House of Lords
Thursday 3 October 2019
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Brexit: Divergence from EU Standards
The UK already goes beyond EU minimum standards in a number of areas, such as working rights and environmental protections. Our high regulatory standards are not dependent on EU membership. After leaving the EU, we will be free to set our own laws and the Government will continue an ambitious and flexible approach to make smarter and more efficient regulation. Any future changes to regulations will be subject to the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.
I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, which tells me exactly nothing. I am even more confused than when I put this Question down, because I see in the various documents that we had yesterday that we are now about to have,
“continued regulatory alignment for a potentially prolonged period across the whole island of Ireland”.
That suggests that, if we are going to keep Northern Irish and British standards the same, we will not diverge. The Written Statement in the noble Lord’s name says that,
“we will be negotiating a revised Political Declaration”.
I assume that that is about divergence of regulations, among other things. Are the Government trying to say different things to different audiences? I think that they are. Are we planning to go back to what happened before Margaret Thatcher developed the European single market, which was to move towards adopting US regulations? Or are the Government simply not going to tell us what we are doing?
I am not sure why this is such a difficult concept for the Liberal Democrats to grasp. There are EU minimum standards. In most of these areas—whether it be holiday pay, maternity entitlement, annual leave or emissions standards—the UK goes beyond those standards as a matter of our sovereign choice. Why do the Liberal Democrats not have any confidence in our ability to determine our own standards?
Does my noble friend agree that the freedom to diverge from European regulations is, as the Prime Minister said, one of the important reasons for leaving the EU, although this will probably apply more to future regulation in evolving technologies such as fintech? Does he also agree that while, like any third country, such as the United States, we have to observe EU regulation when we sell into the EU market, when we sell into our own market or trade with each other it is a matter for the UK Parliament?
As always on these matters, my noble friend speaks great sense. I agree with the points that he has made. The ability to set our own regulations and to adopt a nimble and flexible approach to regulations on future technologies would be one of the great advantages of leaving the EU.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the previous Conservative Government, before the recent change, said that they would keep up with the changes to minimum standards? Is he saying that there has been no change in policy since that time or that there has been a change in policy since that time?
I am saying that one of the great advantages of our new, upcoming independence will be the ability to set our own regulations and standards, determined in this House. I am really not sure why the Opposition want Jean-Claude Juncker to determine our environmental standards rather than the British people and the British Parliament.
My Lords, during proceedings on the international trade Bill, your Lordships’ House spent a lot of time talking about regulations and standards. The Minister at the time made a lot of undertakings about maintaining or, indeed, exceeding current standards. That Bill has now been summarily scrapped. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State, Liz Truss, talks about having a low-regulation economy. That is why we on these Benches are concerned about the issue. Who is right: those on your Benches who talk about high standards or the Secretary of State, who talks about a low-regulation economy?
We believe in having high standards and we believe that we should determine these matters for ourselves. I can give the Liberal Democrats some examples. On maternity entitlement, the UK standard is 39 weeks, whereas the EU standard is 14 weeks. On annual leave, the UK has 5.6 weeks, whereas the EU has four. We have higher environmental standards on greenhouse gas emissions: we were the first in the world to legislate on that. We already exceed the EU minimum requirements. We are a high-standards economy and proud of it. We should be able to determine these things for ourselves.
Will my noble friend answer a simple question? When we leave the European Union on 31 October, we leave the jurisdiction of the European Commission to apply any environmental standards, but the Government have not yet established the office for environmental protection. Which body will decide which environmental standards apply?
The environmental standards that will apply initially will be those that we have imported into UK law under the EU withdrawal Act, but we have the flexibility to change these things in future. We are committed to setting up that environmental standards body and I am sure that we will want to do that as soon as parliamentary time allows.
My Lords, given that, according to the Minister, we will have different standards from the EU but that, as we heard yesterday, Northern Ireland will be aligned with EU standards and regulations for at least four years, I take it that there will be a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland on standards. Is that right?
There are already checks, of course, because Ireland is a single epidemiological unit. Therefore, there are already checks in the Irish Sea on live animal exports, et cetera. If these proposals are accepted—we will see how the negotiations go—there will need to be a small increase in the number of checks done.
Does not my noble friend think that, had we been able to make our own regulations in respect of emissions standards, we might have avoided the appalling scandal related to diesel engines and the great distress that it has caused to many of our citizens who have diesel cars?
My Lords, under this Government, income inequality is down. We believe that having a strong economy and welfare system that helps people into work is the only sustainable solution to disadvantage. I am proud that there are 400,000 fewer people in absolute poverty before housing costs, compared to 2010, and that the lowest paid have seen their wages grow by 8% above inflation—the fastest of any group since 2015.
My Lords, over the past nine years we have seen a huge rise in the number of food banks across the United Kingdom. The Trussell Trust’s figures on this are just frightening. If the Government truly wanted to end the widening inequality, they could begin by tackling the ever-increasing poverty across the UK. Can the Minister justify to the House why 4 million children in Britain are now at risk of malnutrition as a result of living in poverty? More importantly, what are the Government’s plans to reduce inequality and poverty across the UK?
My Lords, I was a nutritionist before I went into politics. Some people on low incomes might find the suggestion that their children were necessarily malnourished to be insulting—in fact, rich people may well be malnourished. Malnutrition and undernutrition are two different things. Malnutrition obviously correlates with inadequate diet, but not necessarily with poverty.
The 4 million figure to which the noble Lord refers is for the number of children living in low-income households, relative to the population as a whole. There is no evidence to suggest that there are 4 million children in food-insecure households. However, I accept his point about food banks. As he will know, the reasons for that are many and varied. I also accept that the initial rollout of UC led to some of the proliferation of food banks.
My Lords, is it possible to accept the fact that we would be able to ride a coach and horses through those figures over the next five or 10 years if we did something about the 35% of children who we fail at school? Let us put education first. When you look at that 35%, they are the people who have all the cheap jobs and are the long-term unemployed, as well as filling up our A&Es.
My Lords, is not one of the best ways to meet the concerns of inequality, which are certainly evident in society today, to turn more earners into owners? That would bring future wealth to millions of households, giving them the dignity and status that some kind of savings and ownership provide. Is that not the best way to advance ownership by the public in a genuine sense, rather than in the bogus sense of the past?
My Lords, much of what the Minister says sounds reassuring. Can she therefore perhaps explain why the ONS is reporting a large fall in life expectancy for women living in the most deprived areas, in contrast to continued increases in life expectancy for women living in the least deprived areas? In its own words:
“This has led to a significant widening in the inequality in life expectancy”.
Should the Government not be a little less complacent?
I think the noble Baroness will know that I am not complacent at all. I take the point she makes about life expectancy. It is not just women; it is the population as a whole. Certainly, in Trafford, people’s life expectancy in its more affluent areas is something like nine years higher than for their neighbours in less affluent areas one mile away. This is due to a variety of reasons, as she will know, but it is not something that the Government are not concerned about. Of course prevention in many areas, such as smoking, is key to some of the outcomes for those people.
My Lords, the report on Travellers and Roma was published some time ago. In the much-regretted absence of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, from the Front Bench, which Minister is responsible for taking this forward and when will the Government’s detailed plan be published?
My Lords, Newcastle was one of the pilot areas for the rollout of universal credit. It also has one of the largest food banks in the United Kingdom. I have warmly welcomed the changes to universal credit that have ameliorated some of the terrible things that happened in the beginning. However, is anything being done to help those people who were the guinea pigs, who were plunged into poverty and have not managed to come out of it? I would be grateful to know whether anything is being done.
I say to the right reverend Prelate that we are working with areas such as Newcastle that have food banks. We are also working with the food banks more closely to better support those people who, as she says, might initially have fallen into that pit, perhaps, of the ever-increasing sets of problems that arose from that initial problem with UC.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with the findings of the Social Mobility Commission that one of the great perpetrators of inequality in the UK is our twin-track education system, which sees 7% of young people benefit from an education resourced at three times the level of the other 93%? As we know, this 7% are more likely to go on and earn top salaries in top jobs. Can she tell the House when we can expect the further detailed recommendations promised in the commission’s last report on what can be done to spread more equitably the benefits that accrue from private education?
Again, going back to a previous life in Trafford, we have no private secondary schools at all and we are one of the top-performing LEAs in the country. I do not think we can say either that private education is good or state education is bad. The standards and performance in schools are key to a child’s future. We should look to areas of very good practice, such as in Trafford, to see how we can improve our state education system.
My Lords, UK Visas and Immigration anticipates that about 178,000 applications will be processed during 2019-20. Following the introduction of streamlined processes, around 80% of applications are now submitted online. As a result, as at August 2019, 99.4% of straightforward applications were decided within the six-month service standard.
My Lords, the Minister will, I am sure, be aware of an official book called Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents. First, can she justify the fact that the examples given of eminent British people are almost all men and that, in some respects, women have been airbrushed out of British life? Secondly, a number of questions arise that are supposed to be relevant to life in Britain. I will try her out on one: when was the Giant’s Causeway formed—40 million, 50 million or 60 million or 70 million years ago? Will the Minister care to hazard an answer? Also: when did Henry VIII die—January 1547, January 1557, February 1547 or February 1557? I am sure that these are relevant to life in Britain. Can the Minister answer any of these questions, please?
That is called the luck of the Irish, my Lords. On the second question about Henry VIII, I really have no idea, but then I am Irish, so maybe I can be granted leeway on that. There are points about the Life in the UK test and how much detail and knowledge we can expect people to have, so I take the noble Lord’s point.
My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has only recently become a British citizen. That was in the last hour of the last day of the last Labour Government, when they passed an amendment such that a Member of this House could automatically become a British citizen. I do not know how or how often that is publicised, but it is a fact, and I am grateful to the Government for it. Before then, I had to produce a right of abode, which produced all sorts of documents that went back to birth certificates and everything under the sun. I have also helped other people, with the help of a particular noble and learned Lord, who had been Lord Chief Justice. He and I took 10 years to get British citizenship for someone who well deserved it, so I think there is something very wrong about this position. I am not complaining because I was given only a six-month visa when I arrived; at least I was given that. Some people are getting nothing and some are involved in enormously long procedures, but they get something in the end. How many years is it taking? Can it be speeded up in any way?
Like my noble friend, I have tried to assist the many noble Lords who have asked me questions about immigration, citizenship, et cetera. They are complex, and Members of your Lordships’ House have shown me just how complex they are, not least my noble friend. I am glad that her case was resolved, in the end. But it is important that, to become a British citizen, you demonstrate your commitment to this country. Some of our rules have been in place for years, but I accept that there are many different avenues that one might take for the various types of access arrangements.
My Lords, refugee families often have to make repeated applications for leave to remain, before becoming eligible for British citizenship, paying thousands of pounds at each stage, potentially costing tens of thousands of pounds overall—way above the actual cost to the Home Office of processing their applications. Does the Minister accept that the government policy of overcharging positively discourages those seeking sanctuary in the UK? All these people want is to contribute to and integrate with British society.
The Home Office does not make a profit from application fees. The income that it derives is used to fund other vital areas of the borders, immigration and citizenship service. We have always provided refugees with exceptions to the need to pay application fees for leave to remain, in specific circumstances. That might be for refugees or those living in local authority care.
My Lords, 18 months ago, I was pleased to serve on a Select Committee of this House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. Many of the issues we are discussing now were dealt with in that Citizenship and Civic Engagement Committee. Will the Minister go back to the new Home Secretary and ask whether we could make progress, both on the issues that were just raised by the Member from the Liberal Democrat Benches, but also on the Life in the UK test? When it came in 17 years ago, I promise your Lordships that it did not include a question on the Giant’s Causeway. Could we look urgently at making it relevant, sensible and usable for people gaining citizenship in the UK?
I assure the noble Lord that I will take back both his point and that of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I thank him; we have all been educated this morning, not least myself. I was thinking about the analogy with Trivial Pursuit: if the same questions have been in play for a number of years, this may be an opportunity to update them. I will certainly take that point back.
Brexit: Parliamentary Processes
Yesterday, the Government put forward a proposal for an amended protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland that means that we can leave the European Union without disruption. The proposal is a fair and reasonable compromise for all sides that respects the referendum result. We are sure that Parliament will want to work with the Government to get Brexit done on 31 October.
Yes, my Lords, and I hope that is the case, but my noble friend has not answered the Question. There is an Act of Parliament that obliges the Government to take certain steps if we have not left the EU. Yesterday, my noble friend kept repeating the mantra, “We will obey the law”, but he did not explain how, nor how you reconcile these two things. Will he now please tell the House what the Government have in mind?
Will the Minister do the House the courtesy of trying to answer the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? How do the Government intend to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable positions of potentially crashing out of Europe on 31 October and adhering to the law that says that, if an agreement has not been reached by 19 October, then the Government must ask for an extension? I am sure that Downing Street has a cunning plan—or at least a Cummings plan—to reconcile the irreconcilables, but can the Minister at least give this House the guarantee that the Government will abide not just by the letter but by the spirit of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act? In view of the Supreme Court judgment, he should be in a position to give the House that very guarantee.
The noble Lord was obviously a loss to stand-up comedy. I repeat the assurances that I gave that the Government will of course at all times abide by the law. I have to say that, if the Opposition spent half as much time helping us to negotiate a better deal as they do undermining our negotiating position, we might be able to get a deal that we could all get behind and we would not have to go near obsessing about the provisions of the Benn Act.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that most Acts of Parliament are designed to benefit the people of this country, and the surrender Act is simply a ruse designed by those who want to stop us leaving the EU to tie the hands of our Prime Minister at this crucial time? I believe that it is a move that they, and this House, will live to regret.
My Lords, at the beginning of this Session, the Government set out a series of Bills that needed to be passed in order to provide for an orderly Brexit. These included Bills on trade, immigration, fisheries and agriculture, none of which has yet proceeded through this House, completed their progress and become Acts. Do the Government intend that we have a disorderly Brexit without the legislative framework, or are we intending to sit Saturdays and Sundays for the last two weeks in October in order to get the legislative framework in place?
My Lords, given the special voting arrangements that apply to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which quite deliberately give a veto to the minority for certain decisions, I anticipate that the Government thought that those might be triggered by the decision of the Assembly that this deal offer requires. To that extent, will the Minister tell the House the names of those nationalist politicians who represent that community whose support for this may be required who were consulted during the drafting of this provision and whether the Government have their support, as they appear to have of the DUP?
The great thing about this proposal is that it has attracted support from across the sector, including, I am delighted to say, from a number of Labour MPs who take quite a constructive approach to wanting to deliver on the referendum result. It looks as though we have a majority assembled for this provision, but we still have a lot of hard negotiating to do. We will endeavour to bring back a proposal that will enjoy widespread support across all communities and all parties.
Does the Minister agree that there is an irony in this Question, which calls on the Prime Minister to comply with the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act? Section 1(4) of that Act says that we should apply for an extension,
“in order to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2)”,
requiring the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that he can pass an agreement which has been consistently rejected by the House of Commons because of Labour going through particular Division Lobbies.
My noble friend makes a sensible point. It appears to many of us that this Bill was designed to try to undermine the UK’s negotiating position. It was interesting that we had six hours of debate on EU withdrawal yesterday and nobody—either from the Labour Front Bench, where we had two speakers, or the numerous speakers from the Labour Back Bench—but nobody had anything to say on Labour’s position on this, because, of course, its position is ridiculous. Its position is that it wants to go to the European Union, negotiate a new deal, come back and then vote against it. What a shabby Opposition they have become.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Review of Investigative and Scrutiny Committees (Liaison Committee Report)
Motion to Agree
This report is the outcome of the most comprehensive review of our committee structure that has ever been undertaken. After the most thorough inquiry, we have proposed the start of a significant change in the positioning of our committees to begin to put in place a thematic approach which will ensure more comprehensive scrutiny of all the major areas of public policy.
Our approach to updating the way in which Lords’ committees operate has been evolutionary, seeking to adapt to today’s circumstances while providing a platform to respond properly to future changes. The evidence gathered by the review means that the House does not need to wait years for another comprehensive review, but can instead respond flexibly on a continuing basis to new developments and to the constant technological and societal change which is reshaping the world in which we operate.
Recommendations in the report will bring more flexibility and responsiveness to changing circumstances for our committees, allowing them to engage with the emerging policies of the day without losing any of the quality and depth of research for which Lords committees are well known.
One of the key principles guiding our recommendations was that the committees’ structure should be comprehensive, avoiding scrutiny gaps and allowing the House a degree of focus upon all major areas of public policy. House of Lords committees have developed piecemeal over the past five decades and the lack of a guiding logic for the overall committee structure has resulted in significant gaps arising in our scrutiny. The principal policy areas that have suffered from a lack of detailed scrutiny are social affairs and public services, including health and education.
Although there are inevitably other omissions, compelling evidence to the review suggested that introducing a thematic structure for our committees would offer the most coherent approach to filling the current major gaps in scrutiny. We therefore recommend a number of measures to put this into place, chief among them being the appointment of a new sessional committee on public services, with terms of reference which require it to consider public services including health and education. This would address a major omission in our current committee structure, and it is notable that topics which would fall under this heading figure prominently in each year’s list of proposals for special inquiry committees. To address scrutiny gaps further, we recommend a small number of changes to the existing titles and remits of some sessional committees. Taken together, these measures will ensure that our committee structure provides more comprehensive coverage of the major areas of public policy and limit the potential for scrutiny gaps in the future.
Some areas of public policy, including energy and the environment and home affairs, are currently addressed principally through our European Union Committee and its sub-committees. The report ring-fences the EU Committee and its sub-committees at this stage, leaving them unchanged, but it acknowledges that further work in this respect will be required by the Liaison Committee in the months ahead. To assist the comprehensive approach, we have also agreed that I should convene a committee chairs forum, to meet three times a year or so. The idea of this forum comes from one of the excellent current practices of the National Assembly for Wales, about which we heard evidence.
The chairs forum, for the first time, will provide a mechanism for committee chairs and members and the wider membership of the House to ensure that effective scrutiny of all major public policy areas is taking place, identifying any gaps in scrutiny or committee remits, addressing any overlap and providing a potential avenue for the wider membership of the House to make committee chairs and the Liaison Committee aware of particular issues. The forum will help to ensure that our committees can respond quickly to societal and technological changes, as well as ongoing public policy developments.
Special inquiry committees provide an important opportunity for Back-Bench Members of the House to propose topics for one-off committee inquiries, and the Liaison Committee receives a large number of proposals from Members each year. However, two particular criticisms of their operation were made during the review. The first related to Back-Bench Member engagement and involvement in the initial process of topic selection, while the second identified the limited capacity for follow-up once the committee had disbanded following the conclusion of its inquiry.
To address the first of these issues, we have recommended the introduction of an additional stage in the topic selection process. In future, the Member of the House who has proposed a shortlisted special inquiry topic will be invited to appear before the Liaison Committee to present their case in person. The committee will then consider their direct representations before deciding which topics to propose for the agreement of the House. We hope that this new process will allow Members to be reassured that their case has been heard, loud and clear.
To address the issue of post-inquiry follow-up, we recommend that, at a convenient point after publication of the special inquiry committee’s report, the chair of the former committee can formally request that the Liaison Committee hold a small number of evidence sessions to follow up the initial inquiry recommendations. If the case for follow-up is accepted by the committee, it will then co-opt the chair and three members of the former committee on to the Liaison Committee, hold evidence sessions and publish a short committee report, to which the Government must then respond in the usual fashion. This change will bring added rigour to the special inquiry process, allowing chairs and members to follow up properly the recommendations they have made and to scrutinise the impact that such recommendations have had upon government policy.
Within the report we strongly endorse the work undertaken by specialist scrutiny committees, including the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The House relies heavily upon the scrutiny work of these committees; it is important that they continue to perform their work effectively. We also strongly endorse the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills, as well as setting out a small number of measures to enhance post-legislative scrutiny. We conclude that one special inquiry each year should continue to be focused on post-legislative scrutiny.
Moving beyond structural changes, a key finding of the review was that we need to give much more attention and impetus to communicating the work and impact of our committees. Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal of the University of Glasgow, told us that,
“most of the outstanding work of committees goes on under the radar, so far as the general public is concerned”.
He was not alone in making this argument. The report recommends a much more ambitious approach to communicating externally, with a dedicated communications strategy to be embedded from the beginning of each new committee inquiry.
We propose a greater degree of focus on identification of potential audiences, including a wider range of witnesses and an increase in the use of active social media and digital platforms across committees, as well as producing reports in a wider range of formats that can be better received by target audiences. In an unelected Chamber, it is important that our committees provide an opportunity to engage the public directly in the work of the House. We also recommend an increase in the number of events and seminars held during inquiries and post-report publication, in order that committees might broaden their audience and impact.
We also set out a number of measures to ensure that the work of committees is better communicated within Parliament. A frequent complaint that I encounter is that Members of the House have limited information regarding the activity of committees. They would welcome more insight into their work and how they might usefully contribute their expertise and experience. Accordingly, we recommend the publication of a new regular report on committee activity for all Members of the House. We also recommend that debates on committee reports should usually be held within three months of the report being published, to ensure relevance when the debate is held. We also recommend that the Procedure Committee should examine ways in which greater opportunity could be made available to highlight important committee work on the Floor of the House.
Another area where we have recommended attention from the Procedure Committee relates to the rotation rule. There is a difficult balance to be struck between allowing continuity of membership and expertise on committees, while also providing new Members with the opportunity to serve. The effect of the rotation rule can be particularly pronounced when its rigid application results in large numbers of Members being rotated off a committee simultaneously. It is also predicated on an expectation that the duration of a Session will be approximately 12 months, but recent experience has not been consistent with this expectation. We therefore recommend that the Procedure Committee should undertake a review of the rotation rule.
When the rotation rule was applied earlier this year, on 1 July, a number of Members remarked on the gender balance of committee membership and chairs. I have since met with concerned members of the House, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Parminter. The report before us notes that the House of Lords Commission, in its response to the UK Gender-Sensitive Parliament Audit 2018, asked the Committee of Selection to carry out annual monitoring of Lords committee membership and chairing. It might be helpful if I inform the House that the Committee of Selection has now agreed that such statistics should be collated in February/March each year and published before the House rises for the Easter Recess. The publication timing before Easter should ensure that monitoring can properly inform the nomination of new committee chairs and members, and the replacement of members and chairs rotated off sessional committees. I hope that this action will reassure Members that we are serious about addressing this matter.
In conclusion, it is my firm belief that our recommendations for an improved, comprehensive committee structure, with more flexibility and greater capacity for follow-up, will allow us to build on the considerable strengths of our current committee work. Our proposals for improved committee communications with wider reach and engagement, both within and beyond the House, will allow us to have a greater impact and profile, and to be informed by a greater variety of expertise and experience. Our recommendations will allow committees to play a greater part in the work of the House, encourage greater engagement and interaction with the full membership of the House, and enhance the relevance and reputation of the House by making us more responsive to the major issues of the day.
I pay tribute to all chairs and members who bring so much to the committee activity in this House and hope and anticipate that they can use the recommendations in this report to deliver still more in the future. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an excellent and very comprehensive review and the noble Lord, Lord McFall, who we have just listened to, has been doing an absolutely excellent job in building up all the work behind it and in his continuing efforts to modernise and make much more effective our committee structure in your Lordships’ House. My comments will focus entirely on the investigative committees—the sessional and ad hoc committees—not the many other management, pre- and post-legislative scrutiny committees, and so on.
My only difference—it is a mild one, but nevertheless it runs through the report—arises from comments in paragraph 51 on “delivering a new structure”. That is what I want to talk about. That paragraph says:
“Our EU Committee and its six subcommittees will be ‘ring-fenced’ until we can analyse the implications of Brexit … Some policy areas, for example energy and the environment, and home affairs, are principally covered by EU committees at present”.
I believe there is a misapprehension, particularly in that last sentence. Those three—energy, environment and home affairs—are by no means covered entirely by the European prism. These are global issues that have transformed and grown to a vast degree in the last few years. We are dealing with an entirely new global environment in relation to these three issues, and they are not the only ones. This matter has evolved over the last 10 years and, indeed, was important long before the Brexit issue had even arisen, let alone now it has gone the way it has.
The point that needs to be grasped a little more clearly in addressing our future committee structure is that today’s issues are very different from those of the 20th century. The problems of today and tomorrow will be concerned with the rise of China, the dominance of Asian power, where all the growth and dynamism will be in the next 10 years, and a totally transformed trade network that no longer conforms to the old pattern and is dominated by knowledge industries and services to a point that makes all trade policy issues of the last 20 years out of date. It is a world in which war and defence as a concept has changed. As the CGS pointed out the other day, we are now in a world of almost continuous warfare. The idea that a war happens and then it ends is a concept belonging to yesterday.
We are in a world where technology cannot just be wrapped up in a little box called “science”, but where it dominates everything. It is transforming the pattern of world power, our societies, the way we behave, our politics—as we know very well from our daily debates—questions of environment, industry and international trade flows and supply lines. The question of energy, far from being just a European matter, is now of course a climate matter as well. It is interwoven with geopolitics and our international security on a massive scale. The question of home affairs is now shot through with questions about identity politics, which transform attitudes to the way in which social policy should be organised throughout the United Kingdom.
