House of Lords
Monday 9 November 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Durham.
Introduction: Lord Stewart of Dirleton
Keith Douglas Stewart, having been created Lord Stewart of Dirleton, of Dirleton in the County of East Lothian, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Goldie and Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduc-t.
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.
Death of a Member: Lord Sacks
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, on Saturday 7 November. On behalf of the House, I extend our very sincere condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.
Lord Speaker’s Statement
My Lords, before we begin Oral Questions, I would like to say just a few words about proceedings on Wednesday 4 November. During the consideration of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 a noble Lord who was participating virtually attempted to move an amendment in his name, but was unable to do so because advance notice had not been given. The Clerk of the Parliaments has referred the matter to the Procedure Committee for consideration at its next meeting, and I am confident that it will give it speedy consideration.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please will those asking supplementary questions keep them brief and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to announce (1) the chair, (2) the timeframe, and (3) the terms of reference, for the Royal Commission on criminal justice.
My Lords, the Government remain committed to establishing a royal commission on criminal justice. It has been necessary to prioritise responding to the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system, to ensure that it continues to operate effectively during the pandemic. It is important to learn lessons and use this experience when considering the remit, membership and timing of the royal commission in this context. We will update the House in due course.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I make no apologies for asking the same Question on a number of previous occasions, particularly after reading a sentence in the last annual report of the retiring Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, whose work I salute. When the immediate crisis is over, there will still be an urgent need to address the serious issues that affect the safety and decency of our prisons, the opportunity they offer for rehabilitation and their contribution to reducing reoffending. In her Answer to a Written Question, the Minister seemed to imply that no significant independent review would be implemented before the end of the pandemic. The criminal justice system is in such dire need of an independent review that it cannot afford to wait that long. Will the Minister please tell the House whether my interpretation is correct?
My Lords, the Government made a commitment in their 2019 manifesto to establish a royal commission on criminal justice. We are absolutely committed to doing this. A budget has been allocated for the commission’s work, a team of officials has been established and work is under way on developing the terms of reference and the options for the chairs and commissioners.
Could we please have short questions, otherwise it just knocks out other Members?
My Lords, prisoners serving short sentences for non-violent crimes often get stuck in a so-called revolving door, with serious consequences to their family relationships, housing and rehabilitation. Will the commission be considering reports into the issues around short sentences and consider alternatives to custodial sentences, to enable rehabilitation in the community?
My Lords, I am sorry, but I have to say again that this House will hear when the commission will start, who will be on it, and its terms of reference and scope in due course.
My Lords, Ministry of Justice research has found that prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend, and it is implementing all the recommendations of my two reviews based on the link between good relationships and rehabilitation. Will the terms of reference of the royal commission explicitly include the importance of prisoners’ and offenders’ family and other significant relational ties, to prevent reoffending and intergenerational crime?
My Lords, I am sorry, but there is no point in me reiterating what I have said before about the terms of reference and scope of the commission. However, I agree with my noble friend that family contacts provide a crucial lifeline for those in our care. That is why we acted quickly in our Covid-19 response, so that prisoners could maintain family contact, despite these exceptional circumstances.
I am glad to hear that the Minister appreciates that there is urgency in this matter. An acute situation exists in all aspects of the justice system. The Covid event has made life more difficult in many parts of the country and prisons have not been spared. Above all, they want to hear reassurance that the royal commission will start its work, which is so urgently needed.
The commission is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the challenges in the criminal justice system that noble Lords have brought up today. This work is extremely important, but it is also an opportunity to factor in the real and additional challenges of Covid-19 and to look at the resilience of the system.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. The noble Baroness needs to switch on.
Can the noble Baroness please unmute? We cannot hear her.
With apologies to the noble Baroness, we have to move on. I call the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.
My Lords, members of BAME communities are currently treated disproportionately at every stage of our criminal justice process—stop and search, arrest, charging decisions, trial and sentence. In appointing the chair and considering the commission’s membership and its terms of reference, will the Government ensure that we have a commission that is utterly dedicated to tackling all these inequalities?
My Lords, the Government are committed to implementing a broad programme of work to address racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. If the royal commission is to advance the justice system, it must advance it to all users. This includes ensuring that its deliberations are alert to the experiences of minority groups, including BAME people, and issues of equitable access and equitable experience.
My Lords, regardless of the need for a royal commission, does my noble friend agree that the growing backlog of cases in the Crown Courts and the magistrates’ courts means that tens of thousands of trials will not take place until late 2022 or 2023? Why not deploy the hundreds of recorders and deputy magistrates’ courts judges available to tackle the backlog? If defendants realise that their cases are imminent and not some distant prospect, might not many of them plead guilty, to their own, their victims’ and society’s benefit, rather than gaming the system?
My Lords, our thanks go out to the hard-working professionals across the criminal justice system. The Government have published a comprehensive criminal courts recovery plan to tackle the impact of Covid-19 and are boosting the capacity across the justice system. We are fully using our judicial resources including recorders, deputy district judges in magistrates’ courts and magistrates in court recovery. Our courts remain open during the second national lockdown and we will continue to work more flexibly than ever to tackle the backlog and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our justice system.
My Lords, on 22 May at the Justice Select Committee, the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett, said that his understanding was that the royal commission would be on the criminal justice process, rather than criminal justice itself. I interpret that to mean that it would include out-of-court decisions, out-of-court disposals and pre-charge disposals. Given that a huge amount of crime never gets anywhere near a court, can the Minister confirm that the review will look at the large number of cases that never get into the courts system?
My Lords, I reiterate that we cannot announce anything today about the royal commission. However, I can, once again, say that a team of officials has been established. It is working on the scope and the terms of reference as well as options for the chair and the commissioners.
My Lords, given that the Minister is announcing yet again somewhat of a perpetual procrastination on the royal commission, can she possibly clear up one matter that her predecessor was not keen to answer? I have asked three times—twice in writing and once on the Floor of the House—how many prisoners remain under IPP sentences in the estate of prisons across the UK and what percentage of those prisoners are black? Given the known fact of harsher sentences—by a factor of three to one—for black offenders, when will this institutional racism end?
My Lords, I cannot answer that. In fact, I had it in another pack on a previous Question. I will certainly write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, as a Minister briefly in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, I tried to bring forward proposals 10 years ago to ensure that justice was both swift and sure. The truth is that the system routinely tolerates far too much delay. Efficiency was an issue even before Covid intervened—now it is even more pressing. Will my noble friend the Minister assure me that the commission will look at innovative, new procedures and the use of technology to ensure that justice can be delivered in a timely manner?
I thank my noble friend. I cannot say whether the commission will look at that but the Government are committed to learning from the lessons and building on the innovations brought about by our response to this unprecedented pandemic, such as the good work done in keeping our courts open through our criminal court recovery plan. Since August, magistrates’ courts have been consistently completing more cases than they are receiving. They are dealing with more than 21,000 cases each week and are tackling the backlog of criminal cases.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the second Oral Question. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.
USA Presidential Election
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the 2020 presidential election in the United States of America.
My Lords, the UK Government congratulate President-elect Biden on winning the presidential election with a projected record total turnout of more than 150 million American voters. The United States is our most important ally and we look forward to working with the new Administration on all our shared interests, from climate change to trade and security.
My Lords, from these Benches we also congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and the American people for the resilience of their democracy. Does the Minister note the new President’s commitment to global engagement and the rules-based order, which will be vital as we seek to address Covid, climate change, and regional and global threats? Does she agree that the first thing that the UK Government should do now is to abandon their plans to break international law and that they have the opportunity to do just that this afternoon?
My Lords, as I said, we look forward to working with the new Administration on a wide range of issues. We will be engaging with the new Administration on climate change and, as G7 chair in 2020-21, we look forward to working with the US to secure a strong international rules-based system.
My Lords, it is obvious that a combination of Brexit and the Prime Minister’s fawning over Donald Trump has left us with very diminished influence over United States politics. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will engage with the Biden Administration—always allowing that they return the calls—over a range of subjects that have been left in disarray by Donald Trump? These include not only climate change but the trade talks, the Iran nuclear deal, the new strategic arms talks, the World Health Organization, NATO and, generally, respect for international rules and order?
My Lords, regardless of who is in the White House, or indeed No. 10, the friendship between the UK and the US has always been a force for good in the world. As I said, with the UK’s presidency of the G7 and COP 26 next year, there is a real opportunity for the UK and the US to lead the way in building a stronger international consensus. There is a long list of topics, many of which the noble Lord highlighted, on which we will work side by side with the new Administration.
My Lords, will the Minister recognise that, when Joe Biden is formally elected as the new President of the United States, he will be the most fervent Irish nationalist President for many years? Will she make the Belfast agreement very clear to him, perhaps by making our ambassador in Washington give him a copy of it, asking him to read it, particularly the section on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland to any change in the constitution?
My Lords, as I said, we look forward to engaging with the new US Administration and President-elect Biden on a number of issues.
My Lords, President Trump started a process by which the United States would leave the New START and open skies treaties, briefly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Reid. Is my noble friend the Minister confident that the UK Government can persuade President Biden to reverse President Trump’s decision on this matter and thereby maintain the strategic security that these treaties bring to us all?
My Lords, we recognise the contribution that New START has made to international security and strategic stability, and we remain committed to the open skies agreement. We believe that it benefits transatlantic security by building understanding and confidence through military transparency. We have been in close touch with the current US Administration while they have reviewed their involvement in the treaty, and we will continue those discussions with the new Administration.
My Lords, if a trade agreement with the United States is still a priority of our Government, do they believe that they can achieve such an agreement so long as they insist on Part 5 of the internal markets Bill?
My Lords, a free trade agreement remains a priority of the Government. From the outset of these negotiations, we have engaged with US partners on a bipartisan basis and we are ready to continue strengthening economic partnership between our two countries. We look forward to engaging the President-elect and his team on this.
My Lords, there are obviously a number of important new areas for co-operation if, as assumed, Mr Biden becomes President. They include, for example, as has been mentioned, a positive restarting of arms control discussions, although there are also some negatives, such as the situation in Northern Ireland, where the Americans have never really grasped and understood the subtleties and difficulties of the situation. However, can we take great care to avoid hugging American leadership aspirations and strategic impulses too closely and never forget that, in the new international conditions now prevailing, we have partners in the Indo-Pacific region and Asia, who will be just as important to our future safety, security and prosperity?
My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that we are indeed committed to developing and deepening our relationship with our friends in the growing powers of Asia. We have submitted our application to become a dialogue partner in ASEAN. As we recover from the pandemic, it is more important than ever to work with ASEAN on a sustainable economic recovery.
My Lords, the election of President Biden creates a really historic opportunity to repair the damage done to international co-operation during the Trump years. The way for Britain to have influence is to come forward with practical ideas to tackle issues that concern both countries. Given that President Biden is known to be a strong supporter of NATO, can the noble Baroness reassure us that the Government have specific plans ready to put to his transition team on how to re-energise NATO and show that it is not brain dead?
My Lords, we will indeed be discussing NATO with the incoming Administration. NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and collective defence. The enduring commitment of the US to Euro-Atlantic security and the strength of our transatlantic bond have provided peace and prosperity for over 70 years.
My Lords, I cannot have been the only person who was shocked to hear the Foreign Secretary yesterday unable to answer the question on whether all votes should be counted in a democratic election. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness said that she was looking forward to engaging with the new team, and I add my congratulations to President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris. Can she tell us whether the Foreign Secretary has made, and will make, an attempt to speak to President-elect Biden’s transition team as soon as possible?
My Lords, as is standard practice, you can expect the PM to speak to the successful candidate in due course. The embassy has been in touch with the campaign and we will expect a call in due course, as is normal practice.
My Lords, we have seen in the United States a change in campaigning technique, with social media becoming very important. President Trump has 88.9 million followers on Twitter. I ask that we in the UK become aware of how necessary it will be to keep an eye on this new campaigning and how important it will be to keep our present broadcasting system going strongly, because it was so effective. I know that it kept us up for many hours, but can we thank the broadcasters—the BBC especially—for all the work they have done and make sure that nothing prevents that sort of coverage in the future?
My Lords, we have seen lots of social media activity during this election, as we do in every election, and indeed we see more in every election that comes along. We have also seen actions taken by social media companies. I agree with the noble Lord that it is incredibly important to make sure that we track this closely and do everything we can to make sure that a free and fair media report in every election. I add my thanks to those of the noble Lord. Like, I am sure, many noble Lords, I was glued to the election coverage at the weekend, and I thank the broadcasters for that coverage.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has mentioned security co-operation several times in this interlude. Does she agree that security co-operation with the United Nations Security Council is pre-eminent in terms of UK-US relations? Can she take this opportunity to deny allegations in the media that the United Kingdom vetoed a ceasefire put forward by the Minsk Group on the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh last week?
My Lords, we continue to work with the US and all our partners in the Security Council, particularly on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that the strong support given by President-elect Biden as a Senator and consistently ever since against genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a very good basis for action by the UK, alongside the United States, against genocide and hatred across the world?
My Lords, of course I praise President-elect Joe Biden for standing up for what is right. The UK Government stand firmly against genocide. I mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh in my previous answer; of course, we face challenges in Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh and Belarus. We will continue to work with the US and the new Administration on the challenges that we face here in Europe and across the world.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and we now come to the third Oral Question.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement by the Prime Minister on 6 October that all homes will be powered through offshore wind by 2030, what plans they have to align their skills strategy with their target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
My Lords, the United Kingdom is the first major country to pass into law a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To build our capacity as an innovator and leader in cutting-edge technology, we will invest in the skills we need to drive those industries. We will develop and grow the workforce needed to meet this ambitious commitment through investment in apprenticeships, boot camps and higher-level technical qualifications.
My lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, but I do not think that she has given the House any kind of reassurance that there will be a proper strategy. Therefore, can she tell the House whether the Government are planning to have a national strategy, combined with regional skills strategies, to provide reskilling opportunities with low-carbon sectors and, if so, whether an assessment of funding for those strategies will be included in the net-zero review?
My Lords, there is a national skills and productivity board, which matches the local panels, and it will bring together leading experts to ensure that we know the emerging skills that we need. We know that at the moment a number of vacancies are due to skill shortages. We are particularly keen on investing in our ports and have invested £160 million in a fund to that end, because we know that at the moment we are the world’s leading market in offshore wind and we need to seize those opportunities, as the possibility of £2.6 billion of exports is ours to grab if we invest in the skills.
With the supply of mains electricity increasingly sourced from renewable sources, for millions of homes the main carbon reduction challenge is the replacement of gas-fired central heating. How many jobs do the Government estimate will be needed for this transformation, and what is the timescale of training and retraining currently being planned to meet that demand?
Indeed, the noble Lord is correct that transforming the energy in our homes is one of the key targets, and we have announced that by 2030 we want 40 gigawatts of offshore wind to power our homes. There is also a £2 billion Green Homes grant, which will pay up to two-thirds of the cost of the labour required to make changes to the energy efficiency of homes. If you are on a low income, the grant is 100% up to £10,000. So we are serious about funding the changes needed in our homes.
Does the Minister recognise that one of the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions from homes is to improve their energy efficiency? In light of that, is not the Government’s Green Homes grant another massive missed opportunity—a short-term stimulus tactic covering just 650,000 of the 28 million homes that need to be retrofitted, instead of the long-term investment programme needed for industry to build the skills required for this vital task?
My Lords, the Green Homes grant scheme that I mentioned is supplemented by Green Homes grant skills training, so that we can improve the supply of people who can do the work that has been outlined. Also, offshore wind is a key part of our strategy, and if we get 40 gigawatts by 2030, that is enough to power every home at the rate it currently uses electricity. This is an important part of ensuring those homes can help us meet the net-zero target.
My Lords, while welcoming the Prime Minister’s announcement, would the Minister agree that nature-based solutions will be essential if we are to meet net-zero targets? The Minister will know that the nature recovery fund of £40 million is wildly oversubscribed at £300 million. Will the Minister see that the fund is increased, and what help will she give in the skills programme to those who will implement those projects?
My Lords, it is part of the overall reforms that the Government have introduced to embed employers—whether in T-levels, apprenticeships, or level 4 and level 5 qualifications—so that we can ensure that these developing industries have the skills they need. For instance, for apprenticeships there is a sustainability advisory board. But the noble Earl is correct, which is why we have also committed to planting 75,000 acres of trees by the end of this Parliament, and at the moment 7,200 people are currently employed in offshore wind farms.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. A recent survey found that while 77% of offshore oil and gas workers were open to joining the renewables sector, and over half to working in wind power, there were not sufficient routes for them to reskill, and the routes that did exist were not sector-wide. Will the Government make reskilling a priority, and will it form part of the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister is due to announce?
The noble Lord will not be surprised that I am not at liberty to reveal anything more than the first point of the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister has outlined, which is in relation to offshore wind. For oil and gas there is a transition sector project because we are aware that those people, particularly people in carbon industries, need to transfer. We are hoping that the development of this industry will lead us to have skilled jobs, in particular in some of our most deprived communities. You have to build the blades for these wind farms close to the sea; we need ports that can then export them, and this is very important to some our most deprived coastal communities.
My Lords, with the USA now poised to rejoin the world, there exists the real possibility of global leadership towards net-zero carbon emissions. The Prime Minister’s announcement at the Conservative Party conference last month was welcome in its ambition, but what is needed now is real action from the Government to begin creating a low-carbon skilled workforce to enable the UK to meet net-zero targets as soon as possible. Notwithstanding what the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lady Blackstone, will she accept that a low-carbon national skills strategy is now required, and can she say what proportion of the National Skills Fund’s £3 billion will be targeted specifically towards skills in low-carbon sectors?
I can confirm to the noble Lord that obviously the low-carbon and net-zero commitments we have made are an essential part of the National Skills Fund. We will be having consultations on certain elements of that fund going forward. The fund does now give level 3 entitlements to every adult in the UK who does not have one, including courses such as sustainable resource management and, within the T-levels we have introduced for 16-year-olds, sustainability is part of one of the first three T-levels: construction. So this is being embedded in the strategy. This has the potential to create up to 2 million jobs—currently there are 460,000 jobs in low carbon—so the Government are going to take every opportunity they can to build this for our economy.
My Lords, by 2030, home heating emissions must fall by a quarter to be on track for zero carbon by 2050. Yet only 2% of boilers are being replaced by the cleanest, most efficient method: ground source heat pumps powered by renewable electricity such as wind. Will the Government ensure that their funding strategy and skills strategy together ensure that more heat pumps are installed in homes, because the Green Homes grant will not help with ground source heat pumps?
