House of Lords
Monday 22 July 2019
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.
Retirement of a Member: Baroness Gould of Potternewton
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I thank the noble Baroness for her much-valued service to the House.
Mental Health: Weight and Shape-related Bullying
My Lords, bullying in all its forms can have a serious effect on mental health. Children who are exposed to frequent, persistent bullying are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems; exposure to bullying is also associated with elevated rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, which can last into adulthood. The Government are providing more than £2.8 million of funding up to 2020 to support schools in tackling bullying.
My Lords, weight-related teasing is a form of weight bias, the consequences of which can include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance abuse, eating disorders, obesity and suicidality. Weight bias is on the increase and is prevalent across the population. Research shows that even health professionals are not immune to negative stereotypes that connect character and capability with weight. Is the Minister confident that adequate social policies are in place to address and reduce the incidence of weight bias? Does she believe that there is sufficient provision in the law to protect all of us, young and old, from discrimination on the basis of size and shape?
The noble Baroness has a record of raising this important issue. The Government recognise that poor body image is not only a common problem but is associated with mental ill health. Approximately 70% of adolescent girls and 45% of adolescent boys want to change their body, weight or shape. As she rightly points out, in the most extreme cases, that can lead to eating disorders, depression or even feeling suicidal. The Government have delivered a broad programme of body image work over the past six years. We believe that more work can be done but we are working hard to make sure that we expand our eating disorder community care work for children and young people over the next few years. I welcome continuing the debate to see what more can be done.
My Lords, the latest Barnardo’s report, Overcoming Poverty of Hope, showed that 69% of young people,
“feel they will have worse ‘overall happiness and mental health’ compared to their parents’ generation”,
with one young person saying that social media is “massive for mental health” because of the,
“unrealistically high expectations of body image and lifestyles”.
On top of that, the report found that,
“young people with additional life challenges, such as young carers and care leavers are more susceptible to the negative impacts of social media as they are more likely to experience social isolation”.
What are the Government doing to work with mental health charities, such as YoungMinds, and young carers to address this situation?
The noble Baroness is right that children exposed to persistent bullying risk experiencing these problems. This is related to the experience of face-to-face bullying, but exposure on social media can also cause the problem. That is why the Department for Education is providing over £2.8 million of funding between September 2016 and 2020 to four anti-bullying organisations—Internet Matters, the Diana Award, Anti-Bullying Alliance and the Anne Frank Trust—to support schools to tackle bullying. Of course, all schools must have in place an anti-bullying policy, which Ofsted regulates.
My Lords, we have already heard from noble Lords how important this problem is, but of course it is partly the responsibility of the Department of Health. I ask my noble friend whether we are also talking cross-departmentally. Surely schools have a role to play here, so are teachers being taught about the problems this can bring? Is DCMS being taught about online bullying, et cetera?
My noble friend is quite right. As I have already pointed out, DfE-funded anti-bullying work is ongoing. Work is also increasing to join up the provision for young people through the children and young people Green Paper, which will put in place early intervention provision to make sure that young people do not have to wait until they are ill before they can get support. This problem needs to be challenged right across government, which is why we have also brought in the online harms White Paper to make sure that social media companies play their part.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that in recent years there has been a marked reduction in mental health counselling services for young people? Can the Minister tell us anything encouraging about the redevelopment of specialist mental health services for young people?
The noble Lord is absolutely right that we must make sure we invest in the services needed to respond to the increasing reports of mental ill heath in young people. That is why we have focused on increasing mental health funding. I am pleased to report that the amount spent on mental health will be £12 billion in the next year and that all CCGs will meet the mental health investment standard. We are also investing in particular in suicide prevention over the next three years—£25 million to support local suicide prevention plans to make sure that local authorities are able to have a multiagency suicide prevention response, which I think the noble Lord will agree is extremely important.
My Lords, the Children’s Society has done quite a bit of research into the profile of those involved in bullying. Many have had very unhappy lives. Does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea, in policy formation, if we spent more time talking to the children themselves and getting their case put more fully before us? The Children’s Society advocates that the Government systematically measure children’s well-being and use this to inform policy-making. Does the Minister accept the potential merits of measuring children’s well-being?
As usual, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. The fundamental principle of using lived experience to develop policy is an important principle within the Department of Health and across government. Most particularly, the experience of young people—those who are bullied and those who are bullying—should be taken into account. This is the only way we will get to the bottom of this problem and stamp it out once and for all.
My Lords, as the co-chair of the APPG on Bullying, I have seen the reports that other noble Lords have referred to. It is good that more investment is going into mental health in the NHS, but schools still need front-line support for many bullied children. Over half of children report that bullying about their size and body image is the leading cause. What can the Government do to ensure that there really is access to front-line services for children in school?
As I have said, we are making sure that we bring the investment into the front line with this £2.8 million. In addition to that, all schools are legally required to have behaviour policies with measures to prevent all forms of bullying. They have the freedom to develop their own anti-bullying strategies to make sure that they are appropriate to their environment, but they are held to account by Ofsted. This is at the forefront of the Department for Education’s guidance to schools on how to prevent and respond to bullying as part of their overall behaviour policy.
My Lords, on 25 June the Prime Minister announced that we will consult on mandating higher accessibility standards for new housing. New planning guidance was published on 26 June to support councils to put clear policies in place for addressing the housing needs of older and disabled people.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will be aware of alarming research published last month by the housing association Habinteg, which revealed that the inaccessible housing crisis for disabled people is rising quite rapidly, largely because only 1% of new homes being built will be suitable for wheelchair users to live in. This is unacceptable. I am aware that the Government are going to consult on this issue, but we simply cannot wait another year or more for tangible action. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this latest research with Habinteg and to talk about what can be done now and in the very short term to alleviate the crisis?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for all the exemplary work she does in campaigning on this issue. I am very happy to meet her to discuss this further. She will know that we have brought forward consultation on M4(2) ahead of the consultation on the wider Part M in regard to accessibility, precisely because this is so important. We are looking at it ahead of other issues concerned with Part M and value the work that Habinteg does as a valued partner on this.
My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests. I also remind the Minister that 45 of the 322 local plans still refer to older accessible housing standards, putting planning requirements at risk of challenge. Given the importance of this issue, will the Minister urge local planning authorities to update their plans to ensure that they are compliant with the updated post-October 2015 access standards very soon?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to address that issue. He will understand that the Statement by the Prime Minister on 25 June dealt specifically with the planning aspects of this and the guidance in relation to accessibility following the Neighbourhood Planning Act, reminding local authorities of the responsibility and providing this guidance to ensure that they comply with the law.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a matter not just of new houses but of existing houses that are going through a process of extensive refurbishment? Could it also be made mandatory that, in those instances, adequate attention is paid to access for disabled people?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right on that point. Obviously, wherever planning is required, it will have to be compliant with the statement and guidance that the Prime Minister activated on 26 June. He also raises the further problem of potential retrofitting at some stage for homes that do not yet comply with the new standard, which applies only to new builds.
My Lords, I remind those on the Benches opposite that in 30 years’ time most properties will still be the ones we are currently living in and not new builds. Does the Minister think it is time that the Treasury and whoever moves in this Thursday with his boxes look at taking the VAT off retrospectively fitting homes to make them fit for life?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I had better be very careful about advice to the Treasury; when I was getting a briefing on this issue, my officials told me I could undertake to meet a particular Member, or at least my successor could. I asked them what they had heard; they said they had not heard anything, and I am taking that at face value. The noble Lord is right that there is a continuing issue that will need to be addressed. There is a range of properties that will not meet these new standards, which apply just to M1, but that, as it relates to funding, is a matter for the Treasury.
My Lords, as a long-term supporter of lifetime homes, I first visited Rowntree’s New Earswick estate in York 25 years ago. There is some good news, because all its homes have been built as lifetime homes since then. With our rising longevity and ageing population, it is common sense that new homes should be built to be more accessible and adaptable, but that is not happening as much as it should. The report that only 32% of local authorities comply with this is evidence of that. The All-Party Group for Ageing and Older People, which I co-chair, published a report this month on how to get more accessible and decent housing for older people. I suggest that the Minister treats this as a priority and follows the report’s recommendations.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness: all that she does in this area is very much noted. I will certainly look at the report. Obviously, this is an issue that concerns all of us. It is worth saying that this is not just about disabled people, important though that issue is. It is about all of us as we age; hence its importance.
My noble friend will know that I am very keen on good models of behaviour and codes of practice. Is it possible for the Government or the universities to construct model homes that show developers, including small developers, how they can build accessible, safe and attractive homes—and lead the way in areas such as energy conservation, and therefore reduce people’s bills?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. It is indeed possible, and modelling is being produced for us on a range of issues. It is important, as my noble friend said, that we look at that in terms of energy conservation and ensuring that we have lifetime standard homes and improved accessibility. These things are happening.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Prime Minister for a number of important reversals of unwise policies and the introduction of some much better policies, including taking the cap off local authorities’ borrowing to build new council housing and find more money for social housing. However, does the Minister agree that we have taken a step backwards in relation to accessibility and adaptability in allowing what are called permitted development rights for developers to produce incredibly small—indeed, even windowless—flats in conversions of existing buildings? Can we not get on top of that as well?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for all that he does and for his compliment to the Prime Minister on the important action on accessibility and planning in this area. I agree with him: he is absolutely right in his point about permitted development and possible loopholes. I am very happy to meet the noble Lord to discuss that further.
Biodiversity Duty: Public Authorities
My Lords, we must ensure that biodiversity is at the heart of improving the environment. The forthcoming environment Bill provides an opportunity to do more for biodiversity. We will introduce mandatory net gain and a new statutory body to hold government and other public authorities to account. We want the biodiversity duty to underpin these, and we are actively considering how we will work with public authorities to enhance the natural environment.
I thank the Secretary of State for his speech last week, though I note that he said “I want to” rather than “We will” introduce a biodiversity duty. If other government departments scupper the inclusion of a stronger biodiversity duty in the environment Bill, how will the Government respond to the biodiversity crisis that we face, so powerfully outlined in recent UN reports?
My Lords, this has to be not only across government but across the whole of civic society and public authorities if we are to enhance the environment. I have plenty of examples of where other government departments are working very constructively and successfully, whether it is the MoD, the MoJ, HMRC, DWP, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Natural England or county councils; all of them are working very strongly on biodiversity. We have clearly got to do more, but I reassure the noble Baroness that this has to be across government because that is the only way we will actually enhance the environment.
My Lords, I was a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. In our report, we supported strengthening the biodiversity duty. We also recommended that it was combined with a reporting duty. Will the Minister say what plans the Government have for improving the transparency of the way in which the duty is carried out?
My Lords, the noble Countess is right that, as the Government implement, with others, our 25-year environment plan, we will build on existing reporting mechanisms to drive further improvement. Some of the priorities set out, including the condition of our protected sites and the creation and restoration of wildlife-rich habitats, are already under a reporting duty, but we will work on how we can take forward an enhanced reporting mechanism.
My Lords, the UK is now among the most nature-depleted nations in the world, so it was good to hear the Secretary of State say last week that he wants to strengthen the duty of public authorities not just to conserve but to enhance nature. Will the Minister pass on the message that that will be a hollow commitment if it is not backed by the resources and energy that local authorities will need to carry out those duties effectively? What are the Government doing to work on a cross-departmental basis to deliver that?
My Lords, the environment Bill—obviously, this is a second Session piece of legislation—is designed to plot a course precisely to restore and enhance nature and the environment and to do many other things but particularly to introduce a pioneering new system of green governance. It is clearly essential that we enhance nature. That is why species such as the chough and the bittern are recovering and there are a number of reintroductions, such as the short-haired bumble bee. We are working on a number of species, but we need to improve habitats across the board.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that ash tree dieback has caused great devastation to self-planting trees? Many of them are on property owned by local authorities. Will my noble friend confirm that it will be a biodiversity duty of local authorities to remove such trees, and has his department made an estimate of the cost of such removal?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to highlight the biodiversity costs of losing ash trees. It is why, with research, we have found the most tolerant strains. We will be planting a large plantation of the most tolerant strains next year so that we can ensure that ash retains its important part in our ecosystems. We have also produced a toolkit and we are working with local authorities as, clearly, not only is health and safety involved but we want to ensure that the most tolerant trees are conserved. A lot of work is being done on that. For instance, I commend Devon County Council for its policy that, for every tree that is felled, three are being planted. That is a message for everyone.
My Lords, one disastrous tactic being used that really damages biodiversity is the concept of biodiversity offsetting. What happens is that we lose ancient, well-established areas that are biodiversity rich and create new areas that are not. “One tree out, three in” sounds great, but if that one tree is 100 years old and the three are only 10 years old, that is not so great. Will the Government commit to not using the tactic of biodiversity offsetting?
It is very important to retain veteran trees wherever we can because they are vital to our ecosystems. Obviously, if they are dangerous because they are beside roads or whatever, we have to be practical, but we want to plant a lot of new trees and we also want to have protections for our veteran trees and our wonderful landscape. Enhancing the environment is not only the intent of the environment Bill but the direction of travel for all of us.
My Lords, the Select Committee to which the noble Countess referred a moment ago heard evidence that fewer than one-third of planning authorities have access to a trained ecologist. I suspect that that is part of the reason why previous questioners’ issues are coming forward. Has the Minister done any work since that report was published to ascertain how we are going to get the right quality of ecological advice if we are to deliver the outcomes which he would like to see?
My Lords, that is why we are working not only with Natural England but with local authorities. In terms of the biodiversity net gain proposals, the developer and the local planning officer clearly need to work together to ensure that the local planning officer knows precisely what is meant by “net gain”. This is work in progress.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one problem is that the big developers can outgun the planners, and the planners are not always of very good quality? For example, in the beautiful medieval town of Framlingham in Suffolk, which I know rather well, there are two big developments. One is excellent and is by Hopkins Homes; the other is by Persimmon and is an absolute disgrace—it should never have been allowed and the developer has got away with everything.
My Lords, I passed through that great town only on Friday, so I identify with what my noble friend says on the matter. That is precisely why we are going to mandate biodiversity net gain. We need to work with all developers—domestic and commercial—to ensure that there are habitats for wildlife enhancement and that we leave those habitats in a better state than they were pre-development.
Textiles and Clothing Sectors: Environmental Sustainability
My Lords, we are working with WRAP and the industry through the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions, water usage and waste. Recently we launched a £4.7 million grant scheme to support innovation in plastic and textile recycling. We are also undertaking the necessary research to develop an extended producer responsibility scheme for textiles. To drive the market towards durable, repairable and recyclable products, we are developing proposals on regulatory standards and labels.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he share my concern about the huge environmental impact of throwaway fashion trends? In the UK, we buy more clothes per person than in any other country in Europe—five times what we bought in the 1980s—and we have created 1.3 million tonnes of waste. At the same time, textile production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon every year—more than aviation and shipping combined. What are the Government doing to educate consumers to act more sustainably and wear their clothes for longer, and why do they not make textile producers pay for the environmental cost of materials that cannot be reused, repaired or recycled?
My Lords, that is precisely why it is very important that the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, which includes 60% of those involved in the clothing industry in this country, bears fruit. There has already been an 11.9% drop in carbon per tonne and a 17.7% drop in water per tonne of clothing. We need to ensure that that is our direction of travel, and it is why I mentioned labelling. Clearly, most consumers want to do the right thing. I find fast fashion a strange concept, in so far as I am not a good example of it. I think we should use clothes for longer and repair them, and I am in the market for knowing where my shirts can be repaired.
My Lords, for many years I had the privilege of representing Yorkshire as an MEP, including the wonderful city of Bradford, which is also well represented in this Chamber. I was disappointed by the way the textile industry was reduced over time, but I am encouraged by my noble friend’s remarks, particularly as the most sustainable fibre available in the textile industry is wool, as I am sure he will agree. As we look ahead, and as the sheep industry is in need of more assistance, does he accept that this Government and future Governments should encourage the use of wool? Finally, will he commend with me the work of Bradford College, which is currently carrying out research into this very matter?
My Lords, I am a great fan of wool and of pastoral farming. When I was at the Hampton Court flower show, I saw the latest compost made, without the need for peat, from bracken and wool; that great product has many important qualities. I am delighted that Bradford is leading the way but we also need behaviour change. I was intrigued to discover that if we lower temperatures in our washing, we will reduce the CO2 emissions quite considerably. There are a lot of things we can all do to play our part.
My Lords, when I was young, my mother decided we should move to Beckenham in Kent because we would get the best healthcare, the best education and the best jumble sales. The dress I am wearing is over 50 years old; I bought it in a charity shop. It was made in Britain of high-quality material—that is what you call recycling and sustainability. Should the Government not encourage the fashion industry, both retailers and customers, to invest in high-quality British-made clothes, perhaps by considering a levy on cheap, throwaway garments made in sweatshops abroad, which end up in landfill?