The question of migration and the movements of people—which in the last 10 years has grown to a scale never before known in history—requires a concentration and focus that cannot just be wrapped up in international affairs, communications or anything else. The question of vast inequalities of hypercapitalism and the need for wealth sharing is, again, an issue that cannot just be put aside under economic affairs. I would perhaps add to that the question of our network relations with the giant new networks of Asia and, particularly, the network of the Commonwealth. These are matters that transcend the normal areas of international relations.
My point is that we should have started on these things long ago. Brexit should not be a marking point merely indicating when we should start changing these committee patterns. We need a committee pattern that addresses investigatively the issues that really concern people today. Those are different from the patterns of the 20th century, which tend to flavour the list that we have before us now and tend to be covered by the pattern of the six European committees. I believe the whole pattern should now change, regardless of and without waiting for Brexit. We should have a pattern of modern issues and modern committees meeting the problems of now and the future, not the old categories of the 20th century, where the debates are now redundant and largely out of date.
Lastly, a broader issue in all this—as the noble Lord, Lord McFall, has recognised very succinctly and is tackling with great energy—is of course how successfully we depict the overall work and character of your Lordships’ House and the way in which its Members are networked in a hive of activities, not only in these Lords Committees or Joint Committees or in myriad other parliamentary groups and interests, but in a wider network of civil society, through countless individual links and connections. This makes the House of Lords, condemned by critics as backward-aligned, a body in fact uniquely suited to the modern and future digital age of high connectivity and a unique bridge between the necessary central institutions of governance and legislation and the public, in a manner found nowhere else in the world. It is this intense pattern of both committee activity and of links and ties across the nation that makes your Lordships’ House, in my view, very much what has been called a “platform for the future”. There remains, of course, the question of how this is to be explained, and how the broader challenge of the public perception of the House of Lords is to be met. Having a thoroughly modern framework, with categories addressing the real issues of today and tomorrow and recognising the pervasive and transformative effect of new technologies to all our social and international affairs, is a start in overcoming that challenge.
My Lords, the whole House owes the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and his colleagues a vote of thanks for this report, because it moves us into a new era. In particular, I strongly support the move to a more comprehensive system of thematic policy committees. I will, however, suggest a few modifications, some of which overlap points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell.
The work of the investigative and policy committees of the House of Lords is widely respected, recognised and appreciated. But it is not clear how influential all that work is in society and among decision-makers outside this Palace. Authoritative reports and in-depth analysis that appear on the bookshelves of the movers and shakers of Britain and Europe in the form of House of Lords reports are all very well, but we need to make sure that a wider influence is exerted on minds throughout the kingdom and beyond. That means a broader engagement, as is recognised by this report. The House needs to catch up with changes in society, technology and communications to enable us to engage with, and act for, a wider range of organisations and individuals. In that regard, we require reform of process and the form of the final product.
With regard to process, our established mode of operating involves contacting organisations—most of which are on a pre-existing list—and others and bringing them to Westminster or asking them to write to us, with occasional excursions outside London, usually to the regional manifestations of the same organisations we have invited here.
Those responses are then analysed, debated within the committee and eventually in the Chamber, and written up by highly competent and effective staff who have recourse to external research facilities. This ends up in a standard format, having gone through a pretty standard process. We need to increase the use of open meetings at the beginning, at the end, and in later follow-ups, in the form of round tables and focus groups that are less well controlled and happen much more outside London—possibly using social media, telephone conferencing and so on—involving the citizens of this country as well as a wide range of organisations and individuals, who often have very fixed and particular views. For that final product I am old-fashioned enough to need a written copy of almost everything that I can hold in my hand. However, we also need to produce it in a form that is accessible to social media, is interactive and can act as a two-way channel of communication and education—the educational dimension of this, as I mentioned, also being very important.
To this end, at the beginning of any inquiry the committee undertaking it needs to establish the means of engagement, communication and follow-through to meet that wider remit. The report recognises that, but we need to push it much further and faster, which will mean significant changes in the administration of this House. My key point, however, is the need for comprehensive coverage by policy committees in this House.
I have been in this House for more than 20 years. When I first arrived I was a radical, and wanted this House to change into an elected Chamber. I have not changed my basic views on that: when the Labour Government and the coalition Government attempted it, I was strongly in support. Nevertheless, I also recognise that the strength of argument for an appointed Chamber—appointed to any degree—is that it brings to the legislative process an expertise that is not normally available. By coincidence—I was going to say by mistake —it sometimes delivers extremely competent, well-informed and well-qualified individuals. However, that is not their main reason for being here, whereas many appointed Members of this House are here by reason of a distinguished career behind them in all sorts of specialist areas and a life experience which is not necessarily reflected in the political process. That is the strongest argument for having an appointed element within a legislature.
When I first came here, I was astonished that the areas of policy in which I was most interested were not covered by a single committee of this House. Of course, that has changed a bit in the past few years. We have a Constitution Committee and a Communications Committee using the expertise of people in this House and others who reflect a more general view. More recently, we have established an International Relations Committee, which has used the skills of retired Permanent Secretaries, retired heads of service and so forth—the kinds of people whose expertise was being underused. I am not saying that we should have committees of experts—we need not only the experts from this House but also its lay Members, including in that context the odd Bishop—but the expertise and life experience of the Members of this House are needed in delivering areas of policy. Some of that has fallen by default to the European affairs committee and its whole structure. For the past seven years, I have been in the sub-committee structure of the EU Select Committee. We heard yesterday from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that its expertise will continue to be needed—although that is being made more difficult by the Government at this point—but it will be a diminishing requirement. There will therefore be a run-down of the call on Members, staff and resources from the EU end post Brexit, however much I may regret that.
It would have been delightful had the new structure conceived by this committee and proposed to the House today coincided with the winding-up of the EU Committee substructure—we will need a European Select Committee, but we will not eventually, post Brexit, need a full substructure. Regrettably, they will not coincide, but we ought to plan the phasing of a move across from the substructure of the EU Select Committee to the more comprehensive structure of thematic committees. That could start now, but it will need to be well managed and well planned in advance.
In my view, there are some serious and immediate gaps in the list of thematic committees today proposed. I welcome the proposal for a public services committee—that was a huge gap—but there are other gaps and everybody will have their own wish list, some of which may be mentioned in the debate. Clearly, industrial policy is now subsumed by economic affairs—if my noble friend Lord Hollick were here, he would be arguing strongly for a separate industrial policy committee. There is also the issue of trade, although I think that the trade committee needs to be a Joint Committee of the two Houses in a post-Brexit era—I shall refer to that in a subsequent debate today.
There is one area not included in the list which is of great salience and importance to us and which is partly covered by the EU Select Committees but will rapidly not be approached solely as an EU matter; that is, climate change. This House and the other House and the Government having declared a climate crisis, it is somewhat bizarre that in a new list of thematic committees the House of Lords does not have a committee which covers climate change. I therefore hope that the House will soon recommend the addition of a climate change committee to the list of thematic committees.
In the last resort, the quality and effectiveness of our committees depend not only on the quality and engagement of their members but on the quality of their staff. Therefore, if we are proposing a phased move across to a new structure, it is important that it is managed effectively as well. We are blessed with an extremely diligent, informed, intelligent and adaptable staff, but adaptability has its limits and it has to be managed. I am still after 20 years a little unclear as to how the management processes for staff in this House operate, but if we are to provide for the substructure of staffing of these committees, it is clear that we need a properly managed, effective and holistic approach to the management of the staff and the other resources which go into them. Without a staff, none of our present format of committees would work, and certainly the more complex processes and products that I am envisaging and that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and his committee have envisaged, could not be delivered. Therefore, the staff are key.
My Lords, I think I should start by declaring an interest, inasmuch as I submitted both written and oral evidence to the committee as this review was taking place. I very much welcome the report and pay tribute to the excellent work of the Liaison Committee, led by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, in conducting this really important review. We are all very much in his debt. I am speaking today as a Back-Bencher, but know that my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Stoneham also support this report and its recommendations. There are three key points that I want to make, and in doing so I will pick up on some of the very important points already made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Whitty.
I am a very strong supporter of broad, thematic, cross-cutting committees that can take a long-term perspective. It is very important that these committees are comprehensive and cover the broad sweep of government policy—without duplicating the department-based committee structure of the House of Commons—to ensure that effective and in-depth scrutiny takes place in your Lordships’ House. Done well, House of Lords Select Committees can do much to enhance the reputation and public standing of this House—an important issue in its own right.
As the report recognises, the current structure contains significant gaps, particularly in areas of considerable concern to me such as education, health, poverty and inequality and broader social policy. I am therefore very pleased to see the recommendation for a new sessional committee on public services, which should be able to fill a lot of that gap. Indeed, to some extent it mirrors quite closely the suggestion I made for a committee covering general home and social affairs, able to develop a deep understanding of demographic trends and changing social attitudes and to undertake horizon scanning to identify new and emerging social issues so as to be ahead of the curve, as it were, on issues of direct relevance to people’s everyday lives. If we are looking at those issues, the general public will think that we are doing something relevant and that we understand their lives.
My second point is about follow-up. I feel very strongly about this, because I have been a very strong supporter of what used to be called the ad-hoc Select Committees and are now called special inquiries. I have had the huge privilege of serving on five of them, including chairing the Financial Exclusion Select Committee, and indeed was the original proposer of two of them. To my mind, they provide a really helpful means of addressing topical issues and allow Members to contribute their wide-ranging expertise in a raft of important policy areas. That said, the big downside is that it has led to a somewhat fragmented committee structure, with little overall coherence in the range of subjects selected. Crucially—this is my absolutely key point—it has resulted in a real loss of corporate knowledge as these ad-hoc committees are simply disbanded. The risk, of course—has already been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—is that these very elegantly drafted reports, which a lot of work has gone into, simply gather dust on shelves.
In terms of follow-up, in the past much has depended on the individual efforts of former chairs. As a former chair of the Financial Exclusion Select Committee, I did as much as I could for the 18 months afterwards to ensure that the Government took our recommendations seriously. I was genuinely quite pleased when, somewhat belatedly, this started to happen. I feel now that the effort that went into the production of the report by all concerned—the members, the staff and those who gave evidence—was worthwhile, because the Government’s and the Financial Conduct Authority’s dial on the subject has noticeably changed. However, I felt keenly that I was doing it with no status or backing from the House. That is why I very strongly support the recommendations in paragraph 68 of the report for more structured follow-up, involving the Liaison Committee and the chair of the former committee, with support from committee staff.
My third point is that I am pleased that special inquiries will continue—I think there is a really important place for them—but I still feel there is more thinking to do about the relationship between special inquiries and the main standing committees and their sub-committees. We must make best use of the body of knowledge acquired through the undertaking of these inquiries, so that we are not starting from scratch each time a new special inquiry sets up. We need to keep this point under very strong review.
I will conclude with a personal view that I know is rather controversial. While I understand the balanced reasoning set out in relation to the election of committee chairs in paragraph 179, I continue to believe that it would offer greater legitimacy and clout and help to ensure strong cross-party support if chairs of committees were elected. I have never believed, and I do not sign up to the argument, that the fact that we have not done it before is a good reason for not trying to do something different. I hope it might be possible to at least test such an approach at some point. At a time when the House sometimes feels ever more polarised on the big issues of the day, measures to incentivise cross-party working have very much to commend them. I also feel that it might help with the critical point of gender balance, which sometimes has not been good on these committees, either on the membership or the chairing.
My Lords, that was a typically thought-provoking intervention from the noble Baroness, and it is a great pleasure to follow her. I will go away and think about elected chairs afterwards. I shall make three brief points.
First, I add my congratulations to that of others on the work of the committee. To assimilate the vast pile of very complicated evidence, to wrestle with that complexity and then to produce such a pleasingly clear report is a great achievement. It is, as the report itself admits, the first step on a journey.
That brings me to my second point and to paragraph 51, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked about. This concerns the future of the family of European Union committees. Once the Brexit fog has lifted, I am looking forward very much to working with the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and the Liaison Committee as we try to shape a new structure and redeploy all our staff. They are such a precious resource, committed and highly experienced, and we must not waste a single drop of that as we seek to reconstruct the committee structure.
That brings me to something that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said. I very much associate myself with his remarks in general: I thought it was a very good speech indeed. He recommended a committee that would have climate change at its core. I shall certainly be going into discussions of the new shape thinking that one of the current sub-committees of the European Union Committee, the environment sub-committee, would be very well-suited to taking on that particular burden, although that will be for discussion.
My third and most important point concerns chapter 6, on communications and public engagement. I gave written and oral evidence on this. I feel that we as a House hide our light under a bushel. I have come from a world where one was trying desperately not to do that, and I feel we can do a lot more. As I went through the recommendations one by one, I can only say that I found them all very sensible.
The key is the increase in resources which is, of course, about people. It is important to embed people within the committees. I was delighted to hear that word “embed” in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McFall. Embedding is so important because, if you are in charge of communicating something, it is difficult to do a good job if you do not understand it. Some of the work of our committees is highly technical and very difficult to get to grips with. Committee members find it difficult, so we would need that embedding to start early. This would help those in charge of trying to communicate our work—and communicate it well in all the various modern ways which we know it must be communicated in—to have that good understanding.
However, embedding brings with it something which is not mentioned in the report, and that is the absolute need for committee members and staff to engage with the person who has been embedded. Someone is being taken up a learning curve. Members and staff of that committee will have to put in an investment of time and energy to help this person. This investment is terribly important and brings a big return because, with this extra resource, there will be a good chance of communicating our messages far wider and much better.
My Lords, may I begin by expressing my warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McFall, not only for the admirable report which he and his committee have produced but also for the assiduous way in which he has gone round various groups within the House to explain and discuss it and to invite comments. I do not think I am breaching any confidences by saying that he was with the Association of Conservative Peers only yesterday. Some time ago, he came to the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which I chair and which my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth convenes. The noble Lord graciously invited my noble friend and me to give evidence and we were glad to do so.
This is an extremely thorough and meaty report, and I warmly commend it. Having said that, there are a number of points I would like to make, one of which follows on the remarks by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. I agree with her emphatically about the election of chairmen. One could go a little further and elect members—as they now do in another place. I have a passionate reason for advancing this view. It is personal, but not unique. Last year, after a number of us on this side of the House had voted for certain amendments to the first European withdrawal Bill, we were summarily dismissed from our committees as a result. I think there were a dozen of us in all, including my noble friends the Duke of Wellington and Lord Inglewood. For the official channels effectively to be able to subvert the work of a Select Committee in that way was quite wrong. Although I say so myself—and I know I speak for the others—we all have impeccable attendance records. We took an active part in the committees concerned. I speak as one who was a chairman of a Select Committee in another place for five years and who has served on other Select Committees as well.
Select Committees have to work without fear or favour. They are not accountable to the Executive, but they are accountable to Parliament in the way in which the Executive is also accountable to Parliament. They report to Parliament. The Government are obliged to respond. I entirely agree with those who say that the response and the opportunity following it for the respective House to debate the report is very important. It is a scandal that some fine reports are left languishing for months without being discussed on the Floor of the House. I deliberately call the noble Lord, Lord McFall, my noble friend—we have known each other for many years in both Houses—but on that issue I think he and his committee have been a little too timid. I should very much like action taken there.
As a preparatory step, it might be a good idea to invite applications. The noble Lord talks about publication, which I agree with, but we should use that publication to invite applications from those who wish to serve on Select Committees. In applying to serve, Members should give a commitment to attend a minimum of 80% of the committee’s meetings unless ill-health, bereavement or something else prevents it. You cannot be an effective member of a Select Committee unless you attend it, take part in the questioning of witnesses and read the written evidence submitted. That issue needs a little more attention.
Recommendation 42 refers to the fact that we need to look expeditiously at the whole issue of rotation and duration. Again, having had experience in the other place, I think that a Parliament—five years—is a reasonable term. Members should not be rotated off after three years. It is certainly very wrong for a committee suddenly to find that it is deprived of a great deal of expertise at one fell swoop. Although he is not in the Chamber at the moment, I have discussed this with my noble friend Lord Forsyth, who was suddenly confronted with the loss of six members of his committee. Stability and continuity are very important. I know that my noble friend felt strongly about that, and I absolutely agree with him. That needs further examination.
I am very glad that the report refers to Joint Committees of both Houses. This has been a hobby horse of mine for the past three years, because immediately after the referendum—I have adverted to it many times since—I proposed a Joint Committee of both Houses on Brexit. It is just conceivable, and I put it no higher than that, that the traumatic and distressing days we have had over the past three years might have been reduced, cross-party accord would have developed and there would have been greater understanding between the two Houses if such a committee had been formed. Rather late in the day, your Lordships’ House passed a resolution admirably introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that such a committee should be set up earlier this year. That resolution was completely ignored by the Government, so nothing came of it.
Joint Committees have a very important place in a bicameral Parliament. I am very glad that, in that context, the report refers to less formal liaison between the two Houses, because the more we know each other and the more we understand each other and the complementary roles of the Houses—always underlining the supremacy of the elected House—the better it is for Parliament in general. It is very good that the report pays attention to that. It might not be a bad idea for a sub-committee of the Liaison Committee to develop some specific proposals on that very issue.
I am glad that there is a recommendation, recommendation 9, for a public services committee. The noble Lord, Lord McFall, and others have already referred to that.
On the whole issue of the position of your Lordships’ House and the importance of committees in the national context, there is a reference in recommendation 27 to round tables and events that effectively involve the public. One of the sad things about your Lordships’ House and the wonderful—I use the word deliberately—work of its committees is that, out there, people do not really know about it. The great thing about House of Lords committees is that they tend to be much less partisan than other groups. I believe that travelling to parts of the country, inviting people here and using modern technology—of which I am certainly not a master, as most of your Lordships know—to bring people here through various links, not just to give evidence but to discuss, can be only for the good of your Lordships’ House and the quality of public debate in general.
I have just one tiny gripe, but only because I am innately conservative. I wish we would be “Chairman” and “Madam Chairman” rather than “Chair”. When I say that, I know I have the great support of one of the most admired Members of your Lordships’ House, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who has always taken that line. I am sorry she is not here today; I know she will not mind my referring to her. I just think that this is a change we do not really want—at least, I do not. A chair is a piece of furniture, and long may it remain so.
I end with a reference to the Library, which—as for so many of our debates—has produced an admirable paper for this one. I was struck by remarks made by Earl Jellicoe almost half a century ago, when he said:
“I personally believe that in your Lordships’ House there is a pool of experience and expertise which is not properly used for the nation’s benefit. I also believe that the judicious employment of Select Committees is one of the ways by which that pool of experience and expertise can be more properly exploited for the benefit of the nation”.—[Official Report, 9/12/1971; cols. 903-04.]
True then, true now. Let us use this report as a spring- board for further action on that front.
Madam Chair, my Lords, it is a sweet courtesy in this House to thank the mover of a Motion. I want to go beyond that in thanking the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and his colleagues for the way in which they have gone about this report. We have all been consulted, talked to and absorbed in the work. The points we made have been taken on board and it is a remarkable piece of work. It is not one we would want to carry out every year, but it is therefore the more important that it has been so thoroughly and admirably done by the Liaison Committee under the chairmanship—sorry, chairship—of the noble Lord, Lord McFall.
Investigatory committees are a great glory of this House. In modern life—with all the fake news, phoney commentators and lack of respect for truth—to get a group of people generally of high intelligence and great experience, sit them down for a few months and let them listen to all the greatest experts throughout the land, and to do this without any shade of partisanship and invariably come up with an agreed report, makes such committees a pearl without price. However, that makes it the more important that these reports are effective and have an impact. I therefore want to focus today on what happens after the publication of reports to ensure that.
I have had a systematic look at one committee’s work on this. When I was sitting on the Economic Affairs Committee from 2010 to 2014, I did this and wrote an article about it for the Journal of Legislative Studies. There was a pretty mixed picture on effectiveness: the committee was extremely influential in getting the monopoly of the big four accountants looked at and dealt with, in a way which I do not believe would have happened without that report. Other reports—I think of the one on fracking—put forward an absolutely unassailable position on the desirability of controlled fracking, which has of course been completely ignored by the ideologues who are opposed to any such thing. Other reports were pretty much completely useless, but I will not name them here.
There are various reasons for what works and does not in a report. A good choice of subject is absolutely essential—the committee looking at accountancy was an example of that—as are getting good press during the work of the committee, having good communications and all those things. However, the follow-up is flawed and I am not the only one to think so. It is too internally focused and not all that systematic.
First, when I say “internally focused”, I cannot bear without pain to recall the number of hours I have spent while people have talked about when a Select Committee report would be debated, whether it would be in the Moses Room or on the Floor, and at what time of day. These debates do not, on the whole, do much for the Select Committee reports. They generally consist of members of the committee saying how well the chairman did, how well they personally performed and how good the result was. That really contributes nothing to propagating its importance. I have never seen a line in any newspaper—or even a blog—about those debates. It is like the impact of the cushion on a charging tank. You have to get into the game much more than that.
Secondly, there really is no systematic way of propagating reports. I did a number of government reports before I came into this House. One of the rules is that you need to put in as much work after reporting as you did beforehand. I hate to bring this up, but I always do: I signed a minority report on the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of the Elderly. I am not delighted by this, but the majority report got no attention because no attention was given to getting it any publicity. We had poor communications and nobody went around trying to advocate its results. It sank without a trace. That is true of some of our reports.
Various things need to be done. When following up in the press, we send out the report—of course we do—and, if we are lucky, it gets reported. I would do this: when a subject comes up in the news in the normal way and a reasonably up-to-date House of Lords committee report on it exists, that should be sent out again to journalists writing on the new subject. For instance, HS2 is a very popular subject: send out the report when news on it comes out. Many of our reports would bear that. Every time that there is a fracking demonstration, we could send out the report on fracking by the Economic Affairs Committee. It is a fact that the modern press and media are interested only in the subject of the day, so you have to bring your report to bear on the subject of the day.
This should also be a lobbying operation. We should not just wait quietly for Ministers to come up with their response: the chair should see the Minister, talk to the civil servants and put the case. I did this with the opinion polling report that I had the great honour to chair. It is not just Ministers who need to be lobbied. In the case of the report on opinion polling, most of the recommendations were not for government; they were for the British Polling Council, the body concerned with the polling industry. I have been in close touch with Sir John Curtice, president of the BPC, about how it is getting on; we have a useful dialogue. There has to be communication, and not just about the modern stuff. Committees should consider offering to speak to thinktanks or academic institutions about their reports. Of course, there is all the online stuff as well. The impact of this work needs to be monitored all the time, so you can say at the end of the day not only that this was a great report but that it had the following impact. It is important to the status of this House that that should be so.
As regards follow-up, one thing strikes me most. There are some very good recommendations in this report—further hearings, for example—and a very good paragraph summarising what witnesses thought of follow-up; I think it is paragraph 11 of the summary. But the main thing that struck me when I stopped being chair of a Select Committee is that all your support goes, not because people are not willing to support you but because it is not their job. The committee ceases to exist, so there are no clerks to support you and press and communications tend to go off the boil. You just do not have the basic support, logistic and otherwise, that you would need to do the kind of jobs that I have referred to. It seems a terrible waste to put a huge amount of resource into getting a top-class report and then very little into making it stick. I hope the Liaison Committee might look at that further. Indeed, if the chairman is the one mostly propagating the report, they will need some help with briefing, such as on what the press is saying about the report in general, enabling him or her to reply effectively to any criticisms.
The potential of, and the need for, our reports to do good has never been greater. We live in a world of fake news: a swamp of ill-informed opinion where facts are manipulated and analysis distorted by crude partisanship, of which the last few weeks have, I fear, given us only too many examples. These reports are beacons of open analysis, clear guidance and reasoned conclusions, which set an example. But it is not enough to be right: we also have a duty to put forward the arguments which make us right. The veneer of truth and reason in our polity has worn frighteningly thin. Our reports are one way in which we can contribute to burnishing that veneer and so to a better balance in the conduct of our nation’s affairs.
My Lords, enjoying as I do the privilege of being a member of the Liaison Committee, I would like to say how encouraging it has been to me—and I am sure to other members who may be listening—to hear not only that the report so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, has been welcomed but that welcoming speeches have been accompanied by positive and creative contributions to the ongoing debate.
This is very much a work in progress; there is never an endgame when it comes to reports of this kind. I so agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who stressed the importance of Select Committees. I believe they are one of the best features of this House. They are very special in respect of knowledge, dedication, the commitment of noble Lords, the quality of the evidence taken and the conclusions reached in a wholly bipartisan way. This is unrivalled elsewhere within the Palace of Westminster and yet, to too great an extent these committees are often unrecognised.
It was a privilege to serve on the Liaison Committee. When I was appointed to it, I was told that it did not meet very often, but that it did important things. I found that it meets very often indeed; I hope the “important” definition can still be applied. Again, I echo the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in saying that it has been a privilege to serve under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith. All chairmen work hard, harder than the rest of the committee. In this case, the efforts of the noble Lord were immense. He carried out huge numbers of interviews with colleagues and outside bodies. The report could not have reached the stage that it eventually did without his participation. Just as the last such report was called the Jellicoe report, I hope that this one will be named the McFall report. I hope it will help to make the good even better, and better known.