My Lords, in August of last year BEIS launched the electrification of heat demonstration project, which will, hopefully, demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale transition to electrification of heat in our homes by installing heat pumps in a representative number of homes. There are currently 1,800 qualified heat pump installers in the UK, but we know that to reach 1 million homes we need 40,000 installers. The industry is currently assessed as having the capacity to train 5,000 to 10,000 new installers a year—so this, hopefully, is within our grasp.
My Lords, Anglesey is known as “Energy Island”, not just because of the Wylfa nuclear site but because of the potential of wind power and tidal power around its coast. Will the Minister therefore confirm that renewable projects around that coast will be eligible for financial help from the Government’s schemes? In view of the training in energy technologies being undertaken in the higher and further education sectors in north-west Wales: will the Government work with the Welsh Government to maximise the relevant skill levels in this region?
My Lords, the skills fund is £2.5 billion, but £3 billion with the Barnett formula. The £160 million I outlined that is on offer for ports at present is UK wide—so it will cover Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. We hope that areas of the country such as Scotland and Wales will benefit from the addition of floating offshore wind farms, which can be used in areas where the ocean is much deeper and fixed structures are not possible.
Is the Minister aware that there is a shortage of technicians to build and maintain wind farms? Environmental engineering is not taught in any of our schools. As a result, a group of university technology colleges is going to launch an environmental energy day, supported by Siemens and other industrialists, to secure a route for students to get into either employment or university in this area. Will the Minister support that day?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising awareness of this. Some 75% of the workforce that maintains these offshore wind farms is indeed from the UK. We are confident that the institutes of technology, which will be the main deliverers of level 4 and level 5 qualifications, will aid us in this respect. We have seen the flexible use of the apprenticeship system; you can now do an apprenticeship in dual fuel smart meter installation. It is this kind of new job we want to train people to do.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the fourth Oral Question.
Covid-19: Support for Entertainment and Music Industry Freelancers
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing for freelancers who work in the entertainment and music industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My Lords, the Government are supporting freelancers in three main ways: first, through the Self-employment Income Support Scheme; secondly, through funding, both from the culture renewal fund, which will help allow venues to re-open and in turn create employment, and from the £119 million which Arts Council England has made available for individuals; and finally, we have obtained a number of important exemptions, which will allow some freelancers and other artists to rehearse and to restart live performances as soon as it is safe to do so.
My Lords, last week, the Chancellor had the opportunity to ensure that the Self-employment Income Support Scheme achieved what it was designed to do—essentially, to help workers such as freelance musicians and sound engineers. Yet, according to UK Music, only a third of self-employed people working in the arts and entertainment industries have been able to access these funds. Will the Government commit to looking again at this support measure and plugging the many gaps that exist, which prevent those who cannot work in the music industry accessing the scheme?
The noble Baroness raises an important point. However, I stress that the Self-employment Income Support Scheme has been made more generous as a result of the Chancellor’s announcements last week, and we expect to pay around £4.5 billion to self-employed people between November and January. We work very closely with, and are very grateful to, all our sector stakeholders and will keep all these aspects under review.
My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on the support they have been giving to the cultural sector, led by the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden and, indeed, a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza. Freelancers are the lifeblood of our creative economy; I think there are even a few present in the Chamber today. Has my noble friend seen the report from the Creative Industries Federation, commissioned by Oxford Economics, which suggests that almost 300,000 freelancers may lose their livelihoods during this terrible pandemic? Despite the reforms and changes made on the way to some of the excellent support schemes, I hope that the Government will look again at how to further support freelancers.
Our freelancers are indeed the lifeblood of our creative industries; that is why we are working so hard to get funding to organisations that, in turn, will be employing freelancers. For example, the majority of successful applicants to the Culture Recovery Fund are planning activity to start before March. Our research suggests, however, that not all freelancers who are eligible for support are actually accessing it; we would really encourage them to do so.
My Lords, while there are different reasons for musicians falling through the gaps in support, the most common is that less than half of their work comes from self-employment. Will the Minister advise the Treasury that the music sector, and indeed other sectors, would be helped considerably by lowering the threshold of income from self-employment from 50% to 25% and removing the £50,000 cap on earnings when there is no equivalent cap for the CJRS?
We understand the important points that the noble Earl has raised and we are keeping these schemes under review. To repeat what I have said, we believe that the key to this is to get people performing as quickly as possible; we have tried to do this both through the exemptions that we have achieved for rehearsals and in the direction of our funding.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as listed in the register. I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s responses so far but I respectfully suggest that she has not yet given a satisfactory answer to the underlying question: why, after eight months and four versions of the SEISS and the CJRS, have the Government still not found a way to include many thousands of freelancers who have so far received no government support whatsoever and will not do so under the new arrangement? Please could the Minister have another go at answering that question?
I am happy to have as many goes as it takes. I understand the noble Baroness’s persistence on this point. To reiterate: we have the Self-employment Income Support Scheme; I acknowledge that not everyone is eligible for it. We have a major funding package for the sector, which we hope will restart work as quickly as possible. It not quite fair for the noble Baroness to speak of “no support at all”; we have adapted the welfare system so that the self-employed can access universal credit in full to get support as quickly as possible.
As the Minister has heard so often, many people who work in the creative industries are self-employed. While the government support is welcome, many cannot access it, and potentially, greater problems are coming down the line. Does the Minister not accept that unless we get a good EU-UK deal, the creative industries face another crisis imminently? With the talks restarting today, will she confirm that a priority for the Government is an easy-to-obtain creative visa for freelancers to enable the movement of talent and skills in the sector? We have very little time. Can the Minister give us an update?
The Government absolutely recognise the importance of touring for musicians and other creative talent from this country. We continue to seek a reciprocal agreement with the EU, which would allow UK citizens to undertake some business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. Unfortunately, however, I cannot comment on the detail of these arrangements.
My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, the Minister mentioned that her department had done some research into the problems facing freelancers and the self-employed, most of whom have not been paid since March 2020. Does her research show how much funding the DDCMS estimates is needed to create a safety net for those workers in cultural industries? How much of the Culture Recovery Fund has actually been received to date by freelancers and the self-employed, and will she publish that information?
I am happy to share the detail of that information in a letter to the House and put a copy in the Library. We are working very hard. We have already disbursed over £500 million to 2,000 organisations as part of the Culture Recovery Fund. As I mentioned, that includes specific pots for music venues and cinemas, and we were pleased to announce additional funding for heritage and arts organisations just this weekend.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Will the Government consider extending the film and television production restart fund beyond the end of February? Weather-wise, this is when the industry tends to pick up, so freelancers could finally see the light of day at the end of a very long tunnel.
As I said, the Government are keeping all options under review. We have not yet committed all of the Culture Recovery Fund and are looking at the best ways to disburse it in full. We are optimistic that the £500 million scheme that we announced to support film and TV production will have an important impact on the sector, particularly as we have been able to secure an exemption for film and TV production during this lockdown.
My Lords, the Minister has pointed to the Culture Recovery Fund, which, of course, we all welcome. However, is she aware that conditions attached to it mean that
“new projects … during a prolonged closure period that are not essential to … continued operations”
cannot be funded through this fund, which means that it cannot trickle down from institutions to freelancers? This is a further blow to people who have had no support since April and it impacts disproportionately on deaf and disabled artists, recent graduates and people of colour. Will she press her colleagues as a matter of urgency so that any remaining money in the fund is used to support freelancers through a scheme targeted at those most in need?
As the noble Baroness knows, the aim of the Culture Recovery Fund is to sustain the ecosystem of the cultural sector. Obviously, choices need to be made within that. I dare to suggest that, had we prioritised new projects over existing ones, there might have been criticism about the ones that lost out. We have worked very hard to ensure that this money has a great geographical and sectoral reach and that it stimulates employment, particularly for our important freelancers.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed, and it brings Question Time to an end.
Covid-19: Transparency and Accuracy of Statistics
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the statement by the Office for Statistics Regulation on the transparency of data related to COVID-19, published on 5 November, and reports that charts on projected daily deaths from COVID-19 have been reissued, what assessment they have made of such reports; and what steps they are taking to review (1) the transparency and accuracy of statistics relating to COVID-19, and (2) the decisions that are based on such statistics.
My Lords, the Office for Statistics Regulation is 100% right: the best use of data and statistics is critical in this unprecedented time. All slides and data from press conferences are published on GOV.UK, normally at the time of the press conference. The Government are committed to transparency to build public trust throughout the pandemic; that is why we publish data, the modelling used and any revisions as part of this process.
I thank my noble friend. Does he realise that this rebuke from the statistics regulator is unprecedented, as is the unparalleled series of errors, dubious charts, outdated data and failed projections? It would be bad enough if those errors were random, but they all point in the same direction: alarmism justifying a lockdown. It is invariably a symptom of groupthink when sincere people—I have been there myself—become so wedded to a prediction or policy that they uncritically accept evidence that supports it and ignore facts that challenge it. Will he heed the warning of the great Professor Feynman: when you convert even the finest scientists into policy advocates, you risk ending up with what he called cargo cult science? Should we not leave advocacy to politicians and ask scientists for balanced advice?
My Lords, we are grateful to the Office for Statistics Regulation for its challenge; its points were perfectly reasonable and we take them on board completely. However, I reject the characterisation made by my noble friend and his suggestion that the modelling is either political or erroneous in some way. I remind him that, in January, the modelling showed that the epidemic in China was considerably larger than anything reported at the time. In February and March, we used data from the “Diamond Princess” and elsewhere to show how the threat of Covid was much larger than had previously been understood. In March, we showed that the epidemic in the UK was doubling every three to four days, allowing us to make the difficult decision to lock down. Throughout the spring, the modelling demonstrated that half the UK had not been infected, as previously thought.
In mid-September, the modelling showed that we were at the start of a second wave, despite those who said that there was no evidence of it. It also showed that the uptick in cases involving younger people would spread to older adults and, as a result, into healthcare. Most recently, the six-week projections of SPI-M that were produced throughout October, based on contemporary trends, have been remarkably accurate at assessing the trajectory of hospital admissions and deaths.
My Lords, the fact is that the public have lost trust in scientists and science. They lost trust in government long ago. Is it not time for the Government to ask the Royal Society to carry out a thorough check and review of every statistic released by SAGE or any other government adviser so that we can be sure that the statistics are presented properly, are sound and are not exaggerated so as to mislead the public?
My Lords, I am grateful to the Royal Society for its involvement in much of the work that we are discussing; it is a key contributor to some of the scientific thinking and modelling. As for public support, I remind the noble Lord that there is enormous public support for the measures introduced by the Government: in fact, more people think that our measures have not gone far enough than support them.
My Lords, the same level of regional and cluster detail is needed for the Covid-19 status of residents in care homes as for those in the NHS. When do we expect to have this level of detail for care homes? Can the Minister tell the House how many people are currently resident in English care homes with Covid-19 and what level of confidence the Government have in official statistics on that subject?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that, statistically, care homes present a unique challenge. There are more than 15,000 care homes, many of which are not plugged into day-to-day statistical canvassing and, therefore, knowing exactly what happens in every care home every day is a particularly large challenge. However, we have thrown an enormous amount of resources at that problem, and our understanding of the care home situation in relation to Covid is much better than it was. The precise statistics she asks for today are not at my fingertips, but I would be glad to write to her with a number.
My Lords, would the Minister agree that it is an extremely serious matter when the statistics authority criticises government advisers’ use of statistics? If the public are to accept lockdown and all the restrictions involved, they need to have confidence in the statistics and that they are not speculative. Would the Minister agree that the graph with four scenarios for daily deaths from Covid, rising to 4,000 a day—a rate that exceeds that of Brazil, which has three times our population—should never have been shown at the Prime Minister’s press conference? If he does not agree with that, why was it subsequently modified?
My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right: statistics are critical and very important to public trust. No one takes them more seriously than this Government. However, I remind him that it was not the statistics that the Office for Statistics Regulation expressed concern about; it was about material being used in press conferences that has not been published at the press conferences as they happened. That was a function of the speed at which that press conference was turned around, but he is entirely right that that chart had a presentational error in it, which was corrected. It was published as a result of the publication of the data behind it. I reassure him that the data upon which decisions were made and the data that went into the central case of that chart was correct, and the fact that we have changed it demonstrates that we are committed to transparency in all these matters.
My Lords, my question is about when Her Majesty’s Government will make accessible communication a priority. The Prime Minister’s press conference was like a scientific symposium, except that the slides were presented too quickly, with too much information. It felt as if we were being blinded by science. Does the Minister agree that providing information that is accessible to all viewers would be a more effective public education strategy, and that that means using everyday language?
On the manner in which the information was delivered, I take the noble Baroness’s comments completely on board. While it is not my role to be in charge of the presentation of No. 10 presentations, I think a lot of people would agree with her that there were a lot of slides, which were very detailed and not all formatted for the TV screen. However, we are trying our hardest to share with the public as much of the insight and science as we possibly can, and we are trying to hit that balance between too little and too much information. We are trying to publish data as soon as it can be reasonably verified. There will be some scratchiness around the edges on that, and I take the noble Baroness’s points about last Saturday completely on board. However, the commitment to transparency and open debate on these issues is sincere.
When will the Government start sharing data and having meaningful discussions before decisions are taken? Given that public confidence in these decisions is crucial for them to work, will the Government start working with the opposition parties, which they expect to—and which have—supported the lockdowns and proposals, as Keir Starmer and others have been offering for months?
The noble Baroness is right to pinpoint the sharing of data as being very important, and we have been as open and transparent as we can be. We publish an enormous amount of data. Just before this debate, I tweeted three of the main portals to the data, which there is not only an unprecedented quantity of but which is more up to date than could reasonably have been expected a few months ago, when such data was not available. Some of these decisions are made extremely quickly because the data changes so quickly. Sometimes, one believes that we are on track for one thing, and then the virus changes course and we have to change our policies accordingly. That is simply a fact of the challenge of fighting this virus: speed is of the essence, and sometimes it has been extremely difficult to do the kinds of consultation that the noble Baroness quite reasonably describes.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister just said that the data changes quickly. Does he accept that all three datasets published towards the end of last week on reliable information on the number of positive cases, which is to say those of the Office for National Statistics, the government dashboard and King's College London’s COVID symptom study, all point to the second wave having already peaked and being on the way down, unlike the faulty models used to justify lockdown last weekend? Does he accept that this gives the Government every reason to pause the decision to impose a national lockdown and reconsider it?
The noble Viscount and I have corresponded on this matter. I do not accept that they suggested that the number of admissions was on the way down. Undoubtedly, the rate of increase has decelerated, but a lengthening doubling time is not the same as a halving time. The doubling time for hospital admissions was eight days at the start of September, 14 at the start of October and 20 days at the end of October. That is a slowing down of the increase, but it is not the same as a decrease.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us what analysis the Government have made of the root cause and relationship to lockdowns of some 20,000 excess deaths unrelated to Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic, including suicide, bacterial sepsis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other conditions? Should the Government not be publishing regular analyses of the overall harm and not just contested projections of 4,000 deaths each day or the other figures that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, have just mentioned?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. We do publish data on excess deaths, which is available on the PHE website, but he is entirely right: we are deeply concerned not just about the Covid deaths but the impact of Covid on others who may be seeking to access the healthcare system. That is why we made the very hard and tough decision to lock down before the NHS was put under too much pressure, and it is why we have made the commitment to keep the NHS open during this lockdown in order to manage down that excess deaths figure to which he refers.
My Lords, given the leak, there must have been an element of rush for the Saturday press conference: 4 pm became 7 pm; I suspect a degree of panic. The leaker—and Gove, Hancock and Cummings must be suspects—is the cause of this. The refusal to accept supplementary questions at the press conference also contributed, because no sources were given, and the small print showed that the information was from early October. Therefore, in future, please could we have a Spiegelhalter kitemark on graphs at press conferences?
We all respect the word of Professor Spiegelhalter, who is a great man, but we have instead the Office for National Statistics and the publication of the graphs and the data behind them. I would be glad to send to the noble Lord a link, both to the slides and the data behind them, so that he can check them out for himself.
The noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, is unable to join us, so I call the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley.
Communications and the manner of briefings set a benchmark of standards in these challenging times. So why are the Government insensitive to the needs of those who are hard of hearing or sight by not making the Prime Minister’s and other briefings appropriate?
I will take on board the comments of the noble Lord. We try to make our briefings as accessible as possible. The point he made is perfectly reasonable. Let me look into whether there is more we could be doing and talk to the stakeholders involved about whether we should be doing more.
Data should always make trust greater. Covid-19 appears to have more of an effect on BAME communities than their white counterparts. What further research are the Government carrying out in relation to the data to find out the reasons why?
The noble Lord is entirely right. The concerns we have for disadvantaged groups and those of an ethnic background are deep and sincere. That is why we have a large programme of work, sponsored by the NIHR, looking into a variety of different research projects to understand the behaviour of the virus and why it hits certain groups particularly hard.
Could the Minister clarify whether or not Professor Neil Ferguson, who has given such misleading forecasts, was involved in the preparation of the charts and graphs used on 31 October? Not only were they out of date, they were so inaccurate that the question arises whether those involved in the preparation of the material paused to consider if what they had produced might be badly misleading.
My Lords, I am afraid I do not know the precise roles of individual academics in the preparation of those charts. I am happy to go back to the department to see if I can find out, and will reply to the noble Lord.
Services of Lawyers and Lawyer’s Practice (Revocation etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Taking Account of Convictions (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 21 July and 24 September be approved.
Considered in Grand Committee on 29 October.
Education (Exemption from School and Further Education Institutions Inspections) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Higher Education (Fee Limits and Student Support) (England) (Coronavirus) (Revocation) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 28 September and 1 October be approved.
Relevant documents: 30th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 29 October.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid proceeding will now resume. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
These proceedings will follow guidance issued by the Procedure and Privileges Committee. Any Member in the Chamber may speak, subject to the usual seating arrangements and the capacity of the Chamber, and any intending to do so should email the clerk or indicate when asked. Members not intending to speak on a group should make room for Members who are, and all speakers will be called by the Chair.
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. Leave should be given to withdraw.
When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. Noble Lords following the proceedings remotely but not speaking may submit their voice, content or not content, to the collection of the voices by emailing the clerk during the debate. Members cannot vote by email; the way to vote will be via the remote voting system.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4B and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E in lieu.
