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Lords Chamber

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020

House of Lords

Wednesday 8 July 2020

The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

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 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. I ask those asking supplementary questions to keep them short and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.

EU: Customs Arrangements

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to publish (1) the proposed border operating model for customs arrangements, and (2) guidance to businesses on (a) where, and (b) how, those arrangements will operate, between the United Kingdom and the European Union; and what changes they will need to make for the operation of that model after the transition period.

My Lords, a border operating model will be published this month. This will provide guidance to business and industry to prepare for the introduction of each of the three stages of controls. We are committed to engaging closely with business and industry ahead of publication to ensure that the operating model reflects their feedback and provides the guidance and information they require.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but will the border operating model that the Government plan to publish this month cover the customs needs in both directions—import and export—and, as he is talking about the exports, goods that are not allowed to be delayed for six months? Secondly, what about the special relationships between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK? Will the guidance give full details of what is planned there and how it will be implemented?

My Lords, like the noble Lord, I hope it will be comprehensive. We recognise our duty to business and are grateful for the engagement there has been on the developing process so far. For example, the noble Lord will know about the ongoing discussions with the Channel Tunnel rail freight steering group, of which there was a meeting only last week.

Will the guidance to which the Minister referred cover the issues arising in the Port of Holyhead, where the physical space is not adequate to accommodate the additional customs operations or hold lorries awaiting clearance? Will he confirm that Her Majesty’s Government accept responsibility for getting this sorted? When will they get a move on and get it done?

My Lords, I am in that invidious position where advice is shortly to be published and I am not going to pre-empt what is in it. But I can assure the noble Lord that the position regarding Welsh ports, which he has raised before—I am grateful to him for that—is certainly something the Government are well aware of, and it is under consideration.

[Inaudible.]—to the continent by some key players. Are the Government expecting UK manufacturers to adapt to government policies, or are the Government adapting to the needs of industry? After consultation with those at the sharp end of supply chain issues, and the clarion call for certainty, what change of policy might the Government feel obliged to consider, should the US remove itself from the WTO, thus compounding uncertainty?

My Lords, the issue with the US is slightly wide of the Question, but I assure the noble Viscount again that engagement with business is ongoing, has been ongoing and will develop further in light of the new proposals. The Government have been grateful for the welcome from many representative bodies in industry to the engagement that has taken place so far.

My Lords, while the legislation on the new borders is clearly reserved, the implementation of the work on these new borders will involve interaction with the devolved Governments, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Might the Minister like to reflect on the way in which communication and the co-ordination of decisions, particularly during the emergence from the peak lockdown period, has deteriorated between the central UK Government and the devolved Governments? Can he give us any reassurance that lessons have been learned and that, as we move into this new phase of borders for the UK, that the relationship will be more transparent and effective?

My Lords, I always travel in hope, and I share the noble Lord’s aspirations. As was famously said:

“Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

In every aspect of this great question, all people of authority in every part of the United Kingdom share a responsibility for the overall good of the people of the United Kingdom. Certainly, I want to see good relations right across the border, and I give the noble Lord that assurance.

My Lords, we are often told that effective border management requires active co-operation between states on both sides of the border. A number of recent reports suggest that the Dutch, Belgians and French are far better prepared for the new border arrangements than we are. But is it compatible with the British Government’s rather hard interpretation of sovereignty to allow French customs and passport officers to operate on British soil as they have in recent years, or, for that matter, for British passport officers and customs officers to operate on Dutch, Belgian or French soil as they also do? Does that now need to stop to defend the sovereignty of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, again, that is slightly wide of the Question. The treaty to which the noble Lord refers is one under which arrangements subsist between the Governments of the United Kingdom and France. That is the position. I hope we will be as well prepared as any nation.

My Lords, I have heard that the United Kingdom is to introduce border checks in three phases over the first six months of next year. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House if the phased approach will definitely be complete by July, and whether the Government have taken legal advice as to whether their approach is compatible with WTO rules?

My Lords, the Government are convinced that the arrangements are both deliverable and defensible. The Government’s intention is to be pragmatic. The phased arrangements have been widely welcomed by business and industry, but we intend to operate to those dates and phases.

My Lords, the Minister’s answers on this Question are of particular interest and importance to us here in Northern Ireland. We have been assured there will be no border in the Irish Sea, but more recent government comments on this are, to say the least, confusing. Can the Minister give a statement today that will clarify the situation for business and commercial interests in Northern Ireland, which is, after all, an integral part of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, Northern Ireland is most certainly an integral part of the United Kingdom and I profoundly hope it will stay that way. The Government have specific engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland business. We have made the terms in which we hope to proceed very clear in the Command Paper published earlier this year.

As the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord McConnell, have hinted, and I confirm from the horses’ mouths, the border operation model has been developed with no effective engagement with the devolved Governments, whose ports, such as Holyhead, will have to operate the system. When will the Government fully involve the devolved Governments in this vital planning?

My Lords, without going into competing versions of past events, I repeat that we are publishing a document very shortly with which I hope all interested parties engage positively.

My Lords, if we have learned anything from recent shocks, it is the fragility and complexity of medicine supply chains that bring 37 million packs of medicines from the EU to the UK every month. The new border operating model is an opportunity to account for this complexity, and wherever possible, mitigate future supply risk. What technical and regulatory measures are planned to enable the new model to identify and prioritise category 1 goods when necessary?

My Lords, again, I must ask my noble friend to await the details, but I assure her that the specific question of medical and pharmaceutical goods is certainly understood and taken into account.

My Lords, at present, from the moment a truck drives off the cargo deck of a ferry at Dover, it takes less than four minutes for it to reach the port exit and begin its journey onwards into Britain—and of course that process is free of paperwork. How long will it take that lorry in the future, counting the time at a customs processing centre, the details of which we do not yet know?

My Lords, I hope that the arrangements will be as smooth and swift as possible. This will be a matter for discussion and elucidation, but the Government intend to sustain our right to border controls and to facilitate the effective transit of goods.

EU: Xylella Fastidiosa

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the European Union about the Government’s plans to prevent the importation of Xylella fastidiosa.

My Lords, in April, Defra introduced national measures imposing stringent import requirements to protect the UK from Xylella fastidiosa. The Commission reviewed the measures and, in June, published legislation requiring their revocation. We disagree with the EU’s conclusions. The biosecurity threat from Xylella fastidiosa remains, and therefore the reason for introducing national measures has not changed. To mitigate this, we are increasing our surveillance and industry engagement, and will keep the need for further actions under review.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree with me that it is quite outrageous for the EU Commission to bully us in this way, given the gravity of the situation? Xylella fastidiosa is now present in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal and on plants that have been traded in Germany and Belgium. It will have a devastating effect on our trees and shrubs if we fail to keep it out. Will the Minister please do all he can to reverse this decision and allow us, as an island, to protect our trees and shrubs? If this proves impossible, will he make this the number one issue in Defra’s in-tray on the day that we finally leave the European Union?

My Lords, this is a priority. We have intensified our surveillance, inspection and testing regime for high-risk plants. We feel very strongly about this. The Secretary of State has written to Commissioner Kyriakides, and the Chief Plant Health Officer has written to the director of DG SANTE, because we think that this is a mistake and that the EU should be very concerned about the spread of Xylella fastidiosa into other parts of the EU. We are determined to exclude it from this country; that is a priority.

Since we joined the EEC, most plant pests, animal diseases and invasive species discovered in the UK had established themselves first in mainland Europe. Consistently working with our European neighbours, we have been able to benefit from early warning of imminent threats and from guidance on the best management tools. Changing trade patterns under Brexit may result in the UK changing from an overall recipient to a donor of emerging biological threats of concern in Europe. How, and how well, are we prepared for that scenario?

My Lords, we have increased investment in surveillance and inspection precisely for that reason. The United Kingdom has more protected zones for plant pests and diseases than any EU country. We are determined to enhance our environment, and clearly our future arrangements for sanitary and phytosanitary measures post the end of the transition period will be important as we increase biosecurity.

My Lords, the effects of Xylella fastidiosa on our native trees and plants, including oak, plane and sycamore, could be disastrous. The Government have put in place stringent measures in an attempt to prevent the importation of the disease, often carried by the common froghopper. The Minister has given reassurances that these measures will not be weakened, despite pressure from the EU to do the opposite and allow some of its possibly infected olive and almond trees to be imported. Will the Minister say how long the UK can hold out against this pressure?

My Lords, the reason we have intensified our surveillance, inspection and testing regime is to make it absolutely clear that we are not changing our position. The EU has a different starting position with Xylella fastidiosa and canker stain of plane. They are already present in parts of the EU territory, whereas exclusion remains our priority. I assure the noble Baroness that we are absolutely determined to continue to ensure that this country is secure.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a friend of Kew Gardens and a supporter of the national seed bank at Wakehurst Place. I congratulate the Government on what they are doing on this matter, but I remind noble Lords that Xylella fastidiosa is endemic in America and arrived in Europe only in 2013. I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to speak to his friends in the Department for International Trade to guarantee that this infection, and ceratocystis platani, which is threatening us as well, are a matter of concern in any international trade discussions with the United States of America that may be forthcoming following our leaving the European Union?

My Lords, we have arrangements with the EU and with the rest of the world, and we are absolutely clear that biosecurity will never be weakened. We will do all that we can on a range of issues, and in the case of Xylella fastidiosa our objective is to keep it out of this country. It is moving in the EU, but it comes from elsewhere. As the Minister for Kew, I am very clear that scientists will work together to ensure that we conquer as many of these diseases as possible.

My Lords, what plans do the Government have to introduce country of origin labelling on imported plants and trees, together with the vital dissemination of information on relevant diseases to UK nurseries and distributers?

My Lords, this is why I am very pleased that the UK Plant Health Alliance steering group is working on a plant health assurance scheme. Working with the industry, the scheme will ensure that there is a secure supply where we cannot supply it ourselves, and that those plant materials are secure. Further, members of the public who want to enjoy their gardens will know that the plants they are buying are healthy. This is a work in progress, but a lot is going on.

My Lords, it has been four years since the referendum, but the Environment Bill is still not on the statute book. Given the delays, can the Minister assure us that the office for environmental protection will be fully functioning and able to take over the role of the European Commission on 1 January 2021?

My Lords, I realise that there is great interest in this House in the Environment Bill, and I am keen that progress is made in the other place. We are in a situation where there is a great deal of legislation before us. The OEP is an important body, but we have always said that we will ensure that there are alternative arrangements if, given the position we are in, the OEP is not up and running by 1 January.

My Lords, this makes a change from Japanese knotweed. Can the Minister tell us how, when plants are imported into this country, they are being checked? How do the Government and the country know whether or not this pathogen is being imported? Is the problem importing plants which are affected by the bacterium, or do the insects have to be accompanying them?

My Lords, we are intensifying this through APHA inspections, sampling and testing. The statutory notification scheme for olive, almond and plane trees means that imports can be traced to premises and inspections can be carried out. For other plant species, such as lavender, risk-based visits are carried out to inspect and sample plants, focusing particularly on recent imports. A lot of scientific work is going on into Xylella fastidiosa, because not all the answers are known. One thing we are most concerned about, and which the EU has not yet acted on following EFSA’s report, is it jumping further distances; we are extremely concerned about that.

I have seen all too closely at first hand the devastating worries over ash dieback, so my noble friend has my fullest support in ensuring that we maintain the tightest possible border biosecurity controls, otherwise the risk is quite clear: if there is a relaxation, as is suggested in Europe, it could be quite catastrophic. I hope the positive statements he has made will be carried steadily forward and maintained in the most effective way.

