House of Lords
Tuesday 3 November 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. 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. Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points; I ask that Ministers also give brief answers.
Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy
My Lords, the integrated review continues but, in light of the decision to move to a one-year spending review, we are considering the implications for its completion. We will of course provide an update in due course.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. With the comprehensive spending review now delayed, can we be clear about which comes first: the much-needed review of defence spending or the fundamental review of our position in the world and how to defend it, which the integrated review is meant to address? Has my noble friend noted that the new call for evidence questions from the review, put out in August with an absurdly short window, make no mention at all of our trade and business prosperity in the new world conditions on which everything else will depend? Will he pass the word to the reviewers to correct that?
My Lords, I always take my noble friend’s advice and listen to it carefully. I will of course follow up on that point. On his wider question, the integrated review takes into account not just defence but our development programmes, as well as diplomacy. The intention is very much to ensure that we will, as I said, in due course be able to announce a date on the further progress of the integrated review.
My Lords, the current crisis highlights that international co-operation is the greatest tool for confronting global threats and advancing our values and interests. Sadly, under this Government the UK has lost much of its influence at the United Nations, along with losing its historical place at the ICJ, and has failed in a series of high-profile votes at the Security Council and the General Assembly. Will the review fully consider the UK’s policy towards the UN and can the Minister explain how the Government will seek to strengthen and regain the UK’s influence at this important institution?
My Lords, it will not surprise the noble Lord that I disagree with him. We continue to have a very big influence at the United Nations, including at the UN Human Rights Council. He is all too aware of the recent incremental success we have had on the challenging subject of Xinjiang. On elections, the noble Lord refers back to that of 2017 on the ICJ; subsequently, there have been several UN positions, as well as an election to the important institution of the ITU, where the British candidate was successful. This was down to the influence we carry. I assure him that I agree with him on this point: it is important that we sustain and retain but also strengthen the role of the United Kingdom in global affairs, including through our work at the UN.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to money and asked whether we would be looking at chicken or egg. Does the Minister agree that although it is vital that we spend at least 2% of GDP on our Armed Forces, in the context of a declining economy with Covid 2% may not be enough? What conversations are being had with the Treasury about this?
My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness appreciates that the whole idea behind a one-year spending review is to ensure that we prioritise the issue of the economy, as she rightly said, but also other challenges that we face in the Covid crisis. That said, when we look at the context of the thresholds set, particularly at NATO, I am proud that the United Kingdom continues to stand by our commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence but also 0.7% on development.
My Lords, the UK has some of the most advanced military capabilities in the world—the F35 fighter, the Type 45 Destroyer and cyber, to name but three—but our real military advantage comes when we can network these capabilities. With the addition of space and cyber to the traditional domains of land, air and maritime, can my noble friend reassure me that multi-domain integration will be at the heart of this review?
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend. I assure him, and agree with him, that the United Kingdom will always prioritise how we respond to the threats that we face. As I am sure he will acknowledge and agree, our armed and security forces work tirelessly to protect the UK and our interests at home and abroad. However, I agree with him that we need to be dynamic in our response to the ever-changing and evolving world, including some of the new threats and opportunities, be they in cyber or space.
My Lords, a number of pending defence capital investment programmes will be crucial to both our future military capability and the UK’s prosperity agenda, but a one-year financial settlement risks crippling them. Can the Minister assure the House that such important strategic issues will be decided by informed debate and not pre-empted by short-term Treasury fiat?
I assure the noble and gallant Lord that we continue to stand by our Armed Forces. He will note that the Government are investing an additional £2.2 billion in defence over this year and next, which will put our total spending at £41.5 billion. I give him the added assurance that the Government will continue always to prioritise how we respond to the threats that the UK faces. Our Armed Forces and security services work tirelessly in this respect and are fully funded.
My Lords, the Treasury’s decision that the comprehensive spending review will now be on a one-year settlement will be very damaging to defence. The military, particularly equipment procurement, is a relatively long-term business, as alluded to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. The UK needs a clear statement of how Ministers see the UK’s position in the world, not least to inform defence structure and spending in the future. If the integrated review is delayed, will the Government at least publish a foreign policy review—ideally, early in 2021—which will be able to take account of which way the United States is heading as well as future relationships with the EU?
My Lords, I shall follow up on the noble Lord’s suggestion and write to him. I assure him that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is now pursuing international priorities in an integrated manner, including working to ensure greater leverage in the Indo-Pacific area.
My Lords, next autumn we are hosting COP 26, which must be a success both for the United Kingdom and globally. Given the delay to the CSR, how will we ensure that climate change is comprehensively addressed, what proportion of funding will come from our ODA commitments, and how will that affect our development programmes?
My Lords, I have already alluded to our commitment to 0.7%, which is enshrined in law. The noble Baroness is of course right to raise COP 26; I assure her that Ministers across government are working to ensure that we deliver on its priorities and ambitions.
My Lords, in a few seconds, global Britain means our place in the world, whether through multilateral institutions such as the UN, through the Commonwealth or, indeed, through our bilateral relationships. The UK has strong influence and strong partnerships, and we will strengthen those partnerships and friendships going forward. On our overall positioning, I am very optimistic about the outlook for the UK in the global world. The results of the FCDO merger demonstrate why.
My Lords, I regret that the publication of the integrated review has been postponed. We live in an era of extraordinary unpredictability that cannot be addressed by ad hoc reviews. Will the Government therefore consider introducing a legislatively mandated quadrennial defence, foreign policy and security review to ensure that we have an automatic and regular review of MoD and FCDO strategy and the threats facing our country, as is the case in the United States?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that a nuclear deterrent lacks credibility unless it is underpinned by capable, modern, conventional capabilities? If so, does he agree that the current resilience and fighting strength of the three services is less than adequate and must be improved rapidly as part of this review?
My Lords, the time allotted for this Question has now elapsed and we therefore move to the second Question.
My Lords, we have announced reforms to higher technical qualifications and are consulting on reforms to qualifications at level 3 and below to provide clearer and simpler qualification choices post-16. We are strengthening the links between the classroom and the workplace by basing the majority of technical qualifications at levels 3, 4 and 5 on the same employer-led standards as apprenticeships and T-levels, ensuring that young people and adults develop the skills that employers need.
My Lords, I am pleased to hear that the Government are at least trying and do something about qualifications. For many people, the way to improve their chances of getting well-paid and secure work is, of course, to get a qualification. However, they are faced with some 13,000 qualifications currently available, many providing little or no value to either individuals or employers. Will the Government organise a review of the credibility of each qualification and an assessment of the rate of return, to help those taking this very sensible step to improve their chances?
The noble Lord is correct that there is a bewildering array of qualifications. At level 3, there are over 12,000 qualifications. The consultation that is out at the moment will make clear the role of a qualification that is not an A-level or T-level. Over 2,500 level 3 qualifications are in scope for their funding to be reduced or removed, due to low or no enrolments.
The noble and learned Lord is correct that young people need to be aware of this. Therefore, we have ensured that the Careers & Enterprise Company, as well as the first providers, will promote the T-levels while they are being rolled out in stages. At this time, the elevation of technical qualifications is so important to our recovery from Covid.
My Lords, a recent survey of apprenticeship employers published by the Department for Education indicates that employers see higher apprenticeships as better value for money than lower level 2 and 3 apprenticeships, so they are utilising levy funds to upskill existing staff, rather than to train new recruits. Can the Minister confirm what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to prevent further decline in level 2 apprenticeships to ensure that these apprenticeship pathways are available to new recruits across the country?
My Lords, unfortunately, at the beginning of the apprenticeship enhancement, certain apprenticeships, particularly at level 2, were not of the value that both employers and apprentices needed. Therefore, we moved from frameworks to standards. It is positive, though, that many employers that were not able to promote BAME employees, for instance, used apprenticeships as a way to upskill their workforce and improve their BAME representation.
My Lords, remaining with apprenticeships, is the Minister satisfied that the current legislation, almost a decade old, still ensures value to both the individual and the employer? In particular, is the minimum apprenticeship of 12 months still sufficiently long to provide the basic skills for any employment?
The 12-month minimum period was brought in, as I said to the right reverend Prelate, when we had shorter apprenticeships and had to ensure that, by law, an apprenticeship meant a certain qualification. We have seen an increase in longer-term apprenticeships, such that we amended the regulations so that, if you were made redundant during your apprenticeship but had completed 75%, you could go to the endpoint of the apprenticeship without an employer.
My Lords, qualifications of value to employers are often work-based. I declare an interest as a vice-president of City & Guilds. I know that their qualifications have to meet very high levels of quality assurance, currency and relevance. Following on from the question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, what are the Government doing to give schools incentives to encourage their less academic pupils, who may be technically and practically gifted, to pursue vocational qualifications and develop much-needed skills, which will benefit them, employers and the country?
My Lords, as I have outlined, schools are promoting this. If students at the transition point at age 14 want to go to a university technical college, the local authority and schools are now under a duty to promote that route to students. The consultation is about those City & Guild qualifications that do not overlap with level 3 T-levels and/or A-levels. We recognise their role, but all these qualifications must give the student the appropriate skills and the employer the confidence that that person is equipped for the job.
My Lords, the Question from my noble friend Lord Haskel rightly calls for qualifications that are of value to both individuals and employers. The Minister may be aware of a report published yesterday by the University Partnerships Programme foundation, which shows that the Government’s commitment to a lifetime skills guarantee will not cover 75% to 80% of non-graduate workers who lose their jobs in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. That is because many non-graduates want higher-level training, rather than just a new level 3 qualification. Will the Government therefore consider a more flexible higher education loan system, which would reflect the clear desire of learners to access training at a higher level, with a view to responding to skills shortages in the economy?
The noble Lord is correct that many in employment want to take a level 4 or 5 qualification. The Prime Minister announced that there will be a flexible lifetime loan entitlement, and that it should be as easy to get a loan to study a higher technical qualification as it is to get higher education funding. That is why the entitlement will be four years. We also recognise that those who have an undergraduate degree may want to do one year, and that levels 4 and 5 need be modular, so that they are flexible for people to train, if they have lost their jobs, or upskill, if they are in employment.
My Lords, will my noble friend encourage the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to be more supportive of qualifications embedded within apprenticeships, where they can clearly give the apprentice a stamp of international approval and of being totally up to date in a technical discipline?
My Lords, the standards that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education applies can include a qualification when it is a professional or regulatory requirement, or if it is recognised that somebody would be disadvantaged in the marketplace by not having it. The main way for apprenticeships is the standard assured occupational competence, which is tested at an endpoint assessment.
My Lords, many employers are looking for a wide range of skills in their recruits, such as teamwork and adaptability, as well as formal qualifications. How will such skills be developed alongside formal qualifications to ensure that those entering the workforce offer a valuable range of attributes?
My Lords, in the link between employers and qualifications, I have noticed that the description in relation to apprenticeships is knowledge, competences and behaviours, at levels 4 and 5. I hope that covers what the noble Baroness referred to: that certain behaviours that employers must have confidence are delivered by these qualifications, as well as knowledge.
Minister, in a former life, I was a senior teacher in a very large comprehensive school, where it was evident that the 14-to-19 curriculum was uninspiring and inappropriate for many students and the ever-changing workplace. Thus I was willing the university technical colleges to succeed, which it is now generally accepted they have not. What will happen to those schools but, more importantly, the laudable intentions behind them?
Actually, the UTCs are a mixed picture. Some have achieved that link with local employers, where they have strong themes and do outreach. I hosted a round table of the successful UTCs, because it is important that we pass on their success, particularly in pupil recruitment, which is the key factor for those that are not successful. So we stand behind that, but I recognise that swift decisions need to be taken for those that, unfortunately, have not had such success.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. We come, therefore, to the third Oral Question.
Life in the UK Test
My Lords, the Life in the UK test, which is taken for settlement and citizenship purposes, is based on the content of the new handbook, Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents. The Home Office reviews the handbook annually and makes corrections and amendments to ensure that the content remains factually accurate and up to date.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. She perhaps knows that, in July this year, some 600 of the country’s historians, including 13 fellows of the British Academy, wrote a letter to the Home Office asking for an immediate review of the existing edition of Life in the United Kingdom, which, as the Minister said, is the set text for applying for British citizenship. They cited historical errors and misrepresentations. Given that the Home Office’s latest plan in response to the Windrush scandal is to develop UK history training for its staff, can the text of this book now be up for urgent and expert revision?
My Lords, I read the exchange between my noble friend Lord Parkinson and Professor Trentmann with high interest. Our history is both broad and deep. We cannot possibly cover every element of it. The test is there to cover society, culture and history as accurately as we can. I understand that it is factually correct, but I recognise the differences of opinion between Professor Trentmann and my noble friend.
My Lords, I support the point just made by my noble friend Lady Bakewell. I want to raise the issue of the financial hurdles facing applicants. I have been told that free ESOL language courses have been significantly reduced and, of course, many applicants cannot afford college courses and are often ineligible for loans. Given these financial hurdles, are the Government giving consideration to the financial problems that applicants face?
The test costs £50 and the handbook costs £12.99. I have recognised before in your Lordships’ House that the cost of citizenship is high for some individuals. In terms of ESOL, I recognise that all these things are a cost to the individual who undertakes them. There is assistance for people who cannot afford to pay the cost. For example, two or three years ago MHCLG provided free English language teaching for people.
My Lords, having seen the Life in the UK test, I have come to the conclusion that many British citizens would be unable to answer many of the questions. Therefore, it is important that the test and supporting learning material should be reviewed regularly to make them topical and relevant. Will the Minister join me in congratulating those people from other countries who work extremely hard to pass the test, resulting in them becoming citizens of the best country in the world?
I say to my noble friend that, having tried for interest half a dozen of the tests this morning and only failed one, I thought the content was generally correct as far as it goes. It is on the right lines. However, I suggest two tweaks. First, having just 24 questions is not nearly enough. It should be doubled to about 50 and more time given. Secondly, I found only one answer on the rule of law. There should be a lot more, stressing that this is a liberal, democratic country where democracy trumps religion and where we have respect and tolerance for everyone in society—oh, and no riding on the pavement, either.
My Lords, I had a look at a lot of it. It seemed to me that it was very good training for taking part in pub quizzes. There is an extraordinary emphasis on a lot of irrelevant history, mainly about people who were white, rich and powerful. I did not see a lot in it about food banks or the laws in relation to planning permission and how to apply for planning permission. The question about what happened to hereditary Peers in 1999 seems bizarre. It seems to me that a thorough revision is required. Does the Minister agree?
My Lords, I am sure we all have sympathy with those setting these test questions. As we have seen in the Chamber today, everyone will have a view about the suitability of individual questions. Perhaps I can suggest to my noble friend that periodically we undertake a mystery shopping exercise with politicians and civil servants to see how we would all fare in such a test. I hope we would emulate the triumph of my noble friend Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, the Life in the UK test is a bit of an obstacle course, requiring A-level English and a detailed knowledge of cultural trivia that, as mentioned, would defeat many of us. My main concern is about the reference to British values as if they were exclusive. Does the Minister agree that values such as democracy, the rule of law, and individual freedom and tolerance are not exclusively British? They are simply key universal values that aspiring citizens are required to respect.
I agree with the noble Lord that British values are common values. However, some of them may not be writ large in some of the countries that people come from. It is important to reiterate our common values—including the rule of law, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said—in integrating people into British society.
As someone responsible for introducing the first of the Life in the UK documents and tests, I recommend that people should read Professor Trentmann’s article in the Times Literary Supplement. Will the Minister write to me to explain why the Government have not yet accepted the excellent recommendations of the Lords Select Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, which dealt with some of the more outrageous anomalies in the present test and the document on which people are tested?
I thank the noble Lord and congratulate him for the first Life in the UK test. I know that the Home Secretary considers all feedback on what should be covered in the test. For example, the referendum on the EU is now covered. I will certainly take the noble Lord’s point back.
My Lords, I know someone who is applying for indefinite leave to remain, and I learned a lot from the interesting guide and other documents. Is it sensible or fair to expect applicants to be able to identify battles of the English civil war, how Cromwell dealt with the Irish rebellion or the names of the unfortunate wives of that old rogue, Henry VIII? Instead of learning about some of the appalling things our country got up to in the distant past, is it not more important for new citizens to understand what they can and cannot do now?
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed and we move to the fourth Question. I call the noble Lord, Lord Scriven.
Covid-19: Christmas Breaches of Restrictions
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statement by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner on 28 October that the police will investigate breaches at Christmas of the restrictions in place to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
My Lords, the police will continue to enforce the measures that are in place, to protect the public and to save lives, as they have done throughout the pandemic. However, it is too early to determine what restrictions will be necessary over Christmas.
My Lords, on average over 15 million journeys take place over the Christmas week, as people head back to their families. If, as the Prime Minister has indicated, after 2 December a tiered system is reintroduced, with different rules geographically on how many people you can have Christmas dinner or sing carols with, realistically how are the police expected to enforce what will be utter confusion?