4C: After Clause 2, page 2, line 22, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion
(1) The Secretary of State must review, or arrange for a review of, the ways in which protection claimants who are in a member State are able to enter the United Kingdom lawfully.
(2) For the purposes of this section a “protection claimant” is a person who—
(a) has made an application for international protection to a member State, or
(b) is not a national of a member State and is seeking to come to the United Kingdom from a member State for the purpose of making a protection claim.
(3) The review under subsection (1) must, in particular—
(a) consider the position of unaccompanied children in member States who are protection claimants and are seeking to come to the United Kingdom to join relatives there, and
(b) include a public consultation on that aspect of the review.
(4) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement providing further details about the review under subsection (1) and, in particular, about the aspect of the review described in subsection (3).
(5) After the review, the Secretary of State must—
(a) prepare a report on the outcome of the review or arrange for such a report to be prepared, and
(b) publish the report and lay it before Parliament.
(6) In this section—
“application for international protection” has the meaning given by Article 2(h) of Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on standards for the qualification of third country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted;
“protection claim” has the same meaning as in Part 5 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (see section 82(2) of that Act);
“relative”, in relation to an unaccompanied child, means a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child;
“unaccompanied child” means a person under the age of 18 (“the child”) who is not in the care of a person who—
(a) is aged 18 or over, and
(b) by law or custom of the country or territory in which the child is present, has responsibility for caring for the child.”
4D: Page 5, line 33, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (1A),”
4E: Page 5, line 34, at end insert—
“(1A) The following provisions of section (Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion) come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—
(a) subsection (4);
(b) subsections (2) and (6) so far as relating to subsection (4).”
My Lords, I turn to the issue of family reunion, which relates to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in Amendment 4B and his most recent Motion A1, which seeks to amend the Government’s Amendment 4C, agreed to in the other place.
I accept the spirit of the noble Lord’s amendment. I reiterate that this Government share the noble Lord’s sincere concerns about refugee and asylum-seeking children. We are determined to continue our proud record of providing safety to those who need it, and supporting vulnerable children remains a fundamental tenet of this. Within this, we also recognise the importance of family unity, which I know is such a vital issue for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords who will no doubt speak today. The Government absolutely share those concerns.
I take this opportunity to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht today. It was Kristallnacht that effectively gave birth to the Kindertransport scheme, which enabled 10,000 refugee children to come to the UK in the 1930s, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I am of course extremely proud of what the UK did then and continue to be proud of what we are doing now and our record in government.
The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe, receiving more claims than any EU member state in 2019 and 20% of all claims made in the EU and the UK. There are more than 5,000 unaccompanied children being looked after in English local authorities alone. Our resettlement schemes were the largest in Europe over the last five years, directly resettling over 25,000 people from regions of conflict and instability, half of whom were children.
I turn now to family reunion, with which the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is concerned—and on which, I hasten to add, Commons Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E also include significant commitments. On 1 January 2021, the UK will cease to be bound by the Dublin regulation. Instead, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe with family members in the UK will be able to apply to join eligible sponsors, such as those with refugee leave or who are beneficiaries of humanitarian protection, those with British citizenship or those with settled status under the Immigration Rules. Anyone who might currently have been transferred under Dublin will have a route through which they can apply, where the sponsor has the relevant status. I will make sure that guidance is updated to ensure that this is clear and transparent.
While these routes are already available to them now, historically, the Dublin regulation has been the preferred transfer route. This is not surprising where children have been in the care of a member state which can refer cases to other states via Dublin. Noble Lords and others have raised concerns that our existing Immigration Rules may not provide precisely the same routes for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK as the Dublin regulation currently does. I want to reassure noble Lords about what our existing rules do and the opportunities they provide for children to reunite with their families.
The rules already make provision for a child to be reunited with a parent in the UK, either under the refugee family reunion rules or via Appendix FM, depending on the immigration status of the parent. There are no financial requirements or fees for applications under our family reunion rules. In addition, paragraphs 319X and 297 of the rules are extremely flexible provisions that already allow for children to apply to join a wide range of family members who are not their parents, if there are serious and compelling family considerations and those relatives can maintain and accommodate the child. Under these rules, we do not restrict the range of those family members. For example, an uncle or aunt with refugee status or British citizenship, or who is settled in the UK, could sponsor a nephew or niece to join them here where those basic requirements are met.
It is important to say that these rules are global; it could be a child coming from Syria, Lebanon, France or Greece. Noble Lords may also wish to note that the vast majority of unaccompanied children who came to join family members under Dublin in 2019 joined British citizens, refugees or those granted humanitarian protection, or settled persons.
Following our departure from the Dublin regulation, I expect to see a greater number of applications for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK under our existing rules. While applications must be considered on a case-by-case basis, I anticipate unaccompanied children in the EU whose best interests would be served by reuniting with family members in the UK who can support them—where they cannot reunite with family elsewhere—clearly to be strong candidates to meet the criteria.
I know that noble Lords have raised concerns about the requirements of these rules. However, the Dublin regulation also has requirements. While the processes are different, the Dublin regulation and our Immigration Rules both rightly examine safeguarding and welfare issues. For example, any Dublin transfer must be in the child’s best interests, and the rules also consider the child’s best interests in our decision-making. Both Dublin transfers and the rules also require evidence of family links, which is essential for safeguarding purposes. For a child to join extended family members—which make up the majority of cases—under Dublin, the sponsor must be able to take care of the child, which is very reasonable. Under Dublin, trained social workers conduct family assessments at the sponsors’ home, including assessing their accommodation, to ensure that these requirements are met. It is also right that our rules examine, for example, whether a child can be accommodated in a home that does not breach housing laws.
However, unlike Dublin, which simply provides for their transfer to the UK to have their asylum claim processed here, our rules grant children a form of leave—that distinction is very important. A child granted leave under family reunion rules will also immediately be provided with a route to settlement, or may even be granted settlement on arrival, depending on the immigration status of the sponsor. Under the refugee family reunion rules alone, we issued over 29,000 refugee family reunion visas in the last five years, and around half of these were for children. This includes 6,320 visas issued in the year ending June of this year. That is over 10 times the number of all family reunion transfers under the Dublin regulation in 2019.
Importantly, there is also discretion for immigration caseworkers to grant leave to enter outside of the Immigration Rules, where a refusal under the rules would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, or on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR, on family life. This discretion is also used where other family requirements cannot be met, such as accommodation and maintenance. Use of discretion will be considered in every case where a child has applied under the rules to join a family member.
However, we are not complacent about the safe and legal routes that our existing rules provide, including for family reunion for unaccompanied children. That is why we have made generous statutory commitments in our substantive amendment in lieu, Amendment 4C. The amendment commits to: a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; a public consultation on those legal routes for family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; laying a statement providing further detail of this review and consultation before Parliament within three months of the immigration Bill achieving Royal Assent; preparing a report on the outcome of the review, and to publishing and laying that report before Parliament. Amendments 4D and 4E concern commencement of the commitment in Amendment 4C to lay a statement before Parliament: they specify that this will come into force within two months of Royal Assent.
Due to the scope of the Bill, the government amendments in lieu refer only to legal routes for those who have made an application for international protection in an EU member state, or are seeking to come to the UK from a member state to claim protection here. However, I can confirm that the review which we conduct will be concerned with legal routes from all countries, not just EU member states. This is in line with our new, global approach to the future immigration system. Noble Lords will remember that I have already committed on the Floor of this House that the UK will pursue bilateral negotiations with key countries of mutual interest on post-transition migration issues, which will include family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I trust that noble Lords will agree that the Government’s Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E—agreed in the other place—in addition to my commitment on bilateral discussions, are a generous package of commitments providing for a full consideration of our future approach to safe and legal routes as part of our new global immigration system, including on family reunion for these children. It clearly demonstrates how seriously this Government take the issue of family unity for vulnerable children and recognise the importance of these routes, to discourage vulnerable children from making dangerous and illegal journeys that can result in the kind of tragedy that we saw last week.
Amendment 4B, and Motion A1 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would also require the Government to replicate the Dublin routes for adults and families to join family members in the UK. Our family reunion rules, part 8 of the rules and appendix FM all provide existing routes for adults and accompanied children to join immediate family members in the UK. Again, there is discretion for caseworkers to grant leave to enter outside of the Immigration Rules where a refusal under the rules would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, or on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR, on family life.
It is essential that the Bill receives Royal Assent without further delays if key elements of the Government’s future border and immigration system, including the new skilled workers route as well as social security co-ordination, are to be implemented as planned. Any further delay puts at risk the ending of free movement at the end of the transition period, a central manifesto commitment that the British people voted for and which has been strongly supported by the other place, and it risks free movement continuing on an unreciprocated basis.
In view of this, and in view of the fact that we have issued 6,320 refugee family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020—our record speaks for itself—as compared to 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin in 2019, I am sure that noble Lords would agree that there is no need for this amendment. I ask that noble Lords agree the Government’s Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E, which have been endorsed in the other place, and respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, not to divide the House on his Amendment 4B and Motion A1. I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
At end insert, “and do propose the following amendments to Amendment 4C—
4F: After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Until such a time as the report under subsection (5) has been published and either any included recommendations on the position of unaccompanied children under subsection (3)(a) have been implemented or a reason has been given for non-implementation, the Secretary of State must make arrangements for protection claimants who are in a member State after 1 January 2021, and who would have been eligible to enter the United Kingdom under a relevant provision of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 if the United Kingdom remained a party to that regulation, to enter the United Kingdom.”
4G: In subsection (6) insert—
““Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013” means Regulation (EU) No. 604/ 2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council including the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);
“relevant provision” means any of the following articles of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013— (a) Article 8; (b) Article 9; (c) Article 10; (d) Article 16; (e) Article 17;””
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement and I am grateful for the civil conversations I had with her over the weekend about it. I very much welcome the review that the Government have initiated, and I obviously look forward to seeing the outcome.
I appreciate what the Minister said about the anniversary of Kristallnacht; she also talked about Kindertransport children arriving here. All I would say is that, as one of them, I have always been enormously grateful to this country for the safety and the opportunities it has given me. I only want to achieve for other children coming here in similar circumstances the same sort of opportunities I have had in the United Kingdom.
The purpose of the amendment was to seek assurances that the ending of the family reunion provisions under the Dublin treaty on 31 December would not disadvantage refugee children who were seeking a route to this country. The amendment simply seeks to put in place interim arrangements for refugees seeking to reunite with family members in the UK after the transitional period is over, until the government review is completed, so that there should not be a gap in the provision for refugees seeking to reunite with their families.
Clearly the Minister’s wish was to make it unnecessary for me to pursue my amendment, so let me deal with that in a little detail, although, as I have said, I welcome the Government’s plans to review the whole issue. I remind the House that we are talking about children, many of them in Calais, Dunkirk or on the Greek islands, sleeping rough and at the mercy of traffickers. We have seen the tragic consequences of what the traffickers do to make money while risking the lives of very vulnerable people. It is my belief that the British people are essentially humanitarian, and that the majority of people in this country support our being generous to child refugees—not all, but the majority —so we are not flying in the face of the majority of public opinion in what we do for child refugees.
I listened very hard to t the Minister and I welcome many of the things that she mentioned. Let me put three questions to her. If there are to be changes in the Immigration Rules—maybe there are not, but if there are—could the Minister arrange for these first to be published in draft form, so that we have the ability to suggest possible changes? My understanding is that normally Immigration Rules are like subordinate legislation, and we cannot simply amend them—we can either reject or accept them.
Therefore, the possibility of influencing changes in the Immigration Rules by having them first published in draft form would be a sensible measure, and I hope the Minister will agree. I believe it has been done before on occasion. We do not want to be in the position of having to either accept or reject them without having first had the chance to debate and, possibly, influence them. If these changes to the Immigration Rules are to happen, I imagine they have to happen by 1 January 202, to give effect to the policies that the Minister just described.
Secondly, the Minister referred to policy guidance to give effect to the Immigration Rules. Obviously, I welcome that, but can it be published in due course—that is, before the end of December—so that we can see the nature of the guidance? The difficulty is that the Immigration Rules are more restrictive than the Dublin treaty provisions. The problem is whether what the Minister said will enable an element of flexibility in the interpretation of the Immigration Rules by officials to be achieved. If that can be done, all well and good.
I hope the Minister will indicate that the Government’s aim is that no child should be disadvantaged by any restrictions in the Immigration Rules tighter than those contained in the Dublin treaty. If the Minister can do that by the end of December, we have a positive way forward for the interim, until the Government’s review is completed, when some of these discussions can happen again. I beg to move.
The following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.
My Lords, I support the position taken by my noble friend the Minister in her Amendments 4C, 4D and 4E. As noble Lords will know, I am not entirely in favour of the Bill. I do not like the fact that it applies to migrants from the EU only and, with other noble Lords, I sought amendments to the new system. For example, I remain unhappy about permitting those coming to work here to take jobs that have not first been advertised to talent here in the UK. This is perverse and will simply serve to increase unemployment. I am astonished that the trade union interest is so unconcerned about this.
However, the Bill is already overdue and, across the House, we all have an interest in getting it on to the statute book in time for people to understand the new rules when transition ends. I cannot support continued ping-pong and I ask the Opposition proponents of the proposals on unaccompanied children to show more responsibility. If they cannot—I detected a certain softening from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—I hope that others across the House will do so and that this latest attempt at ping-pong will fail.
The fact is that the Government have made very substantial concessions—further than I would have gone, with experience of these matters from Downing Street in the 1990s. In particular, they have promised a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and committed themselves to meeting various parliamentary milestones. They have also promised bilateral negotiations with key countries on post-transition migration issues. That will be especially important in the unlikely event of a full breakdown of the FTA with the EU.
The government package should be accepted now and we should avoid the embarrassment of another round of ping-pong. To inform the review and thinking today, I make the following observations. Although I, too, celebrate the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are no longer in the 1930s. In the Bill, we are talking about children coming from the EU—all countries that observe decency and freedom and are subject to the EHRC. Moreover, in the UK, despite beating ourselves up on occasions, we have a good record. There are various avenues for entering the UK as a minor. My noble friend the Minister has explained these in detail and why Dublin is not the only route. I will not repeat what she said, but I emphasise that since 2010, we have granted protection or other forms of leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection. In 2019, we received 3,775 asylum claims from unaccompanied children—more than any other EU member state.
The latest tragedies in the channel do not change any of that. They do, however, underline the view, shared by us all, I think, that we need a system that encourages safe and legal routes and does not encourage child trafficking of any kind. However, we know from Swedish and US experience, which I am happy to share, that special arrangements for admitting unaccompanied minors can, sadly, be counterproductive. Done in the wrong way, they can mean that the criminals have an incentive to separate children from their relatives, and then they can, unfortunately, end up being trafficked for sex or as drug runners. Some have also suggested that where children come on their own—for example to link up with an aunt or a sibling—it often does not work out and they end up in care. Despite the best efforts of many well-run local authorities, this, as we know from a series of appalling metrics and individual cases, is the worst possible place for a good start in life.
A review, as now proposed by the Government, is needed before further changes are made. Moreover, as I argue on everything from pensions and agriculture to coronavirus, a proper costing must be done and resources identified to make any change of policy a success. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that a defeat today for the Government on this will not help them with the important negotiation on these and other issues currently taking place with the EU. I thank the Minister for the amendments tabled by the Government and urge noble Lords to let the Bill get on its way to Royal Assent.
My Lords, I speak in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In doing so, I speak not only on my account but also in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who is locked down in the north-east and therefore, because of the procedures for consideration of Commons amendments, is unable to speak on this amendment, although that had been very much his intention.
Family life and kin relationships are vital in many parts of the world to ensure survival. Even in the UK, family means the difference between misery, destitution and poor mental health and a life where, even in the most difficult circumstances, there is practical care, support and love. Thus, I, too, welcome the Government’s steps towards ensuring safe and legal routes, including the commitment in case of a no-deal Brexit, to pursue bilateral negotiations on arrangements for family reunion, which I trust they will seek to ensure are equivalent to the Dublin regulations. I welcome the Minister’s commitments and await with interest her further comments following what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, just said.
However, a step in the right direction is not the end of the journey. While a review of safe and legal routes is welcome, these steps do not directly deal with what will happen when the UK leaves the Dublin system at the end of the year. Nor does a review safeguard existing routes, which we already know to be worth while and effective. These high standards and guarantees in refugee protection will fall away and the routes will close down.
Throughout the Bible, there is teaching on the necessity for our actions to match well-intended words. Thus, in the Old Testament, the prophet Micah reminds us that we are to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly, not just to speak of justice or mercy. I therefore point out that your Lordships are seeking action rather than reviews. We are asking for a concrete commitment to walk down the path of justice and mercy for those seeking refuge, most especially unaccompanied children.
There are many areas of government migration policy on which we already await reviews. In particular, we wait for one on asylum seekers’ right to work and another on the impact of hostile environment measures, to which the Government have already committed as part of their response to Windrush. In neither case is there as yet a clear timetable. A review is not action. A review without a timetable is not a review any time soon. In the meantime, the need is pressing and ongoing. We require action to fill the legislative gap that will otherwise open up in January to the detriment of some very vulnerable individuals.
Securing satisfactory family reunion rights is an important part of a wider picture, ensuring not only safe and legal routes but also an effective, functioning, humane asylum system. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, recognises this. As he has explained, his amendment seeks to remove a gap in provision. He is an individual of great sensibility and experience in these matters and commands widespread respect across the House. On an issue in which compassion and humanity must be at the forefront of our response, I hope that your Lordships will demonstrate the necessary independence of spirit which these children and their families require of us. I support his amendment.
Does any other noble Lord in the Chamber wish to speak? No. In which case, I shall call the speakers listed, the first of whom is the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. When we travel on the London Tube, there is a warning to “mind the gap”. In their contributions, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, have said that there is potentially a gap in provision between Dublin III and whatever is brought forward for January of next year. It is right that we should mind that gap.
On 21 March 2016, by a margin of 306 votes to 204, your Lordships carried an amendment on unaccompanied child refugees. Four years later, the noble lord, Lord Dubs, valiantly keeps us focused on the plight of refugee children. Four years ago, the noble Lord asked me to be a signatory to what in shorthand became known as the Dubs amendment. I readily agreed. I said at that time that the repeated use of the argument about the so-called pull factors—some of which were mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—cannot, in the case of children, outweigh our duty to do all in our power to safeguard and save any child at risk. Not to do so would leave a lasting stain on our reputation.
