House of Lords
Thursday 25 June 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. A limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted again after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points, and can Ministers’ answers also be brief?
Violence Against Women
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to work with faith communities to address violence against women.
My Lords, I welcome the important role that faith communities have played, and will continue to play, in tackling violence against women and girls in all its forms. Alongside our ongoing engagement with faith groups, Home Office officials are working on the next phase of the Government’s plan to end violence against women and girls. As part of our stakeholder engagement work, we will be reaching out to faith leaders and communities to seek their views.
My Lords, I lost part of the Minister’s response but I thank her for her mention of the Domestic Abuse Bill. Will she commit to publishing guidance alongside the Bill, specifically explaining how domestic abuse can be prevented and addressed in and by faith communities? Will the Minister commit to requiring local authorities to work proactively in partnership with faith communities?
Guidance will certainly be provided alongside the Domestic Abuse Bill as it will assist with the provisions in the Bill. I will have to check on specific guidance for faith communities. We will continue, as we always do, to engage with faith communities in this endeavour.
The reported rise in domestic violence and abuse during the lockdown is truly horrific. I accept that the initial lockdown could not have been predicted, but can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what concrete lessons have been learned and what specific changes will be introduced so that vulnerable women and children, in particular, are better protected in the event of a second, or indeed third, wave of the virus?
I join my noble friend in her horror at how much domestic violence has risen during lockdown. Of course, we may not know the true picture until we come completely out of lockdown. The government hashtag #youarenotalone has had a huge number of views—some 180 million, I think. The things that we have been doing in anticipation of what might happen have, I believe, been the right interventions. On the back of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about campaigns, we are currently working with the retail sector and with pharmacies to advertise some of the help that people can get, as well as working on the code word that people might use if they are in trouble.
My Lords, I appreciate how difficult this is to deal with during lockdown. But the two ways that abuse in children is detected—through social workers or by their teachers when they get to school—have both obviously been absent. Campaigners tell me that there has been an enormous rise in violence and abuse against children. What will the Government do as schools come back and lockdown eases to try to catch these extremely vulnerable youngsters in our society?
We have been very worried about children during this lockdown period, including children who are perhaps witnessing their parents in a domestic violence situation. The noble Baroness will probably know that we gave £1.6 million to the NSPCC so that adults could be aware of some of the things that children might be facing online. There is also the double issue of children witnessing things in the home. Multiagency work is clearly more important now than ever in ensuring that children who may be suffering are brought to the attention of the authorities.
Is the Minister aware that there is no reference to women in faith communities in the Domestic Abuse Bill? These women can experience multiple forms of violence and abuse, including FGM, forced marriages and so-called honour-based killings. The Minister will be aware that while some of these are already crimes, there is no specific crime of honour-based violence. Does the Minister have any plans to get domestic honour-based violence included in the Domestic Abuse Bill?
Honour-based violence is, in and of itself, a crime, as is FGM—so laws already exist to tackle that. She is right that there is not a specific mention in the Domestic Abuse Bill. I am not sure that it needs to be in the Bill, but that is not to say that it does not need tackling; we have measures in place to tackle it.
How will the Government ensure that ending violence against women and girls is taught in all faith schools?
The noble Baroness will know that from September relationships and sex education will be compulsory in secondary schools, and I am sure she will welcome that. Part of it will be about teaching children what respect for other children looks like, not just some of the quite warped things that they might see on the internet.
School interventions are more difficult and more complex with those communities that are more self-reliant and where that reliance is underpinned by religious observation. Does the Minister agree that we therefore need to build up a bespoke national expertise to be able to intervene when necessary?
The noble Lord is right that there is a way to go on this with regard to some of those self-reliant communities that he talks about. We have more to learn about them and therefore some of the interventions that might be necessary to deal with some of the hidden harms that occur in them.
A multiagency approach to combating violence against women is obviously fundamental. What are government departments doing to come forward with a joined-up strategy so that women can feel safe in coming forward?
My noble friend is right that without a multiagency approach—in other words, government departments coming together—it will be very difficult to tackle this issue. She will know about the troubled families programme, which brings together a lot of different agencies; indeed, through that programme we have unearthed far higher levels of domestic abuse than we first thought. I can also tell her that the Home Office, the MoJ and the MHCLG have all announced funding to support victims. We must work together as a whole Government to tackle this issue.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. Will the guidance suggested set out that violence to women includes those in forced-marriage situations, some of whom are under 18 and may need rather different help?
The noble and learned Baroness is quite right: if they are under 18, they are still children, which makes the issue of forced marriage all the worse. I shall go back regarding the issue of guidance. I cannot say today what will be in it, but I will get some information from my colleagues and will certainly come back to the noble and learned Baroness on that.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
Lord Rosser, you need to unmute.
We cannot hear him, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Lord Palmer of Childs Hill? We cannot hear him either, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of UN Women UK. Will my noble friend look at the work that we are doing for women and girls in safe spaces and the discussions around women in minority communities where it has been quite difficult to extrapolate the difficulties that they face, given that English is a barrier and they are very often not able to leave their homes at all?
My noble friend and I had a brief discussion about this just before Questions. I totally understand and agree with her point. If you are in lockdown, not able to speak a language and not able to leave the house, life must be very difficult for you. I am very happy to speak to her further about this issue.
My Lords, the time allotted for this Question has now elapsed.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the rules relating to (1) online, and (2) television, gambling advertising.
My Lords, gambling advertising is subject to strict controls on content and placement wherever it appears. Ads must never seek to target children or vulnerable people, and the ASA and the Gambling Commission can take action in the case of a breach. The Government have committed to reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure that it is fit for the digital age, and we will announce further details on this in due course.
I say to my noble friend the Minister: enough is enough. We have been discussing gambling and its dangers, particularly to vulnerable people and particularly within the current lockdown, for a long time now, yet we still seem to have an enormous amount of advertising of gambling on both television and radio and, in particular—with no restraint whatever, voluntary or otherwise—on the online systems. I must ask my noble friend that action be taken. If nothing else, can we please return the whole control of gambling to the Home Office, where at least regulations exist that would allow us to take further action to protect our public?
My noble friend brings great experience to this, including from his time as a Minister at the Home Office. There are no plans currently to move responsibility for gambling to the Home Office, although my department works very closely with the Home Office and others in overseeing this. In relation to my noble friend’s comments about social media, work is going on specifically on that area to make sure that adverts are not targeted at people under 25 or at children. We are working actively with the platforms to ensure that gambling ads do not appear for those who have self-excluded from gambling.
My Lords, almost a year ago on 2 July, in a parliamentary Statement, the Government announced three measures agreed with gaming companies to
“deliver real and meaningful progress on support for problem gamblers”.—[Official Report, 2/7/19; col. 1345.]
The noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said the Government expected change and, if it did not manifest, would take other measures and did not rule out legislation. Is the Government’s judgment that the industry’s actions are delivering real, meaningful progress? What metrics are the Government using, and will they publish their calculations?
The main metric that the Government use to measure the extent of problem gambling is the British Gambling Prevalence Survey, which looks at population levels of problem gambling. That has remained unchanged over 20 years, at slightly below 1%. I appreciate the context of the noble Lord’s question: with the prevalence of gambling advertising and promotion, intuitively one would expect that figure to rise, but there is not evidence for that at the moment.
My Lords, although GAMSTOP has clearly been an effective tool that has enabled problem gamblers to control their activities online, repetitive advertising on social media, particularly on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, remains a problem. Does the Minister agree that there should be discussions with the leading social media companies to seek a solution which would prevent the reappearance of advertisements which a user has, on a previous occasion, decided to hide?
My Lords, I struggled slightly to hear the noble Lord’s question, so if my answer is not accurate I will happily write, but I think the question was around social media. A lot of work is going on in that area, with the platforms, to ensure that those who have excluded themselves already are not targeted by advertising and that children and vulnerable people are not targeted.
My Lords, I am a gambler, I confess, and I am very much opposed to the nanny state. However, Blair’s Gambling Act has made some people very rich—some disgustingly rich, frankly—at the expense of the vulnerable and of some of the poorest members of our society. Banning television and online advertisements and, indeed, those at football grounds as well, would not be government interference; it would be a necessary step to protect some people who are, frankly, unable to look after themselves. Will my noble friend please look at that very carefully?
I thank my noble friend for his honesty and his question. We will obviously be reviewing a range of options when we come to review the Gambling Act. The evidence around the impact of advertising on problem gambling, as opposed to all gambling, is really not clear, with much suggesting that, particularly for young people, it is parents and their peers who have the greatest influence on their behaviour.
My Lords, among problem gamblers, 55,000 are 11 to 16 year-old children, many of whom use legal music and film download websites that are often funded by gambling advertising. Will the Government immediately consider legislation to enable these sites to be blocked, and not wait for the long overdue review of gambling legislation?
The noble Lord raises a very important point, which I am happy to take back to my colleagues in the department and the Minister responsible.
Is my noble friend aware of the recent review of 23 April that claimed there is too much gambling advertising on TV? While I recognise that the gambling group has halted TV and radio ads during lockdown, is not the area where action needs to be taken the really worrying aspect of special offers for casino gambling, which we all know is addictive? Will my noble friend look very seriously at this problem?
On gambling advertising on television, again, this feels counterintuitive, but the data from the ASA shows that in 2013 children saw 4.4 gambling ads each week and that had fallen to 2.5 in 2019. Obviously, we introduced the whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising on matches on television. In relation to online casinos, the Gambling Commission recently recommended curbs on VIP schemes across various forms of gambling, which will be implemented in the coming months. It is committed to addressing any additional gaps that are identified.
Excessive gambling is a public health challenge, with thousands of people—as the noble Baroness just said, 1% of the population—incurring debt and a high proportion of those experiencing mental health problems. Yet we continue to be one of the top 10 countries for gambling advertising online based on knowledge-based marketing. Will the Minister inform the House whether the Government intend to further limit such advertising, particularly pop-up ads on social media platforms, to absolve the need to self-exclude? This would prevent the associated harm to health caused by gambling.
I regret I can only repeat what I have already said in terms of the close work that is going on with the social media companies and the commitment from the Gambling Commission to address any additional gaps that are identified. However, the noble Baroness makes an important point, which we recognise.
As a recent APPG report confirms, gambling companies have done extremely well out of the pandemic, mainly because of the growth in unregulated activity. There is a lot of talk about working with the social media companies, but no action seems ever to follow. Will the Minister confirm that one of the real and meaningful steps that the Government actually could take to safeguard children and vulnerable players would be by blocking certain online platforms? Will she do that? If not, why not?
Just to be clear again on the data, unsurprisingly, because there has been no sport during lockdown, 75% of people have not increased their expenditure either of time or money on gambling during lockdown. We should not be surprised about that because there has been no sport broadcast. We are looking at a range of measures and waiting for evidence being published by Public Health England and the National Institute for Health Research. We are preparing a national addiction strategy. The Government are absolutely committed to addressing the problems that arise from gambling and other addictive behaviours, but doing that in the round rather than in a piecemeal fashion.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and we will therefore move to the third Oral Question.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in securing funding for the United Kingdom’s continued participation in the Erasmus+ programme, or its successor, after the end of 2020.
My Lords, our participation in the current Erasmus+ programme is already fully funded. The UK’s participation in the next Erasmus+ programme, including the cost of any participation, is a matter for negotiation with the European Union. The UK is considering participation in a number of EU programmes where it is in both parties’ interest to do so, and if the UK negotiates participation in the next Erasmus+ programme, the specific funding arrangements will be a matter for the upcoming spending review.
Compared to Erasmus, a replacement scheme such as the Swiss model could cost the same or even more to keep the full range of its benefits, from universities to schools, from the arts to apprenticeships, from the year abroad to the classroom language assistants coming into the UK. Which of these would the Government be prepared to give up, and why reinvent the wheel rather than become a non-EU programme country, like Norway, Iceland and others?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, is right to point out the wide range of activities covered by the Erasmus+ scheme. Of course, we are considering all those benefits in the round as we negotiate with the European Union, seeking to continue to take part in the programme if we can reach a deal that is fair and proportionate and represents good value for money for the British taxpayer.
My Lords, in answering a Cardiff MP, Anna McMorrin, on 11 June, Michael Gove acknowledged how important is the Erasmus+ scheme for the devolved Governments and that the UK Government will continue to seek access to this programme. If, for any reason, the UK Government fail to secure an agreement, will they be prepared to enable the devolved Administrations to seek their own arrangements with the EU to facilitate the continued availability of Erasmus+ for students and young people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
My Lords, international relations are of course a reserved matter for the UK Government, but the Government are committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations throughout the negotiations with the European Union, to ensure that we can reach a future relationship that works in the interests of the whole United Kingdom. The noble Lord is right to point out the benefits that Erasmus+ has brought to all the nations of the United Kingdom, and that is what we are seeking to achieve in the negotiations.
I ask my noble friend the Minister to be specific. Where have the negotiations got on this particular point? In March 2019, the then Minister, one Mr Johnson, said that the UK was drawing up alternative plans. What are those alternative plans and what stage have they reached? This continual delay does not augur well for global Britain, which will certainly need a workforce competent in languages.
My Lords, I may have to disappoint but probably not surprise my noble friend when I say that I am not able to give a running commentary on the state of the negotiations. I draw his attention, and that of other noble Lords, to the Written Ministerial Statement by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which made clear that participation in EU programmes has been a part of the negotiations and discussions that have taken place so far. My noble friend is right to point out that, as any responsible Government would, we are preparing for all eventualities, which includes looking at a domestic replacement, should that be necessary, but we are seeking to find a fair and proportionate deal that allows us to continue to participate.
My Lords, my question follows on well from the previous one. Erasmus is the world’s most effective programme. It allows student exchange for the valuable experience that they gain from outward mobility. What possible advantage do the Government think they would gain by walking away from Erasmus to set up a new global student exchange scheme, as they propose, that the Erasmus programme does not already offer?
My Lords, we are not seeking to walk away from Erasmus+; we are seeking to negotiate a fair and proportionate deal to remain in it. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out the size and scope of Erasmus and the benefits it has brought many people, but UK students participate in a number of other mobility schemes and have done for many years. As we leave the European Union and seek a global future, we want students to be able to benefit from mobility not just with 27 countries on the European continent but around the world.
My Lords, more than ever, post Brexit, we need to find ways to enhance our relationships with the rest of the EU. One of the most obvious low-hanging fruits is the remarkably successful Erasmus+ programme, which I know from my experience as an academic is of enormous value for our young people, who begin lifelong international relationships. Yet, instead of grasping this opportunity to invest in our future, the UK Government seem less than enthusiastic when they talk of considering elements of the programme in a standard third-country relationship.
I think the noble Lord was cut off slightly, but I got the gist of what he was asking. I do not fully accept the characterisation of the Government’s attitude towards Erasmus+. We are seeking to negotiate to continue in it, if we can reach a fair and proportionate deal. I point out to the noble Lord and others that a number of other non-EU countries—Norway, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey—all take part in Erasmus as full participants, not as partner countries, none of them being members of the European Union.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new post and say how delighted we are to see a full set of Ministers with us in the Chamber today; that is excellent news. Can the Government guarantee that they will publish details of any replacement or stop-gap Erasmus scheme well in advance, so that universities can prepare and students do not lose out on the opportunity to study or work abroad due to lack of information? They need to know the details in September. It is even more important than ever, post Brexit, that the next generation befriends and understands those in other countries.
I thank the noble Baroness for her words of welcome. She is absolutely right to point out that it is important for universities, students and others to have some certainty about the immediate future. One difficulty is that this is subject to our negotiations with the European Union, which are running throughout this year. It is also the case that the EU itself is looking at the new Erasmus programme in light of its own budget, the multiannual financial framework, which could also be delayed until December. I am very glad that, under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, our participation in the current programme is fully funded, including any projects that are launched under it and which go beyond the end of this year.
Having regard to the effect of Covid-19 on our young people, is not the opportunity offered by the Erasmus programme to them essential for the years to come?
My noble and learned friend is absolutely right. As we have been unable to travel, the importance of exchange and being able to meet people from around the world is underlined. Indeed, the current pandemic shows the importance of education not stopping at any borders. We should be proud that another UK university has this week launched trials with humans of a vaccine which could benefit not just British subjects but people around the world.
My Lords, the Erasmus+ programme is one of the successes of the European Union. As the Minister has pointed out, non-EU countries such as Norway and Turkey are members. Can he assure us that the United Kingdom will endeavour to continue to be a member of the Erasmus programme, irrespective of the outcome of the present ongoing talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which will end on 31 December this year?
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that the fact that a number of non-EU countries want to participate in the Erasmus programme is a testament to its strengths and successes. I cannot give him absolutely the assurance he seeks, because our participation is of course contingent on those negotiations. We hope to continue if we can reach a deal which is fair and proportionate and which continues to give value for money to the British taxpayer.
Universities UK International has estimated that leaving Erasmus could cost Britain up to £243 million a year. Does the Minister think that this is a price worth paying in lost income and influence? If a replacement scheme is pursued by the Government, will he commit to early consultation and to the covering of any loss of income to universities and colleges?
My Lords, I am not familiar with the figures that the noble Lord cites from Universities UK. I have seen that it points out that, of UK students who take part in mobility schemes, almost half of them take part in mobility schemes beyond Erasmus+. We hope to be able to continue in it if we can reach a fair and equitable deal, but of course we want British students and international students coming to the UK to take part in a variety of mobility schemes, as they currently do.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and we move to the fourth Oral Question.
Competition and Markets Authority
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that the interests of (1) consumers, and (2) businesses, in the United Kingdom, are independently and fairly looked after following the resignation of the Chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority.
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that markets work well for consumers and businesses and have already ensured that the Competition and Markets Authority has significant powers to investigate and act if it finds that companies are behaving anti-competitively in a market. The CMA will continue to carry out its important functions. We will announce next steps on recruitment for a new chair in due course.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that, for the CMA to do its job properly and enable business to plan in relation to Brexit, the Government must have a robust, updated and properly structured competition policy? I heard what he said, but how will this be achieved? On the latest information I have, the CMA responded with a comprehensive plan on 21 February 2019. Since then, there has been nothing until a letter to the chair of the EU Select Committee arrived at 11.02 this morning; I declare an interest as a member of its sub-committee. Will the Government urgently introduce legislation on competition policies to support consumers in the UK and UK business?
We committed in our manifesto to tackle consumer rip-offs and bad business practices. The issues that the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, set out in the CMA’s letter have helped shape public debate as well as informing government action. For instance, he said that consideration should be given to how to capture the benefits for competition and consumer welfare of the growth in the digital economy. We agree and have set up smart data proposals that we look forward to implementing.
My Lords, through the 100 days of Covid we have heard many complaints from consumers who have not been refunded for cancelled trips and cancelled products by the sellers; they have had no recourse. It is a serious situation that the Government ought to look into. If the Government are to make the UK globally competitive after Brexit, as they have promised, it is very important that they adopt a competition policy in line with the latest research in economics. I think they need an economist to head that authority, but the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, will be difficult to replace.
I agree that we need a robust competition regime in the UK. That is what we have; the CMA has already announced reviews into many of the practices that the noble Lord highlighted, taking action against profiteering from some pharmaceutical companies, for example. We will not hesitate to take further measures if required.
My Lords, on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards I saw the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, to protect ordinary people and businesses from abuses of power in the financial sector. Frankly, if he says that more powers are needed, then more powers are needed. We currently face the dominance of big tech, rip-offs related to Covid, and deregulation following Brexit. Will the Government, instead of being so complacent, urgently implement his proposed reforms to make sure that the consumer, at the very least, has a powerful champion with powerful teeth? If not, we will have a very angry and abused public.
We are taking action on these matters. We asked the CMA to lead two critical pieces of work: to report on the state of competition, and to set up the digital markets taskforce. The CMA remains one of the world-leading competition authorities. If necessary, we will build on that.
Following on from the Furman report, does my noble friend agree that government regulation around those digital platforms should be implemented as soon as possible? Can he give any indication when that might happen?
We accepted the recommendations of the Furman report in the Budget earlier this year. We are considering what further steps need to be taken.
My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, does the Minister accept that on consumer welfare it is difficult for us to have confidence in his reassurances? When the Government announced this digital markets taskforce a few months ago, they said that
“any future interventions must strike the right balance between promoting competition and innovation on the one hand and avoiding disproportionate burdens on business on the other”.
There was no mention of consumer welfare interests. It is difficult to see how we will make progress on that front, which is what most people worry about when they think of digital market abuse.
Consumers are best served by free and open competition, appropriately regulated, between businesses. The welfare of consumers is always at the forefront of our thoughts on this.
My Lords, the Minister rightly says that consumers depend on fair competition. The outgoing chair has said that the powers of that competition body are not sufficient. He recommended increased powers, and the then Government were very responsive. The Minister has today refused to build on that and say that they will give it new powers. I ask him again: will the Government implement the call for new powers and commit themselves to the absolute independence of the new chair of the CMA?
On that final point, we will of course run a full and open competition process. We will appoint the best person for the job. We committed in our manifesto to tackle consumer rip-offs and bad business practice. Where we need to give the CMA new powers, we will look at that, but it already has extensive powers, as proven by the cases it is currently pursuing. It is one of the leading regulators in the world and, as I said, we will look at giving it additional powers if necessary.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, and Professor Furman have clearly spelled out the challenges of the digital age. I heard what the Minister said on this, but do the Government intend to address these issues or will they continue to allow big tech to rampage across our economy in digital markets such as social media, e-commerce, search and online advertising? Will the Government set out their proposals any time soon?
The regulation of digital e-commerce is extremely important. As I have said, the CMA has set up the digital markets taskforce to study these matters, but they are complicated. This country has one of the best competitive markets in the world and digital markets are an increasingly important part of that. We will look at what further measures need to be taken.
My Lords, given the unprecedented pressures on consumers from both Covid-19 and the prospect of leaving EU markets at the end of the transition period, will the Government prioritise the CMA’s reforms as set out under its very effective chair, the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie? When will a date be announced for a new competition and consumer protection Bill, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Berkeley?
I will correct the noble Baroness: we will not leave EU markets at the end of the transition period. We seek in the negotiations to ensure continued access to those markets and for EU companies to have access to UK markets. That is the whole point of the negotiation. We keep all these matters under constant review. We will build on the powers of the CMA if that is required for what consumers need.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that if the Government are to continue to prioritise consumer protection, they urgently need to address the necessity of strengthening the CMA and legislation to protect consumers, as stated across the Chamber today?
At the risk of repeating myself, of course we keep these matters under constant review. We will see the outcome of the Digital Markets Taskforce that the CMA is currently involved in and, if necessary, we will take further action.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, is not available, so we will go straight to the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
My Lords, surely the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, standing down is a devastating indictment of the unwillingness of Tory Ministers to permit him to do his job properly, as well as the Government’s subservience to vast vested interests and the immense power of digital platforms at the expense of customers and competition. The Covid pandemic means that there will be lots of business casualties, allowing national and especially local monopolies to trample over customers. I am sorry, but the Minister is not coming clean with us; the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, is both honourable and highly capable: will he tell us straight, please, why Ministers have been so shamefully subservient to tycoons, plutocrats and dodgy dealers that he, an eminent fellow Tory, has been forced to resign from a job he wanted to do properly?