The change of committees to a thematic nature—evolutionary and tentative but aiming for better flexibility and transparency—is at the core of the report. That gradualist approach, based on extensive consultation, is surely right. It provides a base for incremental development. The procedures, duties and powers of any part of our Parliament are developed and honed over decades, even centuries. It would be the height of folly for ill-considered change from any quarter in our Parliament to be enforced without extensive reflection and prior consultation. Happily, I believe this report avoids that folly entirely.
The thematic change is not just one of name; it broadens the choice of subject for committees. It avoids the chance of duplicating the work of the Commons, which is essentially departmental. It encourages the potential for complementarity between the two Houses. Alongside it, the arrangements proposed for sub-committees should be considered where, by contrast, shorter, more specific or topical subjects can be addressed, possibly as an adjunct to the subject of the main committee work—or something quite different. They could identify gaps in committees or do follow-up reports on what the main committee is doing. I expect most committees would like to have a sub-committee, perhaps full-time. While I can see advantages there, cost considerations have to be taken into account, not to mention manpower issues. Many noble Lords are already heavily committed to other committee duties.
Also, a permanent sub-committee could undermine the main committee or duplicate its work. It could lose the flexibility and greater spontaneity that are also worthy objectives of the new proposals. The new public services thematic committee that the report proposes would almost certainly want a sub-committee. One understands the force of the argument it might make, because of the breadth of subject matter that it would have to embrace, as it would include education, health and so on. Even there, a permanent sub-committee would not be a good idea.
An area the report touches on, which has long concerned me, is the variable and often unsatisfactory nature of government handling of and responding to committee reports, and the delay in a response appearing. On this, at any rate, I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack. Devolution is an area in which no substantive proposals are made, but the need for better interaction and co-operation is important, perhaps never more so than now. Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, which I chaired at the time, sought to achieve this closer relationship some time ago. We published one report on devolution and another on intergovernmental relations. At a time when relations were strained—and they have not got much better since—the Government took around a year to respond to one of the reports, and two years to the other. Sadly, the responses were, in general, bland and complacent, and little change is evident.
I experienced another example of the Government’s attitude to Select Committee reporting when listening to a debate on the fine report from the Economic Affairs Committee, chaired so effectively by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. The subject was making tax digital for VAT and the issue of loan charges, and the date was 29 April. In his opening speech—col. 786 in Hansard—my noble friend had to report that he had asked for a Treasury Minister, the Financial Secretary, to attend and give evidence on an issue that was sensitive and political rather than technical, but had received two declinatures. Two further declinatures on other matters followed. That is not a satisfactory approach to a Select Committee’s serious work.
However, on this occasion there was a happier ending because in winding up the debate—col. 914—my noble friend was able to thank my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, who was not a Treasury Minister but was standing in to deal with that particular debate, for the sympathetic and serious reply he had given, including an undertaking to take matters further with the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers. In due course, relations have improved dramatically with the Treasury, and I understand that the present Financial Secretary works closely with the committee and is responsive to its requests. We need very much more of that kind of response across government to the range of high-quality reports that so many of our committees produce.
As the noble Lord, Lord McFall, said, our report before the House today recognises the present weaknesses of the House’s communication efforts, as others have touched on. It makes a number of suggestions for improvements, and I very much hope that these will be followed up. A lack of resources is a factor. If committees could secure the assistance of a press officer, for example, not just at publication time but throughout the inquiry in question, I believe that the understanding and response from the media and the outside world would be very much better. I mention in passing the Artificial Intelligence Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which produced a report that had a dramatic impact on public understanding of Parliament’s approach to artificial intelligence. It was a fine example of what can be done, particularly with the use of technology—another theme that we touch on in the report and which I hope will feature extensively in further future developments.
There are a host of other suggestions, and in the time available one cannot talk about all of them. The important thing is that the report is extensive and comprehensive and is full of practical and forward-looking proposals. I hope it will form a template for the future growth of the Select Committee reports of this House and wider recognition of their value to the whole nation.
My Lords, I am speaking in the gap not by choice. I understand that there has been a procedural change. Whereas previously these debates were not listed, on this occasion they are. That is why I did not apply to speak in the debate. So I will keep my remarks very short.
Paragraph 65 of the report says:
“We recommend that, in future, the member of the House who has proposed a shortlisted special inquiry topic be invited to appear before the Liaison Committee to present their case in person”.
I suggest that it be “a Member of the House who has proposed”. Very often those who propose are in fact supported by others, among whom there may be late signatories, and they may well include people who would be more qualified to make a statement to the Liaison Committee. I hope the Senior Deputy Speaker will consider that.
Secondly, I support the recommendation in paragraph 116:
“We recommend that the Procedure Committee consider the order of speakers in debates on committee reports, in particular, consideration of whether the relevant Minister should speak at the beginning of a committee report debate”.
That is an extremely important recommendation that I understand would have to be considered by the Procedure Committee. It would give Members the opportunity to challenge the Government’s response to the position taken by members of the committee. That is a vital recommendation.
Thirdly, paragraph 156 says:
“We welcome the suggestion from House of Commons colleagues that the two Liaison Committees should meet together from time to time, and hope that this can be piloted on an informal basis in the next Parliamentary session”.
This would be to avoid any crossover in inquiries. In the case of the inquiry in which I am involved, on electoral registration, work has been done in the Commons in this area, and the House might well have taken a different decision in recommending that inquiry if it had known of the work being done in the Commons on that matter.
Finally, I will raise an issue that I have raised on previous occasions in the Chamber. I object very strongly to Whips being on the Liaison Committee. Whips work the committee. That happened over an application that I made on a national identity card inquiry, and I understand that it has happened on other inquiries. The Liaison Committee should comprise only people who are on the Back Benches of this House. That is the case in the Commons, I understand, when it considers these matters, and it should equally apply in the Lords. I appeal to the House to change this system. Take the Whips off the Liaison Committee and let the ordinary Members of the House of Lords decide what inquiries are to take place.
My Lords, I, too, regret speaking in the gap. I feel that this is one of the most important reports that we have had in front of us for a long time, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, very much.
This goes to the very kernel of what the House of Lords is about. If you want to keep a state secret, give a speech in the House of Lords. It is a massive issue for us. When I chaired the Science and Technology Select Committee more than 20 years ago, we had an inquiry into cannabis. As with the antibiotic resistance report, it is only now, 20 years later, that we start to see its value, because the follow-up has been so poor. I remember very clearly that when we came to present our cannabis report, our clerk, Mr Andrew Makower, came in and said, “My Lords, we are going to have a press conference tomorrow morning. It would be good if as many of your Lordships as possible might come. If you do, being that this is cannabis, your Lordships might want to think of your answer to one particular question”. There was a long silence in the room and the Nobel prize-winner for chemistry leant across to me and said, “Robert, what’s cannabis like? I’ve never had it”. The fact that it was the one report that had some kind of press coverage is really not good enough for this House.
I regret to say that it is no good just having websites. We have to have professionally made websites. The quality of IT support is still lacking in this place. It is not entirely the fault of the people here, because of the nature of this Chamber, but we need to think very clearly about public engagement. It is quite correctly mentioned very strongly in this report.
Sadly, there is very little mention of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology—POST—the Joint Committee which goes between the Commons and me. One thing that I must say to your Lordships, which people may not know, is that the Lords Members of the POST board are assiduous attenders. Sometimes the MPs have other things to do, but the expertise that provides totally independent, absolutely carefully judged comment, is simply part of our public engagement. Those reports go out to the scientific community. We would like more help for them to go out on a wider basis, but, of course, the finances are very short. I certainly hope that we will consider that POST is doing a very important job.
I will not take up four minutes, but I want to mention the rotation rule, which has been mentioned by so many people. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, makes an important point. I remember, some time ago when we were discussing the constitution, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said that when we were sitting on the committee, he could not tell which party people were from. When I chaired the committee 20 years ago, not only did I not know which party they were from—it was completely irrelevant for science and technology—I did not even know whether they were hereditary or life Peers, because the people on the committee were there because of the expertise they could provide.
One of the problems with the rotation rule and the question about being fair to all Members who want to be on committees is that there is a real issue here. The Science and Technology Committee, for example, is constantly starved of scientists. That is something that we need to think about carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has already addressed the length of the rotation rule. However, we need to think very carefully about how people are chosen. While I have no comment on or criticism of the current committee, we need to make sure that when we appoint these committees, we make certain we get the best expertise for the particular committee concerned and people are not appointed just because they have been a good Member on the Back Benches.
My Lords, I thank every Member for the generous welcome the report has had. Rather than refer to individual Members, I will sum up the themes very briefly. We are dealing with an entirely new global environment and the committee was very aware of that throughout. The pace of societal and technological change is enormous and we have to position ourselves for that.
Embedded in the report is the concept of constant change, so there will be no need for further reviews. We can adapt to changing circumstances as we go along. We need a more comprehensive thematic structure, but we received 56 submissions for individual committees, so how do we deal with that? The opportunity that a thematic structure offers is that it can adapt. The chairs’ forum was mentioned. That is an extremely important initiative, which will bring committee chairs together. They will work together and listen to the House and to Members. For example, it might consider what this House should be looking at on climate change at this time. I think issues such as that should be on the agenda of the chairs’ forum and I look forward to working with Members on it.
Communications is a huge issue for the committee and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his work on the working party, along with the noble Lords, Lord Gilbert and Lord Sharkey. We accepted those recommendations and are going even further outwith the committee in terms of communications, so that work has been taken forward.
Noble Lords should keep in mind that we were working within a static financial envelope. I point out that we are a poor neighbour when compared with the House of Commons. If I remember correctly, our budget for committee staff is about £4 million, but in the House of Commons it is £16 million. I think we do very well with the work we are doing. Your Lordships can take it from me that the issue of resources is one that we shall be looking at in the future.
The issue of staff has been mentioned. That was hugely important. I pay tribute to Philippa Tudor and her colleagues, who have taken us through these 18 months. It was a call beyond normal duty, but they responded hugely on that. When we are taking issues forward, we have to keep the staff in mind.
House of Lords and House of Commons engagement is very important. I invited Frank Field, and Sarah Wollaston, the chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, to give evidence. In the report, we recommend that the Liaison Committees of the Commons and the Lords meet together a couple of times a year, say. We have scrutiny of Parliament, but we do not have House of Lords or House of Commons scrutiny on their own. That is the aim on that issue.
We have a surfeit of experience, skills and professionalism here. There is an absolute need to reach out. In giving evidence, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—Professor Hennessy—said that we should have a national conversation with people, given the experience and skills that are here. I believe that.
The commandments, if you like, of this report are very clear. It outlines the key purposes and principles. The key purposes of this report are scrutiny of government, influencing policy, informing debate in the House and beyond, engaging the public in our work, and the detailed investigation for which we are renowned. The key principles are cross-cutting committees, comprehensive flexibility, so that we have the freedom to innovate, being open and outward-looking, and having effective committees—in other words, value for money. Every committee inquiry notionally costs £225,000, so we need to ensure we get value for money. That aspect is really important.
To echo the noble Lord, Lord Winston, this is the kernel of what the House of Lords is about. Yes, this is the first step on the journey, but our aim is to enhance the role of the House in society, and I look forward to working with committees and Members as we take this forward.
Services, Procedure and Selection Committees
My Lords, given that one of these Motions relates to the new Convenor of the Cross Benches, I wanted to say a few words about the outgoing Convenor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
All noble Lords will know that the noble and learned Lord had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer, playing an instrumental role in the transfer of judicial authority from this House to the newly created Supreme Court. Over his four years as Convenor, the whole House has benefited from the measured and constructive way in which he has stood up for the interests of the Cross Benches and approached the work we have done together, not least via the work of our domestic committees. He has been a committed and constructive part of the usual channels, and I thank him sincerely for that. I know that these thanks are echoed by my noble friend the Chief Whip and his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
Noble Lords may not be aware that the noble and learned Lord is a keen diarist, and I am sure we will all look forward to the volume on his years as Convenor. I particularly thank him for his involvement in the cross-House, cross-party working group which helped develop the new independent complaints and grievance scheme. His counsel and advice were certainly invaluable to us all.
On behalf of the whole House, I would like to wish the noble and learned Lord well and hope that he will be able to spend more time enjoying his hobby of bird-watching, without having to be in the range of a computer or hunting for what I understand is an elusive phone signal in the local Tesco in Craighead.
Finally, I look forward to working with his successor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I am sure we will have an equally constructive and positive relationship.
My Lords, I concur with the comments of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has been Convenor since 2015 and he has served this House, as well as his group, with distinction during that time. These have been interesting and at times very demanding times for your Lordships’ House.
In so many debates, the noble and learned Lord’s forensic and very wise legal mind has been of enormous benefit in improving legislation. I hope he will enjoy, and we will welcome, further such contributions, just from a different seat in your Lordships’ House. His gentle manner has sometimes hidden his understated humour, often found in the most unlikely of debates. If noble Lords missed it, I urge them to read his contribution to the debate on the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill. I will not repeat his words, as I could never do justice to his story, but it will bring on quite a chuckle.
The Convenor speaks for an independent-minded group of disparate, different and at times contradictory views—of course, that is not something that the noble Baroness and I would at all recognise. I am intrigued, although others may be fearful, that the noble and learned Lord lists in his hobbies that he is writing Lord Hope’s Diaries. The last month alone could create a whole volume and I just ask that he be gentle with us. He took over as Convenor at the same time as I became leader of my group. I have greatly appreciated our conversations, his integrity and his sound advice.
I give a warm welcome to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. He also combines that sharp, forensic legal brain with a warm wit, and we look forward to working with him.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Newby, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is in Australia. In his absence, I am delighted to associate my party with the tributes paid to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
As the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the noble and learned Lord has provided distinguished service to the work of your Lordships’ House. He brought his independent judgment to the meetings of the usual channels. His contributions, and those of his colleagues on the Cross Benches, have continued to enhance the reputation of your Lordships’ House, for which we thank him. It is difficult to believe that he was often self-conscious and had a fear of public speaking. Despite this, he went on to accomplish major achievements in the legal and political sphere. As his title indicates, he is a real source of hope.
The noble and learned Lord and I have common threads running in our hobbies. He loves walking in the Scottish countryside and is an avid bird-watcher, and so am I. I invite him to join me and other twitchers in my village and join me on the South Downs Way, which is probably the finest ramble in Sussex.
I also welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to his new role. I have known him since my involvement in the committee of the Judicial Studies Board. He follows, like his predecessors, with a distinguished career in this appointment and we wish him well.
My Lords, may I say something which is not about me? Apart from the things that noble Lords have said about me—and thank you all for being so kind—I agree with everything that has been said about my noble and learned friend Lord Hope. The custom is, certainly in my experience, that where you agree with everything that has been said, you say so and sit down. I am not going to. I will hold you up a little longer, because I enthusiastically support what each of you has had to say in the very generous tributes to the Convenor who—it is lovely to see so many Cross-Benchers here—has led us. Sorry, I have made a mistake; Convenors do not lead. He has guided us—I am not sure my colleagues would even agree with that. At any rate, to be neutral, he has been there: he has been ever available, ever helpful and, a lovely characteristic, self-effacing as Convenor of the Cross Benches. He is having a few days away. If he had been here today, he would have been profoundly embarrassed at what you have all had to say about him, so it is wonderful that he is not here. But he will be here next week and thereafter, and I for one will be rushing away from the very important corridor which you all inhabit, and I do now, to find him in his room to seek his advice and guidance in order that I can do a better job as the Convenor.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the tributes to the outgoing Convenor. I would like to add my personal thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, with whom I have worked very closely since I have taken up this job. I hugely welcome the profound, ready and wise advice he has given to me—all pro bono—and which I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will continue in the same fashion.
Deputy Chairmen of Committees
House of Lords Commission, Services, Liaison, Procedure and Selection Committees
Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry Committee
Science and Technology Committee
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
Offender Management and Treatment
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, one has only to read recent reports from the quality assurers of the management and treatment of offenders in prison and the community—the chief inspectors of prisons and probation—to realise that all is not well with how they are currently being conducted. Quite apart from the number of prisons that are in special measures, the appalling reoffending rate, the wilful cuts to staff numbers, estimated to amount to 80,000 years of operational experience, the amount of violence against staff, the prevalence of drugs, the amount of self-harm and suicide, the number of prisoners with untreated mental health problems, and the number who spend all day locked up in their cell because there is no purposeful activity to occupy them should all sound alarm bells to any Government who take seriously their responsibilities for protecting the public.
As far as the management and treatment of offenders in the community are concerned, those involved in sentencing have lost confidence in how community sentences, the only alternative to custody, are being delivered. What is extremely concerning is that this situation has got worse, rather than better, over recent years.
Any regret that I may have had about tabling this Motion was eliminated by the Prime Minister’s announcement last month that he proposed to invest £2.5 billion to provide another 10,000 prison places. The dictionary definition of a strategy is the projection and direction of a campaign. The task of the prison and probation services, to protect the public by their management of offenders, is akin to any other campaign in that it needs a strategy. The absence of any to which the Prime Minister’s investment can be related reminded me of the berating I once received from a senior Home Office official, who said, “I wish you would stop talking about strategy. We don’t need a strategy; all we need is strategic direction”. When I asked her what she meant, she replied, “Top down, of course”.
In the 24 years I have been involved with the criminal justice system, there have been 11 Secretaries of State and 13 Ministers responsible for prisons and probation. All have given top-down direction not related to any strategy, with 278 policy undertakings on prisons alone since 2016. 1 suspect that Jack Straw would claim that his introduction of the National Offender Management Service—and Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling would claim that their rehabilitation revolutions—had strategic intent. But the fact that they have all been discontinued shows how fragile they were as meaningful, long-term strategies. Without an overall strategy that has been costed so that Ministers can know the size and implications of any shortfall, it is impossible to give policy direction to operational staff.
The only time in recent years when there has been an attempt at a strategy, certainly as far as prisons are concerned, was when the then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, now the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, published a White Paper on prisons, Custody, Care and Justice, in September 1991. This set out 12 ways ahead for the Prison Service, none of which has been implemented. White Papers used to be carefully researched statements of government policy. In this case the Home Office was able to draw on the masterly report of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf on the causes of the worst riots in prison history, which had taken place the year before.
Comparing its content with the only other White Paper on prisons, the rushed Prison Safety and Reform, published in November 2016, which contained intent but no direction, is to compare chalk with cheese. As I have called on every Secretary of State in my time to study and update what was laid down, perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the Baker “ways ahead”. These were: to improve necessary security measures; to improve co-operation with other services and institutions by working closely with the probation service and by membership of a national forum and area committees; to increase delegation of responsibility and accountability to all levels, with clear leadership and a published annual statement of objectives; and to improve the quality of jobs for staff; to recognise the status and particular requirements of unconvicted prisoners; to provide active and relevant programmes for all prisoners; to provide a code of standards for conditions and activities in prisons, which would be used to set improvement targets in annual contracts made between prison governors and their area managers; to improve relationships with prisoners, including a statement of facilities for each prisoner— sentence plans, consultations, reasons for decisions—and access to an independent appeal body for grievances and disciplinary decisions; to provide access to sanitation at all times for all prisoners; to end overcrowding; and to divide the larger wings of prisons into smaller, more manageable units, wherever possible; and, finally, to develop community prisons, which would involve the gradual realignment of the prison estate into geographically coherent groups, serving most prisoners within that area.
Since Kenneth Baker’s day, other than NOMS and the rehabilitation revolutions, there has been no attempt at an overall strategy. The main point at issue has been whether the emphasis should be on punishment, as populists advocate, or rehabilitation, as public protectors advocate. In wishing that this issue could be resolved once and for all, I also wish that the management and treatment of offenders were removed from party politics, along with the temptation for anyone to be seen as tougher than another. Lawbreakers will have to be dealt with whichever party is in power, and it is the responsibility of all Governments to ensure that that any resulting sentences, in prison or the community, are properly resourced.
I have often thought that the aim that Tony Blair gave the criminal justice system when he became Prime Minister in 1997—to protect the public by preventing crime—should have been, “To protect the public by preventing re-crime or reoffending”. In line with the then ethos of the Probation Service, “Advise, Assist, Befriend”, and the Prison Service’s statement of purpose:
“It is our duty to keep securely all those committed by the courts, to treat them with humanity, and help them to live useful and law-abiding lives in prison and on release”,
this could be turned into a joint and positive aim for both services: “It is our duty to help all those committed by the courts to live useful and law-abiding lives, with the qualifications that they must be treated with humanity and not allowed to escape from prison or breach the terms of their supervision order in the community”.
There are three logical steps to achieving that, in both prisons and probation. First, a detailed assessment must be made of why a person has not been living a useful and law-abiding life thus far, including education and work skills, healthcare needs, criminological behaviour, and risk to staff, other offenders and the general public. By axing the prisons part of the Prisons and Courts Bill, which had started its legislative progress through the other place before the last election, Theresa May removed a priceless opportunity to have certain assessments made statutory. Viable sentence plans for every individual can be made only following full assessments.
The second step is the implementation of sentence plans, prioritised according to the severity of the symptom and the length of sentence. The third, as far as prisoners are concerned, is their transition into the community, and, as far as those on community sentences are concerned, ensuring that they know where they can come back to for any advice or help. That could form the basis of a strategy.
Whenever an issue of public policy required thorough examination and the Government were not committed to a definite policy, the task used to be entrusted to an invited group of persons from outside the relevant departments, such as a royal commission. The last Royal Commission on Criminal Justice reported in July 1993, since when all structural examinations have been conducted in-house, with all the known imperfections of that process. Frankly, with such a long record of failure, and because existing practices need to be questioned, I do not think that Ministry of Justice officials are the right people to carry out this task. There cannot be a single aspect of imprisonment or probation that has not been the subject of a report by a quality assurer or other expert, whose thousands of recommendations have been studiously ignored by the Ministry of Justice. I hope that an outside inquiry would examine these, and take an objective view of two managerial changes that I have long advocated.
The first is the establishment of a ministerially chaired executive committee responsible for the overall management and treatment of offenders, in prisons and the community, whose four executive members would be the directors-general of the prison and probation services, and the chairmen of the Youth Justice Board and a women’s justice board that I would form. Secondly, every business, hospital or school should have named people responsible and accountable for particular activities. Ever since suspending my inspection of Holloway and finding that there was no director of women’s prisons, I have agitated for directors to be appointed for every type of prison and some types of prisoner, responsible for ensuring consistency, turning good practice somewhere into common practice everywhere and telling governors what to do, leaving how they do it up to them. Lack of direction is the principal cause of the performance of individual prisons yo-yoing so much over the years. Ministers would find life much easier if they could send for the person responsible and accountable and ask them why a certain thing was or was not happening.
Turning to the community, before he resigned as Justice Secretary, David Gauke took steps to undo a disastrous introduction of Chris Grayling’s by reuniting the probation service, one part of which had been privatised. In forcing through his Transforming Rehabilitation programme, Grayling wilfully ignored official advice that there was a more than 80% risk that affordability objectives could not be demonstrated or met and that an unacceptable drop in operational performance would lead to delivery failures. The Justice and Public Accounts Committees in the other place have both published devastatingly critical reports on transforming rehabilitation, as have the National Audit Office and the former Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, who climaxed her criticism with a far-sighted final report in which she pointed out in great detail what needed reform and how to do it.
Although it can be given the same aim as prisons, probation needs a separate, carefully considered management structure, incorporating much more localism. Above all, because each part of the country is so different, commissioning of probation services must be localised. Of course probation must work closely with prisons because of its role in the release and rehabilitation of prisoners, but, because the majority of the offenders it is responsible for supervising have been given community sentences, it must work much more closely with courts, the police and local authorities. Having been so severely damaged, probation needs tender, loving and all-party care if it is to be made fit to play its vital role in the protection of the public.
I conclude by asking the Minister to recommend to the Secretary of State for Justice that an outside inquiry, akin to a royal commission, should be appointed as quickly as possible to recommend whether punishment or rehabilitation, which he told his party conference were not opposites, should be the basis of a binding strategy for the reform of the management and treatment of offenders in prison and the community. I beg to move.
Let me be the first most warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate and once again drawing attention to the need for enlightened and critical reforms across our criminal justice system. His tenacity in bringing these matters back over and again as a former Chief Inspector of Prisons and his extensive writing and speaking have made an enormous impact. Perhaps he will be a modern-day Elizabeth Fry or John Howard.
Personally, I agree with many of the noble Lord’s comments. My own credentials go back only 44 years, to when I became a juvenile magistrate in Brixton. I then became chairman of the court aged 32, at the time of the Brixton riots. That was a torrid, difficult and emotional time. What I felt time and again was that the young people in court were the people who had no stakeholders. They had no serious probation or supervision programme. They ended up in court because there was nowhere else for them to go.
I very much echo the noble Lord’s words about the lack of corporate memory in Whitehall. Every Minister has a new idea. Civil servants keep changing. Having a better corporate memory—I am allocating the noble Lord the role of being the corporate memory after his recital of all my noble friend Lord Baker’s policies—would be an excellent thing. We need a strategy, but above all we need an implementation plan that we hold to. I warmly endorse the noble Lord’s suggestion that responsibilities need to have named people who hold the policy dear.