Messaging and communication must be very clear in whatever regime we are in over Christmas, but it is too early to determine what might be necessary then. By acting now with a second national lockdown, we have the best chance of allowing more contact at Christmas, which we all want for ourselves and our families, but we will continue to be guided by the science.
My Lords, does my noble friend not think that stopping people getting married or entering churches for private prayer, and police commissioners threatening to investigate how families are celebrating Christmas and the birth of their saviour, is a tad over the top, particularly given the news this morning, from Professor Spector of King’s College London, that the R number has fallen to 1 in England, rather than what we were told over the weekend?
My noble friend makes a good point, but the Government, guided by the scientists, will continue to monitor the situation. The next few weeks will be quite unpleasant for people across the country. I do not think that there is any chance of the police breaking into people’s houses to check what they are doing, but they are there to uphold public protection and people’s safety.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the statement made by the West Midlands police and crime commissioner is contrary to the objective of policing by consent, where the co-operation of the public to observe laws is dependent upon winning their trust and encouraging responsible behaviour, not a heavy-handed approach?
Policing by consent is something that we as a society not only want to uphold, but hold very dear. Policing is not always in that vein in other countries across the world. In a statement issued on his website on 28 October, the PCC clarified:
“West Midlands Police will continue to use good sense”
in enforcing the rules
“appropriately and proportionately. That means that they have focussed on large and flagrant breaches of the rules.”
He called at that time for clarity on the rules, which is very important for the Government.
My Lords, David Jamieson is a star among the police and crime commissioners. The Government make the rules; the job of the police is to enforce them. Is the Minister aware that the cuts to West Midlands Police mean that it can focus on only very large gatherings? Can the Minister guarantee that the Christmas guidance will arrive before Boxing Day? The police do not want to spoil anybody’s fun, but they must halt the spread of the virus. I declare that my wife and I are members of the West Midlands Police family.
I can confirm that the Home Office has provided additional surge funding. I agree with the other points he made, certainly regarding the guidance. The pattern of the virus changes, going up exponentially and falling; we must respond to what it is doing at the time.
My Lords, we have seen from the scenes of people partying in the streets of Nottingham last week, and outings to Barnard Castle, that just because something is illegal does not stop people from doing it if there is a desire to do so and a reasonable prospect of getting away with it. When will the Government stop relying on unenforceable laws and start putting their energy into educating people, explaining to them that socialising at home with people from different households is potentially putting their friends and loved ones’ lives at risk?
The noble Lord makes a good point. There were 20,223 fixed penalty notices in England and Wales between the end of March and the middle of October. The most important point that the noble Lord makes is that individual responsibility will be crucial to tackling the virus. Like him, I have seen irresponsible behaviour, and while the healthy ones among us will be okay as a result of it, our grannies and those who are medically vulnerable may not be.
My Lords, I have a high regard for my noble friend, so I hope that she does not take this personally. If restrictions such as the ones we are seeing at the moment are still in place at Christmas, a family of six have their elderly grandmother to Christmas lunch, and the police knock on the door and start fining them, would that be a desirable aspect of the free society in which we have grown up?
We live in unique times. We are asking people to do things that are completely contrary to how this country usually operates. It is amazing that people have complied as much as they have, but it always comes back to the balance between people’s health and the economic devastation that having people confined to their homes will cause.
Will the Government ensure that they do not lurch suddenly into new guidelines over the Christmas period or, as has happened with the imminent lockdown, repeatedly say something will not happen and then suddenly do a U-turn, so that the police and communities have time to prepare properly for what is expected of them over Christmas? Following up a point already made, what is the latest date the Government would deem acceptable for stating clearly what restrictions will and will not apply over the Christmas period, whether they be new arrangements or a continuation of those already applying?
My Lords, I bet everyone would love to know the answer to the noble Lord’s final question. The Government have to keep an open view on what the numbers are looking like and the trajectory of the number of illnesses and deaths, so it is very difficult to put a date on that. However, going back to a previous question, how we behave as individuals between now and the beginning of December—2 December being the next point at which the Prime Minister has said he will review this—will be critical to how the numbers look as we approach Christmas.
My Lords, at the start of the pandemic the Government kept changing their mind and consequently the police kept getting the law wrong. For example, the CPS reviewed some cases charged and brought by the police and found them to be 100% wrong. Will the Minister guarantee that all police forces will have the right rulebook for this lockdown, or Christmas, or whenever, so that innocent people are not arrested for doing innocent things?
To be absolutely fair to the police, at the beginning of lockdown in March there were a few examples of the police perhaps acting a little overjudiciously, but since then I have full praise for how they have dealt with the various changes in enforcement rules. The four-point process of engage, explain, encourage and enforce only as the final point has stood them and British society in good stead over the past few months.
My Lords, the time allowed for this fourth Question has now elapsed.
Covid-19: Places of Worship
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the official guidance to address the Covid-19 pandemic issued following the Prime Minister’s remarks on Saturday 31 October, whether they will now produce the evidence that justifies the cessation of acts of public worship in places of worship.
My Lords, we have come to a critical point in the fight against Covid-19. The R rate is above one across England, and the ONS estimates that an average of one in 100 people has the virus. To protect the NHS and get the R rate below one, we must limit our interaction with others. Therefore, with great regret, while places of worship will remain open for individual prayer, communal worship cannot take place at this time.
My Lords, my Question had, I thought, the merit of inviting a simple binary answer, yes or no, but that is not quite what it got. This Question is about evidence. Evidence matters to science. Clearly, my noble friend the Minister is not going to announce a reversal of government policy, but can he at least give an assurance to your Lordships’ House that if these measures are continued beyond 2 December or are reimposed in the future either nationally or locally, despite the many efforts to make places of worship Covid secure, that will not happen without the Government offering some evidence for these restrictions on acts of public worship being renewed or extended?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the focus on evidence. Following the meeting that I chaired on behalf of the Prime Minister of the Covid-19 places of worship task force, Public Health England is looking at the evidence around places of worship and proliferation of the virus. I am aware that a tremendous amount of effort has been put into ensuring that places of worship are Covid secure.
My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister’s recognition that churches have acted diligently in making sure that things are safe. Over the last 10 weeks, I have either led or attended acts of worship in three different churches, and meticulous attention has been given to all aspects of proper behaviour in such circumstances. Methodists are even reduced to not singing our hymns: we are reduced to humming behind our masks or, indeed, some kind of Trappist silence. On behalf of the many elderly people for whom the act of worship is the only social activity they have from one week to another, when can their needs be taken seriously into account so that they can enjoy a sense of well-being, even in these difficult times?
My Lords, we recognise that this lockdown will be a very difficult period for people of faith too. The position is somewhat better than in the first lockdown, when places of worship were shut entirely. I note what the noble Lord has requested. We recognise that some significant events for all faiths will be taking place during this lockdown, and I am sure that this will be kept under review by the Government.
My Lords, the number of people suffering from mental illness and depression is rising during this pandemic. At such times, many people experience real spiritual hunger and wish for guidance. Where do they go if places of worship are closed? Worship and prayer are not a private matter; they feed the human spirit. It is that spiritual motivation that encourages people to support and work for the general good. As my noble friend said, churches and places of worship have become extremely Covid compliant. Can my noble friend the Minister recognise that and provide flexibility for Covid-compliant places of worship? When we come out of this pandemic, we will need people who have been able to gain strength from worship and prayer throughout.
My Lords, my noble friend will be pleased to know that the members of the places of worship task force have made that precise point to the Prime Minister: that public worship is Covid-19 secure; that it is essential to sustain our service; that it is necessary for social cohesion and connectedness; that it is important for the mental health of our nation; and that it is an essential sign of hope. Those points have been well made, but we understand that there is a difficult balance to be made, as we also need to ensure that we battle to contain the virus, whose prevalence is increasing. However, those points have been made to the Prime Minister.
Although it is true that churches are remaining open for private prayer, is it not important to recognise that the Christian faith is essentially a corporate activity? It is a gathering of the Lord’s people around the Lord’s table on the Lord’s day. Similarly, Islam is no less a communal religion. My experience has been exactly the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches that I have experienced have been absolutely meticulous. I was glad to hear that the task force is examining the evidence. Will the Minister give an assurance that, as soon as some evidence is available about churches’ impact, or lack of impact, on Covid-19, he will be able to report to this House?
My Lords, my noble friend has not given a single shred of evidence as to why churches should not be open for public worship. I want to put a specific point to him. On the morning of Sunday 8 November, we are planning a remembrance service in Lincoln Cathedral—an immense space where everybody can be properly socially distanced. Instead, the Government have come up with an imbecilic answer—that the veterans, all of whom are 90 and over, can stand in the cold and be rained on but they cannot go into a safe, socially distanced cathedral. This is a disgrace.
My Lords, I recognise that this is a difficult time for people of all faiths. Remembrance Sunday services are of course an important part of celebrating what generations before have done for this country, but they can take place at the Cenotaph in a Covid-secure way. I recognise the point that my noble friend makes but we should also recognise that British Hindus will not be able to celebrate their version of Christmas—Diwali—during this period, and there is also the birthday of Guru Nanak for British Sikhs. We understand that these are sacrifices but, as someone who, during the first lockdown, lost his mother, who was very much a believer, spent three days in hospital before she died and said her rosary every day, I understand what it means to have faith. On Sunday, for the first time, I was able to take my father, who survived, to the church where they worshipped every week. That was very difficult for me—he was very emotional—so I understand the point that my noble friend makes.
My Lords, will the Minister, if he has not done so already, read the letters to their congregations from the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the most reverend John Wilson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark? In times of great trouble, worry, hardship and national emergency, places of worship of all faiths offer beacons of light and comfort to many. The Minister has already heard the feelings from across the House about the points raised today; will he agree to talk to the Secretary of State and other ministerial colleagues to see what can be done to allow socially distanced worship to commence in some form as quickly as possible?
My Lords, I recognise that a difficult decision has been taken by this Government and we are bound by collective responsibility. However, I am very happy to make those representations on behalf of people of all faiths and none to ensure that the core mission of places of worship can be fulfilled at the earliest opportunity.
My Lords, I sympathise with my noble friend who in turn, as the House can tell, has enormous sympathy with the views expressed. I implore him to help colleagues and the Prime Minister understand the impact on mental well-being, the sense of belonging and the social capital of our nation. These are being eroded, and the sense of community that sometimes gets people out of bed in the morning has been put at risk. These places of worship have put in place so much protection: many are safer than your Lordships’ House. I hope that the Government might reconsider.
My Lords, my noble friend puts her point very eloquently. I understand the effort that places of worship have taken to make themselves Covid-secure for a whole range of activities, including the core important function of communal worship. Again, I will make every endeavour to ensure that the Government recognise that. I invoke the name of the Chief Rabbi, who told me that people of faith tend to live longer and have a better quality of life precisely because they converge in a communal way.
My Lords, is there not a grave danger that, in our increasingly secular society, too little account is taken of people’s religious sensibilities, when millions of people from a variety of faiths live in this country? Do we not underestimate the importance of people’s sacramental and spiritual needs, denial of which not only threatens the principle of religious freedom but jeopardises people’s personal well-being, as the Minister acknowledged? What other European countries have taken such draconian powers? Is Angela Merkel not right in saying that, as a matter of principle, she could not justify such infringements of private and personal rights as well as communal needs while keeping open schools and nurseries? Why should it be any different here, and when does he think he will be able to publish the evidence to which he referred?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, makes a very important point. We should look to international comparisons to understand how places of worship have played a part in the spiritual well-being of people while not accelerating the virus. We need the data on that and as soon as it is available in this country it will be published at the earliest opportunity; I have committed to that. I will write to him about international comparisons.
I too sympathise with my noble friend, who is obviously in an embarrassing position, but will he accept that we all worship what we value most, be it the God of love, the love of Mammon, or the power of the state? Does the fact that we are forbidden to worship God and encouraged to work in the economy but obliged to obey the rules of the state, even in the absence of any evidence, suggest that the Government put the state at the top of the list of things that they value?
My Lords, it is very difficult for me to hear such a question put so eloquently by someone whom I regard as a sort of childhood hero. Those who made this difficult decision feel that there can still be a form of communal worship, as many people of faith have gone through the experience of going to mass or a service in a mosque via Zoom or other technology. That shift has taken place. It is not the same, but even the service I went to was very limited in capacity but many more were participating remotely. That is available as we enter the second lockdown. I really pray that we learn to live with this virus in a way that does not impinge on people of faith.
My Lords, in the consideration of all this, was any thought given to the projection of possible virus during singing, as opposed to other parts of the service, and whether there was a need for special attention to be paid to that detail to enable these churches to again be open? Even if they have sufficient spacing, there is a danger that someone who already is a carrier has a projectile element in their voice and their breath going out, so this should be taken into account.
My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to the statement from Cardinal Vincent Nichols on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy. He said that,
“we have not yet seen any evidence whatsoever that would make the banning of communal worship, with all its human costs, a productive part of combating the virus.”
That is a very clear statement on behalf of all the Catholic bishops. The right honourable Sir Edward Leigh MP, the president of the Catholic Union—I declare an interest as a life member of that body—states in a letter to the Prime Minister:
“We have seen no evidence of people meeting for church services contributing to the spread of the virus in this country.”
He has, however, suggested that the Government, as an exception, could allow religious services as long as all those attending apply online beforehand. A number of churches are using this method. Are the Government prepared to move even an inch on this, because there has not been a single statement in this debate in favour of what they are doing?
My Lords, I hear what my noble friend said, and I point to the Prime Minister’s remarks in the other place. He said that this was a burden on people of faith, but he reminded everybody that this was only for 28 days. He offered the hope—the candle in the darkness—that, if we got this right, we would be able to go back to something much more like normal life before Christmas. The first day of Advent falls towards the end of this period; as we know, the period will be kept under review.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 72 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with on Wednesday 4 November to enable a motion to approve an affirmative instrument laid before the House under section 45 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to be moved, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instrument will have been laid before the House; and, notwithstanding the Business of the House Motion on 4 June, any debate on such an affirmative instrument shall be limited to 4 hours.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper. This Motion will allow the House to debate the statutory instrument containing the new national health protection measures tomorrow. The regulations will be published and laid before the House today; they are due to come into force on Thursday. The debate will be extended from the usual maximum of one and a half hours to four hours. These are significant national measures that warrant debate at the earliest opportunity and I am grateful to the usual channels for their support in making the necessary arrangements to debate them tomorrow.
Because of this decision, the consideration of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill in Grand Committee tomorrow will need to conclude at around 4.30 pm, which is earlier than originally planned. Further dates for this important Bill will be advertised later in the week. The debate on the regulations will take place before both the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee have had the opportunity to consider them. I thank both committees for the important scrutiny work that they have been doing in respect of the various health protection regulations and, in particular, for the pace at which they have been doing it. The Government will, of course, take note of anything that either committee has to say when it reports.
Motion to Agree
My Lords, the fifth report of the Conduct Committee is short and focuses on two issues: first, Valuing Everyone training and, secondly, the investigation of Members of one House for behaviour that took place while they were a Member of the other.
As to the first, our recommendation is that attendance at the Valuing Everyone training course should become a requirement of the code of conduct, and it should be a breach if a Peer does not attend. That course was introduced as part of the drive to tackle bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct throughout Parliament. It was a key recommendation of the report of Naomi Ellenbogen QC that all Members should attend such a course. In March this year, the Conduct Committee agreed a target of at least 50% of Members having attended the training by Summer Recess 2020. In the event, that was nearly met: some 47.8% of Members had attended, and 50% was almost reached by the end of the Recess.
We then had to decide what steps, if any, needed to be taken next. In that respect, we took on board the views of the Steering Group for Change, which is chaired by one of the members of my committee and is the group of Members and staff who are keeping under review the progress towards implementing the recommendations of the Ellenbogen report. It is the view of that group as well as of the Conduct Committee, after debate, that we need to move more quickly towards all Members undertaking the training. Undoubtedly, the remaining 50% would have taken longer than the first.
We therefore recommend that this House should make it a breach of the code not to have undertaken Valuing Everyone training by 1 April 2021. Of course, Peers who come back from a leave of absence or join the House thereafter will be given a three-month period in which to undertake the course. The date of 1 April 2021 provides sufficient time for all present Members to attend such a course, or at least to sign up to do so, and we sincerely hope that all Members will. There is capacity; the course is currently being run virtually, of course.
Our second recommendation is to amend the code of conduct to close a loophole so that former MPs who come to or are now in the Lords, and former Lords who become MPs—in the rare cases that that happens—are no longer exempt from investigation and no longer fall into a loophole if the complaint concerns bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct while they were in their former House.
The independent complaints and grievance scheme is a cross-parliamentary scheme, providing that former Members of either House can be investigated for alleged bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct during their time as a Member. This is the only loophole, and we invite the House to close it. We understand that the Committee on Standards will shortly be seeking the agreement of the House of Commons in similar terms. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, for introducing the report and very eloquently explaining why these recommendations are in front of us today. I will ask two questions and make one additional point. I hope these are all helpful.