My Lords, we must work to ensure that the worst of the waste hierarchy, landfill, is not where our clothes go. I have to say that it cannot be many years ago that the noble Baroness moved to Beckenham; certainly, we need to pay more attention to words such as “reuse” and “second-hand” over fast fashion; I find the ridiculous number of clothes that are used only once absurd. We need to bear down on this. It is about consumer behaviour as well as industry behaving responsibly. We want to work to extend that responsibility, for that very reason.
My Lords, we need action on textiles, yes, but we will never rescue this planet unless we repair the huge damage already done. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the urgent need for government funding for the remarkable Centre for Climate Repair, run by Sir David King? It is developing a scientific method to reverse the melting of the ice caps and the damage to ocean surfaces, to name just two of its workstreams. Without these developments, we will not succeed.
My Lords, I declare an interest as my son is an educator and campaigner for sustainable practice in the fashion industry. Is the Minister aware of the initiative recently launched in France, supported and spearheaded by the President—a “fashion pact”, which is currently engaging high-end retailers and brands to change their practices to reduce the impact of this industry on the environment? In what ways does he think the incoming Government—of which I very much hope he will be a member—will be able to ensure that, once we have left the European Union, we do not lose such an initiative, which will keep us aligned with our partners and friends in Europe?
My Lords, whatever happens with our arrangements, we should have the ambition in this country to be absolutely world-leading. We were the creators of the Industrial Revolution; we now need to play our part in dealing with some of the issues which that great success produced for us and for the world. Sustainability of textiles is important. Yes, we should learn from the French example—and from all examples from around the world about how we become more sustainable as a planet, creating a more circular economy and a more successful life for future generations.
Egypt: Suspension of Flights
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the decision by British Airways to suspend flights to Cairo for seven days is an operational matter for the airline concerned. The airline has stated that this is a precautionary measure. The Government take security very seriously and remain in close contact with all UK airlines in relation to security matters that could affect their operations.
My Lords, there is undoubtedly some confusion about the situation, not least among the responses of airlines. BA and Lufthansa suspended all flights to Cairo on Saturday—although Lufthansa resumed flights on Sunday—whereas Air France and EgyptAir flights have continued normally. Meanwhile the Egyptian aviation Minister has expressed to the British ambassador his dismay at BA’s response, and the Foreign Office advice still does not warn against air travel to Cairo, although it continues to warn against travel to Sharm el-Sheikh. I realise that the Minister cannot discuss in this Chamber the details of security issues, but could she clarify exactly what the Foreign Office advice is about flights to Cairo? She will appreciate that it is holiday season and many people are anxious about this. Why is only BA responding in this way?
This is an operational matter for BA. It has taken the measures it has as a precaution, and it is up to it to decide how it operates. I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness the travel advice currently on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, which has not substantively changed. While it does not advise against travel to or from Cairo Airport, it reminds visitors that:
“Terrorists in Egypt likely maintain the intent and capability to target aviation. The greatest threat is on the Sinai Peninsula where Daesh operate with greater freedom, but terrorists are active in Mainland Egypt, including Cairo”.
In the light of the Government’s answer—that it is British Airways’ own decision to do this, based, presumably, on its information and intelligence—have the Government contacted British Airways to ask what information it has that has led it to this decision?
I am reluctant to go into great detail about security matters but I can assure the noble Lord that the Government remain in close contact with all UK airlines about security matters that could affect their operations. We are also in contact with our partners around the world, as appropriate.
My Lords, is it not reasonable that the airline concerned, which has the first responsibility for the passengers it carries and the crews it employs, should be the organisation that we trust to take a sensible precautionary decision? I am sure that the noble Lords and Baronesses asking these questions from the other side of the House would have an awful lot to say if we were to lose an aircraft or any crew members or passengers because of a terrorism problem on that route.
I thank my noble friend for his observation; I know that he speaks with great experience. It is entirely reasonable for individual airlines to make appropriate operational decisions. In the case of British Airways, it has taken the decision that it has as a precautionary measure.
I do not wish to upset the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, but I do not think that I have challenged the right of British Airways to make this decision or said that it may not be an entirely sensible one. But clearly, if the Government have some idea as to why BA has made this decision, why are they not advising other airlines flying direct from Britain to Cairo to take similar action in respect of their flights?
I am sure the noble Lord will understand that I cannot go into much further detail about the security information, where it might have come from and who might have had it, whether that is airlines or nation states. Suffice it to say that we maintain a good and open relationship with all UK airlines and they are able to make their own operational decisions.
Will the Minister clarify whether the Government are warning people of danger in flying to Cairo or not? The information she read out from the Foreign Office website appears to be a middle way, which is what caused me to ask the Question in the first place. There is a lack of clarity. I am not questioning the Government’s decision, but it is their role to provide clarity and certainty, if necessary on a strongly precautionary basis on issues of this kind.
In 2018, 415,000 people visited Egypt and the vast majority of those visits were absolutely trouble-free. The Government keep all travel advice on their website up to date and as I mentioned, the advice has not substantively changed. It is the Government’s duty to provide advice to their citizens, so that they can make the decision for themselves.
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Bill
1A: At end insert—
“(2C) If, as a result of Parliament standing prorogued or adjourned, a Minister of the Crown cannot comply with the obligations in subsection (2A) or (2B), a proclamation under the Meeting of Parliament Act 1797 (c. 127) shall require Parliament to meet on a specified day within the period within which compliance with subsection (2B) is required and to meet on the five following days (other than Saturdays, Sundays or a day which is a bank holiday in the United Kingdom or in any part of the United Kingdom) to allow for compliance with subsection (2B).”
My Lords, the other place has chosen to accept the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, requiring that fortnightly reports under Clause 3 be subject to Motions and debate in both Houses. That amendment has been further amended. The further amendment seeks to require that if Parliament stood prorogued or adjourned at any point when a debate might be expected under the terms of the noble Lord’s amendment, a proclamation would have to be made requiring Parliament to meet within the five-day period and for the following five days.
The Government’s position has been to oppose amendments which amount to procedural gambits in this area. Amendment 1A has little to do with Northern Ireland. This Bill is about enabling an Executive to be reformed and Clause 3 is concerned with ensuring that Parliament can be kept up to date on progress towards that aim. It is disappointing that the other place has chosen to take the issue of restoring devolved government to Northern Ireland and to misuse that as a wedge to manufacture debates around Brexit, drawing on a precedent designed for entirely different circumstances under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
This amendment seeks to take this Bill and the vital and sensitive issue of re-establishing an Executive and use it as an opportunity to create highly unusual procedural requirements here at Westminster to address UK-wide Brexit issues. That is not the message our Parliament should send to the people of Northern Ireland about the importance we accord to devolution there. The Government urge the House not to agree with the amendment from the other place. I beg to move the Motion in my name.
I rise briefly to support the amendment passed in the House of Commons last Thursday by a majority of 41 and thus express my strong opposition to the Motion of disagreement moved by my noble friend Lord Duncan. In doing so, I say to your Lordships that I make no personal criticism of my noble friend; he always conducts himself with considerable dignity in this place and I know he is always listened to with great respect.
Last Monday, and on previous occasions, I expressed my strong opposition to Brexit. It is my belief that this is a matter that should be decided by the House of Commons through a meaningful vote and not by Ministers alone. I do not intend to repeat the detail of those arguments today and will confine myself to three points.
First, in the debates last week, some of your Lordships suggested that it was constitutionally improper for this House, an unelected Chamber, to pass the amendment then under consideration and subsequently accepted by the Commons. We were told by one of my noble friends that, by acting in such a way, we were putting the very future of this House in jeopardy; doubtless some of those who held such views will troop through the Government Lobby today. Keeping that in mind, it is truly bizarre that the opponents of the Commons amendment, the Government themselves, are now asking us—the unelected House—to frustrate a decision made by the elected House with a very substantial majority. The positions adopted by the Government last week and this are inconsistent and cannot sensibly be reconciled. To those who are about to do it, I say that to stand on one’s head in such circumstances is not credible, comfortable or dignified.
Secondly, I have said that I believe Brexit was an extraordinary act of national self-harm that was not supported by plausible assumptions or credible evidence. On Thursday last week, the country received the expert opinion of the Office for Budget Responsibility. Its conclusion is that, on any of the credible assumptions, a no-deal Brexit will cause Britain very serious economic damage. This is not Project Fear; it is a professional assessment of the likely outcome of a no-deal Brexit. It must surely be the subject of serious parliamentary consideration before any decision is taken to leave the European Union, whether on 31 October or some other date. Prorogation to prevent that consideration would be unpardonable.
Thirdly and lastly, the amendment in the Commons that we are now discussing is prompted largely by the well-founded anxiety that Mr Johnson—the likely next Prime Minister—might seek to suspend the sitting of Parliament to prevent the Commons challenging and perhaps overriding the decisions of Ministers. Last Thursday, in the debate in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson could have provided the appropriate reassurance. He was in the House. I am sure that the Speaker would have called him. Mr Johnson could have said that upon his honour he would do no such thing. He could have written to my noble friend the Minister, copied to all of us, giving such an assurance. He could indeed have used his well-remunerated pen to craft an article in those terms, though had he done so I would have liked to have inspected his computer to see whether another and quite different version was to be seen on the screen. But he has done none of those things. Quite the contrary: Mr Johnson voted against the cross-party amendment passed and now being discussed, and in his article in today’s Daily Telegraph he ignored the position completely.
Your Lordships are entitled to assume that such a constitutional outrage is indeed within the contemplation of Mr Johnson. Given that, this House—indeed, all of those who respect parliamentary government—must take every proper step to prevent such a disgraceful act happening. The Commons amendment now before the House is one such measure. Your Lordships should affirm it and reject the Motion moved by my noble friend.
My Lords, last week, after a similar harangue from my noble friend, I described these manoeuvrings as a “dog’s dinner”. A dog’s dinner it was, a dog’s dinner it is, and a dog’s dinner is no better for being served cold a second time. We should, as my noble friend the Minister advised us, reject this.
My Lords, early on in the Brexit process the right honourable Kenneth Clarke MP said that we were entering an Alice in Wonderland world. This amendment takes us further down the rabbit hole because it invokes an obscure bit of legislation from 1797 that had a completely different purpose in mind. But we need to remind ourselves why the Commons passed this and why we should support the Commons. It did so because it did not trust the incoming Prime Minister to behave in a constitutionally proper manner. It was not just remainiacs such as my colleagues in the Commons who behaved in this way; it was the 17 Conservative Members who voted for this amendment and the slew of Cabinet Ministers who abstained on it. These are the people who know Boris Johnson much better than I do—much better than most of us do—and they had formed a judgment that he was not to be trusted. That is why they voted the way they did and it is why we should support them.
My Lords, I rise briefly to respond to at least one of the things that my noble friend Lord Hailsham said. He has talked about constitutional outrage but it seems to me that the purpose of this House is to preserve our constitution and our conventions, and that the purpose of the Cross Benches is not to behave in a political or partisan manner. For a fast-tracked Bill such as this, which has not followed the normal timetable of our procedures, to be used as a Christmas tree in this way to fight the ongoing battle between—to use the term of the noble Lord, Lord Newby—the remainiacs and the British people, who voted overwhelmingly to leave—
I am sorry—17.4 million people is pretty overwhelming when it came in the biggest democratic exercise that we have ever had. It stands in stark contrast to the 8% which the Liberals managed to get in the general election. It is the duty of this House to preserve our constitution, which depends on respecting our conventions. This amendment is quite improper. It is a piece of chicanery, added to a Bill which is being fast-tracked, on a subject which has nothing whatever to do with that Bill. It flies in the face of the speeches that we hear over and again, particularly from the Liberal Benches, about the importance of respecting devolution and the ability of the devolved Assemblies to carry out their purposes. I very much support my noble friend the Minister in asking the House to reject this amendment.
As for the sophistry that came from my noble friend Lord Hailsham, he argued that it would be wrong for us to overturn an amendment which had come from the Commons. That is absolute sophistry because we all know what is going on here: a minority of people in the House of Commons are trying to frustrate the wishes of the British people.
The majority was for delivering the result of the referendum, which was passed by both Houses. That is what the British people expect to happen, so I have great pleasure in supporting my noble friend the Minister in asking us to rejectj the amendment.
My Lords, the British people did not vote for a no-deal exit from the European Union. All I would say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth is that when he talks about sophists, it takes one to recognise one. The truth of the matter—I have tried to be scrupulous in this—is that if the Commons rejects a House of Lords amendment, most of us in this House do not vote again. We accept the will of the elected House. The will of the elected House on this occasion is clear and emphatic. It has given this provision a majority and we should not fly in the face of that.
My Lords, I have two simple questions which I hope can be clarified by those who are in favour of remain. First, how on earth can this amendment from the Commons prevent a Dissolution of Parliament if there is a call for an election? There is no way that Parliament could be re-summoned if an election were called in the early autumn and the period of Dissolution covered October. Secondly, the amendment from the Commons misses the point. We could meet and talk right through August, some have said, and right through September and October, but unless something is done to remove the date of 31 October, the default position is that we leave on 31 October. There is nothing that this Parliament can do about it because any attempt to postpone that date rests in the hands of the European Union. We are not sovereign in that respect. Only if the European Union agreed to an extension could that default position of 31 October be removed; therefore, the amendment coming from the Commons is pretty pointless.
My Lords, I will make two short points. First, Northern Ireland is as affected as the rest of the United Kingdom if we crash out on 31 October. Secondly, this is not an issue between leavers and remainers; it is an issue of whether we crash out or leave the European Union with a deal. It is important not to muddy the waters over leavers and remainers, when this is a separate and terribly important issue.
While my noble friend Lord Cormack’s words are fresh in your Lordships’ ears, I remind the House of what happened in 2005, when the then Labour Government sent a Bill providing for the incarceration of suspected terrorists for 90 days without access to the law. This House sat from 2.30 pm on a Thursday until 7.31 pm on Friday night without ceasing to vote down amendments put by the House of Commons.
My Lords, it is hard to believe we are discussing the Bill on our agenda, which is the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. It seems to have been omitted from people’s minds. I am sure noble Lords have read the debate in the House of Commons last Thursday in Hansard. The House of Commons devoted one hour to all the amendments passed in this House and the other clauses in the Bill. Apart from passing references and signals of annoyance from Northern Ireland Members, the amendments and substantive issues dealt with in the Bill and added to it were not even referred to.
I hope I am wrong, but the indications I have are that the unintended consequences from the initial Commons amendments to the Bill will make the formation of an Executive more difficult. That greatly saddens me. I hope I am wrong and that the parties surprise us and produce something that we all welcome. However, on paper, and from looking at social media and other comments, it seems we have created the most ridiculous position we could possibly have imagined. One of the red lines of Sinn Féin, which has been holding back an Executive, is to ensure abortion and same-sex marriage are applied in Northern Ireland. Leaving aside the nitty-gritty of that argument, we have contrived to ensure with the Bill that, should an Executive be formed, those two propositions will not take effect. That is what we have done: we have put an obstacle in the way of agreement. I do not believe for one minute that the proposers of the original amendments in the House of Commons had that as their intention. They were trying to regularise the legislation which, incidentally, they have signally failed to do, because the proposals in the Bill now are not the same as those that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Leaving that to one side, this is the first time I have seen what should have been straightforward legislation completely distorted, in a way that not only makes the objective of the legislation more difficult, but has added matters that will cause us trouble in the future. I do not want to see us leaving the European Union with no deal. I am long enough in the tooth to know the implications of that but, if we as a country are serious about negotiating an agreement with our EU partners, we have no idea how to go about it.
My Lords, on same-sex marriage and abortion, the reality is that this House was implementing the express will of the Commons and improving the workability of those amendments. This issue has come from the Commons in response to an amendment that we passed back to them. I echo the noble Baroness in saying that to suggest that this has nothing to do with the people of Northern Ireland could not be further from the truth. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for Britain and catastrophic for Ireland, so we have every reason to support the amendment and reject the Minister’s amendment to it.
My Lords, this is not about a no-deal Brexit; it is about the Prorogation of Parliament and importance of the issues before us in relation to Northern Ireland. The only issues before us in the amendment proposed by the Minister are constitutional. Despite my disagreement with him today, it is appropriate from the outset to say that he has been a great asset to the House and the Government in how he has dealt with this legislation, which has been complex and difficult at times.
Your Lordships’ House is always concerned with constitutional issues. Two arose in last week’s legislation. It is to his eternal shame and my horror that I often find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on constitutional matters. On this issue, I partly agree with him but also part company with him. We are in extraordinary times. It should be quite unnecessary to have in any Bill something that says that a Prime Minister should not prorogue Parliament to get legislation through or to stop something happening. It should be a matter of course that we had sufficient trust in any Prime Minister that such an amendment would not be necessary.
