House of Lords
Tuesday 10 November 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Durham.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to make a personal statement. Following the repeat on Wednesday 4 November of an Urgent Question in the House of Commons on economic support during the Covid-19 lockdown, I asked the Minister a question about delays in the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme caused by banks. In doing so, I declared my interest as chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership but failed to declare that I myself was applying for one of these loans. The reason I did not make such a declaration was that, at that point, I thought that an application had already been approved, but it turns out that it is still in progress. I apologise to the House for this inadvertent oversight. I have also written to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew of Oulton, to apologise.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, 16 Days of Activism is more important than ever this year, as during the Covid-19 crisis we have seen a disturbing increase in gender-based violence. The Government have a broad range of activities and plans to participate in and promote 16 Days. Among other events, I shall be meeting girl-led and women’s rights organisations to discuss their priorities for tackling gender-based violence, and colleagues across the FCDO’s network are also planning activities to raise ambition and galvanise action.
My Lords, according to the UN, Covid-19 has unmasked a shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls. What are the Government doing to prioritise the rights of women and girls, in particular across the FCDO, by mainstreaming DfID’s valuable work, the Strategic Vision for Gender Equality, including through diplomatic missions and humanitarian work?
My Lords, there is indeed a shadow pandemic of violence caused by the health pandemic of Covid-19, and ensuring that we are tackling this is a key priority as part of our Covid-19 response. My noble friend highlights the Strategic Vision for Gender Equality, which was DfID’s former guiding document on gender equality. In the FCDO we continue to be committed to this vision, but we will refresh it and reflect the merger as we develop new approaches. The challenges of tackling gender-based violence and, indeed, promoting gender equality are more important now than when we published the strategy in 2018.
I note my interest, as declared in the register. Does the Minister agree with me that, in the same way that casual racism and microaggressions can lead to the denial of rights to black communities and, ultimately, become institutional, casual sexism, if left unaddressed, can lead to violence against women? Does she further agree with me that the work done by organisations such as UK Feminista and the National Education Union to ensure that sexism is challenged in our classrooms and staff rooms, should be recognised and promulgated across our education system?
I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important that we challenge sexism wherever we see it. We have invested heavily in understanding what works to prevent gender-based violence. One of those things is to ensure that we work with men and boys at all ages to ensure that we address the root causes of gender-based violence. I would absolutely encourage this discussion to be had in schools and with school-age children.
My Lords, there have been recent protests in Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa against gender-based violence. As DfID cuts its spending, are we maintaining the same level of support for researchers and civil society organisations in Africa that seek to combat gender-based violence?
My Lords, this year, as the noble Baroness said, we have had to reduce our spending due to the contraction in the economy and the impact that that has had on the 0.7%. However, we are absolutely determined to continue to support the important work of civil society and women’s rights organisations to help to tackle the scourge of gender-based violence.
My Lords, one of the best ways for young women to avoid the “most vulnerable forms of informal work”—this year’s 16 Days focus—is through education. What are the Government doing through their education programmes to help safeguard young girls in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa, where very small numbers of girls remain in school due to coronavirus, and harms such as FGM are increasing?
My Lords, I fully agree with my noble friend on the vital importance of education; it is one of the most transformational investments we can make, and educated girls are less at risk of violence. We have, as my noble friend says, seen schools close down around the world. We are pivoting our bilateral programmes and working to ensure that girls can return to school as soon as possible. My noble friend also mentioned FGM. The Government are proud to support the Africa-led movement to end FGM; sadly, we have seen a greater prevalence of that since the pandemic, but we will continue to support the communities that are working to end FGM.
My Lords, Resolution 1325 has just marked its 20th anniversary. If more women were involved in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction, there might be an end to the disgraceful levels of impunity for those responsible for gender- based violence. What practical steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to promote more effective compliance with Resolution 1325 and bring an end to the culture of impunity?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness highlights, when women participate meaningfully in peace processes, we see agreements that are less likely to fail and more likely to last, and it is of course important that we continue to support women’s involvement here. We held many events to mark the anniversary of 1325. The noble Baroness asked about practical steps. In response to the global rise in reprisals against women peace builders, we have funded the International Civil Society Action Network to help develop a protection framework for women peace builders.
My Lords, earlier this year I asked a Written Question on how the Government were best utilising their role as co-lead of the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence to highlight older women’s experience of gender-based violence. Age International had previously called on the Government to better collect data about violence against older women in low and middle-income countries. What steps have the Government taken to improve such reporting?
I agree with the noble Lord that we must use the fact that we are chairing the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence to make progress on this issue. I also agree that, in order to ensure that we are properly reflecting the needs of older women, we must invest more in data, and that is what we are doing: we have invested £6 million to support the UN women-led flagship programme initiative on gendered data, Making Every Woman and Girl Count, and we must ensure that we understand what is happening so that we can properly address it.
My Lords, one of the tragic consequences of Covid-19 is the massively increased incidence of gender-based violence in developing countries—and indeed, everywhere in the world. Surveys by Plan International show that adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to increased sexual exploitation and violence, for want of basic items such as food and sanitary products. Will the Minister put these particularly vulnerable girls at the heart of the FCDO’s action to tackle gender-based violence?
I agree that we must have a focus on adolescent girls who, sadly, are at risk of exploitation and other forms of violence. We will do so as part of our co-chairing of the Action Coalition on Gender-Based Violence and we are also working hard to ensure that we are putting them at the centre of our response to Covid-19. We are funding UNFPA in order to make sure that it is addressing the supply shortages we have seen and we are pivoting our existing programmes to make sure that women and girls can continue to access support during the lockdowns we are seeing.
As has already been noted, if we are serious about eliminating gender violence worldwide, we have to address the root causes. What plans do the Government have to follow Australia’s lead and develop a national primary prevention framework to change the attitudes, behaviours and structures that underpin violence against women and girls?
My Lords, I have been able to send the Minister details of a case involving a young girl called Arzoo Raja, 13 years of age, whose parents I spoke to at some length last week. She was abducted, forcibly converted and forcibly married in Pakistan, in a case similar to that of Leah Sharibu in Nigeria. What are the Government able to do to build up legal capacity in such countries, so that these cases can be challenged in the courts, and what are we doing to promote the Declaration of Humanity, in which the department has been involved?
My Lords, I am afraid that I have not seen the case the noble Lord refers to, but I will ensure that I look into the detail of it. Of course, it is important that we support freedom of religion and belief in all countries around the world, and we will ensure that we continue to do so.
My Lords, I refer to my interests as declared in the register. Recently, the mass graves of women who were too old to be taken to be sex slaves for Daesh—so-called Islamic State—in Iraq were dug up as part of the evidence gathering to ensure more prosecutions of former fighters and their allies in Iraq. The Yazidi women and girls deserve justice. Will the UK Government continue to press the Iraqi Government to ensure not just that those former fighters and their allies are prosecuted for their terrorism offences but that the victims of their sexual and gender-based violence have their day in court and they are also prosecuted for the violence they inflicted on these women and girls?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we must do all we can to ensure that these desperate victims see justice. We are firmly committed to protecting members of the religious minorities in Iraq and providing assistance to them, and also to galvanising international efforts to ensure that Daesh members are brought to justice. That included leadership in ensuring that the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2379 on Daesh accountability. We have established an investigative team to help collect, preserve and store evidence of Daesh’s crimes, beginning in Iraq, so that we can do everything we can to ensure that these women see justice.
Covid-19: Dental Services
My Lords, the challenge presented to the dental profession by Covid is severe. We are grateful for the hard work of 10,000 NHS and private practices in introducing PPE and infection-control arrangements to keep patients and staff safe, and to the 600 urgent care centres that are providing services for the most severe cases. However, the impact on the nation’s health remains something that we are working hard to mitigate.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but 60% of dentists can now see only a quarter of their usual number of patients, particularly because of the measures needed for carrying out aerosol-generating procedures. There is a backlog of 15 million treatments, and many dentists are in danger of going out of business. They cannot afford ventilation equipment, which would enable them to see more patients in a day. Will the Government provide funding for this, so that the backlog of patients can be cleared?
My Lords, I completely acknowledge the challenge that the noble Baroness has described. Many dentists can see only 20% of their normal cases, and around half can see about 50%. The backlog is, as she describes it, severe, and the impact, particularly on private dentists, has been very hurtful for their businesses. I cannot make a commitment to fund ventilation arrangements, but we acknowledge the scale of this challenge and are looking at ways to mitigate it, including bringing in testing, which we hope would help provide a safe environment for both staff and patients.
My Lord, the Minister will be aware that people with learning disabilities and autism have suffered disproportionately in not receiving care and services. Will he undertake to ensure that they are not equally suffering by not receiving dental services, especially specialist dental provisions? I declare that I have a 41 year-old son with a learning disability and autism. I have spoken to a number of organisations that said that the pandemic exacerbated the difficulties in the process of receiving important and urgent care.
My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the prioritisation of patients in the constrained appointment flow of dentists. She is entirely right that those who have vulnerabilities, disabilities or other disadvantages should be prioritised: that is the objective of the prioritisation process. She makes the point extremely well and I am happy to take on board any points on where she thinks the system is not working as well as it might do.
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister tell us what lessons have been learned from the initial response to the Covid pandemic and the blanket closure of dental practices? Does he have any estimates of the number of cancers of the head and neck that might not have been detected because people have not had regular dental check-ups?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to allude to the confusion around the closure of dental practices. We have made it crystal clear that in the second lockdown all dental practices—both NHS and private—should remain open; that is part of our commitment to try to clear the backlog. I also acknowledge her concerns about the diagnosis of cancers. I do not have the figures for which she asked, but we certainly appreciate the role that the dental sector plays in detecting many cancers, including oral cancers. Dental services are open to those seeking urgent care and we hope that those urgent care clinics to which I referred earlier can provide some diagnostic analysis in urgent cases.
My Lords, I declare my role as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. Following on from the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, will the Minister say how the urgent care pathway is being evaluated, particularly for children and young people with learning difficulties who might need a general anaesthetic for dental work? They are at a particularly high risk of sepsis from dental abscess, which can be avoided by preventive dentistry, yet they are often part of the increasing backlog and have difficulty registering with a dentist locally because they need even more time for their care than other patients and will therefore decrease the number of other patients whom the dentist can see.
My Lords, the concern about children is particularly acute. We are especially keen to encourage parents, to ensure that they are still bringing children forward. That is why we have the Help Us to Help You campaign to encourage public access to NHS services. She is entirely right that acute situations—involving, for instance, some form of anaesthetic—provide a particular challenge. We have a prioritisation process in place, and I understand that that is working well to ensure that those who have the greatest need are put at the front of the queue. However, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, I would welcome any feedback from those who think that the system is not working well enough.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the British Fluoridation Society. Just on that last point, in a number of parts of the country, no elective surgeries, except for those that might be totally prioritised, are being done at the moment. The prospect is of a few more months with a virtual lockdown of elective surgery. As far as children are concerned, will the Minister look into this matter urgently? Will the Government prioritise preventive schemes as we come out of the pandemic, such as fluoridation, supervised tooth-brushing programmes in schools and public service ads?
My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Lord that prevention is the key. In our document on the matter, Advancing Our Health: Prevention in the 2020s, we have committed to the consulting on and rolling out of supervised tooth-brushing schemes in more preschool and primary school settings in England. We have also set out our support for expanding water fluoridation, and we intend to announce further details of our water fluoridation plans shortly.
My Lords, as rapid coronavirus testing becomes more available, can the Minister assure the House that dentists and their staff will not be left behind? Will they also be included with health and care staff near the top of the priority list when new vaccines are being distributed?
The noble Lord asked for a general commitment on dentists and their staff. I reassure him that we value the dentist profession and their staff, and the Covid pandemic has only emphasised the importance of dentists in the community and to the nation’s health. He asked me a specific question about where they stand in the vaccine prioritisation list and whether they are on the healthcare list. I will write to him with a precise answer to that question.
My Lords, there are three big factors that are causing these problems. First, there is the potential patient’s caution and the worry of contracting Covid-19, which leads them to put off treatment and save the money until normal times return. Secondly, dental sessions are taking much longer, partly because of the fall in the number of patients per session and lower throughput. The principal barrier to resuming services is the issue of the fallow time required following aerosol-generating procedures. The solution is greater ventilation. The key need is to increase the patient throughput and to reduce—
In my view, the Government have offered little support to dentist practices: not exempting them from business rates, even though book- makers and vape shops are exempted, and not offering them key worker status, which has caused problems with childcare. Can the Minister commit to early access to Covid-19 vaccines for all high-street dentists who are NHS contractors, rather than employees? Can the Minister give them key worker status?
My Lords, one area where the Government have made a big commitment to dentists is in PPE. As of Wednesday 4 November, over 5,000 dental and orthodontic providers in England had registered with the PPE portal and over 36 million items of PPE had been delivered. In terms of the commitment to workers, I will have to come back to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Reduced clinical capacity not only impacts on patients but massively disrupts the education of dental students, who typically treat over 400,000 volunteer patients each year as part of training. Since March, many schools have been unable to provide any patient-facing education at all. Will the Government respond to requests from dental schools and hospitals to invest in high-quality simulation facilities, to mitigate the impact of this reduced clinical experience and ensure that students can graduate and provide the workforce of the future?
My Lords, the bottleneck around the training of new dentists, an incredibly important priority for the nation’s teeth, is one that the CDO is extremely concerned about. The question of simulation machines is not one that I was aware of but I will be happy to look into it and reply to the noble Baroness on how we can make progress.
Waste Prevention Programme
My Lords, we published our review of the waste prevention programme 2013 this summer and hope to publish our revised draft waste prevention programme for consultation in the next few months. It will build on our resources and waste strategy, published in 2018, which sets out our plans to move away from the inefficient linear economic model of “take, make, use, throw” to a more circular economy.
My Lords, the climate crisis demands urgent action to reduce carbon emissions from waste and to keep resources in use for as long as possible. In their delayed waste prevention programme, will the Government introduce an explicit target for waste prevention by 2050, as the Welsh Government already have?
The International Resource Panel estimates that resource extraction and processing of materials contributes to about 30% of global particulate matter emissions, 50% of total global greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress. Industrial emissions from manufacturing are responsible for approximately 21% of UK domestic emissions. The Environment Bill will include a target relating to resources and waste. As I speak, that target is being assessed with a view to being introduced .
Water companies in England discharged raw sewage into rivers over 2,000 times last year. The chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, has a Private Member’s Bill and an amendment to the Environment Bill seeking to place a duty on water companies to end that filthy practice. Can the Minister explain why the Government are not supporting his efforts and whether he believes this should be included in the revised waste prevention programme?
My Lords, the Government strongly believe that the water companies need to take full responsibility for their contribution to pollution in our water systems. Those duties are there, and it is a matter for the water companies to adhere to and honour them. My colleagues at Defra have established a new working group between officials and business representatives to understand better what more the Government can do to ensure that the water companies step up. That work will be concluding shortly and the Government will take action on the back of its results.
My Lords, if all the new incinerators that have planning permission are built in the next few years, incinerator capacity will double just when we are trying to reduce our waste. So what are the Government going to do? Are they going to encourage us to actually increase our waste, or will they import waste from abroad so that we can burn it?
