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Lords Chamber

Volume 802: debated on Monday 23 March 2020

House of Lords

Monday 23 March 2020

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Death of a Member: Lord Graham of Edmonton

Announcement

My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, on 20 March. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.

Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review will inform the 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the integrated review will define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy. The comprehensive spending review will be informed by the integrated review.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. My noble friend wanted to ask about two strands of work and whether they are being undertaken. First, although this is in breach of international law, the Minister will be aware that a number of countries are developing, stockpiling and weaponising even more dangerous pathogens. Is work being undertaken in the review to increase national resilience to such an attack? Secondly, is the review identifying an action plan with the United Nations Security Council to rebuild the tapestry of nuclear arms control agreements and confidence-building measures that limit the possibility of nuclear exchange by miscalculation?

My Lords, in response to the first question, Her Majesty’s Government’s biological security strategy draws together our work on building national resilience to natural, accidental and deliberate risks from biological agents. I concur with the noble Lord that there are countries around the world which still engage in the activity he described. I reassure him that we work very closely with international partners to strengthen co-operation against potential biological threats, including through the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention and the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism. To make this very topical to the current crisis, the FCO and Her Majesty’s Government are working very closely with their diplomatic network to monitor the spread of coronavirus throughout the world. We are working with international partners to tackle this global challenge.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, for years, there have been warnings about pandemics? Did he note that, in the 2015 review, there was a declared need to tackle threats that did not recognise borders? On epidemics, it said:

“No single nation can act alone on such transnational threats.”

It also stated:

“We have detailed, robust and comprehensive plans in place and the necessary capacity to deal with infectious diseases, including pandemic influenza”.

Does he agree that, once we are through this crisis, we will need to pay close attention to not only the health but the economic and social implications of our interconnectedness, and that poverty in one part of the world and the practices rooted in it can quickly affect all of us? This must be part of the upcoming review.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the current crisis and the challenges it imposes have asked us to redefine all relationships. If there is one conclusion we can draw from where we are today—we are still on the cusp of the crisis here in the United Kingdom—it is the sheer interdependency of humanity. This crisis does not know borders, political differences or geographical space. It knows one thing: that it will affect us all in some shape or form, as we are seeing. Once we are over this crisis, it is important that, not just as a nation but collectively through international partners and the relationships we have, we learn lessons and share experiences so that when this kind of pandemic hits again, we are even better prepared.

My Lords, during the 2010 defence review I was working at the Ministry of Defence and it was said throughout that it was not Treasury-driven. I regret to tell noble Lords something they may not know: it was entirely Treasury-driven. At the moment, during the current crisis, I see on the front page of the Times calls for troops to go and help; sailors are going to be delivering food to prisons and the like. Will my noble friend pass on to the Government that with the geopolitical problems and the problems caused by the current crisis, now is not the time to even think of reducing the number of personnel that we need in the armed services?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I reassure him that this is well understood by the Government. Indeed, we remain committed to the NATO guidance to spend 2% of GDP and, furthermore, this is protected against any inflationary increase that may occur. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, there may be further lessons to be learned from the crisis. I am sure the House will join me in paying tribute to our Armed Forces who, not just in times of challenge globally but, as we are seeing, domestically, step up to the mark.

My Lords, my understanding is that the security and defence review has been put back six months. Can the Minister tell us what is now the best expectation of the timetable going forward? If there is to be rather longer to prepare, is it the intention to have a more root-and-branch look at the resilience of the whole security apparatus and the extent to which we are able to respond to all sorts of crises, those which are natural as well as those that are initiated by hostile actors?

Again, I find myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord’s last point. We need to ensure that there is a thorough review of all the challenges we face, whether it is from Mother Nature and pandemics or from sinister actors. Let us not forget that it is not that long ago that we were impacted by chemical weapon attacks on the streets of Salisbury. On the integrated review itself, given the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, we are, of course, keeping all non-related government work under review. The Prime Minister has already said that he will lead the review and bearing in mind his leadership on the current crisis, of course we will look to ensure that the learnings from this crisis can be fed into the review itself.

My Lords, with the leave of the House I suggest that we adjourn until 2.48 pm to allow noble Lords to leave the Chamber and other noble Lords to move in for the next Question.

Sitting suspended.

BAME Students: Pupil Referral Units

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the experience of BAME students referred to Pupil Referral Units; and what steps they are taking to ensure that any such students are able to re-enter mainstream education.

My Lords, 27% of pupils in PRUs, alternative provision academies and AP free schools are BAME, compared with 32% in all schools. There is variation among different groups, however, and it is important that we seek to understand those differences. We are committed to improving outcomes for all pupils in alternative provision and will build on the good practice identified by our £4 million AP innovation fund. Three of the projects focus specifically on reintegration into mainstream education.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. In the last few months, the Evening Standard has been running a campaign to raise funds for young people who have been excluded from school, so that the school can keep them and educate them within its premises instead of sending them off into PRU units. As we all know, young people are very vulnerable and are exposed to gangs once excluded from school. We know that the trap exists for young people who are not in mainstream schools. Do the Government have any policies for reducing the numbers of pupils in PRUs and getting them back into mainstream schools? As we all know, the majority are young black boys. Also, with the partial closure of schools that we have now, are there any thoughts on excluded children?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising a number of issues there. If I may begin with the current policy, yes, AP is included within the request to schools, so that, if at all possible, head teachers should keep that provision open. We believe that about half of the pupils within AP will qualify under the definition of “vulnerable” but we trust that the head teachers will make the correct decisions on the ground. It is of course correct that education is one of the strongest protective factors for young people, and it is this Government’s ambition that there should be an expansion of alternative provision and that being excluded from mainstream education settings should not be an exclusion from excellent education. We have the same aspirations for those in the AP sector as we do in other educational settings.