Last week, this House agreed by 272 votes to 169 a cross-party amendment that there should be a clause in this Bill that required Parliament to be sitting to receive and debate the report on Northern Ireland that we had agreed to. We acknowledged also that the secondary purpose behind that amendment was related to the strong opposition that we believe exists in both Houses to the Prorogation of Parliament to force through or enable a no-deal Brexit, or any kind of Brexit, without Parliament sitting. Why was that so important?
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way; I am just following her argument, which is that the powers of a Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament should be limited because it might result in a no-deal Brexit. Why would she not extend that to the powers of a Prime Minister to call a general election? If a general election were called which lasted three weeks and 31 October was within it, we would have left the European Union. Is she not on very thin ice here?
I do not think that I am; I shall tell the noble Lord why. Patience is a great virtue, because I was about to come on to it.
The die is now cast. At 5 pm today, the ballot on who is to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore the next Prime Minister will close. Neither candidate rules out no deal—that is a slightly separate issue. However, only one of them—the one most likely to win, Boris Johnson—has not ruled out shutting down Parliament in order for it not to take a view on crashing out of the EU. It may be that a no-deal Brexit is exactly what happens; I do not know—I am worried sick about it like most other people, but I do not know whether that will happen. But what I do know and firmly believe is that if any Prime Minister wants to take this country down that road they should stand at the Dispatch Box in front of their Parliament and say so as it happens.
Only Boris Johnson has not ruled out a no-deal Brexit. I find that deeply shocking. He is behaving more like a medieval monarch than a Prime Minister-in-waiting. King Boris might have a good ring to it, but he should remember Charles I.
As always, it is a matter for the House of Commons whether it accepts our amendments or not. Both Houses know that and respect that, yet this Government have always found it easiest, when the House of Lords disagrees with them, to dress it up as a disagreement between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We saw that on tax credits and the Strathclyde report. Let us be absolutely clear today what we, the House of Lords, did in passing that amendment last week. We gave the House of Commons an opportunity, if it so wished, to insert a no-Prorogation clause into the Bill for the interests of Northern Ireland and on Brexit. The MPs did not just welcome the principle that we put forward, they felt that they should go further, be more explicit, clearer and put it beyond any doubt that, even if in recess, adjourned or prorogued, Parliament must be recalled. I think the public would expect Parliament to be here.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, said there was no debate in the House of Commons. I listened to that debate. It was obviously shorter, because it was on ping-pong and just on our amendments, but this was referred to on a number of occasions through the debate. There was strong support, as was evidenced in the vote. So we support the amendment from the House of Commons and we disagree with the Government in disagreeing with it.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their brevity today. Last week was quite an odyssey, so I am very grateful for that. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, who described this situation as being very much like Alice in Wonderland. It is not: it is like Through the Looking-Glass, and we have an interesting point to consider. A quote from Humpty Dumpty springs to mind:
“‘When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less’. ‘The question is’, said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things’. ‘The question is’, said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all’”.
We now find ourselves in a debate that is no longer about Northern Ireland; we have departed from that considerably. Those who say that Northern Ireland is just as affected are, of course, quite right, but this Bill is about the talks in Northern Ireland: we should not lose sight of that.
What I am most concerned about are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who says that the very fact we are discussing this in this way may have an impact upon the talks. There may be unintended consequences of words meaning what we choose them to mean here but being heard in Northern Ireland in quite a different way. The real risk we face today is that last week we passed an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, with some majority, to the House of Commons. What has come back to us is something significantly different: we have now moved beyond the idea of enabling the House of Commons to discuss these matters, to royal proclamations. We have gone beyond the notion of where we stand, to what we think we now ought to be able to control, and all this because we are anticipating what is in the mind of one of the candidates for the leadership of my party: that is all we are doing. Again, I come back to the point that this is about Northern Ireland’s talks process. We are here because we need extra time; because the talks have made progress but not enough progress. What we have done instead is conflate the talks in Northern Ireland, which have been challenging and have not gone at the pace I would have liked, with Brexit in all its manifest glory.
I am reminded of the law we are invoking today, dating back to 1797. The noble Lord, Lord West, is not in his place, but were he here he would remind us that in 1797 Great Britain won a great naval victory. Admiral Lord Duncan, a Member of this place at one time, secured a great victory at the Battle of Camperdown. Camperdown Park in Dundee takes its name from that noble battle. But 1797 is perhaps not a precedent we should be drawing upon just now: this Bill is primarily about restoring the talks in Northern Ireland. Instead we are attaching to it the desire of this place to frustrate the potential ambitions of one of the candidates in a leadership contest. I repeat, not in any way anticipating a call from either of the candidates, that it is important to stress that it would be presumptive of either of them to declare what they would do were they to be Prime Minister, because neither of them is Prime Minister. It is important that we keep focused, as we do today, on what the Bill is about.
Am I right in thinking that this amendment originally was put down in the Commons, but the Speaker in the Commons did not accept it, as he did not think that it was appropriate? Then your Lordships’ House, in its wisdom, put it down, because we do not have those kinds of rules, so anybody can put amendments down here, and that has allowed the Commons to get at it by a totally different route. If that is not a ruse, I do not know what is.
Absolutely. Yet we find ourselves, once again, returning to where we began the journey—an Executive formation extension Bill, which now has a new bauble dangling upon it.
I have discovered in my two years in Northern Ireland how much I care about that place. This is an unfortunate hijacking of what we need to be able to ensure in Northern Ireland. But the will of this House will determine that. I believe that I have done all I can to suggest why we should indeed reject the amendment from the other place, but it will be for your Lordships to decide upon that matter. I commend this Motion to the House.
Commons Amendment 1A agreed.
Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill
Clause 1: “The Parliamentary building works”
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, leave out from “Westminster” to end of line 2 and insert “at the earliest opportunity that its work and democratic and constitutional functions can reasonably be delivered in the restored Palace.”
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I open the Committee stage of this Bill. My noble friend Lady Smith—who, as the House will know, was a member of the original Joint Committee and spoke with her usual eloquence and depth at Second Reading on behalf of these Benches—unfortunately has other commitments and cannot be here until later but is very much hoping to join us as soon as possible. Meanwhile, my noble friend Lord McNicol and I are holding the fort.
I am moving Amendment 1 and speaking to Amendment 16, both of which are in my noble friend’s name. It is right that we start today with amendments to Clauses 1 and 2 that aim to ensure and reiterate that the core purpose of the restoration and renewal programme must be to enable the Houses of Parliament to continue to serve as the UK’s primary legislative and democratic institution.
Clause 2 lists areas to which the sponsor body must have regard, but the work of Parliament, legislation and the representative democratic function is not referred to anywhere in the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Smith said at Second Reading,
“That is a serious omission. At no point should the sponsor body … lose sight of that”.—[Official Report, 8/7/19; col. 1675.]
Our amendments seek to remedy this. The House will be aware that, as this project progresses, it is vital that we bring the public and Parliament with us. We must make both aware that the works are imperative not only to preserve this historic building for future generations but to ensure that this country can long benefit from its constitutional role.
By stressing the significance of the works for the sanctity of democracy, we can better demonstrate that the costs and work involved are vital and necessary, and we help address and dissuade notions that this is only for the benefit of parliamentarians. Safeguarding Parliament’s role in our constitution is of vital benefit to everyone in the UK. Through these amendments, this House can do more than send this message; we can ensure that this principle is at the forefront of consideration for the sponsor body as works progress.
Amendment 16 would legislate that the sponsor body must always take regard of the primary democratic and constitutional functions of Parliament during the project. Amendment 1, meanwhile, would ensure that while the decant takes place the aim of the works will be to facilitate both Houses’ return so that their democratic and constitutional functions can be upheld and continued.
The importance of including in the Bill the broad principle that the works must never lose sight of the fact that they are taking place to maintain Parliament as a place of democracy was underlined by noble Lords from across the House at Second Reading. I hope that the Government will agree and bring forward proposals on Report to ensure that this principle is incorporated into the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am happy to speak in support of the amendment that has just been so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. It is important we remember that the principal functions of this place are its constitutional, legislative and scrutiny functions. That should not be forgotten. That said, in many of the debates we will have in Committee, we will remember many of the other things that happen in this place. I was going to say it is a village; it is probably larger than that in terms of the number of people who work here. However, at the end of the day, if it were not for the democratic and constitutional functions that take place, most of that other work would not materialise.
Although it is not one I signed, possibly through omission rather than as a deliberate act, the words “at the earliest opportunity” in Amendment 1 are important, because there is an urgency in this: both in starting now and, when the works start, in getting back in as soon as possible. Throughout the whole process, it is important that we try to maintain the pace. We will come later to an amendment I have tabled about timelines. We all know from large public works that there is often a tendency to delay, but I hope that once we get out it will not be very long until we get back in.
My Lords, any amendment which improves the Bill is obviously a good thing, but I was not clear from what my noble friend said how this amendment does so. It is not clear to me how the words,
“as soon as is reasonably practicable”,
“at the earliest opportunity that its work and democratic and constitutional functions can reasonably be delivered in the restored Palace”,
are in any way different. Could my noble friend answer that when she responds?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for moving the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. The Government entirely agree that it is important for the sponsor body and delivery authority to ensure that the R&R works enhance and protect the work of Parliament. This focus is reflected in the fact that the Bill requires that the majority of the members on the board of the sponsor body are parliamentarians.
As part of its strategic vision for the programme, the shadow sponsor body has been clear that restoration and renewal must deliver a building that supports Parliament’s core function as a working legislature both now and in the future, using high-quality design and technology. This includes facilitating any procedural changes that may be requested by either House.
When drafting the Bill, the Government have been careful not to prescribe either what Parliament does or its procedures, as these are clearly a matter for Parliament itself. We are concerned by the reference to the “democratic and constitutional functions” of Parliament in this amendment, as we are mindful of potential legal challenges in respect of the exercise of the powers contained in the Bill. For instance, we must be careful not to unintentionally invite the courts to consider matters that are the preserve of Parliament, such as the question of what the “democratic and constitutional functions” of Parliament are. Doing so could call into question the separation between the courts and Parliament.
Noble Lords will know that the Companion explains that the principle of control by Parliament of its affairs, free from interference by the courts, is often called “exclusive cognisance”. We are concerned that the inclusion of this wording in the Bill could be seen as Parliament waiving the exclusive cognisance of the House, and so we have reservations about the wording of the amendment.
The best way to ensure that the R&R works enhance and protect the democratic and constitutional role of Parliament is to ensure that Parliament has a final say on the plans for a restored and renewed Palace. The Bill sets out very clearly that the works cannot commence until Members of both Houses have approved the delivery authority’s proposal for the design, cost and timing of those works in the outline business case. This will enable parliamentarians to determine whether the designs for the restored Palace and decant enable Parliament to carry out its democratic and constitutional functions. Significant changes to the design, timing or cost will also have to go back to Parliament for agreement. For these reasons, we are confident that the sponsor body will ensure that the parliamentary buildings works enhance and protect the work, and democratic and constitutional functions, of the Houses of Parliament.
Obviously, this is a matter for noble Lords to consider, but as I have set out, we have some legal concerns. I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord that the principle behind the amendment will be central to the work of the sponsor body and the delivery authority. I am sure that the parliamentary authorities would be happy to provide further advice on this if needed. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. After today, I will look at the legal and constitutional issues that she raised. I am very grateful for her reassurances about accepting the principle. If we feel that we need to reinforce that, we will come back on Report.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Adonis, the “earliest possible opportunity” reference will be taken up in later amendments and so we will respond to that in due course.
I thank in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for his contribution. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) If a planning application is submitted to a responsible planning authority for works immediately adjacent to the Palace of Westminster, the Sponsor Body must—(a) determine whether these works might impede the Parliamentary building works in any significant way; and(b) if they determine that they may impede the Parliamentary building works, issue a notice to that effect to the responsible planning authority.”
My Lords, in moving this amendment I say at the outset that I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for adding their names to it.
I have tabled this amendment for two reasons. First, I hope that all your Lordships agree that we want to protect and enhance this building and want it to emerge from the restoration and renewal project even more magnificent than it is at the moment. One of the greatest buildings in the world, and the greatest symbol of democracy in the world, it is at the heart of the world heritage site which encompasses the Abbey, St Margaret’s and the immediate environs.
The immediate environs include Victoria Tower Gardens. Last week, we were all exalted in a letter from my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth to love our parks—indeed, he told us that it was Love Parks Week. I do love our parks and do not imagine that a single one of your Lordships does not love our parks. There is nothing more wonderful than to walk through St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park and up to Kensington Gardens; it is a wonderful country walk in the middle of the greatest city in the world. They are great parks not only because of the way they are laid out, but in size. Adjacent to the Palace of Westminster is a much smaller park, but one that gives great enjoyment to those who use it. It is used on daily basis by residents, office workers, children and others. It was carefully laid out in the last three decades of the 19th century and contains the magnificent statue of the Burghers of Calais, the statue of Mrs Pankhurst and the memorial to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, one of the great advocates of the cause that led to the abolition of, first, the slave trade and then slavery in 1833. That is something of which this country, and this Parliament in particular, should be extremely proud.
When we embark on this great programme of restoration and renewal, we have to have regard for our environs. Noble Lords will have read the amendment. There is an application for a major building project in Victoria Palace Gardens for a cause which I believe every noble Lord thinks is a great cause: to have another national memorial to commemorate the Holocaust. I tread very carefully because I like to think that no one could ever accuse me of being a Holocaust denier—one of those episodes in recent world history that has done more to deface the name of humanity than perhaps any other. Nor, as the founder chairman for the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry, would I ever wish to be accused of having any anti-Semitic feelings. I hope that would be said for everyone who expresses a concern about building this particular memorial in this particular place.
I would like to see another national memorial, and it ought to attract people in considerable numbers. It is a memorial that should not be in any way inconvenienced by security measures additional to those which any public building or memorial in London, regrettably, has to rely upon. It should also be of easy access so that when people come on pilgrimage, as I hope and believe they will, to stand gently and quietly to remember or to instruct the young, they will be able to come and go easily and freely. On any account, building a major national memorial immediately adjacent to Parliament on Victoria Palace Gardens would mean that those criteria are not easily fulfilled. That is why I hope that the board we are establishing through the Bill will look most carefully.
Moreover, if we are to have the full decant, it is important that each House of Parliament has a reasonable temporary home that easy to access and close to other parliamentary facilities. I know it has been mentioned that the favourite destination for your Lordships’ House is the QEII Centre. I have always felt that there are many objections to that, not least the difficulty of parking. I also believe that to have to cross the road to go there is not necessarily conducive to the close contact between the two Houses which is an essential part of our constitutional and democratic structure. If the Commons is to have a Chamber built within or near Richmond House—I know that there are significant concerns on that front too, but I will leave that aside for the moment—having something on the same side of the road as a temporary structure for your Lordships and immediately opposite Millbank House and the offices that many of us occupy might be a sensible move. I say “might”, as it is something that the body that we are setting up ought to be able to take carefully into account. However, if a memorial is to be built there, that will be ruled out.
I do not intend to divide the House today. I have said many times before that I believe that our convention—it is not a rule—that we do not vote in Committee is wise, as it gives us a chance to reflect on what the Government say and it gives the Government the chance also to reflect. I believe that we will deal with this as first business when we return in September, so we have several weeks in which to reflect and consider.
There are many places where it could go. It could go to one of the great London parks, but the Imperial War Museum, which has offered a site and has adequate parking, would seem an admirable destination. It already has galleries that graphically and movingly describe the Holocaust, so that is a possibility. This afternoon I am simply saying to your Lordships that it is very important that we look at this carefully and without prejudice.
To those of my noble friends who are strongly in support of the Holocaust memorial, I say: please remember that those of us who have reservations are not against having a memorial; we are not Holocaust deniers or in any sense opposed to the Jewish community, which has given so much to our country over the last three and a half centuries since the Jews were readmitted by Oliver Cromwell in 1652. I speak as one who lives in a city—Lincoln—that had the second largest Jewish community in the country in the Middle Ages, and we honour that. Indeed, at the moment, together with Jewish colleagues and others I am planning a great exhibition to commemorate that, to be held in two or three years’ time in Lincoln.
Therefore, it is not a question of a Holocaust memorial being something that we do not want. We do want it but this is not the place, and it is certainly important that all aspects are considered carefully by the body that the Bill establishes. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to add my name to this amendment. In this most significant work for parliamentarians and indeed for the whole nation, our concerns are not only for this building and our parliamentary work, and not only for the future and the public, but for safety, security, access and the environment now and in future centuries. Quite apart from the changes in methods of working that will be taken into consideration in refurbishing this place, major concerns affect the surrounding areas. We have many more tourists and many more protests—peaceful and otherwise—here and in Parliament Square; there are more visitors, including dignitaries requiring protected access; and, above all, we are painfully aware of the vulnerability and magnetic attraction of this area to terrorists. Protestors could include parties interested in the Middle East, and environmental activists because of the underground excavation, destruction of trees and loss of green space inherent in the Victoria Tower Gardens plan.
