House of Lords
Tuesday 19 January 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions confine them to no longer than 30 seconds and to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
My Lords, specific information on the reduction of diesel use from rail connections to ports and quarries is not available. However, Network Rail analysis suggests that a decarbonisation strategy to achieve a 97% reduction in rail traction carbon emissions by 2050 would save a total of around 2,000 million litres of diesel used by freight trains, compared to 2019-20 use levels.
I thank the Minister for her reply. A modest extension of electrification would bring jobs to the supply industry, many of them in the north, and a big saving in the use of diesel oil in the next 10 years. Will the Government step forward and agree this programme, which has been under discussion for a long time?
The noble Lord is completely right that it has been under discussion for a long time—it is very important, and it is a very long-term plan. However, we are informed by the Network Rail-led traction decarbonisation network strategy, which feeds into what the Government are working on at the moment: the transport decarbonisation plan, which will be published shortly.
My Lords, given that, as we have just heard, it may be some time before the routes mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, are electrified, what measures can be taken in the meantime by the freight locomotive industry to minimise harmful diesel emissions—for example, particulate filters, selective catalytic reduction or, indeed, cleaner diesel?
Indeed, emissions are not just carbon: particulates play a huge role in poor air quality, and the freight-operating companies are taking active steps to reduce the amount of emissions their locomotives produce. For example, among other interventions the industry has begun using stop-start technologies—rather like we have on cars—on locomotives to reduce emissions when idling. We continue to work with the rail freight industry and the Rail Safety and Standards Board to look at what we can do and what research and development needs to be undertaken to reduce all emissions from rail freight.
As I have noted, the Government will publish in spring 2021 the transport decarbonisation plan, which will take a holistic and cross-modal approach to achieving net zero. However, this Government have electrified 700 miles of track in the last few years; we have a very ambitious electrification programme, which goes through the rail network enhancements pipeline to make sure that the right schemes are prioritised and that it secures value for money.
Will the Minister accept that these things, to use her words, take a long time because successive Governments, including this one, keep putting them off? Would it not make more sense to have a proper rolling programme of electrification that would meet the aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and help bring about stability in the industry for those responsible for electrification? Finally, would it not also help the Government’s carbon reduction targets?
My Lords, these things take a long time not because of delays but because of all the quite correct processes that these schemes need to go through. The noble Lord points out that the Government need a long-term electrification plan. That is exactly what the rail network enhancements pipeline is: it looks at all the potential schemes, prioritises those that produce the best overall benefits and secures value for money for the taxpayer.
My Lords, as the Minister has just said, emissions from diesel trains have an impact on the health of staff and passengers waiting at stations, especially large enclosed stations. What regular monitoring is undertaken of emissions levels in stations to ensure that rules on the operation of diesel engines are followed?
As I mentioned in response to a previous question, the industry is well aware that emissions consist of not just carbon but particulates as well, and these will impact passengers and staff at large stations, particularly the enclosed ones, as the noble Baroness notes. I do not have details of the exact monitoring that takes place—I am fairly sure that it does take place—but I will write to her with further details.
As the Minister said, Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy states that the UK rail freight sector will be largely diesel-free by 2050, but do the Government think that is an ambitious enough target? Will they be having discussions with Network Rail and the rail freight sector on how this target date of 2050—some 30 years away—could be brought forward?
The Government are in frequent discussions with the rail freight sector. This is an important element of our decarbonisation strategy, as it takes goods away from the roads and transports them with a far lower level of emissions. The Government would actually like to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040, so I hope that makes the noble Lord happy. However, we must be cognisant that we do not want to shift freight from rail to road to achieve that target, because that would raise emissions. We are monitoring the situation, but our ambition is to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040.
I congratulate Network Rail on the strategy. Will my noble friend do all she can to encourage it to improve rail links to existing ports and, especially, to encourage more multi-modal global rail freight facilities such as that at Doncaster?
This Government have invested £235 million in the strategic freight network in the five years from 2014. We appreciate that the intermodal connectivity hubs are incredibly important. The largest amount of rail freight—39%—goes to these intermodal hubs, so we welcome the development of strategic rail freight interchanges. They are incredibly useful, combining warehousing and connectivity for rail and road.
My Lords, moving road freight on to rail is an interesting idea, because that would reduce the amount of diesel used. The port of Dover already has links with HS1, so have the Government investigated the option of moving road freight on to the HS1 line?
I am not aware of whether we have investigated the HS1 line specifically, but the Government do support modal shift for freight. For 2021, we increased the modal shift revenue support scheme, which aims to shift road freight on to rail and water, by 28% to £20 million. This has removed 900,000 HGV journeys from the roads.
I congratulate the Minister on the welcome commitment to modal shift that she made in reply to the last question. Is she aware, however, that extended journey times caused by the need to change from diesel to electric traction are one of the greatest deterrents to growing the rail freight business? The EU Goods Sub-Committee recently took evidence from a major freight operator which said it would it prefer to use the railway from east coast ports like Felixstowe, but journey times by road to the midlands and the north were much shorter. Will the Minister encourage her department to look at modest electrification projects that would make a real difference to the rail freight business?
Of course, we will look at modest electrification projects when and if they are brought forward. The issue of journey times is important, but rail freight has the advantage of being able to carry less urgent goods—heavy construction materials, for example—over long distances. Therefore, it can be used for lots of different types of freight, which is to its advantage.
I do not recognise an awful lot in that question, but I would like to reassure the noble Lord that, of course, it has not stopped; projects do not stop just because you cannot see things being built. A huge amount of work happens before a project starts, as the noble Lord is well aware. This Government are committed to electrification and will look at appropriate schemes that secure value for money.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, that there was not time to take his question.
Health: Eating Disorders
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to The Health Survey for England 2019, published on 15 December 2020, and the finding that 19 per cent of women aged 16 and over screened positive for a possible eating disorder, what steps they are taking to support those with eating disorders.
My Lords, eating disorders are serious, life-threatening conditions, and we are committed to ensuring that people have access to the right support when they need it. We are growing our investment in community healthcare for adults year on year—almost £1 billion extra by 2023—with specific funding to transform adult eating disorder care and, for young people aged 16 to 25, to accelerate provision beyond existing growth and to transform plans.
The NHS health survey suggests that the prevalence of eating disorders is significantly higher than previously assumed, so will the Government commission a national, population-based study to accurately identify the number of people with eating disorders, as the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee recommended, to inform research and service-level provision?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: the statistics on eating disorders are shocking. The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Survey identified 0.4% of 5 to 19-year-olds and 1.6% of girls aged 17 to 19. The NHS Digital Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed 6.4% of adults displaying signs of an eating disorder. There is the survey by Beat, and I could go on. I do not think it is an issue of surveys; we have to address the underlying statistics with measures that make a difference.
It is very helpful that the Minister recognises the seriousness of anorexia nervosa and other conditions. It remains puzzling, and the causes are not fully understood, but the long-term risks—for example, infertility or the loss of a child during pregnancy or childbirth—are very serious. Given that some of these patients require almost forced admission to hospital, is there any scope for reviewing this issue when we come to consider the mental health provisions that are due next year?
The noble Lord puts it extremely well. Instances of those in pregnancy who have eating disorders are particularly heartrending and disturbing. He is right: sometimes, the condition is so extreme that it needs virtual full admission. We have put six new beds in the south-east, five in the Midlands, five in the east of England and 10 in the north-east. We are putting a massive amount into mental health budgets and this provision covers exactly this kind of disorder because we recognise that more resources are needed. I look forward to further announcements of spending in this area.
My Lords, as the Minister said, the statistics outlined by the health survey are of obvious concern, but the survey, published last December, does not cover the period of the Covid pandemic. Has the Minister any evidence that eating disorders have increased during the pandemic? If so, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s response?
The noble Lord is right: the pandemic will have added pressure, particularly on young girls. In-patient units are experiencing tremendous pressure, so it is difficult to see those instances working their way through primary care at the moment. We are studying the situation very carefully, but the noble Lord is entirely right: it is quite possible that incidents will increase, and we will put resources in place to address that.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that around a quarter of all sufferers of eating disorders are men, and that the number of males seeking help has gone up by 70% in the last decade? With the increasing emphasis on young men to attain a certain body type, does he agree that more males might need support in the coming years?
My noble friend is right to remind us that this is not a gender-specific condition and that many men have eating disorders of one kind or another. The culture we live in does nothing but encourage that and I think we have to address the underlying causes, both psychiatric and the pressure of social media. We will be putting in place the resources necessary to support that kind of initiative.
My Lords, NHS Digital has reported that admissions for eating disorders have almost trebled since 2007, but there has been very little investment into in-patient treatments since then. With only 400 NHS beds for adult eating disorder sufferers in England, and capacity currently further reduced by the pandemic, what are the Government doing about this chronic shortage of in-patient beds for those suffering from serious eating disorders, which particularly affect young women?
The noble Baroness may not have heard my answer to the previous question, where I cited the large number of beds opened in the last year, totalling more than 30 across the country. I recognise that more beds are needed for those who have particularly acute disease, but the large prevalence of the disease among hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys also means that community care has to be at the heart of our response to this condition.
My Lords, this autumn, charities such as Place2Be have recorded a notable increase in issues of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders. The impact of shutting schools has been huge, and we will not know the legacy of that for a long time to come. I am reassured to hear the Minister say that he is as concerned as I am to look at ways to deal with this, but will he and others consider making school teachers the first priority for receiving the vaccine, after the most vulnerable and aged in our population, so that schools can open as soon as possible?
My Lords, we recognise the contribution of charities to this mental health challenge, and £10.2 million of additional funding has been allocated to mental health charities. We also recognise the importance of keeping schools open: no Government could have tried harder to keep schools open than this one. However, the allocation of the vaccine is based on morbidity—we have to protect those whose lives are most threatened and that is why the JCVI has put the prioritisation list in the form it has.
My Lords, a recent literature review found that many GPs feel unequipped to identify and manage eating disorders, meaning that patients who could benefit from primary care are often passed on to specialist services and face long waiting lists. Given the importance of early intervention, can the Minister say what is being done to train and support primary care professionals in diagnosing and treating people with eating disorders, and to improve shared care across the primary and secondary care interface?
My Lords, NHS England is working with Health Education England to procure training courses that will increase the capacity of the existing workforce, to allow them to understand these challenging issues better and allocate people to the right course of treatment. It is a problem that we recognise, and resources in training are being put in place to address it.
My Lords, following on from the last question, hospital admissions for bulimia rose 75% during lockdown, amid fears about the mental health impact of the pandemic. For children and young people, we also know that these figures have been rising every year for several years. We also know that there are regional disparities in waiting times for eating disorder services. What will the Government do to respond to what seems like an increase in eating disorders and rising regional disparities?
My Lords, I recognise the issue of regional disparities, but I reassure the noble Baroness that our ambition is to deliver swift access to treatment for 95% of children and young people with suspected eating disorders within one week. The good news is that in the second quarter of 2021, 83% of urgent cases were seen within one week and 89.6% of routine cases were seen within four weeks. Those figures can be improved but I think that they are impressive. They show that progress is being made and that we are taking this issue seriously.
My Lords, the eating disorder faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists has recently reported that eating disorder teams are being asked to ignore the NICE guidelines for treatment as being unrealistic and too expensive. Will the Minister either justify this or condemn it?
My Lords, parents of adult children suffering from the most extreme eating disorders say they are often desperate to help but powerless because of an insistence on patient confidentiality. The desire to give autonomy to patients too often extends to those whose sickness with eating disorders makes them unable to take sensible decisions for themselves. Will the Minister agree to examine the conflict between these two wishes and how it could be resolved?
My Lords, the noble Baroness alludes to a conflict for which there is no easy answer. I completely sympathise with any parent whose child is exhibiting eating disorder issues. It is the most awful and frustrating situation for any parent to see their child in a self-destructive loop for which there seems to be no intervention possible, but patient safety is patient safety, and this is the conundrum that faces any mental health situation. The Mental Health Act is undergoing review at the moment—I am grateful to Sir Simon Wessely for his report, which we debated yesterday—and these are exactly the kinds of issues that we are looking at. I express profound sympathy for all those who find themselves in this awful situation.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, that there was not time for his question.
Health: Brain Tumours
My Lords, I am hugely grateful to noble Lords for bringing this challenge to my attention. It is House of Lords advocacy at its best. We have met interested parties and I am pleased to say that we have a plan. Workshops are being booked, more research is being funded and we are encouraging more researchers to become involved. I am hopeful that this will mean progress and I am watchful to ensure that it delivers.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that positive response. Can he assure me that, in addition to seeking ways of being able to spend up to the £40 million research money made available, he will comment on the report of the chair of the all-party group on brain tumours, which says that there is greater need because there are no researchers able to undertake much of this research? Can he consider steps to address this imbalance and attract the brightest of medical and scientific minds into this uniquely complex area?
The noble Lord is right: it is extremely complex and one of the challenges we have is that the basic science needed to guide research is an unpredictable and difficult-to-manage process. That is why I have invited representatives of patient groups to try to guide the basic scientific research so that the talented cancer researchers who are available, who can do the more operational and applicable elements of the research, will have the material necessary to get on with their job.
My Lords, it is arguable that, of all the human organs, the brain is the main. People from the black community are nearly three times more likely to develop pituitary tumours at the base of the brain than their white counterparts. The reasons for this disparity are still not clear. Will the Government commit to encouraging further research into this issue? Also, only 14% of UK spending on brain tumour research is from the Government; the remaining 86% is from the charity sector. Although more money is not the total answer, will the Government commit to more funding for this vital area of research?
My Lords, £40 million was announced in May 2018 for brain tumour research. To date, £9.3 million has been committed and £5.5 million will be committed from April 2018 to 2023. At this stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, alluded to, the allocation of budget is not the issue. Making sure that the pipeline of applicable research is in place is our challenge. That is why we have worked well with interested parties to put together a plan for trying to ginger along the basic science necessary to get those research projects activated.
My Lords, in 2019, my 22-year-old son, Charlie, was diagnosed with a germinoma, which is a rare form of brain tumour. He was referred for proton-beam therapy at the Christie Hospital in Manchester by the excellent Dr Jeremy Rees of the National Hospital in Queen Square. First, I thank the Government for spending the vast amount of money required to establish this capability in the UK, which, I am pleased to say, I think has been successful. Is the second facility at UCLH still on track to come on stream in 2021? Perhaps the Minister might reflect on the clinical expertise that has developed over the last year since the establishment of the facility at the Christie Hospital.