My Lords, Diane Abbott said many years ago that once you have excluded a black child from school you can almost put a time and date on when they will turn up in prison. That is still true today. According to the excellent coalition of BME education practitioners, there should be no more exclusions. School exclusions cost the taxpayer an eye-watering £2.1 billion a year. Many children go to pupil referral units, but only 1% of them go on to achieve good GCSEs. However, two-thirds of pupils in PRUs will at some point go to prison. Clearly PRUs are not fit for purpose. Does the Minister agree that we should stop all school exclusions, as some places do, such as Northampton? I witnessed that when I was a children’s commissioner. Given that BME and other disadvantaged children are more likely to be excluded, I say, as I did last week, that we must recruit more black teachers and teachers from other disadvantaged backgrounds, including Roma, Gypsy, Traveller and white working-class. I apologise for going on.

The noble Lord makes an important point. We are aware that educational outcomes for students in alternative provision are not high enough, but last year 85% of all state-funded schools did not permanently exclude any pupil. The Government support head teachers having the power, as a last resort, to exclude pupils, but that should not be a ticket into education that is less than excellent. In fact, 83% of alternative providers were judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding. That is only slightly less than overall for schools, which is 86%, and more than for secondary schools. Although there are issues, I pay tribute to the workforce in the alternative provision sector who are doing an excellent job dealing with behavioural and educational issues.

My Lords, is the Minister willing to consider a mandatory physical check-up—particularly of teeth, eyes and ears, for example—for excluded students, not only BME ones? I speak as a former foster parent of a BME student. I recall well the wish not to be difficult and therefore not to talk about having, perhaps, a simple pain which could be sorted out.

The noble Baroness raises an interesting issue. Children in AP settings will often have been placed there by the local authority, which has various safeguarding duties. If a student in its care cannot be educated due to health reasons, I would expect it to take the appropriate course of action.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that certain hidden or non-obvious conditions, such as dyslexia, tend to be even slower to be picked up among the BME community than in others, usually due to things such as it being more commonly working-class, and that many of these conditions are seen to be white, middle-class problems which are identified by the parents and then fought through the education system? When are we going to get better provision in schools to sort this? Having more working-class and black teachers would help.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. On the recruitment of teachers, a £2 million project with the diversity hubs is aimed specifically at increasing the diversity of the workforce, which is an important factor. On non-diagnosis, for every child who is not meeting the requisite attainment standards, graduated action on their attainment gap should be taken by teachers and SEN co-ordinators, regardless of a diagnosis. We are aware that 81% of the children in alternative provision also have special educational needs and disabilities, so we need to intervene earlier. That will be part of the SEN review, to avoid this correlation.

My Lords, I am not clear on what the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lady Lawrence. Can she make it clear whether, in the current circumstances, all pupil referral units will remain open and take in all the children who have been to referred to them for treatment, care and education? If not, will those children be admitted immediately to mainstream schools to ensure that they are not left out, because they are among the most vulnerable?

The noble Baroness will be aware that some pupils who are in a pupil referral unit are still on the roll of a mainstream school and are in alternative provision on a part-time basis. We expect alternative providers to remain open because we are aware that just under half of their cohort will qualify under the definition of vulnerable. We trust head teachers presented with somebody who might not technically be within the letter of “vulnerable” to make that decision, and we will support them in doing so if they view the young person in front of them as vulnerable; for instance, if they had contact with them two or three years ago, they can make that decision.

My Lords, in the other half of the statistic mentioned by my noble friend Lord Woolley and the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, lie numbers of Muslim young boys, in particular, as well as those who are autistic. That statistic makes them vulnerable students and pupils. Some of them may be vulnerable to county lines, about which we heard last week, and sexual exploitation, about which we have heard many times. Given the crisis that we face, what will the Minister do to ensure that local authorities take seriously the gaps that may begin to emerge, with these young people falling through the system because they are not classified as vulnerable children?

My Lords, any child who is not in an educational setting should be. We do take action. We recognise that they are particularly vulnerable to the phenomenon now called “county lines”. The Government have provided £20 million to fund more national co-ordination on county lines. Since September 2018, four weeks of criminal justice interventions have led to 2,500 arrests; more importantly, they have resulted in more than 3,000 people being identified as having safeguarding concerns. We are doing what we can and taking action to deal with these issues.

My Lords, I understand noble Lords’ concerns over adjourning the House for five minutes. With the leave of the House, I will stick with five minutes for today but we will reassess this practice later today so that we can perhaps have shorter adjournments between Questions tomorrow. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.03 pm.

Sitting suspended.

Rivers: Catchment Management

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy on catchment management for rivers, and how this relates to natural flood defences.

My Lords, working with natural processes can help mitigate flood risk, alongside other actions, including traditional defences, especially when considered across an entire catchment. The 25-year environment plan encourages strong local leadership to take a joined-up approach to deliver multiple benefits at a landscape and catchment level. The Environment Agency is currently rolling out a more integrated approach to engagement at the catchment and river basin district scale to secure local involvement.

My Lords, I am mindful that many of those who were evicted from their homes in the winter floods may not be back home yet and have the extra anxiety of coronavirus. One simple measure the Government could take would be to stop the automatic right to connect new developments to antiquated Victorian pipes that cannot take them, and which force the sewage into people’s homes. That unique measure, together with full catchment management, SUDS and soft flood defences such as Slowing the Flow at Pickering, would save many more houses. Can the Minister take the message back to her department, urgently, to stop the automatic right to connect to public sewers?

I am aware of my noble friend’s valuable input and interest in the Slowing the Flow scheme at Pickering and other natural flood management measures; this is not the first time that she has raised this issue. Current planning guidance has a hierarchy of sustainable drainage options that developers can choose from for rainwater drainage. These favour options such as soakaways and sustainable drainage systems—for example, to a local pond or stream—over connecting to public sewers. We need to include the option of connection to the wastewater sewer, as this is a matter of public health. Removing the overall right to connect to an existing sewer would offer no clear benefits and could slow down housing development. But I acknowledge my noble friend’s consistent concerns about this issue, which I will raise again within the department.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the towns served by the River Severn, starting in Shrewsbury, then down through Ironbridge, Bewdley and my own city of Worcester, have been particularly badly affected? Worcester is used to flooding; we lose our racecourse every winter and often, sadly, the cricket ground as well. However, the flooding in Bewdley and Ironbridge is on an unprecedented scale this year. Does the Minister agree that a task force consisting perhaps of the Environment Agency and the local authorities along the line of the river, working together to find a long-term solution, might be a good idea?