There were enormous problems with transforming rehabilitation. The noble Lord has outlined how the effectively disastrous consequences of that policy came to light, with the part-privatisation of probation and 21 CRCs working alongside the probation service. Let us be clear: the probation service at that time needed reform and a complete shake-up. It had lost its way. It was old-style, bureaucratic and tired and had lost energy and ambition.
I applaud my right honourable friend in the other place, David Gauke, for having the courage to reverse the policy. It is very easy in government to feel you have to build on your predecessor’s policies and that otherwise you are being disloyal. He was considered and brave and took the view that the evidence was that the policy simply was not working. The noble Lord referred to the National Audit Office. Sir Amyas Morse—a public servant in whose debt we should all be because of his effect on the reform of many public services—said in his report that:
“The Ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll-out created significant risks that it was unable to manage. These have had far reaching consequences. Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison skyrocket. It is welcome that the Ministry’s proposals address some of the issues that have caused problems, but risks remain. It needs to pause and think carefully about its next steps so that it can get things right this time and improve the quality of probation services”.
I salute that view and believe that our debate is part of that review of what has gone wrong in the past and how we can dedicate ourselves to improving services for the future.
I am delighted that the Government and Prime Minister were able to invest so generously in our criminal justice system with 20,000 police officers and additional resources for the Prison Service. But we are never going to have an effective probation service without the proper resources and respect. The parallel I would draw is the lessons from children’s services and mental health services. Enoch Powell derided the great institutions and asylums. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind—institutionalisation meant that psychiatric patients were in fact damaged by that process. We are familiar with that in the prison world, in spite of all the reforms and efforts that have been made.
You could never have effective care in the community until you had what was called “assertive outreach”. The difference between being in the community and being in an institution, with one telephone call every two weeks, is too great. Community programmes mean effective, tenacious and assertive programmes; that is the lesson we have learnt from psychiatric patients and from children in children’s homes. The alternative to being in a children’s home—as dangerous as that often was, as we now well know—was not just to have a social worker popping in once a month but to have a programme that involved health visitors, nursery schools, neighbours and so on. Our priority and our message must be to take this opportunity and to take all we have learnt and the comments of enough wise people—we do not need any more—and say that we need to make probation work.
We also need more community champions. I want to praise the police and crime commissioners, mayors and high sheriffs, who have become advocates in communities up and down the country for enlightened prison reform and responsible community services and, above all, drawing in the voluntary sector. All of us have referred on previous occasions to magnificent initiatives making a real impact. In my own former area, the Watts Gallery—founded by GF Watts, a prison reformer—now provides work in HMP Bronzefield, HMP Send and Feltham youth institution. Pimlico Opera, established by Wasfi Kani, has done similar for many years. The other day, the wonderful High Sheriff of Oxfordshire was talking about Fine Cell Work, of which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a patron, and the wonderful charity Aspire—I will say no more about that, because I hope my noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, will comment on this vital area in great detail.
We know what we need to do, and we now have the energy, resources and determination successfully to deliver effective probation in the community.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in congratulating the noble Lord on securing this timely debate. We have one of the highest rates of incarceration of any western European country, with offenders housed in overcrowded and understaffed prisons. There were more than 300 deaths in prisons in England and Wales between June 2018 and June 2019, with an increase of 20% in the 10 most troubled prisons.
Assaults against staff rose from 2,848 in 2010 to 10,213 in 2018—an average of 28 a day—with the number of serious assaults rising from 302 to 995 in the same period. Two-thirds of prison staff reported feeling unsafe last year and only 10% thought that the situation would improve this year. The number of prison staff members in public sector prisons resigning has grown from 1,415 in 2017 to 2,358 in the year to March 2019. A similar pattern is found in the National Probation Service, where resignations increased from 399 to 565. We have 2,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010 and 40% of those in post have less than three years’ experience—four times the percentage in 2010.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons affirms that:
“Violence leads to a restrictive regime and security measures which in turn frustrate those being held there”.
He avers that there are regimes where prisoners,
“are locked up for excessive amounts of time, where they do not get enough exercise, education or training, and where there do not appear to be any credible plans to break the cycle of violence”.
Will the Government therefore review the recruitment and retention problems in staffing by enhancing pay and reducing the retirement age in what is, after, all, a potentially stressful service?
There is a particular concern about women in the custodial system, the vast majority of whom are there for non-violent offences. The number of homeless women incarcerated has doubled in the last four years, while BAME women are overrepresented. Will the Government take steps, in conjunction with local authorities, to address the homelessness issue with which so many of these women have to contend? Will they support and work more closely with women’s centres, which have made a significant contribution to supporting vulnerable women and have the potential to make a substantial impact in supporting women offenders? Will they also address the issue of women being consigned to prisons far from their children? Above all, will they look again at the number of custodial sentences for women and seek to promote alternatives, bearing in mind the sad fact that 100 women prisoners have died in prison since 2007?
Since 2010, the Ministry of Justice has seen its budget cut by 40%. The Prime Minister appears to want to invest in the Prison Service. Unfortunately, it would appear that the investment will take the form of more prisons and 10,000 more prisoners, rather than more qualified staff.
Will the Government look again at the issue of mental health support in the light of the rise in the number of suicides and self-harms? The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody found that fewer than 1% of more than 75,000 community orders made last year included a mental health treatment requirement. Just as worryingly, male prisoners in the year to this June were 3.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, while self-harm incidents rose to a record high of 58,000—an increase of 24%—and anxiety and depression more than doubled from 23% to 49%. What steps are being taken to ensure that appropriate staffing and access to medical care are available to tackle these problems? Is it not time for a comprehensive review of the state of mental health across the Prison Service, led by medical professionals? In this context, it is worth noting that private prisons are up to 47% more violent than public prisons and more likely to be overcrowded. It is time to exclude profit-making organisations from managing—or, perhaps more accurately, mismanaging—this critical service for profit.
The second part of this debate deals with another deplorable legacy of the unlamented Chris Grayling’s tenure as Lord Chancellor, namely in the probation service. At long last the so-called transforming rehabilitation reforms are to be dispatched and the ridiculous division between private sector community rehabilitation companies and the National Probation Service will come to an end in 2021, after seven lean years for the taxpayer and, perhaps more importantly, those involved with the service. Some £280 million has been sent out to failing CRCs, in addition to the cost of the service, while the number of serious further offences has risen by 40% since 2014—more than half of that increase coming in the past two years.
It is not, however, a clean break: the Government are set on retaining an element of CRC involvement. Yet when the National Association of Probation Officers—the probation officers’ union—raised issues over Working Links, which had the contract for Wales and the south-west, the Government took no notice. Working Links is no longer working: it went into administration in February. In the meantime, there are 1,000 unfilled vacancies in the National Probation Service, so that staff have case loads twice as large as their capacity. NAPO has four major objectives which Ministers should accept, including that: all probation work should be restored to public control; all probation staff should be employed on NPS terms; and the 8,000 community rehabilitation company staff should transfer to the NPS. It also calls for a fully integrated and unified service delivered by a single organisation, while allowing for specialist third-sector provision in partnership arrangements. Significantly, it recognises the potential of partnership with local specialist providers at local level. What will the Government’s response be to its suggestions?
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on drawing attention to the issue of arrangements for the management and treatment of offenders. This issue has been dominated in recent years by the transforming rehabilitation changes, which were introduced in 2014 and 2015. The stated aims of transforming rehabilitation were in many ways admirable. They included making the best use of the statutory, voluntary and private sectors in the process of rehabilitating offenders. In practice, however, the results of the changes have in many respects been little short of a disaster. Let me explain why.
The arrangements for enabling the private and voluntary sectors to bid for work with offenders favoured large private sector companies that can take significant financial risks. The arrangements squeezed out most voluntary sector agencies, which had little realistic chance of bidding. There was a heavy emphasis on paying organisations according to the volume of work which they received and, because this volume was uncertain, organisations had to incur expenditure without knowing whether they would receive enough work to reimburse them properly. There was no way that most voluntary organisations could take the financial risk of becoming involved in these arrangements.
As a result, as the House of Commons Justice Committee concluded last year, there is now less voluntary sector involvement in the provision of probation services than before the transforming rehabilitation arrangements began. This is of particular concern because voluntary agencies have expertise in areas such as housing, employment, training, mentoring, addiction and mental health that are key to rehabilitating offenders and reducing reoffending. It has been particularly difficult for small, local voluntary agencies to become involved in providing services. I do not take the view that small, local organisations are necessarily better than large charities. Many of the larger organisations—such as Nacro, of which I am president—provide outstanding services and have strong local links and knowledge in the areas where they work throughout the country. There are also, however, many local voluntary agencies providing excellent rehabilitation services, and the new arrangements have effectively squeezed them out. We need to be making the best use of what both large and small organisations have to offer, and the transforming rehabilitation arrangements have failed to do that.
Even for private sector companies, the financial arrangements have proved daunting. Two of the companies that received contracts—Working Links and Interserve, which between them managed eight of the 21 CRC projects—have gone into administration. This is no way to manage a key public service. It cannot be acceptable that major service-providers that are supervising offenders in the community are liable to go under at any moment, leaving the Government to scramble around to find other organisations to take over their contracts.
The split between the National Probation Service, which manages high-risk offenders, and the community rehabilitation companies, which manage medium- and low-risk offenders, was never likely to work well. It was an artificial split because many offenders who start out as low-level petty offenders move on, over time, to become high-risk offenders. The National Probation Service has largely done a good job in managing high-risk offenders, including those released on parole, less than 1% of whom go on to commit further serious offences.
The same is not true of the community rehabilitation companies. Most inspections of CRCs by the probation inspectorate have found their performance inadequate. The overall picture is one of high probation case loads, staff shortages—11% nationally and around 20% in London—a high use of agency staff and frequent transfers of offenders from one officer to another in the course of their supervision. There has been a catastrophic fall in the number of offenders given community sentences; their number has more than halved in the past decade, even though community sentences have lower reconviction rates than prison sentences for similar offenders. There has been a sharp fall in the number of offenders taking part in accredited offending behaviour programmes, which have been shown to reduce reoffending—by 56% between 2009 and 2017.
If the new arrangements are to work well, they must also include a series of other changes to improve the prospects for offenders’ rehabilitation. Planning for prisoners’ resettlement needs to begin as soon as they are received into custody, and it should continue throughout their sentence. It should not be left—as it has been under transforming rehabilitation—until 12 weeks before release, when it is often too late to make realistic applications for suitable housing on release or for enrolment on training courses. Prisoners should be able to claim universal credit before they are released, so that they can start receiving benefits as soon as they step outside the prison gate.
I wanted to identify a number of other issues but, since my time is up, I shall follow up with written questions.
My Lords, I am very glad to take part in this debate, and it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
I should perhaps declare an interest: my wife has been a prison visitor and governor most of her life, and, as the High Sherriff of Oxfordshire this year, will have visited every prison in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. She also recently visited the NHS secure hospital at Broadmoor. I also thank my noble kinswoman Lady Bottomley for her remarks.
My own interest in this matter is less expert but no less concerned. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, for every 100,000 people in the population of England and Wales 148 were in prison, compared with 94 in Germany and 85 in France. I do not want to turn this into a Brexit debate, but I do not believe that the British are more criminally inclined than the French or Germans. The only justification, therefore, for such an imbalance in the figures would be that we believe that locking more people away and then releasing them back into the community is the best way of achieving the Government’s objectives of reducing offending rates and keeping costs down.
That, however, does not seem to be the case. Sir Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said recently:
“Very high proportions of people in prison are unwell, uneducated, undervalued and justifiably angry … Many more have severe and chronic mental ill-health, intensified by years of lack of diagnosis or adequate early treatment”.
Furthermore, the Prison Reform Trust has noted that violence has risen to record levels in England and Wales.
Of course, the public need to be protected from violent offenders and society expects violent offenders to be punished—but surely not violently. Surely, too, that does not mean that the conditions under which prisoners are held should so often be appalling.
I suppose that conditions inside prisons might be less reprehensible if prisoners were released into the community at the end of their sentence in a way which reduced their chances of reoffending, but that, alas, seems not to be the case either. Figures from 2017 indicate that roughly one-third of released prisoners commit crimes and go back to prison within a year, and about two-thirds of adults who have served less than 12 months in prison reoffend.
There are fortunately some extremely good and dedicated charities which help train prisoners in prison so that they have the skills to prosper outside, such as Fine Cell Work and The Clink, or which help prisoners when they are released, such as Aspire Oxford, but surely it would be infinitely better if fewer people were sent to prison, at least for lesser crimes, in the first place. Evidence published by the Ministry of Justice shows that community sentences are more effective than short prison sentences in helping people desist from crime.
However, the Government’s policy—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—seems to be to lock up more people for longer despite the woeful shortage in properly trained prison staff. Of course, I welcome the Government’s recognition of the need to spend more to make such a policy work, but it would surely make more sense to adopt a policy which reduced or abolished short sentences and invested more, working alongside charities and others, in community-based initiatives that reduce the rate of reoffending—all as part of a coherent strategy, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said so powerfully in introducing this debate.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rambsotham, for bring forward this debate and I am glad to be speaking in it.
I have a particular interest in women’s interaction with the justice system as the lead Bishop on women’s prisons, and I have been carefully following the progress of the female offender strategy. The strategy was published in June 2018, and it prioritised earlier intervention, community-based solutions, and effective, decent custody for women who have to be there. There has been widespread consensus in this House and beyond that community-based provision for most women offenders offers both cheaper and more effective rehabilitation than prison.
Last year, the Lord Speaker graciously allowed me to host an event here in the River Room. The most powerful speaker at that event was someone called Lisa, who shared her lived experience of addiction, domestic violence and custody. She said:
“I can guarantee that very few, if any, women and young people dream of growing up to be criminal addicted to drugs … I am one of the fortunate ones who found help to re-connect with my dreams ... I wonder how my life would have been different if I had received earlier intervention and been offered more effective community services”.
She went on to explain that, although she had been,
“locked in painful patterns of behaviour”,
she was fortunate to have found a women’s centre in Gloucester. She described Nelson Trust as having been the one and only service she experienced that offered proper trauma-informed community courses which enabled her to change and function well in society.
It has always been my position that for some women a prison sentence is appropriate. However, this is not true for the majority of women in custody. Family separation and a revolving door cannot solve painful, ingrained patterns of behaviour frequently stemming from abuse and family breakdown. As has already been pointed by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, twice as many women are in prison now as 20 years ago. Last year, almost 70% of women in prison were there for less than six months and 82% of those sentences were for non-violent offences.
Such short stays are counterproductive as well as expensive. Furthermore, the recent report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding children whose mothers are in prison gives a concerning account of the lack of support given to both children and mothers who are separated when the mother is taken into custody. Can the Minister say when the Government will respond to this report and particularly its concern that the lack of data on the number of children affected by maternal imprisonment represents,
“a very serious … deficit that must be urgently addressed”?
As has been mentioned, there is also the issue of housing. The Chief Inspector of Prisons’ report on HMP Eastwood Park in my own diocese revealed that, in the previous six months, 42% of women were released either into homelessness or into temporary or emergency accommodation. This is simply unacceptable. Separating women from families and community support and releasing them after a short time into homelessness does nothing to address the causes of offending. This has an impact on our whole community, as was recognised in the female offender strategy.
I want to express my dismay at the recent funding announcements relating to justice. When the female offender strategy was welcomed here in your Lordships’ House, concerns were expressed about the level of funding for it. Sadly, those concerns have been borne out. Only £5 million of funding for the strategy has been secured. Far more is required for its changes to be meaningfully implemented.
We know what works. What is missing is investment and impetus. The lack of action has real human consequences. To that end, I want to ask the Minister a number of questions. First, when will the Government publish the national concordat promised in the female offender strategy? It was due by the end of 2018 and is now almost a year behind schedule. Secondly, what funding will be provided for women’s centres and services under the new probation model? Finally, what are the Government doing urgently to improve housing support for women released from prison? I am grateful for your Lordships’ time today.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate on this issue. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate. His consistent and almost relentless attention to this area of policy and its implications is now legendary. I thank him for all that work.
Following up on what was said by the right reverend Prelate, I want to speak mainly about the treatment of women in our criminal justice system. I remind colleagues of my interests, particularly in respect of the commission on women who have experienced violence and abuse that I recently chaired, my membership of the trustee board of the Lloyds Bank Foundation and my involvement with Changing Lives, a charity based in the north-east.
I have spoken on several occasions in this House on the challenges faced by women who have experienced violence and abuse. As other noble Lords have said, women who have a history of being subjected to violence and abuse are far too often overrepresented in the criminal justice system. A significant number of women are arrested for non-violent offences. All our work and experience tell us that they would be much better served by other interventions. They should not be arrested.
In 2017, just over two-thirds of women sentenced to immediate custody were given sentences of less than six months and 246 women were sentenced to prison for less than two weeks. This suggests that there is a significant proportion of women who are arrested but who have not committed violent crimes and who would be much better served by other interventions.
The Government’s Female Offender Strategy, raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, recognises that arresting women should not always be the answer. It states:
“Coming into contact with the criminal justice system, and in particular custody, can undermine the ability of women to address the issues that have caused their offending. In particular, many have difficulty maintaining employment and accommodation whilst in the CJS”.
The Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales is funding the Howard League for Penal Reform to work with national policing bodies and individual police forces to stem the arrests of women. This is an important piece of work. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System is working on this issue too. I was at a recent meeting where it questioned the Howard League on what it wanted to do, and the APPG published its first report last month.
The commission that I chaired, whose report earlier this year was called Breaking Down the Barriers, was able to explore the impact of abuse on women. If any Member has not yet had a look at the debate in the Commons yesterday, they really should read it. It was a remarkable debate with some remarkable testimonies. Many women who have faced abuse go on to face challenges ranging from mental health issues to addiction, which often put them at risk of criminality. The importance of the consequences of trauma cannot be exaggerated. The commission talked of the importance of the services that encounter such women and the need to help workers to recognise trauma and its effect, and to know better how to deal with and respond to that.
We know that in this and other areas, small local charities are very important in supporting women in these circumstances. There are heartening examples of their effective work with people facing complex social issues. However, the Transforming Rehabilitation programme largely excluded them and, sadly, some have now closed. The MoJ has acknowledged that this was a bit of a problem and it recognised, in reforming its proposals, the importance of charities. It has publicly said that it wanted the new system to work better for them. However, the jury is still out on that and I simply say to the Minister: unless the charitable sector is involved and supported, including the small, local charities, the new system will simply not improve outcomes.
If we want to reduce reoffending, we need a new approach. We know that many people in our homeless services are there because they have been released from prison with £47, with no fixed abode and having to wait up to 11 weeks for universal credit. Women are being recalled into custody at an increasing rate because of the levels of homelessness. These are realities. The Government need to understand the realities and work on them.
My Lords, following the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, makes me feel very old because I was in the House of Commons with her father and in government with her father. I can say no better: he was a great educationalist and a great parliamentarian, and she is a chip off the old block.
For many years before this, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has been consistent in campaigning for fundamental reform of our criminal justice system and our treatment of offenders in particular. That consistency of approach is in sharp contrast to the inconsistency of government. Robert Buckland is now the seventh Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to occupy those offices of state in the last nine years. During that period, the budget of the Ministry of Justice has been cut by about 40%. Between 2010 and 2017, I spent seven years at the Ministry of Justice, first as Minister of State and then as chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. In a department that spends its budget on prisons, probation, courts, legal aid and youth justice, that reduction has meant that every aspect of our criminal justice system has had to absorb draconian cuts in its budget; much-needed investment in buildings and technology has been deferred and delayed. The tragedy is that even if the money becomes available to fund the necessary and long-overdue reforms to every part of our criminal justice system, any new money is likely to be siphoned off to satisfy the ideological bloodlust for a “bang ’em up and throw away the key” penal policy, which has failed time and again.
I am pleased that the future of the probation service is being examined. I was not an enthusiast for the 2015 reforms. There were genuine concerns about the supervision of serious criminals by the private sector, and the up-front financial commitments required to qualify to bid for contracts prevented many voluntary and charitable bodies that could have brought new ideas to the system from doing so by financial constraints. Given the difficulty of measuring success, it is probably true that rehabilitation of offenders does not lend itself to payment by results. I wish the new attempt at probation reform well, but I urge the following basics: retain the concept of through-the-gate preparation and delivery of probation; retain such services for those serving short sentences of six months or less, or better still, do away with short sentences, as David Gauke was proposing in his short spell in the job; and retain the service as a national service with its head of equal stature to the head of the prison service and with similar direct access to Ministers.
I welcome the proposal to reorganise the service on a regional basis, so it is able to adapt to local needs and ambitions. I also welcome building into this service scope in the budget to involve the skills and experience of the voluntary sector, but I note—and I hope the Minister notes—the warning given by several speakers about how to get the voluntary sector working effectively in this; otherwise, the work will still go to the big corporations.
The other area relating to the management of offenders concerns the management of young offenders. My years as chair of the Youth Justice Board were among the most rewarding of my life. I never visited a facility or a locality without being in awe of those who work with our young offenders. I am proud that on my watch, thanks to the groundwork of my predecessors, there were fewer than 1,000 under-18s in custody at any one time, with fewer than 30 of them girls. Those figures have remained the same under my successor Charlie Taylor. I commend Charlie Taylor for his determination to create and road-test in the youth justice system an education-led facility as a replacement for the child prisons we have today.
The other great asset of the YJB is the network of youth offending teams. The YOTs are cross-disciplinary teams embedded into local authorities and doing amazing work to ensure that young offenders do not become the serial offenders who graduate to lives of crime. If national and local expenditure is going to be increased, those who really want to cut crime off at its headstream should be prepared to invest in youth services and youth offending teams. Here, too, the charitable and voluntary sector has much to contribute in providing gateways to productive lives through sport, arts and the community. I commend my parliamentary colleague Phillip Lee for his initiatives to promote sport as an antidote to gang activity. I am pleased to see the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, in her place. She was a great supporter of mine when she was on the Youth Justice Board. I commend the work of Rosie Meek at Royal Holloway College and her research paper, A Sporting Chance, as the benchmark of such a programme, and the work of James Mapstone at the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, which is doing so much good work in promoting sport to make a difference in young people’s lives. Since the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, is here, I had better also mention StreetGames, of which she is a very strong supporter.
Unfortunately, our debate takes place against a background where the Prime Minister and Home Secretary seem determined to ratchet up arguments for more prisons and tougher prison sentences. This House has always been a source of calm and quiet counsel, and though we may be rowing against the stream in terms of sending a message to the Government, I think that that is what we should do today.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to whom this House and indeed this nation owes a great debt. I want to focus on one group of prisoners only: those serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public, IPPs, under a scheme introduced with effect from 2005 and abolished by LASPO seven years later, in 2012. That, of course, is now seven years ago, yet there remain detained 2,315 people—I am using three-month-old statistics—and there are another 1,114 recalled IPP prisoners. Let me share one or two shocking figures. All but 175 of all those have passed their tariff dates: they have served longer than their due punishment justified. Some 55% have served over six years beyond the tariff, 35% have served more than eight years beyond tariff, and 13%, more than 270 prisoners, have served more than 10 years beyond what was required as due punishment. Surely, I am not alone in finding those figures disheartening and, indeed, quite appalling.
Ken Clarke described the plight of these post-LASPO IPPs as,
“a stain on the justice system”.
Michael Gove, in his 2016 Longford lecture, said:
“In terms of pure justice and fairness”,
we should be releasing IPPs,
“who have served far longer than the gravity of the offence requires”.
He pointed out that many have served beyond the maximum terms stipulated for the offence, except for the IPP scheme. Even the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, regretted introducing the scheme. The United Kingdom has more indeterminate sentence prisoners than the other 46 Council of Europe countries combined. When the IPP scheme was first brought in, it nearly doubled the number of indeterminate sentence prisoners here.
Indeterminate sentence prisoners face real problems, particularly those with short tariffs. These sentences induce a sort of Kafkaesque sense of despair, hopelessness and uncertainty, not just for prisoners but for their families. Think of being the mother or wife of a prisoner serving such a sentence. Hardly surprisingly, the number of IPPs who self-harm and, in a significant number of cases, commit suicide is significantly higher than among any other group of prisoners. More than half of IPPs self-harm. It is really dreadful. It is a form of preventive detention, a sort of internment.
Of course, the infamous case of Warboys seriously set back the overall cause of these IPPs—but he had an eight-year tariff and was ordered to be released, initially, within two years of that. I am concerned with the other end of the IPP spectrum: those, often with comparatively short tariffs, who are still there for lengths of time, eight years or more, beyond what punishment required.
LASPO provided, in terms, for a ministerial power, if necessary, to change the test to be applied by the Parole Board in authorising a prisoner’s release. At the moment they have to prove to the Parole Board that they can safely be released—a very difficult test to satisfy. Surely, I suggest, it is time for that burden to be reversed and for those seeking to justify continuing detention to prove, on the basis of probability, that, if released, a prisoner would go on to commit serious offences.
