House of Lords
Thursday 26 November 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Oral Questions will now commence. I ask those asking supplementary questions to keep them to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers confine their answers to two points as well, and be brief.
My Lords, the Government are developing an ambitious agenda for the UK’s G7 presidency, focusing on our people, prosperity and planet. We will seek to build off the G7’s shared values as democratic and open societies to address the key health, economic and climate challenges of the day and build back better for all.
My Lords, I am certain that I speak for noble Lords on all sides of your Lordships’ House when I express my disappointment at the resignation of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. She has been an excellent Minister who has done an incredible power of work, particularly for women and girls around the world, and enhanced Britain’s reputation as she did so. We are disappointed that she has left the Government.
In 2005, I felt an enormous sense of pride at Gleneagles in Scotland as the UK used our leadership of the G8 summit to bring the world together, to unite the world and ensure that there were increased and accelerated commitments from G8 leaders and others to help those living in extreme poverty. Is it not shameful that in 2021, the Government will use the months ahead of the G7 summit in the UK to do the exact opposite and, like the worst kind of playground bully, after a year in which a pandemic has reminded us of the interdependence of our world, to pick on the most vulnerable and break a promise to the poor?
My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s tribute to my good friend and noble friend Lady Sugg. The Government are committed to supporting international development and helping the world’s poorest people, as we have shown already in 2020, hosting the world’s biggest ever summit to raise funding for vaccinations in the poorest countries, and we continue to commit to supporting developing nations against the coronavirus problems.
My Lords, I draw attention to the Register of Members’ Interests, which states that I am an unpaid adviser to Tax Justice Network. We all know now that tax revenues are vital for economic recovery. A report by Tax Justice Network has estimated that, globally, more than $427 billion is lost each year due to corporate tax abuses and private tax evasion. The UK’s Crown dependencies and overseas territories are responsible for more than one-third of global tax losses. Will the Government ensure that curbing tax abuse is on the G7 agenda?
Is the noble Lord, Lord Walney, with us? I do not see him, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Fall.
My Lords, the G7 started life as a fireside chat between the most powerful people in the world, a chance to resolve some of the most critical issues of the day—at the moment they will be spoiled for choice. If we want to see global action on climate change, Covid, mass migration, combating terrorism, eradicating poverty and dealing with China’s growing influence in the world, the provision of 0.7% is a very good way to start. Will the Minister explain how the cutting of ODA at this particular time, when we are about to take over the leadership of the G7, will prepare for those huge challenges?
My Lords, in his initial Answer the Minister talked about “our people”. Can he reassure the House and, indeed, any current recipient of overseas development aid, that “our people” means everyone, and that the United Kingdom, with the presidency of the G7, will be outward looking and supportive, not introspective, inward looking and narrow minded?
My Lords, today it is increasingly the Indo-Pacific that holds the keys to global stability and prosperity. An international commission established by Policy Exchange has put forward the idea of an Indo-Pacific charter, modelled on the Atlantic Charter. Does the Minister agree that Britain should seek G7 backing for an Indo-Pacific charter, as already endorsed by Stephen Harper, Shinzō Abe and Scott Morrison? Does he also agree that our playing a leading role in that would fit well with our intended accession to CPTPP, signalling our repositioning as “global Britain”?
Again, my noble friend touches on very important aspects of international relations for this country and within the G7. But, as I must repeat to the House, the detailed policy agenda is being discussed with G7 partners and will be announced by the Prime Minister in due course.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an adviser to the British College in Kathmandu. The UK-led global education summit next year proves how much this Government value international development. So how can HMG maintain their G7 leadership role in aid giving if, against the advice of senior colleagues, they are determined to sacrifice soft power and legislate against the 0.7% target which has brought so much relief to the poor throughout the world?
My Lords, I repeat that, despite the budgetary decision announced by the Chancellor yesterday, the UK will remain the second-highest aid donor in the G7—more than France, Italy, Japan, Canada or the United States—with next year’s figure estimated at around £10,000 million.
My Lords, this crisis is global as much as it is domestic. In 2008 Gordon Brown persuaded fellow leaders to act as one, agreeing a synchronised stimulus alongside aid for developing countries. What is shocking this time is that the world’s leaders have done so little work together in response. On the progressive agenda for the G7, can the Minister tell us whether the work already started with the Finance Ministers in relation to debt relief will continue? Will he give us an update on this and will it be a priority for the G7 presidency ahead?
My Lords, as I have said, the Prime Minister will be announcing details in due course. I understand that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will make a Statement in another place later; I cannot anticipate that. But I agree with the noble Lord opposite that the G7 does have a track record of delivering meaningful outcomes under successive leaderships. Indeed, it has taken action to save 27 million lives from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Does the Minister recognise that a key priority for the G7 must be how it supports developing economies, which have suffered the severest economic impacts from Covid? Is it not therefore disgraceful that the Government have chosen this exact moment to betray our commitment to the poorest in the world in order, shamefully, to spend the money on weapons instead?
My Lords, the noble Lord’s intervention was strong on adverbs and adjectives. I will give your Lordships a fact: 0.5%, or £10,000 million, whatever noble Lords say, is more than all 29 members of the OECD development committee contribute. Their average is 0.38%. I repeat that we are the second-highest donor in the G7 and will remain so.
Several countries have announced contributions to help replenish the Green Climate Fund to reach a total of £5.5 billion. The Minister has made it clear that climate change will play a big part in the G7. Presumably, a lot of agreements will get made around this table which can then be presented in Glasgow next year. How far has this particular fund got, taking into account that Covid has caused a lot of financial problems? Is it going to meet that target?
My Lords, unfortunately, I was not able to catch every word of the noble Baroness’s question but certainly, as I have said, the commitment to helping the fight against Covid, such as through the COVAX initiative, will continue, and I can confirm that climate change will be one of the priorities, as I said in my opening Answer.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the G7 also has a responsibility to look at how it will respond to women and girls, post Covid, because the biggest impact has been on them? Will he please ensure that, as we hold the presidency, they will be at the forefront of access to finance for enterprise and education?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a profoundly important point. Again, within the constraints of not being able to anticipate announcements, I say that further details will come. What I can say to her is that, as she and I are both aware, girls’ education and training have always been a priority for the Prime Minister, and I am certain that he will drive that forward through the G7 discussions.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and answered and we now move to the next Question.
Special Educational Needs
My Lords, we are determined to deliver lasting improvements to the SEND system, taking into account the impact of Covid-19. We remain committed to the cross-government SEND review and intend to publish findings early next spring. The SEND Futures research study is progressing well. The value-for-money feasibility study was published on 5 November and fieldwork for the longitudinal study, which will track the outcomes and experiences of children, is set to commence in March.
My Lords, before Covid there was a welcome in this House for the capital spend on additional physical places for special educational needs, but a deep worry, which has been reinforced by Ofsted’s most recent report and by the knowledge we have across the country, that young people with special educational needs and disabilities are the ones who have lost out most during the Covid crisis. Surely the Government will now come forward with programmes that will use the existing £350 million for tutoring, but without the charge on schools of having to find a quarter of the cost, which is making it prohibitive in terms of being able to deliver the kind of support that all of us would wish for.
My Lords, the Government absolutely recognise that children with special educational needs have been hard hit by the Covid crisis. We are pleased that the vast majority of them are now back in school. I say to the noble Lord that in the other part of that catch-up package—the £650 million to support schools to make up for lost teaching time—specialist settings are getting £240 per funded place in comparison with mainstream schools, which get £80 per pupil. That additional weighting is to reflect the higher costs of specialist settings.
My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests in the register. Will the Minister assure the House that the outcomes of the review will not lead to any dilution or reduction of those rights and protections for children and their parents that are provided for in current legislation?
My Lords, without pre-empting the results of the review, I can give the noble Lord that reassurance. The aim of the review is to improve outcomes for children and their families across the country, deliver on commitments that we have made in legislation and improve value for money for the investment that we are putting in.
My Lords, following the recent, welcome feasibility study and its conclusions, is it not nevertheless now even more difficult to design comparable but specific plans everywhere for individual children and young people with EHC needs?
The feasibility study findings re-emphasise that there are diverse levels of support needs and differing approaches to meeting these needs. The challenge that this presents is something that the SEND review is addressing. The findings confirmed that it is feasible to undertake a value-for-money assessment in the near term, and also outlined how to fill existing evidence gaps in order for the department to complete more value-for-money assessments over the longer term.
My Lords, the SEND review is most welcome and urgent. Charities such as Sense are fighting for families to get special needs recognised and addressed, particularly at this time of Covid crisis. Often, complex needs such as autism might not be recognised for a long time, if ever. Will the Minister say how the review is addressing such complex needs and what extra support is needed?
One of the key principles of the review is co-production with parents, families and carers, so that they can input into that review their diverse range of experiences. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that review, but I can tell the noble Baroness that we are already putting additional resources into the system, with £730 million going into high needs next year, which is a 10% increase.
My Lords, I remind the House of my declared interests. Does the Minister agree that many parents have to fight to get their child recognised as having special educational needs? We simply do not train our teachers sufficiently to spot even the most commonly occurring conditions, such as dyslexia, which affects about 10% of the population. Does she agree that, unless this is dealt with, there will always be problems later on when people try to catch up when problems are spotted?
My Lords, since 2018 the department has funded the National Association for Special Educational Needs on behalf of the Whole School SEND Consortium for a programme of work to embed SEND into school improvement practice and equip the workforce to deliver high-quality teaching across all types of SEND, including dyslexia.
Does my noble friend agree that the enormous difference between local authorities in the rate of giving EHC plans, the huge variation in schools in the percentage of children labelled as having SEND, and the variation in SEND by birth date all indicate that we have serious problems in both diagnosis and definition? Does she agree that, unless these are sorted out first, any data that we collect is going to be seriously compromised?
My Lords, one of the things that the SEND review wishes to address is the differing experience across the country. It is looking at ways to ensure that people receive consistently high-quality services across the country, regardless of where they live.
[Inaudible] Labour has managed to identify that £300 million will be spent in 2021-22 on children with special educational needs and disabilities. Can the Minister confirm that this is all new money and advise the House as to how many new places that will support? How will the Government ensure that we have an integrated strategy across the education, health and care sectors and what further thought have they given to ensuring that poorer-performing authorities level up so that young people with special educational needs and disabilities have fair access to services, regardless of their postcode?
My Lords, I am afraid that I missed the beginning of the noble Lord’s question, but I believe he may have been referring to the £300 million that we are investing in capital projects to support the creation of new high-needs places and improve existing provision across a range of settings, including mainstream and special schools. On support for local authorities that may be struggling with the delivery of their support services, we have started a programme of visits by Ofsted and the CQC, working with local areas to understand the experiences of children and young people with SEND and their families during the pandemic and to make recommendations for improvements.
My Lords, SEND pupils comprise a whole spectrum of children with widely varying behavioural and medical problems, requiring individually tailored intervention to maximise the education and life chances of the child. Does the Minister agree that close liaison with parents or carers is key both to combating behavioural problems before these become entrenched and to understanding and meeting medical needs?
My Lords, delays in education, health and care plans—worsened by Covid—are hindering children with 22q and 3q29 and other genetic disorders from accessing either places at special schools or additional support in mainstream settings. I have familial experience of these genetic conditions, but they are largely misunderstood, making EHC plans particularly essential for accessing timely help with disabilities, which are often hidden. What are the Government doing to reduce delays and heighten awareness of the myriad complications arising from genetic disorders?
My Lords, as I said in an earlier answer, we have started a programme of visits by Ofsted and the CQC, working with local areas to understand the experience of children and young people, and helping local areas prioritise and meet their needs where, for example, there might be delays in producing education, health and care plans. The Government have also made more resources available: £4.6 billion has been made available to councils to respond to the pressures of Covid, including funding for children’s services.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now lapsed. I apologise to Baroness Hussein-Ecce, as we did not have time for her question.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their response to the report by the Select Committee on the Rural Economy Time for a strategy for the rural economy (HL Paper 330, Session 2017-19), what progress they have made towards their strategic vision for rural communities.
My Lords, our vision remains that rural communities should prosper, benefiting from the full range of government policies designed to level up opportunity and take the country forward. Defra will shortly publish the first annual rural proofing report on how the needs of rural areas are being addressed across all domestic departments.
I thank the Minister for that reply. The Government’s commitment to rural communities is welcome and, I am sure, forms a major part of strategies such as the UK shared prosperity fund, the Covid-related green recovery fund and the levelling-up agenda. The Campaign to Protect Rural England noted the lack of funding for rural areas in the comprehensive spending review. What actual evidence do Her Majesty’s Government have that the rural proofing promised in their response is making a real and significant difference? Could the Minister give us some specific examples? If not, could he write to me with those examples?
My Lords, I think the best thing here is that I will be able—very soon, I hope—to furnish the House with the first rural proofing report. Following this House’s Select Committee report work has been under way on the formation of a rural affairs board, and indeed, because of Covid, the Rural Impacts Stakeholders Forum, of which the CPRE is a member.
My Lords, as we know, one size does not fit all when it comes to our rural communities; Norfolk’s needs are not the same as Cumbria’s. I ask my noble friend to ensure that the Government take note of local data gathered together by community agencies when they come to think of their infrastructure and other policies that they want to make for these already very fragile communities.
My noble friend is right. Rural areas can be very different from each other, and we believe that local people are often best placed to judge what is right for their communities. For instance, the Government provide grants of up to £18,000 to groups that wish to pursue a neighbourhood plan. Defra itself provides funding to the 38 rural community councils across England.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. I am sure the Minister will agree that one of the greatest problems in rural communities is employment. Therefore, with the Government moving towards more environmentally friendly support for agriculture, might there not be possibilities to employ more people—for example, to do things that are labour intensive, such as planting trees? Secondly, transport is essential for farm workers. Have the Government thought about how the move to electronic vehicles might impinge on the ability of farm workers, who are on very low salaries, to buy these cars?
My Lords, on the transport issue, on Tuesday the Department for Transport launched a call for evidence to shape a future rural transport strategy. I shall take back to the department what the noble Lord said. On the economy, everything that we have been doing, not only through the Covid crisis but throughout, is to ensure that there are vibrant opportunities and indeed many small and medium-sized enterprises in the countryside, which we wish to support.
My Lords, today is Carers Rights Day. The latest research shows that carers have had to take on huge extra responsibilities during the pandemic. Their needs may be particularly acute in rural areas as many voluntary and community services have simply disappeared. Does the Minister agree that any rural policy must make support for community and voluntary services that support carers and those they care for an absolute priority?
My Lords, I absolutely endorse that the work of carers throughout our community has been absolutely profound during this crisis. The Department of Health and Social Care is working on addressing the main health and care inequalities—particularly, in this case, as experienced by people in rural areas—and continuing to ensure that a higher share of funding goes to geographies with high health inequalities.
My Lords, the County Councils Network has recently conducted work on the effect of Covid on the decline of the rural bus network. The Government are committed to a rural bus strategy, but will the Minister give assurance that consideration will be given to providing a range of passenger transport services to provide positive benefits to residents in rural areas?
My Lords, the Government have provided £220 million of new funding to support a better deal for bus users. This includes £20 million for the rural mobility fund to trial new on-demand services and to improve existing services in rural and suburban areas.
Askham Bryan College has stated its intention to close the Newton Rigg agricultural college in Cumbria, saying that students may wish to explore options at other colleges regionally. However, Cumbria’s young people need to learn how to farm in Cumbria, where its unique landscape brings unique challenges. Can the Minister clarify that the Government support the ongoing needs of agricultural and rural industries in Cumbria through the vital and sustainable future of Newton Rigg College?
I assure the noble Baroness that that is hugely important. We agree that attracting bright new talent into agricultural and horticultural careers and having a skilled workforce in place are vital for the future of UK food and farming. My understanding on Newton Rigg agricultural college is that the Department for Education is looking at the matter very closely.
My Lords, rural economies have untapped potential as well as challenges. From living in a rural environment, I understand how important our rural economy and personal well-being is. However, there are concerns in particular about action on surface water flood risk to homes and businesses. How are the Government enforcing their drive to bring together all partners to improve the management assessment of surface water flood risk to make our rural places, infrastructure and growth more resilient to our future climate?
My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. Yesterday the Chancellor reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the long-awaited shared prosperity fund, which the right reverend Prelate mentioned. Can the Minister confirm that there will be a committed element of the fund dedicated to the rural economy, as recommended in the report Time for a Strategy for the Rural Economy?
I declare my interests as stated in the register. With increasing numbers of people wanting to both live and work in the countryside, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government proposing to take to ensure that rural areas are not left behind in the rollout of 5G as they were with broadband?
That is absolutely why we are investing and working with the £5 billion programme to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband, as well as the joint investment of over £1 billion in the shared rural network on mobile, both of which are extremely important. It is the case that 5G is a continuing challenge for the hard-to-reach areas, and that is what we want to work on in particular.
My Lords, given the Minister’s very clear promise to the committee that I had the privilege to chair that there would be robust rural proofing of all government policies, how does he explain the clear absence of rural proofing in the Government’s recent proposals on changes to the current planning system, which will have a devastating and disproportionate effect on the provision of affordable homes across rural England?
My Lords, affordable homes are clearly important, including in rural communities. Two consultations are going on at the moment—on changes to the current planning system and planning for the future. We in Defra will work closely with our MHCLG colleagues on the matter.
My Lords, in their reply to the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, the Government said:
“The Minister for Rural Affairs … is specifically charged with ensuring that the needs of rural areas are taken into account across all government business.”
How many meetings has the Minister had with fellow Ministers, and what further meetings does he propose to have to combat the sort of unintended problems that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, has just mentioned?
I have many meetings; I have had meetings on digital, on crime and on a range of other issues. As I mentioned, as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we formed a rural impact stakeholder forum comprising many of the key stakeholders we work with, so that we could we in Defra could respond to other Whitehall departments about the specific dynamic of difficulties—for instance, with the pandemic—in rural areas. I continue to work on that. The stakeholder forum was meeting weekly; it now meets fortnightly. That work, as well as the work of the rural affairs board, is very important.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and answered, and we now move to the fourth Oral Question.
Official Development Assistance
My Lords, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on our economy, which has fallen by 11% this year. This has forced Her Majesty’s Government to take a tough decision to spend 0.5% of our national income next year on official development assistance to help the poorest countries, rather than the usual 0.7%. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly set out in the other place the future plan on how the aid budget will be managed to deliver better results for every penny spent, and to ensure that it is focused on strategic global priorities, which are vital as we recover from the pandemic and prepare for our presidencies of both the G7 and COP 26 next year.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for her honourable decision to resign from the Government yesterday in protest at the decision to cut aid, which she clearly stated she could not defend. She achieved a great deal in her role, and she was a pleasure to work with. I wrote yesterday that the decision was “unconscionable and mean-spirited”. It is all the more shameful because the Government fought two elections in quick succession committed to 0.7%, and this guarantee was repeated by the Foreign Secretary, and by the Prime Minister in a letter to me, when DfID was absorbed into the Foreign Office a few short months ago. The 0.7% is enshrined in law. Do the Government intend to disregard the law again, or will they seek to amend it? Will legislation come before this House? Is the Minister aware that the law allows for a legitimate retrospective shortfall, but not for a planned cut in the 0.7%?
