House of Lords
Thursday 28 January 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them sensibly short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of international touring for UK cultural and creative practitioners. Leaving the EU has always meant that there would be changes to how practitioners operate in the EU. The DCMS has engaged with the sector extensively throughout negotiations and since the announcement of the trade and co-operation agreement. The Secretary of State has agreed to create a DCMS-led working group to work closely with the sector’s representative organisations and other key government departments to assist businesses and individuals as far as possible to work confidently in the EU.
My Lords, I set aside for the moment the ping-pong on who is to blame for what has happened, and remember the anxiety and anguish faced by many of the top musicians in the UK. The Minister told the House last week that
“Our door absolutely remains open”—[Official Report, 19/1/21, col. 1085.]
to dialogue with the EU on this matter. Open doors mean that people can go through them without hindrance. Has an open-door invitation been made to the European Union, and if not why not?
As the noble Lord knows, it takes two people to meet though an open door. I was also very clear in my answers last week that our priority was working with the sector to understand its needs and working bilaterally with individual countries. But we still believe that our original suggestion would have benefited all parties.
Clearly, this Brexit situation is unsatisfactory for all those involved. The Secretary of State for the arts, Oliver Dowden, calls the arts sector one of our greatest calling cards. It is indeed soft power with diplomatic significance. Musicians from both pop and classical sides of the profession tell me that cultural attachés in embassies across London are concerned about this situation. Setting aside the blame game, can the Government reopen negotiations and go through this open door, as it concerns an industry worth four times the fishing industry to this country?
My Lords, in addition to problems with work permits, carnets and CITES certificates, there is another. Prior to Brexit, when UK orchestras toured Europe, they often visited several venues in multiple countries. Their own or rented specialist vehicles would move instruments and equipment from venue to venue. Can the Minister confirm that under the new post-Brexit cabotage rules this will no longer be possible unless UK orchestras stop using UK vehicles and rely on EU ones? Is this another example of taking back control?
The noble Lord is right that there are changes to the cabotage arrangements going forward. UK operators can perform some additional movements within another nation’s territory, but they are more limited than previously. Our colleagues in the Department for Transport are, we know, working hard to address these issues.
My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-president of the European Union Youth Orchestra. The outcome of Brexit was that the EUYO had to move to Bolzano and Grafenegg. As it tours constantly, can HMG make certain that the British players, who already have difficulties, can have multiple visas without too much trouble and expense? This is understandably more complicated with the Covid-19 pestilence.
My noble friend raises an important point. As she knows, during the transition period, UK players were guaranteed their membership of the EUYO, and have been reinvited during 2021. As I said, we continue to engage closely with representatives from all parts of the music sector to provide the support that musicians, including the EUYO’s members, need to navigate the requirements that result from the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
My Lords, 76% of musicians in a recent survey by Encore Musicians said that Brexit restrictions would stop them performing again in Europe. In the light of this, and in the apparent absence of any movement through the open door, will the Minister say what specific help the Government might offer to musicians to help them cope with the new challenges that they face in order to tour in the EU, including administrative support with obtaining work permits, carnets and other requirements, and financial support to offset some of the extra costs involved?
The noble Lord makes a serious point. In relation to the first part of his question, he will be aware that the arrangements are different in different countries. For example, the requirements to tour France are much more straightforward than some other countries. Obviously, musicians may choose to adjust to that. I cannot give him the detail of what will be proposed. What I can say is that the round table that the Secretary of State held with the industry on the 20th of this month was extremely constructive in tone in addressing all those points.
My Lords, going back to the answer given just a few moments ago to the noble Lord, Lord German, will the Minister confirm that the plan seems to be that since the Home Office will not provide reciprocal arrangements on the basis that the EU has proposed, we are talking about bilateral deals right across Europe, and that a working group has been formed which is meeting to draw up plans? Is that where we have got to?
I think where we have got to is that we have secured a deal with the European Union extremely recently. The agreement cannot be renegotiated. It needs now to be implemented. We aim to do that in collaboration with the sector to make sure that it can thrive in future.
