in cars. Electricity might take over—I do not know—but all avenues need to be explored, and the Government will play their part in that. We are certainly exploring hydrogen’s potential to deliver against our own clean growth aims.
I see that I am running out of time so, rather than going on with examples of the sort of research that the noble Baroness asked about, I will quickly move on to say a little about the international position. I am very grateful for what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about welcoming our international role and the role that we can play. As I said, what we do in the UK on our own is not going to make much difference. We believe that the United Kingdom has played a key role internationally in demonstrating leadership through its domestic action, through climate diplomacy and through financial support, and that our world-leading economic, scientific and technical skills are shaping the global debate. I am proud to say that United Kingdom negotiators played a central role in securing the Paris agreement in 2015, while the UK scientific community was at the heart of the international effort behind the IPCC’s special report.
Our world-leading climate science programmes are helping developing countries to mitigate and adapt. We are fully aware of the concerns that the noble Earl and others raised about the problems that other countries are having. We are providing at least £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2020, helping over 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change. This September the United Kingdom will lead the resilience stream at the UN Secretary-General’s climate action summit. Our ambition is to drive transformational change in the way that we think and take decisions on resilience, enabling people and the planet to adapt and cope with shocks and stresses.
I conclude by reiterating the determined action that the United Kingdom Government are taking to tackle climate change both domestically and abroad. Our sense of urgency is real and the challenge that we face is great. The IPCC report made that clear, and it is necessary for us to build on that momentum, acting now to build a brighter future for ourselves and for our children.
Historic Rights of Way
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, this debate is about historic rights of way: those that have never been registered but existed before 1949. I want to talk about the procedural and technical problems involved in historic rights of way, so I will not talk about their value and so on. I assume for the purposes of this debate that that is a given and people do not need an explanation of why they are such a good thing. I thank in particular the British Horse Society, the Ramblers, the Open Spaces Society and the Trails Trust for the wonderful briefings they have sent. I declare an interest as vice-president of the Open Spaces Society. I also thank everybody who has put their name down to speak in this debate.
It all started with the CRoW Act in 2000, so I decided to look up what I said in the debate on the Bill as it went through the Lords. On 26 June 2000, which seems a remarkably long time ago, I was talking about resolving conflict over local rights of way et cetera. This, I said,
“must, essentially, take place at local level. As it stands, the Bill relies too much on national quangos sorting things out when what is really required is for local people on the ground to negotiate with each other in a sensible way”.—[Official Report, 26/6/00; col. 671.]
I do not believe we thought at the time that nearly 20 years later we would still be talking about the problems.
Sections 53 to 56 of the CRoW Act set out the process for claiming old, unclaimed historic rights of way—crucially, with a cut-off date of 1 January 2026. Any that have not been claimed by then will cease to exist for ever, although with the possibility under Section 56 of an extension by regulations to 2036.
The passage I have just quoted was, in retrospect, a bit naive. Things are not quite as simple as I thought at the time—but we have seen in the system for claiming historic rights of way the worst of all worlds: national inaction and delays, half-hearted efforts to get things going, followed by more inaction and delays. Local authorities have sometimes tried and sometimes been unwilling; they are increasingly unable to cope because of financial cuts. There is an increasing reliance on local groups, charities and volunteers to sort this out. They are wholly underresourced, frustrated and dismayed by the hopelessness of the task.
According to a freedom of information request from the Ramblers, 4,400 or more applications are stuck in the system. What happened? First, the Countryside Agency set up the Discovering Lost Ways project in 2004. That was closed down three years later, with four new rights of way registered. In 2008, Natural England set up the Stakeholder Working Group on Unrecorded Public Rights of Way, a body which consisted of local authorities, user groups, landowners and management interests, and really did get people together to thrash things out. It produced the Stepping Forward report in 2010 with 32 recommendations. Five more years went by before the Deregulation Act 2015 legislated for many of the recommendations in Stepping Forward. Another five years have now gone by and nothing has happened. We are still waiting for that part of the Deregulation Act to be brought into play through regulations.
I was going to quote what the Minister in the Commons said about the Act in 2000 but the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is here and she can give evidence.
I shall intervene only briefly. I was Chief Whip in the Commons when the legislation went through, and I assure everyone here that it was not anticipated that there would be a difficulty within that timeframe. It is the problems that arose later, particularly the pressures on local government, that have got us into the position today where it is vital that we look at the timescale again.
I am very grateful for that intervention in person, as it were. In evidence that it has sent to us, the Trails Trust says that the Countryside Agency said in 2010 that there were 16,100 kilometres of unrecorded rights of way and that another 36,000 kilometres of historic route existed and needed investigating. That was just in England; there were more in Wales. So there is a huge problem.
There is a huge backlog involving competing local authorities with diversion and other public footpath orders, enforcements, disputes, commons claims and disputes and so on. In addition, the original definitive maps from 1949 vary hugely in quality and accuracy. Some are hopeless and some are good. Even when they record a route, as I know well from examples in my own area in the Pennines, a bridleway can simply stop at the parish boundary and turn suddenly into a footpath where bridleway rights are not allowed. Sometimes they simply stop where the person who was doing the surveying back in the early 1950s changed over to someone else.
The situation is hopeless. I am grateful for the large number of letters that I have had from people on the ground all over the country—from Yorkshire, Burnley, Rochdale, Northumberland, Bromley, Rossendale, Cambridgeshire and Wales—explaining how hopeless it is. I shall quote from one or two of them to show what the position is. Cosima Towneley, chairman of the Burnley Bridleways Association and chairman of the National Federation of the Bridleway Associations, says:
“The Government—of which ever hue—gallops towards the Cut Off but has failed to undertake a single action promised … Where is the 2015 report which should have given an indication as to the viability of projects such as Discovering Lost Ways … Where is the support at Local Authority level to carry the huge backlog of claims and the enquiries they generate through to implementation on the ground?”.
From Northumberland, Susan Rogers writes:
“Even when a decision has been made for an order to add or to upgrade a path, there can be a long delay before the legal department of the council makes the order … At the moment if there is an objection, even an irrelevant one, the order has to be sent to the Secretary of State for confirmation”.
And so on. There is a huge amount of frustration and dismay from people who are doing tremendous work at their own expense and in their own time.
At the request of the Minister, I sent her some questions that I would like the Government to answer. I shall finish by reading them out, if there is time. Do the Government stand by the commitment given in 2000 at the time of CRoW to make every effort to register all historic rights of way before the cut-off date? Do the Government agree that Discovering Lost Ways resulted in the loss of almost a decade in the registration of historic rights of way that has not been made up since? Do they agree that the stake- holder working group set up in 2008 saw a welcome coming together of different interests and that its Stepping Forward report in 2010 represented a practical means of achieving the intentions of CRoW, but the fact that the 32 recommendations have still not been enacted makes the 2026 target date impossible to achieve? When do the Government intend to bring into effect the 2015 Deregulation Act containing these recommendations?
In view of the evidence of the failure to achieve the intentions of CRoW and the provision in Section 56 to allow an extension to 2031, will the Government now make the necessary regulations for the extension? Do they understand that there are thousands of volunteers who are struggling thanks to the time and costs involved, the complexity of the system and the inadequate and seriously reducing resources of local highways authorities to cope? If so, what further assistance will they provide for that process?
I have an additional question: what resources do the Government think are needed to achieve the CRoW aims by 2036 or 2031, and how will they provide them? In view of everything that has happened and of their own failure, will the Government now stand by the historic position of “once a highway, always a highway”, and seek to repeal Section 53 and related sections of the CRoW Act?
I have reached my cut-off date. I look forward to the answers to my questions.
My Lords, I am a great supporter of footpaths. I owe them a great debt of gratitude because they played an important part in my rehabilitation since my accident. I would say only that I am saddened by the condition of some footpaths and even more saddened by the amount of rubbish left on them by people who ought to follow the country code slightly better.
If you think it is taking a long time to get a definitive answer on Brexit, let us talk about rights of way. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on raising this. It is the 70th anniversary of the legislation to introduce a definitive map of rights of way and we are still arguing and debating about it. That is a nonsense. How right the Government were to bring forward a cut-off date when they did.
I will go off on a slight tangent. People must not get the impression that we are short of footpaths in this country. There are over 94,000 miles of footpaths here and that is being added to regularly. In particular, at the end of February, another 16 miles of new path was added to the English coastal path. I congratulate Natural England on the work it is doing and I look forward to seeing that path completed next year.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raises an important point. As I said, we must not lose sight of the fact that we have been battling on this for 70 years. I remember dealing with it as a land agent in the 1970s and it is a hugely complex, expensive and time-consuming task. The noble Lord was absolutely right to point out some of the difficulties. Councils are spending thousands of pounds and committing a lot of resources to try to solve the problem. On the other side of the coin, where there might be historical rights of way, landowners and involved parties have to defend situations that are not terribly relevant. When they end up in judicial review or in court, they are proved not to be rights of way. That is a waste of time and money.
