House of Lords
Thursday 17 September 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Introduction: Lord Clarke of Nottingham
The right honourable Kenneth Harry Clarke, CH, QC, having been created Baron Clarke of Nottingham, of West Bridgford in the County of Nottinghamshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Heseltine and Lord Deben, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston
The right honourable Gisela Stuart, having been created Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston, of Edgbaston in the City of Birmingham, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Owen and Lord King of Lothbury, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members of the House are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
My Lords, the Hydrogen Advisory Council was established in July to formalise Government/industry engagement. The council and its working groups will inform the development of a UK hydrogen strategy, which will be published before COP 26 early next year. Similarly, those involved in the council and the working groups will of course play a role in its implementation. The strategy will include discussion around the costs associated with the expansion of the UK hydrogen economy and how these might be met.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he join me in celebrating Britain’s leading role in hydrogen technology? We are making world-first hydrogen buses in Ballymena, Falkirk and Yorkshire, and world-first hydrogen boilers in Worcester and Preston, and building the world’s first green hydrogen gigafactory in Sheffield. Does he agree that, if we are to maintain our competitive edge, our hydrogen strategy must do three things: grow supply and demand in parallel, establish regional hydrogen hubs, and start with technologies that are available now and easy to scale up, such as hydrogen buses and trains?
The noble Lord is entirely correct. He makes a very good point that this is an important new developing technology that we will want to support as much as we can. The UK is well placed to play a leading role in all the areas that he mentions, and when the hydrogen strategy is published it will take account of all those factors.
I understand that most of the hydrogen that is consumed in the UK is generated by the steam reformation of methane, whereby one molecule of methane and one of water produce three molecules of hydrogen and one of carbon monoxide, which rapidly becomes carbon dioxide. The process is therefore by no means carbon neutral. Moreover, it requires a substantial input of energy, which at present is liable to come from fossil fuels. Are the Government prepared to insist that in future the supply of hydrogen will be produced by electrolysis? Will they also take steps to ensure that there will be a regular supply of carbon-neutral electricity sufficient for the purpose? Can we be assured that the hydrogen strategy has a purpose beyond that of supplementing our dwindling supplies of natural gas?
The noble Viscount is of course referring to the different kinds of hydrogen, referred to as green and blue hydrogen. We take the view that both will be needed to meet the UK’s potential hydrogen demand by 2050. Blue hydrogen has a role to play in producing cost-effective low-carbon hydrogen at scale, but of course we will need to use carbon-capture technology along with it.
My Lords, as taxpayers we spend a lot of money paying renewable energy sources—solar, and particularly wind—not to produce when we do not need that energy. That is something we renewable energy advocates all feel slightly embarrassed about. Is this not a way to ensure that this never happens in future and that the surplus electricity generated at those peak times is used for the electrolysis method? That would ensure we were a hydrogen economy. Also, when are we going to get the energy White Paper?
My Lords, I declare my energy interests as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that hydrogen as an energy vector is an old story with an entirely new life nowadays? Has he noticed that Japan has declared its aim to be the world’s first hydrogen-based economy, safely using both green hydrogen from surplus renewable electricity, of which there is plenty, and blue hydrogen or hythane, already referred to, when mixed with natural gas? Could the very welcome new Hydrogen Advisory Council be encouraged to follow Japan closely or even rival that ambition?
The noble Lord is entirely correct that a number of other countries are developing hydrogen strategies. However, the Government believe that the UK is currently well placed and in the leading pack internationally. We are keeping pace with international developments and leading in a number of international fora on this subject.
My Lords, when around 80% of UK households have gas heating systems and these systems account for about 30% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, will the Government’s hydrogen strategy include a commitment to introduce hydrogen-ready boilers for 2025? This would not only support our net-zero targets but sustain and create thousands of jobs, since we are of course home to companies such as Worcester Bosch and Baxi, which are making world-first hydrogen boilers.
The noble Baroness is entirely correct. We are planning to publish a heat and buildings strategy in due course, setting out the immediate actions we will take. We are already working with Baxi and Worcester Bosch, the companies she mentioned, on hydrogen-ready boilers. These have been developed under a £25 million pot of funding, which BEIS provided.
Hydrogen in transport is key to unlocking its wider use across the economy; there are some relatively quick and easy wins. The renewable transport fuel obligation already exists. Have the Government progressed plans to extend the RTFO guidance to include both green and blue hydrogen as vehicle fuels, with legislative changes to encourage the supply chain necessary to deploy hydrogen bus and train fleets?
I believe that industry is very anxiously awaiting the hydrogen strategy to which the Minister refers. As other noble Lords have said, green hydrogen, which does not produce CO2, is relatively easy to make using the surplus energy we have, most of it from wind. The strategy must make great efforts in that direction.
Green hydrogen is relatively easy to make from electrolysis but it uses large amounts of electricity, so we need to work on improving the technology. However, these are all factors that we are already working on with industry in the Hydrogen Advisory Council, which will advise us on the next steps forward with the hydrogen strategy.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a former UK Energy Minister and as listed in the register. The need for a hydrogen strategy is now well overdue, as we have heard. Where is the promised £100 million low-carbon hydrogen production fund? Given that most of the new nuclear schemes have collapsed, how are the Government now going to achieve their low-carbon targets?
The noble Lord mentioned the £100 million of investment through the low-carbon hydrogen production fund. We are proceeding with that while also investing up to £121 million between 2015 and 2021 in hydrogen innovation. Yes, we are waiting for the strategy but also getting on with some of the key building blocks in advance of it.
My Lords, will the Minister give an indication of when the specific terms of reference of the Hydrogen Advisory Council will be published? Will he confirm the welcome news that low-carbon hydrogen use at scale is a central plank of our hosting of COP 26 in Glasgow next year?
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Currently the major basis for hydrogen production, as other noble Lords have said, is steam methane reforming, of which CO2 is a by-product. It requires the successful deployment of CCS, which is a high risk from an engineering and commercial perspective. Does the Minister agree that a drive in research and development towards non-methane reforming sources of production needs to be a major priority?
I agree that we need to look at all available technologies for the production of hydrogen, whether blue or green, including electrolysis and other methods. It will be a key fuel for our decarbonisation efforts and we need to consider all available technologies.
My Lords, I too refer to my interests in the register. I congratulate my noble friend on the fund for innovation but can he also tell me what work is being done with the construction industry for future builds, to try to ensure that the innovation we are investing in is deployed into the new build?
We will shortly set out a heat and buildings strategy, which will take account of these factors. As I mentioned earlier, we are already working with the boiler manufacturers through a £25 million fund to see how much hydrogen we can currently inject into the system. Experiments are taking place in various parts of the country to see how we can deploy hydrogen into the domestic gas networks. Obviously, we need to work with the boiler manufacturers to ensure that that works.
The Chancellor has made it clear that one of his priorities is to make the UK a science superpower, including leading on the development of technologies that will support the Government’s ambition to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the autumn, the comprehensive spending review will set out details of this historic investment, giving researchers and innovators confidence and ensuring that we can meet the objectives we have set out in the R&D roadmap.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The maritime industry has worked tirelessly during the Covid emergency to keep vital supply lines open, but this has come at a cost and businesses’ cash reserves are now heavily depleted. The industry has submitted a bid for £1 billion of government investment under the comprehensive spending review to kick-start decarbonisation. This would create nearly 75,000 jobs in the maritime industry, across every nation of the UK and especially in our coastal communities. It would help to position Britain as a world leader in maritime decarbonisation, which will be an enormous area of business. Does the Minister recognise the potential of this investment and would he be willing to meet me and industry representatives to explore these possibilities and opportunities?
I agree with the noble Lord. The Government carry out their own research into the potential economic opportunities from low and zero-carbon emission shipping, and I recognise that this represents a historic opportunity for the UK. I would certainly be happy to organise a meeting for him, either with my department or the Department for Transport, whichever is the most appropriate.
[Inaudible.]—maritime still has a hurdle to climb. The recent Global Maritime Issues Monitor cited the World Maritime University’s research into workforce diversity, stating:
“Without increased diversity in the next 10 years, the pace of innovation in the maritime industry will be slow”.
This also applies to achieving net-zero emissions targets. The report made it clear that workforce diversity includes race and gender diversity and is relevant to the issue of net-zero targets. Therefore, what role do the Government have in promoting such diversity in the maritime industry?
The Government agree with the need to increase diversity in the maritime sector if it is to meet the challenges of the future. Of course, we need to embrace talent from everywhere. In support of this, we have been working actively with the sector to promote greater diversity. One notable success has been the Women in Maritime task force, established in 2018.
My Lords, could the Minister tell us how far on the research into the use of butane, methane and ammonia is? Although the use of ammonia creates zero harmful emissions, my shipping friends here in Norway tell me that using ammonia as a fuel creates a very unpleasant smell. Is that problem being addressed? Incidentally, does the Minister know that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, is very highly thought of in the maritime world, especially here in Norway?
Yes, I was aware of the high regard in which many Peers in this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, are held in all countries, including Norway, I am sure. I agree with the noble Lord that the challenge of decarbonisation in the maritime sector is a great one and we are looking at a number of alternative fuels, one of which is ammonia.
My Lords, as we are a nation that imports so much food and uses the maritime system so extensively, what does the Minister think about the fact that we do not yet count the emissions from shipping in our carbon budgets? Can the Government tell me what plans they have to include the sector in the decarbonisation plans to reach net zero?
We count the emissions from domestic shipping in our carbon budget plans, but the noble Baroness is right, of course, that we need to work internationally—through the International Maritime Organization and other fora—to reduce the emissions from shipping worldwide.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that we should wait until the comprehensive spending review to see how much research money would go into this sector, but could he confirm that funding is going into the research and development of low-carbon ferries, which are very important in this country? Will the Government also support the construction of such a ferry at the recently rescued high-tech Appledore Shipyard for the Isles of Scilly to Penzance route, which would then replace the 43 year-old “Scillonian III”?
My Lords, decarbonising the maritime sector is going to require concerted effort on a global scale. Can the Minister say what position the UK is taking within the IMO with regard to incentives for the sector to decarbonise and, in particular, a proposal to introduce a small tax on bunker fuel—which is currently untaxed—which could be used to build a fund to carry out more R&D into decarbonisation?
I know that, as one of the leading shipping nations, we are working closely with a number of other nations in the IMO to bring about a reduction in emissions from the maritime sector. I am not aware of our precise position on the matters that the noble Baroness mentions, so I will write to her on that.
My Lords, we have heard a lot about the maritime industry and I strongly support that. However, I wonder what the position is on the air industry because, at the moment, there is a tremendous build-up from the public, who are waiting to be able to fly anywhere to get away from everything. It is a most important industry and I believe that it is complying with things like zero-emissions targets. However, the Government really must be aware of this need; how do they intend to meet it?
The ingenuity with which noble Lords extend these subjects far and wide never ceases to impress me, but the Question is on maritime emissions. The noble Baroness makes an important point about emissions from aircraft, which I am sure is duly noted.
The Government have repeatedly been asked to plug the gap of the exclusion of international aviation and shipping from the provisions of the Climate Change Act. In July, reports hinted that—at last—it was the Government’s intention to add shipping to its net-zero target but not until 2023. To take the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, a little further, I ask the Minister to explain the delay—especially after the Committee on Climate Change called for shipping to be formally included in the UK’s climate targets under the carbon budget?
As I said, we already include domestic shipping but, of course, putting shipping in our carbon budgets is very much an international matter. We work with other countries to ensure that emissions are counted in the same way for every country, but I have noted the noble Lord’s points.
My Lords, we have a proud history of innovation, especially in the marine field, and any help that the Government can give the shipping industry in this connection is most welcome. Without shipping, world trade would be a shadow of what it is today. Is not the real nub behind the Question to find a viable replacement for the modern combustion engine? Ships are very different from trains and cars and for a large ship—weighing several hundred thousand tonnes—to steam across the oceans of the world for over 20 years, a major solution is required. What are the Government doing to find this?
My Lords, the Minister will be familiar with the Accelerating the Low Carbon Transition report, published by Brookings in conjunction with the Energy Transitions Commission. It is a mine of useful information and includes this fact:
“The top 20 ports, located in just 12 countries and jurisdictions, control 45% of global container freight.”
In preparation for COP 26, what steps are the Government taking to bring these countries and jurisdictions together to discuss a common regulatory approach to shipping emissions?