My Lords, I join the noble Lord in his tribute to my noble friend Lady Sugg. She was not only a noble friend but a friend within the FCDO, and will be sorely missed both by the department and, I am sure, by your Lordships’ House in this role. As I have said, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will lay out some details on the issue of legislation. The noble Lord has raised two important points, and I can assure him that we are very cognisant of our obligations both in terms of the Act and to the House. As for the cut that has been announced, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid out only yesterday, it was a difficult decision, but it was necessary on the basis of the challenges we face. None the less, in real terms we will still spend £10 billion to fight poverty and climate change, among other key priorities in overseas development.
My Lords, the Minister has paid tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. I too want to pay tribute to her for her honourable decision to resign when the Government broke their manifesto commitment on development assistance. She said that was fundamentally wrong. Does the Minister agree with this, and with her letter to the Prime Minister, which said:
“Cutting UK aid risks undermining your efforts to promote a global Britain and will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right”?
In answering that question, perhaps he would also indicate when the Government intend to restore development assistance to 0.7% of GNI.
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s first point, I have already mentioned my long support of and friendship with the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. Of course, she discussed her decision with both the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. I pay tribute to her efforts and her work in both DfID and the FCDO. As the Chancellor said only yesterday, the cut is temporary and we will return to the 0.7% when the fiscal situation so allows.
I too pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who was an outstanding Minister, and who acted with integrity yesterday. The £2.9 billion cut in the aid budget already announced for this year represents a cut of more than 19%—far more than the projected 11.3% drop in GNI. Will the Minister support the Government if they choose to break the law and knowingly undershoot the 0.7% target?
My Lords, in the current year we will meet the 0.7% target. On our obligation to your Lordships’ House to uphold the laws on the statute book, I have already alluded to the fact that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will lay out further detail shortly in the other place.
My Lords, the gang of five Prime Ministers, in objecting to a temporary reduction in our aid budget, surely protest too much. Is it not the case that, despite our enduring the worst economic crisis in 300 years, the UK provision of international aid, at 0.5% of GNI, will still be one of the highest in the world, and the second highest in the G7 group of industrialised countries?
My Lords, my noble friend is right: we will remain one of the most generous G7 donors, spending more of our national income, in percentage terms, than the United States, Japan, Canada or Italy. I further assure my noble friend that we stand very firmly in ensuring that, when we look at poverty alleviation, fighting famine, our commitment through the various vaccine summits we have held and the importance of our COP 26 presidency —with the commitment we have made on climate finance —we stand ready to continue to meet our obligations both domestically and internationally.
My Lords, this cut is short-sighted and mean-spirited; it will damage our national interests and scar the lives of millions. Disturbingly, there is no end point. We are all aware of the financial situation, but what other options were considered? The UK will spend billions on vaccines from its aid budget and elsewhere for people in low and middle incomes as well as its own citizens. Could it not have made a virtue of this by using the aid budget to commit to vaccinations for all, not just making a cut but demonstrating UK leadership on the protection of the world’s health and providing a welcome boost for UK science and technology? Was this considered, and why was it not done? If the Minister does not know the answer, I would be grateful for a letter.
I do not agree with the noble Lord. On the specific issue of the vaccine, he will recall that, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister returned from his own challenge with Covid-19, the first summit he chaired was the Gavi summit, which committed £330 million per year to other vaccines. As the Minister responsible for south Asia, I know that issues of polio still impact vulnerable communities in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Equally, we have led from the front on the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine, with a commitment of £571 million to the COVAX Facility. The Covid-19 challenge, along with climate finance, are arguably the two biggest challenges facing the world today and through 2021, and we have shown leadership on both and will continue to do so.
My Lords, I, too, praise the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, and hope that we can work on a cross-party basis to oppose this move by the Government. The Minister said that there would be £10 billion of ODA in 2021-22, but this represents a cut of £5.1 billion compared to 2019. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said that the Foreign Secretary’s savings for this financial year to maintain the budget within 0.7%—and we should not forget that that has meant real cuts—
“prioritised the UK’s global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including on poverty reduction for the bottom billion, climate change and reversing biodiversity loss, championing girls’ education and protecting our operational capacity.”—[Official Report, 25/11/20; col. 249.]
Will the Minister tell us which of these priorities will now be cut to meet the Chancellor’s breach of the law and the Conservative manifesto?
My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord is that they remain, and will continue to be, priorities, and I note the additional support that we have announced within the defence budget, for example. As Minister for the UN, I am sure that all noble Lords acknowledge the vital role our Armed Forces play in the delivery of aid, bringing peace and resolving conflict. We will ensure that the priorities my noble friend listed only yesterday will continue to be sustained and strengthened through 2021.
My Lords, I, too, add my dismay about the resignation of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. Does the Minister agree with the World Bank that the provision of sexual and reproductive health and family planning services alongside girls’ education is the most effective intervention we can make in developing countries? Will he, therefore, ensure that, despite the reduction in overseas aid, the money currently donated for those services will remain unchanged and will not be reduced proportionately?
My Lords, on that very issue, as the noble Baroness will know, I articulated very strongly for us to sustain our support for this important priority. As the noble Baroness may be aware, between April 2015 and March 2020, we reached an average of 25.3 million women and girls accessing modern methods of family planning per year. This remains an important priority, and, as the lead on PSVI in particular, I say that this remains very much in my policy and planning.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicholson and Lady Armstrong, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who were unable to put their questions.
Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Producer Organisations and Wine) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Agriculture (Payments) (Amendment, etc) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
We now come to the consideration of Commons reasons on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill. These proceedings will follow guidance issued by the Procedure and Privileges Committee. When there are counter-propositions, any Member in the Chamber may speak, subject to usual seating arrangements and the capacity of the Chamber. Any intending to do so should email the clerk or indicate when asked. Members not intending to speak on a group should make room for Members who do. All speakers will be called by the Chair.
Short questions for elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged; a Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk. The groupings are binding. Leave should be given to withdraw.
When putting the Question, I will collect the voices in the Chamber only. Where there is no counter-proposition, the Minister’s Motion may not be opposed. If a Member speaking remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. Lords following proceedings remotely but not speaking may submit their voices, Content or Not Content, to the collection of the voices by emailing the clerk during the debate. Members cannot vote by email; the way to vote will be via the remote voting system.
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Constitution Committee
1A: Because the Commons consider that eight years is a balanced and appropriate approach to ensure that parliamentary constituencies are updated sufficiently regularly.
My Lords, in moving Motion A, I will also speak to Amendments 2, 6, 7 and 8, on which I shall also beg to move that the House do not insist on those amendments, to which the Commons have disagreed.
Amendments 1 and 2 provide that a boundary review would be carried out every 10 years. The Commons have opted to disagree to these amendments, as eight years is deemed a better balanced and appropriate approach to ensure that parliamentary constituencies are updated sufficiently regularly without disruption to local communities and their representatives.
The Commons disagree to Amendment 6, which proposes a bespoke appointment system for boundary commissioners. The Commons consider that the existing public appointments system and the requirements of Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 are sufficient. The public appointment system used to recruit commissioners is robust and has led to the appointment of impartial and effective candidates for decades.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has since tabled an amendment in lieu on this topic, which we will return to in more detail later. However, I wanted to take the opportunity at this point to thank the noble and learned Lord for his constructive and positive approach to engaging with me and officials, and indeed other senior Ministers in the Government, on his amendment throughout the passage of the Bill. It was a model of the approach for a revising Chamber.
We have had many conversations at every stage since this Bill entered the Lords and have thoroughly debated the aspects of the amendment. Even though the Government were unable to accept the noble and learned Lord’s amendments, I hope he has found our exchanges of a good nature and believes that they have resulted in reassurances that made them worth while.
Under Amendment 7, the number of voters in each constituency would be permitted to vary from the UK average by plus or minus 7.5%, which equates to a total tolerance range of 15%. The Commons—the elected House—consider that the existing law on this matter, that of a tolerance range of 10%, is sufficient to ensure equal parliamentary constituency boundaries.
Finally, turning to Lords Amendment 8, this required the Government to make proposals for improving the completeness of electoral registers. The Commons consider that the Government have provided sufficient explanation of action they have taken and are taking to improve the completeness of the electoral registers.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, who so sadly passed away and who tabled the original amendment. It was a privilege to call him my noble friend when he was my Deputy Chief Whip during the years of coalition. In those Quaker values which have so enriched the Liberal party—as it was—and the Liberal Democrats over generations were rooted his principles of straight talking and straight dealing, which we all remember, as we remember his passion for his work and his good humour. He will be sorely missed, particularly by colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Since then, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, who had not previously taken part in the Bill, has tabled a new amendment in lieu. The Government cannot accept this amendment for reasons I have privately explained to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, but we will no doubt have an opportunity to discuss this further.
As is quite proper, this House asked the Commons to re-examine the detail of this Bill. The House of Commons did so and have returned a Bill to us that is now ready to go to Her Majesty for Royal Assent. The elected Chamber, to which this Bill directly relates, has considered your Lordships’ amendments, and indeed accepted three in relation to the automaticity provisions, and has made its will now known. I therefore urge noble Lords not to insist upon these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister for the courtesy and pleasure, if I may say so, of being able to debate the issues that lay behind the original amendment I put forward. I am extremely grateful to him for the courtesy and the trouble to which he has gone, and to his officials, who went beyond their ordinary tasks even in these most difficult times to help me.
I have put forward today an amendment to the original clause that was carried by this House. It is plain that the original clause would have brought about a better appointment system, but the decision has been made by the other place that they do not agree. As regards the amendment I have tabled today, it deals with a narrow and specific point of some constitutional importance. That is why I have put the amendment forward: to amend the clause on a very narrow basis.
However, I wish to make it clear now that I do not intend to press this amendment to a Division because, in the ultimate analysis, it must be for the other place to accept it. However, given the times in which we live, I think it is important to record the matter formally, because it may turn out to be of great importance in the future. As regards the more general points, they are of very considerable relevance at the present time. Although in what I have to say I will be a little critical of the Government, I wish to make it abundantly clear that anything I say in no way criticises the present Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor. This is a more general point, directed at the Government as a whole, now and for the future.
The amendment today, on this narrow point, has the objective of bringing the provisions for the appointment of the deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission into line with the principles of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which changed the position of the Lord Chancellor. Noble Lords may recall that the debate on the position of the Lord Chancellor was an extensive one. There were very detailed discussions between the judiciary, at that time led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the Department for Constitutional Affairs led by the Lord Chancellor— as he then truly was—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton.
A concordat was reached in 2004, which sets out very clear principles that were embodied in the Bill. Those principles were that the deployment and appointments to posts of judges were for the Lord Chief Justice. In respect of some, the Lord Chief Justice was obliged to consult the Lord Chancellor and, in the case of one or two, obtain his concurrence, but the important point is that the decision was that of the Lord Chief Justice. That was because the Lord Chancellor ceased to have any judicial functions and to be head of the judiciary. That is a basic and fundamental constitutional position. The Lord Chief Justice became head of the judiciary and responsible for judicial deployment and the allocation of responsibilities and—importantly—of cases.
The power of appointment to the post of deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission dates from a time when the Lord Chancellor was a judge and head of the judiciary. It is noticeable in the Act that the powers of the Lord Chancellor did not extend to the appointment of the deputy chairman in Scotland or Northern Ireland, because the Lord Chancellor was not head of the judiciary there. Unfortunately, though I think it is hardly surprising, having been involved myself at the time, this provision was overlooked. There were literally hundreds of posts and duties that the Lord Chancellor had accreted over the centuries; that one or two slipped by is not surprising. It is essential to rectify the position now for two reasons: first, to correct an error and, secondly—far more importantly—because the position of the Boundary Commission has changed. It is no longer advisory and its decisions are not subject to any review by Parliament; it decides and Parliament and the Executive Government carry out the decision. The position, as I made clear on the last occasion, is no different to the selection of someone to decide a case. When a judge decides a case, the matter must be enforced by the Executive and adhered to by Parliament. It is quite clear that the Lord Chancellor could not pick a judge to decide a particular case; it would be wrong.
As I could not understand why the Government were opposing this change, I asked three question that I hoped would elucidate the reasons for the decision. I asked if the Lord Chancellor was satisfied that a decision by him as Lord Chancellor, or by any successor, personally to appoint the deputy chairman would be in accordance with legal principles, given that it would be a decision in which the Lord Chancellor—unless he were a peer, which was of course the case prior to 2005—had an actual interest, as the Commission would be determining the boundaries of the Lord Chancellor’s own constituency. The answer I got was that, in making such an appointment, the Lord Chancellor would have to act within established law principles. It seems clear that the Government accept that there is a personal interest in this matter. My second question was whether it would be susceptible to a legal challenge. To that I got the answer that in making such an appointment the Lord Chancellor would have to act within established public law principles. Thirdly, I asked whether it was consistent with the duty placed on the Lord Chancellor to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary. The answer was that is not inconsistent for the Lord Chancellor to have a role in appointments that involve the selection of one member of the judiciary over another. Indeed, because the Lord Chancellor is still ultimately accountable for senior court appointments, it was considered sufficiently important for there to be ministerial accountability to that extent for the judicial appointment system. The same could be said of these appointments.
I am afraid that—as I shall explain in a moment—I must disagree with that last answer. Having received those answers drafted by his officials, I considered the matter of such constitutional importance that I asked the Lord Chancellor to confirm that he agreed with those answers, and that confirmation was given. I was told that he wanted it noted that the role of a constituency MP and Lord Chancellor were separate, and that the Lord Chancellor would always have to act consistently with public law principles.
To turn to an analysis of those answers, it seems quite clear that it is accepted—as the Government had to accept—that the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor had an interest in the decision to appoint a deputy chair, as a decision is being made about his own constituency. The position is plainly different. This is a decision in which the person selecting the chairman has a direct interest. It seems quite clear, therefore, that the decision of the Lord Chancellor to appoint a particular judge is susceptible to judicial review. Obviously, one cannot predict what will happen in the future, but there must be a real risk that an appointment could be challenged, either when made or, more seriously, subsequently. It would be said that it was impossible for someone who had such a conflict of interest to make a fair and impartial decision and, as importantly, to be seen to make a fair and impartial decision. The real risk here is for the future. Let us just assume that the Lord Chancellor does this: the Boundary Commission is appointed, someone is disappointed or unhappy with the result, the decision of the Government that it is for the Lord Chancellor to make this decision would provide a perfect means of bringing a judicial review of the appointment of the deputy chairman. This would risk—to my mind a matter of great regret—leaving the decision of the Boundary Commission open to challenge by an attack on its deputy chairman. That would be a very serious inroad into this new system, with which otherwise I entirely agree.
The decision to proceed on the basis is justified by the reason that the Lord Chancellor has an role in the appointment of judges but, as the parts of the amendment that I am not speaking about today make clear—because those parts were modelled exactly upon the way in which judges are appointed—the role of the Lord Chancellor is extraordinarily limited. He can ask the appointers to think again or he can give reasons for rejection, but those reasons must be in writing. Of course, if the Lord Chancellor had any role whatever in the future career of a judge who he would be entitled to appoint to be deputy chairman, there would be a serious risk of impropriety. Some would be able to say, “He appointed Judge X; Judge X knows what may happen in the future and knows the Lord Chancellor could advance him” and therefore his decision would not be an acceptable one.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has been kind enough to write to me to confirm one matter on which the Government have relied—the practice that has hitherto existed of the Lord Chief Justice being consulted. I shall return in a moment to the way in which this is put. I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for confirming that, although there is no statutory requirement, he gives an assurance,
“that I will commit to the Lord Chancellor formally consulting the Lord Chief Justice on all future appointments.”
However, that does not deal with the question of principle, which is clear in the Constitutional Reform Act that it is for the Lord Chief Justice, as head of the judiciary and the person responsible for the allocation of responsibilities in deployment, to make the decision. The consultation should be the other way around. This course of action that the Government are taking is in flagrant contradiction of well-established constitutional principles laid down in the Constitutional Reform Act.
I do not understand that, because the reasons given so far in this House and the other place, and by the Lord Chancellor, do not explain why there is to be this departure from principle. One inference could be that there is something to be gained from it. I do not understand what that could be, but of course I am not really involved in politics, so I am not sure why this is being insisted on. Possibly it could be said that the principles in the Constitutional Reform Act are somehow inapplicable. I do not understand that either. Or, more seriously, there may not be a commitment to the principles of the Constitutional Reform Act that underpin the independence of the judiciary and, as I shall explain in a moment, the rule of law. By insisting on retaining the position and not following the clear constitutional principles, Her Majesty’s Government are wrong in what they seek to do. It is a potential attack on the independence of the judiciary and thus corrosive of the rule of law.
I need not say much about that, because this House is well familiar with the attitude to the rule of law, having only recently had to consider Part 5 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which, I will just add, has damaged the position of the judiciary in the UK. In the position I have, I am in at least weekly contact—possibly more frequently—with lawyers and judges across the world, and it ought to be clear that very substantial damage has been done by Part 5 of that Bill. People who had always highly respected our system were deeply shocked at the Government’s decision to abnegate the rule of law.
Now, apart from the question of the views that others take of us, it is also quite important to realise how damaging it is when we turn away from the rule of law.
I will be a moment longer. I just want to add one final point—and it is this. One can see the damage done when a country such as China criticises Her Majesty’s Government for going back on a treaty. Its comments speak for themselves.
I will conclude by saying that we should be vigilant for the future. The threat to the rule of law is still there, and there are more matters to come. I hope very much that on future occasions this Government will be much more careful about the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
My Lords, I first apologise to the House and my fellow noble Lords for coming to this debate very late in the day. I am new to the Chamber, as many noble Lords will know, and I would argue that I and many others were thrown off track by the pandemic. I apologise, and for that reason I will not be putting my amendment to a vote—because I respect noble Lords and I respect this House.
However, I will not apologise for wanting to ensure that hundreds of thousands of young people are registered to vote and have a voice in our society. I have dedicated most of my adult life to ensuring that young people and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities can be part of our society—and without a vote, you do not have a voice.
Before I go into that, I pay tribute to David, Lord Shutt, who, as the Minister said, was our friend. I knew David more than 20 years ago when I was an activist, just starting out with Operation Black Vote. We had no money—and no money any time soon. I was asked by Stephen Pittam, who was the social and racial justice director of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, to put in an application. So I did, and I was called to a panel, and David Shutt was the chair. I said to him, “You and I know that Martin Luther King had a dream. But he had more than a dream. He had a plan. And step one of that plan was to politically empower African Americans and white poor people to be in a situation where they are not asking for justice and equality but demanding it. And they demand it by voter registration, by having a strong voice”. In typical Yorkshire fashion, David turned around and said—I hope noble Lords will excuse my language—“You’ve convinced me. Give him the bloody money, and good luck”. And we then began a journey, going out the length and breadth of our nation to register our communities to vote.