As a footpath walker, I do not want to walk through somebody’s farmyard. It is bad for disease and bad for the farm. There can be hazards. If I am taking my grandchildren on a walk, I certainly do not want a tractor coming round the corner. We must be able to divert footpaths quicker. There is no doubt that some landowners have been harassed about this in the past.
Getting footpaths diverted is part of what the Government want to do under the new proposals. I ask my noble friend: when will these new proposals come in? When will the Deregulation Act 2015 be fully implemented? The whole system needs to be sped up; the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is absolutely right. I want to ask another question. Will my noble friend confirm that she will not accept bicycles being used on footpaths? There is a push by Cycling UK to open all footpaths to bicycles. Footpaths are footpaths; they are sometimes used by disabled or slightly disabled people such as me, and I do not want bicyclists running me over on a footpath. It is bad enough on a pavement. I hope she will be very firm on that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for sponsoring this discussion. I declare conflicts: I am a farmer in Scotland with rights of way involved. I fail to understand why public access to footpaths, rights of way, bridle-paths and so on should ever be restricted, if they are legitimate. They are sometimes restricted by barbed wire and by having to register by a specific date.
This is about an extension. We let the pathways that we had historically be covered with Tarmac as the horse became redundant. Many of the networks involved in those pathways have subsequently been lost. The 1949 maps, as we have heard, are frequently inadequate and unhelpful. Recording these rights of way is vital. Ramblers and riders do not want Tarmac. The routes are often contested, as we have heard. The public should be able to access up-to-date digital maps, and constantly be involved in improving them.
Public access to these routes is anyway enshrined in government policy. We have heard just now from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the farm steward- ship schemes that are coming along and, I too, would like to know the detail. It does not seem to me contentious that these are an important national resource. Fundamentally, therefore, why have a cut-off date at all?
Where is the information? Why should it be so difficult? We know that the resource made available around 19 years ago was consumed by consultants to a large degree, rather than actually helping establish and identify rights of way. Much of this information is buried. It lies in estate maps, on estate office walls, and will never be revealed. It is in libraries, family archives, parish council records, local authority records, old diaries and books. This should not be time-limited. This information is going to emerge as time goes by, and as we have discovered in the past 10 years, increasingly it has been the job of volunteers rather than any organised resource. We know the funding problems of local authorities; that has made matters worse. We have heard that some 4,400 applications are currently awaiting registration. Some of those will be contentious. I cannot see how this will all be done within the timetable without the extension—and even with the extension I question the wisdom. We should remove the deadline.
I want to say something on behalf of the horses before I finish; they cannot speak for themselves. They are the ones who have lost their access. I have heard from the British Horse Society that some 3,000 horses were injured in accidents on roads in the last few years. Of those horses, 340 died, with 40 riders or handlers also killed. These were traffic accidents, and I am sure that many of them could have been avoided if the bridle paths were a joined-up network, which once upon a time they were.
I conclude with a request to remove the deadline—or a question to the Government on why there should be a deadline. I fail to understand the wisdom of that when the information will continue to surface as the years go by, to the great benefit of the public.
I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for securing today’s debate, for setting out the issues so clearly, and for his tireless advocacy of public access and rights of way.
Between 1993 and 2005, I was a county councillor in Suffolk and, for most of that time, I chaired the public rights of way committee, so I have got quite some form in this area. I remember reading a summing up by Lord Denning in which he said that nothing excites an Englishman so much as a footpath—I have always thought that said a lot about English men.
The cut-off date for claiming these historic rights of way might have seemed a good way off at the time the legislation went through, but it is now coming into the near horizon. There are two points I wish to make. The first concerns the reliance on the voluntary sector to make sure that the claims are made before the cut-off date. Groups such as the Ramblers do, and always have done, an amazing job, but they are volunteers, with all the limitations of time, money and expertise that that entails. There is a very strong reliance on local groups. Admittedly, they all know their own areas very well but, like all voluntary groups, their capacity will ebb and flow over time, with more or fewer members and so on. I just do not think it is right that the capacity of the volunteers should determine whether an ancient right of way is extinguished—that just does not feel right to me.
My second concern is around the capacity of local government to deliver within this timeframe. It is well known that council finances are now at breaking point. The legal teams that have to deal with public rights of way claims are now often part of more generalist teams, and they have to compete with areas such as child protection, which—absolutely naturally—take priority. As we have heard, the current caseload is around 4,500. I suspect that, by 2026, the backlog will be so enormous that it will pretty much negate the whole idea of providing certainty for landowners—this will just drag on for decades. Therefore, there should be common cause rather than pitting one side against the other.
I have a final point to make on local authority budgets. The evidence base for historic rights of way is often found within documents such as tithe maps, enclosure awards and so on, many of which are held in local archives. Local archives themselves are coming under enormous pressure as council budgets are squeezed. I am a board member of the National Archives and we have oversight of all this. In some councils, the situation is very serious. One contingency that many are looking at is a significant reduction in the opening hours of local archives, which would make it even more difficult for local voluntary groups to gather the evidence that they need.
Under the existing legislation, the Secretary of State can extend the cut-off date by five years, and that leeway was put into statute with a purpose. I believe that, with the points that have been made, and to which I have added—the situation in local government, the absence of the secondary legislation and the collapse of the Discovering Lost Ways project—a very good case has been made for delay and, preferably, an entire review.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for introducing this debate. I declare my interests as set forth in the register as both a farmer and a landowner. I am a member of the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers’ Union, and I am an avid walker. I am also happy to state that, as far as my own property is concerned, I do not have and never have had any contentious issues or arguments relating to rights of way, of which we have many being located in the Chilterns. We welcome responsible walkers and riders, who often help us by reporting incidents of sheep worrying and other anti-social behaviour.
Like Brexit, public access creates a vast amount of heat, depending on which side of the fence you sit, and often very little light, which is evidenced by the weighty House of Lords Library briefing and all its references. In my view, the best way forward in these circumstances is to realise that no one has a monopoly of right and that only in a spirit of compromise can these contentious issues be resolved.
As noble Lords know, all the interested parties endorsed the coalition Government’s proposal that all unrecorded footpaths and bridleways created before 1949 cannot be recorded after 1 January 2026. Not unexpectedly, since then, with cuts to local authority budgets and with the demands of Brexit, the resources available for this process have diminished, causing much frustration.
However, we are where we are and, bearing in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect world, we need to reflect hard on the likely benefits of extending this interminable and expensive process, as well as the harm that is being caused to innocent owners faced with unexpected and at times vexatious legal challenges over their previously unencumbered registered land. I would like to make five short points in favour of maintaining the existing timetable.
First, agreeing that the current cut-off date stays in place leaves unaffected routes already used by the public and in no way limits access granted by rights of way provision.
Secondly, we can then move on to better understand what rights of way look like across the country and ensure that they are properly preserved and maintained.
Thirdly, the cut-off process allows for reform to the administrative process of rights of way claims. Where currently decisions can take years, if not decades, the new system should take a matter of only weeks.
Fourthly, this provides much-needed clarity to property owners and protects them from the appalling situation where a claim is suddenly made for an historic unused right of way to be made on their land.
Finally, the new system after the cut-off date will also take into account present-day uses. The current archaic system will not easily allow footpaths to be diverted to avoid such unattractive and dangerous features as slurry lagoons. Walkers and farmers will be the winners from a more flexible system. We have all heard of the unintended horror cases, such as a livestock farmer in East Anglia who has owned his farm for more than 50 years and carefully maintains existing rights of way on his land, who suddenly faces the prospect of a byway in the middle of his farm buildings. Within living memory, there has been no public path on this route and no public use of it. This claim would ruin his business, as there can be no gates or other barriers on a byway.
Let us bring this whole contentious issue to an end in 2026 by creating certainty and properly maintained public paths in the interests of both the general public and property owners. Can the Minister give us that assurance?
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us the chance to debate this important topic— an eternal topic, as several noble Lords have said. I declare an interest as a member of the Ramblers; I undertake long-distance walks each year—not like my noble friend Lord Bates, who does serious long-distance walking, but I expect to clock up 100 to 150 miles this year. As the Ramblers point out in their briefing, along the way we will stay in pubs, use restaurants, and, occasionally, if we are too exhausted, get a taxi to take at least our luggage if not us. The supplementary income walkers give to the countryside community is very important, and I look forward to seeing more of the countryside on my way from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I also declare an interest by proxy: my wife, my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger, is a committed horsewoman and a member of the British Horse Society.
This is an important but narrow topic, and I do not want to repeat what other noble Lords have said. It seems to me that the argument for extending the cut-off date is, as they say in the trade, a slam-dunk proposition. We have heard from noble Lords about the delays along the way in the handover from the Countryside Agency to Natural England and in the implementation of the Deregulation Act. That seems a very good reason why those years should be added to the period before it comes to an end. It must surely be public policy to encourage our fellow citizens to exercise more, and how better to do this than walking on the footpaths, seeing the countryside and its flora and fauna at first hand rather than through the window of a motor car?