I have made these points time and again over recent years; there is nothing original in what I have just said. But what would be original would be for the Government, at long last, not only to recognise the manifest injustice of the plight of this group of prisoners but to summon up the political will to do something about it. I urge the Justice Secretary finally to reverse the test, to end the recall system which brings these people back all too easily, time and again, and to convert any remaining sentences to fixed terms. Do whatever is necessary: remedies are plainly available. In the idiom of today, just get it done.
My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for initiating this important debate and for his wise, insightful opening remarks, particularly recommending a proper strategy going forward. I shall focus on two areas: the importance of relationships in the rehabilitation process, and the need for reform of the way convictions are deemed to be spent, so that rehabilitation is a meaningful concept for as many as possible.
I have talked before in this House about the two reviews I was asked to lead by the Ministry of Justice. The first reported on the importance of strengthening male prisoners’ family and other relationships to prevent reoffending and intergenerational crime. The second took a broader look at the same issue for female offenders and included those serving a custodial or community sentence, women who had been diverted away from the courts and women who were re-entering society post release. For both males and females, research consistently points to a simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.
Professor Nicola Lacey from the LSE expresses this well by pointing out that, for most of the two centuries in which imprisonment has been routinely imposed as punishment for crime, the systems of thought and governance on which this rests have,
“focused on the individual offender and his or her relationship with the state ... Penal philosophy’s strongly individualistic presuppositions about the nature of human beings and social relations are open to challenge”.
Enabling men and women to maintain their caring responsibilities to the fullest extent possible, where appropriate, provides much-needed motivation for their personal reform and helps break the cycle of inter- generational crime—hence my recommendation in the female review that prisons employ social workers. Their case load will be the women inside and they will be in a strong position to liaise and negotiate with children’s social workers outside so that the best interests of the child take precedence. Similarly, Skype-type technology will enable children and their mothers to see each other—again, where it is agreed that this will mitigate the pain of separation and not add to children’s anxiety.
When we look at the profile of our prison and wider offender populations, the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, ACEs, is salient. ACEs include abuse or neglect, exposure to domestic violence, parental substance misuse, parental mental health problems, parental divorce and separation, parental incarceration and, in some studies, bereavement. All of these mediate the extent to which children will experience safe, stable and nurturing relationships. Public Health Wales found that adults are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point in their life if they have experienced four or more ACEs. Unsurprisingly, therefore, children whose home lives were so difficult that they were taken into local authority care are grossly overrepresented in the prison population. A quarter of men and almost a third of women in prison spent time in care as children.
We are becoming increasingly aware that the lack of good relationships—especially where there are other adversities, often reaching back into childhood—is a major risk factor for criminal activity. This can never excuse crime, nor ignore personal responsibility and the consequences for victims, but it does help to explain it. The implementation team in the Ministry of Justice is working with prisons to ensure that cultural change is taking place to reflect this awareness. It is a long, slow process, but the statistics suggest that it will be a game changer for rehabilitation.
This relational, ACE-aware approach also needs to permeate other aspects of criminal justice, particularly the issue of spent convictions. By way of illustration, 70% of sex workers have been in care, and multiple convictions for prostitution can destroy a woman’s chance of securing a wide range of employment for a considerable time. Former prostitutes won their case at the High Court against the requirement that they must disclose their convictions to employers. They said they had been “groomed, pimped and trafficked” and that their criminal records could be seen also as a catalogue of the abuse meted out to them from a time when they were vulnerable minors.
More broadly, Unlock states that, every year, more than 7,000 people receive a conviction of more than four years which will never become spent. In their words, this amounts to,
“an invisible punishment that will forever shadow the individual, preventing full rehabilitation and meaningful employment even after completing the sentence”.
Protecting current and future victims is obviously of paramount concern, and reforms must continue to balance out competing needs. But many who have served time have been victims too. Will the Government look again at reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 from the vantage point of what we now know about adverse childhood experiences and the harrowing ramifications which flow from a lack of good relationships?
My Lords, it is always good to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in debates of this kind. His consistent, powerful argument has been repeated in debate after debate in this place, and I just wish he was listened to where it really mattered. I should also like to place on record my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for having secured this debate. His record speaks for itself. His commitment in this area is quite extraordinary.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, referred to many offenders themselves being victims. This is a sad reality. During my years as president of the YMCA, I was privileged to do a certain amount of support work among those on the front line in young offender institutions. What I learned without any qualification was that so many of those youngsters were sad victims of society in one way and another. What was so telling was that, not infrequently, they were really afraid of their release into society because of what would meet them there. One of the things that has come across very powerfully in this debate is that, if effective work is to be done, co-operation—not just liaison—between those working outside and inside prison is vital, because people are individuals.
I remember a chief superintendent of police in Yorkshire, who was greatly respected and about to retire, saying to me that he had come to one conclusion in life, and that was that the moment of greatest significance was when a prisoner was being sentenced and sent down. It was a traumatic experience for everyone involved. Of course, in some ways it should be. Some carried it off with bravado; others were devastated. He had become certain that the moment at which that prisoner went below, having been sent down, was the moment when, ideally in society, somebody should take him by the arm and say, “Now, come on. How are we going to sort all this out?” What you needed from then on was a recognition that it was an individual with whom you were dealing and that meeting the challenges of individuals in the process of rehabilitation was crucial.
I just despair, because it seems to me that, rationally, in any humane society rehabilitation is crucial to ensuring the well-being of criminals, reducing the cost to society of reoffending and having a chance of seeing people who have the potential to be decent, participatory citizens reaching that point. At the moment, so many of our prisons are an absolute disgrace and completely counterproductive: self-harm, suicide, violence, overcrowding and inhumane conditions. How can that provide a context in which there is any hope of achieving effective rehabilitation?
I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said in this context in his concluding remarks. We have a Government which are setting their face in the opposite direction. Nowhere are evidence-based policy-making and rationality more essential. Populism and gallery playing have absolutely no place if we are to take seriously the rehabilitation of offenders and win the battle for humanity. I am very sad indeed to see the Government leading in precisely the wrong direction.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I also agree with all those Peers who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for introducing this debate. Perhaps I should also put in a word for the Supreme Court, without which we would not be allowed to sit here and have this debate, especially as it was bumped off by the original decision to prorogue.
Until 2015, I was chairman of the Justice Committee in the House of Commons—a post which was then taken over by my excellent successor, Bob Neill. The Justice Committee warned repeatedly of fundamental weaknesses in the transforming rehabilitation programme, both before it was introduced and in the light of its evident failings.
The committee also warned of the folly of constantly increasing the prison population when resources were not provided to ensure that this massive prison population—the largest, proportionately, in western Europe—was housed in prisons which were safe for both staff and prisoners and had effective and sustained programmes of rehabilitation. Now, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, just mentioned, we have a Government who want to create 10,000 more prison places and are already talking about proposals for sentencing which, on their own admission, would lead to an increase of 3,000 in the prison population. Such increases almost inevitably lead to further sentence inflation, as other offences are judged in relation to those for which the sentence has been increased. There is a ratchet effect, which is very serious.
I want to highlight some important recurring themes in that committee’s work which I think are relevant to what we are discussing today. First, prison is a very expensive resource. In its report Prison Population 2022, the committee states:
“There is a grave risk that we become locked in a vicious cycle of prisons perpetually absorbing huge amounts of criminal-justice related spending”,
and that that spending diverts funds from,
“essential initiatives that could stem or reverse the predicted growth”.
This is a cycle that leads to more crime, not less; more victims, not fewer.
Under my encouragement, the committee went to Texas, which may seem surprising, as Texas is generally thought of as a place of somewhat harsh penal policy. We went to talk to people who across the aisle—Republicans and Democrats—were working to reduce the prison population and divert some of the money being spent on prisons into measures to tackle drug-related crime. When we questioned the Republicans in particular on why they were taking that approach, they said, “This is the taxpayers’ dollar. We are Republicans. We care about how the taxpayers’ dollar is spent. If it is not being spent effectively to deliver the results that taxpayers want, we have to change it”. That was the basis for a fundamental rethink of the whole policy on prisons. Policy needs to be evidence led, and the evidence is that overuse of prison and custody does not lead to better rehabilitation.
A second theme of the committee’s work was that we need to build greater confidence among sentencers in alternatives to prison. That requires investment of a larger share of resources in community sentences, not a draining away of those resources into the prison system. The committee has pointed out the cost and unsuitability of custodial sentences for many women prisoners, who have a greater chance of rehabilitation through women’s centres in the community.
Part of the problem is that prisons are commissioned nationally on a demand-led basis, not by bodies also responsible for community sentences and all the services essential for rehabilitation. The result is that, when sentence is being passed, if it is a custodial sentence, there is never any doubt that a place, however unsuitable, will be found somewhere in the prison system, and there will be a van outside which will take the prisoner away to that custodial place. There may be real doubt, on the other hand, as to the availability of suitable community supervision, drug treatment, employment training or any of the other features which a non-custodial sentence would require. The split commissioning model has failed, and we need to pull those disparate commissioning bodies together to provide custody for those for whom it is essential and robust community-based alternatives in which sentencers have confidence.
The public also need confidence that sentencing is effective. There is plenty of evidence that, presented with the full facts of a case, members of the public are less likely to opt for longer sentences and more likely to recommend community alternatives than judges and magistrates currently do. We have got stuck with the idea that the use of custody and longer sentences is the only way that society can express its abhorrence of serious crime, the only mechanism to rate a crime as serious.
It is a necessary function of the criminal justice system that crime is punished, and society needs to have means to express its abhorrence of serious crime and ways to identify some crimes especially as intolerable and requiring a severe response. However, to use the length of prison sentences as the sole yardstick of social disapproval, the sole mechanism to classify the seriousness of particular forms of crime, is to destroy any possibility of using limited resources rationally to prevent further crime. Good, effective and robust community sentences need to be available. If another year added to the sentence offers no better prospect of preventing that offender from returning to crime, it is taxpayers’ money wasted.
Many victims of crime will tell you that their priority for the criminal justice system is that it ensures that others do not have to go through what they have been through. They want to stop reoffending and the recruitment of more people into criminal behaviour. That is what the system does least well, and that is why we need to get it right.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for initiating the debate and for his powerful opening contribution. In a recent article in the New Statesman, Rory Stewart, recently a Minister with responsibility for prisons, said that we should rediscover a sense of anger and shame at the state of our prisons, which should, in turn, be the spur to action and reform. He was right on both counts. We should be angry—a lot of that has been demonstrated today in the House—and we should be committed to reforming the system.
Leaving aside for the moment the unacceptable conditions in too many prisons, we have designed a system which could hardly do more to prevent rehabilitation. Prisoners often serve their sentences far away from family and friends who could provide the support they need. Many informed observers feel that, when prisoners receive education, it does little to improve their employment prospects or reduce reoffending. They are often discharged back into the community with inadequate continuing support, or indeed basic accommodation. The constant fear of politicians seems to be not whether they will be held accountable for those failings, but that they will be attacked if they address them for being soft on crime.
Putting all that aside, today I want to concentrate on just one aspect of the problem: mental health in prisons. In doing so, I draw on the report which the National Audit Office produced in 2017. I should declare that I am chairman of the National Audit Office. That report concluded that the Government did not even know how many people in prison had a mental illness, although such estimates as there were suggested that somewhere between 37%—the estimate of Her Majesty’s inspector—and 90% were mentally unwell, with only 10% receiving treatment. The NAO report also concluded that the Government did not know how much they were spending on mental health in prisons, whether they were achieving their objectives or whether they were delivering value for money.
What was clear, as other noble Lords have mentioned, was that self-inflicted deaths and self-harm were rising at an alarming rate, such that the number of self-harm incidents had risen in the four years before the report was published by 73% to 41,000 and that self-inflicted deaths had doubled to 120. Speaking when the report was published, the then Comptroller and Auditor-General, not known for overstating his case, said:
“Improving the mental health of those in prison will require a step change in effort and resource”.
The question is whether we have seen that step change since 2017. There have certainly been attempts to address the issue. Staff numbers have increased by 3,200 since March 2017. That is really important, because fewer staff means that prisoners spend more time in their cells and are less likely to access mental health services and to have personal, one-to-one support. However, of course, that increase follows a reduction of 26% in the total workforce in the previous years.
In addition, improvements have been made to mental health training for prison staff. That is to be welcomed, because in the three years to 2016, 40% of prisons did not provide any mental health refresher training. Data-sharing arrangements have been introduced and will hopefully ensure that when prisoners are screened on arrival, staff will have access to previous GP records, without which they will not even know whether a prisoner has been diagnosed with a previous mental illness. That has not been the case hitherto. There is now in place a partnership agreement between the Prison Service, NHS England and Public Health England that focuses on mental health.
It is far too early to say whether any of these good intentions will be delivered and will deliver improvements. As other noble Lords have said, the worry is that much else is threatening to make the situation even worse, not least because of the increased numbers of prisoners now promised by the current Administration and because although self-inflicted deaths have reduced from 120 to 86 last year, cases of self-harm have increased from that record 41,000 to a staggering 58,000. The number of attacks on prison staff has tripled since 2010, and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have doubled too.
This really cannot be allowed to continue. Yes, we need to see a strategy, but it needs to be followed by action rather than promises. I suggest that the Government publish a comprehensive strategy with measurable targets to improve mental health in prisons, and that it is then independently monitored every year. Frankly, the failure to take seriously the issue of mental health in prisons should shame us all.
My Lords, I too welcome this timely debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on his tireless campaigning to improve the plight of prisoners and the conditions they are kept in.
This week saw the Government announce their intention to automatically increase the length of some prison sentences, although judges already have the power to do so where they consider the risk to the public to be high. To the alarm of prison reformers, the Government have also signalled their determination to abandon their earlier acceptance that short-term sentences are ineffective. How will these announcements tackle the crisis in our overcrowded prisons? Record levels of violence against staff and inmates, adding to low morale among overstretched officers, will not be resolved by building more prisons without a commitment to radically improving rehabilitation and reducing reoffending, not just increasing numbers in prison.
At its conference last week, Labour pledged to end ineffective short sentences of six months or less for non-violent and non-sexual offences. Such sentences serve only to disrupt family ties, result in homelessness and loss of jobs and interrupt treatment programmes. They are counterproductive, not constructive.
Labour also pledged to divert funds the Government have allocated to build these promised 10,000 prison places to fund schemes proven to reduce reoffending—especially long-term investment in women’s centres, as recommended by my noble friend Lady Corston in her ground-breaking 2007 report. The APPG on Women in the Penal System, which my noble friend chairs, has called for the abolition of prison sentences of less than 12 months for women. As she said:
“Too often, magistrates view custody as the only option when all the evidence indicates that women’s centres provide better support for women and are more effective at reducing offending”.
However, if the vulnerable continue to be incarcerated, rehabilitation must be the priority. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has already mentioned, Professor Rosie Meek’s independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons, entitled A Sporting Chance, which focused on health and relationships and was published a year ago, has excellent recommendations. She argues that sport, and the relationships it can foster, can motivate young men with complex offending histories, some with especially challenging and disruptive behaviour, to change their attitudes and lifestyles. It can improve mental and physical health, thereby reducing violence, and tackle reoffending. The report also calls for the development of a physical activity strategy to meet the particularly complex and unique needs of women and girls in prison, 57% of whom have been victims of domestic abuse, and gives special consideration to the high levels of trauma they have experienced before entering custody.
The Government commissioned the Meek report and should now implement its recommendations and reconsider the decision not to endorse one on martial arts. As the DCMS Select Committee recently noted:
“Violent incidents in prisons appear to be at an all-time high and the report’s recommendations reflect the need to consider alternative violence reduction strategies. Given the positive impact of boxing and martial arts programmes in our communities, as reflected in the evidence we have received, prison governors should be given the option of using similar approaches in their establishments, if they so wish”.
Effective rehabilitation must be a top priority if we are to overcome the revolving door whereby 29% of adults and 42% of children reoffend within one year of release. Rehabilitation cannot be achieved if prisoners are kept in their cells for most of the day without productive and worthwhile activity, yet over one-third of young adult prisoners aged 18 to 21 are locked in their cells for at least 22 hours a day.
More imaginative use must be made of the voluntary bodies that want to assist in rehabilitation. Charities such as the Liberty Choir, through singing sessions, and the Prison Phoenix Trust, which supports prisoners in their spiritual lives through meditation and yoga, could be given greater access to the prison estate as their interventions have already proven effective in turning prisoners’ lives around, both in custody and on release, through encouraging a greater sense of well-being and self-worth. Clinks, the national advocacy group that supports voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system, calls for the Ministry of Justice, courts, probation services and prisons to champion volunteers who can work on prevention. They can help in the early identification of people with health needs, diverting them into treatment and ensuring continuity of care for people as they enter prison, move between prisons and, crucially, are released back into the community. The probation service cannot do everything alone.
It is regrettable that the Government appear to be redirecting their criminal justice programme towards a focus on retribution rather than rehabilitation. Can the Minister clarify the position on reducing the use of short-term sentences? Only by increasing efforts to prevent crime, with more police and better services to divert the young and vulnerable away from criminality, can we begin to cut the numbers entering our overcrowded prisons. We must ensure that rehabilitation works to stop the cycle of reoffending, which only creates yet more victims and blights the lives of future generations whose parents have been imprisoned.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on successfully securing this debate. I live not far from the county town of Northallerton in North Yorkshire, which for years had a prison with good reports. Three years ago the prison was sold and half of it demolished. The wall and half the prison, with its modern entrance, remain. There is a huge pile of bricks from the demolished part within the walls. The prison remains in limbo, symbolising a crumbling Prison Service.
The Prison and Probation Service poses an enormous challenge for government. Dedicated, experienced staff are needed if prisoners are to be controlled and rehabilitated satisfactorily. Prison officers need awareness training in disabilities, such as deafness, to stop isolation. There was hope when Rory Stewart MP was Prisons Minister. He was enthusiastic and full of energy. He showed great leadership, which is what the prisons need. If prisoners are locked up in cells for 22 hours a day without work, exercise and education, it is not surprising that worrying assaults on prison staff erupt far too often. With the danger of gang wars and drug abuse, this whole situation needs tackling. Overcrowding and staff shortages mean that prisons run restricted regimes that leave prisoners spending hours on end in their cells without phone calls, work, exercise, education or library visits. Are books being restricted to prisoners in some prisons?
I spent many years as a member of a board of visitors—now known as monitors—at Wetherby young offender institution. I assure your Lordships that many young people have a multitude of problems, involving violence and sexual abuse within some of their families. There are also drug, alcohol and gambling addictions. I have always felt that there should be more contact with probation and welfare officers, uniting the penal institution with the prisoners’ outside contacts. A percentage of inmates will be pronounced homeless; they will need more support if they are to survive outside prison. There are many voluntary organisations helping with the many needs of people incarcerated in prison. They should be welcomed. There should be a continued link to prisoners with addiction when returning to the community but some of these services have recently been cut, so there is a now a problem with continuing their treatment.
I want to bring to your Lordships the serious problem of the increasing number with sexually transmitted diseases. The link between prison and the community is vital. Many inmates do not have GPs in the community, so links with STI clinics need organising. Contact tracing can be difficult. The prevention of infection is so important, particularly with vulnerable groups of people. If we do not promote public health education in prisons, I feel we are losing an opportunity. Prisoners are a sitting target for doing something about the soaring rates of STIs. There has been a 249% increase in gonorrhoea since 2009, including a 26% rise within the last year. Very worryingly, three cases of extensively drug-resistant gonorrhoea were identified in 2018.
There are great concerns about antibiotics becoming resistant to infections. The Health and Social Care Committee’s recent report, Sexual Health, high- lighted the need for a national sexual health strategy. It recommended that Public Health England, in collaboration with,
“a broad-based working group of representatives drawn from all sectors involved in commissioning and providing sexual health services”,
including prisons and probation services, should develop a new sexual health strategy to,
“provide clear national leadership in this area”.
In Glasgow, there is a worrying concern that cases of HIV have recently increased. The reason is not known. I feel it is important that the probation services have training about the dangers of STIs, so that infected prisoners know where they can get ongoing treatment when they are released into the community. Data from the sexual health doctors’ association indicates that a worryingly high proportion of those doctors are having to turn patients away because they do not have the capacity to see them.
I hope that the Government will realise that something must be done to support public health in the endeavour to lessen the risk of STIs within prisons and out in the community at large. Cutting public health is, without a doubt, a false economy.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for introducing this debate, as well as for the helpful guidance that he has given to me on this subject in recent years. Just over two years ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, initiated a debate on prison overcrowding, which convinced me to take a very close interest in the UK prison system. I confined myself to issues after sentence to immediate custody. My task was made much easier by the decision of the then Prisons Minister Rory Stewart to set up a pilot Prison Service parliamentary scheme. I am very grateful to all those in the Prison Service who patiently helped me with my inquiries. It became clear to me that the problem in the prison system does not lie with the governors or the prison officers. I am full of admiration for both.
I am still a new boy to this subject. However, it is my opinion that the UK’s prison system is hopelessly flawed. It cannot be fixed by incremental reform; it needs drastic reform. We have had at least seven Prisons Ministers and Justice Secretaries since May 2010, but you need at least four years to determine and start a process of drastic reform. Moreover, 10 years would be needed to navigate the choppy waters of reform and to start seeing the benefits coming through. Ministers will therefore undertake only short-term, incremental reforms that are not too controversial. Most importantly, they will pass the Daily Mail test.
Why does anyone think that taking very seriously damaged youngsters who have had a rotten start in life—“victimised by society”, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, put it—and putting them in a conventional prison regime will somehow, magically, make them better members of society? It cannot possibly work. It is a hopelessly flawed system.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has proposed a royal commission or the equivalent. I certainly support that and will submit a comprehensive paper outlining my thoughts. However, I am concerned that the output may merely be a souped-up Woolf report—I see the noble and learned Lord in his place and look forward to hearing his contribution. It might propose desirable reforms, but I very much doubt whether it would propose drastic reform, because the inquiry would have to take into account what is thought to be politically possible. In the coming months, I will be making the case for drastic reform in any fora that I can.
Prison reform is a wicked problem because, as the Home Secretary will soon find, the obvious solutions are the wrong ones. No one can agree what the problems are. If they do, they agree only on the symptoms. I therefore maintain an open mind. I am not fixed on any solution: I will merely suggest what drastic reform might look like. In the time available, I can show a bit of ankle only. Many noble Lords have talked about the problem of short sentences. They do not work because the regime in the current system is awful: there is almost no incentive for short-term prisoners to improve themselves. In short, we are releasing prisoners from custody after a defined period and not when they have improved to a defined extent. For example, they may still have no literacy or numeracy skills.
I propose making a new sentence available to the courts: to be detained for training at Her Majesty’s pleasure, or “DFT”. Release would be on achieving the required standard of performance, training and conduct. This is not an IPP and there would have to be a cap of, say, five years. However, the time on remand would not help other than in respect of the cap. The first stage of “DFT” would be to ensure compliance with the training regime. I call this “tick-tock”. Noble Lords will recall the late Viscount Whitelaw’s “short, sharp shock”. It was a failure because it was an end in itself rather than a means to an end. It was no deterrent and did not address offenders’ weaknesses. The proposed “tick-tock” camps would be in isolated rural areas—there would be no mobile phone signal. This would solve an awful lot of problems and drastically reduce the possibility of drugs getting into the system. By the way, if we have a very boring regime in the current prison system—and we do—why is anyone surprised that the prisoners want to take drugs?
The purpose of “tick-tock” is purely to enable greater risk to be safely taken later on. It is not per se a punishment, although it might not be much fun. The first requirements to be met on “DFT” as opposed to “tick-tock” must be literacy and numeracy if there is to be any chance of halting reoffending. The next requirement is for the prisoner to acquire some genuine and desirable trade skills. Finally, horror of horror, there needs to be some fun.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate.
What a mess we have made of the rehabilitation of prisoners in this country. With the highest incarceration rate in western Europe, we are pursuing the failed strategy of building 10,000 more prison spaces, despite the fact that a reoffending rate of nearly 50% shows that prison is not working. Inside our prisons, self-harm increased by 24% this March over the previous year, with one self-inflicted death every four days. The charity Inquest says:
“Despair and distress are at unprecedented levels in failing institutions within a failing system”.
I would challenge any noble Lord in this House to dispute that.
But instead of fostering a rehabilitative culture, our prisons are increasingly punitive in their approach to managing conflict. Figures shown to the Howard League reveal that more than 1,000 years of additional punishment were added to sentences in 2018 for breaking rules. I cannot believe it.
The Howard League says that,
“rather than building 10,000 more prison places, a strategy to reduce the number of people held in expensive, ineffectual and chaotic prisons is urgently needed”.
It would like to see the money for building more prison places diverted into community-based initiatives and services such as housing, healthcare, education and employment, which address the underlying causes of crime. We know that reoffending rates are much lower for community-based sentences, but the number of community orders has more than halved in recent years. Something has gone horribly wrong, and I hope that the Minister will enlighten us as to why this is and what steps the Government are taking to redress it.