The noble Lord makes an extremely interesting point which I am happy to take back to the department. As he will know, this year in England we received 258% of our average February rainfall, with some areas, including his own, experiencing a month’s-worth of rain in 24 hours. I know that a number of people are still not able to get back into their homes. In the short term, we helped by quickly activating the Bellwin scheme, the flood recovery framework and the farming recovery fund. In the longer term, the Government announced in the Budget £200 million for place-based resilience schemes to help 25 local areas take forward wider innovative actions that improve their resilience to flooding. A scheme for the River Severn might fall within that purview.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what level of financial support the Government have provided to develop and apply catchment management policies over the past 12 months?

In the Budget, we announced £5.2 billion for a new six-year flood defence capital investment programme starting in 2021, which will protect 336,000 properties from flooding. Some £120 million has already been announced to repair flood defences which were damaged last winter, along with £39 million to repair the Environment Agency’s network of water supply and water navigation assets, to ensure that waterways remain open and navigable while contributing to flood and drought mitigation. In the longer term, we will set out policies to tackle flooding, and the Environment Agency will be publishing its updated flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. The Government, as noble Lords will know, are committed to investing in flood-risk management, which continues to play a key role in improving protection for those affected. Since 2015, we have invested £2.6 billion, protecting 200,000 homes with over 600 flood defence schemes.

Is it not clear that matters to do with planning go much deeper now than previously? Some families have been flooded three times in the current year. We know that climate change is coming and getting worse. As someone who sat for a new town in the other place, is it not time for a much stricter review of planning for housing anywhere near any of these rivers or dams, and should we not concentrate our resources much more on garden cities and garden towns to provide decent homes for our people?

My noble friend will be aware from questions I have previously answered at the Dispatch Box that building on flood plains is already banned in certain categories, but the Government are taking a number of measures to encourage new natural flood management schemes. Our current policy is that all options should be assessed for measures to manage flood risk. There are 40 government flood defence programmes that include these new measures, and the Government expect this to increase. We have announced a £640 million investment in the nature for climate fund, which will invest in the natural environment by planting trees to cover an area the size of Birmingham, restoring peatlands, and providing more funding to protect the UK’s unique plants and animals. The Government continue to develop the new environmental land management scheme—a £3 billion scheme that will be the cornerstone of Defra’s new agricultural policy. This will enable farmers and other land managers to enter into agreements to be paid for delivering a range of public goods, as set out in the 25-year plan. Much of this will be involved in the reduction of and protection from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought.

Sitting suspended.

Covid-19: Holiday and Caravan Parks

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that residents in holiday or caravan parks who are self-isolating due to COVID-19 are not adversely impacted by the closure of such parks.

My Lords, the Government are doing absolutely everything they can to tackle the pandemic and mitigate its impact. We are mobilising every bit of government to defend our people and our country. The public, including residents in holiday or caravan parks, have a crucial role to play in delaying the spread of the virus, making sure that they stay at home if they have coronavirus symptoms. The Government have issued guidance to the public advising them against all non-essential travel. Under that advice, travelling to caravan parks for either leisure or self-isolation purposes is non-essential. The public should remain in their primary residences. Nobody should become homeless as a result of coronavirus, and the Government are committed to helping ensure that park-home residents have a safe place to live.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I declare my interests as listed in the register. Does she not agree that this is a very complex issue? For many residents, the holiday park is their primary residence for 11 months of the year and it would be a major problem if they were asked to move, especially as some have their second home abroad. Will the Minister work closely with industry organisations, such as the BH&HPA, and the larger park owners, many of whom have offered their parks for essential workers and for looking after the children of essential workers, to move this forward?

The noble Lord is quite right. We are aware that caravan and holiday parks are used in this way. As with everyone else, it is important that the residents of these parks stay in their accommodation and do not go out unless it is absolutely essential to do so. In that regard, it is helpful that the cafes, restaurants and pubs within the parks are now closed and offering only delivery and takeaway services. In response to the noble Lord’s second point, Ministers are already heavily involved with stakeholders across the industry. My honourable friend the Minister for Tourism and the Secretary of State have been actively engaged—they were on the phone with the industry this morning—and that work is being co-ordinated by VisitBritain’s Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group. I know that the BH&HPA has been in contact with officials and all those concerns are being actively considered.

My Lords, can the Minister consider giving clear advice to people who are leaving the cities that the number of hospital beds, and indeed their own GPs, are linked to population distribution, and point out the difficulties they might have in accessing healthcare if they leave their primary residence?

As ever, the noble Baroness makes a very wise point. I hope that she agrees that the Government’s guidance on the matter this morning has been very clear. It says:

“Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays”,

and that people must not put

“additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.”

We all have a part to play in that.

Does the Minister agree that, in that perfectly understandable and justifiable circumstance, some sort of simple identification system for those whose residence is in those parks might be made available? As the powers are strengthened, and greater enforcement is brought to bear, I fear that some of those people will find themselves at the end of enforcement measures to which they are not actually subject.

The noble Lord makes a helpful suggestion. He will also appreciate the extraordinary pressures that all our public services, many businesses, charities and the voluntary sector are under at the moment. I will feed the noble Lord’s suggestion back to officials.

My Lords, sophisticated and continuous Covid-19 response is going to require the NHS to predict demand across the country so that we can ensure that each CCG area will have the staff and equipment it needs. If people travel unnecessarily, not only are they going to be spreading the virus, but they will undermine the NHS’s ability to respond and protect the most vulnerable. I am sure that the Minister agrees that we each have our part to play in listening to the latest advice, staying at home and saving lives. Does she also agree that, if we do not do that, more stringent measures may be necessary and that we will all be responsible for that?