The noble Lord makes an important point. We are working with a number of other countries through the International Maritime Organization, and we accept that the maritime sector has an R&D gap, with little investment in alternative fuels to date, which is holding back decarbonisation. Therefore, there is no question that the sector presents a great challenge for the net-zero efforts.
REACH and CE
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards introducing (1) a regulation system for chemicals to replace the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regulations, and (2) a conformity assessed quality standard to replace the CE certification mark.
The preparations that we have made for the possibility of a no-deal exit mean that we are well placed to be ready with our own independent regulatory regime for chemicals by 1 January 2021. On that date, the UKCA marking will also be introduced as a replacement for the EU’s CE marking. Further details on that were published earlier this month.
The Minister is in great demand today, but I have to tell him that his proposed framework for the UK REACH is weaker than the one that it is replacing, yet, if we want frictionless trade, we must have common standards. The existing system has kept us safe and secure for many years and has protected our environment. Surely in the current circumstances, instead of pointless and risky duplication, our resources should be put into rebuilding our economy and preserving jobs. This can be helped by simply seeking associate membership of the scheme and not duplicating it. That is what the industry wants. Will the Government do it?
As I am sure the noble Lord is well aware, we have made it clear that seeking associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency would require us to accept the judgment and oversight of the European Court of Justice, which is not acceptable. Therefore, we will set up our own regime.
My Lords, this is yet another burden of Brexit. Will the Minister tell the House what the cost will be to the Government and to businesses? Given the fiasco of test and trace, will he give an absolute guarantee that the regime will be up and running by 1 January?
I can tell my noble friend that there are a number of distinct EU regulatory regimes, including bespoke regimes for chemicals, automotive products, aerospace products, cosmetics and medicines, as well as the CE marking regime, which covers a range of goods. Some but not all of these include registration requirements. Cosmetics and medical devices, as well as chemicals, are examples of areas that include registration or notification requirements. I can confirm that all the necessary regulation and systems will be in place for 1 January 2021.
My Lords, I understand that the UK agency replacing REACH will spend £13 million a year and employ about 40 staff, to replace an agency with more than 600 staff and a budget of more than €100 million. As the UK’s new database of chemical safety will not have access to the EU’s chemical safety database, is there a risk, about which my noble friend might be able to reassure the House, that we might not be equipped to counter the potential for unscrupulous manufacturers to dump products on the UK market that fail to meet the safety standards?
We are aware of the possibility, but of course we are working hard to make sure that does not happen. The registration requirements in the UK will be as strict as they were previously; we are seeking to duplicate many aspects of the previous regime. Of course, we are seeking during the negotiations a data-sharing agreement with the European Chemicals Agency which will reduce the costs and burdens of the new scheme.
My Lords, the Government have been flexible. They have listened and proposed lengthening the registration time for chemicals under British REACH, which I think is welcomed by the industry. However, the cost of registering chemicals has not been addressed. That additional red tape will cost British industry at least £1 billion—that is its estimate. This is money being spent on re-registering chemicals today that cannot be spent on creating jobs for tomorrow. Can the Minister undertake to be similarly flexible when looking at costs and redouble efforts with his department and other departments to address this tax on British business?
As I said in previous answers, we are endeavouring to be as flexible as possible to keep the transition as simple as possible and to reduce the costs. As I said, we are seeking a data-sharing agreement with the European Chemicals Agency which will make the registration process relatively straight- forward.
My Lords, the EU Environment Sub-Committee wrote to my noble friend before the summer. Can he confirm today whether he shares my concern at the risk of a lack of oversight of the decision-making process within UK REACH? Can he further confirm what significant resources will be made available to the Health and Safety Executive to give it the tools it needs to manage effectively a new regulation regime?
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, when the transition period ends, health and environmental protection in Northern Ireland in respect of chemical and pesticide imports will be considerably better than in the rest of the United Kingdom because Northern Ireland will still be covered by the existing EU REACH rules and regulations under the withdrawal agreement?
Under the Northern Ireland protocol, the process for Northern Ireland businesses moving goods to and from the EU under EU REACH will not change. What does that mean for goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland? Will Northern Ireland businesses have to grandfather their EU registrations into UK REACH?
My Lords, the UKCA marking will not be applicable in Northern Ireland, whereas the CE marking will be, as well as the UKNI marking. Can the Minister afford the House some advice? What advice would he give to suppliers and traders working in the United Kingdom and producing in Great Britain if they might see their goods popping up in a shop in Northern Ireland? Should they register both with the CE marking and the UKCA marking to ensure that their goods can be marketed not only in Northern Ireland but across the European Union?
If those traders wanted to sell their goods into the European Union market, because that was the system they had, they would have to be CE marked. They would have to comply with similar standards if they wanted to sell them in the North American market.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked. We now move to the fourth Oral Question.
My Lords, the United Kingdom is concerned by any activity that risks destabilising the cross-strait status quo. All sides should refrain from taking provocative actions and resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue. Our long-standing policy on Taiwan has not changed; we have a strong, unofficial relationship with Taiwan based on dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties.
I thank the Minister for his response. China clearly rejects international rules and values, as evidenced by events in Hong Kong, on the Sino-Indian border and in the South China Sea, and, most recently, by its repeated aggressive incursions into Taiwan’s airspace. Does not the UK’s reluctance to provide Taiwan with overt political, diplomatic and trade support indicate tolerance for China’s expansionist policies, with particular reference to Taiwan?
My Lords, we remain very strong in ensuring that, on the basis I have already outlined, we continue to strengthen our wide range of exchanges with Taiwan, including in relation to trade. Where the recognition of a state is not a prerequisite to any involvement or engagement in international bodies, we have stood up for the right of Taiwan to be part of those discussions—we are very much in favour of that.
Will my noble friend the Minister condemn this further blatant act of aggression by the communist regime in China of threatening its neighbours and stealing islands in the South China Sea? Will he work with all other free, democratic nations to strengthen the military commitment to Taiwan and make it clear that Taiwan is an independent country and not part of the People’s Republic of China?
My Lords, as I have already outlined, we have repeatedly stood up on the basis of our relationship with Taiwan. On the actual challenges that Taiwan faces in the context of China, we consider that the Taiwan issue is one to be settled peacefully by the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Again, I reiterate to my noble friend that we call out where there are issues of disagreement with China, and anything that seeks to destabilise the current status quo in the Taiwan Strait is a matter of concern for Her Majesty’s Government.
My Lords, increasingly China is exercising its economic, military and political influence, as has been mentioned, in the South China Sea, India, Australia and of course Hong Kong, and in some nations in Africa and Latin America. Is it not time that there was a joint meeting of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom to agree a joint policy towards China before there is a horrible incident?
My Lords, there are many areas of concern, which I have outlined from the Dispatch Box, in China’s recent behaviour and its exercising particular policies and programmes within the context of the South China Sea, to which the noble Lord referred. We have discussed several times in the Chamber, and I am sure will continue to, the recent concerns we have had over the actions it has taken through the security law in Hong Kong and the continued issue of human rights in mainland China, particularly with regard to the Uighurs. These will remain the subject of discussions with our allies, close friends and partners, as the noble Lord suggests.
My Lords, the continued campaign to isolate Taiwan by the People’s Republic is limited not just to economic and military issues. There is, obviously, the response by the WHO. Of course, at the time of this pandemic, it is really important that Taiwan is able to input its response into the WHO. We need to ensure that this campaign of isolation does not continue. While I am on the subject of the WHO, what further has the Minister done to raise with it the clear evidence of forced organ harvesting in China? Will the UK argue for an end to self-assessment and a move towards independent verification?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, concerns have been raised with the World Health Organization on the issue of organ harvesting. I know the noble Lord is aware that the evidence does not comply with action in this regard, but I am sure that we will return to those discussions.
On the initial question about the World Health Organization and World Health Assembly, we continue to lobby in that respect. This is an organisation where the criteria that I outlined earlier about statehood not being a prerequisite applies. Given the performance of Taiwan in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, I think that it has an important contribution to make in this regard.
My Lords, as I have just said in my previous answer, we regard the relationship with Taiwan as an important one bilaterally. Equally, we believe that Taiwan has a role to play in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite. In the current pandemic of Covid-19, Taiwan’s response shows that it can make a valuable contribution. Therefore, we hope that in November, for example, at the World Health Assembly, it is allowed to attend as an observer.
My Lords, this country has recognised the Government in Beijing as the legitimate authority in China since January 1950, with a very distinctive status, as the Minister has acknowledged, for Taiwan, which should be discussed peacefully between the authorities in Taipei and those on the mainland. I am glad to hear about the Minister’s lobbying in connection with the World Health Organization. Would he care to comment on this pattern of marked aggression by the current Chinese Government, which has sought to limit options for people at home and abroad and is so damaging?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to raise the importance of a peaceful discussion on the issue of Taiwan between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. I agree with him. Increasingly we have seen human rights issues where China is concerned, and I have spoken on that from the Dispatch Box. Our relationship with China is a strategic one, but that does not prevent us from calling out human rights abuses when they occur.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that any representations that the UK makes in relation to the violation of Taiwan’s airspace by the PRC exemplify the unnecessary weakening of the UK’s authority and soft power brought about by the Government’s cavalier attitude to the admitted breach of international law by their introduction of the internal market Bill, which seeks to alter the provisions of the withdrawal agreement entered into with the European Union and signed by the Prime Minister?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s latter point, I think my right honourable friend the Prime Minister clarified the intent behind the internal market Bill. On the substance of the noble Lord’s question in general, we continue to defend the rights of people around the world, including those in China, where human rights abuses occur and where there are international agreements, as we have talked about before. On the agreements between China and the United Kingdom on Hong Kong, we will continue to lobby to ensure that “one country, two systems” is sustained going forward.
My Lords, I recently had the pleasure of visiting Taiwan with the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. I found there a proud, flourishing, democratic country, constantly bullied and threatened by China. Inexplicably, the UK does not recognise Taiwan. What steps have the Government actually taken to remonstrate with China over the recent unprovoked belligerence, and all the other petty measures that it regularly takes to try to intimidate its neighbour?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness about the vibrancy of the democracy. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary congratulated the president on her election at the time. I share the noble Baroness’s concern: whether we are talking about Taiwan or Hong Kong or mainland China, these are deeply concerning issues and we continue to raise them bilaterally, and where necessary in multilateral fora, to ensure that the issues can be addressed quite directly.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is united in its condemnation of China’s incursions into Taiwanese airspace, which are clearly acts of provocation. Have Her Majesty’s Government made their opposition to these actions clear to the Chinese ambassador in London? What consideration has been given to supporting Taiwan in strengthening its military defences as a means of demonstrating our revulsion at Beijing’s arrogant aggression?
My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord on any attempt to impact the status quo. I say again what I said before: the issue of Taiwan is one to be settled peacefully for both sides. It is important for China to sustain and retain its objective of settling any disputes with Taiwan in a peaceful manner and in the interests of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
My Lords, the time allocated for this Question has elapsed.
Brexit: Civil Service Code
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of reports that new guidance has been issued to civil servants working on Brexit, whether civil servants are expected to “comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice” as set out in the Civil Service Code.
My Lords, all civil servants are subject to the Civil Service Code in supporting the Government to put forward the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill for debate in Parliament. The previous Cabinet Secretary was clear at the time that civil servants could and should work on the legislation and its passage through Parliament, as set out in the Government’s legal statement.
Despite the resignation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, over the Government’s breach of international law, other Ministers seem to kid themselves that it does not conflict with their Ministerial Code. However, the resignation of Whitehall’s top legal officer, Sir Jonathan Jones, suggests that the work on the internal markets Bill could breach the Civil Service Code’s requirement to comply with the law—despite the new Cabinet Secretary’s apparent offering of safe harbour. Given that one senior civil servant, we hear, has advised colleagues uncomfortable with this to alert their superiors, would the Government extend the directions mechanism from expenditure to policy work, so that Ministers can be asked to provide a direction to work on Clauses 42 to 45? Can the Minister assure the House that no civil servant will be expected to breach their code?
My Lords, the situation should not arise because, as the noble Baroness has said, the new Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that he is content for civil servants to work on the Bill and to support Ministers in their duties as it passes through the House. Civil servants are not being asked to act in a way that conflicts with the Civil Service Code. That is the position.