Our focus has been on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities where, as many noble Lords will know, the deficit is the greatest. We laid bare about 10 years ago the fact that more than 50% of young Africans in London were not registered to vote. The average for black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is 25%-plus, when the average across the board is around 15% to 17%. The problem that we are facing is not that there is a neutrality in some of our communities towards registering to vote and voting—there is antipathy towards it. People say, “Why should I vote when I do not see our institutions, locally or nationally, looking like us? There is no representation. How are they going to speak for me?” Too many say, “Why should I vote when policies are not addressing the deep-seated racial inequalities and disparities that affect our lives—in housing, education, health and many other areas? Why should I bother?” We as activists tell our communities and young people across the board, “That’s precisely why you should vote—because if you don’t have a voice, you can’t change anything”.
Twenty-five years later, from activist to one of your own as a fellow Peer, I come into this place and, once again, I bump into my old friend David, the late Lord Shutt. He says to me, “Young man, great to see you. We’ve got work to do. Your first step is to come and make a presentation to our committee”—which I did. He said, “Give us chapter and verse on how we can turn this round. Give us the tools to empower black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and young people across the board.” I said to him, “Look, it’s a no-brainer. At the very first instance, we should have automatic voter registration. You give them the insurance number and you make sure they’re registered. At least then our challenge to get them to vote is halfway done; we just need to give them the tools to do it.”
When I was presented with a proposition to come to the House and move this amendment, I jumped at the opportunity because, in terms of advising people when you give them their national insurance number on how they register to vote, this amendment is about the lowest-hanging fruit that there could be. In fact, it is so low, it is practically on the floor. Of course, I want us not just to take this low-hanging fruit. I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord True; I would like to think that we have become good friends since this conversation began. He said to me—I take you true to your word, sir—that not only will we look at this, but we must look at other areas of political empowerment for our young people, including in schools, colleges and universities. We have to bridge this in full citizenship mode. We must ensure that our communities are empowered.
Noble Lords know as well as I do that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our society, particularly on elderly people, too many of whom have died, but also right across the piece. The pandemic has also had a particularly devastating effect on young people. Many will lose their jobs, as has been said. Many will be from black and minority ethnic communities, who are disproportionately losing their jobs. Given that they are dramatically affected, it is incumbent on us to give them the tools to put things right. That cannot happen unless they have a political voice to make demands on us. As parliamentarians, it is our job to make it as easy as possible for them to play a role in our society—including through registering to vote and voting—by forging a future pathway that will give them the opportunities that they deserve.
My Lords, the following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Lords, Lord Rennard, Lord Beith and Lord Lexden. I will call each in turn, then if anyone else in the Chamber wishes to speak, they too can be called—[Interruption.] I beg noble Lords’ pardon; they are quite right. The noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Blencathra, both told me that they wished to speak; I just left them off the list because I did not write it down properly. I will call each noble Lord in turn then I will seek any other speakers in the Chamber. To begin with, I call the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.
My Lords, the last words in this House of my late noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland helped to carry an amendment to this Bill by 293 votes to 215. The majority for that amendment was 78 in a vote in which more than 500 Peers took part and which was supported by more than 80% of the Cross-Bench Peers who voted—but it was not accepted. The whole House should now be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, for having tabled a compromise amendment on a subject with which he has a long history of involvement and about which he spoke so powerfully and persuasively.
The suggested compromise is based on one of the key recommendations of the Select Committee, which studied electoral registration issues over many months and received evidence from more than 60 people, many of whom are experts in the field. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, was one of those experts. As he said, he has many years’ experience of campaigning with Operation Black Vote on the underrepresentation of black people on electoral registers. He pointed out in his evidence that he has been talking to such committees for more than 10 years; he said that the questions remain the same but there remains a lack of political will to deal with them. He also explained that the introduction of individual voter registration has had a huge impact in reducing the levels of registration from diverse communities.
The noble Lord’s amendment today is not the same as that of Lord Shutt and his colleagues. The Government are not asked in this amendment to consider the introduction of any form of automatic voter registration. In fact, they are not asked to do anything at all except tell us what proposals they have to do what they say they want to do anyway. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, it is the softest amendment possible. Ministers claim repeatedly that the Government want to improve the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers. The noble Lord’s amendment simply asks them to consider inviting young people to register to vote when they are notified of their national insurance numbers. Such a notification would cost nothing. The easiest way of registering to vote is with a national insurance number, so the best time to register is when you get your national insurance number.
Young people about to attain the age of 18 are all supposed to be registered and included in the calculations of the Boundary Commissions; their absence, and that of others, makes those boundaries unfair and, many would suggest, gerrymandered. These young people need to be registered in order to vote, obtain credit and be summoned for jury service. However, the latest figures from the Electoral Commission show that 75% of them are not registered to vote, as against only 6% of those aged over 65. This is an enormous disparity. The Government talk about their efforts in relation to registering young people, but if only 25% of those about to turn 18 are registered compared with 45% five years ago, those efforts are clearly failing—unless, that is, their real efforts are to reduce the number of young people registered to vote. If so, they should be honest about voter suppression, which might come from the Donald Trump playbook. Or, if this is not their aim, they should say why they have been unable to provide a single reason for not registering young people in this way. They have not been able to do so at any point in the four months that we have been considering this Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, the figures for registering young black people are even worse than they are for young people generally. The Joint Committee on Human Rights recently raised concerns that 25% of black people are not registered to vote, compared with 17% of the total population. If these figures are correct, they would mean that more than 80% of young black people about to attain the age of 18 are not registered to vote—and the danger is that they may never be, and that they may never take part in our democratic society.
This issue affects our democracy. It affects social mobility, as those not registered may not be able to obtain credit when they apply for it. It affects justice, as juries drawn from the electoral registers may be unrepresentative. The criminal sub-committee of Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges recently described problems with jury service, saying that
“there are currently many who are eligible but are not registered to vote and are not called for jury service.”
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is a compromise. It does not go as far as the Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 recommended, with cross-party support. The principle of registering young people automatically, or in this way, was supported by the senior Conservative election strategist the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, in that Select Committee and in the Grand Committee considering the Bill.
The same principles were strongly supported by the Conservative Party’s official historian, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, in the Select Committee and on Report. I am pleased that he is again supporting the principle of the amendment today. The last Labour Minister responsible for handling such issues, the noble Lord, Lord Wills, is sadly unable to attend, but he is a strong supporter of the principles of the amendment. All 133 of the 133 Labour Peers who voted on Lord Shutt’s original amendment voted for something that went far further than the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, seeks today.
I recently reread the House of Commons debate on Lord Shutt’s amendment. The principle of automatic voter registration was strongly attacked by Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg. He spoke knowing that he had vetoed MPs voting electronically in the same way that we do in this House, so he was speaking in the knowledge that the Conservative Whips could cast around 200 votes as proxies without MPs being allowed even to press a button for themselves. Even from this House we can say that that is an affront to democracy. Even with all his debating skills, Mr Rees-Mogg could voice no argument against notifying young people about how to register to vote when they are notified of their national insurance numbers. That is because there is no democratic argument against it.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, skilfully suggested a compromise of the kind that this House should be proud to support. My noble friend Lord Tyler will ensure that there is an opportunity for Members to vote on this issue. Please use your vote today to make sure that young people can vote in future.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, for his generous and kind words about Lord Shutt of Greetland—our friend David Shutt. They were very accurate and true. I knew David for over 50 years. He was a liberal to his fingertips, a democrat in every way, a proud upholder of nonconformist and Quaker values, and a proud Yorkshireman. He was a larger than life figure in this place and we will miss him enormously. If there is anything that I can do today by casting a vote that would further the cause in which he so profoundly believed—that young people must be drawn into our democratic system—I will do so with enthusiasm.
I refer to the amendment in lieu from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. He has worked assiduously on the Bill to try to safeguard the important principles at stake. It was obvious to me and everybody else that, the moment that Parliament could not delay or block Boundary Commission proposals, attention in some political quarters would shift to those who draw up those proposals. The pressure would be on who is appointed as boundary commissioners. It therefore became important to look at that carefully. We have done so over the course of the Bill, but I do not think we have reached an ideal solution.
We are in an anomalous situation on the position of Lord Chancellor, as was pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, by detailed reference to the debates on changes to the post, which I remember vividly. I have great respect for the present Lord Chancellor, who served on the Justice Committee when I chaired it. I know that he is committed to the most important principles of our legal system, but this is not an ad hominem case; we cannot make it depend on one individual. It is about the system we have for the future. When many other changes were made, powers previously held by the Lord Chancellor shifted to the Lord Chief Justice, as head of the judiciary. This power should have gone the same way.
We are no longer in an era in which we can safely rely on people to do the right thing, if we ever could. The political context has changed significantly, and we have had some examples of that, including the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and the Prorogation row. Things that people assumed would not happen happened. Positions that people assumed would not be taken up were taken up. We are no longer in an era in which we can safely assume that the holder of a political office will always put the integrity of the system ahead of pressing political concerns or matters that might seem important and high priority, but which should not be achieved by damaging the system and its fairness in the application of the rule of law.
That is why we should free the Lord Chancellor from any suggestion of political involvement in the appointment of the deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission. Put that safely in the hands of the Lord Chief Justice, who is not a political officeholder and is not subject to the same pressures. I wait with interest, but not, I am afraid, a great deal of optimism, to hear what the noble Lord, Lord True, says about the position. Expressions of confidence that people would never do things that they have not done in the past can no longer be relied on.
My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford. Like him and other noble Lords on all sides of the House, I deeply regret that the amendment cannot be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, who so effectively made the case for action to get more young people on the electoral registers just a few weeks ago on Report. Lord Shutt of Greetland will be remembered vividly and affectionately by all his colleagues, of whom I was one, who worked with him on the all-party Select Committee that considered the state of our country’s electoral system in detail, seven years after the passage of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. It would be a fine tribute to his memory if what might be termed the Shutt-Woolley amendment was incorporated in the Bill. If it is not, I hope that something like it wins parliamentary approval before too long.
When I spoke on the earlier Shutt amendment, I asked Members of the House to bear in mind that it provided two alternative routes by which tomorrow’s voters could be brought on to the electoral registers, at the ages of 16 and 17, in readiness to cast their votes when they turn 18. The first, as we have heard, proposed automatic registration if electoral registration officers were satisfied of their eligibility when national insurance numbers were issued. The Shutt amendment offered a second way to the goal, which all supporters of democracy surely must share—that of ending the grave under- participation of young people aged 18 and over in our country’s elections. The second method, as we have heard, involved no more than providing them with information about the process by which the precious right to vote can be acquired.
In responding to the amendment, the Government chose to ignore the second part altogether. Not one word was said about it from the Government Front Bench. Its supporters were called on to vote against it, on the grounds that automatic registration was objectionable in principle—an objection that many Conservatives do not share. The same thing happened when the Shutt amendment was debated in the Commons.
The new version before us omits the provision for automatic registration on which the Government based their entire opposition to the original amendment. The amendment proposes, in modest terms, that it should be permissible for young people, on whom the future success of our country depends, to be notified of what they should do to gain the right to cast a vote and play their part in our democracy. Can there really be a serious argument for not informing our country’s youngsters, who stand at the gateway of democracy, about what they need to do to pass through it, when information can be supplied to them readily and at very little cost as a result of today’s electronic miracles?
For noble Lords’ information, the next three speakers will be the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Blencathra and Lord Cormack.
My Lords, I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has said, with the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and with the very eloquent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. The Minister said that the House of Commons had given a view on this, but it is perfectly reasonable and normal for us to ask it to think a second time on issues where we believe that there is a very strong public interest, particularly constitutional issues, since we are a constitutional safeguard. There are not many others in our system. One is the courts, and we have heard from a former Lord Chief Justice, who also spoke extremely eloquently about the composition of the Boundary Commissions. When a former Lord Chief Justice raises concerns about possible gerrymandering of the Boundary Commissions, we should take note.
For all the reasons that have been given so far, the issue of engagement of young people in our democratic system is fundamental. It is not a peripheral issue for the future of this country, and it is all the more fundamental because of the current evidence of massive underregistration of young people. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, spoke with great passion about how ethnic minority groups are even more underrepresented than young people at large. The evidence is that in the 2017 election, only 64%—not even two-thirds—of 18 to 24 year-olds were even on the electoral register, so the rest were not even able to participate unless they went through the laborious process of registering themselves during the election. Many would then have missed the deadline, and I had not even thought about the very powerful point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, that if they are not on the electoral register, they are not available for jury service either. All these attributes of citizenship, which are fundamental to the future of our democracy, they are not engaged in.
Only 64% being registered is a huge condemnation of the status quo. The Minister cannot say that the system works and therefore, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The system is fundamentally broken, and not because of changes that go back a long time and which are hard to tackle but because of the introduction of individual registration, a reform introduced only six years ago, and which was itself, in respect of young people, unnecessary because, as the second aspect of this amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, referred to, makes clear, we know who all the 16 year- olds in the country are. It is not a mystery. They all get a national insurance card. The state thinks that it is important for them to be registered for taxation, but not to be registered to vote. These are fundamental issues, and if we have any role in our constitutional development as a country, we should be drawing them further to the attention of the House of Commons, and we should certainly be putting on the record, as emphatically as we can, that the status quo does not work satisfactorily at the moment.
In the previous two elections, since we have had individual registration playing through, there has been a fundamental underrepresentation of young people, particularly in minority and poorer groups. Also, young people are becoming increasingly politicised because of the scale of the issues affecting them—Brexit, Covid-19 and so on—and as soon as elections come, they suddenly and frantically seek to register. The figures from the Electoral Commission are that in the general election in 2019, 1.4 million young people registered after the calling of the election, and apparently most of the new registrations on 10 of the 15 days with the highest number of new registrations were of young people at that general election.
The Minister might say that this shows that the system is, to some extent, working, but I do not think that it shows that at all. It shows a massive crisis in registration. When young people realise that they are not registered, some, but only a proportion, take the active steps necessary to correct that in that very short window between the calling of the election and the final date for being able to register. This is not a system that is working, it is one that is fundamentally broken, and one where the remedies are very straight- forward. Automatic registration is very straightforward to implement. It could be done immediately and should have been done under this Bill, but the Government rejected it. The further amendment on the paper today, which I absolutely believe that we should carry, would simply draw to the attention of young people that they should be registered.
When there is a fundamental problem of this kind, one does not need to look for the motivation behind it because, in the time that I have been in this House, this is the fourth occasion on which we have addressed the issue of individual registration. It looks very straight- forward and clear to me. Not all members of the Conservative Party, but the electoral advisers of the Conservative Party think they have a direct political interest in voter suppression in general and in the underregistration of young people in particular. Looking at the tactics in this populist movement that has been sweeping the United States and Britain, unfortunately the Prime Minister, who is a representative of it—not as bad as Donald Trump but still pretty bad—is perfectly content to resort to such methods so that fewer young people are registered and vote. On all the evidence, that appears to be the case. This makes me, and, I hope, other noble Lords who take these issues to heart, all the more determined that these issues should be aired, not suppressed, and that we should send this issue back to the House of Commons a second time.
My Lords, I just popped in today to see this Bill put safety to bed, having participated extensively in Committee and on Report—speaking on it for far too long, noble Lords may wish to shout. I was therefore surprised to see the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and to hear his speech. I congratulate him on a passionate and thorough speech, but one which should have been made at Second Reading. It was a perfect example of a Second Reading speech, and it would also have gone down perfectly well in Committee.
The noble Lord has apologised to the House for coming to the matter late in the day, as he put it, for which he blamed the pandemic. We have all had to change our modus operandi because of the pandemic, but I cannot imagine why, over the past four months, he was unable to participate in any stage of this Bill, online or in the Chamber. While I participated upstairs in Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, participated from somewhere in the south-west—Devon, I presume—and many other noble Lords participated online. As a new Member, I made mistakes on the procedures, etiquette and courtesies of this House and had to apologise. I know he has apologised today, but the procedure that he has adopted, coming in with this amendment out of the blue at this late stage, is not the right thing to do in this House. I hope that he has not been used as a Trojan horse by the Liberal Democrats, because this has all the smell of a Liberal Democrat ploy. Someone else moves an amendment, the noble Lord has said that he will not vote on it, but it looks as though the Liberal Democrats will force a vote on ping-pong at this stage.
Irrespective of the merits of the arguments and the passionate speech by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, we should follow the usual customs and courtesies of this House at ping-pong.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blencathra makes a very important point, one that was acknowledged in his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, when he said that he would not be pressing his amendment to a Division. That is right. Reversing that famous quote from TS Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”, he was doing the wrong thing for the right reason, rather than the right thing for the wrong reason. I have great sympathy with him. We should move on with this Bill now, but we cannot escape facing up to the realities of compulsory registration.
Some of your Lordships may recall the phrase, “no taxation without representation”. If you are obliged to have your national insurance number and to pay tax, you should be obliged to be on the electoral register. I would go one step further: I believe in compulsory voting. That does not mean you cannot destroy your ballot paper or write, “A plague on both your houses” on it. I believe it is a civic duty to take part in the electoral process whether by casting or spoiling your vote.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, will not move his amendment to the Motion. A little bird tells me that it might be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I would not support that because it would not be appropriate.
I join in paying tribute to the late and delightful Lord Shutt of Greetland. I had the honour of dining opposite him on the long table in the week before he died. He brought a rumbustious good sense and good humour to our proceedings. As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, said, he will be sorely missed in all parts of the House.
It is important to move on. This is the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill. The other place has considered our amendments. While we should not refrain from playing ping-pong for quite a long time on certain Bills, such as the infernal market Bill, as I call it, in this case we should take heed of what the Commons has said and move on.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, also said that he would not put his amendment to the Motion to the vote. However, he raised a very important point on which we should all reflect at some length. The Lord Chancellor is now not really a judicial figure at all, but a political one. The Lord Chief Justice is not. The fundamental point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, made at some length and with great eloquence is valid and should be taken on board. However, for today, we should move on.
Are there any noble Lords present who were here at the beginning of this debate who would like to take part at this stage? No? In which case, I return to the list and call the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
My Lords, before I concentrate on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, I will make some general comments about the Bill. The Government’s response to the improvements made by your Lordships to the Bill, with large majorities, has been profoundly disappointing. However, my disappointment will pale into insignificance when many Conservative MPs discover in a couple of years’ time just how they have been fooled into thinking that their seats will be unaffected by boundary changes. The most careful independent analysis has demonstrated that the Government’s insistence on sticking to the narrow 5% variance in the electoral quota means that some two-thirds of all seats will be changed—all for no real correction of the perceived imbalance. Those MPs will not merely be disappointed; hundreds of Conservative MPs and their constituents will suffer unnecessary disruption. Even more significantly, there will be many blue-on-blue contests for the more winnable new seats in the mid-term of the Parliament, just when the Government is least popular.