First, I strongly support the recommendation in the first part of the report that this should be a subject for the Code of Conduct. I look forward to the implementation of action for those who do not want to take part in this training. I wanted to ask about paragraph 11, where there is a reference to
“restricting their access to certain services”
for Members of your Lordships’ House who face investigation, having not attended this training by the end of March next year. I wondered which services would be the subject of that restriction and whether it would include the ability to employ staff on the Parliamentary Estate, which seems fundamental if someone is not attending training in relation to bullying or other bad behaviour?
My second point on that first part of the report is that, during the discussion to which I was party on the Valuing Everyone training, there was a specific discussion about the situation faced by individual members of staff of individual Peers, who are very vulnerable because they do not have access to managers or supervisors, particularly if there are different members of staff sharing the same offices. If they have problems between themselves, there is no system in your Lordships’ House for dealing with those difficulties; there is no one arbitrating or discussing with those involved how to resolve any differences that are occurring.
I have raised this a number of times with senior figures in both main parties and the House, and we do not yet have a resolution or a system for dealing with this. Since our training session, I have discussed it with the human resources department. I hope they are going to take some of these points on board and that, in looking at this issue, the committee will look at the impact of the training and the issues that are coming out of and arising from it, which could be tackled. I hope that at some stage, perhaps, it will prepare a report on the lessons that have been learned and the action that has been taken.
My second question relates to the second part of the report. Again, I strongly support the recommendations here: they are excellent and well thought through. I wanted to ask a specific question about the situation with Members who will serve, or have served, in the devolved Parliaments. This section of the report covers Members who have served in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords and have transferred between them.
However, there have been a number of Members of the House of Lords who have then gone on to serve in the devolved Parliaments and, increasingly, previous Members of the devolved Parliaments who have come to serve in the House of Lords. I wonder whether the committee has ever looked at that issue or would be prepared to look at it and some relationship between the devolved Parliaments and your Lordships’ House in the future, where issues of conduct could be considered by either House in order to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks?
My Lords, it is a great pity that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, could not be present in the Chamber, as Ministers are, when this important report was presented to us. I take no issue with the second part of the report: if a Member of either House is accused of behaving improperly, it is of course right that that Member should be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken.
However, I want to concentrate my few remarks on the first part of the report. Speaking as one who has served in Parliament for over 50 years now, it is a very sad day when I am told that I have to be trained on how to behave. That is extremely unfortunate, and I believe that it is unnecessary. Of course, if the House passes this resolution, which I am sure it will, I will be obedient, just as I am being obedient at the moment to the edicts of the benign police state that I now live in.
However, I regret and deplore it. After all, it is right that people accused of any offence should be appropriately dealt with, but I do not suppose that it would be thought appropriate for your Lordships to be given a course in how not to burgle. I really think that, when you cannot take it for granted that people in public service—and we are all public servants—should behave properly and be pursued if they do not, that is a very sad day, and I thought it appropriate that someone should put this on record.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, for presenting the report today. He does a service to the House in doing so, and I am grateful to him for his comments. The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, are useful, particularly in reference to sanctions, and I wonder if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, has considered or looked at them. He talked about mediation, which will come to the heart of my comments about the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. Prevention is always better than cure, and if there is a way to prevent or mediate, when there are problems, it would be helpful for the committee to look at. It strikes me that it is the kind of issue that might be appropriately raised and taken further in the Ellenbogen report, as we are currently looking at that and there are workstreams on it.
The noble and learned Lord made particular reference to Peers’ staff, and there are very few staff working for Peers, as he will know. If somebody is found by the committee to be treating staff badly, is there a mechanism by which they can be denied a pass to employ staff on the parliamentary estate? I do not know if that is possible, but it has to be looked at.
I also understand that ongoing work is looking at whether third-party complaints can take place so that, while an individual may feel unable to make a complaint due to a power relationship with an employer, someone else can do so on their behalf. That would be a welcome step. On the issue of devolved Parliaments, this issue tends to rise in the same way as it does with MPs, but I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, will respond to that.
I found the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, disappointing and less constructive. I understand that he prides himself on being courteous, so he thinks he does not need the training. I did not feel I needed much training either, and my parliamentary time has not been as lengthy as his—I have only been here a mere 23 years—but having undertaken the training, I found it worth while. There are things we can all learn in our relationships with others, those we work with and those we work alongside. It is not a criticism of anyone at all to suggest such training around how the modern workplace works and what employees can expect of us. Not just direct employees, but those who work around the House, are entitled to the courtesy and respect of everybody else here. The noble Lord nods at me, but I do not know the alternative. It is fair to say that everybody should do it—or does he just want to single out people he thinks may not have shown that respect for others? The approach of asking everyone to do it is a fair one; it is respectful to the staff of this House.
One thing I would pick up with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, if he could look into it, is that there are those who say that they found the training not quite as relevant as it could be. It dwells on the role of Members of Parliament and the relationship that Members of Parliament have in the House of Commons with their staff and those they work with. It might be worth looking at the training to see if there is anything bespoke about the work of the House of Lords, so it is directly relevant to the relationships we have here, which are often different, because we do not have the same direct employment issues. Obviously, I would have thought that everybody should welcome that we make it a priority in this House that everybody we work with and alongside has the right to be treated with the utmost respect and courtesy at all times.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, says it is a sad day when people need to be trained how to behave. It is—but, unfortunately, it is not the case that Members of your Lordships’ House always behave in an acceptable manner. I undertook this training with a group of people from both the Commons and the Lords, staff and Members, including one of the most senior members of the noble Lord’s party from your Lordships’ House, who is one of the most courteous people in Parliament. During the course of the training, a number of real-life examples of the kind of harassment that has happened in Parliament was explained by the facilitator. The noble Lord’s colleague said, “I can’t believe that’s going on”, and he could not, because he does not behave like that any more than the noble Lord would. But the truth is that it is going on, and it goes on in all parties.
I have to say that some of my colleagues, when they get very tired towards the end of a session, behave towards other people, not just colleagues, in manners that are, frankly, unacceptable. We have somehow, in this day and age, got to bring ourselves up to a system of behaviour that is expected of everybody in whatever workplace or situation they find themselves in.
I do not think the noble Lord should think this is a terrible imposition. I get pretty irritated when I wash my hands and see on the wall a laminated sheet telling me how to wash my hands. I sort of think, “I do not need to be told how to wash my hands, because I have been doing it for quite a long time.” This is just another variant of that, because clearly some people do not know how to wash their hands, or else we would not have the spread of coronavirus that we have. I urge the noble Lord to be sympathetic towards it and recognise that, in reality, Members of your Lordships’ House have behaved, and do behave, in some cases, towards staff and others in manners that, in this day and age, are, frankly, unacceptable. The only way in which we are going to be able to begin to get them to realise that it is unacceptable is to have them think about it—and the way in which you have them think about it is to put them before this sort of training.
I was not going to speak on this particular issue, but I have listened with interest to what the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Newby, have had to say, and I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Newby, answered it appropriately.
The question I raise to the House at large is: if it is necessary for Members of your Lordships’ House and the other place to undergo such training for their behaviour to be acceptable in the modern world, does this not say something about our wider society, and is not this an issue that, at another time, we should look at more seriously and deeply? Clearly, we have a society and educational system from that is turning out people who do not know how to behave. Perhaps this is not such a narrow issue as we believe it is, and one to which we should turn our attention in due course.
I must say I took part in one of the pilots for this programme. It seems an awful long time ago—I think it was the summer before last. But I have also recently undergone some training programmes. I am a trustee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, and we have covered whole areas to do with working with staff and with racism and bias. The fact is that I have learned a lot from them, and there are lots of things you can learn.
I wanted to come back to the point raised by my noble friend about whether it is tailored enough towards your Lordships’ House. I think there has been real benefit in us sitting around with other Members of Parliament, because there is lots to be learned from the interaction. I would say to the noble and leaned Lord that the programme needs some reflection of the specific circumstances in which the Lords works. The examples they use just need development to embrace some characteristics of working in your Lordships’ House. But I would encourage us to continue having these programmes across both Houses.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is absolutely right in that I regret the compulsion attached to this training. I have done the training. It was largely irrelevant; most of it was about the House of Commons, or appeared to be. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, would like, on the basis of these comments, to take his report back, edit it, change it a bit, then present it to us again.
I am grateful for the points made by noble Lords, and I will, of course, take those back to the Conduct Committee, as the House would wish me to do. I shall take the points in turn. I am grateful for the support from my noble friend Lord McConnell, in particular, but others, too.
The restriction of services, which lies within the commissioner’s jurisdiction as a result of an amendment to the code and guide that the House accepted at our suggestion earlier this year, is, of course, according to the circumstances. The commissioner has to tailor any restriction to meet needs. In one case that she considered, which we considered on appeal, our report indicated that while we would have had sympathy with the idea of a restriction on services, it did not meet the particular case, it was not obvious which services should be restricted, and they were not apparently being used anyway. However, this is undoubtedly a valuable tool, as much during investigations as after a conclusion that a Member of the House has not behaved appropriately. During investigations, staff are naturally particularly anxious, and we intend to look at the question of sanctions generally and to issue some further guidance on them.
The suspension of staff passes probably does not lie directly within our jurisdiction, but it is certainly a point that should be attended to. I take on board the forceful comments that have been made. It may already be covered by restriction of facilities, but it is of a slightly different nature and will be given consideration.
On the second point made by the noble Lord, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, about relations between Peers and other relations that might merit mediation, obviously, as far as possible, amicable resolution of minor problems is, one hopes, something that occurs discreetly. I know that the Clerk of the Parliaments is very concerned to speak, where appropriate, to Peers. I know also that the leaders of parties and the Convenor of the Cross Benches would act, in appropriate circumstances, where a matter was not going to be made the subject of a formal complaint. Looking at the picture slightly more broadly, the steering group for change is a holistic task force, with Peers, clerks and members of staff on it. It is tasked, in particular, with cultural change.
I move on to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. First, I regret that I am not in the Chamber; I had understood that we were not exactly encouraged to attend. I take his point on board, but I ask the House to reject his broader argument that this is unnecessary. Only too sadly, I am sure that some if not all noble Lords have read some of the reports that have so far been issued. I shall not name names, but as others said, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Newby, very forcefully, it is not so simple. There is, unfortunately, a clear problem, even in this House. People sometimes behave in ways that one may not conceive of oneself, but that are recorded in great detail in the press and in the reports issued by the commissioner. Unconscious attitudes, and lack of consciousness of a problem, are real issues that the Valuing Everyone training is designed to address.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, mentioned concerns about the scope of training. This was again picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. The point has been taken on board. It is a point that was made from a reasonably early stage, and we have urged that the model should be House of Lords oriented, that it should not be employment oriented, at least primarily, and that it should cater for our particular position. I believe that it has been adapted appropriately and I hope that more recent attendees have found this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned third-party complaints. They have not so far been recommended, but it is a matter that we are intending to give further consideration to. I think that no report has so far said that this is a line that we should pursue. There would, of course, be considerable problems if a potential victim did not want to complain about someone else making a complaint: that could itself be not merely upsetting but even damaging to the victim. Those are the contrary considerations, but we are going to look at that again. Indeed, we have already looked at the problem of cluster reporting, which I hope we have dealt with in some measure by making suggestions for a relatively informal system, again operated primarily through the Clerk of the Parliaments.
I move on to the second area of our report. On the point about the devolved Parliaments, the scope of the code and the guide is, again, something we have under review. We extended the scope, with the House’s agreement, earlier in the year, or last year, to include not merely parliamentary duties but parliamentary activities. Parliament as a whole is a unit, and the code and guide can be seen as embracing the whole parliamentary community, as our second recommendation indicates. However, to embrace within the scope of a parliamentary code of standards and behaviour outside misbehaviour that might be not just in a devolved Parliament, but in some professional body—architects, barristers or whatever—is a considerable step to suggest. As I say, we are going to consider the extent to which certain gross misconduct outside parliamentary duties or activities should be brought within the scope of the code. I do not say that it should be, but we are going to consider that and report on it.
The final point on that is that there is already automatic expulsion when a term of imprisonment of longer than a year is imposed for a criminal offence; if it is less than a year there is discretionary disciplining. I hope that that answers that question. I believe I have covered all the points that noble Lords have made and have not missed any, but I ask any noble Lord who has a point they would like me to elaborate on to please write to me. I beg to move.
Arrangement of Business
The following proceedings will follow the guidance issued by the Procedure and Privileges Committee. As there are no counterpropositions, only those Members on the list issued by the Government Whips Office may speak. 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. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. The Minister’s Motion may not be opposed.
Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
1A: Because it would duplicate existing arrangements to keep victims and family members informed of developments with an offender’s sentence.
As noble Lords are aware, the Bill amends the release provisions that apply to offenders who do not disclose information relating to cases of murder, manslaughter or taking or making indecent images of children. Throughout the Bill’s passage, there have been important discussions about the victims’ right to receive information as part of the parole process. I appreciate the importance and the sensitivity of these issues for many victims, and I emphasis the Government’s commitment to supporting victims throughout this process.
I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the signatories to her amendment for their contribution to the Bill. I and my noble and learned friend Lord Keen have had extensive discussions with the noble Baroness and other interested Peers. I hope that these discussions have reassured them of how seriously the Government take these issues and our ongoing commitment to work together to improve the existing system further.
In particular, we have discussed improvements made to the victim contact scheme, which provides victims with information about when the hearing will take place and enables them to attend to read a victim personal statement to tell the Parole Board how the crime continues to affect them. At the conclusion of the hearing, victims are informed of the outcome and of their right to request a summary of the Parole Board’s decision. The information and support offered through the scheme is provided by specially trained victim liaison officers.
The Government want to ensure that all eligible victims are able to benefit from the support and information provided through the victim contact scheme. As part of the review of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime—known as the victims’ code—the National Probation Service, in partnership with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, is currently testing an opt-out system in a number of police force areas with the intention of rolling the scheme out nationally by mid-2021. To date, test areas have reported positive results, with increased referral rates and higher numbers of victims enrolling in the victim contact scheme, and we will keep the process under review.
The new process will be reflected in the revised victims’ code, due to be published shortly. It will require the joint police and CPS witness care units to automatically refer all eligible victims directly to the National Probation Service to be offered the victim contact scheme, rather than, as now, asking whether victims wish to be referred. That way the benefits of the scheme can be better explained by trained victim liaison staff.
The Minister in the other place stated that the honourable Member for South East Cambridgeshire, as the Minister of State responsible for probation services, will work with the Victims’ Commissioner on the rollout of improvements to the victim contact scheme. I therefore hope that the House will agree with the conclusions reached in the other place so that this important Bill can proceed to Royal Assent and commencement.
My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who supported Amendment 1 in my name on 1 July—the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord German. This Bill is about alleviating the hurt that non-disclosure of information causes to families, and it places a duty on the Parole Board to act. In agreeing Amendment 1, this House recognised that victims can experience hurt and anguish because of inefficient and ineffective communications about parole hearings. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for families to be fully informed and involved in parole hearings about release and, when mistakes are made in the flow of information, how much distress this causes victims and their families.
As the Victims’ Commissioner noted, a sizeable number of victims who qualify for the victim contact scheme decline to opt in. Further down the line, they are shocked to learn that the offender has been released, and they were neither aware nor invited to request licence conditions. That is why this House agreed that the opt-in approach was inadequate and did not work well and that it should be replaced with an opt-out system.
Today I want to put on record my response to the various undertakings given today by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, and the Government. I note their concerns about duplication and I am very grateful, as I am sure many noble Lords across this House are, for the Minister’s assurances. This move forward, with a nationwide rollout of an opt-out scheme for victims, to assess the victim contact scheme as part of a new victims’ code, which will mean that victims and their families will be contacted and receive information unless they actively decline contact, is very welcome news.
While I welcome the Government’s response, I have two questions. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, mentioned the trials that the Government have carried out in testing the new referral process. Do the Government intend to publish the results of these trials? Secondly, as the new opt-out system is rolled out, will there be a programme for tracing those victims who have declined to opt in so that they too can receive information about an offender’s potential release and support?
In conclusion, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, for her response today. The opt-out system will ensure that victims and their families are informed first about any release of offenders. This update to the victim contact scheme is long overdue and is a huge win for the campaigners—Marie McCourt and the families of the victims of Vanessa George, and the two Members of Parliament who championed the Bill, the honourable Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and the honourable Member for St Helens North. As the Bill moves forward to become law, I hope that the families will find some comfort from knowing that there is strength in legislation and better communication as a result of their campaign.
My Lords, I, too, want to thank the noble Baroness the Minister for her introduction of this matter this afternoon. It has been a privilege to take part in the passage of this legislation. This is not an area that I normally have involvement with, but it has been a great privilege to work with people having to work in the certain knowledge that what we do cannot be perfect. We cannot, in this legislation, force people who have committed heinous crimes to give information to the victims. But what I think we have managed to do, particularly during the passage of this Bill through your Lordships’ House, is to move the processes on a stage further in favour of the victims to improve the processes and procedures. I say that knowing that, since the last time we discussed these matters, Marie McCourt has had her request for a judicial review turned down and Russell Causley has been released without revealing to his family the whereabouts of his former wife, Carol Packman.