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, he is wrong to suggest that we should stick to the cut-off date. As I have already said, the delays in implementing the legislation should give us additional time at the end, and, as the Ramblers point out, more than 4,000 applications are already in process. No matter how strict a view one takes, these need to be taken into account when we look at any end date for the legislation.
In the few minutes I have, I want to look at the position from the other end of the telescope—in fact, from the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington: the position of the owner of the land which the footpath or bridleway will cross. I undertook for the Government an investigation into what was holding up the development and growth of small charities. I produced a report called Unshackling Good Neighbours. One of the most important issues stopping the growth of charitable activity was the lack of, improper use of, or inability to get, insurance. There is an application here when we come to look at the opening up of bridleways and footpaths. In that report, we had examples of people who had had a fete in their garden, at which somebody fell over a guy rope and they got sued.
When farmers open up bridleways, it starts with a few horses and a few walkers; then you get more walkers and a few cyclists; then you get a lot of cyclists and then motor-bicyclists; and then, finally, you get off-the-road vehicles. I therefore much associate myself with the question put by my noble friend Lord Caithness about ensuring that footpaths are used appropriately. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say about that. What happens when you get that mixed use of traffic is that a horse shies and runs into a group of walkers, and then the landowner suddenly finds himself in the firing line.
There are issues here of usage and priority, and of consideration and courtesy. It may be that somewhere along the way we should think about a new code of behaviour to deal with and reconcile these interests. Many of your Lordships have experienced the satisfaction, thrill or sense of achievement when, having sweated up some hill to reach the top, one can see the beauty of Britain laid out before one. We should not allow these opportunities to be denied to our fellow citizens.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on securing this debate, and declare my interests as a landowner, a Local Government Association vice-president, a property professional and chairman of a body known as the Rights of Way Review Committee. I pay tribute to those who attend that committee’s meetings to seek consensus, despite some opposed standpoints, but I have to say that our work is on hold. At a risk of covering things that have been raised already, here I will express my personal views.
My starting point is to affirm the importance of our rights-of-way system to users and, perhaps not so obviously, to the businesses—mine included—that provide services along the way. It is a critical social and national tourist asset, with no better recommendation of its importance than that contained in the report Stepping Forward and the simplification proposals that followed in 2012.
It is self-evident that not all of the network is useful or convenient. Despite significant advances, it suffers from underfunding, poor conditions, bad signage, discontinuity, inadequacy for the range of current users and a sclerotic legal structure. The equally obvious need for policy consensus is still hampered by polarised views, conflict and lengthy arguments, the tragic and avoidable ruination of some rights, and the deprivation of rights for others—this is all sucking resources from other important work. Local authorities are still forced into costly technical battles based not on current or future needs but often on claimed usage from long ago, when people walked to work or church and drove their livestock to market. Yet that remains the basis of the lost ways and many such definitive map modifications that follow: hence the need for some sort of cut-off.
Caseloads grow, partly, as we have heard, because some post-1949 work incorporated errors and omissions. It was also not flexible enough to meet modern requirements, never mind the local government spending constraints. Seemingly only in the national parks do rights of way have adequate priority or anywhere near appropriate management or funding. This does not translate into modern green commuting, safe routes to school, or facilities for urban fringe dwellers; nor does it cater for—or segregate, for that matter—the wide range of recreational users of our linear routes and open access areas, let alone for people with infants in buggies or mobility scooters.
My insights do not reveal an easy way forward. Genuinely held viewpoints are too often based on narrow, inflexible principles that stand in the way of compromise, often to the point where conceding anything becomes an existential threat to its proponents. This drains the lifeblood from reasoned dialogue on the future and stagnates progress. The huge costs of implementing the CROW Act 2000 and the disproportionately small results on the ground are another case in point. Yet there is space enough in this realm to satisfy reasonable aspirations if we could bypass dirigiste principles and obduracy, with their huge costs and delays, and replace the concept of rights with one of consensual facility.
The object must surely be to protect and enhance the best of our rights-of-way system, rationalise and improve coherence, avoid conflicts, and allow routes to be amended or created, with redundant ones being closed. Even after the cut-off, the lodged claims to date will still need to be dealt with, and it is arguable that the definitive modification arrangements are no longer fit for purpose. Failing movement on the Deregulation Act 2015 proposals, might it not be better if it was all taken out of its legalistic arena and put in the sole control of some other non-partisan statutory body with a remit based on need, network coherence, fair balance, conflict reduction and cost benefit? Much of the private and taxpayers’ money spent on historical research and public inquiries might then be directed to infrastructure improvements, eliminating the more severe landowner risks and doing a power of good for the general public, tourism and the economy.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for securing this important debate and for setting out the case so well. Rights of way are very dear to the public’s heart, if not necessarily to the landowners. I declare an interest in that there is a footpath running along the edge of our garden and within our boundary. Currently, it is used by children playing hide-and-seek, and by ramblers once a year.
Towards the end of my time on Somerset County Council, I was a member of the environment committee, which met once a month. Not every meeting contained an application to put a right of way on the definitive map. If there was one, often a site visit would have taken place earlier in the month. We also had written evidence, in addition to the views we may have gleaned when we were out on site. All of this was six to 12 years ago, when the rights-of-way department was small and the offices were overworked. At that time, there was a five-year backlog on rights-of-way applications. As one of those contacting me eloquently said: “By the time the application comes forward, many of those who would have given evidence will have died”.
Given the Government’s drive to make us all healthier and most of the public’s wish to embrace this ethos, it would seem extremely short-sighted not to put some investment into ensuring that rights of way are fully investigated and not lost forever. Relying on volunteers is unsustainable, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market have indicated. I have received interesting briefs from a range of organisations, all saying that the deadline of 2026 will cause a huge loss of potential access for the public to the countryside. Many give examples of how difficult it is to provide the necessary proof that a bridleway or footpath ever existed over a disputed route, as has been demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow.
If the 2026 deadline is adhered to, I cannot see how the promises in the Government’s 25-year environment plan to create new green infrastructure will be delivered. Would the Minister care to comment on this? As my noble friend Lord Greaves said, in 2010, the Countryside Agency estimated that there were 16,000 kilometres of unrecorded rights of way in England, with 1,500 in Wales, and a potential 36,000 kilometres of historic routes that existed and needed investigating. The lack of local authority funding impacts on route maintenance and definitive map work. This means that the grass routes which the horse industry uses is severely threatened. This is an activity which attracts a high proportion of women, girls, children, disabled people and older people, and because of its rural nature, it is a big contributor to the rural economy.
If the cut-off date of 2026 remains, it should be only with the agreement that all existing recorded rural footpaths be made equally accessible to the non-motorised user groups—equestrians, cyclists and walkers—and I cannot agree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on this. Many children wish to ride their bicycles to school, but the roads are not safe to do so. If byways and bridleways could be made available over green lanes, they could enjoy exercise safely. It is not necessary to design rights of way as though they were super-highways costing thousands of pounds.
This has been a fascinating debate. It is obvious from everything that has been said that there are differing opinions about whether there should be a cut-off date or not. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said, in 2007, the Discovering Lost Ways project recorded only four lost ways in one county and had to be abandoned at a cost of £8 million; what a chronic waste of money.
There are areas of the country such as Cornwall with a vast number of paths to investigate. Walkers spend more than £6 billion a year supporting 24,000 full-time jobs, while the economic value of the equestrian sector stands at £4.3 billion. The Government would be unwise to ignore this economic impact. Surely the Minister will accept that it would be better to abandon the 2026 deadline and think again.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for tabling this debate and for reminding us of this looming deadline. As other noble Lords have done, I should declare an interest as the president of Friends of the South Downs, which does fantastic work campaigning to protect and preserve the landscape of the South Downs National Park and providing a huge range of guided walks on its footpaths and bridleways.
As the noble Lord pointed out, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 introduced the cut-off date of 2026 to register historic rights of way. At the time it was a ground-breaking piece of legislation which created the right to roam on common land and opened up access to 3 million acres of mountains and moorland. I am very proud of my party’s record in championing the right to roam. It built on the foundations of Labour’s National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which took the bold step of creating 10 national parks with extended public access to the countryside. This month, we will be participating in a commemoration on Kinder Scout of the mass trespass that led to the legislation being passed 70 years ago. We have made a great deal of progress and have much to celebrate.
However, as my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton made clear, when we included the cut-off clause in the 2000 Act, I do not think that we anticipated the consequences today. As noble Lords have said, we are now in danger of hitting the 2026 deadline with the job half done. First, we should recognise that walkers are already faced with huge challenges in exercising their rights. It is estimated that 9% of the existing network is impassable, blocked off or unstable. Rather than extending their rights over historic footpaths, for many walkers there is a battle to retain what they already have. Secondly, the task of identifying the missing historic routes has proved to be much more complicated than was first imagined. Records are incomplete or contradictory and subject to local folklore which is often difficult to prove. They have also proved on occasion to be hugely controversial, with planning applications, disputes and legal challenges all too often causing delay.