As my noble friend Lord Rennard pointed out, Mr Rees-Mogg made no reference to that when, during an inevitably sparsely attended debate, he managed to overturn the improvements passed with large cross-party majorities in your Lordships House. It will be interesting to witness the reaction of his fellow MPs when they realise what he has let them in for. There would be an element of wry amusement for the rest of us if it were not for the avoidable impact on historic, natural and well-established communities. All being well, the political integrity of Cornwall will be protected, but such a desirable outcome will not be guaranteed elsewhere.
This was perhaps the major issue during our debates on the Bill. However, removing some of the other improvements may in due course also be recognised as counterproductive and constitutionally defective. I fear we may live to regret that the House could not endorse the proper concerns expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Beith.
I and my colleagues are especially pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, from the Cross Benches, has tabled his amendment to the Motion on the vital issue of electoral registration. Had this been at a different stage of the Bill, a quartet of senior Members from all parts of the House would have signed it. This is underlined by the strength of supporting speeches on all sides this afternoon. It is particularly appropriate that the noble Lord should lead on this. He has been a powerful champion and campaigner in non-party efforts to get more young people—especially from BAME communities and through Operation Black Vote—to take up their civic responsibilities and rights by registering. He gave evidence on the registration issue to the Select Committee of this House, chaired by our much-missed colleague Lord Shutt of Greetland.
At this point I should say how much I and my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches appreciate the tributes to David from all sides during the Commons debate and again this afternoon in your Lordships’ House. After a lifetime of principled devotion to this cause, his sincerity and clear advocacy of these practical steps towards a more comprehensive democracy shone through during his successful speech on Report.
As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and others have emphasised, this modest proposal would give practical effect to the aims to which Ministers have committed themselves. Without this kind of simple administrative adjustment, there is a real danger that the missing millions of unregistered young citizens will remain outside the system.
Ministers have reminded us that registering to vote is a civic duty. Unlike voting, which is entirely voluntary in Britain, co-operating with the registration process is a legal obligation unless the eligible citizen has a specific reason to be exempted. As my noble friend Lord Rennard reminded the House, the register is used to select for jury service. That is an important civic responsibility, which is not entirely voluntary. Failure to co-operate can lead to a fine of £1,000.
This proposal is not a form of automatic registration. Despite the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, it is not on the table for decision today. However, if the Government continue to block sensible ways to maximise registration, it could be argued that they are in a sense condoning law-breaking.
It has been clearly indicated that many of your Lordships on all sides of House wish to support this simple improvement. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is not able to move his Motion E1 to propose Amendment 8B in lieu, I should be happy to do so and to seek the opinion of the House at the appropriate moment.
I again pay tribute to all who have helped to ensure that your Lordships’ House has fulfilled its proper scrutiny function. This includes the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True. As I have said previously, that is the fundamental right and responsibility of this House, not least when MPs and the governing party may need the corrective of relatively dispassionate, non-partisan and independent scrutiny on electoral law. We do not have the same special interests to declare as they have, which could take them into very unfortunate realm of special pleading, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, made apparent.
Finally, I put on record on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, particularly all those who have worked on the Bill, our thanks and admiration for all those who have assisted the House, not least our excellent legislation adviser, Sarah Pughe. I thank the two Ministers and their team, the Public Bill Office and other officials of the House, as well as Members from all sides who value the integrity of the democratic process. I add thanks to those academic experts who gave us all such well-researched, non-partisan advice through all stages of the Bill.
My Lords, this has been a useful debate on some important amendments, which were agreed by your Lordships’ House but which, in their complete lack of wisdom, the Government chose to overturn in the Commons—and two of which, rightly, have merited special attention today.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, for tabling their counter- propositions. The former made a persuasive and constitutionally important case, to which I will return.
Before doing so, I would like to add my tribute to the late Lord Shutt of Greetland. His contributions on 8 October were, sadly, his last in this Chamber. His untimely death was of course a shock, but it is somehow fitting that that last speech was on expanding voter registration and encouraging people to engage in the democratic process—a cause which, as we have heard, he had championed for years, and one which the Government should take up with more than just warm words. If the future of our democracy is to mean anything, it will be through the full involvement of all our citizens in elections, be they at local, regional or national level.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made reference to “no representation without taxation”. I very gently point out that his party wants to extend representation without taxation by extending the right to vote to people who left this country maybe 40 or 50 years ago and have long since ceased to pay tax. But that is not on the agenda today.
I am saddened, although not surprised, by the Government’s rejection of all five amendments. Far from making the Government’s life difficult, they sought to address genuine concerns in a constructive manner. I particularly regret the lack of a bit of greater tolerance, which would, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, have helped even Conservative MPs—but it would particularly have helped those who are drawing lines round the valleys and mountains of Wales to have seats that had coherence for the Member seeking to represent them.
However, it is clear that there is not a mood for compromise, regardless of the merit of our arguments. To borrow a famous phrase, you can lead the Minister towards a sensible position but, unfortunately, you cannot make him adopt it—or, at least, not now.
One of the major arguments that we had with the coalition Government, which of course included the Liberal Democrats as well as the Minister’s own party, was over the reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600, despite the population having grown and despite almost the same number being put into your Lordships’ unelected House at the same time. We warned the two parties then and we voted against them, but they were determined. So I am delighted that they have now seen the sense of our arguments. Welcome to our viewpoint—and perhaps in due course they will see the good sense behind Amendments 1, 2 and 7.
In particular, given the cogent arguments, and the concern of this House, we had hoped in all sincerity to see some movement on the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. Given that Parliament will no longer have any backstop role over boundaries, the independence of commissions —which will no longer be advisory; they will effectively be law-makers—is even more vital. The noble and learned Lord sought to depoliticise, and therefore legitimise, the appointments process.
The Government’s position is a little concerning. It is true that some might be comforted by the departure of certain personnel from No. 10; nevertheless, the only true guarantee of independence is a transparent process guaranteed in law. Indeed, dealing, as we are, with this issue just at this moment, or, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, in the times in which we live, when others such as Peter Riddell and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, have questioned how supposedly independent appointments are actually made, a very clear signal in this Motion that no elected politician would have any say would have been warmly welcomed.
The noble and learned Lord’s proposal—that appointments should be made by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, rather than by the Lord Chancellor —is an obvious way of ensuring and demonstrating the required independence. As he set out, given that the old rules were made when the Lord Chancellor was a Peer—and thus had absolutely no personal interest in the boundary of any seat—and a senior lawyer with other roles in judicial appointments, bringing today’s Boundary Commission appointments in line with other such appointments would have made absolute sense. The involvement of an elected MP, possibly a non-lawyer, in a role historically held by a non-elected senior lawyer simply does not make sense.
Again, sadly, we have to recall that the Government’s record in the vow of their recent Lord Chancellor—nothing to do with today’s—to uphold the rule of law was somewhat undermined when the judges were attacked over Brexit and the then incumbent failed to rally to their support. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, the current Lord Chancellor has stated that
“the roles of constituency MP and Lord Chancellor are separate and the Lord Chancellor will always have to act consistently with public law principles”.
I hope that that will indeed be the case when the new appointments are made, but I still regret the Government’s failure to accept Motion C1.
The Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is surely sensible, and is hardly in conflict with any government policy. It aims to provide information on voter registration to new recipients of a national insurance number. It could not be easier and, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, it is the right thing to do. Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, it is cheap—in fact, it is probably free. The text drops the original provision for automatic registration but would achieve some of that by “catch them early and then keep them”.
As has been said, participation is the lifeblood of any democracy. The Prime Minister may have struggled in recent weeks to say that every vote in a certain election should be counted, but I think that the overwhelming majority of the public takes that for granted. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, regardless of age, ethnicity or any other circumstances, everyone deserves a voice. I go further: we need to hear those voices. We should all be worried that there are groups in society, predominantly of course the young and BAME people, whose voices are not heard. They are disproportionately absent from our elections and then, I fear, sometimes from the policies that shape their lives.
There really is no reason why the Government should not accede to this amendment, unless they have some very good new initiatives that are about to be announced, or a more suitable way of achieving the same end. This would be just one step towards increasing registration but it would be helpful and, as we have said, could be done at no cost.
As I have said on other amendments and other ping-pongs, it is actually the Government, not the House of Commons, whom we are seeking to persuade. I am certain, by the way, that on a free vote this amendment would have been passed overwhelmingly in the other House, although of course on a whipped vote the original amendment was overwhelmingly defeated. So sending it back, when the whip in the Commons remains, would, I fear, achieve absolutely nothing, except perhaps some publicity for Liberal Democrat newsletters—but, seriously, no more than that. They know it and we know it—it would be back here tomorrow afternoon if we are sitting, and, if not, presumably on Monday: that sort of timing.
My plea to the Minister is to take up the suggestion, if not in legislation then in actuality, because it does not need an Act of Parliament to do what the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has asked. Ultimately, progress can be secured only with the support of the Government. Passing an amendment today that would be overturned in hours would simply give false hope to those who seek this change. However, more worryingly, it would be defeated down there, and that would be the worst thing to happen. For this suggestion—that all people getting their NI number should be told about how to vote—to be rejected by the House of Commons would not further the cause, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Beith, said; it would make it look as though it might be stopped. That would be regrettable for those who support the cause—we all want this to happen—and it would not help.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. My brief rather optimistically said “this short debate”. In fact, it has not been a short debate because it has been an important one. Perhaps at times, as someone said, it has strayed a little closer to Second Reading than consideration of Commons Reasons, but I fully understand the passion and commitment with which all noble Lords have spoken on the amendments they are concerned with, including, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley.
Not to waste time, I turn to the two amendments before us. They are in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. As we know, the amendment in lieu tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, relates to the role of the Lord Chancellor in appointing deputy chairs of the Boundary Commissions and proposes that the Lord Chief Justice appoints them rather than the Lord Chancellor. Some people have expressed concern about the nature of the Lord Chancellor, including the noble Baroness opposite, but I must remind her that it was her party which so sadly removed the Law Lords from your Lordships’ House, to its great detriment. Indeed, that created the nature of the Lord Chancellor about which she complains today. It was a creation at the back of a press release by the Labour Government. This is something that we have to deal with and people with the integrity of my right honourable friend the current Lord Chancellor are seeking to deal with it.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, provided us with some questions and I undertook to answer them. However, the noble Lord read out the questions and the answers that we had provided. I shall not go through them all. The record is there in Hansard, but I will repeat that the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that the roles of constituency MP and Lord Chancellor—and indeed any other Minister—are separate and that the Lord Chancellor will always have to act consistently with public law principles in making this or any appointment.
As for whether it is susceptible to legal challenge, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, speculated, the Lord Chancellor’s role in making such an appointment is subject to established public law principles and could be challenged by way of judicial review. The noble and learned Lord lamented that. On other occasions I have been urged in this House not to press proposals and propositions that do not allow for judicial review. That is the position and your Lordships must draw your own conclusions.
I was also asked whether it was inconsistent for the Lord Chancellor to have a role in appointments that could involve the selection of one member of the judiciary over another. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord spoke at some length on this question. It is, however, the process currently for the appointment of High Court judges. The reason the Lord Chancellor is still ultimately accountable for senior court appointments is that it was considered sufficiently important for there to be ministerial accountability to that extent. Ultimately, for something so important, ministerial accountability to Parliament is of great importance. The same could be said of these appointments.
The noble and learned Lord referred to a letter that he had received from the Lord Chancellor, part of which he quoted. Perhaps with the authority of a Minister speaking from the Dispatch Box, I can read it out as binding on the Government:
“I would like to assure you”,
wrote the Lord Chancellor,
“that I will commit to the Lord Chancellor formally conducting the Lord Chief Justice on all future appointments.”
My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor said that he hoped that would provide the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the House with the assurance they seek. For that reason, I am pleased to hear that the noble and learned Lord is minded to withdraw his amendment and I hope he will do so.
I return to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. As many noble Lords have said, it is an amendment in lieu to Lord Shutt’s original amendment. I will not repeat what I said about Lord Shutt at the start. I offered that spontaneously and I do not think I can do better than that, so I will not reiterate the fine, warm and justified words from other noble Lords in this debate. However, respect for an individual does not necessarily make a case for making law. Respect for an individual and their life’s work imposes a sense to remember the witness of that individual and to reflect on the things that they said.
My noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook and the Leader of the House in another place spoke at length in Grand Committee, on Report and in Commons consideration of your Lordships’ amendments. The Government have taken and continue to take action in great detail in this important space of increasing voter registration. Noble Lords who been taking part in these debates will know that I have said that the House will have the opportunity to return to debate electoral issues such as this again when parliamentary time allows. I cannot make any promises, but it is legislation that I hope will come sooner rather than later.
We do not see this amendment as necessary. While the Government agree that the completeness and accuracy of the electoral registers is critical and have set out on numerous occasions the work we are doing, we do not believe that the amendment is necessary. We have introduced online registration, which has made it easier, simpler and faster for people to register to vote. It can take as little as five minutes. We are liberating more time for EROs, on whom the statutory responsibility for maintaining complete and accurate registers lies, to have more time to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, including making changes to the annual canvass. Improvements have been made and will be made in legislation in future Sessions. Scepticism was expressed about that sentiment but it is important to note that recent elections have been run on the largest ever electoral registers.
Although I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, I told him at a meeting we had on Tuesday—which I greatly appreciated and the Government look forward to working with him in future, as he asked for in his speech—that when a national insurance number is issued, the individual receiving it is informed that they can use the number to register to vote. That happens now. Could this wording be made clearer? I am sure it could. I can confirm that officials are already working with their counterparts across government in DWP and HMRC to see what can be done.
However, I do not believe that this requires a statutory amendment at this late stage; it can be done through non-legislative means. Obviously, the Government will report back on the progress of that consideration: if not, we will no doubt be probed in future electoral registration in this matter. I hope, in answer to the noble Baroness opposite, many of whose remarks towards the end of her speech I agreed with, that it is possible to take this forward through non-statutory means. I hope we will do so, having put that on the record in your Lordships’ House.
I hope we will not have a Division on this. As my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Blencathra reminded us, it is not the manner in which your Lordships normally operate at this late stage. I was surprised, therefore, to hear the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who had not had the kindness to inform me, as Minister responsible, that he was proposing to do this—I use the word “kindness” rather than another. I wonder whether the noble Lord had an IT problem when it came to tabling his own amendment. I am not following my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s speculations, but it is interesting that this action is coming from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is an unusual action in this House to deny permission to a noble Lord wishing to withdraw his amendment. Surely, it is all the more unusual at this very late stage on a new amendment.
The House is facing great difficulties in conducting business in a hybrid way during the coronavirus crisis. It appears that all sides are behaving with great patience and restraint and deserve the highest praise. I believe that this is surely an occasion for restraint. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, has asked to withdraw his amendment, and in all respect to him, I believe that he should be allowed to do so. The Boundary Commissions, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said, need to start their work; the elected House wishes them to start their work. The last review was delayed by the Liberal Democrat Party, as we know, and I hope it is not going to be a case of “Here we go again.”
I do not believe that there is any reason for further delay and I remind the House that, under the Bill, the review that we in this House and the other place are endorsing will be based on the number of electors, including attainers, on the electoral registers as at 2 March 2020, so it will not be possible for the Boundary Commissions to take into account any changes to registration levels after that date for the purpose of the 2023 review. Therefore, the amendment would, in any case, be ineffective in acting on the review before us. I sincerely hope, in these circumstances, saying as I do that we will give the highest respect, now and in future, to the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and others, that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will not take the exceptional action he proposes in denying permission to withdraw.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, noble Lords from all sides of the House have provided invaluable scrutiny and, in one respect at least, a major improvement through the amendment pressed by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. They have provided invaluable scrutiny and expertise, which we will carry forward when we consider electoral legislation in Sessions to come. The Government have listened to that advice and the Bill has been amended, as I said.
While we have not always agreed on the detail, this has been a novel experience for me: it is the first Bill that I have had the opportunity—the honour, I should say—of taking through your Lordships’ House. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part and tabled amendments for the brilliance and, often, the brio with which their arguments have been put. The word “passion” has been used, and I accept that word. In particular, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and his team for the constructive and courteous way we have gone about things. It has meant a lot to me personally, and it has been extraordinarily helpful, productive and reflexive in carrying our public debate forward. Like others, of course I thank all the officials involved, and particularly my own Bill team for the prompt service they have given us all.
The legislation will allow the Government to deliver a manifesto commitment to updated and equal parliamentary boundaries to ensure that every vote counts the same. Current boundaries are horribly out of date and there is no time for delay. It is surely time, as my noble friend Lord Cormack wisely urged, that the Bill now passes and the Boundary Commissions will be able to begin their next review without further delay and finally have constituencies that are updated and reflective of the past two decades of demographic change.
Motion A agreed.
2A: Because the Commons consider that eight years is a balanced and appropriate approach to ensure that parliamentary constituencies are updated sufficiently regularly.
Motion B agreed.
6A: Because the Commons consider that the existing public appointments system and the requirements of Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 are sufficient.
Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C) not moved.
Motion C agreed.
7A: Because the Commons consider that the existing law on this matter is sufficient to ensure equal parliamentary constituency boundaries.
Motion D agreed.
8A: Because the Commons consider the Government has provided sufficient explanation of appropriate action the Government has taken and is taking to improve the completeness of the electoral registers.
Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)
8B: Insert the following new Clause—
“Improving completeness of electoral registers for purposes of boundary reviews
(1) Within a year of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament proposals for improving the completeness of electoral registers for purposes of boundary reviews.
(2) The proposals in subsection (1) may include requirements for the Department for Work and Pensions to notify individuals of the criteria for eligibility to vote and of the process for making an application to join the register when they are issued with a new National Insurance number, and to encourage them to do so.””
Motion E agreed.
Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) (Amendment) Order 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this package of statutory instruments ensures that traffic can be managed effectively in Kent should there be any disruption on the short straits. This project is called Operation Brock.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have been working with partners in Kent to continue to develop Operation Brock during the transition period. Brock is a co-ordinated multi-agency response to cross-channel travel disruption, specifically when capacity for heavy commercial vehicles—HCVs—to leave the UK through the port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel is significantly restricted. We are prepared to use Brock should cross-channel disruption occur due to the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the transition period, although it could also be deployed as a result of disruption relating to bad weather or industrial action. These three orders are a vital part of Operation Brock, as they will significantly expand and strengthen the enforcement regime that underpins it.
The first SI—the (No. 1) (Amendment) order—will see the extension of the sunset clause in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) Order 2019 to 31 October 2021. To give some history: the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1) Order 2019 provides powers to direct drivers to proceed to a motorway, removing the vehicle from the local road network, and powers to direct drivers not to proceed to the Channel Tunnel or the port of Dover except via a specified route or road.