In the four years since we first considered the Dubs amendment, we have seen shocking reports of children dying, abandoned, disappearing, trafficked or exploited during perilous journeys. The recent death of two little children in the English Channel, after their boat capsized, simply underlines yet again why it is crucial that we find these safe and legal routes, and long-term solutions that hit hard the criminal gangs that profiteer and exploit desperation, while tackling the root causes that create such phenomenal displacement.
In 2015, we were all deeply affected by the harrowing picture of a little Syrian toddler, washed up like so much flotsam and jetsam on a beach near Bodrum. The tragic deaths of a five year-old and an eight year-old in the English Channel starkly remind us that little has changed since then.
The Dubs amendment will not save the life of every child. Family reunions provided for in the Dublin III regulation are, at best, a safety net. But its absence after 31 December—the gap mentioned—could make a bad and tragic situation even worse.
Against this background, the House of Commons has once again returned this amendment to your Lordships House. I know that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, believes that the plight of children should be a top-tier priority for the Government—in her remarks a few moments ago, she used the phrase “a fundamental tenet”. She is justifiably proud of the help we have given. Thanks to parliamentary pressure, the Government have been able to tell a better story today than might otherwise have been the case. Surely that shows the importance of parliamentary debates such as this. However, she must also accept that the talk and rhetoric from others of nets and water canon to disable or push back boats and of the use of oil rigs or remote islands to lock up migrants, and the absence of any international initiative—ideally led by the United Kingdom—to tackle the root causes, are deeply dispiriting.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of the 79.5 million people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes, nearly 26 million are refugees. The UNHCR estimates that 40% are children and 68% come from just five countries. It cannot be beyond our wit—our collective genius—to drive this issue to the top of Governments’ agendas. Even if they do not accept that there are altruistic and humanitarian reasons to act, there are plenty of self-interested reasons why they should do so.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, today we commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht—the night of broken glass—which included the destruction of 267 synagogues. Eleanor Rathbone MP established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. Two years later, on 10 July 1940, in a six-hour debate, she intervened on no fewer than 20 occasions to insist that Britain had a duty of care to the refugees being hunted down by the Nazis. She said that a nation had an obligation to give succour to those fleeing persecution—in her words,
“not only in the interests of humanity and of the refugees, but in the interests of security itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/1940; col. 1212.]
She said that discussions about asylum seekers and refugees
“always begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles—fear of anti-semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us”.
In 2020, nothing much has changed, and it is hard not to see the parallels.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was one of the few rescued by Kindertransport, and his commendable determination for us to remain focused on the needs of refugee children was born in those shocking times.
The clock is ticking towards 31 December. The Government’s amendment legislates for a review on safe and legal routes in the new year, including specifically on family reunion. I welcome that, but, on 1 January, children will potentially have impaired access to family reunion, and many may be left stranded alone in Europe. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, adds a requirement that current family reunion laws are kept until the review and report are complete, so that no child loses out from accessing this vital safe and legal route.
Like the noble Lord, I am pleased by the spirt and tone of everything which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has said this afternoon. However, I would prefer to see this written in the Bill, and I will follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—metaphorically anyway—into the Lobby and vote to send this back to the Commons one final time if he does not believe that the Government’s assurances go far enough.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, safe routes are needed now. We know that people will not and cannot wait. And who can blame them?
I want to question the Minister about the review, particularly to seek an assurance about one aspect. Proposed new subsection (1) in the amendment refers to the review of ways in which protection claimants can enter the UK lawfully. This suggests that the review is to be limited to considering existing ways, when what is needed are proposals to enable safe mechanisms for family reunion without the current hurdles and restrictions. Siblings must be able to reunite and close family members—not only parents—able to sponsor entry without having to find fees or demonstrate that they have the means to look after the child.
I am concerned that there is no stated objective for the review; that seems to be missing. Also missing, as the right reverend Prelate has said, is a timetable for the completion of the review. The three months mentioned is the period within which the Government are to give further details. Can the Minister help us with the wider timetable and consultation, which surely needs to be wider than just unaccompanied children?
Reference has been made to the use of guidance. Can guidance achieve what is proposed? It cannot override the rules. I endorse and support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the importance of seeing drafts both of rules and guidance. Parliamentarians can then have input and amendments can be gently suggested, if not formally proposed. We cannot do this with unamendable rules.
It is beyond me that what is necessary now is to show
“serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”,
in the words of the rules. Putting it that way round, rather than the converse, has always seemed perverse to me. So, too, is the policy that an application under Article 8 of the European convention, on the right to family life, will not succeed unless there are “exceptional circumstances” with refusal resulting in “unjustifiably harsh consequences”.
On the timetable again, one of the government amendments refers to two months from the date of commencement, which is beyond the end of the year. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be no lacuna as a result and that work on plugging the gap, as it were, will start immediately and apply notwithstanding the commencement date? If there needs to be a change, can it be made in the Commons? I appreciate that that would require the Bill to go back to the Commons.
In practice, it is very difficult to show that a child is in an unsafe environment. Other current problems that need to be considered are getting a child to a visa application centre to make an application under the rules, and the fees which, under one of the paragraphs of the rules, are well over £3,000. I make these perhaps slightly random points because, alone, they show the importance of consultation on the whole situation.
The Minister in the Commons referred to
“dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossings”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/9/20; col. 182.]
I stress “unnecessary”. Would the crossings be made if they were? And was it appropriate to refer to lives lost and profit made by criminals as if they were of equal weight?
The noble Baroness referred to bilaterals. If she can give us an update, it would be welcome, but I appreciate that it may be difficult to refer to negotiations with the EU at the moment. Bilaterals would have to come after the end of the year, but we should not depend on them being in place for some time yet.
I realise that I am not taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as I should, who always succeeds in using the most moderate language. He started by welcoming Amendment 4C, so I will end by confirming that these Benches are pleased that he has again pointed the way forward. We support him. If he decides to divide, we will certainly go with him. In any event, like him, we will continue to seek a much more satisfactory arrangement for asylum seekers, who want the most natural thing in the world: to be with their family.
We welcome the government amendment providing for a review of legal routes to the UK, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and for a report on the outcome of the review to be published and laid before Parliament—which I hope will be within a matter of months, rather than years.
The concern that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs seeks to address is what will apply in the interim, between the end of the transition period—and thus the end of the Dublin regulations—and the introduction of any revised or amended arrangements on legal routes to the UK, following the outcome of the review. In other words, there needs to be provision for those, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who would have come in successfully under the Dublin regulations—had they still been in existence after the end of this year—still to have an equally accessible and achievable safe and legal route in that interim period, which would continue to enable them to come to the UK.
My noble friend Lord Dubs raised some questions arising from the wording on this point in the Minister’s statement. We await to see whether, following the Government’s response, my noble friend considers the wording of the Minister’s statement sufficient to enable him to withdraw his amendment or he seeks a vote. Either way, he will have our full backing and support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The gap was mentioned. I hope that I outlined in my speech the substantial number of routes available, whatever people’s circumstances, to apply to come here and seek our refuge and asylum.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked me three specific questions. The first was whether, if there are changes to the Immigration Rules, we can publish them in draft form. The answer is yes. He asked whether we could publish the guidance before 31 December. I said in my speech and will reiterate that I will ensure that the guidance reflects the position and update it if necessary. I would be happy to update it if changes are needed by 31 December. I am also happy to take his views on the review process on board. I think that was it from him so, in a nutshell, I am happy to do all those things.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe stressed the importance of safe and legal routes, not the child trafficking that we see at the moment. She talked about the cost of these things being important. Of course it is; it will be considered in due course.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about Dublin ending and routes closing down. I have explained that, as we are leaving the European Union, Dublin will come to an end, but we will not close any of our existing routes. Just to illustrate some of the numbers, as I mentioned in my speech, we issued 6,320 family reunion visas in the year ending June 2020, which contrasts with 532 family reunion transfers under Articles 8, 9 and 10 of Dublin. All the routes that I set out earlier are and will continue to be in force.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about children who are dying, trafficked and missing, and the criminal gangs who exploit them. I could not agree with him more, but this exists as Dublin does, so the safe and legal routes are absolutely essential. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is completely focused on this. I can also confirm this afternoon that the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme will restart as soon as possible. It has to be safe to do so, but it will restart. I have some lines on it but I cannot find them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about the review being linked to safe mechanisms. That is why we are doing it: for safe and legal routes. We could not be clearer. She made an interesting point, asking why we are mentioning lives lost and criminals together. We are mentioning them because that is why people die—because criminals encourage them to take dangerous routes across the very dangerous English Channel and other seas. That is why they die. She also asked about the wider timetable, which we will include in the Statement that we are committed to. She asked whether the consultation is wider than just UASCs and, yes, it is. Family reunions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is just part of the wider issue. She also talked about getting people to visa application centres. This morning I talked about that issue to my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister, who is looking at it.
I hope that I have demonstrated how the gap will be filled, and have demonstrated my commitment to all the things that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has asked of me, and that he can withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, giving evidence to support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that parliamentary debate is a good thing, which clarifies issues and highlights our concerns, and is therefore an essential part of our democratic process.
I will make a few brief comments before getting to the nub of what the Minister said. I believe firmly that, if there are safe and legal routes, fewer people are trafficked, and fewer people want to be trafficked. I heard of a refugee child, I think near Calais, who apparently said: “Does it mean that there will be no safe of getting to the UK after Brexit to join my family?” As Brexit has happened, he probably meant the transition period. Clearly he was concerned that, if there was no way of getting to join his family, he would be forced to do the dangerous thing of crossing the channel. I appreciate that the Minister quoted some numbers, but many of those have come as the result of trafficking. We want a safe and legal route so that children can come without the awful risk to their lives, a proper way of bringing them over without everybody arriving in Kent, which is a burden on the local authorities. However, I am sure that we will scrutinise the Minister’s words very carefully. They will be subject to forensic analysis, to see what the Government are saying.
The Minister did not say that she would publish the guidance but that it would be updated. One argument in favour of publishing it is that the Immigration Rules give officials a lot of discretion, and a concern underlying my amendment is that this discretion has in the past been used against the interests of refugee children. If the guidance ensures what I believe is the main aim of this debate—that no child should be disadvantaged through the ending of the Dublin regulation—then we are there. If the Minister can only assure me that the guidance will be published and that, while it cannot guarantee it in every case, it will aim to ensure that no child will be disadvantaged, I would be persuaded. Can the Minister comment in the middle of my speech?
I am quite happy to speak now if the noble Lord will take the intervention. He and I spoke last night, when he asked me for that commitment that no child be disadvantaged. Clearly, I cannot speak on every single case that may or may not happen. As I told him last night, I would be lying if I said that I could make a judgment on every case. I hope that I have outlined clearly—although I start to doubt myself, given that some noble Lords have come back on it—that there are clear routes and humanitarian grounds on which we can accept children. Therefore, I hope that through the commitments that I have made to him today, any person who has applied under Dublin will have a route open to them, as long as the sponsor has the relevant status. I hope that that comforts the noble Lord.
I am grateful to the Minister. We had three conversations yesterday, and I recall her saying that. I take the point, but my niggle or concern is that the interpretation of Immigration Rules will still be with officials, who may not be as generous in their attitude as the Minister is. That is why I am keen to see the guidance. If the officials are going to interpret the Immigration Rules for this interim period in the same spirit as the Minister has addressed the House today, I can rest content.
I am delighted that the Minister said that the vulnerable persons refugee scheme will be revived, as that was a very good scheme as well. If the Minister’s assurance is to be accepted by me—and I think I will accept it—I do so on the understanding that the House will carefully scrutinise what happens, that we shall raise individual cases where we feel that the assurances have not been acted upon, and that we will look to the review and the future legislation—there is another Bill coming next year—to have further scrutiny of the arrangements for unaccompanied child refugees. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.
Motion A agreed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
The proceedings on the consideration of Commons amendments to the Agriculture Bill will follow guidance issued by the Procedure and Privileges Committee. Any Member in the Chamber may speak, subject to the usual seating arrangements and the capacity of the Chamber. Any Member intending to do so should email the clerk or indicate when asked. Members not intending to speak on a group should make room for Members who do. All speakers will be called by the Chair.
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. Leave should be given to withdraw.
When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. Noble Lords following proceedings remotely but not speaking may submit their voice—Content or Not Content—to the collection of voices by emailing the clerk during the debate. Members cannot vote by email; the way to vote will by via the remote voting system.
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Agriculture Bill, has consented to place her prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
That this House do not insist on its Amendments 16B and 18B, to which the Commons have disagreed; and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 18C and 18D in lieu of Lords Amendments 16B and 18B.
18C: After Clause 39, Page 36, line 24, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Reports relating to free trade agreements
(1) A free trade agreement that includes measures applicable to trade in agricultural products may not be laid before Parliament under Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the Secretary of State has first laid a report complying with subsection (2) before Parliament.
(2) The report must explain whether, or to what extent, the measures referred to in subsection (1) are consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in relation to—
(a) human, animal or plant life or health,
(b) animal welfare, and
(c) the environment.
(3) In subsection (2) “UK levels of statutory protection” means levels of protection which, at the time the report is made, are provided for by or under any legislation which has effect in, or in any part of, the United Kingdom.
(4) In preparing the report, the Secretary of State may seek advice from any person the Secretary of State considers to be independent and to have relevant expertise.
(5) When the Secretary of State lays the report before Parliament the Secretary of State must also provide a copy of it to—
(a) the Scottish Ministers,
(b) the Welsh Ministers,
(c) DAERA, and
(d) any Committee of the House of Commons or the House of Lords or any Joint Committee of both Houses that appears to the Secretary of State to have an interest in the subject matter of the report.
(6) This section does not apply in relation to a free trade agreement if—
(a) each party to the agreement (other than the United Kingdom) is a member State or the European Union, or
(b) the following conditions are met—
(i) the negotiations for the agreement were concluded before the second anniversary of IP completion day,
(ii) each party to the agreement (other than the United Kingdom) and the European Union were, immediately before exit day, parties to another free trade agreement which includes measures applicable to trade in agricultural products, and
(iii) the other free trade agreement was, immediately before exit day, in force for, or being provisionally applied by, each party to that agreement.
(7) In this section—
“agricultural products” means products of a kind which, at the time this section comes into force, is listed in—
(a) Annex 1 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;
(b) Annex 1 to Regulation (EU) No 510/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2013 laying down the trade arrangements applicable to certain goods resulting from the processing of agricultural products and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 1216/2009 and (EC) No 614/2009;
(c) the first two columns of Annex 2 to that Regulation;
“free trade agreement” means an agreement that is or was notifiable under paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time);
“legislation” means primary legislation, subordinate legislation or retained direct EU legislation;
“the WTO Agreement” means the Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994.”
18D: Title, line 11, after “carcasses;” insert “to make provision for reports relating to free trade agreements;”
My Lords, I beg to move Motion A. At this juncture, I should declare my farming interests, as set out in the register.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for the time and thought he has spent on Amendments 16 and 16B. The Government have listened and come forward with an amendment requiring a report to be made to Parliament on whether, or to what extent, provisions in new free trade agreements relating to agricultural goods are consistent with maintaining our existing levels of statutory protection in relation to human, animal and plant life and health, animal welfare and environmental protection. A report must be laid before any new free trade agreement is laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act procedures. An FTA containing measures applicable to trade in agricultural products may not be laid unless a report has first been laid. The report will explain whether and how FTAs negotiated by the Government are consistent with our ability to maintain our domestic standards, materially enhancing transparency during the ratification process and accountability for what has been negotiated.
The Government have also carefully considered Amendment 18 on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. The Government will go further than the noble Lord’s amendment and put the Commission on a permanent statutory footing, subject to review in three years. We will implement this by tabling an amendment to the Trade Bill on Report. We are preparing the terms of reference for the prolonged commission, and there will be more detail shortly when the amendment to the Trade Bill has been tabled. The commission will complement existing scrutiny provisions, ensuring Parliament is amply equipped to hold the Government to account.
I will turn to Amendments 18E, 18F and 18G, with which I will also discuss Amendment 18H. As I have explained, the Government’s new clause will enhance scrutiny by ensuring that Members have clear information on each FTA and its impact on our standards to inform their actions under the CRaG procedure. Moreover, the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be able to feed into these reports, as seeking independent, expert advice in this manner is provided for under subsection (4) of the new clause. Parliamentarians will therefore have a range of sources of evidence to enhance their scrutiny of FTAs under CRaG. These include reports under the duty I have described, reports of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, reports from the relevant Select Committees of both Houses, and of course any other reports produced by our expert bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency. Together, these reports will shine a spotlight on the negotiation of agri-food products in FTAs. Any concerns raised by these reports will inform the decision by Parliament on whether to ratify a treaty under the CRaG procedures.
I should be clear that the Commons already has the power to block ratification of an FTA indefinitely, if the majority of its Members vote to do so. If the Commons resolves against ratification and the Government lay a statement indicating that they still wish to ratify the FTA, a further 21 sitting day period is triggered from when the Government’s statement is laid. During this period the Government cannot ratify the FTA. If the Commons again resolves against ratification during this 21 sitting day period, the process would need to be repeated in order for the FTA to be ratified. It is also important to stress that any FTA would almost certainly require some form of implementing legislation to be made before it is ratified, providing further opportunities for debate.
Amendments 18E and 18H would narrow the scope of our reporting through requiring reporting on equivalence. Our new clause allows us to consider equivalence where relevant, but, importantly, it requires the Government to look at measures applicable to trade in agricultural products in the FTA in the round, along with their impact on our ability to maintain our standards. This means that reports under the new clause as drafted could consider further issues relevant to UK levels of statutory protection, such as the impact of the FTA on our right to regulate, which focusing only on equivalence would miss. We believe this matches our manifesto commitment not to compromise on standards, which was similarly wider in scope than just equivalence.
Furthermore, Amendment 18H would in practice set the Government the task of seeking to negotiate equivalence across all agri-food standards in order to satisfy the requirement of the amendment for the Government to confirm that this is the case. As we have noted before, this is unrealistic to negotiate given the complex and time-consuming nature of making determinations of equivalence.
Seeking, and then reporting on, consistency with the maintenance of our standards is a much more pragmatic approach and ensures that we can secure trade agreements with a wide variety of countries. For example, it may be immensely challenging for developing countries to prove that all their agri-food standards are equivalent to or exceed our own. This is due to matters outside their control, such as differences in our respective economic situations, climates and environment. However, lack of equivalence across all standards with such countries does not automatically mean inconsistency with the maintenance of UK standards and, as such, we believe equivalence is the wrong concept on which to judge this.