We will never be able to right those wrongs, but all that we can do—and I think we have done in this Bill—is to make sure that the system treats victims in a more humane way than it did before. I am very pleased that the national opt-out scheme will be rolled out. I echo the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, and I wonder whether the Minister will be able to tell us how the whole system will be kept under review in terms of its impact on the probation service and on the perpetrators of crime, and the extent to which it will play back into assessments of them during sentencing.
The Bill is an enormous testimony to Marie McCourt, who has for many years conducted, with great dignity, a campaign not simply to deal with her own hurt but to alleviate the suffering of the small but significant number of people for whom this is the most horrible issue with which they have to live. In that vein, I welcome what the Government have said today.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for what she has said today and for the way the Government have encouraged cross-party support for the various elements of the Bill. The Minister spoke further about the testing opt-out system which will be trialled.
I also pay tribute to the campaigning of Marie McCourt and the other families who have been victims of serious offences. The campaigns, which will be partially successful today, will make a significant difference to the lives of victims’ families for generations to come; these campaigns, like Marie McCourt’s, did so in the knowledge that their own situation would not be materially affected or improved by this Bill. They did it to save others from the torment they have endured. I am very grateful to them.
The first part of this Bill forces the Parole Board to consider the non-disclosure of information during release decisions for people convicted of murder or manslaughter and the failure to give the names of victims of sexual assault or the distribution of indecent images. This Bill puts into law what has been the current operating practice of the Parole Board. We are very clear that the withholding of this information is an ongoing form of control and abuse by the perpetrators, of which the family and friends are victims.
To paraphrase the Minister, this Bill is one step, but a significant one, on the road to properly addressing the systemic challenges faced by victims in our criminal justice system. We in the Opposition look forward to a more comprehensive approach to ensuring victims are at the heart of the processes which convict and punish the guilty and release offenders when they have served their time.
I thank my noble friend Lady Kennedy. She won her amendments in this House at an earlier stage of the Bill, which were then reversed in the Commons. The intent of her amendments was to put victims on a more even footing with offenders. In that sense, she was successful. We heard that the Minister thinks that some of the intentions can be met in other ways; we accept that, although we look forward to a wider context in which victims’ rights will be addressed.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy told me on several occasions that she was very inexperienced in the ways in which the House of Lords worked, but I was never deceived by her. I knew she was a very experienced political operator, and she has played a blinder in this Bill. She has worked across parties and across the Houses, and has been an advocate for the victims’ families. I thank her for the work she has done on this Bill.
Today’s legislation, plus the undertakings we have heard from the Minister, show that sometimes it is best to co-operate with the Government. All those who participated on this Bill, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, have done so in a spirit of co-operation from which we have all benefited. I am glad this Bill is soon to receive Royal Assent. It is one step along the road, but a significant one. It has shown Parliament working at its best.
My Lords, I reiterate my thanks to the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Barker, and others who brought this amendment for supporting what the Government are doing. I know that they will continue to make sure it works in future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, brought up the trials that some police forces are doing. I do not think their results will be released, but we know that really positive reports are coming out of them, with, as I said before, increased numbers of referrals but also higher numbers of victims enrolling in the scheme, which is good news. If there are any results, I will make sure that the noble Baroness receives a copy of them. She also asked about the tracing of the opt-ins. I have not heard about any tracing; I will go back to the department and ask, but it is not something we have traced. It is quite difficult when somebody says “No” to keep asking, “Why not?” or “Do you want to?”. However, I will make sure she gets that information as well.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, very much for bringing up Marie McCourt and the families, as other noble Lords have done. She has worked tirelessly for this Bill, and we thank her. I also put on record my thanks to one or two other noble Lords who raised really important issues under the Bill, including the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for their positive engagements on mental capacity. Once again, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the signatories to her amendment for raising these important concerns about the victim contact. Finally, the House should recognise—and I recognise—Marie McCourt, Helen McCourt’s mother, for her tireless campaign.
Motion A agreed to.
Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention, Levy and Safety Net and Levy Account: Basis of Distribution) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the business rates retention scheme, introduced in 2013-14, allows local government to keep 50% of the business rates it raises locally and, more importantly, 50% of the growth in those business rates, over and above the sums with which it is provided through the local government finance settlement. In 2019-20, this was estimated by authorities to be worth an additional £2.5 billion of funding.
The day-to-day operation of the business rates retention scheme is technically complex. I look forward to contributions from noble Lords on this matter. It is governed by a number of pieces of secondary legislation, setting out the technical rules that govern the flow of money between central government, billing authorities and major precepting authorities.
The regulations before the House today make a number of important technical amendments to those regulations to update the existing framework. This is vital to the continued smooth running of the business rates retention scheme and will ensure that everyone gets the funding they are supposed to get. These regulations make three sets of changes: they ensure the correct calculation of the income to be retained by authorities which have, or have had in the past, a higher level of retained business rates income; they make the necessary changes to the rates retention system following the most recent local government restructuring; and they adjust the calculation of retained rates income, against which we determine levy and safety net payments, to ensure that local authorities are not doubly compensated for giving business rates relief for telecommunications infrastructure.
I will now say a little more about each of these changes and the reasons for them. On the calculation of pilot authorities’ income/errors, as I said, the rates retention scheme is run according to a series of regulations, key to which are the Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention) Regulations 2013 and the Non-Domestic Rating (Levy and Safety Net) Regulations 2013. These set out the basis on which the system is run, including authorities’ shares of locally retained business rates income, safety net thresholds and levy rates.
Since 2017, some local authorities have been allowed to keep a higher proportion of business rates income. Authorities in five devolution deal areas retain 100% of their business rates income, and authorities chosen to be part of the business rates pilots in 2018-19 and 2019-20 retained 100% or 75% of their business rates income for the relevant year.
Regulations were put in place to effect those changes. However, a few minor omissions or errors were made in the framework for the 2019-20 pilots in the Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account: Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019. These include the 75% pilots’ levy rates, apportionment of the collection fund surplus or deficit for one authority and uprating of the top-up and tariff payments for London, and 100% business rates retention authorities in 2019-20. These regulations put those right. For this reason, these regulations will be made available free of charge to any party who purchased the 2019 regulations. Further minor amendments are made by the regulations to provide the basis for uprating 100% business rates retention authorities’ top-up and tariff payments in 2020-21.
Turning now to the restructuring of local authorities, following the restructuring of Buckinghamshire County Council and its constituent district councils, Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe, into one unitary Buckinghamshire Council from 2020-21, amendments are required for the running of the rates retention system. Two minor changes are required to establish the requirements of the new authority under the rates retention system. These are, first, an adjustment to a figure which determines the cost of operating in the area and therefore the cost of collection of business rates for the authority, and, secondly, a new value for Buckinghamshire used to calculate the amount of compensation it will receive for small business rates relief.
In 2019, the Government set out in statute the basis of distribution on which any surplus on the levy account would be made; this occurs where levy payments exceed safety net payments in a year. The basis of distribution is based on local authorities’ relative need as defined by their settlement funding assessment, which is composed of baseline funding level and revenue support grant. A small amendment is made by these regulations to the basis of distribution to reflect a revised agreement on revenue support grant between two councils which restructured back in 2019-20. This revised split adjusts the allocation that the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, and Dorset Council, would receive should the Government determine an amount of any surplus on the business rates levy account to be distributed in the future.
Turning now to adjustments to take into account telecoms relief, an amendment is made to the regulations concerning the calculation of retained rates income, against which levy and safety net payments for authorities are determined. In determining the amount of safety net payment an authority may require, or the amount of levy on growth it is required to pay in a year, the levy and safety net calculations take into account a Section 31 grant compensation for business rates reliefs received by an authority as the result of changes made by the Government. If we did not do this, local authorities could end up effectively being compensated twice for implementing these reliefs. These regulations make the required changes to ensure that any telecoms relief that an authority has awarded is taken into account in these calculations.
In conclusion, these regulations perform a range of minor, highly technical amendments to achieve the correct basis on which the rates retention system is run for 2019-20 and 2020-21. These regulations do not enact new policies, but rather ensure the fulfilment of the original policy intention as approved in prior years via the settlement or by the statutory instrument. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think the paper before us and the speech we have just heard must convince all Members that the non-domestic rates system is something of an enigma wrapped in a mystery, as Winston Churchill said about something else. There is no better person to talk about it than a Minister who actually understands local government, and that is a shared commitment I have. In my political life I have been on three different authorities: Oxford City, Lambeth and now Cumbria, which I declare as an interest.
I would like to use this opportunity to probe the Government’s intentions on their general policy on non-domestic rating. First of all, this is a muddle. Do the Government have plans for a long-term reform of non-domestic rates, and within what timescale? Economists argue seriously for switching to a system of land value taxation—is this something the Government might contemplate?
Secondly, there is the immediate question of business rates, which is the situation we are currently in with the Covid epidemic. We welcome, obviously, the relief given for the current financial year, but what will happen next year? Will we go back to what I think is a discredited system of complex formulae, a rate base we do not really understand and valuations which are often out of date? What will happen next year?
Thirdly, do the Government recognise—I do not think the public recognise this—that non-domestic rates are actually a very big tax? They are a very big tax indeed on business; I think it comes out at something like 1.7% of GDP. It is a very important part of the national tax base. When you look at other countries, our friends over the channel, France levies only 0.7% on business rates and Germany only 0.3%. When you look at the thriving small towns on the continent by contrast with the dead town centres that we have in so many of our cities, it is not surprising that the fact that we impose such high taxes on business through the rating system plays a part. This is a very big problem with the emergence of online competition, and this makes it a far bigger problem in the UK than it is in countries on the continent where business rates are less of a factor in costs.
Then there is the question of the Government’s general policy on local government finance. Is it the Government’s intention still to make local authorities more dependent on the income they raise, and gradually to phase out government grants to councils—which is what the Government said they were doing in the George Osborne era? Business rates retention was introduced as part of that philosophy of making authorities more dependent on their own tax base and less dependent on central government grants. The argument for that is that it incentivises growth policies, because you have an incentive for growth. The argument against is that if areas are poor, they will not get much richer through a policy that favours authorities with high economic growth rates. Is this approach of making authorities dependent on the money they raise locally consistent with this Government’s levelling-up agenda? That is a very big question. I favour a reform of government grants, a new equalisation formula and—I know the Government do not like this phrase—a form of fiscal federalism in England. The present system needs radical change.
My Lords, we would all agree with the Minister when he described the SI as highly technical. It certainly is. It demonstrates just how convoluted local government finance in this country has become. It deeply troubles me from the point of view of transparency, because I would defy anyone to try to explain what is happening here. The context is that local government is facing a funding crisis of around £1.6 billion. The local government finance system was not fit for purpose before the pandemic and most certainly is not now. I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, about the need for a root and branch reform of local government finance.
I have one substantive point and two questions for the Minister. A rule of law accessibility issue arises in relation to this SI. The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum and the Minister mentioned that the procedure for free issue is in effect a replacement; this instrument corrects errors from earlier one. As a long-standing member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I applaud the Government’s use of the free issue procedure here. It is exactly what the JCSI said the Government should do.
The principle that free correction should be given was set out in the committee’s special report in 2017-19. However, that report also made the point that the Government need to consider whether the free issue procedure is necessary and serves quite the same purpose, now that so few people buy written copies. Most people go online. Here I declare an interest as a non-executive board member of the National Archives, which fulfils the role of Queen’s Printer and runs legislation.gov.uk.
In the report, the committee invited the Government to consider allowing readers of hard copies to register for email or text alerts when a statutory instrument is replaced or corrected down the line. Perhaps the Minister could go back and ask the people in government responsible for that whether they have given any more thought to this matter. The free issue procedure is one part of a whole edifice for managing SIs within a legislative and procedural framework that has been based largely on paper and not what would happen if it were starting again today.
My two questions are these. First, the Explanatory Memorandum talks about a local government working group that focuses on business rate retention and reform. Can the Minister say more about that group, who is on it and how it operates, because I have not heard of it? Secondly, are we coming close to a date for Second Reading on the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No.2) Bill, which received its first reading in March but seems to have disappeared?
It is almost 30 years since I was first elected a councillor. In 1991, as I was trudging the streets of Needham Market, one Ian Botham was on his final tour of Australia and New Zealand. Many paths lead to this House. I look forward to hearing him and wish him well.
My Lords, it is an honour to be here making my maiden speech. I was introduced early last month and since then have received an outstanding welcome and support from noble Lords across all Benches, the behind-the-scenes staff and, importantly for me, the digital team, without whom I would not be online speaking to you now.
My whole life has revolved around sport, football, golf and fishing, to name a few, and, as most will know, a bit of cricket. Sport has been more than a game to me. It has been my life and has given it structure and focus, and it has kept me both physically and mentally fit. My career has been well documented, so it is no secret that I am a passionate, strong-willed man who will fight for the causes close to my heart, be they sport, charity, the countryside, the world we are now living in with Covid and how we continue to live with this pandemic surrounding us.
Today, with time short, I will touch briefly on a couple of topics—sport and the community. As chairman of Durham County Cricket Club, I have followed the way in which this pandemic is affecting our sports grounds, which in turn is affecting countless people—those who work at the grounds, those who represent the grounds and those who support the grounds. The capacity of Durham County Cricket Club’s ground is 14,000. There are 3,000 paying members, with an average age of 60—an age that is now classed as vulnerable. The annual turnover is down by 35%, which has sadly led to job losses. We need to get these grounds open to spectators again in a controlled and safe manner. Durham’s members have donated their annual membership fees to the club. We need to start supporting them more and allowing them in.
On the subject of today’s debate, I urge the Government to provide 100% rate relief to community sports clubs. I am honoured to be the founding president of Blood Cancer UK, and I have been involved with the charity since I saw children with the disease in a hospital in Taunton back in the 1980s. Together with my supporters, we have raised many millions, which have contributed to life-saving research, meaning that many more children and young people now recover.
The House will know that we can defeat cancer and other diseases only through investing in research, and the UK has a very proud record in this regard. However, Covid has hit charities hard and, in the next financial year, Blood Cancer UK alone estimates that it will be able to fund 40% less research than it had hoped. Not only will the impact of this be felt now, but it threatens to slow the progress achieved in research. I hope very much to use my time in the House to continue supporting charities and the invaluable work that they do.
I am very much looking forward to contributing more in the House on the topics I have mentioned and on other matters close to my heart.
I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Botham, and congratulate him on a powerful and impressive start to what I am sure will be a long career in this House. My task in acknowledging his service to sport and country will require the heavy roller, for he showed relentless courage, skill and determination at the wicket and has put those skills to good effect well beyond the boundary ropes. As one of the greatest cricketing all-rounders of all time, he showed loyalty to fellow players, not least when he left Somerset. It is to his credit as one of the all-time greats that the Richards-Botham trophy, named in honour of himself and Viv Richards, replaced the Wisden trophy for winners of the West Indies-England test series.
The noble Lord, Lord Botham, understands the spotlight that sport can shine on life as a means of campaigning to fundraise for research into leukaemia. His 12 long-distance charity walks, the first being a 900-mile trek from John O’Groats to Land’s End, have given hope to countless children, their families and friends. When not working for others he turned his hand to commentating, where he has earned consistent respect for being impartial and objective—giving praise where praise is due and criticism where it is justified. That can come only from a deep knowledge and understanding of cricket and the lives behind the people who play it.
The noble Lord’s commitment as chairman of Durham County Cricket Club, his unabashed love of the countryside and his passion for trout and salmon fishing have all followed. He even found time to campaign for Brexit. Not surprisingly, he was chest high in the middle of a salmon river when I called to ask him to be an ambassador for the British Olympic team for London 2012. By example, he has shown us that sport knows no boundaries, shuns injustice and intolerance, and must be blind to colour, race or creed. Sport is a route to fulfilling dreams.
Today, he joins an exclusive team of four captains of England cricket and one West Indian cricketer whose skills led them to honour these red benches as Life Peers. It is clear from today’s speech that his time at the crease will in this House neither be wasted nor spent warming up. It is appropriate that the first of the famous four cricketers whom the noble Lord, Lord Botham, follows was Learie Constantine, a cricketing legend and the first black man to sit in the House of Lords. He made his maiden speech at the height of the Government’s negotiations with Europe for the UK to enter the European Economic Community, and in that speech he powerfully made the case for racial equality.
Today, the noble Lord, Lord Botham, has spoken with the same passion as that noble Lord did in this Chamber 50 years ago. He follows three further life Peers in Colin Cowdrey, David Sheppard and the redoubtable Rachael Heyhoe Flint, all of whom were close colleagues of mine, campaigning in the cause of sport. I anticipate that the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Botham, to use this place for change will exceed even theirs.