My Lords, it is fantastic news that my noble friend’s son has benefited so well from our considerable investment in proton-beam therapy. I wish both him and his son good luck on behalf of all noble Lords. I am not aware of any current plans to open a PBT site in Birmingham, but I can reassure him that the UCLH site in London is due to open this year and we look forward to that very much indeed. It was hoping to open in 2020 but plans were impacted by the pandemic. As with any ground-breaking technology, clinical expertise in PBT will continue to increase as our hard-working frontline radiological staff treat more and more patients.
My Lords, I am most encouraged by the opening statement from the Minister and the Answer he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. That goes a long way to answering my question, which was whether he agrees that to improve the outcome for patients with brain tumours, we need a strategy that addresses the clinical and research workforce; basic and clinical research, including genetics; research funding; and diagnostic and treatment centres of excellence—a strategy similar to one that dramatically improved outcomes for patients with breast cancer and leukaemia. Does the Minister agree that the director of the National Institute for Health Research—or anyone else that he feels appropriate—should be asked to develop such a plan?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an excellent suggestion. Indeed, I am pleased to report that exactly such a strategy is in place by working with the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, to which the department, the NIHR, NHS England and NHS Improvement are all active contributors. As part of the mission the department is funding new research through NIHR, encouraging new researchers to become involved, and we will be supporting the delivery of research as a key part of the new Tessa Jowell centres of excellence.
My Lords, many experts conclude that without new discoveries the outlook for patients with brain tumours is bleak. Given that many sufferers are in their teens or twenties and reliant on the support of their parents or carers, do the Government see it as a priority to support families, both during treatment processes and during the all-too-frequent bereavements?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that brain tumours and brain cancer are some of the most awful situations, particularly because they so frequently affect the young. That is why infrastructure spend on brain tumour research has increased. I am pleased to say that we received 62 applications for research funding between May 2018 and 2020, 10 of which have been funded so far, but more can be done in that area. Supporting families is, of course, part of the responsibility of the charities and trusts involved, and I wish the best to all those families who have been hit by this awful condition.
My Lords, when this issue was raised at Questions on 19 November last year, the Minister suggested that the quality of applications needed improving. He kindly offered to meet research charities working in this area to facilitate this. Can he tell the House which of these charities he has met or has an appointment to meet and how many applications have since been received?
My Lords, I have had three meetings, particularly with the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, which has been extremely constructive and brought with it clinical expertise, patient groups and policymakers. Together we have worked on a plan, which I articulated in my opening remarks. It has emerged that it is not a question of the quality of the research applications. The quality of research in this area is fantastic. The problem is that we need to have better basic science at the very early stage of the pipeline in order to guide the later operable research suggestions. That is why we have organised the workshops, are feeding back to the applicants in the previous round of research and are actively engaged in this area.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a patron of the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission. I thank my noble friend for his sincere engagement with the challenge of improving the quality of brain cancer research since my Oral Question last year. He has taken the bull by the horns and I think we have a plan that is going to make a difference. I wonder if he might also comment on the difficulties that medical charities, which are such an important part of the funding landscape, are having at the moment because of the Covid crisis. This particularly affects hard-to-treat cancers such as brain tumours. Are the Government willing to give more support to these charities to ride out the difficult times they face at the moment?
My noble friend alludes to a situation that is grave and concerning. Hundreds of millions of pounds have disappeared from medical research charity income, particularly through the closure of second-hand clothes shops, which provide an enormous amount of income for British medical research. I pay tribute to the massive contribution of medical research charities in trying to move forward the science of medical research. This is an area we are deeply concerned about, and colleagues at BEIS and the Treasury are actively engaged with it. My noble friend is right that this a knotty situation to solve that we need to look at very carefully indeed.
My Lords, I was very privileged to be present in the Chamber when my noble friend Lady Jowell made her plea to improve brain tumour treatment, research and survival. The work since her death of the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, referred to by the Minister and other noble Lords, on the new national strategy has been inspirational. The mission has developed clear practical steps and pathways to build the quality, quantity and diversity of research that the UK needs, such as addressing delays in opening clinical studies, programmes to train the UK’s first generation of brain tumour-specific positions, and dedicated brain tumour centres. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that the NIHR, the MRC and the UKRI work together to ensure that the progress we need comes about? What will happen to the NIHR funding money put aside for brain tumour research in 2018 that remains unallocated at the end of the five-year window announced three years ago?
My Lords, I also pay tribute to the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission and all its work in putting together a really thoughtful strategy for tackling this most difficult issue. NIHR cancer research expenditure has risen from £101 million in 2010 to £138 million in 2019-20, and its settlement in the recent spending review was generous. I am optimistic that there are more resources there. I reassure the noble Baroness that, although the £40 million for brain tumour research has not all been allocated yet, it is not going anywhere and we are working as hard as possible to ensure that the right kinds of research project are put forward for that money. I would like to see it allocated as soon as possible.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew, Lord Polak and Lord Jones of Cheltenham, that we did not have time for their questions.
European Union: Visa-free Touring for Musicians
My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of the UK’s thriving cultural industries and pushed for ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work across Europe after the end of freedom of movement. During the negotiation, the EU tabled text regarding the paid activities that can be conducted without a visa. These proposals would not have addressed our sector’s concerns; they were non-binding, did not include touring or technical staff and did not address work permits. Our proposals, which the EU has admitted to rejecting, were based on the views of the music industry and would have allowed musicians to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without needing work permits.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I have an email from Guy Verhofstadt which rather puts the boot on the other foot. It details how the UK put its obsession with mobility before a 90-day reciprocal offer. The noble Lord, Lord True, has made it clear that there will be no imminent revisiting of this situation. Given this, can the noble Baroness offer some glimmer of hope to musicians, who generate £5.8 billion for the UK economy? Will Oliver Dowden find financial assistance? Even if he does, how will that ameliorate the loss of cultural exchange, which is so vital to the arts?
The noble Lord is right to recognise the incredible contribution of our cultural sectors, including musicians and the connected creative sectors. The Secretary of State is working very hard; he has a round table with sector institutions tomorrow to understand their concerns in detail. We are working with the sector to try to distil and simplify the rules which will apply, but we are committed to ensuring it has the right support at the right time to continue to thrive once we emerge from the pandemic.
I am slightly taken aback at the noble Lord’s tone; the Government have been incredibly committed to this area. Obviously, there were multiple complex issues that needed to be considered in these negotiations, including the commitments to take back control of our borders and to make sure that our creative industries continue to flourish. We remain entirely committed to both.
My Lords, touring musicians and creative artists are deeply angry at this negotiating failure. Is not the root of the problem refusal by the Home Office to extend permitted paid engagement here to 90 days for EU artists, meaning as a result that work permits will now be required in many member states for our artists? Will the Government urgently rethink this and renegotiate on the instrument and equipment carnet and on trucking issues?
There were a number of drawbacks to the EU proposals, which did not meet the requirements of our sectors, as I mentioned; they covered only ad hoc performances, they were non-binding and did not address technical staff or work permits. Our door absolutely remains open to reviewing these points, but in the meantime we will do everything we can to support our sectors.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music. Will my noble friend acknowledge that the current impasse will have a profoundly damaging impact on UK students, who need to travel to progress their careers but, as they will not earn large fees at that stage of their lives, will find themselves priced out of the market because of expensive and complex visa requirements? As there seems to be political will on both sides to ensure that musicians can continue to work freely in Europe, do we not owe it to students, above all else, to get back to the negotiating table to sort this out?
My noble friend raises a very important point. There are two different issues here: on going back to the negotiating table, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, our door is absolutely open but, in the short term, understanding the picture for students and how we can support them is part of our work—if there are specifics my noble friend would like to share with me, I will endeavour to make sure that fellow Ministers are briefed on them.
It has been disheartening to hear the UK and the EU blaming each other for the failure to reach agreement on this. Does the Minister agree that a more constructive approach would focus on how a deal could be fashioned on the basis of the positive ideas that each side has put forward? How soon might the Government initiate such a process and, rather than just having an open door, knock on the door of the EU to pursue it?
I am sure the noble Lord is right that mutual blame probably does not get us much further forward. However, as I said, in the meantime we are doing everything we can to try to simplify the procedures now in place and to understand the needs of the sector so it can continue to flourish and thrive.
My Lords, the Minister’s opening response was very carefully crafted but, reading between the lines, it seems the creative industries have lost out in an unseemly internal government squabble. If the door is still open for discussion, what are the Government doing to develop an agreed position which will also deliver the backing of the Home Office and Border Force?
My Lords, we understand that there are different views as to what actually happened but given that musicians from the continent have been performing in Britain for the past 250 years, and that British musicians now perform on the continent on a regular basis, this is a win-win situation. Cannot the Government therefore take an initiative to reopen negotiations on this topic, which would clearly be of benefit to both sides to succeed in? I declare an interest as a trustee of the VOCES8 Foundation, which provides not only performance but musical education in France, Germany, Italy and Belgium.
I am afraid that I will have to disappoint the noble Lord, as I have done on previous questions on this point. We secured a deal that delivers on the result of the referendum. The agreement is not going to be renegotiated. Our job now is to implement it as well as possible.
My Lords, senior musicians I spoke to this weekend described experiences of agonising paperwork and fees, and sense that foreign promoters are already hesitant to offer engagements to UK groups. How do the Government intend to ensure that the increased costs associated with obtaining permits and administrating these tours will not, as a result, exclude all but the most privileged?
We are absolutely determined to make sure that we protect all parts of the cultural and creative ecosystem. As I have said, the Secretary of State is meeting organisations tomorrow and we continue to work closely to understand their needs, so that as soon as touring can recommence after the pandemic we do so with confidence.
My Lords, touring is not peripheral to the arts but central and vital—the basis of a major export industry and a vital showcase for the United Kingdom. If we could just lay aside the unfortunate blame game of recent days, can this please be sorted out as a matter of the utmost urgency?
My Lords, at the very least, we urgently need a 90-day supplementary agreement, which will cover most touring. Will the Government acknowledge that mode 4 should not be explored to resolve this issue? It is clear now that mode 4 is not going to work. There is no precedent in any other agreement for mode 4 to allow creative work and touring. A supplementary agreement should be sought.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, that we did not have time for his supplementary question.
Arrangement of Business
Joint Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act
Motion to Agree
EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement: Fishing Industry
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Thursday 14 January.
“As honourable Members will know, before Christmas the UK and the EU concluded a new trade and co-operation agreement, which established tariff-free trade in all goods and, among other things, sets a new relationship with the EU on fisheries. Before turning to the specifics of that agreement, I should briefly set the wider context.
The withdrawal agreement that was agreed by this House in January last year established the United Kingdom as an independent coastal state. Over the course of the last year we have taken our independent seat at the regional fisheries management organisations, including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation. In September, we reached a partnership agreement with Norway—our most important partner on fishing interests, and with whom we have responsibility for shared stocks in the North Sea.
We have also developed new bilateral arrangements with our other north-east Atlantic neighbours, including the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland. We have recently commenced annual bilateral fisheries negotiations with the Faroes in relation to access to one another’s waters, and a UK-Norway-EU trilateral is about to begin to agree fishing opportunities on shared stocks in the North Sea. There will also be a UK-EU bilateral negotiation on fishing opportunities for the current year in remaining areas. For the first time in almost 50 years, the UK has a seat at the table and represents its own interests in those important negotiations.
The trade and co-operation agreement establishes an initial multi-annual agreement on quota, sharing and access, covering five and a half years. It ends relative stability as the basis for sharing stocks. Under the agreement, we have given an undertaking to give the EU access to our waters on similar terms as now and, in return, it has agreed to relinquish approximately 25% of the quota that it previously caught in our waters under the EU’s relative stability arrangement. That means that we move from being able to catch somewhat over half the fish in our waters to two thirds of the fish in our waters at the end of the multi-annual agreement. The transfer of quota is front-loaded, with the EU giving up 15% in year 1. On North Sea cod, we have an increase from 47% to 57%. On Celtic sea haddock, our share has moved from 10% to 20%. On North Sea hake, we secured an uplift from 18% to 54%, and on West of Scotland anglerfish, we have an increase from 31% to 45%. After the five-and-a-half-year agreement, we are able to change access and sharing arrangements further. The EU, for its part, will also be able to apply tariffs on fish exports in proportion to any withdrawal of access.
Although we recognise that some sectors of the fishing industry had hoped for a larger uplift, and, indeed, the Government argued throughout for a settlement that would have been closer to zonal attachment, the agreement does, nevertheless, mark a significant step in the right direction. To support the UK industry through this initial five and a half years, the Prime Minister announced, just before Christmas, that we will invest £100 million in the UK fishing industry, and I will be bringing forward proposals for this investment in due course.
Finally, although it is not a consequence of the trade and co-operation agreement, the end of the transition period and the fact that we have left both the customs union and the single market does mean that there is some additional administration accompanying exports to the EU. I am aware that there have been some teething issues as businesses get used to these new processes. Authorities in the EU countries are also adjusting to new procedures. We are working closely with both industry and authorities in the EU to iron out these issues and to ensure that goods flow smoothly to market.”
My Lords, would the Minister like to join me in condemning Jacob Rees-Mogg’s flippant comment about fish being happier in the UK at a time when the fishers’ jobs are once more on the line? Does he understand the sense of betrayal they feel now that the reality of the Government’s broken promises becomes apparent? As they say, they are furious that the Government have tried to present the agreement as a major success, when it is patently clear that it is not. To begin to make amends, would the Minister like to clarify how much compensation in total will be made available to them? When will the fishers currently tied up in port or delayed in getting their fish to market start to receive the compensation they deserve for this shambles?
My Lords, the Prime Minister announced that £23 million of funding is being made available to support the seafood sector. It will support those parts of the sector that have suffered genuine loss, through no fault of their own, as a result of disruption and delays of seafood exports to Europe. Details will follow shortly. I would say to the noble Baroness that I think there is an uplift in quota for UK fishers equivalent to 25% of the total value taken by EU vessels from UK waters over the five-and-a-half-year period, and 15% of that uplift is in the first year, so I do not identify with her view. What we want to do is work with all parties to ensure there is a smooth passage for this very important sector, and that is what we are doing, with very regular communication and meetings.
My Lords, I note that the one area where Brexit could have been a real success, and important to one of our important industrial sectors, has been a complete failure in its negotiation. I have two very brief questions for the Minister. First, is it true that EU fleets will continue to have unfettered access to our EEZ to fish species for which there is no quota? Secondly, given the urgency and the crisis there is at the moment for the fishing industry and its exports, have the Government called a meeting of the specialised committee on fisheries with the EU? Has it already done that to resolve these issues urgently?