The (No. 1) order 2019 also sets out the amount of the financial penalty deposit for offences relating to Operation Brock, and it may be helpful if I briefly explain the roadside enforcement regime. A driver with a UK address who commits a road traffic offence can be issued with a fixed penalty notice, which can be paid immediately or within 28 days. However, if a driver does not have a UK address and could avoid that follow-up enforcement action, the police or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency can require the immediate payment of a financial penalty deposit. If a driver cannot pay the deposit, their vehicle can be immobilised. This regime is used for many road traffic offences and ensures that penalties are paid. The deposit for breaching the traffic restrictions included in the other two 2019 orders as amended, and for failing to comply with a traffic officer exercising the (No. 1) order 2019 powers, is set at £300. The fixed penalty notice amount is also set at £300 by the (No. 3) (Amendment) order 2020.
The (No. 2) (Amendment) order is a “made affirmative” order that will extend to 31 October 2021 the sunset clause of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent Order (No. 2) 2019, which prohibits cross-channel HCVs from using local roads in Kent other than those on the approved Operation Brock routes. To facilitate traffic flow, the legislation also requires cross-channel HCVs to remain in the nearside or left-hand lane when using those parts of the Operation Brock routes that are dual carriageway local roads. Appropriate exceptions to this prohibition have been provided after consultation with the Kent Resilience Forum and freight associations.
Finally, the (No. 3) (Amendment) order has been laid using the negative procedure. This order extends the sunset clause of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent Order (No. 3) 2019 to the same date as the others, so they will all expire on 31 October 2021.
The amending order further defines the strategic roads which will require HCV drivers to obtain a Kent access permit through the GOV.UK “Check an HGV is ready to cross the border” service before setting off on an international journey via Kent. This amending order would also allow vehicles carrying specific priority goods to obtain a priority goods permit that allows them to bypass the Operation Brock queues. It also clarifies to whom local haulier permits may be issued in line with Kent County Council guidelines.
To summarise, these amending instruments continue the powers from the 2019 orders by extending the sunset clause. These instruments allow for an enforceable border readiness check to be conducted. At the end of the transition period, the UK will become a third country and the customs authorities in EU member states will introduce EU border and customs rules. Traders will need to complete new processes for customs and provide documentation to their hauliers, who will need that documentation when carrying goods, to enable smooth movement across the border. The border readiness checks will look to see whether a haulier has those documents. This is important because, without the right documentation, drivers may not be able to complete their journey to the EU. The UK port may turn them away if they do not have the required documentation—for example, some of the customs documentation will need to be scanned at the Eurotunnel check-in before the vehicle can board the train.
These orders are vital to sensible traffic management in Kent. It is critical that we demonstrate to the public and to businesses that Operation Brock has been developed and strengthened from the 2019 orders and that it will be ready, fully operational and enforceable on day one should it be needed to deal with the impact of any cross-channel disruption. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her words. She made it sound as if these amending orders were a relatively straightforward way of dealing with the post-Brexit situation but, taken together with everything else we know, it conjures up something closer to a hard border in Kent than the free, frictionless trade we were promised after Brexit.
I have four areas to raise with the Minister but, when she winds up, can she first indicate whether any of this is likely to be included in any trade agreements that might be reached within the next few days? Rumour is that there is a specific sub-agreement on road haulage that might make life a bit easier than what she has described when Operation Brock would be needed.
The first point I want to raise is on guidance. Over the weekend, I tried to read the Government’s 24-page guidance for hauliers and commercial drivers. It is not an easy read or particularly user-friendly, but it is better than the 262-page document they issued the previous month. However, it is not comprehensible at a glance. What efforts have the Government made to ensure that information is communicated to haulage offices and to individual drivers, who themselves may be of multiple nationalities, in a form that is easily comprehensible? What is surely needed here at this late stage is a user-friendly handbook, plus perhaps an electronic equivalent. Can the Minister report on discussions with the industry and the trade unions on a short, easy-to-read guide for hauliers and drivers to understand?
Secondly, on the related point of enforcement, failure to produce correct documents will fall on individual drivers who may have their vehicles demobilised or turned back, and who may themselves be fined £300, as the Minister explained. My point is that the penalty should surely fall on the company, which has the legal responsibility for documentation, not on individual drivers. It is surely wrong to penalise the worker or subcontracted driver for the failures of the haulier’s administration. Has any discussion on this arrangement involved the trade unions representing drivers? I understand that the Minister’s colleague, Rachel Maclean, told some of our colleagues that she would meet Unite the Union but that, as of this morning, no such meeting has yet been arranged.
The majority of drivers employed by foreign and British hauliers operating on the cross-channel routes are not British nationals; many are, of course, eastern European. There is a difficulty not only of communication but, potentially, of collecting any fine if it falls on the driver and not the company. There is another problem here as well. There will be a need to differentiate drivers and trucks of different nationalities. I understand that there will be an electronic system, which is not completely working properly. It will be able to do so to a degree, but what then happens? For example, trade between Ireland and the remaining countries in the EU mainly transits via Great Britain, but Irish lorries from an EU member state—Ireland—will presumably have easier access through French and Belgian ports, so should the UK side of this operation not allow them to go through more easily? What arrangements have been made for this Irish trade? Will it be given priority, as would logically be the case? While I am about the Irish trade, what are the equivalent arrangements at Holyhead and Fishguard?
Regarding Operation Brock, traffic management and parking, these regulations imply an enormous operation. They envisage situations where the traffic is either near static or gridlocked. Does responsibility for enforcement and Operation Brock, with traffic management on the M2, M20 and feeder roads, fall on the Kent Police or some new organisation? I understand that document checks will be carried out by DVSA personnel. Is the cost of all this to come out of general taxation or a grant to DVSA, Kent County Council or Kent Police? Does the operation involve customs officers and Border Force staff in checking other aspects of the documentation? What are the additional cost and manpower resources for that operation? It is potentially an enormously substantial traffic management task.
Moreover, how will local commercial traffic which operates only within Kent and south-east England—not in international trade at all—be allowed to proceed and not get caught up in the gridlock of international trade? How, for example, will those lorries given key priority because they are carrying live animals or fresh produce be able to work their way through and who is responsible for seeing that they do? Is that the police or the DVSA, and how will they have the authority to get them through?
Are there systems for communicating severe delays back upstream, so that lorry drivers coming through the country either divert or rest well before they reach Kent, so that the situation does not get worse? I understand that hauliers and Unite the Union have also raised the question of facilities at the lorry parks, where drivers may have to stay for hours, if not days, in some cases, if the situation gets really bad. Frankly, a few Portaloos scattered along the M20 is not sufficient.
Finally, can the Minister clarify something on phasing in? In dealing with traffic coming the other way, into the UK, the Government have indicated that they do not initially intend to impose heavy checks at Dover and that the system will be phased in in five stages. Is there a similar understanding with the EU, or with the French and Belgian authorities, so that there will be a phasing-in of their controls the other side of the channel? If that were the case, it would ease the problem on this side to a degree and much in these orders would therefore not often be needed.
My Lords, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said, a large number of drivers involved in international haulage working for either British or continental companies are saying that if the arrangements in this country for their conduct through it are too onerous, they will opt not to come to Britain and seek work elsewhere. If that is to be the case, it will lead to a crisis in the haulage industry. Drivers will obviously not travel here from Spain with fruit, for example, if they are to be heavily delayed because that will far outweigh the earnings which they would get.
I hope that the Minister will think about the use of traffic officers to enforce very carefully. I remember that when PCSOs were introduced into the police force there was a lot of argument about what powers they had. Bearing in mind the reluctance of government to allocate enough police to roads anywhere, it seems time that the Government faced up to the question of how much power will be given to officers, particularly if they are to undertake duties as envisaged in these instruments.
My major point, and I have told the Minister of this, is that I believe we are in danger of having, virtually, a hygiene crisis along the whole of the routes in and out of the ports. There is already a problem in Kent with a lot of human waste. It is a lot of trouble. Haulage firms have never provided adequate facilities for drivers, as is the case in most other industries, but it is important that these issues are faced. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to a few Portaloos strewn here and there along the motorways. It is a much more serious problem than that. These people have to be able not only to use the loo but to wash, eat and sleep. The proper facilities will need to be provided, unless the arrangements with the EU are much easier than we believe.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to some part of the agreement which might make things easier, but it is a very fragile arrangement which depends on timely arrivals of vehicles at points of departure and their swift clearance away from points of arrival. Unless that is met, after Christmas the Government will be faced with an almighty crisis, which they are going to have to deal with.
My Lords, I wish to declare a kind of interest in this debate. I am a resident of the Isle of Thanet in the county of Kent, and as such have an interest in some of these important issues, especially those before the House today: the commercial and environmental aspects that impinge on the county of my birth—St Peter’s, Broadstairs, to be exact. Some noble Lords will have other, very meaningful reasons for entering this debate, and I look forward to hearing those and, indeed, the Minister’s reply to this short debate. As a remainer, I would have hoped that the instruments before us were unnecessary—although there have been traffic problems surrounding the outskirts of Dover for as long as I can remember—but we are where we are.
In this short debate I wish to dwell on the amount of money that has been expended in such a prolific way, reflecting the level of stupidity, when taking these three instruments together, mindful of the fact that no doubt the problems envisaged may never take place at all. I wish to dwell on that narrow yet important part of the instruments before us today. In that regard, I recently asked some Parliamentary Questions of the Minister sitting on the Government Bench today. I was concerned about the costs to the taxpayer that have already been expended in relation to the Manston Airport project. As an aside, I am sure everyone here will know that Manston Airport is the largest airstrip in the country and played a great part in the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.
The Answers to the Questions that I put to the Minister concerning the Manston Airport project were that
“between August 2015 to June 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) has paid a total of £19.4m for the use of Manston Airfield as a lorry park”—
it might be of interest to noble Lords that not one lorry has been parked at Manston during that period—and that some £10.3 million has been expended
“as part of the EU Exit no deal preparation contingency planning and £9.1m for the use of Manston Airfield for business as usual”,
whatever that means,
“and Operation Stack. This has enabled DfT to use Manston Airfield to hold HGVs for traffic management purposes”
in the event of a dispute. Yes, Minister, the money spent is of concern, but imagine the net effect on the villages of Manston, Minster and Monkton, and the surrounding areas, of what they have had to put up with for over a year. What the Minister’s department refers to as a temporary backup holding lorry facility causes disruption not only to the villages mentioned but to traffic generally. The department described the measure as temporary—needed for a period of six months based on current planning, it was said—when in fact it has been going on for some 18 months.
That is not the end of the disruptions taking place for those people: there is also the extra cost of flood- lighting, security and road diggers, while the entire airfield has been covered in cones for months for no obvious reason. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will respond and give some very good explanations for why so much money has been expended unnecessarily on these projects.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, who obviously knows what he is talking about and speaks with great local knowledge.
I thank my noble friend for setting out these orders so clearly, but they raise concerns. In effect, they extend the sunset provisions from the end of this year to the end of October 2021. I have various questions for my noble friend based on the Explanatory Memoranda for the orders. First, the orders refer to a position where in January it seems about 60% of the normal flow will be unimpeded—the memorandum states that that is about 6,500 vehicles—but that rises to 7,000 in February 2021. I wonder why it rises; is that because of increased usage in February?
Nothing is said beyond February 2021, but the sunset provision lasts until October. Is it anticipated that this will continue until October, and is there any assessment of what its impact is likely to be thereafter? Presumably, if it is extending until October 2021, there must be an anticipation of delays throughout that time. The orders talk of a risk of some additional friction at the border, at least initially. I appreciate that, but it seems to be quite some friction if it is going on for nine months plus—10 months, in fact.
I want to ask my noble friend about local involvement. It is to be welcomed that the Kent Resilience Forum is central to the implementation of the orders, but I wonder how it is being engaged. How often does it meet the ministerial team? When was the last time they met so that some of the forum’s local knowledge could be made use of and the ministerial team was made truly aware of the impact that this is going to have in Kent?
With regard to the implementation locally of Operation Brock, how many staff have been recruited, what training has been put in place for them and, importantly, who is paying for those staff? Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others, I am concerned about the lavatory and washing facilities that are going to be made available. It is so important that we have proper hygiene facilities. As can be appreciated at the moment, this is something that everyone is rightly going to be concerned about. Could my noble friend expand on what proper facilities are being provided for the 6,500 vehicle drivers anticipated in January and the 7,000 anticipated in February?
It is not just washing and lavatory facilities that are important, important though they are; what about food outlets and so on? I also wonder, given the importance of having the appropriate paperwork, if there is going to be internet access, whether at Manston airfield or anywhere else. If my noble friend could say something about that, it would be appreciated because that point is central.
Are there any special considerations in the Covid pandemic period that have been brought to bear? Obviously, when this was first considered in terms of an earlier possible delay to a Brexit agreement, there was no pandemic. There has been a pandemic since. How has that been factored in? Is the prospect of all those people in close proximity presenting particular problems? How are we addressing that?
Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I am concerned about the position regarding Holyhead and Fishguard. I appreciate that is not directly an issue here but I wonder whether my noble friend can say something by way of reassurance that we are on top of that issue. I know this point came up yesterday at Oral Questions, at least with regard to Holyhead, and it appears that there are some difficulties there too, although perhaps not of the same magnitude. Perhaps she can say something about that.
These orders appear to be specific to Kent. I understand that, but given the impact that all this is having, are we sure that it will not have an impact on the surrounding counties of Essex, Sussex and Surrey, and the capital, London, as well? If not, what are we doing about the position in the adjoining counties and areas? Are we ensuring that there is proper publicity in the surrounding areas—indeed, throughout the country—so that people travelling to Kent will be aware of the problems involved in doing so, particularly close to Dover, Ashford and so on? There are many considerations, and I appreciate that my noble friend might not have answers to all the questions. If she does not, I shall be happy to receive a letter from her, with a copy placed in the Library.
I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the orders. However, she did so somewhat blithely, as if these were a couple of routine matters that could swiftly be disposed of—whereas, as my noble friend Lord Pendry outlined, we are talking about events that will have an enormous impact on the county of Kent and elsewhere.
There are also some radical departures from what has been accepted as normal policing in the United Kingdom. I refer the Minister to the explanatory memorandum issued with the orders, and especially to paragraph 6.1, which mentions
“a financial penalty deposit of £300 to be taken immediately at the roadside from a person without a United Kingdom address who is believed to have committed the offence of contravening the new restrictions”.
This is a vast departure from our normal procedure. The Police Federation has for many years been emphatic about the police’s desire not to be seen as fine collectors on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. I wonder what conversations have taken place with the federation about these proposals. Can the Minister tell us whether there are any other motoring offences that involve the police habitually stopping motorists at the roadside and given them on-the-spot fines? I know that happens in other parts of the world, but it does not happen in the United Kingdom.
Three hundred pounds is a not insubstantial sum. How many lorry drivers drive around the United Kingdom with £300 in their back pocket? Maybe there will be other arrangements. Will Visa be acceptable, or perhaps PayPal? Will people have to use a mobile phone to arrange a transfer from a bank account? Have these proposals, and their impact on the ground, been thought through?
Who will administer all this? The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, spoke about the number of heavy goods vehicles that could be involved under the orders, but when I looked online, the Kent road police unit appeared to consist of about 100 officers. Are they to be deployed entirely on Operation Brock, or are they still expected to carry out their other duties? Has the police and crime commissioner for Kent been consulted about the deployment of the police in this way? The Explanatory Memorandum mentions 5,000 or 6,000 lorries. That will be no small task for police documentation checks. Traffic officers are specifically mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum, but this is difficult to envisage with only 100 traffic officers. If they are to be deployed entirely on Operation Brock checks, what will happen to road policing generally in that part of the United Kingdom?
The documentation issue was barely mentioned. The Government have talked about recruiting 50,000 extra customs officers to deal with the documents. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many of those customs officers have actually been recruited, as we come to finally leaving the European Union.
Her Majesty’s Government are supposed to be producing a driver’s explanatory handbook to explain all these regulations to drivers. It is going to be in 18 languages. So far, we have not even seen one in English; I cannot speak about the other 17. Can the Minister tell us when this handbook is to be produced, bearing in mind that we are only a few weeks away from its being necessary?
The Road Haulage Association—the very people most involved in these matters—has been fairly scathing about the Government’s preparatory work in the run-up to 31 December, recently describing the proposals as “incomplete” and “inadequate”, and using terms such as “total incompetence”. Those are the RHA’s words, not mine. It is not exactly thrilled by the prospect. Have the trade unions—especially Unite, which is responsible for the organisation of lorry drivers in the United Kingdom—expressed an opinion? What are their views about the proposals?
The figure of 5,000 to 7,500 lorries has been mentioned. If I may digress a moment from the actual orders, while remaining on the subject of cross-channel traffic, I can tell noble Lords that 30 years ago, those of us who supported the Channel Tunnel were assured that one of its enormous benefits would be that, for the first time in this small country, there would be the opportunity for long rail freight hauls right across Europe. Many of us looked forward to seeing those trans-European freight trains. But now, 25 years after the tunnel opened, when 1.2 million lorries per year use the Eurotunnel railway merely as a shuttle to get between our country and the continent, how many freight trains are scheduled every 24 hours? Six. There is a slight imbalance there, and given the likely chaos foreseen not just by me but by lots of other people, I hope the Minister and her department will look again at that imbalance between international road and rail freight, and see what can be done.
Funnily enough, the ports of Dover and Folkestone, and many other affected parts of the United Kingdom, were the areas that voted most heavily for Brexit in the referendum. They may find that “getting their country back” means that their county is likely to be choked by a torrent of heavy goods vehicles going nowhere, and their areas will be considerably affected by the carbon deposits that the vehicles will leave. Pollution and congestion could well be the outcome of these two orders.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out the orders so clearly. I welcome these SIs, and the pragmatic decision to extend the time-limited regulations for a further nine months, especially because there is no clarity at all on our future EU trading relationship from next month onwards, and because of the disruption we have seen over the past few months due to the pandemic. It is inevitable that we must prepare for chaos at our ports from 1 January 2021.
My noble friend suggests that the orders may not, in fact, be needed—but I must confess that I cannot share her confidence. Whatever the outcome of the trade talks, customs declarations will be required for all British-EU trade. Even if we waive rules for the first six months, we cannot know whether the EU will do the same. If drivers do not have the correct import-export documents or customs declarations, they could be fined, and have their cargos seized or even destroyed. These SIs rightly aim to deal with the logistical consequences of the delays that this might cause at the ports and the Channel Tunnel when drivers are in Kent.
Following the traffic chaos that we have seen during 2020 as a result of hold-ups for various reasons at ports on the other side of the channel, these SIs will ensure that Operation Brock traffic controls will be extended. They also introduce some modifications. I welcome the introduction of special fast-track procedures for perishable goods, but I am more concerned about the Kent access permit for heavy commercial vehicles, to allow them to use the A2/M2 or the M20 to get to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Cheriton, or to the Port of Dover. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the threat of £300 fines for those who travel on local roads without a permit. I agree with him that the fine should surely be levied on the company rather than the individual driver.