My Lords, the Civil Service Code states very clearly, regarding integrity:
“You must … comply with the law”.
The Government’s legal position states that parliamentary sovereignty can override international agreements, but not domestic law. The withdrawal agreement was passed by both Houses of Parliament and thus became—less than nine months ago—part of our domestic law. If the Cabinet Secretary is now telling civil servants that they can disregard this part of the Civil Service Code, is it not appropriate that the Minister for the Civil Service should make a Statement to Parliament, given that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act makes it clear that the Minister for the Civil Service is responsible to Parliament for the Civil Service Code?
My Lords, as I have said, the Cabinet Secretary has made the position clear. All civil servants are of course expected to carry out their role with dedication and commitment to the Civil Service and its core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality, which are, as the noble Lord has said, set out in legislation. In my experience, every civil servant rises to that high level required. The Cabinet Secretary has said that he is content for civil servants to work on this Bill.
My Lords, this goes much wider in terms of the pressure on the Civil Service to abandon that key element of impartiality. Does the Minister accept that there is a very real danger at the moment, with the Civil Service being asked to collude with procurement policies that not only lack transparency but border on nepotism? Margaret Thatcher’s phrase, about whether someone is “one of us”, is now applied to appointments inside and outside the system. In such circumstances, while we can get rid of a Government when they lose trust, once we lose trust in our institutions, in the application of our law or in the impartiality of our Civil Service, we will be seen by the rest of the world as a tinpot regime.
I do not agree with that and I regret that the noble Lord—with his enormous experience in government, which I hugely admire—takes that view. Everybody in this House and outside who has had experience of working with the Civil Service, as I have over many years, understands the relationship. Sometimes we each have to do things—even Ministers—that, in our heart of hearts, we do not agree with. There is a clear process for civil servants who believe that they are being required to act in a way that conflicts with the code. That system exists and is set out in writing; it is available to the House and I am happy to circulate it to Members. The safeguards are there.
My Lords, the Attorney-General is said to believe that the obligations under the Civil Service and Ministerial Codes apply to keeping domestic law, but not international law. Is that the Government’s position, or is their position, as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, when he was a Justice Minister, that:
“The obligations on Ministers under the law, including international law, remain unchanged.”—[Official Report, 3/11/15; col. 1522.]
My Lords, I am not going to repeat in detail any position that the Attorney-General may or may not have set out. There are traditional rules on that. The Government’s legal position has been set out and sent to the chairmen of the Select Committees. Do the Government maintain the position set out by previous Administrations that law includes international law? Yes, they do.
My Lords, what concerns me is how civil servants who might be involved in corruption trials relating to the substantial number of multimillion pound Government contracts let without competition to friends of a special adviser to the Prime Minister will be advised. Any advice from the Minister to them?
My Lords, I think it is mildly wide of the Question before the House. Also, some quite serious allegations were made by the noble Lord. I simply repeat that there are very clear procedures available for civil servants who believe that they are being required to act in a way that conflicts with the code. They can start by taking it to their line manager, and the process goes on. As I have said, I am happy to circulate the appropriate procedures to the House.
My Lords, noble Lords have focused on one particular aspect of the Civil Service Code, but there are many other requirements, one of which is that civil servants must not
“frustrate the implementation of policies once decisions are taken by declining to take, or abstaining from, action which flows from those decisions.”
Will my noble friend agree that the balancing of the different requirements in the Civil Service Code is best handled by the Civil Service under the procedures he has referred to, and not by a party-political Parliament?
Yes, I strongly agree with my noble friend. I do think this is a matter that should be left to the judgment of the leaders of the Civil Service—the Cabinet Secretary of the time being the main one. My noble friend is of course quite right to say that—and this was reinforced in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—certain duties and responsibilities do apply to civil servants.
My Lords, could the Minister indicate what discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Civil Service regarding the application of the Civil Service Code when there are suggestions of non-compliance with the law—both international and domestic—since the Internal Market Bill will directly impact Northern Ireland?
My Lords, given the Prime Minister’s foreword,
“we must uphold the very highest standards of propriety,”
do the remaining law officers intend to cling to office, where they are aiders and abetters of potential illegality? Has the Lord Chancellor any anxiety about interpreting his statutory duties to uphold the rule of law?
My Lords, the law officers act at all times in line with their duties and responsibilities, and I have every confidence that the law officers and this Government will continue to do so. For my own part, I cannot answer questions about the personal positions of other members of the Government.
The Question states,
“in the light of reports that new guidance has been issued”.
Could the Minister say whether new guidance has been issued? If it has, will he place a copy in the Library for us to consult? My second point is that it is now 59 years since I became an established civil servant. We have much more of a revolving door these days, and I fear that far too many senior civil servants and Ministers are looking at their next job in the private sector when they are interpreting the regulations. Could the Minister comment as to whether it might be time to review the whole principle of the revolving door? Incidentally, I notice that his colleague, Mr Grayling, went into a £100,000 job this morning, according to the Times.
My Lords, the last part of my noble friend’s question is again outwith the Question, but it is an important issue and one that the Government and Parliament turn their attention to from time to time. I am sure that people will note his remarks. As for the reports of a new communication, obviously I made inquiries, as was my duty, having seen the Question. We have not been able to locate this particular communication but if, as has been reported, it is a restatement of the long-standing position which is expressed in the Civil Service Code—that if civil servants ever believe they are being required to act in a way that conflicts with the code, they should raise it with their line manager, et cetera—I have already told the House that that is the position and it is unchanged. I do not know whether this alleged communication was saying that. If it was, in a sense I have already offered to put that before the House, but I will take it away.
It is extremely important that we do not let the idea be taken that there is conflict and distaste between Ministers and civil servants. That is not the case; it is partnership. Sometimes, things break out. I was reading Servants of the People the other day, in which Ministers are quoted as saying, “Civil servants are useless” and, “We expected to find Rolls-Royce service; we found a Reliant Robin”. People say things and there are moments of crisis in relationships, but my experience is that there is an outstanding relationship between the ministerial side and the Civil Service side under every Government, whatever one hears reported in the press.
My Lords, it seems to many of us that there is a less healthy relationship between certain special advisers and Ministers, and that there is a real difference between the code of propriety observed through the centuries by civil servants and the code observed by these more recent arrivals. Will my noble friend arrange for every special adviser and every Minister of the Crown to be sent a copy of the admirable article by our noble friend Lord Hague which appeared in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week?
My Lords, I am not personally responsible for the reading habits of every member of the Civil Service, the special adviser corps or the Government. I am sure people have noted what was said. Special advisers are subject to a code. I think that in public life we should all treat each other with grace and understanding, and every now and again there has to be a bit of give and take, of leave and understanding. The fundamental core of Civil Service impartiality remains. The Civil Service’s role as defined in law and practice is something that I and this Government profoundly respect and I am sure it will continue under whoever has the honour of acting as part of the Government in the future.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have now been asked.
Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to scrutinise and consider matters relating to common frameworks; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Andrews, B. (Chair), Bruce of Bennachie, L, Caine, L, Crawley, B, Foulkes of Cumnock, L, Garnier, L, Hope of Craighead, L, McInnes of Kilwinning, L, Murphy of Torfaen, L, Randerson, B, Redfern, B, Ritchie of Downpatrick, B, Thomas of Cwmgiedd, L.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Communications and Digital Committee
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
Procedure and Privileges Committee
Communications and Digital Committee
That Baroness Rebuck be appointed a member of the Committee.
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
That Baroness Gale be appointed a member of the Committee.
Procedure and Privileges Committee
That Lord Whitty be appointed a member of the Committee, in place of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.
Square Kilometre Array Observatory (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2020
Intellectual Property (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
Professional Qualifications and Services (Amendments and Miscellaneous Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume with questions on a Statement made in the House of Commons on Monday 14 September.
Japan Free Trade Agreement
The following Statement was made on Monday 14 September in the House of Commons.
“I am delighted to announce that last Friday we reached agreement in principle on a free trade deal with Japan. The UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement is a major moment in our national history. It shows that economic powerhouses, such as Japan, want ambitious deals with the United Kingdom, and it shows that the UK can succeed as an independent trading nation. It shows that we can strike deals that go further and faster than the EU-British-shaped deals that suit our economy.
This deal will drive economic growth and help level up our United Kingdom. On tech, it goes far beyond the EU-Japan deal, banning data localisation and providing for the free flow of data and net neutrality, benefiting our leading tech firms. In services, we have secured improved market access for financial services and better business mobility arrangements for professionals and their families. On food and drink, up to 70 of our brilliant British products can now be recognised in Japan, from Welsh lamb to Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, English sparkling wine and Stornoway black pudding. Under the EU deal, that was limited to just seven. We have also secured tariff reductions on British goods from biscuits to pork, as well as continued access for malt and Stilton cheese.
In manufacturing, lower tariffs on parts and improved regulatory arrangements will benefit major employers such as Nissan and Hitachi in the north-east. The deal strengthens our ties with the world’s third-largest economy and deepens the bond between two like-minded island nations that believe in free and fair trade.
One of our greatest Prime Ministers, Mrs Thatcher, saw the value of co-operating with Japan in areas such as the automotive sector and electronics in the 1980s, which attracted the likes of Nissan and Toyota to our shores and delivered lasting benefits. Now, in 2020, we will unleash a new era of mutually beneficial economic co-operation with our great friend Japan, pushing new frontiers in areas such as tech and services trade. Japan, as one of the world’s major economies, is a vital partner for the UK and one of the most significant nations in the Pacific region. Securing this Japan deal is a key stepping stone towards joining the trans-Pacific partnership, which is one of the world’s largest free trade areas, covering 13% of the global economy and £110 billion-worth of trade. Accession is vital to our future interests. It will put us in a stronger position to reshape global rules alongside like-minded allies. It will hitch us to one of the fastest growing parts of the world. It will strengthen the global consensus for free trade at a time of global uncertainty and creeping protectionism.
Japan, alongside this agreement, has given its strong commitment for UK accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and last week I co-chaired a chief negotiators’ meeting of all 11 TPP countries—the first time that a non-member state has been asked to do this—where we discussed the path to UK membership. As negotiations progress, we will bring forward the formal application process to Parliament, and ensure that it is scrutinised openly and transparently.
As I have promised, there will be a full scrutiny process for the Japan deal and all the other agreements that we strike. Prior to entering negotiations, we issued a scoping assessment and published our objectives. During the negotiations, we have engaged extensively with business and stakeholders, including sharing sensitive tariff and market access information with our new trade advisory groups. We have established a Trade and Agriculture Commission to put our farmers at the heart of trade policy and ensure that their interests are advanced. When it is complete, I will be issuing a copy of the final deal to the International Trade Committee for scrutiny. We will also produce an independently scrutinised impact assessment, covering social, labour, environmental and animal welfare aspects of the agreement so that parliamentarians are able to interrogate the deal and prepare a report that is debated in Parliament. Ultimately, Parliament will decide whether to ratify the deal through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process or to withhold its support.
I am strongly of the view that this is a great deal for Britain. It benefits all parts of our country while protecting our red lines on areas such as the NHS and food standards. The agreement that we lay before Parliament will be the first of many, because there is a huge appetite to do business with global Britain and a huge opportunity for every part of this country to benefit from these agreements. This deal is a sign and a signal that we are back as an independent trading nation, back as a major force in global trade and back as a country that stands up for free enterprise across the world. This is just the start for global Britain.”
My Lords, I congratulate the department and its officials on reaching this agreement in principle with Japan. It is a much-needed relief for all those UK companies that would have seen their trade with Japan reverted to WTO terms if the agreement had not been reached by the end of the transition period.
It is also a welcome benefit at a time of great economic uncertainty for the UK’s digital and tech sectors and for other key exporters which, we assume, will benefit from greater access, faster tariff reductions and stronger GI protections under this agreement than they enjoyed under the previous EU-Japan agreement. However, I hope the Minister will accept that in the absence of sight of the actual treaty text, and a full updated impact assessment, there is much about the UK-Japan agreement that we still do not know until these documents are published.
I welcome what is said in the Statement about the extensive scrutiny of the deal itself that will be offered to the International Trade Committee. I also note that there is a reference to an independently scrutinised impact assessment that the department will produce, so that
“parliamentarians are able to interrogate the deal and prepare a report that is debated in Parliament.”