My Lords, on the specialised committee on fisheries, those matters are being worked through and there will be an update on that in due course. What I would I say to the noble Lord is that we have been working with industry and also, particularly, with Dutch, French and Irish officials to resolves issues with documentation, which is the key point. On the issue of the trade agreement, I disagree with him. With a 25% uplift in quota, what we want to do is to work with industry, and that is why we have said there is this £100 million fund programme to modernise fleets and the fish processing industry, precisely because we think there is a great future for UK fishing.
It seemed very odd at the time, but maybe it is just as well that the Prime Minister chose to focus on fish not finance. The City survives, while the fishing industry is on its knees. I really would not advise the laid-back Mr Rees-Mogg to repeat his uncaring quips on the pierhead at Peterhead. In my day, the UK team in Brussels Fisheries Councils always included an expert Scottish Minister. The autumn negotiations might not have ended in such a disaster if that precedent had been followed. Why was it not followed?
My Lords, my experience, having been at Fisheries Councils where I have been with the Scottish Fishing Minister—and, indeed, the Welsh and Northern Irish—is the close collaboration that we have with all part of the United Kingdom as we, in this case, work towards a more successful future for fishing. All I can say is that my experience is precisely that: that there is a very close dialogue across the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I ask my noble friend the Minister what urgent work the Government are undertaking to roll out a digital solution to this largely paper-caused crisis. We have the technology, and it is on public record that the EU is prepared to accept digital certification, not least for capture and other requirements. If it is good enough for other nations, what digital means currently available to us can we put in to unblock the border?
My Lords, we will look at all ways to improve the passage of goods from this country to the EU and for a digital solution wherever possible. I understand that there will be requirements for paperwork, but this is a sensible way forward and I am grateful to my noble friend. We should be working on this area, as we all want an improved flow.
My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, but his answers on this real crisis in the fishing industry at the moment are inadequate. When Michael Gove introduced the Government’s negotiating strategy for Brexit, in the House of Commons last spring, he said, with great enthusiasm, that Brexit would bring tens of thousands of new jobs in fishing to Britain. Does the Minister now regret that those promises were made?
My Lords, I said that there would be a £100 million programme to modernise fleets and improve and increase the fish-processing industry. I also said that the agreement involved the equivalent of 25% of the total value taken by EU vessels from UK waters going to UK fishers. This is a feature of the first section, of five and a half years, of our new relationship as a sovereign state. I am sorry if the noble Lord thinks that my answers are not adequate, but the investment we intend to undertake is because we think there is a very strong future for British fishing.
Will my noble friend join me in regretting that fish are going to rot, having made their way to a French port? Will he join me in pressing for training, so that the computer problems experienced on both sides of the channel can be resolved as soon as possible? Does he agree with me that, once again, inshore fishermen are the poor relations? They do not have exclusive access up to 12 nautical miles, as they were promised; nor have they been given an additional quota, which we did not need to leave the European Union for them to receive.
My noble friend is right that we should bear down on any waste, particularly on this issue. That is why, at official and ministerial level, there have been meetings with the Dutch, Irish and French to ensure that there is flow of food from this important sector, as well as a recognition that we need to ensure that companies know what documentation is required. On the issue of six to 12 nautical miles, access by EU vessels to the UK is limited to a number of ICES areas—the southern North Sea, the channel and the Bristol Channel. We want a vibrant future for all parts, but we understand that the inshore sector is important and will work with it on this.
My Lords, we were promised that Brexit would free the UK from EU red tape. Having seen the troubles of our fishing industry, the New York Times describes that promise as “a macabre joke.” The chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association describes the situation now as “red tape gone crazy.” The Minister acknowledges that there will be continuing requirements for paperwork, so could he tell the House how he equates the former promises with the current reality?
As I have already said, there is obviously work to be done on this side of the channel and with our neighbours to improve some early problems, which we need to resolve. Officials are working with individual companies to ensure that the situation improves rapidly, and I have already said that there will be a compensation package. Pulse trawling, for instance, is no longer permitted in the UK EEZ from 31 December. As a sovereign country, we will be able to resolve issues such as these now that we are able to make our own decisions about sustainable fishing in our waters.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. If the capacity of the House is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. We now come to consideration of Commons amendments to the Pensions Schemes Bill. These proceedings will follow guidance issued by the Procedure and Privileges Committee. When there are no counterpropositions, as for the first group, the only speakers are those listed, who may be in the Chamber or remote. When there are counterpropositions, as for the second group, any Member in the Chamber may speak, subject to usual seating arrangements and the capacity of the Chamber. Any Members intending to do so should email the clerk or indicate when asked. Members not intending to speak on a group should make room for Members who do. All speakers will be called by the Chair.
Short questions of elucidations 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 voices in the Chamber only. Where there is no counterproposition, the Minister’s Motion may not be opposed. A participant, whether present or remote, who might wish to press a proposition other than the lead counterproposition to a Division must give notice to the Chair, either in the debate or by emailing the clerk. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group. Noble Lords following proceedings remotely but not speaking may submit their voice—content or not content—to the collection of the voices by emailing the clerk during the debate, but Members cannot vote by email. The way to vote will be via the remote voting system. We will now begin.
Pension Schemes Bill [HL]
Relevant Documents: 4th, 7th, 8th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Motion on Amendment 1
1: Clause 27, page 17, line 38, leave out from beginning to end of line 40 and insert “The notice must specify—”
My Lords, before turning to the Commons amendments, I will take a moment to remind the House of what the Bill does, as a lot has happened since it was last here.
If enacted, the Bill will affect the lives of millions of people throughout the country. It will make pensions better by creating a new style of pension scheme that has the potential to increase future returns for millions of working people, and by delivering pensions dashboards that will help individuals to make informed decisions about their financial futures. It will make them safer by helping to prevent scams and by clamping down on those who recklessly try to plunder the pension pots of hard-working employees. It will make them greener by requiring pension schemes to take the Government’s net-zero climate targets into account in managing their own climate risk. I know that your Lordships agree that this is a worthwhile and important piece of legislation, and it has received cross-party support in both Houses. I hope that we are now at the final stage of its passage, and that we can agree and allow it to move on for Royal Assent.
I turn to Amendment 1. We welcome the strong interest shown in both Houses on ensuring that CDC schemes treat their members fairly and, in particular, operate in a way that is intergenerationally fair. As we explained in both Houses, requiring trustees to assess fairness is likely to generate confusion, as the concept means different things to different people, and there would be uncertainty about what was required. That is why we have intentionally avoided referencing fairness in such a way within any of the CDC provisions. Instead, following consultation, we intend to use these regulations to set out clear principles and processes that schemes must follow to ensure that different types of members are treated the same where appropriate—for example, when accruing and calculating benefits and making adjustments to benefits. These requirements will form part of the authorisation process for CDC schemes overseen by the Pensions Regulator.
For example, we intend that regulations under Clause 18 will require CDC scheme rules to ensure that there is no difference in treatment when calculating and adjusting benefits between different cohorts or age groups of scheme members, or between members who are active, deferred or receiving a pension. This is a clear and effective approach to delivering fairness in practice that is not only easy to understand, but also easy for members and trustees to apply, because it avoids a subjective interpretation of what is fair. We are all pleased that Royal Mail agrees with our approach, and it is for these reasons that we do not consider the amendment to the Bill necessary.
I will move on to Commons Amendments 2 and 3. Pension dashboards will help to revolutionise the pensions industry and bring it into the 21st century. This innovative programme will help to reconnect consumers with their otherwise lost pension pots and engage millions of UK citizens with their pension savings in a safe, secure and convenient way. These amendments on delaying the introduction of dashboards from other providers and preventing transactions through dashboards were overturned in the other place. This was in recognition of the approach taken to ensure that consumers were protected as part of the development of dashboard services. In respect of multiple dashboards, it has always been the Government’s belief that individuals should be able to access information about their pension savings from a service of their choosing. I am delighted that, following the changes that we made in this House, consumers will be able to access a dashboard service that is publicly owned, provided by the Money and Pensions Service. I restate the commitment that was made by my noble friend Lord Howe in this House on 30 June last year that
“the Government wholeheartedly agree that such a dashboard should be available to all users from day one, alongside dashboards offered by other organisations.”—[Official Report, 30/6/20; col. 668.]
We will not allow any qualifying dashboard to be launched before that of the Money and Pensions Service. However, we remain firmly of the belief that allowing other properly regulated dashboard providers to operate is the best way to drive engagement, reaching out to consumers where they may already interact with digital services, and unlocking innovative potential. I have said before that dashboards will launch with a simple find-and-view capability; this remains the case. However, enabling transactions through dashboards can provide an innovative way of safely giving people more effective control of their pension savings. Functionality on dashboards will be increased only as a result of user testing, after careful review and with the right level of consumer protections in place. It is important that we maintain the ability to meet the needs of the user by not prohibiting functionality that can put individuals in control. The ability to have this type of functionality in the future could bring real and significant benefits for consumers—for example, when consolidating small pots of pensions savings.
Dashboards are a hugely exciting innovation that will benefit and empower millions of citizens. We should support the development of dashboards so that they reach their potential and change the way that people interact with their pensions savings by placing them in control of all their pensions.
Finally, Commons Amendment 5 removed the privilege amendment made in the Lords, as is the norm in these cases. I beg to move.
My Lords, as there are no counterproposals to these Commons amendments, I shall try to brief, but there are a couple of points I would like to make in relation to Commons Amendments 1, 2 and 3.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have had lengthy discussions around the risk of unfairness, intergenerational or otherwise, that is inherent to collective money purchase schemes, or CDCs as they seem still to be called. I regret that the Government chose not to accept the amendment which required trustees to make an assessment of the extent to which a scheme is operating in a manner fair to all members; it has been removed by Commons Amendment 1. That seemed a fairly uncontroversial concept. However, the Minister has been very clear that the Government acknowledge the risk of unfairness, that they intend to learn from experiences in other countries, such as the Netherlands, and that they intend to deal with this issue in the regulations that they will publish in relation to Clause 18.
Commons Amendments 2 and 3 remove the amendments your Lordships agreed to in relation to pensions dashboards which required that there should be a period during which pensions dashboards are initially restricted to the MaPS dashboard and that they should not become transactional platforms without primary legislation. On the second point, I remain quite uncomfortable with the idea of a pensions dashboard becoming a transactional platform without very serious thought and experience. However, these matters will also be dealt with by regulations and I am confident that the Minister has heard the concerns that have been raised, even if she does not agree with the proposed method of dealing with them.
The Minister has been very generous with her time and commendably willing to meet to listen to and discuss concerns throughout the passage of the Bill. As a result of changes made to the Bill as it passed through your Lordships’ House, most of the regulations that will follow will be subject to the affirmative procedure. However, even under the affirmative procedure, it will not be possible to amend regulations. I therefore urge the Minister to continue her constructive and collaborative approach in relation to the regulations that will now follow by consulting across the House before draft regulations become set in stone. That way she will be able to take advantage of the very deep pensions knowledge and experience in this House and the regulations will be all the better for it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her clear presentation and her response to the issues raised during the passage of the Bill, as expressed in these amendments, which were based on concerns about protecting members of the public from criminal scams and malpractice and about minimising potential risks and threats to the value of pension schemes.
The amendments sent to the other place for consideration related, first, to the wish to ensure fairness, particularly to younger and newer members of the new CMP schemes; and, secondly, to the protection of pension scheme members from scams and exploitation in the operation of the dashboard by preventing financial transactions on it and by allowing the operation of the public dashboard for one year before allowing private sector models.
I understand from the Minister’s opening remarks that the concerns of the movers of those amendments have been at least partially addressed by Ministers. However, I support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, about consultation across the House before the regulations are drafted for consideration. Once the Bill is passed into law and these measures come into operation, we expect that they will be closely monitored and that if further concerns arise they may be reconsidered during the passage of regulations at a later stage. In view of this, we are not proposing to pursue these amendments further.
The fourth amendment concerns the need for different treatment of open and closed schemes and is the subject of further amendments today. My noble friend Lady Bowles will address the important issues raised when this amendment is considered in the next group.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for explaining why the Government asked the Commons to reject the amendments passed in this House. We have come a long way since the Bill had its First Reading in this House on 7 January—more than a year ago, although it seems more like a lifetime. The Bill now makes some important changes, creates CDC schemes, legislates for the pensions dashboard and strengthens the regulatory environment on pensions.
During the Bill’s passage through this House, the Government have made some welcome concessions. For example, we ran an amendment to require a public dashboard from the outset. The Government brought forward amendments requiring that, and I am grateful for the confirmation that the Minister has given today. We ran amendments saying that the FCA should regulate the provision of dashboard services, and the Minister has confirmed that that will happen. We ran an amendment to say that using the dashboard to see your own data must be free, and the Minister has confirmed that it will remain free.
The Bill initially made no reference to climate change, but my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and Members from across the House worked together to persuade the Government to amend the Bill to require trustees and managers to take the Paris Agreement and domestic climate change targets into account in their overall governance and their disclosure of climate change risks and opportunities. This is the first time that the words “climate change” have featured in domestic pensions legislation.
This is a better Bill than it was when it started, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have worked so hard on it, especially my noble friend Lady Drake and Dan Harris in our Opposition Whips team. I am also grateful to the Minister for engaging with our concerns and to the Bill team and all the officials who have engaged with us.
That said, the Government have rejected the amendments which this House voted for. On CDC schemes, I hope they will review the intergenerational impact of any schemes as they are developed and will keep an eye on that. I am particularly disappointed that our amendments on the pensions dashboard system were rejected. They would have put in place two essential safeguards: that the MaPS public dashboard should be in operation for a year and that the Secretary of State should lay a report before Parliament on its operation and effectiveness before commercial dashboards enter the market, and that the delegated powers in the Bill could not be used to authorise commercial dashboards to engage in transactions.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, I remain deeply concerned about the risks to consumers. Those amendments were especially important given the sheer breadth of the delegated powers the Bill grants and how little we know at the moment about how the dashboards will work. We still do not know how many dashboards there will be, who will run them, what information they will have, how it will be displayed or how consumers will respond. We do not know where liability will lie for each link in the chain or how consumers will be compensated if they lose out. We do not know what the charging model will be or how data security, identity verification or third-party access will be managed.
Given all those things that we do not know, I have sought to persuade the Government to come to Parliament to allow us to debate the proposals they make before the regulations are published. I regret that I have not succeeded in that. Given that this remains a very high-risk programme and that parliamentary scrutiny would surely be an advantage not an impediment, I hope that in her reply the Minister can give us some assurance of our continued involvement in debate on this process. I look forward to hearing her reply.