I agree with my noble friend that we all have a part to play. I also accept that, as human beings, all our lives have been turned upside down in the last few weeks. I am sure that some of the people whom we saw on the TV heading to the countryside perhaps did not appreciate quite how many people were going to be there with them. My noble friend puts her finger on the critical point that we must all be practising social distancing and that must include not undertaking any non-essential travel. However, that is only one part of the strategy. The Government are aiming to have an absolutely comprehensive strategy in this regard.

My Lords, those who are temporarily resident fall under the points previously made; the Minister has carefully explained how that is happening. However, is there not also a danger that, for those who have more than just temporary residence in parks—which may not have sufficient local resources—that aspect of their lives may not be taken into account? Can the Minister confirm that detailed information about those residences is collected and shared with health providers in the area, to ensure that there is no gap in provision for those who think themselves covered in one area but turn out not to be?

The noble Lord will be aware that there is a huge amount of mapping of exactly that sort of data, particularly in relation to the most vulnerable groups. An enormous amount of work on this has been going on for several weeks.

Sitting suspended.

Covid-19: Critical Care Capacity

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of Northwick Park Hospital’s declaration of a “critical incident” and an increasing number of patients across the UK with Covid-19, what steps are they taking to increase critical care capacity in the NHS.

My Lords, Covid-19 is the major challenge of our generation. This Government’s priority is to protect life, which is why we are taking urgent action significantly to increase care-bed capacity throughout the NHS, including freeing up almost a third of existing beds. Yesterday, the Government announced a major deal with independent hospitals. That will add to the NHS’s pandemic response 8,000 hospital beds, 1,200 more ventilators and a significant front-line staff number of 10,000 nurses, 700 doctors and 8,000 other clinical staff.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is of course incredibly worrying that, at this stage in the pandemic, Northwick Park Hospital was forced to declare a critical incident over the weekend. That means that it ran out of critical care beds and had to ask neighbouring hospitals to take its Covid-19 patients. It is likely to be two weeks before we may see a steadying of the spread as a result of social distancing measures. If one hospital is already finding itself in such a position, then more might do so in the coming weeks and months. As the Minister said, it is urgent to expand capacity by increasing the number of intensive care beds and ventilators available. Will the Minister detail how many ICU beds and ventilators the Government aim to have in place by the end of the two-week period, at which we hope infection rates will reflect the new measures?

Also, the House may be aware that a fit and healthy 36 year-old nurse is now on a ventilator in Walsall Manor Hospital, having contracted Covid-19. Are the Government confident that the supply of personal protective equipment is no longer an issue after an increase in delivery in recent days and that there are plans to further increase the production of such equipment?

My Lords, the decision by Northwick Park was entirely welcome, because we welcome the realism and practicality on the part of the management in seeking help when it is needed. We are moving at pace to address the issues around PPE, and I can confirm that there is a massive amount going into the system as we speak. We currently have 3,700 critical care beds; total usage is currently 2,428, of which 237 are Covid-19 related; and our ambition is to increase this dramatically to perhaps 30,000 in time for the crisis arriving in full.

My Lords, to increase the number of freelance locums working in the health system, will the Government make specific changes to the NHS Pension Scheme, in particular the death in service benefits, so that we can increase the number of qualified staff? Can the Minister also confirm that the Government are making sure that all GPs and pharmacists have sufficient stocks of asthma and COPD medicines to keep people out of hospital?

My Lords, we are greatly relying on an influx of staff such as freelance locums in order to increase the numbers at the front line in dealing with Covid-19. Arrangements for the pension scheme are included in the Bill that we will bring to the House tomorrow. On supplies to GPs and pharmacies, a huge procurement programme is going on at the moment, and we are taking stocks out of our no-deal preparations in order to ensure that both GPs and pharmacies are well stocked.

My Lords, many healthcare workers are concerned about their own health, particularly with regard to carrying the virus from their work into their homes and infecting their families. The Financial Times reported this morning that the Government have approached Amazon to deliver coronavirus tests urgently to front-line health and social care workers. This of course would provide some reassurance to staff and enable them to know whether they are infected, and therefore whether they should stay at work. Can the Minister offer an estimate as to when such a scheme could be rolled out?

My Lords, the bravery and commitment of our front-line staff are to be commended. I think I speak for all of us when I pay tribute to everyone who has put their safety and health on the line. There is no doubt that those in the NHS who are working with those affected with Covid-19 are taking a huge risk, and it is our commitment to support them where we can. Hotel rooms are being booked for NHS staff who are reluctant to return home and who would quite wisely prefer to seek alternative accommodation. Tests are absolutely essential in order to get not only front-line clinical and ancillary staff but the whole country back to work. The Government are committed to finding a way to roll out a testing programme that gives British people confidence that we can beat this virus.

My Lords, can the Minister be a bit more specific on the diagnostic front? The deal with the private sector is incredibly welcome, and the situation with Northwick Park demonstrates how important it is. However, it is not just about beds and ventilators but people. We know that staff are having to self-isolate because someone at home seems to be ill but they themselves may not be. What kind of numbers are we talking about? The Prime Minister has talked about getting up to 25,000 a day; there are 65 million people in the country. What is the ambition, not just in four weeks but in eight and 12 weeks, of what we might get to and how we will get there?

My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy asks entirely reasonable questions, and he is quite right to press me for numbers. The tests we are talking about for this virus are new—some of them are only a few weeks old. It requires the tests to be tested to ensure that they are delivering accurate results, and for that reason it is difficult to commit to the kinds of numbers my noble friend searches for. However, it is very much the Prime Minister’s desire to have testing as a central part in our battle against the virus, and that is why we are putting enormous resources into it.

My Lords, I think I was the first in your Lordships’ House to go through this virus, and I wish other noble Lords the best should they face what I did. I would like to flag to the Minister my experience of the lack of capacity in the NHS only a few days ago. It included: paramedics not knowing that breathing difficulties were associated with coronavirus; no proper delineation of red and green zones when we were in the isolation part of the hospital—we were taken through the A&E part to get there; and inadequate protective clothing of those in that isolation unit. Above all, the poor doctor who was looking after me told me that her colleagues could not be tested for coronavirus even though they were getting ill and had treated and given transfusions to known coronavirus cases. That was two or three days after Chris Whitty briefed us here about how testing was vital and would be continued during what was coming down the track—that is, the so-called delay phase. Can the Minister reassure us that such lack of capacity, which was astonishing in a north London hospital, is being actively addressed?