My Lords, the Government are very committed to minimising waste across all sectors. We have seen significant progress. We have consulted on major reforms to the way that waste is managed, including deposit return schemes, extended producer responsibility and consistent recycling collections. We have set up pilot schemes to reduce food waste. We have published proposals for targets in the Environment Bill. We have announced that the carrier bag charge will be extended to all retailers and increased to a minimum of 10p from April next year. We have introduced a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. We have provided funding for the development of recycling facilities for hard-to-recycle products, particularly plastics. We have published a call for evidence on the development of standards for biodegradable and compostable plastics. Of course there is more to do but I do not think there is any doubting the Government’s commitment to minimising our environmental impact by reducing waste.
My Lords, will the Minister advise the House if our strategy will include playing a leading role in cleaning up the global waste trade, perhaps by introducing mandatory standards, traceability and certifications for the ultimate recipients of waste originating from the UK?
On one level, of course, waste is a commodity. There is a legitimate global market in secondary materials and there is a system of international rules on shipments that must be followed when exporting waste for recycling, which of course we always encourage importing nations to enforce. In addition, those involved in the shipments of waste from the UK are required to take all necessary steps to ensure that it is managed in an environmentally sound manner. Recognising the problem highlighted by my noble friend—the problem of waste mountains in some countries that cannot or do not manage their waste properly—we have committed to banning the export of plastic waste to countries that are not members of the OECD and therefore are likely not capable of managing the waste that we send them.
My Lords, a waste prevention programme needs to be a dynamic document, moving with advances in science and technology. At the other end of the process, the public need to play their part in minimising waste. To prevent the nation from being subsumed in unnecessary waste, will the revised waste prevention programme have measures that tackle both ends of the spectrum?
I can absolutely provide that assurance. The Government are seeking powers through the Environment Bill that will enable us to set standards across the board. That means resource efficiency requirements, including spare-part provision, recycled content, durability or the potential to disassemble and repair. We are addressing the waste stream—it is not so much a spectrum but all the way round the circle—of the waste ecosystem in which we live. The first product group that we will be looking at and regulating will be textiles, furniture or construction products, but we plan to expand far beyond that in the near future.
My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for his encouraging Answer, what plans does he have to raise awareness among the general public about the problems of food waste, given the enormous impact that it has on climate change, ahead of COP 26 next year?
My noble friend makes an important point. The UK is absolutely committed to meeting UN sustainable development goal target 12.3, which seeks to halve global food waste at consumer and retail levels by 2030. Our resource and waste strategy included policies such as better redistributing food to those in need before it goes to waste, for which we have provided £15 million of new funding; a consultation on the annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses; and publishing a food surplus and waste hierarchy to support businesses in preventing waste. In response to the Covid-19 emergency we announced £3.25 million of additional funding to enable redistributors, big and small, to get more food to those in need, and that has been supplemented by further funding from DCMS. This is a priority issue and we have seen progress, but of course there is more to do.
I would like to follow up on the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about food waste. Food waste has been the low-hanging fruit because everyone agrees that it is a terrible thing. The retailers have cleverly managed to reduce their own food waste, which is now down to 3%, whereas household food waste is now up to 70%. One of the main reasons for this is that supermarkets do not want to be left with old food, so they package large units of things such as mushrooms and fruit in a lot of plastic for lower-income people and, as a result, some of it goes to waste. Which part of the Government’s strategy will start to encourage supermarkets—which unnecessarily use a fifth of all plastics to wrap up fruit and vegetables—to offer loose selections so that people can go into the store and buy exactly what they need and not what the supermarket wants to give them? That will help to save money and cut down on waste and stop the situation where the poorest households throw away more food.
There is no doubt that what we often refer to as consumer waste is nothing of the sort: it is producer waste. Very few people go into a supermarket wanting to buy a sprig of parsley encased in a brick of plastic. We are very keen to reduce the amount of packaging used and to ensure that the packaging that is used is properly and meaningfully recyclable. One of the measures that we will be using, and which I believe will deliver the most change to packaging, is extended producer responsibility, which is at the heart of our Environment Bill. That is a shift in emphasis from consumer to producer responsibility, requiring producers to take responsibility for the full lifetime costs of the products subjected to the regime of extended producer responsibility—of which packaging will, of course, be one.
My noble friend may not be aware of it but I have been pressing his predecessor on reducing plastic waste since before the Attenborough revelations, and I welcome some of the changes that my noble friend has described. However, how will sustainability initiatives be ramped up to deal with other negatives from Covid? We have seen a resurgence of disposable cups, discarded masks everywhere, and, in Wandsworth—which is one of my favourite councils—very long delays in the delivery of the special bags that households need to recycle their waste. These small things matter a lot.
Undoubtedly, there has been a huge increase in the amount of plastic waste generated as a consequence of the pandemic. I think that probably, to be fair, that was both unavoidable and inevitable. However, on the litter component, laws are in place to address littering. Whether it is a face mask or a packet of chewing gum, the law is the same. We of course strongly encourage local authorities to use the powers they have to ensure that those who engage in littering are penalised. On plastic waste generally, we have a whole suite of measures in relation to reducing the use of plastic, reconciling different types of plastic so that the recycling stream is not undermined, and ensuring, as I said, that the responsibility for the full lifetime cost of dealing with plastic rests with the producer and not the consumer. I think that that will shift the market.
Covid-19: Football League
My Lords, our football clubs are the bedrock of their local communities and it is vital that they are protected. Many have benefitted from the unprecedented multibillion-pound package of support that we have provided to all businesses across the UK, which the Chancellor has announced has been extended. The Minister for Sport met both the Premier League and the English Football League last week to reiterate the need for them to reach an agreement on a support package in the interest of fans.
I declare an interest as a director of Carlisle United Football Club. The Government have stopped fans from attending football matches, thus they have some responsibility; so will they now commit finance and to working formally with the football authorities to ensure that Football League clubs, and especially those in Leagues One and Two, can survive? Secondly, in view of football’s proven low Covid-19 risk, when this current lockdown ends on 2 December, will the Government commit to making a priority of reopening grounds when feel-good factors and economic activity can be encouraged?
I think the noble Lord knows that we regretted enormously having to press pause on our plans to reopen stadia for fans. I can reassure him that every consideration is being given to making that a priority when the pandemic and the virus are brought under control. However, our view has been clear that professional football has the resources and the means to support itself. There is £50 million on the table for Leagues One and Two, which we feel is a good start.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Football Association and a board member of Wembley National Stadium Ltd. Not all clubs are fabulously wealthy even in the Premiership, and although they can certainly contribute to the survival of the pyramid, the national importance of football in our culture, to which the Minister referred, surely entitles clubs to look for more government help. The Government could, for example, provide more help in the deferment of taxation payments. Will the Government consider whether that could be done and, in agreement with the clubs, consider appointing a commissioner to regulate football, with a binding undertaking from clubs in all sections of the leagues that they will be treated equally rather than to the benefit of only six clubs at the very top of the football pyramid? Will the Minister talk about the progress that could be made now given the current circumstances, which are forcing a new look at the whole problem?
The Government absolutely agree with the noble Lord on the national importance of football and recognise that many community clubs have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to support people living in their communities. We have also, for example, moved and worked closely to broker a £10 million deal with the National Lottery so that the 66 clubs in the top two levels of the National League can continue to play behind closed doors. Some of the wider issues that the noble Lord raises may form part of our wider fan-led review of football governance.
I disclose an interest as a fond grandfather of seven grandchildren, who like to play sport. Is it not important to single out not one sport but all sports for the help provided by the Government so that all children, like my grandchildren, can enjoy sports to the full?
My Lords, is the Minister now able to explain to the House what the Government have done to ensure that those 20 or so EFL clubs facing financial collapse can continue to trade and play for fans, which is important, in the future? What hope can she gives to fans wanting to return to watching lower-league games, and can she commit to ensuring that clubs in the rest of the football pyramid can function viably across the rest of the season in these rather depressing times? Will she give us a timetable for the fan-led review that the Government say they are fully committed to? If she cannot do so, when will she?
On the support needed across the English Football League, as I have said a couple of times, we have been very clear that those with the broadest shoulders within the football family and at the top of the pyramid need to bear that cost. We have been reassured by the Premier League that it has no intention of letting any club go bust because of the pandemic. Work continues on returning fans to stadia, including with the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, looking at every possible means to return fans as quickly as possible.
My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure the football family that the Government like our structure of promotion and relegation, which is very important to the structure of our football and the nature of its community basis, and that any clubs at the top whose ownership may come from a culture where you have a franchise and a guaranteed fixture list know that this is something that they will not get away with here—at least, not with government blessing?
My Lords, I declare my interest as a founding member of the original Independent Football Commission. In America, the National Football League shares its television revenue with all teams equally, regardless of status or performance. Is this a model that should be at least looked at in English football? Secondly, if the Premier League does not reach agreement with the EFL, will the Government consider a levy on football TV revenue?
With regard to the noble Lord’s second point, I am not aware that any consideration is being given to a levy such as he describes. Obviously, our goal is to get fans back in stadia, and we have worked very hard to try to broker exceptional access to games as they have operated behind closed doors. The nature of agreements between the broadcasters and the various leagues are for commercial arrangements between them and not for government.
My Lords, is it not time that the Government stopped pussyfooting with the Premier League and made sure that it makes a proper contribution? The Minister said that they have not looked at this, but they should look at a levy on the money coming out of television and make sure that money quickly gets to both the English Football League and the National League, which make a far better contribution to our communities than the Premiership.
To be clear, I said I was not aware of whether the Government were looking at this; I did not say that they were not. They have been incredibly active in supporting sports clubs across all the major sports that are really suffering from the lack of income from fans. They are working closely with the Treasury to resolve this as quickly as possible.
My Lords, may I press the Minister on my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton’s question about the timetable for the establishment of the fan-led review into football governance? When she has answered that, can she also say whether it will take account of the excellent report Saving the Beautiful Game: Manifesto for Change, published last month by the distinguished group chaired by the former FA chair David Bernstein? In particular, will it take account of its central recommendation:
“External involvement in the form of a regulator supported by statutory powers is required to reform the way our national game is governed”?
With regard to the timing of the review, this is a manifesto commitment and we are keen to get started with it as soon as time allows, but all noble Lords will understand the pressure that our officials and Ministers are under at the moment. The scope of the fan-led review has not been determined, and anticipating the answers before we have set this might be premature.
Covid-19: Vaccine Taskforce
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the appointment process of the chair of the United Kingdom’s Vaccine Taskforce, (2) the code of conduct setting out the framework within which this postholder works, and (3) the budget for the Vaccine Taskforce.
The UK has worked at unprecedented pace and scale to ensure public access to a safe, effective vaccine as soon as one becomes available. Kate Bingham was appointed by the Prime Minister and is subject to all the usual principles and codes of conduct for board members of public bodies. She is very well qualified for the role of chair, having worked in the biotech and life sciences sector for 30 years.
Indeed, Boris Johnson has just showered praise on Kate Bingham, but I am surprised the Minister says she had to sign a code of conduct regarding confidentiality, since she seems to have given certain things away to a private seminar, or conflict of interests, since we read in the Times that she may benefit financially from a vaccine development. She has also charged more than £500,000 for eight press officers. Who is the accounting officer who signed off this expenditure?
There are a number of questions there, but the presentation she did focused on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not have deduced for themselves. Her attendance at that conference was approved and sanctioned by officials. The presentation was put together by officials. The noble Baroness should be aware she is unpaid for her role, and the recruitment process for the consultants she referred to was contracted by the Vaccine Taskforce for a time-limited period in line with existing public sector recruitment practices and frameworks. The details of all that will be published in due course.
I think I just answered that point in my previous answer, but the presentation focused on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not have deduced for themselves. Her attendance at this seminar was approved by officials, and the presentation was signed off by officials.
My Lords, Kate Bingham asked for Admiral Associates to be brought in. Angus Collingwood- Cameron, the director of Admiral Associates, is also a director of Dominic Cummings’ in-laws’ country estate and runs a caviar company which he says he is
“happy to advise on indulgence.”
If this is not gross indulgence, to give a single source tender of £650,000 for PR work, when his own department has more than 100 people working in communications, what specific tasks and messaging has been provided by Admiral Associates that his own team of communication professionals does not have the skills or knowledge to deliver?
The noble Lord is making baseless accusations there. The first thing to point out is that Dominic Cummings had no role whatever in any of these procurement processes or appointments. The specialist communications support was contracted by the Vaccine Taskforce. Details of all arrangements and all firms and contract labour used by the task force will be published in due course with the usual transparency arrangements.
My Lords, the whole world is delighted with the news of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine announced yesterday. Does the Minister agree that credit needs to go to Kate Bingham and the Vaccine Taskforce for operating at such speed to procure, at scale, a range of vaccines in development around the world, including the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine? Does he also agree that business should have a prominent and critical role in rolling out and distributing the vaccines across the UK in the months to come?
I agree with the noble Lord; I think the Vaccine Taskforce has done a great job, and I think the announcement this morning is testament to that. Let me reiterate that she has taken on this role of chair in an unpaid capacity in the true spirit of public service. It has invested in something like six vaccines— 350 million doses have been secured—to try to pick one of the vaccines that will be effective. The task force is doing a great job, and we will see that in due course.
My Lords, we are not being told the full story. The bottom line is quite simple: what was the real reason Kate Bingham was picked to do this job when she clearly had a conflict of interests, as has already been stated by my noble friend Lady Armstrong? Why did she give the contract to Admiral Associates? There is something we are not being told. Are there undisclosed relationships at play here, which are subsequently going to be revealed when the Minister makes the Statement he has twice promised us during this Question Time?
She has declared all her relevant conflicts of interest in line with normal public sector appointments, and they have all been managed and agreed with officials in my department. She was not responsible for appointing Admiral PR; it was done under normal civil service procurement procedures by officials.
My Lords, the Minister has mentioned the task force several times. Who is on the task force? Why do we not know their names? Who appointed the task force? I have seen a reference to a vice-chair, but I understand that, when someone asked about this under freedom of information, all they got was a list of redacted sheets of paper. It is quite important to know who is on the task force to see their expertise, how they were appointed, why they were chosen and what interests they have. The Minister said more than once that Kate Bingham is unpaid; she can afford to be unpaid because, as he made quite clear, she is still working in the sector that she is currently governing. That is quite a serious issue. Is the Minister not somewhat uneasy that not a single Conservative Peer has come forward today to ask a question that supports the Government? I have never known such a case in my experience. He can answer what he chooses, or choose not to answer.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, was supportive, and he is not a Conservative Peer but an independent Cross-Bencher. The task force consists of a number of specialists in their fields from the Civil Service, the military and private sector organisations, all attempting to get the UK a vaccine that will solve the Covid problem. I would have thought the noble Lord would welcome that.
Blood Safety and Quality (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Quality and Safety of Organs Intended for Transplantation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Persistent Organic Pollutants (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Pesticides (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
Covid-19 Regulations: Assisted Deaths Abroad
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Thursday 5 November.
“Issues of life and death are some of the most difficult subjects that come before us in this House, and the question of how we best support people in their choices at the end of their life is a complex moral issue that, when considered, weighs heavily upon us all. My right honourable friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) asked an important question and I want to set out the precise position. Under the current law, based on the Suicide Act 1961, it is an offence to encourage or assist the death of another person. However, it is legal to travel abroad for the purpose of assisted dying where it is allowed in that jurisdiction. The new coronavirus regulations, which come into force today, place restrictions on leaving the home without a reasonable excuse; travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying is a reasonable excuse, so anyone doing so would not be breaking the law. These coronavirus regulations do not change the existing legal position on assisted dying.