This brings me to the concerns I have for those gardens adjacent to Black Rod’s Garden and the parking exit for our cars. Your Lordships will have heard that there is a plan to have a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in those gardens, which has not yet received planning permission. In the meantime, there has been more than one security analysis of the implications of a very large memorial and museum with concomitant visitors. It has been estimated that there will be 1 million visitors per year and 11 coaches delivering and taking away visitors every day.
The amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord King, and myself is designed to take account of the implications of this. The proposal to build on this site has avoided addressing security considerations in any detail, failing the tests set out in paragraph 95a of the National Planning Policy Framework of 2019. There will be potentially long queues of visitors waiting for security checks—the touted 20-second check will clearly be insufficient—next to children playing in the playground and the usual park visitors. Presumably, they too will have to undergo security checks because they are close by, whether intending to visit the memorial or not.
The principal threat comes from jihadi-inspired terrorists, as evidenced by the atrocities that have occurred in Europe recently, targeted against Jews and Jewish-associated buildings. The proximity of the planned memorial to Parliament, with national and international news media constantly in attendance, will make it a high-value target for those who wish to promote their evil aims with publicity. There have been many other criminal activities levelled against Jewish targets of which many of us are, frankly, fearful, and a great deal of private and public money is already spent on protection. We also have the extreme right-wing groups, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and protestors of all sorts—bearing in mind that the memorial may also include victims of LGBT persecution, and of the Rwandan, Armenian and other massacres—who will see this location as the focus for their action.
Alongside is Millbank, a busy road with limited parking. It is difficult to see where the coachloads of visitors would be able to disembark. I envisage more anti-terrorist vehicle barriers and pavement restrictions at the southern end of the Parliamentary Estate, as well as presumably more concrete blocks, barriers and bollards to protect against a suicide vehicle crash; it would be easy enough to drive into the park with this intent, rather as happened in the attack here in March 2017. At the very least, the footpath in Millbank will have to be narrowed and security patrols will be required night and day. Graffiti and desecration of memorials are all too common, as we saw with the Bomber Command memorial and even the Cenotaph in London. There will be large queues of people waiting to enter, which provide a soft target for extremists. Objects such as bricks, and worse, could easily be thrown from across the road, or could be dropped into the well area at the entrance to the learning centre, causing disruption.
Building a memorial will require large areas around to be closed for a time, with excavation equipment and building materials, at more or less the same time that these buildings are being prepared for repair. How will the park be managed at night, and cleared, and what will the light pollution be? Our amendment refers mildly to avoiding impediments; other amendments refer to the whole of the Parliamentary Estate and the broadest meaning of access. They all deserve support, but this one is the most urgent, in that the damage to security may occur very soon. We need to protect the Parliamentary Estate and its immediate vicinity. I stand here to assure noble Lords that it is not anti-Semitic to oppose this design, in this location, as has been suggested; far from it. The trouble is that, if the plan is steamrollered through as a political football—if I may mix my metaphors—it will for ever be tainted with opposition. To build a Holocaust memorial we must do so with reverence, affection, respect and acceptance. If it has to be forced through, it is contrary to the very objectives for which it is designed.
The other argument that may well be raised is: “Such a memorial has to be right next door to Parliament to remind us that democracy must and should protect against genocide”. Sadly, democracy has not proved in the past to protect against genocide. One need only instance in our current age Yugoslavia and Myanmar, and of course Germany had a form of democracy in the 1930s. Genocide comes from ethnic and religious hatred and from ideology. That is something that you combat only by educating people, not by putting up a memorial in a small park. For those reasons, I support the amendment and I hope that others will too.
My Lords, I support the amendment, although I am not sure that it goes quite far enough. I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said.
I declare an interest in that, every day when I come here, I walk through those gardens. A number of times I have seen them being dug up and changed. There is a beautiful play area for children at one end that has been dug up and changed at least two or three times and there have been various other changes, while the visitor centre has taken away a fantastic view of the building. One might argue that that has a great purpose and it is very welcome to bring more children here, but I think that the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, about the pressure of people, parking and security is really important.
We are not a planning committee but we have a duty to protect Parliament. I have been associated with these Chambers and Parliament generally for some 36 years—
One of the new boys indeed. I hope that, like me, my noble friend Lord King comes here every day and is filled with wonder and a sense of, “How on earth have I managed to get here?” It is a very special place and it is important that in the process of renewal we do not lose what we have.
We are talking not just about the building but about the environment and the immediate environs, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said. I see that park in winter, spring and summer. I see the children in their playgrounds, I see the office workers having their picnics, I see the lovers on the benches behaving quite properly, I see people doing interviews in front of that wonderful view of the tower, and it has enormous value. If we are to have 10 years of construction and disruption in this place, what on earth would possess us to add to that by having another major project, not even on the surface but underground?
We have seen the presentations and sketches of what it would look like and, frankly, I do not think it would enhance the beauty, simplicity and value of that space, which is also very much valued by tourists. I support the amendment but I hope that, at a later stage, we will have one that does more than just make this point in the way that this one does—that we have an amendment that actually makes it clear to those responsible for this project that it is not just about the park; it is about Parliament as a whole and preserving the precious heritage that we are all privileged to have the responsibility for.
I welcome and totally support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said. My noble friend is rightly keen to argue that we want a very successful Holocaust memorial project. I think the venue that he described would be a far better one; it would involve less controversy and, I venture to suggest, it would be possible to achieve rather more quickly than will be the case given the controversy and the difficulties that we have. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment that was moved so clearly and eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I agree entirely with the other things that have been said so far.
Over a mere 36 years in association with this Palace, I have quite often gone into those gardens for moments of deliberation and relaxation. The reason why I do so is that they contain one of the most wonderful public sculptures in the world, “The Burghers of Calais”. It is a much better location for that casting of the statue than you find, for example, in Calais. It is a sculpture of international moment and very much part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. With the other two memorials that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to, there seems to be quite enough for small gardens of that size, particularly when there is another site for the Holocaust memorial available for sure on the much more capacious site of the Imperial War Museum—I will speak about that in a moment.
I am very committed to the erection of a Holocaust memorial. My sister Renata and I share a father but not a mother. We do not share a mother because her mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. A framed copy of her death certificate hangs on the wall of my sister’s house in the Midlands. It does not tell the entire truth. It says she died of smallpox, when she was almost certainly murdered because she had smallpox. These events are very important to us as a family. We believe Renata’s and my paternal grandparents died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. We do not know exactly how, but it was probably by being taken straight from the train to the gas ovens.
I suspect that many people in your Lordships’ House have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am afraid once was enough for me—I shall not go again. Anybody who has been there will realise how momentous, vile and treacherous those events were and what effect they have on those families, whether they be religious or secular—I am not a religious person at all. This is the history of many people in this country and indeed quite a lot of people in your Lordships’ House and the other place.
I regard this memorial as an absolute necessity, but what does it need? I have been to Holocaust memorials around the world when I have been able to. Yad Vashem is an extraordinary memorial, set in a great space. Last year, I went to the new Holocaust memorial in Warsaw, Poland. Poland has a mixed reputation for its attitude to Jews, even since the Second World War. However, if your Lordships have not been there, I have to tell you that the new memorial in Warsaw is a sensational place. It dominates a big square. You can walk around it and through it; you can go to restaurants in the streets around it. The whole of that area has been created and recreated to accommodate that memorial.
In my view, a memorial to the Holocaust needs room to view, room to breathe, room to reflect and room to police. The site for the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens certainly does not have the room to police. The road between Lambeth Bridge and the Palace of Westminster is often closed to traffic when important events are taking place here, or on the not insignificant number of occasions when there is a suspicion of a raised terrorist threat level. It would be a sitting target for terrorists and would not be difficult to access. It would not be possible to create a ring of steel around it, which can be done on a big site in a careful, considerate and not particularly obvious way.
A memorial such as this should have space—as at Auschwitz, which is on a huge site—for coaches to bring and set down older schoolchildren who are learning about modern history, including the history of the Holocaust. There should be space for them to be corralled in an appropriate way, with time to listen to their teachers. They should be able to see the light of day. I do not understand the desire for an underground memorial. To be able to understand what happened to these people, you need light. The children’s memorial at Yad Vashem, which is a hall of mirrors with candles, is based on seeing light, not being in a subterranean space. I say to your Lordships, with the feeling I hope I have shown, because I believe in this proposition—
Part of the memorial—the visible part—is on the surface; the rest is underground. Yes it is a learning centre, but if one goes to look at other monuments with learning centres, they are not concealed below the ground. I do not know of any other Holocaust memorial—
I am not going to give way again; the noble Lord can make a speech if he wants to. This is not the House of Commons. In my view, the placing of the learning centre underground compounds the points I am trying to make. This site could be put on a much bigger estate. It could be more open, visible and more easily policed. Those are the main reasons why I support the amendment.
Yes, of course.
Somebody was muttering. I was brought up a Hindu. Personally, I have never understood why there is such a lot of prejudice against the Jews, in Europe and in other countries. They are very clever people. They believe in education and achievement. Why is it that people do not really feel the same about Jews as everybody else?
I have stood up to speak because when I learned about the Holocaust it had a very deep effect on me. I have become an atheist as a result, because I could not accept that 6 million people could be killed like vermin and nothing happened for them. If nothing happened for them, what do I need God for? I am sure not many people think like that, but it is how I feel. I am going to Auschwitz-Birkenau in August. Of course, somebody said, “You must go to Birkenau; it was a factory”. Silly me, I thought it was a factory making something. It was a factory killing people in the most careful and planned way, just killing people. I cannot believe that we are living in this century.
My Lords, there is another amendment in this group in my name, but I am afraid it is nothing to do with the Holocaust memorial, so forgive me for changing the topic. It is about co-ordination of major programmes and projects.
At Second Reading I raised the need for clarity on responsibility and accountability for all the major programmes of work ongoing at the Palace. As we know, we currently have the roof works, there is the masonry project and Big Ben, and soon to start will be the Northern Estate. My concern is the scope for confusion and the potential for all manner of things to go wrong if there is not a single body responsible for all these separate programmes to make sure they are co-ordinated properly.
Clause 1(1) makes provision for the sponsor body and the delivery authority to be responsible for building works beyond the restoration and renewal project itself. Since the Second Reading debate, I was pleased to receive a letter from the noble Earl confirming that responsibility for the Northern Estate will soon transfer to the sponsor body, so one of those major projects will now be within the remit of this new body. That is very welcome. I have also learned since Second Reading that within the House authorities, Strategic Estates is responsible for the other projects which are expected to be completed before the decant.
None the less, I have tabled my amendment because of the scope for things to go wrong when these big works eventually commence. I would like some reassurance from the noble Earl, or from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, that the Strategic Estates team has a formal responsibility for proper engagement with the sponsor body on all these projects; and that if there is any question that responsibility should shift to the sponsor body in the best interests of the future of the Palace of Westminster in the round, it will be considered swiftly. I would also be grateful if the Minister could let us know to whom Strategic Estates is accountable. If there was to be any change in responsibility for those major projects which could impact on the restoration and renewal project itself, which decision-making body would make that decision?
My Lords, I would like to bring us back to my noble friend Lord Cormack’s amendment. I have great respect for my noble friend, who sits beside me and advises me on the procedures of this House; perhaps he is not doing such a great job, but I thank him for that. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about some Holocaust memorials that he has been to, but for me the most iconic one is the one right in the centre of Berlin. If your Lordships have not been to that one, I urge you to go because the memorial is all above ground, while its learning centre is entirely underground.
I have been to the site in Berlin. Does the noble Lord not agree that it is on a much bigger footprint than is postulated for Victoria Tower Gardens? It is a rectangular site, occupying a great space, which is very different from what is proposed here.
I will come on to the actual footprint of the site in a minute, if I may.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised the issue of security. I just pose the question: what does it say about our society that a Holocaust memorial is deemed a security risk? That is the sort of society we now live in, which is very concerning to me. I also take issue a little with noble Lords using this sort of amendment to the Bill to raise objections to the establishment of the memorial on that site. I know that I am northern and I like people to be straightforward. If this amendment were about just objecting to the site of a memorial, I would have preferred its wording to be clear and unequivocal in saying so. I do not know of any Jewish communal event or building that has been stopped or withdrawn because of security concerns. Thank God that in this country, measures are always put in place by successive Governments and successive leaders of the police, whether it be the Met Police here or the police in Manchester and other areas. They have always shown support and understanding by working closely with the CST—the Community Security Trust.
This reminds me of when I was the education director of the Board of Deputies back in the 1980s. I remember questioning the then president of the board, Lord Janner—he was not Lord Janner then but was subsequently made a Peer. I asked him what would happen if somebody were to daub the stone in the Dell in Hyde Park? What would happen if somebody came and put something on it, a swastika or whatever? I remember that his words to me were: “Stuart, you’ll roll up your sleeves and we’ll clean it up”. Those are important words, because it would be a great shame and sadness if a memorial such as this did not happen because we were worried that it could cause problems. I am not an expert, but surely Westminster is a heavily policed part of town, so why would a memorial at this site be an additional risk to the place we are in?
I do not want to pre-empt the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but I hope a memorial in the learning centre will stand next to Parliament as a reminder to all throughout the nation of our responsibility to remain vigilant against intolerance and bigotry. Setting history’s worst example of the disintegration of democratic values against the greatest emblem of Britain’s aspirations for democracy will stand as a permanent reminder of the responsibility of citizens and politicians, in a democracy, to be vigilant and responsive whenever and wherever those values are threatened. The trustees have ensured, and will ensure, that all precautions are met and the relevant people consulted.
The memorial will require just 7.5% of Victoria Tower Gardens—that leaves 92.5% untouched— and, as a result, the drainage, planting and gardens will be improved. Existing paths will be replaced, the playgrounds enhanced and there will be a new café. There will be many reasons to love the park. Members of the public should be able to go about their daily lives and that includes visiting all high-profile places in Westminster.
My Lords, I have played no part in previous deliberations on the location of the Holocaust memorial. I have listened to the discussions very much for the first time. I say at the outset that I understand some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has made. I also strongly identify with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Polak, has made. What is unacceptable about this amendment is that something as big as the location of the Holocaust memorial is not being decided by a planning authority, but by a back-door route as an amendment to this legislation. This is a national memorial at the heart of London.
By the way, it has taken a long time to set this up. It should have been set up a generation ago, but, as this is a national memorial, it is of such importance that Parliament should decide, and on an express vote. If this is still unresolved—and, from listening to the debate, perhaps the Leader will tell us that it is more resolved than appears—there should be a procedure for Parliament to decide on the location, on a positive vote of both Houses, taking account of all the issues, including those which have been raised on security and accessibility, and on the aesthetic elements by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. What he said about the Berlin memorial was interesting. This is a hugely important decision that the nation should take, from looking at what other nations have done with their memorials and how ours matches up.
If I have understood the situation correctly, construction is not going to start imminently. It sounds unlikely, given the other work that is going to happen on the site. Perhaps the noble Lord will correct me but, if that is the case, Parliament should decide what happens with this memorial. We should not leave it to Westminster City Council, by using an amendment to the Bill in this indirect way.
My Lords, I am participating in this debate as one of the four Members of your Lordships’ House on the shadow sponsor body. I speak from that perspective, but I am not speaking for them. I hope that distinction is clear. I am certainly not commenting on the location, or desirability or otherwise, of the Holocaust memorial. I want to reflect on what this debate shows about the extent of the powers of the shadow sponsor body. As far as I can tell, there is no real master plan for the whole world heritage site. Decisions are made in a slightly piecemeal way, involving major players such as the city council and so on, but in so far as there is co-ordination between them, it has always been the authorities of both Houses of Parliament who do it. If under this amendment that locus was taken away from the parliamentary authorities and handed to the shadow sponsor board, I suggest your Lordships would need to reflect on that.
The role of the shadow sponsor body is, fundamentally, to do what Parliament instructs. Therefore, if Parliament wanted us to take on this role, we would obey. However, as a parliamentarian, I would be quite nervous about handing over an important contribution to the overall planning process to the shadow sponsor body, which has been set up for an entirely different purpose: delivering the restoration and renewal of the fabric of this building.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is a thoughtful person who might take away that point and reflect on it, because it is entirely possible for the thrust of his arguments to be fulfilled, but perhaps not by the shadow sponsor body. In many ways, the amendment tabled and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, is another example—it will not be the only one today—of an interesting relationship between the work of the sponsor body and that of the parliamentary authorities. For me, as both a member of that body and a parliamentarian, what is important is clarity. It is less about who exactly is doing what than being absolutely clear about who is doing it, so that, as decisions are made, we know how they have been made and by whom. The lines between some responsibilities are a little blurred, which makes it quite difficult for us.
We need to be careful not to use this Bill in a way that muddies those waters and makes it less clear where such responsibilities lie. At the end of the day, the shadow sponsor body and the sponsor body when it becomes substantive have their role to play, but the parliamentary authorities and Members of Parliament will also continue to have theirs.