I ask the Minister to confirm that this offer is also available to the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House, and to confirm also that the timing of these releases of documentation will be such that the necessary scrutiny can be done well before the ratification processes of the CRaG Act are triggered—as of course will be the case in Japan, whose Parliament has to ratify the deal before it can be signed.
I have four other questions. The Statement says there will be a tariff reduction on British exports of food and agriculture, which is welcome. However, presumably this is contingent on sorting out the shared quotas we currently have under the existing EU FTA. For example, does this mean that exports will continue to be restricted unless and until other EU countries fail to use them?
The Statement talks up a new area of co-operation with Japan in the automotive and electronic sectors and suggests there will be considerable growth in new areas such as aeronautics. But, as we discussed in an Oral Question earlier this week, is this not likely to be heavily contingent on final decisions on accumulation and rules of origin after the transition period ends? Can the Minister update us on progress in this area?
I ask the Minister what ISDS clauses are contained in the final agreement. If there are any, how can the Minister justify such secretive and unwelcome provisions when there are ample opportunities for agreed parties to use the normal legal processes operating in both our countries?
Finally, can we get behind the headline comparisons that were fed to the press about the benefits this agreement will produce for the UK? Would the Minister agree with me that the correct comparison is what would have happened if we had simply rolled over the existing EU-Japan deal? To put it another way, can the Minister say what we will be able to do after this FTA is ratified that we cannot do now under the existing EU-Japan FTA—and can he quantify that?
As welcome and necessary as this deal with Japan is, it is still nothing like as important, in terms of our global trade, as reaching a deal to maintain free trade with the European Union. Our trade with Japan is worth 2.2% of our current global trade, which does not come anywhere near the 47% that we have with Europe. That is why commentary on this deal from Japan suggests that the deal that will determine the future of the investment and jobs that Japanese companies bring to UK communities is not the FTA we have just signed, but the one we hope to sign shortly with Europe.
My Lords, because these Benches want the UK to prosper, we welcome the agreement. However, rather like industry groups, we do so not by hailing it but by sighing a collective sigh of relief that we have secured simple continuity of the benefits we secured as part of the EU. It has come to this—simply securing the trading terms that we had as a member of the EU now that we are out of it was described as “heroic” by a Conservative MP in the Commons on Monday.
It is customary to thank the Government for advance notice of a Statement’s accompanying published documents. However, as referred to, in this case it would have been good to have notice of the text of the agreement—which has yet to be signed—so that we could offer proper scrutiny. In Japan, both Houses of the Diet will need to approve the Cabinet’s decision to endorse the treaty. That is not afforded to our Parliament; we will not have an opportunity to do so. British parliamentarians did with the EU agreement. However, as I said last week on the Trade Bill, the Government seek continuity on most things but not on parliamentary accountability. Can the Government Whips indicate that we will have a substantive debate on this agreement in this House before the Government indicate that they seek ratification?
The Minister gave specific details of the agreement when answering questions on Monday, but we have had no sight of the agreement in order to consider the context and scale of what the Minister said. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I welcome what Liz Truss said on Monday in the House of Commons, with regard to a copy being given to the International Trade Committee. I also would like to know whether that will be afforded to our committee, the International Agreements Committee, and when this will be done. Will the text also be made available, as is common in other Parliaments, to Front-Bench spokespeople on a private briefing basis at the same time as it is sent to the committees? What will be the timeframe between it being sent to the committees and a debate in this House?
We have to reserve judgment on the wider benefits the Government claim for the agreement until we have seen them. Over recent months, we have seen the enormous capacity of the Government to oversell and then underdeliver. For example, there was massive fanfare over securing tariff-rate quotas for British agricultural products in this agreement, but then reports suggest that we have actually secured access to any non-utilised quota for EU goods.
With even greater heralding activity, the press release announced:
“New protection for more iconic UK goods … from just seven … to potentially over 70 under our new agreement”.
Understandably, MPs in the Commons lined up to welcome this, but can the Minister confirm that the agreement has no new protections creating GIs, as Japan is under no obligation to expand further its recognition in the future to beyond what we have in the EU deal? Rather, it will simply be able to consider further requests from the EU to a limit of 70.
If it transpires that this spin—which has also described the agreement as “gold standard”—is actually just a commitment to talk about further potential agreements, such as geographical indicators, the Government are building up a huge amount of expectation for very limited benefit. Given the fact that Japanese company Hitachi’s agreement for nuclear power on Anglesey is likely to have a bigger negative economic impact on the United Kingdom than any benefits of this trade agreement, context is all.
On state aid, the Minister referred to a Question I asked on Monday, and he said clearly that this a perpetuation of EU rules which we will be bound by. Can the Minister be clear and tell the House whether it will require domestic state aid legislation to implement this and, if so, will it be a continuation of the EU regime? When will that be brought forward? On tariffs, what will the overall average Japanese import tariff on UK goods be under this agreement, compared to what we have at the moment?
Finally, the Government said that the benefits are likely to yield £15 billion to the UK economy, but they have not given a timeframe. I looked at the Government’s scoping paper, and it said that that source simply stated over “the long term”. The source for that, in the footnote, was internal DIT analysis from 2018. Will the Government publish that? What is the timeframe for that £15 billion—with no caveat—the Government have announced, overselling and underdelivering again? What is the figure? The Government did not quote from that scoping exercise that that figure does not take into consideration the economic impacts of Covid-19, so what is the real likely benefit?
If we are to see the benefits from this agreement, which we wish to, the Government have to be open and transparent. So far, that transparency is lacking. I hope that the Government will be far more open in the coming weeks.
I thank both noble Lords from the Front Benches opposite for welcoming the agreement. I share their view that this is a good agreement for the United Kingdom.
I will do all I can to answer the questions put to me. First, I can confirm that the IAC—our committee which scrutinises agreements—will be treated on all fours with the ITC, and anything that goes to the ITC will also go to the IAC. The next stage, which is going on at the moment, is that the agreement is being “legally scrubbed”, or put into a good state. When that is done, which will probably be sometime in early October, that agreement in the first instance will be presented in its entirety to the two committees. It will be presented to them in good time for them to report on the agreement at the same time as the whole agreement is laid before your Lordships’ House.
At the same time as we present the agreement, we will present an impact assessment, which will set out the impact of this agreement in various environmental and other matters and, critically, we will publish another assessment which shows where this agreement differs from the previous EU agreement. Therefore, if noble Lords do not mind waiting, when that final package appears in front of the committees, and through the committees to themselves, it will answer the questions that have been asked.
I repeat that we have no desire at all not to be transparent and open with your Lordships’ House. It will be of great benefit to us if these agreements are well understood. They are important in themselves but they will be even more important once our businesses throughout the land understand them and are able to operationalise them to their own benefit.
On some of the specific questions that were raised, I can confirm that there is no ISDS clause in this agreement, so that should not be a matter of concern. Rules of origin are the same as in the previous EU-Japan agreement but with three improvements: our coats, knitwear and biscuits industries have extended rules of origin, so will be able to bring in ingredients from a wider range of places than they could under the previous agreement. Therefore, noble Lords who enjoy their shortbread can be assured that it will now be sold on even better terms into Japan.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned quotas, which are a very small part of this. Out of £150 million of agricultural trade between the UK and Japan, only £1 million is covered by quotas. As mentioned, our producers will be able to take advantage of the unused quotas in that, and for products such as Stilton cheese, that will certainly be of benefit to its producers.
The state aid references in the agreement are de minimis and the kind of state aid arrangements which we regularly find in agreements of this sort. This in no way creates a new state aid regime for the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned GIs. Japan has agreed that we can put up to 70 further GIs in front of them and the tone of that discussion was very warm. Those GIs will go through a challenge process, but my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary and I are very confident that they, or at least the vast bulk of them, will be approved by the Japanese.
If noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite wish to see any further points of detail covered, I will be happy to deal with them separately. However, if noble Lords do not mind waiting for the next few weeks, until these agreements are out in the open, things will be very clear then, and I hope that will lead to people understanding and further welcoming a very important agreement.
We now come to the 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.
I enthusiastically congratulate my noble friend the Minister and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on a successful conclusion to the UK-Japan trade deal. What could be more fitting than the first post-Brexit trade deal being between our two great enterprising and trading global and island nations? Who would be more than delighted than the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who instructed me 30 years ago as an intimidated junior Minister to “Forget Brussels—Japan should be our friend, ally and close trading partner for the future”? However, does my noble friend agree that it is now for British industry and commerce to take full advantage of this historic deal, showing the world what the best of British can deliver? How will this historic agreement progress the UK’s accession to the CPTPP?
I thank my noble friend for her generous comments. I know that she is a great expert on Japan so it is particularly welcome that those comments came from her. She is of course right that we see this agreement as a gateway to the trans-Pacific partnership. Some 90% of global growth comes from beyond the EU, so both Japan and the wider Pacific region are vital for Britain’s future economy. We have no doubt that the finalisation of this Japan agreement will greatly help in that process, not least because Japan will hold the chair of the trans-Pacific partnership countries next year.
My Lords, the signing of the UK-Japan trade deal is a breakthrough moment and is welcomed by business across the country. May I build on what the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, just said? How will the Government use this trade deal as a launch pad to secure accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership? Given that this deal supposedly has benefits beyond the EU-Japan trade deal, could the Minister tell us how the Government will ensure that British companies, who may not have utilised EU FTAs as well as they could have, capitalise on this deal and ensure that the £15 billion of additional trade is realised?
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. To answer the second part of his question, there is an obligation on the Department for International Trade to ensure that the benefits of these agreements—in due course, when they are signed and ratified—are well known throughout the UK. For example, the Japan agreement has huge benefits to our SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy. To put it in the nicest way, what would be the point of negotiating these agreements if we did not bring these benefits home to businesses throughout the United Kingdom? A lot is going on with the trans-Pacific partnership accession. Since July 2018, we have engaged with all 11 member countries and recently had a meeting between the Secretary of State and her counterpart in Mexico, attended by all heads of missions of the CPTPP. The tone of the meeting was warm. We are very much encouraged by the members of the CPTPP to pursue our contact with them, and I have no doubt that that contact will in due course lead to an accession request being made to the trans-Pacific partnership.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the trade deal with Japan will boost our GDP by only 0.07%? Will he tell the House how that compares with the economic cost of losing our free trade with the European Union, given that we still seem far from achieving a comprehensive trade agreement with it?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Of course, this has a smaller economic benefit than our arrangements with the EU, but I think it is right to gain economic benefit wherever we can. It would seem churlish not to want to pursue a Japan free trade agreement purely because it was smaller than a European free trade agreement. The full benefits of this agreement will be available to the House once the agreement and our impact assessment are published, and I ask the noble Baroness to wait until that happens and, perhaps, consider it then.
My Lords, we have been told that in this deal there will be new protections for the UK creative industries and that these protections have gone beyond the EU provisions that tackle online infringement of IP rights such as film and music piracy. The two major asks from the creative industries were that this deal with Japan introduced public performance rights, significantly benefiting the music industry, and a provision such as the one we already have in the UK that allows blocking of websites that provide access to illicit content. Have those two primary objectives been achieved and, if they were not, what confidence can the creative industries have that similar asks will be delivered in future negotiations?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. I can indeed confirm that there are a number of advantages for the creative industries coming out of this enhanced continuity agreement, and the details of them will become apparent when the agreement and assessment are published in due course.
My Lords, in welcoming this trade deal, I am particularly pleased that it removes trade barriers, delivering huge gains for the 8,000 UK SMEs exporting goods and services to Japan. I ask two questions. Overall, does the deal give better UK access than under the EU trade deal that was put into force in February last year? Following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, given Her Majesty’s Government's assessment that the trade deal could add 0.07% to UK GDP, what assessment has the department made of the effect of not agreeing a trade deal with the European Union?
Again, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. There is a specific SME chapter in this agreement. It goes further than the previous EU chapter and the whole intent of that chapter is to make it easier for our SMEs to trade with Japan. Further details will be available on that in due course. I have not seen any assessment in relation to the EU of the sort that he mentioned, and I dare say that it has not been thought necessary because of the overwhelming view in this country that we should leave the European Union, which indeed we did on 1 January this year.
My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. I am delighted that we have agreed a free trade agreement with Japan and strongly welcome the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend. As the Secretary of State said, the deal will
“unleash a new era of mutually beneficial economic co-operation with our great friend Japan”.