My Lords, a year ago the Government told the Commons that free movement for musicians post 2020 was “essential”, but then left them out of the trade agreement. Will the Government now come clean with the touring musicians and crews they have betrayed and say to them, “We’re sorry. We screwed up the trade negotiation and came back with absolutely nothing for you, having promised you everything. We’ll go back to Brussels immediately and sort it out”?
My Lords, the UK has benefited from and supported greatly the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Will my noble friend look favourably on exchanges such as that developed bilaterally between the UK and Denmark, Praktik i udlandet, where business students on both sides can benefit from business placements? If we are going down the bilateral route, can we proceed as positively and as swiftly as possible?
My Lords, for the purposes of clarity, I ask: does this situation not mean that instead of our musicians bringing several billion pounds into the UK economy, we will be in a negative position? If Oliver Dowden manages to find funds to help us, it will be money going out of the UK coffers to support an industry that normally helps the UK economy by £5.8 billion?
Those export earnings are extremely important but, as the noble Lord understands very well, the ecosystem of the music sector is very broad. There will be larger groups that will be less impacted directly by some of these changes, but our creative and cultural sector is made up of a multiplicity of talented smaller groups of musicians who we absolutely see as critical and want to support.
EU-UK Joint Political Declaration on Asylum and Returns
My Lords, the joint political declaration notes the importance of effectively managing migratory flows between the UK and the EU. The UK will continue to engage bilaterally and multilaterally with member states with which we have a mutual interest on returns or family reunions of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This reaffirms the important commitments already made in Parliament. This work is ongoing.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that, yesterday at a Holocaust Memorial Day event, her Cabinet colleague Robert Jenrick made a very positive statement about refugees. May I ask her specifically about the discussions that are taking place about child refugees with EU countries? Have these discussions started? If not, when will they start and with which countries will they take place?
My Lords, these events have occurred against a background of reports of disturbing reforms in the British asylum system, including having asylum seekers in places where it is impossible for them to gain access to complete their asylum forms and to get medical attention. What will the world think of Britain’s reputation when we are not being very helpful to future generations and those who have families here in the UK? Will the Minister follow through from her answer to my noble friend and say when we are really going to start being serious about assisting these families and individuals?
My Lords, I completely reject the notion that our asylum accommodation is not fit for purpose. The barracks that we used last year and continue to use are of a standard that we would expect in terms of access to medical and legal assistance. The accommodation is fully equipped to deal with anybody’s needs in terms of medical attention and legal requirements.
Does the Minister accept that some countries in Europe, such as Greece, Italy and France, are particularly important in bilateral negotiations? Will she confirm that a priority list of whom to engage with has been done and is being worked to?
The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to say that there are some countries where there will be more returns and relationships in terms of asylum seekers. I can confirm that those talks are ongoing; what I cannot do is give an ongoing commentary on them.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, following the end of the transition period, the Government published an overview of family reunion routes under the Immigration Rules, as promised during the passage of the immigration Bill? I would be grateful for an update on when, and whether, they also published clear guidance on the savings provisions, under which the UK processes all Dublin regulations requests received before the end of December.
I can confirm to my noble friend that new guidance, providing an overview of family reunion routes under, and outside of, the Immigration Rules, has been published on GOV.UK. Those Immigration Rules are unaffected by the end of the transition period. We have also taken steps to ensure that Dublin family reunion cases which entered the system before the end of the transition period continue to be processed after 31 December 2020, and we have published guidance on the savings provisions.
My Lords, the agreement between the European Union and ourselves says that the UK’s intention is
“to engage in bilateral discussion”
with the member states most concerned. That is the promise. To what extent have such discussions started and with which states, and has any agreement been reached?
Does the Minister appreciate the growing evidence that some bogus asylum seekers are claiming to be the victims of trafficking and/or modern slavery in order to bolster their claims, whether they arrive from the EU or elsewhere? What measures does she propose to deal with this?