All of this is certainly not what was promised when Brexit was proposed to the people of this country. Far worse than this, it is now four years since that referendum and a little over four weeks until the transition period ends, yet we are told that much of the detail that operators need for effective planning is not yet complete. I ask my noble friend what the reason for this is and how it is being considered in the current EU negotiations.
These regulations are certainly going to be required according to those directly involved. For example, the operations director of the Customs Clearance Consortium suggested that there was
“more than a 50% chance there will be delays”
on Kent roads as a result of the disruption at the ports. Earlier this month, the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union was told by road haulage leaders that there is an 80% chance of “chaos in Kent”, as the necessary computer systems, lorry parks and customs agent needed to avoid delays were not yet in place.
I was struck by the observation that Ministers seemed to be relying on
“self-belief in their own rhetoric … that everything will be okay”.
Could my noble friend please comment on, for example, remarks by the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association that far fewer than the 50,000 customs agents needed to process the 200 million additional forms generated annually by Brexit are already in place? How many agents does her department estimate are, in fact, in place? If she does not have this, and the other, information I am asking for, please could she write to me? When will the full functionality of the IT systems needed for efficient post-Brexit operations be provided? Do the Government have information on the availability of the heat-treated pallets, which are apparently in short supply but are essential for exports to the EU from January?
I express particular concerns about smaller hauliers, which have limited resources for preparations of this magnitude. Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I also tried to look up the Government’s guidance and found it difficult to identify precisely what is needed to ensure readiness. The officials preparing such documentation clearly have a much greater knowledge than those who have never had to deal with customs before because of our free movement rules within the single market and customs union. The Government have always faced significant challenges in communicating policy to the public, struggling to provide user-friendly information.
Once again, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, asking: when will this business handbook that was promised to help hauliers prepare for the radical new systems be in place? The idea that there will now potentially have to be passport-style checks just to get into Kent, and of then having to go through those checks and potentially still queue in giant lorry-holding facilities, is rather shocking. I echo the concerns of my noble friend Lord Bourne and others, and I ask my noble friend what restroom facilities will be available for drivers with delays of many hours. I know that we were told that Brexit would mean an end to free movement, but I do not think anyone ever imagined that that would mean ending free movement inside our own country as well.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this short debate, and I congratulate the Minister on at least updating previous documentation and giving us a sight of what will be needed for the next six months or, probably, a year. It is all highly complex, as other noble Lords have said. I declare an interest as a member of the EU Goods Sub- Committee. We have taken evidence from many of the people involved in this flow issue over the last two or three weeks, including Unite the Union and many of the business groups whose members get involved in it.
The situation is really serious, from what I understand. I shall not repeat what other noble Lords have said, but I hope we will get a comprehensive response from the Minister when she winds up—or at least she could, perhaps, write to us afterwards. I have always thought that one of our problems is that we spend a lot of time talking—quite rightly—about what is going to happen in Kent, but very little time talking about what is happening on the other side of the channel. That is before we even get to the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland situation.
We recently took evidence from the Port of Rotterdam and the Port of Calais. They were very polite about us, as you would expect, but I got the distinct impression from the representative of the Port of Rotterdam that they thought that everything on their side of the water would be all right, but they did not have much of a clue about what will happen on our side. The message they were getting from their colleagues was that the situation was—shall we say—confused. They probably would have been rather ruder if they had not been giving evidence to our committee.
On that issue, perhaps the Minister could explain the location of the controls between Dover and Calais. This applies to trucks going in both directions. We have heard that the French immigration—or emigration—people will deal with the drivers’ DIT work before they get onto the ferry. However, we then heard that, in fact, the French customs and immigration people would deal with incoming freight at Dover. As the Port of Dover told us, there is no room there—that is a minor detail. We need to know where all the different controls will take place and in both directions. That applies if and when Manston and Sevington and all the other places come into force, because of traffic jams. On the Calais side, there is much more space, but I would like to know where every control is taking place there.
This leads me on to a subject on which many noble Lords have spoken: the location of restrooms—some people call them restrooms; I call them toilets. Where will they be? Again, we got some rather sad evidence from Highways England, which is responsible for motorways in Kent. It is good to know that there will be portakabins and good facilities in Sevington and Manston, but the problem is that, going down the motorway, there are four lanes on the M20 and there might be a situation where there are two lanes in one direction and two lanes in the other, but it is difficult to know where you could put even a portaloo down there. You cannot really put them on the verge, because people will stop on the hard shoulder and, when they are moving, that is highly dangerous. Of course, once they have stopped and there is a traffic jam that lasts for goodness knows how many hours, where will the facilities be? It is very hard to solve, unless portakabins are to be airlifted in, which sounds pretty stupid. We need some answers
My second question for the Minister is about enforcement, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Snape. When stopping a truck, or even going up to a stopped truck, and dealing with the kind of fines mentioned by my noble friend—the £300 and everything—the first question is: who is liable to pay it? Is it the driver? Is it the forwarder? Is it the owner of the goods, the owner of the tractor unit or the owner of the trailer? All of these could well be different people. How long does it take a police officer to administer a fine or a charge? As my noble friend said, £300 is a lot of money. Where are they going to stop the trucks to do it? I do not know whether the Minister has an answer to this question, but I suspect that the answer is that this will not be done—they cannot do it because they do not have enough people. Then, we will get into a really chaotic situation.
I echo previous noble Lords in saying that we have known about this for four years. We had hoped that the single market would allow a freer flow of goods, but there were going to have to be some checks somewhere. There will be checks not just at Dover and the Channel Tunnel but at ports all the way up and down the country, to which drivers may well want to divert to avoid reported jams at Dover and the Channel Tunnel. Are we in a situation where we are going to get chaos everywhere? If so, it is we and our businesses who will lose out.
From having talked to many of the firms involved, I know that, in spite of the fact that we may have 80% of the drivers and trucks coming from eastern Europe and being driven for eastern European companies, if they get held up too much, none of the people or customers will want to try that again. As a consequence, the big and small firms that use these services to move their goods across borders several times in the course of manufacture may well say, “Enough’s enough, we’re going to move it all to the continent”. I hope that I am wrong, but we have to get this right, and at the moment the industry clearly does not think that we have. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who asked some very pertinent questions.
I thank the Minister for introducing these statutory instruments, which are clearly necessary. She explained them clearly; nevertheless, they will not ease the concerns of the nation’s hauliers, who are still in doubt about what their position will be at the end of the year. Can the Minister tell them, for instance, whether they will need ECMT documentation? If so, we have a major problem, since only a fraction of our hauliers would be able to collect such documentation.
Other noble Lords have spoken about the problems that we will have under these arrangements and the new proposals. I have grave concerns about the impact that all this will have on Kent, a county once renowned as the garden of England. I declare an interest: I have a house on the Kent coast. I am therefore very familiar with the weight of freight traffic, which pounds up and down Kent’s road network.
Operation Fennel is the Government’s plan to provide —[Inaudible]—for up to 7,000 lorries in the event of delays at the Channel Tunnel and the Port of Dover. More than—[Inaudible]—4,000 provided at what was Manston Airport. The noble Lords who referred to hygiene are absolutely right. The prospect that, very soon, 8,000 drivers could be cooped together in cramped conditions, inevitably mixing with each other, is nothing less than horrifying. A Covid outbreak would be almost certain. Can the Minister say how drivers displaying symptoms would isolate? This would be in a district—Thanet—with the second-highest Covid rate in England. Thanet District Council’s director of operational services said:
“An outbreak at Manston would have a significant impact on already stretched services.”
Equally, an outbreak at Sevington, where up to 3,400 drivers could be held, could cause—[Inaudible.] The nearest hospital, the William Harvey Hospital at Ashford, is already under strain. But Manston has many other—[Inaudible.] The A229, a road with no hard shoulder, and other nearby roads are likely to become log-jammed, blocking the road network around both Margate and Ashford hospitals.
But it is not just hospitals that cause a problem. If there is a fire in the area, emergency services could find it almost impossible to get through, given that the planned parking lanes leave little leeway for them to pass. Thanet’s council leader has said that a lack of information from the Government on vital issues such as traffic flow proposals is seriously hampering the council’s ability to plan how to mitigate the effects on residents. As recently as Tuesday, the council was still waiting for key information, such as an assessment of the traffic movement in the area, analysis of key environmental impacts and comprehensive operational management plans for the lorry parks. Do the Government realise the dangers they risk imposing on east Kent?
Already there have been months of delays on the M20 as—[Inaudible]—parking lanes were put up, taken down, and have now been put up again. I do not understand why they were taken down, as at that stage we did not have a trade deal. Surely putting them up once and leaving them there would have been a more sensible and economical decision. The area is now being defaced by the creation—without any public consultation —of a monstrously ugly visible lorry park at Sevington.
The Government seem very loath—[Inaudible]—the people of Kent. Recently, they turned the Shorncliffe army camp into a camp for migrants who—[Inaudible]—crossed the channel. The local council handled the issue rather more sensitively than the Government, and the local—[Inaudible]—welcomed the newcomers. Nevertheless, the lack of consultation is a real cause for concern. Now, without consultation, the area faces the prospect of many thousands of drivers, from all over the UK and Europe, being stranded in cramped, risky and potentially insanitary conditions in an area in which Covid is already rampant. So what alternative plans do the Government have to ameliorate this potentially dire situation? In the event of a Covid outbreak in one of these lorry parks, how would the Government react?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.
My Lords, once again we are updating SIs that we dealt with last year. It is worth remembering that at that time the concept of lorry drivers needing a Kent passport was shocking, and that when the Minister was asked whether the timing of the sunset clause was sufficient, we were strongly reassured that it was generous. The first of these SIs extends the sunset clause from 31 December this year to 31 October 2021, so I ask the Minister again if she is convinced that this new date will be long enough. Are the Government convinced that they will not need Operation Brock after next October?
I am comparing the situation in Kent with the crisis the Government are facing in providing lorry parking for Holyhead. It was clear from an Answer given yesterday to a Question that there is no hope of a lorry park near Holyhead being up and running before July. In the meantime, customs clearance processes will take place in Warrington and Birmingham, over 100 miles from the port. This is obviously an open invitation for all manner of evasion of export and import controls. I echo the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, about the serious disruption in north Wales, although the Reasonable Worst Case Scenario the Government produced seemed to dismiss this entirely.
In September, the Cabinet Office issued a Reasonable Worst Case Scenario for Borders at the End of the Transition Period, as I have just said. That estimated that 30% to 50% of trucks might not be border ready on 1 January and that this would lead to daily queues of 7,000 HGVs in Kent by February. I am assuming that we are now in that worst-case scenario, as we are 36 days away from the end of the transition and there is no deal. We had a taste of this earlier this week when the French border authorities trialled the new passport checks that will be required and five-mile queues of lorries developed on the M20.
So freight operators are being told to prepare for the change, and their very loud response is to ask exactly what kind of change they are supposed to prepare for. A spokesperson for Logistics UK has quite reasonably pointed out that the Government’s own hauliers’ handbook is incomplete, and press reports suggest it is pretty incomprehensible. As a large percentage of the hauliers crossing via the channel ports are not British, if it is to work, it also needs translation. Do the Government intend to translate the handbook, and when do they expect it to be ready? I am conscious that I have also asked this as a Written Question but I had not received a reply by the start of the debate. I apologise if I have received a reply since it started.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, I will take this opportunity to ask about the state of preparedness of the government IT systems for the new border controls and what progress has been made on recruiting the additional staff required. How near the target are the Government?
These orders make some additional amendments to the 2019 orders as well. They modify the approved routes that an HCV can take to the ports and require them to have a Kent access permit when using the local road network. That is understandable as communities in Kent have suffered considerable disruption and inconvenience in the past when there have been short-term problems. The disruption we are discussing here will probably last for some months, of course, and it could possibly be semi-permanent. It will certainly cause supply problems, as an HCV held up on the journey out will almost certainly be delayed on its return, along with its load. So it is regrettable that this is all so close to the wire.
There is an additional specific exception in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 3) (Amendment) Order 2020, which goes along with these two, allowing hauliers from east Kent and Faversham to use local roads. Was this the only request for such an exception? As I said when we discussed this issue before, there are bound to be hold-ups for other local commercial traffic simply trying to go about its daily business in Kent.
Retailers and hauliers are particularly concerned about perishable goods, so these orders allow priority to hauliers carrying highly perishable goods, live animals and goods which
“would give rise to a disproportionate economic impact on a geographical area of the UK.”
The first two are clear but I wonder whether the Minister can help me with the very strange phraseology of the third exception. It strikes me that this could apply to a very large proportion of lorries. What about steel from south Wales or tinned peas from Lincolnshire? Each of those is very important to the local economy. Forgive me for being sceptical, but this sounds like a last-minute addition put in by a Minister to help a friend.
There is to be a prioritisation site at Ebbsfleet. Can the Minister tell us exactly how that will work? I am concerned that the criterion is that a lorry has to be carrying a single load of fresh or live seafood. Surely the issues about freshness and welfare of animals apply just the same if you have other items in your load as well?
The big pharmaceutical companies are concerned that supplies of medicines and vaccines could well be interrupted and delayed. Can the Minister explain why are they not included as a priority category? The Government apparently do not hold strategic food reserves. Can the Minister tell us what discussions the Department for Transport has had with other departments about shortages of strategic supplies and how they might be minimised?
Finally, I take issue with the Explanatory Memorandum’s impact assessment, which must surely go down in history as stretching credibility until it snaps. It says:
“There is no significant, lasting impact on business … the Check an HGV service will have a limited burden on industry once familiarised”.
That refers to a required set of documentation that will, according to Sainsbury’s, cost thousands of pounds per load. It continues:
“There is no … significant … impact on the public sector.”
Tell that to the police or the NHS or the local councils concerned—
My Lords, the orders extend the sunset clauses of existing 2019 orders, as the Minister said, from the end of this year so that heavy commercial vehicles can continue to be regulated by traffic officers in Kent until the end of October next year. That is to keep Operation Brock, which is intended in particular to keep the M20 in Kent open in both directions, on the road in a bid to avoid the consequences of cross-channel travel disruption. The orders also provide for penalties for drivers of heavy commercial vehicles who do not have a valid Kent access permit, and for heavy commercial vehicles carrying priority goods via the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover to be given priority when travelling through Kent.
Since we are only just over a month away from the end of the transition period, could the Minister place on record the Government’s latest assessment of the likely level of cross-channel travel disruption from the beginning of January, since I assume this is a matter that the Government now keep constantly under review? The Explanatory Memorandum says:
“The Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario suggests that there might a freight flow of 60% to 80% of usual volumes at the short Channel crossing in the weeks following the end of the transition period, and that could lead to queues of up to 6,500 HCVs for January 2021 rising to 7,000 in February 2021 in Kent.”
What does that actually mean in terms of travel disruption? It also says:
“The traffic management measures proposed would only be used during temporary activations of Operation Brock”.
How often, and in what circumstances, is it expected that Operation Brock will be activated? Is it expected to be activated after February, since the Explanatory Memorandum refers to queues of numbers of heavy commercial vehicles only up to February 2021?
The Government are introducing an online check for heavy commercial vehicle drivers taking goods from this country to the EU, which would enable them to confirm at the point of loading their goods that they had the appropriate border documentation. If so, they would then be advised that they could continue their journey. If they did not have the necessary documentation they would be told not to take the goods until the trader had provided all the relevant documentation. Use of the online check for heavy commercial vehicles will be necessary to obtain a Kent access permit, enabling travel on the M20 or the A2/M2. The Government intend to make the use of this online check mandatory for those travelling through Kent to reduce the number of heavy commercial vehicles coming into the county that were not border-ready to travel from Dover or through the Channel Tunnel.
To what extent do the Government expect the new mandatory online check to reduce the need to use a stretch of the M20 and off-road holding areas in Kent for heavy commercial vehicles waiting to cross the channel? Will it eliminate that need? If not, to what extent will they still be needed, and by a maximum of how many heavy commercial vehicles at any one point? What will be the extent of delays if on-road and off-road holding areas have to be used? How much longer, on average, will it take a heavy commercial vehicle to complete the journey across the channel, once in Kent, than it does now?
If there are to be delays for heavy commercial vehicles in Kent and the need for the use of holding areas, what facilities will be available for use by the drivers of those vehicles from the end of the transition period? Can the Government guarantee now that there will be no issue of insufficient driver welfare facilities, including sanitation, toilets and food, being available from the end of the transition period at the beginning of January? Is it expected that the arrangements provided for in these orders will not be needed at all after the end of October next year, when the orders cease to have effect, or do the Government anticipate having to extend them again?
It is suggested that a reason for delays in Kent could be queues created by extended checking procedures at the port of disembarkation on the other side of the channel, causing blocking back. Is that the case, and by what length of time will journeys for heavy commercial vehicles be extended by new checking procedures at the port of disembarkation on the other side of the channel? Will there be new checking procedures that extend journey times for heavy commercial vehicles travelling in the other direction from France to the UK via Dover or the Channel Tunnel and, if so, will that be as a result of checks this side or the other side of the channel? By how much would journey times be extended on average?
What will be the increase in the number of customs declarations per annum required to be processed in respect of heavy commercial vehicles travelling through Kent en route to the other side of the channel after the end of the transition period, compared with the current annual figure? A question was asked during the debate in the Commons on these regulations about the number of additional customs agents who would be required to manage the increase in customs declarations, but it did not receive an answer. How many customs agents will be required after the end of the transition period, compared with the number needed to handle the current number of customs declarations each year, and how many additional customs agents recruited will be in place from the end of the transition period in some five weeks’ time?
The regulations provide for financial penalties to be imposed on drivers who breach these regulations, most of whom will not be residents of this country. Will there be on-the-spot fines payable immediately, or will there be a set number of days in which to pay? Will a breach of the regulations in all or any cases be regarded as a criminal offence? As my noble friend Lord Whitty and others have asked, is it right that a driver should be fined for having incorrect documentation, which is surely the responsibility of the company sending the goods?
The heavy commercial vehicle sector of the road haulage industry has helped keep our country going during the coronavirus outbreak; in particular, in maintaining essential deliveries of food, medical supplies and other goods. We do not want to see this vital sector hit by chaos at, or near, our major points of exit for UK trade in goods at Dover and the Channel Tunnel. I hope that the Government will be able to respond now or subsequently to the many questions and points that have been raised by noble Lords, including me, during this debate, and provide assurances that chaos at our major point of exit for UK trade in goods is not going to materialise.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. I already know that I do not have a hope in answering all their questions. I will therefore deal with as many as I can and, of course, will write on points that I have been unable to cover. I should like to address up front some of the points that noble Lords raised.