Well, characteristically the noble Lord has a great grasp of hyperbole, but I do not think that he is fairly characterising the situation here. It is a complicated area of detailed policy. We have an excellent competition regime in this country, the CMA is a highly regarded regulator and, as I said, we will consider giving it additional powers to protect consumer and business interests if that is required.
My Lords, all the supplementary questions have been asked. Therefore, that concludes the hybrid proceedings on these Oral Questions.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating virtually, but all Members will be treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted shortly after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules on courtesy in debate apply.
Public Transport: Face Coverings
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the requirement for passengers to wear face coverings on public transport, what assessment they have made of compliance with that requirement; and how that requirement is being enforced.
My Lords, we are working closely with transport operators and the British Transport Police to monitor compliance. As we expected, initial reports from operators suggest a high level of compliance, and there is strong public support for the measure. More data will be available in the coming weeks. We expect to see a gradual ramping up of enforcement, supported by a significant communications campaign, over the coming months.
My Lords, I hear what the Minister says. I am surprised that she points to that level of compliance. There is growing evidence, admittedly anecdotal, that not everybody is complying. This week, the BMA, among others, urged the wider use of face coverings as an important mitigation measure once social distancing rules are relaxed. The Government made face coverings on public transport mandatory from 15 June, with the potential of fines for non-compliance, yet, as I say, there is growing anecdotal evidence that many people are not complying. Can the Minister say a little more about what the Government will do to ensure that a strong, unambiguous message gets through to everyone? Can she say what support and training are being offered to front-line staff, such as bus drivers and ticket inspectors, to help them deal with non-compliance?
I thank the noble Baroness for her follow-up question. I assure her that compliance is at around 85% to 95% on rail, 90% on TfL and 70% on non-London buses. This soon after the mandating of face coverings, that is a pretty good return. We are looking at ways of explaining things, engaging with people and encouraging people to wear face masks. At this moment in time, heavy-handed enforcement would not be appropriate. Part of that explaining element is making sure that transport workers work hand in hand with the public and the police to explain to people exactly why they should wear a face covering and that they may not use public transport if they do not have one.
My Lords, to what extent are the Government hoping that the travelling public will help to police this policy?
My Lords, I do not expect the travelling public to police this policy. It is important to be aware that there are exemptions to it. Gentle guidance from transport operators will be absolutely key, as will them working hand in hand with the police and, for example, TfL-authorised personnel.
I believe that the present public transport policy is killing public transport, particularly buses outside London. Some 40% to 70% of normal capacity will be available after next weekend. The Government need to stop sending the message that it is unsafe and dangerous to use public transport. It is important that people wear face masks and that people avoid the busiest journeys. Transport companies are striving to do the right thing but it is up to the Government to use their publicity machine to draw attention to the positive things that can be done.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. The Government support public transport. Indeed, we are funnelling vast amounts of taxpayers’ money into making sure that the services are there for the people who need them. He mentioned 40% to 70% capacity; I have no idea where those figures come from. Capacity is nothing like that on public transport. With 100% of services, we are looking at capacity of less than 30%. There is a balance to be achieved. We want people to use public transport in future but using it right now would be counterproductive and may risk our ability to control the virus.
My Lords, I support the use of face coverings in principle but are the Government fully aware of the challenges that this presents for people living with disabilities, including those who need to lip-read? I know that exemptions are in place but they are not clearly advertised; nor are staff adequately trained to deal with them. This has left people with disabilities being refused entry and being reported to police by fellow travellers; some have had to pay for GP letters that prove their exemption. Will the Minister commit to reviewing communications and mandating transport staff training so that people who cannot wear face coverings can travel safely without further questioning and harassment?
The issue that the noble Baroness brings up is extremely worrying. We do not want people having to get GP letters. That is not what is intended. When we put these regulations in place, we did an equalities impact assessment and took advice from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee to make sure that we understand fully the sorts of exemptions that are needed. We are working closely with operators to put in place exemption schemes, which may include badges, lanyards or cards that people can show to other individuals—and, just as importantly, to transport operators and police—to show that, for whatever reason, they are exempt from wearing a face covering.
Despite the impending reopening of museums, pubs, cinemas and hotels, there has been no clear updated guidance on whether people can use public transport to reach these destinations. Can the Minister clarify the guidance? Will individuals and families be encouraged to or discouraged from using public transport to travel to leisure and hospitality facilities? If they travel, will they be required to wear a face covering? If they do not do so, will they be stopped from using public transport?
As I mentioned previously, wearing a face covering on public transport is mandatory. If a person does not have a face covering on, they can be denied service or removed from the service. On the reopening of various facilities on 4 July, the Department for Transport and broader government are continually looking at the demand for transport and our transport capacity to see whether we are in danger of demand exceeding supply. If there is capacity on public transport, the Government’s messaging may well change, but in the short term, we cannot suddenly open up public transport to everybody because there simply is not the capacity.
My Lords, the case for wearing face coverings on public transport, particularly on commuter services, appears quite strong. However, to be effective, face coverings must be of sufficient quality in their design and manufacture to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Will the Government consider making the manufacture, import or sale of coverings that do not meet the defined British standard an offence, as they have for surgical face coverings being used in clinical settings?
My Lords, the Government are working to the advice of SAGE on face coverings, which is that face coverings worn in enclosed spaces are at least partially effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus to other people. That is why we have said that face coverings can be made of various materials. We do not have a specific British standard, which I feel would stop the supply to people across the country who need to use public transport.
Does the Minister agree that to minimise the risk to fellow passengers, it is imperative that face coverings are worn on public transport, but if a passenger with an urgent need to travel arrives without one, drivers or staff should be able to provide an inexpensive covering that can be recycled at the end of the journey?
I agree with the noble Lord that it is essential that people use a face covering when they travel. We have been working with the rail industry and other transport operators on the provision, on a one-off basis, of a supply of face coverings that can be given out in the circumstances he has described, particularly while people get used to wearing them. We are also looking with the Cabinet Office at longer-term supply options so that members of the public can purchase low-cost face coverings at various outlets. For example, Network Rail has installed vending machines supplying face coverings at many of its stations.
My Lords, what consultations took place with bus, coach and train operators and their representatives before the announcement about face coverings was made? Turning to enforcement, does the Minister expect front-line staff to turn away would-be passengers who for any reason are not wearing face masks? What other consultations have there been with the police, particularly the British Transport Police, about the enforcement of the wearing of face masks on railway services?
I think the noble Lord will understand that at present, all Ministers have a close ongoing relationship with transport operators and unions. We are continually having conversations about the sort of measures that may come in in the future. We spoke to the unions about face coverings; indeed, it was the unions that did not want the use of face coverings by transport workers made mandatory. We listened and worked with them to make that the case. Transport operators such as bus drivers often have to turn people away, for example, because of poor behaviour, in which case they might then go on to call the police. It is the same in the case of face coverings; if people create a fuss because they are denied boarding, transport operators will get the police involved. Of course, we speak frequently to the British Transport Police about this matter as well.
My noble friend will be aware that we are negotiating with other countries over air bridges for air transport to and from the United Kingdom. Given that the rules on the wearing of face coverings differ in the various parts of the United Kingdom, how is that matter being reconciled in the negotiations to create air bridges, which I fully support?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point. It is obviously a consequence of devolution that the devolved Administrations can make their own rules in this area. However, I am pleased to say that the wearing of face coverings is mandatory in Scotland as well, so there is less confusion there, and their use is advisory in Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, the wearing of face coverings on aircraft and the reciprocal arrangements with other countries will be an important consideration as discussions on international air bridges continue.
My Lords, I also support the use of face coverings, which I think is imperative, but I have heard a significant number of anecdotes of people who, using good common sense, have approached other travellers saying, “You should have your face covered,” are then threatened, rather as we found early on when the ban on smoking on public transport came in; not everyone will support this. What do the Government envisage happening if threatening behaviour greets the use of common sense by the public?
The issue raised by the noble Lord is extremely distressing. I would advise members of the general public perhaps not to approach individuals themselves, but to speak to transport operators, either the station staff or the driver if they are on a bus. If there is a continual refusal to wear a face covering without an appropriate exemption, in those circumstances the police could, and indeed should, be called. I do not want members of the public to put themselves at risk to encourage people to wear face coverings.
My Lords, should there not be better education from the Government about why and how face masks should be used?
I would slightly challenge the noble Earl on that. A significant communications campaign is going on at the moment and that will continue over the weeks and months ahead. We are also working closely with the transport operators, which have put an enormous amount of signage in their vehicles and at stations. They are also sending emails to their customers, as well as messages via their apps and websites, so a lot of work is going on. I think that the message is getting out there, but I can reassure the noble Earl that we are pushing on with this, although there is always more that we can do.
My Lords, in the Far East, people have been wearing face masks on public transport since the outset of the pandemic. If Her Majesty’s Government think that wearing face coverings on public transport is a good idea now, why did they not think that months ago? I suggest to the Minister that this was always just a case of shortage of adequate PPE, including face masks?
I do not think that the noble Lord is correct in his assumption. As we have said consistently throughout the pandemic, we were following the science at the time. It is also worth noting that very few people were travelling on public transport in the early days of the pandemic. The reality is that handwashing and social distancing are more critical in reducing transmission of the virus than wearing a face mask. Having a face covering on is something that we can put in place now, given that social distancing may not be as possible as it was in the early phases of the outbreak. In the early phases, almost no one was travelling on public transport.
Pension Schemes Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule 1, Clauses 52 to 57, Schedule 4, Clauses 7 to 17, Clauses 58 to 68, Clauses 18 to 23, Clauses 69 to 74, Clauses 24 and 25, Clauses 75 and 76, Clauses 26 to 30, Clauses 77 to 81, Clauses 31 to 44, Schedule 2, Clause 45, Clauses 82 to 95, Schedule 5, Clause 96, Clause 46, Clause 97, Clause 47, Clause 98, Clause 48, Schedule 3, Clause 99, Schedule 6, Clauses 49 to 51, Clauses 100 to 116, Schedule 7, Clause 117, Schedule 8, Clauses 118 to 120, Schedule 9, Clauses 121 to 123, Schedule 10, Clauses 124 to 129, Schedule 11, Clauses 130 to 132, Title.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted shortly after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply. Please ensure that questions and answers are short.
We now come to questions on the Statement on Covid-19. It has been agreed in the usual channels to dispense with the reading of the Statement itself, and we will proceed immediately to questions from the Opposition Front Bench.
The following Statement was made on Tuesday 23 June in the House of Commons.
“Before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails, who were brutally killed in Reading on Saturday. To assault defenceless people in a park is an act not simply of wickedness but of abject cowardice. We will never yield to those who would seek to destroy our way of life.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the next steps in our plan to rebuild our economy and reopen our society, while waging our struggle against Covid-19. From the outset, we have trusted in the common sense and perseverance of the British people, and their response has more than justified our faith. Since I set out our plan on 11 May, we have been clear that our cautious relaxation of the guidance is entirely conditional on our continued defeat of the virus. In the first half of May, nearly 69,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 across the UK; by the first half of June, that total had fallen by nearly 70% to just under 22,000. The number of new infections is now declining by between 2% and 4% every day.
Four weeks ago, an average of one in 400 people in the community in England had Covid-19; in the first half of June, the figure was one in 1,700. We created a human shield around the NHS, and in turn our doctors and nurses have protected us. Together, we have saved our hospitals from being overwhelmed. On 11 May, 1,073 people were admitted to hospital in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with Covid-19; by 20 June, the figure had fallen by 74% to 283.
This pandemic has inflicted permanent scars, and we mourn everyone we have lost. Measured by a seven-day rolling average, the number of daily deaths peaked at 943 on 14 April. On 11 May, it was 476 and yesterday the rolling average stood at 130. We have ordered over 2.2 billion items of protective equipment from UK-based manufacturers, many of whose production lines have been called into being to serve this new demand. And yesterday we conducted or posted 139,659 tests, bringing the total to over 8 million.
While we remain vigilant, we do not believe that there is currently—currently—a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS. Taking everything together, we continue to meet our five tests, and the chief medical officers of all four home nations have downgraded the UK’s Covid alert level from 4 to 3, meaning that we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, although it remains in general circulation.
The Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hold responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions, and they will respond to the united view of the chief medical officers at their own pace, based on their own judgment. But all parts of the UK are now travelling in the same direction, and we will continue to work together to ensure that everyone in our country gets the support they need.
Thanks to our progress, we can now go further and safely ease the lockdown in England. At every stage, caution will remain our watchword, and each step will be conditional and reversible. Given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus, we can change the 2-metre social distancing rule from 4 July. I know that this rule effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy, even without other restrictions—for example, it prevents all but a fraction of our hospitality industry from operating. That is why almost two weeks ago I asked our experts to conduct a review; I will place a summary of their conclusions in the Libraries of both Houses this week.
Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre-plus, meaning that they should remain one metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission. We are today publishing guidance on how business can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers. Those include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings, closing non-essential social spaces, providing hand sanitiser, or changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams. We already mandate face coverings on public transport.
While the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced, they judge that those mitigations would make one metre-plus broadly equivalent to the risk at two metres, if those mitigations are fully implemented. Either would be acceptable, and our guidance will change accordingly. That vital change enables the next stage of our plan to ease the lockdown.
I am acutely conscious that people will ask legitimate questions about why certain activities are allowed when others are not, but I must ask the House to understand that the virus has no interest in such debates. Its only ambition is to exploit any opportunities to recapture ground that we might carelessly vacate, and to reinfect our communities. There is only one certainty, which is that the fewer social contacts someone has, the safer they will be, and our duty as a Government is to guide the British people, balancing our overriding aim of controlling the virus against our natural desire to bring back normal life.
We cannot lift all the restrictions at once, so we have to make difficult judgments. Every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence. Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense in the full knowledge of the risks, remembering that the more we open up, the more vigilant we will need to be. From now on, we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact, instead of legislation, and in that spirit we advise that from 4 July, two households of any size should be able to meet in any setting, inside or out. That does not mean that they must always be the same two households; it will, for instance, be possible to meet one set of grandparents one weekend, and the other set the following weekend. We are not recommending meetings of multiple households indoors, because of the risk of creating greater chains of transmission. Outside, the guidance remains that people from several households can meet in groups of up to six, and it follows that two households can also meet, regardless of size.
I can tell the House that we will also reopen restaurants and pubs. All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service, and our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact. We will ask businesses to help NHS Test and Trace respond to any local outbreaks by collecting contact details from customers, as happens in other countries, and we will work with the sector to make that manageable. Almost as eagerly awaited as a pint will be a haircut—particularly by me, Mr Speaker—and we will reopen hairdressers with appropriate precautions, including the use of visors. We also intend to allow some other close-contact services such as nail bars to reopen as soon as we can, once we are confident that they can operate in a Covid-secure way.
From 4 July, provided that no more than two households stay together, people will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfasts, as well as campsites, as long as shared facilities are kept clean. Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions will reopen if they can do so safely, including outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs and community centres.
Close-proximity venues such as nightclubs, soft-play areas, indoor gyms, swimming pools and spas will, I am afraid, need to remain closed for now, as will bowling alleys and waterparks, but my right honourable friends the Business Secretary and the Culture Secretary will establish task forces with public health experts and those sectors to help them to become Covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.
We will also work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. Recreation and sport will be allowed, but indoor facilities, including changing rooms and courts, will remain closed, and people should only play close-contact team sports with members of their household.
I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship, and this year Easter, Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown. I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings, with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.
Meanwhile, our courts, probation services, police stations and other public services will increasingly resume face-to-face proceedings. Wraparound care for school-age children and formal childcare will restart over the summer. Primary and secondary education will recommence in September with full attendance, and those children who can already go to school should do so, because it is safe.
We will publish Covid-secure guidelines for every sector that is reopening, and slowly but surely these measures will restore a sense of normality. After the toughest restrictions in peacetime history, we are now able to make life easier for people, so that they can see more of their friends and families, and to help businesses get back on their feet and get people back into work.
The virus has not gone away, however. We will continue to monitor the data with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and our ever more effective test and trace system. I must be clear to the House that, as we have seen in other countries, there will be flare-ups, for which local measures will be needed. We will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reintroduce restrictions, even at national level, if required. I urge everyone to stay alert, control the virus and save lives. Let us keep washing our hands; staying two metres apart wherever feasible; mitigating the risks at one metre where it is not; avoiding public transport where possible and wearing a mask when we have to use public transport; getting tested immediately if we have symptoms; and self-isolating if instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace.
Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end. Life is returning to our streets and to our shops, the bustle is starting to come back and a new but cautious optimism is palpable. But I must say to the House that it would be all too easy for that frost to return. That is why we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and to see us to victory over this virus. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Statement was targeted at a nation desperate to return to a more normal way of living as soon as it is safe to do so. We support that aim. The past few months have taken an enormous toll on individuals and communities. Some, long after most of us will be getting back to work, school and socialising, will still be coping with grief and loss, with mental and physical health issues and, of course, with financial hardship.
The Government have to balance and weigh up the risks of both action and inaction as they plot the path out of lockdown. It is not easy; these are judgment calls. The fundamental change in the Government’s response in the Statement is to move further towards individual decision-making and responsibility through guidance and away from legislation.
I appreciate the need for some flexibility in the system and the wisdom of basic common sense—perhaps such as not going out for a drive to test one’s eyesight—but alongside the benefits of flexibility, it inevitably creates some mixed messages and a lack of clarity. So, as we have come to expect with announcements from this Prime Minister, we need further details and I hope the Leader of the House will be able to help with that.
I want to say at the outset, though, that the tone of the debate is really important. When urging others to act responsibly, Mr Johnson has to understand that this also applies to him. When debating the Statement, my friend and south coast parliamentary colleague, the Hove MP Peter Kyle, sought advice from the Prime Minister. Bear in mind the scenes that we saw on beaches yesterday. My honourable friend asked how, in the absence of an app for tracking and tracing, we can keep places such as beachfront bars safe where it is impossible to get customers’ addresses. In response, Mr Johnson bellowed that elected representatives should “show some guts”. That is a pretty unhelpful and offensive response. I am sure that the noble Baroness will disassociate herself from comments such as that, but, more importantly, can she shed any light on the very sensible question asked by my honourable friend?
On the wider issue of that missing app, the leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, also sought clarity from the Prime Minister yesterday, but to little avail. So let us try again. Having been promised a “world-beating” app by 1 June, it is a bit strange now to be told by the Prime Minister, after spending £11.8 million, that we do not have an app—and, he says, neither does any other country. That was news to Australia, China, Germany, Singapore and South Korea. But the Prime Minister still says that we can do better.
Mr Johnson was asked, given that around 33,000 people are currently infected with the virus and around 10,000 people have been tracked and their contacts traced, what has happened to the other 23,000 who are infected? Yesterday, the Prime Minister did not have an answer, but now, 24 hours later, the Government will have had time to find out. So can the noble Baroness update the House on how many of the other 23,000 have now been tracked and had their contacts traced? It is not a trick question; it really is fundamental to understanding how we will navigate through the next few months. We need a system that is effective and has public trust, so that people will co-operate and isolate when told to do so. We need a system that allows local authorities and communities to respond quickly and efficiently to any localised outbreaks of Covid. Without that, we run a serious risk of a second wave.
The Prime Minister also said each step out of lockdown will be “conditional and reversible”. That is a sensible and proportionate response. On what criteria will decisions be based, and will the criteria be published? The reintroduction of restrictions could be local or national, and action will have to be swift, well planned and enforced.
The role of local authorities will be crucial, but council leaders have reported to me that they have had no guidance from the Government on how local lockdowns could work, what powers they will need to enforce them and, crucially, who would make the decisions to impose any restrictions. Would it be the council or does it have to be the Government? Therefore, can the noble Baroness either confirm that such discussions are already scheduled or reassure your Lordships’ House that Ministers will immediately initiate urgent discussions with the Local Government Association and local authorities to ensure that they have the powers and resources they need?
Yesterday, a group of the country’s leading health experts called for an urgent review to ensure that the UK is prepared for what they called the “real risk” of a second wave. In an open letter, the chair of the British Medical Association and the presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of GPs urged Ministers to examine
“areas of weakness where action is needed urgently to prevent further loss of life”.
We all know the consequences of failing to prepare, plan and learn the right lessons. The Prime Minister has said that caution is his watchword. Can the Leader confirm that the Government are undertaking a preparedness review? If she does not have the details on that, I am happy for her to write to me.
We all know how important it is to get the economy moving again, and that is reflected in the Statement. We want to do so safely. Can the noble Baroness say something more about how the one metre-plus measures to protect staff and customers will be monitored and enforced? What resources are being made available to assist employers in providing such measures? What recourse to immediate action will employees have if they feel that their safety is at risk?
Finally, on getting back to school, my good friend Sam Parker, now aged eight, is very keen that his year 3 class gets back to school next month. I think that his parents would like that as well. On behalf of Sam and other children who are itching to get back to that more formal learning environment, can the noble Baroness say whether new guidelines will be issued to head teachers in England and when further information will be available?
Also, yesterday the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said that she thought it was ridiculous that schools were opening after theme parks. She expressed concern that education had become a lower priority. Can the noble Baroness explain why theme parks have opened before schools?
Over the past few weeks and months we have become used to scientific and medical experts publicly talking about their advice to government and answering questions from the public and the press. That has been really important in maintaining public confidence. For the majority of us who are not experts but rely on them, it has been really helpful as we try to understand the judgments the Government are having to make. Any unlocking carries risks. We know that it has to be done in stages, with careful planning based on scientific evidence. Can the noble Baroness assure us that the package of measures announced is welcomed and supported by the Government’s own emergency advisers SAGE, as well as the CMO and the Chief Scientific Officer?
Finally, given that the daily press conferences for announcements and updates have been abandoned, I assume that we will return to the normal process of Statements to Parliament, such as this one, which I certainly welcome. Can the noble Baroness confirm that we will receive regular Statements on progress?
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for answering questions on this Statement.
I welcome the broad thrust of the Government’s proposals because as the risks of catching Covid-19 have diminished, the economic and mental health costs being incurred by many people are increasing. At some point, the costs of remaining in lockdown were bound to be greater than those of lifting it, and that moment appears to have arrived.
As far as the detailed proposals are concerned, the Prime Minister says that they are based on the principle of,
“trust the British public to use their common sense.”
“Trust the people” is of course an old Liberal slogan, so I cannot but applaud that, but the problem about using one’s common sense is that there is no universally agreed view of what common sense constitutes in any particular circumstance. Everybody will disagree with the Government on what it means in specific instances now, and I will mention just two of my own. I do not understand why local cricket clubs cannot re-open when so many other sports are operating, and I do not know why cathedrals and large churches are not allowed any choral music at all, even though individual choristers could stand apart from each other and many metres away from the congregation. These are relatively small issues, but they matter a lot to those affected. What is the process for keeping such inconveniences under review? Will the Government look at further small steps that would seem to many to be an application of the common sense which the Prime Minister claims is the hallmark of his policy?
Going forward, the two bigger challenges are support for the economy and dealing with any new outbreaks. Today’s Statement is not primarily about the economy but it has major economic implications, not only for those working in sectors where the lockdown is effectively being removed, but also for those where it is not. My only plea to the Government is to be nuanced in any stimulus they give to the economy, and to concentrate on giving continued support to sectors that at present cannot begin to return to normal, such as the performing arts, where a failure to be generous now could lead to a long-term hollowing out of the sector.