Thirdly, for historic rights of way to be rescued and re-established, local authorities are required to step up to the mark by investigating claims and dealing with objections before a footpath can be officially recognised. As the deadline grows near and receives more publicity, the number of claims has been increasing at the very time when local authority resources are being cut to the bone. Moreover, if it is difficult and costly for local authorities, it is even more problematic for individuals wishing to make a claim. You have to gather evidence for the continued use of a path over 20 years and find sufficient witnesses to verify its use. The challenge for individuals and groups is enormous.
In these circumstances, it seems only right that we should revisit the 2026 deadline. As noble Lords have said, historic rights of way come to light for many different reasons and at many different times as land use changes and more historic records are unearthed. You cannot put a time limit on that. It would be a real setback to our heritage if Defra does not take this opportunity to revisit the deadline. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is indeed her intention.
My Lords, our unique rights of way network is precious. The benefits go far beyond the simple necessity of getting from A to B. Access to the natural environment improves our mental and physical health and provides opportunities for recreation and tourism, as noted by my very energetic noble friend Lord Hodgson. It can even combat loneliness and bind communities together.
My noble friend Lord Caithness said that he feels that there are 94,000 miles of recorded rights of way. My notes say that in England there are around 117,000 miles, so he is right that we are not short of rights of way. They are part of our heritage and must be safeguarded so that future generations can enjoy them too. In order for them to persist, we must have a record of rights of way as they exist now. The rights of way reform project is a key part of providing certainty on where rights of way exist and of providing a streamlined and better process for recording rights of way.
The legal record of rights of way is currently incomplete. This causes uncertainty for users and for landowners on whose land the right sits. Furthermore, the process for amending the legal record is complex. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 made provision to complete the legal record of rights of way by setting a cut-off date in 2026—seven years from now. At that date, historic rights of way, meaning those which existed before 1949, will be extinguished, but only if they are not recorded on the definitive maps. A Natural England project known as “Discovering Lost Ways” was set up in 2001 to record historic routes before this cut-off date.
In light of the complexities of recording rights of way, a review of the “Discovering Lost Ways” project in 2008 concluded that a fresh look at the system was needed to enable the definitive maps to be updated before the cut-off date. A stakeholder working group was convened, formed of a balance of local authorities, user groups, landowners, the NFU, the British Horse Society, the LGA and many others. In its 2012 report Stepping Forward the group put forward a number of proposals on which Defra consulted. Defra officials then began to work with the group on a package of secondary legislation to implement its proposals, taking into account both the broad consensus and the range of views held by different people within the group. The group works well and in a spirit of compromise. That is so necessary, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
The proposed legislation will bring into effect provisions from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Deregulation Act 2015. It will improve and streamline the process of recording rights of way in order to put as many as possible on to the definitive map, and then it will finalise the definitive maps at the cut-off date. In addition, it will provide a process through which landowners can apply for rights of way on their land to be diverted or extinguished. As noted by my noble friend Lord Caithness, sometimes this is essential where, for example, walking across a farmyard is dangerous or it could be bad for the livestock. This will be considered on a case-by-case basis and guidance will encourage local authorities to take action where a path crosses a dangerous place, for example.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about bicycles on footpaths. The reforms will not affect the use of registered footpaths where bicycles are not permitted. Bicycles are permitted on bridleways. The reforms will enable existing bridleways to be recorded, so protecting them and providing certainty about where they exist. Access provisions as part of environmental land management will consider all types of users, including cyclists.
As noble Lords will be aware, Defra has been required temporarily to divert resources to planning for our exit from the EU. Rights of way reform has been impacted, and work has been on a temporary hold since October 2018. However, the stakeholder working group is aware of this, believes it is necessary and understands the reason for it. We are not yet in a position to say just how soon work will resume, but I can assure noble Lords that it will be an early priority for the department.
I turn briefly to local authorities, which play an important role in this complex issue. They are responsible for recording rights of way and they do not routinely report to Defra on their progress. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, noted, I understand that many local authorities currently have a backlog of cases. On resumption of the project, officials will work with local authorities to assess the size of the backlog and consider how progress can be made. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that where applications are outstanding, the intention is that the right of way will not be extinguished.
I did not suggest for a moment that it would be: it is very clear that the backlog is the backlog. The point I was making, which perhaps I did not make sufficiently clear, is just that the backlog will be so big that the legal certainty that landowners want simply will not exist, because it will take local authorities decades to get through the backlog.
I take the comment of the noble Baroness, but I will come on to what will happen to the process when the reforms come through.
The cost and complexity was noted by many noble Lords. We agree that the process is too costly and complex: the rights of way reform project is intended to address these issues and implement a more streamlined process to record rights of way before the cut-off date. The issue at the heart of today’s debate is whether the cut-off date will be delayed—this was mentioned by many noble Lords—and whether the Government will consider delaying the cut-off date from 2026. I appreciate that delaying the cut-off date until 2031 at the latest is a possibility, and some organisations wish to see that. Indeed, we must and we should weigh that against those who are craving certainty, which would be provided by finalising definitive maps. However, on resumption of the project officials will take the issue of the cut-off date forward with the stakeholder working group.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether we will go further than reviewing the cut-off date. I cannot commit to that. Certainly, we will go back and look at the cut-off date with the stakeholder working group, but we will not repeal the relevant sections of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. There are arguments on both sides of this issue and at the moment we feel that there are significant numbers of stakeholders, as well as users, who need certainty as to what they are entitled to do and what they are not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked whether there will be a review of the reforms after implementation. I am pleased to be able to tell her that there will: officials will consider the best way to monitor the impact of the reforms once they have been implemented. Like many noble Lords, I have seen briefings from the Ramblers, the British Horse Society and the Open Spaces Society, and I am grateful for them. They specifically refer to the work done by the voluntary sector to uncover historic rights of way and to a commitment by a previous Government to support this work. We absolutely recognise that the voluntary sector does very valuable work—this is probably citizenship at its best. They research and record rights of way and we believe that, based on the recommendations of the stakeholder working group, the reforms we propose will assist this work by simplifying the process involved.
Some noble Lords noted the availability of local authority resources, but the Government already provide funding for the revenue support grant to LAs, in which is included funding for rights of way improvement plans. At this time there will be no additional funding available; however, it is important to remember that the system must be as streamlined and efficient as possible, and we believe that the rights of way reforms we are proposing, which have been worked up with the stakeholder working group, will go some way to improve and speed up the process of registering rights of way.
My Lords, before my noble friend comes to her peroration, the availability of insurance reassures all parties as to their position, particularly landowners. Will she undertake to make sure that the stakeholder group takes that into consideration when it meets again?
I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I will certainly feed that back in to the stakeholder group, because I do not have any further information for him on that.
Before I reach the final bit, I turn to the Agriculture Bill. It is worth touching on this because the role that some of its provisions could play in the support of access to the countryside is very important. The Bill will make provision for public funding for access as part of the environmental land management schemes. As noble Lords will know, the Bill marks a significant shift in the Government’s support for farmers. It will make sure that they are rewarded properly for the work they do to enhance the environment around us and indeed for people’s access to it. Previously, subsidies have been paid based on the size of an individual’s landholding, not on the contribution that farmers make to society. The scheme will be focused on ensuring that public money is being allocated only where public goods are being delivered. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, mentioned bad signage, lack of continuity and no consideration of the future needs of the network. All these issues will be able to be wrapped up in projects that will fall under the ELM schemes when they come into effect, once noble Lords have had the chance to consider the Agriculture Bill.
Our aim is for more people to engage with and spend time in the natural environment, and the Government are absolutely committed to enabling that. I reiterate that rights of way are a valuable part of our heritage and an important part of achieving this aim. Some noble Lords may have raised some issues to which I have not been able to respond. I will certainly write with further information where I can and ensure that all noble Lords are copied in. Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for securing this debate today, which has been fascinating, if short. I also thank all noble Lords who took part.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am pleased to have secured this important debate and I thank your Lordships in advance for taking the time to join the discussion on this pressing issue. Before I start I wish to declare my interests. I have been a member of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative from the outset and I served as a member of the Sexual Violence in Conflict Select Committee. I also co-chair the APPG on Women, Peace and Security.
As the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative sets out, sexual violence is frequently used for political ends both as a means of ethnic cleansing and to terrorise local populations. Horrifically, rape and sexual violence have been used throughout history as weapons of war in conflicts across the world. However, this has reached epidemic proportions today, and we hear horrendous stories coming out of Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan, DRC and among the Rohingya people to name but a few contemporary conflicts. Sexual violence destroys lives, tears families and communities apart, fuels conflict, creates refugees and will haunt those who suffer it for the rest of their days. As Margot Wallström, who was the special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, said,
“it is unfortunately a very effective, cheap and silent weapon with a long-lasting effect on every society”.