As this is a matter of conscience, the Government do not take a position. It is instead a matter for each and every Member of Parliament to speak on and vote according to their sincerely held beliefs, and it is for the will of the House to decide whether the law should change. The global devastation of the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of high-quality palliative care, just as it has shone a spotlight on so many issues and, as difficult as it may be, I welcome this opportunity to have this conversation about assisted dying, as it is one of the most sensitive elements of end-of-life care.
I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has suffered pain in dying or suffered the pain of watching a loved one battle a terminal degenerative condition, and I share a deep respect for friends and colleagues in all parts of the House who share and hold strong views. I am pleased that the House has been given this opportunity to discuss the impact of the pandemic on one of the most difficult ethical questions that we face.”
My Lords, I think it is to be welcomed that the response to the Urgent Question last week was that travelling for the purposes of an assisted death would be exempt from lockdown travel restrictions. However, there are concerns that this Statement did not go into detail about whether family members could accompany people. Legal constraints mean that it is not clear whether the exemption applies to them. Presumably, they would have to demonstrate their reasons for travel and might, in the course of doing so, incriminate themselves for assisting a suicide. So can the Minister clarify that family members accompanying someone travelling for an assisted death will not be vulnerable in this way? If the Minister does not know the answer in detail to this important question, please would he seek to find out from the Ministry of Justice, write to me, and put the letter in the Library?
The noble Baroness is entirely right on the question of travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying. It would be regarded as a reasonable excuse, and therefore anyone who did would not be breaking the law. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question, under Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, a person does commit an offence if he or she
“does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person”
and that act
“was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.”
The 1961 Act provides no exceptions to the prohibition on assisting suicide. The maximum penalty, as noble Lords may know, is 14 years, and there is nothing in the Coronavirus Act or any recent legislation that in any way changes that.
My Lords, whilst the 1961 Act provides no exemptions, as the Minister said, the Director of Public Prosecutions has issued guidance with regard to the avoidance of prosecution in this area. Will the Government ask for that guidance to be looked at again, in the context of the sensitive words of the Secretary of State for Health, to avoid the very situation that has happened in the past where public authorities sought injunctions against family members who supported those who took the very difficult decision to travel abroad? I live in Scotland, where the Suicide Act 1961 has never applied. Will the Government work with the Scottish Government to start collecting data? It was welcome that the Health Secretary indicated the openness of the Government to do that, so we can get a proper understanding of how many people are making the very difficult decision to travel abroad.
The noble Lord is entirely correct; the Director of Public Prosecutions’ policy for prosecutors in respect of cases of encouraging or assisting suicide sets out factors which prosecutors in England and Wales will consider, in addition to those already outlined in the code for Crown Prosecutors when deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute in cases of encouraging or assisting suicide. Among the public interest factors tending against prosecution are that the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide and that the suspect was “wholly motivated by compassion”. I completely take on board the noble Lord’s encouragement of this review. There is no review planned, but we all acknowledge the changing tone of this debate and I will take his suggestion back to the department. On the point about Scotland and data, I acknowledge different circumstances in Scotland and the remarks on the importance of collecting data from my noble friend in the other place. That is indeed our intention.
My Lords, the Minister’s response to the second question today was more reassuring than his response to the first. I am sure he would agree that these are desperately difficult situations for families, and to have the uncertainty about whether someone would have to undertake alone a journey that should never be undertaken alone because of a wish to protect their relatives from prosecution is frankly unthinkable. On the wider point, could he assure the House that some urgency will be given to this issue of collecting data and seeing in the round the problems that are being caused? We have had piecemeal changes such as the changes from the DPP, but we need to understand more comprehensively the exact implications of what is going on.
The noble Baroness is entirely right; Covid has, in a very sad way, thrown a spotlight on the circumstances of those dying alone. That is one of the harshest and most heart-breaking dimensions of this awful pandemic. It throws a spotlight in particular on the way in which the law is applied in this country. The collection of data is a very important component of our review of this important area and I will definitely ensure that the indication given by my right honourable friend in the other place is picked up back at the department.
My Lords, I am generally encouraged and relieved by the Government’s responses on this Statement, particularly the point made in the Commons by the Secretary of State that assisted dying must be considered in the general discussion of good end of life care. I hear the Minister say that a formal review is not planned, but when the Government come to look at the concerns about death and dying that have been thrown up by the pandemic, will they ensure that the questions of proper personal choice at the end of life will be both included and emphasised?
Well, this is an extremely complex issue. As the noble Baroness alluded to, there is a wide variety of issues at stake, including values issues, questions of faith and, as she rightly said, questions of personal choice. There are the components here for an important national debate. I acknowledge the comments of several noble Lords already that we are approaching the moment when that debate seems more relevant than it has ever done. When that debate takes place, certainly personal choice will be an important part of it.
What advice did the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, have from the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the official guidance? The response on travelling to Dignitas suggests assisting suicide is an urgent act and encourages the suicide of those with disabling conditions. Some 25 years on from the Disability Discrimination Act, and with the rise in post-Covid mental health problems, this is particularly inappropriate, as data from other countries shows that the major driver for seeking assisted suicide is the fear of being a burden, and other social factors.
In direct answer to the noble Baroness’s question, I am not sure whether any advice was given by the DPP, because there has been no change in the law. Nothing we have done here changes in any way either the 1961 Act or the advice of the DPP. So, from that point of view, the consultation is not necessary. What we have sought to do is clarify travel guidance in a way that does not change the application of the law in the country.
My Lords, the Secretary of State said in the other place that this conversation on assisted dying must happen
“in an evidence-based, sensible and compassionate way.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/11/20; col. 480.]
What efforts will the Government be making to ensure that we as a House have all the evidence available to us when this important debate next reaches the Chamber?
My Lords, the debate has not been scheduled, but evidence that would be of interest includes evidence from clinicians themselves, many of whom have seen some movement in their attitudes on this subject. There is also an enormous amount of values-based and faith-based evidence from those who have a particular view on this subject. There is also the evidence of the personal choices of those approaching death themselves. There are extremely moving testimonies by individuals faced with very daunting and challenging circumstances. All of these views have relevance and value, and they should all be part of this important and delicate debate.
My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, the Minister stressed that this was travel advice, but surely it goes further than just travel advice. At a time of Covid, when many people in care homes would seek the companionship of members of their families but forgo it in the wider community interest, is it really the right decision to create a presumption that people at the end of life only have the option to travel abroad and to facilitate that? Surely more palliative care and more focus on helping people to a good death are more important during this Covid crisis than facilitating people to travel abroad.
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that the contribution of hospices and the role of those involved in palliative care has been an incredibly important part of the Covid crisis, and it has given huge succour, compassion and care for those at the end of their life. We have sought to help with the financing of the hospice community with a substantial £150 million payment in the first wave, and there are currently talks in place on funding for hospice care through the second wave. Hospices’ work is enormously valued, and anything in this debate does nothing to underplay the value of the role that they play at the end of people’s lives.
Jonathan Taylor: SBM Offshore
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 9 November.
“I am very aware that my right honourable friend has been taking a very keen interest in this issue. Mr Taylor exposed corruption at the Monaco-based Dutch multinational SBM Offshore in 2012. He was arrested in Croatia on 30 July this year on an Interpol red notice issued by Monaco for charges of corruption and bribery.
At this time, we have no evidence that the arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. However, Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities. On 3 October, the Croatian extrajudicial council issued its decision to extradite Mr Taylor to Monaco. Mr Taylor has been on bail since 4 August.
Mr Taylor appealed against his extradition to the Croatian Supreme Court, which has advised that the UK should first be asked if it wanted to extradite Mr Taylor as a UK national. We understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has advised that it has no outstanding case against Mr Taylor. Therefore, the UK has notified the Croatian authorities that we are not seeking to extradite him. The Croatian court will now reconsider the issue.
We are following the progress of Mr Taylor’s appeal very closely and will continue to do so. We have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the specific charges against Jonathan Taylor. We have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s UK lawyer to understand the grounds on which he is appealing the charges, and we are providing consular support to Mr Taylor. We have stayed in very regular contact with Mr Taylor and sought updates on the case from the Croatian judge.
Consular staff spoke to airport police on 30 July, when Mr Taylor was first arrested. They spoke to Mr Taylor and provided him with a list of local English-speaking lawyers. Staff have spoken to the judge for information on the local legal process and for regular updates on the progress of the case, to the prison social worker to check on Mr Taylor’s welfare, and to the president of the extrajudicial council. They have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s wife.
Since the decision to extradite Mr Taylor, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office staff have been in contact with Mr Taylor on multiple occasions and have spoken with Judge Djordjo Benussi of the county court in Dubrovnik. If we receive any evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will of course consider what further steps we can take to support him. However, it is a requirement of the Vienna convention on consular relations that signatories do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We cannot interfere in the legal proceedings of other countries, just as we would not accept similar interference.
I met the right honourable Member for Barking, Dame Margaret Hodge, and a co-chair of the All-Party Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax on 15 September. More broadly, my right honourable friend may be interested to know that the UK has seconded a senior lawyer to the Interpol task force working to prevent abuse of Interpol systems.”
My Lords, I listened carefully to the debate yesterday on this Urgent Question. One thing that I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond on today is the assessment—or whether any assessment has been made by the department—of the evidence presented to Wendy Morton by my right honourable friend Margaret Hodge that both links the case of Mr Taylor’s actions as a whistleblower and shows that due process has not been followed. In light of this evidence, what on earth is preventing the Government making strong representations to the Government of Monaco?
My Lords, at this time we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption. However, Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to the whistleblowing. We will continue to provide consular support and are in regular contact with Mr Taylor. If we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities, or that due process is not being followed, we will of course consider what further steps we should take.
My Lords, I am shocked by the line in the Government’s response that says we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption. Employers retaliate against whistleblowers, not on the grounds of their whistleblowing, but by asserting spurious, contrived and false accusations. By the time the whistleblowers are exonerated—in the UK, often in an employment tribunal dragged out over years—they have been financially ruined, their families scarred and sometimes their mental health compromised. That is how employers and hostile Governments punish whistleblowers and persuade others to keep silent about wrongdoing. I hope the Minister will meet the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Whistleblowing, because we have to change the whole regime to provide genuine protection. Will the Government recognise that this behaviour, captured by this UQ, is classic retaliation against a whistleblower, and will they protect Jonathan Taylor now?
My Lords, of course we must do what we can to protect whistleblowers, and we have done so through the Employment Rights Act and, indeed, the improvements we have made to protect whistleblowers over recent years. I am afraid that in this case in particular, as I said, we have not received specific evidence of this arrest being linked to whistle- blowing, but we will continue to monitor the case very closely and consider any evidence that we receive.
My Lords, on the face of it, as we have heard, this is a troubling case. A British citizen has exposed corruption and wrongdoing on a global scale and has taken considerable personal risk to do so. As I understand it, he is still helping regulatory authorities in this country in pursuit of further wrong- doing, yet the British Government are doing nothing to protect him from what appears to be an abuse of Interpol procedures. Will the Minister agree to meet me and colleagues to discuss this case as soon as possible, along with one of her ministerial colleagues from the Home Office, who, I understand, also has an interest in this case?
I would push back on the assertation that the Government are doing nothing. As I said, we are providing regular support to Mr Taylor: we are in regular contact with him, his family and his legal team. Mr Taylor has appealed against his extradition. We have also approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request more information about the charges against Jonathan Taylor. We will continue to closely monitor this case and take appropriate action.
My Lords, the Government claim that they cannot interfere in the legal proceedings of another country, which is surprising, since there are recent examples where they have done so—so why in those cases and not this one? Moreover, it is surprising that the Government have not made high-level diplomatic representations to halt the extradition process, given that Mr Taylor has worked with the SFO and other prosecutors around the world, exposing a corruption and bribery scandal at a Monaco-based company, leading to fines amounting to over $800 million. He is continuing to work with the SFO in corruption investigations. Can the Minister tell the House why the Government are refusing to take action to restore Mr Taylor’s human rights, so he can come home, and are thereby failing to support the work of whistleblowers in the global fight against corruption?
[Inaudible]—we will continue to support whistleblowers. On this specific case, we need to consider each case on an individual basis and, as set out in the Vienna convention on consular relations, we cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, just as we would not expect similar interference here. However, we will continue to monitor this case closely. The Minister for the European Neighbourhood recently met the co-chairs of the APPG on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax. We will continue to stay in contact with Mr Taylor and his legal team, to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help in this case.
UK Terrorism Threat Level
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday5 November.
“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement regarding the UK terrorism threat level. The UK faces a serious and enduring threat from terrorism. Recent events in France and Vienna have provided a stark and brutal reminder of the risks that we face and the continuing need to be resolute in the face of those who would wish to sow division and hatred. This Government are committed to tacking terrorism in all its forms and to supporting our friends, partners and allies against those who would do us harm. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of France and Austria at this time of hurt and pain. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and all those who mourn the loss of loved ones. We have made formal offers of support to their Governments and underlined our shared resolve to stand together in solidarity against the extremists who despise our liberal values and our very way of life.
Since March 2017, UK police and security services have foiled 27 plots, including eight motivated by right-wing ideologies. The threat level system is designed to give a broad indication of the likelihood of a terrorist attack. It is a tool used by security practitioners working across different sectors and used by the police to determine the level of their overall protective security activity. It is also an important way of keeping the public informed about the threat from terrorism and to provide the context to understand why security measures are in place.
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, JTAC, is responsible for setting the threat level to the UK from terrorism. JTAC operates independently of Ministers and keeps the threat level under constant review. It is based on the latest intelligence from our world-leading intelligence agencies and from our allies around the globe and considers factors including capability, intent and timescale. JTAC took the decision on Tuesday to change the UK threat level from international terrorism from “substantial”, meaning an attack is likely, to “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely. JTAC keeps the threat level under review based on the very latest intelligence and taking into account international events. The recent terrorist attacks in France and Monday night’s attack in Vienna suggest that the temperature of the threat in Europe is rising.
I should stress that this change in the threat level is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat. However, there is a risk that the recent attacks in France and Austria could have a galvanising effect in other parts of Europe, including the UK, and the change of threat level is therefore seen as prudent. We know that these incidents can be exploited by those who want to further their own cause, especially on online platforms. I am pleased to note that communities from across the UK stand together in uniformly condemning the attacks in Vienna and France. In particular, they stress that places of worship should never be targets for violence, and that religion should not be used to justify murder.
The national terrorism threat level takes account of the threat from all forms of terrorism, including—but not only—Islamist and right-wing terrorism and Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Great Britain. A separate threat level for Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland is set by the Security Service, MI5, and remains at “severe”. When JTAC’s assessment of the threat changes, it is important that it is communicated as quickly as possible to ensure that those who rely on it to inform their decision making and planning can do so.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has confirmed that the police have activated their established planning mechanisms following the change in threat level, and the public will see additional police officers deployed to certain places over the coming days. Our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, sets out how the Government will confront all forms of terrorism. It aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its citizens and interests overseas from terrorism, so that our people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. Already, the Government have taken steps to ensure that counter-terrorism policing and the Security Service have the necessary tools and powers to keep us all safe from the threat from terrorism.