My Lords, that is why I am again very pleased that science is helping us with ash dieback. We now have an archive of tolerant ash trees so that we can bring forward successors that will be tolerant to ash dieback. We are emphatic that we must protect the United Kingdom.

My Lords, that is why we are improving Grown in Britain and working with nurseries. Yes, we want to have trade but it needs to be safe. That is why we are working with the industry, because we think that there are alternatives.

Social Care

Question

Asked by

My Lords, we all agree that social care needs to be put on a sustainable footing where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. That is why the Prime Minister made clear commitments in the manifesto and the election, and why the Secretary of State wrote to other parties to begin the process of cross-party talks. We must now come together to find a common solution to this challenge: a long-term plan for social care that enjoys cross-party support.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister, said in his first speech in office that

“we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve … I will take personal responsibility for the change I want to see”?

Is that still the policy, or will the Prime Minister again claim that he has been misunderstood, as with his recent unpleasant attack on social care, for which he has refused to apologise?

My Lords, that is very much the policy, but I emphasise the following. No plan can succeed unless it gains the support of a wide number of stakeholders, including cross-party support. Attempts to foist a plan from one group on to another simply will not work. That is why a bridge-building exercise is needed and why the Secretary of State has invited others to cross-party talks. I invite all those players to go into that process with a spirit of collaboration.

It is good to hear that the Minister now accepts that piecemeal reform of social care will not do. Can he confirm that the Government will consider finally putting social care on the same level as the NHS and creating a national care service in which risks and costs are shared? Sharing costs must apply to the whole population for the whole of their lives, not just when they are in need of care—in fact, from the cradle to the grave.

My Lords, the Covid epidemic has been a vivid experience for me personally. I have seen how the Department of Health and Social Care prioritises the care for those in social care. I completely endorse the noble Baroness’s view: piecemeal reform is not on the cards. The Government have made it clear that a holistic solution is needed. That is what we are working to achieve.

My Lords, following on from the previous question, given that a long-term settlement for social care is one of this Government’s top priorities, and that there is general agreement that this should involve cross-party consensus and a significant measure of integration with the NHS, does the Minister agree that, in the continuing absence of a White Paper, the time has come to establish a Select Committee or perhaps a parliamentary commission with a specific timescale to make recommendations that might finally resolve this complex issue?

The right reverend Prelate is entirely right that we will need some kind of formal structure to go about cross-party talks and achieve a solution. That formal structure will need to be agreed in cross-party conversations. Those conversations have been ongoing during the epidemic and are now very much the focus of the Government’s attention.

My Lords, in the light of the surge in support from neighbours, family and friends for older people who have been shielding at home during the pandemic, would my noble friend agree that it is still the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to encourage people to remain receiving care in their own homes for as long as possible?

My Lords, the role of carers during the epidemic is one of the great stories of commitment and sacrifice. I pay tribute to all those who have given up their time and taken the risks necessary to perform this important community role. On encouraging people to stay home, there are clear guidelines on who is recommended to stay at home. It depends on clinical need and people’s precise circumstances, according to their GP’s recommendations. I urge all people to follow those guidelines.

My Lords, I remember that there was cross-party support 10 years ago for the Dilnot review’s proposals. I support warmly the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, about the need for a national care service. Will this review and White Paper also look at matters that are often forgotten in a care setting: housing standards for life, and sheltered and community settings, to make sure that we do not yet again end up looking at just adult social care and care homes?

The noble Baroness is quite right to shine the spotlight on those who are in social care but not necessarily aged over 65. Half of all social care costs are now dedicated to those under 65. Housing standards is an important question. The stock of housing for social care will be considered in any forthcoming review. It is imperative that we have a modern and up-to-date industry.

This policy could lead to literally unlimited costs and a bottomless pit that would make the National Health Service look like a modest outfit. When we devise this policy, we must make sure that adequate contributions are made by those affected and we do not fall into the trap of saying that inherited potential wealth is somehow to be exempted. People must pay a fair share.

My noble friend is entirely right: there is a massive potential liability. We are acutely aware of the intergenerational implications of social care reform. It is only right that we treat both those in social care and future generations fairly. Those considerations will be uppermost in our minds.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that any reform of the social care system will be accompanied by a comprehensive workforce strategy and fundamental improvements to employment conditions by moving away from zero-hours contracts, perhaps to an annualised hours system, to guarantee social care workers regular incomes?

My Lords, the precise remit of any review will be the choice of those doing the review when it comes, but I entirely endorse the noble Baroness’s sentiments that the social care workforce is worthy of our respect, particularly for its hard work and commitment during the epidemic. Workforce remuneration has improved since the introduction of the national living wage in 2016. Flexible contracts suit many workers, so a blanket commitment to annual wages is not necessarily suitable, but I endorse a focus on solutions that encompass all aspects of the social care industry, including the workforce.

My Lords, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, the Minister’s party has form for not honouring cross-party co-operation on this issue. To mitigate that, given that the Prime Minister has said that he is currently finalising plans, perhaps the Minister could commit the Government to setting a firm date and a timetable that could be published before the House rises for the Summer Recess? Does he accept that we need a plan to be delivered within a year?

The noble Baroness is kind to think that I am in a position to articulate a timetable from the Dispatch Box—that is beyond my abilities. However, she is entirely right to focus on the urgent need to focus on this area. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State could not have been plainer that when the time is right and we have dealt with the epidemic, social care reform will be uppermost in our mind and will be the focus of our attention.

My Lords, since 1998 there have been 12 Green Papers, White Papers and other consultations, and five independent reviews, and like the Economic Affairs Committee, they all say that the system needs to be properly funded. Will the Government do that for immediate needs so that the White Paper can go on to do real good for the long term?

The noble Baroness is quite right to allude to the very large number of White Papers, think tank reports and amount of documentation in this area. All I can say is that I have never seen such acute political will and focus on social care reform. Nor have I seen a Prime Minister, a Secretary of State and a chief executive of the National Health Service to be so focused on the matter and to have raised it as a major priority in all their communications.

OneWeb

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement on 3 July that they will (1) invest $500 million, and (2) take an equity share, in OneWeb, what safeguards are in their agreement with OneWeb to ensure that other shareholders and investors in that company are not hostile to the interests of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the investment in OneWeb is still subject to US court approval and regulatory clearances. The Government undertook appropriate due diligence. We will continue to ensure that this ambitious acquisition safeguards the UK’s interests and maximises future opportunities for this innovative technology. The Government have a special share that provides them with the final say over any future sale of the company and over future access to OneWeb technology by other countries on national security grounds.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. As I understand it, we are buying a share in a bankrupt British company whose manufacturing and assets base is in the United States under an agreement yet to be approved by a foreign court, i.e. one in New York state. Can the Minister specify the share that we are buying, tell us who the other parties are, and how the capabilities of the satellites which we propose to acquire compare with the US GPS and EU Galileo? Will there need to be much more expenditure to bring this acquisition and its assets up to that standard?

The Government will invest $500 million, on an equal basis with Bharti Global Ltd. As part of the agreement, a small equity stake will be held by existing OneWeb creditors. This is not specifically designed for global national positioning systems; these satellites operate in a lower orbit for a number of missions, but primarily for earth observations and tele-communications.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the board of Eutelsat. LEO is potentially a breakthrough technology, but it is also very high risk, as the collapse of OneWeb so vividly demonstrates. What scale of investment will be needed to build out a commercially viable constellation? How will that investment be funded, whether by debt or equity?

Given the commercial considerations, at the time I am unable to provide further detail on our ongoing discussions. However, we will have strong representation on the board, we will be fully involved in setting the strategic direction of the business, and we will of course be discussing the future of the business and the merits of bringing in additional shareholders with our partners in due course.

My Lords, I am convinced that we should capitalise on our world-leading satellite capability and, if possible, expand it. Although there are risks, putting Galileo in the shade would be very good news, and I congratulate the Government on this vision, albeit that it is high-risk. As we move on from the impact of Wuhan virus and Brexit, does the Minister agree that we must grasp the new technologies of AI, quantum engineering, the internet of things, big data et cetera, and that it is a disgrace that a country with the scientific capability of the UK does not have an equivalent of Silicon Valley? In 1946, it was decided that for national security we should develop an atom bomb. The cost was huge. Does the Minister agree that for reasons of national security, we should generate an equivalent of Silicon Valley and an ability to create a world-beating, resilient telecommunications network, even if the cost is huge, and, ditto, civil nuclear power?

The noble Lord asks a lot of questions and there is not time to address all of them. We are investing in this as a one-off strategic opportunity to own a satellite communications network, working with Bharti Global Ltd, and to support our ambition for the UK to be a pioneer of novel satellite technologies. We are delighted that our bid was successful.

As recently as last year, OneWeb raised $1.25 billion, then in March of this year, having launched only a fraction of the satellites that it needs, it filed for bankruptcy protection. Clearly, the American market was not prepared to back it any more. For now, the UK Government, along with Indian tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal, have committed a further billion dollars. On recent experience, that will last about nine months. How much more will it cost the British taxpayer before the Minister and his colleagues realise that this is not a good investment?

As I have said, given commercial considerations, I am unable to provide further detail on ongoing discussions, but we will be discussing the future funding of the business, and the merits of bringing in additional shareholders, with our partners in due course.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s stake in OneWeb. It will help deliver high-speed broadband in the UK and the rest of the world. On the issue of risk, does the Minister agree that anyone setting up frontier firms knows that there is no gain without risk?

Turning to the golden share, the Minister said that national security was the consideration. What about a company’s record on theft of intellectual property, abuse of the workforce through modern slavery and other anti-competitive practices? Will they also be taken into account?

We will use our golden share to full advantage for the British taxpayer. We will take all those considerations into account, but primarily national security.

My Lords, what engagement have the Government had with the astronomy community in the light of OneWeb’s application to launch up to 42,000 new satellites into low-earth orbit and the disruptive reflections that have caused such concern among the astronomy community? Are the Government looking to introduce anti-reflective coatings such as DarkSat or VisorSat, which have been employed by SpaceX?

As the noble Baroness recognises in her question, this is novel, cutting-edge satellite technology which we are investing in as part of our focused research and innovation in the UK. We want to become a world leader in the space sector, and this provides us with suitable strategic geopolitical opportunities to do so.

My Lords, who are the other shareholders in OneWeb? What percentage does each shareholder have? Can the Minister confirm that this investment would not have taken place if we had not left the European Union?

Our membership or otherwise of the European Union is not relevant to this discussion. The other shareholders are, as I said, Bharti Global Ltd and some small shareholders. We have an equal shareholding with Bharti Global Ltd and a small shareholding is held by existing OneWeb creditors.

My Lords, this is a very intriguing initiative, although a lot of the details remain opaque. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government intend to transfer some or all of the satellite manufacturing, which is currently based in the USA, to the UK? If so, how many jobs would that generate?

The noble Lord asks a very good question. Through this investment we will look to leverage our influence to set the strategic direction of the business, and of course we want to see direct manufacturing the UK by both the company and its supply chain expanded.

My Lords, numerous genuinely UK companies that are cutting-edge frontier businesses and high risk would welcome a $500 million investment from the UK Government. They have typically managed their businesses far better than OneWeb, which, as the Minister said, managed to put itself into bankruptcy. Where do they apply for the money?

This is, as I said, a one-off investment in a cutting-edge satellite technology company which has many applications that the UK can leverage, including defence applications and providing communications, resilience and remote operations where services are currently limited.