Sexual violence is indiscriminate, affecting men and boys as well as women and girls, children and babies. Victims may contract HIV, women—although horribly damaged—may have to deliver babies born of rape, and one should never forget that gang rape can kill. All too often the perpetrators go free while the victims face a lifetime of shame and stigma.
The first time I came across this personally was when I visited Rwanda and went to talk to a church full of widows. The young woman who greeted me had lost her husband and one of her three children in the genocide, and she had contracted HIV as a result of being raped. She was gaunt and worried that she would leave her remaining children orphans. On another day in Rwanda I was taken to see a young man. He had been raped and had contracted HIV. He lived on the edge of a village, shunned by everyone because they knew about his condition.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Hague, who in 2012 during his time as Foreign Secretary, launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, or PSVI, alongside the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie. Although Security Council Resolution 1820, which was passed in 2008, recognises sexual violence as a tool of war, this initiative shone a spotlight on the issue, bringing it to global attention. It helped to promote international co-operation and increased the political will and capacity of states to do more. Some 155 countries endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, launched during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2013. These countries agreed that no peace agreements should give amnesty to people who have ordered or carried out rape, and an international protocol was established to set standards for the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict.
In addition, the creation of the role of the Prime Minister’s representative for sexual violence in conflict was key, highlighting the importance of this work and driving it forward. I recognise the dedication of those who have held the office: my noble friend Lady Anelay and now my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who will be responding to the debate. It is important that we have both female and male champions because it is not just a woman’s issue and we need male champions to support and help us. I also pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Helic and others at the FCO, DfID and the MoD who have worked so hard on this initiative.
One of the major thrusts of the PSVI is to end the culture of impunity, shifting the shame from the victims to the perpetrators by bringing them to justice. Member states in the UN make increasingly strong statements calling for an end to impunity for conflict-related sexual violence. In April 2018, in the Security Council open debate on conflict-related sexual violence, SRSG Pramilla Patten flagged the impunity of perpetrators as a key issue, yet in spite of all the declarations and good intent, disappointingly few people have so far been brought to trial and prosecuted. The work of the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation argues that:
“Despite an expanding legal framework against sexual violence in conflict, there have been relatively few cases at the international courts and tribunals”.
For example, the ICC’s first conviction for sexual violence crimes against former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba was made in March 2016, but it was overturned last June, so no reparations were awarded to victims and no justice was done. There are numerous other perpetrators in the DRC, which is often referred to as the rape capital of the world, but have any of them been held to account?
Today were are told that the Caliphate of Daesh in Iraq and Syria has been defeated. We have all heard about the fate of the Yazidis: so many women dragged away, sold to become sex slaves and multiply raped. I ask the Minister how many of these perpetrators have been charged with sexual violence. I understand that many ISIL fighters are being held in Iraqi prisons charged with terrorism but not sexual violence. If this horrendous weapon is not acknowledged in terms of the law, how will that deter others from committing sexual violence in the future and how will Yazidi women ever feel that the terrible crimes against them have been properly recognised and the perpetrators punished?
When Raqqa fell, fighters, many whom had committed war crimes, including sexual violence, were allowed to walk away. Was that agreed by the 79 partners of the global coalition against Daesh? We know that many of the Rohingya women escaping from the northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh have been raped. What is happening to hold people to account there? How can the UN and the UK put pressure on the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to enable justice to prevail?
It is a sad situation that today it still appears that those who order or carry out rape and sexual violence in war can expect to get away with it. It would appear that the current global political and legal climates are not conducive to the goal of ensuring that survivors and the families of victims can seek justice and access to legal systems is shrinking. States in many conflict-affected areas have shown themselves to be either unwilling or unable to receive complaints, investigate or prosecute cases. Too often regional tribunals are slow to respond and few survivors have access to them. There is often little political will to establish international or hybrid courts for a variety of reasons, including cost and the time to deliver judgments. Access to international legal mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court is shrinking as member states do not ratify the ICC treaty—countries including China and the US—justified in a speech by Secretary of State Pompeo last month because he does not want American military or civil personnel to be prosecuted. Many countries affected by conflict, including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, have not ratified the treaty. Referrals from the Security Council to the ICC are diminishing due to the veto. Meanwhile, member states are often restricting the national legislation which could allow investigations and prosecutions of grave and serious international crimes outside the jurisdiction in which they occurred.
Sadly, sexual violence is not only committed by non-state actors. During our Select Committee inquiry we received a considerable volume of evidence on the issue of sexual violence perpetrated by peacekeepers. The crimes were often exploitative and transactional in their nature, making them somewhat different from what I have been describing so far, but they are an abuse of trust and position. While I naturally commend the steps the UN have taken to date, the current system for holding peacekeepers accountable is still not working and lacks transparency. Can the Minister update us on what more can be done?
The PSVI initiative was always going to be a marathon rather than a sprint and it needs sustained effort. Will the Minister update us on the decisions and outcomes of the Wilton Park conference at the end of February on PSVI? Last year’s PSVI film festival was uplifting, poignant and challenging. I look forward to the PSVI international conference which the UK will host later this year, five years on from the 2014 global summit. This will be an opportunity to bring global attention to this important issue again.
I am grateful for being able to raise this issue today and to other noble Lords who will speak. With all the progress being made and attention on this issue, will the Minister say why justice for survivors of sexual violence in conflict-affected areas is so elusive? How can we best use the UK’s soft power and influence to ensure that adequate national and international mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to justice and that the shame and stigma is shifted once and for all from the victims to the perpetrators? I end with the words of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi:
“We have to be a loud and clear voice for those whose voices cannot be heard. Under international law, rape is a crime against humanity—and it is our duty to work to bring impunity for such crimes to an end”.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, on bringing this important debate to the Committee. As she will know, I was the Government’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas for all five years of the coalition Government, and violence against women was also in my portfolio for the two years I was a DfID Minister, as was responsibility for Africa, a continent riven by sexual violence against women and girls in war—and out of war, frankly. This was an era of real progress, of moving forward on this agenda, particularly the PSVI. The then Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, did a massive amount of amazing work on sexual violence in conflict, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson. It was as if the world’s attention was on us, and the global summit to which the noble Baroness referred was a turning point. The world was looking at us. That was obviously helped by Angelina Jolie and various rumours that were circulating at the time.
DfID was focused on women’s lives. The experiences I had and the lives I witnessed taught me that right across the world women are oppressed and suppressed and are the victims of sexual violence regardless. Justine Greening, then my Secretary of State, together with Nike, coined the expression, vis-à-vis DfID’s work with women, “Giving women choice, voice and control” because across the world we have virtually none, and I include this country in that to a degree, but not to the degree that I saw in Africa or Asia.
I remember the desperation of girl students at a university in Ethiopia who were often the victims of sexual violence on campus, but if they reported it to the police they were as likely to be raped by the police as they were to be listened to. I remember visiting a Marie Stopes outreach clinic for victims of sexual and domestic violence in Uganda and sitting in a circle with women who had all escaped from sexual violence to the refuge and hearing their tales. A woman holding a baby had only stumps for arms. One arm ended above the elbow and the other ended below it. Her husband had cut her arms off because she was not available when he needed her. That was literally no voice, no choice and no control, and she had no one to go to. There was no justice, no one to run to and no one to help. I met girls—children, really—who had been raped, often by family members. In a refuge in DRC, I met girls who had been thrown out of their homes and villages as witches and who were living on the streets, being raped nightly until they finally got to the refuge, which I think was run by War Child. Most of them were pregnant.
The main subject of this debate is rape as a weapon of war. Despite all the fantastic work that charities do, the money and the effort that donor countries have put in, and the bravery of the fighters for human rights, equality, justice and change, it is a long, challenging and seemingly impossible task, but we must make it possible. How we bring perpetrators to justice is key, for, without consequences—and, sadly, with the complicity of authorities, organisations, communities and Governments —change will not come.
It is hard enough in this country to get convictions and justice for the two women per week who are killed by their partners or ex-partners. In countries where rule of law is at best tentative, in war, it is virtually impossible. But progress has been made. The first challenge is always persuading countries and the international community to have laws. The bigger challenge is getting them to enforce them, to ensure that international law is instituted and is working.
As has been said, in South Sudan, DRC, Myanmar, CAR, Northern Rakhine, Yemen and the list goes on and on, violation of human rights is common and its defence ever more dangerous for those activists who try to bring perpetrators to justice. Women get raped if they report violations; witnesses are intimidated if they testify. We are dealing with so many reasons for this: clans, religion, politics, poverty, ethnicity. Sometimes, as was said, it is an expression of ethnic cleansing, as in cases of the Rohingya and the Yazidis. Sometimes it is a weapon of war employed by the armed forces themselves. The consequent displacement and dispossession of land exacerbates the danger, leaving women even more exposed to sexual violence than before.