That brings me to our poor, beleaguered probation service. At the end of 2018, more than 250,000 people were on probation in England and Wales. Even as I say this, knowing it is an official statistic, I cannot believe it. How have things come to this? How can any sort of effective service be delivered to so many people without vast resources? Why have the Government imposed an arbitrary supervision period of 12 months, even for people who have been imprisoned for just a day? I am sure that considering all offenders for supervision has to be of benefit, as my noble friend Lord McNally said. However, this arbitrary imposition has hit women prisoners particularly hard, because, as we know, they are subject to a disproportionate number of shorter sentences, despite the damage that this does to their children and the disruption it causes to their often already chaotic lives. Surely, if a little thought were given to the needs of each individual prisoner, and the period and the type of intervention tailored to their individual needs, this would be a far more effective use of public money. Perhaps the Minister can give us some good news that this will be under review.
The new proposals for probation are welcome, but I have a couple of questions for the Minister. CRCs have been an unmitigated disaster, not least because the private for-profit model does not work in the area of rehabilitation—perhaps because the interests of offenders are not the primary motivation for what CRCs do. We know that some subcontracting to outside organisations will be involved in delivering specialist services, but will the Minister confirm that these will be mainly not-for-profit organisations rather than large for-profit companies such as G4S and Sodexo? There is also concern about the very short lead-in period to the changes. Have we not learned yet that these sorts of unnecessary additional challenges mean that we are setting ourselves up to fail again?
Finally, I have a couple of questions for the Minister from the Prison Reform Trust, about women victims of domestic violence and coercion who land up in jail. I am delighted that the Domestic Abuse Bill had its Second Reading in the Commons yesterday and I wish it speedy passage. But, in the context of this debate, we need to acknowledge that many of the women who land up in prison are victims of violence and intimidation.
It is a year since the Female Offender Strategy was published. So I ask the Minister, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that women offenders’ histories of victimisation are being considered, both in prison and in the community? What support is being given to women whose offending has been driven by a coercive and abusive relationship?
That is a lot of questions, and I do not expect even this excellent Minister to be able to answer them all today—but a follow-up in writing would be greatly appreciated.
My Lords, the delay to this debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for which I join in thanking him, has made it all the more timely, because the Government have recently announced a programme of major reform of the treatment of offenders.
The dominant theme of this reform can be summarised as, “putting more people in prison for longer”. Serious offenders will not be eligible for release until they have served two-thirds rather than half of their sentence. Anyone who kills a child of less than school age will be kept in prison for the rest of his or her life. Causing death by dangerous driving will attract a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Rapists and violent offenders will be sent to prison for longer.
An acknowledged motive for these reforms is to respond to what is perceived to be the views of members of the public and, in particular, the victims of crime. Victims of a wide variety of offences are to be given the right to seek a review of sentences that they believe are over-lenient. All these proposed measures will increase prison numbers, and the Government plan to create 10,000 new prison places to accommodate them.
I have connections with a charity now called Grit, formerly known as Youth at Risk, which aims to keep young people out of prison. Two others, Footsteps and the St Giles Trust, aim to stop offenders reverting to crime after they have been released. I strongly support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for an independent commission that will review the way we try to achieve these aims. But I wish to explain, in the short time available, why I am so dismayed by the Government’s proposals to put more people in prison for longer. This echoes points made by the noble Lords, Lord Jay of Ewelme and Lord Beith. Anyone who has been following Channel 4’s admirable series, “Crime and Punishment”, will appreciate the devastating consequences of lack of resources.
Over at least the last 30 years, I have witnessed admirable initiatives—for alternatives to custody, for rehabilitation in prison and for helping those who come out of prison to avoid reoffending—foundering because of the lack of resources needed to implement them. Keeping a man or woman locked up in prison now costs close to £40,000 a year. Prison numbers should be kept to a minimum in order to free up resources for crime prevention and the effective rehabilitation of those who commit crimes. This means that sentences should be no longer than is necessary to serve their purposes.
What are those purposes? Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides the answers. They include protection of the public, deterrence, rehabilitation and punishment. Violent men—they are almost always men—who would pose a real danger to the public if at large, need to be detained, either in prison or in a secure hospital if, as so often, their violence is due to mental illness. But these cases must be identified on an individual basis, not by applying presumptions to all who commit particular categories of offence.
Making sentences longer does not normally increase their deterrent effect. What deters is the likelihood of getting caught. If that is slight, the length of the potential sentence will have little effect. A childminder who loses his self-control when kept awake by a screaming baby and shakes the baby to death will not act differently because he faces a lifetime rather than a mere 10 years in prison. The Home Secretary has said that she wants criminals to “literally feel terror” at the thought of breaking the law. It is wishful thinking to believe that she can achieve this by making sentences longer.
In my lifetime, the length of sentences has steadily crept up. A significant cause of this has been periodic legislation that has constrained judges to impose minimum sentences for certain categories of offence. Such legislation inevitably results in some defendants being sentenced to longer than the particular circumstances of the crime warrant, and in a ratcheting-up of the sentencing scale overall. I do not believe that the current government policy of lengthening sentences reflects informed advice that it will help rehabilitation or deter crime. The motive for it is to increase punishment in response to a perceived public demand for vengeance. Punishment is a legitimate object of sentencing, but there is no preordained scale that justice demands. The high cost of keeping defendants in prison to punish them has to be borne by all of us. If this were met by a discrete prison tax, I suspect that there would soon be a cry for a reduction in the length of sentences. The Government should be setting out to find the resources needed to improve rehabilitation by reducing the scale of sentencing and the size of the prison population. If they pay any heed to the unanimous voice of this debate, they will think again.
My Lords, this debate has been of excellent quality. We have all learned a great deal from what has been said in the speeches that preceded mine. That I, on this occasion, speak after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, is quite a novel experience for me because, throughout our respective legal careers, he has followed me, rather than my following him. I very much have in mind what was said by another of my noble and learned friends, Lord Judge, in an intervention before the debate: if you agree with everything, there is something to be said for sitting down and not detaining people merely by repetition. I will bear that in mind in the remarks I make.
I draw attention to my entries in register. I have been much involved in the prison scene since the noble Lord, Lord Baker—who has here a while ago—received my report into Strangeways prison. I made substantial recommendations in that report. One recommendation was not, unlike the majority, accepted by the Government. It was that there should be a limit on the number of people in prison. The reason I think it most unfortunate that that or a similar recommendation was not accepted was that nothing is more likely to undermine the workings of a prison system than overcrowding, which has been a scourge of the prison system shortly after my report and ever since. It explains why many of the things we have heard today have happened. This clearly indicates that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on this as on many other occasions, was profoundly right to have identified the problem of a lack of strategy within the prison service. I hope that, on this occasion, the noble Lord will be taken more seriously than he has been on too many occasions in the past. We require a Government who are prepared to do what is needed to deal with the problem of which we all should be ashamed.
I am going to leave my address at this stage and not add to it. I hope that what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said about the need for a strategy is taken up by the Government. That strategy has to be carefully thought out and not delivered on the hoof by those who may not have the knowledge they should have before making an announcement.
My Lords, this has been a serious but, in many ways, profoundly depressing debate—secured and introduced so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, whom so many of us have thanked not only for this debate and his contribution to it but for his consistent campaigning on these issues over many years.
This year’s reports of the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation are as depressing as any. Peter Clarke reports on prisons:
“Far too many of our jails have been plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity”.
On self-harm, he reports:
“Overall, levels of self‑harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year”.
On prison conditions, he reports:
“As we have said in the past on many occasions, broken windows, unscreened lavatories … vermin and filth should not feature in 21st century jails”.
On rehabilitation, he reports:
“In only a third of the adult male prisons that we inspected was purposeful activity, which includes … education, work and training, judged to be good or reasonably good”.
Discouragingly, he also reported a poor response to his recommendations, with the level of those achieved falling below those not achieved for each of the last three years.
In her annual report on the probation service in March, Dame Glenys Stacey described the provision of probation by the community rehabilitation companies as “sub-standard, and … demonstrably poor”. She described a,
“deplorable diminution of the probation profession and a widespread move away from good probation practice”.
She said the model was “irredeemably flawed”. As pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, the model has been largely abandoned, but without an effective substitute in place.
The first challenge is to cut prison numbers. As is well known, we imprison more of our population than any other country in western Europe, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and just reinforced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. We also have very high reoffending rates following prison sentences. That is particularly true of short sentences. The reoffending rate for sentences of 12 months or less has climbed to 64%.
On IPP sentences, we fully support the call of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood—and before him we remember Lord Lloyd of Berwick—to end the continuing injustice to IPP prisoners who have served well beyond their tariffs and to reverse the burden of proof that they currently have to discharge to secure their release.
We have opposed proposals, now enacted, for mandatory custodial sentences for the possession of knives and corrosive substances. Unlike the Government, we trust the judges, so judges must have discretion in sentencing, particularly for young people. We cannot cut prison numbers without putting an end to sentence inflation, legislative or otherwise, which costs large sums of money, as my noble friend Lord Beith and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, have said. On all the evidence, sentence inflation gives a nil return in reducing reoffending.
We were achieving some cut-through in this area before Mr Johnson’s election as Prime Minister. The Government were starting to listen to the evidence on prison numbers as well as on rehabilitation, prison conditions and the failure of the probation services. But back then we had David Lidington and then David Gauke as Justice Secretary and Rory Stewart as Prisons Minister, and we know what happened to them.
This Prime Minister says he will build more prisons and lock more people up and for longer, pressing for longer sentences and cutting early release, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, described and, rightly, decried. The Prime Minister’s response is a populist one for his party conference and the Daily Mail but it completely ignores the evidence. His plans would increase crime, not reduce it.
We are rightly ashamed of the degrading conditions of our prisons, well described by the noble Lord, Lord Judd: overcrowded and still understaffed, pervaded by extreme violence and widespread drug abuse, with inadequate care for mental health and drug addiction issues and limited training and purposeful activity. Prisoners, including women and young offenders, spend far too long locked in their cells—often as much as 22 hours a day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned—with no regard for their well-being. It is a system where prisoners are discharged with £46, often on a Friday and often miles from home with no accommodation, services or source of help, and a system where the absurd denial of access to any form of IT prevents them applying for universal credit before release and pursuing training courses or seeking housing or employment online. In our community sentences, as Dame Glenys pointed out, the Government have negligently allowed probation services to collapse, with CRCs’ contracts terminated early but with no realistic plan to overhaul an underresourced and dysfunctional system, as my noble friend Lord Beith said.
My noble friend Lord German, who sadly cannot be here, and I, ably assisted by many, including my noble friend Lady Burt, after taking extensive evidence, including from some who have spoken today, have produced a paper on rehabilitation called Turning Lives Around, which became party policy at our conference. On cutting prison numbers, we propose a presumption against sentences of 12 months or less, replacing them with effective and tough but sympathetic community sentences. I regret that I am unable to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that indeterminate detention holds a solution. The solution lies in working community sentences that incorporate the rehabilitative help that he talked about.
More generally, we propose a co-ordinated approach to arranging for prison and probation, as well as all the other services that offenders need if they are to escape from a cycle of repeated criminal behaviour. These include health—particularly mental health, as discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard—and welfare services; treatment for drug abuse and addiction; the provision of housing, training and employment; and involving the voluntary sector and private and public sector employers. My noble friend Lord Dholakia dwelled on the important contribution that the voluntary sector is keen to make but which has been underutilised to date.
Local co-ordinating bodies would be established, funded by the Ministry of Justice but administered locally, working from existing offices with small staffs, with a brief to consider the needs of each offender individually and commission all the services they need while in custody, in preparation for release, on release from custody and in the course of community sentences. The phrase “assertive outreach” used by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, describes well what is needed. Our reforms would help people leaving custody who are currently at high risk of returning to prison.
We address the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system, which are often increased by past trauma, as pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in line with the 2007 report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, as recognised in the female offender strategy and discussed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Armstrong and Lady Healy, and my noble friend Lady Burt. We also address the needs of young offenders, seeking full implementation of the recommendations made in the 2016 review by Charlie Taylor, who gave us impressive evidence and now heads up the Youth Justice Board, following my noble friend Lord McNally, whose understanding, gleaned during his successful and important work to help young offenders, shone through his speech today.
We need a fresh approach to penal policy. We must shrink prison numbers and humanise our prisons. We must concentrate on providing all the services that offenders need to support them in their rehabilitation in a comprehensive and co-ordinated way during custodial sentences, on release from custody and throughout well-resourced and carefully implemented effective community sentences.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for securing this important debate. I particularly thank him for his opening speech and the way in which he framed the debate today. Never, I think, has an opening speech been so universally supported throughout the whole debate.
I have been listening with great interest to the mood music on crime and justice coming out of the Conservative Party conference this week. It appears that the Government’s playlist is repeating the same old tune. The Justice Secretary announced that criminals will serve two-thirds of their sentence before early release can be considered; the Government reiterated their repackaged promise of 10,000 more prison places; and the Home Secretary proclaimed,
“we stand against the criminals … We are coming after you”.
More time, more prison places and being more hard-line—the most outdated approach to criminal justice that I can think of. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing about how the failed privatisation of probation and prisons has undermined the management and treatment of offenders; how meaningful reform has been stifled by cuts and uncertainty at the Ministry of Justice; how departmental spending has been slashed by over 40% since 2010 under five Justice Secretaries in four years; how thousands of prison officers have been axed; and how the shortfall in mental health support for offenders is fuelling a rise in suicide and self-harm in custody. While the Home Secretary might be coming after criminals, government policy has been coming after the criminal justice system over the last nine years.
The guiding principle of offender management and treatment should be holistic rather than cost and profit. Nothing demonstrates that better than the Government’s failed privatisation of the probation service. In May 2019 the Government announced an embarrassing U-turn to reverse their disastrous probation reforms—reforms that the Public Accounts Committee said had left the probation service in a worse position and which the National Audit Office found had wasted at least £476 million of taxpayers’ money and failed to reduce reoffending.
The new model would return the supervision of all offenders in the community to the public sector. That is no small number, with over 250,000 offenders currently on probation, according to recent government figures. This is a necessary first step in cleaning up the probation mess but there are already concerns that it does not go far enough and could give too great a role to the private sector. Some £280 million-worth of contracts for rehabilitation services will be tendered each year to private companies and voluntary organisations. Can the Minister confirm that companies currently failing to deliver private probation services will not be allowed to bid for new contracts under the new probation model?
The management of offenders looks very different depending on whether prisons are run for profit. Private prisons are up to 47% more violent than public prisons and far more likely to be overcrowded. Violence got so out of hand at HMP Birmingham that the Government had to step in and permanently take it back into public ownership from G4S. As soon as they did, extra prison officers were brought in and hundreds of prisoners moved out.
Will the Government release staffing figures for the remaining 13 private prisons managed by G4S, Serco and Sodexo? How can we improve offender management when private prisons have no minimum staffing levels? Can the Minister rule out today prison contracts from being any part of a post-Brexit trade deal? We must ensure that prisons are not exploited by US companies.
The Government continue to defend their decision to build more private prisons by arguing that all opposition is simply ideological, but the truth is that running prisons and probation services for profit simply undermines offender management and treatment. That is why Labour is committed to preventing the creation of any new prisons run for private profit and will campaign for probation to be fully returned to the public sector.
Rehabilitation depends on the relationship between offenders and staff, especially prison and probation officers. However, cuts to officer numbers since 2010 have caused a crisis in our prisons and probation service, with staff morale and retention at rock bottom. This could be addressed in many ways, such as boosting pay, conditions and professional standards, but the Government are not interested in these options due to the costs involved.
Despite recent recruitment, there are still 2,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010. Over 80,000 years of experience have been lost, with 40% of prison officers now having less than three years’ experience. Does the Minister accept that offender management and treatment are undermined by the declining number of prison officers?
The latest figures from the Prison Service’s workforce showed a new record high for levels of prison violence against staff. The number of recorded assaults on prison staff in England and Wales increased last year by 21% to 10,213—a 260% rise since 2010. What are the Government doing to protect these dedicated public servants?
I cannot mention the treatment of offenders without touching on rising self-harm and suicide in the criminal justice system. In the year leading up to June 2019, there were 309 deaths in prison custody. Of these, 86 deaths were self-inflicted—a 6% increase on the previous year. When the state takes away offenders’ liberty, it has a special duty of care to keep them safe. These 86 deaths are testament to the state’s failure to discharge adequately its duty of care. These 86 people should not have died. The prison system, the Ministry of Justice and the Government are responsible. It is shameful that in 2019, self-harm incidents in prisons are up 24% to a record high of 57,960, and women are 135% more likely than men to self-harm in prison.
A shortfall in mental health support for offenders serving community orders is fuelling this rise in suicide and self-harm. The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody found that of the 75,750 community orders made in 2018, fewer than 1% included a mental health treatment requirement. Prison should always be a last resort—the state’s most severe sanction for serious offences. It should never be a substitute for failing mental health services, or for the withdrawal of funding from drug treatment centres.
The Government must realise that they simply cannot do justice on the cheap without recklessly exposing the public and staff to serious risk. Rehabilitation must be at the heart of the management and treatment of offenders, through public probation, better staffing in prisons and mental health support. After the Conservative conference, I fear the Government remain a long way off from this approach.
I have not commented on the various speeches because, frankly, all 20 were substantially the same. They touched on different aspects, but the theme that seems to me to run through them is that the service is not fit for purpose. The number of people in prison is not a success. Locking people up is not a success—it is a symptom of the failure of the Ministry of Justice to secure properly the right resources and enable the probation service to help with rehabilitation and to make non-custodial sentences more credible. I also believe it is a failure of society to look after the poor, the fragile and the mentally ill. The way to save money is to have fewer people in prison. In the first place, get them not to offend, through proper youth services, education and mental health facilities. We need a national consensus that, in every area, we should support the young, the poor, the fragile and the unwell.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for securing this debate. Many experts in this field have contributed to the debate, and I assure noble Lords that I will draw it to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Improving the management and treatment of offenders is a priority for the Government. The criminal justice system must become more effective at rehabilitating offenders—a point made by many noble Lords—so that they do not go on to commit more crime and to create more victims of crime. Punishment and rehabilitation are not opposites; we have to do both.
We are working to reform and improve provision across both prison and the community. There are real challenges for our system, but by investing in our prisons, strengthening our probation system and taking a whole-system approach to criminal justice, we can provide the right support for offenders and set them on a path towards rehabilitation.
As noble Lords have commented, the Prime Minister has recently announced more resources for the criminal justice system: 20,000 more police on our streets; 10,000 more prison places; £100 million for prison security; and an extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service. Noble Lords will therefore appreciate that we take the management and treatment of offenders extremely seriously.
I hope to address most of the important points that noble Lords have raised during the course of the debate. If I do not cover them, I promise to write and place copies in the Library.
Noble Lords will have seen that we recently published our response to last summer’s consultation on the future of probation services, Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence. That response sets out our plans to build on the positive changes introduced by Transforming Rehabilitation while addressing the key challenges in the system. To deliver these arrangements, we are ending community rehabilitation company contracts early in 2021 and streamlining responsibilities for public, private and voluntary sector partners. Once these arrangements are in place, I am confident that we will improve the supervision and treatment of offenders from first contact with probation to last.
We are planning to bring all offender supervision under one organisation, moving away from the current division of offenders between the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies. This will allow probation officers to be even more effective at protecting the public, because we will see more efficient allocation of resources, more effective enforcement of orders and closer supervision of offenders.
Most noble Lords mentioned rehabilitation. We will improve the range and quality of rehabilitative interventions so these can better target the needs of offenders, including vulnerable offenders and those with mental health and alcohol and substance abuse problems. We intend to commission a significant percentage of these services through a dynamic framework, which will enable us to engage directly with smaller providers including those from the voluntary and community sectors who can often provide a more tailored and locally responsive approach.
Offenders also have contact with the probation service in the weeks leading up to and following their release from prison. We recognise the enormous importance of effective resettlement services in reducing reoffending. Offenders can currently expect contact from probation services 12 weeks before release, but this will increase to seven or eight months before release under the new model, giving much more time for resettlement plans to be made. We will align arrangements, with new resources being assigned to the supervision of offenders in custody to ensure a safe and planned transition from custody to community.
As part of work across government to tackle rough sleeping, something which was mentioned by many noble Lords, we are investing £6.4 million in a pilot scheme to support individuals released from three prisons. Working with the voluntary sector, the pilots—as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Bichard and Lord Dholakia—will support low-risk male prisoners to access and sustain tenancies in private rented accommodation. Individuals will receive wraparound support and we will evaluate the pilots to inform plans for further rollout.
To manage and treat offenders effectively, we also need to ensure our prisons are fundamentally safe and secure. That means preventing items from entering our estate which undermine safety, security and rehabilitation, including drugs, mobile phones and other contraband.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also mentioned safety and security as well as overcrowding. Reducing overcrowding is a top priority. There will be £2.5 billion of spending on 10,000 new places and an extensive refurbishment has been commissioned on decommissioned prison places. A further £100 million will be spent on security, with airport-style X-ray scanners, for example, and metal detectors at the gates. In August, the Prime Minister announced a £100 million investment in prison security as part of a wider crackdown on crime behind bars. This is the latest in a series of investments to increase security and stability in prisons, including a prior announcement of £70 million.
Alongside improvements to security, we are working to ensure that our prisons have sufficient capacity. As I mentioned, over the summer the Prime Minister announced that up to £2.5 billion will be spent on creating 10,000 additional places. Our ambition is to create a decent, safe and secure estate that is sustainable into the future and provides better opportunities to reform offenders.
Being able to safely and securely hold those sentenced to custody must be the first thing we get right in prisons, but we must also provide the right support and incentives to rehabilitate offenders, as a number of noble Lords mentioned. Our prison officers play a vital role in supporting and challenging offenders to make the right choices. We have recruited more than 4,700 prison officers since October 2016, surpassing our original target of 2,500 and returning us to approximately the same level as in March 2012. This has enabled us to improve our support and case management of prisoners, with the introduction of the new offender management in custody model to all male closed prisons. Each individual will be allocated a prison officer to act as their key worker, who will guide, support and coach individuals through their custodial sentence.
A number of noble Lords mentioned women in prison. We have developed a bespoke management approach for women which recognises the different challenges and opportunities in the women’s estate. The women’s policy framework mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, was published in 2018. It includes requirements to support women to find housing, manage money and access education. We recognise that women’s needs are different, and I commit to writing to the noble Baroness to give further details on the issues she raised.
As I mentioned, we are working to ensure that prison offers meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Beecham, Lord Beith and Lord Jay, all mentioned this issue. This year, we marked the first anniversary of the Education and Employment Strategy, which will ensure prison is a place where offenders can develop the skills they need to secure employment on release. We know that employment is one of the key factors that will determine whether they reoffend.
We are very thankful for my noble friend Lord Farmer’s report on the importance of family engagement to reduce reoffending. We are also grateful for his second report, which focused on female offenders, and we are currently considering its recommendations.
Moving on to youth justice—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has extensive experience in this area—alongside the reforms to the adult custodial estate, we are committed to improving the safety and life chances of children in custody. This is the reason why we began a youth justice reform programme in 2017, investing in staff, education and, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, psychological services as well. It is so important to get these things right for these young people.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised the subject of sport in prison, and I thank him for doing so. We have increased the number of PE staff: there are 40 football clubs delivering coaching qualifications, and 15% of prisons participate in parkrun.
The Youth Custody Service has started implementing a new evidence-based behaviour management strategy, aimed at incentivising good behaviour and building positive relationships. To tackle the root causes of youth offending, we have introduced the first of our youth justice specialists in custody. We are also expending front-line staff capacity in public sector youth offender institutions. At the end of March this year, the Youth Custody Service had 348 more front-line officers than at the start of our reform programme, an increase of 40%. In July, we were delighted to announce that the Oasis Charitable Trust has been selected to operate the first secure school in Medway, which will open in 2020.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, both mentioned in their speeches—it was a major point of the noble Lord’s speech—the subject of an external review. It is a valuable point, but the whole system is under review. We are making changes to probation services and investing in prisons. We have commissioned experts to review areas, such as my noble friend Lord Farmer’s review on family ties.
The noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Beecham, also mentioned the fact that probation should be localised. Our probation reforms will create 12 new regional probation directors to ensure that services reflect local needs and use local providers and that probation works more closely with police, courts and prisons.
A number of noble Lords mentioned issues relating to mental health and violence in prisons and the unacceptable levels of violence and self-harm. Staff are now undergoing revised training on suicide and self-harm. This is a move in the right direction and, hopefully, will have an effect in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and other noble Lords mentioned the subject of universal credit and what exactly prisoners can access. Offenders can access a DWP work coach prior to their release. We will continue to work with the Department for Work and Pensions on this issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, talked about education and employment. I can tell the noble Lord that additional powers have been devolved to governors to give them more control over their education budget so that they can target areas where required.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester asked about funding for women’s centres in the new probation system. We are determined to ensure that the probation service does meet the needs of women. Women’s centres are a non-negotiable part of the answer. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned the concordat, which we are looking to publish in the next few months. As far as housing and homelessness for women is concerned, this is subject to evaluation but our homelessness pilot will be rolled out and can be delivered for any offender, including women.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned IPPs, which have been covered numerous times in this House over recent years. Public protection must remain our priority. At the moment, there are no plans to change the release test or recall system, as it is applied to IPP prisoners.