There is also the issue facing those who are currently shielding, who will not be able to return to work safely at the end of July, because their workplace will not have adequate anti-Covid-19 measures in place, due to the intrinsic nature of the work. Working as a chef is one example. Will the Government extend the provision of statutory sick pay for such people? If not, how are they supposed to make ends meet?
The second big challenge is how to deal with any resurgence of the disease, which is likely to begin with localised outbreaks. In this respect it is instructive to look at what has happened in Germany. The recent outbreak at the Gütersloh meat processing factory saw 1,500 cases out of a workforce of 7,000. This led almost immediately to the lockdown, for a week, of a district of some 360,000 people, and the rapid deployment of some 100 mobile testing teams to identify further infection among the population as a whole. My concern is that a similar outbreak here would not be met with a similarly decisive response.
If such an outbreak happened in England, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, who would make the decision to lock down the equivalent of a London borough or a district council area? How quickly could such a decision be made? What capacity exists for large-scale local testing in such an area, and what contingency planning has already been undertaken by the Government to ensure that there is a decisive response?
At present, the “track, trace and isolate” policy is based on a national system of telephone callers who have no knowledge of local areas, no local credibility and therefore limited powers of persuasion. It is backed up by an app which, at best, will not be ready for months, and in any event is now not the most important thing that is going to happen but
“the cherry on top of the cake”.
Will the Government now refocus their “track and trace” efforts towards a more locally led approach, and will they change tack and commit to being open with people when significant new outbreaks occur in specific local settings—for example, in meat processing plants, as has happened in two or three cases in the UK already?
While loosening the lockdown and opening up more of the economy is welcome, it will only remain welcome while we avoid a generalised second wave of infections. This is perfectly possible with a rigorous, locally based “track, trace and isolate” system. At present, however, neither I nor anybody else believes that such a system is in place. Until it is, the Government run the risk of making the same hash of coming out of the pandemic as they did of going into it.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. Both rightly asked about the “test and trace” system. It has been important to learn as we have developed this new technology, which is why it has undergone testing on the Isle of Wight and in a series of field tests. This has uncovered some issues with the app, particularly the Google-Apple framework. We are now bringing together the app and the Google-Apple solution so that we can carry out contact tracing and make it easier to order tests and access advice and guidance on self-isolation.
On 18 June, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that NHSX has begun the next phase of development in building this app, and we will conduct a national rollout only when we are confident of having got it right. The noble Baroness is right that other countries have started to roll out apps, but they too—Singapore, for instance—have found very similar issues with the compatibility of this data. Germany has had 12.2 million downloads, but as we have said, you need about 60% of the population for this to be a fully functioning rollout, and downloads are not the same as rollout. I am not saying that there are no issues, but a lot of countries are grappling with this. We are making progress and will continue to do so.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness rightly asked about local outbreaks, and the noble Lord referred to specific examples. I can confirm that there are ongoing discussions with local authorities. Each local area has its own local action committee and its own arrangements to choose how it wants to run its local outbreak plans. Decisions will be supported at a local level by the Joint Biosecurity Centre—which is also tracking data and will be involved—Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace. We have made £300 million available to local authorities to work with NHS Test and Trace in developing local outbreak control plans, which will identify and contain potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, ensure that testing capacities are effectively deployed and help the most vulnerable in isolation. We are in discussions with local authorities about what enforcement powers are available and what more can be granted. As has always been the case, if multiple cases appear in a specific setting, a specialist team from the local authority or Public Health England will help to manage the outbreak. A lot of work from central and local government is ongoing throughout this pandemic, and it will continue.
The noble Baroness asked about the one-metre rule, particularly in respect of businesses. It is for each business to carry out its own risk assessment, in consultation with workers, to inform their actions and the mitigation steps they may take if they move to the one-metre-plus rule. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness will have seen that a significant amount of detailed guidance has been published since the Prime Minister’s Statement. Obviously, employers have a duty under the law to protect the health and safety of their employees, and if there are concerns about employers’ steps, employees should get in touch with their employee representative, union, local authority or the Health and Safety Executive. We have announced an additional £14 million for the Health and Safety Executive for extra call-centre staff, inspectors and equipment.
I hope that the noble Baroness can assure her eight-year-old friend, whose name I am afraid I have forgotten—
I hope that she can assure Sam Parker that we are committed to doing everything possible to allow children to go back to school safely. In the next couple of weeks, we will be publishing the guidance to help schools plan successfully for a full return in September.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about choral singing. I am afraid I hear that the science shows that there is an additional risk of infection when you or others are singing or speaking loudly, and this applies even if others are at a distance from you. This is something—I am trying to speak softly—that we will continue to look into. I share the noble Lord’s wish for cricket to return and will continue to apply whatever pressure I can. Yes, it is the ball, I believe.
The noble Lord also asked about orchestras. Sector-wide guidance for the performing arts returning to rehearsal and performance is something we are working on with the sector. It is a priority because we entirely understand the difficulties that the sector is facing.
The noble Lord asked about statutory sick pay. People will be eligible for statutory sick pay on the basis of their shielding status until 31 July.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the preparedness plan. We are constantly working to make sure that we are prepared for whatever turn of events we face. Obviously, we have learned a lot from where we have got to now. We continue to hope that we will continue to beat this virus, but we all need to abide by the guidelines and to play our part. We are absolutely committed to continuing to move in the right direction, and we believe we can do that.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated to Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers are short so that I can call the maximum number of questioners.
I thank the Leader of the House for taking questions on this Statement. Although testing of symptomatic individuals and tracing their contacts represents an important approach to controlling the spread of Covid-19 disease in the community as lockdown restrictions are lifted, there may be an alternative approach: mass population testing to identify both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the community, with them being isolated if they test positive. Such a testing strategy would need to be delivered locally and to provide the results in real time to facilitate maximum workplace participation and consumer confidence. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the emergent technologies that could facilitate this population approach? What provision has been made for the necessary logistical arrangements that would need to be adopted to test the entire population on a repeated and regular basis?
The noble Lord obviously knows a lot about this area. He is right that a series of strategies will need to be used for us to continue to make progress in combating this virus. The Department of Health is looking at an array of issues with SAGE and the medical advisers, so work is ongoing in the area that he suggested, as well as in developing track and trace, because we are going to need all these different strands to come together to beat this virus and make sure that all areas are able to clamp down if we start to see a sudden resurgence in any area. I am sure we all want to avoid going into a national lockdown again if the virus were to start to reappear.
Lord McColl of Dulwich. No? We will move on. Lord Dubs.
My Lords, I put it to the Leader of the House that public confidence is not of a high order as regards the Government’s handling. The Minister has said on a number of occasions that discussions are ongoing. What specific plans are available in the event of a second wave on a local level? What would the Government do, as opposed to having ongoing discussions with local authorities? It is all too vague. We need a clear statement of policy about what will trigger local action, which the Government have said they want to support.
I hoped that I had set out some of that detail in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Each local area will have a local action committee to manage its outbreaks, and discussions at a local level will be supported by the joint work of the joint biosecurity centre, Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace. We have already seen a successful lockdown in Weston-super-Mare, so we are starting to see these situations being taken under control and dealt with at a very local level.
My Lords, the Leader referred to guidance for theatres and orchestras pending a move back to live theatre. What practical assistance are the Government able to give to the performing arts pending reopening to ensure that the sector remains vibrant post lockdown?
Ministers in the department recently met leaders in this sector to discuss the impact and how guidance could be developed to ensure that the sector can reopen. It will be consulted on guidelines. There is another round table with the sector next week to discuss that. Obviously, this is an incredibly important sector and we are looking to continue support, but the sector has benefited from the job retention scheme and the self-employment support scheme, as well as from the £160 million Arts Council England emergency funding. We are in ongoing discussions. Of course, we want this sector to open up as quickly as possible, but in a way that ensures that audiences and performers are safe in the environment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for the easing of social distancing from two metres to one metre. This will save thousands of jobs and businesses. Can the Leader of the House assure us that businesses will have access to widespread testing to test their employees on a regular basis to get confidence? We can see from the Premier League how well regular testing is being proven to work. On that basis, surely cricket can also start with regular testing. Football is a contact sport, and it is working safely. Surely it can work for cricket. Although the Statement allows pubs and restaurants to commence, there are lots of caterers, such as events caterers and wedding caterers, who cannot operate. Their businesses have been destroyed. There are 1 million individuals not covered by the Chancellor’s excellent initiatives for business. What will the Government do to help all these individuals and businesses?
I am sure that, like me, the noble Lord has seen pictures of the England cricket team being tested this morning as they went into their bubble in advance of their series against the West Indies. That is happening and it is a small step in the right direction. The noble Lord will know that testing capacity has increased to over 200,000 tests a day and that around 8 million tests have been delivered through our testing programme, so nationwide testing is moving in the right direction. That will be critical as we start to unlock the economy further. The noble Lord is right that a series of schemes have been in place during the lockdown. The Chancellor will be making further Statements in this area in the next couple of weeks.
I, too, have some sympathy with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on cricket. There is no doubt that the return of first-class sport on TV is important for morale around the country. I noted that in the debate on the Statement in the other place, the honourable Member for Dartford called on the people of Britain
“to do their patriotic best … and go to the pub”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/20; col. 1176.]
There is indeed timely and welcome news for restaurants and pubs in this Statement, but does my noble friend agree that, while acknowledging that there has never been a textbook to follow, the Government should be commended for their efforts to protect people’s livelihoods via the job retention scheme and other measures?
I thank my noble friend. While I entirely agree with him about professional sport returning, as Norwich City fan the return of the Premier League has not been a happy experience so far, but let us hope a corner has been turned. My noble friend is right. It is great news. It is welcome that parts of the economy that we want to see unlocked are doing so. Of course, 1.1 million employers have used the job retention scheme, which has protected 9.2 million jobs. That has been an extremely important help. From the start of August workers will be able to return to work part-time, and as we slowly unlock the economy and open up key elements of hospitality and other sectors, we want to see that people can start to get to back to their working life and people can enjoy the services that they provide.
My Lords, I count about eight major changes in the Statement, all of which are worth while. However, they all take place on the same date, so how will the Government monitor the effect of each on the virus situation? As an aside, will the Leader of the House be kind enough to answer one of the questions from my honourable friend on the Front Bench in the Commons, Peter Kyle? What happens when people order drinks at beach bars, in terms of giving information? It was quite a legitimate question, bearing in mind the weather and what is going to happen.
I welcome the noble Lord back; it is good to see him on the screen. In relation to bars, one of the key things is that we urge everyone buying drinks to abide by the guidance and to stick to either two metres or one metre-plus. That is how we can start to make sure that, when hospitality opens, everyone remains safe. There are obviously other mitigating factors around sanitisation, hand washing and being sensible—there are all those issues. We will be asking businesses to provide details of customers if possible, but it probably will not be in all circumstances—for instance, in the example he cited.
My Lords, the Statement says that the Government will work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. That is helpful but it is urgent financially. Seventy per cent of the UK’s theatre venues, for example, could be bankrupt by the end of the year because the one-metre rule means that only a quarter of seats can be sold. What financial help are the Government planning, given that theatres receive £1.3 billion from ticket sales a year?
As I said, we are working extremely closely with the performing arts sector because we are well aware of the issues it faces. The noble Lord will know that we have set up the Cultural Renewal Taskforce, an entertainments and events working group, with extensive membership from across the artistic and creative sectors, to work with us to make sure that we can reopen these venues when it is safe to do so. As I mentioned, a further round table is being held next week to discuss guidance and innovative ideas on how we may permit live performances again. I mentioned in response to an earlier question that the sector has been helped financially in a number of ways, including the £160 million Arts Council England emergency funding. The Secretary of State is continuing discussions with the sector and I am sure they are discussing these very issues.
My Lords, I have two points. Incidents in Gütersloh, China and various other places have demonstrated that the virus can spread in meat markets and open markets. Have the Government initiated any scientific investigation of the need for extra measures around abattoirs?
My second question regards local lockdowns. I am still not clear who decides to impose a lockdown. Who is the responsible officer who can say, “Right, this is an outbreak, we need a lockdown”, and then call people together? Crucially, there has to be one person who can make the decision. Who is it?
As I have said, each local area has a local action committee, which will be working with a number of different organisations. That is where decisions will be made at a local level. If, for instance, in Weston-super-Mare, the issue was around a specific hospital, the hospital would close. To a degree, it will also depend on exactly where the outbreak has happened. Central and local information will be used so that we can act very quickly. The NHS Test and Trace system and the joint biosecurity centre will play an important role in helping feed through data on local outbreaks.
My Lords, as has been mentioned, classical musicians, orchestras, freelance players and venues have been particularly hard hit by the virus because they fall between the pillars of support that the Chancellor has erected. The Secretary of State, as the noble Baroness said, has made very welcome promises and has met leaders of these various institutions but what orchestras need this minute—before they go bust—is financial help. When might these good wishes be translated into a date and actual figures?
I am afraid I have provided all the information I can in terms of the fact that discussions are ongoing. There are further meetings next week. Support has been provided already. The department is very cognisant of the issues facing theatres, orchestras and others, and we will do everything we can to ensure that orchestras, for instance, can start rehearsing again and venues can open. It is an unfortunate fact that there are unique challenges, but we are doing everything we can. Orchestras and the theatre play a huge and important role in our culture and we want them back.
My noble friend will be aware that the Government and the regional Governments all say that they are taking decisions based on the science. How, therefore, is it that different decisions are being taken and at different times? Can the Minister also tell the House whether the science is being shared between HMG and the devolved regions and vice versa?
I assure the noble Lord that the Chief Medical Officers share data and work together. All four nations have downgraded the UK’s Covid alert level from four to three, which means that we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, although it remains in general circulation. It is right for the Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions. I am sure the noble Lord will see that the direction of travel is extremely similar and that we are all working closely together.
My Lords, the Minister is probably not aware that today is the International Day of the Seafarer, recognising the efforts of 1.8 million seafarers—of many nations, manning 96,000 ships that carry 80% of world trade, valued at $7 trillion—who ensure that the global economy continues to function. Yet that very trade is in crisis because of the impact of the Wuhan virus restrictions on Merchant Navy crews. Because of the virus, more than 400,000 sailors are stranded by travel restrictions that bar crew from disembarking to return to their home country or from travelling to a port where their ship is waiting for a crew change. Many seafarers have had to remain at sea for over 15 months and ships are beginning to refuse to sail. Will the United Kingdom take the lead in getting other nations to designate seafarers as key workers who can travel without restrictions when leaving or joining a vessel, creating safe areas in airports for their transit and accepting official maritime documents as proof of identity? The global economy and the financial recovery post pandemic are totally reliant on maritime trade, yet that trade is at present collapsing. A global economic disaster is looming unless nations take some certain action. The UK, as a great maritime nation with world shipping run from London, should take the lead.
It certainly feels like a bit of normality has returned with the noble Lord managing to discuss these issues in the Chamber. That is good to hear. I will certainly take back his comments to the relevant departments. I am sure a lot of work is ongoing, but he makes some very good points and I will make sure that they are raised with the relevant Ministers.
The Government’s figures, which may be as uncertain and unreliable as scientific opinion on this matter, say that five children under the age of 18 have died from this ghastly virus and that the death rate in the population is fewer than one in 1,500, which my maths makes less than 0.065 of the population. Yet we seem to have suspended our normal critical faculties. Of course there is risk—great risk to the elderly, the infirm and those with underlying health conditions, who should shield themselves. Otherwise, we should lift all restrictions and take sensible precautions. We should send the schools back now. Can my noble friend the Leader of the House go back to the Cabinet and say—it is not just my opinion—that many people believe that we should take such action. Thereby, we might salvage something of this country’s future and our children’s future.
As I said, we are committed to doing everything possible to allow children to go back to school safely and to support their well-being and education, and we are working with schools to make sure that that can happen. We are very well aware of the disadvantage that many schoolchildren have faced over the last few months. That is why we have announced £650 million—to be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020-21 academic year—for head teachers to spend on evidence-based interventions for those children who have missed out. In addition, we have put a further £350 million into a national tutoring programme to increase access to tuition for the most disadvantaged children. My noble friend is absolutely right: we need to make sure that children are not disadvantaged by the lockdown, and that is why we want to get them back into schools as quickly as possible.
My Lords, as a former chair of the National Housing Federation and as someone still working with that sector, I am acutely conscious that many planned improvement works on people’s homes—not least the fire safety efforts in high-rise buildings—are currently on hold because there is no clarity about contractors going into people’s homes to do the necessary work, although they can do so in emergencies. I am talking about electricians and plumbers, and this applies not just to affordable homes but across the country. There is no clarity for a huge number of people who work on improving people’s homes, often carrying out necessary interventions and, indeed, tackling sustainability. As I said, we are all very conscious of the fire safety issues. Can the Minister give some clarity about whether these contractors are now able to engage in that work in people’s homes, while of course exercising due caution, carrying out cleaning and maintaining a distance? After all, they are identifiable through track and trace if need be.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. As we take another step in moving from the two-metre to the one-metre-plus rule, that will help to ensure that some who have not been able to work are now able to do so. A huge amount of guidance is available, including for the construction industry. While travelling to the House, you can see that construction is picking up and that a lot more of this work is ongoing. I hope that, as we move towards unlocking and allow more people back to work, and as we move away from the two-metre rule, those things will help to ensure that more of that kind of work can begin again.
My Lords, do the Government accept that, to avoid public misunderstanding and mistrust of their key statements about Covid-19, be they made in Parliament, No. 10 or elsewhere, they need to take much greater care to clarify more frequently whether any of the rules and guidance given by the national Government apply to the whole of the United Kingdom or only to England?
I did not repeat the Statement but it makes it clear that the measures that have been announced relate to England. Obviously, the devolved Administrations are responsible for their own lockdown restrictions. Therefore, yes, these are measures for England.
Does the noble Baroness agree that a key factor in avoiding the risk of a second wave is the capacity to introduce effective local lockdowns with effective tracking and tracing? Does she also agree that local authorities have a key role to play in this? However, how can they possibly meet these responsibilities unless they have the financial resources to tackle them? When so many face the possibility of bankruptcy, how will the Government overcome this problem?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: local authorities have a key role to play. That is why we have made £3.2 billion of funding available to support them in delivering essential services. This funding was paid as an non-ring-fenced amount, so that they could decide how best to spend it. We have also helped to ease the immediate pressures that councils have faced by bringing forward payments of social care grants totalling £850 million and allowing councils to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments to central government. In total, we have committed over £27 billion to local areas to support councils and their communities and to help them in their vital work.
My Lords, in the light of the disgraceful scenes in south London last night, in which a number of police officers were injured, what additional planning have the Government put in place to support the police in view of the approach of a possibly long, hot summer and a greater consumption of alcohol from 4 July?
The noble Lord is absolutely right about the scenes that we saw. However, I stress that the vast majority of our citizens have abided by the guidelines and behaved respectfully. It is thanks to their sacrifice and everything that they have done that we are now in a position to gradually unlock the present situation. The Home Secretary is having ongoing discussions with the police about the pressures that they face, and those will continue. The police deserve our thanks for all their work.
My Lords, a number of noble Lords, including three of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, have raised the crisis facing performing arts organisations. It seems that the Government’s answer to this is simply that they are aware of the problem and that talks are going on. Does the noble Baroness not accept that the time for talking is probably now over? Furthermore, is she not aware of the letter in yesterday’s Times from over 60 leaders of arts organisations saying that, without “immediate and substantial” financial support, theatres and performing arts companies will close and tens of thousands of artistic careers will be cut short?
I do not accept that it has all just been talk. It is extremely important to bring performers in theatres, choirs and orchestras together with medical experts and advisers to discuss ways in which the sector can open safely. That is how we will get through this difficult situation, and we will develop guidelines that can be implemented to allow these settings to open. As I said, that work is ongoing. The group that has been brought together will focus on piloting innovative ways in which live performances might be permitted in the light of the scientific and medical advice that is being given.
My Lords, care home residents and people detained in secure settings were not mentioned in the Statement, but the mental health of all of them and their families benefits from regular social contact, both virtually and in person. That might be resource intensive but what attention is being given to the needs of these groups of people?
I assure the noble Baroness that they are at the forefront of our mind. Attention is being given to them and further work is ongoing. One thing that I have not mentioned so far is that from 1 August shielding will be paused. Therefore, people who have had the most intense experience during the lockdown will be able to start having social contact again, which we know is incredibly important, and I am sure that they are looking forward to that. From 6 July, those shielding will be able to spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people, including people from outside their household. Of course, support will also continue from the fantastic NHS volunteers, who have done so much to provide some contact for particularly vulnerable people who might not have relatives or family with whom they have been able to have contact.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as entered in the register. This is a health crisis and, for millions of people in this country, visiting a gym or going to a swimming pool is an essential part of their health regime. Can my noble friend now reiterate the Culture Secretary’s aspiration that gyms and leisure facilities will be reopened by mid-July?
I am happy to reiterate that, subject to public health advice, it is indeed our aspiration to reopen gyms and leisure facilities by mid-July.
My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, the noble Baroness referred to using local action committees as the way in which local lockdowns will be achieved. I refer to my interest in the register with the Local Government Association and to the words of Ian Hudspeth, who speaks for it on health matters. He and other local authorities have been begging for information on getting direct, real-time data about diagnoses of Covid-19, so that they can see and manage what is happening in their local areas. Can she say when or if that real-time information, down to the detail of at least street and postcode or small local areas, will be given to local authorities and those local action committees?
What I can say is that we have made £300 million available to local authorities to work with test and trace to develop the local outbreak control plans. Those plans will identify and contain potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, ensure that testing capacity is effectively deployed, and help the most vulnerable in self-isolation.
My Lords, I welcome the Prime Minister’s reference to live performance, but it is just one element of the UK’s cultural ecology. I have seen very little over recent weeks to give me confidence that the Government fully understand the interdependences between buildings and people, and the roles of freelancers, diverse and disabled artists, community organisations and SMEs. Every day, we are seeing examples of arts organisations brought to their knees, and we risk decimation of one of our nation’s most significant social, cultural and economic assets. When will we see action to make good on the Secretary of State’s commitment on 8 June that he will not see our world-leading arts and culture destroyed?
Well, I have already set out the significant financial help that has been provided for the sector and mentioned that we have a cultural renewal task force, with an entertainment and events working group, which includes extensive membership from across the artistic and creative industries sector and is working with the Government to ensure that we can provide Covid-secure guidelines, building, where relevant, on existing guidance, as well as providing intelligent and sector-specific expert input. The department is working closely with the sector to make sure that we can open it as safely and quickly as possible, and to provide it with the support that it needs.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply. We now have two Motions in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. The time limit is one and a half hours.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 1 June be approved.
Relevant document: 17th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
Approval period expires 27 June.
My Lords, the amending regulations that we are discussing were made by the Secretary of State on 31 May and came into force on 1 June, and again on 12 June, with changes coming into effect between 13 June and 15 June. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday of this week, there will be a further set of amendments made to the regulations next week.