My Lords, the noble Baroness said that the sponsor board was set up to manage the renewal of the Parliament building, but Clause 1(3)—we have talked about it many times—covers all the buildings that Parliament might sit in, even temporarily. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, is concerned about the possible management roles of, and interaction between, the different organisations, as are many of us. It would be useful if the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, could clarify that.
I am very pleased to. This is something of a moving picture. When the shadow sponsor body was first set up, it was not envisaged that it would have management of the Northern Estate programme, which has emerged. The Bill provides a framework in which Parliament could decide—to be honest—to ask the shadow sponsor body to do anything it liked, but just because it can does not mean that it should. There has to be reflection always on whether a particular task really sits within the skills and parameters of the sponsor body, which is why I have some concerns about the amendment effectively asking the shadow sponsor body to engage in the planning process on behalf of Parliament. If Parliament wants that, we will do it, but I am a little nervous about it and think that role sits more comfortably with the House authorities.
Amendment 2 is in the name of my noble friend Lord Cormack, for whom I have enormous affection and respect. This Bill, on the restoration and renewal of Parliament, is hugely important; we all know that this project must be pursued. However, I would like to give an alternative perspective.
The memorial that is the subject of this amendment is not, as far as I envisage it, about war. Suggesting that it might be more appropriately sited in the Imperial War Museum suggests that it is about something other than what I believe it is intended for. The memorial is about democracy and the horrible consequences of the disintegration of democratic values. The site for this memorial was specifically chosen for its historical, emotional and political significance and is a reminder of the government-approved murders of millions of innocent citizens. It will symbolise our country’s commitment to remembering the men, women and children, whether they were Roma, gays, disabled people or Jews, who were murdered just because of who they were, not for anything they had done wrong.
I declare an interest, as my father was born in Vienna and my mother in Berlin. Both fled here in the 1930s while most of our family was killed in concentration camps. I am enormously grateful to this country for providing a safe haven for them. I am also grateful for the work carried out by so many people, including noble friends on these Benches and others outside Parliament, who wish to build a lasting memorial to the horrendous consequences, the damage that can be done, when democracy crumbles. The current trend towards Holocaust denial—
Can the noble Baroness explain how, while democracy has spread across Europe since the Second World War, and Holocaust memorials, hundreds of them, have gone up in Europe and America, anti-Semitism and extremism are on the rise? They are not achieving their purpose. It is a worthy gesture but it needs much more thought.
I understand the noble Baroness’s concerns, but I do not think there is a causal connection between memorials sited in other places and the aims of this particular memorial, and what it is intended to symbolise. The trend towards Holocaust denial, revisionism and the rise of anti-Semitism and intolerance, even permeating, it seems, mainstream political discourse in this country and elsewhere, is a frightening reminder of the very reason why the memorial should be built precisely where it is currently planned. As we have heard in your Lordships’ House today, the memorial has many opponents and I understand the concerns raised, but I urge noble Lords to consider the fundamentally important reasons for it to be sited next to our Parliament.
Would the noble Baroness and other noble Lords accept that this is not fundamentally a debate about the desirability or the location of this? I genuinely recognise all the passions that people feel, but this amendment is about the extent to which the shadow sponsor body should act to engage with the planning authority.
I strongly encourage the noble Baroness to continue with her remarks, because the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to this location ranged far wider than the text of the amendment, which says that the sponsor body should have regard to whether the works,
“may impede the Parliamentary building works”.
The noble Lord’s objections about security and desirability, and the other objections raised, ranged far wider. I think it is completely inappropriate that this amendment should be the means of deciding where the Holocaust memorial goes.
I strongly endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and respectfully request that I put some alternative views to the House. I take the noble Baroness’s point that this is about the renovation and restoration of this Parliament, but this amendment having been put down, I think it is important that the House hears a range of views. Otherwise, an amendment of this nature, which would undermine the important purpose that is intended for a site right next to our Parliament, may pass automatically.
As my noble friend Lord Polak said, the project would take up just 7.5% of Victoria Tower Gardens, and it is intended to offer substantial improvements to the gardens. It will link the existing memorials to historic battles against injustice, and the Buxton memorial to the abolition of slavery will be preserved. The project provides for new pathways and playgrounds and has carefully looked at protecting the trees in the gardens.
I am hugely grateful to the Government and my party for approving the construction of this memorial, and that it will be situated in such a powerfully symbolic location. I hope that the concerns of noble Lords, which have been carefully and respectfully expressed, can be overcome with further discussions about the plans already in place and the careful consideration of the design, which is intended to avoid disruption. Disruption is inevitable whenever restoration is carried out, as will be the case with the restoration of Parliament, or, if one is building a Holocaust memorial and museum on any other site. However, I understand also the concerns of local residents, and that there are strong reservations.
I urge noble Lords to consider whether this particular amendment to this particular Bill is addressing the correct issue at the correct time, and whether we should have a broader consideration of the merits of the Holocaust memorial as it is currently proposed.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend. The noble Baroness opposite will like this, because I want to speak to the amendment itself.
Among the traditions and conventions of this House is a long-standing one that we do not impose retrospective legislation, and I know that my noble friend Lord Cormack has not attempted to do so. The result of that is that the existing planning application, which went in earlier this year, would not be affected by this amendment. Therefore, it matters not whether my noble friend wants to press it to a vote or wait until after the summer holidays, when the decision may well have been made, because this will not affect the decision regarding the location of the memorial learning centre one jot or iota.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, wanted an explanation of where we are. A planning application has been submitted to Westminster City Council, which is going about this in a diligent and thorough way. It has some experience, because most of the larger developments that government wants are within this area, so there is probably not a city council within the country better placed to do this. We could well have taken the decision to place this memorial and learning centre by a resolution of the House, overturning the planning of Westminster City Council. However, I have a soft spot and a lot of respect for local government. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, read out the National Planning Policy Framework; I like that, because I helped to write the section that she read out. It is important that, whether you are the Prime Minister, the Queen or some massively important person in the City, you are still subject to town and country planning. I found the experience of working alongside Westminster City Council useful, and I anticipate that we are likely to get a decision in early September.
My noble friend is the epitome of civilisation and reasonableness; absolutely nobody would feel that he was anti-Semitic. I did feel a number of times that my noble friend was carefully carving a paper tiger in order that it be destroyed, but let me be clear: you can object to this location without being anti-Semitic in any way. My noble friend spoiled it a little when he said that he wanted to preserve all the grass, the dicky birds and flowers but then said that actually, it would be quite a good place for us to build a temporary Chamber over the top. I suppose that the flowers and the dicky birds could then go take a hike.
This site was announced in January 2016. I know that the announcement was made in secret—it was made by the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House of Commons, so one would not necessarily expect everyone to know about it, but I would expect Members of this House to know. Not only was the site announced; we then announced an international competition, and all the top architects in the world put in a bid. We had an exhibition in Westminster Hall, which Members of this House could have looked at; they could even have submitted a card saying whether they liked the design. It was then selected by a jury, which included the Chief Rabbi and Holocaust survivors. Two international architects with experience in Holocaust architecture were selected.
I understand that my honourable friend Lord Forsyth, who is no longer in his place—no doubt he is a busy man—said that he does not like the design. Fair enough: not everybody likes it, but it won an international competition. It has been selected to appear at the international design centre. It is regarded as a thoroughly intelligent piece of work.
I will of course give way in a moment, but as I said, this is not the House of Commons; I will come to you in a moment.
Even the people who put together the landscape have just won the competition to landscape the trees and grassland surrounding the Eiffel Tower. The French are notoriously pernickety about design, and I cannot help but feel that we have managed to get the best. I give way to the honourable lady, Baroness Deech.
I just wondered whether the noble Lord would remind the House that the winning design is identical to the one that the two architects produced for a competition in Ottawa, which they lost. The Ottawa setting was huge and concrete. They simply brought the same design over to London, hardly tweaking it.
I have no idea whether that is true and—I hope that the honourable Lady will not mind me being blunt—I do not care. It was a winning design. It is an attractive design. I know that she does not like it but, frankly, I prefer the choice of a competition and an international jury to her particular whims.
We are almost following a standard. The honourable Lady mentioned Ottawa. Ottawa and Washington went through—
I thank the noble Baroness. That is very helpful.
Ottawa and Washington went through exactly the same process. They said, “We don’t want it here. We think it’s a marvellous thing but we don’t want it in this particular location. Just put it somewhere else”. They then produced a security assessment saying that it somehow adds to insecurity. We have worked closely with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, and the Metropolitan Police. This morning, my office checked with them to see whether the security report produced by Mr Adrian Tudway changed their assessment in any way; their answer was no. I must say, Mr Tudway is a remarkably honest person. In his assessment, he says:
“I assess the risk of such an attack as falling within the ‘moderate’ band (using Low, Moderate, or High Risk)”.
That seems extremely sensible to me.
I do not know an awful lot about security; I just take advice. We have had the advantage of the Community Security Trust offering advice on this issue. It says:
“We look at the threats, we mitigate as best we can and then we lead our lives as we have every right to do. Police and Government and everyone else takes exactly the same approach. Further to the above, I dislike, on a point of principle, the notion that anti-Jewish terrorism means that we cannot have Jewish things in public as easily as we can have other things. Then there is the fact that the memorial would be in such a heavily policed part of town anyway. I’m not entirely sure why the memorial would be at such additional risk, relative to other parts of Westminster, so as to render it unfeasible on security grounds, whereas everything else in Westminster is basically fine and within acceptable risk levels”.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. I apologise to the House; I forgot that I was in the Lords, not the Commons. I should say that I am co-chair of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation and vice-president of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; I am also on the commission for Auschwitz, the concentration camp in Poland. All those posts are unpaid. I also attend other events. If I have left anything out, I apologise to the noble Lord.
Why this location? We have heard suggestions from other noble Lords as to why it is appropriate. There are two reasons. First, we want the people who have visited the learning centre, and listened to the lessons of the Holocaust and the genocide, to leave, look towards the Victoria and Elizabeth Towers and these two Chambers, and recognise that Parliament is the final bastion—the final protection against tyranny. Secondly, we want people working in this Chamber and in the other place to understand that they always have a choice: they can protect or they can oppress. It was a compliant legislature that introduced the Nuremberg laws. I look forward, in the not-too-distant future, to taking my noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and other Members on an exclusive guided tour of the new memorial. When it is finished, I am sure that the honourable gentleman will feel that we have done him and this place proud.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who speaks with great authority on this matter. As he rightly declared, he is deeply involved in and knows an enormous amount about what is proposed. But I pick him up on one point he made. Whether or not the application here is out of time for this amendment, I would have thought that nobody in your Lordships’ House would disagree that both this amendment and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, are eminently sensible. It must certainly be right that the sponsor body takes an interest and is informed, as this long restoration and renewal process goes on, of any issues we need to know about; the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made that point.
There are so many different angles. I will instance one that has not been mentioned at all, about what comes into Victoria Tower Gardens. I happened to be talking to one of the officers of the House, who got very excited about the issue of lying in state. I do not want to anticipate any unfortunate events that may take place at a very senior level in our country, but at some stage there will be a lying-in-state. Anyone familiar with the problems of lying in state in this Parliament, when the queue goes all the way down the back, through Victoria Tower Gardens and over Lambeth Bridge, will ask where on earth the people are going to go. This is just one illustration of the peculiarities and requirements of the extraordinary site on which we stand.
I criticise my noble friend Lord Cormack over one point. He spelled out what he was looking to see from the restoration and renewal of these great parliamentary buildings. We see a forecast of 37 degrees on Thursday, but I saw absolutely no mention in the new proposal of the importance of brilliant air conditioning throughout the Houses of Parliament.
I am a strong supporter of the Holocaust memorial; I was a strong supporter when it was originally proposed. What was not proposed at the same time was that it would be combined with the learning centre. That introduced an entirely new dimension, of course. When the proposal was originally put forward—I understand that the Prime Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, were involved at one stage—there were three alternative locations for the learning centre that were not Victoria Tower Gardens. The memorial, like other memorials, was to be in Victoria Tower Gardens.
The issue I see arising is that we have had a clear statement about how little space this will take up—the figure given was 7.5%—but it has to be built first. It may be 7.5% when the work is finished. I was surprised that my noble friend Lord Pickles did not seem to think that the learning centre was underground.
There was an intervention that I thought suggested not. If I have got that wrong, I apologise.
It is going to be a massive construction process. I asked my noble friend Lord Pickles—he will not mind my mentioning this—how long he thinks this will take; two years, possibly. Anybody familiar with construction projects in London—I have been, and am at present, quite closely involved with some—knows the likelihood of any construction project in London finishing on time. Your Lordships should come with me to Crossrail and see the problems; the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, knows better than anybody that this is a major problem. While the construction is going on, how much space will it take up? I asked earlier what happens to all the spoil they dig out. It will all go out by barge. That is a new dimension, but it is implicit recognition of the traffic problems that this might cause.
This is an incredibly difficult issue to talk about, because all sorts of allegations are made about anti-Semitism. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on his most moving speech, which seemed to me to completely knock on the head the suggestion that anybody who has a concern about this must be implicitly anti-Semitic. I recall the letter written to the Times by the noble Lord and 10 other colleagues, all Jewish Peers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, expressing their concerns about what will happen.
It is obviously going to be a major construction project which will give rise to concern over traffic—about which we have complaints enough at the moment—will deprive a significant area of London’s smallest park of its utility and will go on for some time. I hope those words will echo around Westminster Council. I am not sure whether they will echo around the Secretary of State whose application it is—it will presumably be referred to him subsequently—but it is an unfortunate decision and we will have to see what comes out of it.
My noble friend Lord Polak made the point that we have had terrorism and we do not expect any more problems. However, given the news today about the ISIS attacks and the killing of the Taliban, the idea that ISIS/Daesh has gone away is wrong. Having lived through Borough Market and Westminster Bridge, and having seen the new threats of one kind or another, I must warn your Lordships, from my experience of having dealt with terrorism for too much of my life, that this is a completely new dimension. We never had suicide bombers in Northern Ireland but we will have them aplenty—it is what happened in Kabul today. Given the complete confusion in the whole of the Middle East area, the activities of the different groups and the unfortunate involvement of Israel—a democratic state in the middle of that appallingly unstable and dangerous area—your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say that, as the hatred, threats and the various problems in the world continue to grow, there is no prospect of a calmer, more peaceful world emerging. In those circumstances we need to move with great care to ensure that we do not increase the risks of more danger.
We know all too well—it is a political point—that the police are finding it hard to cope with the present number of threats, difficulties and disruptions they face. This will not make their lives any easier and, in many cases, the challenges will be even more dangerous.
I add my voice to that of my noble friend Lord Cormack and, although it may be a bit late, I hope the House and the sponsor body will look carefully at the implications of this development as the hugely demanding task of restoring and renewing our Parliament is carried forward.
My Lords, I will make a brief intervention before the Minister responds. The broad sentiment behind Amendments 2 and 21A to ensure that consideration is given to how other constructions could impact on the restoration and renewal programme is fully acknowledged by us. I listened with interest to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am also a great fan of Victoria Tower Gardens. I particularly enjoy walking through it and seeing “The Burghers of Calais” and the anti-slavery memorial.
However, while I am obviously moved by the contributions of noble Lords on the Holocaust memorial and the Holocaust itself, I am not in a position to comment on this today—I have not been involved in it —but my noble friend Lady Smith has been involved in discussions with noble Lords from all sides of the House.
As the House noted at Second Reading, the Government have chosen not to hand planning issues to the delivery body, as had previously been suggested—my noble friend Lord Adonis raised this point—but none the less it is helpful for this House to consider whether there is a place for the sponsor body to advise on such issues. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, raised important issues in relation to this and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
On Amendment 21A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, the issue of the parliamentary relationship agreement including provision for corporate officers to inform and consult the sponsor body on nearby works is important. The noble Baroness raised a number of important issues and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate and my noble friend Lord Cormack for tabling his amendment. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, I understand the sentiment behind it and agree that, if planning applications for works adjacent to the Palace were submitted, the sponsor body would clearly need to seek guidance on whether those works might impede the R&R programme and, if necessary, raise objections. Prior to the appointment of the shadow sponsor body, under the House authorities the R&R programme has held annual conferences for neighbours such as Westminster City Council, the GLA, Transport for London, Westminster Abbey and the Metropolitan Police. The sponsor body plans to continue these conferences, in order to update partners on the progress of the R&R programme. Close engagement will continue.