Against this background, does the Minister agree that it is a great disappointment that Hitachi decided yesterday to change the status of the Horizon nuclear power station project at Wylfa and Oldbury from suspended to cancelled? It is of some comfort that Hitachi has said that it will keep the lines of communication open with government and other key stakeholders regarding future options at both our sites. Can my noble friend confirm that the Government have sent an urgent message to the Government of Japan and Hitachi that they want strongly to work together to find a way of reviving this important project in the interests of all stakeholders?
I thank my noble friend for his comments about the agreement and I am well aware of his great expertise in Japan. As the Minister for Investment, of course it is always a matter of great regret for me if a major company decides not to pursue an investment opportunity in the United Kingdom. My noble friend will realise that nuclear has a huge number of manifestations; these are very large decisions that companies will take. We have maintained contact with Hitachi throughout the process. I believe that this was a decision by the Hitachi board. I have no information in what circumstances it might choose to revisit that decision, but I will say that I have huge admiration for Hitachi. I have spoken to Hitachi at the most senior levels on a number of occasions, and we would always welcome any investment from Hitachi into the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I declare my interests as noted in the register, but in particular my membership of the UK board of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group, set up by Prime Minister Thatcher when the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, was a Minister. The board met in its annual conference with Japanese colleagues last weekend and warmly welcomed the announcement of the trade deal: in particular the steps towards UK membership of the comprehensive trans-Pacific partnership.
It would also be appropriate today for us to welcome and congratulate Prime Minister Suga on his election yesterday as Prime Minister of Japan. He has a particularly strong commitment to UK-Japan relations and an understanding of the importance of the UK and Japan in maintaining an international rules-based system and that free and fair trade are at the heart of that. Can the Minister confirm that, when we see the details of this agreement and its implementation over the coming months, there will be nothing that will contradict our commitment to those international agreements on climate change and the sustainable development goals that see the UK and Japan committed to not only free trade but fair trade that helps preserve our planet and develop the global economy?
The noble Lord is yet another example of the vast expertise that we have in this House on these matters and, because of his special insights into Japan, I welcome his commendation of this agreement. He is right to say that Japan and the UK have very similar attitudes to these matters: both of us look to a rules-based economy in world trade. I can confirm that the matters to which he referred have been rolled over from the EU agreement. The EU agreement had very strong provisions in relation to sustainability, climate and other matters, and he will see once the agreement is made available to the House that we have preserved the impact of those measures. I join the noble Lord’s congratulations of the new Japanese Prime Minister: I wish him a long and successful period in post.
My Lords, while naturally congratulating the Government on the progress with the Japan FTA, is it recognised that it is not in the interests of business to spend years negotiating free trade agreements for them to fail because one stakeholder group or another does not agree with them? Specifically, is a free trade agreement model for beyond the EU now being adopted by the UK in trade negotiations—with people speaking well of the Singaporean approach, for example? Can the Government demonstrate that they are being receptive to the principle of a UK-wide trade alliance that affords better scrutiny and transparency, building back better, and a trade model that ensures trade works for everyone, given some concern of limited evidence of inclusion?
I thank the noble Viscount for his question. Before I answer it, I first apologise to him for misunderstanding an Oral Question that he asked me the other day. I have written to him correcting my misunderstanding.
The noble Viscount is completely right that one has to build a constituency for these agreements if they are to have the impact that we all desire. For that reason, we conducted a very extensive call for input between September and November last year on it, and published it along with our response in negotiation objectives. We held round tables across the country, and we have also set up various trade advisory groups with expertise drawn from a wide cross-section of the UK to advise us on the negotiations as they persist. The noble Viscount will understand that the lessons and advancements that you gain in one free trade agreement—subject, of course, to the trammels of negotiation—often get rolled forward into future free trade agreements. We believe that we are on the cutting edge of free trade agreements, and we are looking forward to those cutting edges appearing in the new free trade agreements that we intend to negotiate and ratify going forward.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and join in the congratulations on the achievement of this agreement in principle, and for which my noble friend the Minister deserves a certain amount of personal credit. I join, too, in the sending of good wishes to the new Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Yoshihide Suga. Could this deal herald an era of increased collaboration with Japan, not just on trade and business but across the whole range of security and defence co-ordination, such as the extension of the Five Eyes alliance in south-east Asia, and here at home on major infrastructure projects in railways, nuclear and other areas—replacing perhaps over-ubiquitous Chinese involvement with a more friendly Japanese presence? I join my noble friend Lord Trenchard in urging a reversal of the Hitachi withdrawal from our nuclear programme, which is a pity. Could steps be taken urgently to reverse that and maintain the programme?
Again, I thank my noble friend for his comments. He makes a very good point. I have always seen the signing of these agreements as having psychological and practical impacts that go far wider than the agreements themselves. The deep interaction that goes on in the negotiations gives rise to much better understanding between Governments. It awakens interest in a whole range of society in the countries being negotiated with. As he does, I see this as a harbinger of even closer relationships with Japan in a whole number of areas, including the important defence and security areas to which he refers.
My Lords, I was interested to read in the Minister’s recent letter regarding this deal that there would be new protection for the more iconic UK goods such as Cornish pasties. How large does he judge the Japanese appetite for Cornish pasties to be? More importantly, what has the UK given to the Japanese that goes beyond what the EU deal gives? We have heard only of the potential— I stress, potential—upside of this deal. I should like to know what benefits go the other way.
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. In relation to Cornish pasties, I have unwittingly watched television programmes from time to time that show the extraordinary variety of food that they eat in Japan. I am sure that against that background the Cornish pasty would be more than welcomed by Japanese consumers. In terms of the impact of this agreement, compared with the EU agreement, I ask her to await the publication of the agreement and of the report that we will produce setting out the differences in detail.
My Lords, the agreement is welcome but, a few days ago, British and European motor manufacturers warned of £100 billion in losses over the next five years if there is no trade deal with the EU. That is on top of an estimated €100 billion cost from the Covid pandemic. Does the Minister understand the implications for our motor industry and for Japanese companies if there is no deal with the EU, and the consequent danger to British jobs that inevitably would follow?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. We are all aware of the vast amount of trade that we have with the European Union and the impact of that not just on our car industry but on other industries. That is why I am sure that he will join me in hoping that those negotiations reach a sensible conclusion. We believe that we have put pragmatic proposals to the EU, and we are hoping that it will shortly see that and agree an agreement with us.
My Lords, I warmly welcome this agreement. My question is simple. My noble friend stated that we will continue to be bound by the state aid arrangements that currently apply to the EU-Japan agreement. Why will we not agree to be bound by those same rules in our future relationship with the EU? What is so different between that relationship and our relationship with Japan?
I thank my noble friend for her question. Perhaps I may repeat that the state aid provisions found in this free trade agreement are de minimis and in no way compare with what one might call the state aid environment that is the matter under discussion between the UK and the EU. Full details of this will be seen when the agreement is finally published.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Report (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 16: Support for rural development
Debate on Amendment 43 resumed.
My Lords, it seems only right that, having spoken on the amendments in the fourth group, which would have restricted financial assistance to solely supporting production, I also respond to these amendments, which call for the opposite.
Amendments 43 and 44 come from different places but clearly demonstrate the importance of allowing a level of financial assistance for purposes other than production. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, when she said on Tuesday evening that she wishes to see a United Kingdom where there are no food banks. Their proliferation in both rural and urban areas in the last 10 years is a failure of government to address poverty issues in our communities. The devastating effects of the pandemic, combined with the disastrous rollout of universal credit, have pushed more and more people in this country into reliance on these services, which casts an indelible blight on one of the world’s richest economies.
I am particularly interested to hear the Minister’s response to Amendment 44, which raises the lack of progress—in public, at least—in relation to the UK shared prosperity fund. I know that my colleagues in both national and local government in Wales are particularly interested to know what happens next in the distribution of this promised funding, which replaces the generous EU grants of previous decades. I share my noble friend Lady Young’s fears about the shared prosperity fund being neither shared nor prosperous.
In relation to Amendment 44, does the Minister believe this point is covered by the government amendments in the group after next? If not, is there any form of contingency should a gap arise in the availability of development funds?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will take Amendments 43 and 44 together. I would like to reassure your Lordships that we recognise the importance of the issues that these amendments raise. Farmers and farming households make a valuable contribution to our national life, and we recognise that the needs of farming households may change as we move away from the common agricultural policy.
As set out in their manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. The manifesto also stated that it will, at a minimum, match the size of those funds in each nation, which was reiterated by the Chancellor in the last Budget. The final decisions about the quantum and design of the funding will take place after a cross-governmental spending review.
The Government have made a long-standing commitment to ensure that all policies are rural proofed—that is, ensuring that policy outcomes work in rural areas. This includes the development and delivery of the UK shared prosperity fund, on which Defra and MHCLG officials are working closely. In advance of the introduction of the UK shared prosperity fund, £60 million of funding will continue to flow to rural businesses via the final tranche of the growth programme, which the RPA is currently assessing.
The fund will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19, and our expectation is that the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD will be a component of the fund. This was set out in a letter from the Defra Secretary of State to the chair of the EFRA Select Committee on 7 September. Defra officials continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on the fund’s development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and particularly the challenges faced by rural communities, as well as the opportunities that I believe rural communities have. We have been in contact with MHCLG Ministers and I can assure your Lordships that MHCLG recognises the importance of these considerations.
I fully recognise the importance of reassuring rural communities and farming households about the future of local growth funding. The Government will look to set out their national approach to local economic recovery and devolution through a White Paper expected in the autumn. We firmly believe that the best way to make progress is to continue to work collaboratively at local and national level. The MHCLG has established an economic recovery working group, which meets regularly, bringing together a range of local growth partners to work on emerging themes and concerns across the country, including those relevant to rural areas. This includes representatives from rural local enterprise partnerships and local authorities.
If new socioeconomic support programmes were to be operated under Clause 16, they would have to operate under broadly the same framework dictated by the existing CAP. Clause 16 provides the Secretary of State with the power to modify or repeal retained EU legislation relating to rural development in England. This clause will not be used to introduce any new schemes, as they will be covered under Clause 1.
I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Earl will accept my confirmation that the UK shared prosperity fund will provide great opportunities for growth and investment in rural communities and will include the successor for the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD. I believe this is a cause we all share and hope that, on that basis, given the explanation of the work we are undertaking between the two departments and the imperative of rural proofing, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request to ask a question from the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
Following up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I ask the Minister to confirm whether he considers that government Amendments 45 and 46 might address the issues raised by Amendment 44. It is important to have that clarified. I thought that they did as I read them in preparation for today. That would certainly alleviate some of the concerns behind Amendment 44.
My Lords, when we come to the amendments in my name I will explain that they intend to, and will, provide for the smooth running of existing schemes under the EU programmes, not only so that they can continue to work well but so that people due to receive funds from them can do so. The amendments we have discussed were about additional and beyond, but my amendments on retained EU law are technical amendments to ensure that the existing programme under the existing schemes can work effectively.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate, albeit that it has taken place over two days—three, if you add in yesterday. I also thank the Minister for his carefully worded reply. I know that he personally understands the problems I have described and the importance of the wider rural economy, not only to farmers and farming households but to those who live on the edge in our countryside and whose poverty remains largely ignored by government.
Meanwhile, I reassure my good friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it was never my intention to take money away from ELMS, or even the agricultural budget—or perhaps, as she might have put it more figuratively, I had no wish to hang another bauble on to the ELMS Christmas tree. I was trying to make the “rural affairs” bit of Defra a bit more of a reality, as recommended by two Select Committee reports of this House in recent years. However, as hinted at by my very old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, it is probably best to keep rural communities alongside all other communities and therefore firmly within the ministry for communities, now known as MHCLG.
The Minister has indeed given me some comfort in what he said about the shared prosperity fund, although I realise that nothing is certain before the comprehensive spending review. It might have been good to hear some indication as to when we will get any tangible details about the shared prosperity fund, but I suppose, with our economy currently on a precipice of uncertainty owing to the fallout from Covid and the ongoing doubts about the Brexit deal, it would have been asking too much to expect more detail when neither the Treasury nor MHCLG have any firm grip on where they are going.
Anyway, I will stop there. In the light of the Minister’s undertakings on the Floor of the House about a future rural component of a shared prosperity fund, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Amendment 44 not moved.
44A: Clause 16, page 12, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) amending Annex IV of the Regulation (indicative list) to cover broadband connectivity and digital literacy.”