First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Sherlock, for their contributions. I think it is right to say that we have listened, we have engaged and we have valued and appreciated all noble Lords’ contributions, and I assure noble Lords that that will continue.
I reassure the House that the Government are fully committed to continue transparency and engagement through the development, delivery and operation of pensions dashboards. We greatly value the insight and input from colleagues from across the House in shaping, testing and ensuring the proposals and want that to continue throughout the more detailed stages of development. The pension dashboards programme is committed to publishing six-monthly progress updates, the most recent of which, in October 2020, outlined the work undertaken to define the data standards and the work towards finalising the requirements for the digital architecture and the identity service. It also set out an indicative plan for delivery.
Future updates, in advance of the launch of dashboards, will provide greater detail, engagement opportunity and assurance on key areas of specific interest. These will include the digital architecture and identity service; user consents and permissions, including delegated or third-party access; the consumer protection regime, including the liability model; and further work on how data will be presented to consumers, based on a growing body of user research and a greater understanding of user needs.
I facilitated a meeting between noble Lords and the pensions dashboards programme team just before Christmas. As promised at that meeting, I will ensure that these regular meetings continue. They will provide your Lordships with the opportunity to have meaningful discussions directly with the programme team at the publication of each progress update report and a chance to scrutinise this work at an early stage of development. I will ensure that copies of these reports are placed in the House Library on their publication.
I recognise the concerns that many have expressed about the broad nature of the delegated powers within this area of the Bill. There is a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to consult before making regulations for pensions dashboards. Consultation will cover proposals across the range of areas which are critical to the safe, secure and effective delivery of dashboards, and give all those interested the opportunity to influence the detail before the regulations are laid in draft in this House under the affirmative procedure.
I know that some of your Lordships have asked whether we can go even further, requiring the Government to lay a report before Parliament for debate in advance of draft regulations being laid. I do not believe this to be the right way forward, as the consultation on the Government’s proposals for regulations will already have taken place.
I have listened further to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and, although we have not always been in agreement, we are together on Peers having ongoing future involvement, and we are prepared to engage, engage and engage. Therefore, in addition to updating the House in the usual manner, I am prepared to commit to the Government tabling Written Ministerial Statements during the consultation phases, prior to the debate on the proposed dashboard regulations.
I reassure the noble Baroness that I will continue to work with her collaboratively in the way we have done throughout the Bill’s progress. On the matter of facilitating further debate on the issue, I am sure that the Chief Whip has heard our debate today, and, when the Written Ministerial Statements are laid, I will draw them to his attention for him to consider further discussion in the usual channels.
Some concerns have been expressed about governance of the dashboard service going forward. The Money and Pensions Service has responsibility for delivery of the dashboard architecture and ongoing oversight and control, and it is clear that our focus for the foreseeable future must be on the development and implementation of the service. Meeting the demands of the scale and complexity of this challenge comes first. Reaching a live and steady state of operation will take a number of years, as set out in the pensions dashboards programme activity plan. As such, I confirm that the Government have no plan to move ownership of dashboards architecture away from the Money and Pensions Service.
My department has clear governance arrangements in place to ensure the delivery of dashboards. As well as the regular published updates that I mentioned earlier, there is an existing legislative requirement, in the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, for MaPS to report to the Secretary of State annually on the exercise of its functions, which includes its responsibilities for pensions dashboards. This report is laid before Parliament.
Chris Curry, the senior responsible officer for the pensions dashboard programme, and Sir Hector Sants, chair of the Money and Pensions Service, regularly report progress to Ministers. The department also undertakes formal quarterly accountability reviews with the Money and Pensions Service. We recognise the importance of effective evaluation, including monitoring of consumer behaviours and outcomes. My department is responsible for overall evaluation of the policy and is working with the pensions dashboards programme and regulators to develop a comprehensive evaluation plan.
Research will also be undertaken with providers and users alike throughout the project life cycle. This will include user testing to understand likely reactions and behaviours, and research to understand the impact that dashboards will have on the market. My department is developing a joint set of critical success factors to complement delivery and measure the success of policy objectives. These are relevant to all stages of the programme and will give insights on, among other things, usage of the service, delivery and compliance. Review of the critical success factors will also play a part in evaluation and service developments.
I finish by repeating the commitment that I made in my opening remarks. We will not allow any dashboard to which schemes are required to supply data to be launched before that of the Money and Pensions Service. On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, about a review of intergenerational impact and fairness, we will of course review how CD schemes operate and will monitor how different groups are treated.
I hope that my comments reassure noble Lords that the Government are acting diligently and responsibly in the delivery of dashboards.
Motion on Amendment 1 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 2 and 3
2: Clause 118, page 104, leave out lines 20 to 22
3: Clause 122, page 116, leave out lines 38 to 45
Motion on Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 4
4: Clause 123, page 118, line 1, leave out subsection (2)
My Lords, this amendment was overturned in the House of Commons because, as the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion explained in Committee in the Commons, no Government can commit to ensuring that all defined benefit pension schemes that are expected to remain open are treated differently from other schemes. Although, of course, the extent to which a scheme is open, and how that affects whether and how it will mature, must be considered, open schemes do not all share the same characteristics, and it would be wrong to treat them all in a similar way. Each scheme must be treated taking account of its own particular circumstances.
The original amendment touched on a number of important factors to be taken into account in the scheme funding arrangements. They are some, but by no means all, of the factors that we think trustees or managers should have to consider when setting a scheme’s funding and investment strategy. These are complex and inter- dependent metrics and most appropriate to be considered in secondary legislation rather than being put on the face of the Bill. The Bill provides for this through delegated powers that will enable secondary legislation to set out in some detail what the new funding and investment strategy will need to include.
Addressing those matters in regulations will give interested parties a chance to contribute to the consultation on draft regulations. It will also allow flexibility to ensure that the arrangements can be adapted as economic conditions change, so that the scheme funding system can continue to operate effectively over time. But we absolutely do not want to see good schemes close unnecessarily. We have made a clear commitment to ensuring that regulations work in a way that does not prevent appropriate open schemes investing in riskier investments where there are potentially higher returns, provided the risks taken can be supported and that members’ benefits and the Pension Protection Fund are effectively protected. With that explanation, I beg to move.
Motion 4A (as an amendment to the Motion on Amendment 4)
4B: Page 117, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) In exercising any powers to make regulations or otherwise to prescribe any matter or principle under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 (scheme funding) as amended by Schedule 10, the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the scheme trustees to decide the specific funding, investment risk management and diversification strategy that is appropriate for the long-term time horizon, liquidity and employer covenant of the scheme.””
My Lords, we have come a long way since the probing discussions in Committee, when the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, first raised concern about whether there were steps afoot to cause de-risking of open DB schemes and the effect that that might have of shifting investment to gilts. I was among several noble Lords who agreed with that concern, and I followed up on Report with an amendment, kindly signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Vaux of Harrowden, which was passed.
In the light of experience, it could perhaps have been better framed. The message is that there is a difference between open defined schemes that are not on the path to maturity—when investments have to be progressively used up to pay pensions—and closed schemes that are on that inexorable path to maturity. This difference opens wider investment possibilities in relation to liquidity and risk. Absent such recognition—which is the status quo—schemes would become unnecessarily expensive for both employers and employees. They would become unaffordable. There would be knock-on effects for the wider economy because a great source of investment would be removed.
My amendment was followed up with cross-party vigour in the Commons. Although the Government have not accepted any amendments, there have been many helpful meetings and written exchanges with our Minister, the Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, and the Pensions Regulator. Progress has been made and I think we have all learned something. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for enabling those meetings, for giving us the time to think about our response and for proposing statements that addressed our concerns.
Most open schemes will follow what is now called the bespoke approach; that is, one tailored to individual circumstances. Recently, I had a helpful email exchange with the regulator about fast track, which was described in the consultation and which can be used by open schemes, which acknowledged the more general recognition that open schemes do not have to progressively derisk: “If you are an open scheme with a strong flow of new entrants, then you might always be 20 years from maturity. You might, therefore, always be at the same point in the covenant to maturity table and you may never be constrained by a lowering of the discount rate consistent with that.” Trying to correct arguments that have gone backwards and forwards is always slightly distracting. Is the word “different” useful, or will it be played on by those wishing to avoid appropriate contributions? What is meant by maturity? These terms have been challenged, yet they are inevitably used by all sides.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I put our heads together to suggest statements and the reserving Amendment 4B, which we shared with other noble Lords for their comments. The amendment states simply that regulations should support the ability of scheme trustees to decide
“the specific funding, investment risk management and diversification strategy that is appropriate for the long-term time horizon, liquidity and employer covenant of the scheme.”
The long-term time horizon is another way of saying maturity. Liquidity relates not only to investments but to the cash flow of schemes. The strength of the employer covenant is a further factor in how trustees assess risk to the scheme and how to manage deficits. It covers the assets that have been pledged to support the scheme and, more generally, what assets the employer has.
We submitted five points to the Minister. First, we proposed that the DB funding regime should remain scheme-specific; any bespoke approach should build on this foundation and be flexibly applied to take account of individual scheme circumstances.
Secondly, member benefits can sometimes be safeguarded, not by derisking investments, but by an appropriate risk management strategy determined after careful analysis by the trustees, taking account of time horizon, liquidity, employer covenant and appropriate diversification.
Thirdly, detailed provisions for ongoing DB funding, including any necessary assessment criteria and metrics, should be set out in regulations. These would acknowledge the position of open and less mature schemes and be encompassed within the Pensions Regulator’s defined benefit funding code of practice.
Fourthly, prior to publication of draft regulations, the Government should commit to an engagement programme with a range of schemes, particularly those remaining open and immature, and launch a consultation document informed by this engagement.
Fifthly, the Government should also publish a comprehensive regulatory impact assessment of the draft regulations, including an analysis of the impact of any suggested derisking approach on members and sponsors of schemes that are open, immature or have no intention of buyout. To clarify, I hope there would also be impact assessments for the regulator’s code of practice. Perhaps this is already a requirement. While I accept that it may not be possible to know whether buyout is intended, there should not be a general assumption that all employers want to get to buyout of their DB schemes, even if the insurance companies wish to funnel them in this direction.
I reserve my right to call a vote on my amendment, but I am optimistic that it will not come to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her contribution. I hope that the debates in both Houses have caused the Government to reflect further on whether their DB funding requirements are fit for purpose. I acknowledge the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and other Members in this regard.
I wish that the Government had supported the Labour amendment to the Bill in the other place. The essence of it is captured in my Amendment 4D here. It is regrettable that so many DB pension schemes outside the public sector are closed to new members and to future accrual of benefits for existing members. It is also important to recognise that there are DB schemes which remain meaningfully open to new members, which are sustainable, and which have strong employer covenants.
I support the Pensions Regulator in wanting to ensure that DB schemes are well run and properly funded, thereby increasing the likelihood that members will receive their accrued benefits in full when they become due. We have seen enough examples of poor corporate behaviour and the decline or collapse of companies providing the covenant to DB schemes to know the consequences of having a weak funding regime.
Today’s debate does not challenge this principle. It is concerned with how the principle is applied and specifically whether the approach to scheme funding by the Government and the regulator sufficiently recognises the difference between the funding regime for a sustainable, meaningfully open DB scheme and that for an increasingly mature and closed DB scheme. There is real concern that, unless the difference is recognised, the Pensions Regulator and any regulations from the Secretary of State could perversely pose a threat to the continuation of open, relatively immature, sustainable schemes. This would thereby deny the opportunity for millions of workers to benefit from a DB pension. Many sections of the Railway Pensions Scheme are an example of such an open DB scheme.
A closed DB scheme will, of course, see contributions decline and the remaining scheme members progressively age. As more and more of the assets will be needed to pay the pensions, they will need to be lower risk and provide liquidity to ensure that members receive their benefits when they become due. A sustainable, meaningfully open scheme has an ongoing flow of new contributions, including from future members. These can be invested for the long term, providing higher returns. Their investment profile does not need to be as risk-averse as that required for a declining DB scheme. If sustainable, open DB schemes are unnecessarily pushed into the same investment and derisking strategies required for declining closed schemes, there is the risk that the regulator will push up the ongoing contributions of members and employers to such a level that, perversely, they encourage open, sustainable DB schemes to close. This cannot be right. It does not benefit employees, employers or the economy.
My amendment aims to ensure that regulations on DB scheme funding recognise the characteristics of sustainable open schemes, rather than setting a one size fits all policy for both closed and open DB schemes. It specifies that
“the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the trustees of a relevant scheme to decide the funding and investment strategy for the scheme taking into account the current and future maturity and liquidity of the relevant scheme consistent with the trustees’ duty to invest assets in the best interests of members and beneficiaries.”
I know that the Pensions Regulator has issued an interim response to its first DB funding code consultation. It is apparent from some of the comments, including those of the PLSA, that there are misunderstandings or lack of clarity about the position of open schemes. Assurances are being sought from some in the pensions industry and elsewhere that the DB funding regime will remain scheme-specific. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, referred to this. Any bespoke approach under the new funding proposals should build on that foundation. The DB funding regime should continue to apply flexibly to take account of individual scheme circumstances.
I will listen carefully to the Minister’s answers to my questions and to those detailed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. Given the concerns expressed in both Houses, it will be important to hear some answers to these questions and I do hope to hear the Minister tell us whether the Government plan to consult with open and immature schemes before publishing the draft regulations, including reflecting on the impact on members and sponsors of schemes that are meaningfully open. I hope the Minister can respond today in a way that addresses the concerns raised and indicates a way forward. I too have valued the conversations of which I have been a part. I have no wish to press my amendment to a Division, although I will listen carefully to what she has to say before making a final decision. I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, we had lengthy discussions on Report around the concern that a one-size-fits-all derisking policy could render uneconomic otherwise healthy defined benefit schemes which remain open, and which are not close to maturity. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Sherlock, have already described the issue in better detail than I ever could, so I will not repeat the case, but it would be a great shame if a laudable intent to derisk had the unintended consequence of leading to the premature end of healthy, well-run defined benefit schemes, which are of particular importance to lower-paid employees. I know that this is not the intention of the Government, as the Minister has just restated; I am confident that the Minister will be able to set our minds at rest by confirming the points asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and that Divisions on Motions 4A and 4C will not be necessary.