My Lords, following up the question by my noble friend Lord Fox, are the Government not concerned that the American technological market, which undoubtedly loves these sorts of investments, was not prepared to put in the money and so the company was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy? Do the Government accept that very significant further investment will be required to get this off the ground? Are the Government prepared to do that—and, if so, for how much?

The noble Lord can be assured that appropriate due diligence was carried out, which showed that this investment will be commercially sound and is likely to make an economic return. As I said in response to earlier questions, we will of course discuss with existing partners and shareholders any new funding requirements for the business.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, 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 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.

Bahrain

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they will make to the Government of Bahrain regarding the imprisonment and possible execution of individuals including Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, and the reported use of torture to extract their confessions.

My Lords, we have raised, and will continue to raise, both cases at senior levels with the Bahrain Government. As the former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa publicly stated on 8 January, we are deeply concerned about the death sentences handed to Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. The Bahraini Government are fully aware that the UK opposes the death penalty. We continue to monitor their case as it is taken to the Court of Cassation for final review.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and appreciate that he is a steadfast defender of human rights. On 13 July, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation will decide whether to uphold the death sentences of Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. False confessions were obtained under torture, according to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and other international bodies. The torture was carried out by two Bahraini bodies that have received equipment and training from the UK. One of these bodies, the Bahrain Special Investigations Unit, failed to meet the minimum professional standards and minimum international standards, including the UN Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a signatory. In view of the UK’s role, will the Government now make the strongest—and public—representation to the Bahrain authorities to prevent the imminent execution of these two and other prisoners? Will the Minister commit to meet representatives from rights groups before next Monday?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s final question, if schedules allow—although under the current circumstances it would have to be a virtual meeting—I will certainly look into meeting these representatives, as I do many rights groups. If that can be facilitated, I will be happy to do so. On her primary point about representations, I assure her that we will continue to make strong representations on all cases, as we have done in the past. Indeed, it was because of UK representation on this case that it went through the retrial. That in itself was a first in Bahrain’s history. However, we await the decision of the Court of Cassation. After that, we will continue to monitor the situation on this case as well as other cases.

My Lords, by any objective legal judgment, Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa have not had due process. Why can the FCO not put its mouth where British money is going and very vigorously obtain for these two men at least, for now, a delay of execution and a fair trial?

My Lords, I first remind the noble Baroness that the final decision of the Court of Cassation on whether it will uphold the death penalty in this case remains pending. I assure the noble Baroness—I disagree with her—that through the support we have given to Bahrain, both technical and on the wider human rights agenda, we have consistently continued to remind and implore Bahrain to look at the issue of the death penalty. We stand firm, whether with Bahrain or other international partners, and remain steadfast against the death penalty wherever in the world it is used.

My Lords, Bahrain has seen a 1,250% increase in the use of the death penalty since 2017, with 10 political prisoners facing imminent execution. Given the clearly documented failures of the SIU investigation into Mohamed and Hussain’s torture, will the Government now accept that their technical assistance to Bahrain has failed in its aims and objectives, and suspend this assistance if these death sentences are upheld?

My Lords, the United Kingdom’s technical assistance is kept under regular review, is provided in line with international standards, and, I assure the noble Lord, fully complies with our domestic and international human rights obligations. We believe that the positive change sought in Bahrain by the international community will be achieved only by the UK and others working directly with the Bahrain Government and exerting influence.

My Lords, the Minister has assured the House that representations have been made to the authorities in Bahrain expressing our complete and utter opposition to the death penalty. Has he also reiterated our opposition to the use of torture to extract confessions? Will Her Majesty’s Government review their existing package of reform assistance to Bahrain to see what further support can be offered to strengthen human rights and the rule of law in Bahrain?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to raise, as others have, the issue of torture. As he will know, the UK Government consistently and unreservedly condemn torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. On UK assistance, we are committed to supporting Bahrain-led reform and are confident of its positive impact for people in Bahrain across a variety of areas, including judicial reform and youth management—as well as in the recent steps forward that we have seen on the oversight bodies and the positive legislation enacted to protect migrant workers.

My Lords, in February, the Minister told the House that

“we are far from where we want to be but our continual engagement with the Bahraini authorities is producing results.”—[Official Report, 12/2/20; col. 2262.]

We have provided £6.5 million in technical assistance to the very bodies that have enabled these men’s torture and death sentences. Will the Minister confirm that we will be able to observe the court if that is due to take place on Monday and that he will make public representations on these cases, as noble Lords have requested? Will he pursue the matter if the court’s decision is to uphold these death penalties, ensuring that representation is made to the highest levels, including to the King?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that, as I have said to other noble Lords, we will take a very strong line, as we have before on the death penalty in Bahrain and, indeed, other parts of the world. This case is yet to be decided; I remind noble Lords of that. Our support and technical support have yielded returns, including the review and retrial of this case. The noble Lord asked specifically whether we will be allowed to attend this trial. I believe that the rules of the Court of Cassation do not allow for the British embassy to attend or observe on this occasion. We await the outcome of the decision of the court. I have listened very carefully to the strength of representations in your Lordships’ House, as I always do, and will discuss it with other colleagues, including my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East.

My Lords, I welcome Britain’s position in relation to the death penalty but, with less than one week to save their lives, and in light of the UK’s assistance to the bodies that enabled their torture and sentences, can Her Majesty’s Government confirm that, if they are to make representations in the cases of Ramadan and Moosa, it will be before the Court of Cassation’s final decision on Monday 13 July and not later than that?

My Lords, there has been no formal confirmation directly to us of the exact date, but several noble Lords have quoted the date of 13 July. As I said, it is for the court to make a final review and, ultimately, a decision on whether any exemption, stay or clemency is granted—and of course an avenue remains open to His Majesty as well.

My Lords, this week the Foreign Secretary announced the first of what are colloquially known as Magnitsky sanctions, including against 20 individuals from Saudi Arabia who were involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Should these clearly unjust torture-tainted executions tragically occur, will the Government impose similar sanctions on the responsible people from Bahrain?

The Magnitsky sanctions were part and parcel of the legislation that went through your Lordships’ House as part of the overall sanctions Act, and I welcome them. I know that later this afternoon we will be discussing that announcement as well.

On the issue of designations, we have made clear that those who abuse human rights will be held to account, but it would be wrong and inappropriate to speculate on future designations.

My Lords, I have never doubted the commitment of the Minister to the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances in all countries. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. However, why has the 2018 Foreign Affairs Committee report on the effectiveness of UK assistance to Bahrain not yet been properly debated, and why has the review that was promised not yet taken place? The report referred to the gravity of human rights violations there. The FCO was urged to review the current situation in Bahrain and report its findings to us to further consider whether funding for the Special Investigations Unit should continue. Why has that not taken place? Can the Minister look at that again?

My Lords, I will certainly look at that again. The normal process is to respond in terms of receiving a report in an appropriate timeline. I will write specifically on this issue to the noble Lord and of course share that letter with other noble Lords as well.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, we now come to the Motion of the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. As there is no speakers’ list, only those in the Chamber can participate other than the mover, and those wishing to do so should give notice of their intention in advance.

Conduct Committee

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That the Report from the Select Committee Amendments to the rules of conduct (3rd Report, HL Paper 91) be agreed to.

My Lords, as chair of the Conduct Committee I beg to move the committee’s third report. I start by drawing noble Lords’ attention to three particular areas where the report concerns foreign Governments: paragraphs 14 to 15, paragraph 10 and paragraph 11. I will come back to these.

As a matter of major caution and not because I myself feel that my own contacts with foreign Governments involve or raise any of the problems that the guide or the committee’s recommendations address, I put on record here that, as also appears in the register, I have direct contact with two foreign states in two capacities: first, as an appellate judge at the Singapore International Commercial Court, and, secondly, as chief justice, in succession to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, of Barnes, of the Astana International Financial Center court. The foreign states in question of course pay me and cover my travel.

This third report builds on the clarifications and improvements to the codes of conduct and guide made in the committee’s first report of the 2017 to 2019 Session. The further proposals contained in the report are based on advice from the Registrar of Lords’ Interests, to whom we are indebted, which the committee considered and developed carefully over the course of two meetings.

I will not detain your Lordships by setting out every change, but I will touch on some key provisions. First, we propose to alter the scope of the code in two ways. We believe that the provisions of the code should apply only to Members who have taken the oath of allegiance in that particular Parliament, since those who have not done so are unable to take part in the work of the House. However, such Members will still be subject to the rules on bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, as well as the rules on the use of facilities and services—see paragraphs 17 and 104 of the guide.

We have considered the interaction between the important principle of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings and the rules on bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. We propose to add text to the code to clarify that the rules on bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct apply to parliamentary proceedings, such as debates in the Chamber and Select Committee hearings, but also to underline the basic importance of Members being able to express their views fully and frankly, so the commissioner will take that into account if there is any complaint.

Turning to a different area, we also propose to make it a breach of the code for Members and their staff to fail to respond within six weeks to the annual audit of entries in the register of interests. Most Members reply very quickly but some do not, and some require the registrar to chase them over many months. Some fail to reply at all. We hope that this change will underline the importance of the exercise, which is one of transparency. A related change will enable the registrar to refer to the Commissioner for Standards any Member who persistently fails to register their interests.

Next, I turn to personal clients. We previously tightened the rules so that Members must now declare any known clients of companies that they work for when they take part in proceedings on related matters. At the same time, we remove the requirement to register personal clients, as this was proving impractical.

We now wish to modify these changes in two ways. First, we propose that Members who set up a personal service company as an administrative vehicle for their own services to be provided to clients should be required to register the clients as well as declare them. Secondly, we propose that Members who undertake work for foreign government clients of a company should be required to register that fact. That is in paragraphs 14 and 15 of the report. It is right that such work should be subject to a higher level of disclosure than work for a company or other organisation.

In paragraph 10, we have also proposed some cautionary words for Members about dealing with representatives of corrupt or oppressive regimes. Then in paragraph 11 we have proposed new restrictions on initiating parliamentary work related to Governments or NGOs that have provided the Member with travel and hospitality within the preceding six months. Finally, there are a number of minor changes to the registration and declaration procedures in the guide and the codes that we propose, as well as changes to the procedures governing the investigation of alleged breaches of the codes.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that these changes are sensible. If the House approves them today, we shall publish an updated version of the codes and guide shortly. I beg to move.

My Lords, I strongly support the vast majority of the measures proposed in the report from the Conduct Committee. It is long overdue for us to tighten up the rules in a number of these areas, and I hope that, if certain Members of your Lordships’ House do not co-operate with these changes, some examples will be made of them in the coming months in order to improve the reputation of this House.

However, I have a concern that the recommendation in paragraph 5 is moving in the opposite direction. By tightening the rules, the report moves in exactly the right direction in every other respect, but I am concerned about the justification in paragraph 4 for the amendment proposed in paragraph 5. Anything that allowed Members of your Lordships’ House, by not taking the oath and not signing the declaration, to avoid the declarations required in the register of interests would be unfortunate. If the code is the way in which we enforce that register of interests, adapting the rules so that the code no longer applies to those Members who have not signed the undertaking would be too loose.

I understand that there may be Members who are in a physical state or perhaps have another condition which means that they might have a problem, for example, updating their entry in the register of interests. That is the example given in paragraph 4. They could therefore be in breach of the code through no fault of their own. But surely that exception could be allowed for in any investigation or any action taken by the administration, rather than made the norm by applying this new change. So I would be very grateful if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, would explain a little bit more about the thinking behind paragraphs 4 and 5. I am not opposed to this report at all, but I do think that this paragraph moves in the opposite direction to all of the other recommendations.