In response to the horrific Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham attacks, the Government acted swiftly by passing emergency legislation, the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, to end the automatic release of terrorist and terrorism-connected offenders. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill is currently being debated by Parliament. It will improve protections for the public by strengthening every stage in the process of dealing with terrorist offenders. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the police, security and emergency services, who show such resilience, courage and professionalism when responding to terrorist incidents, both in the immediate aftermath and in the investigations that follow. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, and we should never forget their service in keeping us all safe. Their skill and dedication is why we constantly invest in our security and intelligence agencies, to help ensure that they have the resources they need to deal with the threats we face.
We also continue to challenge ourselves as to what more we should do. The public inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack is currently taking evidence. I know that this is a difficult and painful time for many people. The inquiry is rightly examining the events of that terrible night so that those who survived and those who lost loved ones can get the answers they need, and so that we learn and apply the lessons, whatever they may be.
Finally, at this time, I urge the public to remain vigilant. We should be alert but not alarmed, and any suspicious or concerning behaviour should be reported to the police. Those responsible for these attacks want to change our very way of life. Our clear message to them is that our values, our freedoms and our principles are what make us strong, and that they will never succeed. I commend this Statement to the House.”
We extend our condolences to the families of the victims of the recent horrific attacks in France and Austria and our sympathy and hopes for a recovery to those who were injured. It is these attacks that have prompted the decision by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre to raise the threat level for terrorism to “severe”—the second highest level—indicating an attack is highly likely. This is a decision we support since we have a shared responsibility to keep this country, our people and our communities safe. We extend our appreciation to our security services and those involved in counterterrorism policing for the vital work they do to keep us safe.
Could the Minister say what impact raising the threat level from substantial to severe will have as far as the daily lives of our citizens are concerned, both while we are in lockdown and when we come out of lockdown? Does the raising of the threat level require greater use of resources by our security services and counterterrorism policing? If so, were those additional resources already available or have they now been made available? Does the raising of the threat level apply across the United Kingdom? Is there uniformity of approach and practice across the United Kingdom in moving to the higher threat level? If not, what are the differences and where? Where do we now stand in relation to the independent review of the Prevent strategy? The raising of the threat level makes this more not less important.
The raising of the threat level from international terrorism reminds us of the importance of international co-operation. Do the Government accept that agreements must be concluded to ensure continued co-operation with the EU in combating terrorism after the end of the transition period?
In the Commons last week, the Minister said that he and the Home Secretary had
“asked officials to review with partners existing and proposed powers in the light of the horrific attacks in France and Austria to consider what more, if anything, might be needed.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/11/20; col. 529.]
When is that review likely to be completed? I would like to know what kind of things come under the description of
“what more, if anything, might be needed.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/11/20; col. 529.]
I conclude by reiterating our support for the decision to raise the threat level, and stress the need for our citizens to remain vigilant and steadfast. Combating terrorism and international terrorism is not, as some would like to suggest, a fight between different faiths, or people of different faiths. Our enemies are terrorists. It is a fight, as the Austrian chancellor said, “between civilisation and barbarity”.
My Lords, I want to start by paying tribute to Lords Sacks—Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He may no longer be able to speak to us directly, but what he said lives on. In 2013, he wrote an article for the Spectator entitled “Atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians”—by whom he meant those who threaten western freedom by religious fundamentalism, combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. He was in effect saying that moderate religion is the answer to religious fundamentalism, not anti-religious campaigning.
There is no justification for violence. The horrific terrorist attacks we have seen on mainland Europe and here in the UK in recent years I condemn unequivocally. My thoughts are with all those affected.
Can the Minister set out the UK Government’s position on free speech? Is free speech to be at any cost, no matter what the impacts on others? Because we condemn violence, no matter that it is unjustified, that does not mean we should not try to understand why people are drawn into it. Terrorism cannot be condoned under any circumstances, but if we are to counter it effectively we need to understand what motivates it. To that end, can the Minster say what research has been conducted into the impact of lockdown on the spread of extremism, particularly using the internet? What is the likely impact on vulnerable individuals—with no moderating interaction from others—and on their mental health? What are the Government doing to encourage, promote and ensure access to a moderate religious counternarrative to violent extremism allegedly based on religion?
The Home Secretary’s Statement talks about the increased threat level being used by the police to determine the level of their overall protective security activity. This includes additional police officers deployed to “certain places”. Can the Minister explain which places or what type of places these additional police officers are being deployed to?
The police are already stretched because of the Covid pandemic. It is at times like these that the importance of resilience in the police service is brought into sharp focus. Not only are the police having to enforce lockdown restrictions, police demonstrations against Covid regulations and deal with an enhanced UK threat level; they also have to do the day job of fighting crime and responding to calls for assistance. Many of these calls have nothing to do with crime, and include having to help increasing numbers in mental health crisis. This Government continued to reduce police numbers long after police leaders told them the cuts had gone far enough. Can the Minister explain where the additional police officers the Home Secretary refers to in her Statement will come from?
No doubt the Minister will be keen to tell the House about the additional police officers currently being recruited and the progress towards the government target of recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers, but can the Minister say what is the net increase, if any, in the number of police officers has been since the initiative was announced? What is the total number of police officers now compared with the 143,800 full-time equivalent officers in England and Wales police forces in 2010?
An essential part of combating terrorism, particularly the forms of terrorism we have seen in recent years, is community intelligence, intelligence built on trust and confidence created by police community support officers and local community police officers. What is the current number of police community support officers compared with 2010, and what proportion of police officers are currently employed as local community officers?
I have the utmost respect for our police and security services, and I am confident they do all that they possibly can to counter terrorism within the resource restraints they have been forced to operate under. I pay tribute to their skill and dedication. It is not, as the Home Secretary maintains, just about passing legislation. It is about properly resourcing the police and security services to give them the resilience they need to be able to respond to crises such as these.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments and questions. I join them in expressing solidarity with France and Vienna in the tough times they have had, as well our sympathies with the families affected. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in paying tribute to Rabbi Sacks, who was a great asset to this House and who always spoke with such wisdom on these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked how the raised threat level would affect daily life. This matter is under continuous operational review by JTAC. Deployments of police in certain areas of our daily lives will be changed according to threats. In terms of the resources needed, my predecessor—way back when—the right honourable Sajid Javid recognised the changing demand on the police. Under his successor, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, the 20,000 police officer uplift was made; it was, in fact, a manifesto commitment. I understand that we are almost at the 6,000 level. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the number of PCSOs. I do not know exactly how many we have in this country. That is a matter for local forces and chief constables, in collaboration with their PCCs. The number is decided according to the needs of the local area. However, I will try and get that number, if it is available. He asked for some other details, which I shall also try to get for him.
Both noble Lords asked where the additional resources would come from when the threat level went up. Deployment will be a matter for operational decision. Of course we recognise that additional police demand is there. Both noble Lords mentioned crisis. Police grant can be applied for and, no matter what it is for, it will be given if the case is made.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked if the threat was UK-wide. Yes, it is. There is separate consideration for Northern Ireland in relation to threats within it. He asked about the Prevent review. We are in the final stages of interviewing for our independent reviewer of Prevent and it is anticipated that the review will be done promptly. I deliberately did not give a timescale because we did not want to be where were last time, with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, having to step away. We did not want to create too much time pressure.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also talked about international co-operation and what more we can do. He and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will know that, particularly in relation to the EU, we remain absolutely committed to that co-operation on law enforcement.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, outlined the necessity for free speech but with limits, of course. If it impinges on the threat to the individual, it crosses the line. He talked about terrorist and extremists’ use of the internet. I could not agree with him more. I hope that the online harms White Paper will become a Bill very soon and deal with some of those issues, particularly the duty on internet providers to their users. He also asked which places had benefited from protective security. He will know that I cannot talk about that, for the benefit of those places. He mentioned the police having to do their day job and police numbers. I hope that I went through that in sufficient detail but I will top it up with additional information for him.
My Lords, the Statement stresses that religion should not be used to justify murder, yet religious texts make frequent allusions to God-sanctioned rights to kill disbelievers. Does the Minister agree that religious leaders should take the lead in saying that references to long-forgotten enmities that provide the warped rationale for religious extremists have no place in today’s different times?
The noble Lord and I can be absolutely consistent on that. I always agree with him when he makes that point. Religion should not be used as a tool either for extremism or for terrorism. It is interesting to note that religion often does not start out as an argument for terrorism but soon becomes that arguing point. He has always made the point about leadership in this country being important.
Places of worship have been included as targets of recent European attacks and there is a history of lone individuals targeting locations such as synagogues, mosques and churches. Considering that, what guidance and support is being given by the Government to faith communities and places of worship as they seek to balance being places of welcome and safety, open to all, without fortifying themselves unhelpfully?
The right reverend Prelate is right to say that places of worship should be not only places of sanctuary but places where people are not attacked because of their religion. We have funding for places of worship through the protective security grant. As to guidance, we work very closely with the police. He brought to my mind the “punish a Muslim” day, and the way in which the police gave comfort and reassurance to communities was exemplary. In fact, I visited various places of worship in Greater Manchester, where the police calmed a very nervous community.
My Lords, I add my thoughts and prayers to those of colleagues for those who have lost loved ones during the recent terrorist attacks in France, Austria and, more recently, Kabul University in Afghanistan, where, tragically, 22 people lost their lives. Terrorism is a violent manifestation of extremism, so how do the Government define extremism? Are any forms of extremism specifically defined? In light of the “nasty mix” of threats recently identified by the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, does the definition cover the wide and diverse threats that we now face?
My Lords, our definition of extremism, as I know my noble friend knows, is
“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
I think my noble friend was asking whether there are any specific forms of extremism that are not covered. We have a government definition but not a legal definition of extremism, as she knows. However, in broad-brush terms, it covers a working definition of extremism.
I join noble Lords in expressing sympathy for the victims of the recent terrorist atrocities and pay tribute to the resilience, bravery and courage of our security forces, intelligence services and those involved in counterterrorism.
The Intelligence and Security Committee’s recent report on Northern Ireland-related terrorism said that the threat from that quarter
“remains resilient, despite significant … pressure from MI5”
and the PSNI. Of course, the alert level for Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland remains at “severe”. One of the key challenges identified by that report was poor criminal justice outcomes. Will the Minister work with the devolved Government in Northern Ireland to ensure that the criminal justice system is fit for purpose and sends the right deterrent? Can she confirm that every possible resource will be made available as necessary to combat threats both from abroad and domestically?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. He will agree that we have consistently provided the PSNI with additional resources to tackle the terrorism threat. In addition to funding for the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, the UK Government have invested significantly in the PSNI, with more than £160 million invested in the 2015 Parliament.
My Lords, I too express my sympathy for the families grieving in France, Austria and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, reminded us, Kabul. This is a global struggle.
I want to press the Minister a little more on the question of resources. In my view, JTAC was correct to raise the threat level. It was precautionary, of course, but in view of what we have seen on the continent it was wise and prudent to do so. Obviously, this requires an additional operational dimension. The Minister said that there are 6,000 more police officers, although that is 14,000 short of where we were when her previous boss, Theresa May, was Home Secretary.
No doubt the Minister will also say that it is a question of operational deployment. Is it possible for the envelope of resources to be increased, either automatically or on request, commensurate with the increase in the threat level? If not, should it not be automatic that when the threat level increases, the resources to deal with it increase?
I hope that I outlined clearly the police’s ability to request police grants. The purpose of the grants is not particularly prescriptive, but they can be sought for unexpected pressures. In a crisis, it has not been unusual for the police to request additional grants. I have talked about redeployment, so I will not talk about it again. The noble Lord knows about that.
This is in the context of the recognition that it is not just the demand on the police that has changed over the past few years in relation to the number of additional police officers; the type of threat that we face now is entirely different from the type of threat that we faced, say, 20 years ago. Now, we see cyber threats and other types of threat.
My Lords, I recognise the complexities of doing so, but as part of the process of keeping our country safe, can I request in no uncertain terms that the Government consider all acts and forms of ill expression—covering, but not limited to, religion, ethnicity and gender—which are alien and reprehensible to our values and must never overstep the mark? Will they also review all appropriate laws to ensure that they match the concerns, and challenge the oft-used façade of freedom of speech beyond the Minister’s reference to—I quote—threat to an individual so that the single word “respect” remains synonymous with what we stand for as a united nation?
The noble Lord makes an interesting point about the balance between freedom of speech and individuals’ responsibility not to threaten others with what they say. People are perfectly at liberty to insult, even offend, but there is a fine line where freedom of speech ends.
My Lords, I extend my sympathies to the family of Rabbi Sacks, the late Lord Sacks. It was a privilege to work with him on interfaith issues for many years, including in the early years of his journey. I also extend my thoughts and prayers to the families of all those who were so brutally murdered in Paris, Austria and Kabul. We stand together in their sorrow.
This House will agree that we must not fall prey to the language of hate and divisiveness being normalised in our discourse on terrorism and violent extremism, whoever the source. I am aghast at the hateful incitement and utterances from French leaders in denigrating faiths and communities, which will cause an insurmountable rise in Islamophobia, including Islamophobic attacks on Muslim communities in France and elsewhere.
Will the Minister continue with her commitment to working across faith communities, including women-led organisations, to ensure that their security remains paramount? Does she agree that demonising religion in combating the plague of terrorism is likely to disfranchise societies and, in doing so, demean our best endeavours as a society committed to upholding respect for the values of freedom, liberty, justice and equality?
It is important that we as a country lead by example. Clearly, we stand in solidarity with France and the French. I do not want to be drawn into discussing the comments that other leaders may have made, but we remain, as an international family, in solidarity with those people and against terrorism.
My thoughts too are with those who have suffered in France and Austria. I have two brief questions. The Minister did not answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about police officers. He asked what was the net increase. Is the Minister saying that the 6,000 figure is a net increase? Clarity on that would be useful.
The Statement towards the end pays tribute to the police who put themselves in harm’s way every day to defend the public. During lockdown the police are far more exposed than they ordinarily are to the nutcases out to cause trouble. Who is watching out for the police? What extra precautions are being taken? The police are now more vulnerable because of the exposure than in normal times. I think this factor must weigh heavily with policymakers and those holding the resource bag.
I think the noble Lord will have heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary talk about her revulsion at people who seek to attack the police while they are trying to maintain the policing by consent that we hold so dear in this country. In terms of who is protecting the police, they certainly have our support and we will do anything that we can to ensure that they are safe, notwithstanding some tragedies that we have seen recently. In terms of the increase in police numbers, I think I was quite clear in saying that we are approaching the 6,000 figure; we are certainly not at it yet, but we are not far off. I have elected to provide the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, with more detail. It is not a net increase; it is a gross increase number. I will provide a breakdown rather than trying to make it up on the hop.
My Lords, in the light of the evidence so far given to the public inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing, is the Minister satisfied that private security officers on the front line of such events are properly briefed by the police and, perhaps more importantly, that they are professionally trained to a national standard, perhaps approved by the police?
As a former policeman, the noble Lord will understand that making a running commentary on an ongoing inquiry is something that I really would not want to do. He makes an important point about training and ensuring that those who are on the front line are sufficiently trained in the jobs that they do.
Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, I declare my farming interests, as set out in the register. I also much look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I hope it would be useful to your Lordships if I speak to both the Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, given the connection between the two instruments.