As this is likely to be the last time I speak on the Bill, I hope the House will not mind if I take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Minister for her open and collaborative approach throughout its passage. She and her team have been extremely generous with their time and I am very grateful to them all. I am also grateful to all noble Lords for their patience as I have fumbled through my first involvement in amending a Bill; I have learned a lot from them. The Bill has been an excellent demonstration of the depth of expertise that resides in this House and of how well the House can work across parties to improve legislation. As the Minister said after Third Reading
“we collaborated, we talked, we listened and we made the Bill better.”—[Official Report, 15/7/20; col. 1671.]
I agree with her and, as I said earlier, I very much look forward to that same collaborative spirit continuing into the discussions on the regulations that will put the flesh on to the skeleton of this Bill.
Noble Lords in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on introducing this group of amendments and particularly thank her, the Bill team officials and the Pensions Regulator for engaging with us in such a collegiate manner. The co-operativeness and openness that have been shown to all noble Lords across the House have been hugely welcomed and already commented upon; I reiterate that this approach has improved the Bill and that this will continue into the future when it comes to the regulations. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Drake, on the way in which we have all been able to co-operate on this important issue.
I briefly express concerns about the MaPS dashboard being sidelined and the data-security issues that may be involved in the dashboard, as well as, importantly, the fairness issues that will be dealt with in regulations of CDC schemes. Having dealt with that, I turn to Motions 4A and 4C. It is important that my noble friend can provide reassurance that scheme-specific approaches that have endured so far will be preserved. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has outlined—echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock—there are issues on which I am confident my noble friend will be able to reassure us.
I certainly hope that this is the case: that any new defined benefit funding code, and the regulations that will encompass it in respect of any bespoke route to funding, will continue to be scheme-specific and flexible to accommodate appropriate integrated risk management that trustees—having carefully assessed the appropriate long-term time horizon, employer covenant and liquidity forecasts for their scheme—can use to build a diversified portfolio that will benefit from long-term expected returns and risk premia on assets such as infrastructure, social housing and early-stage growth businesses. This would enable pension assets to be used to boost growth directly and conserve corporate assets, as well as ensuring that pension schemes are sustainable, both in the sense of them being able to continue to provide benefits and in terms of being sustainable relative to the climate challenge that we all face.
Especially with the current monetary policy of quantitative easing having driven long-term interest rates down to exceptional, unprecedented low levels, forcing schemes with long-term time horizons—or even leading trustees and their advisers to believe that it is appropriate—to sell higher expected return assets and buy much lower return investments, in competition with the Bank of England and other financial firms, seems to be a recipe for failure rather than success. Member benefits are not necessarily best protected by so-called derisking. Clause 123 was an attempt, sadly removed in the Commons, to give some reassurance on these points, particularly to open schemes but, indeed, also to other schemes, which have no intention to buy out and are not close to doing so.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and my honourable friend the Pensions Minister for recognising, and now, I hope, publicly endorsing, the idea that these pension assets could be valuable to the economy. Lower expected return investments mean that employers must put more money into pensions now, in the short term. Not only is this a waste of corporate resources and an unnecessary extra cost on sponsoring employers—whose assets are particularly valuable right now as we try to recover from the damage of the pandemic—but it is a massive drain on the Exchequer. This point is not often mentioned but the vast majority of the £50 billion a year that goes on pensions tax relief has been spent on deficit-reduction contributions in defined benefit schemes. This money would surely be better used to allow pension fund assets directly to boost growth. Pension funds are the ideal long-term investors for infrastructure, for projects to mitigate and offset climate change, and for social housing; all these should be able to deliver better returns than gilt. Equity participation too adds upside to everyone’s benefit.
I believe and fervently hope that my noble friend the Minister will confirm the Government to be in agreement with the issues raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, about avoiding what might be called reckless conservatism or counterproductive caution, so that our £2 trillion worth of defined benefit scheme assets can feed into the rebuilding of our economy and support sustainability both of the schemes and of the environment. I once again thank my noble friend and her team for all their hard work on the Bill, and thank colleagues across the House for all the work they have done.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests.
I need to ask the indulgence of the House because I accept that it is unusual for a Member who has not contributed at any previous stage of a Bill to intervene at this stage. However, I was not a Member of the House then, and so I was unable to take part. It will be recalled that the Bill was introduced almost exactly a year ago, and it is almost exactly a year ago that I was first aware that I would be joining your Lordships. I watched the entire progress of the Pensions Bill—with only slight exaggeration—like a child locked out of a sweet shop. I so much wanted to take part in the debate and discussions. I am not suggesting for one moment that the incredible work by my noble friends on the Bill has not been effective; I just would have liked to have been with them.
It is also worth mentioning, since the House places some stress on being a repository of expertise, that on Clause 123 I can claim considerable expertise because I am a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. In the course of my actuarial work I was a scheme actuary and I produced valuations, and that is what this clause is about. Since this is the first time that I have had a chance to speak when I have not been subject to a three-minute time limit, I am tempted to speak for a long time about scheme valuations, but I will spare your Lordships that.
Before I get to the substance, I thank the Minister. As I say, I have watched the debates, and I pay tribute to the way in which the Bill has been handled. I highlight that the introduction of what I still think of as collective DC is an excellent move forward and of considerable importance, as is—although of course there is more to be done—the work that has been done on the dashboard.
Turning to the amendments, I strongly support what is proposed here. The issue is the valuation of open defined benefit pension schemes. Real concern has been expressed by employers and trade unions representing their members about such schemes that the changes foreshadowed in the regulatory regime by the legislation will not work for such schemes, and the result will be higher costs and lower benefits. I am glad to see that a response has been made on the behalf of the Pensions Regulator, assuring us that it is not saying, “Don’t worry, just trust us with it all”, and making various commitments about how open defined benefit schemes will be handled. Well, why not put such assurances into the legislation? I certainly hope they will be included in the regulations.
At this point, it is worth acquainting the House with some evidence that the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries has presented on this clause. It said:
“Any employer that has left their DB scheme open to new entrants to date is highly likely to have done so as a conscious choice, and usually with strong support from members and associated trade unions. The risks inherent in DB are typically well understood not only by the employers but also by the scheme’s members, and their trade union representatives. These schemes should therefore not necessarily be treated the same, or need the same level of security, as closed schemes. In our view it is critically important that viable and successful open schemes are not caused to close through adverse legislative change or guidance from The Pensions Regulator.”
I fully endorse what the institute says there and what has been said by previous speakers, with which I concur. What is notable about what the institute said in that statement is that it emphasises how pension schemes emerged from the employment relationship. One thing that really worries me about leaving it to the regulator is that there is not a single person on the board of the Pensions Regulator who has any experience of employment or industrial relations, or at least not significant enough for them to put it in their biographical details.
I have one final point. This debate is about open schemes, as others have mentioned. I do not want anyone to think that the situation is that there is no more debate to be had about closed schemes. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, mentioned the issue of closed schemes. I concur with what has been said there, and that we have to get that right as well; there is more debate to be had on that issue. It is not just about open schemes. So there will be a continuing debate, but I hope the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance about the treatment of open schemes.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, whose name was left off the list inadvertently.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies. No doubt we will welcome his expertise and experience into what is already a considerable group of experts and knowledgeable people in your Lordships’ House.
I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Bowles. I pay tribute to her for the way in which she has pursued this matter with great skill and tenacity by working across the parties and seeking agreement on a way forward. There is clearly a problem for open DB schemes, as has been expressed to us already, particularly by the railway workers’ union but also by other pension funds. Clearly, as my noble friend has said, it is unrealistic and wrong for the same restraints to be imposed on open DB schemes that are not destined for closure in the immediate future as those imposed on closed schemes. As others have said, if that were to be the case, currently open DB schemes not on the path to maturity would suffer and may close as a result, with dire effects for their membership and a considerable impact on the wider economy.
I very much welcome the Minister’s opening statement, in which she indicated her willingness to ensure that open schemes not on the path to maturity should not be prevented from making more beneficial investments. I hope the five points clearly outlined by my noble friend Lady Bowles will form the basis of the future operation of these healthy open schemes, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to.
I too record my thanks to all those who have contributed to the Bill, such as the ministerial team, who have provided information and expert advice, and noble Lords who have demonstrated their knowledge, experience and expertise in considering the Bill. They have shown how this House has not only provided scrutiny and challenge but enabled improvements to the legislation and benefits to those who will depend on this in future.
I thank the Minister and her colleague in the other place for their willingness to keep an open mind and not only to listen but to take on board suggestions and use their best endeavours to address the issues raised by Members. I also thank all the teams supporting Members, particularly Sarah Pughe in the Lib Dem office, who has provided us with marvellous support. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response and hope that it will reassure my colleague that she is able to let this matter move forward and that her concerns will be listened to and acted upon.
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? I think probably not.
My Lords, I will first respond to the question of my noble friend Lady Altmann on long-term horizons. The scheme funding measures in the Bill, together with secondary legislation and a revised scheme funding code of practice, seek to support trustees and employers to manage this scheme funding with a focus on longer term planning. As now, the scheme’s liquidity requirements, investment timelines and the amount of risk each scheme can support will depend on factors including its maturity and the strength of its employer covenant. Trustees can and do invest in illiquid assets such as infrastructure, and our measures do not seek to discourage such investments where they are appropriate.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his contribution. The thought of being locked out of a sweet shop gives me more heartache than your Lordships will know. We will do our very best to make sure that it does not happen again. We welcome the noble Lord to the House and have no doubt that he will add a lot of expertise. He has joined the formidable band of brothers on pensions and we are very glad he is with us.
I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Sherlock, for their amendments. I am also grateful to all those who have contributed to the debates we had relating to schemes that are open to new members. They have been highly influential and have helped us refine our thinking on how schemes in these circumstances should be treated. The Government are very sympathetic to the thinking behind these amendments, but there are good reasons why we do not want to deal with these matters on the face of the Bill.
One of the main drivers behind our reforms to the scheme funding arrangement is the desire to be able to more effectively tackle the small minority of schemes and employers who push the flexibilities of our scheme-specific arrangements further than is appropriate, to the detriment of their members. As the detail of the arrangements is necessarily complex, there is a real risk that attempting to deal with it in primary legislation will inadvertently weaken the funding regime as a whole and undermine the ability of the Pensions Regulator to tackle the very issues that these reforms were designed to address. Rather, we think that the best place to deal with these matters is in regulations—following a full consultation. That way, we can work closely with the full range of interested parties, effectively calibrate the system and get the right balance between member security and employer affordability. By placing such matters in regulations, we will retain the flexibility in the future to adjust the relevant parameters should the evolving economic situation demand it.
What I can do now is set out some key principles of how we will proceed with framing the secondary legislation, which I am happy to put on the record and am confident will provide noble Lords with the reassurance they are looking for. Much of our original thinking was driven by the fact that most schemes are closed and maturing, but we completely accept that we need to be clearer about our thinking on other important groups of schemes. These are the schemes that continue to admit new members. Many of these schemes will not be maturing in the same way as closed schemes and some of them will be admitting sufficient new members to avoid maturing at all. A genuinely scheme-specific approach has to recognise the characteristics of such schemes and treat them appropriately. I am therefore grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and others for helping us to focus our thinking on these schemes. Let me make it clear now that the Government, having further considered the debate on the Bill and feedback from the pensions industry, fully intend that the defined benefit funding regime will remain scheme specific, and any bespoke approach should build on this foundation. This regime will continue to apply flexibility to take account of individual scheme circumstances.
The department confirms that detailed provisions for ongoing defined benefit funding, including any necessary assessment criteria and metrics, will be set out in regulations and in the Pension Regulator’s defined benefit funding code of practice, which will acknowledge the position of open and less mature schemes. As noble Lords have said, Ministers at the DWP have gone to great lengths to make themselves available to those who have pressed them on the position of schemes that remain open to new members. Both Ministers and officials have had extensive discussions with interested Peers, and others, including on schemes that remain open to new members. I also understand that interested Peers have been able to discuss these matters in detail with senior officials at the Pensions Regulator. This has been a highly productive engagement and, as I have said, it has been instrumental in guiding us to a better and more refined policy position. That is something I expect to continue.
Prior to the publication of the draft regulations, the Government can commit to an engagement programme with interested parties, including a range of schemes. These will include those remaining open and immature. They will launch a consultation document informed by this engagement. The Government will also publish a regulatory impact assessment of the draft regulations and the Pensions Regulator will publish an impact assessment alongside its revised funding code. These will include analyses of different de-risking approaches on members and sponsors of all schemes, including those that are open or immature, and those that are not targeting buyout.
We absolutely do not want to see good and viable defined benefit schemes close unnecessarily. We want them to be treated on their merits in a truly scheme-specific regime. We have said that open schemes should be able to provide the same level of security for members as closed schemes. I want to make it absolutely clear that this does not mean that they necessarily need to invest in the same way. We simply mean that members in an open scheme should be able to enjoy the same level of confidence that the benefits they have worked hard to build up will be paid in full, as for members in a closed scheme. We completely agree that open schemes that are not maturing and have a strong employer covenant should not be forced into an inappropriate de-risking journey. We will ensure that such schemes and employers which can support a higher risk and higher expected reward investment strategy can continue to invest in this way. If they are already doing the right thing, they should not need to significantly increase contributions as a result of these new measures.
The Government accept that for some schemes, depending on the circumstances, de-risking is not the best way to safeguard members’ benefits. Member benefits can be best safeguarded by an appropriate integrated risk management strategy determined after careful analysis by the trustees, which takes account of time horizon, liquidity, employer covenant and appropriate diversification.
This is the way that we intend to proceed as, with the help of close engagement with interested parties, we work on the regulations that will set out the detail of how the funding regime will operate. I hope that what I have said reassures noble Lords of our intentions and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have not received any requests to speak after the Minister, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, to reply.
My Lords, I am not normally a speaker on DWP matters—I am usually in the business and Treasury box—but, after a first foray on this Bill, or into this sweet shop, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, would put it, maybe I should come again.
I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. The issues have already been explained and the Minister in reply has given the reassurances that were sought. Before I formally withdraw the amendment, I thank the Minister for the way in which these proceedings have been conducted, for her geniality and openness and, similarly, thank the officials from the department and the Pensions Regulator, and everyone for tolerating me.
As has been said, the issues are complex and interlinked. I am grateful to hear the Minister say that the debate around this has been influential and has refined thinking. I acknowledge that some employers will abuse the system and, because of its complexity, I accept that the Government do not want to put words into the Bill that are hard to change and which might give rise to unintended consequences. Of course, I would have preferred to see a little something there, but I understand the reasoning. I accept that there will be good consultation around the regulations and that all of us are looking for the same results.