Turning to the regulations before the House—on a day when, for the first time in history, a Lords Select Committee to examine a national plan for sport has had a sitting— they touch one critical part of the package needed to save sport: rates. However, the financial damage caused to clubs by lack of gate receipts is unsustainable. Sport needs urgent support. We are talking about not just the clubs but the positive impact they make on the communities they serve and their supply chains, which means that when they suffer businesses in their local communities suffer. One of the most expensive outgoings for clubs that occupy facilities is business rates. The Government can step in right now, as the noble Lord, Lord Botham, said, to provide a full rates holiday rather than the current 80% plus 20% discretionary formula. Clubs are in desperate straits; government must intervene before they start to go under and the many community schemes, which are part of the infra- structure of this country, wither under Covid.
Due to Covid, we face a young population who are more obese, more unfit and more challenged by mental health problems than any in many generations. We have even made the error of prohibiting two-ball golf matches and singles lawn tennis for all ages. Now is the time to show our concern about the mental and physical well-being of the population. Sport, recreation and an active lifestyle are essential to build up resistance to the worst effects of Covid. Now is the time for government to listen and to act.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, is experiencing technical problems, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and it was a great privilege and pleasure to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Botham, centring as it did on issues of sport, community and charitable giving. I really look forward to hearing far more from him in future contributions to your Lordships’ House.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for presenting so clearly what are very much technical regulations, which I strongly support. I have no specific questions about them but some general questions regarding the context, which I hope my noble friend will be able to deal with. First, what is the proposed timescale for full business rate retention across the country? I assume that it is still 100% but it may be 75%. I am not absolutely certain but would be grateful if my noble friend is able to shed some light on it.
Secondly, where are we on the fair funding review? It is obviously important and sits alongside business rates retention. When is that likely to happen? We all understand about having some slippage because of the Covid crisis, but it would be good to have some general outline as to when we can expect it.
My third question relates to the devolved combined authorities, and Cornwall as well, which currently have 100% business rate retention. I fully understand that but it does not extend to all the combined authorities. Can my noble friend the Minister give an update as to whether Teesside, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and South Yorkshire are likely to join in the 100% business rate retention scheme? Where are they at the moment and what is the prospect for other devolved authorities such as West Yorkshire, which may be in the pipeline? What is the position on them?
My last question for my noble friend relates to unitisation, which is referred to in the regulations. There obviously has to be some adjustment in relation to Buckinghamshire, which is in the pipeline. Dorset is similarly in the pipeline, as is Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. Can he say something about future unitisations and how those interact as well? Cumbria may be in the queue, but I am not sure whether other authorities are. With those questions, I am much in support of the regulations.
My Lords, I join in the warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Botham, and congratulate him on his maiden speech. I echo his call to the Minister about community amateur sports clubs. The crisis in finance for grass-roots sports and, in part, for professional gamers is emphasised by the decision of Hull Kingston Rovers rugby league club not to complete its fixtures this year, because of finance. This is before we even go into lockdown, never mind the potential to continue it. This demonstrates that they will not all survive. A government intervention could give them the breathing space that allows them to survive not necessarily the fixtures of a season, but as entities going forward. It would be a wise Minister who would spend time and effort considering that now, because this will be a long winter for all of us, not least for those sports clubs.
I congratulate the Minister. One might say his style was more Viv Richards than Geoff Boycott in making an opening stand in this debate with eloquence and detail. I have one question of substance. He is the expert on all things, but even this may defeat him, so I would be happy to have something in writing to put in the Library, if he would be so kind. How do the regulations impact power stations that close down? It is a rather bespoke issue for non-domestic rates, affecting around half a dozen district authorities across the country. The government decision to close down coal-powered stations—in my view rational but painful—means, in the complex way in which business rates are attributed to local authorities, some district councils may lose out, but cannot be certain by how much, because of the complexity of the rate spread and the formula. Could the Minister or his officials give this change a little attention to see whether it will have a negative or disproportionate impact any of those district councils?
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I say at the outset, on behalf of these Benches, that I am happy to support this statutory instrument. The Minister made a very clear case for these regulations. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Botham, on his maiden speech. We very much look forward to hearing his future contributions in this Chamber, particularly on matters related to sport and the work of the voluntary and charitable sectors.
The very title of this statutory instrument suggests complexity. I understand why it is needed, given changes to the structure of local government in several council areas across the south of England. But that complexity is hard for the public to understand, as was explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. We can see from reading the SI that it is dependent on algebraic formulae and calculations that run to four decimal places. It has been suggested that only a handful of people understand the system of distribution. In one sense, it may not matter too much if the public have confidence in the outcomes, however they are calculated, but it becomes more difficult if the outcomes start to be challenged. Given the pressures on local authority budgets being caused by coronavirus, we may see that happen more frequently. The heart of the issue is the fair distribution of money, which is harder to guarantee in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talked about land value taxation; I agree with what he said. He also said that business rates are a very big tax, and they are. One problem, of course, is that if less money is raised through business rates, the pressure on council tax potentially rises, yet the pressure on people paying council tax cannot be allowed to worsen. I agree on the need for a new equalisation formula. I am very taken with the idea of fiscal federalism that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, proposed for England. There is an argument for it; I hope that, when discussions take place on the long-term future of the business rates system, we will look at that more closely. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, said, the system is not fit for purpose.
Can the Minister tell us whether this statutory instrument has local support? Have all the local authorities affected by the SI agreed to this, and were there any representations from them? Behind everything is the pending review of business rates, as has been raised by several speakers this afternoon. This is urgently needed given that the consultation closed, as we know, at the very end of October. As we have heard, there is no solution for 2021-22—and lockdown this month puts further pressure on the system in this financial year, never mind the next.
My view is that the Government should extend the system of business rates deferral—or holiday—through much of 2021. I think this is now unavoidable. Will the Minister confirm the Government’s thinking on this? The rising cost of local government will otherwise not be met; they certainly cannot be met by loading the extra cost on to council tax alone. The Minister said in his opening remarks that it is a technically complex system. He is right. He also said that he looked forward to our contributions—I think with respect to providing solutions. It is a very complicated area. My view is that it will be solved only through all-party discussion and agreement. I hope the Minister and the Government will think about that in the context of the publication next spring of proposals on the long-term future of the business rates system. With all of that said, we are very happy to support the proposals in this statutory instrument.
My Lords, I first draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Like others, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Botham, on his maiden speech. During the noble Lord’s cricketing career as an all-rounder, he looked to bowl many maiden overs. We get the chance to do that only once in this House, but there is of course the possibly of hitting a six and knocking it out of the ground many times. I have been a lifelong Surrey County Cricket Club supporter and spent many happy afternoons at the Oval. The noble Lord had a fabulous cricketing career and brought pleasure to millions through his huge success in the game. I wish him well for his time in this House.
The noble Lord mentioned how much sport achieves. I know how much Surrey County Cricket Club does locally, supporting cricket at Kennington Park and at the little Oval in Southwark Park. I very much support the noble Lord’s work. My other two sporting loves are Millwall Football Club and Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. Again, they provide much support for their local communities, and they need support as well for the work they do through their community trusts. We need to recognise that we must support our sports clubs to help them support our communities.
The regulations before the House are not controversial in any sense, and many wider issues have been raised. Even before the pandemic, this form of funding for local government had had its day. It is not going to work. We must find a way of funding local government and dealing with business rates. I hope that the Government will think about that. We also need the political parties to come together to think about how to fund local government in future. Of course, local government has a financial crisis on the back of the pandemic, as do other parts of our economy. Those are two important points.
There have been many questions raised around the House. I am sure the Minister will respond to them today or, if not, in a letter to us after the debate.
My Lords, we have had a good innings on the regulations before us today. I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions. I shall take this opportunity to provide some further detail on some of the points which have been raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, mentioned Millwall Football Club. As a Chelsea supporter, it pains me to say that they are some way down the league, but I pay tribute to Millwall and what they do. I saw that as deputy mayor for policing and crime, and I also saw what Charlton did in south-east London to deal with the scourge of knife crime. We must remember Millwall’s chant: “No one likes us, we don’t care.” That is not the case with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy; we all love him.
I will take back the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about responsibility for these issues. She asked a number of technical questions, on which I will write to her. The non-domestic revaluation Bill has gone through the Commons and we are waiting for Second Reading in this House, when time allows. The noble Baroness also asked about the working group which comprises the LGA, CIPFA and a range of local authorities. It has been in existence since 2013 and looks at the technical operation of the rates retention scheme. On behalf of the Government, I thank the working group for the work it is has done so that we can understand better how the rates retention scheme plays out locally.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, asked about the future of local government finance reforms. In May, we announced our intention to delay proposals to deliver the review of relative needs and resources—formerly the Fair Funding Review—in 2021-22. The decision was taken to allow the Government and councils to focus on meeting the immediate public health challenges posed by the pandemic. The approach to business rates retention in 2021-22 is under consideration and will be clarified at the spending review and provisional local government finance settlement.
Looking to the future and in determining the next steps, we will need to consider the impact the pandemic has had on demand for public services across local government and its access to resources. As the local government finance system moves into a more stable position, we will set out the timetable for our proposed way forward.
The noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Shipley, raised the need for a fundamental review of business rates. At Budget 2020, the Government committed to a fundamental review of those rates. The Treasury is currently carrying out that review, which will look at all aspects of business rates as a tax. The Government have said that they will consider carefully the link between the fundamental review of business rates and the future of business rate retention. We will engage with the sector—local councils—very carefully as part of that review. Of course, we have launched an unprecedented support package for businesses, and business rates income has changed drastically in response to Covid-19. We will provide an update on the fundamental review as and when we can.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked for an explanation of what I believe the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, described as one of the most complicated systems, involving algebraic formulae and decimals to four decimal places. I certainly do not understand the mathematics, but it is quite straightforward conceptually. Fifty per cent of the business rates collected are retained by councils. Where there are two tiers, the upper tier retains 20%—in London, that would be the GLA—and 30% is retained by the boroughs. Then, there is an element of redistribution, but also a safety net so that a council bears only the first 7.5% of losses and 82.5%—the rest of the losses—are protected by the central pot.
Does that make it infernally complex? There needs to be a debate about local government reform. Do we go down the path of setting areas free so that local leaders can drive and grow their tax bases? Then we would not see the resource equalisation that we have today. Do we go for a halfway house? That is a debate that will have its time. I have my views, and I hope noble Lords will have the opportunity to express their opinions. It is a legitimate debate about the future conceptually of local government finance.
I have put on my Middlesex tie. I got one cap for Middlesex as a schoolboy. It was not for cricket; it was for rugby. I know that the son of the noble Lord, Lord Botham, was an exceptionally good rugby player, and the noble Lord himself played centre forward for Scunthorpe as well as being a brilliant cricketer for England. We must remember that his moment of greatness happened at Headingly in 1981. I remember it so well. He took, I believe, six wickets in the first innings when we looked like we were going to lose. By the second innings the nation thought we had lost the Ashes to the Australians who, I am sure noble Lords will agree, deserve a good beating from time to time. The noble Lord stepped in and that moment of greatness was when he started smashing the ball across the park. I believe one shot went into the confectionary stall and out again. I had the commentary of Richie Benaud ringing in my ears. That moment of greatness changed the course of the match. I think the odds on an England victory were 500:1 at the time and some Australian players had even put a bet on. I think that is probably illegal today.
The true greatness was also the captain, a Middlesex man. I am sure noble Lords will agree that the captain, Mike Brearley, knew when to play the noble Lord, Lord Botham, and when to make the best of his talent as a swashbuckler. That swashbuckling talent is now heard about at Select Committees. Officials will say to you, “I will be Boycott so that you can be Botham”. But they will also say, “You must keep your feet on the ground, Minister”.
Chandru Dissanayeke is a senior official in one of my departments, MHCLG. He is Sri Lankan by birth. His uncle played for the Sri Lankan team. Now, this is apocryphal, so I will have to get the noble Lord, Lord Botham, to confirm or deny this. Apparently, the noble Lord said to Sunil Gavaskar, “To get a letter to me in my county of Somerset you just have to put ‘Botham, Somerset’”. Sunil Gavaskar turned to him and said: “To get a letter to me you just have to put ‘Gavaskar, India’ and it will reach me’”. That gives you an idea that fame is sometimes fleeting.
I was hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Botham, would be here today. It is a pity that he has not been able to be here today in person. I hope that when events allow we can have a drink together in the Pugin Room. It would be a lifelong dream for me, and I am sure noble Lords will see his contributions for many years.
My noble friend Lord Bourne asked so many questions. I have them all written down here. I will put a letter in writing in the Library. There are a lot of technical points and I think it is better to get a full response in writing. It has been an incredible debate, with the combination of the brilliance of the noble Lord, Lord Botham, and the eloquence of so many noble Lords.
Defence and Security Public Contracts (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, as we look towards 2021, planning for the smooth delivery of defence and security procurement beyond the transition period is absolutely essential. This instrument will ensure that defence suppliers and buyers have the legal certainty they need beyond 31 December. It is a small instrument, but a necessary one.
In the interests of accuracy, I draw attention to a minor error in the heading to Regulation 2 of the instrument, which currently reads “Pre-exit amendments of the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011”. Regulation headings are not an operative part of the instrument and Regulation 1(2) explicitly states that Regulation 2 comes into force the day after the day on which these regulations are made. It has been confirmed by the laying offices and the legal counsel to the JCSI that the deletion of “Pre-exit” can and shall be made editorially, prior to signature. In the interests of transparency, it is appropriate to bring that to the attention of your Lordships.
Before we consider the detail of this statutory instrument—which I shall refer to as the 2020 regulations—I highlight that this is the second EU exit amendment to the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011. The first amendment was debated in both Houses and signed by the Secretary of State for Defence last year. The 2019 regulations, as amended by the 2020 regulations, will now enter into force on implementation period completion day, which is the end of the transition period.
This instrument ensures that the procurement provisions of the withdrawal agreement and the European Economic Area European Free Trade Association separation agreement are correctly applied to the procurement of those public contracts and framework agreements which have been launched but not finalised under the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations before the end of the transition period.
These transitional procurements will be regulated under that version of the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations which meets our current European obligations. Businesses, and indeed the MoD and our much-valued security agencies, will continue to have legal certainty beyond transition period completion day. Defence and security procurements will therefore be underpinned by solid legal bedrock.
Reflecting that, Regulations 3 and 4 of the 2019 regulations will now come into effect at the end of the transition period. The 2020 regulations replace references to “exit day” in the 2019 regulations with “implementation period completion day” where necessary. The opportunity has also been taken to update certain references to financial thresholds in the 2019 regulations, which were revised during the transition period. These are small corrections, but they are necessary.
As well as amending the 2019 regulations, the new legislation updates and corrects the original 2011 regulations. Noble Lords will note that these changes are not related to EU exit. In Regulation 12, which covers technical specifications, an outdated reference to “European technical approval” is replaced with “European technical assessment”.
I reassure your Lordships that, when drafting this instrument, care has been taken to ensure that it is as consistent as possible with other government public procurement legislation. This change to Regulation 12 brings defence and security procurement legislation into alignment with the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. It is a straightforward amendment, as the system of European technical approvals is no longer in practice and has been replaced by European technical assessments. The opportunity has also been taken to update the reference to the common military list of 2018 with the common military list of 2020.
Together, the 2019 regulations and this instrument reflect the UK’s new status outside the EU. The 2019 regulations, agreed by this House over 18 months ago, restrict automatic legal access to the UK’s defence procurements to suppliers from the UK and Gibraltar only. However, the framework and principles underlying the procurement regime remain unchanged. As your Lordships are aware, this is in accordance with the powers given to amend retained EU law in the European Union (Withdrawal Act) 2018. That Act does not allow major policy changes or the introduction of new legal frameworks. Amendments to the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations made under the powers given by the 2018 Act are limited to dealing with the effect and consequences of EU exit.
More broadly, freedom to consider the reform of our defence and security procurement regulations is one of the consequences of our exit from the EU. So, as we look beyond the transition period, this freedom is being used positively to develop defence and security procurement regulations tailored to better meet the UK’s needs. A comprehensive review of the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations is under way with a view to improving the pace and agility of acquisition. This is a significant piece of work which will take some time to complete and will require the introduction of new primary and secondary legislation. In the meantime, the amendments that these regulations make will ensure that public procurement business conducted under the umbrella of the defence and security procurement legislation will continue to flow smoothly and confidently.
I look forward to contributions from your Lordships, not least that from the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, who is making his maiden speech this afternoon. I commend the 2020 regulations to the House and beg to move.
I am conscious of the fact that we are dealing with a major sector, if not the major sector, of British industry. These draft regulations amend regulations made last year which amended the 2011 regulations, which brought into domestic law the requirements of a European directive. There must be someone whose bread and butter is procurement in the Ministry of Defence and who might follow it all.
However, my first question to the Minister is: why has the Ministry of Defence retained these confusingly amended DSPC regulations 2011? “We need legal certainty—a solid legal bedrock”, the noble Baroness said. This is a complicated maze with which bidders for contracts must grapple. Why has the ministry not brought before us a clean and transparent set of new regulations to govern procurement for our defence needs in the brave new world about to dawn on 1 January? Why are we carrying into the future a body of law which looks to the European directive and the European Court of Justice for its interpretation? “The principles remain unchanged”, said the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, to us a moment ago.