I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his comments. In addition to the example given in the report, of the Member who was too ill to update their entry, the basic philosophy of the code at present is that it applies to Members in the course of the performance of their parliamentary duties and—we added, not so long ago—activities. A Member who has not sworn the oath does not take part in either respect, and so the underlying rationale is that their involvement with Parliament—which can continue physically in the sense that they can make ancillary, or minor, use of facilities and be present here—is what needs to be regulated. We have regulated this, and it will continue to be regulated, because under paragraph 17 of the code they are required to treat those with whom they come into contact in the course of their parliamentary duties and activities with “respect and courtesy”. That includes avoiding bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

Just as importantly, on a practical level, they cannot abuse the facilities of the House. They must use them in accordance with the rules agreed by the House in respect of financial support for Members; that is provided for in paragraph 104 of the guide. It would be a disciplinary offence if either of those provisions were infringed. The thinking is that, since those Members will, in that respect, be subject to the code, it is unnecessary to require them to go the lengths of registering information about their outside involvements if they are not actually undertaking any parliamentary duties or activities.

One matter on our agenda in the longer term is to consider whether the ambit of the code should apply more widely. One problem with this is that one could potentially end up looking into behaviour which has nothing to do with Parliament and could take place anywhere in the world. I think that noble Lords might hesitate before taking that step, but it is certainly one which our mandate requires us to consider in due course. We have had quite a lot on our desk up until now, and we have not taken a view on that.

At the moment, we are concerned to get the code and the guide in order, in a logical way within the present scope of its application to the performance of parliamentary duties and activities. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied by that explanation and with the assurance that, in the longer term, we will consider the matter more generally and be prepared to consider any particular points which he draws to our attention.

Motion agreed.

High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill

Motion to Instruct

Moved by

That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to whom the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill has been committed that the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 110 that parties are entitled to be heard are satisfied by virtual proceedings; and that the Committee may decline to hear the petition of any petitioner who declines to be heard by virtual proceedings.

My Lords, we now come to the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton. As there is no speakers’ list, only those in the Chamber can participate, and those wishing to do so should give notice of their intention in advance.

My Lords, over the last few months, people and organisations across the country have become accustomed to new ways of working. This has included the way in which business is conducted in your Lordships’ House—in the Chamber and in committees. Work has been done to modify Standing Orders, adapt courtesies and introduce technology, and I dare say that many noble Lords, including me, have learned new skills along the way.

The Bill for phase 2a of HS2 is a hybrid Bill and is governed by the Standing Orders for private business. It deals with, among other issues, the property and business interests of petitioners. It is not explicitly covered by the resolutions and guidance that have allowed the work of the House to continue, with Members taking part remotely. This Motion aims to rectify that.

Noble Lords will recall that the HS2 Phase 2a Bill completed its Second Reading on 9 September last year and that, following a revival Motion earlier this year, the Bill moved to Select Committee stage in your Lordships’ House to consider the petitions. This Select Committee had only just started its sittings in March when the health situation led the House to adapt its working practices, and the Select Committee suspended its sittings. This Motion would allow the committee to start sitting again from 20 July, with Members, petitioners and those appearing on behalf of the promoter able to take part remotely. This would be similar to the way in which other committees have already started working.

This particular committee is quasi-judicial in nature. Criminal and civil courts have also been using remote proceedings during the Covid-19 pandemic, as has the Planning Inspectorate. The petitioners scheduled to appear this month have all agreed to appear virtually. Guidance and frequently asked questions have been revised and distributed, setting out how such meetings will be conducted to ensure that petitioners are able to present their evidence easily and get a fair hearing. I can assure noble Lords that the committee will ensure that any technical issues that may be encountered will not be allowed to prevent petitioners from making their case in full.

I have spoken to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the chairman of the Select Committee, and he is seized of the importance that all petitioners must have the opportunity of a fair hearing. Furthermore, as government guidance and House practices allow, the committee will consider all options for the most suitable way of carrying out hearings in the future. While the Motion sets out that

“the Committee may decline to hear the petition of any petitioner who refuses to be heard by virtual proceedings”,

the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is clear that this would be only as a last resort, and in circumstances when all other reasonable alternatives and support had been considered and offered.

I understand that it is the intention of the committee to have completed all the hearings in September. This Motion enables virtual hearings if physical and hybrid hearings are not practicable in that timeframe. I am very grateful to the Legislation Office for progressing this work. I beg to move.

My Lords, I strongly support this Motion. It is absolutely right that the Bill should proceed and that we should use the technology available to the House and the procedures which the House is adopting at large in doing so. We cannot “build, build, build” unless, with all deliberate speed, we move on the largest infrastructure project in the country, and it is absolutely right that this should proceed.

I wish to ask the noble Baroness about the review being conducted on phase 2b. Before the virus, and all the problems it caused, the Minister gave an undertaking to the House that this review would be completed by the end of the year. If we are going to “build, build, build”, it is essential that phase 2a is followed swiftly by phase 2b. The Government have put that into commission with a review; could she assure the House that the review is not being delayed by the pandemic, and that it will be completed by the end of the year, so that we can proceed with the full extension of HS2 to Manchester and Leeds in a timely fashion?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his support of this Motion. It is essential that we make progress on the Bill, as the noble Lord says, so that we can “build, build, build” for the future. He asked about the phase 2b review and, while I do not have an update on the timelines for him, I can reassure him that the HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson, has been incredibly busy on HS2 throughout the recent months, even during these very challenging times with the response to the Covid pandemic. If I am able to find out any further information from him when I return to the department, perhaps I might write.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, 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. Please ensure questions and answers are short.

Covid-19

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Tuesday 7 July in the House of Commons.

“We are bringing coronavirus under control. Yesterday’s figures showed 352 new cases, the lowest since lockdown began. That is down from over 5,000 a day at the peak. Two hundred and nine patients are currently in mechanical ventilator beds with coronavirus, down from 3,300 at the peak. The latest number of deaths recorded in all settings in the UK was 16. New figures this morning show that for the last two weeks, the number of people who have died from all causes has been lower than the normal average for this time of year.

Because we are bringing the virus under control, we have been able to restore some of the things that make life worth living. This weekend, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers were buzzing with activity for the first time in months, and yesterday we were able to ease restrictions for the 2.2 million people who have been shielding across England so that they can now spend more time outdoors in a group of up to six, of course while maintaining social distancing.

Our plan has always been to lift the national lockdown while taking ever more targeted action to suppress the virus. We are seeing a similar approach in other countries, such as Germany, Spain and Australia, where overnight they locked down Melbourne. Last week, we took difficult but vital decisions about Leicester. Since then, we have been working with Leicester and Leicestershire, and I am pleased to say that together, we have brought down the seven-day infection rate from 135 to 117 cases per 100,000 people.

In reopening hospitality, we have also introduced contact tracing for customers. This system is working. I want to thank all those who are making the system work, and to pay tribute in particular to three pubs that have taken specific action: the Lighthouse in Burnham-on-Sea, the Fox and Hounds in Batley, and the Village Home in Gosport. They have all closed for a deep clean and staff testing after, in each case, a customer tested positive. They are doing the right thing by their customers and their communities. This is NHS Test and Trace working precisely as intended. Three pubs shut so that others can be open, and I think the whole House is grateful.

Coronavirus has been the worst global pandemic in a generation. Here, we protected the NHS. We built the new Nightingale hospitals in 10 days. At all times, treatment was available for all. Our medical research has discovered the only drug known to work. We have built, almost from scratch, one of the biggest testing capabilities in the world. We are getting coronavirus cornered, but this is no time to lose our resolve. The virus exists only to spread, so we must all stay alert and enjoy summer safely.”

Last Wednesday, the Minister advised noble Lords that the lockdown in Leicester was being carried out under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and that regulations would not be brought to the House. However, on Friday, Leicester regulations were laid. Can the Minister clarify that and explain why there was some confusion and whether this has any practical consequences for implementation and enforcement in Leicester? Will this apply to other cities such as Bradford, Barnsley or Oldham? At Prime Minister’s Questions just now, the Prime Minister stated that the risks associated with asymptomatic transmission were unknown until recently. This is not the case. I am very happy to provide the Minister with SAGE minutes from 4 February, for example, when precisely that was recorded. Can the Minister clarify that statement for the House?

My understanding regarding the 1984 Act is that the regulations are published under the appropriate section. They have been published as is appropriate, but they are not brought to the House for debate. If I am wrong, I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness.

Today, the Public Accounts Committee has reported real concerns that the Government have no realistic plan for supplying PPE in the event of a second wave. Can the Minister comment on that? I know I ask this regularly, but can the Minister tell the House when all NHS and social care staff, including those working in people’s homes, can get regular, repeated testing that is not dependent on symptoms? Yesterday, Matt Hancock said that, finally, some day centres, sheltered living and non-care home settings will be able to access tests. Which ones and when? I noticed that, on Monday, the Covid data dashboard was changed, removing posted-out but not returned tests. Does that mean that, in future, posted-out tests will not be counted unless they are returned?

On PPE, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Deighton, who has performed an amazing task in providing an enormous supply of PPE. There is sufficient PPE in the NHS, social care and other parts of the healthcare system for all those who need it. There is a PPE hotline for those who would like to order it directly and, at this stage, stockpiles are being created to get us through the winter months. On tests, a testing portal is available to all of social care. It can be accessed either by social care employers or, if employees or residents want a test, they can order one themselves through the public testing portal. It is my understanding that posted tests are no longer counted in the same way: they are counted not on dispatch but when they are processed. The “test and trace” programme initiated this change in the recent change of data, which I think was 10 days ago.

My Lords, last week I understated the figures on the deadly combination of Covid-19 and obesity. House of Commons Library figures show that 72% of UK people are either obese or overweight. What is even more tragic, 33% of 10 year- old children are overweight or obese. These appalling figures may help explain the high mortality from the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, so will the Minister endorse the urgent need to persuade people to lose weight? To save lives, we should follow the advice of the Prime Minister himself, who said, “Don’t be a fatty in your fifties”.

I think my noble friend and I need to have a chat about statistics, because the statistics I have differ from his. Mine suggest that 28% of the public are either obese or overweight, and it does defy common sense that 72% the public are obese or overweight. Maybe he and I can have a chat about that offline: I would be glad to clear it up. However, my noble friend makes a really important point that I and the Government completely endorse: the Covid epidemic has been a wake-up call for the country—in that, he is right. There is an urgent need to address the obesity epidemic and the Government are looking at ways to do so. The Prime Minister is personally vested in it and my noble friend’s points are extremely well made and supported on these Benches.

My Lords, it is very good to see the Statement saying that new cases are at their lowest since the lockdown began. Will the Minister confirm that 30,000 excess deaths have taken place in care homes, and that almost 20,000—almost 50%—of all the sad deaths have been in care homes? Are care home staff, the 1.6 million people who work in the care sector, as well as the 1 million patients in care homes and at home, being tested every week? Just today, we heard that the accident and emergency department at a London hospital has closed because of infection among the staff. Are all staff at NHS hospitals around the whole country being tested regularly, every single week? Looking ahead, will there be a large-scale flu vaccination campaign as an extra precaution leading up to this winter?

The noble Lord is entirely right to emphasise the importance of flu vaccination. We are very focused on getting the right amount of flu vaccination stocks and encouraging take-up once the WHO has nominated the right vaccination and we have stocks of it in this country.