I thank again noble Lords who have spoken today and supported me in my previous endeavours and all those who gave their expertise in earlier stages of the Bill. I am pleased that we are joined by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, and think that we will benefit from his presence greatly in future. Others who have also assisted include my noble friend Lord Sharkey from these Benches, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Young. I also thank the various pension schemes that have been generous with their time and information, so we were able to look at the sort of spread of assets and risks that they were talking about and did not come to this debate without a good basis of information; we knew that our arguments were supported.
It has been a good co-operative effort. I doubt that it is the end of the story, as there will be more consultations and things to watch. I hope and expect that the engagement with noble Lords by the Minister and the department and our co-operation with one another will continue. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion 4A withdrawn.
Motion 4C (as an amendment to the Motion on Amendment 4)
4D: Schedule 10, page 185, line 29, at end insert—
“221C Guiding objectives
(1) In exercising any powers to make regulations or otherwise to prescribe any matter of principle under this Part, the objectives of the Secretary of State must include supporting the ability of the trustees of a relevant scheme to decide the funding and investment strategy for the scheme taking into account the current and future maturity and liquidity of the relevant scheme consistent with the trustees’ duty to invest assets in the best interests of members and beneficiaries.
(2) In subsection (1), “relevant scheme” means an occupational pension scheme that is not near significant maturity and is open to new members and is reasonably expected to remain so, either indefinitely or for a significant period of time.””
Motion 4C not moved.
Motion on Amendment 4 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 5
5: Clause 132, page 125, line 17, leave out subsection (2)
Motion on Amendment 5 agreed.
Arrangement of Business
Police National Computer
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 18 January.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the technical issues that we have experienced with the police national computer over the past week.
The records and information held by the police help to keep us safe, but they, like many other public bodies, have an obligation to ensure that the information they hold is properly managed. As I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker, not all information and records held by the police can be held indefinitely. To ensure that the police are complying with their legal obligations in respect of the records they hold, a regular housekeeping process is undertaken to delete personal data and records from the police national computer and linked databases: in this case, data relating to individuals who were investigated by the police but where no further action was taken. This is undertaken for a variety of reasons, but chiefly to abide by legal obligations.
With such a large database, holding some 13 million records, an automated process is used to remove records that the police national computer has no legal right to hold. A weekly update was designed by engineers and applied to the police national computer, which then automatically triggers deletions across the PNC, and other linked databases. Last week, the Home Office became aware that, as a result of human error, the software that triggers these automatic deletions contained defective coding and had inadvertently deleted records that it should not have, and indeed had not deleted some records that should have been deleted. An estimated 213,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records are being investigated as potentially having been deleted. It is worth the House noting that multiple records can be held against the same individual, so the number of individuals affected by this incident is likely to be lower. Operational partners are still able to access the police national computer, which holds, as I say, over 13 million records. Clearly this situation is very serious, and I understand that colleagues across this House will have concerns, which of course I share.
By your leave, Mr Speaker, I want to set out for the House the steps that we have taken to deal with this complex incident. On the evening of 10 January—the same day the Home Office became aware of the incident—engineers put a stop on the automated process to ensure that no further deletions took place. All similar automated processes have also been suspended. Early last week, Home Office civil servants and engineers worked quickly to alert the police and other operational colleagues, and established a bronze, silver and gold command to manage the incident and co-ordinate a rapid response. The gold command provided rapid guidance for police forces and other partners to ensure that they were kept abreast of the situation.
Secondly, Home Office officials and engineers, working closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, police forces and other partners, immediately initiated rapid work, through the gold command, to assess the full scale and impact of the incident. This included undertaking a robust and detailed assessment and verification of all affected records, followed by developing and implementing a plan to recover as much of the data and records as is possible, and to develop plans to mitigate the impacts of any lost data. This is being done in four phases. Phase 1 involves writing and testing a code to bring back accurate lists of what has been deleted as a result of the incident. Phase 2 will involve running that code and then doing detailed analysis on the return to fully analyse the records that have been lost and establish the full impact. Phase 3 will be to begin the recovery of the data from the police national computer and other linked systems. Phase 4 will involve work to ensure that we are deleting any data that should have been deleted as usual when this incident first began. Phase 1 of the process has taken place over the weekend, and I am assured that it has gone well. The second phase is now under way, and I will hopefully have an update in the next few days.
While any loss of data is unacceptable, other tried and tested law enforcement systems are in place that contain linked data and reports to support policing partners in their day-to-day efforts to keep us safe: for example, the police national database or other local systems. The police are able to use these systems to do simultaneous checks.
I urge patience while we continue our rapid internal investigation and begin the recovery. I hope the House will appreciate that the task in front of us is a complex one. Public safety is the top priority of everyone working at the Home Office, and I have full faith that Home Office engineers, our partners in the National Police Chiefs’ Council and police forces throughout the country, with whom we are working, are doing all they can to restore the data. Although that is rightly our immediate priority, the Home Secretary and I have commissioned an internal review as to the circumstances that led to this incident, so that lessons can be learned. I will update the House regularly on the process. I commend this Statement to the House.”
I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for being here—unlike the Home Secretary yesterday in the Commons—as the senior government Minister in the Lords covering the Home Office, to be accountable to this House for the worrying events detailed in the Statement.
The Statement says that it is estimated that up to some 400,000 offence, arrest and person records have, due to human error, inadvertently been deleted from the police national computer. There will be an internal investigation. Something described as human error can hide a multitude of failures covering, for example, inadequate training or supervision, previous warnings of the likelihood of an incident occurring being ignored, people working under pressure, out-of-date or unreliable equipment and lack of provision of readily available safeguards to override the consequences of human error—all factors for which responsibility should ultimately lie at the highest level within the department. Yet the Commons Minister yesterday stated:
“Sadly, human error introduced into the code has led to this particular situation”.
The Government appear to have already determined the outcome of the internal investigation. I therefore ask the noble Baroness, who speaks for the Government: why is this investigation not going to be independent and, secondly, will the full report of the investigation be placed before Parliament? Can the Government also say whether Statements would have even been made to Parliament if reports of this serious loss of data had not appeared in the media?
The police national computer and the police national database are due to be replaced by the national law enforcement data programme. However, the assessment by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority is that successful delivery of the project is in doubt. The Policing Minister admitted in the Commons yesterday that the replacement of the PNC
“has had its fair share of problems, it is fair to say we have undergone a reset. There is now a renewed sense of partnership working between the Home Office and the police, to make sure we get that much needed upgrade in technology correct.”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/1/20; col. 624.]
When a Minister uses those kind of words, one knows that there have been big problems with the replacement of the outdated PNC, from which up to 400,000 records have been deleted, not because it is no longer fit for purpose but apparently due solely to human error. How could up to 400,000 records be deleted without apparently there being a proper back-up system in place? Was that lack of a proper back-up system also due to “human error”?
Is it true, as was asked in the Commons yesterday, but without a reply being given, that Ministers were warned many months ago that their approach to the police national computer and database posed a significant risk to policing’s ability to protect the public, and that the databases were “creaking” and operating on
“end of life, unsupported hardware and software”?—[Official Report, Commons, 18/1/20; col. 627.]
If so, what did the Government do about that?
In the Commons, the Government sought to say that, first, the data deleted might be available on other systems or databases and, secondly—because the data related to people arrested and in respect of whom, for the specific matter for which they were arrested, no further action was taken—it really is not that serious that this data has been deleted. The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for the police national computer has said that the deleted DNA contains records marked for
“indefinite retention following conviction of serious offences.”
Is it still the Government’s view that this deleted data is not important? If so, could the Government explain why this data is retained at all, and may be on other systems, if it has no real value in preventing crime in the first place, in the fight against crime and in bringing criminals to justice? In the absence of a credible answer to that question, clearly the data deleted is of significance. In responding, could the Government set out the potential damage that could be done, or has perhaps already been done, as a result of these inadvertent deletions?
We need greater openness and frankness from the Government, now and in promised further updates, about what has happened—merely
“technical issues … with the police national computer”
according to the Statement—and why. We do not need an attempt to brush it all off as down to a “human error” with consequences of little significance.
My Lords, let me try to bring some clarity to what has happened. The records that have apparently been deleted are those of people arrested but not charged, or charged but not convicted. These are sometimes, but not always, deleted. If someone is arrested but not charged or not convicted for one of more than 200 serious offences, their fingerprints and DNA can be retained for up to five years. If they have previous convictions for a serious offence, their fingerprints and DNA can be retained indefinitely. It may be that there are no fingerprint or DNA records for any of these people, other than those taken when there was no conviction. These are the records that have apparently been deleted. Meanwhile, some that should have been deleted have not been.
Although the people whose records have been deleted may not have been charged or convicted on this occasion, their DNA or fingerprints may be found at crime scenes in the future. If their fingerprints and DNA have been deleted, there is no way of proving forensically that they were at these crime scenes.
Some 213,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records have potentially been deleted. Some 26,000 DNA records, 30,000 fingerprint records and 600 subject records may also have been deleted. This mistake could result in criminals who would otherwise be convicted of serious criminal offences not being identified, arrested, charged or convicted.
The Statement says that other databases such as the police national database can be checked, but my understanding is that the script run on the PNC deleted records on linked databases. Can the Minister confirm that?
Because of the variety of records that have been deleted—offence records, arrest records, person records and DNA and fingerprint records—it will be very difficult to put the jigsaw puzzle back together by collecting the pieces from different databases where the data may still be recorded. Is that the Minister’s understanding?
The first question, which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked, must be: why was there no back-up? In October, senior police officers wrote to the Home Office to say they had “lost confidence” in its ability to complete big IT projects. What evidence is there to support this view?
Work on the national law enforcement data programme is in serious trouble, as the noble Lord said. This replacement for the police national computer and the police national database began in 2016 but is not expected to be completed until 2023, significantly delayed and overbudget. That is despite the existing systems running on obsolete hardware, using obsolete software.
To take another example, the new emergency services network was due to replace the system of radios and other mobile communications used by the police, the Motorola Airwave network, by 2019. That Home Office IT project has been delayed, meaning the existing Airwave system has had to be maintained for at least three years beyond its planned end of life, which is costing an additional £1.7 million a day. The final total is expected to reach close to £2 billion.
The facts are that the Government not only cut police officer numbers by over 20,000 between 2010 and 2020 but failed to invest in the systems that the police rely on to be effective. They have committed to recruiting 20,000 new police officers—dressing the window—meanwhile allowing what is unseen but vital to fall apart.
Following the end of the transition period on 1 January, the police lost real-time access to the European Union Schengen Information System, SIS II, meaning that front-line officers no longer have real-time access to data on 40,000 fugitives and dangerous criminals. It is now clear that these officers, who put their lives on the line for us every day, cannot rely on UK systems either. What are the Government going to do, not just to retrieve the lost data, but to ensure that the Home Office IT systems that the police rely on are fit for purpose? At the moment, it is absolutely clear that they are not.
My Lords, I will start with that assertion by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick: this does not relate to SIS II. This issue was a human error. Both noble Lords talked about IT systems; again, this was a human error, but it would be churlish of me not to discuss what the Home Office is doing about IT systems. We are delivering a number of new national IT systems to replace ageing critical national infrastructure and provide modern digital services that extend and enhance police capability. They have already delivered some valuable new capabilities to front-line policing: for example, to do fingerprint checks in the field and to extend ANPR coverage significantly.
Noble Lords are right that there have been some delivery challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about the ESMCP, where I share his frustration. I have been focusing on it closely, and a new programme director was appointed in August last year, with the support of an interim SRO. The focus has been on greater transparency to the emergency services. On that note, the emergency services need confidence that the programme will deliver, for which testing has to be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was right in his breakdown of the numbers. On the point that this is not serious, it is. I do not think that my right honourable friend the Policing Minister tried to downplay that yesterday, in any way. It is serious. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who asked whether the deletion is not that important—no, it is important. It is important to show how the process that my right honourable friend outlined yesterday is going to work. The first stage is to bring back the data, not to try to restore that which has been deleted, as that could cause worse problems. We will do a close analysis by the close of play tomorrow. We will recover the relevant data and, fourthly and importantly, we will ensure legal compliance in all the moves that we make.
Back-ups are, of course, held for all systems but due to the scale, the complexity and the dynamic nature of how the affected systems interact, restoring from back-ups needs to be undertaken in a very controlled manner. Our technical teams are now working at pace to identify how to do this safely. As I said, we should complete this analysis very shortly, and it will give us the full picture of what needs to be done.
On the question from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about deleted records on police systems, I understand that the engineers managed to stop some of the activity before it could proceed any further. That is certainly a part of the analysis that is being done today, and the extent of that will be further understood.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked why we do not have an external review. The reason it is an internal review is because it is an issue of human error and the Home Office engineers are having to work at pace to identify the full list of affected records. The analysis is due to be completed, as I say, very shortly. There will be a lessons-learned exercise. Of course there will be a full lessons-learned review. As for who will carry out that, it may be an external person. I can certainly find that out for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
[Inaudible]—that the Home Office is moving swiftly to rectify what we now learn was the result of human error. That error was in fact exposed by the Times last week. What troubles me—this has already alluded to by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Paddick—is the latest report, again in the Times, that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has apparently told the Home Office that the police has lost confidence in its ability to complete big IT projects—that is really serious—and that
“the Home Office was warned 18 months ago that a lack of investment in ‘creaking’ databases put the public at ‘significant risk’”.
That is at odds with the opening paragraph of this government Statement. Does the Minister accept that this, combined with the loss of access to certain EU databases from 1 January this year, now has the potential to present us with a perfect storm with regard to our security and policing? What plans do the Home Office have to alleviate this problem and to reassure law enforcement agencies and indeed the public?
I do not disagree with my noble friend that the confidence of the police and our operational partners is absolutely crucial to the delivery of these systems. Many of our systems are of course large and complex, and some of them date back some time—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about the Motorola project. We share the concerns about delays. That is why we are reviewing delivery, to ensure that projects are delivered as efficiently as possible to protect the public. As I said to noble Lords previously, I have taken a personal interest in the ESMCP because it is an absolutely crucial project to get right and to get delivered without any further delay.
My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant technology interest in the register. We rightly worry about sophisticated technological attacks on our national digital infrastructure and we worry post-Brexit about access to relevant European intelligence databases. However, is not our most critical national concern evidenced by seemingly systemic failures in our ability to effectively and securely manage data? Do we not appear to lack appropriate understanding of the necessary interdependence of technology, policy and user competence? Specifically, in an age when it is technological feasible to ensure that data cannot be truly lost through human error, can the Minister say what active consideration is being to adopting blockchain technologies to both secure and manage access to our most vital national data?