My Lords, I welcome the testimony of the noble Baroness and cannot help but be moved by the situation she describes. This virus has moved incredibly quickly. Hospitals are doing amazing work to adapt to the conditions that dealing with the virus requires, and everyone is learning how to do it on the job.

My Lords, I welcome the reassurance that we have been given by the Minister that testing is being scaled up, especially for health workers, but surely a serological or immunity test will be the real game-changer, because it will allow us to track those who have already had the virus, even unawares, and who are safe to return to work and help the most vulnerable. It is also essential that PPE is available, especially on the front line, to ensure infection control. Can my noble friend update us on whether availability of that is improving and on the training available to ensure that it is used most effectively?

My noble friend Lady Blackwood is right that there are two types of test. The first is an antigen test to ensure that those in hospital, as workers or patients, do not currently carry the virus, and the second is a serological or antibody test that will confirm that a person has the antibodies and can therefore return to work, either on the front line or elsewhere. Both those tests exist, but mass production is restrained. We are working extremely hard with manufacturers around the world, and with British firms, massively to escalate our capacity.

Business of the House

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That, in the event of the Coronavirus Bill having been brought from the House of Commons:

(1) Standing Order 40(1) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Tuesday 24 March and Wednesday 25 March to enable proceedings on that Bill to be taken before oral questions on those days;

(2) Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 24 March and Wednesday 25 March to allow more than one stage of that Bill to be taken on those days; and

(3) Standing Order 48 (Amendments on Third Reading) be dispensed with on Wednesday 25 March to allow manuscript amendments to be tabled to that Bill and moved on Third Reading.

My Lords, this Motion will allow us to take all stages of the emergency Coronavirus Bill tomorrow and Wednesday. It will also allow the House to sit early, at noon, on both days, while leaving Oral Questions at their usual time. The Legislation Office will accept amendments for the Marshalled List from when the Bill has been read a first time tomorrow until 5 pm. I urge all noble Lords who are considering tabling amendments to do so via phone or email. Any amendments submitted after 5 pm tomorrow will be accepted as manuscript amendments.

Along with other necessary changes in how we are operating, I want to inform your Lordships of changes to Divisions that will be in operation from today and throughout the current exceptional circumstances. These changes will help us follow the Public Health England advice on social distancing. The procedure has not changed, but the location has. Divisions will take place in the Royal Gallery. To minimise queuing, when a Division is called, Members wishing to vote should follow instructions from the doorkeepers so that the flow into the Royal Gallery is regulated. Members not in the Chamber can go direct to the Royal Gallery if they so wish. In the Royal Gallery, the Not-Content Lobby will be to the left, by the depiction of the Battle of Waterloo, and the Content Lobby will be to the right, by the Battle of Trafalgar. Those Members who would normally vote in their place can still do so. Whips will be in the Prince’s Chamber to assist all Members, and this information will be circulated to all Members electronically so that everybody is clear—hopefully, we will not need to do it, but, if we do, everyone will be clear. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body

Membership Motion

Moved by

That Lord Best, Lord Carter of Coles, Lord Deighton and Baroness Scott of Needham Market be appointed as Parliamentary members, and that Brigid Janssen, Elizabeth Peace (chair), Marta Phillips, Dr Simon Thurley and Simon Wright be appointed as external members, of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body.

My Lords, this Motion appoints both the parliamentary and external members of the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body ahead of the commencement of the relevant sections of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Deputy Chairmen of Committees

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That, until 21 July 2020, and notwithstanding the normal practice of the House, any member of the House may perform the duties of a Deputy Chairman without further motion.

My Lords, when the Lord Speaker made his personal statement on Thursday last week, he signalled that his team of Deputy Speakers would be further strengthened. This Motion will allow that to happen at the best possible speed and with the minimum of fuss. I thank all those who have taken on this task. I beg to move.

My Lords, as one of the Deputy Speakers temporarily standing down, I wish the new Deputy Speakers taking on this very important duty the best of luck. I hope that those of us who are a little older than they are will have the chance to come back some time later this year.

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

My Lords, this Motion will prevent the House having to hold any hereditary Peer by-elections for the time being. I am sorry not to see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Without this, one would have to have been held before 26 June, owing to an imminent retirement. I beg to move.

In the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I will ask the question that I am sure he would have asked had he been here. If it is possible to suspend the Standing Order to make this possible now, why is it not possible otherwise, bearing in mind that his Bill had almost unanimous support from your Lordships’ House?

I am sure noble Lords agree that this is a very sensible step in the circumstances. No doubt we will debate this matter further when we return to normal circumstances.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [HL]

Report

Schedule: Power of arrest for extradition purposes

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: The Schedule, page 3, line 15, leave out from “judge” to end of line 19 and insert “as soon as practicable.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is to make the period within which a person must be brought before a judge consistent with other provisions of the Extradition Act 2003.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who has led for the Liberal Democrat Benches until now, regrets that under the advice of the Government and the Lord Speaker she cannot be here today.

Amendment 1 addresses new Section 74A, which requires someone who is arrested to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. However, no account is taken of weekends and bank holidays in calculating 24 hours—so, for example, someone could be arrested without judicial involvement on the Friday afternoon before a bank holiday until the following Tuesday. Concerns were expressed about this on Second Reading, and in Committee on 5 March in debate on my noble friend Lady Hamwee’s then Amendment 3. We have now reworded the amendment so that this Amendment 1 would add that someone should be brought before a judge “as soon as practicable”. The Government claim that wording other than that in the Bill is operationally unworkable because the courts do not sit at the weekend, but in Committee the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who sadly also cannot be in his place today, said in support of changing the wording:

“Would you believe it, there is a judge on duty all weekend, every weekend, and all night”,

and that, if the provisional arrest happens over the weekend,

“it can be treated as urgent business.”