Small sports clubs are particularly vulnerable to the lack of people paying to go in. When will the Government come forward with plans to allow small numbers of people to pay to be spectators at sports such as football or rugby league, socially distancing in the same way as is now allowed in cinemas, pubs and restaurants?

I welcome the start of cricket, which I understand began today. I correct the noble Lord on one small thing: cinemas are not open, nor are they likely to be in the near future. The CMO, under the advice of SAGE, is considering the provision of new guidelines for spectators at sports. I do not know exactly when that will be, but it is certainly under review.

My Lords, when our Prime Minister was Mayor of London and I was on the London Assembly, part of my job was to keep a close eye on what he said and did. It is my informed opinion that when he spoke about care homes and the 20,000 deaths, he was intending to pass criticism and blame away from himself and his Ministers. Is the Minister prepared to disagree with my informed opinion?

I completely understand the history of the noble Baroness’s role at City Hall, but I completely push back against her characterisation of the Prime Minister’s intentions. He has made it very clear that he is incredibly grateful for the hard work and sacrifice of those who work in the care homes sector, and I think we can take him at his word on that.

There is a real degree of confusion about masks. Originally, Ministers said that they did not do much good; now, the President of the Royal Society claims they are essential. A study at Jena, west of Leipzig in Germany, underlines their value. Will my noble friend clarify the position and explain his reasoning?

The Government’s approach to the epidemic is to emphasise the three main pillars of our strategy: hygiene, social distancing and isolation. They are based on clear science and evidence. The issue of masks is highly contested. There is possibly a benefit from wearing masks—that is why we have put in place the requirement to wear masks on public transport—but the science remains clear that they are not a replacement for hygiene, social distancing or isolation. On that, we are clear.

My Lords, the fall in cases is welcome, but is it not becoming clearer that in aiming to create spare bed capacity in the NHS at the expense of the elderly, Her Majesty’s Government ended up putting saving the NHS ahead of saving lives? Another example of that is the strict criteria applied to hospital admissions. Should these criteria not be immediately relaxed to save lives?

The noble Lord make his point well; however, I did not hear all of it. We are working extremely hard to increase the number of admissions in hospitals and all parts of healthcare. We are trying to restore confidence in the healthcare service to address public concerns, and I appeal to all those who have appointments or who are feeling poorly to take the opportunity to phone 111 and book themselves into hospitals or into the appointments they need, because we desperately need people to return to the NHS.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Rogan, that there was not time to fit them in.

Arts, Culture and Heritage: Support Package

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Tuesday 7 July in the House of Commons.

“The UK’s arts and cultural heritage are not just beloved in the UK but are the envy of the rest of the world. Our theatres, live music venues, museums and galleries are incredibly valuable to our economy, bringing in £32.3 billion in 2018 and employing approximately 680,000 people. However, they are much more than that: they are the linchpins of their local communities, entertaining, enlightening and educating us, and bringing us together through shared experiences.

The coronavirus pandemic dealt those sectors a body blow, forcing thousands of institutions to close their doors. The Government have already provided substantial financial assistance to see them through the crisis, including loans, business rate holidays and the self-employed and furloughing schemes. Together, those schemes have provided hundreds of millions of pounds of support, saving livelihoods, beloved organisations and institutions. Of course, we have been working extremely closely with the sector and medical experts to try to get things back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so.

Our battle against coronavirus is not over. With social distancing still in place and crowded venues not possible for the foreseeable future, it was clear that the cultural sector desperately needed help to weather the ongoing storm. The Government have provided it this week, with an unprecedented £1.57 billion rescue package for museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues across the country in the form of emergency grants and loans. It is the single largest one-off investment in UK culture and proof of our commitment to protecting the sectors that do so much to enrich all our lives. It has widely been recognised as exceeding expectations and DDCMS Ministers would like to put on record our thanks to the many people who have worked so incredibly hard on this behind the scenes over the weeks.

The funding will support the country’s long-standing and rightly famous cultural institutions such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, the Mary Rose Trust, which I visited yesterday, and the National Theatre, but it will also support lesser known but equally cherished cultural and heritage institutions and organisations in regions up and down the country—places that have been cultural anchors for their communities for years. That will include theatres, live music venues and museums, but it will not just be about cultural spaces, as it will include dance companies, orchestras and touring arts groups that do not have their own venues but that still play a key role in our cultural life and, of course, still need support. By protecting these organisations as well, the funding will help to support those working across the cultural sector.

The package will also see £120 million invested in rebuilding, upgrading and starting new construction work across our cultural infrastructure as part of our wider effort to build, build, build after coronavirus. This will help to revitalise historic buildings across the country, creating jobs and protecting livelihoods all across our regions. Another £100 million will be allocated to arm’s length bodies such as the British Library, the British Museum and the British Film Institute. An extra £188 million will be given to the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as the Government support our whole union; our cultural strength is stronger as a family of four.

The broader package comes on top of the announcement made last week by the Arts Council to reopen its project grants competition and make an additional £39 million of funding available to support creativity—in particular from freelancers, creative practitioners and independent organisations.

We all want to see full audiences back in our venues and institutions, enjoying the very best of British culture as soon as possible. We will keep our foot very firmly on the pedal and are finalising guidance for a phased return of the performing arts sectors as we speak. This package allows us to protect some of our precious cultural assets during an uncertain time ahead. It will help thousands of organisations to make it through this crisis and out the other side for future generations to enjoy. I ask the House to join the arts sector in welcoming this massive rescue package. It is a lifeline to help the sector weather this storm and bounce back even stronger.”

My Lords, we welcome this much-needed, albeit long-awaited, injection of cash for the arts and cultural sectors. The announcement has been well received, although some concerns have been expressed. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that it is vital that this money does not go just to the biggest venues or to those with the loudest voices. The creative sector’s crown jewels are very well distributed throughout the country, and all parts, including in the devolved Administrations, need to be nourished.

Can the noble Baroness explain why, according to the department’s own briefing, funds will not actually arrive until the autumn? The arts bodies we are in touch with are already in substantial need, and further delay may push several into bankruptcy, which would be a tragedy. As she knows, the creative industries rely on freelancers, many of whom have been excluded from the Treasury’s Covid-19 schemes. What steps will the Government take to make sure not only that arts and cultural sector buildings are saved, but that they will have creators, actors and performers delivering live performances too?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the package of £1.57 billion of new money for the arts and culture that has been announced. I can reassure him that the plan for the package is not just to prioritise the largest institutions, although they are very important and £100 million is set aside for them, but to nurture the ecosystem of arts and culture organisations, which will also have important implications for freelancers in the sector and for the whole supply chain. As regards getting the funds out quickly, I can reassure the noble Lord that colleagues are working tirelessly to do that as fast as possible.

I welcome this excellent news and thank the Secretary of State and his team, including the noble Baroness, at the DCMS. It is a generous package, and it shows a listening department. Can the Minister confirm that funding decisions will reflect existing priorities within the arts—she just mentioned in her Answer that it was understood that funding for creatives in the regions was important—but also the encouragement of inclusivity and diversity in both the workforce and audiences?

To clarify in response to the noble Baroness’s question on priorities, there are three priorities that we need to balance in deciding where this funding goes. We want to protect our nationally and internationally significant institutions but we also know that there are important institutions which are critical for our levelling- up agenda in places and communities all round the country, and we also want to prioritise those that are key drivers of economic growth. Therefore, there will be some balancing and some choices to make. On inclusivity, the noble Baroness is right that we will aim to support a diverse range of organisations; funding decisions will look at organisations’ track record of inclusivity as regards audiences and those delivering the arts.

My Lords, well done to the DCMS for getting the ball rolling. However, the sooner we can get organisations open, the sooner freelancers will be back in work. It makes no sense that you can sit in a plane but not in a hall, especially when there are many venues with open spaces and movable walls, such as Garsington, that we should be using. Finally, would the Minister look at the Music Publishers Association’s plan, in which money set aside by the Government might be used to buy those tickets that they are no longer allowed to sell, thus benefiting the venues, composers and publishers?

The noble Lord raises the important issue of freelancers. On the plane issue, there is a great deal of difference and a great deal more complexity in reopening a theatre, for example, than having passengers on a plane. However, we are working to try to address these issues and we are hopeful that we can move to stage 3 of our plan—namely, outdoor live performances—within a few days. We have also done a great deal already for freelancers but we believe that by having a mix of funding between bricks and mortar as well as touring companies and other elements of performance, we will reinvigorate the supply chain and allow freelancers back to work. I will take the noble Lord’s suggestion regarding the Music Publishers Association back to the department.

I wholeheartedly welcome this extraordinary package, which I understand is the biggest package of support and investment for arts and culture anywhere in the world. Does my noble friend agree that it is the wonderful cultural life that we enjoy that attracts so many talented and ambitious men and women to this country, not just because they want to work here but because they want to live here? That is one of the reasons why Britain is such a global leading financial centre.

May I press my noble friend a little further on what she has just said about theatres? What progress is being made on the reopening of theatres, and can I press her particularly on the matter of open-air theatres, which really need to be back in operation right now, while the weather is improving? If pubs can open and air passengers can fly, why not let us enjoy our great culture out in the open?

My noble friend is right that our cultural sector and the extraordinarily talented people who work within it have been a great driver both in terms of quality of life but also economic growth in this country. As regards open-air performances, as I said, we are optimistic that we will be able to move to stage 3 of our road map very shortly and to stage 4 later this summer.

My Lords, I too welcome this support and thank all those in government and the cultural sector who have worked so hard to deliver it. Can the Minister press two key points with colleagues in DCMS and the Treasury? First, there is the importance of balancing ambitions to safeguard the sector—I quote both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor—with recognition of the need to address existing imbalances and inequalities through investment in people, places and ideas, particularly creative freelancers and those parts of the country too often overlooked. Secondly, there is the urgent need to agree not-before dates so the sector can plan the journey to reopening, as set out in stage 5 of the plan.

To be clear on the criteria for where funding is going, grant and loan recipients will need to show that, first, they are viable, secondly, they are at risk, and thirdly, they have exhausted all existing avenues of funding. As regards diversity, I touched on number of those points in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. That will be a clear priority. On the date for reopening, I am afraid that I can say no more than that our priority remains safety, but as soon as we can give a date, we will.

My Lords, HMG got it right: support for the arts is vital. Does the Minister agree that without pantomime, we will lose all our regular theatres permanently beyond anything a grant can achieve? Pantomime gives more employment to more members of the industry than any other form of theatre. Its audience is more inclusive and diverse than in any other field of culture. It provides irreplaceable release and relief. It is as British as the fortitude with which the UK has faced this crisis. Does the Minister agree that it will heal us and bind us back together once again? Why be Ebenezer when you could be Aladdin? Pantomime is our reward. I urge the Minister: please make it possible in time for Christmas.

My noble friend makes a most persuasive case for the pantomime. I absolutely agree that it brings value. We will be driven by safety considerations but will move as quickly as we can within those constraints.

My Lords, it is good to welcome a package that actually exceeds expectations, in scale if not timing, but there is still plenty more to do. How will the package help new entrants into the profession, particularly those who have just graduated from the conservatoires and music and art schools, who may be worried about their career prospects turning to dust?

Not only is it good to announce a package that exceeds expectations but it is very nice to respond to one as well. The noble Lord raises a critical point as regards new entrants. Obviously, the fabric of the grants that we give out will need to reflect not only the ecosystem of our arts and heritage and culture but its future, of which new entrants are a critical part.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Urgent Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the three noble Lords who were not able to ask their questions.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. 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.

We now come to questions on the Statement on the introduction of the global human rights sanctions regime. It has been agreed in the usual channels to dispense with the reading of the Statement, and we will proceed immediately to questions from the Opposition Front Bench. I ask that questions and answers be brief.

Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

Statement

The following Statement was made on Monday 6 July in the House of Commons.

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on the global human rights sanctions regulations. As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world: on climate change, as we host COP 26; as we champion 12 years of education for every girl in the world, no matter how poor their background; and on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief, and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.

I first raised this issue in a 2012 Back-Bench Business debate. It was a cross-party issue then, as I hope it will be now. I recall co-sponsoring it with the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. I also would like to pay tribute to Members from across the House, particularly my right honourable friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who sponsored that debate, and the honourable Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who joined me in that initial debate and who has been chivvying me along ever since, normally from a sedentary position.

The idea of taking targeted action against human rights violators has received further cross-party backing since then, from honourable Members in all parts of the House, including five former Foreign Secretaries and the current chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 2019, it was in the Conservative Party’s manifesto as a clear commitment.

Today I am proud that under this Prime Minister and this Government, we make good on that pledge, bringing into force the United Kingdom’s first autonomous human rights sanctions regime, which gives us the power to impose sanctions on those involved in the very worst human rights abuses right around the world. These sanctions are a forensic tool, which allows us to target perpetrators without punishing the wider people of a country that may be affected. The regulations will enable us to impose travel bans and asset freezes against those involved in serious human rights violations. We are talking about, first, the right to life, where it is threatened by assassinations and extrajudicial killing; secondly, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and, thirdly, the right to be free from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. The powers enable us to target a wider network of perpetrators, including those who facilitate, incite, promote or support these crimes. This extends beyond state officials to non-state actors as well. So if you are a kleptocrat or an organised criminal, you will not be able to launder your blood money in this country. Today this Government and this House send a very clear message, on behalf of the British people: those with blood on their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchmen of dictators, will not be free to waltz into this country, to buy up property on the Kings Road, do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge or siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions.

The regulations are just the latest next step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the worst human rights violations. We have deliberately focused on the worst crimes, so we have the clearest basis, to make sure we can operate the new system as effectively as we possibly can. That said, we will continue to explore expanding this regime to include other human rights, and I can tell the House that we are already considering how a corruption regime could be added to the armoury of legal weapons we have. In particular, honourable Members will be interested to know that I am looking at the UN Convention against Corruption, and practice already under way under the frameworks in jurisdictions such as the United States and Canada.

Today we have also published a policy note, which sets out how we will consider designations under these regulations, for maximum transparency. As the House would expect, the legislation will ensure that due process will be followed in relation to those designations, reflecting the process rights contained in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. In practice, those people designated will be able to request that a Minister review the decision. They will be able to challenge the decision in the court. And, just as a matter of due diligence, the Government will review all designations at least once every three years.

In addition to introducing this new legal regime, today we are proceeding directly to make the first designations under the regulations. We are imposing sanctions on individuals involved in some of the most notorious human rights violations in recent years. The first designations will cover those individuals involved in the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who disclosed the biggest known tax fraud in Russian history. The designations will also include those responsible for the brutal murder of the writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and those who perpetrated the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar. They will also include two organisations bearing responsibility for the enslavement, torture and murder that takes place in North Korea’s wretched gulags, in which it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of prisoners have perished over the past 50 years. With those first designations, the Government—and, I hope, the House and the country—make it crystal clear to those who abuse their power to inflict unimaginable suffering that we will not look the other way. You cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try.

In practice, targeted sanctions are most effective when they are done through co-ordinated collective action, so we will be working closely with our Five Eyes partners, including in particular the US and Canada, which already have Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation, and Australia, which is considering similar legislation. We will also strongly support efforts to bring an EU human rights sanctions regime into effect and we stand ready to co-ordinate with our European partners on future measures. In fact, I discussed that in Berlin recently with our E3 partners.

Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to end by paying tribute to the man who inspired these sanctions, Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian tax lawyer. Between 2007 and 2008, Magnitsky exposed the theft of $230 million committed by tax officials in Russia’s own interior ministry. While others left Russia, understandably fearing for their lives, Magnitsky stayed on to take a stand for the rule of law and to strike a blow against the breath-taking corruption that plagues Russia. That courage cost him his life. He was arrested in 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and, in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, the very tax investigators that Magnitsky had exposed were the ones who turned up to arrest him. The Public Oversight Commission, a Moscow-based non-governmental organisation, found that while in detention Magnitsky was subjected to physical and psychological abuse amounting to torture. Over the course of his time in prison he developed abdominal pain and acute bladder inflammation, but prison officers cruelly withheld the medical treatment he needed. Eventually, he was transferred to another facility ostensibly to receive medical care. Instead, he was handcuffed and beaten to death by riot police with truncheons. He died on 16 November 2009, aged 37.

The House will recall that the European Court of Human Rights found Russia had violated its most basic human rights, from the treatment of Magnitsky in prison to the lack of an effective investigation. None of those involved have ever been brought to justice. Perversely, some have been promoted or even decorated with medals. In fact, the only person ever prosecuted for this appalling crime was Sergei Magnitsky himself after his death; Russian’s first ever posthumous trial.

I pay tribute to Bill Browder, who employed Sergei Magnitsky and has campaigned for justice ever since his death. I hope that today we in this House show our solidarity with the family that Sergei Magnitsky left behind: his wife Natalia and his son Nikita. I can tell the House that they will be watching from my office in the Foreign Office as we speak. Amidst their enduring loss, they can be proud of Sergei’s courage, which inspires us to hold up a torch on behalf of all those who perished or suffered at the hands of those we designate today and to keep the flame of freedom alive for those brave souls still suffering in the very darkest corners of the world. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I welcome this Statement. The UK cannot operate as a safe haven for human rights abusers, and the establishment of these powers will begin the process of ensuring that this is not the case. However, the existence of the powers alone will not suffice. We must ensure that they are enacted in the most efficient way to deter individuals. Parliamentary scrutiny of the powers and their enaction is key to this. On Monday, the Foreign Secretary said the designations will be published online and that he would welcome a full and rigorous engagement with, and scrutiny of, all that process. He also referred to the role of the courts in due process and ensuring that proper safeguards are put in place. But what of the role of this House in this regard? We of course have representation through the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee, and the Foreign Secretary said that once it is duly constituted, it will have a role in issues such as this. Does the Minister agree that this announcement demands the early constitution of the committee? He will be aware that in the US, there is a congressional trigger for members to input designations. Is this one of the roles the Foreign Secretary had in mind?

I raise the issue of how Parliament can input designations because the current list is incomplete. There is no announcement of any sanctions against those who are either exploiting or abusing the Uighur minority in Xinjiang or repressing democracy activists in Hong Kong. The Foreign Secretary said on Monday that he would not pre-empt what the next wave of designations will be, but he assured the other place that the FCO was already working on them. When does the Minister expect further designations, bearing in mind how urgent the situation is in relation to Hong Kong? The Foreign Secretary also agreed on Monday that corruption and human rights abuses were often interlinked. He confirmed that the work on incorporating corruption is under way, so can the Minister tell us what is the timeframe for that work to be completed?

I hope that these new powers will be used to build a values-based foreign policy, but announcing the decision to resume the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen the day after 20 Saudi officials were, rightly, placed on the FCO’s sanctions list for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, killed in part for criticising Saudi conduct in the war in Yemen, is at the very least a case of mixed messages, undermining the Government’s claim to be human rights defenders.

The UK has enormous influence on the world stage, and sanctions are one of the strongest tools we hold to confront suffering and abuse, but they will be invalidated and rendered futile if one hand of the Government contributes to the same abuses that the other hand seeks to fight. The Government must understand that only through international co-operation can we ensure that our sanctions are most effective. Through our network of allies, be it the Five Eyes, our neighbours in Europe or NATO, we can guarantee that our actions target the same individuals, and through leading in these alliances, we can best confront those exact individuals whose crimes offend every value that we hold dear.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for the Statement. This is a major step forward and I thank him, his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his officials for all their work. Many have played their part in this, including organisations like Transparency International and campaigners like Amal Clooney. I also acknowledge the very brave Bill Browder, who will realise that the Russian leadership would happily do to him what it did to the Skripals. Bill Browder has described the UK Government’s initiative as “a huge milestone” and to quote him again

“Most kleptocrats and human rights violators keep their money in the UK, have houses in London, and send their kids to British schools.”

This will have a stinging effect on bad guys around the world.

These bans are also a tribute to Sergei Magnitsky, who paid for his courage and honesty with his life. I am very glad that his family was able to watch this Statement being made from the Foreign Office. I commend the Government for listing 25 Russian nationals who are linked to his case. It is good, too, that 20 of those who played their part in the death of Jamal Khashoggi are also sanctioned. And yet just yesterday, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has made clear, we granted the sale of arms once more to Saudi Arabia.

It is important, too, to note that two senior Myanmar generals who were involved in the suppression of the Rohingya population are also listed, although it has been noted that this may be largely symbolic because they have no known assets in the UK and would not be allowed to travel here anyway. I note also that two organisations which have been linked with human rights abuses in North Korea will be sanctioned.

However, there are omissions, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others have said. Where is China in this? Will those who are oppressing the Uighurs be included? Will proper consideration be given to the China Tribunal’s conclusion about organ harvesting, and might sanctions result? What of the doctors who may have been involved? What about those who are taking actions in Hong Kong, including potentially Carrie Lam, who has overseen the destruction of human rights there by overseeing the abandonment of “one country, two systems”.

In their equivalent legislation, the United States and Canada include corruption, and I have seen how effective US sanctions are in rooting out corruption in Africa. To quote Bill Browder again:

“Once you get onto a sanctions list you become a non-person in the world of finance. You can’t do business with anybody. … It is probably the worst thing that can happen to people who are very wealthy. These are rich government officials who made their money through graft and theft and imprisonment.”

Can the noble Lord update us on whether corruption charges will be included?

Can the noble Lord also tell us how the new regime will be overseen, so that it is not knocked off course by short-term concerns? Will its administration be separate from the FCO, DIT and the MoD, which might have other interests? What parliamentary oversight will there be? I note too that we have not yet seen the long-awaited report from the Intelligence and Security Committee and I support the demands for that committee to be resumed immediately.

When we were in the EU, we had of course engaged with it to bring all EU countries along with us, particularly Sweden and the Netherlands, on similar human rights sanctions proposals. I am glad that we will continue to work with our EU colleagues, although that will be more challenging. However, the more we work together on this, the more effective we will be. I note already that, on human rights in China and Hong Kong, many more countries of the UN supported China than supported our position, and that will be a challenge in the future. Overall, however, I welcome this Statement as a major step forward and I look forward to the noble Lord’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their remarks in support of the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps I may reflect for a moment. I remember working with both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness during the passage of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, and again I pay tribute to the level of co-operation and indeed the excellence of the debates we had not only on the whole of the statute but specifically on the importance of the issue of sanctions. I am therefore delighted that we have been able to bring forward what my right honourable friend has described as the launch of a global human rights sanctions regime. I thank both noble Lords for welcoming it, as indeed did all Members in the other place.

As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has said, while welcoming the names which have been mentioned—the noble Baroness also referred to the 25 Russian nationals—I believe that they both talked about omissions. I would not term it as such. This is very much the first tranche. Everything has to be based on evidence and, clearly, that evidence is collated. I know that both noble Lords will respect the fact that those who have been designated should be given the opportunity to challenge the designation, and that has been incorporated into this new regime.