My second question is this: according to the Explanatory Memorandum, one purpose of these regulations is to validate “ongoing public procurement procedures” that have been launched but not concluded before the end of the implementation period. To get some idea of the scale of what we are dealing with, how many contracts or framework agreements or applications are we engaged with? Is it five, 10, 100 or 1,000? How many application procedures are expected to be launched between now and the end of the implementation period? Is there a scurrying to get these procedures launched in the next 58 days or will the MoD be waiting for the new year?
Thirdly, what does the future hold? In the debate of March last year, to which my noble friend Lady Smith contributed, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, promised that we would not fall off a cliff but, to my mind, we are heading pell-mell for Beachy Head. I understand that businesses in the EU 27 will have their hitherto-guaranteed right of access to UK public procurements and will be tendering for government contracts on the same basis as other countries worldwide, but what about other bidders? Are Russia, China, Korea or the US envisaged? There are a limited number of arms-exporting nations. What about reciprocity? Please can the Minister confirm that we have reciprocally lost guaranteed access to EU defence procurements?
Finally, does Her Majesty’s Government, freed from the shackles of Europe, envisage that they will be able to prop up the British arms industry with state aid? Of course, this would put it in a far more competitive position and is no doubt a main reason why state aid seems to be the stumbling block in the current stuttering negotiations with Monsieur Barnier. Where does state aid come in the Government’s calculations for future defence procurement? How much has our pending breach of international law, compounded by Boris Johnson’s failure to respond by today to the EU Commission’s letter before action, damaged the trust worldwide that bidders can place in this Government’s commitment to meet our contractual obligations?
My Lords, I rise to add my support to this amendment to the regulations. I am conscious that I am simply a poor warm-up act before the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, gives his maiden speech, so fear not: I shall be brief.
Turning to the regulations, it is important that we ensure that our legislation continues to operate effectively beyond the transition period and procuring our defence needs in a way that is legally sound is vital. The instrument we are debating today is necessary as it will ensure just that. I recognise that the challenges being debated today are just the first step towards developing a procurement regime that better meets the UK’s requirements. I am heartened to hear that the Ministry of Defence is grasping the opportunities offered by our departure from the EU and that work has already begun to simplify and modernise the legislation and, crucially, improve the pace and agility of procurement activity. Reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on government buyers and suppliers alike is one of the opportunities that EU exit has opened up for us and one it is important to exploit.
Looking further ahead, I take this opportunity to draw noble Lords’ attention to the excellent Dunne report, written by my former ministerial colleague Philip Dunne, which seeks to plot a pathway for defence to make a growing contribution to UK prosperity. As we leave the EU, we now have the opportunity to buy British and support UK industry. For example, under EU regulations, while warships could be procured solely from UK yards, non-combatant vessels, even those of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, had to be put out to international tender. Equally, defence has been restricted from supporting local communities by offering food contracts exclusively to local suppliers. Can my noble friend assure me that, as the Dunne report recommends, due weighting is attached to the prosperity impact in the UK for future government tenders?
Secondly, I highlight the need for agility and pace in our procurement process, perhaps by adopting a culture focused more on finding the right procurement solutions and less on defining and avoiding obstacles at the outset. This requires the MoD to develop its skills base as a client, while better understanding how defence and market interactions shape each other. Building the quantity and quality of skills across defence is an important part of this work.
Finally, in reminding the House of my interest as chairman of the 2030 Reserve Forces review, I make a plug for the greater use of sponsored reserves. Supplied as part of a commercial contract with the MoD, they offer an assured supply of uniformed skills to defence. Despite being identified as a vital asset to defence over 10 years ago, their numbers have stagnated at just over 2,000 and they remain, in my opinion at least, an underutilised resource.
My Lords, it is a great honour indeed to make my first contribution in your Lordships’ House and to follow my noble friend Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton in this important debate. I thank all noble Lords for the warm welcome I have received in recent days. In particular, I thank Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and the doorkeepers, who have been so helpful, kind and patient, as well as all the administrative staff and the ever-cheerful catering and cleaning staff who look after us so well, especially in the present circumstances.
I am also grateful to the two supporters at my introduction. I have known the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, of Clogher Valley, since I first got involved in politics, growing up in the beautiful county of Fermanagh. With the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, I was elected to Belfast City Council in 1985—the first elected office for either of us. Like him, I have had the singular honour to serve as lord mayor of that great city and, although a Londonderry man by birth, Belfast has been my political home for many decades. The territorial designation in the title I have taken, Duncairn, references the historic electoral area in the heart of the North Belfast constituency, which I have had the honour to represent for some 35 years altogether—first, in the council, then in the Northern Ireland Assembly and, for over 18 years, in the other place.
As I return to Westminster, much has changed given the current pandemic, but Brexit negotiations still loom large. I reiterate my sincere message, which I have expounded since the referendum, that the Government have a solemn duty to deliver Brexit—they have now done that—but in a way that safeguards the union. That is their overriding responsibility, above everything else. In our deliberations, it is important to remember that the protection of the peace and political process in Northern Ireland is about recognising and defending unionist, as well as nationalist, concerns and interests. That is something that, at times, is missing from some of the debates, particularly on Brexit.
I hope to continue, in accordance with the traditions and conventions of your Lordships’ House, to champion the union, to work to strengthen this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, as we approach the centenary of Northern Ireland next year, to find ways to build on the progress we have made in Northern Ireland in recent years. While there are many challenges, it is important to acknowledge the vital everyday work of government in Northern Ireland, which helps to deliver a better future for all our people. Devolved government in Northern Ireland is not always easy, as we have seen recently, but it is vital, and it is vital that we continue to move Northern Ireland forward.
In doing so, it is important that no one is left behind. The many innocent victims of terrorism still deserve to see justice, proper compensation and an end to those who glorify terrorism which, sadly, still happens all too often in Northern Ireland. Continued attempts to make terrorists the equivalent of our gallant security forces must always be resisted.
Time is too short today to outline the many domestic policy areas that I passionately believe need more attention, but I will mention two in particular. My own family experience drives my determination that everything possible is done to increase awareness and understanding of people with disabilities. My experience representing north Belfast and the wonderful people of that area has shown me how our vulnerable children and their families need support and intervention from an early age, with education at the heart of growing communities.
I strongly believe that our defence and security institutions must be properly resourced and supported to defend us in this increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world. As a member for almost 10 years of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, along with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, who is with us today in this Chamber, I believe more than ever in the crucial importance of a strong United Kingdom at the heart of a strong transatlantic alliance. The regulations before your Lordships this afternoon will ensure the smooth regulation of defence and security public contracts at the end of the transition period. They are another piece of the complex jigsaw of legislation preparing the way for life after Brexit and as such I am happy to give them my full support.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn. I congratulate him on his excellent speech. However, he has been somewhat modest about his career and achievements. He studied law at St John’s College, Cambridge and was called to the Bar. As a barrister, he served as adviser to the secretariat of the European Parliament. His experience there gave him a deep knowledge of European law, which should prove useful in the current circumstances.
My noble friend has served in three elected chambers and has attained important positions. As he mentioned, both he and I were elected in 1985 to Belfast City Council. I served for one year as lord mayor, but he had the privilege to serve on two occasions in that role, and he was the youngest lord mayor the first time. Next, he was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, serving in three different departments. As we have heard, he represented north Belfast in the other place from 2001 to 2019. In 2010, he became leader of the Democratic Unionist Party here in Westminster and was appointed to the Privy Council.
Throughout his career, my noble friend Lord Dodds has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the union as the bedrock of his political outlook. Before the referendum on Scottish independence, he stressed that all the countries of the UK were stronger together than they could ever be apart. More recently, he referred to Brexit as a battle for the union itself, and negotiated tirelessly to protect Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom. In Belfast City Hall, in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in the other place, my noble friend always sought to represent all his constituents, whatever their political persuasion. When it is remembered that, on at least three occasions, attempts were made to take his life by political opponents who regarded violence as an acceptable weapon, his adherence to this principle is all the more laudable. I am very confident that better decisions, based on coherent argument and rational debate, will be arrived at in your Lordships’ House in the coming years because of the presence of my noble friend.
Turning to the statutory instrument before us, these regulations are important to prevent what could potentially be a very bad outcome if the 2019 regulations are not amended. We simply cannot afford for there to be any unnecessary uncertainty over the law on regulating defence and security public contracts. Given that there is now a transition period that runs out at the end of the year, the 2019 regulations, which amended the 2011 regulations, are quite simply unfit for purpose in certain key aspects and must themselves be updated. I presume that, to the extent that it is relevant, the devolved Administrations have been duly consulted. These are technical but nevertheless significant provisions and we are seeing a lot of this type of legislation in the run-up to 31 December. I am very happy to support the Government in this and in their ongoing work to make the statute book ready for when the transition period finally ends.
My Lords, the nature of the world we live in means we have to have adequate defence and security provisions. Ensuring that the necessary procurement can continue effectively after our departure from the EU is clearly essential. These regulations are designed to ensure that, so I support them, but I wonder, as did the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, why the opportunity has not been taken to draft some new and more easily comprehensible regulations than these. As the Minister tried to explain the changes that are being made and the tidying up that is being done, I sympathised with her plight: these are a real hotchpotch.
It had been my fervent hope that, after leaving the EU, the UK would seek the closest possible alignment with EU regulations, thus allowing, effectively, a continuing membership of the single market that has been such a boost to our industry. That is not the Government’s policy. I believe the decision will undermine the UK’s economy, but it is clearly important that, in the new, post-Brexit world, the UK nurtures its industrial base. The defence and security industry is a valuable contributor to that. The research and development that goes on in many of our defence businesses feeds into valuable innovation in companies in many other sectors. We need to help that in the future. Can the Minister tell us how much we are going to be able to place our own industry at the forefront when it comes to procurement? To what extent will we still have to offer contracts to the EU and beyond? Are we able to make it clear that our shipbuilding industry is the one we wish to nurture?
The noble Lord, Thomas of Gresford, referred to state aid. Can the Minister explain exactly what the position is on state aid? Many of us are confused at the moment as to why it is such a stumbling block in EU negotiations. Any elaboration she could give would be much appreciated.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate on these regulations. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, on his excellent and interesting maiden speech. I look forward to hearing often from him on this and many other matters.
My noble friend explained the technical effect of these measures, and I welcome the increased confidence they bring that there will be no cliff edge as far as military procurement is concerned after the implementation period ends at the end of the year. It is welcome that the proposals will make it possible for the nation to decide its priorities for procurement partnerships in defence, removing the distinction of treatment between EU suppliers and other potential partners outside the EU. This will allow new partnerships to be formed. It was good to see the recent agreement with Australia in respect of its future frigate programme, and it should enable other potential partners, such as Japan, to be considered for future defence projects.
The fiscal challenges resulting from the Covid pandemic make it all the more important that we build new partnerships to share the escalating cost burden that each new generation of military equipment requires. In forming new procurement partnerships, we will be able to invest in the capabilities that the country really needs while taking advantage of the strengths that new partners can bring.
These regulations permit the Government to abandon the requirement to offer all defence procurement projects, and indeed other procurement projects, equally throughout the EU, unless there are good reasons for exemption on national security grounds. It is right that this exemption will still apply going forward, and it is highly desirable that the UK should possess competitive, world-class shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing industries.
However regrettable it may be, at present, UK employment costs and productivity do not compete with global norms. It is important that political objectives to maximise UK involvement should be balanced against the overriding need to procure the best equipment at the best price and on time.
On 7 October, I asked the Minister if she could confirm that in the new fleet solid support ships programme, the priority would be best value for the UK defence budget. She confirmed that she was assessing the interest of those parties that had responded to the information notice process, but I do not think she made it clear that best value is the most important factor on which the contract would be awarded.
There is growing alignment between the aspirations of Japan and the UK interests in defence equipment. We know Japan also wants to build two or three similar support ships in the same timescale. At the same time, there are indications that Japan is increasingly looking at the UK as a potential partner in its future fighter programme. Does the Minister agree that the prospects for creating sustainable, competitive defence equipment industries in the long term would be enhanced by working together with partners such as Japan, not by applying too-prescriptive domestic content criteria or a requirement that there be a sole prime contractor, which must be a British company? Would not a partnership of British and foreign companies often provide the best way forward for such contracts, which become ever more expensive?
I look forward to other contributions and the Minister’s reply.
The main legal framework for government procurement is the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, implementing directives from 2014 to 2024 in the UK. The defence and security directive introduced a tailored regime for the procurement of defence and security requirements. Those requirements are important—it is important that all procurements are made with proper tendering processes. There is a need to ensure that we do not end up giving defence procurement contracts to organisations that could jeopardise our defences. I support this regulation, as the defence of our country is paramount.
I apologise. I am so used to Oral Questions, where we are called by name, that I was slightly wrong-footed.
Delighted would not be the word to use about speaking in this short debate on the draft statutory instruments, but it is clearly an important debate. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford flagged up a set of questions that have been picked up by various noble Lords.
I start with reference to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, and his most welcome maiden speech. It may surprise your Lordships and, indeed, the noble Lord himself, to know I would agree with him on one part of his speech beyond welcoming him to the Chamber. It is a key point that defence and security must be properly resourced. That is clearly essential, but it is not the primary purpose of today’s debate, which is to look at a technical set of regulations to ensure that provisions are in place after the transition period or implementation date ends.
As my noble friend Lord Thomas asked, can the Minister explain why we are still looking to amend regulations from 2011? Can the Minister explain when she envisages having some legislation, which she touched on, for the UK to have its own arrangements for defence procurement? If there is one area where the National Audit Office comes back with questions time and again, it is defence procurement.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, talked about the importance of best value for money. The best equipment at the best price and on time is clearly important. We have not seen that very often in defence procurement, which tends to be over budget and over time. Therefore, I ask, as my noble friend Lord Thomas did, what contracts are currently being discussed under the present arrangements and so will be part of the change in regulations that we are looking at today. It is quite likely that there are already contracts in place or being negotiated that will take us decades into the future. How far into the future do the Government see these regulations persisting? How do they see the transition to the UK’s own regulations for defence procurement?
Further, how do the Government envisage state aid? As the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, it is somewhat peculiar that so much time is being devoted to discussions of state aid, particularly—and this is something that the noble Baroness, did not say—as we have a Conservative Government. Never have I heard a Conservative Government spend so much time talking about the importance of being allowed to have state aid. Is it for the defence industry? Is it to support our shipping industry? What plans does the MoD have and is the Minister able to share any of them with us?
It is important that we have legal certainty after the transition period is over, so it is appropriate to support these regulations. I hope that the Minister does not have to come forward every year with an update saying, “We are still trying to amend regulations from 2011. There is still a word or two that is not quite right.” It is important to have a defence procurement process that works effectively and goes beyond amending regulations. We need a future set of arrangements to ensure that our defence procurement process is as strong and effective as our Armed Forces themselves.
My Lords, I congratulate and welcome the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. He follows in a rich tradition of sons and daughters of Derry/Londonderry making very important contributions to the quality of public life in our country. I look forward to his contributions in the future.
Defence procurement drives the UK’s important defence industry, and with that protects hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs. The industry needs certainty to flourish, including on how contracts will operate towards the end of the transition period. As we have heard, these regulations relate to public procurement procedures which are governed by the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011. Under the UK’s obligations in the withdrawal agreement and the EEA EFTA separation agreement, the same rules will continue to apply to procurements launched but not finalised prior to the end of the transition period. With the internal market Bill currently going through your Lordships’ House, I am glad that the Government have not fully abandoned their obligations in the withdrawal agreement.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. Can she confirm how many contracts she expects to continue operating under these rules, and for how long? This SI updates two of the financial thresholds over which the full requirements of the 2011 regulations apply. Can she explain why the higher threshold has been increased from £820,700 to £884,720, and how this was calculated? The regulations also say that procurements launched after the implementation period completion day will follow the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011, as amended by the 2019 regulations. For those procurements, notices will be sent to the UK e-notification service, and rights and remedies under the 2011 regulations will be limited to the UK and Gibraltarian economic operators only. Will this be affected if procurement is included in an EU-UK FTA?
While clarity for procurement contracts that have begun but are not yet completed is welcome, there remains much uncertainty around the future of defence procurement, especially relating to the integrated review, the comprehensive spending review, and Covid-19. I am sure that I am not alone in worrying about delays to the review and the changing timeframes for the CSR, as well as the impact that this will have on procurement and the whole defence industry. It has been reported that the CSR will now be based on a one-year settlement rather than a three-year one, which could be very damaging to defence. Equipment procurement is a long-term business, and it is already facing a hole in the budget of £16 billion. Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Defence will now receive only a one-year settlement? What impact will this have on procurement projects, and on the UK’s military programmes and capabilities?
I hope that the Government realise that, as Ministers argue over budgets, our adversaries are moving ahead with new threat capabilities. We cannot afford a delay or a spending downgrade. I would be most grateful if the Minister explained what steps the department is taking to mitigate the impact of rising cases of Covid-19 and the tightening of restrictions on procurement. How are the Government protecting small businesses along the defence supply chain?