This SI covers Kent because it is the area that will be most under pressure, but I reassure noble Lords that we are working closely with local resilience forums at all the major ports. We do not expect levels of disruption to be as significant at those other ports. Indeed, many plans are already being put in place by local resilience forums. We will keep an eye on that but this measure is about Kent. More than any of the others, the short straits is the crossing that is most used. I reassure noble Lords that the Kent resilience forum liaises closely with surrounding counties. It is not just about Kent but about movement of traffic that is sometimes a significant distance away. The Kent forum liaises with the surrounding areas.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the date and whether 31 October is sufficient. We believe it is. It is right to come back to Parliament to seek to extend it. I hope not to be back in October to face the music in your Lordships’ House. The purpose of the entire project is to enable traders to have time to adjust to the new customs requirements. Once that has happened and the hauliers know which documents to expect from their traders, this will not be required. You need customs documents at borders in all sorts of places, across the world. This is not a unique circumstance; it is a transition.
This will be activated. The simplest answer to when it will be activated is when it is needed. That depends on the readiness and volume of the hauliers approaching at any time. Many variables will go into the decision by Kent Police to put Operation Brock in place.
Many noble Lords talked about the level of disruption. Our current estimates state that there could be up to 6,500 HCVs in January. Given a slight increase in usage of the crossing in February, if trader readiness does not improve—and I hope it does—the queue could reach up to 7,000 HCVs. These are maximum or reasonable worst-case figures. This is not what we expect or anticipate to happen; it is what we are planning to happen. Our motto in the DfT is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. It is important to recognise that: there will not be 7,000 HCVs parked in Kent, every day, from January to 31 October. It will get better.
I will address the recent disruption in Kent, which I recognise happened, on Tuesday. The French authorities trialling their post-transition boarding systems was one factor, but there was also a power outage at Euro- tunnel, which exacerbated the situation and caused delays on the M20. That disruption was contained and further measures were not required.
Local consultation is important, because we all recognise the impact on residents in Kent, which is why we want this to be resolved as quickly as possible. We want traders to be ready and for things to go back to where they were before, when one could get on the Eurotunnel easily and quickly, whether one was a private driver or in a HCV. So we have been in consultation with local people, which is incredibly important. We consulted local people, unions and various stakeholders on the policy changes that are before your Lordships’ House today.
Picking up the point made by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, the site at Sevington, previously known as MOJO, was put in place using an SDO—special development order. It is a quicker way of getting planning permission. However, even that requires engagement with local residents. There is a 14-day engagement period, when the views of local stakeholders can be gathered. It is important to understand local concerns and to mitigate them where we can. We understand that we probably cannot make everybody 100% happy but, where we can improve the situation, we are committed to doing so. We continue to communicate closely with local residents and businesses.
Also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft was the on/off nature of the barrier in the middle of the M20. The permanent barrier was removed, because it requires a speed limit of 50 miles an hour, which slows down the traffic. We have a much better solution now; we have a monster machine that can move a barrier in place when we need to put a contraflow into action. We do not expect that barrier to be in place most of the time.
A number of noble Lords had questions on fines and enforcement. Basically, if you are stopped as a driver, you will get a piece of paper that says, “You need to pay £300.” You will either get a penalty charge notice, which gives you 28 days to pay, or, if you are a foreign haulier, you will get a piece of paper saying, “We want the money now”, in the nicest possible way. I reassure noble Lords that fines can be paid by direct transfer or credit card. It is very unusual for cash to be used in these circumstances.
A number of noble Lords also asked why the driver is at fault here. It is because the driver has done something wrong. The driver is not being fined for having incorrect documentation. The driver is being fined for driving on a road that they should not have been driving on. The driver is being fined because they committed the offence.
A number of noble Lords expressed deep concern about the DVSA and whether it would be able to do this. The DVSA does this every day. This is what it does. It does enforcement. It levies fines for various areas including overloads, drivers’ hours and construction and use defects. This is what the DVSA does. It takes about 10 minutes to issue one of these fines. and the DVSA is perfectly capable of pulling over a vehicle into a layby.
A number of noble Lords asked which vehicles are included, whether some vehicles would get priority and all that sort of stuff. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asked whether we would give special dispensation to vehicles coming from the Republic of Ireland through to the short straits. All vehicles of whatever nationality will be treated equally, whether they start in the Republic of Ireland or anywhere else. These Kent access permits can be booked at any time of day. They last for 24 hours, so that should not cause a problem with planning journeys.
I forget which noble Lord mentioned emergency vehicles and their ability to pass. That is the point of these orders. They define exactly where HGVs can park up and stop and therefore leave the routes clear for private motorists, local traffic and emergency vehicles. That is the entire point of these orders.
We talked about prioritisation. It is very important. It is right that it is limited for animal welfare reasons to single loads of fresh and live seafood and day-old chicks. Defra estimates that on average about 70 HGVs a day would be of such exports. As I mentioned earlier, because the orders are in place we know where the trucks will be. They will be able to bypass the trucks and get on to the ferry or the Eurotunnel train quicker. Local haulier permits are needed only if they are going abroad. It means that they do not have to go to the back of the queue and can go straight to the departure point.
On information for drivers, I recognise that one type of information will not fit all. That is why we are providing information in different formats, in different locations, in handbooks and in physical advice sites. Our engagement with Logistics UK and the RHA is ongoing. It is extensive and we take great heed of what the unions have to say. On driver welfare, the Kent Resilience Forum is looking at that in great detail. Facilities will be in place at Sevington and at Manston Airport. There will be wi-fi at Manston Airport. There will be loos. There will be catering facilities. We are looking at putting in medical facilities. I believe that by the time we get to use these facilities they will have all that is needed for driver welfare. I will also remind my honourable friend Rachel Maclean about her offer to meet Unite. It is only Thursday and the offer was made on Monday, so I think we can give her a few more days.
I have many other questions that I really wanted to address but I have gone over so I will have do so in writing. They were on customs agents, heat-treated pallets and Covid contingencies. I go back to the key point that after 31 December we will need customs documents. Therefore, these arrangements may be required. It is essential that hauliers and traders are ready for 31 December. The more they are ready, the less likely it is that we will need these arrangements.
Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2020
Motion to Approve
Law Enforcement and Security (Separation Issues etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the House will be aware that the Government have been preparing for the end of the transition period on 31 December. This statutory instrument forms one of the legislative changes that we are making as part of these preparations to ensure the law is clear and accessible on cross-border law enforcement and criminal justice matters.
I hope it is clear from the statutory instrument and accompanying documents not just what the regulations do, but also what they will not do. These regulations are required under any EU exit scenario. They will not enact the outcome of any negotiations; in that sense, they are scenario agnostic. Instead, they will provide legal and operational clarity on the handling of live law enforcement and criminal justice cases and procedures at the end of the transition period. They will ensure that the UK has a fully functioning statute book.
They will do this in three ways. First, they will make the changes needed in UK law to give full effect to the separation provisions contained in the withdrawal and separation agreements with the EU and the EEA-EFTA states. These provisions concern ongoing cases and procedures at the end of the transition period and place reciprocal obligations on the UK, EU and EEA-EFTA states regarding their handling. For example, should UK authorities receive a European investigation order—an EIO—from an EU member state or vice versa and be unable to execute it before the end of the transition period, there will be a legal obligation to finish executing that request under the EIO procedure after the transition period ends. Ensuring these separation provisions are in place for this and other EU measures will enable the orderly completion of those ongoing cases and procedures.
Secondly, and in a similar vein, they will make the necessary amendments in UK law to give full effect to the related data provisions contained within these agreements. These provisions concern data accrued before the end of the transition period or under the separation provisions and will provide clarity for operational partners on the handling of those data. As an example, where a European Criminal Records Information System—ECRIS—request for criminal record information is made by the UK to an EU member state, or vice versa, before the end of the transition period and the information is received after the end of the transition period as a result of that request the restrictions on the use of personal data under ECRIS will still apply.
Thirdly, the regulations will address a number of deficiencies that would otherwise arise at the end of the transition period, for example, where new EU law has come into force during the period since the Law Enforcement and Security (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were passed. Addressing these remaining deficiencies will ensure that the UK has a fully functioning and relevant domestic statute book at the end of the transition period.
Overall, the scope of this statutory instrument is narrow. It gives full effect to the separation provisions contained in the withdrawal and separation agreements by making the necessary technical changes in UK law. This will provide legal and operational clarity on the handling of live law enforcement and criminal justice cases at the end of the transition period and will therefore enable the UK to meet its legal obligations under these agreements. I am sure noble Lords will agree that that is essential.
The safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority and this statutory instrument helps to support that. I commend these regulations to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister, who I think is aiming for the Stakhanovite prize for her endeavours at the Dispatch Box.
I say right at the beginning that it is a bit of an obfuscation for the Minister to say that the regulations are scenario-neutral. They are in the limited sense, in that whatever the nature of the deal, they will be put through, but of course they are being introduced in the whole context of Brexit, which is the biggest change imaginable in the scenario for law enforcement and counterterrorism. The Minister’s allusion to the neutral scenario reminded me that one old philosopher used to say, “We have free will”, but, as he pointed out, we do not have free will in circumstances of our own choosing. So the regulations might be scenario-neutral but they are in the wider scenario of Brexit, and that is what I want to refer to today.
Obviously, as the Minister implied, I, like others in the House, will not oppose these regulations. It is in all our interests to have confidence in our law enforcement capabilities and operations after Brexit. Therefore, I do not intend to oppose them but I want to make some observations.
The first and most obvious to everyone is the desperate lack of time available for our law enforcement agencies to adjust to any new framework or operational procedures. It is obvious that we are now only weeks away from the end of the transition period and still the two parties—like children in the playground playing “Don’t push me or I’ll push you”—are issuing statements every week without any word of substantial advance in them. Meanwhile, our law enforcement and security services still do not know what legal regulatory framework they will be operating under after New Year’s Day. Nor do they know what the practical impact or implications of any security and criminal justice deal will be for their ability to keep the public safe.
Will the Minister therefore tell us how the Government have engaged with our law enforcement agencies or, for that matter, with their European counterparts to ensure that the appropriate arrangements will be in place so that relevant cases can be actioned with confidence and not delayed or stopped? Later, I will refer to ECRIS, the European Criminal Records Information System, to which the Minister referred. Obviously, we need confidence that outstanding cases will not grind to a halt, as that would diminish our ability to tackle criminality and prevent terrorism.
The second issue arising from this timing pressure is the uncertainty caused. We do not know, even at this stage, whether we will have a deal or no deal. Regardless of the assertions that this measure is scenario-neutral, it will have an effect on the practical application and operational capabilities of our law enforcement agencies. In November, the Minister—not the noble Baroness but the Minister in the House of Commons—rather blithely told the House that if negotiations
“do not conclude successfully, we will move back to pre-existing tools and powers.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/11/20; col. 528.],
as though this was, again, scenario-neutral. But presumably those pre-existing powers and tools were less effective and less satisfactory than the subsequent arrangements made within the European Union, otherwise there would have been no point in adopting the new arrangements. To reinforce that point, Mr Martin Hewitt, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, laid out the consequences, and I could not put it more concisely myself. He said that
“the loss of some or all of the tools will mean that, even with contingencies in place, the fallback systems will be slower, provide less visibility of information/intelligence and make joined-up working with European partners more cumbersome.”
That could not be plainer. Does the Minister therefore accept that a failure to conclude negotiations successfully will inevitably involve a deterioration in our capacity to combat crime and insecurity, as laid out by Mr Martin Hewitt, who presumably knows a little bit about these matters? I have some specific questions for the Minister. In her opinion, what is the likelihood of that situation arising? What contingency plans are in place for the loss of these vital tools? What is the certainty regarding Europol arrangements or the Schengen Information System? What about the loss of the European Criminal Records Information System, which effects about 4,000 requests every month? If I understood the Minister correctly, applications that are already in that system will continue. I accept that, but what about the 4,000 a month that will happen after 1 January 2021? What are the arrangements and availability of information for those? What are the details of the fast-track extradition arrangements, which are to replace capabilities enjoyed under the European arrest warrant? Is it not the case that diminished capabilities on data and information sharing would seriously damage the fight against crime, terrorism and insecurity?
The fact that such questions remain unanswered at this late stage indicates just how precarious the position is. As I said at the beginning, I am not opposing this. Today’s regulations are necessary, but they are not sufficient to inspire confidence or engender certainty that our agencies will maintain the standards of law enforcement that they have hitherto reached in order to fulfil our legal commitments on law enforcement and counterterrorism. That is why I give them my very qualified support.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my fellow countryman, who has such experience of the Home Office and its capacity to prophesy and made a very notable analysis of the Home Office in his time. I propose to restrict myself to dealing with this statutory instrument, rather than with prophecy.
When I saw this instrument on the list, since I was not involved in any Bill, I thought that I should participate. Although I have a fairly general knowledge of the criminal laws of the United Kingdom, I felt a profound difficulty when I looked at this instrument, until I came to the bottom of the last page of the Explanatory Note and the reference to the Explanatory Memorandum.
I congratulate the Home Office on the dramatic clarity of this document and the way it directs us to the sources of the provisions. As the Minister has said, these are contained in the withdrawal legislation relating to the withdrawal agreements from the EU, EEA and EFTA, with the powers given in statute to deal with the deficiencies that might arise in retained EU law. As a result, it is easy to check that the provisions have direct statutory authority or are reasonable exercises of the power given to Ministers to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law. The inclusion of material with no legal effect was a judicious use of the author’s clarity of exposition. It is also welcome that the instrument has been agreed by the relevant devolved Administrations.
I hope that this vitally important area of the law will be consolidated at the appropriate time. I congratulate the Minister on the clarity with which she introduced this statutory instrument, and I thank her for it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, but I disagree quite strongly with him. We have had a lot of these statutory instruments coming through, some of them excruciatingly boring, and we use them as an opportunity to talk about much wider issues. Some are actually quite dangerous and some—this is one—are really quite messy. The Explanatory Memorandum admits as much. The statutory instrument jumps around dozens of different areas of law enforcement co-operation with the EU and makes little tweaks here and there to try to fix deficiencies for when we finally leave the EU. I accept that we need this sort of statutory instrument but, quite honestly, I do not see the clarity here.
One thing we saw throughout the last few months of the pandemic was the confusion, particularly for the police, over the advice from the Prime Minister and the later comments and suggestions from Ministers interpreting it, versus the rules and the actual law. There was a lot of confusion and the police overstepped the mark quite a lot. I basically feel, although I do not have much confidence in our law enforcement agencies, that they were not to blame—it was actually the Government. They presented so many confusing scenarios that the police did not really have much chance to enforce the law. What will the Government do to make sure that this is a clear law, properly understood by the police and security services, so that we do not see the abuses we have seen over the past nine or 10 months? What plans do the Government have to bring consolidating legislation—to put it all in one place and reduce the chaos? It simply is not fair on the police that the Government throw out this stuff and do not give them the time, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, suggested, or the clarity to be sure that they are not breaking the law when they try to apply this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I thank the Minister for her explanation of these regulations. Although she says they are limited, they cover quite a wide range of law enforcement and security issues, including some 50 regulations on important work on cross-border surveillance, extradition and exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities, EU agencies such as Eurojust and Europol and EU security databases. It has become apparent to us, to follow what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the withdrawal Act was actually quite skeletal: we are filling out all the various sectors and sectoral areas through the use of statutory instruments.
While I acknowledge the need for these regulations, I have some questions for the Minister. I have been told that there is total lack of certainty regarding the UK’s future security and law enforcement relationship with the EU. We are some five weeks away from the end of the transition period and our law enforcement agencies still do not know what legal and regulatory framework they are winding down to, nor the practical day-to-day impact of any security and criminal justice deal—or, indeed, no deal at all. What will be their ability to keep the public safe, because that is always the issue when we concentrate on law enforcement? Will the Minister indicate whether there has been any movement from uncertainty to certainty in such matters? I know the Minister said that this is simply about legal and operational clarity and does not deal with the negotiations, but are any of the law enforcement issues or policies part of the discussions in the negotiations?
I am reminded of what the chief constable for Northern Ireland told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place: with the end of the transition period just a few months away, there are concerns about how the PSNI can track people and how to move information around to keep communities safe. They have the added difficulty of the implications of the internal market Bill and the impact on the withdrawal agreement and the potential creation of a hard border with the EU on the island of Ireland, and thus that intersection with the Northern Ireland protocol. What thought has been given to those issues, in terms of law enforcement and security separation issues after we leave the EU?
There is also the added complication of the customs posts in Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint. What will be the law enforcement and security role in those? The PSNI, as the local law enforcement agency in Northern Ireland, does not seem to have any information on how to deal with this. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will know how important the PSNI is to maintaining good security and good policing in Northern Ireland on a cross-community basis. Could the Minister provide an update on this matter? Could she also outline whether there has been any resolution around the National Crime Agency? It believes that reduced UK ties with EU instruments will damage UK security since maximum co-operation is essential to address sophisticated international threats. What is the current position? Albeit that these regulations are limited, they open up Pandora’s box—hence my list of questions.
I understand from some research that the UK is still seeking access to Europol databases, as if it never left the EU. What is the situation with data sharing, as I understand that the PSNI has been presented with challenges in this area? Apparently the UK Government want to be a de facto member of the Schengen Information System, without being an actual member, to gain access to information on migrants, border security, terrorism and other areas of law enforcement. Has there been or will there be an agreement on law enforcement, criminal justice and data-sharing arrangements? Will the UK also remain engaged with the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency, which manages Galileo, the EU’s satellite system, which provides encrypted services for police and border control?
It is patently clear that leaving the EU will have a substantial impact on UK security, given the close co-operation established over many years in policing, crime prevention and criminal justice. That level of evidence base must not be allowed to wither on the Brexit vine.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, always informs our debates. One of the fears that I had during the Brexit debate before the referendum was that if we left the EU, we would damage the co-operation, and its speed and effectiveness, between the law enforcement and investigatory agencies of the United Kingdom and the remaining 27 states. Since we joined the EU, the bilateral assistance that our agencies have given individual EU countries and vice versa has only improved. Although there have been some glitches and a few eccentric decisions flowing from the use of European arrest warrants, the EAW system, as well as the wider international assistance in law enforcement and co-operation between the security services, has worked well to our mutual benefit.
I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern; my noble friend the Minister has clearly explained the ambit and purpose of these regulations. They should ensure that, when translated into our national law, they will be every bit as effective as before and deal with any deficiencies in retained EU law. There is a list of about 20 separate areas of law enforcement activity covered by these regulations in which we have, as a member of the EU, co-operated with other EU countries. No one can doubt their continuing importance to our own and our shared protection from the activities of the most serious criminals.
It is clearly vital that these regulations should be in force before 31 December this year and I doubt that the regulations themselves are controversial. The Government’s intentions are clear and understood. That said, the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, has made some pertinent points. However, I should like my noble friend the Minister to reassure me that, even when we have finally left the EU in the new year, the practical and operational work covered by the current legal framework will not diminish in volume and quality.