On the issue of corruption, which both noble Lords pointed out was not initially included in what we have proposed, as my right honourable friend alluded to in the Statement, this is something that we have already started work on. However, it was important not only to introduce the framework but also to recognise that designations were needed to give strength to what has been laid before Parliament, and therefore I am pleased that this process is under way given that corruption is an issue that we continue to look at, as my right honourable friend has said.

Both noble Lords talked about the recent announcement made with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the arms deal. I believe that the noble Baroness acknowledged the fact that including the names of those who committed the appalling crime of the targeting and assassination of Jamal Khashoggi reflects the deep concern and outrage which was expressed across your Lordships’ House.

I turn to the issue of restarting export licences to Saudi Arabia. My right honourable friend the Trade Secretary has looked at the court ruling and we have adhered to its proposals to make the necessary amendments to our processes. Perhaps I may reassure all noble Lords that we will not issue any export licences when there is a clear risk that the items concerned may be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. As I have said before, every licence application is rigorously assessed against strict criteria and we will not issue an export licence where to do so would be inconsistent with them.

The new sanctions regime will give the UK a powerful new tool in order to hold to account those who are involved in serious human rights violations or abuses. I can assure noble Lords that we will keep the export licence regime and the controls we exercise under close scrutiny and review. However, we will do so while adhering fully to the points which were raised during the judicial review of the decision.

Both noble Lords rightly talked about the importance of co-operation and working with partners. We have, along with the US and Canada, already engaged in working on the inclusion of similar sanctions on corruption, as the noble Baroness pointed out. We work closely with our Five Eyes partners and I can give her an assurance on her specific point about our partners in Europe. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary recently visited Germany and we are working closely with our EU partners in looking at how the EU can also bring forward a global human rights sanctions regime. However, I know that both noble Lords will agree that any regime in the world can work effectively against those who commit the most heinous crimes and the worst kind of human rights abuses only if we work in tandem and together with other countries. We will continue to emphasise that point as we look to expand the designations further in the future as well as to expand their scope to include issues around corruption, which was mentioned by both noble Lords.

The noble Lords talked about scrutiny. In closing, I assure them that I recognise the range of views expressed by both noble Lords, and in the other place, on the best approach to take to designation proposals. I know that, as can be seen by the list today, many parliamentarians have over a long period continued to engage with the Government—they have engaged directly with me as the Minister for Human Rights—on the importance of bringing forward designations. I also recognise the range of views expressed by parliamentarians on the best approach to implementation, and I am grateful for continuing to hear soundings to this effect.

Let me assure both noble Lords that, in line with the sanctions Act, we will continue to report to Parliament, as required under its Sections 30 and 32. Doing so also provides Parliament with regular moments where Members may scrutinise the actions that the Government have taken in respect of human rights sanctions. There is also provision to debate the laying of these instruments. We are of course working through the usual channels. I understand that there will be a debate in the other place on this very issue on the 16th of this month. There is a 28-day limit from when these provisions were introduced on 6 July, so we will certainly look through the usual channels to have a debate as soon as we return from the Summer Recess. That will be the earliest opportunity, bearing in mind the current challenges in the parliamentary schedule. But this will ensure that we comply and that your Lordships’ House has an opportunity to debate these designations.

Finally on the designations, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, did not mention this, but the words still ring in my ear about the importance of laying a report in this respect. We will continue to fulfil that obligation and review those who have been designated every three years, which was another key point that both noble Lords raised with me during debate on what became the Act.

My Lords, we now come to 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

My Lords, I warmly welcome this Statement. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that CSOs and NGOs should be able to interact directly with the FCO and parliamentary committees in the designation process? Given Bill Browder’s help in the development of the global human rights sanctions regime, will my noble friend ensure that Interpol more effectively polices the red notice system to prevent authoritarian regimes misusing it for political and commercial advantage?

My Lords, my noble and learned friend raises two very important points. First, on the NGOs, we have published an information note aimed specifically at NGOs and civil society organisations, which formally lays out a dialogue with government and allows NGOs to raise their issues directly with us. Prior to this, as the Human Rights Minister I had already had regular engagement with leading NGOs and civil society organisations. On his second point, I, like my noble and learned friend and other noble Lords, pay tribute to Bill Browder and his work in this respect. I assure him that the Government take any misuse of Interpol notices and systems very seriously. Article 3 of the Interpol constitution forbids any organisation undertaking any intervention or activities, be they of a political, military, religious or racial character. Interpol has robust checks and we will make sure that they continue to be upheld.

My Lords, the Minister’s Statement and the remarks of other noble Lords echo the thanks owed to the extraordinary, tenacious advocacy of Bill Browder, often at considerable personal risk. The other published designations, beyond that of Sergei Magnitsky, also reflect a high profile of public concern. There is evidently more to come: consideration of designations against Chinese actors, for example, in other very visible cases would appear to be ripening. Building on the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, can the Minister comment on what measures are intended by Her Majesty’s Government, including through the agency of civil society organisations and NGOs, as just mentioned, actively to hunt down similarly egregious cases of human rights abuses which are far less well known but to which this new regime might equally apply?

My Lords, again, I agree with the noble Lord. Through the information notes—and whether through working with colleagues across Parliament, with NGOs or with civil society organisations—we want to ensure that we collect the evidence base, irrespective of who the perpetrator is and wherever they are in the world, so that we can impose these kinds of restrictions on them. They include a travel ban and an asset freeze within the UK. I take careful note of what the noble Lord says, but I assure him that all processes will ensure that there is a robust evidence base behind any designation.

My Lords, this is a good news story, and I give sincere congratulations to the Government. I pay my own tribute to Bill Browder and the family of Sergei Magnitsky. Is the Minister aware that London is full of legal firms and accountants that are happy to work for those salting away dirty money gained by abuse? Will the Government therefore be meticulous in gathering evidence to sanction kleptocrats and abusers, so that our own crooks in the City cannot take advantage?

My Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest as having had a 20-year career in the City of London. I assure noble Lords that the City of London plays an important part in Britain globally, but the noble Lord is right to raise concerns about money being laundered through bank accounts. As my right honourable friend said, I assure him that part of the real sanctions that will be imposed are the asset freezes on those who commit these human rights abuses.

My Lords, I join those highlighting the close link between those who abuse human rights and those who are corrupt, so I was interested when the Foreign Secretary mentioned that the Government were considering how a corruption regime could be added to the armoury of legal weapons that we have. But one key tool, long promised, is to remove the ability to own property and businesses in this country through firms registered in secretive tax havens. Do the Government still intend to require public registers of beneficial ownership in British Overseas Territories only in 2023, as Vince Cable was told last year? Why is there such a lax timetable and will a draft order still be ready this December, as required under the 2018 sanctions Act?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises the issue of beneficial and public registers in our overseas territories. As I have said previously, we have made commitments to ensure that our overseas territories comply. The reason for the 2023 date was to allow sufficient time for such public registers to be initiated, because it adds a requirement on every single overseas territory, some of which do not have the technical ability to do so. However, I pay tribute to some of our OTs, which have already co-operated fully with tax authorities and legal authorities through the effective operation of the exchange of notes.

My Lords, in declaring my interests as vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary groups on Hong Kong and the Uighurs, I too pay tribute to Bill Browder and warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s decision to use Magnitsky powers to target those who themselves use the United Kingdom as a bolthole for their money and families, while abusing human rights in their own jurisdictions. Returning to the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, can the Minister say whether active consideration is now being given to adding Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam to the Magnitsky list, along with Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, in addition to others named in a letter to the Minister of 24 January last, who stand accused of grievous crimes against Muslim Uighurs, Falun Gong and other minorities in China?

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Lord. He and I have often had long discussions about the importance of having such a regime. In paying tribute to the likes of Sergei Magnitsky, who ultimately paid with his life, I also pay tribute to the noble Lord for the work that he does within the human rights field. He asks specifically about China and Hong Kong. I am sure he will accept that I cannot speculate on who might be designated under the sanctions regime in the future. But as I have repeatedly said as Human Rights Minister, we have on many occasions set out deep concerns about human rights violations in both Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Most recently, we had a campaign with 27 countries backing our statement at the Human Rights Council on 30 June.

Her Majesty’s Government must be warmly congratulated on these measures. My noble friend has given such extensive replies to previous questions that I think he has already answered mine. However, can he reassure me that we will continue to work with other countries to ensure that those who commit human rights abuses will be held to account for their actions?

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the Government on laying these regulations and in congratulating various people. I add my congratulations to the Minister because his work on human rights has been exemplary and I thank him for it.

Quite often, when people look at who should be sanctioned—the case of Jamal Khashoggi is a good example—the evidence may very well point to people much higher in those regimes. It may be inconvenient for trade or security or other reasons to say that those people will be subject to these sanctions, but if the direction leads to them, it would be very significant. Does the Minister agree?

Does the Minister also agree that some other kinds of assets should be considered? I was horrified when Thaksin Shinawatra, a human rights abuser on an industrial scale in Thailand, was able to buy Manchester City Football Club. That was a way of demonstrating his international purpose and presence. Again, that seems to be an area which the Government should consider.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks on my efforts in this regard, but it is something that has been worked on over many years and my own personal efforts fall to the side when we look at the commitment and ultimate sacrifice by the likes of Sergei Magnitsky, whom we have mentioned already, and Bill Browder, among others.

On the issue of senior people within Administrations and Governments, I think that that bis reflected in the designations we have made in the case of Myanmar, specifically with the generals, and, of course, I stress again the importance of the evidence base.

On other matters that the noble Lord raised as to what can be held within the scope of what tools are used, I make note of what he has said. I believe there are separations of certain things that are done in business, but we should also scrutinise decisions that we take very carefully and make sure that they do not fall foul of this new regime.

My Lords, all too often I hear of the hardship caused by countrywide sanctions which hurt the poorest the most and hamper aid efforts, so I wholeheartedly congratulate the Government on striking a blow targeted against the evildoers. The Minister will know that the Intelligence and Security Committee will help enormously in expanding the list of individuals not currently designated. What is delaying is its constitution?

My Lords, I believe that that is going through due process and will be announced in due course. I do not think there is any major delay which I can talk to. On her earlier point, I think she is right. This is the beginning and the first level of designations and we will continue to look at future designations based on the evidence in front of us.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this announcement and congratulate the Government on this initiative. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, I hope that it will encourage a value-based foreign policy. I also welcome the fact that the regime will be kept under review and the Government are looking to expand it. Will the Minister please assure the House that the UK will make every effort not to shy away from applying the sanctions evenly and consistently when awkward or difficult situations arise, particularly when economic and trade interests are at stake and there is a danger of accusations of double standards?

My Lords, on the initial designations that we made, mention has been made of our trading relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, yet we did not shy away from sanctioning individuals from that country.

My Lords, I too pay tribute to Bill Browder. I thank the Minister for presenting the Statement and, through him, commend the actions of the Foreign Secretary who has achieved his lengthy campaign to target laser-like those who torture, murder, disfigure and maim fellow human beings in the quest of power, corruption and cruelty. Will the Minister, who I know is committed to the same pursuit of human rights, assure the House yet again that Communist Party actors in China will be included in future additions to the list of those sanctioned? Will he also commit to applying sufficient resources to the tracing and tracking of ill-gotten assets in these cases?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, it is appropriate that the governance of such a scheme has the support it requires to make it effective. While I have already made a Statement on my opinion and the Government’s view on what is happening in China and Hong Kong, it is not appropriate to speculate on future designations.

On the noble Lord’s earlier point about the role of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has played, I know that this has been a priority for him for a long time. Indeed, it was very much cross-party in the other place when it was initiated. I pay tribute to his personal efforts and have certainly seen since his appointment as Foreign Secretary the personal priority and effort he has put behind ensuring that the promise we made in our manifesto has come to life—today it has.