Both the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Mackay, took issue with what the phrase “brought before” means in 2020, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointing out that:

“It is questionable whether the word ‘brought’ requires the physical presence of the judge and the particular person so that they should be facing each other directly. Nowadays we have all sorts of technology that enables people to encounter each other while not in one another’s physical presence.”

The noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, said on behalf of the Government in Committee that it was

“the statutory intention that the person should be brought before a judge in person. It is an additional safeguard and a better situation for them to be seen in person before a judge.”

I am not really in a position to assess it, but I must admit that I am not convinced that is necessarily the case. We will of course see remote digital contacts in the justice system rolled out even more in present circumstances. In any case, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, responded:

“If that is the problem, we need to amend the legislation to make it clear that ‘brought before’ does not mean that there is a personal, direct, physical confrontation.”

He said he was very willing to talk to the Government about that.

On another angle, we were told in Committee that it was the Government’s

“intention to replicate the … provisions under the Extradition Act”,—[Official Report, 5/3/20; cols. GC 367-368.]

with the implication that new Section 74A did that. But the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, also explicitly acknowledged that the words in that Extradition Act 2003, in Sections 72(3) and 74(3) covering both an arrest under warrant and a provisional arrest in a Part 2 scenario, say:

“The person must be brought as soon as practicable before the appropriate judge.”

That is precisely the wording we want in Amendment 1. We on these Benches remain simply puzzled. If the Bill replicates or mirrors an existing provision—one we have not managed to find—can the Government explain precisely how? At the moment I cannot see how that is the case. In the absence of that explanation, we continue to believe that the Government need to change course. As far as we can see, it is Amendment 1, not the wording in the Bill, that mirrors that in the 2003 Act and aims for—and, we believe, achieves—clarity and consistency.

My Lords, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, highlights the need for caution over any period of detention before an individual is brought before the judge. From the points just made, I think the House can agree that it is unclear why these detention periods are inconsistent in different cases. The efforts to draw the House’s attention to this certainly have the support of this side of the House. I hope the Minister can offer the House an explanation as to the reason behind this inconsistency between urgent cases under the 2003 Act’s category 1 and category 2.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, for her explanation and the noble Lord, Lord Wood. As noble Lords will know, the courts to which all extradition suspects must be taken, whether arrested under Part 1 or Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003—as currently or as amended by this Bill—are Westminster Magistrates’ Court for England and Wales, Edinburgh Sheriff Court for Scotland and Belfast magistrates’ court for Northern Ireland. Currently, the person arrested under the Act must generally be brought before the appropriate judge “as soon as practicable” following arrest. Under the new power of provisional arrest in this Bill, it must occur “within 24 hours”.

The reason the Bill was originally drafted in this way was to strike a balance between getting arrested individuals before a judge as quickly as possible—the point the noble Lord, Lord Wood, makes—and allowing the police sufficient time to gather supporting information. This mirrored, in a more stringent form, the approach to provisional arrest in Part 1 of the Extradition Act 2003, which requires an individual to be brought before an appropriate judge within 48 hours of arrest. But I am conscious that the drafting departs from the general requirement currently imposed on the police after they make arrests under other existing powers in the Extradition Act 2003—the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, makes.

I listened carefully at Second Reading and in Committee, and I have concluded that the new power of arrest in the Bill should be consistent in this respect with existing law and practice in relation to Part 2 of the 2003 Act and should therefore mirror the wording “as soon as practicable”. This will ensure that individuals are not detained for any longer than is strictly necessary. If, for example, an individual is arrested in central London, “as soon as practicable” would in all probability be within 24 hours. Our operational partners have already proved themselves effective at producing wanted persons before courts within strict timeframes, and the three UK extradition courts have proved strict arbiters of police actions under the “as soon as practicable” requirement.

Therefore, I intend to introduce a government amendment to this effect at Third Reading to address those concerns. The amendment will leave out the words “within 24 hours” and insert “as soon as practicable” in their place, as well as consequently deleting the express exclusion of weekends and bank holidays in the calculation of the 24-hour period. While the language will not explicitly rule out production on weekends or bank holidays, these factors will, of course, be relevant to the practicability of bringing an individual before an appropriate judge. If public holidays or court opening times were to change in future, the legislation would not need to be amended to take account of that. It remains the Government’s intention that the arrested person be brought before a judge sitting in court and so the concept of “as soon as practicable” will remain subject to court sitting times, which are determined by the judiciary. There may, of course, be a multitude of other factors which affect, in the individual case, the practicability of bringing an individual before a judge, such as distance, natural disasters or illness of the arrested individual. We continue to think it is right, therefore, that the judiciary is the arbiter, in the individual case, of whether this test of “as soon as practicable” is met, and it will be able to do so in determining any application for discharge under Section 74D(10).

I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are content with those intentions, which I will bring back at Third Reading and that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for having productively reflected on this. I can see the original attraction of a rigid time limit, and the Minister is right that there is inconsistency in the Extradition Act 2003, because there is a 48-hour limit for provisional arrest in Part 1. Perhaps that is what guided the drafting of the original Bill. As the Minister said, the experience of the relevant courts dealing with extradition in the different jurisdictions is that they are prompt and do not sit on these things. Therefore we can rely on the operations of the courts to make sure that “as soon as practicable” happens and that it is only some kind of force majeure that stops that being very soon, taking into account what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said at Second Reading and in Committee about the ability of a judge to be available, certainly in the Westminster court, on a Saturday. I am very grateful and look forward to the amendment that the Minister intends to bring back at Third Reading.

Forgive me if, in all the turmoil at the moment, my knowledge of procedure has gone slightly AWOL: I think I still need to move the amendment. No? Okay, then I shall withdraw it. I am obviously not very good at this—that is why we need my noble friend Lady Hamwee here. I end by saying that on the basis of the assurances and promises of the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: The Schedule, page 4, line 38, at end insert—

“( ) Regulations made under subsection (7)(a) shall designate no more than one territory.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require regulations which add, vary or remove a reference to a territory under Schedule A1 to contain no more than one territory. This will allow Parliament to reject a particular territory.