My Lords, it is a pleasure to move Amendment 44A. In doing so, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for her support. The amendment is incredibly straight- forward. It would enable farmers and all those in our rural communities to have the broadband connectivity and digital skills to operate confidently in that space.
As we have seen through the Covid crisis, our farmers have been on the front line in so many ways, filling in for long supply chains that should, in many ways, probably not have been that length in the first place. Our farmers have absolutely stepped up. Although they have been on the front line, they have often found it impossible to be online. The National Farmers Union broadband survey last year showed that 15% of those in our rural communities had no indoor broadband connectivity at all, and a shocking 36% could say they had only adequate broadband cover.
As we have also seen through the Covid crisis, it is not just the economic imperative to be online; there is a social and psychological dimension. Not only have our farmers not been able to run their businesses efficiently and effectively, the social dimension of keeping in contact with friends and family, and the psychological difficulties often felt with the remoteness of rural communities, have been brought home only too strongly through the Covid crisis.
Amendment 44A would put an end to this parlous position when it comes to broadband, digital connectivity and digital literacy. Earlier this year, in response to the EFRA Select Committee inquiry on broadband conductivity, the Government said that they had in principle put £5 billion in and would look at a shared rural broadband network. It was talked of in principle and intention. How do the Government intend to put that into will?
It is not just good soil and good farm management that produce our fabulous food, fruit and horticulture products but having high-speed broadband and the confidence and digital skills to operate in cyberspace as much as across the fields of the United Kingdom. We must demonstrate that we are all in this together. That means providing a level of broadband and digital literacy for all our farmers and all those in our rural communities. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? If the Government are not up for supporting the amendment, will she say how they intend to get the best out of all our rural communities, not least our farmers, to deliver on the levelling-up agenda and to drive economic, social and psychological benefits for our farmers and all those across our rural communities? I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 44A and I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond for tabling it. I pay tribute to his expertise, knowledge and sheer perseverance in this area. It gives me the opportunity to draw further attention to how woeful broadband and wi-fi connections are in many parts of rural England because places are simply too far—more than a mile—from the local box.
Also, many will not appreciate the issue with the mobile phone signal. I look directly at the Woolsack; I am sure this problem is not unfamiliar in Scotland. In the summer in parts of North Yorkshire where the red phone boxes have been removed it is inherently dangerous if you do not have access to a landline. It is incredibly important that we should have a good mobile phone service. I had hoped we would be able to piggyback on the police service, but apparently we are not able to do that for security reasons. North Yorkshire Police made a massive investment to make sure they could apprehend criminals by getting reinforcements where that was the case.
I take this opportunity to bring to my noble friend the Minister’s attention how in many areas of the dales and the moorlands of the north of England there is both poor mobile phone conductivity and woeful broadband—it is persistently bad. I welcome the amendment and the extra spending the Government have announced to be spent in areas such as North Yorkshire, recognising that this is the case.
We went into the last election and the previous one with a commitment to a universal service of “x megabytes by x date”. That date keeps moving. Can I press my noble friend on what date we will have universal service and on whether the additional funds that the Government can find can be spent on the 3% of the population who are hardest to reach? It grieves me greatly to be told that 97% of the population will have universal access to broadband but not the 3% of us who happen to live in rural areas. I want to ensure that we can reverse the priorities and spend the additional money, and any other money that is available, in these hardest-to-reach areas.
As my noble friend Lord Holmes set out, it is an unacceptable situation that, in the 21st century, children who are sent home from school because one of their class has Covid-19, and who are diligently trying to do their work at home, prevent farmers going online to fill in forms. I hope that the Minister uses her good offices to correct that situation.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for bringing forward this amendment. I suspect that other Peers did not realise that this amendment had been re-tabled, hence the short speakers’ list.
During the Covid-19 lockdown it became painfully apparent how inadequate the broadband system is, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has said. It is vital that all areas of the country have good, fast and resilient broadband, especially those in our agricultural sector. Many Peers attempting to take part in virtual proceedings have struggled with connections suddenly dropping off or being unable to log on in the first place. In 2018, the average broadband speed in rural hamlets and isolated dwellings in a sparse setting was half that of major conurbations. Can the Minister say whether this has improved in the intervening two years?
In the aftermath of the Huawei fiasco, the Secretary of State was clear on the consequences of the Government’s decision to pull out. Operators charged with delivering 5G will now, without compensation, have £2 billion less to spend on rolling it out, at the same time bearing the cost of ripping out high-risk vendor 5G equipment by 2027. This is a huge proportion of the investment which was to be committed by the operators towards 5G rollout. Can the Minister say whether, in the intervening months since this decision was made, the Government have now reconsidered providing compensation to providers and consumers? The change in provider will delay the rollout of 5G by two to three years. Rural communities are already extremely disadvantaged in their connectivity. Many rural businesses have had to relocate to more urban areas to continue operating. Those in the farming community, like others, must fill in all their forms online. This now appears to be the Government’s only way of communicating with those residents to whom they attempt to provide services.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, during the lockdown children were dependent on Zoom connectivity to take part in sessions with their teachers. Although this meant that they received some tuition, for many the connection was so poor that it was hopeless. If the Government are true to their word in wanting to support rural communities, it is vital that broadband connectivity and digital literacy are taken seriously. This is not a “nice to have” for the agricultural industry, but an “absolute must”. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for once again raising this important issue. He is right to draw attention to the alarming lack of progress in rolling out broadband to rural areas. This is hindering the ability of British farmers to do their job, and it will become even more of a crisis when new farming techniques requiring regular digital applications become mainstream.
The latest Ofcom report identifies 677,000 homes and offices without decent broadband, but the vast majority—496,000—are in rural areas. Ofcom also reports that many rural areas are left with patchy and unreliable mobile reception, with less than half having 4G coverage. Sadly, it is all too common to hear stories of farmers driving around the countryside to try to get a signal to carry out even the basic business connections that they need for their work.
The lack of broadband is also having a wider impact on rural economies and is preventing the development of start-up businesses and the capacity for people to work at home. As work and training provision are increasingly focused on home working, where strong digital connectivity is key, a whole new generation in rural areas is being excluded from good employment opportunities.
It is hugely frustrating that it is taking so long to get this right. Since this Government have been in office, promises about broadband have come and gone, so forgive us if we are cynical about the latest announcements. Of course we welcome the latest government promise to invest £5 billion in rolling out full fibre broadband across the country, and we welcome the money set aside to specifically target vouchers at rural homes. We very much hope that these initiatives are successful and able to reach into the hard-to-reach rural settings which have been shunned by the private sector up until now. The £20 million set aside for the rural gigabit connectivity programme does not seem a lot of money, given the costs involved in rolling this access out. Nevertheless, it is a start.
Perhaps when the Minister replies, she could clarify by what date we can expect to achieve access for all rural properties to full fibre broadband and say whether she is confident that this programme is on track and will meet that deadline. I look forward to her response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for tabling this amendment which seeks to use the Agriculture Bill to provide for new socioeconomic support programmes to help fund improved broadband connectivity and digital skills in rural areas beyond the end of the current rural development programme. He is indeed a champion of addressing the very real digital divide.
I reassure this House that we recognise the importance of the issue that this amendment raises. This Government are determined to connect every home and business to the fastest broadband speeds available. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said, access to digital is key to helping all rural communities build resilient modern businesses, as well as supporting them in their daily lives. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the integral role that digital connectivity plays in our daily lives, economically, socially and in continuing to deliver essential public services. The Government are investing record amounts to level up digital infrastructure across the UK. We are already connecting some of the hardest-to-reach places in the country, including through the superfast broadband programme and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. The Government want nationwide coverage of gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible.
We have also announced £5 billion of public funding—not just in principle; it has been announced—to close the digital divide and ensure that rural areas are not left behind. Only last week, we announced that more than £22 million of additional funding is being invested in the UK Government’s broadband voucher scheme, which subsidises the cost of building gigabit-capable broadband networks to hard-to-reach areas. The Government are working with mobile network operators to deliver mobile connectivity improvements through a shared rural network. Much is therefore already in place to improve connectivity in rural areas, and we have already started the 5G rollout.
We also recognise the importance of improving digital skills in rural areas. There is a wide number of initiatives to support this, including the digital skills partnership launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2017, to bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors to work together to close the digital skills gap at a local level. Although the current rural development programme allows for support for broadband and digital skills, these wider government initiatives are the key funding mechanisms for broadband connectivity and digital skills. However, we are also committed to supporting rural communities through post-EU exit funding and the UK shared prosperity fund, which will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19.
As set out in the manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. Defra officials are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on its development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the challenges faced by rural communities. The final decisions about the quantum and design of future socioeconomic funding will take place after the upcoming cross-government spending review.
With these assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests for further short questions. Accordingly, I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.
I thank the Minister for her full and thorough response, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. All I would add at this stage is that the Minister consider further whether there is anything in this space which could be considered for Third Reading. The Agriculture Bill provides a real opportunity to focus on such an important bedrock—as important as the soil will be the fibre which enables food to grow, economic development and the social and psychological well-being for farmers all across our rural communities. So I urge her to consider whether there is anything that can be brought at Third Reading. Also, will she consider convening a round table with colleagues from DCMS to see whether there are any further specific support ideas that can be deployed in this space? I once again thank noble Lords who participated and the Minister for her full response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44A withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 45. I remind noble Lords that Members, other than the mover and the Minister, may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make this clear in debate.
45: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Continuing EU programmes: power to provide financial assistance
(1) The appropriate national authority may give financial assistance to—(a) a person who is a party to an agreement entered into in accordance with any of the following provisions—(i) the Rural Development Regulation,(ii) any legacy rural development provision, or(iii) Articles 32 to 35 of the Common Provisions Regulation (community-led local development), so far as relating to support for rural development,where the agreement has not concluded, or(b) a producer organisation implementing an operational programme approved in accordance with the producer organisations aid provisions.(2) In this section—“appropriate national authority” means—(a) the Secretary of State, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to England;(b) the Welsh Ministers, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Wales;(c) DAERA, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Northern Ireland;“the Common Provisions Regulation” means Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund etc;“legacy rural development provision” means any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to support for rural development that preceded the Rural Development Regulation (including—(a) Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 of 20 September 2005 on support for rural development,(b) Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/99 of 17 May 1999 on support for rural development,(c) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2080/92 of 30 June 1992 instituting a Community aid scheme for forestry measures in agriculture,(d) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside, and(e) Council Regulation (EEC) No 1096/88 of 25 April 1988 establishing a Community scheme to encourage the cessation of farming);“the producer organisations aid provisions” means—(a) Articles 32 to 38 of the CMO Regulation, which make provision about aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations (“producer organisations aid”),(b) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/891 of 13 March 2017 supplementing the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors, and(c) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/892 of 13 March 2017 laying down rules for the application of the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors;“the Rural Development Regulation” means Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the Secretary of State, the Welsh Ministers and DAERA to continue to make payments where agreements and programmes are currently supported under an EU programme relating to rural development or fruit and vegetable producers.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 46, 107, 110, 111, 122, 123, 124 and 125 in my name. Following new legal advice from the European Law Group and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, these technical amendments are being tabled to put beyond doubt that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual programmes under rural development and common market organisation will be created at the end of the implementation period, where this is not created automatically by virtue of the interrelationship between the withdrawal agreement and European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Clauses 14, 15, 16 and their equivalents in the Welsh and Northern Irish schedules all rely on a body of retained EU law being created on implementation period completion day that can then be applied in domestic law and modified as required. Article 138 of the withdrawal agreement means that rural development programmes and some parts of the common market organisation will continue to operate under EU law after the end of the implementation period. However, Section 3(2)(a)(bi) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 prevents EU legislation that is directly applicable in domestic law as a result of the withdrawal agreement under Section 7A of EWA also becoming retained EU law. I am sorry about this, but I want to go into some technical detail so that it is very clear to your Lordships.
This created a legal doubt as to whether the legislation governing the relevant rural development and CMO aid schemes would roll over to become retained EU law. These amendments therefore put that question beyond doubt by ensuring that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual agreements and programmes in rural development and CMO will be created at the end of the implementation period. They also provide a payment power to continue paying existing holders of agreements or programmes once the EU funding ends. This power to pay does not depend on modifying retained EU law. Such a power is necessary to ensure domestic funding can step in when existing EU budgets are exhausted in circumstances where these agreements and programmes continue to be regulated under the withdrawal agreement.