I begin with the issue of sequencing, which I completely acknowledge is a concern and would like to address up front. Amendments to the regulations have been rapid and frequent. This has been necessary to ensure that the Government can respond quickly to the changing threat from this horrible disease. Events have demonstrated that the regulations have been a success and critical to helping us to reduce the infection rate and protect the NHS. However, the Government recognise that the measures have come at a significant cost to many aspects of our lives. The British people have made sacrifices that few would have previously predicted in order to control the spread of the virus. It is our duty to relieve them of these sacrifices by lifting restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.
The use of the emergency procedure, which involves the unusual step of bringing regulations into force prior to them being debated in the House, has enabled us to do just this. Through this process, we have been able to adapt social distancing measures to best reflect public health interests while beginning a welcome shift towards normality and reopening the economy.
I recognise that there may be frustrations because we have had to run several of these amendment processes in parallel. However, as I outlined to the House 10 days ago, I believe that government action and parliamentary scrutiny working in tandem, even under difficult circumstances, has demonstrated the merits of our constitution. Nevertheless, I wish to reiterate that we do not see this as a precedent for how government engages with Parliament on other matters in more usual times. I have heard the concerns of many noble Lords, I acknowledge their worries, and I am grateful to all parliamentarians for their continued support in this matter during this peculiar period.
Coronavirus is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in decades. That is why the Government needed to introduce these extraordinary regulations to put in place social distancing measures that would slow the spread of the virus and protect our NHS in order to save lives. I am extremely grateful to the public for their continued support for these onerous measures—a commitment which has been instrumental in making these regulations a success.
I am proud of the strength and resilience shown by this country. This strength and resilience has helped us to make great progress, culminating in the continued decline in daily death rates and the drop in our Covid alert level from 4 to 3. Now, we must look towards recovery and a return to our normal way of life as soon and as safely as possible.
On 11 May, the Prime Minister made a Statement to the House outlining the Government’s roadmap for easing restrictions as we entered phase two of the recovery strategy. This involved gradually replacing the current social distancing restrictions with smarter measures that would have the largest effect on controlling the epidemic but at the lowest health, economic and social cost. This began with the amendments on 13 May, debated in this House on 15 June, which were a small step in reducing those restrictions. The regulations were further amended on 1 June and subsequently on 12 June.
The 1 June and 12 June amendments, which we are discussing today, were crucial stepping-stones in this process. It has been necessary for the Government to respond quickly to the reduced rate of transmission and to protect individual rights, all the while ensuring that the regulations in place are proportionate and necessary. We are now looking ahead to phase three of the recovery strategy. Further amendments will be made to the regulations, which will allow us to go even further in relaxing the restrictions placed on the British people and the economy, while protecting public health.
I will now outline the changes made on 1 June, which included: first, allowing increased social contact outdoors, in either a private or public space, in groups of up to six people from different households; secondly, enabling elite athletes to train and compete in previously closed facilities; thirdly, opening some non-essential retail, while expressly providing which businesses remained closed; fourthly, ensuring that venues such as community centres can open for education and childcare services; and fifthly, ensuring that those required to self-isolate on arrival in the UK can stay in hotels. We also amended the maximum review period to 28 days. This longer review period ensures that we will be able to take fully into account the impact of any previous amendments before making further changes.
The changes made subsequently on 12 June included: first, increasing social contact for the most isolated through support bubbles; secondly, further opening of non-essential retail; thirdly, allowing individual prayer in places of worship; fourthly, and finally, opening certain outdoor attractions such as zoos and drive-in cinemas.
The Government continue to work on the process of easing restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, in line with the ambitions set out for phase three in the roadmap. Working alongside scientists and experts, we must act swiftly to respond to current infection rates and our assessment of the five tests that the Government have set out previously. I am sure that we will support the aim to protect and restore livelihoods by keeping in place only those restrictions which are proportionate unnecessary.
I am grateful to all parliamentarians for their continued engagement in this process and their valuable scrutiny, which is entirely right and an important aspect of each set of amendments.
My Lords, we are once again in the unsatisfactory situation of debating regulations that are already in place and, following the Prime Minister’s announcement early this week, now somewhat academic. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in opening this debate. We are, of course, in exceptional circumstances and the Government have had to act very quickly, but I would draw the Minister’s attention to the report today of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which urges the Government to ensure that legislation follows on more closely from any announcements they make. As the committee says, even a short gap between regulations being laid and their coming into effect would better enable those affected to prepare, having seen the law’s actual, detailed requirements, rather than just the headline announcements.
Public confidence would also be enhanced with the timely publication of the full scientific advice available to Ministers. When the crisis first occurred, Ministers were very fond of saying that they were following the science. This was much in evidence in the Downing Street briefings, with the presence of the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser. They have been less in evidence recently, although they did come to the last briefing in Downing Street this week.
The standing down of the Chief Nursing Officer when she would not endorse the behaviour of Dominic Cummings was a standout moment that did great credit to the Chief Nursing Officer—rather less so to Downing Street. Scientists are not above criticism, but surely, we are entitled to see the full advice going to Ministers. In the case of the ludicrous 14-day quarantine period for visitors to this country, we are still awaiting even a summary of the advice. Will the Minister say when it is going to be published? Would he accept that, if the public are to regain confidence in the Government, the full advice should be published?
My Lords, we play a game of illusion—a pretence that these regulations that put restrictions on citizens and keep parts of the economy closed are enacted with the agreement of Parliament. No. These regulations stem from emergency executive powers. Like lapdogs, we are discussing regulations that we cannot influence, revise or halt. Ministers sit in an office and decide the law, knowing that they are immune from normal parliamentary procedures and cannot be held to account. Maybe, back in March, quick-footed action was required due to the slowness of starting lockdown—but is who you can now meet in your back garden really an emergency power?
In the three debates we have had, I have not heard the Minister convincingly explain why we still need emergency legislation to gradually unlock the country. We do not live in a pre-Covid world, so we need to act and behave differently to ensure that the chain of transmission is slowed and broken. The Government should now focus on introducing a framework that allows proportionate, smart and targeted measures; they need to stop this executive, blunt, catch-all approach.
Powers and responsibilities need to be in place to hit local outbreaks fast and hard. Ministers say that powers are in place to implement local lockdowns. That is news to many on the front line and in local communities. Powers exist to close a building, but will the Minister inform the House who has the power to lock down a small area within a town or city when this is needed, and which laws stop that community moving about the whole town or city they live in? That detail is needed, not a general statement that the powers exist. The time for these blunt and undemocratic regulations has passed. We now need smart, targeted and effective local powers to break the chain of transmission and keep people safe. I look forward to the Minister convincing the House that these are indeed in place.
My Lords, I welcome the changes announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, which render discussion of these regulations rather academic. I suggest one more essential tweak to what was said on Tuesday. We are told that the one-metre rule needs additional mitigating factors. That is unnecessary waffle. We should say that at one metre face masks are compulsory for everyone, no ifs or buts.
Today, I want to turn to the investigation of death anomalies and how that must be done carefully and thoroughly. As my noble friend knows, there is a huge industry out there ready to denounce everything about our country as institutionally racist. There is no coherent BAME community. It consists of black ethnicities, Asian ethnicities and all other minority groups who are not white. While their death rates are higher than whites’, there are wide variations between them, so the Government should report on the individual ethnic groups, not just this grouping called BAME.
We must also get to the bottom of why men are three times more likely to die than women, fat people twice as likely to die and people with diabetes—and possibly a lack of vitamin D—also twice as likely to die. None of these conditions is anything to do with racism, but the anomalies are just as great, so we need to know if underlying health conditions are the root cause of death variations. Perhaps they are or perhaps they are not, but we must have an authoritative and detailed analysis so that it is not exploited by those who wish to find institutional racism where none may exist.
My Lords, my remarks are no criticism at all of the Minister, but I am deeply concerned about the regulations. They completely fail to include crucial mitigating measures, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has just said, which are necessary for each step of the reopening of the economy if we are to avoid a second wave of the virus.
In his detailed analysis of countries’ responses to Covid-19, Professor Jeffrey Sachs concludes that the Asia-Pacific region has been successful in controlling Covid using just three low-cost solutions: face masks—which is interesting—physical distancing, and test and trace. I do not think that face masks are mentioned at all in the regulations. Is that not remarkable when Professor Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the other day that people are safer one metre apart wearing masks than they are two metres apart not wearing masks? Yesterday, of course, the Prime Minister took further steps to open up the economy. Can the Minister explain why, when the scientific advice is clear that the wearing of masks reduces risks, these regulations do not pave the way for the compulsory wearing of masks in shops and other inside spaces where one-metre social distancing will be the norm?
Another yawning gap in the regulations is the absence of any mention of the Google/Apple app or indeed any other successful app used in other countries, and whether and precisely how such an app will be rolled out across this country in order to drive down infections and enable the latest plans to open up the economy to be carried out safely. Surely we need regulations now to put a successful app in place. The UK cannot afford to continue doing too little, too late to fight this virus. Christophe Fraser, disease epidemiologist at Oxford University, says that human tracing will not be enough to prevent a second wave. Will the Minister appeal to the Government to include in next week’s amendments to the regulations rules for the provision of a recognised app? If not, why not?
My Lords, we all know that certain areas of the country have suffered more than most from coronavirus, mainly the big cities but not entirely so. In my own county of Cumbria, we have three of the worst areas of the country, which have twice the average compared with the rest of the country.
I suggest that any response in which we loosen up will have to include a local variant if there is a resurgence of coronavirus. In particular, take those areas with many visitors. The Lake District National Park has 19 million visitors a year, with a resident population of 40,000. It is important that we have an assurance today from the Minister—and I hope we will get one—that if there is a resurgence of coronavirus in the national park then the priority will go to protecting the lives of the people who live there as opposed to the understandable desires of visitors who come and marvel at the area’s beauties; they are here but gone tomorrow, while others live here. I worry whether the Government have the will-power and the ability to stand up to the overwhelming tourist industry if there is a crisis. I hope they will do so and protect local residents.
Since we debated the previous SIs on 15 June, we have started to venture out, return cautiously to the shops, sit closer to a stranger and dare to hope that a summer holiday may be possible. These latest two SIs lift more restrictions for England. There is a balance to be struck between protection, thus preventing a second wave, and getting back to a new normal as soon as possible. For many pubs, the ability to serve takeaway meals has been an opportunity to try to keep revenue coming in. My local pub has turned into a takeaway service—with queues appropriately distanced—for older residents in the village and younger ones too, and that is much appreciated.
I am fascinated by a few of the decisions in these SIs. Why are we concerned about “elite athletes” but not young budding musicians? What made a legislator think that a place of worship would be an ideal setting for early years childcare? Does the Minister have any information about take-up, or registration to use such buildings? What consultations were held first with religious authorities?
Many will be glad that churches—and, I assume, other places of worship—can reopen for silent prayer. Usually these buildings are open but unattended. Can the Minister outline the sort of advice given about managing distance and keeping surfaces clear and behaviour appropriate?
I note that the Google Maps app has been collecting our movement data and, presumably, providing it to Public Health England to determine our behaviours out of lockdown. I do not doubt that by default we will have given our permission, but I wonder what practices were going on before Covid-19 and will continue after lockdown. Will the Minister please clarify the situation for the House and place a letter in the Library, copying in noble Lords speaking today? I am content to support these measures.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench. It is also good to see the spokesman for the Official Opposition in the Chamber. These issues are moving very fast, as the Minister said, but the key area for me now is the economy. The economy worsens day by day, and the focus now has to be on that.
As a nation, frankly, we do not need micromanaging. Even the Prime Minister says that the British people have good sense. I hear that pubs are going to have to list the people who are going to have a drink there. They know who they are having a drink with, and if they should fall ill then they know exactly who they are. We do not need any lists collected at the pub.
On cricket—and I declare an interest as president of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club—today we could quite easily handle county cricket on a one-metre basis, let alone club cricket. I know the ECB has been making representations. I hope that when my noble friend has finished with his machine there, he will actually think about that.
Weddings are coming back—hurrah!—but why can we not allow some hymns at a wedding? My goodness, it is not as if that is a major problem of illness. Open-air concerts are part of the tradition of England. They could easily be handled on a one-metre basis. It is a sad reflection on the role of religion in our society that churches were closed when people needed to pray together. They were then taken off the list a bit, but only after non-essential retailers.
On gyms, I thought people went to the gym to keep fit, but they are not allowed to open even though they have distancing.
Lastly, there is still the huge problem for the airlines of quarantine. The sooner that is gone, the more likely we are to recover as an economy.
My Lords, I welcome the regulations as a step in the right direction, but I wonder about the logic that is driving the changes. For instance, Primark could open before zoos could. That seems strange.
There is a question that I have asked twice in the Chamber; on both occasions, I failed to get a response, so I will try one more time. I am sure that my noble friend Minister read at the weekend what the Sunday Times wrote about the vast polling operation that is going on and the focus groups that are being held every week to ask the public—Conservative voters in particular—what they think would be the right policy responses to the Covid crisis. I can only believe that that was why we got extraordinary quarantine regulations saying that people could fly into this country and travel on public transport before being quarantined for 14 days. Can the Minister tell me that focus groups and polling are not dictating the shape of government policy on Covid and that, as we have heard repeatedly, we are being led by the science?
My Lords, once again, I want to concentrate my remarks on the interaction between today’s regulations and the wider issue of public policy on masks. I have argued for four months that, without masks, controlling the pandemic is impossible. That remains my view.
Today, I pray in aid a further report, Face Masks Considerably Reduce COVID-19 Cases in Germany: A Synthetic Control Method Approach. This report by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, initiated by the Deutsche Post Foundation, examined the policy of mandatory mask use in Germany. The report found that after their introduction in Jena, a city in Germany,
“the number of new infections fell almost to zero.”
The report’s conclusion states:
“We believe that the reduction in the growth rates of infections by 40% to 60% is our best estimate of the effects of face masks … We should also stress that 40 to 60% might still be a lower bound.”
I have consistently argued that mask-wearing should be the trade-off against any relaxation of lockdown. The evidence from Jena supports my case. A policy that lacks enforcement will inevitably lead to widespread non-compliance. I safely predict today that, in the event of escalating infection rates later this year, the Government will be pilloried for their failure to follow much of the rest of the world with a mandatory policy. Will the Minister please arrange for me to receive a fully considered written response on the IZA report and its conclusions?
My Lords, in his opening remarks, the Minister said that these measures had to be brought forward because of the need for emergency legislation to be rapid and frequent. As my noble friend Lord Scriven pointed out, that had been the case, and this House and Parliament had given the Government a fair degree of forbearance in the use of emergency powers. In our debate on the legislation, I said that such legislation should never normally be needed and that Parliament would never normally pass it—but we did. It should be commensurate that, when emergency legislation is passed, scrutiny and the ability to debate the measures that the Government bring forward are enhanced.
If the Government say that bringing forward these measures needed to be rapid and frequent, that cannot be said about the procedures in this House. With remote working and hybrid working, we could meet for many hours every day. There has been no limit at all on the Government bringing these measures forward sooner. The Minister says that he does so to afford scrutiny but scrutiny of what the Government are doing is impossible if it comes after the event. That includes this ridiculous situation where we are debating, in one debate, two measures that counteract one another.
On science, which has already been mentioned, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. It has been reported that a communications company that has been carrying out the advice and the Government’s work was recently issued a contract to do the same for the Brexit preparations after next January. Will the Government publish all the data that has been secured from that communications company from polling and focus groups, under the principles of open data, so that we are aware?
Finally, I understand the approach for devolution, which I am passionate about, but the science cannot say one thing for Northumberland and another for the Scottish Borders. What is the Government’s advice for those who live and work across the border? Should they take the advice on where they work or on where they live, at the destination or at the source point? Clarity on that point would be gratefully received.
My Lords, I welcome the regulations, particularly the (Amendment) (No. 4) regulations, which permit the opening of non-essential retail premises. I do so because they have enabled charities to open up their on-street retail businesses again.
When lockdown restrictions were imposed, charities relying on their high street retail arm for income were badly affected. Some charities can trade online but that income is nowhere near what they can obtain from on-street sales. Age UK stated that the closure of its shops resulted in a loss of one-third of its income overnight. Its website now gives the good news that the regulations mean that it is reopening many of its charity shops—in line with the Government’s guidance about how to do so safely, of course.
Charity shops on the high street perform a service to the whole of our community. They provide goods at low prices, making them accessible to those on low incomes. They provide a place where customers can feel welcome and included, when they so often feel excluded from society. They support the recycling of goods and are therefore good for the environment. Indeed, the Salvation Army made the point that many people have been clearing out their homes during lockdown and the goods that they are donating could help raise funds for its work supporting rough sleepers and to stock its food banks. Charities also provide opportunities for people to work as volunteers in their shops.
I will end by quoting the Charity Commission’s recent report, which said that
“we are stronger and better as a country the more benefit charity delivers.”
If this was true before the national emergency, it is being brought home as never before during and after it. Society needs charities to thrive. The (Amendment) (No. 4) regulations will help them survive.
My Lords, here we are again, engaging in perhaps the most farcical exercise of parliamentary scrutiny imaginable, with more coronavirus regulations, published days— in one case, more than three weeks—after government announcements and taking immediate effect with no time at all for anyone even to understand them, let alone scrutinise them properly. This is not a democratic way of operating. The Minister called this “sequencing” in his opening remarks; I call it undemocratic tactics. It is time for this to end.
We are going to need these urgent regulations for some time to come; it is right that Ministers have the ability to change the rules as and when the circumstances change. However, the way in which the Government are operating is not fair. They are imposing things on the country without giving us any chance to debate them—and, of course, improve them. Ministers tell us that there is a plan behind the scenes and that they are just waiting for the right moments to make the right decisions. If that is the case, there is a better way of going about this. There is little justification for not publishing these regulations before they take effect, or perhaps—here is a good idea—publishing a compendium of draft regulations that will be drawn from as and when appropriate. I would very much appreciate it if the Minister could take this back and explain that this House is deeply anxious about the number of regulations that are coming in so quickly.
I turn to one important issue that is being mooted at the moment. Can the Minister confirm to your Lordships’ House that these urgent procedures will not be used to abolish or interfere at all with the right to trial by jury? Any curtailment of this fundamental right must face the highest levels of scrutiny. Can the Minister give a clear assurance on this?
My Lords, the Minister will recall that my major concern about these changing regulations is about the credibility of government advice and growing public reluctance to do what it says. Pictures of crowded beaches and incidents such as the large gathering in south London last night, which required police intervention, suggest that many people are not staying alert or staying safe, and such behaviour is putting many more people at risk. The Minister makes a valiant defence of the Government’s position, but why does he think people are increasingly using their own judgment? Has he continued listening in recent weeks to Radio 4’s “More or Less”, with its weekly demolition of government statistics, and does he still feel that he could prove the programme wrong? Does he accept that the Government have lost credibility? Why is this?
We know that the Chief Nursing Officer was excluded from a press conference when she would not toe the line about Dominic Cummings. Yesterday, the Guardian listed eight occasions on which Professor Chris Whitty’s advice has diverged from that of Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister said, for example, that judgments about what could have been done better are premature, but the Chief Medical Officer says that there is a long list of things that we should look at very seriously. He highlights the failure to speed up testing very early on. Should we not learn the lessons of what could have been done better before we face the risk of further spikes?
My Lords, I join this debate as a relatively novice member of the House’s Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and it has not been a very satisfactory experience, in terms of the accountability of the Executive to the legislature. Of the regulations before us today, the (No. 3) regulation came into force on 1 June, was not considered by our committee until 9 June and is being debated today, on 25 June. Similarly, the (No. 4) regulation was laid on 12 June and not considered by our committee until it came into force. This is not satisfactory. We need a better process and I hope that the inquiry or review that will inevitably be set up at the end of the crisis will look at better methods of parliamentary accountability in national emergencies.
My other point is on policy. Regulations are not ready at the point when Ministers make announcements about the policy in them. That is bad practice, because it means that Ministers are making policy announcements without having a grip on the detail of what they will imply. That has to change, and change now, if we are to have effective management of what we can already see will be a very difficult period.
My Lords, yet again we are dealing with statutory instruments in retrospect, and that could in many ways be considered undemocratic. We are, however, dealing with a very peculiar situation in peculiar times. People are understandably worried that an easing of these restrictions will increase their vulnerability and it is vital that the wider public are reassured. Only two days ago, the Prime Minister announced further relaxation and it seemed that the Chief Medical and Scientific Officers were quite cautious about the recent changes and the removal of the two-metre rule. Just how aligned are they with Ministers and their political advisers? What progress has been made with research and clinical trials and the provision of a vaccine? There was reference yesterday in the media to many people being involved in trials of a particular vaccine. Will those people eventually be categorised and selected according to their medical background, their age and their job groups? What further progress has been made on track, trace and isolation?
I realise that there are a lot of questions there, but people require reassurance. They have been through a lot and made significant sacrifices in a very difficult time. Will the Minister also tell us what further medications may be available, apart from the one already specified? What stage are those clinical trials at? In conclusion, what provisions have been made, and will continue to be put in place, to protect residents and staff in care homes, to ensure that they do not become further susceptible to catching this virus?
My Lords, I am sure we all welcome any easing of these lockdown restrictions, although it is rather extraordinary to be discussing these regulations weeks late and after we moved beyond them yesterday. My plea, which the Minister has heard before, is that we should stop suspending our critical faculties. The Government’s own figures, which are probably inaccurate, state that five children under the age of 18 have died from this ghastly virus. The death rate in the population is less than one in 1,500—that is 43,000 deaths in a population of 66 million. My maths makes that less than a 0.065% death rate.
Each death is a tragedy, but we know that the elderly, the infirm and those with underlying health conditions are the most affected and at risk. They should shield themselves and we should give them support. But the young—indeed, those under 40 or 50—are at little risk of death, so let people get on with their lives normally. Scientific advice has been uncertain and contradictory, together with the absurd modelling by Neil Ferguson, from the very beginning. We have mortgaged our children’s future and ruined our economy on the basis of a fear that many believe will prove not to have been justified. To my noble friend I say: please move faster to lift all restrictions. I do not care if we all have to wear face masks or, indeed, if I, aged 70 next year, feel that I have to stay at home, but I do care that we get the country back to work—to a situation where our children do not have to pay for actions and policies taken during this pandemic for the next 50 years.
My Lords, in view of the Covid-19 virus, the Government need the powers to allow businesses to open, with certain restrictions. At the same time, the Government need the powers to shut down business premises if there is a spike in the area in which they are operating. These are unusual times. The Government are defining legislation in guidance according to the science and the expertise of scientists. Hundreds of thousands of lives could be affected if the guidance is not strictly followed by businesses. The Secretary of State must have powers to shut down or close any premises, or part of a premises, in which food and drink are sold for consumption, or to cease the selling of food or drink for consumption on its premises. As for hotels, food or drinks sold by them as part of room service is not to be treated as being sold for consumption on the premises.
This is a time when individual businesses in the hospitality industry must observe the guidance issued by the Government. It is a time when profits and health considerations collide, particularly for businesses. Any misjudgment or errors could put our NHS under stress and many lives could be affected.
My Lords, as I have said in previous debates, this legislation is highly retrospective, and that is to be regretted. Regarding devolution, Greater Manchester has a long history of integrated partnership working across all services and sectors. Throughout this crisis, we have worked closely with government to support and develop responses to the pandemic. The Government’s response has in many ways been commendable. However, as we reach the end of this period of lockdown, it is an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned, particularly in relation to devolved powers and funding for local and city region authorities, along with the co-ordination between national and regional government.