There are no changes to our policy on either organic products or genetically modified organisms. Amendments are required primarily as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol and to ensure that existing legislation continues to operate as intended. As established in the protocol, EU legislation will continue to apply to Northern Ireland. The existing EU exit legislation needs minor technical amendments to reflect the fact that retained EU law, whether on organics or GMOs, will be substantively applicable only in Great Britain. The changes do no more than is necessary to meet our legal obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol and ensure a workable legislative regime in Great Britain.
The first instrument makes minor amendments to the UK’s organics legislation to ensure that the regulatory regime is operable at the end of the transition period, in line with the Northern Ireland protocol. References to United Kingdom have been changed to Great Britain in the Organic Production and Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, and the Organic Products (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
The instrument also amends retained EU legislation to allow organic producers to continue to use 5% of non-organic protein feed for organic porcine and poultry, until the end of 2022. The EU has taken the same decision to extend the derogation. No new policy is introduced by the instrument and the UK’s world-class standards are maintained. The Government are strongly supportive of organic standards, many of which were developed in the UK and adopted by the EU.
Under the protocol, EU law on organics will continue to have effect in Northern Ireland. Retained EU law will apply substantively only to Great Britain. This means that the Northern Irish organics market will remain the same, and we are working closely with Northern Irish colleagues to prepare for the end of the transition period, including setting up a Northern Ireland competent authority on organics. We remain committed to ensuring trade between GB and Northern Ireland continues. We are going to recognise the EU as an equivalent organic regime to the UK until 2022, providing certainty on imports for the immediate future. We hope that the EU will reciprocate very soon.
There are 6,000, predominantly small and medium-sized, UK organics operators, which contribute over £2.5 billion to the UK economy, including exports worth over £250 million. The statutory instrument relates to devolved matters and the respective devolved Administrations have consented to it.
The second instrument concerns existing EU exit legislation on GMOs. As I explained earlier, this instrument has the primary purpose of making technical amendments to the existing EU exit legislation, which are required in consequence of the protocol. I stress that we have not made any change to our policy on GMOs.
Detailed EU legislation currently provides a robust framework for the approval of GMOs and related matters to protect the environment and human health. Our existing exit legislation is intended to maintain this regime after the end of the transition period. It was prepared on the basis that those arrangements would be needed throughout the United Kingdom.
As a result of the protocol, the EU legislation on GMOs will continue to apply in Northern Ireland. We must amend EU retained law to ensure that it is operable in Great Britain. The amendments are to change references to the United Kingdom or institutions in the United Kingdom to Great Britain or institutions in Great Britain. This instrument also revokes amendments to Northern Irish legislation that are no longer required because of the protocol.
In addition to the provisions already described, this instrument makes a further amendment to retained direct EU legislation relating to traceability and labelling of GMOs. This additional amendment revokes a legislation-making power currently conferred on the Commission, as it will have no practical application in Great Britain after the end of the transition period.
Failure to adopt the instrument would mean that the retained EU law on GMOs would, by continuing to refer to the United Kingdom and UK institutions, be defective for Great Britain. It is also potentially confusing for Northern Ireland, as it suggests that the retained EU law applies there, when this is not the case. It will also mean that amendments to Northern Ireland legislation, which are not needed in light of the protocol, would take effect.
GMO policy is a devolved matter and will remain so. The devolved Administrations were closely engaged in the development of this instrument and gave their consent for it to be laid. The amendments contained in these instruments are required due to our exit from the European Union and to ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol can operate as intended. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that clear exposition of the regulations. Like him, I feel we are privileged today to have the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I look forward to hearing it shortly, as I am sure all noble Lords do.
I support these regulations. Clearly, the regulation of organic products and genetically modified organisms is a vital concern for our country—indeed, for all parts of our country, as these are devolved matters. I realise that the primary purpose of these regulations is to provide for the laws governing these areas to operate in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol after the end of the transition period. In many areas, we are providing similarly. Just recently, we provided similarly for organs for transplant and blood products, where Northern Ireland is to be treated as a member state, with Great Britain as a third party.
That is consistent with the withdrawal agreement signed by the United Kingdom and is topical in your Lordships’ House in the light of the votes last night. I wonder if my noble friend can comment on whether those votes will result in Great Britain being treated as a third party, for customs purposes, and Northern Ireland being treated as a continuing member state, in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. I feel sure that my noble friend will modestly say that that is above his pay grade, but also that he will have some insights in this area.
More specifically, I ask my noble friend to comment on the production, processing, labelling and importing of organic products and our inspection systems. I note what he said about there being no immediate intention to diverge from the European rules and standards, and my noble friend touched on these matters during discussions on the Agriculture Bill. But I wonder, looking forward, whether there is any intention to diverge from EU standards and rules, other than de minimis. Similarly, I wonder whether we are intending to diverge from EU rules and standards, in any way other than de minimis, on controls for the production, movement, traceability, labelling and marketing of GMOs. With those specific questions, I am content to give these regulations my total support. They make a lot of sense.
My Lords, I refer to my farming interests, as listed in the register.
I, too, support the Government in their efforts to retain continuity of regulation in these important areas. The move towards ever more organic food and farming methods can only be a good thing for health and the environment, but are the Government confident that the paperwork that will be required from producers, especially regarding Northern Ireland, is in place?
When we discussed pesticides last week in your Lordships’ House, I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, say that, as we left the CAP, his Government would be strenuously moving to an ethos of sustainability. I am sure that the Minister would understand that small farms find it very hard economically to make the transition to organic. Here in mid-Wales, I have seen several of them falter on the way. I hope this is an area which he and his department might look at sympathetically in the future.
On genetically modified organisms, the checks and balances are, of course, essential, and we must ensure that no loosening of the reins can occur. Having said that, research here in this country has very real benefits in areas such as Africa, where conditions require special crops that can withstand drought, blight and insect predators. These are of huge significance to feeding an ever-growing and often starving population, and, of course, there are knock-on effects in domestic agriculture.
One of the great virtues of your Lordships’ House, in my humble opinion, is the sheer diversity of expertise on offer, so it is a very real pleasure to precede and welcome my noble friend Lord Mendoza. His knowledge of publishing, churches, painting and culture suggest that he will make valuable contributions to your Lordships’ deliberations. I am very much looking forward to his maiden speech.
My Lords, I had imagined that joining your Lordships’ House might prove intimidating, but the welcome I have had from everyone has been extremely friendly. I thank in particular the police officers, the security staff and the doorkeepers. Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and officials here have all helped me to begin the process of fathoming how this place works. The embrace of the Government Whips’ Office has been a particular delight. I also thank the Prime Minister for nominating me, and my noble friend Lady Finn and the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, for acting as my supporters.
I hope that your Lordships will indulge me in speaking on a subject that has occupied a large part of my life since March. I have the honour to serve as the Government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal. Your Lordships will know that this is a hard and perilous time for organisations and people in the cultural sector. Cruelly, often the more independent the organisation, the most commercial it is and the least reliant it has been on government grant, and the harder it has been as audiences and visitors have been kept away.
Since March, I have played a part in conceiving, developing and overseeing the necessary £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. I am proud of what has been achieved to date through so many working together. It has relied on ministerial leadership and joined-up working by brilliant officials across DCMS, the Treasury and No. 10. It has brought together great arm’s-length bodies, such as Arts Council England, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute. There have been regular working groups covering museums, entertainment, tourism and heritage, bringing in knowledgeable sector expertise.
Over the last weeks, thousands of grants, large and small, have been announced for places up and down the country—for churches and cathedrals, heritage sites, steam railways, museums and galleries, dance, theatre, orchestras, music venues, festivals, arts centres and independent cinemas. Many have never had or needed public funding before. The process will carry on over the coming weeks. It will not end the crisis for culture, but it will help. We continue to work to get places open, with fuller audiences and visitors where we can, so that they can continue to bring joy and happiness, promote economic growth, help society and add vibrancy to local communities, villages, towns and cities. Culture will return.
Turning to the SIs, as the Minister clearly explained, the Government are not altering regulatory policy at the moment. The SIs are keeping in place existing regimes that come over from retained EU law. At the risk of repeating what the Minister said, they amend the 2019 regulations to refer to Great Britain rather than to the UK in order to help the legislation operate in line with the Northern Ireland protocol.
As provost of Oriel College at the University of Oxford, I witnessed the wonderful range of academic endeavour from arts to sciences. I am privileged to be able to discuss the work of students, researchers and academics in, for example, biochemistry, biomedicine and medicine. Powerful gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 are now ubiquitous. They are used to develop GMOs and potential therapies and cures for a range of diseases, such as some forms of blindness and cancer. This country leads in much of that research. I support legislation that allows this progress to flourish.
I congratulate my noble friend on his excellent speech. We have more in common than he may realise. We were both brought up in the suburbs of north London, we went to private day schools on the edge of London, and then, as he knows, we both went to Oriel College, Oxford. What he may not know is that we both applied to be provost of Oriel College. There the similarities end. He became provost. I was not considered. I know why, because I have good intelligence; it was because I was too old. As it happens, that is pretty sensible, because I am too old, but the 2010 Equalities Act might have had something to say about that.
I had a rather undistinguished military career and then became a Member of Parliament because I needed a job. He has had a stellar career, which we heard only a little about in his speech. With great enterprise, he founded Forward Publishing, with Will Sieghart. With even greater enterprise, and I suspect some financial benefit, he sold it 15 years later to WPP. Since then, he has made a name in the cultural field and in the arts charities’ fields. There is too much to list, but he was chairman of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, he is chairman of the Landmark Trust, he was a commissioner of Historic England, and this year, as we have heard, he was appointed the Government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal—et cetera, et cetera. As we can tell from his speech, he has a huge amount to offer this House, and we look forward to further contributions, when Oriel College can spare him.
Oriel, our college, was the very fortunate recipient, about a century ago, of a large donation from Cecil Rhodes, which built undergraduate accommodation—the Rhodes building—where there is a statue of him. I regret that some woke members of the governing body, possibly ones rather ignorant of history or with a different interpretation of history than some of us, wish to rewrite history. Rhodes was a very controversial, unpopular figure in his time, who was much criticised. He fought the Boers and his nadir was the Jameson raid against the Transvaal. However, the descendants of the Boers he fought founded apartheid half a century later. His rather uninteresting and usually unregarded statute is part of history and part of the historic built environment of Oxford. I particularly regret that there are pusillanimous dons trying to curry favour with left-wing students by trying to bring the statue down.
My noble friend Lord Mendoza has been outed as a Tory. I fear that he may find himself in a minority on the governing body; the only Tory in the village, we might say. However, I hope that he will bring some balance and common sense to Oxford University, which remains an institution that is admired around the world. In welcoming him, I should tell him that we have one last shared interest, which I only discovered yesterday when he gave me some political betting tips. I am also a political gambler, so I am very grateful for his tips.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza. His excellent maiden speech was probably indicative of the amount of effort that he will put into the House of Lords, despite all his work outside, and I hope that he will find time to educate all of us on these Benches.
I shall deal with the organic products statutory instrument first. The organic food sector is worth about £2.3 billion a year. It would obviously be good if we had even more organic growers and farmers, but part of the problem is the transition. Therefore, is there going to be any sort of government plan not to reduce the transition time of three years but perhaps to enable growers to use the label “transition”, so that people know that they are on their way and that their products cannot be called “organic” but they are trying to get there?
Perhaps the Minister can also tell me whether the Government have any plans to diverge from EU standards. This has been raised before. If they do, how will that affect Northern Ireland?
On the GMO amendment regulations, the Government say that the Administrations of Wales and Scotland will be able to make their own decisions about whether, and in what circumstances, to authorise GMOs. How does that fit with the internal markets Bill? If the UK Government decided to authorise certain GMOs in England, would Wales and Scotland then be forced to accept those GMO products under the internal market rules? I hope that the Minister can give me an answer to those questions.
My Lords, first, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Mendoza on an excellent maiden speech. I am confident that he will bring a lot of his expertise to this House. He shares Oriel College with my noble friend Lord Robathan. I shared my school days with my noble friend Lord Robathan, and that just goes to show what diversity we have both at school and in universities. I congratulate my noble friend on a typically uncontroversial speech.
I should also like to say to my noble friend Lord Mendoza that I am sure that those in the Government Whips’ Office are very grateful for the thanks that he gave them. They do not often get thanks but, if there is any place where you can find cultural recovery and renewal, it will be in that office. They are not having a very easy time of it—not helped by my recent voting record—so I offer them my support.
I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for his clear explanation of the need for these regulations, and I support them. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that I too am a supporter of organic products, but I think that sometimes we have made a mistake. Other countries—France, in particular—call them “bioproducts”, which might be a little more appetising to the public.
On the other hand, I have always had somewhat conflicted views on GM organisms. In 1999, as a relatively newly elected MP, together with two other MPs on a cross-party basis, I took the Government to the High Court over the regulation of GM seeds. However, this is not the moment to debate the merits or otherwise of GM organisms. As this is a devolved matter, presumably it is possible to end up with different regimes throughout the UK. I am not sure that that is a good thing but, in other ways, I fully support these measures.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I am delighted to warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I hope that he will not be led too far astray by my noble friend Lord Randall so early in his parliamentary career.
I also take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for introducing these regulations. I shall limit my remarks to the Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations. In particular, I note, as explained in paragraph 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum, the importance to the United Kingdom as a whole of the organic sector. It is worth some £2.3 billion a year to the UK economy and growth, and its exports are worth around £250 million to the UK economy.
What is the relationship between these regulations and EU directive 2018/848? I understand that the directive defers the date of the application when the EU organics regime comes into effect and applies to Northern Ireland by virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU Environment Sub-Committee has had cause to write to our honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Victoria Prentis, on this point. I do not know whether my noble friend has had a chance to see that yet, but I would welcome his views on it. We stated that this matter is of some significance and concern to organic producers in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom generally, particularly as regards the ability of Great Britain’s organic producers to continue exporting to the EU and Northern Ireland after the transition period. Also, the Government’s guidance on trading from 1 January 2021 confirms that an EU-UK equivalence agreement needs to be in place for the EU to recognise the UK’s control bodies, such as, in our case, the Soil Association.
Therefore, will my noble friend confirm that we will be in a position to guarantee the ability of Great Britain’s organic producers to continue exporting their products, marketed as organic, to the EU and Northern Ireland after 1 January? Can he also take this opportunity to give us an update on the negotiations over an EU-UK organics equivalence agreement? As I understand it, the lack of such an agreement could result in our not being listed in the relevant EU regulation annexe.
With those few remarks, I commend the regulations but I hope that my noble friend will share my concerns in this regard.
My Lords, like fellow colleagues in the House, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, for his passionate maiden speech today and for the breadth of cultural experience that he brings to the House. We might not always agree as Members in this Chamber, but that is one of the great things about having such a breadth of expertise. However, we try to hold each other in respect, and I look forward to debating with him in the future—probably sooner rather than later, if the Government get their way—on the regulatory framework that controls the gene-editing technology to which he so eloquently referred.
As other noble Lords have noted, the two SIs are not contentious. When the primary legislation was discussed in, I think, the 2008 Session, they were not debated in either House. As others have said, they ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I would like to ask a question about the potential in the future for divergence relating to GMOs. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, now is not the time to debate the ins and outs of the merits or demerits of making a policy move to genetically modified organisms. However, given that that seems likely following what the Minister said during debate on the Agriculture Bill about the Government introducing a consultation on gene editing this autumn, there is a fundamental question that I would like to ask him. If the Government consider making changes to the policies around GMOs in the future, will they give a commitment that they will not do so in advance of laying before Parliament the policy statement on environmental principles, which is promised in the Environment Bill and which would make clear how environmental principles, such as the precautionary principles, are to be interpreted?