I should say that I think the Government have listened very carefully indeed not only to your Lordships but to others, and it for those reasons that I beg to move.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
At end insert “and do propose the following amendments to Amendment 18C—
18E: In subsection (1) leave out “the Secretary of State has first laid a report complying with subsection (2) before Parliament” and insert —
“(a) the Secretary of State has laid a report complying with subsection
(2) before Parliament, and
(b) the House of Commons has approved that report by a resolution on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown.”
18F: In subsection (2) leave out “are consistent with the maintenance of” and insert “achieve equivalence to”
18G: In subsection (7) insert ““Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;””
My Lords, the Agriculture Bill is before your Lordships’ House once more. We do not apologise for that, as food standards remain a clear priority for the great British public. I declare my interest and my farming background as recorded on the register.
I start by thanking the Minister and the Minister in the Commons, Victoria Prentis, for the extensive discussions conducted with me and my colleagues, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the shadow Defra Secretary of State Luke Pollard and the shadow Minister for Food and Farming Daniel Zeichner, which were conducted immediately before the tabling deadline for amendments in the Commons. They were difficult discussions because the Government would not share the text of their amendment with us, as well as deeming it non-negotiable. We all know that Governments do not conduct negotiations. It was a bit like wandering around in the dark looking for a bag to be able to release the cat. When the full light of day came, there was no cat to be found. However, those discussions identified what the cat should look like, and it was very disappointing to discover that the amendment did not resemble what we thought had been agreed between us.
We commend the Government on moving from their previous position and conceding that the Trade and Agriculture Commission be set up in the Trade Bill. Discussions focused on the TAC—its independence, membership and reporting structure within the CRaG process—and the underpinning of standards. How this will be shaped largely moves to the Trade Bill, but the amendment to your Lordships’ previous resolutions regarding standards reporting and the CRaG process is here now in response to Labour’s previous amendments. Sunday’s joint ministerial statement also did not entirely resemble the conclusions we considered had been agreed with the Government.
We understand and agree that, under subsection (4) of the new clause inserted by the Government’s amendment, the advice that
“the Secretary of State considers to be independent”
is a legal definition that is challengeable in the courts, and we have no quarrel with that. However, the clear differences appear in our amendment to the text of the Government’s amendment. Under Amendment 18E, it is most important that the TAC’s report has merit and it should be guaranteed that it will be placed independently before the Commons and must not be subsumed as merely part of the overall report that committees of both House may make. Food standards remain a clear commitment that must be maintained and must be seen to be maintained by so many organisations, individuals and farmers in all corners of the United Kingdom. It is very important that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is an expert body. Its voice must be heard clearly. Its voice must not be supressed. Every voice must count, and it must be clear as a statutory body among the plurality of views that come before Parliament. It can then be properly assessed with the resolution to be moved by the Government.
The second adjustment to the Government’s text before your Lordships this afternoon, Amendment 18F, concerns the meaning of standards maintenance as recognised by the World Trade Organization. The word is “equivalence”. It is disappointing that the Government continue to represent the intentions, workings and understanding of this term portrayed in the joint ministerial statement, but now is not the time to repeat previous debates.
Since the Commons proposal, the debate has continued, and I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the way he has engaged with me and the time he has given so that we understand each other. I am pleased that he has responded further in his opening remarks to the Government’s proposal to your Lordships’ House. He is an excellent Minister and much admired around the House for the way he represents the Government.
We should be clear that in offering this late concession to the Agriculture Bill, the Government are also asking us to accept amendments to the Trade Bill, which is currently paused. We have not seen those amendments. Indeed, I expect they have yet to be drafted or signed off. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, is not a Minister in the Department for International Trade, but when he speaks from the Dispatch Box he speaks for the whole Government and I hope very much that when he comes to respond to the debate this afternoon he can confirm that the Government will ensure that amendments to the Trade Bill deal not only with the outstanding issues I have touched on in relation to the Trade and Agriculture Commission but will deliver the issues discussed and agreed with the shadow Secretary of State Emily Thornberry only last week. Of course, the Trade Bill is concerned not just with agricultural trade matters, so there will be other sectoral interests that will need to be addressed if our concerns are to be met.
On the TAC, we will expect it to be established as an independent body with an appropriate budget and staff and with members appointed in accordance with best practice for public appointments. If the TAC is to do the job of underpinning food production, animal health and welfare standards and the environment, it must be able to report directly to Parliament and the relevant committees of both Houses, not just through a report laid by the Secretary of State.
Our amendment in lieu highlights three issues, among others, which will need to be included in the government amendments to the Trade Bill. First, if a future trade agreement is likely to contain measures that change primary or subordinate legislation relating to the current standards, Ministers must ensure that Parliament and the devolved Administrations are made aware of all these in a timely manner, and that all necessary changes to primary or secondary legislation are made before the treaty approval mechanisms under the CRaG Act 2010 are initiated. Secondly, regulations must ensure that the commitments made by the Government provide the appropriate Select Committees of both Houses, and the devolved Administrations, with draft objectives, progress reports and the final text of future trade agreements. Thirdly, sufficient time must be provided by the Government so that parliamentary committees and the devolved Administrations may consider all matters relevant to future trade agreements and that Parliament itself has time to debate and vote on all such treaties.
The Agriculture Bill will be done. It is now clear, from the Government’s position in their amendments, that there cannot be a regression of standards. We can go forward with the Government’s new position and the explanations given. The importance to the British consumer of the nature of imported food has been understood and recognised by the Government’s concession to your Lordships. We had felt jilted after it seemed that we were agreeing to new solutions together. However, the Minister has gone a long way towards rebuilding the bridges with his remarks today. Now is the time for those three special words needed for us to come together: “Maybe you’re right”.
Discussions around the TAC addition to the Trade Bill will obviously continue. The coalition of concern regarding food continues and our deep anguish remains with the massive increase in food bank usage. Nutrition remains of key importance. We also celebrate the very late, overnight concession agreed on free school meals being provided to children in our communities over the Christmas, Easter and summer holidays. The Government have boosted confidence with today’s concessions, which formalise the transparency and scrutiny that they promised at the election. This is an incredible achievement and there is no need for further Divisions today.
It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have supported my many amendments during the passage of this important Bill. The UK will be in a new moment. I have a strong hunch that the Government’s recognition of food standards will be the key to unlock the EU deal. The sooner the Government work with us on the scope and wording of those amendments, the sooner that may be achieved. On these Benches, we recognise the value of the farming industry and the quality of the product that the whole food supply chain delivers. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Curry, Minette Batters and the team at the National Farmers’ Union on the fulfilment of their campaign to achieve this milestone. I congratulate the Minister on engaging with them to bring forward this concession. Minette has worked tirelessly.
I followed the whole debate in the Commons, where many Members spoke in praise of the quality of British food produced in so many of their constituencies, including Edward Timpson, my constituency MP in Cheshire. All spoke with confidence that quality enhances the UK’s competitiveness. The Agriculture Bill sets up a clear vision for the future to be achieved by the measures it introduces. There will still be many aspects to monitor and promote, not the least of which will be to monitor the quality of food that will be needed to enhance the health of the nation. This must be underscored by improvements in the food service sector, which remains an enigma.
Two days ago, the American people voted for unity to begin. We are the responsible Opposition that will continue to bring forward challenges through promoting greater improvements. The responsible Opposition recognise the moment in our constitution where the law is made and is upheld by the judges. Yesterday, the nation remembered the sacrifices of the past. I pay tribute to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, whose “Thought for the Day” was a key moment for me at the start of every day, unless I was already in the milking parlour.
With this Bill, food will be produced in a more sustainable way, working with the grain of nature, respecting biodiversity, protecting the environment and recognising animal welfare. Farmers can continue to receive the support they deserve for their expertise. There will be no need to press our amendment. We will work together, with the Government and the countryside, to bring all this to fruition.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for his time, and that of his officials, in briefings. I will speak to Amendment 18H. I welcome the Government’s concessions, which are extremely helpful and go a long way toward meeting the concerns of this House. However, I regret that they do not go quite far enough for the Liberal Democrat Benches. I agree with the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and support many of his comments.
The Government’s amendment suggests that they may be able to permit imports of products that do not meet our stringent standards, when they merely report to Parliament that they have done so. This measure therefore falls substantially short of the protection of British standards that animal welfare organisations, farming bodies and the British public expect the Government to guarantee, as they committed to in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto.
I am concerned, in particular, with labelling, which can be misleading at best. I support the need for trade with developing countries and countries that do not currently have the same standards as we have in the UK, but it must be clear to the UK consumer where the produce has come from and what its journey has been. If I buy a bunch of roses, I want the country of origin to be clearly labelled. I may choose to buy a more expensive bunch of UK-grown roses over one flown in from a warmer country. Once they have reopened, we will shortly be seeing poinsettias for sale in the shops. I will want to buy a poinsettia that has a plant passport attached; the House debated this issue last year.
The UK has detailed, species-specific legislation on pigs, hens, broiler chickens and calves, to protect their welfare on the farm and at slaughter. Many nations have regulations that are, generally, substantially lower than those of the UK; this can have a detrimental effect on our farming community. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to the importance of equivalence. The dictionary definition of equivalence is
“a state of being essentially equal or equivalent … ‘on a par with the best’”,
but this does not give the whole picture. It should be a negotiating objective for the Government to secure terms that provide for equivalence with standards applicable to domestic producers. Does the Minister agree?
It may well be that imported agri-food products will be equivalent in quality to those produced in the UK, but they may have been produced under very different conditions. I refer to the Danish pork industry, where sows are kept in crates and are not free to roam and grub around in the soil, as they are in the UK. Danish pork is currently imported and processed into sausages in UK factories, then labelled at the point of sale as being British pork sausages. There will, of course, be other similar examples but, in the interests of brevity at this stage of our deliberations, I will not bore your Lordships with a long list. I am sure that neither the Government nor the pork processing industry is deliberately attempting to deceive the British consumer, but our amendment seeks to address this type of practice.
Some 21% of UK-produced eggs are used as ingredients in various products, often in the form of whole egg powder. Would the currently proposed arrangements undermine the UK’s egg producers, who would find demand for their egg powder being replaced by cheaper imports? The government amendment before the House would apply to each of the free trade deals signed by the Government from 2021 onwards, but what of those that have been signed before that date? Setting the TAC on a statutory basis under the Trade Bill is a positive step forward, but it will fail to protect farm standards if the wider issues are not better addressed.
I realise that I am trying the Government’s patience but I hope that the Minister will be able to give reassurances. If he is unable to do so, I regret that I may well divide the House.
My Lords, the following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Lansley. I call the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
I congratulate the Government on tabling Amendments 18C and 18D in response to the earlier Lords amendment from my noble friend Lord Curry. It is very welcome that the Government have listened to the arguments in your Lordships’ House about trade and standards of food and have accepted the principles debated here. However, I also recognise the importance of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I very much hope that the Minister will respond to those points; they are important and I support them.
It may seem churlish to keep banging on about food standards after the Government have made such a major concession. The transparency that will be introduced by requiring the Secretary of State to explain whether and to what extent new trade agreements ensure that we do not import food produced to lower safety, welfare and environment standards is very welcome. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, it does not guarantee that lower-standard food will not be imported; it simply guarantees that there will be a report.
I do not want to go on at length because we have discussed these things so many times, but I want to reiterate one point that I made earlier in the debates on this matter. It concerns the practicalities. Let us assume that we are committed to not importing food of a lower standard with regard to the environment, welfare and food safety. Who is going to ensure that? The Minister has repeatedly said that we have advice from the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. That is fine but there will also be a role for local authorities which, through their environmental health officers and trading standards officers, will be checking the food in restaurants and shops. My concern is that we may have high hopes of ensuring that these standards are maintained but then not have the resources, either in the national bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency, or the local bodies, to ensure that these promises are delivered on the ground.
This question of resources has been highlighted already—without the additional responsibilities of new trade deals—by the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, Emily Miles. On 22 October, she told the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health:
“I want to be clear to the relevant parts of government that there simply isn’t enough funding available for local authorities to carry out their duties on food safety”.
The question of practicality is still unresolved. I very much hope that the Minister will comment on this and reassure the House in his summing up.
My close colleague, the late Lord May of Oxford, used to quote to me the refrain from an Australian country and western song: only the hard yards get you home. We are now on the way home and these last few hard yards are ones that we have debated. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response in finally bringing this home.
My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I fully agree with all his points. I thank the Government very much for how much they have moved on this issue and how open they have been in discussion. Again, I rather wish that the Minister sitting here was going to be across the Trade Bill because, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, this is not necessarily guaranteed.
I know that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not in the Agriculture Bill. I have been in your Lordships’ House for a little over two years and food standards have become a very big issue. You can see its popularity across the country. I am grateful to the Government for having, over the weekend, agreed to feeding kids through the winter, but this should not have happened because of pressure from a footballer. It should have happened anyway. We should never have been in that position. If we do not get some things right now—in the last hard yards, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said—we may be looking at problems again in the future. I thought the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about Danish pigs was very salient. We say that we have high standards of animal welfare, yet we are prepared to have Danish bacon and Danish sausages. Danish pigs, along with Polish pigs, are the worst-treated pigs this side of Asia. I do not know a lot about Asian things, but those standards are appalling.
I ask the Government first, on the point from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: how will all this be administered and how much will it cost? I also make a plea that public health, in terms of how goods and food are brought into this country, is given a high priority. Covid has shown us, and indeed the whole world, that too much unhealthy food—that is, obesity—has dire impacts on the nation’s health. If we do not somehow regulate the food coming into this country, we risk a race to the bottom and getting a greater preponderance of unhealthy, cheap, calorie-dense and nutrition-poor food. It will end up with the poorest people, probably many of those who will be in receipt of the Government’s current generosity with the Marcus Rashford campaign.
It seems naive in the extreme to imagine that a country—whether Australia or America, both of which consider that labelling food high in sugar is not useful in changing consumer behaviour—will not somehow try to jump into our marketplace unless we have some strong regulations. One of those could be the presence of public health in the TAC.
The other issue that worries me—I would love to be told that I should not worry—is how this will be rated. How will the voices in the TAC be heard? It is going to be a casting vote. What happens when it is a decision between taking Tim Tams—the Prime Minister’s current snack from Australia—or something healthy and nutritious? Will one vote count for more or will they all be equal? It seems really complicated to put all these decisions into the hands of a group of people, however fantastic they all are, and expect them to make easy and clear recommendations if issues of public health are not right at the top of the list.
I warmly thank my noble friend and congratulate him on his role, as I do the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the environment, food and rural affairs next door. It may be a little late, but we have got to a very good place and I thank him for his role in this regard. I want to echo some of the concerns voiced around the Chamber. It is important that these are addressed at the next stage of the Trade Bill.
I ask the Minister to reconsider his stance, as given today, on equivalence. There is scope in the World Trade Organization for equivalent standards. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, have set out—as we have on previous occasions—why it is important to maintain our high standards of animal welfare, animal health and environmental protection.
I am extremely cautious on the role of labelling. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, in a speech in the Commons on 4 November, at col. 386, placed great emphasis on labelling. That did not help our pig producers when a previous Conservative Government unilaterally banned sow stalls and tethers in this country. Consumers went and bought—in supermarkets I must say, not in butchers—the cheaper cut. It may have been labelled as British but they bought on price.
I commend my noble friend for the fact that the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be statutory, that its tenure will be extended to three years so that it becomes more permanent, and that it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. As there will be appointments to that body, including maybe a new chairman, will he ensure that we in this place or Select Committees in the other place have a role in scrutinising them—particularly the appointment of the chairman, if there is to be a change of chairman at some point—so that Parliament has a role?
In terms of parliamentary scrutiny, which I welcome, can my noble friend clarify that 21 and 21 equals 42, so there is not a great deal of difference between the amendments before the House this afternoon and what my noble friend is suggesting? However, we ought to keep this CRaG procedure under review.
Finally, I pay tribute to the government adviser, Henry Dimbleby, who has been outstanding in his contribution to this debate. He has captured the mood of the country, and that has been reflected in the Government’s position on both free school meals and food standards, which I also commend. I thank my noble friend for his role in arriving at where we are today.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, on his determination and persistence in pursuing this amendment. He was ably backed by Minette Batters and the NFU, NFU Scotland and the British Veterinary Association, among others, but it was the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and this House who, I think, managed to shift the Government.
I said at an earlier stage that we were beating our heads against a brick wall, but, however bruised our heads are, at least the wall has cracked to some extent on this amendment. Therefore, I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner. I have no doubt that he understood the mood of the House and helped persuade the Secretary of State that this really needed to be taken seriously.
I have no doubt that Defra would have accepted this amendment on Report if it had been in total charge of the Bill. I still have very severe reservations about the attitude of the Department for International Trade on this matter. We have not seen the amendments to the Trade Bill that will be brought forward. I sat in Committee with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, when we discussed the agriculture side of it and we met a very strong brick wall on that occasion. Let us hope that at long last there is a bit of light in another department, because the attitude so far has damaged Defra’s reputation with the farming community. Defra will always get blamed for anything relating to agriculture, even though it did not have ultimate control of this issue.
I strongly welcome the fact that the TAC has been put on a statutory footing, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, it is the amendments to the Trade Bill that are key, and we will keep a very wary eye on those.
I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Boycott, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh said about labelling, although I slightly disagree with my noble friend, because I think that labelling is hugely important. I do not think that it is good enough now, and that is why we had the problems with Danish pork and sausages—they were not labelled properly. Unless food is properly labelled and there is a traffic-light system for health and food safety, we will not get anywhere. That was highlighted by the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, chaired and on which I had the privilege of sitting. When we get around to debating that report—whenever that is allowed—it is no doubt a subject that I will bring up again.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned enforcement and checks, and I agree with him. I thought that everything would be all right until I saw the recent reports about the funding of the Environment Agency and how there was an increase in pollution due to farming and industry. The Environment Agency was not doing enough checks and there was not enough enforcement. If that is followed through into the Food Standards Agency, a lot of the hope that we have that things will improve will disappear. We will have to watch that. Meanwhile, I have much pleasure in thanking my noble friend Lord Gardiner for the enormous amount of work behind the scenes that he has done to get us this far.