My noble friend Lord Scriven’s comments were right on the nail, as usual. This is about emergency legislation and, in certain cases, the misuse of it. I have heard people such as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who I respect immensely, talking about how the British people know best and letting the forces of nature take their course. But did he see pictures from the beaches at Brighton or Bournemouth yesterday, or the pictures from Brixton last night? That is the real problem. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, quotes figures. Perhaps we should have T-shirts made, “I am the 0.65—one of the lucky ones”. Someone has to take control of the situation. If this is a long, hot summer and we ease the lockdown for lots of people up and down this country, it is not rocket science to understand what will happen.
The best people to deliver and control this would be local authorities, city regions and people who understand the make-up of their areas. The sooner the penny drops with devolution, that is where the real power will lie. We can control isolated outbreaks of the pandemic in isolated areas, but I do not know about the problems of Hartlepool, Southport or Plymouth. We know about Greater Manchester, and those powers should be devolved so that we can help even more to suppress this terrible virus.
My Lords, the mantra goes that “We are all in this together”. If Covid has shown us anything, it is that indeed we are all in this, but in no sense together. As one small example, at the beginning of the outbreak, after an extraordinary personal and affecting message from one of our front-line health workers, the supermarkets put on an hour of shopping for NHS front-line workers. For weeks now, these one-hour sessions have been abused by people who have nothing whatever to do with the NHS. Will my noble friend state firmly and clearly from the Dispatch Box that, where supermarkets have laid on an hour of shopping for our hard-working front-line NHS workers, everybody else should just wait until the end of that hour and leave it to them?
Will my noble friend also confirm that, after the review on 28 June, the 14-day quarantine will be dropped next week? Finally, echoing the words perfectly put by my excellent and noble friend Lord Blencathra, does he agree that “At a metre, wear a mask”? We need to get back to work. It is a tragedy that we have mortgaged our children’s future and are decimating so much of their education. Private schools have not missed one lesson; many in comprehensives and first or infant schools have had precious little education, despite the great work of our teachers. Does he agree that we need to get back to work, get our children back to school and do it all under the clear mantra, “At a metre, wear a mask”?
My Lords, we are now used to the idea of wearing a mask and I welcome the guidance on that. Will my noble friend and the Government consider adding to that the advisory use of wearing gloves? We are told that the danger is that the virus is lingering on surfaces. Should it not be mandatory, certainly for those preparing and serving food and refreshments, to wear gloves, and advised for everybody else, simply to keep us safer in that regard?
I share the concerns of those who have expressed the confusion surrounding what will happen in the event of either a second wave or, more likely in the immediate future, a localised flare-up. Can my noble friend point us this afternoon towards where and what the advice is on what local councils, other authorities and the emergency services should do in the event of a local flare-up? Does he share my concern about the recent outbreak of the virus in meat-processing factories? Is something causing that and how can the Government deal with it effectively? There has been an incident in Denmark where the virus has entered the animal population through mink farms. That is obviously very salutary, so are the Government keeping an eye on it?
I understand from the House of Lords committee which reviewed these two regulations—or certainly regulation 3, which is before us—that today is the date of the next review. I would be interested to learn what exactly that review is looking into, as of today.
My Lords, the sun is out and it is echoed in the school playground outside my windows. Traffic is on the road and families are meeting each other. I have witnessed notable discrepancies in understanding much of the guidance among the population. Regrettably, we are again debating these health protection measures retrospectively. I agree with the deep concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Hunt, and I have the following questions.
First, how are the Government supporting local authorities to implement guidance and monitor capacity, including access to PPE for care homes, the use of masks and social distances? Secondly, on day-care centres for adults living with learning disabilities, what assessment has been taken to mitigate their distress, including carers who may have experienced it during lockdown, in particular, to ensure that social work support and resources are available to staff to assess any abuse that they may have experienced? Thirdly, on track and trace among the most affected communities, do some of the tracers recruited have additional languages to ensure that language is no barrier to their engagement? Next, how are the Government ensuring that information on track and trace is reaching the most affected communities?
Next, on mental health, what steps have been taken to support front-line NHS care staff, as well as teachers and social workers, many of whom have experienced extreme distress as they continue their services? What access do these staff have to mental health resources and talking therapy? Similarly, in my locality women-led organisations such as Account 3 are currently providing a critical lifeline to women from difficult and disadvantaged family circumstances. They have experienced a high level of demand for services and not enough funding. Will the Government acknowledge their valiant role and efforts in mitigating some of the disproportionate impacts? Can the Minister let me know in writing what financial support may be available to them?
Undeniably, some minority communities have been profoundly affected by Covid-19. This has been substantiated by Public Health England’s reports, which have evidenced structural inequalities as a significant factor. Have the Government—
Can I remind the noble Baroness of the time limit on Back-Bench contributions?
Will the Government respond with policy measures to mitigate the impact, should there be a second wave? Thank you.
My Lords, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, I start by paying our respects to the families and friends of the bereaved. I give our thanks to all those who continue to fight coronavirus on the front line and behind the scenes. The publicity may be reducing, but we know that the battle goes on.
The two regulations in front of us set the scene for the continuing slow lifting of the lockdown. I echo the points made by my noble friends Lord Scriven and Lord Purvis: having sight of regulations in advance and debating them—with clearer, smarter guidance that does not confuse—should be possible now. I want to ask the Minister two questions as we prepare for recess at the end of July. First, some regulations will expire after 28 days. What plans are there to cover such renewals, should they be necessary after we rise on 29 July?
Secondly, these regulations were designed for the short term. What arrangements will be made should there need to be a major change to regulations—for example, a second national lockdown? I hope that in those circumstances, Parliament would be recalled to debate such a serious matter. I see that Israel is already in the middle of a second wave after lifting lockdown too early. The most effective way to manage and stop any second wave, whether local or national, is to have in place a full and effective “test, trace and isolate” programme to keep people safe, as well as transparent communications with the public. Their co-operation is vital to reducing transmission.
The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, have both said repeatedly that a full “test and trace” system will not be in place until autumn and that the app will possibly not be ready until winter. The weekly Test and Trace figures released this morning demonstrate that nationally, the Government failed to contact one in three of those who tested positive with Covid-19, down from 75% last week. For the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who is concerned about leaving names in restaurants, only 81% of contacts were actually reached, down from 90% last week.
The BBC’s dramatisation last week of the Salisbury poisonings made clear to everyone how important local tracing is. Experienced tracers long before the pandemic, our directors of public health and their teams are our unsung heroes. There are currently some outbreaks in England, in Kirklees and Leicester, that they are dealing with. However, local authorities are still reporting that they are not being given the full data from Public Health England to do their job on the ground. I have asked the Minister on three occasions when local authorities and directors of public health will get the full data they need at a local level. I ask again: when will they get that full data? If there is no answer today, can he please write to me and other Peers taking part to explain exactly what the data issue is?
There also remains the issue of the powers of a local authority to lock down. They are currently very limited—usually up to one building or one organisation only—and the Secretary of State’s answer a few days ago at a national press conference was that he would be the person to make every single decision. If we have hundreds of localised outbreaks, which would not be unusual, surely the local team, led by the director of public health and the local authority, should have the power to make that decision—after consulting Public Health England and Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care, obviously.
Effective lifting of lockdown remains important for our care sector. It is good that cases in care homes and among those cared for at home have now reduced but, unlike the NHS, care sector staff are still not entitled to routine weekly testing. Every time I ask the Minister this question, I am told that they can have a test if they are symptomatic—but this is not the rule for NHS staff. If the Government truly believe they have put a ring of protection around our care sector, they need to act now. When will regular testing for front-line care sector staff be made available to keep them and their patients as safe as those in hospitals?
Extra care staff, defined as those who work in patients’ homes and the non-elderly sector, are still not able to access testing through the testing portal. Can the Minister please have this error—I hope it is an error—remedied as soon as possible? Yesterday, care homes had still not received specific guidance on how they should manage the change in shielding guidance. When will that arrive?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer granted a VAT exemption on PPE to the care sector until the end of July. It is common knowledge that care homes and care companies are struggling with many extra costs. PPE is still around four times more expensive, and they have reduced income as a result of the pandemic. With many of their residents shielding, they must continue to take special care. Can the Minister ask the Chancellor for an urgent extension of this exemption for a further three months?
I recognise that I have asked a lot of questions. Will the Minister please write to me with answers to any questions he cannot answer today? I support the regulations.
My Lords, very conveniently, following on from the noble Baroness’s remarks, I will repeat the question that I did not get to put yesterday in the Chamber because other noble Lords and the Minister spoke at length and only six out of 10 questions were taken. I will take 30 seconds; this question is 75 words long. In April and May, a quarter of those who died of coronavirus had dementia, so access to PPE in care settings is vital. Is the Minister aware that the Alzheimer’s Society has learned that families are being charged up to £100 per week extra to cover the cost of PPE? Can he confirm that the newly announced Covid-19 social care task force will investigate the significant and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on people with dementia? I am happy if he writes to me with the answer to that question and puts it in the Library.
I have a point about a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, about polling, focus groups and the Government. I will check this, but she mentioned that a great deal of polling was going on. I am not surprised to hear that the Government are polling every single day, but she also said that the Government were polling Conservative voters. The Minister will be aware that this is absolutely against the rules, so I put a marker down. I suspect I am not the only person who may have noticed that. It will have to be followed up.
I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations we are discussing. As everyone has said, they address restrictions on businesses and public gatherings and are the third and fourth amendments to the coronavirus restrictions legislation. I particularly thank the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its rapid scrutiny of the fourth amendments to the legislation and noble Lords for their mostly disciplined contributions, which seemed to cover most points that the Minister will have to answer.
My noble friend Lord Hunt acknowledged that we are again having a theoretical debate and noted the unsatisfactory nature of this process. Indeed, several MPs from all parties said this in the Commons when discussing the third amendments last week. I think they get to discuss the fourth and possibly fifth amendments next week. We find ourselves in the absurd position of debating one set of regulations that have already been replaced alongside another set that are about to be replaced, given that further policy changes have been announced.
We understand why the affirmative procedure has been used when imposing lockdown measures to protect public health, but the justification is less strong when relaxations are being contemplated. If at all possible, such regulations should not be laid at the last minute, as highlighted by the scrutiny committee in its report published this morning. It notes that
“even a short gap between regulations being laid and their coming into effect would better enable those affected to prepare, having seen the law’s actual detailed requirements (rather than just the headline announcement).”
Given that the latest changes are due to come into effect on 4 July, will the Government commit to laying the fifth regulations within the next few days, to ensure that there is more appropriate lead-in time and to enable the JCSI to report and the House to debate the regulations promptly?
We know this is a fast-moving situation, and public awareness of when new changes come into effect is very important, given that failure to comply with the restriction regulations remains a criminal offence. While we welcome the longer lead-in time for the changes coming into effect on 4 July, as business needs time to prepare, I am concerned that many members of the public seem unaware that other relaxations are yet to take effect. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the public understand the current guidance, as opposed to forthcoming changes splashed across the news?
Does the Minister share my concern that ending the Government’s daily press conferences may have been premature, given that we are in a period of significant change? It has to be said, people less kind than me have said they are very relieved not to see the Hancock half-hour repeated day after day.
It is true that we face uncertain times and many families face unemployment, jeopardy and hardship. I wonder about the Government’s priorities. Could the Minister explain why opening betting shops, theme parks and suchlike seems more urgent than the future of a child from, say, a hard-pressed family who will have missed six months of school and possibly six months of learning and socialising? Those are millions of our children. Other noble Lords have mentioned this.
Why have the Government not put the same imagination and resources that went into, say, the rapid building of the Nightingale hospitals into how to get our children back to school? Why is the money for tutors not being made available for more teachers? Why are we not bringing back retired teachers, for example, like we did with doctors and nurses? We have a different kind of national emergency for our children, but it is none the less an emergency.
Parliament has a role to play in this, and these are not minor or consequential changes that can be nodded through without debate. They affect millions of people’s lives and debating them weeks after the event, as we said, is a bit demeaning to parliamentary democracy. I believe that such changes should always be accompanied by a Statement to Parliament, not showcased in a Downing Street press conference. We are not merely a rubber-stamping exercise to create the veneer of a democratic process. Can we be clear on the reviews? I appreciate why the Secretary of State will be doing things on an ongoing basis, but we need to see the reviews in some documented form so that we can understand the basis on which restrictions are eased and implemented. A progress to normalcy must include a progress to democratic accountability.
My Lords, I would like to say an enormous thanks for a valuable and important debate. Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to ease the restrictions put on individuals, society and businesses by these regulations as it becomes safe to do so. The amendments debated today play an important role in that gradual return to normal life, as outlined in the Prime Minister’s Statement on Tuesday. I remind noble Lords that the Leader of the House was here earlier holding a debate on that Statement, as she has done when there have been other announcement of a similar nature. I acknowledge the value of giving people warning of these changes, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I acknowledge the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about the sequencing of these amendments, which I think I addressed in my earlier comments.
I am pleased that, as of 4 July, we will relax additional restrictions in a safe way. This is an exciting step towards a more normal way of life. Nevertheless, this return to normal life requires constant and careful surveillance of the latest epidemiological evidence, making changes only when the facts suggest it is safe to do so. We understand the burden these restrictions have placed on not only individuals but society as a whole, so the Government will maintain only the restrictions that are necessary and proportionate.
To reassure my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, and in reply to the thought-provoking challenge made by my noble friend Lord Robathan, I say that, whatever the argument of those who are sceptical of the evidence-based approach to science-led policy-making, the Government are determined to be led by the science. We will sometimes be in conflict with public attitude and the headline writers, but that will remain our commitment. On that point, I cannot hide from the House that we remain ready to reimpose stricter measures if it becomes necessary. As the Prime Minister outlined in his Statement on Tuesday, we will not hesitate to apply the brakes if a national-level response is required.
The debate has provided an opportunity for Peers to raise points relating to the whole spectrum of our activity. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that on 23 March the French Government declared a widespread state of emergency that granted the executive branch enormous powers. This has not been our approach. I assure her that trial by jury remains a cardinal tenet of the British constitution.
I will take a moment to address some of the issues highlighted by noble Lords. I start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for his remarkable and determined perseverance on masks and distancing. In part due to the kind of pressure that he has characterised, our advice will change from 4 July to one metre-plus, which is one metre’s distance plus mitigations when people cannot stay two metres apart. These mitigations will depend on the workplace or setting. For example, people must wear a face covering on public transport since it is not always possible to stay two metres apart. Put another way, this is one metre plus a face covering. In other spaces, mitigations could include installing screens, making people face away from each other, putting in handwashing facilities, minimising the amount of time people are together and so on. Having mitigations in place at one metre can be broadly equivalent in reducing transmission to staying two metres apart. We have set out Covid-secure guidance to help businesses take the measures that are right for them.
On face coverings, in reference to my noble friend Lord Blencathra, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who I mentioned, I say that passengers have been told they will be required to have face masks when travelling from 15 June. There are some exemptions for health, age or equality reasons. Transport usage has been slowly increasing as restrictions are lifted. Social distancing remains the most important way to keep safe, but on public transport it is not always possible to follow this guidance.
Will the Minister give way? I know that it is a strange thing to ask these days. I am using public transport all the time to get to and from your Lordships’ House. I can report that particularly men and young men are not wearing their masks.
The noble Baroness is entirely right. It is incredibly tough to persuade people to wear their masks. There is a huge cultural gap. That reason and the insights of our behavioural scientists have led us to move relatively slowly, despite the articulate and passionate exhortations we have had on this subject. We are looking at ways to encourage mask wearing, but it is a struggle and not one that we think that we can necessarily rely on.
On non-essential retail, in response to my noble friend Lady Anelay, I say that I have recently met the Association of Medical Research Charities and I acknowledge the pressures faced by good causes supported by charity shops. The Prime Minister announced a timeline for the reopening of non-essential retail businesses on 25 May. I hope very much that that can bring some relief to that important sector.
We completely understand the impact of the lockdown on the hospitality industry and, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, alluded to, garden parties. That is why I am pleased that, following the Prime Minister’s announcement, significant parts of the hospitality and tourism industry will reopen from 4 July. However, to make sure that this is done in as safe a way as possible, all hospitality indoors will be limited to table service. Our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact.
The regulations made on 12 June permitted the use of places of worship for individual prayer. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday, this will be relaxed further and places of worship will be permitted to be open more generally. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I say that this will be a welcome change for those who have been unable to use places of worship for their usual religious practice, and I thank those who have made sacrifices.
In response to my noble friend Lord Naseby, I say that here is no avoiding the fact that singing spreads an aerosol of virus-laden moisture into the air. On cricket, in the words of the Prime Minister, it is plain to everyone that the cricket ball is an infectious vector of disease spreading. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Clark, that we will not hesitate, in the face of a local spike, to bring back whatever lockdown measures are required to save lives and protect the NHS.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about progress on vaccine development. I am delighted that the UK is taking a leading role in this work. Our best chance of defeating the virus is by working together globally. We have put £84 million into accelerating the work of Oxford University and Imperial College. I pay testament to the work of the scientists there. The noble Baroness also asked about social care; we have set out a comprehensive action plan to support the adult social care sector in England throughout the coronavirus outbreak, including ramping up testing, overhauling the way PPE is delivered to care homes and helping minimise the spread of the virus to keep people safe.
In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, we cannot avoid the costs of PPE. The global price of PPE has risen dramatically. These costs will have to be borne somehow, somewhere. We are working with Treasury and DH colleagues to figure out ways in which they can be borne.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on shielding, from 6 July those shielding can spend time outdoors in a group of up to six people, including those outside their household. This can be in a public outdoor space or a private garden. Also from 6 July, those shielding will be able to create a support bubble.
I have answers to questions from a number of noble Lords, including on the devolved Administrations, parliamentary scrutiny and local powers. I will not be able to get through all of them in the time remaining. I thank noble Lords for all their contributions and valuable points during this debate. I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Liddle, that a lessons learned process will be undertaken when the time is right, but we are not through this yet.
These regulations have been hugely successful in tackling the spread of the virus. While recognising some local limitations, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, we are enormously grateful to the public for their sacrifices and to the NHS and social care workers for their hard work on the front line.
Before the Minister sits down, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, made a very good intervention—
To clarify the Procedure Committee guidance, as agreed by the House:
“All members participating need to be included on the published Speakers’ List and members are not able to intervene spontaneously during business”.
This is not designed to limit the participation of Members in proceedings. It is under the section headed “Parity of treatment” between those online and those in the Chamber, to ensure that there is no difference in the ability of those online to participate. I hope noble Lords appreciate and understand that.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 12 June be approved.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply.
National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) (Amendment) Order 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 6 May be approved.
My Lords, this draft order amends Article 2 of the National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order 1999, known as the 1999 order, and will extend the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, known as the Act, to seafarers working domestically in UK territorial waters or in connection with offshore activities in the UK sector of the continental shelf. The amended order will not, however, apply the provisions of the Act to seafarers employed on a ship which is exercising the right of innocent passage or the right of transit passage, which I will explain.
It is clear that the current provisions do not go far enough to enable the minimum wage to be paid to most seafarers working domestically. This draft order has come about following a significant amount of engagement and consultation. The background is that in 2017, a working group encompassing government and industry was formed to explore this issue, which had been an area of significant interest for more than a decade. The working group was chaired by the Department for Transport, with policy and legal representation from interested government departments: BEIS, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and HMRC. The working group also included the maritime unions—the RMT and Nautilus International—plus the UK Chamber of Shipping and representatives from individual shipping companies. It met formally three times over nine months and was preceded and succeeded by other dialogue with industry and unions. This measure has also been considered, and is supported, by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
The result was that this group recommended that the existing legislation should be amended to extend the eligibility of the minimum wage to all seafarers working domestically in UK territorial waters, on the UK continental shelf or in the UK’s exclusive economic zone. This order seeks to implement those recommendations as far as they apply to the UK continental shelf.
I have referred to several concepts as they are defined in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—and will give some further explanation. The continental shelf of a coastal state comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea to the outer edge of the continental margin. Where the outer edge is beyond 200 nautical miles, it shall not exceed 350 nautical miles. The coastal state has sovereign rights to explore or exploit the natural resources of the seabed or subsoil. The exclusive economic zone is related but does not extend beyond 200 nautical miles. The coastal state has sovereign rights to explore or exploit, conserve or manage the natural resources—whether mineral or living—within the sea, the seabed or its subsoil, and the area above the sea. In simple terms, the continental shelf could be considered with regard to oil and gas and the EEZ with regard to fishing and renewable energy.
UNCLOS defines a vessel’s passage through a state’s territorial sea as being innocent if it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state. The word “passage” means navigation through the territorial sea for the purpose of traversing that sea without entering internal waters, calling at a roadstead or port facility outside internal waters, proceeding to or from internal waters, or a call at such a roadstead or port facility. Transit passage means the exercise of the freedom of navigation and overflight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait between one part of the high seas and another, or between exclusive economic zones.
We expect this order to benefit primarily seafarers in non-officer roles, such as ratings. These are a broad range of semi-skilled to skilled roles that cover a range of activities on board a vessel, whether on or below deck, in technical areas or in providing onboard services. Industry has stated that many seafarers working domestically in the UK or supporting the UK offshore sector are paid at or above minimum wage. We therefore think that it will be a relatively minor cost to industry when compared with other recent regulatory measures such as the sulphur emission measures. It is expected that the cost to industry will be approximately £3.2 million a year.
However, that should not diminish the importance of this measure. We are aware that other states are also seeking to improve standards for seafarers, but minimum salary for seafarers is not legislated for internationally or at a European level, so I am very pleased that it is understood that the UK will be the first country to provide such explicit protection to all seafarers working domestically. The ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention sets out that ratifying states should seek continuous improvement to the rights for seafarers, and this is exactly what the UK is doing.
I will provide a little more detail. Section 1 of the Act provides for the national minimum wage to be paid to individuals who, under their contracts and subject to other requirements of the Act, are working, or ordinarily work, in the UK. Specific provision about employment outside the UK is made by Section 40 of the Act and by the 1999 order that was made under Section 42. There is currently a wide exception in Article 2(2) and (3) of the 1999 order; that is, that the order does not apply the Act to individuals working on ships in the course of navigation, on fishing vessels, or on ships engaged in certain dredging activity. The amendments to the 1999 order will extend entitlement under that order to individuals working on vessels operating in UK territorial waters or, in connection with specified activities, in the UK sector of the continental shelf, subject only to an exception for employment for the purposes of activities on a ship exercising the right of innocent passage or the right of transit passage. The 1999 order is without prejudice to Section 40 of the Act, which operates in parallel and will continue to do so.
The 1999 order extends the Act to cover individuals who meet two conditions. The first condition is that they are in “offshore employment”, as defined in Section 42(1). The second condition is that they are working, or ordinarily work, in UK territorial waters or the UK sector of the continental shelf.