Turning to the regulations on organics, like other noble Lords I fully support the organic farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises in our country, who do so much for animal welfare and the environment, and indeed give consumers the choice on food standards that they need and demand. It is important that we approve this legislation today so that there are rules and regulations to enable them to keep trading.
I have two issues, the first of which is around paperwork and checks. As others have alluded to, producers will need to fill in new paperwork and have new checks, and there will be physical inspections on Northern Ireland land. Last week, the National Audit Office put a report out in which it made clear that there were serious concerns about how those checks will work in Northern Ireland and trader readiness to implement these new requirements upon them. It said quite clearly that DAERA was
“severely hampered by … the lack of clarity”
on the measures required. Of course, this will apply to organic farmers.
DAERA has concluded that it is not possible to complete the necessary work or the systems and infrastructure by 1 January. It also does not have sufficient time to mobilise its trader support services. I ask the Minister to update the House on how those measures to introduce the new checks and physical inspections are moving forward. I also ask the Minister to say a bit more, perhaps, about the contingency operations that DAERA has now admitted it will have to invest in because it is convinced that it will not have those checks and inspections in place in time. As I say, this will directly impact on the 6,000 organic farmers and, indeed, other traders in the future.
Those concerns were echoed last week by Sainsbury’s, which said that the supply of dairy, meat and fish products, which would of course include organic products such as sausages, could be seriously affected from January. There are 13 Sainsbury’s stores in Northern Ireland, and other traders will also be affected. It is important that we hear from the Minister today about the state of readiness in relation to implementing these checks and balances.
Finally, I will follow up on the point so well made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. There are concerns about organic farmers’ ability to continue to export. Of course, we are all desperately hoping for a deal between the EU and UK, which would mean that there would be that equivalence for the control bodies for organic farming. However, if there is not one, then all the organic bodies will need to be recognised by the EU for any trade to continue. My understanding is that, currently, there are six of those bodies. Therefore, like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I would like the Government to say a bit more about the discussions they have had with the European Union about equivalence and, if not, what the state of play is with regard to those organic bodies being recognised by the EU for trade to be able to continue.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these SIs this afternoon and for organising the very helpful briefing beforehand. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, and congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. I welcome the informed contributions of your Lordships and will concentrate specifically on the instruments themselves. As we have heard, neither instrument introduces substantive policy change, although I understand that the reassignment of certain functions from the European Commission to UK bodies can occasionally mean a slight difference in how those functions will be carried out.
First, I come to the Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020; I have some areas where I will ask the Minister for clarification. Paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum notes:
“Marketing consents granted at the EU level do not require further, national-level authorisations.”
Clearly, this situation will change going forward. Further information is set out in Paragraph 2.12, which states:
“existing processes … will continue as now.”
Can the Minister confirm that this means no change to the criteria being applied on 1 January? Does the department intend to review the criteria going forward? If that is the case, when would that work take place, and would it be carried out alongside the devolved Administrations?
As a de facto member of the EU single market, Northern Ireland will continue to adhere to a portion of the EU’s body of law. These obligations relate to many of these areas, including genetically modified organisms. Divergence has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, so does the Minister envisage any practical difficulties arising from the different regulatory regimes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland? For example, if the UK were to grant a GMO authorisation to a product that did not enjoy similar accreditation at the EU level, would there be any implications for the UK’s internal market? Will the Government maintain equivalent regulations to the EU on GMOs? If not, how will that affect our ability to export agricultural products to the EU, not to mention any possible effects on the environment?
I now turn to the SI on organic products. On these Benches, we wish to see a smooth transfer into UK law and welcome this SI, which is essential for the continuity of trade in organic products. We particularly welcome the commitment in paragraph 2.11 of the Explanatory Memorandum that:
“The current organic standards will be maintained at the end of the Transition Period.”
The organic sector may still be considered a fairly small one, but it is important, leading the way on sustainability in agriculture—recognising, for example, the value of soils and issues around pesticides. As such, it is good to see that paragraphs 7.2 and 7.3 in the Explanatory Memorandum—and the Minister, in his introduction—recognise its value to the UK economy. The continuation of this trade is hugely important.
I also welcome the fact that the 6,000 organic operators are mentioned and that many of these are small and medium-sized businesses, which would be particularly vulnerable if the retained EU organic legislation were not updated.
There is one particular area where I ask the Minister for further clarification. He referenced Part 2 of the regulations and that it extends an existing derogation for porcine and poultry feed into 2021 and 2022. However, there is no mention of what will happen after this date. Could the Minister clarify the Government’s intentions beyond 2022? For example, will the provision just continually roll over, or will the matter be put under review?
Finally, I stress how important it is for the UK to achieve equivalence with the EU. This has been mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Parminter. Can the Minister assure us that future access to the EU market for our UK organic exporters is a priority? If we end up in a no-deal scenario and do not have mutual recognition of one another’s organic standards, the EU market will likely be closed to UK organic-certified produce. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, and I particularly highlight the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Mendoza. I note his wide range of experience and am sure we all look forward to his contributions and him playing his part in the affairs of your Lordships’ House. I know he would expect me to note his vital work as the Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, so I hope I am forgiven if I say, as the Rural Affairs Minister: in the spirit of rural-proofing, please do not forget the rural context.
I also express my warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as this is the first time we have debated Defra matters from our respective Front Benches. I very much look forward to working with her. A range of questions were put forward in this debate, and I will do my best to address them. If there are any further details, I will of course write to all noble Lords contributing to this debate, as well as placing a copy in the House of Lords Library.
I turn to questions on organics, and I particularly want to flag up what the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked about mutual recognition by the EU of our regulatory regime at the end of the transition period. This will allow us to continue to export our organic products to the EU and Northern Ireland. Currently, organics have an annexe in the free trade agreement being negotiated with the EU, but, as a mitigation, all six control bodies—the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, raised this, and I can confirm it—have individually applied for recognition. We remain confident that the EU Commission will grant this.
The applications for recognition are independent of the Government’s negotiations with the EU and not covered by any potential deal. Recognition gives individual control bodies the ability to certify to an equivalent EU standard, and their operators can export to the EU and Northern Ireland. We remain committed to negotiating a trade agreement that will remove barriers to trade and promote trade in organic products between the UK, Northern Ireland and the EU.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also asked a number of questions about trade between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain—and, indeed, clearly we wish this to continue. I can confirm that we are working with DAERA and other important stakeholders, including the ports of Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint, in readiness for 1 January. Port health authorities in Northern Ireland have increased staffing levels sevenfold, and they are working to improve significantly their facilities. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about this, too. We are exploring ways in which to reduce the burden on industry and the ports to ensure minimal disruption to business. We have shared the new process for importing products into GB from the European Union and third countries with stakeholders, and continue to discuss access to the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System New Technology—TRACES NT—for imports into Northern Ireland with the European Commission. I should say to my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth that Northern Ireland has unfettered access so will be able to export organic products to Great Britain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, also asked whether the derogation to allow farmers to feed organic porcine and poultry up to 5% non-organic protein feed would continue beyond the end of 2022. Any extension will be carefully considered by the end of 2022 and we will consult the devolved Administrations and stakeholders to ensure that the changes are in the best interests of UK farmers. We continue to work closely with all UK control bodies to support them to prepare for the end of the transition period. I take the opportunity to reiterate our commitment to growing the UK’s world-class organics sector.
In that regard, I was most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, in referring to the importance of organics. We have just finished debating the Agriculture Bill. Many noble Lords will recall our discussions on how that Bill is going to advance food production of high and healthy quality food as well as the environment. I believe that organic farmers will be well placed to benefit from the new system, with the provision of environmental benefits and services, such as increased biodiversity and habitats.
I can say to my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth that we are committed to the highest organic standards and will use new powers provided by the Agriculture Bill to maintain this regime. Also on the reference to transition from three years, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked about farmers converting to producing organic products, who can benefit from higher premiums when selling into conversion products. As I said, we recognise the potential for the organics sector as we move forward.
I move to questions on GMOs. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about this, and it came up in my noble friend Lord Mendoza’s speech, too. This is about the future of GM food policy. During debate on the Agriculture Bill, we considered as a House the elements of gene editing; we will issue a consultation relating to gene editing in England and will gather preliminary evidence on whether or not to reform our GMO legislation more broadly. I assure all noble Lords, on whatever side of the argument they may be, that we will consider the responses and evidence received from the consultation very carefully indeed, because there is great potential but it is very important that we get this right. When I read of the need for us to feed the world and have less applications to help the environment, I think that the science could help us enormously. But it is really important to get this right and, in getting it right, for the public to understand the bona fides of this, rather than getting worried about hyperbole and the potential that there may be concern. I think there is great potential here, but we need to do this properly and thoroughly.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman, asked about divergence between GB policy and the policy in Northern Ireland and the European Union for GMOs. That point was made by other noble Lords as well. At the moment, there is no divergence between GB and Northern Ireland as our retained law reflects EU law, and Northern Ireland is subject to EU rules and will have to comply with decisions made at an EU level. As I made clear in debate on the Agriculture Bill, any changes to our GMO policy will be subject to consultation and a change in primary legislation, which would mean that there would be very full scrutiny from your Lordships’ House and the other place—and, I have no doubt, some public debate as well. If we change our policy following the consultation, we will clearly work closely with Northern Irish authorities to minimise any impact on trade in GM products. I emphasise, as I did before—I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—that GM policy is a devolved area. That is why I said that the consultation was about England, because it is the responsibility of the UK Government. But with this SI, we have worked extremely closely with devolved Administrations to develop it and, obviously, we need to go forward in a spirit of collaboration and understanding of these matters.
I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the processes and powers to legislate in GB will remain in parallel with those in the EU and Northern Ireland, so they will remain familiar to stakeholders. In Northern Ireland, existing EU legislation will continue to be directly applicable after the end of the transition period. I have no doubt that on that matter we will have more work to do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about further changes, and I have looked into that matter. I think that she referred to paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum, whereas I wonder whether it might relate to paragraph 2.9, which explains that further changes to exit legislation were needed to give effect to annexe 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. This SI makes these further changes as explained in paragraph 2.9. In reply to the noble Baroness, I should therefore say that no other changes are needed to give effect to the protocol. I apologise if the memorandum did not make that entirely clear.
I shall look at Hansard to see whether there were any further points, because there was a range of questions. I am grateful for the support that noble Lords have given to the principle of the two instruments.
Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Construction Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, these regulations were laid before both Houses on 15 October 2020. They are part of the Government’s programme to update EU exit legislation to ensure that there continues to be a functioning legislative and regulatory regime at the end of the transition period. The regulations are made using powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to amend the Construction Products Regulations in the UK. They ensure that the EU construction products regulation continues to apply in Northern Ireland in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol to the EU withdrawal agreement. They amend the remainder of the UK regime so that it applies in Great Britain only.
I start by providing some context and background to the regulations. The EU construction products regulation, or CPR, is an EU regulation that is directly applicable in all EU member states. It seeks to remove technical barriers to the trade of construction products in the European single market, and currently applies across the UK. The CPR harmonises the methods of assessment and testing, the means of declaration of product performance and the system of conformity assessment of construction products. It does not harmonise national building regulations. Individual member states remain responsible for safety, environmental, energy and other requirements applicable to construction works.
When an EU harmonised standard exists for a product, the CPR places obligations on manufacturers, distributors and importers of that product when it is placed on the market. This includes a stipulation that the product must have been accompanied by a declaration of performance and have been affixed with a “Conformité Européenne” or CE mark. At the end of the transition period, the CPR becomes retained EU law and will form part of the UK’s legal system. The construction products regulations 2019—the 2019 regulations—ensure that its provisions will have practical application in the UK. They introduced UK-wide provisions, such as the UK conformity assessment, or UKCA mark and UK designated standards, in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.
We have now left the EU, with the withdrawal agreement and an Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol. Without the amendments made by this instrument, the amendments in the 2019 regulations would apply in the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, which would not be compliant with the protocol. Regulators would lack powers to enforce the EU regulations in Northern Ireland, and manufacturers would not be able to test their product in the UK and affix the UKNI indication to place the product on the market in Northern Ireland. The general policy is to keep the same requirements set out in the 2019 regulations in Great Britain, but to introduce a Northern Ireland-compliant regime. These regulations do not change the key CPR requirements currently in place. The same standards will apply in Great Britain and Northern Ireland immediately after 31 December as they did before the end of the transition period, and products that meet Northern Ireland requirements will have unfettered access to the GB market.
The effects of these regulations can be considered in three parts. First, they will amend the 2019 regulations so that the current UK-wide provisions such as the UKCA marking and UK designated standards will become GB provisions at the end of the transition period. This will ensure that EU construction products law will apply in Northern Ireland, including CE marking and EU harmonised standards, in line with the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement. Immediately following the end of the transition period, UK designated standards will be identical to those under the EU regime, so there will be no change for businesses on standards that must be met.
Secondly, these regulations make provisions for conformity assessment bodies established in the UK. They enable UK-approved bodies to continue testing against EU harmonised standards for the Northern Ireland market and introduce a UKNI indication, as required under the protocol. Where a UK-approved body undertakes the third-party conformity assessment required under the relevant EU standard, the manufacturer must affix the CE marking together with the new UKNI indication. These construction products will be recognised on the Northern Ireland market from the end of the transition period. The details of the UKNI indication will be established under a separate instrument led by BEIS. Further information on this will follow very shortly.
Thirdly, these regulations restate the enforcement provisions for Northern Ireland in relation to the EU construction products regulation and amend existing UK-wide enforcement provisions so that they apply in Great Britain. These enforcement provisions will work in a very similar way to the Construction Products Regulations 2013. They will ensure clear enforcement rules for economic operators and regulators in Great Britain and Northern Ireland where non-compliant goods are placed on either market.
In relation to Great Britain, the regulations amend the construction products enforcement rules set out in the Construction Products Regulations 2013, as amended by the 2019 regulations. This includes amendments to reflect that the CE marking, together with the UKNI indication, will be recognised in Great Britain. On Northern Ireland, the regulations provide an enforcement regime in relation to EU construction products law. This will allow the existing regime to continue largely unchanged once the transition period has ended and is necessary to allow for reference to the new UKNI indication.
Finally, these regulations also make a number of technical changes to correct deficiencies in the 2019 regulations arising from leaving the EU with the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol.
Our overall approach to these amendments is entirely concurrent with the policy and legal intent of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and enacts the policy that the Government set out in guidance to industry in September. These regulations serve a very specific purpose: to amend the 2019 regulations to ensure a functioning legislative and regulatory regime in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is necessary in response to the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol that the UK and the EU agreed to in January 2020.
This instrument is necessary to ensure that construction products legislation continues to function appropriately in Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Chamber.
My Lords, when two or three are gathered together you can guarantee there will be consensus. The atmosphere today is very different from that of yesterday when this House again considered the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I commend the Minister on reading beautifully the brief—and it was brief, and I shall be even briefer.