Technology and the sorts of things the noble Lord talks about are being developed all the time; he asked about technology not being lost through data loss, I think. This issue was human error in the coding. Much as I would like to say that human error does not exist, occasionally it does. This happened with the best technology systems in the world; how a system is coded will unfortunately predict what comes out the other end. I do not disagree with the noble Lord’s assertion at all.
My Lords, I recall being involved in a case in Southwark Crown Court where DNA convicted a man of rape 35 years after the offence. There was no other evidence. Statistically, there were would be only four people in the UK with the same DNA. What database exists for the recording of all DNA and other forensic scientific evidence where a crime is unsolved but the possibility of detection in the future remains? Will scenes of crime information of this sort be kept securely as part of the national law enforcement data programme, in the process of being developed by the Home Office, and if not, on what programme will it be kept?
I am slightly surprised by the noble Lord’s question because there has been quite strong feeling in your Lordships’ House, particularly from the Liberal Democrats, that DNA information should be automatically deleted after a certain period of time. The DNA records that were deleted required “no further action”. I totally understand the noble Lord’s point; I saw something about a conviction in Wales that went back years, and it was DNA that convicted that individual. On the holding of DNA, in most cases the data of unconvicted people has to be deleted.
My Lords, this is a serious matter. I was going to ask about alternative sources of data, but such is my disappointment at the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to take an unfortunate event caused by human error and seek to score political points, that I feel compelled to remind him of his own party’s policy, as stated on 11 June 2018 by the then shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott. She said:
“The state has no business keeping records on people who are not criminals.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/18; col. 640.]
I believe that the police should have access to all the data and technology they need to arrest criminals. Does my noble friend agree?
We have just seen from the previous question that there is a bit of contradiction in some of the points raised by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. Personally, I would allow my data to be kept for as long as anybody wanted for the purposes for which it might be used. Those pleas from the Opposition Benches have certainly been quite contradictory over the years.
My Lords, we now know that a weekly weeding session from the database owned and operated by the Home Office takes place for DNA and fingerprint records, and this has links to local police force databases. The Minister answered a Written Question that I tabled by saying:
“The police in England and Wales cannot at present automatically wipe facial images at the point when a person is determined to be innocent.”
So why are “no further action” facial recognition images not included in the Home Office’s weekly weeding?
This is an embarrassment and, sadly, not the first. My noble friend must be as frustrated as anyone about this. Does this not suggest some impenetrable and deep-rooted shortcomings in the Home Office structures, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, pointed out so forcefully 15 years ago? If, after all these years, with attention from all sides, we have still not been able to make the Home Office fit for purpose, do we not need to stop kidding ourselves that our Civil Service structure is a Rolls-Royce operation that just needs a fine tune? Without entering into a blame game, do we not need to ask the really difficult questions about why it keeps breaking down—and, in the interests of Ministers, civil servants and, not least of all, the public, do more to find an updated model that works?
My Lords, we need to get to the heart of what happened here, which was human error in the coding of a programme. As I said earlier, all the best IT in the world cannot prevent human error—it will happen. I am not in any way undermining the seriousness of what happened, but it was indeed human error.
My Lords, we are facing a sorry state of affairs in policing issues in this country. First, despite the introduction of 20,000 new police personnel, we learn that a large number of crimes are not reported, including one in four serious crimes in the Manchester police force. Secondly, we have lost records, despite a number of requests to renew our technologies in this area. My noble friend Lord Paddick asked a question on this. Have any discussions taken place with our EU colleagues about whether this deletion of records has any implications for proceedings in their countries?
I confirm to the noble Lord that this has no relation to SIS II, so our European partners are not relevant in this case, which is one of human error. The noble Lord talked about criminal records from Greater Manchester Police; it is terrible that crimes have not been recorded and followed up, which my right honourable friend the Policing Minister is incredibly concerned about.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that those who are currently relying on data searches via the police national computer for investigations will be able to rerun those searches once the recovery work on the computer is complete? Do we have an estimated time for this work?
My Lords, it is not just 175,000 arrest records of people arrested and released without charge, is it? My noble friend Lord Paddick told us just how many offence and person records have also gone missing. Can the Minister tell us how many of these were under live investigation?
My Lords, the development of the police national computer, in which I was involved many years ago, was a massive leap in the progress of law enforcement in the UK. As the noble Baroness well knows, the value of real-time data from the PNC is critical to all front-line police officers. DNA and fingerprint evidence is also essential, not only in convicting but in establishing innocence in our courts, in historic and current investigations. For the record, I agree with her that, once taken, DNA should be retained forever. Can she shine any more light on how the error occurred? Can she also give your Lordships any idea of whether it will be possible to recover all or part of the lost data, which is perhaps also held elsewhere?
I am very happy to give the noble Lord an update: last week the Home Office became aware that, as a result of human error, the software which triggers these automatic deletions contained defective coding and had inadvertently deleted records that it should not have and had not deleted some records which should have been deleted. An estimated 213,000 offence records, 175,000 arrest records and 15,000 person records are now being investigated as potentially having been deleted. It is worth explaining to the House, which I did not do before, that multiple records can obviously be held against the same individual, as the noble Lord will know.
On how we dealt with it, on the same day as the Home Office became aware of it, engineers put a stop to the automated process to ensure that no further deletions took place. All similar automatic processes have also been suspended. Earlier last week, Home Office civil servants and engineers worked very quickly to alert the police and other operational colleagues, and established a bronze, silver and gold command to manage the incident and co-ordinate a rapid response. The noble Lord will have heard me say to two previous speakers just what the process will be over the next few days.
My Lords, I, of course, accept my noble friend’s assurances that this was human error. Indeed, human error has brought down the biggest and most sophisticated IT companies, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Nevertheless, this shines a light on the still creaking government IT procurement systems. I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Dobbs. Is it not time to get departments out of their fiefdoms and working more effectively with the Government Digital Service to provide an IT strategy that is fit for purpose as we end the first quarter of the 21st century? We still have these fiefdoms procuring huge IT projects at vast cost and overrun which are not fit for purpose. It is time to centralise this procurement process.
My Lords, I do not know whether I am speaking as a Minister or not, but on a personal level I totally agree with my noble friend. A whole-of-government approach would be so much better in so many areas, but each department is very protective of the money it seeks from the Treasury. Perhaps in future we will begin to have much more of a common approach on technology and procurement.
My Lords, I think the Minister has just pleaded guilty. Of course, it was human error—she must have repeated that 20 times. But what else has emerged in this questioning, to use the old phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Reid, is that the department is not fit for purpose, certainly not for the purpose of making a major data investment. I repeat and emphasise the request of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I do not think that an internal inquiry will not work for this. We must have a proper external inquiry with a report to Parliament, which Parliament can then study and debate. From her last reply, I suspect the Minister will agree.
My Lords, I have said that it was human error—probably fewer than 20 times, actually—because it was human error. I also repeat that there will be a full lessons learned review. I am not undermining the seriousness of this at all, because it is a very serious matter.
Domestic Abuse and Hidden Harms during Lockdown
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 14 January.
“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement. The coronavirus pandemic has presented this country with enormous and unprecedented challenges. In order to control the spread of the virus, we have had to ask the public to follow a simple but crucial instruction: stay at home. Earlier this month we entered a new national lockdown, and while we are absolutely clear that these measures are necessary, it is also important to recognise the potential impact on what we refer to as hidden harm crimes, which include domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and modern slavery. These are some of the most pernicious, harmful types of offending in society, and they often occur behind closed doors. Given that fact, let me reiterate a crucial message that the Prime Minister delivered to the public last week: notwithstanding the restrictions in place, those at risk of abuse can leave home to seek safety and avoid the risk of harm.
Protecting those at risk of abuse and exploitation remains a priority for this Government, which is why I am so pleased that today I can announce the launch of a new codeword scheme for victims of domestic abuse called Ask for ANI. From today, thousands of pharmacies across the UK will provide this service, enabling victims to seek help discreetly. Through a signal to a pharmacist, a victim will be provided with a safe space in the pharmacy, and taken through the support available to them, whether that is a call to the police or a domestic abuse helpline service. The codeword scheme will offer a vital lifeline to all victims, ensuring that they get help in a safe and discreet way.
Let me set out more of the steps that we have taken to ensure that victims and those at risk can continue to access critical advice and support. We have provided unprecedented levels of additional funding to critical frontline services helping victims of domestic abuse. As part of wider charitable funding, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have between them distributed more than £25 million in emergency Covid-19 funding for domestic abuse organisations. That has provided almost 1,900 bed spaces in safe accommodation and enabled domestic abuse organisations of all sizes to provide advice and support to victims. For example, Home Office funding allowed the charity Safelives to train hundreds of frontline workers online, including new independent domestic violence advisers. To help sustain those charities through the second part of the year, we are providing further funding of nearly £11 million from the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.
Although funding forms an important strand of our response, it is also vital that victims of domestic abuse, and those worried about them, know how to access help and advice. In April, the Home Secretary launched the #YouAreNotAlone communications campaign to do precisely that. The campaign has reached almost 25 million people through paid advertising and has been supported by a range of celebrities and influencers who have shared its messages with more than 130 million followers on social media. Materials have been translated into 16 languages. The campaign directs victims to sources of specialist help and support. It also makes clear that the ‘stay at home’ restrictions do not apply to those at risk of abuse who need to leave home to seek help or refuge. We have relaunched the campaign over the winter to reaffirm those messages, and I ask honourable Members across the House to do everything they can to highlight that campaign, and make clear to victims that help continues to be at hand, should they need it.
The police have been and will continue to be proactive in tackling domestic abuse during this period. Courts have continued to prioritise domestic and child abuse cases throughout, as well as civil protection orders relating to domestic abuse, stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. We have seen many innovative police responses to domestic abuse during the pandemic. The Metropolitan Police has developed an online function for the domestic violence disclosure scheme, whereby police can disclose previous domestic violence history to new partners. Nottinghamshire Police is applying the disclosure scheme in every domestic abuse occurrence. Other forces are able to use discreet technology to take witness statements remotely, without leaving any trace on the victim’s phone. Some forces, such as Gloucestershire Police, have used spare capacity to instigate dedicated domestic violence response vehicles, while independent domestic violence advisers are helping to support victims.
There are, sadly, other forms of hidden harms within domestic abuse, and we are acutely aware that the pandemic has increased risks to some children and young people and reduced their contact with trusted professionals and adults. The Government are committed to doing everything they can to continue to support and protect children at risk, and they have provided more than £11 million since last June to Barnardo’s ‘See, Hear, Respond’ service, to support more than 50,000 vulnerable or hidden children, whose usual support networks have been affected by national and local pandemic restrictions.
The Home Office has also launched a national communications campaign, Something’s Not Right, to help children who have been exposed to a range of harms, reaching millions of secondary school children in England. At this time, we are particularly concerned about online harms. With children spending more time on the internet, parents have been signposted to materials for staying safe online, including from the National Crime Agency’s Thinkuknow campaign.
A record number of reports of online child sexual abuse have been processed by the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation, including a large increase in self-generated indecent images of children. The Home Office is providing £80,000 to support the development of the IWF’s campaign to support parents in starting conversations with their children around keeping safe online, and to help young people to identify the signs of coercion and to report abuse. In December, we published the full government response to the online harms White Paper, which sets out our expectations on companies to keep their users safe, especially children. At the same time, we published the interim code of practice on online child sexual exploitation and abuse, which sets out steps that companies can take now to tackle these crimes on a voluntary basis, ahead of any regulatory system being introduced.
Another form of hidden harm is modern slavery. The Government are committed to the safety and security of victims of modern slavery, particularly during the pandemic, by ensuring that victims are provided with the support they need and that those responsible for these crimes are prosecuted. Last year, we made an additional £1.73 million available for modern slavery services in England and Wales. The funding has enabled providers to adapt the ways in which they provide support during the pandemic, including by reducing face-to-face contact where appropriate and ensuring that support can be accessed remotely. The new victim care contract came into force last week and will help to ensure that victims receive the care they need. In early adopter sites, child victims of modern slavery continue to be supported by the independent child trafficking guardian scheme which is working flexibly to continue to provide effective and responsive support remotely, both to trafficked children directly and to other professionals. Law enforcement agencies continue to pursue high-risk modern slavery cases where there is a risk of harm or detriment to individuals.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have remained resolute in our commitment to tackling abuse that takes place behind closed doors and out of sight. We continue to work across Government to monitor, assess and respond to the ongoing situation, but I ask all honourable Members to consider ways in which they can point victims in their constituencies to support. We will continue to prioritise domestic abuse during and after the pandemic. To do this, we remain committed to delivering our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to further strengthen protections for victims and bring perpetrators to justice.
In addition, this year we will publish the Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy, which will help us to better target perpetrators and support victims of these abhorrent crimes. We are currently running a call for evidence to inform the new strategy, and I urge honourable Members to share this via their networks within their constituencies to help us reach as wide an audience as possible. This will be followed by a dedicated and complementary domestic abuse strategy that will ensure progress following the passage of the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill. We will soon publish the first-of-its-kind strategy on tackling all forms of child sexual abuse, outlining our long-term ambition to drive a whole- system response in tackling this heinous crime.
In conclusion, I thank everyone involved in helping victims of hidden crimes in this pandemic and beyond, from those working in domestic abuse refuges and community services and in modern slavery safe accommodation, to those scouring the internet to remove images of children being raped, as well as our police officers, our National Crime Agency officers, our Border Force officers and those working in the security services to support this work. I thank them all for what they are doing to help support victims and to stop perpetrators of these terrible crimes. I would like to finish by reassuring all victims of hidden harms that they are not alone, that their voices are heard, and that help will continue to be there for them. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing the Statement to the House today. I welcome a lot of what is in it but I wonder whether we are going fast enough to tackle effectively all the problems that we are all aware of. It was good to read about the launch of the Ask for ANI scheme, which is a real step forward. Can the Minister tell the House what her department has done to ensure in launching this scheme that, when a victim comes forward, there will be support beyond an initial phone call, and what co-ordination of resources has taken place to ensure that this happens in all cases?
The “stay at home” message for the pandemic is right, to help us defeat the virus, but we need to hear clearly from all quarters that individuals who wish to leave their homes to escape domestic abuse can do so. That message was not given in March, and it still needs to be said through an array of media platforms, because unless messages are repeated consistently, they just do not get through to those who need to hear them.
Getting funding to the front line is extremely important. Can the Minister tell the House why the £75 million of funding announced has been so slow in getting to the front line, with only a third of the money having been spent? Can she also tell us when the unspent £51 million will be allocated, and confirm that the £11 million extra is in excess of the £75 million already announced and not just a reannouncement of funding already pledged? That is a very important point to be clear on.