During my time at DfID, I tried to get the big charities—Oxfam, Save the Children and others—to take positive action in refugee camps, which are dangerous places for women and girls. Of course, the first order is shelter, water, food and sanitation, but we have a duty of care for those raped in refugee camps—something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Women and girls fleeing violence and conflict are so vulnerable to traffickers and border forces and, once in camps, to other refugees or, indeed—sadly—occasionally to humanitarian workers. In wretched circumstances, rape and sexual violence are commonplace.
We need to ensure that the resolutions, promises and declarations about tackling these issues are acted upon and perpetrators brought to justice. Since the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Hague, there have been a great many more initiatives, committees, papers, resolutions and actions, including the setting up in 2015 of the House of Lords Sexual Violence in Conflict Committee. It is timely that this debate should look at the international mechanisms to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account and see whether all these summits and good intentions have led to anything that actually works. I was not completely up to speed on that but, listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, it is clear that they have not worked, or are not working to anything like the degree needed to change the future.
I will be very interested to hear an up-to-date response from the Minister on the efficacy of the measures in place. Is the information that has been documented adequate, usable and being used successfully? If not, what change is needed? Are those receiving the information acting on it? If not, what are the deficiencies and excuses—the “why”s? What is the record of cases brought? What is the level of success or failure? Why are more cases not brought? What is the political, legal and security context in which the documentation is taking place? What restrictions does context put on the mechanism? Is the information gathered for litigating individual cases for individual redress, or is it being used to advocate for and illustrate the volume and type of sexual violence being perpetrated in specific areas or countries? What support is there for victims or witnesses during or after a legal process? Are measures to protect victim identity, confidentiality and anonymity in place and working? I fear not.
How is the international protocol functioning? Is it overcoming the challenges faced by those trying to document sexual violence as a violation under international law? Are countries supporting the documentation of sexual violence crimes? Are conflict-affected states developing national action plans using that protocol? If so, are they working? Have the recommendations from the Lords committee been implemented? On this debate, importantly, what are the British Government doing to monitor effectiveness on a regular basis? Are the Government asking the questions?
This is a massive challenge, and we must be constantly alert as to whether the mechanisms resulting from all the focus, and all the organisations, are actually delivering. Lastly, what priority do the Minister, the Government and the current Foreign Secretary give to sexual violence in conflict? It was undoubtedly the importance and effort invested by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, in this issue—and Angelina Jolie—that catapulted it into the spotlight. Despite much good work, not least by the noble Baroness, that spotlight appears to be fading—is it delivering?
My Lords, the noble Lady, Baroness Hodgson, has consistently and tenaciously championed the cause of those who have been subjected to unspeakable violence. In her moving and powerful speech this evening, she rightly demanded more effective ways of holding perpetrators to account and ensuring justice. I think we should all express our gratitude to her for that.
I should declare that I am joint chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on North Korea and Pakistani Minorities, vice-chair of the APPGs on Burma and the DRC and an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan. All of these are countries I have visited and all are disfigured by the use of rape as a weapon of war. I am also a trustee of Arise, a charity that works with women who have been trafficked or enslaved.
Last year, Denis Mukwege—who was referred to by the noble Baroness—with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman I have had the privilege to meet, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize, given,
“for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”,
as it says in the citation. In the DRC, where more than 5 million people are estimated to have died in the long-running conflicts—a greater number than in any other conflict since World War II—Dr Mukwere has treated thousands of women who were raped, performing up to 10 operations every day. Since Panzi Hospital, in Bukavu, was founded by Dr Mukwege in 1999, it has treated more than 82,000 patients with complex gynaecological damage and trauma. An estimated 60% of these injuries were caused by sexual violence. Dr Mukwege describes how his patients arrive at the hospital sometimes naked, usually in horrific conditions, victims of different armed groups.
Throughout this discussion of international mechanisms to hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account, we should keep Dr Mukwege and Nadia Murad—tortured and raped by Islamic State militants during their genocide—at the heart of our deliberations. It is crucial to begin with one important fact: that there are not many adequate mechanisms in place to end the current culture of impunity. Indeed, the only permanent international criminal tribunal, the International Criminal Court, despite being able to deal with cases of sexual violence, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or crimes of aggression, often lacks the jurisdiction to be able to investigate the crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators. The ICC is a treaty-bound court and its competence is limited by that fact alone. This is graphically illustrated by the genocidal campaign unleashed by ISIS against religious and other minorities in Syria and Iraq—people like Nadia Murad.
As the House knows, in 2014, ISIS, driven by its hatred of difference, instigated mass murder, torture, abuse, rape, sexual violence, and forced displacement. To this day, more than 3,000 Yazidi women and girls are still missing after they were abducted from Sinjar in September 2014 and are suspected to be in Syria. For more than four years, these women and girls have been subjected to most atrocious abuse imaginable. In her testimony, Nadia says:
“One moment I was a farm girl, going to school in my village in northern Iraq and the next I was an ISIS sex slave, ‘owned’ by militants. My peaceful existence was shattered simply because my religious beliefs were deemed sub-human by a group of men who believed they were superior. ISIS murdered my family and took me captive, exposing me to horrors which would be impossible to imagine had I not endured every moment and felt each brutal blow”.
She says she chose to speak because:
“I believed the world needed to know the truth and I wanted justice. I wanted ISIS held accountable. If we cannot achieve this, with all the evidence and our justice systems, then we are giving a green light to these groups”.
Yet, despite the level and nature of these atrocities, the ICC cannot get involved. The ICC does not have territorial jurisdiction in Syria or Iraq, and, currently, there is no other international or regional criminal court that could deal with prosecutions. Another option would be for the Security Council to establish an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute the ISIS fighters, modelled on the precedent set by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda. The Minister knows that I have been in touch with him and the Foreign Office on a number of occasions to put forward that proposal.
Under Security Council Resolution 2379, an investigative team is already mandated to collect, preserve and prepare for future prosecutions the evidence of the crimes perpetrated by ISIS in Iraq. As the next step, the Security Council could establish the international criminal tribunal for ISIS, modelled on the ICTY or the ICTR, with a tailored mandate.
In June 2018, work in this direction was initiated by Pieter Omtzigt, a Dutch MP, who convened a meeting between the Iraqi Government’s representatives and experts to explore the need to assist Iraq in prosecuting ISIS fighters and looking into the available options. The Iraqi representatives agreed that as the issue of ISIS is not only a problem of Iraq but of international concern and an international responsibility, Iraq would need assistance with the prosecutions. More than 850 people from the UK travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and were directly involved there in every aspect of the genocide, including systematic rape and enslavement. The UK clearly needs to be involved in prosecuting the fighters. Stripping them of citizenship is not the way to bring about justice, a point I raised during Question Time recently. It merely makes it harder.
For months, I have I have been urging the Government to explore the initiation of international or regional prosecutions, especially as the investigative team has just begun the excavations of the first mass grave in Sinjar. The international option is crucial if there is to be justice. Survivors of rape and sexual violence are not involved in the proceedings of Iraqi domestic courts, giving little hope that justice will be served. How can we ensure justice if the very people affected by the atrocities are not even asked to testify, to tell the stories of what happened to them, and do not have the opportunity to see justice being done or to hear an apology?
Considering the territorial limitations of the ICC, it may be crucial to reconsider whether we need a new mechanism that would be better suited to address the growing impunity. If the Minister would be willing, I would be most grateful for a meeting to discuss this troubling situation and possible ways forward.
Let me also briefly mention Pakistan, which I visited in November, and where the Minister also was recently. At least 1,000 women belonging to religious minorities, some of them minors, have been abducted, forcibly converted and often married to those very abductors. They come from the very poorest sectors of society and are easy targets for the perpetrators of sexual violence. The law-enforcement agencies often show little or no interest in helping aggrieved parents to register a police case against the kidnappers. Even if the parents persist and somehow reach the courts and the abductors are forced to bring victims to the court, the abducted are threatened and told that if they tell the court about their kidnappings, their parents and siblings will be killed. Thus they have no option but to admit in the court that their conversion was voluntary.
In the past few weeks, there have been at least six such cases, which I have drawn to the Minister’s attention. These include a 13 year-old Christian girl, Sadaf Masih, who was kidnapped, forcibly converted and married on 6 February, in Punjab. On 20 March, two teenaged Hindu girls, Reena, aged 15, and Raveena, aged 13, were similarly kidnapped, forcibly converted and married within a matter of hours, in Sindh. The kidnappers were married already, with children, but that that did not prevent them from forcibly marrying those girls. In the worst-case scenarios, the kidnappers after sexual and physical abuse, sell them into slavery and they are sent to brothels.
We give Pakistan £383,000 in aid each and every day—£2.8 billion over 20 years. Surely we can use our aid programmes with leverage to ensure justice for the victims and to save many broken lives and families. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, is to be thanked for encouraging us to address this important issue this evening, and I reiterate my gratitude to her.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, for securing this debate on a very difficult area. I must say that I put my name down hoping that I would learn an awful lot more than I would contribute to the debate. From the speeches so far I have done so, particularly that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, which was excellent and instructive, and for which I thank her.