The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, also spoke about levels of violence in prisons. Violence levels are too high, and violence against staff will not be tolerated. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increases the penalty to 12 months; prison officers are included as emergency workers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also mentioned sentencing. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced an urgent review to break the reoffending cycle. We have announced our intention to carry out legislative reform, including reforms to community penalties, which will offer the appropriate level of punishment while tackling the underlying causes of reoffending.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about disability awareness training for staff. This is an important point, and I can reassure the noble Baroness that all officers receive broad equalities training over a number of different modules.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also spoke about how the voluntary sector can help. We want to see a clearer role for voluntary providers in probation delivery. The National Probation Service will in the future be able to directly commission services which encourage participation of smaller suppliers and, as I mentioned before, address the needs of local areas.
I close by thanking again the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and all those who have raised important issues in this debate. Getting the supervision and treatment of offenders right is absolutely vital, both for their benefit and to prevent reoffending leading to further victims. Taken together, the measures I have outlined will ensure that we are best supporting offenders to turn their lives around, whether that is in prison, youth custody or the community.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate, which, if I might say, summed up the House at its very best. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for summing up so many of the contributions, which all mounted up to believing that all is not well with the management and treatment of offenders in prisons and in the community. I also thank the noble Earl for standing in for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen. I was very glad that he agreed to take back much of what was said to the relevant Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State.
I will pick out and comment on six speeches. I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and others for including issues surrounding women, which I neglected to add to my opening remarks. I am particularly grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood for mentioning the IPPs, which I similarly omitted.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, mentioned the cost of imprisonment. I asked what the cost of imprisonment was on my first day as chief inspector. A Home Office official told me how much money they had been given by the Treasury and how much money they had passed on to the prison service. I said, “That’s not what I meant. How much would it cost to do all the things that Ministers say would, should and could be done with prisoners?”. I do not believe that anyone knows that cost, nor do they know what it would cost to do all the things that are said should be done by probation. Until and unless we know that cost, we cannot know what cannot be done. That is a very important issue.
I mention to my noble friend Lord Bichard the shock with which the 1998 Office for National Statistics psychiatric morbidity statistics in prison were greeted when they were suddenly published. That was 20 years ago. I just remind the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, of the Scandinavian system, where sentencers award sentences that include certain targets. If a prisoner has got through all the targets set, the governor can take the prisoner back to the court and ask for them to be released on licence.
The last person I mention is my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, who agreed with me that above all we must have a strategy. Without a strategy we are going nowhere.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the Government’s proposals for a new agreement with our European friends that would honour the result of the referendum and deliver Brexit on 31 October in an orderly way, with a deal. This Government’s objective has always been to leave with a deal and these constructive and reasonable proposals show our seriousness of purpose. They do not deliver everything we would have wished. They do represent a compromise. But to remain a prisoner of existing positions is to become a cause of deadlock rather than breakthrough. So we have made a genuine attempt to bridge the chasm, to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable and to go the extra mile as time runs short.
Our starting point is that this House promised to respect the referendum before the vote. More people voted to leave than voted for any political party in our history. The referendum must be respected. Both main parties promised at the 2017 election that they would respect the referendum and there would be no second referendum. This House voted to trigger Article 50 and has voted repeatedly to leave. Yet it also voted three times against the previous withdrawal agreement and for repeated delay. And so, as I have emphasised time and again, there can be no path to a deal except by reopening the withdrawal agreement and replacing the so-called backstop.
While, as I stand here today, we are some way from a resolution, it is to the credit of our European friends that they have accepted the need to address these issues. I welcome the constructive calls that I have had over the last 24 hours, including with President Juncker, Chancellor Merkel and Taoiseach Varadkar, and the statement from President Juncker that the Commission will now examine the legal text objectively.
The essence of our new proposal is a new protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland consisting of five elements. In the first place, all our actions are based on our shared determination to sustain the Belfast Good Friday agreement—the fundamental basis of governance in Northern Ireland—the protection of which is the highest priority of all. From this follows the second principle; namely, that we shall of course uphold all the long-standing areas of co-operation between the UK and our friends in Ireland, including the rights of all those living in Northern Ireland, north/south co-operation, and the common travel area, which predates both the Good Friday agreement and the European Union itself.
Thirdly, we propose the potential creation of a regulatory zone on the island of Ireland covering all goods, including agri-food. For as long as it exists, this zone would eliminate all regulatory checks for trade in goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But, fourthly, unlike the so-called backstop, such a regulatory zone would be sustained with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, as expressed through the Assembly and Executive. They will give their consent during the transition period as a condition for these arrangements entering into force. Thereafter, the Assembly will vote again every four years. If consent were withheld, these arrangements would then lapse after one year.
Fifthly, it has always been a point of principle for this Government that, at the end of the transition period, the UK should leave the EU customs union whole and entire, restoring sovereign control over our trade policy and opening the way for free trade deals with all our friends around the world. That is a fundamental point for us. So, under the proposals in this new protocol, Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory and not the EU customs union, but there will be no need for checks—or any infrastructure—at or near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, I have already given a guarantee that the UK Government will never conduct checks at the border, and we believe that the EU should do the same, so there is absolute clarity on this point.
Instead, under this new protocol, all customs checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland would take place either electronically or, in the small number of cases where physical checks would be necessary, they would happen at traders’ premises or other points in the supply chain. We have put forward a method for achieving this, based on improving and simplifying existing rules, trusting certain traders and strengthening our co-operation with Ireland, in a spirit of friendship and sensitivity to the particular circumstances. While these proposals will mean changes from the situation that prevails today in Ireland and Northern Ireland, it is their driving purpose to minimise any disruption. In order to support the transition further we propose a new deal for Northern Ireland, which will boost economic growth and competitiveness and set in train new infrastructure, particularly with a cross-border focus.
The previous withdrawal agreement and political declaration would have permanently anchored the United Kingdom within the orbit of EU regulation and customs arrangements. An indefinite so-called backstop provided a bridge to that vision of the future. This Government have a different vision, basing our future relationship with our European neighbours on a free trade agreement and allowing the UK to take back control of our trade policy and our regulations. We propose to amend the political declaration to reflect this ambition. Our proposals should now provide the basis for rapid negotiations towards a solution in the short time that remains.
I do not for one moment resile from the fact that we have shown great flexibility, in the interests of reaching an accommodation with our European friends and achieving the resolution for which we all yearn. If our European neighbours choose not to show a corresponding willingness to reach a deal, then we shall have to leave on 31 October without an agreement, and we are ready to do so. But that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which all parties would be held responsible. When I think of the conflicts that have wracked Europe in the past, of the immense challenges that we have surmounted, of the 74 years of peace and prosperity that we have together achieved, I believe that surely we can summon the collective will to reach a new agreement.
This Government have moved. Our proposals do represent a compromise, and I hope that the House can now come together in the national interest behind this new deal, to open a new chapter of friendship with our European neighbours and move on to our domestic priorities, including education, infrastructure and our NHS. So let us seize this moment to honour our overriding promise to the British people, respect Brexit and get Brexit done. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I think that most of us listened carefully to what the Prime Minister has said today. The Statement was very different in tone to what we heard last Wednesday, so hopefully her entreaties to the Prime Minister had some impact.
When the Prime Minister took office in July, we were promised a fresh approach to Brexit, and that, despite actions suggesting the opposite, the Government really wanted to strike a deal with the EU. Having patiently awaited the result of the Conservative Party leadership contest, our EU partners were promised certainty by Mr Johnson. The de facto Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Gove, tells us that the new Cabinet Brexit sub-committee has had dozens of meetings over the summer, leading to a new plan for the Irish border being drawn up and dispatched to Brussels.
It is perfectly legitimate for the new Prime Minister to want to put his own plans to Brussels. In doing so, however, he would have been conscious that the Article 50 process was designed to take two years—not just the two weeks before the last European Council summit—for good reason. It was unfortunate that his advisers briefed the media that this would be a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Thankfully the tone has shifted to something much more conciliatory. We welcome that.
We must, however, face facts. Despite being welcomed by the DUP—I am sorry that our DUP colleagues are not here today for the Statement—the plan has been dismissed by all the other major political parties in Northern Ireland, as well by manufacturing and retail bodies. Retail NI’s Glyn Roberts said that the proposal was “worse than no deal”. Trevor Lockhart, the group chief executive of an agri-foods business, said on this morning’s “Today” programme:
“It is ultimately a balance between what works politically and what works economically. The UK backstop, for us, delivered economically but clearly did not work politically, and in the pursuit of getting a political solution the interests of businesses in Northern Ireland to some extent have now been sacrificed”.
Those are harsh words. For a plan centred on the principle of consent, there appears to be little consent for it.
Last night the noble Lord, Lord Empey, powerfully made the point that the Government were reneging on their commitment not to have a border down the Irish Sea. Like him, I struggle to understand the position of the DUP, as that party has opposed a border in the Irish Sea since the very start of the Brexit process.
Those in the know told us to watch out for the reaction from the EU 27. No news would be good news; it would mean talks were going into the tunnel for further discussion, and a deal was possible. Anything more than a basic acknowledgement of receipt would spell trouble. What, then, was the verdict? The Taoiseach warns that the texts tabled,
“do not fully meet the agreed objective of the backstop”.
The President of the Commission, while welcoming a degree of clarity about the UK’s intentions, noted several “problematic points”. The European Parliament’s Brexit steering group was less than enthusiastic, and that institution, which has to ratify any agreement, has already signalled that it will not support a deal without a backstop.
As I noted earlier, now that the party conference season is over, the Prime Minister appears to be approaching matters differently. I hope that talks will continue and progress will be made. However, given the leaked and very unwise memo calling on Conservative MPs to call the EU “crazy” if it rejects such a plan, it is vital that these talks take place in good faith.
So let us look briefly at the issues with the proposals. Despite warm words from the Government on the Good Friday agreement, it is not clear that this arrangement would uphold the UK’s commitments. The plans talk of a limited number of physical inspections taking place away from the border at the premises of producers, or perhaps further down the supply chain. I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said, but is she able to confirm what arrangements are envisaged for such checks? Would the system operate in the same way as the Sweden/Norway border, with UK customs officials able to inspect premises in the Republic and vice versa—because that is how Norway/Sweden works?
The use of electronic submissions for trusted traders is surely part of the solution, but I am slightly concerned that the clue is in the name—it works only for “trusted” traders. What would the criteria be for a “trusted trader” under the new scheme? How do the Government envisage dealing with irregular traders, or those attempting to smuggle goods across the border, particularly if the UK ends up not participating in EU-wide intelligence and data-sharing schemes? Is the Prime Minister confident that his answer to that will reassure the EU 27 with regard to upholding the integrity of the single market?
Key to the plans is the inclusion of agri-food, a sector that relies heavily on cross-border trade, in a single regulatory area across the island of Ireland. Has the Lord Privy Seal had an opportunity to reflect on the comments of the Food and Drink Federation, which last night said that,
“these proposals don’t work for shoppers and consumers. That’s because they ask food and drink businesses operating in Northern Ireland to pay—through new bureaucracy and costs—for the Government’s inability to agree a comprehensive exit deal”?
Such concerns have been echoed by a variety of retail organisations across Northern Ireland and the Republic.
On these Benches, we are extremely worried by the Government’s insistence that there is,
“no need for … extensive level playing field arrangements”,
in the withdrawal agreement. The Leader of the House and the Minister sitting next to her will have heard the debates over the past couple of years in your Lordships’ House, and they will understand that what has been spoken about is more than mere customs procedures. Such arrangements cover social, employment and environmental standards, which completely underpin the contents of the political declaration. Can the Leader confirm whether the Government wish now to amend the political declaration? If so, have they prepared a new text? Do they believe that it is feasible to secure substantial changes to and ratify—including passing the withdrawal agreement Bill through both Houses—the withdrawal agreement and political declaration in the time available over the next two to four weeks?
Simon Coveney, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland, has indicated that if this were the final offer, the outcome on 31 October would be a no-deal exit. However, the Prime Minister has toned down his rhetoric since the Conservative Party conference and has talked about this being a “broad landing zone” for a deal, with the Government prepared for further discussions and further concessions. However, the fact remains that time is tight if Boris Johnson and his advisers stick to their “31 October or die-in-a-ditch” mantra. The fact is that the withdrawal Act No. 2 is a lifeline for the Government. It is an irony that the Prime Minister’s best chance of securing deal is an Act that he has opposed and done nothing but attack.
Noble Lords will recall that exactly this scenario was envisaged during our earlier debates on the first withdrawal Bill. We argued that it would be wrong to tie the Government’s hands if they were close to a deal but running out of time because of an inflexible exit date. The Prime Minister says in his Statement that,
“we are some way from a resolution”.
The extension legislated for in the most recent withdrawal Act gives the Prime Minister the flexibility he needs if he genuinely wants to get that deal over the line. Therefore, given that the Prime Minister feels that his proposal is the basis for further talks, does the Leader also accept that that is what he is suggesting? If a version of this proposal is agreed with the EU, are the Government confident that the necessary systems can be put in place during the transition period ending in December 2020? What are the Government doing to ensure, and is the Leader confident, that Stormont will be sitting by then?
My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement that was written in much more measured tones than the one she was required to read last week. It is thanks to the purported Prorogation having been nullified that Parliament can now hold the Government to account on this important development. It is worth reflecting that if that had not happened, these important proposals would have been brought forward without Parliament being in session to examine them.
It is important that we examine these proposals, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has asked a number of detailed questions on their application and how it is proposed that the arrangements will work. It appears that, from having no borders as a full member of the European Union, the Prime Minister’s proposals would give Northern Ireland two borders. Does the Minister believe that these proposals are better for the economy and, above all, for the security of Northern Ireland than what Northern Ireland has at present? It is important, too, that we closely examine the proposal of a “potential”— the word is there in all the documents—regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and customs checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Simply to state that position must surely suggest that Northern Ireland’s economy would be in a worse position.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, quoted a number of businesses that have expressed considerable scepticism about the proposals. The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:
“Businesses are telling us that the potential increased costs will seriously damage … supply lines and indeed business survival.”
There are other quotes that could be repeated from spokespersons who have cast doubt on the workability and cost of these proposals. It would be interesting to see whether the Minister, when she comes to reply, can quote any business or business organisation which, in the last 24 hours, has given support to these proposals. The proposals depend on electronic and, in some cases, physical checks—possibly on business premises. What estimate have the Government made of these added costs to businesses as a consequence of such additional surveillance?
Last night, in response to a point that has been raised on a number of occasions, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that the proposals did not breach Section 10(2)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018,
“because they avoid checks, controls and physical infrastructure at the border”.—[Official Report, 2/10/19; col. 1765.]
I note his words, “at the border”, but if one looks at Section 10(2)(b) of the 2018 Act, it refers to creating or facilitating,
“border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls, that did not exist before exit day and are not in accordance with an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU”.
I believe there is a difference between “at the border” and border arrangements; customs arrangements are by their very nature border arrangements. Can the Minister confirm that the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister conform with the provision, given the clear indication in his Statement that checks could take place at designated locations anywhere in Ireland and Northern Ireland?
The Statement referred to the,
“potential creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering all goods.”
It goes on to say that it would eliminate,
“all regulatory checks for trade in goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
So, of course, there would be checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Will the Minister indicate whether this would be a two-way process? The Prime Minister, I understand, seemed to indicate in a reply that it would be only one way: for goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. Surely, however, if Great Britain has higher regulatory standards than the European Union, there would be checks for goods coming from Northern Ireland into Great Britain. Can she confirm whether that would indeed be the case, or is the Government’s working assumption that there will never be situations where the regulatory regime in Great Britain would be more stringent than that in the European Union? Have the Government had any discussions with the Scottish Government as to the implications of this proposal for any infrastructure required for such checks at Cairnryan?
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to the powerful speech yesterday evening by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who wondered how the DUP could possibly sign up to it. He gave various quotes at col. 1744, quoting DUP spokespersons opposed to any form of regulatory divergence. Why would they? Maybe the secret is that the answer is in the word “potential”, if it is read in conjunction with the consent arrangements, which in the explanatory note provided, refer to consent,
“within the framework set by the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement”.
There are people in your Lordships’ House who are far more expert in the intricacies of the Good Friday agreement and the procedures in the Northern Ireland Assembly than I am—I am conscious that my noble friend Lord Alderdice is behind me—but I understand there is a procedure called a petition of concern. Is it possible that a petition of concern could be used to ensure that these arrangements never take place, and could be vetoed by the DUP and others before they ever had a chance to take off? Does the Minister think that that enhances the chances of this arrangement being agreed to, not only by the Government of Ireland but by the European Union?
The Written Statement laid by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, yesterday and reflected in the Prime Minister’s Statement, refers to a revised political declaration. The Statement says:
“In parallel, we will be negotiating a revised Political Declaration which reflect this Government’s ultimate goal of a future relationship with the EU that has a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at its heart”.
While there is a lot of detail on the arrangements with Ireland, there is very little detail on what arrangements or provisions are sought for the political declaration. It would be helpful if the Minister, when she comes to reply, would indicate what provisions are proposed. Does it mean that the reassurances we had in times past about maintaining workers’ rights and environmental protections may no longer be the case?
The Statement from the Prime Minister also says:
“If our European neighbours choose not to show a corresponding willingness to reach a deal, then we shall have to leave on 31st October without an agreement and we are ready to do so”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has already indicated how the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act might come to the assistance of the Government, but assuming this agreement does not pass, and that the House of Commons does not agree to no deal, can the Minister indicate in detail how the Prime Minister can state that in these circumstances, we shall have to leave on 31 October without an agreement consistent with the provisions of that Act?
Obviously, an orderly departure from the European Union is preferable to a disorderly one. However, we on these Benches do not believe there is any agreement that can be reached which gives us a better deal, in terms of our security, our prosperity, our trade, our jobs, or the future opportunities for our young people than the deal we have at present, as full members of the European Union. That applies to the United Kingdom as a whole and to Northern Ireland in particular.
I thank the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord for their comments. I reiterate once again that we are committed to and focused on getting a deal, which is why we have brought forward these new proposals. I also remind noble Lords, who will be aware of this, that the House of Commons has rejected the previous withdrawal agreement three times; therefore, to get a deal, we have had to come forward with new proposals.
I reassure the noble Baroness that she is absolutely right: we believe that these proposals set out a reasonable compromise and that they are a broad landing zone in which a deal can take shape. We are pleased that our European colleagues have said that they will look at these proposals. Detailed discussions will now have to take place on them. I can reassure her that David Frost, the Prime Minister’s lead negotiator, is back in Brussels today. Intensive talks will be ongoing and we look forward to continuing them to ensure we can get a deal that everybody is happy with. We are committed to supporting the all-Ireland economy by avoiding checks and infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, keeping Northern Ireland in the same customs territory as Great Britain and ensuring unfettered access for Northern Irish farmers and businesses to the UK.
The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord talked about the political declaration. Yes, we are in negotiations on changes to that. Those negotiations are ongoing and as soon as we are in a position to give further details on them, we will of course do so. I am happy to reassure them both that we are committed to strong standards in the areas of environmental protections and workers’ rights, as the noble Baroness set out. We have an excellent record in this country in these areas. There are numerous examples of where we exceed EU minima, such as on the length of maternity leave, shared parental leave, holiday entitlement and greenhouse gas targets. As I hope we have made clear continually at this Dispatch Box, we as a Government intend not only to maintain existing standards but to improve them. We will continue to hold this path.
The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord are right that these proposals will mean changes from the situation that prevails today—this was reflected in the Statement—but our driving purpose is to ensure that we minimise disruption. We understand the concerns of business. The noble Baroness mentioned concerns that have been raised. We will be talking in detail to businesses about the proposals, explaining why we believe there will be minimum disruption and making sure that their concerns are allayed. Part of the way in which we will do this is through our new deal for Northern Ireland. We will be making commitments to help boost economic growth and competitiveness, and to support infrastructure projects—particularly with a cross-border focus—so that we can work with our Irish partners as well to ensure that businesses and consumers across the island of Ireland are happy with what we are planning.
A limited number of goods movements will undergo physical inspections or checks. The system will largely be decentralised. It will be facilitated and minimised by the use of solutions such as electronic filing. We expect there to be a very small number of physical checks needed. These will be conducted at traders’ premises or other points in the supply chain. For instance, the UK currently checks around 4% of customs declarations, with fewer than 1% of these checks being physical in nature. This reflects our robust pre-clearance processes which involve the de-risking of high-risk traders and commodities. Our future system will be underpinned by continuing close co-operation between UK and Irish authorities, based on the existing customs legislations of both parties. It is our intention to make a series of simplifications and improvements to that legislation to ensure that the commitment in the new protocol to having no checks or infrastructure at the border is fulfilled.
The noble Baroness asked, for instance, about trusted traders. One of the ideas put forward is a special provision for small traders to ensure that requirements on them could be simplified. For instance, some small traders could be exempt from processes and paying duty altogether. These measures would need to be carefully designed so that they target the traders most in need of support, while continuing to ensure compliance.
The noble and learned Lord asked about Section 10 of the withdrawal Act. As my noble friend said yesterday, we believe that our proposals do not breach this provision but conform to it.
I can absolutely reassure the House that we are working very hard to get the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running. I think all of us in this House have been frustrated and disappointed about the lack of progress seen. I can reiterate only that this is an absolute priority and we are working extremely hard to ensure that it happens.
The issue of consent was also raised. The exact mechanism for consent will be discussed as part of these negotiations but in the context of the Good Friday agreement. We want to achieve the satisfaction of both communities in Northern Ireland. This is at the heart of what we look to do. We very much hope that these proposals will lead to a further, new and intense way in which we can move forward, so that we can present a Bill to the other place which can get through. Then we can move on and get a deal.
My Lords, I welcome any step, however tentative, which might possibly produce a resolution. Would the Leader of the House be in a position to clarify the intention of the Government if the EU—and I use it compendiously—were very interested in these proposals but asked for more time, say one month, to consider them?
As I said, I am afraid that I will not prejudge the outcome of the negotiations. Our aim is clear: we want to conclude these negotiations quickly, so that we can have an agreement at the EU Council this month and progress to leave the EU on 31 October. That is our very firm intention; it is where our focus is and what we are working towards. With willingness and compromise on both sides—it will require compromise on both sides; we accept and understand that we still have a way to go, but we believe that the will is there—that is what we will be focused on and working very hard towards.
My Lords, why do not the Government listen to hauliers, businesspeople, trade unions and every Northern Ireland political party except the DUP—including the Ulster Unionists and the cross-party Alliance Party—who all oppose this proposal, which undermines the all-Ireland economy and betrays the Good Friday and Belfast agreement? Surely the noble Baroness must accept that the customs border proposed is unworkable because there are no enforcement measures, leaving it wide open to smuggling and criminality. It is a virtual hard border, not a physical hard border. How could Brussels enforce its own rules, except by erecting infrastructure for security and checks on this external frontier of the European Union, at least to obey World Trade Organization rules? Surely this is the worst of both worlds: customs clearance centres and arrangements, including tariffs, that would be a target for civil disobedience and, perhaps, paramilitary attack, a border that is not even secure, and a shift from no borders to up to four borders. I appeal to every Member of Parliament— certainly every Labour MP—to vote against it to protect the peace process and progress on the island of Ireland.
I fear I cannot agree with the noble Lord’s assessment. We want a deal. We believe that a deal is in our best interests and also, frankly, those of Ireland and Northern Ireland. That is why we are working hard towards it. We made very clear—the Statement made clear, I hope—that our proposal is centred on our commitment to find solutions compatible with the Belfast agreement. We believe it is. We will work very hard and do everything we can to minimise disruption. We have made compromises. We now want to work with the EU to discuss further how to ensure that we come forward with a proposal which can get through the other place and means that we can move on and work together for a strong future relationship. I fear that I do not accept the noble Lord’s view of the proposals. They have been well thought through. We think that they address some of the key issues that have been a problem so far and we will be working very hard to advance them.
My Lords, I welcome this carefully crafted compromise and hope that it will receive serious consideration, because we need to secure a deal. Are not the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, mistaken in saying that there is no border? There is a border between the north and south of Ireland. There are checks, for example, on VAT on both sides of that border. They are done not at the border but away from it. Is it not also wrong to conflate a customs declaration with physical examinations? They are completely different. Can my noble friend confirm what the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons: no physical infrastructure will be required by these changes?
I thank my noble friend for his comments. He is absolutely right. We have been very clear that there will be no further infrastructure—there will be no hard border within Ireland. Any changes to process that happen, will, we believe, be very minor. We will do everything we can to ensure that. That is why we will be working hard with Northern Irish and Irish businesses further to explain our proposals to ensure that they understand that we intend absolutely to minimise any disruption. We all want to achieve a deal that will work in the best interests of the island of Ireland.
My Lords, the EU Select Committee intends to hold a public evidence session next Tuesday morning, based on the documents delivered yesterday. In preparation for that, I wonder whether the noble Baroness the Leader could give us a bit more help on the matter of consent. I should be grateful for clarification of two issues. First, the Assembly has not sat since January 2017. There must therefore be a risk that at some point during a future consent process, it may again not be sitting. Can she tell us how, if it is not sitting, the consent process works and what is the default position? Secondly, this time assuming that the Assembly is sitting, it has special rules for cross-community consent. How will those rules apply?