In the interests of time, I will cover ferries in my closing remarks as I understand that noble Lords may raise questions on it. By happenstance, today is the Day of the Seafarer. This is an opportunity to recognise the invaluable contribution that seafarers make to international trade and the world economy, often at great personal cost to themselves and their families. It is not lost on me that we would be in a worse place today, during this crisis, if seafarers were not bringing vital supplies and goods to the UK. This country has a long history of leading on issues regarding the welfare and employment of seafarers, and I am pleased that this continues. I commend the draft order to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this order. I also want to endorse the valuable role played by seafarers, given the dangers they face from time to time; we do understand that. In particular, as a Scottish Peer, it is important to highlight the critical role that offshore industries such as renewables, fisheries, oil and gas play in the Scottish economy, as well as the UK-wide economy. Indeed, I am proud of the progress that Scotland has made in piloting renewable generation, particularly onshore and offshore wind generation, paving the way for its adoption right across the United Kingdom.
However, in the current climate, it is important to highlight the huge uncertainties facing workers in many offshore industries. Our fishermen are already facing extensive uncertainty over the impact of Brexit as well as the effect of the Fisheries Bill, currently being scrutinised so effectively in this House, as we saw in the Divisions yesterday. The result of all this will impact on fishermen, including those on the west coast of Scotland. Fishermen still live in Girvan and Ballantrae in my old constituency. Today I read that prawn catches, for example, have halved and that their price has also halved. That will affect many men and women in Ayrshire. On this occasion I should like to pay tribute to the late father of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger. I worked very closely with him and had the greatest respect for him.
For many offshore oil and gas sector workers in Scotland, the impact of Covid-19 will result in substantial job losses, not to mention the further redundancies made as we transition towards a net-zero climate. Given that, I support this order and welcome the greater financial security that it will offer the seafaring community by guaranteeing workers the national minimum wage. However, given these increasingly uncertain times, even more should be done to support these communities. We should be going further than the national minimum wage by agreeing to pay these workers a real living wage—the wage rate that people need to have a halfway decent existence. The Living Wage Foundation has calculated that the real living wage should be £9.30 and hour across the UK and £10.75 an hour in London.
The Minister might respond to my criticisms by saying that in 2016 his party introduced a higher minimum wage for staff aged over 25, with the so-called national living wage. But as everyone in the House should know, this change to the national minimum wage for the over-25s was just a cynical attempt by his Government’s party to claim to be on the same side as workers, when we know that in reality that is not the case. The Government’s national living wage is not based on what workers and their families need to live, whereas a real living wage is.
With that in mind, in his reply, will the Minister tell the House whether he will consider introducing a real living wage as part of what has been described as a “clean and just transition”? With these few comments, I nevertheless confirm that I am willing to support this order today.
My Lords, I too welcome this order, which closes a loophole that allows companies operating in British territorial waters potentially to pay their workers below the minimum wage. The order amends Article 2 of the National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order, but I would like to ask the Minister why it has taken so long to close this loophole. Have some seafarers been paid below the minimum wage for many years? Did anyone know about that and did any of the unions complain?
The order newly applies to shipping, with certain exceptions as described by the noble Viscount, operating in UK waters whether or not the vessels are UK-registered, and to workers who may or may not ordinarily be employed in the UK. I welcome this: anyone employing people working in British waters should not be allowed the undercut the competition by underpaying its staff.
My second question relates to the estimated cost of implementation. The Explanatory Notes state that HMRC cannot estimate this exactly because there is
“no robust data as to how many employees are in this position, and a lack of concurrence amongst sources which are available.”
How will the requirement be policed and how can the legislation be enforced? I would be grateful to the Minister if he could explain that.
Apparently some ship owners have said that certain services will no longer be viable on the implementation of this order. My heart bleeds for them. Any business that makes money on the backs of underpaid and exploited workers does not deserve to be in business. I remember business groups using the viability argument before the national minimum wage was first introduced. Today, it is an accepted part of business practice in this country and only cowboys, as opposed to pirates, exploit it.
Finally, on the Day of the Seafarer, I would like to ask a slightly tangential question about the estimated 150,000 international and British seafarers who have been trapped at sea since the beginning of the lockdown, awaiting crew changes. They cannot get home and their relief crews cannot get to ports to board. As I said in a debate on 19 May:
“Tragically, suicides have been reported as individuals suffer mentally, trapped on board and trying to get home, but unable to because of the lack of organised transport.”—[Official Report, 19/5/20; col. 1004.]
There are also issues with visas. Will the Minister please favour the House with an update on this?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Younger on bringing this very worthwhile order before the House today. He referred in his opening remarks to the costs of the sulphur emissions measures that were passed on to the industry. One of the costs of doing that was highly regrettable for me because any remaining ferry link to Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia was discontinued. I have family reasons for wishing to visit Denmark. Obviously, that was a very expensive measure indeed.
I warmly welcome the measures set out in the order. As my noble friend said, this will bring huge benefits to seafarers and it is particularly appropriate that it will benefit non-officers—ratings working on or below deck. The order will extend to workers on fishing vessels operating in UK territorial waters, workers on dredgers in the territorial waters, and those working in the UK sector of the continental shelf, as well as well as all the seafarers in all the categories to which my noble friend alluded. I join others in celebrating seafarers’ day today and I recognise the immeasurable contribution to the economy and employment that the British shipping industry makes. The UK is an island nation, which has been built on trade, with a high percentage of goods travelling by sea.
I note what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said about the contribution of offshore workers and note in passing that the offshore industry and the fishing industry are two of the most dangerous industries, alongside farming. It is a matter of celebration today that we welcome this order but, as other speakers have noted, it has taken us some considerable time to reach this pass in adopting it.
My noble friend remarked in passing about the ILO asking for continuous improvements for seafarers and other workers in this measure. Will he set out what other measures the Government envisage going forward? I thank him for introducing the order today and I wish it a safe passage.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this proposal to extend minimum wage protection to a group of workers whose vital contribution to the UK economy too often goes overlooked and underappreciated and who frequently do their jobs in dangerous conditions. Mentioned fleetingly in paragraph 7.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum is the Government’s claim that the amendment,
“will allow HMRC to focus enforcement on seafarers working domestically in UK territorial waters”.
Our whole experience of minimum wage law since 1999 has been of weak enforcement with insufficient resources spread widely and thinly, leaving low-paid workers vulnerable to rogue employers who ride roughshod over the minimum wage laws. In 2017, the then director of labour market enforcement Sir David Metcalfe pointed out that a UK employer was on average likely to be inspected by HMRC only once every 500 years. In February this year the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reported that since 2007, only 15 employers had been successfully prosecuted for underpaying the minimum wage, around one a year. Neither the department nor HMRC has the budget or the staff numbers vigorously to enforce Britain’s minimum wage laws. We have become used to this Government overpromising and underdelivering and sadly, they are doing so again here for seafarers working in UK territorial waters or in the UK sector of the continental shelf. The Low Pay Commission reckons that between 300,000 and nearly 600,000 over-25 year-olds were paid below the minimum wage in 2016. No wonder the Low Pay Commission concluded that
“there remains a rump of employers and businesses that consider the low likelihood of enforcement worth the non-compliance gamble.”
That is the reality of life in Britain’s so-called flexible labour market, including for seafarers. Sir David Metcalf believes we need tougher penalties for breaking the minimum wage laws. Companies caught paying staff below the minimum wage can currently be fined up to twice the value of the wage arrears they owe. Metcalf says that five times might be better. The total amount of fines imposed on employers for underpaying the minimum wage recently was £3.9 million, much less than the £10.9 million in wage arrears identified by HMRC. Millions of exploited people work in low-paid, insecure jobs and they deserve much better, including offshore workers.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Viscount for introducing this statutory instrument, and his officials for their very useful Explanatory Notes. The noble Viscount’s party opposed the minimum wage when it was first introduced by the Labour Government. We supported its introduction as long overdue. There was concern at the time that paying the minimum wage might price people out of jobs, but that proved not to be the case. It is interesting and encouraging to see how times have changed, with widespread support for the principle. The debate has now moved on to a discussion of the more substantial living wage, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said. I am sure that we will come back to that as we come out of Covid, with the Government talking about levelling up yet facing an economy in crisis.
When the national minimum wage was introduced in 1998 and then applied in 1999 to offshore workers, it did not include seafarers, and this SI remedies that. It is surprising that it has taken more than 20 years to do so, as my noble friend Lady Burt noted. The SI excludes boats that are in transit through our waters, and I note the UN definition of those with right of innocent passage. That rather begs the question of whether we should include in the minimum wage those invading us, which would certainly be very generously turning the other cheek.
As the notes explain, the SI aims to include those whose work is on, for example, fishing vessels and dredgers in UK territorial waters and the UK sector of the continental shelf and other seafarers working domestically in UK territorial waters. It is striking to note that the question of whether they should be covered was raised more than a decade before the working group was set up. I am glad that the group included the maritime unions as well as the UK Chamber of Shipping and shipping companies, and that it seems to have made very clear and agreed recommendations. Has any estimate been made of the nationalities of those covered? What proportion are UK nationals? What proportion come from the EU and what proportion from the rest of the world? Are there any other groups which as yet have not been properly included in minimum wage legislation? If there are, what plans are there to remedy that?
I welcome this statutory instrument and look forward to the noble Viscount’s response.
My Lords, some of my family benefited financially from the introduction of the national minimum wage in 1998 and have done so since, so I support this statutory instrument today, but there are a number of questions about how it applies. I presume that the entirety of the burgeoning offshore wind energy workforce, maintenance as well as installation, will be covered as we are rightly and proudly the world leader in offshore wind energy production.
If a seafarer is offshore for more than a day, their birthday occurs while offshore and their minimum wage entitlement therefore increases, will that increase automatically be applied, despite the fact that the birthday occurred while they were offshore?
It is of concern that ferries—for example, Dover-Calais—appear not to be included. The Minister may want to confirm what was said in the House of Commons on this. Regarding the definition of spending a majority of one’s time working in the waters of our continental shelf, will any ferries to the continent be covered by this statutory instrument? If not, is this not a major omission of a group of British workers who sometimes work in difficult conditions, have important responsibilities and are not particularly well paid? As we enter Brexit, should not those working on our ferries, and those from this country working on other ferries that use our ports and harbours, have the best wages in Europe, rather than potentially being some of the cheapest ferry workers in Europe? Should this measure not therefore apply to all ferry workers?
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on introducing this order, which was long overdue. The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 created a minimum wage across the United Kingdom for workers. The aim of the Act was to guarantee a decent minimum standard of pay for workers and to promote fair competition between businesses. However, the Act excluded from its provisions various workers in offshore employment. Some of those workers were brought into the scope of the Act by The National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order 1999. However, certain exemptions applied. It did not cover employment on a ship in the course of navigation or workers on shipping vessels or dredgers. It is therefore important that these loopholes be examined.
I commend the Government on setting up a working party to look at the issues and to commence consultations. The working party was made up of maritime unions, the UK Chamber of Shipping, and the shipping companies. Following the consultations, it is now proposed that the wide-exception 1999 order be amended and that the 1998 Act will apply to employment in connection with a ship in course of any kind of navigation, or for workers on fishing vessels or dredgers. However, a narrow exception will apply to workers
“employed for the purposes of activities on a ship exercising the right of innocent passage or the right of transit passage.”
Can the Minister say why that exception applies?
It is appreciated that the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act will apply to seafarers working in UK territorial waters or in connection with certain activities in the UK sector of the continental shelf. Can the Minister say whether there is any intention to extend the scope of applying the 1998 Act?
We were, and we are still, a great maritime nation. However, it is important that we do not have cheap labour in our shipping industry, and that these workers enjoy the same rights as employees working on land. We need to close as many gaps as possible to ensure that workers in our shipping industry are paid adequately in accordance with the spirit of the 1998 Act. We also ought to make sure that UK workers are not replaced by cheap workers from abroad in our shipping industry. In the past, UK workers made up less than 20% of the industry, which was not acceptable. I therefore support the order.
My Lords, I too support this order and congratulate the Minister on finally bringing it to our attention over 20 years after the previous order, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said. As they both said, it is the Day of the Seafarer, which is also appropriate. I declare an interest as honorary president of the UK Maritime Pilots’ Association. I do not think it is affected by this order, but obviously it welcomes the order too. I congratulate the RMT trade union on its consistency and its continuous lobbying for this. I will ask the Minister a few questions on the Explanatory Note.
The first is in connection with paragraph (c), as other noble Lords have mentioned:
“the exploration or exploitation, in a foreign sector of the continental shelf, of a cross-boundary petroleum field.”
I think I understand that but, if this will be allowed for workers working in the oil exploration sectors, surely it should also apply to those maintaining or installing wind turbines and things like that, and, for that matter, people fishing, to the extent that they are employed in the same area above that boundary. Can the Minister say whether it matters where the offshore bases are located for these workers in paragraph (c) to be considered? They may of course be based somewhere else in another EU member state or in the UK, but does that matter? Does it matter where the vessel is registered? I would be pleased to hear the Minister’s responses to those issues.
I believe that dredging operations are included, and it is a very good thing that they are. Does it also matter where the fish are landed, if the fishermen are included in this?
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Mann, mentioned ferries. Ferries stretch from connecting Norway, all around the continent and of course now to the Republic of Ireland. It seems quite ridiculous that some ferry operators —for example, between England or Scotland and Northern Ireland—come under one regulation, but if the same ship is operating to Dublin from England, it comes under a different regulation. Is it not about time that the Government brought all ferry workers that come into the UK, from maybe no more than two days’ steaming, into the same regulation?
My Lords, I support this order and congratulate my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie on the clear way in which he introduced some complex elements of the regulation and brought them into clear focus for all noble Lords. It could not be more appropriate that we are having this debate on the Day of the Seafarer—I pay tribute to all those who work on the high seas and offshore. They work in some of the most difficult conditions, keeping us fed and warm, and keeping the electricity flowing and the lights on. I declare an interest in that my grandfather was a merchant seaman, so I am aware of a number of the issues in this area. I support the order, which puts “fair” into “seafarer”.
But I will take the Minister into some slightly different waters. All the arguments that he quite rightly and clearly made in favour of this order apply also to all those who currently suffer the indignity of unpaid internships. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, there have been precious few prosecutions under the National Minimum Wage Regulations. Can the Minister say how many prosecutions there have been under the NMW for those involved in operating unpaid internships? Does he agree that we need as a Government to increase funding so that HMRC can pursue far more NMW claims, not least in the area of unpaid internships? Would he also agree that there is a need for greater advertising communication to all to know and understand their rights under the National Minimum Wage Regulations, not least those suffering the indignity of unpaid internships?
Finally, would my noble friend agree to meet with me to see what can be done to ensure that everybody who should is availing themselves of the benefits of the national minimum wage, not least those who find themselves with nowhere to turn who are currently doing unpaid internships?
My Lords, this amendment order deals with the rights of people who work on ships within the territorial waters of the whole United Kingdom. In the present era of coronavirus, wages and incomes for workers must be protected. These are unusual times, where any loss of income or delays in the receipt of it can push families into poverty.
In the Explanatory Memorandum to this order, paragraph 10.3 says:
“The legal working group recommended that the existing legislation should be amended to extend the protection of the minimum wage to all seafarers working on any vessel working domestically in the UK territorial waters.”
Paragraph 10.4 says that most of the bodies said that wider public consultation was not necessary. Companies not paying the national minimum wage to their employers will see a rise in their staff costs. I am surprised that there are still companies that continue to deny the minimum wage to their employees. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, BEIS, should issue the necessary guidance so that all workers receive the national minimum wage. As I said earlier, the wages of those working must be protected in these difficult times.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. I, too, welcome this measure. As is the case for many other speakers, my main concern relates to enforcement. Given that there are limited resources and that many vessels go through our waters and work in our fishing and other industries, how will we police this? What do we do if there are bad actors who try to game the system and say that they are from other jurisdictions?
One question that I have for the Minister and for the wider team at HMRC is whether any plans exist to work with the industry both to weed out bad actors and to ensure that there is enforcement. I know that other sectors, such as in the mobile technology space with companies such as Apple, are starting to use satellite technology. This could be used, for example, to see how heavily the boats are weighed down or how many workers are on deck. Automation could be used to track the situation so that there are some teeth to this measure, rather than it being something that people regularly ignore.
Similarly, given the pressures that our fishing industry might face with Brexit and Covid, as mentioned by another noble Lord, what can we do to work with the industry to modernise it and ensure that resources are focused on paying people well and that they are looked after? There could be a danger that this measure will put quite a lot of our fleet out of business. I accept that there might be a number of bad actors who should not be in the game if they cannot make it work at this kind of wage level but, equally, we have a duty to work with the industry to make sure that it is sustainable and viable. There might be potential for the better actors within the industry to help both police this measure and improve practices with technology and so on, so that there is better transparency over how workers are looked after and so that we still have a viable and healthy fleet in fishing and other maritime industries in the future.
Like many other noble Lords, I welcome this order, but I believe that it could go further. In particular, I wish to make the case for the inclusion of workers on short sea crossings from the coastline of the United Kingdom.
The rationale given for leaving these services out of the scope of the order is given in paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum. It is because short sea crossings are designated as exercising the “right of innocent passage”. It is correct that if you applied this criterion universally, these short sea crossings would be ruled out of the requirements of the national living wage legislation. However, Members of your Lordships’ House will be familiar with the not infrequent use of carve-outs, where exceptions are created. Why have the Government not created one for UK-resident workers on short sea routes? These workers are being treated differently from other UK-resident workers doing exactly the same job. Is this legislation needed for them?
It is difficult to find exact levels of pay for those working on short sea crossings, but some job placement agencies are posting jobs with salary levels below the £8.20 national minimum living wage. That national minimum living wage, based on a full-time 38-hour week, gives a yearly equivalent of about £17,200. At that level, all will pay national insurance contributions, as they are earning above the £9,516 earnings threshold, and they could possibly also pay income tax, depending on their individual circumstances.
Short sea-crossing ferries are a strong component of local economies around the ports they serve. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why the Government have stopped short of ensuring the national minimum wage for those who work on these ferries, both passenger and freight. Let us take the examples of Heysham and Liverpool. Ferries go from these ports to Belfast, so are captured by this legislation. Other examples are the Isle of Man and Dublin, both of which fall outside this legislation. There is an additional level of unfairness for those working out of Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock, compared with those in Stranraer or Penryn.
Treating UK taxpayers and residents differently depending on which short sea crossing they are working on is clearly unfair. Typically, those working short sea crossings will have a home at one end or the other of the crossing. The Government can easily identify those resident in the UK because they pay national insurance contributions. Therefore, in reality, this group of workers is being discriminated against by virtue of the fact that their place of work moves. Add to that the failure to apply the very sensible obligation in this order to short sea crossings to France and other nearby neighbours, and we have let down a number of low-paid workers across our country. I ask the Minister to explain why the Government have failed to include them in this order and to say whether the Government will bring forward further statutory instruments to correct this matter.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his excellent introduction to this SI, which I fully support. The vital work of seafarers is often unrecognised. They operate all year round, in often the most dangerous conditions, to keep global trade afloat. Moving vital supplies and goods is essential for the availability of the products that we take for granted in our way of life, and that has been particularly pertinent at this time of global crisis, when it has been so important to see goods reach our shores.
The Government estimate the cost of this measure at just £3.2 million, which is surely a price worth paying to ensure that all seafarers, offshore or in UK territorial waters and the UK continental shelf, at least receive the minimum wage. Especially as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this annual Day of the Seafarer, I also encourage my noble friend to consider pressing for seafarers to be classed as key workers. Recently, the pandemic and the effects of the restrictions on travel have caused repatriation problems, with crew changes and people often being stranded and unable to be readily repatriated.
As my noble friend explained, this SI will ensure that the UK is the first country to offer this minimum protection to seafarers.
My Lords, it makes a welcome change to speak in your Lordships’ House on a measure of social progress brought forward by the Government. That is rarely the case and I really hope that we will see more of it. It is also welcome to see the co-operation with unions behind this order. It would be lovely to see more of that, particularly with the teaching unions with regard to Covid-19 and the reopening of schools.
I noted that in his comprehensive introduction the noble Viscount referred to semi-skilled and skilled roles being affected by the order. That is quite telling. People who have probably developed their skills through training and experience should see a rise in their wages with the minimum wage. It brings to the fore the way in which in far too many industries the minimum wage has become not a floor but the standard payment for a large number of people.
I also echo the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about enforcement. We all know that one prosecution per year in no way reflects the level of failure to comply with the existing minimum wage legislation.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I have to focus on the fact that we have a minimum wage but not a living wage. The situation for people under the age of 25 is particularly difficult. They are not paid enough money to live on, and often they are paid a lot less than others over the age of 25 who work beside them and do the same job. The fact is that younger workers have to live too, and any kind of assumption that they can rely on family support instead of decent pay cannot be considered well founded.
If we are talking about the minimum wage, we need to look at the real living wage, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and at the work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on minimum income standards. In 2019 the JRF concluded that the wage level for a single person is £36 below what is needed for a basic minimum standard, and for a couple working full-time with two children it is £47 a week below what is needed. In the age of Covid-19, we have to focus more and more on resilience, and that has to mean at a foundational level the resilience of households. Households cannot save or deal with shocks if the minimum wage is not a real living wage.
Finally, we have to look at training more seafarers. A number of noble Lords referred to offshore wind, in particular, and perhaps, in the future, offshore tidal power. We will need to see the necessary training and development of the skills required to work in those areas. We also need to see the necessary skills to carry out research in our oceans, as we very much need to understand the desperate state of our nature crisis and our climate emergency.
My Lords, I support and welcome this legislation. First, I declare an interest because I have been a long-time supporter of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, which has well advertised the issue. This is the international Day of the Seafarer, which will be followed by Seafarers Awareness Week in July. One reason for my support is that I come from a long line of master mariners in north Somerset, who, in the 19th century, sadly suffered severe loss when five members of the family were lost at sea in a storm off Land’s End. That affected my family for some time after.
The purpose of the order is to extend the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, the passing of which I remember well. I vividly recall taking the Bill through the other place for the Liberal Democrats. It was fiercely opposed by the right-wing press, which claimed that the legislation would wreck our economy. Evidence from the USA was to the contrary, where Senator Edward Kennedy had produced reports and studies demonstrating how introduction of the national minimum wage created uplifts in local low-wage economies. Notwithstanding that, the then Conservative Opposition fought the Bill tooth and nail, filibustering in Committee to the extent that one meeting continued throughout the night. It became the longest continuous Committee session ever recorded at that time.
As regards the order, I have several general points and I should be grateful for the noble Viscount’s response. I am particularly concerned about the assessment that the Government have made of the number of UK employees who could be affected by the legislation. I understand that we do not have definitive figures. When can we expect them?
There are other points on which I am not clear. Does the order apply to crews of pilot vessels? Perhaps the Minster can clarify that. How are employees stationed on offshore oil rigs and supply vessels affected? The wide exceptions in paragraphs (2) and (3) of the original 1999 order are replaced. These set out in detail which ships fall within the scope of the order, how they are crewed and how they sail. This appears to be a complex task for the regulatory process. Given the history of the national minimum wage and the lack of prosecutions for failure to comply, how will the logistics be managed? Which agencies will be responsible?
Finally, section 12 of the Explanatory Notes, entitled “Impact”, states that
“the total cost to business could be as high as £3.2m per annum.”
Can the Minister provide us with guidance on how and when we will know the total number of employees that the figure is based on, and what resources will be required to implement the order effectively?