Rape in conflict, of women and men, is one of the most sickening crimes human beings can commit. I think we all agree with that. It is not just an act of sexual intercourse, as I have said many times. It is a series of disgusting, painful, humiliating, life-threatening actions, perpetrated on helpless victims by triumphant soldiers. It is a weapon of war and, in some cases, a weapon of genocide.
I know, however, that there is huge disagreement internationally and nationally on what to do about this. My first researcher, when I entered the House of Commons in 1997, had also acted as my organiser during the general election. She won the seat of Richmond Park for me. She is Dr Louise Arimatsu, now a distinguished policy fellow at the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics. I must confess that she has tried to explain to me the complicated international law around this subject. Law is never simple, and I always say to her that I am very glad I did medicine, and not law.
As a doctor, however, I know how difficult it is to get women and men to testify on oath about what happened to them for fear of being disgraced in their communities. It is a terrible, terrible disgrace for them. Therefore, in these cases we need to completely change the accent on how these cases are dealt with. It is the commanding officers of the soldiers who perpetrate these crimes who should be held responsible for those crimes. It must be very difficult, I know, to control men fired up to kill or be killed—I have never had to do it—but a few more prosecutions of commanding officers, holding them responsible for the actions of their soldiers, might just concentrate minds. No ifs, no buts, no excuses—they are responsible.
We are trying to adopt a similar philosophy in cases of FGM, in which it is often impossible to get a child to give evidence against a parent or anyone who has done this terrible thing to them, so parents are held entirely responsible for the safety of that child. It is they who should be prosecuted. Dr Arimatsu, interestingly, mentioned the military trial 70 years ago of General Yamashita, who was responsible for tens of thousands of people being tortured and killed in the Second World War. In the Yamashita case, it was stated—and this is very good to listen to:
“Where murder and rape and vicious revengeful actions are widespread offences, and there is no effective attempt by a commander to discover and control the criminal acts, such a commander may be held responsible, even criminally liable, for the lawless acts of his troops”.
That was said in court 70 years ago. We have not come very far since then.
As already mentioned, it was encouraging when, in 2016, Jean-Pierre Bemba was convicted at the ICC of being responsible for the acts of sexual violence committed by his soldiers in the Central African Republic in 2003-04. This has, however, as has been mentioned, been overturned by a majority in the ICC Appeals Chamber. The judges there disputed whether Bemba had taken sufficient measures to prevent these actions taking place. This judgment and the appeal are causing great concern amongst international lawyers. I wonder if the Minister can shed some light on what our Government are thinking.
Perhaps he could also comment on recent suggestions by a prosecutor that the victim may have consented to being raped. This must be clarified before a conviction can take place. “Consented”—I ask you. I ask, in all honesty, whether a woman—or a man, for that matter—would give consent for rape by a soldier at gunpoint, perhaps with a rifle butt or a broken bottle, both examples I heard about from victims in a hospital in Tirana, Albania, who had escaped from Kosovo during the Balkan wars. Consent? Where are these people coming from? Access to justice is a human right and an obligation for us under CEDAW. It is not just about prosecutions and the ICC. Individual states, not just the International Criminal Court, should be prosecuting violations, and we should be assisting those states to do this, perhaps through our DfID budget or one of those ghostly, curious, cross-departmental, peace-promoting budgets that we have heard about. Perhaps one could be used for the purpose of helping those Governments to prosecute soldiers.
Noble Lords would not expect me, as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, to finish without dealing with medical justice for the victims—women victims in particular—of rape. Our Government have taken a lead and implemented the delivery of sexual and reproductive health services to women who have been raped so that, above all, they can have an abortion if they become pregnant as a result of their ordeal. That is of course subject to the laws of the country, but it is their entitlement under international law. I honestly cannot think of a worse fate for a woman than to be badly injured and raped, recover a bit and then discover that she is pregnant as a consequence of that rape, but not have any access to abortion to deal with that. If we put ourselves in that position—I know the men cannot but the women certainly can—we know that it is just unthinkable. Our Government have been very strong on this issue and I congratulate them. As they know, I am not a great supporter of the Conservative Government, but they are very good on this issue.
At this point, I must refer to President Trump’s latest personal assault on women by expanding the global gag rule—the Mexico City policy—which will further jeopardise women’s and girls’ chances of dignified recovery and survival as sexual and reproductive health services are reduced all over the world as a result of the ramifications of the gag rule. I am having a lot of trouble getting the absolute detail from the NGOs about how the gag rule will affect them, because it has been expanded and extended, but I believe that there is some sort of exception for abortion after rape in conflict. I would be very pleased if the Minister could enlighten me today or perhaps write after the debate.
Once again I applaud the UK Government for their continuing support for sexual and reproductive health and abortion services globally; for defending the rights of women who have suffered violence in conflict; and, as we have heard, for the great conference that was held at the ExCel Centre—I never know what that place is called—with William Hague and Angelina Jolie. The conference was an inspiration to a lot of people, and we should carry on its impetus.
Our Government may not be doing too well on our relationship with Europe, but there are women all over the developing world who are grateful for this country’s advocacy of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, in particular the NGOs—the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International—that stand firm against President Trump’s attack on women’s reproductive rights.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, for initiating this debate and for being very consistent on this issue; we had a debate in January on this subject as well. I am extremely grateful to her for continuing the battle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, mentioned Angelina Jolie, the UNHCR special envoy, who, in searching for solutions to violence against women, has focused her work on three clear themes that I think have come out in this debate: justice, accountability and international leadership. We need to ensure that we have the tools, sufficient resources and political will. There is no doubt that since the PSVI launch in 2012, the UK has led the world in efforts to end the horror of sexual violence in conflict.
It is a long-haul campaign, and the further international conference to be hosted by the UK in November can be a catalyst for change and further progress. That is what we need to ensure in building up to the November conference. The noble Baroness referred to the Wilton Park event, which was hosted by the Minister—noble Lords have referred to the fact that he is the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. I hope what comes out of Wilton—I am sure the noble Lord will tell us—will be some concrete recommendations for Governments, international agencies and NGOs on how to strengthen justice at the national and international levels for survivors of conflict. How we build up ongoing support for that November event is the key to this debate, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us what other events are being planned before November to ensure that we have full engagement, not just with NGOs. I would like to see events that broaden this out, so that we get other civil society groups, particularly—I do bang on about this—trade unions and international organisations that can ensure sustainability for the changes we want to see.
What are the remaining challenges we face? The Minister has done excellent work on this, and we heard about the film festival. We have to strongly address action on tackling survivor stigma, when the victims feel they are to blame, and children born of sexual violence. We must also ensure the provision of services for male victims, including LGBT and disabled survivors, and work with military and faith groups—they are the other voices we need to hear strongly at the November conference.
As we have heard in this debate, justice and accountability are vital parts of the strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, has said today and on previous occasions, an important element of fighting sexual violence is holding people to account so that they cannot act with impunity. In the January debate, the Minister, whom I congratulate on his ongoing work, called on countries to sign up to the new Murad code on sexual violence, which sets out the expected standards of behaviour. What progress has been made to ensure an international consensus on implementation of that code? How many countries are involved, and what more can we do to ensure that we end up with a strong consensus in November?
Women endure discrimination, violence and the denial of their rights simply because they are women. We must tackle the underlying problem of a lack of empowerment, education and inclusion. We need explicitly feminist foreign and development policies, based on the principles of gender justice, rights, intersectionality and solidarity, so that we tackle the structural causes of gender inequality, transform gender norms and challenge patriarchy in everything that the FCO and DfID do. The way to do that is to expand the support which I know is being given to grass-roots women’s organisations, stepping up assistance to support partner Governments committed to reducing gender inequality: for example, through gender audits, gender impact assessments and gender budgeting. We can lead the way and support other Governments.
We need stronger political leadership globally, where women’s rights are under attack. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, on the attack launched by President Trump. We need to champion women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and certainly mitigate the impact of those US-led funding cuts. We also need to more to protect women human rights defenders by promoting the right to freedom of association, assembly and expression.
I have another point on which I would like to hear more from the Minister. Exactly how are the strategies we have been adopting in the FCO being dealt with on a cross-departmental basis? How do we build capacity to respond rapidly to sexual and gender-based violence in emergencies? Obviously the MoD, the FCO and DfID all have an important role to play in this and I would certainly like to hear how those cross-departmental strategies are working.
I apologise for not writing down the name of the noble Lord who spoke of this, but the plight of the Rohingya people must be in all our minds. Horrendous sexual crimes have been committed. It is apparent that thousands of women refugees in Bangladesh have still not received support or counselling following their experiences of sexual violence, and they have not been able to make witness statements. Can the Minister tell us how many of the UK’s 70 sexual violence experts have been deployed to those camps? Are we making progress?
This is one of those areas for which I think there is complete cross-party support and I hope that the noble Baroness will continue with her hard work to ensure that we build up to a successful conference in November. In that way we will ensure that there is a proper catalyst for change.