Terrorists, money launderers, cyber criminals and human traffickers will exploit any lack of international co-operation. They do not care or mind whether we are in or out of the EU. Investigations into their activities, and their prosecution with evidence gathered from both sides of the channel, must carry on without reduction or legal impediment after 31 December with the same, and even increased, operational vigour as they have until now. Departure from the EU is no reason for any alteration in our approach or metaphorically to cut the wires between the United Kingdom and the EU 27.
My Lords, the Law Enforcement and Security (Separation Issues etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 allow for the implementation of the separation provisions in the UK-EU withdrawal agreement relating to law enforcement and security co-operation. Although the UK has left the EU, it continues to participate in a range of EU law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation schemes. This participation will continue until the end of the transition period.
The Home Office states that this SI has three functions. First, while the EU withdrawal agreement Act implemented the withdrawal agreement, this SI would make the “necessary further, specific amendments” to give full effect to the LECJ separation provisions in the agreements. The separation provisions require the continued application of EU measures in cases still ongoing at the end of the transition period. Secondly, the regulations amend UK law to give effect to provisions which require the preservation of relevant law on criminal justice data and information collected prior to the end of the transition period. Thirdly, as the body of EU law relating to LECJ co-operation either ceases to apply in the UK or is transferred into “retained EU law” at the end of the transition period, the regulations would make amendments to “address deficiencies” in the retained law. For that purpose, the current regulations would amend the two regulations passed in March 2019 to take account of EU law which has come into force since they were made.
On 18 November, the Minister for Security said that scope of the regulations was “narrow” and they would be required under any scenario in which the UK had left the EU. He went on to say that this SI
“will provide legal and operational clarity regarding the handling of live law enforcement and criminal justice related cases and procedures at the end of the transition period, and will ensure that the United Kingdom has a fully functioning statute book.”—[Official Report, Commons, Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee, 18/11/20; col. 3]
My Lords, having listened to the Minister and read in detail the documentation, I can recall what I said in the House of Commons 18 months ago and privately, as well as publicly, on many occasions at the time, when I was one of a tiny handful of enthusiastic backers of the agreement that the European Union made with the British Government of the time, which Parliament chose to reject. I said that there is no such thing as a no-deal scenario because this means thousands of deals, but those will have to be done separately and in isolation. One of the problems with that is that there will be so many.
In the context of these changes—which I do not oppose—will the Minister tell us how many separate agreements will be required, purely from the scope of these regulations? Are we talking about bilateral deals with each country, or are we talking about a single deal on a range of different issues with the European Union? Will those deals be in place from 1 January? Do we have the capacity? We have had all sorts of complications, because of Covid, in terms of how we work. One thing Covid has not done is make negotiations easier; it has made them more difficult. It is harder to get people and it is harder to fix meetings for decisions of any kind to be made. When they are multilateral and require negotiation, if we do not have a deal—though I suspect that we will probably end up with one, and I feel that is the way things are moving—are all the individual deals required in place to allow law enforcement to act as it did? I suggest that that is not possible: the capacity to do that in that timescale is not possible.
Will we potentially have the following scenario from January? The Home Secretary and the NCA previously described an earlier operation against organised crime, in which the NCA had managed to break into phones in some way, as the most successful in the history of policing in this country because we managed pretty simultaneously, across many different European countries and in this country, to arrest many hundreds of serious organised criminals. As I understood from what the Home Secretary and the NCA said at the time, these were people who were involved in major crimes—gun crimes and the rest—who were significant and dangerous criminals, and that happened across Europe, including in this country. Are the arrangements going to be in place that would allow a new such operation to begin seamlessly on, say, 2 January?
Will there be criminals in this country whom we have problems extraditing to another country because a deal will not have been negotiated with that other country by the time we get to January? Will there be criminals whom we wish to bring back from other countries—from Spain, France or wherever—to face the prospect of justice in this country, where we might not be able to do so because the agreements are not in place? Would I be right in thinking—as some of these agreements will be very technical and complex—that the presumption has been for a long time that any changes that might come would actually be in the light of a deal, and so would be negotiated over a much longer and more rational time period, rather than forced through in an incredibly short period simply to hold the system together?
Will there be bits of information that we cannot access purely because we do not have a deal in place, in a no-deal scenario? As I said—and I am sure that the Minister will agree—there is no such thing as no deal; it merely means that the deal on these issues has not been concluded because there has not been the opportunity to finish and finalise it, since we do not even know if we need it, as that is dependent on whether we get the bigger deal.
I appreciate that this is not the responsibility of the Minister—although it will be part of her department’s problem and the Ministry of Justice’s problem—but it is the problem of government and it is the problem of Parliament, because a scenario that allows criminals more freedoms than the law would wish to give them, simply because of jurisdictions crossing borders, is not—I think I can say without equivocation—what anybody voted for or perceived would happen.
The taking back of control that I and others argued for, voted for and won a referendum on was predicated precisely on the ability to do the things that we want to do and have international agreements in place. As I say, I was very relaxed with what was described as the Theresa May deal—I always tried to describe it as the European Union deal because that was the other party to it—because we would have avoided all these problems. I suspect that I am not the only person in this Chamber now who was of that view. However, we were a tiny majority, unfortunately, and we were unable to persuade any party. We failed the people there—I apologise for my part in that failure—but we tried. At least we recognised that this is probably for the British people the single biggest problem. No politician would be able rationally to explain, “Well, the criminal got away with it because we don’t have the agreement in place because we’ve not had the time to get the agreement in place. We will do but we can’t do so, sorry, come back next year and we’ll try again.”
Are those dangers or am I overstating the risk? I do not think that I am, having heard the Minister and read the documentation. There is a problem, which therefore suggests that, even with this deal at this current stage, the deal that can be agreed would have bigger positives for the country than the so-called no-deal option. That would mean thousands of further deals having to be negotiated, including many in the immediate future; we do not have a good capacity for that, and no one could have the capacity to do that.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations.
The stream of worrying statutory instruments dealing with our final severing of links with the EU at the end of the transition period continues. We have already debated regulations that will weaken UK border security; now, we have regulations that deal with the end of co-operation with the EU on a whole range of criminal law, investigatory powers, policing and criminal justice issues. When a similar raft of regulations, which these regulations amend, was debated, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, as it put it,
“published a critical report because the 2019 Regulations bundled together a large number of topics without adequate information on any of them.”
Here we are again, with one SI containing 50 regulations relating to a wide range of law enforcement and security issues.
The regulations cover extremely important issues, such as cross-border surveillance, extradition, the exchange of information and intelligence, Eurojust and Europol, and security databases such as the Schengen Information System—SIS II—and the European Criminal Records Information System, or ECRIS.
The Minister explained the purposes of these regulations and the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, repeated them so I see no point in repeating them again. However, I share the concerns expressed by many other noble Lords this afternoon. It is 36 days until the end of the transition period. Let me remind the House what these regulations are about. At the moment, there are arrangements in place to allow law enforcement and security services to follow dangerous criminals, including terrorists, across borders. So if the National Crime Agency has undercover officers following a gang involved in people smuggling, for example, they can pursue them across the channel and across the EU. As things stand, that ability will end on 31 December.
At the moment, rapid extradition from the EU to the UK, including of a country’s own nationals, can be achieved using the European arrest warrant. As things stand, that will end on 31 December.
At the moment, information and intelligence can be shared between law enforcement authorities in the UK and those in the EU. This includes the Prüm database, which allows rapid electronic matching of fingerprints and DNA samples found at any crime scene in the UK with those in databases of criminals held across the EU. As things stand, we will no longer have access to these databases come 31 December.
At the moment, the SIS II database is in place, which triggers an alert when someone travelling across an EU border is wanted or of interest to the police or security services. It also provides information about what action border security officials should take. As things stand, we will lose access to that database from 1 January.
At the moment, Eurojust co-ordinates investigations and prosecutions involving more than one country by helping to resolve conflicts of jurisdiction, for example. As things stand, we will no longer be a member of Eurojust on 1 January.
Finally, Europol co-ordinates law enforcement activity across the EU to deal with serious and organised crime, such as drug and people trafficking, terrorism and cybercrime. Crucially, it produces threat assessments in these areas, which pose the most serious criminal threats to the EU and the UK. These are used to prioritise law enforcement activity. As things stand, the UK will go from being one of the agenda-setting countries in Europol to having observer status. I say, “as things stand”, but we have only 35 days to prevent these things.
Can the Minister give us a detailed account of which, if any, of these measures, which are vital to the security of the UK, are likely to still be in place on 1 January? Let me help her a little. The BBC reported last week that the UK wanted to maintain the same access to Prüm, SIS II and the other EU databases that are vital to our security, but that the EU says that those are not on offer to non-EU members. We know from the experience of Norway and Iceland that non-EU members cannot be part of the European arrest warrant, and the second-class alternative they have does not allow extradition of a country’s own nationals. Even that took over a decade to negotiate and come into force. So can the Minister confirm that whatever security treaty the UK is able to negotiate with the EU will not include access to EU databases or the European arrest warrant?
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top counterterrorism officer, told the BBC last week that the UK will be less safe without an EU security deal in place. Is it not the case that the UK will be less safe whatever security deal is agreed, or if no security deal is agreed, as it will not include access to EU databases and the European arrest warrant? I am sure these regulations—all 50 of them—are necessary, but they provide a stark reminder of what we are losing as a result of leaving the European Union.
I too thank the Minister for her explanation of the content and purpose of these regulations. They make amendments to UK law to give effect to the separation provisions relating to law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation contained in the withdrawal and separation agreements. They provide for the winding down of cross-border judicial and police cases in progress at the end of the transition period, including by requiring that data protection arrangements will continue to apply to any information required before the end of this year. In that particular sense, the provisions of these regulations are effectively time-limited. The regulations also amend the Law Enforcement and Security (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 since they address new developments since the 2019 regulations were made, including in relation to the application of the Prüm directive to the UK.
The Government argue that these regulations are necessary to ensure a smooth transition to alternative arrangements regarding the handling of live cases and procedures at the end of the transition period. The reality is that the regulations provide little clarity or certainty to either the people of this country over the arrangements applicable from 1 January next year, or to our law enforcement and security services, who still do not know, five weeks from the end of the transition period, what legal and regulatory framework they will be winding down to, or what the practical day-to-day impact of any security and criminal justice deal, or no deal, will be on their ability to keep our people safe—a responsibility which is surely one of the most important priorities for any Government.
On cross-border data sharing and information sharing, lowering current capabilities would be very damaging and would adversely affect our country, hindering our ability to receive alerts, search for criminal records and extradite criminals. My noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan referred to a letter published last week to the Select Committee on Home Affairs from the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which said that
“the loss of some or all of the tools will mean that, even with contingencies in place, the fallback systems will be slower, provide less visibility of information/intelligence and make joined up working with European partners more cumbersome.”
Could the Minister do something that the Security Minister in the Commons failed to do three times, and say whether the Government agree or disagree with that assessment by the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council?
Could the Government also say in their response what assessment they have made of the scenario that British law enforcement will find itself in on 1 January—in five weeks’ time—in light of concerns about the effectiveness of contingency arrangements and the clear view of police leaders on the need to retain EU tools to retain current levels of operational effectiveness? Could the Government tell us what capabilities we will have after the end of the transition period in relation to the Schengen Information System, SIS II, which we use extensively and appear set to lose?
Could the Government tell us what fast-track extradition arrangements there will be to replace existing capabilities from which we currently benefit under the European arrest warrant? What will replace the loss of the European Criminal Records Information System, affecting 4,000 requests every month? What will our position be after the end of the transition period in relation to Europol and future partnership working on law enforcement across Europe, which has been so effective? What will the position be in relation to future access to a passenger name records database, providing information on terrorists and criminals trying to enter our country, and the Prüm database for DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data?
The specific regulations we are debating are needed to fulfil our legal commitments on law enforcement and criminal justice separation provisions. But to have law enforcement, counterterrorism and security services winding down operations, knowing that some will not be wound up again and that some, if there is a deal, may or may not be wound up again to effective levels in the new year, is hardly a satisfactory situation to be in when we are talking about the safety and security of our citizens. In addition, the uncertainty is causing focus in our law enforcement agencies to concentrate less on day-to-day priorities in order to address this uncertainty over what arrangements will be applicable after the end of this year.
Along with other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I await the Government’s response to the points and questions raised, including by myself, and will be looking for meaningful assurances, not unsubstantiated statements of hope, that our law enforcement agencies and security—[Inaudible]—protect us all.
I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that he was cut off just at the appropriate moment, as he was about to finish. I thank him and all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and their constructive approach to the regulations, although many noble Lords did not talk about the regulations at all; they took this opportunity, and rightly so, to talk about other issues around the end of the transition period. I also thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who never fails to impress me, for explaining the whole thing in a few sentences. I was glad to hear that echoed by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier.
As demonstrated by the debate, there is consensus on the need to provide operational and legal clarity at the point of transition for our operational partners. Doing so enables the orderly completion of ongoing cases and procedures. It is also evident that there is support for the Government meeting our legal obligations under the withdrawal and separation agreements. This is exactly what the statutory instrument does.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, bemoaned the 50 different elements to the SI. Interestingly and unusually, there were no comments on this from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, talked about the lack of time. I cannot deny that time is pressing; we need to establish and conclude these things before 31 December.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, asked me a question about how many deals. It is impossible to say at this point. The focus is clearly to reach agreement, which we are working intently to achieve. I cannot comment beyond that. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier made the correct point that criminals do not care whether we are in or out and will exploit any softening of co-operation. That is absolutely correct. I reassure my noble and learned friend that we will continue to work closely with our European partners to tackle our shared security threats and promote the safety and security of our citizens.
We have been negotiating an agreement on law enforcement and criminal justice to equip our operational partners on both sides. There is a good degree of convergence on the operational capabilities that the UK and EU have been negotiating, and we have been able to make progress since we began negotiating legal texts. It is clearly in the interests of both sides to reach an agreement.
The noble Lords, Lord Reid and Lord Rosser, talked about a day-one non-negotiated outcome. We must continue to prepare for all possible scenarios at the end of the transition period. In the event that it is not possible to reach an agreement, the UK has well-developed and well-rehearsed plans in place. They involve transitioning and co-operation with EU member states to alternative non-EU arrangements by the end of the transition period, where available. Broadly speaking, they would mean making more use of Interpol, Council of Europe conventions and bilateral channels. They are tried-and-tested mechanisms, which the UK already uses for co-operation with many non-EU countries. Interpol was the primary means by which the UK exchanged warnings and alerts with EU member states as recently as 2015, and we continue to work closely with the police and other law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in the UK, as well as the devolved Administrations, to ensure that we are ready for a range of possible outcomes at the end of the year.
The negotiators have been in contact almost every day since 22 October and they are continuing to work intensively to bridge the gaps that remain between us. There has been some progress in recent days but, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, pointed out, time is now very short. We have been consistently clear that if we cannot reach an agreement that fully respects UK sovereignty, we will leave on Australia-style terms and prosper in doing so.
Law enforcement partners have been working for some time to transition to Interpol channels. We have established and funded the International Crime Coordination Centre to drive readiness. Alongside extensive domestic preparations, we are engaging bilaterally with member states.
The noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Reid and Lord Rosser, talked about the loss of SIS II. We recognise the mutual loss of capability that UK non-participation in SIS II entails. As I have said, Interpol channels provide a tried and tested mechanism for exchanging alert information. It remains the primary means by which EU member states share information with partners within the EU and globally that do not have access to SIS II. We are committed to making our use of Interpol channels as effective as possible. All Interpol circulations received by the UK are now routinely made available at the front line for police and border officers. Measures such as the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Act give our officers the power to act effectively on information received. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, asked about bilateral agreements as a fallback for losing SIS II. As I have said, there is extensive engagement around EU member states’ ability to use Interpol channels if no agreement can be reached on SIS II.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to Neil Basu’s comments. The safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority. If it is not possible to reach an agreement with the EU, the UK has well-developed and well-rehearsed plans in place. Broadly speaking, we would have to make more use of Interpol, Council of Europe conventions and bilateral channels. We want to continue to be a global leader on security and one of the safest countries in the world.
The noble Lords, Lord Reid and Lord Rosser, referred to the letter from Martin Hewitt. There is a good degree of convergence in what the UK and the EU have been negotiating in terms of operational capabilities. On law enforcement, it is self-evidently in the interests of both sides to reach an agreement that equips operational partners on both sides with capabilities to protect citizens and bring criminals to justice. We continue to work closely with the police and other law enforcement agencies in the UK to ensure that we are ready for a range of outcomes at the end of the year. As regards his comments on SIS II, we have always said that there will be some mutual loss of capability in the event that the UK no longer had access to it. That is why we offered to reach an agreement with the EU that delivers a similar capability. The European Commission has consistently maintained that it is not legally possible for a non-Schengen third country to co-operate through SIS II but we have maintained our offer to that end.
Noble Lords talked about the loss of the European arrest warrant and the diminishing of safety to that end. We have left the EU and the EAW is used exclusively by EU member states. Our proposals include greater safeguards than those within the European arrest warrant and the UK will continue to be, we hope, one of the safest countries in the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, talked about Europol and Eurojust. We are not seeking membership of either agency. That is not how third-country arrangements with these agencies work. In line with the UK approach, our legal text provides for co-operation between the UK and Europol, and the UK and Eurojust, to facilitate multilateral law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation. The type of relationship that we are proposing is in line with third-country precedents, going beyond those only where it is in our mutual interests to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, also talked about the Northern Ireland protocol. 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. We have also laid secondary legislation to implement aspects of the withdrawal agreement to help provide certainty for businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland, to ensure that the statute book is fully functioning for the end of the year, and to discharge our obligations under the protocol.
As for our engagement with the devolved Administrations, the collaborative work with them on the secondary legislation programme covering devolved matters required for EU exit and during the transition period has been a success, with around 300 UK Government SIs laid with the agreement of the devolved Administrations. We have made no secondary legislation without the consent of the devolved Administrations.
We have engaged constructively with the devolved Administrations on readiness legislation, including sharing a list of all expected SIs to the end of the transition period that legislate in areas of devolved competence. Regular forums are held with them, at both official and ministerial level, for legislation to be discussed and any concerns raised. I know that the Home Office regularly meets about 20 delivery partners to review the preparations and monitor any risks, including any in relation to the PSNI.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about transfers of passenger name records post transition period. In the event of a non-negotiated outcome, we will engage directly with all EU airlines operating to the UK to conclude arrangements for the transfer of PNR data to the UK in compliance with UK law requiring disclosure of data. The proposed agreements will set out the data protection safeguards operated by the UK that can enable EU airlines to disclose data in compliance with EU data protection legislation. It is a decision for each airline whether to conclude a data transfer agreement with the UK. In the event of a negotiated outcome, where there is a legally binding international agreement on PNR between the UK and the EU, transfers from EU airlines can continue without any issue. I hope that I have covered all the points that noble Lords have made, and I commend the regulations to the House.
House adjourned at 5.48 pm.