I pay tribute to all those who work in the refuge sector for the brilliant work that they do every day in keeping women and children safe. What is being done to increase capacity in the sector? Is the Minister confident that there will be the capacity to meet demand? What specific provisions have been made for specialised services for victims who are black, Asian, minority ethnic, migrants, LGBTQ, male or disabled? Children are often the hidden victims of domestic and sexual abuse in the home. What work is the Minister’s department doing to ensure that vulnerable children who are out of school are kept safe?
There are huge issues about how children are faring generally in the pandemic, and considerable justifiable concern over the significant failures of the Department for Education—everything from the food parcels being made available to families and the supply of computers, to understanding what it is like to grow up poor. Can the Minister reassure us that the Home Office is better equipped to deal with children and domestic abuse, sexual abuse, slavery and other issues that are their responsibility? We need to deal with those in a much better way than the Department for Education, given its record.
Looking at youth work, is there support for the proactive targeting of children—at the very least, those on child protection plans? What work has been done to reach children living in dangerous and violent homes? The £11 million of funding for the See, Hear, Respond scheme will target 50,000 children, not the three-quarters of a million children living in dangerous homes today. So can the noble Baroness tell us whether any of the schemes that have been announced will cover every child, so that all child victims can benefit, not just those in some areas, where a postcode lottery determines whether we fund a child’s safety? That surely cannot be a situation that we would want or would allow to continue.
Turning to independent child trafficking guardians—a scheme that we welcome—can the noble Baroness confirm that that support is available for all children trafficked in our country, as was promised some years ago by this Government, or is it still, as I understand, just a pilot for some areas, leaving some trafficked children without support?
Domestic abuse and community support services are currently planning for redundancies in March. That is shocking in the middle of a global pandemic and a national lockdown. What is the noble Baroness’s reaction to that? The staff being made redundant are the very people whom the Home Office and the noble Baroness need for the Ask for ANI scheme to have any chance of success. Can she confirm that there have been discussions with the sector and/or the Treasury about multiyear funding and putting an end to concerns that we have every financial year about dangerous year-on-year short-termism and redundancies in the sector?
With the thought of the lockdown carrying on until March, it is imperative that the Government act, and act faster than they have been doing. I have posed a number of questions to the noble Baroness and would be grateful for any response that she can give today from the Dispatch Box. Equally, I accept entirely that she might have to write to me on some of the points, and I would be delighted to accept a letter from her. Perhaps she could confirm that and agree that, if she writes to me, she will place a copy of the response in the Library of the House.
I am grateful to the Government for the Statement and for all the things they are doing to support victims of domestic abuse in the pandemic and in the longer term through the Domestic Abuse Bill and in other ways. It seems clear thar the repercussions of Covid will last for a long time after we all emerge from the lockdown. Some victims will not report their abuse for years. Women’s Aid figures show an average of six years between the abuse beginning and a victim coming forward for help. So, we must put the support in place, ready for whenever it is needed.
There is no doubt that help is urgently needed now. The Government have announced £125 million for safe accommodation and £40 million for victims’ services, but there is still no clarity about when the money will reach services, and many face a cliff edge in March. Many are already preparing for the worst, including redundancy processes in some cases. Can the noble Baroness give any clarity on when funding will reach them? Can funding be planned on a longer-term basis so that services can focus on helping victims instead of worrying about having to close?
The Statement says that the £25 million emergency Covid funding has provided almost 1,900 bed spaces in safe accommodation. However, the Routes to Support database, which is the UK-wide directory of refuge vacancies, reported in November a net increase of only 317 spaces. Can the noble Baroness explain this huge shortfall?
The latest initiative being announced today, the “Ask for Ani” code for requesting help at selected pharmacies, is a great idea and very welcome. However, I wonder about the practicalities of how it is going to work. Training for staff will be absolutely vital if the victim is to be helped and not endangered further. Can the Minister confirm that the actual training consists of watching a video? Does she feel confident that people will feel confident and equipped to respond to a survivor effectively?
Finally, I make a helpful suggestion about victims who are migrant women with no recourse to public funds. I understand the considerable effort and money invested in a pilot project to investigate how best to help, and we have to be patient. However, while all this evaluation is taking place, women are suffering and dying because they are faced with the impossible choice of destitution or remaining with their abuser. Why not extend the destitution domestic violence concession to all victims, just for now? All victims deserve compassion and help, whatever their immigration status. Would not the Minister agree?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for their questions. First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, because it was he and I who exchanged words in a debate around the code word, and it is very pleasing that it has now come to fruition. He asked about taking it forward and about co-ordination. Taking it forward is not just about a phone call; it is absolutely about the first port of call to enable the woman—usually it is a woman, although it might be a man—to be dealt with in the appropriate way, at the appropriate time. Obviously, that may not be in the pharmacy; it will be by the relevant professional, depending on the case. But, yes, it is not just about picking up the phone in the pharmacy and hoping for the best. There has to be far more of a co-ordinated approach.
The noble Lord also talked about the reach of the statement by the Prime Minister that anybody who needs to leave home because of domestic abuse can do so—they are the exception. I agree with him that that statement got far more traction this time than last time, but it was not that it was not mentioned; I think it was the fact that the Prime Minister mentioned it so publicly in the daily update. I think people are in no doubt about the fact that, if you are a victim, you can leave home.
The noble Lord also said that the £76 million was slow to get out. I understand that £27 million of that funding has already got out, so he is not wrong about it being a third—but, of course, it is the annual amount and, therefore, we would not want to spend the whole lot now. I think that the £11 million is on top, but I shall correct that if I am wrong. The £76 million is for four of the organisations that have been granted awards, which are focused on the impact on children; the noble Lord talked about children, and a number of funds focus on them. The Department for Education and the Home Office have funded Operation Encompass, with £194,000 of funding to provide a support helpline for teachers to assist children affected by domestic abuse. There is an £8 million fund for the “well-being for education return” scheme, funded by the DHSC, DfE and PHE. Of course, he will know about the “You are not alone” campaign, which has been incredibly successful, gaining 130 million take-ups on social media.
Some forces have actually developed incredibly clever technology for taking statements discreetly so that a woman or a victim of domestic abuse does not very obviously have to go to a police station. I know that Gloucestershire police have instigated DA response vehicles.
The noble Lord mentioned the £11 million Barnardo’s fund to support 50,000 vulnerable or hidden children. The Home Office launched the “Something’s Not Right” communications campaign to help children exposed to a range of harms. On top of that, there is the NCA’s Thinkuknow campaign for parents concerned about the online safety of children, which is vital during the lockdown. There are quite a number of packages of support, so noble Lords will see that children are at the heart of our response.
The noble Lord talked about the increase in the capacity of the sector to meet the demand. I think that noble Lords will agree that some packages of funding that we have delivered or will be delivering will meet that capacity. He also talked about the postcode lottery, which is important. When I first went into MHCLG, there was a really patchy picture of people who could access DA services versus those who could not. The duty on first-tier local authorities goes some way to address that.
Both noble Lords talked about the sustainability of funding. I cannot disagree with that because it is crucial for services to be able to make long-term decisions instead of having to lurch from one set of funding to the next.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, talked about migrant women. We had the opportunity to discuss them during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. She will know that there is a £1.5 million pilot programme up and running to see where some of the gaps in the provision for migrant women lie. However, let me make it clear that any woman or man suffering domestic abuse will get the support she or he needs.
My Lords, I too welcome the innovation in the Statement and congratulate the Government on their progress. However, given that so much of the violence takes place when perpetrators are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, can the Minister update the House on the use of new technologies and, most especially, on what consideration is being given to the use of tagging of offenders via compulsory sobriety orders, which I think are still being trialled around the UK?
My noble friend is right that a lot of domestic abuse happens when alcohol has been taken, hence the police and the Government are very much alert to the probability that levels of domestic abuse will increase when there are big events such as the World Cup. Of course, lockdown has also meant an increase in drinking for some people. The Home Office and the Government are very concerned for the welfare of people who may be stuck at home, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s statement that you do not have to remain in your home if you are the victim of domestic violence. On how we can ameliorate alcohol abuse through the various things that we might require perpetrators to do, a domestic abuse protection order may specify alcohol abstinence—or there may be tagging, as my noble friend said—and on breach it becomes a criminal matter.
I refer to my interests in the register. This is a very helpful Statement from the Minister, but I ask her to include forced marriage in government strategy, communication and training programmes. Will she also look at the position of some wives whose marriages are not registered and therefore fall outside the spousal domestic violence immigration status?
I am acutely aware of the woman who finds herself either in a forced marriage or in a marriage that is not actually a legal marriage at all. One thing that will be very important for ensuring the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill will be to keep it focused on the issue of domestic abuse. I am not in any way saying that forced marriage is not a form of domestic abuse, but certainly there are laws against forced marriage, and it is something that the Home Office is acutely aware of.
My Lords, I, too, express my thanks to the Government for their work on domestic abuse issues, particularly following the announcement of “Ask for Ani”. However, as the Minister will know, there are certain issues that particularly impact minority ethnic groups and people of faith. Will the Government look to take on the recommendations of the Keeping the Faith report and seek to increase faith literacy within secular bodies so that they are equipped to respond to particular harms found within a faith context?
I certainly know that officials have been working with bishops and others on developing the guidance, but I think the right reverend Prelate is taking about something slightly different, which is abuse that happens within a faith context —that is, using faith as a reason to abuse. I hope that some of the work she and others are doing with officials is cognisant of that type of abuse. I am sure it is, and I am sure that is the reason why she raised it.
While I welcome the Statement, there is one group of people that does not get a mention—those who are victims of elder abuse. Will the Minister say what measures are being taken to support such people, as they fall into a category that often differs from other forms of domestic abuse? Is she aware that Heléna Herklots, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, is doing very good work in this area? Will she agree to consult the commissioner in Wales and take advice from her on the special needs of older people suffering domestic abuse, as she is doing such valuable work in this field?
I am sure that the noble Baroness will be aware that the ONS will now be including the over-74s in its statistics, which is very helpful indeed. I am very aware of elder abuse—particularly as some older people do not even know that what they are going through is in fact domestic abuse. I am very happy to speak to the commissioner in Wales and glean any areas of good practice that we might learn from here.
My Lords, the surge in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic is appalling and the launch of “Ask for Ani” is really very welcome. However, of the nearly 12,000 pharmacies in the UK, less than a quarter are registered on the scheme. What plans do the Government have to carry out monitoring and rapid evaluation of the scheme? If results are encouraging, what plans are in place to promote it to all pharmacies with suitable premises?
I agree with the noble Baroness. I would like not to just promote it to all pharmacies but—as in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—to see how it could be rolled out more widely to more premises. She says that fewer than a quarter of pharmacies are registered. I do not know whether that is the case at all, but it has just been launched and I assume that the take-up will improve as time goes on. We will certainly promote it to more than just pharmacies as time goes on.
I congratulate the Government on the initiatives that they have taken on this issue; they are very much to be welcomed. My question concerns the strategies outlined at the end of the Statement. There is one to tackle violence against women and girls, another to tackle domestic abuse and one to tackle child sexual abuse. There is clearly overlap here as, after all, most domestic violence is directed against women and girls. Can the Minister clarity how potential confusion and muddle will be avoided in relation to these different strategies?
I understand the noble Lord’s feeling that there might be some confusion but, looking at the various strategies he has outlined, I do not think we can lump them all into one, because we would then start to fail to support the people who very much need our help. I am content with how it is outlined although, as he said, there is the possibility of some overlap.
I refer to my entries in the register. Does my noble friend think that underreporting is an issue in the lockdown, particularly in households where abuse cannot be reported by an outsider? Does she consider that may disproportionally impact male victims as statistics show that 35% of all victims are male and they are three times less likely to report domestic abuse?
What we have seen is a sharp increase in the number of calls to domestic abuse helplines, but that does not necessarily equate to underreporting generally. I think that the numbers reported have gone up, and the extent to which they have gone up will probably be unravelled only subsequently, as some people feel too scared to report in any event. It is a problem generally in lockdown, and it remains to be seen just how much has occurred. I do not know why men might feel more reluctant to report; there is possibly some issue of feeling ashamed to report domestic abuse. The number of men who do come forward are to be commended for sharing what some men feel too ashamed to admit.
My Lords, measures like the “Ask for Ani” scheme outlined in the Statement are welcome and will help reduce domestic abuse and hidden harms in the majority community. Does the Minister agree that we need to do more to meet the sometimes differing concerns and hidden harms in minority communities? Does she agree that the Government should look beyond the routine round-table meetings with sometimes questionable faith leaders to clear social agenda-led initiatives for a more cohesive and fairer society?
I agree with the noble Lord that different communities have different problems in different situations. Perhaps lockdown is the most appropriate one to be talking about now. I do not think we should listen to the same voices; we need to get a range of voices before deciding what our interventions should be and in what context.
My Lords, I thank the Government for their wonderful efforts on all these different initiatives. I particularly acknowledge the Minister’s role in their formation. We are all grateful. She is aware that women still do not report or seek advice services early enough and have experienced many episodes of violence and abuse. Equally stark is the fact that women of south Asian heritage may take even longer in accessing services or reporting abuse, particularly because they find it difficult to access specialist accommodation and counselling services, which remain in extremely short supply, including in my borough, where policy over the years has meant the complete and utter destruction of specialist services, particularly for bilingual women; they say it is about budgets. Given that there seems to be £50 million outstanding, will the Minister undertake to have a broader discussion with women’s organisations across the country, as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has just suggested, so that we can mitigate some of the shortfall in their budgets and services?
I do not know whether the noble Baroness knows but we did extensive pre-legislative scrutiny on this topic. I have never been involved with so much engagement with various stakeholders across the sectors. The engagement has certainly been broad and of course we want to get the money out to the organisations that need it, to support the people who need it.
The Government’s proactive approach on this and, indeed, the Minister’s personal commitment are vital. However, given that we are more than three-quarters of the way through the financial year and, according to the figures that she confirmed, only just over a third of the funding available this year has been spent, does she accept that there seems to be some kind of bottleneck and problem in getting the money out? Is she tasking her officials to look to getting it out before the end of the financial year?
The noble Lord makes a good point. If there is money there to be spent for people who need our support, we should try to ensure that it gets out. I shall certainly discuss the matter with my honourable friend the Minister for Safeguarding, Vicky Atkins, and see what we can do to expedite some of the money for the remainder of this year.