I decided that I would speak briefly this afternoon because I was intrigued. I thought to myself, “Not many noble Lords will seek to speak on these regulations; they are somewhat obscure and do not appear to have any great relevance to the wider debates we’ve been having”, but then I thought to myself, “I’ll go along and just test the water a bit regarding enforcement”. The Minister referred to enforcement; he said there will be no change in enforcement. He also referred to the importance of harmonisation. He reflected on the fact that this would have no impact on Great Britain even though EU regulations will continue to apply in Northern Ireland because of that harmonisation. I began to think to myself, “I might just turn up on Tuesday afternoon and test the water a bit with the Minister about what is all this fuss about? If we can do this on the CPR and recognise that harmonisation makes sense, if the enforcement regime remains the same, if we can have something that is operable through the EU regulation in Northern Ireland and its relationship to the border, and if we can still have the same transport and regulatory framework in terms of the relationship of Northern Ireland to the new Great Britain regulatory framework, which remains the same as the old, then what is the fuss about?” So I have just three questions, really.
First, why cannot we do this more broadly? Secondly, did the Prime Minister spot this one when he signed the protocol, given that he clearly did not spot one or two others? Thirdly, what about this enforcement regime? I genuinely would like to know a little bit more about it. Thank you very much.
My Lords, I think that I will be equally brief in my remarks to the House today. First, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant registered interests as the chairman of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.
On looking at these regulations one might be forgiven for thinking that they are very technical and will ensure we are ready for the next phase of our relationship with the European Union, and so they will. They are very important not only for our future relationship with the EU but for how the products they regulate will be used both here in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland. It is important that these products are properly assessed, approved and licensed and properly used as well. Like my noble friend Lord Blunkett I would be very interested to hear more about the enforcement regime. We need to ensure that, whatever licences and approvals are given, the products are used properly. Problems can arise when they are not used properly, sometimes with tragic consequences. We therefore need to hear about the enforcement regime. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, we have had a fascinating and lengthy debate that has raised a number of points. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Blunkett, for pointing out that there is a lot to be learned from this example of how we can leave the EU and maintain the consistency that our builders and other users of construction products require. I want to provide a little further detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that we could perhaps deal with other regulations as we have dealt with the CPR. At the end of this year we will have full control over our own laws, but while we are in the transition period we have obligations under the withdrawal agreement to transpose new EU regulations. I am sure that there are many other regulations that will need to be transposed in due course. We are committed to implementing our obligations under the withdrawal agreement and published a Command Paper in May that sets out the approach we will take. This instrument is one of many that will help to ensure a functioning statute book at the end of the transition period.
Regarding the questions posed about the enforcement regime, the new enforcement regime will allow the existing regime to continue largely unchanged. I would therefore think that the current enforcement regime will be in force in the future. However, I am happy to write to both noble Lords with the specifics of that as I do not pretend to be an absolute expert on the current regime. The point, however, is that we will be harmonised with the EU as we leave it and how far we diverge will be a choice for future Governments. It is fair to say that there are sometimes opportunities in diverging, and in other areas there is opportunity in maintaining convergence. That is an important policy choice for this Government and successive Governments.
The Government believe that the regulations are needed to ensure that the construction products legislation continues to function in Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. I have tried to answer all the questions—or at least the single pertinent question—but if not, I will write in more detail with more information. I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting these regulations, which I commend to the House.
Bank Recovery and Resolution (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the second bank recovery and resolution directive updates the EU’s bank resolution regime, which provides financial authorities with the powers to manage the failure of financial institutions in an orderly way. This protects depositors and maintains financial stability while limiting risks to public funds. Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, the UK has a legal obligation to transpose the directive by 28 December 2020. This instrument fulfils that obligation.
In transposing the directive, the Government have been guided by the commitment to maintain prudential soundness, alongside other important regulatory outcomes such as consumer protection and proportionality, when leaving the EU. We have also considered concerns raised by industry on elements of the directive that could pose risks to financial stability and to consumers, to tailor the approach for the UK market. As a result, we are not transposing the provisions in the directive that do not need to be complied with by firms until after the end of the transition period—in particular, an article that revises the framework for a minimum requirement for own funds and eligible liabilities, referred to hereafter as MREL, across the EU. The UK already has in place an MREL framework in line with international standards.
We are also sunsetting certain provisions so that they cease to have effect in the UK after the end of the transition period, as well as including provisions to ensure that the elements that remain in effect after the end of the transition period continue to operate effectively. The sunsetted provisions will cease to have effect in the UK from 11 pm on 31 December. In doing so, we have taken an approach that meets our legal obligations but also ensures that the UK’s resolution regime remains robust and is in line with international standards. We have engaged with industry and stakeholders to help explain exactly what this means for them.
I turn to the draft Securities Financing Transactions, Securitisation and Miscellaneous Amendments (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. This instrument, along with the approximately 60 other financial services instruments that the Treasury has introduced under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, is vital in ensuring that the UK has a fully effective legal and regulatory financial services regime at the end of the transition period. It achieves this by amending and revoking aspects of retained EU law and related UK domestic law, making a small number of necessary clarifications and a minor correction to earlier financial services EU exit instruments, and providing sufficient supervisory powers for the financial services regulators to effectively supervise firms during and after the end of the transition period.
I turn to the draft Financial Holding Companies (Approval etc.) and Capital Requirements (Capital Buffers and Macro-prudential Measures) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. The fifth capital requirements directive, known as CRD5, continues the EU’s implementation of the internationally agreed Basel standards. These standards strengthen and develop international prudential regulation, which helps ensure the safety and soundness of financial institutions. This SI will transpose that directive into UK law, as required under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. It will also ensure that the legislation transposing it continues to operate effectively in the UK after the end of the transition period.
As with previous capital requirements directives, the Government will delegate most of the responsibility for implementation to the independent Prudential Regulation Authority—the PRA—which has the requisite technical knowledge and skills to ensure effective and proportionate implementation. This instrument includes only provisions legislatively necessary to ensure that the PRA can implement CRD5. This instrument is in line with requirements of article 21a of CRD5 for holding companies in scope to apply for supervisory approval. The framework and scope of the approvals regime will be administered by the PRA, and the instrument gives the regulator appropriate tools to ensure compliance with it.
The instrument also makes changes to the macro- prudential toolkit, preserving the current level of macroprudential flexibility. The most important of these is enabling the PRA to apply an other systemically important institutions buffer and a systemic risk buffer to certain institutions to address particular financial stability risks.
Although the capital requirements directives were created with banks in mind, they also apply to investment firms. However, the risks faced by investment firms are different from those faced by banks. Therefore, this instrument excludes non-systemic investment firms from the scope of CRD5. Investment firms will remain subject to the existing prudential framework until the Financial Conduct Authority introduces the prudential regime for investment firms, following Royal Assent of the Financial Services Bill.
Finally, I turn to the Bearer Certificates (Collective Investment Schemes) Regulations 2020. The UK has been at the forefront of international changes that are transforming tax authorities’ ability to work across borders to tackle emergency international tax risks. Bearer shares or certificates are anonymous, infinitely transferable and an easy means of facilitating illicit activity such as tax evasion or money laundering. This is why UK companies have been prohibited from issuing them since 2015. The OECD’s global forum noted in its 2018 peer review report that, although the UK had “mostly addressed” its 2013 recommendations concerning the prohibition of bearer shares,
“a small cohort of entities and arrangements … are still able to issue bearer shares or equivalent instruments.”
The report went on to recommend that the UK abolish bearer shares. This instrument implements that recommendation and prohibits the remaining entities capable of issuing bearer shares or certificates—which include certain types of collective investment schemes—from doing so. It also makes arrangements for the conversion or cancellation of any existing bearer shares. This brings those remaining collective investment schemes, including open-ended investment companies formed before 26 June 2017 and all unit trusts not authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, in line with companies formed under the Companies Act 2006, which are prohibited from issuing bearer shares by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. Complying with the global forum’s recommendation will help make sure the UK maintains its position at the forefront of the international community, continuing to set standards that help improve offshore tax compliance and fund our vital public services.
In summary, the Government believe that these instruments are necessary and vital for the UK’s financial services regulatory architecture, and I hope noble Lords will join me in supporting the regulations. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not think there is any controversy in agreeing with these statutory instruments, but it gives us the opportunity to ask a few questions of the Minister in relation to them. Perhaps I could start by reiterating how I am never surprised, but always rather disappointed, that politicians, including those in this House, like those in the other one, are always keen on anything to do with the physical movement of goods. In discussions on the European Union—on leaving the European Union—everything to do with the physical movement of goods gets a huge and popular airing at all times.
I have never particularly worried about issues relating to the physical movement of goods. There will be winners and losers: the more coherent and the more seamless any transition is, the better, but that is better for short-term stability; it is in the interests of the country, so I have a view in relation to it. But I certainly do not have a strong view on whether it is important that we have, for example, a trade deal with the United States. It seems to be one of the issues that is going to dominate Chambers, including this one, in the foreseeable future; but, frankly, on whether there is a trade deal in physical goods, I say that there will be winners and losers either way, with any deal, by definition. That kind of trade will continue regardless.
Indeed, I am more in favour of doing what the Americans historically did, which is protecting not our old industries but our new ones. I have always thought it was a mistake to be overly protecting dying industries and technologies. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the United States put a ring of steel around Silicon Valley to ensure that it would have the ability to grow, whereas we paddled our way in the so-called free-trade world without any such subsidy, we lost our competitive advantage and we paid a very heavy price. It was, in a sense, an invisible price, because we were never able to grow those industries even though, in the early 1980s, we were leading the United States in many of those technologies.
When it comes to invisibles and the financial sector in particular, I actually have far more concerns that we get it right. The potential for major instability in the economy and then in the country from getting wrong any transition from one system to another with financial services is huge. The margins of danger are much smaller and the impact on them far greater. The Minister’s statement in this Chamber should perhaps be put in lights in Piccadilly Circus: that the Government are delegating the powers of implementation to the PRA. Well, hallelujah to that. Far be it from politicians to attempt to micromanage, because one of the great successes that we have seen in the last two years is the way in which the Bank of England and civil servants in the Treasury have handled all the negotiations in relation to exiting the European Union. If it is seamless, we do not know, so seamless is the way in which they have managed to do so, but it is undoubtedly the case that we retain greater expertise than perhaps anywhere else in the world, and certainly in Europe, in relation to the regulation of financial services.
I pay tribute—and this House should pay a huge tribute—to Mark Carney, who has now departed, to Andrew Bailey and to all the other key figures who have done this work and had it in the bag well before the politicians were voting in both Houses on how we did or did not leave the European Union, and in what way. In reality, the accord and understanding on financial services was already in the bag. That demonstrates to me that we are in a very strong position here.
The danger now would be if at any stage politicians suddenly got a wild idea that restructuring in this way or that way could have some ideological advantage. The key one I would highlight is the danger of challenger banks. The concept of challenger banks is one that politicians on all sides have welcomed. I have been more critical than most of the establishment banks, the culture within them, the price that we paid, particularly after 2008 in relation to that culture, and the way in which they treated their own institutions and mismanaged them.
However, challenger banks have a different kind of risk—a risk of the unknown. The beauty of the detail of what we are agreeing today is that it provides a well-constructed safeguard around our financial institutions. It is vital that those who have been doing it in precisely the way that I was delighted to hear the Minister outline are allowed to continue to do so. In layman’s terms, no bank must be too big to be able to fail, which is what we had in 2008, but no financial institution must fail in a way that hits the stability of the whole economy. However good the service you might sell or the product you might make and attempt to sell, if that instability is there, the economy will nosedive.
The key challenge is to maintain our strengths and maintain our stability there. Our biggest challenge is not going to be the European Union; it is going to be the emerging economies, particularly the approach of China and the Central Bank of China, and the growing strength of India in financial services and in terms of how the financial world will be operating. Asia has the risks for us and therefore, looking beyond the specifics of the EU, how we ensure financial stability here is critical to all our futures.
My final question to the Minister—in fact my only question—is about derivatives and whether there is any impact on the derivatives market. All the way through, that has been seen to be perhaps the riskiest element of any change—on both sides, us and the EU. Are there any implications from today in relation to that market?
I thank my noble friend the Minister for her excellent exposition of these important, though very technical, SIs. Clearly, as we leave the EU and leave the transition period, we must have in place our own regulations to ensure the safety and security of our financial institutions and the protection of consumers within our financial system.
I welcome these SIs. I do not think that they are particularly contentious, and I do not believe that any of our scrutiny committees have raised particular concerns. Like the noble Lord, Lord Mann, I would like to raise a few issues and ask my noble friend a number of questions, particularly on the issue of capital buffers. Who is in charge of assessing the buffers? What ongoing analysis is undertaken to ensure that the buffers that have been put in place are of the standard that they were expected to be when they were introduced, and how timely is that analysis? For example, has any new analysis been conducted in light of the Covid situation, and what might we perhaps expect in that regard?
In addition, what scenario analysis is undertaken in light of potential market distortions resulting from the ongoing quantitative easing programme of the Bank of England, and the potential interference in capital market valuations that may result from the extraordinary monetary measures which at the moment are focusing on driving down long-term interest rates and driving up asset prices in order to encourage growth or protect downside risk to growth?
On those measures, I express my significant concern at the rise in the levels of debt across our economy, and the almost exclusive focus on interest rates on debt being a measure of security of assets. In particular, there is the idea that government bonds—sovereign debt—are the lowest-risk asset which underpins all our capital asset pricing models and will drive the assessment of the capital buffers backing our financial institutions, and the question of whether we believe that this is wholly reliable in the current circumstances.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that no bank or financial institution should have been—or should be in the future—too big to fail but, in reality, surprises happen in markets. I wonder whether the new financial services regime that we will have after we leave the EU transition next year will consider potential nationalisation, in circumstances where the Government and taxpayers would otherwise have to bail out shareholders—and indeed bondholders—because of the risk of failure of the assets that they invested in and the potential damage to wider society should that failure actually occur.
What assessment is made of the property markets and other asset markets when assessing capital buffers? In particular, there is a question mark as we pull out of the MREL regime—as my noble friend has described—and focus more on the TLAC US regime, which has a different range of assets as its capital measure. Is that expected to continue to be a trend we will follow?
I welcome the emphasis on gender equality in our new regulatory system, in terms of pay. That is most welcome in the financial services sector, as in all other sectors.
Finally, I ask my noble friend how the Government, the Bank of England and the PRA, and other regulators perhaps, see the position of our major pension funds, which are enormous relative to the size of the economy in some ways. Certainly they are much larger than many financial institutions regulated under these instruments. How are those pension funds seen in terms of security, capital buffers and importance of delivery and security? If she has not got the answers, of course she is welcome to write to me.
My Lords, I recognise that this group of SIs largely deals with transposition, technical and in-flight issues, and therefore we do not intend to oppose them. I have questions, however, particular on the first SI on banking recovery and resolution. I am going to try to avoid the tangle of using the terms MREL—minimum requirement for own funds and eligible liabilities, used in the EU—versus TLAC, which is total loss-absorbing capital, used internationally and essentially US- driven. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, made clear, they are not absolutely identical, but we can all recognise that they are essentially the same thing. My concerns are frankly more fundamental.
In response to the financial crisis of 2008, the Financial Stability Board set up by the G20 is requiring systemically significant banks by 2022 to raise the equivalent of 18% of their risk-weighted assets in loss-absorbing capital. I have no problem with that, but much of this in the UK has been in the form of bail-in bonds. How well is this programme working for the large systemically significant entities? I will come to smaller banks later.