Clause 2(2)(b) already places a duty on the sponsor body to make strategic decisions relating to the carrying out of parliamentary building works, and this would include responding to planning applications that may impede the works. Therefore, while we recognise the importance of the principle behind this amendment, given that this is something that the sponsor body already has the power to do in the relevant circumstances, I do not believe it needs to be prescribed in the Bill.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord Forsyth and Lord King, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raised particular concerns around the Holocaust memorial project planned to be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, which is run by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I assure noble Lords that, before deciding on Victoria Tower Gardens, the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, an advisory board to the MHCLG which has cross-party support and is co-chaired by my noble friend Lord Pickles and Ed Balls, conducted an extensive search for possible locations and considered almost 50 sites in central London. Visibility, accessibility, availability and affordability were taken into account during this detailed process. The foundation identified Victoria Tower Gardens as a potential site for the memorial and, following investigations into its feasibility, recommended it to the Government in January 2016 as the best choice.
My noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Forsyth, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raised the possibility of the Holocaust memorial being situated at the Imperial War Museum. Noble Lords will certainly be aware that that was carefully considered along with, as I said, many other locations. However, Victoria Tower Gardens was identified as the site capable of meeting the Government’s aspiration for the new national memorial.
A key factor in choosing the location was the visibility it afforded to the memorial. As my noble friends Lord Polak and Lord Pickles said, in the shadow of Parliament, the memorial will encourage visitors to learn about the challenging decisions that our leaders had to make in the lead up to, during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
My noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord King, Lord Forsyth and Lord Polak, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, all touched on the important issue of security. We are fully aware of the security implications associated with the environs of the Palace of Westminster and are in regular contact with representatives of the Parliamentary Security Department, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and the Metropolitan Police. We have been advised on physical and operational security measures to mitigate risks and are confident that the proposed site would be secure. Queuing visitors will be confined to the paths immediately adjacent to the memorial itself, and all visitors will require a pre-booked ticket.
Moreover, as my noble friend Lady Altmann said, the planned design will lead to improvements in Victoria Tower Gardens. The vast majority of the public space will be retained and improved, with more accessible seating and a new boardwalk along the embankment.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and my noble friend Lord King asked about the timetable for the project. As my noble friend Lord Pickles outlined, subject to planning permission, work on the site is expected to begin in 2020, with the Holocaust memorial opening in late 2022; that is well before the R&R programme works will commence. A detailed delivery plan has been developed and robust project management arrangements are in place to ensure that it remains on track, with engagement with specialist contractors throughout the course of the works.
The noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned the construction time and suggested that it might be longer. He also suggested that the contractors would need quite a lot of the garden for temporary works while they build the memorial. Has the Minister any idea of whether any of the garden will be able to remain open during the construction phase?
I am afraid that because this project does not relate specifically to the R&R programme, I do not have that information. But I am sure I will be able to find out and will write to the noble Lord.
My noble friend Lord Cormack raised the issue of the decant. We will come to that in a later group so, if it is okay with noble Lords, I will now turn to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Stowell.
My noble friend’s amendment would obligate the House authorities to consult the sponsor body about major works to the Parliamentary Estate which sit outside of R&R, if they are likely to have an impact on delivering the programme. Noble Lords will be aware that the Strategic Estates team is a bicameral service, accountable to the clerks of both Houses and to the relevant domestic committees. In the case of this House, those are the Services Committee, the Finance Committee and ultimately the commission. At present, the shadow sponsor body sits within the House authorities and under the Strategic Estates team, which means that both parties have a head start in looking ahead and being aware of what ongoing projects might have an impact on R&R.
My noble friend’s amendment is to Clause 6, which concerns the parliamentary relationship agreement that the House authorities and the sponsor body will have to sign once the sponsor body is formed on a statutory basis. This agreement will set out the arrangements to hand over the Palace for decant and to hand it back once the Palace has been restored. It will also cover issues relating to staff transfers, insurance, security and the control of data, among other matters.
In the light of its purpose, we consider that this agreement is the natural place for the House authorities and the sponsor body to determine how they will keep each other informed about ongoing estate works which might affect the R&R programme and provide the clarity that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, rightly said was important. As this agreement already has to cover “consultation and co-operation” between the sponsor body and the corporate officers of the House, we do not think it is necessary to prescribe in this Bill what that consultation and co-operation should cover.
Ian Ailles and the two clerks currently co-ordinate estates projects through the Parliamentary Estate and public realm oversight group. Once the sponsor body is established, if Parliament and the sponsor body wish for this group to continue to play a co-ordinating role, it would then need to be covered by the parliamentary relationship agreement. In addition, if, over the course of the R&R programme, it became apparent that there was support for current separate House authority estates programmes such as the archives project to fall under R&R, the Bill makes provision for this under Clause 1.
Adding another project to R&R could happen but only with the agreement of the commissions of both Houses, the sponsor body and the delivery authority. As was discussed during this debate, that is precisely the process that is currently being followed to integrate the Northern Estate programme, which includes Richmond House, into the R&R programme. The reason it was not included from the beginning is that the NEP predates important decisions on R&R.
I hope that my response reassures my noble friend, and I ask that he withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, my noble friend does not appear to be answering the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and has asked me to withdraw my amendment. I made it quite plain when I moved it that I rather honour the convention in your Lordships’ House that we do not divide in Committee and I have no intention of seeking to do so. However, I would like to say two or three things.
First, it is very important indeed that any application relating to the immediate environs of the Palace of Westminster, and that could conceivably impinge upon what we are going to do, should at least be looked at by the body we are formally establishing in this Bill. That is very important, and I may well seek to move an amendment when we come to Report. If I was so minded, I would want to consult the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, before doing so.
On the subject of the Holocaust memorial, it is important that the Committee has been able to debate this extremely important adjacent development. In responding, my noble friend the Leader of the House indicated that it is almost a fait accompli, but I gently remind her that the planning authority has yet to determine, and I certainly hope that it will take most carefully into account not only the powerful speeches of my noble friends who have so strongly supported this, but those of us who have perfectly reasonable, legitimate concerns about the effect it may have. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for what she said, and to my noble friend Lord King and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his moving and powerful speech. These are not arguments that should be lightly dismissed or cast aside, and it is entirely legitimate that those of us in this House and in the other place should have views. If they diverge sharply from those equally sincere views held by my noble friends Lord Pickles, Lord Polak and Lady Altmann, that is what democracy is all about. We cannot always agree on everything, as we have demonstrated quite successfully over the past three years. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
2A: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“(4) The Sponsor Body must ensure that the first works carried out as part of the Parliamentary building works are to ensure that all buildings undergoing works are provided with—(a) a fully automatic fire alarm system achieving BS5839 L1/P1 standard; and (b) a fully automatic water mist suppression system.(5) Exceptions to the requirement under subsection (4)(a) may be justified only on grounds of practical feasibility and must be given prior approval by the Sponsor Body.(6) If, for reasons of practical feasibility, the requirement under subsection (4)(b) cannot be delivered, the Sponsor Body must approve an alternative fire suppression solution before further works may commence.”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 2A, 2B and 16A, which are all in my name. These are all about fire. We have had several debates in your Lordships’ House about the risk of fire in this building. As we saw at Notre Dame in Paris a few weeks ago when the roof caught fire, there are issues about how we protect roofs and the building both when it is in use and when there are contractors on site. Many noble Lords will have seen the results of fires. I think the Queen has had bad fires in two palaces during her long reign, and we have had two fires in Glasgow and in many other places. Having spent quite a lot of time looking at fire prevention and the consequences in the Channel Tunnel and other long tunnels and in other buildings, I suppose that fire is of great concern to me. I am very grateful to two officers of the House, John Bradbury and Malcolm McBride, who have helped me and discussed the issues and the problems with me. I am also grateful to Stewart Kidd, who is a past secretary-general of the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association.
When we come to fire, three separate issues need to be discussed: detection; evacuation of people; and suppression—that is, how to put the fire out. I think the authorities in your Lordships’ House and the other place have made progress in detection. There are certainly very good systems in the basement, and I know that they are doing some things to detect fire in the roof. I will come to evacuation later. It is fine to have a fire detected, but if you are not going to let the building burn to the ground, you have to suppress the fire before it goes too far. I know we have good procedures in this House when the contractors are working on the roof, and I am sure they are very well policed, but there is still a risk. Given the special nature of this building and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said earlier, our job is to protect Parliament, we have to take these issues extremely seriously. That is why I put these amendments down. They are probing amendments, and I hope to carry on discussing the various issues in the amendments with Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and other people after this debate.
The first thing that needs to be done, when any works are done in a building such as this, is to put in a fire alarm detection system and a water mist suppression system. That is covered in Amendment 2A. People will say that it is impossible—it should have been done by now, but it has not been—and within the constraints of the Bill it is no good asking for it now because we have not started the work. Putting them in now, or at least as soon as we can, will at least mean that the building will be protected during the construction. It would be temporary pipework and perhaps some extra wiring, and it might be expensive, but it would be quite expensive—and a complete disaster—if this building caught fire.
We have had a discussion about whether it would be possible to put a water mist system into Westminster Hall. As we all know, it has a very big span and it is the most iconic building in the Palace. I am advised that a water mist system could be put in in Westminster Hall with the present technology. Therefore, I do not think that it should be dismissed out of hand. It would need to be in the roof space and a proper study would need to be undertaken, but if it is possible to do it—it needs a certain amount of compartmentalisation as well —it should be considered because it would be a great shame, and even a disaster, if the roof of Westminster Hall caught fire, given its age and iconic nature.
It would be very easy for experts to say that the things suggested in Amendment 2A cannot be done, are not feasible or are too expensive. I believe that one proposal for putting detection systems into part of this building was rejected by the Treasury as being too expensive. I do not think that the Treasury should be the judge of what it costs to preserve this building. New subsections (5) and (6) proposed in Amendment 2A require that the sponsor body must be given very good reasons for exceptions, and it must be able to suggest alternatives.
Amendment 2B comes under the second part of “detection—evacuation—suppression”, and that is evacuation. We have had several helpful meetings with noble Lords and Ministers on this question, and I was struck by comments made at the last meeting by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, from the point of view of wheelchair users. She said that there are times when she cannot get through the doors of this building and that she sometimes got stuck, which meant that she could not vote in a Division because she could not get there. We have to consider very carefully that, after having moved out into a nice new or converted building, we will all be quite used to having loos and lifts that are accessible for disabled people, committee rooms with loudspeakers and microphones so that you can generally hear what is said—which is not the case here at the moment—and offices that we have similar access to. Therefore, when we come back here—if we do—we will expect the same things, and I do not think that many noble Lords will be happy if we do not have them.
It is lovely having an office in the main building, as I do, even if it is at the far end. It is Room S3/3 and is accessed by two narrow staircases with no fire escape, but we love it. However, we will not be prepared to come back here if most of the rooms are not accessible to people with wheelchairs and the lifts are all over the place. The lifts will need to be much bigger. If we accept all that—the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, will probably be in charge of all this by then—I suspect that we will need to demolish many walls, floors, and staircases outside the main buildings in order to get that access. It is something that we need to think about.
One thing that I talked to the fire experts about was evacuation. I asked them about the Committee Corridor, which has half-hour fire-resistant doors between the Lords end and the Commons end. At the Lords end, there are seven, eight or maybe nine committee rooms, each of which can take 100 people. Therefore, 900 people might have to get out in the event of a fire at the other end. There are two narrow staircases to get people down to the ground floor. Noble Lords will know that the Labour Party had a meeting there this afternoon and we had to come down to vote. There were under 100 of us in that room and we all got down in time to vote, but multiplying that number by nine suggests that the size of the staircases will need to be looked at very carefully.
One of the fire experts said to me that they had not been able to persuade the House authorities—which might include the noble Baroness the Leader—to have a real live evacuation test with members of the public. There is a great difference between having members of the public do it and having volunteers, who are often young and healthy and move quite fast. We did the same thing when we trialled evacuation from the Channel Tunnel. We had an expert who could model the movement of people alongside the movement of a fire. That has not often been done, but he did it in connection with the airplane that crashed at East Midlands Airport about 10 years ago and he got within 10% accuracy of who would and would not die. It is terribly important that this is modelled using real live people—the kind of people we get in the committee rooms—and not volunteers, and that it is done at a very early stage before any design work is done on the refurbished building.
Finally, Amendment 16A is just an attempt to remind us all that there will be those who say, “Don’t put a water spray or mist system in this building. It’s a special building and it might affect the fabric and the pictures”. I remind your Lordships that, if this building catches fire, that too will affect the pictures and the fabric, because, as we all know, much of this building, including the roof, is timber. Therefore, it is good to listen to the experts in heritage, but the most important thing is to make sure that this building is preserved. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to make some brief comments. I start by reminding noble Lords that the shadow sponsor body sets six key strategic priorities in its publication about restoration and renewal produced in the spring—I know that everyone will have read it avidly and memorised it. The very first point in the very first block of priorities concerns fire—the risk of fire in the restored Palace and also during the restoration. Therefore, it is very much in the minds of the sponsor body, as your Lordships would expect.
The noble Lord’s point about evacuation was very interesting. My initial thought was that it really was not anything to do with the shadow sponsor body. It is an operational matter and something that we ought to do. Most of us, ever since being at school, have experienced fire drills. I thought I would be saying that this was a matter for the House, but the noble Lord made a more fundamental point about how much we do not know about how people use this place. One thing that the shadow sponsor body has found in its work is that people do not necessarily react as you would expect them to, so it is a very real point. However, I stand by my initial view that it is for the House authorities and not the shadow sponsor body to sort out the evacuation drill.
I hope that the noble Lord wants not to put on the face of the Bill a specific and technical response to fire but, rather, to probe whether we are taking it seriously. Having said that I am not speaking on behalf of the sponsor body, I know that we would be very keen to work with the noble Lord on this matter. Your Lordships will be aware that we have done a lot of work with Members on disability access issues, for example, and will be doing so on other matters, so I am very happy to talk to him about that.
His question about fire and heritage gives rise to a fundamental point, which is that noble Lords have many different priorities. Some say that heritage takes precedence and others say that accessibility does. I think that making something a number one priority above everything else on the face of the Bill would probably make life quite difficult later. There will be a point when the House has to make has to make these decisions. The shadow sponsor body, working with the designers, will put forward a whole range of propositions but it will be for the House to work through what it chooses to prioritise. Therefore, putting things on the face of the Bill that constrain that prioritisation could mean that Parliament has fewer choices when it comes to make a decision.
I do not want to comment on this from the point of view of a member of the sponsor body, because I certainly am not. I was a member of the Joint Committee that reviewed the legislation but I am not speaking from that point of view either. I am speaking as somebody who, in his professional life before entering the world of politics, supervised construction projects. Indeed, I was supervising a project when the people adapting the sprinkler system with welding equipment set fire to the roof and the building burned down. Therefore, I am very well apprised of the risks and I think that the noble Lord has done us all a favour by raising them in the way that he has.
I want to comment in particular on the specific technical solution that the noble Lord has put forward. I think he will recognise that this project’s construction phase will last for at least another 10 and probably 15 years. Mist sprinkling had not even been invented 10 or 15 years ago, so we need to be very well aware that what technology will deliver now might be completely different from what it is appropriate to deliver later. Therefore, I very much hope that he will make allowances for the specific point that my noble friend has raised and ensure that, whatever discussions take place, we do not lock ourselves into a technical solution that becomes outdated and irrelevant.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the comments and amendments—Amendments 2A, 2B and 16A—of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. The House was made particularly alive to the vulnerability of the estate to fire by the recent incident at Notre-Dame, which happened during the restoration work, as we all know. Fortunately, in many respects, there are provisions currently in place within your Lordships’ House and across the Palace to protect the buildings and, we hope, reduce and mitigate the risks of anything similar happening. Not least, staff are employed to patrol the estate and we have all seen the developments and changes with the fire doors and other advances.
The technological advances and changes over the last decade commented on by my noble friend are something we need to be kept aware of. For the safety of the 8,000 people who work here, the 1 million or so who visit annually and, as has been touched on, the precious heritage of the building, it is imperative that we take any and all further steps necessary to ensure the utmost protection. As he touched on, steps must also be taken to ensure that evacuation procedures are up to scratch in the event of fire. One thing I have noticed as a new Member here is that some of the stairs do not stop at the level above or below, which I find a bit bizarre. Also—I am sure there is a very good reason—I have never heard a fire alarm or test within the building. I am sure it is because I have not been here at the right times, but during the hours of sitting I have never heard a test done on a fire alarm.
In recent years, I understand there have been two major royal palace fires. In each incident, the evacuation procedures meant that not a single individual was seriously injured. Should a fire take place in the royal Palace of Westminster, it will be a far greater challenge to protect all those in the building because of its size and nature. It will be useful for the House to consider what exact provisions will be necessary. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the amendments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for tabling these amendments on fire safety and for his continued interest in this extremely important subject, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate.
I assure noble Lords that fire safety is recognised as being of paramount importance. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, said, it is very much on the mind and agenda of the sponsor body. It was good to hear that from somebody on that body, which had far more weight than my saying it on her behalf. One of the reasons these works are urgent is because of the alarming number of fires that have been caught just in time around the Palace. This is why we have 24-hour fire-safety patrols, and, more importantly, why full decant is required as soon as possible.