All my professional experience prior to entering the House of Commons tells me one key thing: businesses need certainty. While these are challenging times, the Government must do their utmost to provide that certainty through the procurement procedures.
My Lords, I thank your Lordships very much indeed for their contributions, which have all been helpful and informative. I will deal with them as specifically as I can.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Smith of Newnham, raised the issue of complexity, and why we have retained the regulations. There is no denying that they are complex but, at the same time, within industry they are understood, and to that extent they are predictable. That is why it was thought imperative that we maintain that clarity and continuity for the sake of businesses, so that they could understand the background against which they were operating and the solid basis on which they were being asked to proceed.
In common with these points was a further question: what about a more comprehensive review? As I indicated, that is in mind and under way, specifically to improve the pace and agility of acquisitions, but it is a very significant piece of work and cannot be done quickly. What matters is that it is being done; Parliament will receive further information about that in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Smith of Newnham, asked whether I had any idea of how many procedures had been launched but not concluded. I am afraid that I do not have a specific answer to that question. This is to some extent a changing and continuing scene but I shall make inquiries and, if I find something out, I shall certainly bring that to their attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, also raised the issue of companies having access to defence procurement in the EU after the transition period. As a matter of EU law, EU member states will no longer be legally obliged to open their defence and security procurements to UK suppliers as the appropriate directive will no longer apply. However, our UK suppliers are world class; they enjoy interest and demand for their products across the globe and offer incredible experience and expertise in defence. It may well be that EU member states will choose to give UK suppliers access to their competitions to maximise the effectiveness of their procurements, just as the UK might choose to do.
I think it was also the noble Lord, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Smith of Newnham, who raised the question of state aid. I imagine that their question was predicated on whether an assessment of state aid influences a potential supplier’s bid. There is no change in the ability of contracting authorities to request that tenderers explain their price or costs where tenders appear to be abnormally low. There will, of course, no longer be an obligation to report to the European Commission where state aid is the reason that a tender was rejected.
It is a great pleasure for me to be able to extend to my noble friend Lord Lancaster a warm and personal welcome to these Benches. He raised the interesting issue of the Dunne report. He is quite right that it has been pivotal, because a stronger, more competitive and sustainable defence industry brings both better value to defence for the customer and greater economic benefit to the UK. That, of course, was recognised in the defence prosperity programme launched in Parliament in March 2019. The programme was informed by Philip Dunne’s excellent report on the subject as well as by the refresh defence industrial policy.
My noble friend also raised the interesting question of sponsored reserves; they are indeed another enabler of military capability. The assurance of contracted services, which was indeed one of their characteristics provided for under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, enables them to continue to use their skills in an operational environment to support the MoD and to deliver the service that their employers have been contracted to provide.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, on his thoughtful and constructive maiden speech, which had the resonance of authority from his personal experiences. I identified three principal chords in what he had to say: he seeks delivery of Brexit, he wishes the union protected, and he sees the value of upholding defence. I cannot disagree with him on any of those things. I hope that the evidence is before us that the Government are determined to deliver on all those important fronts.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, pointed out, I think helpfully, just how important these regulations are, because they do provide consistency and continuity. Of course, that is at the heart of why we are dealing with this business today, and it is very much in the interests of our defence industry partners that we do that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, raised the issue of our relationship with the EU. I wish to reassure her that, certainly in relation to defence, that relationship is important. We remain committed to European security, which is synonymous with United Kingdom security, and we will continue to co-operate with our friends and allies on shared threats and challenges. I reassure her that we already enjoy a strong bilateral relationship in relation to defence with a number of European countries, and that these are cordial and constructive. Of course, NATO will be at the heart of our approach to defence. The UK has consistently been and will continue to be a strong proponent of closer NATO-EU co-operation, stressing the need for coherence between the two on a range of challenges where the strengths of both organisations need to be combined.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard raised the issue in general of procurement, and specifically he mentioned the fleet solid support ships. As he will understand, I cannot comment too specifically on that process, other than to say that there was a healthy response to the market intelligence-gathering exercise. I wish to reassure him that we are clear that these ships will be made by British-led teams building on the success of Type 31, and we intend to allow international partners to work with UK firms to bid for this British-led shipbuilding project.
The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, quite rightly raised the issue of proper tendering processes, and also being very careful to be sure of who we are doing business with. I think that would be met with an echo of agreement throughout the Chamber. Part of this process today is to ensure that there is a clarity and a robustness to the procedures, and the wider review, which I have already referred to, will have very much at heart what the United Kingdom wants to have at the forefront as the singular issues of importance when it is looking at these important procedures.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, raised issues about equipment and her concerns about the reports from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee. I acknowledge the existing financial difficulties with the 10-year equipment plan, but I wish to point out to her that we have stayed within budget last year, as we have in the previous two, and we are striving to reduce the future gap. I think all your Lordships will understand that managing these ambitious, complex programmes is challenging, but we have already achieved £7.5 billion of equipment efficiency savings for the next 10 years, and, of course, last year we secured an extra £2.2 billion funding for defence.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised a number of issues. I think he was concerned that legislative matters in future might cause problems with our approach to these issues today. I say to him that whatever may be negotiated in the future, we always endeavour to ensure consistency and that we align legislation appropriately. He also mentioned the spending review, and I reassure him that the Ministry of Defence is in discussion with the Treasury. He rightly identified important issues, and I would agree with him about these important issues. These discussions are obviously of significance, but I cannot comment further on that just now. He also raised the issue of Covid and the effect of Covid both on the MoD and on our industrial partners. I want to reassure the noble Lord that the MoD has very robust procedures to deal with the incidence of Covid within our Armed Forces, and we also have been engaging closely with our industrial partners to ensure we are doing everything we can to support them.
I am very grateful for the contributions offered this afternoon. I hope I have answered noble Lords’ questions and clarified the implications of the amended legislation, and I trust that your Lordships will feel able to support the statutory instrument which I have already moved.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 2 November.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the measures we must now take to contain the autumn surge of coronavirus, protect our NHS and save lives. On Saturday evening, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser described the remorseless advance of this second wave. The extraordinary efforts being made by millions of people across the country—especially those in very high alert areas—have made a real difference, suppressing the R rate below where it would otherwise have been. But the R is still above one in every part of England—as it is across much of Europe—and the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario. There are already more Covid patients in some hospitals now than at the height of the first wave: 2,000 more this Sunday than last Sunday.
While the prevalence of the virus is worse in parts of the north, the doubling time in the south-east and the Midlands is now faster than in the north-west. Even in the south-west, where incidence remains low, current projections mean that it will start to run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks. The modelling presented by our scientists suggests that, without action, we could see up to twice as many deaths over the winter as we saw in the first wave.
Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level. I believe it was right to try every possible option to get the virus under control at a local level, with strong local action and strong local leadership. I reject any suggestion that we are somehow slower in taking measures than our European friends and partners. In fact, we are moving to national measures when the rate both of deaths and infections is lower than they were in, for example, France.
We are engaged as a country in a constant struggle to protect lives and livelihoods, and we must balance the restrictions we introduce against the long-term scars they leave, whether for business and jobs, or our physical and mental health. No one wants to impose measures unless absolutely essential, so it made sense to focus initially on the areas where the disease was surging and not to shut businesses, pubs and restaurants in parts of the country where incidence was low.
I want to thank the millions who have put up with local restrictions, sometimes for months on end. I thank them and the local leaders who have understood the gravity of the position. We will continue so far as possible to adopt a pragmatic and local approach in the months ahead. But we are fighting a disease, and when the data changes course, we must change course too. To those in this House who believe we should resist further national measures, let me spell out the medical and moral disaster we face.
If we allow our health system to be overwhelmed—exactly as the data now suggests—that would not only be a disaster for thousands of Covid patients, because their survival rates would fall, but we would also reach a point where the NHS was no longer there for everyone. The sick would be turned away because there was no room in our hospitals. That sacred principle of care for anyone who needs it, whoever they are and whenever they need it, could be broken for the first time in our lives. Doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die.
That existential threat to our NHS comes not from focusing too much on coronavirus, but from not focusing enough. If we fail to get coronavirus under control, the sheer weight of demand from Covid patients would deprive others of the care they need. Cancer treatment, heart surgery, other life-saving procedures: all this could be put at risk if we do not get the virus under control. Even though we are so much better prepared than before, with stockpiles of PPE and ventilators, the Nightingales on standby, and 13,000 more nurses than last year, I am afraid that the virus is doubling faster than we could ever conceivably add capacity. Even if we doubled capacity, the gain would be consumed in a single doubling of the virus.
And so on Wednesday the House will vote on regulations which, if passed, will mean that, from Thursday until 2 December in England, people will be permitted to leave home only for specific reasons, including: for education; for work, if you cannot work from home; for exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own, or with one person from another household or support bubble; for medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; to shop for food and essentials; and to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer.
Essential shops will remain open and click-and-collect services will continue, so people do not need to stock up, but I am afraid that non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues and the personal care sector will all be closed. Hospitality must close except for takeaway and delivery services. Places of worship can open for individual prayer, funerals and formal childcare, but sadly not for services. However, Remembrance Sunday events can go ahead, provided they are held outside and observe social distancing. Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home, for example in construction or manufacturing. Elite sport will also be able to continue.
Single adult households can still form exclusive support bubbles with one other household, and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated. The clinically vulnerable and those over 60 should minimise their contact with others. While we will not ask people to shield again in the same way, the clinically extremely vulnerable should only work from home.
I am truly sorry for the anguish these measures will impose, particularly for businesses that had just got back on their feet—businesses across the country that have gone to such trouble to make themselves Covid-secure, to install Perspex screens and to do the right thing. Each of these actions has helped to bring R down, and their hard work will stand them in good stead, but it is now clear that we must do more together.
The Government will continue to do everything possible to support jobs and livelihoods in the next four weeks, as we have throughout. We protected almost 10 million jobs with furlough, and we are now extending the scheme throughout November. We have already paid out £13.7 billion to help the self-employed, and I can announce today that for November we will double our support from 40% to 80% of trading profits. My right honourable friend the Chancellor will also extend the deadline for applications to the Covid loan schemes, from the end of this month to the end of next, to ensure that small businesses can have access to additional loans if required.
We are not going back to the full-scale lockdown of March and April, and there are ways in which these measures are less prohibitive. We have, for instance, a moral duty to keep schools open now that it is safe to do so, because we must not let this virus damage our children’s futures. Schools, colleges, universities, childcare and early years settings will remain open, and I am pleased that that will command support across the House.
It is also vital that we continue provision for non-Covid healthcare, so people should turn up to use the NHS and to get their scans. They should turn up for appointments and collect treatments.
Let me stress that these restrictions are time-limited. After four weeks, on Wednesday 2 December, they will expire, and we intend to return to a tiered system on a local and regional basis, according to the latest data and trends. The House will have a vote to agree the way forward. We have updated the devolved Administrations on the action we are taking in England, and we will continue to work with them on plans for Christmas and beyond.
While scientists are bleak in their predictions over the short term, they are unanimously optimistic about the medium and long term. If the House asked me, “What is the exit strategy? What is the way out?”, let me be as clear as I can that the way out is to get R down now, to beat this autumn surge and to use this moment to exploit the medical and technical advances we are making to keep it low.
We now have not only much better medication and the prospect of a vaccine, but we have the immediate prospect of many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid-turnaround tests with results in minutes. Trials have already shown that we can help to suppress the disease in hospitals, schools and universities by testing large numbers of NHS workers, children, teachers and students.
These tests, crucially, identify people who are infectious but who do not have symptoms, allowing them immediately to self-isolate and stop the spread of the disease and allowing those who are not infectious to continue as normal. This means that, unlike in the spring, it is possible to keep these institutions open and still stop the spread of the disease.
Over the next few days and weeks we plan a steady but massive expansion in the deployment of these quick-turnaround tests, which we will be manufacturing in this country and applying in an ever-growing number of situations, from helping women to have their partners with them when they are giving birth on labour wards to testing whole towns and even cities. The Army has been brought in to work on the logistics, and the programme will begin in a matter of days. We have dexamethasone, the first validated life-saving treatment for the disease, pioneered in this country. We have the real prospect of a vaccine, as I say, in the first quarter of next year; and we will have ever more sophisticated means of providing virtually instant tests.
I believe that those technical developments, taken together, will enable us to defeat the virus by the spring, as humanity has defeated every other infectious disease, and I am not alone in this optimism. But I cannot pretend that the way ahead is easy or without painful choices for us all, so for the next four weeks I must again ask the people of this country to come together, to protect the NHS and to save many thousands of lives. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, our procedure at the moment is to assume that Members watched the Prime Minister yesterday when he made his Statement or have read its content. One thing I would say at the outset is that the scale and depth of the crisis mean that mistakes and misjudgments have huge consequences. That weighs heavily on those making decisions, but there is a common national interest in doing all we can to get the right judgments, decisions and policies. When making such difficult decisions, there must be an evidence base behind them, and we must take account of the immediate situation and the longer-term impact on our nation’s collective health and future prosperity. More than that, we must learn from this time and offer hope about the kind of society that we will have post Covid. We are therefore supporting the Government’s proposal, with some questions, but that does not mean that we think the Government have handled it well.
I am not clear what changed between 21 September when SAGE recommended this kind of national lockdown, 13 October when Keir Starmer called on the Government to follow the SAGE advice, and last weekend. On the day when SAGE called for national restrictions, there were 11 deaths and 4,000 confirmed cases. When the Prime Minister made his statement to the nation, there were 326 deaths and more than five times the number of daily infections. That was not unexpected, nor was it inevitable.
The basis for this decision was there in September, when the Government’s own scientists recommended a short circuit-break. That was ignored. It was there again two weeks later as new cases of Covid started to become rife across parts of the north-west and elsewhere, but it was again ignored. It was also there when my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, suggested nearly three weeks ago that the Government extend the then upcoming school half-term to tackle the spread of the virus head on. At that point, it was not just ignored but ridiculed and attacked. The weekend leak and the rushed press conference, with charts that you could not even read on the TV, must have been precipitated by something else, given that those projections had been available for weeks. Can the noble Baroness tell us what precipitated that announcement?
Given all that, I am surprised that the Prime Minister showed such little humility in his Statement. So many government announcements, such as the world-beating track and trace system and briefings of a vaccine within weeks, have proved to be enthusiastic and exuberant overconfidence. We do not need that; we need realism, honesty and an ongoing evidence-based strategy.
These proposals for a month of national restrictions are not where anybody wants to be. Let us be clear: we all know how difficult and disruptive these restrictions can be, both socially and economically. The Government have taken some action but, as Ministers have acknowledged, there is more to be done for families, individuals and businesses to help them cope now and prepare the nation for the future.
However, there are some things worse than these restrictions. One, as advocated by some, would be to do nothing; the other would be the failure to use this time to test, trace and isolate, and to prepare for a safe route back to a more normal way of living and working. Despite the huge amounts of money involved, fixing test, trace and isolate did not happen over the summer.
We will not be able to eradicate the virus via a mass vaccination programme that will be ready in four weeks, but we must have test, trace and isolate sorted. If we do not do enough tests and get the results back very quickly, we cannot trace. If we do not trace—at present, we are tracing only six out of 10 contacts—we cannot effectively isolate; and if isolation is to be effective, it has to be meaningful, with meaningful support for those in isolation.
I have a few questions for the noble Baroness about the support that is needed. First, I welcome the fact that the Government have pulled their plans to cut support for the self-employed; it is a limited extension to April, but it is to be welcomed. We also welcome the extension of furlough, but this really shows the mismanagement of the issues surrounding governing by leak. The announcement came on the day when furlough was due to end; the Job Support Scheme was meant to start on 1 November. To be eligible, employees must be on an employer’s payroll for a minute before midnight on 30 October. However, people had already been made redundant in the expectation that furlough was going to end. Employers will still be expected to cover pension and national insurance contributions, reflecting the changes made in August, not the scheme in March. Can the noble Baroness confirm that she understands that the Government need to stop these last-minute cliff edges, because they just add to the stress and difficulties for businesses and individuals?
On another related issue, given the plight of the newly unemployed, are the Government now giving any consideration to reinstating their previous bans on rental evictions and home repossessions? Also needed is a winter strategy to help food banks ensure that nobody in our country, including the so-called newly hungry—former middle-class earners—go without the basic provisions they need.
When other areas facing restrictions, including those initiated or imposed by the Government, asked for additional support, they were told in no uncertain terms that it was not available. The Mayor of Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said that the Government had been “unequivocal” in refusing to provide more than two-thirds of the pay of hospitality workers across the north whose businesses were forced to close under tier 3 measures. The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, said the Chancellor had rejected his request to pay subsidies for wages when Wales went back into lockdown. He said:
“I got an answer quickly to say that was not possible for a number of technical reasons and so, no.”
Clearly that was not the case with the announcements that have been made now.