My Lords, in politics you never get everything you want, but this is a very good illustration of the workings of your Lordships’ House. It shows how justified was the terrier-like insistence of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, over many sessions in Committee and on Report, and how justified those of us who voted for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and who carried on ping-pong were in supporting that. But most of all it shows that if you have a sensitive and listening Minister who is prepared to say quite openly and honestly what this House will put up with and what it will not—there is an enormous amount of agricultural experience here—you can make real progress.
I thought that it was rather appropriate and, in its way, delightful that the Minister handling these things in the other place was Victoria Prentis, the daughter of our much-loved colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho. I am sure that he is tuned in but I think that, if he were here today, he would be very proud of the constructive part that his daughter played, along with my noble friend on the Front Bench, in bringing this matter to a pretty desirable consummation—one “devoutly to be wished”, as the great playwright would say. However, obviously we are not completely there yet. It depends on the wording of the amendments to the Trade Bill. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We have to have a Trade and Agriculture Commission with teeth, and people of the calibre of Henry Dimbleby have to be kept in office. Of course, we have all been assisted by the indefatigable Minette Batters, president of the NFU, who has proved an outstanding leader at a very difficult time.
We are, as they say, where we are, and we are in a much better place than many of us feared we might be in just a couple of short weeks ago. The overwhelming credit for that must go to my noble friend Lord Gardiner. I thank him for his behind-the-scenes negotiating skills, his willingness at all times to talk to anyone who wishes to talk to him, and clearly his very constructive relationship with his colleagues in the department and in the other place.
Therefore, this is, I think, a good day for your Lordships’ House, because it shows how our sometimes apparently cumbersome machinery really works. I am delighted to be able to thank and congratulate my noble friend and his colleagues, and all those in all parts of the House who played a part in making a Bill that had its deficiencies very much better than it was when it came to us.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak after my noble friend Lord Cormack, because I agree wholeheartedly with everything that he said. I especially express appreciation of the role played by my noble friend Lord Gardiner, the Minister, and our honourable friend in the other place, Victoria Prentis. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for what he has done.
I just want to add one point, which I consider to be important. I participated in the Trade Bill discussions this time and on the previous occasion, in the last Session, when the Bill was in this House. Of course, on Report we will look at the Government’s amendment on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I look forward to that. However, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: the issue is not enforcement; it is what is in the domestic legislation, and enforcement follows from that.
The point I would make to my noble friend is that, while he said correctly that it is the Government’s practice not to ratify a treaty before it has been implemented in domestic legislation and before a debate has been concluded, not least in the other place, which might have the effect of withholding approval for ratification, neither of these things are required under CRaG. CRaG, in my view, is not yet sufficient, and when we look at the Trade Bill on Report, I will suggest that we have a report from Ministers on an international trade treaty that shows what the domestic legislative implications would be of such a treaty, which of course would embrace any changes that might be required on agriculture and food standards in this country, and would highlight that point, but might also cover environment and sustainability issues, health and related issues. So there is a more general issue about understanding that, if a treaty requires changes to our domestic legislation, we need to know what they are.
Secondly, the CRaG would require that Ministers should not ratify a treaty before the implementation of domestic legislation unless there are exceptional reasons, which the later sections of CRaG allow for. Unless there are exceptional reasons, they should not do so.
Thirdly, if there is a report to either House from the relevant committee—in our case, it would be the International Agreements Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit, and in the other place, the International Trade Select Committee would be presumed to be the relevant committee—that calls for either House to have a debate, then Ministers would be required to extend the 21-day period until such a debate had taken place—which is not what the CRaG currently says.
I am sorry, I am slightly advertising what I think we need to do on Report on the Trade Bill. I hope my noble friend will forgive me; what he said was indeed the Government’s practice, but it is not what CRaG says. I think it is important that it does say it, because that will further reinforce the parliamentary scrutiny aspect.
I could not vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, because, as she admitted, it trespasses again into turning the legislature into the Executive, by trying to mandate what are in the Government’s negotiating objectives by virtue of legislative provisions. The other place has repeatedly resisted such amendments, and it would be unrealistic to take such an amendment back to it again.
My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I begin by congratulating the Government on recognising the importance of Amendment 18B and for their response. As I said previously in debates on this Bill, the weight of public opinion on the issue of food standards and the scrutiny of trade deals required a response, and it is reassuring that, even with a large majority in the other place, the Government have been willing to listen to reasoned arguments. I thank the Minister once again for his valuable help and patience in this matter, and for his open door—I fully endorse what others have already said. It is much appreciated.
The progress that has now been made with the tabling of this amendment is evidence once again, if we needed it, of the value of this House as a revising Chamber. Despite the fact that there remains huge uncertainty around many aspects of the Bill and how, as a framework Bill, it will be translated into policy and implementation, there is no question that it is now a better Bill as a result of our endeavours in this House. I am, therefore, very happy to support this new amendment. I had planned to comment on the issue of equivalence, but others have done so articulately.
In endorsing the Bill and this amendment, I am very aware that this is, as has been stated already, just one side of the coin. To change the metaphor: if this is the belt, the braces will be contained in the Trade Bill. The joint announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for Defra that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be established on a statutory basis, and that that will be included as a clause in the Trade Bill, is of huge importance, as has been stated a number of times already.
I—and others, I am sure—will want to study the text very carefully when the Trade Bill arrives back in this House, to ensure the remit and the scope of the TAC are appropriate to the task. It is essential that in establishing the TAC on a statutory basis, its composition—its membership—is reviewed to make sure that it is more representative of stakeholders and that it has the appropriate skills and experience to scrutinise trade deals. Even though these two clauses are tabled in separate Bills, it is essential they are complementary.
It is also vital that the first report that the existing TAC has been tasked with producing is seriously considered. It is unfortunate sequencing that we are having to sign off the Agriculture Bill and will have to agree clauses and amendments in the Trade Bill before we have sight of the conclusions of the TAC’s initial report—which, I understand, may well be in March next year. It would be helpful, for example, if it said something about equivalence. It will hopefully provide essential guidance and recommend the principles that should inform free trade deals. It will be crucial that the Trade Bill wording ensures that the conclusions of the TAC report can be taken into account and embedded retrospectively within its future deliberations.
Can the Minister also reassure the House that we will have the opportunity to consider the report of the TAC when it is released—in March or whenever? I am grateful not only to the Minister, as I have stated, but to the many Members of your Lordships’ House who have supported my amendments, including the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and, in particular, my noble friends on the Cross Benches. I shall also take the opportunity, as others have done, to express my personal appreciation of the National Farmers’ Union and, in particular, Minette Batters for her help and support throughout this process.
This is one of the most important moments in the history of agriculture in Britain. Under one guise or another, I have been privileged to be involved in agricultural policy development for over 30 years, so it is a great honour to be able to participate in this Bill. I look forward to an exciting new era in agricultural history. With those comments, I conclude.
My Lords, I want to thank all noble Lords who have spoken. It is always embarrassing when one receives such generous comments, but I want to record my strong appreciation for all that has been said. I also say that the Government have listened closely to this House and its views on trade standards and on other matters raised over—my record says—90 hours of debate on the Bill in this House alone. I want, therefore, to record the tenacity of your Lordships. Many of the principal protagonists are in the Chamber, but there are others whom I would like to record as well who have done so much.
I think that the Government have made significant undertakings to ensure that trade deals are subject to ongoing, informed scrutiny by Parliament. Obviously, this is the beginning of a journey, and I have no doubt that your Lordships are going to keep that, in turn, under close scrutiny.
I acknowledge the campaigning of Minette Batters, the president, and the whole team, of the National Farmers Union—particularly as I am a member of the NFU, so it is good they have done so well, is it not? I was pleased that they acknowledged and welcomed our proposals and—yes—our concessions as a victory for them. I am also pleased that the chair of the EFRA Select Committee, Neil Parish, was pleased about these matters.
I was also very pleased by the comments of a noble Lord who is so experienced in agriculture, the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I was touched also by the points made by my noble friend Lord Cormack about my ministerial colleagues. I should mention the Secretary of State and my honourable friend Victoria Prentis. A lot of comments have come my way, but I must absolutely tell your Lordships that those two ministerial colleagues have been, in their hearts, very interested and wanting to do what I would call the right thing.
Parliament will have an ongoing central role in ensuring that deals work for British farmers and consumers. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that obviously there is a great more work that I know she feels strongly about and we will work together on, but trade deals will be designed to help our farmers—indeed, this is one thing that we have not heard enough of in our consideration—in creating new markets for what we would all accept are top-quality products and the exports that we want to encourage by these trade arrangements around the world. The Government will keep working hard to support our farmers as we pursue new trade opportunities. Indeed, this is the core task of the Trade and Agriculture Commission that will be put on a statutory footing.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked a number of questions, and my noble friend Lord Lansley engaged on one of them. Clearly, to ensure that Parliament is made aware of all changes to primary or secondary legislation as a result of an FTA, any primary or secondary legislation required to give effect to an FTA will be subject to the applicable parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament must be, and definitely will be, aware of any such legislation, because we would expect full scrutiny of it and the expected challenge to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also asked about future trade agreement sharing. We will share future trade agreements with relevant Select Committees in advance of them being laid in Parliament through the process set out under CRaG. We will always endeavour to make sure that committees have at least 10 sitting days to read through these on a confidential basis.
On the question from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about the Government providing enough time for meaningful study prior to debate, we are committed to giving Parliament and the devolved Administrations enough time to scrutinise properly any FTA proposals. We would expect any reasonable Government to give time for debate through the usual channels. This Government—and successor Governments —would want that, because scrutiny is a positive contribution to how we trade around the world and ensure that in the agri-food sector, as in other sectors, Britain has something very strong to offer.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Lansley, spoke about resources, and I am very conscious of this. I have had a number of conversations with Heather Hancock and Emily Miles of the FSA about these matters. The FSA has doubled the number of risk assessors since 2017. It can draw on the expertise of 100 scientific experts and support staff, and it has recruited 35 additional members to its advisory committees. This is an area that I want to spend continued time upon, because clearly resources at local government level are necessary, as has been mentioned, and the FSA clearly has a prime task to fulfil.
Food standards were mentioned. The FSA and FSS are responsible for standards, and our regulatory agencies remain the voice on these issues, as they already engage with the sector. It is a heavily regulated sector, with statutory agencies at national, devolved and international level, and the work of local authorities. My work encompasses other agencies—including the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Animal and Plant Health Agency—as well as the FSA and FSS, and these continue to be the defining voices on those aspects of food standards.
Several other points were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, returned to the matter of equivalence, and it has been raised before. I was thinking hard about the points that were made on this as I was pruning some very difficult climbing roses at the weekend—because that is a time to think. I repeat what I said in my opening remarks: our new clause allows us to consider equivalence, but we prefer our wording for reasons of consistency and because we think that our wording embraces a wider scope particularly, as I mentioned earlier, in relation to developing countries. We have to be honest with ourselves: it is in the interests of this country and of developing countries that there is an economic dynamic that allows those developing countries to become more prosperous. If we were to use the words, as in the amendment, “equivalence” and “exceeding”, we would present difficulties that I know the noble Baroness does not intend, because we all want that dynamic of trade around the world.
There is also the point about consistency and why we need to be consistent in maintaining our standards. We could tease this out—the interpretation of equivalence over consistency—but my point, having taken more advice on this, is that we should cover the broadest extent. Equivalence and consideration of equivalence are very much within the scope of the new clause. I hope that will give the noble Baroness an understanding or a view that this is not about discarding equivalence: the wording is deliberately intended to enable us to assess it on a consistency basis.
Having said that, there is further work to be done and we will need to follow up some of the points that have been made—again, we have discussed the TAC—as the work develops. We will clearly work closely with TAC members and its chair, Tim Smith. The group has an extended remit, more details will be shared and we will need to work on further announcements—a point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke about. The extended role of the TAC, which will produce reports on the new FTAs before they are laid in Parliament, is precisely about independent scrutiny, and we will also have the trade advisory groups, including the dedicated agri-food group.
By reporting to Parliament, the TAC will also enable the agri-food chapters of possible new FTAs to be scrutinised with much higher precision, using expert advice from not only the TAC but, conceivably, the FSA and parliamentary Select Committees. As I have said before, I strongly believe that there is more scrutiny of trade arrangements in the agri-food sector in this country than probably any other country in the world, and we should be proud of that.
I will attend to some of the points that have been made in follow-ups. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke about public health issues. It is absolutely essential that, whether domestically produced or imported, food is safe for the public: that is why we have a Food Standards Agency and FSS. It is at the absolute heart of why we have, and want to retain, very high standards. We want scrutiny in this country, and it is an area, as the Minister responsible for biosecurity, that I am very hot on.
My noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned enforcement and checks. Again, it is essential that we have checks at the border and checks in our work with other countries to ensure that standards are high.
There are a number of points I may not be able to address here. I was not privy to the Emily Thornberry meeting, so I might need a bit of scrutiny on that.
Regarding the generous comments that have been made, in all the meetings I have had with my noble friend Lord Grimstone, he has been on absolutely the same page. In fact, he has constantly stressed to me the importance for British farmers of the opportunities provided by trade deals. He is absolutely on the same page as all of us in wanting opportunities for the British farmer—not wanting to undersell the British farmer at all. So I will take those messages back to my noble friend and perhaps suggest that all the points that he has made to me are made absolutely clear to your Lordships.
The sooner this Bill is enacted, the sooner we can begin the transformation of our agricultural sector in the context of food production for both home consumption and export, unlocking environmental health and well-being benefits from rural areas that I know we all want to realise. That point has been made so strongly by noble Lords today and during the 90 hours of consideration. So I believe it is time for the next stage of our work. The Government have brought forward these proposals—indeed, concessions—which have been overwhelmingly welcomed by your Lordships, albeit with some further commentary, as well as, importantly, by farmers and the NFU, by the other place, where there are many agricultural MPs, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who I see as a symbol of British agriculture. So I ask noble Lords on all sides of the House to support the Motion that I have tabled. I reiterate how profoundly grateful I am and recognise the work of your Lordships in where we have, eventually, fetched up. I beg to move.
I now call then noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to press or withdraw Motion A1.
I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.
Motion A2 (as an amendment to Motion A)
At end insert “and do propose Amendment 18H as an amendment to Amendment 18C—
18H: In subsection (2) leave out “explain whether, or to what extent, the measures referred to in subsection (1) are consistent with the maintenance of” and insert “confirm that any agricultural or food product imported into the United Kingdom under the agreement will have been produced or processed according to standards which, on the date of importation, are equivalent to or exceed””
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his response and for his many comments. I do agree that the Bill is in a much better state than it was when it came to us. The Government have made very significant amendments and I congratulate the Minister as well as the NFU and Minette Batters on the work that they have done to improve the Bill and food standards.
However, the point has already been made that we have not seen the amendments in the Trade Bill, and there needs to be a very close tie-in between the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill; the two Bills should complement each other. I have to say that, before we sign off the Agriculture Bill, it would be really helpful if we could see the amendment that is to be tabled in the Trade Bill.
I thank the Minister for his comments on equivalence, and I support trade with developing countries, but we need to make absolutely certain that that will not be at the expense of our own farmers, many of whom do not have large incomes but live on the breadline. We do need to get this Bill on the statute book as soon as possible; nevertheless, I am very concerned about the effect on some of our farmers and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Motion A agreed.
Arrangement of Business
We can now move on to the main business. The Hybrid sitting will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally.
As on previous days, I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. I remind Members that they are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down cannot be taken. During the debate on each group, I invite participating Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division, should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 14th Report from the European Union Select Committee, 24th and 26th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 17th Report from the Constitution Committee and 8th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
We now come to the group beginning with the Question that Clause 42 stand part of the Bill. I remind noble Lords that any participant wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear during the debate.
Clause 42: Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and customs territory
Debate on whether Clause 42 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, it is only three weeks since an overwhelming majority of this House regretted Part 5 of the Bill. We regretted that the enactment of Part 5 would undermine the rule of law and damage our international reputation. It was a regret shared by members of all parties and none, and all political affiliations and none. Our procedures do not, however, permit us now to record that we are not content that Part 5 should stand part of the Bill. We must address the question clause by clause. I make it clear that at the end of the debate I intend to divide the House, if necessary, on every single clause in Part 5 to record what I hope will be an overwhelming majority view of the House: that we are not content.
Second Reading proceeded largely on the basis of the Government’s concession—maybe their confession—that the provisions in Part 5 breached international law. Clauses 44, 45, and 47, are not the only troublesome clauses. The Committee has not yet heard much criticism, but there is criticism to be directed about Clauses 42 and 43. I adhere to every criticism I made at Second Reading. It is very recent; I do not propose to repeat those criticisms. However, my concern about Part 5 is quite undiminished. Indeed, my criticism has been reinforced by attending the Committee stages of the earlier parts of the Bill, which highlighted the alarming extent of the secondary powers sought by the Government and utterly vindicated the criticisms of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee.
However, for the purposes of today, my basic premise is that Part 5 should be seen as a whole, with each and every clause in it interlocking and related to each other. It is a complete, self-contained, cohesive whole: a programme, or a structure, on which Clause 42 is the starting point and foundation, and Clause 47 is the culmination. For a start: just because the clauses in Part 5 work together in the same structure, so they are all contaminated by the contamination of each of them.
However, this part goes further. It proposes that a Minister should be vested with unconditional power to disapply the Northern Ireland protocol. We have heard so much about this that I shall not go through what it amounts to—we all know. For example, the proposal does not require the Minister first to have tried the remedial provisions in the protocol or the withdrawal agreement; nor does it postpone any ministerial action until the negotiations with the European Union have broken down, or until such time as the Government wish to proceed on the basis that the EU has been acting in bad faith. It flies in the face of our binding agreement that we should refrain from any measures that could jeopardise the objectives of the withdrawal agreement.
It is striking that Part 5 stands separate from the rest of the Bill. The Bill addresses numerous fundamental questions relating to the UK internal market. It does so identically for Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. You cannot draw the slightest distinction between the ways in which the legislation applies to the four nations, save perhaps for Clause 11, which deals with the Northern Ireland protocol and, importantly, how market access throughout the United Kingdom arising from the application of the protocol should work. That, as I emphasised, is how the protocol is to be made to work. Beyond that, every single provision in the Bill applies equally, with all its flaws, to all four nations, and Northern Ireland is rightly included equally with the other nations in the arrangements for a strong, open internal UK market—that is, until we come to Part 5.