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary said that the United Kingdom will help the world in standing up for human rights. Will he also apply this very commendable aim to the United Kingdom’s conduct towards the dispossessed Chagossians, whose deportation the International Court of Justice agreed was unlawful?

My Lords, we have made our position on the British Indian Ocean Territory very clear. The ICJ decision was an advisory opinion which we do not agree with. The ICJ should adjudicate only where both parties have agreed to it. We believe appropriate support was provided at that time, although there were many shortcomings in the way that the Chagossian people themselves were treated, which we have also acknowledged. We wish to work in a progressive way with the Government of Mauritius on ensuring that we build a strong bilateral relationship.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us to what extent the Government consulted with their opposite numbers in the EU in drawing up this list and to what extent they just informed them? In the case of additions and deletions to the list, will there be a structure in place for consulting or will it just be a case of informing?

My Lords, I have already said that we work and continue to work with our EU partners. The EU does not yet have a global human rights sanctions regime per se. The most effective regimes are when you work together, and that of course means sharing information and an evidence base, so we continue to work with our EU partners, as I have already said.

My Lords, I declare an interest as an associate founder of TI UK with whose assistance some years ago I put forward a Private Member’s Bill on corruption which in due course was subsumed into the Government of the day’s legislation.

Before Brexit, the UK was making progress within the EU with the member states on establishing global human rights sanctions. The Minister has already mentioned that he is working closely with some countries. The problem is that there needs to be a consensus in the EU to reach agreement, usually at the lowest common denominator. Can the Minister give us some idea of whether this global human rights initiative is going to accelerate that process or whether it will continue to be delayed?

I have one small point on Africa and extractive industries. Is the legislation that we introduced together with our colleagues overseas actually working? I am not sure that it is.

My final point is about the reaction in the United States where the American Secretary of State has commended the UK for its continued global leadership on the protection and promotion of human rights. Mark Landler of the New York Times is a little more circumspect about this, mentioning that the people on our list are already blacklisted in the US. What arrangements are the Government making with the US State Department jointly to expand the promotion and protection of global human rights?

My Lords, in the interests of time, on the noble Lord’s final point, we are working very closely with our partners in the US. I will write to him about extractive industries. On EU sanctions, some countries already have a national sanctions regime and the UK will continue to work with EU partners.

[Inaudible]—the Government have been able to—[Inaudible]—manifesto commitment the Conservative Party made. If it is to be effective, it must be sustained, consistent and co-ordinated. What are we doing to bring together the international definitions of fundamental terms such as “corruption” and “human rights abuse” so that we can ensure we are all singing from the same song sheet? Can the Minister be more specific and give a little more detail about what measures we are taking to co-ordinate the sanctions with other countries and relevant international organisations?

My Lords, in the interests of time I will write to my noble friend on the specifics, but I can assure him that there is co-ordination. We are working with international partners to ensure that the sanctions which are imposed in the UK are reflected by key partners, be they the Five Eyes or other EU partners.

My Lords, my question on co-ordination with partners has been quite comprehensively answered by the Minister, so I shall move on to the second part of my question. What criteria are being applied before these sanctions are imposed? Are Her Majesty’s Government seeking to punish individuals or to achieve policy change?

My Lords, the regime is specifically about individuals. It is not taking issue with a country necessarily or the people of that country. This is looking at entities and individuals who commit abuses of global human rights. Specifically within the scope of the application, this means issues that we have talked about before, such as modern slavery, human trafficking, preventing sexual violence and freedom of religion. The consideration of these targets has been published as an information note and I commend it to the noble Lord.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, 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 of course apply.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 15 June be approved.

Special attention drawn to the instrument by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 20th Report. Approval period expires 11 July.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring the safety of passengers travelling on the transport network during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have therefore introduced these regulations to make it mandatory for passengers to wear a face covering while using public transport services in England from 15 June.

To give a bit of background, this instrument was made on 15 June under powers conferred by the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. These regulations are exceptional measures brought forward to mitigate the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and to comply with all the Government’s obligations relating to human rights. Although these regulations are a necessary response to the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by the spread of coronavirus, they are being brought before your Lordships’ House today for the scrutiny and debate they require under emergency procedures approved by Parliament for such measures. These regulations help save lives. That is why Parliament has given Ministers these powers.

Although our advice remains to work from home if you can and to avoid public transport where possible, there is now an increased demand for public transport as sectors of the economy reopen and more people return to work. The public transport network is vital to the safe reopening of the economy and the regulations were made to coincide with the easing of other lockdown measures to help protect people from each other on public transport, where it is not always possible to maintain social distance.

The evidence shows that wearing a face covering offers some protection from transmitting the virus to others. These regulations sit alongside existing advice on social distancing and practising hand hygiene, which remain critical. We have worked closely with transport operators to ensure widespread communication around the need to wear face coverings on public transport and we have set out the detail of this policy in our guidance, including information on enforcement and the exemptions in place for those unable to wear a face covering.

As expected, initial reports from operators and Office for National Statistics surveys show widespread compliance with the requirement to wear a face covering on public transport. There is and continues to be public support. We will continue to monitor compliance and our approach to enforcement.

As I said, the regulations introduce a requirement for passengers to wear a face covering while travelling by public transport in England from 15 June unless they are exempt or have a reasonable excuse not to do so. The regulations apply to passengers travelling on public transport in England by bus, coach, tram, ferry, hovercraft, cable car, aircraft, and domestic and international trains. School transport services, services provided by taxis and private hire vehicles, and cruise ships are excluded from the regulations.

The regulations describe a face covering as a covering “of any type” covering the wearer’s nose and mouth. People should make or buy their own. Although the Government expect the vast majority of people to comply with these changes voluntarily, the regulations include powers for operators and the police to deny access to a service, to direct someone to wear a face covering, or to direct someone who is not wearing a face covering to leave a service. Operators have discretion over whether they choose to use these powers; they do not have an obligation to do so.

The police also have the power to remove passengers from vehicles and to use reasonable force if necessary, as well as the power to direct an individual who has responsibility for a child aged 11 or over to ensure that the child complies with the regulations. If a passenger does not comply, there are new powers for the police and for TfL authorised personnel to issue a fixed penalty notice of £100 or £50 if paid within 14 days. Children younger than 18 cannot be issued with a fixed penalty notice.

The regulations create new criminal offences that are punishable with an unlimited fine. The Crown Prosecution Service has prosecution powers, as does Transport for London following a designation order made by the Secretary of State for Transport on 30 June. However, engagement rather than enforcement is our preferred approach, with enforcement as a last resort. We expect to see a gradual ramping up of enforcement, supported by significant communications campaigns, over the coming months.

Although we want as many people as possible to wear face coverings, we recognise that some people are not able to wear one for a variety of reasons. As a result, the regulations exempt certain people and provide a non-exhaustive list of what is described as a “reasonable excuse” not to wear a face covering.

A review clause is included in the regulations, requiring a review of the need for the requirements imposed by the regulations at least every six months. A sunset clause is included so that the regulations expire at the end of 12 months after the day they came into force. We will continue to monitor the impact and effectiveness of this policy in the weeks and months ahead and will develop our approach to enforcement and communicating the policy as necessary.

The mandatory requirement to wear a face covering on public transport is a key addition to our safer transport guidance to passengers and will help maintain public health as lockdown restrictions are eased. I commend the regulations to the House.

My Lords, obviously we are confirming reality but also reinforcing the importance of these regulations to prevent ill health and to persuade people to get back on public transport, rather than have the upsurge now occurring in the private use of cars.

In the half-minute I have left, I will draw attention to the importance of people being extremely sensitive, and of operators and those operating in the public transport system looking out for two elements. One is people who lipread, who obviously will not be able to do so. The second is those who cannot see and rely on hearing. In the first case people obviously will be wearing face coverings and cannot be lipread. In the other, people will be wearing face coverings and will be difficult to hear. I am putting a word out for tolerance and perhaps some public information on public transport that says “Look out for those who do not have the facility you have.”

Public transport, particularly that serving crowded areas and centres of population where people work, is often the only practical method of travel. These regulations are timely—some might say overdue. They make sense and for the most part they are adhered to. Last week I was in London. Buses were emptier than usual, but most of those travelling were wearing masks.

One area of concern is that evidence suggests that young men are less inclined to be compliant. I understand that it might not be seen as cool—nor is being dead, or passing the virus to strangers, friends or family. There is a host of masks online for less than £5, specially designed for the youth market. Can the Minister tell the House what measures of engagement have been used in large centres of population, where public transport is really the only way of getting around? Did local behaviour change as a result of it?

My Lords, while supporting these regulations, I feel their scope is very limited. Scientific evidence clearly shows that Covid-19 is spread as an aerosol. The president of the Royal Society yesterday referred to the evidence that the Royal Society has published. Many other countries have made it mandatory to wear a face covering in all public areas, including shops. On the basis of the scientific evidence, should the Government not look further to see whether face coverings should be made mandatory in all public areas?

My Lords, I support and approve of the regulations requiring all passengers on public transport to wear a face covering, subject to certain exemptions. I note that failure to do so when asked is an offence subject to a fine of £100 and not being allowed to travel. How strictly are these regulations enforced?

When I go out, I always wear a mask. I fully support the guidance issued by the BMA calling for face coverings to be worn by the public as a matter of course. It is felt that if a person is not wearing a face covering and has the infection or is a carrier, the risk of passing it to another person is 70%. If the first person is wearing a face covering, the risk is just 5%. If both persons are wearing face coverings, the risk is reduced to 1.5%. Why is the BMA guidance not being followed by the Government?

My Lords, I have spent 17 weeks in this House arguing for mandatory masking. I now move on to the type of mask, as certain masks are inappropriate. Exhalation valves on certain masks, in particular the N95, are designed to make it easier to breathe out because their one-way valves release exhaled air without forcing it through a filter. That is a major problem when the mask is meant to protect others from the wearer, who may be infected. Unless you are using an N95 in a high-risk healthcare setting—that is, a healthcare worker usually wearing one for comfort—where the concern is what you are inhaling, not exhaling, do not use a valve mask. When the Government finally concede on wider mandatory masking, which is inevitable, the regulations should reflect this. Otherwise, they will only make matters worse.

My Lords, will transport providers, local authorities and the police have the power to share information to monitor compliance or defiance? Will it be possible for them to identify serial offenders? These regulations apply to people with disabilities, so will the information be made available in suitable media, such as Makaton and Easyread? Will train operators be required to make masks available for purchase on board for people who may have forgotten or lost their own? Finally, what information will be given to passengers and staff responsible for implementing these regulations about what constitutes a suitable mask for a journey—a 10-minute bus ride versus a four-hour flight in a plane?

My Lords, I fully support these recommendations but also the comments of other noble Lords. I am particularly concerned about the exemption for school transport services. In cities many children travel to school on normal public transport and will therefore be expected to wear masks or face coverings on their way to school if they are over the age of 11, yet no such protection is mandated for pupils from rural areas, who often travel on school transport services such as coaches and buses.

This morning on Dartmoor I saw a bus heavily steamed up due to rain, with all its windows shut and several pupils on board going to school. Is it not vital that Her Majesty’s Government review and amend the guidance urgently to include school transport services for secondary school pupils from the beginning of the new year? Rural pupils should be afforded the same protection as their city colleagues. I respectfully suggest that this may increase school attendance by reducing parental fear of transfer of Covid during travel to school.