There has been real concern about the capacity of the market to absorb the volume of bonds required, especially as recent revisions have required them to be more deeply subordinated. Covid-19 may have made these bonds temporarily more appealing because there are now so few ways to invest money and get any kind of return, but if this strategy of bail-in bonds is going to have problems because the market is stubbornly small, we need to know it now.
I want to probe the Minister on where we are going with medium and small banks, which are not systemically significant. The UK has gone well beyond the Basel requirements—and those of the 27 EU countries, even when we were a member of the EU—by stipulating that small and medium-sized banks that are not systemic should bear the same loss-absorbing capital burden as big banks. The Bank of England has the power to set this threshold without any scrutiny or approval required. This being the UK, it has decided that small and medium-sized banks—in effect, the challengers—did not deserve a more proportionate regime.
In reality, small and medium-sized banks can tap the bail-in bond market—if at all—only by offering huge coupons. They also lack the size to spread the cost of such high capital requirements over a diverse asset portfolio. I know that a review is going on, but can the Minister commit now to the concept of proportionality? The burden, as currently shaped, is making it near impossible for smaller banks to grow as they should. In turn, that undermines support for the recovery from Covid, never mind adding significant obstacles to the whole levelling-up agenda.
I have one more comment, on the final SI concerning bearer bonds. These unregistered instruments really are the backbone of money laundering. The sooner they are gone, the better.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, to this exclusive club that hacks through Treasury statutory instruments. I am sure she has been briefed that this is but a formality—the Labour Party will never support a fatal Motion against an affirmative statutory instrument, and the instruments are not amendable so what we do here has no real impact. To some extent, this influences the quality of some of the material that we work with.
With the complexity of these instruments, there is a requirement, frankly, for the Explanatory Memorandums to be of very high quality. In fact, I do not find them so. I find them difficult to comprehend. It is true that the Liberals have an unfair advantage over us by having people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who actually know what they are talking about, but the object of the exercise should be that ordinary politicians should be able to understand what we are looking at. I note that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury signed a statement at the end of the instrument saying that
“this Explanatory Memorandum meets the required standard.”
For me, it does not.
What are the four SIs trying to do? Are they trying to make the minimal necessary changes or do they seek to introduce new policy? The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was created on the basis that its output would be the minimum necessary to cover the transition out of Europe. The other Act prayed in aid in these SIs is the European Communities Act 1972, which of course had draconian powers, but for a specified reason. I am largely convinced that the objective of these SIs is a new policy objective. I have three points to bring out.
It seems that new policy is being introduced in the first SI, the bank resolution one, by the significant sunsetting of the major points set out in section 7.12 of the Explanatory Memorandum. They relate to the distribution of funds, moratorium powers, insolvency priorities and bail-in. I am not clear under which Act this is done, but I cannot see why it is necessary in this SI. These things have an important impact on the balance between the interests of customers and consumers compared with owners. Surely regulation is all about getting that balance right, and surely something that changes policy should be debated more formally. While the Minister referred to stakeholders in her introduction, in practice the stakeholders were all in either the regulation business or the bank business. At no point, as far as I can see, was there any process by which the consumer was represented in those discussions.
I got lost in section 2.10 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the next SI and would value the Minister helping me through it. There is a concept that, after the transition period ends, we will have some reference to EU law, which may be changed from “time to time”. That does not seem to be in line with the concept of sovereignty, which Brexit is supposed to be all about.
Finally, as far as I can see, the financial holding companies SI does nothing more than the minimum necessary for the transition. In studying it, I came across section 7.15 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which is about the removal of members from management boards. That seems quite draconian to me. It allows the PRA to remove individuals from the managing body of institutions,
“if they are found no longer to be of sufficiently good repute, no longer have the right skills, knowledge, experience, honesty or integrity, or are unable to commit sufficient time for the role.”
I have nothing against powerful rules that control bankers, but so much power over individuals, with no apparent mechanism for how judgments will be brought about and with no apparent appeal, does not meet a sense of natural justice.
Finally, I entirely agree with the sentiments set out in section 2.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the bearer certificates SI that bearer certificates are a bad thing. We are at one with the Government in seeking their complete elimination.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions to this debate, including the words of welcome from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for what may be many debates on such issues. I shall take the points raised in turn.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, is right about the importance of a smooth transition for our financial services sector. He is also right to pay tribute to the excellent work done by officials and regulators to ensure this. He asked about derivatives. These SIs do not address that issue directly, but I reassure him that the UK has already put measures in place to avoid disruption to cleared derivatives markets. The Chancellor announced yesterday that we will be granting CCP equivalence to the EU and EEA/EFTA states. This, together with our temporary recognition regime, means that UK firms will be able to continue using EEA CCPs after the end of the transition period. The EU has also granted the UK temporary CCP equivalence for a period of 18 months after the end of the transition period and has recognised all three UK CCPs. This allows UK CCPs to continue to provide services into the EU.
My noble friend Lady Altmann asked who is in charge of assessing the buffers and what analysis is undertaken to do so. In the case of the other systemically important institution buffer, the Financial Policy Committee is responsible for setting a framework for the buffer, while the Prudential Regulatory Authority applies that buffer to individual institutions. The FPC is required to review the buffer framework every two years and will benefit from PRA and Bank of England analysis of whether the buffers are still achieving their objectives. The PRA will be responsible for setting the CRDV systemic risk buffer, which again includes a requirement to review any buffer rate set periodically. The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee is tasked with considering systemic financial stability risks, including those that might flow from higher levels of debt or changes in capital markets. The latest remit for the Financial Policy Committee asks that the FPC and the Monetary Policy Committee should continue to have regard to each other’s actions to enhance co-ordination between monetary and macroprudential policy. This co-ordination has enhanced the strength and resilience of the UK’s macroeconomic framework.
These buffers are an important means of maintaining financial stability. For instance, the other systemically important institutions buffer will help ensure that ring-fenced banks are resilient against potential risks. This instrument seeks to preserve the current level of macroprudential policy flexibility. The actual setting of buffers is largely left to the independent regulators, subject to certain provisions in the regulation. My noble friend also asked about nationalisation. Temporary public ownership is one of the resolution tools available, but it would be used only as a last resort. Progress on gender equality in the financial services sector is essential, and the Government too welcome the provisions in CRDV, which are in line with existing requirements on gender equality in the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is right to note that the Bank of England is committed to reviewing its framework on the MREL framework—I am sorry to use the acronym—by the end of 2020, but the outcome of that review cannot be prejudged. The Government take a proportionate approach. Indeed, in not implementing the EU’s new MREL requirements as part of these SIs, one of the considerations was that we think the new requirements could impose a disproportionate impact on some medium-sized building societies. That is a reflection of the fact that the Government wish to take a proportionate approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about the power to remove board members. This stems directly from the EU directive. I reassure him that the regulator will exercise a power of removal only where a person is no longer of sufficiently good repute to perform their duties, no longer possesses sufficient knowledge, skills, experience, honesty, integrity or independence of mind to perform their duties, or is no longer able to commit sufficient time to perform their duties. The individual in question will have the right to refer their case to the Upper Tribunal if they are aggrieved with the actions of the regulator in this respect.
I also confirm to the noble Lord that he is absolutely correct that this SI forms part of the programme of statutory instruments made under the EU withdrawal Act 2018. The purpose of most of these SIs, apart from the final one, is to ensure there is a fully functioning financial services, legal and regulatory regime at the end of the transition period. The approach taken in this instrument aligns with the general approach established by the EU withdrawal Act 2018, providing continuity by retaining existing legislation at the end of the transition period but amending, where necessary, to ensure effectiveness in a UK-only context.
The noble Lord asked specifically whether the approach to sunsetting certain provisions within the first SI is consistent with that approach. The UK has considered very carefully which provisions would not be suitable for the UK resolution regime after leaving the EU, while still maintaining prudential soundness and other regulatory outcomes, such as consumer protection and proportionality. He mentioned consultation—we have consulted the UK financial regulators and taken into account concerns raised in consultation responses on the potential risks to financial stability and consumers. It is with those in mind that we have taken the approach that we have on sunsetting.
To give him a couple of examples, one of the provisions we have sunsetted is the introduction of a pre-resolution moratoria power and the extension of a moratoria power to eligible deposits. We were concerned that that could create potential risks to financial stability, as it could both increase the risk of runs on the particular banks affected and further trigger runs on unaffected banks, and therefore we have sunsetted that provision.
Another example is the changes to priority of debts and insolvency. These are sunsetted due to concerns around the potential impact that this could have on investor expectations and the market, including pricing. Given the difficulties in predicting where and to what degree the impacts on firms and investors will be felt, it was thought that it was in the interests of prudential regulation to sunset that provision.
The sunsetting of these provisions does not remove obligations, given that the existing UK resolution regime already provides powers for the resolution authority to exercise moratoria powers as part of the resolution. The Prudential Regulation Authority can also impose restrictions on distributions if firms are in breach of their buffer requirements, and it requires firms to include contractual recognition clauses in contracts governed by third-country law and provides for non-inclusion on the basis of impracticability. In many of the areas where we have sunsetted the provisions, there is already existing regulatory provision to take action where needed.
I also acknowledge the noble Lord’s comments on the Explanatory Memorandum; I too find some of these issues complex to get my head around. They are technical SIs, and every effort is made to ensure that the Explanatory Memorandums are as understandable as possible. We will bear in mind the noble Lord’s points in future.
With that, I hope noble Lords have found the debate informative and will join me in supporting these regulations.
Securities Financing Transactions, Securitisation and Miscellaneous Amendments (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Financial Holding Companies (Approval etc.) and Capital Requirements (Capital Buffers and Macro-prudential Measures) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Bearer Certificates (Collective Investment Schemes) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 5 November.
“On Monday, the Prime Minister set out the action we need to take between now and the start of December to control the spread of coronavirus. In response, we are providing significant extra support to protect jobs and livelihoods in every region and nation of the United Kingdom: an extension to the coronavirus job retention scheme; more generous support to the self-employed and paying that support more quickly; cash grants of up to £3,000 per month for businesses that are closed, worth over £1 billion every month; £1.6 billion for English councils to support their local economy and local healthcare response; longer to apply for our loan schemes and the future fund; the chance to top up bounce-back loans; and an extension to mortgage payment holidays. That is all on top of more than £200 billion of fiscal support since March.
This Statement follows the Bank of England’s monetary policy decisions earlier today, meaning all economic and monetary institutions are playing their part. As the House would expect, the Governor and I are in constant communication as the situation evolves. Our responses are carefully designed to complement each other and provide certainty and support to people and businesses across the UK. The Bank’s forecast this morning shows that economic activity is supported by our substantial fiscal and monetary policy action. Just last week, the International Monetary Fund described the UK’s economic plan as ‘aggressive’, ‘unprecedented’, successful in ‘holding down unemployment’ and business failures, and
‘one of the best examples of coordinated action globally’.
Our highest priority remains the same: to protect jobs and livelihoods. That is why we have already decided to extend the job retention scheme to December. But people and businesses will want to know what comes next, how long we plan to keep the scheme open, and on what terms. They want certainty. The Government’s intention is for the new health restrictions to remain only until the start of December, but, as we saw from the first lockdown, the economic effects are much longer lasting for businesses and areas than the duration of any restrictions. As the Bank of England has said this morning, the economic recovery has slowed and the economic risks are ‘skewed to the downside’.
Given this significant uncertainty, a worsening economic backdrop and the need to give people and businesses security through the winter, I believe it is right to go further, so we can announce today that the furlough scheme will not be extended for one month; it will be extended until the end of March. The Government will continue to help to pay people’s wages up to 80% of the normal amount; all that employers will have to pay for hours not worked is the cost of employer national insurance contributions and pension contributions. We will review the policy in January to decide whether economic circumstances are improving enough to ask employers to contribute more.
Of course, as the furlough itself is now being extended to the end of March, the original purpose of the job retention bonus to incentivise employers to keep people in work until the end of January obviously falls away. Instead, we will redeploy a retention incentive at the appropriate time. For self-employed people, I can confirm that the next income support grant, which covers the period November to January, will now increase to 80% of average profits, up to £7,500.
I also want to reassure the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The furlough scheme was designed and delivered by the Government of the United Kingdom, on behalf of all the people of the United Kingdom, wherever they live. That has been the case since March, it is the case now and it will remain the case until next March. It is a demonstration of the strength of the union and an undeniable truth of this crisis that we have been able to provide this level of economic support only because we are a United Kingdom. I can announce today that the up-front guaranteed funding for the devolved Administrations is increasing from £14 billion to £16 billion. This Treasury is, has been and will always be the Treasury for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I know that people watching at home will have been frustrated by the changes that the Government have brought in during the past few weeks. I have had to make rapid adjustments to our economic plans as the spread of the virus has accelerated. I would like to take this opportunity to explain how and why this has happened. During the summer, as we began slowly unlocking, it was our hope that the country would continue to be economically open, albeit with local restrictions being put in place as and when needed. We knew that there would likely be a resurgence in the spread of the virus, but with increased NHS capacity and test and trace, our belief was that we would be able to stay ahead of the virus. On that basis, we designed an economic approach that continued to provide wage support to people, incentivised businesses to retain staff beyond the end of the furlough scheme, and created new job-creation and training schemes such as Kickstart, all built to support an economy that was broadly open but operating with restrictions and overall lower demand. At the time, this approach was not Government acting alone. Our proposals secured wide-ranging support, from the TUC to the CBI. It was their hope, as it was ours, that the public health situation would allow us to keep businesses and workplaces open.
The virus, however, continued to spread. Localised restrictions were having an impact, so we intensified this approach and added further areas. As these restrictions intensified, the economic impact, particularly on industries such as the hospitality sector, was significant, so in response we altered our approach to wage support, making it much more generous to employers and in turn protecting jobs. We also introduced a range of grants to businesses, whether open or closed, to help them meet their fixed costs, and additional funding for local authorities to respond to specific local economic challenges.
But again, the virus continued to spread, but more quickly, and so we arrived at last week, when the Government’s scientific and medical advisers presented data which showed that R was greater than 1 in all parts of the country, that the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks and the likely resultant loss of life that would accompany such an event. The only viable solution left to protect our NHS was the reimposition of temporary significant enhanced restrictions in England, in addition to those in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. So, given these changed public health restrictions and the economic trauma they would cause in job losses and business closures, I felt it best to extend the furlough scheme rather than transition at that precise moment to the new Job Support Scheme.
Political opponents have chosen to attack the Government for trying to keep the economy functioning and to make sure the support we provide encourages people to keep working. They will now no doubt criticise the Government on the basis that we have had to change our approach, but to anyone in the real world that is just the thing you have to do when the circumstances change. We all hope for the best but make sure we plan for any eventuality. We can reintroduce the furlough now only because we kept the system on which it is based operational, because there was always the possibility that we would be back in this situation. I will leave it to the people of this country to decide whether they believe the Government are trying our best to support people through an unprecedented crisis, to decide whether it is a good or bad thing to alter our economic plans as the health restrictions we face change.
What I know is that the support we are providing will protect millions of jobs. What I know is that it is never wrong to convey confidence in this country and our economy through our words and action. And what I know is that today’s announcement will give people and businesses up and down our country immense comfort over what will be a difficult winter. I commend this Statement to the House.”