There is no Part 5 that applies to Scotland, Wales or England. There is no special protocol for any of them. Part 5 is expressly confined to Northern Ireland—it says so. Why the difference? Why are the other nations not blessed with their own Part 5? I suggest that there is a short answer: because Part 5 has the single purpose of enabling the Government, as and when they wish, to nullify their international obligations—and, what is more, to do so unilaterally, without recourse to the dispute resolution created in the protocol and the agreement. Surely that is why there is no equivalent provision for Scotland, Wales or England. However, whether that is the purpose of Part 5 or not, in law, that will be its result.
I suspect it will be suggested that Clauses 42 and 43—and perhaps Clause 46—require a different approach to Clauses 44, 45 and 47. One obvious distinction between them is that Clauses 42, 43 and 46 do not fall within the Government’s concession that the other clauses break international law. With respect, that approach is flawed. The clauses in Part 5 cannot be cast into self-contained silos. Clauses 44, 45 and 47 are integral to the whole of Part 5 and pollute all the clauses. Beyond that, merely because the Government have made no concessions about Clauses 42 and 43, it does not follow that they are far from reproach.
Clause 42 starts with aspirational objectives but then comes down to define its relevant purposes, which, first, include implementing the Northern Ireland protocol and, secondly, extend to
“otherwise dealing with matters arising out of, or related to”
the protocol. “Otherwise dealing” are weasel words; they can certainly be seen to contradict “implementing”. This provides power to dilute the protocol, of course. More important, perhaps, here comes the rub: the purposes, as Clause 42(2)(c) provides, include the movement of goods in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom—that is, not Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland. That is not a provision for the UK internal market. If enacted, that function conflicts with the protocol. I respectfully suggest that Clause 42, at the very least, undermines it.
Clause 43 stands in the Bill with Clause 44; one follows the other under the heading “Unfettered access”. They are linked together. Noble Lords need look no further than Clause 43(3), which provides, first, for compliance with Article 6(1) of the protocol, but, secondly, expressly provides that it does not authorise any function to be exercised
“in relation to any international obligation or arrangement if”
“has ceased to have effect by virtue of regulations made under this Act”—
that is, Clauses 44 and 45, or by virtue of Clause 47. It does not take very much to realise that the pernicious, lamentable provisions in Clauses 44, 45 and 47 have direct application and relevance to Clause 43. Your Lordships all know that it has been admitted that each of them breaks international law. I suggest that this demonstrates the nature of the link.
Clause 46 provides a limitation to the notification provisions of Article 10 of the protocol. It is part of the unacceptable process envisaged in Part 5. It would in any event be an extraordinary provision to leave it standing on its own, as a single clause integral to Part 5, if, as I hope, the remaining clauses of Part 5 are omitted.
If and when it is advanced on behalf of the Minister, or by him, that Clauses 42 and 43 are not offensive and do not fall within the Government’s concessions, I invite your Lordships to reflect that those clauses, with Clause 46, are the foundation for and integral to the whole of Part 5. These are not guardian angels, pure and unsullied, which just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and, by accident, get caught up with bad company. They are there for the same reason as the admittedly offending clauses in Part 5.
I shall not, as I said at the beginning, repeat the arguments I put to your Lordships’ House just three weeks ago, but I ought perhaps to remind us of just one of the obnoxious features of Clause 44: Clause 44(5). It is worth listening to it to remind ourselves. It is a regulation-based provision, the regulations of which may include
“provision for rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures that would otherwise apply, as a result of relevant international or domestic law, not to be recognised, available, enforced, allowed or followed.”
I add just this, and highlight to your Lordships that Clauses 44 and 45 are entirely regulation-based. The effect is to enable Ministers, by regulation, to breach international or domestic law. Can we just pause? We are being asked by the Executive to give a Minister authority to break international law, to subvert the rule of law, to damage our international reputation and to do so by secondary legislation, I regret to say, for the reasons your Lordships have now listened to me patiently expound for some time, with minimal, merely theoretical supervision by Parliament and, moreover, although simply through secondary legislation, effectively removed as far as possible from any examination into their lawfulness by the independent courts.
When will we check the pernicious, subliminal process of allowing the sovereignty of Parliament to be refashioned into the sovereignty of the Executive? In this part, the Executive seek powers that Parliament should never have been asked to give. But as we have been asked to give them, we must not be complicit or supine. The only way available to us to indicate that we are neither complicit nor supine is for us to say “Not content” to each clause in this part of the Bill.
My Lords, I am privileged to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and I find myself in support of his comments on the wider ambit of the Bill. I share his reservations coming, as I do, from one of the devolved parts of the United Kingdom. I speak to the amendment that is in my name and that of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I thank each of them for their support.
This amendment has two purposes, and I stress that in light of the remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I aim first to provide a degree of protection for a devolved nation, Northern Ireland, should the Bill progress in its present form. Secondly, I am to allow a statement on the record on the vulnerable nature of the peace process in Northern Ireland in the face of the present nature of the Bill. Those two phrases justify my approach: its present form and the present nature of the Bill.
This amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to take account of the effects of any exercise of authority conveyed by the Bill on the peace process and progress of reconciliation in Northern Ireland. As the Bill stands, there is potential for unintended consequence on the sensitivities of community peace and harmony in Northern Ireland. Brexit is already asking searching questions of that sensitivity. Issues of internal trade arrangements—north-south and east-west in the United Kingdom—are raising questions that have the potential to threaten the hard-earned progress of community understanding and stability in Northern Ireland, but it is still a tender plant.
We have heard frequent reference in your Lordships’ Chamber to the Good Friday or Belfast agreement on Northern Ireland. That is how it should be. That agreement was a turning point in the troubled history of Northern Ireland. It was an episode of immense significance, but it was an episode. The peace process is not just one episode; it is an ongoing daily process, involving ordinary men and women in their lives, how they do business with and relate to each other and, above all else, how they address their fears. It depends on building bridges across traditional divisions. At times, it lurches from mistakes to just temporary success. Constantly lurking in the background is the threat of violence and terrorism. In the Bill is the potential to threaten the stability of Northern Ireland. That threat, as much as it lies in what the Bill questions of the devolved settlement, raises issues of the Northern Ireland peace process. There are issues for Scotland and Wales which, although not as sensitive as those on reconciliation in Northern Ireland, are equally about community stability.
I ask your Lordships to also consider my amendment in the wider context of the Bill. The decisions implemented by the Bill will have a profound effect on the future of the countries of the United Kingdom and the relationship between them, for the Bill represents a profound shift in how trading relationships within the UK will be regulated and governed in the years ahead. This will not be a return to the trade structure that was in place before the UK entered the EU; rather, it is the construction of a system to replace one that had emerged through careful negotiation over decades.
There is in the Bill a weakening of the principles and effect of devolved policy-making, a constitutional significance already noted by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd. If the Bill reaches the statute book without the consent and understanding of the devolved legislatures, which would occur if safeguards such as those in my amendment are ignored, then trust and good will among the devolved nations will be eroded. But there has been frequent reference in our debates to how, as it stands, the Bill offers the opportunity for a government Minister to break international law.
My amendment is worded with that opportunity in mind. Those of us who feel a moral responsibility to protect and encourage the process in Northern Ireland are particularly alarmed by that possibility. In particular, we feel that the Good Friday agreement, an international agreement that cements and underpins peace and stability within and between the United Kingdom and Ireland, is under threat. A recent article in the Financial Times by the current Anglican primates of the United Kingdom included these words:
“If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?”
I speak to noble Lords, through this amendment, with deep personal feeling. My professional life was lived out during the days and nights of the Troubles. I have seen suffering and hurt. I have seen the highest that human nature can reach and the lowest to which it can descend. I have seen suffering. I have presided over funerals and seen the tears of young people. I have no alternative but, with moral justification, to defend the peace process and what is being slowly but surely achieved in my native land. I therefore beg leave to propose this amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to follow the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames. His moving words carry great weight and merit serious consideration by the Government.
I hope I may be forgiven for beginning my remarks with a brief tribute to Lord Sacks, whose death was announced over the weekend. His profound wisdom will be sorely missed, both inside and outside your Lordships’ House.
I shall resist the temptation to repeat the speech I made at Second Reading, though it is quite a seductive temptation because, to use a much-maligned phrase, since then nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. It is still the case that the definitive government statement on this part of the Bill is that made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place, when he admitted that its provisions breach international law. Perhaps “admitted” is the wrong word—it was not so much an admission as an assertion. Since then, as far as I am aware, no government Minister has sought to resile from his words.
Instead, Ministers, both in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, have sought to make the case that circumstances make it expedient to break international law. But is that not what lawbreakers always say? Is that not the excuse of lawbreakers everywhere? What sort of a precedent are the Government setting when they admit that position? How can we reproach other countries—Russia, China, Iran—if their behaviour becomes reprehensible, when we ourselves have such scant regard for the treaties we sign up to and we set such a lamentable example?
Every clause in Part 5 of the Bill seeks to interpret, if one is being kind, or to displace, if one is being accurate, the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol of the withdrawal agreement—an agreement, I need hardly remind your Lordships, which this Government signed barely a year ago. I respectfully agree with the analysis of each of those clauses made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and I do not seek to repeat his analysis.
The Government say this is all justified because the European Union has been acting in bad faith, though no evidence to support that assertion has been produced. But the agreement, which the Government signed barely a year ago, contains its own procedures for resolving any disputes which may arise between the parties—between the UK and the EU. Article 168 of the agreement, which the Government signed up to barely a year ago, provides that those procedures are to be the only way in which such disputes between the parties are to be resolved.
Some of your Lordships may have heard the Environment Secretary on the “Today” programme this morning. He said that the provisions in the Bill were there in case there is disagreement in the joint committee—but the withdrawal agreement specifies what is to happen if there is disagreement in the joint committee. If there is disagreement in the joint committee, arbitration procedures are set out in the Bill specifically to resolve those disputes, and those arbitration procedures can be expedited. That is what the Government signed up to, barely a year ago.
There have been suggestions that opposition to this part of the Bill is in some way the last charge of the remainers. That suggestion has a very dangerous implication for those who advance it. It implies that only those who voted for us to remain in the European Union care about the rule of law, the importance of keeping one’s word or the sanctity of international treaties. Fortunately, I am in a position that enables me confidently to contradict that implication. I voted and campaigned for Brexit, and I do not for one moment regret or resile from that vote. But I want the independent sovereign state that I voted for to be a country which holds its head up high in the world, keeps its word, upholds the rule of law and honours its treaty obligations. I want it to be an independent country which truly is a beacon unto the nations.
I am dismayed that the Government—who I have supported for so long and have very rarely disagreed with and rebelled against—have chosen, as one of the first assertions of their newly won sovereignty, to break their word, to break international law and to renege on a treaty they signed barely a year ago. I hope your Lordships will at least give the Government the opportunity to think again by removing Part 5 from the Bill.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and to agree with him—not inevitable, in my case. As he said, this has absolutely nothing to do with whether you think being a member of the European Union, or not, is a good or bad thing.
This afternoon, your Lordships are being invited by the signatories of the clause stand part Motion, including myself, to strike down the whole of Part 5 of the Bill. Although this is inevitably a contentious matter, there are a number of points on which I think there is no serious disagreement. First, there is no serious disagreement that the Bill as drafted provides for the UK to break international law. Ministers have admitted it, and legal opinion—as voiced so eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, a moment ago—is firmly of that view. Secondly, there is no question but that your Lordships’ House is completely within its constitutional right to delete Part 5 if it thinks fit. If we cannot take a view on a matter of deliberate law-breaking by the Government, we may as well pack up our bags now.
The key remaining question, which we have to decide today before deciding how to vote, is this: is the breach of the law contained in the Bill justified by the circumstances? It is not impossible to think of theoretical scenarios in which, as a country, we might decide to repudiate an international treaty. But is that the case here? In making the case for the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord True, at Second Reading and the Environment Secretary this morning in the media, made two linked, but central, arguments: first, that the clauses are necessary because Northern Ireland must retain unfettered access to the rest of the UK internal market; and secondly, that there was, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord True,
“a balance to be struck”
between maintaining the
“rule of law … and the integrity of this union”.—[Official Report, 20/10/20; col. 1430.]
To this George Eustice added this morning that Part 5 was necessary for “protecting peace and stability” in Northern Ireland. Both arguments are fatally flawed.
First, the concept of unfettered access under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, whether or not there is a deal with the EU, is a complete mirage. Once the Government accepted that there could be no customs border on the island of Ireland, there had to be one down the Irish Sea. Such a border fetters access, even if there is free trade across it, because there have to be checks, in respect of VAT and excise duty, to prevent smuggling and fraud, and there have to be sanitary and phytosanitary checks as well. These checks cost traders time and money, and for many they can make the difference between trading at a profit and trading at a loss, and therefore whether they trade with Great Britain at all.
The Government accept the need for these checks—these fetters. Clause 43(2) of this Bill provides for them, even if it invokes the other illegal provisions of the Bill for VAT, customs, and reasons of biosecurity. The National Audit Office spelled out the problem last week in its report The UK Border: Preparedness for the End of the Transition Period, where it stated that implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol was a “very high risk” because of, among other things,
“the scale of the changes required … and the complexity of the arrangements.”
In other words, the problem of the fetters.
Earlier in the year, the Government made £355 million available to traders in Northern Ireland to mitigate their costs in continuing to trade with Great Britain. Now £355 million is a tidy sum—not to eliminate the fetters but to try to ensure that they chafe less keenly. So let us not hear any more talk of unfettered trade—there will be none.
The Government’s other justification for Part 5 is that if it were not in the Bill, the integrity of the union would be threatened, and peace and security in Northern Ireland would be put at risk. If this were the case, the Government might have a respectable argument. But, as we have heard in many speeches at Second Reading and in Committee, and in the very eloquent comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, it is the Bill that threatens peace, prosperity, security and stability, not the other way around.
We have heard from many speakers how Part 5, by breaching the Northern Ireland protocol and reimposing elements of a hard border in Northern Ireland, almost inevitably puts some of the key principles of the Northern Ireland agreement under threat—a view, incidentally, that appears to be shared by President-elect Biden. If these fears were realised, does anybody seriously believe that they would not strengthen demands for a border poll in Ireland? And does anybody seriously argue that Part 5 could in any circumstances strengthen the union with Scotland, where the Government and public opinion are as appalled as most Members of your Lordships’ House at the prospect of being part of a country that is willing to flout international law?
So, far from supporting the integrity of the union, Part 5 weakens it, and in doing so fatally undermines the Government’s argument in favour of these illegal clauses. They do not provide unfettered trade; they do not strengthen the union. They were a political manoeuvre by the UK Government to try to put pressure on the EU. They failed to do this, they reduced the UK’s standing as an upholder of international law for no substantive reason whatever, and they simply must be removed.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 161, to which I have added my name, alongside the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The previous speeches have all been both moving and deeply eloquent, and I shall therefore be very brief.
As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, so powerfully explained, the purpose of our amendment is simply to put on the record a concern that this Bill in its current form fails to take into account the sensitivities and complexities of Northern Ireland, and could have unintended and serious consequences for peace and reconciliation. The noble and right reverend Lord spent 20 years as Archbishop of Armagh, between 1986 and 2006, and the force of his words was most remarkable. He has experience of everything from the funerals in small churchyards of those caught up in the Troubles through to negotiations behind the scenes for the Belfast agreement. He speaks with the integrity and authority that those 20 years have earned him, and I trust that the House will listen carefully.
One thing must remain certain in a time of turmoil and uncertainty, and it is the inestimable value of peace. The process of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland did not end with the Belfast agreement, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said. It remains an ongoing process that requires work, and awareness from leaders that almost every decision taken and word spoken in relation to Northern Ireland will have an impact. This Bill must show that it is sensitive to these circumstances.
I will conclude by saying something about the amendments in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others, including my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leeds. I will not add much, as the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, were absolutely convincing and extremely clear. I also associate myself with his important tribute to Lord Sacks, whom we will miss terribly in this House.
At Second Reading, I stated that the primary purpose of this House was to amend and improve legislation, not to derail it. But I was wrong in saying that. There is an even more primary function, which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, set out very clearly. It is to defend the rule of law and to protect the balances of power and peace in our union. The amendments put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the wish that this part is excised from the Bill, will therefore have my unqualified support.
I hope that the Government will reflect on the strength of feeling, depth of experience, and wisdom of expertise shown in the debate on these clauses, and will push not for their reinstatement but for their replacement with others that better guarantee that the rule of law, peace, and the balances of power are upheld within our United Kingdom. As the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said, this is not a return to old arguments about Brexit. That debate is long gone and long finished. Like many who were on the other side from him, I now fully accept that the decision has been taken democratically and am entirely supportive of pursuing it. This is about the fundamental values we stand and live by as a nation, now and in the years to come.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I remind your Lordships’ House that the most reverend Primate and I walked through Downpatrick, along with many others, on St Patrick’s Day some five years ago, as a symbol of reconciliation, because the national saint of Ireland is the very embodiment of partnership, working together and reconciliation—those very issues the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already referred to.
Part 5 is the most egregious part of this Bill, in that it jettisons Article 5 of the EU withdrawal agreement and thus breaks international law, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland freely admitted in the other place. The Northern Ireland protocol, which was given legislative effect in the EU withdrawal Bill back in February of this year, was based on an international treaty between the UK and the EU, specifically directed at preventing a hard border of the island of Ireland—a hard border between the EU and the UK—and thus safeguarding the Good Friday agreement.
Yesterday the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, was on “The Andrew Marr Show” where he totally misrepresented the situation, levelling blame at the EU for endangering the Good Friday agreement. I remind your Lordships that it was the EU that sought, and is seeking, to protect the Belfast agreement through the Northern Ireland protocol, and it is the Government who are seeking to destroy it through Part 5 of the Internal Market Bill. I just wish that Dominic Raab would correct the situation. Perhaps the Minister will remind him to do just that, because it is important that we move away from this combative rhetoric to find solutions.
I support many of the amendments in this group, and I am a signatory to Amendments 161, ably spoken to by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, about the need for reconciliation, Amendment 162, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Empey, and Amendment 163 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hain and the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Suttie. The first two deal specifically with the need to underscore reconciliation in Northern Ireland and, in the case of Amendment 162, to make provision to ensure that goods coming from Northern Ireland into the GB market are not hindered or discriminate against. Thirdly, Amendment 163 would extend the Trader Support Service, which is currently only to run for two years, indefinitely to protect Northern Ireland exports.