As I said, these are technical amendments required to ensure the Bill works as it was originally intended, so that modifications may be made to existing programmes where appropriate, simplifications and improvements may be made to schemes and scheme beneficiaries can continue to receive payments. These government amendments are supported by, and made with the approval of, the devolved Administrations. That is most important and the schedules for Wales and Northern Ireland are at their request. I also emphasise that there is no change to the policy intent of Clauses 14, 15 and 16. I beg to move.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
Then we shall move on to the noble Lord, Lord Mann.
My Lords, I appreciate that I may be in a tiny minority in this House. I do not intend to press anything to a vote and I fully understand the detail and the logic of these amendments. But I heard the Minister refer on a number of occasions to manifesto policy at the election and, having in another life represented a 500 square mile rural consistency, I have taken the opportunity to see whether there was any misprint or printing problem in the election leaflets, because I saw or heard nowhere a proposal for retained EU legislation. It illustrates a rather different approach, albeit by consensus across political parties, when it comes to agriculture as opposed to, say, manufacturing industry and other areas of state aid. Of course, this is still one of the two unresolved issues for negotiation in advance of the forthcoming EU Council, although the detail on state aid has been less clear.
I do not recall anyone ever telling me when they voted to leave the European Union that they were voting to keep the common agricultural policy, albeit with a different name, or to retain through legislation, funding and priority the same systems, or indeed that there would be a seven-year transition period. Actually, I think I would sooner have supported leaving the European Union. Transition periods, even ones of seven years, may be very sensible. I am happy to have voted for a seven-year transition period, but I do not think that I am in a minority across the country in being wary of us adopting some elements of what the EU created and what some of us would regard as the worst elements, because the common agricultural policy was the most incoherent form of state aid, the most invalid and antiquated, and one that did not serve the future interests of this country. So I put it very politely to the Minister that I am not suggesting that he should be circulating leaflets saying that the Government are proudly retaining EU legislation and what goes with that in terms of funding, but there needs more thought in debate, particularly in relation to state aid, that what might serve one community might well serve another community. I am quite sure that steel communities, which are part of rural communities in many parts of this country, would be keen to hear similar principles being applied on an ongoing basis.
For some communities and industries, it is too late. There is no coal industry left to provide state aid to. When that was attempted, I led delegations to Brussels and to a range of UK Governments to try to get state aid to allow the few remnants of the coal industry to survive—not because we wanted coal as opposed to green technology but because we wanted British coal as opposed to Chinese or Australian coal. We would rather that it provided wages and employment in this country. We were wholly unsuccessful under the way the EU configured its state aid rules and the way we applied them in this country.
I end on this point: that consistency also comes to mind when I hear noble Lords across this House putting in their requests for the shared prosperity fund. When I had the honour in another life of representing a rural area with mining communities built in, I went into tens of thousands of homes and dealt with the most extreme poverty. I can tell the House that the poverty in rural areas was, and is, nothing compared with the poverty in former coal mining areas. They are a world apart in life opportunities, real standards of living, housing conditions, jobs and real prosperity.
More than anything else, my polite advice to the Government, who breached the red wall in precisely those kinds of mixed rural and former mining communities, is that if these mining communities do not get sufficient assistance, their economies will be strangled, and the Government and the party in power will pay a very high price for that misjudgment.
My Lords, I welcome these amendments. I have only two questions for my noble friend.
It concerns me that these amendments have been tabled at this stage. Why did we not know about this problem before? Why has it only just come to light on Report? It worries me that we might be letting other issues through.
Are there any other related programmes affecting other industries where primary legislation might be needed to cover the gap, as my noble friend is covering it for agriculture in this instance?
My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has tabled this group of amendments to clarify the legal situation in what seems a potentially vexatious area.
I want to place on record how dependent many heavily deprived rural areas have become on parts of the European rural development fund. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Mann, I want to place on record a bid to make sure that any offerings from the shared prosperity fund will include a heavy element of rural development and grants.
I also want to put a question to my noble friend the Minister. What will the natural end of these schemes be? I assume that they will be phased out. If the schemes are rolled over in the specific circumstances to which my noble friend referred, will they reach the natural end of their life by 2023? Will the LEADER programme and the other programmes that fall under the current rural development schemes—they have obviously had much funding from both EU and domestic funds—continue to benefit from the new ELM schemes? Is that the Government’s intention?
My Lords, this group of government amendments relates to the rural development regulation and would allow the devolved Administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland to operate once the EU programmes of financial assistance have ceased. It will be extremely important for the rural development regulation to continue and for fruit and vegetable producers to be supported.
As I understand it, the amendments would, under the withdrawal agreement, roll over both retained EU legislation to cover existing programmes and a large number of programmes on which the farmers of the devolved Administrations rely. They cover apiculture in Northern Ireland and Wales, and some consequential amendments cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland only; another includes Scotland as well.
As the Minister indicated, the devolved Administrations are in agreement with these amendments. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on state aid and have some sympathy with them.
I generally welcome this large group of amendments. They give a lot of technical detail, as the Minister said. I hope that this will mean that slightly fewer statutory instruments follow on from this Bill. I also note the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about whether this covers a gap and whether we should have known about it beforehand. Generally, however, I support all the amendments in this group.
My Lords, we welcome these technical government amendments, aimed at providing greater certainty over the state of legacy funding schemes and EU-derived legislation.
I appreciated the Minister’s technical explanations in his introduction. However, I would appreciate it if he could explain why these amendments have been tabled only at this late stage of consideration, given that the points they cover will have been on the department’s radar for quite some time.
A number of EU exit statutory instruments have been found to contain errors that have required correction by later instruments. Is there a mechanism for changes to be made to these provisions should any problems arise? We have spent a summer of U-turns, with a plethora of problems arising across government in a range of offices and service delivery and systems simply not working. Should it not be the case with good governance that problems are dealt with before they become a problem? I urge the Minister to use his expertise in these matters to look at these mechanisms again and ensure that changes can be made to the legislation in good time in this House.
My Lords, this has been a very helpful debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords for their general welcome for the amendments, although I want to deal with some of the points made. I will be the first to say that the perfect form is something we all aspire to, but I am afraid that we are all human.
I want to explain this matter precisely because my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox of Newport and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, made absolutely fair points. The advice from the European Law Group about retained EU law changed recently, prompting Defra lawyers to want to put beyond doubt that we can continue to pay beneficiaries under existing CAP schemes.
I would not blame the noble Lord, Lord Mann, if he was not listening to our earlier deliberations, but I explained on Tuesday that one reason why the Government were keen to start the transition is that we are the first to say that we do not think that the CAP has been directed properly or that it has given value for money on all the things we want to do. I am happy to send that reference to the noble Lord; we are clear that that is why we want a transition and want to start now. As for existing programmes, I also say to the noble Lord that this is about where people have entered into existing programmes in good faith. We want them to have the ability for that to continue, as the programmes were forces for good, and for those applicants to receive the funds that they thought were the case.
On a point raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I say to noble Lords that part of what we will want to do in supporting the farming sector but also rural communities is that there will be financial assistance through Clause 1 and other clauses in this Bill for farmers. I emphasise that the whole essence of the UK shared prosperity fund is that “shared” means across the country. I assure your Lordships that this is the case everywhere I go; it means to former mining communities, rural, coastal, suburban and urban. It is a shared prosperity fund, and it will not be successful unless it is precisely that. I absolutely understand that it is important that all communities—certainly those that have been going through very difficult times over quite a long period of time and particularly in those areas where industrial change has been so acute—are included.
I am grateful to all noble Lords for their welcome for these measures. As I say, I have had to bring them forward because there has been a change of advice. As for my noble friend Lord Caithness’s question about whether there are other sectors, I try to master this brief but mastering other departments’ briefs might be a little difficult. However, I will send that message back.
As for the length of the programme—the “natural end” that my noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke of—I cannot say precisely for each and every scheme, but we have said that we will fulfil our promise to pay for those schemes that are in existence through domestic funding for the length of those particular schemes. I cannot comment on each and every scheme, but we say that we will back those schemes that have been entered into in good faith.
With those explanations—I will look at Hansard in case there are more technical details—I beg to move.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister.
Amendment 45 agreed.
46: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Retained direct EU legislation
(1) To the extent that any legislation within subsection (2), (3), (4) or (5) would (in the absence of this subsection) be prevented from becoming retained direct EU legislation on IP completion day by section 3(2)(a)(bi) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, section 3 of that Act is to have effect in relation to that legislation as if subsection (2)(a)(bi) of that section were omitted.(2) The legislation within this subsection is—(a) Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development,(b) Regulation (EU) No 1310/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down certain transitional provisions on support for rural development,(c) any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to support for rural development that preceded the Rural Development Regulation (including—(i) Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 of 20 September 2005 on support for rural development,(ii) Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/99 of 17 May 1999 on support for rural development,(iii) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2080/92 of 30 June 1992 instituting a Community aid scheme for forestry measures in agriculture,(iv) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside, and(v) Council Regulation (EEC) No 1096/88 of 25 April 1988 establishing a Community scheme to encourage the cessation of farming),(d) any legislation made under the legislation in paragraphs (a) to (c), and(e) so far as relating to support for rural development—(i) Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund etc, and(ii) any legislation made under that Regulation.(3) The legislation within this subsection is—(a) Articles 32 to 38 of the CMO Regulation, which make provision about aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations (“producer organisations aid”),(b) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/891 of 13 March 2017 supplementing the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors, and(c) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/892 of 13 March 2017 laying down rules for the application of the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors.(4) The legislation within this subsection is— (a) Articles 55 to 57 of the CMO Regulation (provision about aid for apiculture), and(b) any legislation made under that legislation.(5) The legislation within this subsection is the following, so far as it relates to producer organisations aid, apiculture or support for rural development—(a) Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy,(b) any legislation made under that regulation, and(c) any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy that preceded Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 (including—(i) Commission Regulation (EU) No 65/2011 of 27 January 2011 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005, as regards the implementation of control procedures as well as cross-compliance in respect of rural development support measures,(ii) Commission Regulation (EC) No 1975/2006 of 7 December 2006 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005, as regards the implementation of control procedures as well as cross-compliance in respect of rural development support measures, and(iii) Council Regulation (EC) No 1258/1999 of 17 May 1999 on the financing of the common agricultural policy).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that legislation relating to support for rural development, fruit and vegetable producer organisations and apiculture that has direct effect under the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to existing programmes will also be retained direct EU legislation.
Amendment 46 agreed.
Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 49. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may only speak once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 17: Duty to report to Parliament on UK food security
49: Clause 17, page 14, line 20, after “must,” insert “on or before the relevant day and”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the first report under Clause 17 to be prepared on or before the relevant day. The definition of relevant day is inserted by a related Government amendment to mean the last day before 25 December 2021 which is a sitting day for both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 51, 54 and 56 in my name.
I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this topic in Committee. I gave the matter considerable thought following your Lordships’ remarks then. The importance placed by noble Lords on the food security reports is shared by the Government. In Clause 17, the Government are making an important new commitment to analyse relevant statistical data by publishing a regular report on the crucial subject of food security. The food security report will be a significant body of work that will use a set of core measurements and indicators for each of the key topic areas. This will include a range of areas covering both global and domestic food security including, although not limited to, supply sources of feed, resilience in the supply chain and household food security.
As I set out in Committee, the Government have no intention of waiting until the end of that five-year period to publish the first report. I and other Ministers have listened closely to the points made by your Lordships and have been persuaded that there is merit in changing the frequency of reporting in the Bill to require reports to be published at least every three years. We have also been persuaded to include a duty in the Bill that the first report be published on or before the last sitting day before 25 December 2021 for both Houses of Parliament. This first report will include an analysis of statistical data relating to the effects of coronavirus on food security in the UK. The amendments that I have tabled reflect the importance of this new duty while maintaining the great benefit of allowing reports to cover long-term trends. I hope your Lordships will recognise that the Government have heard the feeling in this House on this issue and have acted. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 50 in my name. Attentive colleagues will have noticed that our Amendment 50 is very similar to the amendments now being proposed by the Minister. We are very pleased that the Government listened to our arguments on this issue in Committee. At that time we argued that, particularly in the light of the Covid experience, regular reporting on food security was essential. We know that when we leave the EU transition period there will be an even greater need for a focus on the reliability of the food supply chain and our capacity to guarantee that the nation will be fed, so regular reporting to Parliament is essential. It is good to see the Government taking this issue seriously.