My Lords, again I am moving this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It is the same as Amendment 9 in Committee, though with a slight drafting change to refer to “regulations” rather than “orders”. We are pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Kennedy, have added their names and we understand why they are not able to be here today. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, would have added his name had there been space.

As my noble friend Lady Hamwee explained in Committee, it is essential to allow additions to the Schedule for only one territory at a time. We can envisage a scenario in which the Government wish to add a whole raft of states to the Schedule all at once. For the sake of argument, let us imagine that would consist of all EU and EEA states and that in the list there is a country that might be an EU associated country, such as Turkey, but one over which considerable human rights concerns exist. I seem to be quoting a lot from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, but he always says very wise things. In Committee, he said:

“We all know that there are countries in the world that do not respect the rule of law. I will not set about trying to give your Lordships a list because the list itself changes. Countries that respected the rule of law no longer do. Weimar Germany did; Hitler’s Germany did not. This is a moveable feast.”—[Official Report, 5/3/20; col. 378GC.]

That is a very good point. Turkey was making very good progress in democracy and human rights a decade ago, but it regressed, regrettably.

There is great concern that the Government want to give themselves wide powers for the Secretary of State to add countries to the list en bloc. I think it was in Committee that the Minister said that the Government had no intention of specifying countries likely to abuse the system to political ends. I utterly believe what she said, but I again quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who raised at Second Reading the fear that

“in the real world we are surely not going to be so naive as to believe that all sorts of motives—a possible trade deal, a plea just to be good friends with us, political beliefs, sympathy with a tyrannical regime—may not lead”—[Official Report, 4/2/20; col. 1731.]

to an addition to the list in the Schedule, although he certainly excused our present Minister from falling prey to such motivation.

The non-governmental organisation Fair Trials International, for which I have been pleased to work for 20 years and of which I am a patron, has done excellent work on the abuse of Interpol red notices where countries use them against political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists living in exile. The journalist Bill Browder was famously the victim of one from Russia and wrote a book called Red Notice. There are numerous examples of such countries and one would not expect them to be added to the list—Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Egypt and many others where Interpol red notices have been used in a very questionable way. I do not think that the argument the Minister used in Committee—essentially that “one at a time is not how we do things”—is quite good enough. She said

“it is common practice to allow for multiple territories to be specified together for similar legislation.”—[Official Report, 5/3/20; col. 382GC.]

But I am not convinced that it needs to be invariable practice. It may have been common practice up to now, but we are not obliged to follow that. It is perfectly simple to do it one country at a time. This will not cause Whitehall to collapse in shock.

Our amendment could actually help the Government, as it would avoid Parliament rejecting the inclusion of a list that had good states as well as a bad state. We would not have to reject them all because of the inclusion of a single bad state, if I can use that shorthand. It would allow for the sensible, responsible outcome of bringing the respectable states into the provisional arrest arrangement while excluding a state that did not respect the rule of law and human rights.

Accepting this amendment would not lead to any delay as two or more sets of regulations, each relating to a single territory, could be tabled at the same time. We would not lose time. Ministers have been keen to stress that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, supports the Bill, but I as I read his letter, he was supporting the general proposition, which is fair enough, but he was not commenting on this sort of detail, so will the Minister have a another look at this? We on these Benches would be happy to have a meeting to discuss it. We are keen to understand whether there is any substantive reason for rejecting the amendment, which, to be honest, we do not see at present.

In normal circumstances, we would be keen to test the opinion of the House on this, but since these are not normal times, will the Minister let us return to this matter at Third Reading, in the way that she has so helpfully promised that we could do on Amendment 1? We are firm on the substance of Amendment 2, in the same way as on Amendment 1, but we are flexible on the timing, so I hope that the Minister can respond in that vein. I beg to move.

I will speak to Amendment 2, and Amendment 3 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, who is unable to be here today. As we have just heard, Amendment 2 would require regulations that add, vary or remove a reference to a territory to contain no more than one territory. Allowing Parliament to reject a single territory would a create a valuable scrutiny mechanism for when either House has concerns to raise over a specific individual country that the Government intend to add because there will be occasions when the merits of adding individual territories are disputed. The amendment would create an important safeguard to exercise scrutiny in such circumstances and we support it.

In recognition of the powers in this Bill to add, remove or vary territories, Amendment 3 would create conditions for when the Government choose to exercise these powers. To this end, the amendment seeks to create a new process that means that the Government must take three further steps before adding and removing territories. The first condition for the Government to meet is to consult with the devolved Administrations and non-governmental organisations—the devolved Administrations because there will be certain powers relating to justice, policing and prisons that are devolved, and the non-governmental organisations to understand better any issues that arise from individual territories relating, for example, to the human rights records of the countries concerned.

The second condition is that the Government must produce an assessment of the risks of each change, which would put on record the Government’s rationale for signing the agreement, and allow for parliamentary scrutiny. The final condition is that if a new country is added, the Government must confirm that the country does not abuse the Interpol red notice system. That would make it clear that the Secretary of State responsible must not sign agreements with countries that have questionable records on human rights.

Although we fully accept the need to add further territories as treaties are negotiated, the Government must add only those that comply with our values. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with that. While we fully accept that it may be necessary to remove or vary territories, it is important that the Government are transparent about their rationale and offer themselves to the scrutiny of Parliament. Will the Minister allay our concerns about the rationale and availability of scrutiny and about consulting with the devolved Administrations and NGOs by confirming that the Government already intend to consult and open themselves to scrutiny when they add or remove further territories?

My Lords, we on these Benches support Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. We hope that the Government will confirm the involvement of the devolved Administrations and believe that there is a strong case to be made for consulting NGOs that have experience of the country concerned, however knowledgeable the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may be.

On the “risks” mentioned in paragraph (b) of the amendment, I imagine that the noble Lord means that he expects the Government to make an assessment of balance and proportionality in whatever conclusion they reach on the suitability of a country to be included.