Simply, I do not support borders on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea, and I share many of the concerns of my unionist colleagues and want minimal friction on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland. But I support the aims of those noble Lords, ably put forward this evening by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who seek to remove the offending clauses in Part 5 which deal with the Northern Ireland protocol on the basis that they break international law. In fact, the Northern Ireland protocol was, as I said earlier, established to protect the Good Friday agreement, prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and assist with the process of reconciliation and north-south economic co-operation. That view was clearly articulated by the Anglican primates, who stated in their letter of some weeks ago to the Financial Times that the UK negotiated the Northern Ireland protocol with the EU
“to protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions.”
To further cite those primates,
“One year on, in this bill, the UK government is not only preparing to break the protocol, but also to breach a fundamental tenet of the agreement: namely by limiting the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights in Northern Ireland law.”
The purpose of Amendment 161 is to ensure the protection of the principle of reconciliation, which is at the very core of the Good Friday agreement. Another contributory factor is the need to work on the healing process, which has been painfully slow.
As my former, late, party leader John Hume said after the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998, we have to move to solutions, we have to move to that healing process. That is very important. It was the very essence of what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, was talking about. By fracturing the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, we are deviating from that principle.
I humbly ask the Government to give due consideration to that and ask the Minister to ensure that these clauses are removed from the Bill, because I know that tonight, I will be voting with other noble Lords as per the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to remove them because they are difficult, challenging and undermine the very principles of healing, reconciliation and partnership that we were able to achieve through the Belfast Good Friday agreement. If the Government and the Commons still insist on keeping this part of the Bill, we need to ensure that there are other protective measures: the very things that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, referred to. Hence Amendments 161, 162 and 163, which I hope the Minister will consider accepting.
In the Brexit process and all of this, the Government managed to set the nationalist and unionist communities against each other and undermine relations with Dublin by leaving the possibility of a hard border on the island of Ireland on the table. Tonight, I am very happy to support the removal of these clauses and to support the amendments to which I have added my name.
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Ritchie said. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, also spoke for me and, I suspect, virtually the whole House, as did other speakers who followed him.
I shall speak briefly to Amendment 162 and 163, because we know the Brexit realities will hit Northern Ireland first. The EU has been very clear that the protocol must be implemented in full come 1 January. The Trader Support Service, although welcome, will not become live until Monday 21 December, just before Christmas. The following Thursday is New Year’s Eve, after which Northern Ireland will be effectively operating in a different customs and regulatory zone from the rest of the UK. This means that the vital role of the Trader Support Service, the subject of Amendment 163, standing in my name and that of the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie, Lady Suttie and Lady Altmann, in directing businesses towards the necessary forms and procedures for moving goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, will not be operational until the very last minute. When the Trader Support Service is functioning, it will offer a vital service to keep Northern Ireland businesses integrally linked to the rest of the UK internal market. It is for this reason that Amendment 163 will establish the Trader Support Service more firmly in law as a continuing rather than time-limited commitment.
There is nothing of substance in the Bill that helps reduce frictions to trade that will come for goods crossing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland after 1 January, and Amendment 162 seeks to correct that. Fears about the consequences of retailers avoiding Northern Ireland or facing increasing costs in moving goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland are real and pressing. In a letter from the Food and Drink Federation to Ministers George Eustice and Michael Gove published on 22 October, the risks are spelled out in stark terms. They say that many GB-based producers are planning to stop supplying the Northern Ireland market after 1 January 2021. Sainsbury’s made an announcement to that effect last week, but the federation added that this does not need to be the case. Solutions are possible and, indeed, many have been put forward by the business community in Northern Ireland itself, but these needs still to be agreed with the EU in the joint committee with the UK.
The Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol means that Northern Ireland is in a unique position vis-à-vis Britain and there is a strong likelihood that the more trade agreements the UK signs with partners around the world, the greater the differences will be between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK internal market. Indeed, even though the UK Government are committed to seeing Northern Ireland as part of future free trade agreements, there are no firm guarantees that this will happen, or that the other country will agree to it.
The principle of non-discrimination in Amendment 162, also in the name of my noble friends Lady Ritchie and Lord Empey, seeks to ensure that no potential barriers will be added to the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain over time. Because Northern Ireland goods will be produced in accordance with EU rules under the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, and on the basis of dynamic alignment, there is a risk—if not a likelihood—that divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will grow over time. First, goods in Northern Ireland could be produced to higher standards as the EU increases standards in regulations covered by the protocol and thus the new standards automatically apply to Northern Ireland. Secondly, goods in Great Britain could be produced to a lower standard. Indeed, the Government have indicated that that might be the objective. Therefore, as Great Britain and Northern Ireland standards diverge, there will be increasing barriers to trade and increasing competitive disadvantage for Northern Ireland within the UK internal market.
This amendment would ensure that Northern Ireland goods will not be discriminated against in the UK internal market. Can the Minister therefore explain why on earth the Government would be opposed to that principle?
My Lords, it is difficult to know where to start; there are so many things of major concern in the proposals in this section of the Bill. First, I support Amendment 162, which I signed, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has just set out. But we need to step back a moment and see how and why it is that we are discussing such dramatic and momentous proposals in the first place. The answer lies in events a year ago. The amendments to the protocol that were produced by the Government have largely been accepted by the European Union, but the fact is that the withdrawal agreement that emerged from those proposals is such a bad deal.
I have heard so many people, including President-elect Biden and others, say that we must all protect the Belfast Good Friday agreement, and that is very true. However, of course, the agreement is balanced. Focus has been, almost exclusively, on preventing a land trade border on the island of Ireland. I do not want to see this, but, equally, I do not want a trade border in the Irish Sea between one part of the United Kingdom and the rest. That is what is actually being implemented as a result of the agreement that the Government signed a year ago, and that is completely contrary to the Belfast agreement, which makes it clear that the status of Northern Ireland cannot change without the consent of its people. If anybody thinks that our status is not changing as a result of what is happening, they are fooling themselves.
I got a Written Answer a short time ago from the noble Lord, Lord True, in which he made it clear, in response to my Question, that UK officials will implement EU law and seek to ensure that it is applied at Northern Ireland ports. The idea that nothing has changed or that the status of Northern Ireland is not changing is completely erroneous.
I want to make my point very clear about the Belfast Good Friday agreement: it is balanced, and a border in the Irish Sea is just as injurious to that agreement as a land trade border on the island would be. I hope that people accept that. I listened very carefully to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who has vast experience of dealing with the downstream consequences of our Troubles. There are very few people, if any, in Parliament who have any experience on that scale, so I think we have to listen very carefully to what he and others have had to say.
There are alternatives, which is what frustrates me: it was never necessary to do a lot of this. The reason why we are doing this, and why this Bill is before us, is the mess that was created a year ago. I believe very strongly that there are alternatives. As a country, we should legally prevent our territory being used to export unregulated goods to the European Union. We could indemnify the European Union if any of them eventually got through. We could set up cross-border bodies to establish a working relationship with the Irish Republic to ensure that the single market is not contaminated. There are a lot of things we can do.
Specifically, I understand the idea that the Government put forward of having a safety net. But the way to do that is not to announce that you will break international law when, in fact, the European Union accepted our proposals for an amendment to the protocol in the explanatory document of 2 October last year, which contained the provisions for a regulatory border and border inspection posts. It was the Government’s idea.
I think that they should prepare an emergency provisions Bill to be used in the event that the European Union demonstrated bad faith or the dispute resolution mechanisms within the agreement were set aside by the EU, preventing Northern Ireland from having proper access to goods and services from the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe that widespread parliamentary support could be built up to prevent such a thing happening in an emergency. Laws can be passed in this House and through our Parliament very quickly, as we know, specifically where they apply to Northern Ireland. They have been done many times before and can be done in 48 hours.
I believe there are alternatives not only to Part 5 of the Bill but to the withdrawal agreement as it currently stands. Going back to the genesis of this mess, which was on 2 October 2019, I say to colleagues that that document contained provisions for border inspection posts and application of the relevant EU rules as well as stating:
“regulatory checks can be implemented at the boundary of the zone”.
The zone here is the 27 EU member states and Northern Ireland. Any idea that this is something new or different is wrong: it was there from the very beginning in October last year, and I deeply regret that our colleagues in the Democratic Unionist Party supported that then, saying, quite clearly, that it was a
“serious and sensible way forward”.
Of course, two weeks down the line, they had to change their tune. Nevertheless, that was the green light for Dublin and the EU, and that advantage was pressed home.
If ever there was a case for the other place having a chance to look at this legislation again, this is it. I sincerely hope that the House of Commons will revisit this. If they talk to people, to some of us who were involved in negotiating the Belfast Good Friday agreement and to colleagues, they will find that none of us want to see Northern Ireland decoupled from the rest of the United Kingdom. I see this whole measure and agreement as a dagger pointed at the heart of the union. Other colleagues have mentioned what is happening in Scotland, and we see changes in Wales and even Jersey. I do not know whether we can get certainty about where the Isle of Wight stands on all of this, but the fact remains that the union is in serious trouble with the way we are handling things. However, there are alternative ways out that can maintain stability, do not break up the United Kingdom and do not set one section of the community in Northern Ireland against the other.
I have no doubt that it may well have been the case that some EU official did threaten to stop food travelling to Northern Ireland from Great Britain. Only a fool with no knowledge of history would dare to say anything that would prevent food getting to Ireland. It is such a stupid thing to say. I do not believe that the United Kingdom needs to turn itself inside out and break up its whole international standing to prevent such a thing happening. There are alternatives.
I do not believe that this Parliament or any party in it would stand by and allow one part of the United Kingdom to be, effectively, starved out because of regulations if the European Union was being particularly difficult. I think we can overcome all of that by consensus and can ensure that the Government are given the strength that they need in the negotiations. If somebody in the European Union did think, for one moment, that they could get away with such a thing, I would disabuse them of that thought. This is not the way ahead.
It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who always speaks with such authority, experience and, as we heard this evening, force on these matters. I will speak in favour of Amendment 163, to which I have added my name, and against all clauses in Part 5 of the Bill. Amendment 163 is a cross-party amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Altmann. It calls for the trader support service to be extended to become a long-term commitment for trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
In response to a similar amendment during Committee on the Trade Bill on 13 October, the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, confirmed that the future of the trader support service will be reviewed after two years. Can the Minister confirm that, if after two years it is seen as a positive initiative for businesses in Northern Ireland, it will continue indefinitely?
I will concentrate the remainder of my brief remarks on the deletion of Part 5 of this Bill. The arguments are well rehearsed. We have heard them made very eloquently, particularly in the most thoughtful speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the powerful speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and my noble friend Lord Newby. As other noble Lords have said, unless Part 5 is deleted, it risks diminishing our global reputation and jeopardising the substantial progress made on the island of Ireland since the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
The Government sometimes give the impression that the protocol was somehow imposed on them, whereas earlier this year they were claiming it as their great success. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, demonstrated clearly in his speech, the Northern Ireland protocol is not perfect, but it is the consequence of the Government’s insistence on a set of incompatible promises and on leaving both the customs union and the single market. For all its imperfections, the protocol is a carefully constructed compromise to try to maintain peace and stability on the island of Ireland.
The uncertainty which Part 5 of this Bill provokes has also—in my view, unforgivably—wasted scarce resources and valuable time. This is precious time when businesses could and should have been preparing for the end of the transition period in just over 50 days’ time.
Last week, the National Audit Office said in its report, The UK Border: Preparedness for the End of the Transition Period:
“It is very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready for the end of the transition period … There is a risk that widespread disruption could ensue at a time when government and businesses continue to deal with the effects of Covid-19.”
If the arguments against Part 5 remain the same, the political context in which we now find ourselves has very substantially changed. As my noble friend Lord Newby said, President-elect Biden has made it very clear that he will not support any measures that would result in breaking commitments made in the Northern Ireland protocol or that would risk destabilising the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. Yet in the media this morning, the Government made it clear that they do not intend to change their mind on Part 5.
There is a time when sticking to a position looks like strength, and there is a time when it looks out of touch with political reality. I urge noble Lords to vote against all clauses in Part 5 and I call on the Government to think again.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I endorse completely the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, at the outset of this debate. I hope the Government will listen carefully to the advice from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on the alternatives to what is before us. This is not an either/or situation.
I have read every word of the Second Reading and Committee debates and the reports—especially from the Constitution Committee. I have even reread Tom Bingham’s book on the rule of law. I ask myself whether I am missing something, but I still come back to the point of principle. I accept the Government’s intention in this Bill, but not the means. We were given pragmatic answers to questions of principle, particularly in the responses to the Second Reading debate. These will not work. At Second Reading, the Minister dismissed the ethical argument which I tried to set out succinctly in my speech. Yet even in today’s debate, we have heard moral language used. To speak of suspected bad faith by others is to speak of ethics. Ethics must form the basis of political principle. Objections to other countries breaching international law have to be set in moral considerations.
In the last couple of decades, during the Mugabe years, I have had a lot to do with Zimbabwe and latterly with Sudan, including meeting former President Omar al-Bashir. How can we say to people like them that the rule of law is paramount and that one’s word has to be taken in good faith?
This is an ethical and a constitutional issue. How can the Government ask Her Majesty the Queen effectively to give Royal Assent to the acceptability of breaking laws to which we have agreed? Mischievously, I suggest that we might refer to it as King John’s revenge.
There are other parts of this Bill with which I am not happy—what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred to as Executive sovereignty trumping parliamentary sovereignty; the impact on the devolved authorities, and the concerns raised about the Northern Ireland protocol. Fundamentally, I keep coming back to the issue of ethical principle.
I will vote against the various clauses in Part 5 not standing part of the Bill. I hope that the Government will listen and look at alternatives which can carry the support of the Committee.
My Lords, I follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds in hoping that the Government will listen.
Earlier today, we had a good example of how your Lordships’ House works at its best. The Agriculture Bill has now gone through all its parliamentary stages with significant amendment—much of its achieved through debate and persuasion in your Lordships’ House. Although there are aspects of that Bill that many of us still question, nevertheless we can claim that the Government have listened and that something will get on to the statute book improved by your Lordships’ House and worthy of our parliamentary process.
We could not be further away from that with the Bill now before us. I listened with admiration and agreement to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and to other noble Lords, but Part 5 cannot be improved. Part 5 has to go. In seeing it off—which I believe it is our duty to do—we are honouring and not abrogating the Salisbury/Addison convention, as I said on Second Reading. This was part of a manifesto commitment. It is not a law passed by some previous Government of another party. This is a law campaigned for by the Government, who won a sweeping victory in the general election last December. The early stages went through this Parliament, pre-Covid, and now we are told that the Government want to abrogate.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in a magisterial speech, pointed out what a blemish on our national reputation this would be—and it would. We would rightly be accused of losing our moral compass as a nation. How can we talk to others about honouring the rule of law if we ourselves are pushing through Parliament an Act that abrogates a treaty willingly entered into, commended to Parliament and endorsed by it less than a year ago? As we have debated, the Bill has many imperfections—it is a real threat to devolution—but what is fundamentally wrong with it is that we are abrogating that treaty, and putting ourselves on the level of countries for which the rule of law is not of much consequence.
For goodness’ sake, we are looking across the Atlantic at the moment and seeing how crucial it is that the leader of the free world and the greatest country in the world believes in the rule of law, and not just when it is convenient. I deplore that we are in this position, and devoutly wish that we were not, but I could never support this part of the Bill. I do not like much of the rest of it, but I certainly could never support this part. We have not only a unique opportunity, but also a unique duty, to ensure that this does not pass.
We have certain powers in your Lordships’ House. We are always very wary of how we exercise those powers, and that is right, because the ultimate authority lies with the elected House, but this is something forced through the elected House by our Government, which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said in that splendid speech, puts into the hands of any Minister the opportunity, by secondary legislation, to repudiate law.
Tom Bingham has been cited in evidence before in your Lordships’ House and has been mentioned again tonight. I implore my noble friend on the Front Bench to read carefully that marvellous little book, The Rule of Law. It will not take him long. What would Tom Bingham be saying tonight? How fortunate we are that another former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has been able to give the lead with forensic skill, devastating logic and impeccable argument. We must not allow this to go through, and the only way of ensuring that it does not is to vote against every one of the clauses in Part 5 standing part. I propose to do so, and if necessary, will do it again and again.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Cormack. I pay tribute to his excellent work over many years in the other place, not least in his model chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which I commend today. I shall speak to Amendments 179 and 180, but I will not press them to a vote. Before I speak to them, I endorse what my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Howard of Lympne said. It was a privilege to serve as a humble shadow Minister in the Conservative Party under the leadership of my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne. I also pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. He has set out in his amendments why I shall certainly be voting against this part of the Bill.
On Clauses 42 and 43, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, stated the importance of agri-food and the food industry to Northern Ireland. We should pause for a moment on that point. I pray in aid the evidence that we have heard on the EU Environment Sub-Committee, that all those involved in the production of food in Northern Ireland, and industries such as road haulage and freight, which serve that industry, are distraught at the moment because they all thought that this was done and dusted in the Northern Ireland protocol and under the provisions of the EU withdrawal Act. I regret that we are now discussing those issues again in this context. I have no doubt that this was largely because of a misunderstanding of what the Prime Minister had agreed to in what formed the basis of EU withdrawal agreement.
I cannot support this because I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates and would be drummed out if I broke my oath. Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties clearly states that all agreements should be kept and that every treaty
“in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.”
In the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the provisions in Clauses 42 to 47 are offensive and obnoxious, and I wish to have no part in them. I shall follow the lead of my noble friend Lord Cormack in voting against them this evening and on every occasion when I am asked.
I am grateful to the Law Society for briefing me on this and for preparing me to table Amendments 179 and 180, but if the provisions before us in this part were not bad enough, they were compounded as the Bill made its passage through the other place. The provisions in Clause 56(4) provide additional parliamentary scrutiny of the decision to commence in the sections, which, if enacted, would, if anything, compound the breach of international law. Clause 56(4) is defective for those reasons, not least because it is trying to elevate to a matter of process what is offensive and obnoxious in this part of the Bill. It also downgrades the role that we would play in your Lordships’ House by simply taking note of the commencement order for Clauses 44, 45 and 47.
I do not wish to move my amendments, but I am grateful to the Law Society for pointing out the further deficiencies in this part of the Bill. It is largely academic, because I shall be voting against all five clauses in Part 5 of the Bill.