I know there are other noble Lords who believe that the report should be published more frequently. We think this is a fine judgment, but on further reflection we continue to believe that a first report to Parliament within 12 months followed by every three years thereafter is the right balance. It would make the three-year report a substantial intervention rather than an annual routine occurrence, it would enable us to have a significant debate on the consequences of any shortfall, and it would ensure that the report stood out from the voluminous annual reporting cycle that Governments are required to issue without any real analysis. So we support the Government’s amendments, and I hope they show the true intent of the Government to make the food security reports a major contribution to future policy direction in this sector.
I also welcome the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who rightly raises the issue of “household food insecurity”. It is clearly important that any analysis of food security should look at the national picture but also at issues of distribution, equal access and food poverty of the individual. This is an issue that we hope to address in our national food strategy amendment, which we will come to later.
The amendment by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, rightly flags up that measures on food security are meaningless unless there are also reliable sources of livestock feed available either domestically or through being imported. The amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans makes an important case for any food security report not just to be aesthetic analysis but to be a document with objectives and targets for the future.
All these amendments are making an important contribution to the shape and substance of any future food security reports, and I hope the Minister is able to take them on board in his response. In the meantime, we thank the Minister for his helpful amendments. We hope this is a sign of the seriousness that the Government will assign to these reports and any action that will need to follow.
My Lords, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Jones, there is a great deal of agreement between the Opposition and the Government on the importance of the Government’s amendments. The only point that I would make in strong support of what my noble friend has said is that food security is such a vital issue and that things can, through unforeseen circumstances, change so rapidly that, if we are to make what we are attempting to achieve through these amendments effective, shorter time spans are not only necessary but absolutely essential. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, both of which I have attached my name to.
I start with Amendment 53, which concerns adding household food insecurity to the matters on which the Government must report. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, noted earlier, adding to our remarks last week, although we can treasure the contribution of people who donate to food banks and the volunteers who work in them, food banks themselves are a national disgrace. No one should have to rely on charity to feed themselves. The government reports on food security and insecurity should also include not just what food is available but whether everyone has access to a full, healthy diet, and whether it is available to them financially, physically—I am thinking of things such as food deserts—and practically. On that latter point, do they have the cooking facilities and the energy they need to prepare the food?
On Amendments 50 and 52, I agree with an earlier comment that the question of whether the Government should report every three or five years is finely balanced. I welcome the fact that the Government agree that reporting every five years is not nearly often enough. I think that there is an argument to be made either way, although I can probably live with a three-year reporting cycle, and I hope it is something that we can get a real national focus on. Food security is one of the central roles of government—surely making sure that people do not starve has to be right up there.
I did a little survey of the news this morning, looking at what is happening around the world. I discovered that the Chinese corn crop is expected to fall by 10 million tonnes—nearly 4%—from the latest government estimates after heavy wind and rain toppled crops in major production areas in the north-east corn belt. That follows the events in America in August, when, across Iowa, 14 million acres of insured crops were damaged by what is known as the derecho—that is, conditions very similar to those experienced in China. I do not need to rehearse for your Lordships’ House just how difficult a year this has been for our farmers. The idea that we can simply rely on buying food on the global market is a very dangerous approach for all kinds of reasons, but food security has to be top of the list.
Just this morning I was at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum policy conference on the future of agricultural land use. There was a very interesting contribution from Adrian Aebi of the Federal Office for Agriculture at the Swiss embassy in the United Kingdom. I was interested to learn that Article 104 of the Swiss constitution provides that the agricultural sector shall sustainably make
“an essential contribution towards … the reliable provision”
of food and
“the conservation of natural resources and the upkeep of the countryside”.
Mr Aebi also informed us that the Swiss Government have clear targets for local food supplies and for improving diets, and they have expressed their intention of pushing towards a more plant-based diet for both environmental and human health reasons. I do not have the information to judge exactly where Switzerland might sit on a global league table of food policy but the UK clearly needs to do better. The Government keep saying that they want to be world leading in these areas, so we need to see clear targets from them on such things, particularly in relation to England.
It is interesting that reference to this issue is made in the Swiss constitution. Of course, we have our unwritten, accidentally accreted over many centuries, constitution that lacks such provisions. That is perhaps something to think about for the future.
I welcome the progress that we have made in this area. We have moved forward but we need to keep focusing on food security as a crucial part of government policy. Seeing all the work that is happening in your Lordships’ House on this issue, I am confident that certainly we will keep working on it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for recognising that the House was very uneasy about there being a five-year period between the initial and subsequent reports. If I understood him correctly when he spoke to this group of amendments, the Government will report at least every three years. However, if, for example, there is a shortage of food supply at home and a big fall in our self-sufficiency from the current 60%, and if, at any time after 1 January, there is any threat to the level of food imports into this country that could cause a future shock or crisis, I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity to review this matter and report more frequently than every three years. However, I thank him for listening to the House and to those of us who raised these concerns at Second Reading and in Committee.
I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in his Amendment 57, to which I have appended my name. It would require the Government to specify food security targets and implement actions to ensure that those targets were met. I hope that my noble friend would in the course of natural events seek to do that in the reports to which he has referred.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening and I thank noble Lords who spoke in Committee about the need for more frequent reporting on food security. It is important that we have more frequent reports on food security. Only this year, the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, of which I am a member, published a reported entitled Hungry for Change. It detailed the need for regular reporting and to address inadequate supply chains, which will be exacerbated not only by Brexit but by Covid. We need to address the effect of this global pandemic on the current levels of food insecurity in the UK, the developing world and other areas on which we rely for food.
I also support Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which I regard as probably an interim measure. I was happy to put my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. She and I well recall our time as members of the EFRA Select Committee in the other place, of which she was chair. The committee found that levels of food security and food insecurity were equally inadequate and required to be addressed. Perhaps now we are getting to grips with this issue, which will have been made worse by Covid and Brexit.
On food provenance, it is important that we know where our food comes from and that it is properly controlled. People should receive an adequate supply of food and should no longer have to resort to food banks. However, the reality is that many people rely on them. We have to try to ensure that people have access to the right benefits, and in that regard there should be a review of the whole universal credit system.
Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to address the issue of food security? It is a global issue as well as a domestic one. We need specific food security targets to be set on an annual basis, although I welcome the move to a three-yearly basis. Relevant reporting to Parliament is also required every three years, although I would also prefer to see that on an annual basis. We have to see what is actually going on, and when we have witnessed that, surely Parliament, working with the Government, can take appropriate action to address deficits in both food security and insecurity.
My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have supported my amendments and also the Minister, who has been listening long and hard to all of this. I feel that the Government have come a long way on the issue.
Household food insecurity is very different from national food security and we should measure both. I should say that measurements of household food insecurity are already being taken. The Family Resources Survey does this as a part of its work every year while the Food Standards Agency collects data on household food insecurity as part of the Food and You survey. These measurements are being made and while I realise that taking them every year seems like a lot, if you are hungry, three years will seem like an extremely long time.
Quite frankly, if you are poor and cannot afford to buy food, it does not matter to you if the supermarkets of Chelsea and Westminster happen to be well stocked for those who have enough money in their pocket. The Trussell Trust produced a report this week saying that by Christmas, it reckons that 670,000 more people will be coming to food banks as the furlough scheme is lifted. We have a great deal of household insecurity, which can lead to incalculable damage.
I thank the Government for this amendment and I support it, but I would like to keep the channels open. People cannot wait three years to find out whether the food system is going to be made better for them and their children.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and then to Amendment 57 tabled in my name. I am grateful for the way in which the Minister has listened closely to the House and brought forward amendments. This is immensely helpful. On Tuesday, several noble Lords rehearsed the reasons we need the highest levels of food security possible, and I will not repeat those arguments now. Although I agree that this is a difficult call, my personal view is that annual reporting would be preferable. Nevertheless, I shall listen carefully to the arguments as they are made.
On Amendment 57, while I welcome the Government’s commitment to produce a regular report on food security, it is vital that this is a means by which Her Majesty’s Government can express their policy targets and mechanisms to address any issues in this area. Currently, the provisions in the Bill envisage a fairly static output that merely reports on the current food security situation rather than a more dynamic report which seeks to set out an agenda for change where change is required. There is little point in the Government merely producing a report of which Parliament is required to take note; we need a platform for evaluation, repurposing and, of course, to inform future actions. At the very least, it will be essential to ensure that food security targets are both met and monitored. Where the report indicates that there are issues with aspects of our food and environmental security, the Government must come forward with their plans and policies for addressing those shortcomings.
This amendment would provide the necessary architecture for the Government to take the matter forward and ensure responsibly that the UK is adequately prepared for any future uncertainties. It would be a failure if, having taken the time to consider the importance of having a food security report, we do not also ensure that it is used to inform changes in policy and procedures. A statutory requirement for Her Majesty’s Government is needed to address these issues and it needs to be included in this Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 53 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which recommends that government reports on food security should take into account measures of household food insecurity. As the noble Baroness has just pointed out, it would be anomalous if in isolation, on its own, some assessment of national food security were to have a good reading while at the same time, United Kingdom household food security might have a poor one. That inconsistency would be prevented by this amendment, which requires the Government’s report to consider household food insecurity alongside food security.
I am also in favour of Amendment 57, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, on specifying food security targets so that thereafter, actions can be taken to ensure that they are met. The prescription within the amendment is irrefutable, for how can we proceed efficiently and competently if we do not state and specify targets in the first place? If we do not use targets at all, how then can we properly calculate any future level of progress and judge whether we have acted correctly to attain certain levels of food security in the United Kingdom?
I come now to Amendment 55 in my name on supply sources of livestock feed as an input to food production and the reliance on the food supply chain. As I pointed out in Committee, there are three major disadvantages from imported animal feed. First, these imports undermine the country’s food security. Secondly, there is the carbon footprint arising from their production and transport. Thirdly, there is the environmental damage which their cultivation causes in certain countries, notably soya beans in Brazil and Argentina.
In 2019, imports of animal feed broke a record by exceeding £2.4 billion. The feed is mostly soya or intensively produced grain being grown by companies that are responsible for deforestation in the Amazon. If we use feed from land that should be forest, we are adding to the destruction of an ecosystem which sustains our climate and biodiversity. Regarding the resolve to increase our own homegrown animal feed supply as much as possible, my noble friend the Minister has already referred to the Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network, a project due to end in 2023. Its aims include the production of better quality animal feed and to discover alternatives to imported soya beans. Based on the existing level of research, can my noble friend say what targets can already be set both for the reduction of imported feed and an increase in homegrown feed?
Meanwhile, United Kingdom importers could be encouraged to buy feed from countries that demonstrate similar environmental standards to those of the United Kingdom, and perhaps guided in this endeavour by international certification bodies. Does my noble friend agree with that? If so, what steps might the Government now take to buy from certain countries rather than others and to make use of international certification bodies?
My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. What we are talking about is very important and it is heading in the right direction but the approach should be much more about management by exception, as they say in the private sector. Crucial targets and standards should be set and there should be reporting when things go wrong. It should not be a matter of waiting a year, two years or three years. There should be indicators and then the Government should report to Parliament when things are going wrong. It means doing that at the earliest time and saying what is being done to put it right. That is slightly similar to how, in the private sector, companies are required to give profit warnings if the track they indicate they are following is being deviated from. There should be a much more dynamic approach to this question. I would like to see standards set and reports produced when the standards are not being met.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward his amendments on this issue. I would still prefer the reporting to be annual, but he has made a move towards us, and I will not dispute his suggestion of three years.
My noble friend Lord Dundee made some interesting and useful points about animal feeds and the damage caused when growing them in other countries, particularly in Brazil, as we have seen recently on television in the Attenborough programme. It is a matter of concern.
More generally, I am concerned about getting too detailed about food security. We must remember that a great many British farmers rely on exports, and if we are restrictive on our imports, it is going to be very easy for other countries to be restrictive on our exports. As the situation stands, I fear the EU could be extremely difficult about our lamb and beef exports in the not-too-distant future. That would have a profound effect on farming, and it is something my noble friend will have to be aware of. Overall, we are not doing too badly on producing our own food. We import an awful lot we do not need for our own diet, but we are lucky to be rich enough to afford it.