As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, the tragic fire of Notre-Dame was a stark reminder to us all of the risks to this historic building. There is no doubt that the best way to avoid a similar incident here is to get on with the job of protecting the thousands of people working here and the millions who come to visit, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, rightly said. The Bill is clear that the sponsor body must have regard to,
“the need to ensure that those works are carried out with a view to ensuring the safety and security of people who work in Parliament and of members of the public”.
Clearly, this will require the sponsor body and delivery authority to ensure that the Palace is as safe as reasonably practicable from the risk of fire during construction and subsequently in service. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, said, one of the key themes highlighted by the shadow sponsor body is for its vision of the programme to,
“ensure high standards of health, safety and wellbeing and provide appropriate protection for the building and those in it”.
Under the Bill, the sponsor body will be required to lay detailed proposals before Parliament for approval, and the Motion passed by both Houses last year requires that those proposals must include measures to ensure fire safety, among other factors. Clause 7 specifies that no Palace restoration works, other than preparatory works, may be carried out before the sponsor body has obtained parliamentary approval of these proposals. It defines these “preparatory works” as,
“initial design works, and … other works that do not affect the continued functioning of the Palace of Westminster for the purposes of either House of Parliament”.
As noble Lords will be aware, and indeed as the noble Lord said, the current work carried out by the Strategic Estates team to keep this place functioning is operated during restricted timeframes in order for the business of Parliament not to be affected. For example, the ongoing work on the cast iron roof programme can be conducted only when the House is not sitting and work must be stopped immediately if a complaint is made on grounds of noise by an MP or Peer. This sort of example highlights the need for swift progress to be made in decanting both Houses so that the sponsor body and delivery authority can get on with R&R, including the installation of the necessary fire-detection and prevention measures.
The Bill requires at Clause 6 that Parliament and the sponsor body enter into a parliamentary relationship agreement, which will contain commitments around the safety of the Palace, including mitigating fire risks. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke on 25 April and at Second Reading on his understandable concerns about the fire safety of the Palace prior to the works beginning. Until the Palace is handed over to the sponsor body, the House authorities remain responsible for fire safety and have put in place a number of measures to protect the Palace and the roofs, as he mentioned, in particular.
As the noble Lord will be aware, Parliament’s fire safety strategy sets out particular requirements that will need to be considered as part of restoration and renewal. This includes the installation of a full water mist or water sprinkler system, although, as the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord McNicol, said, we also need to ensure that we are fleet of foot with respect to technological advances. Already, the current fire safety improvement project has installed a water mist system throughout the basement, and it is operational. This was following lessons learned from the devastating fire at Glasgow School of Art, where the sprinklers had been installed but not turned on.
In addition, fire safety improvement works include having automatic smoke detection systems in most of the roof spaces across the Palace, and coverage of the remaining spaces will happen by December this year. The House authorities have also compartmentalised the roof space and extended the regular fire safety patrols to include the roofs. In the Palace more generally, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, there are now more than 700 fire doors in operation and strict requirements for all contractors to abide by the highest fire safety standards. I can reassure all noble Lord that those high fire safety standards will continue to apply throughout the works. In his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, makes a specific point about the fully automatic fire alarm system achieving the L1/P1 standard. I am aware that this level of detection is already written into Parliament’s fire safety strategy requirements.
Turning to his amendment regarding evacuation of the Palace, and the observations of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, at present, the fire risk management team carries out evacuation drills of all parliamentary buildings once a year; the Palace itself is evacuated twice a year. However, I accept his comment that it has proved difficult to stage these evacuations while the House is sitting. There have been previous evacuation trials involving volunteers in the Chambers and Committee Rooms; we will obviously continue to work to make sure that we do the best we can in this regard and, if there is more that can be done, we will look into it. Furthermore, it is expected that as part of the design works for R&R, the principal designers will use specific computer software to model evacuation routes, capacity and timings.
I cannot stress enough the importance that we place on fire safety. I hope the noble Lord will recognise that in the answers I have given. I fully support the principle of his amendments but, in light also of the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, we do not believe they need to be, or should be, included in the Bill. This is an extremely important issue and something that will be covered in the parliamentary relationship agreement, which we believe is a more appropriate vehicle for this kind of information. I hope that, in the light of my comments, the noble Lord is to a degree reassured. I assure him that we will continue to have this as our highest priority.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive response. I am much more reassured than I was before, but not totally reassured. I will keep watching this. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for putting me right on one or two things. That has been useful. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who has had first-hand experience in this area.
I said that my amendments were probing, and of course one should not put particular technological solutions in a Bill like this because things might move on, as noble Lords have said. The key point is to have a debate about these issues and for the Government to be aware of them.
Corners can still be cut in any building. I recall that when I was first in your Lordships’ House, a long time ago, I had locked myself out of my house and so slept here, in the family room downstairs. I had a very comfortable night but in the morning I went to see the then Black Rod and said, “You said you patrolled everything once an hour”. He said, “We must have patrolled the family room”, but I said, “Well, the door squeaks so I would have heard it. I just don’t believe you”. People cut corners; that is human nature. So, in addition to the patrols, detection and suppression is vital.
I pay tribute to the work that is going on to get into this. We have to keep going and make sure that as work moves forward these issues are taken into account, as well as the evacuation. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2A withdrawn.
Amendment 2B not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: The Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 17, leave out from “Authority” to end of line 21 and insert “, when considering the award of a contract in respect of the carrying out of the Parliamentary building works, to have regard to—
(i) the prospective contractor’s policy relating to corporate social responsibility, and(ii) the prospective contractor’s policies and procedures relating to employment (including in relation to the blacklisting of employees);”
My Lords, I shall speak to the two amendment in my name and that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Noble Lords will be aware that an amendment was tabled by Chris Matheson on Report in the other place imposing a duty on the sponsor body to require the delivery authority, when allocating contracts for construction and related work, to have regard to the company’s policies on corporate social responsibility, including those relating to the blacklisting of employees or potential employees from employment. This was opposed by the Government due to existing legislation on blacklisting, and because we considered it more appropriate for these matters to form part of the programme delivery agreement between the sponsor body and delivery authority. The amendment was passed but had defects—namely, that policies on blacklisting are employment policies, not, strictly speaking, matters of corporate social responsibility. We are therefore tabling this amendment in order for the spirit of the original amendment to remain in the Bill while ensuring that it is appropriately drafted.
This amendment will ensure that there is a duty on the sponsor body to require the delivery authority, when considering the award of a contract in respect of the carrying out of the parliamentary building works, to have regard to the prospective contractor’s policy relating to corporate social responsibility and its policies and procedures relating to employment, including in relation to the blacklisting of employees. We have worked with colleagues in the other place on this amendment and they are content with this change of wording.
The second amendment in my name relates to the reporting of contracts and fulfils a government commitment made in the other place. On Report in the Commons, MPs debated an amendment requiring the sponsor body,
“to undertake, and publish, an annual audit of the companies that have been awarded contracts for the Parliamentary building works, with a view to establishing their size and geographical location”,
which was tabled by Meg Hillier. It was clear that such an amendment commanded support on all sides, and the Government agreed to bring an amendment on the reporting of the awarding of contracts to your Lordships’ House. Schedule 1 of the Bill already requires that the sponsor body must prepare and publish a report once a year on the carrying out and progress of the parliamentary building works. The amendment requires that that report includes information about persons to whom contracts for carrying out the works have been awarded, particularly their size and the areas in which they operate. We believe that the amendment fulfils the spirit of the amendment debated in the other place while being appropriately drafted and included at the proper place in the Bill. Again, in proposing this amendment we have worked with colleagues in the other place who are supportive of the wording. I hope noble Lords will support both amendments in my name.
Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for tabling his amendment on ensuring that R&R provides opportunities for businesses across the UK. The Government have always sought to encourage the shadow sponsor body to give thought to how the delivery authority will engage with SMEs and businesses across the UK in restoring the Palace of Westminster. That is already happening on other projects on the parliamentary estate, such as the work on the restoration of Elizabeth Tower. The shadow sponsor body is committed to creating economic opportunities across the UK, and, once it is established in statute, we expect to continue this commitment. Once the R&R programme is under way, parliamentary committees will no doubt want to scrutinise the work of the sponsor body and the delivery authority, including what opportunities have been created across the regions.
Nevertheless, an amendment tabled by Neil Gray was passed on Report in the other place requiring the sponsor body, in exercising its functions, to have regard to the need to ensure that economic benefits of the parliamentary building works are delivered across the nations and regions of the UK in terms of contracts for works, and in any other way that the sponsor body considers appropriate. This is a parliamentary project, and we accepted the will of the other place to include an amendment in the Bill on that principle. However, we identified some concerns with the amendment relating to procurement law. In particular, when developing its procurement strategy and assessing bids, it would not be lawful for the delivery authority to factor in the geographical location of companies, which could expose it to legal challenge. The Government therefore committed to support the drafting and tabling of this alternative amendment, which addresses those concerns.
This amendment places in the Bill the provision that the sponsor body, in exercising its functions, must have regard to the need to ensure that opportunities to secure economic and other benefits of the parliamentary building works are available in all areas of the UK. We believe that the amendment retains the spirit of the amendment passed in the other place while adhering to public procurement law, so I hope noble Lords will support it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 9. I am grateful for the understanding and commitments made by the Leader of the House, and that we have consensus. In the light of that and the fact that we have taken a very long time on the first clause of the Bill, and in order not to hold people up, I shall be incredibly brief.
I think there has been a real collaborative effort to put together the jigsaw that is before us in relation to this proposition. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford —to whom I am grateful for her support on this and other aspects of the Bill—knows, we considered this at some length in the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill. There is unanimity because we all want this to be seen as a national project benefiting the nation as a whole. I shall come to other arguments later on other amendments, but on this one we have anonymity—I am sorry, I mean unanimity, although we might have anonymity as well if we carry on too late tonight; no one will know what we have debated.
My own area benefited originally from the stone for this building. A lot of the stone came from South Yorkshire and adjoining areas. Big Ben at the moment is being constructed with a mechanism from the north, from the city of Sheffield, and I think we can make this a real economic win-win. We need to because very big infrastructure projects, including the one that I am associated with in relation to skills and employment for the Heathrow expansion, need to be seen to reach out for gross domestic product, for GVA and for productivity. We have a terrible gap on all three of those in our country, comparing London and the south-east with the rest of the UK. If we can make a small contribution with this substantial investment of public money, we will all benefit from it.
My Lords, I will just say a few words. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his comments. The Joint Committee went into quite a bit of discussion about the fact that this should be a UK project, not a London and the south-east project. I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for responding to the way in which the debates went in the Commons and for coming up with the proposed amendments, because that is a great benefit to us. Corporate and social responsibility is extremely important in this day and age. It is so easy to just say, “Well, yes”, but not actually do it, so spelling this out in the Bill will make a huge difference.
The other thing that we talked about in the Joint Committee was the opportunities this would give for young apprentices and those who are retraining, who are necessarily young people, to learn skills and take part in a project of this size and complexity. I am very grateful that we will be able to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to be involved in this project. I will not repeat everything that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has said, but I am very happy to support this amendment and I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward the amendments that she has spoken to already.
My Lords, I was slightly surprised to hear the noble Baroness’s remark that this is a UK project, not a London and south-east one. The overwhelming majority of the work and the employees will be located in London and the south-east. Saying that that is not the case does not make it not the case. It is the case. This is an issue we will address later. By virtue of the fact that Parliament is located in Westminster, the temporary premises will be in Westminster, and all the refurbishment works will take place in Westminster, it is a London and south-east project. We might as well admit that completely frankly. Some weasel words about it being open and promoting the interests and knowledge of the rest of the United Kingdom do not, I am afraid, amount to anything at all when the overwhelming focus of Parliament before, during and after this work will be on London and the south-east.
I appreciate the noble Lord’s comments. It would be a great mistake to say that people from elsewhere who have the skills and opportunities to come here are not able to use them. Is the noble Lord really saying that people who live in London and the Greater London area are the only people who will be involved in this project? If he is, that is a very sad state.
That is indeed where the work will be done, but it does not have to be done solely by people living in London and the south-east. I suspect there will be quite a few people coming from abroad to work on this project as well. If that is so, I do not see why we cannot have people who live further from London than the 25-mile radius around it.
If I can interject in this discussion, there is a real danger that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is right, but it does not have to be like that. That is why I am very supportive of Amendments 9 and 27, which are exceedingly important. When the Minister winds up, I would appreciate it if she could comment on Amendment 27 and the annual report to Parliament on “the areas in which” those who have contracts operate.
It seems that the decisions will have been made by then. They are very dependent on the nature of the procurement exercise, which is why Amendment 9 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is terribly important. It seeks to insert provisions that,
“opportunities to secure economic or other benefits of the Parliamentary building works are available in all areas of the United Kingdom”,
which implies that the start of the procurement process will be geared to deliver that objective. The Government and those responsible for making the decisions about procurement need to plan this very carefully. It will not be enough for the procurement system simply to take national contractors from a national list, with companies that say they can employ people from all parts of the country. In reality, what will almost certainly happen is that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will be proved right because the labour force will come from a narrower part of the UK—London and the south-east. I want to avoid that.
It is important that procurement reaches SMEs, not just big national companies. It needs to get specialist professions such as specialist architects, and get to companies based purely in the regions of England, or based only in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. It will not be enough for only national contractors to get the lion’s share of the business. I hope the Government will plan to achieve all this in a proactive way. I fully understand the legal position in relation to procurement law, but this is surely about enabling proper competition, not simply relying on a system which does not promote genuine competition. To do that requires competition to be enabled rather than minimised.
My Lords, in following on from my noble friend I welcome these amendments. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, refer to skills and apprenticeships. I return to a subject which I raised at Second Reading. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and I served on the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster and will readily remember the evidence we received regarding the importance of skills. However, we are talking about skills in the heritage sector, where there may be a shortage at the moment, and there could well be lead times in training people to deploy those skills when it comes to R&R.
One of the recommendations which the Joint Committee made in paragraph 306 of its report is that,
“market engagement should begin early, and be facilitated by the early establishment of a shadow Sponsor Board and shadow Delivery Authority”.
I understand that we do not have a shadow delivery authority at the moment, but it would be helpful if, in responding to the debate—if not tonight then in writing—the Minister could tell us what steps have already been taken to pursue that market engagement and identify where there might be bottlenecks, and see what could be actively done at the moment to try to ensure that there will be an adequate supply of skilled tradespeople when the time comes to undertake this important work.
My Lords, before the Minister answers, I am a great believer in trying to get as many SMEs to bid as possible, but one has to think about the risks they will be required to take, as well as the conditions of contract and the penalties if it is late. You can imagine one or two big contractors being given the overall responsibility to do this, because they are the only people who can manage the risk. There will be a rush to get this done. Wherever the supply of timber, stone, other materials and expertise comes from, we will have to work very hard if we want to get real SMEs to do this, as so many noble Lords expect. It will not happen unless we work very positively towards it.
My Lords, I am pleased that this group of amendments is being debated here today to deal with the responsibilities the sponsor body will have, in particular those relating to the contracts to be awarded. I thank the Minister for the Government’s Amendment 3 on the social responsibilities of the sponsor body, which fulfils their promise in the Commons to address the concern raised by my honourable friend Chris Matheson: that contracts have regard to the prospective contractor’s policy on both CSR and employment policies and procedures. The company’s wider attitude to social responsibility has to be a key consideration when awarding contracts.
On employment practices, we welcome the specific reference to companies that have undertaken blacklisting activities which will lead to their exclusion from consideration. This shameful practice has previously seen businesses compile files on thousands of workers, recording details of their political and trade union activities to prevent them gaining employment in their respective trade. Sadly, there is evidence that blacklisting has remained rife in recent years, and this is an important step not least because many construction staff currently working on building sites are employed by businesses which have previously been convicted of such unlawful behaviour. In such a prestigious project as R&R, it is important that Parliament makes a stand and warns businesses that if they neglect their social responsibilities, are not up to scratch on their employment practices or engage in illegal blacklisting, they will not play a role in restoration and renewal projects and will not be awarded contracts.
I fully support my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s Amendment 9. He is right to underline that the economic benefits of the work have to be available in all areas of the UK. This was again a key theme from noble Lords at Second Reading. We must make it clear that this is a project for the whole country and that all the rewards, including for businesses, are felt in all areas. I particularly endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, on skills and apprenticeships, which was also a familiar theme at Second Reading.