My Lords, this order is good news. It considerably broadens those categories of workers who will be entitled to the minimum wage. The 1999 order made several exceptions that this order narrows considerably, whereby the requirement for the minimum wage will apply in future to fishers in UK territorial waters and to dredgers, irrespective of where the vessels are registered or whether the workers themselves normally live or work in the UK.
This SI will, therefore, simplify the system and, I hope, make it more enforceable. Above all, it will bring long-overdue justice to the pay of both seafarers and those who work on offshore installations. It is a measure of how far the debate has moved on this issue that it now seems shocking that the original legislation was cast in a way that allowed for two rates of pay, according to nationality, for people doing the same job on the same ship. Shipping is one of the last sectors to apply differential rates of pay. The argument is sometimes put forward that for seafarers from poorer countries whose pay is lower than that of fellow workers, it is still good by the standards of their home nation. To me that sounds remarkably imperialist and should be an argument consigned to the past. That is the basis for exploitation of foreign workers.
We are leaving the sheltering umbrella of EU legislation that for decades has served to raise the standard of employment practices in the UK. It is therefore more important than ever that we measure ourselves by the highest standards, and I am delighted that the noble Viscount pointed out that we are leading the world on this. It is a matter of regret that it is not possible to modify or exclude Section 43 of the Act, and the minimum wage requirement still excludes share fishers. It is also important to bear in mind that this will not apply to a lot of self-employed workers and micro-businesses. My noble friend Lord German drew attention to the exclusion of those working onshore for sea crossings. Are there any other important exclusions?
A cross-departmental legal working group was convened in 2017 to look at the issue, following a decade of concerns among stakeholders. There was broad representation on this group from across the industry—unions as well as ship owners—and a clear recommendation for action. Like my noble friend Lady Burt, I ask the Minister: why has it taken three years to get round to this legislation, which comes after at least seven years of debate? Is it simply that it has been on hold because of Brexit, or have there been genuine legal complexities?
I detected a note of frustration on the Government’s part as I read the Explanatory Memorandum. They have clearly not had the full co-operation of all ship owners. Paragraph 12.3 states that ship owners have said that certain services may “no longer be viable” but they have not been able to provide any examples. As my noble friend Lady Northover said, the minimum wage did not lead to the predicted job losses when it was introduced. We can probably assume that the industry will be more robust than those ship owners predict. The size of the problem and hence its true cost cannot be quantified because of the lack of information from the industry. I therefore ask the noble Viscount: if he cannot give us precise numbers, does he have any estimate of the proportion of maritime workers who will be drawn into the minimum wage as a result of this SI?
Paragraph 13.3 refers to familiarisation costs. I realise the complexities of this for small businesses, so will the UK Chamber of Shipping be providing information and training to assist those involved?
Finally, while this SI is not part of the legislation relating to Brexit, it is an opportunity for me to remind the Minister that the Government have a large backlog of maritime-related EU legislation, some of it dating back a decade, not yet incorporated into UK law. This has been repeatedly cited as an matter of concern by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Can the noble Viscount provide an update on progress with that backlog?
My Lords, I put on record our recognition and appreciation of the vital contribution and role of seafarers at all times, and particularly at present.
We support the order since it reflects the agreed recommendations of a working group chaired by the Department for Transport on which seafarers, ship owners and companies were represented through their respective organisations. I understand, though, that the scope of the working group was restricted in advance to conditions on domestic—that is, UK-to-UK—and offshore energy routes, primarily North Sea oil and gas installations.
As the Minister has said, the order amends the National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order 1999 by extending the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 to all seafarers working in UK territorial waters or in the UK sector of the continental shelf, except where they are working on a ship exercising the right of innocent passage or the right of transit passage. In practical terms it secures an enforceable legal baseline for seafarers’ pay on domestic offshore supply and cargo routes between UK ports, including the UK continental shelf.
What the order does not apply to is international routes from UK ports, including the short sea routes to the European mainland. UK ratings have been systematically replaced over the last three decades, to the extent that they now only account for just under 20% of seafarers in the UK shipping industry. That is because there is no legislation covering seafarers employed on ships working from UK ports that provides a baseline for seafarers’ pay that better protects UK ratings’ jobs from basic rates of pay well below our national minimum wage.
I understand that the working group that made the recommendations reflected in the draft order was an ad hoc body, and presumably it no longer exists. Surely, though, we need to look at the position of UK seafarer employment further in the light of what has happened over the last 30 years. There is a new restart and recovery group on which the International Chamber of Shipping and the seafarer trade unions are represented. Can this group not be asked to look also at means of increasing UK seafarer employment post Covid-19 to increase the resilience of ferry, coastal cargo and other merchant shipping sectors?
Do the Government not accept that we need plans to address the effect of nationality-based pay and other forms of discrimination against seafarers on international ferry and other routes from UK ports? Indeed, I understand that the Secretary of State told the Commons Select Committee this week that very low crewing costs for foreign seafarers on the publicly subsidised Hull to Rotterdam route is perfectly legal, so the Government cannot do anything about it. Does that mean that the Government are going to throw in the towel on this issue? That does not sound like “standing up for Britain”. Can the Government give an undertaking that they will take this issue on board and look seriously, with seafarer and employer organisations, at what needs to be done to address the issue of low-cost crewing well below our minimum wage that occurs on international ferry and other routes from UK ports to even other European countries with a similar standard of living?
I turn to the Explanatory Memorandum. I wanted to ask some questions about the extent of the impact of the order, but the memorandum’s wording in paragraph 12 suggests that this might not be a straightforward or simple question—an issue to which, for example, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, referred. The memorandum says that the total cost to business of extending the scope of the national minimum wage in line with the order
“could be as high as £3.2m per annum.”
It goes on to say that there is no robust data on how many employees who would now be covered by the order are not already being paid in accordance with the UK minimum wage, and that there is
“a lack of concurrence amongst sources which are available.”
Despite this lack of robust data, the memorandum goes on to indicate:
“Shipowners have stated that certain services may no longer be viable, but have been unable to identify any that may be impacted.”
Surely employers know how many people they employ and how much they currently pay them, so why was it not possible to provide a realistic costing of the changes to the scope and application of the minimum wage provided for in the order and the impact that it will have? How indeed was the figure of “as high as £3.2m” calculated?
Maybe there is a straightforward explanation for this lack of clarity, in which case, since the Department for Transport chaired the working group, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what it is. The other possible explanation is that that part of the shipping industry that will now be covered by the further national minimum wage order is all at sea when it comes to keeping accurate records—or, alternatively, that it does keep accurate records but, for reasons about which one can only speculate, is not prepared to disclose them.
Despite this—since, as I said, his department chaired the working group—I ask the Minister: how many seafarers are covered by this extension of the application of the national minimum wage? Can the Minister also tell us what impact this order is expected to have on the low-percentage figure for the number of seafarers in the UK shipping industry who are UK ratings?
The Government have said that this order will allow HMRC to focus enforcement on vessels working domestically. Like my noble friend Lord Hain, I want to ask: what budget will be provided to HMRC and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to check, effectively and thoroughly, vessels working domestically, and what will be the additional training requirements?
Finally, the Explanatory Memorandum states in paragraph 12.4:
“In addition to the anticipated staff cost to business, there is the potential for extra costs as a result of proceedings in employment tribunals and the courts.”
What is the extent of these potential extra costs, and what circumstances are envisaged that could lead to the proceedings in employment tribunals and the courts that are referred to?
My Lords, I start by saying that I am very pleased that this order has been broadly welcomed by the House this afternoon. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, seafarers make a vital contribution to our economy, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh reminded us of the dangers faced by those working offshore, including in fishing. I was also rather struck by the speech from my noble friend Lord Holmes, who mentioned proudly his grandfather’s experience.
I will pick up on a couple of points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I reassure her that seafarers are classed as key workers. I take her point about the different roles, defined as non-skilled, skilled or semi-skilled, but I remind the House that many of these roles are already paid above the national minimum wage. So the picture is not quite as bad as the noble Baroness painted, but more needs to be done. I also want to answer a question about age raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mann. He asked about the effect of a birthday occurring—presumably because, of course, there are different rates for different ages as regards this order. Under national minimum wage legislation, what matters is the age at the start of the pay reference period; we do not see the need to change the rules on the calculation.
I shall address as many questions as I can. Inevitably, there were a lot and I feel that I will be writing a letter; I shall be reading Hansard very carefully after this debate. I shall go straight into answering questions raised about costs, led by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Randerson. Although we have asked the salary costs for seafarers working domestically, operators have been reluctant to share detailed employment costs with government, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, recognised. The UK does not restrict access to its domestic market, and therefore not all seafarers will be represented by a domestic union.
To assist the noble Lord, perhaps, we have statistical data on vessel types and vessel operations, which has allowed us to estimate the number of seafarers working domestically. We have a knowledge of expected salary levels across grades and have evidence from collective bargaining agreements and other sources such as job adverts. This has allowed us to make reasonable assumptions regarding costs and the number of seafarers. This is set out, as he may have seen, in the de minimis assessment that was undertaken in connection with this order.
We must also be clear that industry bodies have stated that many seafarers working domestically are already paid at rates commensurate with the minimum wage—a point I made earlier. We believe that setting a minimum salary level in our domestic market will benefit UK ratings and allow them to compete for jobs on a more level playing field. I realise that the answer I have given is not perfect and, clearly, I agree with many in the House that there is more work to be done to analyse the data in this area.
The subject of ferry routes cropped up—as I predicted it might—raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, who made some very good points on ferry wages, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. We are aware that concern remains that ferry routes are largely not covered by the amendments and that some ferry services may be using low-cost employment models. Let me be clear that routes operating between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Scottish ferries and other domestic services are covered. Ferries operating to the rest of Europe are on international voyages and, unless flagged with the UK, are outside our jurisdiction. Operators on the North Sea routes have stated that low-cost models are necessary to allow them to provide such a service; otherwise, these services would not be economically viable—a point raised again during the debate.
We are committed to improving standards here and will consider other options in regard to these operations. I note the pertinent points raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, on short crossings. Perhaps I might give some reassurance by saying that UK resident seafarers are also covered by Section 1 of the Act, so if working regularly on a service to or from a UK port, seafarers should be, invariably, eligible for the national minimum wage. In answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, there are no other exclusions that I know of.
The noble Baroness moved on to discussing differential pay. Maritime is the only sector in the UK that continues to permit this. This is set out in the Equality Act 2010 (Work on Ships and Hovercraft) Regulations 2011. The then coalition Government did not outlaw it completely as the protection would apply only to UK-registered vessels and there was concern that owners would simply flag away from the UK to avoid the requirement, thereby removing protection from any seafarer, regardless of nationality. The industry will still state that differential pay is the necessary requirement and that seafarers are paid a competitive rate when considered against the average salaries they could receive in their own countries. I acknowledge that this remains a difficult argument to accept when it would not be accepted in any other sector. The Government will consider whether further changes are required when the Equality Act regulations are reviewed towards the end of this year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also asked about the outstanding maritime legislation and I hope I can give an explanation here. A programme of planned legislation up to 2023 was shared with the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee last year. This identified no less than 44 separate SIs. Of that list, four SIs have been completed, with a further 10 planned to be laid by the end of 2020; 12 are expected to be completed in 2021, with the remaining 23, including five that have since been added to the list, expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
The unprecedented and challenging global pandemic we are all facing has meant that work on some SIs has been temporarily paused, while others have been deferred to 2021 to help alleviate pressures on parliamentary time in late 2020, allowing for necessary EU-related legislation at the end of the current implementation period.
I move on to several questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. I was interested to hear about his family background and the stark reminder of how dangerous the sea is. First, he inquired about enforcement, which was also raised by my noble friend Lord Wei. BEIS is responsible for funding HMRC enforcement of the minimum wage. The 2021 overall budget is £27.5 million, of which £26.4 million is allocated to HMRC enforcement. HMRC takes a risk-based approach to enforcement, which means it can flex its resources to tackle an emerging threat or issue, including for seafarers working in the shipping industry. HMRC recently closed a seafarer case, identifying approximately £31,000 in arrears for nine workers and issuing penalties of over £56,000.
In 2018-19, HMRC identified over £24.4 million in arrears for more than 220,000 workers. This is more than a 50% increase on the amount of arrears identified in the previous financial year and a 10% increase on the number of workers identified. The increased clarity of the requirements should allow HMRC better to target its resources and ensure greater overall compliance.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about the status of pilots and offshore workers. They may already be covered within the existing requirements of Section 1 or Section 40 of the Act; if not, they will meet the eligibility requirements set out in the order. Employees on offshore oil rigs are already covered by the existing requirements but this will bring crew on offshore supply vessels into scope.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, spoke about Scotland. He made some very kind remarks about my father, for which I am grateful. Of course, the minimum wage is a reserved matter. However, we have kept the devolved Administrations informed. This order should be particularly welcomed by the Scottish Government, who have made an admirable commitment to ensuring that the minimum wage is paid on all Scottish ferries. The order will further strengthen their position and should greatly support those working in the supply sector of the UK offshore energy market.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made important points about skills and training. Creating a skilled, diverse and flexible workforce is essential to the future success of the maritime sector. To support the sector, the Government have worked with industry in creating a suite of maritime apprenticeships and are driving up the cadet intake though SMarT—Support for Maritime Training—with funding increasing to £30 million by 2024-25. The department has provided £300,000 in funding to establish a maritime skills commission. It has also provided £100,000 to support the 1851 Trust STEM roadshows for girls, £40,000 to the Maritime and Me project and £40,000 to the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers Trust.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked a number of questions. She will be pleased to know that I have answers but they are only semi to hand so, bearing in mind the time, I will write to her.
I hope noble Lords will agree that this is a small but significant step toward raising employment standards for seafarers working domestically in the UK. We are an island nation, yet we are often sea-blind to the seafarers who do so much to support our economy, as I said earlier. The UK has rightly been lauded for its support and compassion for seafarers not just in the UK but of all nationalities. The MCA and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch are recognised around the world for their high standards.
We are not standing still. People are an integral part of our Maritime 2050 strategy. We will continue to work closely with the sector to attract more people to it. Today, we announced that the UK Government will host the first international summit on the impact of Covid-19 on crew changes next month, bringing together UN, political and business leaders from across the globe. This will be led by the Maritime Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, and will be an opportunity to reflect on the impact of this dreadful pandemic on the global shipping industry and on what Governments and industry must do to protect the welfare of crew workers around the world.
On the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, the UK has repatriated more than 7,000 seafarers from cruise vessels recently.
We have a long and important maritime history. I am sure that the UK will continue to play its part on the global stage.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, we come to the Second Reading of the Sentencing Bill. Some Members are here in the Chamber, and others will participate virtually, but all Members will be treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are asked to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompts. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply.
Sentencing Bill [HL]
That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I believe noble Lords will agree with me that the law must be accessible, understandable and predictable. Unfortunately, with the greatest will in the world it has become difficult to say this about one particular aspect of our criminal law, that of sentencing procedure. Over the course of a generation, this body of law has grown incredibly complex and disparate. We have seen numerous examples of even the greatest legal minds in the country spending too much time trying to disentangle which provisions apply in individual cases. That is to say nothing of the challenge of victims and offenders themselves understanding the rules that will govern their case. Such a lack of transparency must be addressed.
That is why, in 2014, the Government agreed that the Law Commission should undertake a project designed to consolidate sentencing procedural law. The resulting consolidation Bill before your Lordships brings together the provisions which prescribe what happens to an offender who has been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, a criminal offence. The substantive provisions of the Bill make up what is to be known as the Sentencing Code. The Sentencing Code contains the procedural provisions which courts need to rely upon during the sentencing process. This includes general provisions applying to sentencing courts, such as the purposes of sentencing, the duty to explain sentences and statutory aggravating and mitigating factors. It also includes the different types of sentence, such as fines, community sentences and custodial sentences, and also behaviour orders which can be imposed in addition to a sentence: namely, criminal behaviour orders, sexual harm prevention orders, restraining orders and parenting orders.
To aid accessibility and to help minimise the risk of error in the sentencing process, the Sentencing Code structures these provisions in an order which follows the chronology of a sentencing hearing. Certain provisions, such as the power to impose an extended sentence, are split by age of the offender. The Sentencing Code also includes signposts to other legislative provisions which will remain outside the Sentencing Code, to ensure these are not overlooked during the sentencing process.
The Bill also consolidates certain uncommenced provisions, such as the minimum sentencing provisions in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 relating to certain offences concerning prohibited weapons and the possession of corrosive substances. These uncommenced provisions can be found in Schedule 22 to the Bill, separate from the main body of the Sentencing Code. This approach is intended to ensure that users of the Sentencing Code can be completely confident that the provision they are looking at is in force. If an uncommenced provision is commenced in the future, consolidating such a provision in Schedule 22 should make the commencement process straightforward.
The Law Commission consulted on a draft version of the Bill in 2017, and in 2018 conducted a separate consultation relating to the disposals in the Sentencing Code that are available for children and young persons. Both consultations received widespread backing from judges, lawyers and academics.
I remind the House that this Bill does not introduce any new sentencing law; nor does it make changes to existing offences and penalties. Indeed, as it is a consolidation Bill, it is not open to either House to seek to amend it in order to make such changes.
I finish by acknowledging that the Government are extremely grateful to the staff at the Law Commission and parliamentary counsel for their detailed and thorough work in this area over the past five years. The creation of this Bill is a tremendous achievement by the Law Commission and bears testament to the diligence and persistence with which it has approached this consolidation exercise.
If your Lordships are content to give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills in the usual way. I beg to move.
My Lords, today I feel the beginning of the relief of the Victorian poet who reminded us:
“That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.”
For many years now—certainly since the start of the millennium—criminal justice has from time to time provoked periods of political and consequently legislative frenzy. Indeed, we can shortly anticipate a new manifestation, telegraphed for us in the Conservative Party election manifesto. But this is an apolitical Bill that has nothing to do with party politics and simply addresses the chaos created by endless legislation, both primary and secondary, that has directly or indirectly impacted on the sentencing decision.
It will not make the sentencing decision for the judge or magistrate any easier, but what it does—and we are indebted to the brilliant imagination of Professor Ormerod and his team at the Law Commission and to the parliamentary counsel, who identified pinch points—is to enable the court to get exceptionally convoluted technicalities right. It does so by clean-sweeping the technicalities into a code.
Strikingly, the Bill ensures that no one will be at risk of being sentenced to a heavier penalty than could have been imposed at the date of the commission of the offence; this is obviously fundamental. Retrospectivity is prevented. Equally strikingly, the code is drafted in such a way that any future legislation relating to sentencing and procedure can be pitted into the code. This is a living document, capable of flexible amendment, so a gauntlet is thrown down to us parliamentarians to make sure we adopt it.
Any judge trying criminal cases will appreciate how typical this single example from my own experience is. The defendant was sentenced to imprisonment 12 years ago. The issue for him is: how long? When will I be out? Naturally, he asked his lawyers how long it would be. When he arrived in prison, calculations were made on the basis of the then legislation and he was told that his release date would be such and such. That is told to every prisoner on arrival, because it matters to him and the prison authorities, so he knew. As his release date approached, some bright individual within the prison or the Home Office wondered whether that release date was right. It was checked by the prison authorities, the Home Office and eventually a judge; it came to the Court of Appeal. From among the various options, we made a decision. We decided that he had been kept in custody too long, wrongly imprisoned.
I am sure your Lordships will forgive me if I quote what I said then. I do so because I would not change a word of it now. I said that
“elementary principles of justice have come … to be buried in the legislative morass. … It is outrageous that so much intellectual effort, as well as public time and resources, have had to be expended … to discover a route … to what should be … the simplest and most certain of questions”.
This Bill will clear up that morass.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord and to pick up the issue of trying to find our way through the morass, to which, I have to admit, I contributed as Home Secretary, with responsibility for justice and sentencing, with a plethora of legislation between 2001 and 2004. The only part of the Criminal Justice Act that I am not proud of is the element relating to indeterminate sentences, not because the intention was wrong, but because the implementation was left far too much to chance—or what I might have called, to pick up the pieces from the earlier contribution, common sense.
The 2012 research undertaken by the Law Commission, to which I also pay tribute, discovered that 36% of sentences were wrongly applied, in one way or another, which is staggering. I had hoped that the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which we set up in the Criminal Justice Act, would have been able to provide the kind of guidance that the noble and learned Lord just referred to, but sadly not. The codification, alongside this consolidation, gives us the opportunity for much greater clarity for the offender, those perpetrated against and those operating the criminal justice system.
I will refer briefly to Part 4 and seek the Minister’s clarification on an issue that is now under extended sentences but was under IPP. It is where somebody is involved in a breach. We still have people, even from 2012, when the IPP was abolished, returned to prison and given a sentence relating to the IPP for, sometimes, a minor breach, which results in extending an already dubious procedure. Could the Minister clarify whether, under the clean break element of this, these matters can now be cleared up once and for all in the interests of justice? I think it is in Clause 273, but there are 420 clauses. With the capacity I have at the moment out of London, I am relying a little more on the seat of my pants than I normally would.
Finally, I hope the follow-through to this will be extremely good training for all those involved at every level of the criminal justice system. It struck me in 2003 that that really was the missing element.
My Lords, I must confess to some diffidence in finding myself between the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, since, unlike them, I have never had the responsibility of sentencing anyone. Indeed, it is difficult to resist the temptation to adopt the elegant observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, brevitatis causa, as lawyers are accustomed to say, but I wish to make some observations of my own.
There can hardly ever have been a legal Bill that enjoys such judicial and professional support as this one. Indeed, as has been said on at least one previous occasion, we could almost pass this Bill by acclamation. The Law Commission has fulfilled its responsibility to make the law clearer, shorter and more accessible, having rightly judged that sentencing legislation was inefficient and lacking in transparency. How could it do otherwise, as has already been referred to, when the analysis of 262 randomly selected cases from the Court of Appeal in 2012 revealed that 36% were illegal sentences? The question that arises from that is: what guidance was given to those who passed those sentences and what happened to those who had been sentenced in that way, illegally?
The Bill’s approach is novel, with the creation of a code allied to the use of a clean sweep. My question is whether a similar approach may be appropriate in other areas of the law. Indeed, I suppose that my question is really for the Law Commission: is it now looking for other such opportunities? I welcome the exception to protect the fundamental rights of an offender and the Bar Council’s pragmatic endorsement of the proposals on Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights and on retroactivity.
Finally, there is an excellent impact assessment that justifies close reading, but for some reason there are no Explanatory Notes to the Bill. Why not?
My Lords, the number of Acts consolidated in this Bill shows the large number of Acts that are relevant to sentencing. Is it any wonder that judges, being human, sometimes made mistakes? When I became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, I was appointed to the Consolidation Committee then presided over by Lord Brightman. He taught me what a demanding task consolidation is. It involves checking that the law you put into the consolidation is correct and, more difficult, making sure that you leave nothing out.
I thank from the bottom of my heart everyone who has been involved in this massive enterprise. That includes Law Commissioners and their staff, Ministers and their officials, staff and department, and parliamentary counsel and their staff. Now we have the massive product of all their work. It is extremely difficult to say what happens now. Will it just start to build up again? In relation to that, in this Bill there is the important provision that, where something covered by the scope of this Bill is amended by an Act of Parliament, that Act must amend this Act to include it. That seems to me a very excellent way of preventing the building-up anew of the situation about which my friend the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, spoke in the case to which he referred.