The principle behind the consent is that we believe any alignment with EU law in Northern Ireland must depend on the consent of those affected by it, which is why we believe this is an important element. As I said in my response to the opening questions, obviously the exact mechanisms will need to involve a discussion between us, Ireland and representatives of the communities in Northern Ireland. We are absolutely clear—I hope this was made clear in my responses to an earlier question—that this must be done to the satisfaction of both communities in Northern Ireland. The details of this are something we will need to talk about with our Irish colleagues and across the Province of Northern Ireland over the coming days.
My Lords, listening to the exchanges in the other place, I was struck that the really important question from Lady Hermon was not actually answered. I put to the noble Baroness this question, which in effect follows on from the one she was just asked but has not answered: can she explain the difference between a coalition Executive and a power-sharing Executive, in the context of Northern Ireland, with respect to this Statement?
I am afraid the noble Lord will not be happy, but I cannot say more than I have said. Some of the details of the exact mechanisms will be open to discussion. I will not pre-empt negotiations or discussions and do not think it would help the process if I did. I am sorry I cannot say any more to the noble Lord.
My Lords, having taken part in the original power-sharing agreement in the 1970s, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that these differences are extremely hard to disentangle in the atmosphere of Irish politics—but it is a pertinent question and I see why he is asking it.
I welcome this protocol very warmly indeed. I was a bit depressed by the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, which seemed very negative, but I thought his own Front Bench sounded a shade less negative. I do not know whether I am reading too much optimism into the situation. That is the big question: where are the Opposition on this matter? Will they support the protocol and the deal? The Government do not have a stable majority in the House of Commons. The position of the Opposition is absolutely crucial, so let us please have an answer to that question: will they support it or not? We know that the Lib Dems, of course, are against it all because they do not want this to happen at all. They want some other course, which I cannot quite fathom but which certainly would not benefit the national interest of this country.
Is not one of the missing factors in all this the concept of time? Time is a great solvent. As I understand it from this report, there is the transition period first—during which, we hope, the Northern Ireland Assembly will be recreated and give its consent—then there are four years before the issue comes up again, then a lapse of a year if, at the end of the four years, there is a vote for a change or it has not worked. Surely the enormous ingenuity of the people of Ulster, Northern Ireland, and the tremendous dynamism and creativity of modern Dublin and the modern Republic are between them capable, over all those years, of producing workable solutions in the modern world. Should we not put the concept of time a bit more into this before rushing to judgments?
I thank my noble friend for his more optimistic outlook. He is absolutely right: our proposal is that before the end of the transition period, then for every four years after that, the UK will provide an opportunity for democratic consent in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive for the regulatory alignment arrangements, within the framework set out in the Good Friday agreement.
My noble friend is also absolutely right that the reason we have brought forward these new proposals and will be working incredibly hard over the coming weeks is that we need to get agreement in the other place to support them, which we have not managed to do with the backstop in its current state. That is an absolute priority for us. We very much hope that through further discussions and negotiations across all parties and all Benches, both in this House and the other place, we can get to a point where we can get a deal and move on to start talking about the positive relationship we want with the EU. That is what we all want to be talking about, and it feels as if it is time we really tried to get on to that, so that we can move on.
My Lords, do the Government recognise that consent is a tricky issue because the DUP does not represent the whole of the unionist community? Many unionists voted to remain and would certainly want to be in the single market and customs union in any future agreement. I remain very concerned that the Government seem to see one side of the story in Northern Ireland as represented by only the DUP. It is simply not true.
Regarding the regulation of goods—as opposed to customs—the Government’s explanatory note says that these arrangements must receive the endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have already had questions about what happens if that is not there, and I realise that the Minister is not able to respond. If they are meant to receive the endorsement of the Assembly and Executive, Paragraph 13 of the paper states that that should happen before the end of transition period and every four years thereafter.
What happens if they do not give consent? What will then be the position? Do we revert to what we have now—common regulations—or is the reversion to the hard border, which differs absolutely from what most people in Northern Ireland voted for?
I once again reiterate: we have made very clear that there will be no return to a hard border in Northern Ireland and that we believe that it is only right that the people of Northern Ireland have a say through the Executive on whether they wish to consent to the proposed arrangements. I believe that that is right. I will not second-guess their decision, but we fundamentally believe that it is their democratic right to decide that.
That is, with respect, no answer to the noble Baroness’s question. Her question was this: supposing, four years down the line in this endless cycle of economic and political uncertainty—very dangerous to the Northern Ireland situation—that Northern Ireland said that it did not want this, what would happen then? It is not clear. Is the EU to be told that it may not have the particular standard or regulation because a province of a country that is outside the EU does not like it? It seems an implausible proposition to put to the EU.
I think that we are at a rather solemn moment here. We are formally resiling from our 2017 commitment to full regulatory alignment now and in future on anything that might affect the peace process and the all-Ireland economy. We are formally resiling from our 2018 commitment to a future economic partnership based on a level playing field and common standards for environment, employment and social standards. We are deliberately tearing it up and highlighting that in the letter that we have sent to the President of the Commission.
On the first point, I have nothing more to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said on Northern Ireland. It seems to me that he is absolutely correct. I would only say that I think that the corrosive effect on the Northern Ireland political situation of the continuing uncertainty of this four-year cycle is bound to be damaging. I note that all elements in Northern Ireland—business or political, apart from the DUP—appear to be of the same view.
My view is that, in Brussels, more attention will be given to the abolition of the level-playing-field commitment. I think they will conclude, rightly or wrongly, that we intend to challenge them by going for lower standards and deregulation, and I think that they will find that extremely alarming. I heard the Prime Minister’s Statement. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is completely correct: the Prime Minister said that checks in the Irish Sea would be one way. In other words, he implied that standards in the UK would be below those in the European Union and applied in Northern Ireland.
I have four questions to ask the Minister. First, does she recognise how this would increase the difficulty of concluding, some years hence, even a bare-bones, Canada-style free trade agreement with the European Union? Does she recognise the likely effect on market access to our largest market for our services exports, which are our biggest exports? Secondly, how will trade deals with third countries work, given that the applicable standards for UK imports will differ depending on the final destination in the UK? Thirdly, does the Minister believe that the European Parliament and this Parliament could conceivably agree by 31 October to ratify a treaty based on these proposals? Fourthly, if not, what do the Government intend to do?
Our focus, and what we are aiming for, is a comprehensive, best-in-class free trade agreement. We believe that we can certainly achieve that. I reiterate once again, as I said in answer to the earlier question, that we have an excellent track record in relation to standards. We have made clear at this Dispatch Box time and again that we are not intending to lower standards. I referenced a few examples of where we lead the world or exceed EU minimums, which I can repeat: length of maternity leave, shared parental leave, holiday entitlement and greenhouse gas targets. Of course, once we leave the EU, it will be for this Parliament to make decisions on our standards. The strength of feeling around this House—and the view of the Government—is that we absolutely would not want to lower our standards. In fact, we may want to exceed them, and we will be able to do a lot of other things that we want to do. It is an unfair attack to say that this is about lowering standards. We have been very clear: it absolutely is not.
My Lords, I return to the issue of democratic consent of the Assembly and Executive in respect of regulatory alignment. A number of noble Lords have raised this issue. It is absolutely crucial that we get this right; the way this is taken forward will have a profound impact on the result, whether it is a majority vote in the Assembly or taken forward by a cross-community vote. In addition, I will share some of the concerns that have been expressed about a vote taking place every four years on this issue. My experience in Northern Ireland, which goes back 30 years, is that this issue will be used every four years as a proxy for a border poll. That would have possibly profound consequences for economic and political stability in Northern Ireland.
I can only defer to my noble friend on his knowledge in this area. The concerns that have been expressed across the House are noted. As I have said, the exact mechanisms in this area will be subject to discussions with our Irish colleagues and, obviously, with representatives of the communities within Northern Ireland. As he says, it is critical that we get this right and get it right for both communities in Northern Ireland, so that we can move forward and protect the fantastic achievements that have been made in relation to peace in Northern Ireland. I hope I have been clear that this is paramount and a primary aim for us within these proposals.
My Lords, the Prime Minister has said that this is a final offer. Does the Minister agree that, while it may be the final offer from the UK, it is the beginning of a fresh negotiation? It is profoundly important for the Government to keep that in mind and be prepared to make further compromises against the framework of what they have outlined.
In light of that, coming back to the principle of consent, I would like to put a proposition to the Minister that is very much in keeping with the reservations that several noble Lords have addressed today. Instead of having a tight four-year framework in which issues are debated again and again, and with a limited mandate—as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong—would the Government be prepared to consider a longer timeframe, potentially of seven to 10 years? I accept that the Minister is not going to take part in negotiations from these Benches, but, in the absence of that, perhaps the Government can look at the provisions of the European Union Act 2011, where it was intended to consult the people only when there was a significant change in the transfer of powers to the EU. Perhaps a similar formula could be employed to gain consent. Significant regulatory change or dealignment from either the United Kingdom or the EU might be the only circumstances under which the consent formula would kick in again. In other words, continue with the framework at the point of departure, of Brexit, and make changes only when a certain threshold has been achieved.
I thank the noble Baroness for her constructive comments. She is right that I will not be stepping into negotiations from the Dispatch Box, but I can certainly reiterate that, as I said in answer to the noble Baroness, in his letter to President Juncker the Prime Minister makes clear that this is a broad landing zone, within which we believe a deal can take shape. As I said, his chief negotiator has gone to Brussels to continue the intense negotiations. We will be discussing the concerns or ideas raised by President Juncker, President Tusk and the Taoiseach as we go forward over the next few days.
My Lords, I wonder if the Minister could answer a couple of questions, after one observation, which is that in order to reach a landing zone you have to take off first. The two questions I would like to ask are as follows.
On this vexed issue of consent, I do not want to go into what would happen, but can she confirm that, under the arrangements for government in Northern Ireland, either of the two main parties—Sinn Féin or the DUP—could, during the transitional period or at the moment of the four-year review, frustrate the continuation of the arrangements that have been negotiated, either by opposing them or by bringing down the Government? Could she answer that factual question? It is in the hands of either of them, and I am not pointing the finger at the DUP only, to frustrate the operation of this agreement.
Secondly, the Prime Minister has had quite a lot of Brussels experience—although his misrepresentation of what went on there led one to doubt whether he really understood what was going on—but has he ever in his life seen a process of the sort he is now describing being completed in the time available to this, before 31 October? If not, what does he intend to do about it?
The noble Lord is right: if consent was withheld, the arrangements would not come into force or would lapse after one year. On his second point, the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to and putting his full energy into achieving a deal that can get through the House of Commons in the timeframe he has set out. We have faith and trust that he will do that.
My Lords, I am glad to hear of the progress he is making. I move away from Northern Ireland for a moment to ask my noble friend about work on the tariff schedule. This will be especially important in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which the Statement says could still be an outcome. I am interested to know the timing for finalising the schedule and debating it in this House. I am a great believer in free trade and cannot see how we can both unilaterally introduce low tariffs, as proposed in the draft schedule, and conclude amazing free trade agreements. There will be no incentive for countries such as Canada, let alone the EU, to conclude good deals. This is a concern that is outstanding, which we have not had an opportunity to debate.
My Lords, in all this, have we forgotten about the economic stability of the Government in Dublin? Surely some of the things that we are talking about will damage the Irish economy enormously. Do we not owe something more to the Irish for their loyalty and co-operation over many years than just saying, “It’s your problem, we’ll leave it to you”? Specifically, I understand that a significant proportion of Irish trade with the EU goes across the sea route and then from Dover to Calais. What is going to happen to that trade link?
We are certainly not having that approach with our Irish colleagues; we want to work very closely with them. We realise and accept that there will have to be compromise on both sides and that Great Britain, not the Irish, made this decision. That is why we have put these new proposals on the table—proposals that we hope we can work with the Irish on, so that we can get a deal in order that we can move on to our future relationship. No deal is something that we do not want and certainly something that the Irish do not want, so, in order to try to tackle the issue that seemed to be the main problem with the withdrawal agreement getting through the other place, we have come back with these fresh proposals so that we can do exactly as the noble Lord said, which is come to a deal that is far, far better than no deal for both us and our Irish friends.
My Lords, to help the noble Lord, Lord Howell, the policy of the Liberal Democrats is to remain. That is the best deal on the table. However, that does not remove our duty in this House and in the other place to explore what the Government of the day are proposing. I therefore put it to the Minister that the reason why the Good Friday/Belfast agreement worked was that it was the result of careful diplomacy with all the players in play in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. What is worrying about the proposal that the noble Baroness has put before us today is that it seems that only the DUP was involved. That is a fatal flaw in any attempt to win consensus in Ireland.
The other issue is that 31 October is not a special date other than in the mind of the Prime Minister. There is absolutely no reason why we should leave on that date. If this proposal is as good as the Benches opposite are now arguing it is, surely it deserves time to get it right rather than walking over a precipice of our own making into a disaster. We have all said things in negotiations—"dying in a ditch” or whatever—but the important thing now is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to negotiate in good faith for success. An artificial deadline of his own making puts that commitment in doubt.
Well, I can certainly say that we are negotiating in good faith. Our seriousness in wanting to come up with a solution has been shown by the proposals that we have put forward, which have involved a number of compromises on our side and things that are perhaps slightly uncomfortable. We have done that because we want to get a deal. I say once again that we are completely committed to finding solutions that are compatible with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is an absolute priority, and protecting it is the highest priority for us.
My Lords, it is difficult to reconcile the intention to complete this by 31 October with the noble Baroness’s recognition that further compromises, details and clarifications will be required. Would it not therefore be sensible, in order to clarify the situation, for the Prime Minister at this stage to say, “Well, I’ve got so far. There’s been a relatively good response from Europe. I, on my own initiative, will extend the time”?
I have two other questions. First, if that fails and we are in a no-deal situation, what happens to all the arrangements that have been made in the good times between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic? Do they fall, because they are predicated on us both being members of the European Union and observing the same regulations and conventions?
My second point is that, in a no-deal situation, the Prime Minister was reported last week as saying, “Well, the EU can do what it likes and therefore the Irish Republic can set up customs checks on its side of the border, but we will let them in”. Leaving aside that that seems to be the opposite of what the Brexiteers wanted, is that not in contravention of the WTO, because we will have to be tied to a different EU tariff schedule from everybody else, and a nil tariff on the border?
We have been very clear that, in the event of no deal—which we do not want—we would not put new infrastructure along the border. We very much hope that the EU and Ireland would agree the same. Obviously, in a no-deal situation we would have to have a different set of conversations with the Irish. That is why we are clear that we do not want no deal; it is not the focus of this Government. We want to get a deal and that is why in good faith we have put forward these proposals.
I reiterate—frustrating though it is for everyone in this House—that the House of Commons three times rejected the withdrawal agreement and the backstop that was on the table. So we cannot put it back to the Commons again; we have to do something else. That is what we are trying to do. That is why we have come up with some flexible proposals to have the conversation with the EU in order to get a deal done and move forward to talk about our strong, positive future trading relationship with the EU. That is what we want to move towards.
Picking up on the theme of potential disaster, but nevertheless wishing the Government well in their endeavours to break the deadlock, while I can see complications, some of which have been expressed this afternoon. I hope that Yellowhammer will never need to be tested. However, given its importance—the report on its effectiveness is due out on 16 October, I believe—will the Government give serious consideration to ensuring that the Queen’s Speech allows us the opportunity to debate the contents of this, with appropriate days made available, because it is of such crucial importance? If not, will the Government ensure that, at the earliest opportunity after the Queen’s Speech, proper time will be put aside so that we can consider the contents of the publication?
I was in the Commons and—I think probably like the country—welcome the more conciliatory approach that the Prime Minister adopted. He was asked whether, in the light of trying to secure the majority which he needs at the other end, he would be willing to put the Whip back on those he had expelled. He did not give a straight answer—indeed, he dodged it, which was to be expected. Equally, I think his biggest problem is not with Labour and the Opposition. His biggest problem throughout has been with a group of his own—the ERG. The question might be: what soundings of the ERG have been taken, and will it be prepared to support the deal that comes back?
I can certainly say that the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and Ministers have been engaging with MPs throughout the Conservative Party. They have also been having conversations with MPs on the opposite side. We are trying to build a coalition for the deal. As I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I understand the frustration, but the previous withdrawal agreement was rejected three times. We have to build a coalition in order to get a new withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.
These proposals are an attempt to address some of the concerns about the backstop, which appeared to be the main issue in the House of Commons. If you watched the Prime Minister today, he offered numerous meetings and conversations to MPs across the House, in order to make sure that we can move forward and get a deal and discuss our future relationship with the EU and, importantly, talk about our domestic priorities. I am sure noble Lords opposite would like to talk about the issues that they want to raise outside Brexit as well. It would be great to be able to talk more broadly to the public again about the ideas that we both have for taking this country forward.
My Lords, can I ask specifically about the position of the Irish Government and their relationship with Her Majesty’s Government? The Good Friday agreement forms an international treaty—a legal agreement—between our two countries and is predicated on the basis of joint administration, or rather joint inter-ministerial agreement and consent. If Dublin feels that it cannot support the Government’s proposals, what then happens to the Good Friday agreement and that principle of joint consent? This has been absolutely crucial given the torn history of our two countries going back centuries. It is absolutely crucial to taking this whole process forward. Will the noble Baroness take that question back to the Prime Minister and say that it should be top of his agenda?
I can certainly take the noble Lord’s comments back. As I say, we are working very hard with the Irish Government. One of the first people the Prime Minister spoke to yesterday was the Taoiseach and there will be further discussions. We are very cognisant of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. I have tried to reiterate to noble Lords the importance we place on the Good Friday agreement and all the benefits that have flowed from that. I am very happy to reiterate that to my colleagues and the Prime Minister.
My Lords, I have spent quite a lot of my life observing and taking the temperature of the House of Commons. Does my noble friend agree that the change today was quite remarkable? I would not be at all surprised if there was consensus to at least support the new approach the Government have taken. That approach has several alternatives within it and, at any rate, is a base which did not seem to exist before. Would it have been helpful, if it had been obtainable, to have had a debate and a vote in the other place in which there could have been some endorsement of the Government’s approach before the meeting of the Council of Ministers?
Watching the exchanges in the House of Commons, it certainly felt like there was a more constructive tone than we perhaps saw last week. This is an extremely difficult situation. As I said, we are bringing forward these new proposals because we want a deal. We want to try to ensure that we have an agreement that can be passed by the House of Commons and that can mean we have a strong relationship with the EU going forward. I think that was recognised in quite a few of the contributions from across the House of Commons today. I very much hope we can build on that going forward. I hope we can build on it with our EU colleagues as we begin this next round of very intensive talks to hopefully break this deadlock, get a deal and move on to talking about the constructive relationship that we want going forward.
Human Rights: Future Trade
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, to the Dispatch Box. She is a stalwart defender of human rights, particularly the right to religious freedom, and we wish her well in her role.
The reason I am particularly grateful to have secured this debate is that throughout the world human rights seem increasingly under threat. There is hardly a country in the world where there is not some cause for concern, and in many there is a flagrant denial of the rights we rightly take for granted in this country.
Some today pooh-pooh the idea of rights and talk scornfully about the “human rights industry”, so let us remind ourselves of what they are really about. They are in origin about protecting the individual against the power of the state. In the aftermath of the terrible atrocities of World War II, great men and women enshrined this in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the other conventions and declarations that followed on from it, not least the European Convention.
I believe that future historians will look back on this legislation as one of the great achievements of the 20th century. Human rights are, in the words of the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, “trumps”. They outbid any reason of state to torture or deny due process to the individual. They are enshrined in law and depend on law for their effectiveness, but they are rooted in the equal worth and dignity of every single human being on earth. The value of the individual, as a number of recent books have stressed, has come about as a result of our Christian heritage—but today, of course, it is championed as often as not by secular humanists.
The Motion before us today is connected to trade, for the simple reason that, after Brexit, there will be desperate efforts to maximise trade wherever it can be found. The pressure will be enormous. At a time like that, it will be particularly important to keep in mind the fundamental values for which this country stands. The Motion before us can be looked at in two ways. First, it concerns the general record of a country on human rights. Secondly, it concerns those human rights that are specifically linked to trade agreements. The two areas are linked, but no doubt different noble Lords will want to focus on issues of particular concern to them.
The pressure to play down the importance of human rights comes about not just because of the desirable aim of maximising trade, but because of the rise of what are now termed “civilisational states”. There has always been pressure from nationalist states to deny the reality of human rights. The nation, which in practice may mean the rule of an authoritarian Government, it is argued, takes priority over individual considerations. But today this is sometimes done in the name of a civilisation. China, with its long civilisation, is of course the major culprit. From this perspective, there are Chinese values—or, more exactly, Chinese communist values. This, it is argued, is a superior alternative to the European insistence on individual rights.
Against this we should say unashamedly and unequivocally that human rights are a universal norm; a legal norm, as expressed in the UN declaration and other legal documents that flowed from it; and a moral norm, as underpinned by recognition of the equal work and value of every single human being on earth. They are not just an expression of western imperialism, or a western point of view. They have universal validity and application, however often they are denied in practice.
Of course, global trade is a fundamental feature of our times and an economic necessity. Furthermore, in a flawed world, we often have to trade with countries whose policies we strongly disagree with. There is no question of totally clean hands: one value sometimes has to be weighed up against others, and some compromises have to be made. But the danger is that we will just shrug our shoulders and think, “Well, that’s life. That’s the world we live in”, and forget about human rights altogether. The point of my Motion is to bring to the fore the need not to forget them; to keep them in mind even in the rush to make new trade agreements; and to respect them in a world of some inevitable compromises.
At the moment, the UK is of course part of the EU, which has strong human rights considerations built into all trade agreements. I am glad to note that the Government have committed themselves to continuing with this approach, although wanting some flexibility. I believe we will need to watch those areas where this flexibility is claimed, so that it does not mean in practice that human rights considerations are totally set aside.
Everybody with an interest in these matters has argued that we need much greater scrutiny of free trade agreements by Parliament. It serves little purpose to show an agreement to Parliament after it has already been agreed. Parliament needs to be able to scrutinise it in the process of formulation. In its March 2019 report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights rightly noted, for example, that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU meant that there would need to be much greater domestic scrutiny of many international agreements previously negotiated at an EU level.
Towards this end, the Government have suggested an outline for this more extensive scrutiny process. This would include publishing an “outline approach” at the start of negotiations to include the negotiating objectives and the potential economic impact of the agreement. Parliament would have a role in scrutinising these documents. It would also include publishing a “round report” following each substantial round of negotiations, providing an outline of talks by policy area; establishing a,
“close relationship with a specific parliamentary committee in each House”,
to assist scrutiny of FTAs throughout the whole process; and publishing an Explanatory Memorandum and full impact assessment alongside each final treaty text when it is laid before Parliament.
On that final point, the Government have said that they had previously committed to a discussion of any “significant human rights implications” in each Explanatory Memorandum. The Government also agreed that the remit of the Joint Committee on Human Rights should include consideration of the Government’s international human rights obligations. All this is a significant step in the right direction, but we will certainly need to watch what happens after Brexit to ensure that it is actually happening.
One problem at the moment, as the Trade Justice Movement points out, is that free trade agreements tend to have a higher level of enforceability than human rights agreements. The movement says:
“Trade agreements must be structured to ensure primacy of human rights and sustainable development”.
In this House, it is right that different Members focus on different rights or different parts of the world where they have particular concerns. I will take this opportunity to mention very briefly four of my continuing concerns. One is India, which has an exemplary constitution, written by that great man Dr Ambedkar, who deserves to be as well known as Gandhi or Nehru. According to India’s constitution, everyone is to be treated equally—but sadly in practice this is far from being the case. Minorities, in particular the Dalits—the former Untouchables—and tribal peoples suffer by every indicator, not least when they try to obtain access to justice when yet another atrocity has been perpetrated against their community. India used to be a model democracy and it is tragic that in recent years under the Modi Government minority communities such as Muslims and Dalits are experiencing increasing marginalisation. NGOs there find it increasingly difficult to get visas. This is totally unacceptable, and in our great desire to do more trade with India we must not drop our concern that India must live up to its great constitution.
Then there is Indonesia, which in 1961 invaded West Papua, the country to the west of Papua New Guinea, and which has conducted a savage repression of its indigenous peoples ever since—one mostly ignored by the world, but now, thank goodness, the international community has been waking up to what is happening. It is colonisation of the worst sort, with West Papua’s massive resources of gold, oil and gas being milked by Jakarta.
In 2016, the then United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred de Zayas, called for all future trade agreements to,
“stipulate the primacy of human rights”,
and for existing treaties to be revised in the same way. He argued that some trade agreements have in fact had a negative impact on human rights, such as rights to self-determination; sovereignty over natural wealth and resources, especially of indigenous populations; life and health when access to generic medicines is impeded; peaceful assembly and association; and public participation. What is noticeable about this list is that it is directly applicable to Indonesia, for in the case of West Papua all those rights are denied.
Then there is the denial of basic rights for LGBT people in so many Commonwealth countries. This too we must not forget but must work for changes in the laws of those countries. We cannot accept that there is freedom for LGBT people in one country but not in others.
Finally, there is the vicious