My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Hodgson for securing this debate and I acknowledge her long-standing commitment to and unrelenting passion for ensuring that the victims and survivors of sexual violence in conflict are at the heart of our policy-making. I applaud her work in this respect, in particular as part of the PSVI external steering board on which she sits. She advises me directly as the Prime Minister’s special representative. I also thank her for her work on the APPG. Perhaps I may start with a personal reflection. My noble friend Lady Hodgson and I have worked together on this issue. Indeed, one of our first visits from this House was to Bosnia helping to build support mechanisms and a shelter for the victims and survivors of that conflict.
Let me assure all noble Lords, and in particular my noble friend, that the commitment of the UK Government to this issue is unrelenting. We continue to commit resources, time, effort and leadership to prioritising PSVI across the piece internationally. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about cross-government working. Our focus on PSVI reflects the agenda we have set out in our national action plan on women, peace and security, and I am pleased to report that its fourth iteration brings together the expertise of the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The international progress which has been made under our leadership over the past seven years has been sustained.
Given that, perhaps I should start by expressing a certain disagreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone—I greatly respect her and I acknowledge her contribution. I do not believe that the spotlight has diminished. On the contrary, not through our efforts alone but in recognising the work of Nadia Murad and Dr Mukwege, we can reflect the priority that the international community continues to give. I can assure the noble Baroness that we are working hand in glove with both those individuals and their organisations not just in the delivery of our event later this year but by directly supporting their initiatives as well. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to these Nobel prize winners—and rightly so—and we all acknowledge their work and put that formally on record.
Intensive work and sustained effort are required in ensuring that this agenda remains at the top of international priorities, not only in the UK but in other countries as well. Work began in November last year when, as several noble Lords have noted, we hosted the world’s first film festival focused on eliminating the stigma of sexual violence in conflict and, yes, we involved directly Angelina Jolie. We brought film-makers from those conflict regions to depict through film their experiences and to ensure that priority is given in their countries. We used the BFI as the backdrop for that event, which brought together increased focus and attention.
I am extremely grateful to Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, who we have briefed over the past few months. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Hodgson was with me at our first meeting at Buckingham Palace. She recently declared at a reception specifically for women peacekeepers at Buckingham Palace her commitment to the agenda for women, peace and security and, importantly, her engagement directly with the PSVI agenda.
The UK has also participated directly in survivor-focused events in other countries. Recently, Luxembourg hosted a successful Stand Speak Rise Up! event; the UK brought together international legal experts at Wilton Park; and other events will take place during the course of this year, primarily through institutions of the UN. Germany will be focused on this agenda during its presidency of the Security Council. We will again work hand in glove with like-minded partners to ensure that the focus and international attention are not diverted but sustained and strengthened during 2019.
I said last year that 2019 should be the year of PSVI. I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, or anyone who has worked in any form within government, will recognise that sometimes it is slightly easier to start an initiative—no doubt, getting it off the ground is difficult—but my experience over the past 12 months has been that to sustain and strengthen an initiative needs equal commitment.
I am therefore grateful to noble Lords who are here today and others who have worked together. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly pointed out, I have welcomed the direct input and will continue to do so. I invite all noble Lords here today to help us to plan effectively so that we put victims and survivors at the heart of our conference in November.
In line with the rest of our PSVI work, the outcomes of the international conference will be built on the three essential foundations to which the noble Lord alluded: addressing the root causes of conflict-related violence; tackling the stigma associated with it; and, most relevant for today’s debate, achieving justice and accountability for survivors.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned situations elsewhere in the world—in Pakistan and so on—and I am cognisant of the role of faith leaders, a voice which, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, needs to be heard more clearly and loudly. As part of tackling the issue of stigma against the victims, survivors and children born of rape, we are working closely with international faith leaders from all communities and leaders of belief organisations to ensure that there is a declaration of humanity tackling these specific issues at the November conference. Much work is being done directly with faith leaders in this respect.
A key element of our work is focused on enhancing international standards for the collection of evidence in support of prosecution and accountability. My noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, touched on these important issues among others. One of the specific outcomes of the PSVI conference will be the strengthening of the Murad code, which is named after Nadia Murad, who I have had the great honour to work with directly. She won a Nobel prize—and rightly so—but dedicated her prize money to a hospital and support for victims and survivors in the country where she suffered.
I have been to Iraq and I have met with the victims of sexual violence from the Yazidi communities. When you look into their eyes, there is a poignancy and a reflection of the experience they have been through. There are no words but their bravery and courage inspires me. I am humbled by the fact that I am leading the Government’s charge on this issue and honoured that I carry the Prime Minister’s title in this respect. This shows that this is not only a commitment for me, the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary but one to which the Head of Government, the Prime Minister, is also committed. Alongside that work, as noble Lords have said, there are recommendations from Wilton Park. Together with our international partners, we are examining how to strengthen accountability through the criminal justice mechanism and other methods such as restorative justice to ensure a survivor-centred approach.
The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, talked about her experiences, as did my noble friend. I know that we have been looking at how we can impact some of those survivors in places such as the DRC. I confirm that we are supporting a pilot project with the Mukwege Foundation to assess the feasibility of a national assistance fund for the survivors of sexual violence.
Many noble Lords talked about international mechanisms. It was rightly acknowledged in the contributions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Tonge, that first and foremost the primary responsibility for investigating crimes rests with states. We are building capacity in places such as Iraq in that respect. Tragically, though, in certain circumstances there are states that are genuinely unable or, unfortunately, unwilling to act. International mechanisms therefore have to be strengthened and we are working on that priority.
Jurisprudence on the issue has been advanced through the ad hoc international tribunals and hybrid courts of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, some of which were acknowledged and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I would be pleased to meet him as we build up towards the conference in November to see what more can be done in that respect. Several noble Lords talked about the International Criminal Court. Regrettably, as has been acknowledged, we have seen that decisions do not always go in favour of the survivors. We need not to abandon the ICC but to strengthen the institution, and I assure noble Lords of the UK’s commitment in that regard. That is why we are supporting reform.
I join in the tributes to my noble friend Lord Hague and UN special envoy Angelina Jolie for their continuing commitment, and indeed to my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Anelay. We have worked together on this issue over a period of years along with others in this Room and beyond—my noble friend Lady Helic is another notable contributor—on how to take the issue forward and strengthen accountability in that regard.
I am cognisant of the time. There may be specific questions on which I will need to write to noble Lords but I shall address some of the issues that have been raised. We have so far given £1 million to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, and we are collecting evidence for possible future prosecutions in that regard.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of Burma, including my noble friend Lady Hodgson. We are working directly on the appalling human rights violations and abuses, including sexual violence, perpetrated against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State. We also hope that the new investigative mechanism in Myanmar will ensure that justice is done.
We are at the forefront of ensuring accountability for the well-documented crimes by Daesh. Many noble Lords will know that it was the UK that championed the resolution at the UN Security Council, and I am pleased that a UK QC, Karim Khan, is leading the investigative team in Iraq. We are working with the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government on this issue to develop accountability and justice mechanisms that can be applied locally through strengthening justice mechanisms within Iraq. The team will support efforts by the Government of Iraq to hold Daesh accountable, and I think we need to learn from those experiences to see how the mechanisms can be strengthened elsewhere.
I am conscious of the great expertise that has been shown during the course of this debate, but I should stress that the UK approach to PSVI goes much further than just supporting justice mechanisms. We will work to foster inclusive and equal societies and help all survivors of sexual violence, girls and women but also the young men who are often affected, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins.
My noble friend asked about sexual exploitation and abuse carried out by UN peacekeepers. The Government agree, which is why we fully support the UN Secretary-General’s zero tolerance approach to this issue and have given a further $3 million directly to the UN over the past three years towards tackling this crime. As I have said, the UK took the lead on UN Security Council Resolution 2272 which mandates the full and transparent reporting of incidents and demands the repatriation of entire contingents guilty of persistent crimes in this respect. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, asked about the US gag rule. If I may, I will write specifically in response.
In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lady Hodgson. She and I have worked on this issue over a number of years now. I say to all noble Lords that we will continue to work directly with them on this important issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, people might get a bit concerned because so often we use the phrase that we are “together on this and aligned in our commitment”, but irrespective of which party you represent or what perspective you may hold, I am confident that across this House, the other place and beyond, the United Kingdom is wholly committed. Yes, we will include civil society in our international conference later this year. Crucially, we are working with civil society in other states but, most importantly, with the survivors of sexual violence to put them at the heart of the conference and of our work.
I started with a personal reflection and now end with one. As I said earlier, I have been to Iraq, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Kosovo. I have had the honour of meeting survivors of sexual violence such as Nadia Murad but, more importantly, of listening to and working with them. Their fight for justice is our fight. I can assure noble Lords that the UK, and I as the PM’s special representative, will be relentless in our pursuit of justice to ensure that we end impunity and bring justice to the victims and courageous survivors.
Committee adjourned at 7.30 pm.