My Lords, I am happy to join those who have already spoken in welcoming this Bill and paying tribute to its chief architect, Professor David Ormerod. Like almost everyone else, all I have seen so far is the online version, but that is enough for me to appreciate what a fine piece of work this is.
What impressed me most as I worked through the first 24 pages, which set out the Bill’s contents, is the clarity and simplicity of the layout. Accessibility in a Bill of this kind, which contains so much detail, is the key to its success. It is also the key to the future. The law never stands still; this is especially true of the law about sentencing. This Bill must be able to accommodate changes, as my noble and learned friend Lord Judge has pointed out. It must be a living code. I believe that its designers have done everything possible to achieve that.
In this respect its design can be compared with a consolidating measure with which I was familiar, the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. It began its life as a Bill of 309 clauses and 10 schedules. It has the same kind of layout, so it has been able to accommodate many changes over the past 25 years without losing its shape and accessibility. It now has 450 sections and 12 schedules. The Bill we are discussing today has 420 clauses and 16 schedules, so it has a bit of catching up to do. The important point is that, like the 1995 Act, its design lends itself to a steady enlargement of this kind while remaining accessible and easy to use.
As for the future—as to what happens now, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, put it—the responsibility now passes to government. The designers have done all that they could possibly to make the Bill fit for a long life. For that to happen, however, it must now be firmly understood within government that changes to the law on sentencing must always be made only by changing the code which the Bill lays down. We must not resort to their being scattered around in so many different places, as they have been until now.
Another point lies within the responsibility of government. Most of us who want to keep up with the current state of statute law have to go online to the UK statute law database. In the past, the updating of this system has sometimes been rather slow. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord the Minister could assure the House that it has and will continue to have the resources it needs for the prompt updating on which so many of us depend.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Minister for his careful explanation of the Bill. When I sent for it, I was overwhelmed by its sheer volume. I join in its universal welcome. I do so as a criminal law practitioner over a period of 40 to 50 years, and I am humbled by the speeches from distinguished ex-judges.
I remember sitting as a young assistant recorder, dragooned by my former pupil master, Sir Alun Davies QC, to sit as his deputy as a recorder of Cardiff in about 1972. I shall never forget the first case I tried, involving a novel defence in a breathalyser case, having just helped as a junior Minister to pilot the Bill in question through the House of Commons. Breathalyser legislation turned out to be a cottage industry. When I ruled against the defence counsel, I thought it would end my judicial career. It did, but not for that reason: rather, because of my lack of judicial aspiration when set against the delights of politics. Some of the difficulties one had to negotiate when sitting as a judge involved complex sentencing on traffic cases, for example, and changes from time to time in suspended sentences. Frequently, the clerk and even the jailer were more up to speed than the judge himself.
My thanks go to the Law Commission, created by Lord Gardiner under a Labour Government in which I also served very happily as a junior Minister. The striking feature of the briefing for this debate, already mentioned, is the complexity of statutory provisions. The Law Commission, having analysed 260 randomly selected cases before the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, found that 36% of cases had received unlawful sentences. Sir Brian Leveson has underlined the difficulties and struggles of judges in sentencing. I hope the judiciary will be able to navigate sentencing easier when the Bill receives Royal Assent. Equally important, the public and the sentenced will have more confidence in the judicial system.
I particularly welcome the clean-sweep provisions. They are very modest and adhere to and endorse the human rights convention. I hope they will be manageable against that background. They deal only with offences committed in the past, so they will apply only for a period. With those few remarks, I welcome the Bill.
My Lords, first I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.
I warmly welcome this legislation. The principle of consolidation is an excellent one and I am pleasantly struck by the near-universal support for it in this instance. The proposed new code will bring greater clarity, which in turn will assist legal professionals in accurately identifying and applying the law, reducing the risk of error, appeals and unnecessary delays.
The Bill will also enhance access to the sentencing process, and particularly its transparency, for the general public. I was a member of the Constitution Committee, and our report of 25 October 2017 contained a substantial section dealing with consolidation. We had been particularly struck by evidence from the Law Commission which had set out two arguments in favour of consolidation. The first was that
“unlike a Queen’s Printer’s copy, a statute in digital form can be readily updated when the legislation is amended”.
Secondly, statute law is accessible free of charge on the internet, so that a single Act of Parliament containing all the statute law on one subject can be a useful resource that is available to the public as well as to lawyers. We found those arguments persuasive and we recommended that:
“The Government should as a priority provide the Law Commission with the necessary resources to start consolidating those areas of the law where the consistent application of the law is under threat from the sheer complexity of the statute book. The evidence we received indicates that consolidating immigration law and sentencing law in particular would offer real benefits.”
Consolidation may lack the giddy excitement that we associate with so many debates in the House, but it is tremendously valuable to the courts, to those who support the courts and to society in general.
All those of us who have studied law will recall the lengthy and often arid discussions about the nature of laws, what makes a good law and so forth. I have always inclined to the view of the late Sir John Mortimer:
“No brilliance is needed in the law, nothing but common sense and relatively clean fingernails.”
There is no single or simple answer to the question of what makes a good law, but if a complex system is codified and made more readily accessible, that to my mind makes for a better law and a better system of law.
My Lords, I have to declare a lack of interest in this Bill. I am not a lawyer, nor one of those who has been involved in the changing of sentences, but one thing we can be absolutely sure of is that politicians do like changing them. Over the three decades that I have been here, I have heard numerous discussions in this Chamber about being tough on the law. It is one of the most constant discussions. Something that will simplify and codify the law on sentencing, even if it is a rather knee-jerk reaction—I do not doubt that that is the least important ground for doing it—has to be welcomed. Anything that makes the law easier to understand must also be welcomed.
It is easy for someone to play to the galleries, but there is a principle here which has been brought to my attention. It is Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights:
“Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed”.
In other words, do not toughen up the sentence because the law has subsequently been changed. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, will be able to explain to me how, under this code, that cannot happen, but there are a few other variables that he could help to clear up as well. It is odd to be talking to an empty Bench, but I am sure that he is listening.
If we are now going to have minimum sentences for certain offences, along with ways of imposing them like second strikes and so on, how is that going to work? It would be very interesting to hear about that. I am sure that many legal minds will be listening and thinking, “Oh, that is covered in such-and-such.” Can I hear the answer so that I can understand it? I am a lay person and I do not have legal training, so if I can understand it, probably just about anyone can. Please can we be helped to understand how this is going to work? If changes are made, will you be unable to go back and say, “We do not think that they should have come out of prison, and that sentence ought to have been changed.” If we are working to the principle that someone is convicted under the law, how is that going to work?
Apart from that—I hope that that explanation will be given—I have no objections to this Bill. Someone referred to the physical size of this legislation. Having walked past it, I can say that it would be quite a feat for anyone to carry a copy into the Chamber, and I doubt if many of us could manage two. There is a lot of paper involved.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. We do not seem to be able to communicate with him, so I shall call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, I cannot think of anybody in the House less fitted to impersonate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. However, it is my duty to make some remarks. The consensus in favour of the Bill is admirable. It is extremely weighty in terms of the judicial expertise of the House, and therefore I have no hesitation whatever in supporting it. As the Minister said, the law must be accessible and under- standable, and if it is felt not to be sufficiently accessible and understandable by people who have practised the law, that alone is a justification for the Bill.
On the alarming point about the high number of sentences which higher courts find to have been illegal, it is not absolutely clear to me from reading that piece of work how far that is to do with the law being inaccessible and how far it is to do with the misapplication of the law. It looks as if a large proportion of those cases, if not almost all of them, would have occurred even under this legislation. However, it may be that having everything codified in one place will improve things; it is very hard to argue against that principle, and I do not seek to do so.
However, I regard the Bill as a serious wasted opportunity. While the lack of accessibility and codification of sentencing law might be an issue, and I accept that therefore this Bill should proceed, by far the bigger issue in respect of sentencing is the positive content of sentencing law itself, which to my mind is not fit for purpose. We have seen the prison population in Britain treble in the last 40 years—it is now by far the largest in Europe, per capita as well as absolutely. However, longer prison terms, almost all for non-violent offenders, have neither made Britain safer nor reduced crime or the fear of crime. They also stand in very stark and striking contrast to most of the rest of Europe, which has much smaller prison populations, much shorter prison terms, and much more effective alternatives to custodial sentences. It seems that the Bill essentially fiddles while the big issue is unaddressed. We should be seeking to review, modernise and learn from best practice in other civilised countries on the content of sentencing legislation; how it is actually written in the law books is a very secondary consideration.
When we last debated the Bill—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, this is déjà vu all over again—I found myself in striking agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Bates, from the Conservative Benches, on this issue. He made an impassioned speech about the evils of over-long sentences and creating a culture in prisons which is, frankly, deplorable and probably also against the European Convention on Human Rights. The conclusion that we both reached is that the huge judicial expertise which this House contains might be well utilised in a Select Committee to look not just at the codification of sentencing law but at its actual content. Because we are not, I am glad to say, a populist House, we would be capable of bringing our expertise to bear on this issue and we might then get a genuinely worthwhile reform, which would correct the move towards ever-longer sentences and an ever-larger prison population, and in consequence towards what I regard as a much less civilised society.
My Lords, I begin by referring to my registered interest as a practising member of the Bar and a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. I also note that over the last few decades, criminal justice Bills have become more frequent, more complex and longer. Sadly, their frequency and greater length have not always been helpful in clarifying the law. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, offered a stark example from his long experience as a senior judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, was refreshingly candid about his time as Home Secretary. All these statutes have neither helped to reduce crime nor made the work of the police, prosecutors, defence lawyers or judges any easier.
Many provisions of these Bills—or Acts of Parliament, as they now are—have been repealed by later legislation before coming into force; some have yet to be implemented, despite being part of a statute for years; some created offences that already existed; and, as far as sentencing statutes are concerned, most of them achieved little except to make the work of sentencing judges and magistrates far more difficult than it needs to be—I speak from bitter experience as a former Crown Court recorder.
It is shocking but true that some sentences passed by magistrates and judges have been unlawful and that even the Court of Appeal has on occasion got the law on sentencing wrong because it is more difficult to unravel than a tangled ball of thread. As I have often pointed out with impertinent glee, in 2012, an analysis of 262 randomly selected cases in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division found that, in 36% of them, unlawful sentences were handed down. The Law Commission attributed this to the level of complexity in the existing legislation—I heard the question just now from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on this.
Now we have this new Sentencing Bill. It was preceded by the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act, which a number of us debated both before and after the December 2019 general election. In line with modern practice, the Sentencing Bill is vast. The table of contents alone is 24 pages long. The Bill itself contains 420 clauses, 29 schedules and covers 569 pages in two volumes. But, rather than causing me despair, this Bill is to be welcomed. It is the result of years of hard work by Professor David Ormerod and his colleagues at the Law Commission, who deserve our heartfelt congratulations and thanks—and a holiday.
Through this Bill, we are at last to have a sentencing code: one place in which the law on sentencing procedure and types of custodial and community sentence is brought together. It makes sense. It is comprehensive and comprehendable. Once this Bill is in force, everyone will be able to see clearly what Parliament means and what sentencing is for and, in particular, will have a better understanding of that most complicated area of sentencing: non-custodial sentencing.
Let us get this Bill enacted as quickly as possible, before anyone in No. 10 Downing Street or the Home Office notices and tries to fiddle with it.
My Lords, I will speak about consolidation rather than the detail of sentencing, although I am glad that this project is reaching a conclusion.
Sentencing is a discrete and most serious matter. The fact that the law surrounding it was so amended and reamended that even the most senior lawyers in the land had difficulty knowing what it was with accuracy surely had to be addressed. With 1,500 pages of sentencing law spread across many instruments, the Law Commission said that sentencing lacked transparency due to complexity; regrettably, that is the state of many of our laws.
For some subjects, 1,500 pages is short. When we started scrutinising Brexit regulations, the Financial Services and Markets Act had far more pages than that. The Treasury admitted that it could not send us an up-to-date copy as it did not have one and did not know everything that was in it. When researching my response to the corporate governance Green Paper in 2016, I asked the Library for a print of the up-to-date Companies Act 2006. It used a commercial site as the GOV.UK pages were not up to date, then telephoned to ask if I could accommodate a pallet-load of paper in my office. Both those Acts contain criminal offences and neither is all that old, in the scale of things.
With Brexit, we have hundreds more multiple, nested regulations. As we have trade talks and decisions about equivalence of laws, can we be sure that we know what our laws are? Can anyone else be sure? The EU always mistrusted how we had complied, and Brexit transpositions have exposed various mistakes and left-out bits. It has taken five years for the sentencing consolidation to get to this final stage. With that overhead, I am beginning to understand why every statutory instrument says that the Government have no plans to consolidate law—but is that really a satisfactory answer?
Finally, I welcome the updating provisions and the table of origins, but when I was looking for things in my usual subject areas, I did not find listed all the abbreviations for legislation that were used in the subsequent table. For example, abbreviations for the Financial Services Act, the Bank of England and financial services regulations, the Secretaries of State for BEIS order or the crime and courts commencement order did not show when I searched the table.
My Lords, in a month I shall have been a member of the Bar for 50 years, and I have included in that time sitting as a judge in criminal courts. In that time, the population of the prisons has more than doubled and the complexity of sentencing law has at least quadrupled, and I deprecate both. However, I support this Bill with enthusiasm, because it puts sentencing law in one place—as part of a living instrument, I hope. It is very important that the Bill should be brought into force as quickly as possible and I ask the Minister to confirm that this will occur by 1 October, so that there can be co-ordination between the Bill coming into force, new criminal procedure rule documents and new practice directions. Co-ordination really is required.
The Bill is a creature of the Law Commission, which I wish to praise and say that we use it far less than we should. That has been the situation throughout my political and legal life. I join those who praise particularly the extraordinary work done by Professor David Ormerod QC. What is most remarkable, apart from the output of his work, is that he is still only in mid-career: he has a huge amount to offer yet to come and we owe a great debt to his determination, as a member of the Law Commission when it was put under quite unacceptable financial attrition of its resources.
My noble friend Lady Deech, who is a non-executive director of the Law Commission, is unable to be with us this afternoon, but she has asked me to pass on to your Lordships her support for the Bill and the extraordinary work that has been done by the Law Commission and of course by parliamentary counsel. My essential message is that I hope the Bill will be treated as a true code, updated day by day as if it were a loose-leaf volume or a digital encyclopaedia. If it is dealt with as a living instrument, the courts will be more accurate, defendants will know what faces them, and their lawyers—this will be very welcome among my learned friends—will make far fewer mistakes.
My Lords, five years ago, the review I conducted for the then Minister for Prisons into the self-inflicted deaths of 87 young prisoners was published. I want to use—perhaps some will say abuse or certainly misuse—the opportunity of this debate to raise some general issues about the role of prison. A core conclusion of my review was that prisons are grim environments, bleak and demoralising to the spirit.
So what are the purposes of prison? The first is clearly public protection. A criminal cannot, it is argued, pursue their criminal activities from a prison cell and they cannot endanger other people. Another is to punish, and that punishment is the deprivation of liberty. It is assumed that such punishment will have a deterrent effect. The third is to enable a prisoner to be rehabilitated, given an education or training previously missed, so enabling them to become a useful citizen on release. There is probably also a final purpose in assuaging public opinion that something must be done. This last has led, over the years, to a growing prison population facing longer sentences.
Does it work? Public protection is not achieved if gang leaders can still control and run their criminal activities from inside their prison cell. Public protection is not delivered if prisoners, once released, emerge so embittered by their experience that they are even more dangerous than when they went in; if they have been radicalised by their exposure to violent extremist ideology; or, indeed, if they have used their time inside to make a whole series of new criminal contacts and acquire or hone their criminal skills to make them more effective criminals on their release.
What is the evidence that deterrence works, particularly for young men? Brain development studies show that many young men are not able to evaluate the consequences of their actions and to limit their impulsivity until their mid-20s.
Finally, what about rehabilitation? The prison experience is hardly conducive to it and it is exacerbated by staff shortages, meaning that many courses and classes cannot take place, even before the lockdown imposed by Covid-19. Most prisoners are not sufficiently engaged in purposeful activity and even medical and mental health appointments are being missed because there are insufficient escort staff. Prisons have to be substantially better resourced if they are to deliver any meaningful form of rehabilitation or even protect public safety.
Why do so many prisoners come into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place? Many of the prisoners whose cases I reviewed had problems that were evident from an early age. Many had mental health issues and a troubled adolescence. Why were they not successfully diverted away from criminal activity at a much earlier stage? Proper investment in the health and welfare system is needed to resolve the issues that create these problems of a troubled child or adolescent long before they ever enter the criminal justice system, and we need effective alternatives to custody if they get into trouble. That would be money well spent and would reduce the numbers in prison so that those there can have better rehabilitative support.
There will always be a need for prisons and a coherent, fair sentencing framework is a necessity, but for too long we have neglected what we should do to avoid people getting into trouble in the first place; and we have certainly failed to invest in the prison system sufficiently to ensure that prisons keep the public safe and rehabilitate prisoners so that when they are released they can play a proper part in society. My question to the Minister is: when and how will we address those issues?
My Lords, I declare that I have sat in the youth court for more than 20 years. I warmly welcome this Bill. It would introduce one coherent Sentencing Code. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the assiduous work of the Law Commission and note that it has received widespread support from judges, lawyers and academics, as well as the other place.
I particularly welcome the introduction of the clean sweep. It brings much-needed clarity to the application of sentencing law, deleting layers of historic sentencing legislation and making it possible for offenders to be sentenced under the new code, regardless of when an offence was committed. It is a significant step that will help avoid errors and appeals resulting from historic or redundant aspects of the legislation being incorrectly reflected in sentencing decisions.
The Bill makes important steps to simplify criminal sentencing, not only for the judiciary and legal practitioners—crucially, it also improves the clarity, accessibility and understanding of the law to defendants, witnesses, jurors, victims and the public at large. Once the Sentencing Code is enacted, I ask the Minister to do all he can to ensure that the training measures are in place, so that the judiciary who use it are able to do so to best effect and that it is applied correctly and appropriately.
I am pleased that in his remarks in the other place the Lord Chancellor focused on defendants. They are at the sharp end when it comes to sentencing and we should not lose sight of the fact that these matters affect the lives of real people. The Bill will improve the confidence that all users of the criminal justice system need in sentencing, including the public, defendants and victims. Clearer law will lead to greater understanding. I agree with the Lord Chancellor and others that for far too long there has been a gulf between what the practitioner and the lawyer might understand and how it is explained to the public.
The passing of correct sentencing is crucial, based on the right legislation and procedure, which will bring increased public confidence. The coherent Sentencing Code that will be enacted through this Bill is therefore not only desirable but utterly essential and long overdue.
My Lords, we have heard already that when passing sentence the sentencing judge must consider the sentencing law applicable at the time of the offence, and that the many pieces of legislation passed by Parliament over the years have added to the complexity of sentencing. We are in extremely difficult times, notwithstanding the pandemic that has altered things inexorably in our society. The Government have many demand-led issues to deal with as result, including the effects that these matters will have on the cases in the system, which I believe was in a huge backlog, with more than 1 million cases before the pandemic arrived, disrupting so much in the everyday running of our society and our public services.
However, this issue has gone on for far too long, and wrong sentencing decisions have been very evident in reviews of the justice system. Reading them suggests that as much as 36% of sentencing has been wrongly attributed. Let us not forget that a huge court closure programme—especially in my own area, south Wales—and the lack of interpreters in court proceedings, have added to these delays. A clear way forward must now be established, so that the public can have faith in a system of sentencing and those sentenced given a fair judgment.
It will be like peeling back the layers of an onion, as historical legislation will be removed and streamlined for lawyers, judges and magistrates to use. It will serve the public to build a confidence in the system, and those at the sharp end, too. Fairness must be seen to be done for the victims of crime as well as those who have offended.
Clear and accessible language will be a feature of this code. All too often the impenetrable language of the law has served a legal system comprehensible only to the learned few. I look forward to a completely revised system that makes the law accessible. This is an essential aspect that will help to explain it to the public. It may be a pathfinder for future legislation; clearly explained legislation that can be understood on a wider level may help to engage the public in the business of the law and of politics.
My introduction to your Lordships’ House was marked by some indecipherable language when learning the business of the House, and I like to think that I have a good understanding of language and literacy, having taught English for many years in high schools and being educated to higher degree level. If there are lessons to be learned from the delays in dealing with the Sentencing Code, I urge the Minister to inform his colleagues that the wait was well worth it because the language is now less complex and easier to understand, and other government departments may well follow this lead in developing their future legislation.
In warmly welcoming the Bill, I pay tribute to the Law Commission for its outstanding achievement, particularly to Professor David Ormerod, whose scholarship, knowledge of criminal law, patience and persistence with this project has ensured that it has come to fruition—and to almost universal approval. In large part, that is due to the time taken on consultation in a most courteous and patient way.
There can be no doubt that the Bill is needed. The reason that there have been mistakes—I need not go over the number of them—is that the law was inaccessible. Only by collecting former editions of textbooks or having the resources of the Criminal Appeal Office could you have untangled the mess the law had got into through successive changes in sentencing policy. Obviously, the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills will take the necessary evidence in relation to this.
Perhaps I can answer the question of why there are no Explanatory Notes. In looking at previous consolidations, I saw that this was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in 2014. It was pointed out that it might be useful and could be considered in the next consolidation. For my part, I would not ask for Explanatory Notes on this Bill; it would impose an enormous burden on the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, and the Bill is explicable without them.
My final remarks are for the future. The experience is not good. We ought to be very much aware of that. The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 was meant to consolidate a large area of sentencing law. However, within a year or so of that Bill passing, legislation came forward that made it redundant. Please can we bear that in mind for the future?
I have a note of optimism: the Bill shortly to be considered in relation to terrorist sentences contains drafting which shows that it is possible to do all this with the amendment to this code. I also hope that in future the Law Commission can be provided with the resources to carry on this valuable work. The judiciary has modernised criminal procedure and it is now in effect in the procedural code, and there are other aspects of the criminal law, particularly substantive criminal law, which could well benefit from codification, but that may be to dream too far.
My Lords, I speak with a great deal of trepidation in supporting this Bill, not because I have any doubts about its merits but because it seems a highly specialised Bill and this Chamber is blessed with some of the finest legal minds in the country, many of whom we have heard from already. I welcome anything that simplifies sentencing and will give increased public confidence in our criminal justice system. I have just a few queries for the Minister, which will show up my inability to understand the Bill rather than any flaws in the Bill itself.
When new legislation comes into force in future, with new offences and sentences, will this Bill need to be amended? For example, when the much delayed and keenly anticipated Bill to increase sentences for animal cruelty finally becomes law, will it be possible for the disqualifications in Part 8 to be included? Similarly, if at a future date those convicted of firearms offences would be automatically disqualified from holding a firearms licence, would that need to be included?
I apologise to my noble and learned friend for my layman’s ignorance on this matter. On another, more suitable occasion, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, as, for once, I find myself in agreement with many of his views. I thoroughly welcome the Bill.