Of course, we totally support his reference in paragraph (c) to the need to avoid the abuse of Interpol red notices, to which I referred in moving Amendment 1. I have said that I am a patron of Fair Trials International and I want to give it a plug: it has done sterling work on this issue in the past few years and can, I believe, take considerable credit for the reforms that have been made to Interpol red notices so far. They do not go far enough but reference has been made in previous stages of the Bill to the fact that some reform is going on at Interpol; that needs to improve because there is still the problem of abuse. Perhaps one day there will not be and we can look again, but, for the moment, Amendment 3 is very appropriate.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who have spoken. I was looking at the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, slightly strangely because it is unusual to speak twice on the same group of amendments. It really does not matter because these are very unusual times, so it is not a precedent.

I do not know whether noble Lords want me to go through the full arguments today or whether they want to return to them at Third Reading; I sense that that is the mood of the House. Noble Lords have made their arguments. For the reason that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is not here and would like a further crack at this whip, I suggest that we let this lie for the moment and return to it at Third Reading, if that is okay with noble Lords.

I am sorry to interrupt. The sensibility behind the noble Baroness’s comment is that this a matter that we can come back to at Third Reading. Without wishing to be overly bureaucratic about it, following her helpful line in allowing issues on Report to be taken in a more relaxed way, a rule in the Companion is quite clear that it is with the leave of the Minister that matters can be raised again. Is she saying that, if these amendments are withdrawn, she will accept that they may be brought back for further debate and discussion? That would be sufficient for the clerks to be able to allow us to do that.

I most certainly am saying that. For me to lay out arguments today, with the noble Baroness saying what she said about coming back to this at Third Reading, would seem a little futile. That is absolutely what I am saying.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendment 3 not moved.

Sitting suspended.

Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) (Supplementary Provision and Amendment) Order 2020

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, this order has been laid before this House and the other place, which approved it on 18 March 2020. It will update the membership arrangements of the Conservation Board of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to take account of the restructuring of local government in Buckinghamshire. We expect that this will be the final statutory instrument connected to local government restructuring in Buckinghamshire.

The order bringing about local government reorganisation in Buckinghamshire came into force on 23 May 2019. It provided for a reorganisation date of 1 April 2020, when the new Buckinghamshire council will assume the full range of local authority responsibilities and the five existing councils—the county council and the four district councils—will be wound up and abolished. That order established a shadow authority and shadow executive, which has been managing the transition to the new council. I am very pleased that all the councils have been working closely together to deliver the new unitary council and I thank them for their hard work and dedication.

The Conservation Board of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is the subject of this order, is made up of members appointed by the relevant local councils, parish council representatives and members nominated by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The board’s composition is set out in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) Order 2004. The conservation board is responsible for conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Chilterns and increasing the understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities, which are so loved and well known by so many.

As I have said, local government restructuring in Buckinghamshire will abolish all five of the Buckinghamshire councils that currently nominate a member of the board. Some changes are needed to the board membership arrangements to take account of these changes. The Chilterns board currently has a total membership of 27: one representative for each of the 13 councils specified in the 2004 order, two parish council members for each of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, and eight members nominated by the Secretary of State. Without this order, the new Buckinghamshire council will only be able to appoint one member, instead of five, to the conservation board. However, 50% of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty falls within Buckinghamshire. The shadow executive of Buckinghamshire Council has, therefore, requested that the status quo be maintained so that the new council will nominate five members to the board to provide adequate representation for the area. It considers that the current membership arrangements, with five board members for Buckinghamshire as a whole, better reflect the extent of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that falls within the new council area, and the Government agree. Furthermore, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 specifies that at least 40% of the AONB board membership must be from local authorities and at least 20% from parish councils. These changes ensure that that statutory requirement continues to be met. There are no other changes to the membership of the board.

In conclusion, this order will amend the membership arrangements of the board of the Chilterns AONB to retain a total of 13 members nominated by local councils, five of whom will continue to be nominated from the Buckinghamshire area, for the reasons explained. There are no changes to membership of the board otherwise. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate on behalf of my noble friend Lord Kennedy. The issue of restructuring local government in Buckinghamshire has been discussed by this House previously and is settled, so I do not intend to dwell on it today. This minor order is, however, the final statutory change necessary for the restructuring process and the House will recall that the initial public consultation on the creation of a Buckinghamshire unitary authority found that a majority of respondents opposed the change. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister confirmed whether the Government believe that the people of Buckinghamshire are now fully behind the merger.

Moving on to the order before the House, there are two small issues on which I would appreciate clarification. First, as the House will be aware, a shadow authority for the new unitary council has been in place since mid-2019, as part of the effort to aid the transition. Can the Minister confirm whether, during this period, a representative of the shadow authority has been sitting on the board of the AONB? Secondly, as this change will result in the five representatives who are currently distributed equally between the five authorities being replaced with five representatives of the new Buckinghamshire council, can he confirm that the new council intends to appoint five individuals from across the county, rather than multiple representatives from any single area?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and for speaking on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. On the question of transformation, which is slightly wider than this order, the process has obviously been the subject of repeated discussion. My understanding is that the shadow arrangements have been working well. I am sure that, over time, consent will continue to grow so far as the changes undertaken are concerned. The appointments will be a matter for the Buckinghamshire authority, but I am sure that it will take note of the noble Lord’s remarks. As a responsible local authority, it will obviously be able to decide that matter for itself.

I have a feeling that the noble Lord asked another question that I did not initially know the answer to, but I will look it up and respond to him; I am grateful for the response. This is a technical change but, as I explained, it is required for statutory reasons to keep the numbers up. The size of the area of outstanding natural beauty in Buckinghamshire also justifies that change.

I may be getting an answer to the noble Lord’s other question. The board membership will have been drawn from the membership of the shadow authority, as it comprises all elected members in Buckinghamshire. I ought to have been able to think of that answer myself, but I come late to the Buckinghamshire issue, given the coronavirus crisis, which I want to conclude on.

All of us are dealing with this matter. This is one of a number of small orders that are dwarfed by what is going on, but I am sure everybody in this House wishes that the day will come, after this period of enforced confinement, when the people of this country can go out and again enjoy the beautiful area of the Chilterns, for which the board is responsible. I commend the order to the House.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.28 pm.