Rather than just apportioning blame, this tells us that what is needed is a longer-term strategy to deal with the current situation, and a longer-term exit strategy that tapers support in a way that allows businesses to plan ahead with at least some degree of confidence. We all know that nothing can be said with certainty, but can the noble Baroness confirm whether there is long-term strategic planning for different scenarios at the heart of government decision-making so that the Government and businesses can prepare?
I also want to raise something very specific about the hospitality and retail sectors in the weeks and months ahead. As we know, the festive season over the run-up to Christmas and the break itself in normal times gives a real boost to their income. They need that this year more than ever. However, with Michael Gove indicating that this will go on much longer than four weeks, what advice do the Government have for how those businesses should plan for December? Should they spend money on marketing materials, menus, staging, food orders and extra staffing, because the Government have said this will end on 2 December? If they do all this and we need an extension to the current lockdown, how might the Government support them in dealing with financial losses? I do not expect an answer from the noble Baroness on the details today, but I would like to hear that the Government have factored that in and are planning for that scenario, should it arise—we hope it does not.
We need businesses to survive and people to remain employed in order to prepare for the future. None of us has a crystal ball to predict what will come next, but there are three things that we need to do: trust the public, give them honesty and realistic predictions about what is likely to happen, and give them the support that they and the country deserve.
My Lords, in responding to the Prime Minister’s Statement, there is a great temptation simply to dwell on the Government’s sloth and incompetence in now introducing more draconian measures than they would have been required to do if they had followed SAGE’s advice in late September and introduced a short circuit-breaker lockdown then. If they had done so, many lives would have been saved, many jobs would have been preserved and many businesses, which will now go bust, would have survived.
However, in accepting the lockdown now, the important thing is to look to the future rather than the past. I have three general suggestions. The first is to be more balanced about the evidence. It is extremely difficult for the non-specialist to know exactly what the current trends really foreshadow. For example, at the weekend the Government produced a range of options, including one which spoke of 4,000 deaths a day, yet the projection on which that was based was already a month out of date last Friday and predicted 1,000 deaths a day by the weekend against the 200 that actually happened. Meanwhile, the measures on the ground in Liverpool appear to be working, with the R number now well under one. The Government need to stick to the data on the ground, which justifies the lockdown, as the Liverpool experience shows, but does not justify hyperbolic claims about future levels of deaths.
Secondly, the Government need to be clearer about what happens next. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the lockdown would end
“without a shred of doubt”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/20; col. 43.]
on 2 December and that the tiered system would then be reintroduced. However, they are completely unclear about the basis on which decisions on that will be taken. They should set out now the parameters regarding the prevalence of the disease that they intend to follow in making decisions on future restrictions, so that individuals and businesses alike can begin to plan ahead on an informed basis or, at the very least, will know the basis on which the Government intend to take decisions.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister needs to start acting like the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, not just of England. Frankly, it is ludicrous that the nations of the United Kingdom are so out of step in the timing and content of the restrictions that they have introduced. My colleague Ed Davey suggested recently that the Prime Minister should discuss with the devolved Administrations how to reach a common approach to Christmas. So he should, but he should also, as a matter of course, discuss regularly with them a co-ordinated approach to fighting the disease more generally. Failure to do so will not only cause further confusion but further undermine support for the union itself.
I have a number of specific questions for the Government. First, even where people are contacted by the track and trace system, the proportion who self-isolate is disappointing, with some estimates of compliance as low as 10%. A principal reason for that is the loss of earnings that people suffer if they do. The Government have introduced a scheme for paying those on low incomes in these circumstances but it simply is not working properly. Can the Government ensure that at the point when an individual is told to self-isolate, they are provided with details about how to claim the compensation, with the Government then paying up quickly?
Secondly, will the Government commit now to paying for free school meals during the Christmas period? It is simply unacceptable at this point for them to cut off a lifeline for the poorest children in the country. It is equally unfair for Manchester United fans to expect Marcus Rashford to act as the conscience of the nation as well as perform his day job.
Thirdly, will the Government give some financial certainty now to those sectors that will be unable to operate profitably for some months ahead? In particular, those offering tourist accommodation cannot expect to operate profitably, even if the lockdown is lifted, as hoped, during the winter months. Without further bridging support, many otherwise perfectly profitable businesses will simply not survive. Will the Government now provide a bespoke lifeline for them?
Finally, will they upgrade the carer’s allowance? Yesterday, in response to a question in another place from my colleague Ed Davey, the Prime Minister said that he would “look at” the proposal that the carer’s allowance be upgraded by £20 a week in line with the increase in universal credit. I urge the noble Baroness to give the Prime Minister a nudge to ensure that that happens without delay.
We will discuss the details of the new regulations at some length tomorrow. There are many inconsistencies in them that should be corrected, as the earlier discussion in the House on the opening of churches demonstrated only too clearly.
The Government’s chaotic approach to combating the virus has left people feeling confused, depressed and fearful for the future. The country knows that the Government have to perform an extremely difficult balancing act between combating the disease and permitting economic and social activity to continue. People are sympathetic with them as they face that dilemma. However, that sympathy is wearing pretty thin. People will grudgingly accept this lockdown but if even that grudging acceptance is to be maintained, the Government will need to be more transparent, fair and ahead of the curve than they have been until this point. They simply have to up their game.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for their comments and will attempt to answer their questions. They asked what had changed to mean that we are now looking to introduce these new restrictions. As SAGE said in September in relation to a circuit break, we had to balance the epidemiology against the real damage that lockdowns cause for the economy and people’s mental health, which is something we all acknowledge. We had hoped that the strong local action we were looking to take would get the rates of infection down. It is important to say that the measures have made sure that the R rate is lower than it would have been but, unfortunately, we have seen the rates going up and have exhausted every other tool at our disposal in trying to suppress local outbreaks with local action.
We were presented with national data that we could not ignore. It suggested, for instance, that if we did not take further measures, we could exceed the first wave peak around 20 November, exceed currently available hospital beds around 23 November and exceed surge capacity—capacity freed up from postponing some local hospital services—around 4 December. Data like that meant that the Prime Minister felt that we needed to take further action.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, mentioned scientific evidence and the data. I should stress that the case for the latest measures was not built around the analysis to which he referred about possible deaths. As I have said to noble Lords on many occasions—I know that everyone is aware of this—a whole series of metrics is involved in these decisions, including the medium-term projections on hospital admissions and daily deaths, as well as the evidence on the ground, which in too many areas, unfortunately, were going in the wrong direction.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about the economic support. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for acknowledging the extension of the furlough scheme and some of the other measures we have taken in relation to the self-employed. We have had one of the most comprehensive economic responses of any country, with more than £200 billion of support. She and the noble Lord mentioned sectors that are struggling and need support. I hope that noble Lords will accept that we have moved to try to address the circumstances and support our businesses. We will continue to do that. The noble Lord mentioned the charter and looking at the carers’ allowance. We will of course keep all this under review as we start to see the impact of the latest lockdown as we move towards 2 December.
The new restrictions are being accompanied by additional support through the extension of the furlough scheme, whereby employees receive 80% of their current salary for hours not worked. There is an additional £1.1billion for local authorities to enable them to support businesses in their areas more broadly. We will continue to look at the economic package and there is strategic long-term planning to make sure that we can provide the support needed.
The noble Baroness asked about evictions. From the start of the pandemic, we have provided nearly £1 billion of support by raising the local housing allowance to cover at least 30% of market rents. As she will know, we changed the law to double eviction notice periods from three to six months, allowing someone who is served notice today to stay in their home until May, save for the most serious cases. We will continue to protect renters facing hardship from eviction and set out further details of measures soon.
The noble Lord talked about our relationships with the devolved authorities. I think that there are more similarities than differences in our approaches. For instance, we have all brought in measures at a local and national level to control the virus, mandated closing times for hospitality and brought in social distancing restrictions. We work closely with the devolved Administrations; obviously, the CMOs of the devolved nations talk regularly. However, it is right that they make their own public health assessments and decide what measures they should put in place and are most appropriate.
I assure the noble Lord that we have had hundreds of committee meetings, calls and meetings at official and ministerial levels, and that will continue. We have provided Wales with £4.4 billion of extra funding this year, Scotland with an extra £7.2 billion and Northern Ireland with an extra £2.4 billion through the Barnett guarantee. We are working as a United Kingdom as we tackle this terrible pandemic.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness rightly asked about the end of the current restrictions. As the Prime Minister has said, these measures will be time limited, ending on 2 December, which is when the SIs that we will debate tomorrow will expire. At that point, we will review the restrictions, which will be eased on a regional basis, according to the latest data. Of course, the aim of this action is to get the R number down now, beat this surge and use this opportunity to exploit the medical and technological advances we have made. For instance, I am sure noble Lords have seen the pilot in Liverpool of the mass city testing as well as the better drug treatments that we have and tackling some of the issues we have seen with test and trace.
The R rate is lower as we move into this new phase than it was in March, so we are confident, knowing that the great British public will stick to these rules, that we will have a good reduction in the R rate and that we will be able to come out of these restrictions. I cannot predict what will happen after 2 December, but I assure noble Lords that we will work to make sure that everyone has as much clarity and confidence as they can.
My Lords, we now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, the Government have a very difficult task indeed, and I ask my question simply in a spirit of inquiry. I am puzzled by the latest graphs, to which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred: the four winter scenarios shown to the country by Patrick Vallance on Saturday, showing deaths totalling 4,000 a day. Is this really a realistic possible figure, considering that the previous realistic worst possible case forecast was 800 a day? The daily death rate was 1,000 in the first wave, and this figure is well above the daily death rate of a country like Brazil. Why is the second wave forecast to be so much worse than the first? Was lockdown ineffective and just temporary or is it, as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer suggested yesterday, just in the nature of the virus that the second wave would be worse? If so, why was this not predicted in previous forecasts and why did anyone ever talk about defeating the virus?
I thank my noble friend. I hope that I mentioned, in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Newby—and I should stress this—that I believe the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser are giving evidence to the Commons Select Committee at the moment to say that the case for the latest measures was not built on the analysis of deaths that the noble Lord mentions. This was not a prediction but just one of the possible worst-case scenarios. As I said, a whole series of other metrics informed the decision as well as the evidence on the ground, which, unfortunately, showed that things were going in the wrong direction. In particular, for instance, the over-60s rate was going up, which correlates with future hospitalisations, and that is still rising. As such, it was a range of measures, and those particular numbers that he mentions were not the reason on which this lockdown, or these proposed measures, have been put forward.
My Lords, the situation facing the country is gravely concerning and we all have a collective responsibility to avoid over- whelming the NHS with the spread of the virus. Churches and faith communities continue to play a crucial role in supporting their local communities. The social and economic support of churches has been estimated at more than £12 billion a year. In my diocese, many churches have offered emergency food and essential supplies to those in desperate need as part of the love your neighbour initiative. It is pleasing, therefore, that the Government have recognised the significance of this contribution by permitting places of worship to continue to offer such essential services during lockdown. I also welcome the provision for private prayer, broadcast and the continuation of funerals.
However the most reverend Primates the Archbishops and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said in their letter to clergy this weekend:
“The sacramental life of the church cannot be seen as an optional extra.”
Access to the sacraments and communal worship are essential to sustain us with much needed hope at this time and to strengthen our commitment to social action. Yet more is needed: people need to be married and not just buried. I am glad to say that we are not exactly in the place where we were in March. Many clergy have worked hard to ensure that places of worship are safe places to be. Today our Archbishops, the Cardinal, the Chief Rabbi and other faith leaders have written to the Prime Minister to say that the continuation of public worship is essential. Will the Minister commit to review the blanket ban? If not, will she publish the evidence used to justify this decision?
Lastly, given the lack of consultation with faith communities before this announcement, can the Minister provide assurances that the Government will consult the churches and other faiths in advance of future decisions such as these?
Of course we recognise that religious practice is of fundamental importance to millions of people across the country. That is why we are enabling individual prayer in places of worship for those who practise that way. We absolutely understand that, for people of faith who take part in communal worship, it will be extremely disappointing news that it cannot continue for the next month, and, of course, it will be difficult for those whose festivals fall during this time. We entirely understand the issue, but we are committed to ensuring that we work collectively to bring the R rate down so that in December we can, we hope, start to get back to normality once we have suppressed the virus, which is what we are all intending to do.
My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. The lockdown for the coming month in England must achieve a substantial reduction in coronavirus circulation in the community so that hospitals are not overwhelmed by Covid-19 admissions and are able to continue to admit Covid-19 and non-Covid patients requiring urgent and elective care in future. How will Her Majesty’s Government use this one-month period better to prepare our National Health Service and our public health systems to secure these objectives so that further lockdowns will not be necessary?
The noble Lord is absolutely right. Concerns about pressure on the NHS were one of the key drivers behind the decision made as well as the fact that, unfortunately, we are seeing in some areas of the country a small number of non-elective procedures having to be cancelled, and we absolutely do not want that to happen. That is why during this time opticians, pharmacies and GPs will stay open, and we will continue to urge people who need any type of medical opinion, attention or treatment to continue to attend appointments and see professionals. We are ramping up testing capacity. We are providing millions of items of PPE, £3 billion of funding to make sure the Nightingales can provide surge capacity and £300 million to make sure that departments have the funding they need to upgrade ahead of the winter and ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed.
My Lords, as part of Saturday night’s slide presentation, the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser made it clear that the Covid-19 hospital admissions rate is the key factor in deciding on a new national lockdown now. Has the bed and ventilator capacity offered by the Nightingale hospitals been taken into account when calculating admission rates compared to the last peak and surge capacity in our NHS?
My Lords, financial support is essential to compliance with lockdown. At the start of the Welsh lockdown, the Government declined the Welsh Government’s request for early access to the job support scheme, despite Wales offering £11 million towards it, and declined a request to widen eligibility for the job retention scheme. Now that the job retention scheme has been extended and includes workers recently made redundant, will support be backdated to 23 October for Wales and be guaranteed for future lockdowns, if needed, in the devolved nations?
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that local authorities now get sufficient information and data to know where their centres of infection are? Will the Government commit today to working with them to ensure that they have the resources to bear down on those places, whatever they may be, so that they can confidently be prepared to come out of lockdown and to keep on top of that? That means that they will need to be on top of test, track and trace in that more dangerous time after lockdown in particular. Local authorities have shown that they can do track and trace effectively. Why do the Government not work with them in a more trustworthy way and give us all hope that we can get out of lock- down and begin to deal with this virus more effectively?
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. We are working very closely with local authorities, and they do indeed have significant resources and powers to do local contact tracing. In fact, there are more than 128 local authority contact tracing teams in place around the country, with more to come. I am sure she will be aware of the Liverpool pilot scheme, which we are hoping will be successful and roll out. Everyone living and working in Liverpool will now be offered a Covid test, whether they have symptoms or not. Whole-city testing aims to protect those at highest risk and find asymptomatic cases in order to prevent and reduce transmission in the community, exactly as the noble Baroness said. If this approach works—and we are looking to roll it out—we are hopeful that it will play a significant role in doing exactly what the noble Baroness says in helping to make sure that local authorities and local areas can bear down quickly and effectively on outbreaks within their area.
My Lords, yesterday the Prime Minister, in his characteristic style, said that the same terms would be available to Scotland if it went into lockdown later than England, yet this seems to be have been qualified by Robert Jenrick today, who said that it was a matter for the Chancellor. Scotland is watching to see whether the current restriction levels will bring about a sustained fall in the infection rate or whether more stringent measures will be needed. I am happy to acknowledge the £7.2 billion of additional support provided by the Treasury to Scotland, but we do not want a lockdown just to qualify for furlough, so clarity is needed. Will the same support now being given to England be available to Scotland if it has to follow the same route on a later timescale beyond 2 December?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for acknowledging the £7.2 billion of funding for Scotland. This intervention has saved nearly 1 million jobs in Scotland, which I am sure is very welcome. As we have said, the furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme, and it will always be there for all parts of the UK.
My Lords, I would like to make a small plea about the NHS. There was a very good statement today from Professor Stephen Powis on the actual position facing the NHS. Accurate information is essential to keeping the confidence of the public, as has been said already today. Sometimes it seems that what is happening in the NHS is slightly cloudy behind a lot of other information—scientific information in particular. Will my noble friend encourage the NHS to go on telling us exactly what is happening within its own front line and make sure that, when it does, it gets properly publicised?
Across the House, we pay tribute to all staff in the health service, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and security, who have done so much over the last few months. I cannot imagine the strain they must be feeling at the moment. Data from the NHS is critical. One of the key things we are trying to do in taking these measures is to ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed and continues to provide fantastic service, support and care for all members of our society.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the reintroduction of schemes put in place during the first lockdown to protect livelihoods. However, thrown into sharp relief is the absence of a shielding programme this time. This puts people with disabilities and others vulnerable to Covid in a difficult position. It makes going to work a choice for them or their employer, with all the risks that entails. It increases financial peril and makes access to appropriate care a greater challenge. Can the noble Baroness explain why, when support programmes to protect livelihoods have been reintroduced, a formal shielding programme to protect lives has not?