In summary, government Amendments 26, 27 and 30, placing a duty on the sponsor body to include information on contractors’ size and areas of operation in its annual report, are welcome and will help to provide the transparency and accountability needed. Finally, on employment-related issues and the importance of ensuring full staff consultation on the R&R programme and project, at Second Reading my noble friend Lady Smith asked the noble Earl to confirm that there would be full engagement with staff and their representative unions. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed this and reassured the House that the Government fully recognise its importance.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I am also grateful for the support for these amendments from across the House. A number of noble Lords raised the issue of procurement and contracts. This is the very reason why we are setting up the independent sponsor body and the independent delivery authority, which have the experts and expertise to ensure that SMEs around the country can take advantage of this. We believe that setting up these bodies in a timely manner is exactly the best way to ensure that the benefits of this project are felt around the country, notwithstanding the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. We very much look forward to ensuring this project has the buy-in of the regions and workers across the United Kingdom because it will be a fantastic project. I hope we will also see regeneration of skills apprenticeships in key areas. I am very grateful to noble Lords for their support for these amendments.
Amendment 3 agreed.
The Situation in the Gulf
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement given in the other place on the situation in the Gulf:
“At approximately 4 pm UK time on Friday, Iranian forces intercepted the British-flagged tanker, “Stena Impero”, in the Strait of Hormuz. The ship was surrounded by four fast boats from the Revolutionary Guard, supported by one helicopter. Iranian footage showed masked gunmen in desert camouflage descending from the helicopter on to the deck of the “Stena Impero”.
HMS “Montrose”, a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate currently deployed in the Gulf, tried to come to the tanker’s aid. She repeatedly warned the Iranians by radio that their actions were illegal, but “Montrose” was unable to reach the scene in time. Nine days earlier, she had successfully intercepted an attempt to board another tanker, “British Heritage”, but this time “Montrose” was not given the notice of passage requested, which would have allowed her to reach the scene more quickly. This, however, in no way excuses the illegal actions of the intruders, who took control of “Stena Impero” and compelled her to steer towards the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where she is now being held.
The tanker had a crew of 23 from various countries, including India, the Philippines, Russia and Latvia. No Britons were on board and there are no reports of any injuries. The vessel’s owners have confirmed that “Stena Impero” was exercising her legal right of transit passage when she was intercepted. She was passing through the Strait of Hormuz in the westbound traffic lane inside Omani territorial waters, in full compliance with international law and the rules of navigation. The tanker’s automatic identification system was switched on and her position was publicly available.
So let us be absolutely clear: under international law Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage, let alone board her. It was therefore an act of state piracy, which the House will have no hesitation in condemning. But even more worryingly, this incident was a flagrant breach of the principle of free navigation on which the global trading system and the world economy ultimately depend. I therefore urge Iran to release the “Stena Impero” and her crew and observe the rules that safeguard commercial shipping and benefit Iran as much as any other country.
Iran has tried to present this as a tit-for-tat incident following the Government of Gibraltar’s action on 4 July to enforce EU sanctions by preventing the Iranian-chartered tanker, “Grace 1”, supplying oil to Syria. But there is simply no comparison between Iran’s illegal seizure of a vessel inside a recognised shipping lane, where the “Stena Impero” had every right to be, and the enforcement of EU sanctions against a tanker that had freely navigated into the waters of a British Overseas Territory.
Since 4 July we have made strenuous efforts to resolve the “Grace 1” issue. On 13 July, I spoke by phone to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, and also made it clear in public that we would be content with the release of “Grace 1” if there were sufficient guarantees the oil would not go to any entities sanctioned by the EU. But instead of responding constructively Iran chose to seize the “Stena Impero”, so we must now take appropriate action to support the safe passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz.
As well as speaking again to my Iranian counterpart, I have also spoken this weekend and today to the Foreign Ministers of Oman, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Spain and Denmark. COBRA meetings were held this morning and throughout the weekend, and the chargé d’affaires at the Iranian embassy in London was summoned to the Foreign Office on Saturday to receive a formal protest.
I can today update the House on further action we are taking. First, the Department for Transport has raised the security level for British-flagged shipping to level 3, advising against all passage in Iranian waters and, for the moment, in the entire Strait of Hormuz.
Secondly, because freedom of navigation is a vital interest of every nation, we will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region. We have had constructive discussions with a number of countries in the last 48 hours and will discuss later this week the best way to complement this with recent US proposals in this area. The new force will be focused on free navigation, bearing in mind that one-fifth of the world’s oil, a quarter of its liquefied natural gas, and trade worth half a trillion dollars pass through the Strait of Hormuz every year. It will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement.
Thirdly, while we will seek to establish this mission as quickly as possible, the Government have in the meantime dispatched HMS “Duncan”—a Type 45 destroyer—to take over from HMS “Montrose”. She will arrive in the region by 29 July.
Fourthly, we will ask all British-flagged ships to give us notice of any intention to pass through the Strait of Hormuz to enable us to offer the best protection we can. We will then advise them as to the safest way to transit, which may involve travelling in convoy.
Finally, we are strengthening measures to protect ships flying the flags of other countries, but which have British crew on board. About 1,300 ships appear on the UK Ship Register. The combined British Red Ensign fleet is the ninth largest in the world. On an average day, two or three ships belonging to the Red Ensign group pass through the Strait of Hormuz. The Gulf spans an area of nearly 100,000 square miles. HMS “Montrose” covers an operating area of some 19,000 nautical miles. So far, she has escorted 30 merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz during 17 separate transits, travelling 4,800 nautical miles in the process. It is of course not possible for the Royal Navy to provide escorts for every single ship or indeed to eliminate the risks of piracy. But those risks can be substantially reduced if commercial shipping companies co-operate fully with the instructions from the Department for Transport, which we strongly encourage them to do. These changes, both short and medium term, are made possible because of the commitment this Government have already made to increase our security presence in the Gulf including the opening, in April last year, of the first permanent British naval facility in the Gulf for over 40 years. This establishment in Bahrain now hosts HMS “Montrose”, along with four mine countermeasure vessels and one supply ship.
Finally, let me say this: it is with a heavy heart that we announce this increased international presence in the Gulf, because the focus of our diplomacy has been on de-escalating tensions in the hope that such changes would not be necessary. We do not seek confrontation with Iran and have taken every available opportunity to reduce misunderstanding, while standing by our rock-solid commitment to the international rule of law, which is the foundation of global peace and prosperity. But we must also react to the world around us as it is, not how we would wish it to be. So if Iran continues on this dangerous path it must accept that the price will be a larger western military presence in the waters along its coastline, not because we wish to increase tensions but simply because freedom of navigation is a principle which Britain and its allies will always defend.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I listened to the Foreign Secretary in the other place this afternoon; he quite rightly said that we must not conflate the issue of freedom of navigation with the JCPOA. Freedom of navigation is a principle which Britain and its allies will quite rightly always defend. He said that our response will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement. He had of course warned earlier that the UK risked becoming “enmeshed” in a US conflict with Iran. Can the Minister guarantee today that if there is any danger of that happening, it will be Parliament which has the final say on whether we choose to become enmeshed or to stay out of any conflict altogether?
The Foreign Secretary also stressed, as the Minister did in repeating the Statement, the importance of maintaining dialogue with the Government of Iran. He even expressed a note of optimism this afternoon, in the light of the earlier statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister, which expressed a willingness to reopen negotiations with the US on the nuclear deal. But in a very measured response to an Urgent Question on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe last Wednesday, the Foreign Office Minister, Dr Murrison, recognised that there are “many Irans”, not simply its Government. Focusing on what the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, what is the Minister’s assessment of securing diplomatic contact with all elements in Iran to achieve a settlement to this crisis, bearing in mind that the Revolutionary Guard, which clearly authorised this action, is not the element we are currently talking to?
We know that this is a tit-for-tat reaction. However, I stress that the seizure of the “Grace 1” oil tanker can be no justification for the unacceptable retaliatory action that Iran has taken against the “Stena Impero”; it was unacceptable but predictable. El País reported that the US Government told the Madrid Government 48 hours in advance that “Grace 1” was headed for the peninsula, which would explain why the Gibraltar Government introduced new legislation 36 hours in advance to shore up the legal basis for the seizure taking place in their waters. So why wait until now for the measures that the Foreign Secretary has announced today? In fact, on 18 June my noble friend Lord West of Spithead asked the Government whether they were absolutely sure that we had enough assets in place, arguing then—on 18 June—that we should be working with our allies to look at taking convoys of ships through. He also argued then that if we did not do anything, we would be culpable. I hope that the Minister can explain why we have waited so long to take the necessary precautionary action.
The Foreign Secretary has said of the “Grace 1” that the Government would be happy to see it released, provided there were guarantees that it was to go to a country other than Syria. Would that include a country such as Turkey, even though it has formally lost its US sanctions waiver on oil imports from Iran?
I want to mention what came up in the Urgent Question last week. Just what are we doing to work with our allies? Beyond our E3 partners France and Germany, and the EU, which other allies are we talking to about specific action? This morning I met the second secretary from the Japanese embassy, who confirmed that Japan was actively considering the US request to establish a coalition. What are we doing in terms of talking to those allies such as Japan and, of course, India?
I turn to the international crew of the “Stena Impero”. It was certainly good to see pictures of them earlier in a healthy state, but have the Government spoken to their counterparts from India, Latvia, Russia and the Philippines about co-ordinating action to secure their release?
Finally, there is no doubt that we are all concerned by the dangerous escalation of events in relation to Iran. Can the Minister tell us what is being done through the United Nations to do more to de-escalate the situation and stop this seemingly inevitable descent into conflict, when we have worked so hard to achieve a peaceful settlement?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We must always uphold international law and freedom of navigation. This is an extremely dangerous situation. The region is a tinderbox. Many have said that Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposed further sanctions simply because Obama had signed the original deal. The President may not want a war but some of those around him are far more hawkish. That must cause us enormous concern, so can the Minister comment on where these developments leave the European determination to maintain the nuclear deal? Why did the UK decide to play a part in intercepting the Iranian tanker off Gibraltar, and, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, why did Gibraltar suddenly put in place sanctions legislation? Who proposed that that was suddenly needed, and why? What role might the US office for foreign asset management have had recently in advising the FCO on sanctions targets?
Can the Minister give us examples of previous incidents where our military or Navy have been used in sanctions enforcement which involved boarding and seizure? If we were to take such an action, what preparations have we already made—the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Collins, have flagged this up—to protect ships flying under our flag that might then, predictably, be intercepted by the Iranians? Does the Minister agree with his colleague, the Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood, that the Navy is too small for a global role? Is the noble Lord, Lord West, not right to have warned time after time that our Navy is too small?
The position of this ship was publicly available, so what should we think of the UK as a global power when, at only the second attempt at an interception, a ship sailing under our flag was diverted and detained? Can the Minister say why the Department for Transport has only just raised the security level to 3 for ships sailing under our flag? Why is a European-led maritime protection mission only now being sought? Why was this not done before the “Grace 1” tanker was seized in Gibraltar? How optimistic is he that, in the middle of our battle over Brexit, such a mission will be forthcoming? Does he agree that our sanctions work best as part of multinational efforts, and that unilateral effort makes little sense?
Is it true that we feared American assistance, lest we ended up taking a more aggressive stance than we wished? That seems to be reflected in the statement that we will not be part of the US maximum pressure group. Does the whole situation not show that the UK is likely to be buffeted in the future, if we leave the EU, between a volatile ally and others, and that we are taking Gibraltar down that path? We have been unable to defend a ship sailing under our flag, and today we hear that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been transferred back to an Iranian prison. How are we defending her in this dangerous situation? We are appearing to warn against any passage through the straits, despite the huge value of that trade and the economic impact. Does the Minister not agree that this whole situation shows how vital it is to be part of a global bloc, and that any increase in defence spending will hardly make us a global player to rival the superpowers or, in fact, the EU? Therefore, we must work with everybody to de-escalate the situation and bring about a negotiated resolution, not only to this specific situation, but to the wider crisis affecting Iran and the region.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their support for the main thrust of the Statement. They raised a raft of questions, which I will seek to answer. If I am unable to do so in the time allocated, I will write, because both raised some specific questions.
On the final point made by the noble Baroness, again, the Government’s response demonstrates the importance of working with our European partners. I do not share her belief that that has been sanctioned because we are members of the European Union. We are leading members of NATO. This morning, for example, I attended a briefing with the Baltic and Nordic ambassadors where, again, our co-operation, not just in maritime security but in other areas, was underlined by all the people around that table, not just by me, representing the British Government. It is important that we continue to work, but in a different way once we have left the European Union, and strengthen our co-operation over a raft of different areas. This example of maritime security is one such area.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised various questions about direct engagement with Iran. He is right to mention that the Revolutionary Guard boarded the vessels. We deal with representatives of the Iranian Government at the highest level and, over the weekend, as the Statement said, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary continued to liaise and discuss with Foreign Minister Zarif.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about the action and asked: why now and not before? We have taken action, as the Statement indicated. HMS “Montrose” had already intercepted and prevented a similar incursion on “British Heritage” on 10 July. Equally, it has been a twin-track approach. I am sure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will agree that, with the current backdrop of the region, we have sought to strengthen our diplomatic engagement with Iran, together with our European partners. This reflects the approach we have taken. We have continued to allow space for diplomatic dialogue.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned “Grace 1”, which is the Iranian vessel that has been detained. There are some crucial facts. First, “Grace 1” was in Gibraltar’s territorial waters. The British-flagged ship “Stena Impero” was in Omani territorial waters, so the basis for any intervention is very different. Secondly, Iran has acted unlawfully, according to the law of the sea. Iran has acted illegally. Our detention of the ship was on suspicion of cargo being carried by “Grace 1” that was headed for Syria, breaking EU sanctions. I am sure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have followed the countless attempts we have made to get guarantees from the Iranian Government that would allow the Gibraltese authorities to release “Grace 1”. We had to be given the assurance that it did not contravene the EU sanctions that had been imposed on Syria, but this was not forthcoming. It was disappointing that, while these negotiations were continuing with the Iranian Government directly, this action was taken. Iran describes this as tit for tat; the fact is that detaining the “Stena Impero” was not legal. It acted unlawfully.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked a specific question about Turkey. I will write to him on that. He also raised the crew and our discussions with other countries, on which the noble Baroness also touched. I assure noble Lords that we are in touch, either at ministerial or official level, with all countries with crew on that ship. I understand that India has been in direct contact with the Iranians over its crew members, but we are also engaging with India at official level. I assure noble Lords that, while this is a British-flagged ship, our main concern is the safe return of not just the vessel but all crew members on it. I assure both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that we are liaising with all parties in this respect.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of the Department for Transport increasing security only now. I am sure she accepts how, as I alluded to earlier, we have taken the twin-track approach of diplomacy and increasing pressure. I assure the noble Baroness, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins—who both raised these issues—that we have detached this from the JCPOA and the detention of British nationals in Iran. We have not stopped our efforts on these two or three issues and have assured the Iranians that we do not link them in any way. However, the fact that the Iranians have acted in this way does not help the situation or the environment in which we operate.
We continue to work closely with our European colleagues, as on the European initiative on maritime security. We are talking to our French and German colleagues, as well as other European partners. Of course, we are liaising with the United States, but this initiative will be led by us, together with our European partners. There may be some specific questions I have been unable to answer but, after reviewing them, I will write to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and answering these detailed questions thoroughly. I will press him further on two points; first, the seizure of “Grace 1”. Although we may have a completely different view legally—I believe ours is correct—was it appreciated before that was authorised that it would be regarded as piracy by the Iranians and that there was bound to be an attempt to retaliate? Was there diplomatic discussion before the seizure was authorised and were all diplomatic channels exhausted before that action was taken? However we look at it, it was, in effect, throwing a lighted match into an already dangerous sea.
On the statement that the Government will discuss later this week the best way to complement their plans with recent US proposals in this area, can the Minister be a little more explicit about what that involves, given that US policy and objectives at the moment are very different from ours? Beyond the general aim of preserving freedom of navigation on the high seas, which is vital, with what “recent US proposals” will we be co-ordinating?
I thank my noble friend for his questions and comments on the Statement and responses given. On “Grace 1”, the UK Government did a great deal to keep the diplomatic track alive. For example, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar talked to each other on 13 July. My right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister met the Chief Minister when he visited the UK on 17 July. There was also a meeting between the Chief Minister and Iranian embassy officials. However, the detention of “Grace 1” was based on our belief that the cargo being carried was bound for Syria in defiance of EU sanctions. We have subsequently sought assurances from the Iranian Government.
We were in the midst of those negotiations when we saw this response to the action taken by the Gibraltar authorities. That is why we have deployed assets to the region. “HMS Montrose” and “HMS Duncan”, now going to the region, have been deployed to provide secure passage through the Strait of Hormuz. We have stepped up our efforts following Iran’s actions and will continue to review all elements of our policy regarding our exchanges with Iran, but we keep that diplomatic channel open.
My noble friend asked also about current US proposals. One proposal looks at the current combined taskforce in the region, which goes under the label of CTF 150 and has a mandate specifically to tackle terrorism and the illicit drugs trade. We are proposing an operation around maritime security. We are working on the details of that with our European colleagues.