I am very glad that my noble friend has asked that question, because the Home Secretary has outlined very clearly that we want safe and legal routes. She mentions trafficking and traffickers. Of course, at the heart of some of the small-boats activity are some of the worst types of criminality, committed by those who really do not have any care for the human lives that might be lost.
My Lords, Dublin III has been one of the many serious casualties of Brexit, as the Minister well knows. Can she confirm that the joint declaration will soon lead to a new agreement in the best interests of the child—at least in France? She must be as impatient as any of us to reach that agreement. Can she reassure me that the joint Calais reception arrangements, which came in time, are now working efficiently?
I can categorically state that we are no longer part of Dublin, and we do not intend to open up that agreement again. As of not last year but the year before, we are not a member of the European Union. In the course of the immigration Bill, I outlined how routes would be open to people who needed our asylum and to unaccompanied children.
The Government said during the immigration Bill proceedings that they would carry out a review of safe and legal asylum routes. They promised a Statement on the terms of the review within three months of the Act passing, which will be reached on 11 February. Can the Minister give an update on progress on the Statement on the terms of the review and say whether it will be forthcoming by no later than 11 February? Also, how long is it expected to take to complete the review?
My Lords, can the Minister update the House on current government policy towards asylum seekers whom the Government would have returned to their point of entry into the EU under the Dublin regulations prior to the trade and co-operation agreement coming into force?
As I said to noble Lords who asked this previously, routes are available to people who wish to seek our asylum. Those routes have always existed. We were never going to be involved in Dublin beyond our exit from the European Union. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will, in due course, lay out those safe and legal routes. We will also continue to give people who need our protection refuge in this country.
My Lords, I have consistently argued for a more Christian approach to those seeking asylum after losing loved ones, homes and livelihoods as a result of proxy conflict between the great powers seeking to extend their influence in areas such as the Middle East, with bombs, rockets and drone strikes. Does the Minister agree that countries that behave in that way have a basic moral obligation to look to the well-being of those seeking refuge?
Countries that behave in the way that the noble Lord has outlined clearly do not have regard for the well-being or humanity of their people. I think he will be satisfied by the fact that we will take a whole-of-world approach to resettlement and that asylum will be based on people’s need for our protection, as opposed to where they have come from.
House of Lords: Size
My Lords, at present the committee has no plans to consult the House on further steps to be taken to implement the recommendations of the Lord Speaker’s committee. I note that this committee is continuing its important work, and I am sure it would welcome the noble Lord’s thoughts as to how it takes that work forward.
My Lords, I will first make it clear that this Question is not aimed at any of the new creations. In my view, we need to make the House of Lords fit for purpose, but we have not received the co-operation from the Government that we could have expected over the Burns committee. We are often told that we are a self-regulating House, so I ask the Senior Deputy Speaker whether he will seek to set up some further body to look at ways in which this self-regulating House can regulate itself to a situation more acceptable to the British people, so that it can do the valuable job that is far too often rubbished because of extraneous events.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is a follow-up to the Question that he asked me on 23 June last year, and I promised to take that issue to the Procedure Committee. Both that committee and the Burns committee are very exercised by this issue, but the matter rests with legislation and with the Government. I will refer his Question again to the Procedure Committee, but in the meantime it might be helpful for him to talk to the Burns committee itself.
Surely a painless way to reduce the size of your Lordships’ House would be to abolish hereditary by-elections, as proposed in the admirable Bill from by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Does the Senior Deputy Speaker see this as a possible way forward?
Under the Life Peerages Act, Her Majesty has the power to confer a peerage for life, and that peerage entitles the holder
“to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords and sit and vote therein accordingly”.
The committee of the House does not have any say over that issue. So, in terms of the hereditary Peers’ by-elections, the Procedure Committee met earlier this week and we have deferred the by-elections for a further period. Information on that will be forthcoming soon for the entire House.
My Lords, the Senior Deputy Speaker will know that the House has given its wholehearted approval to the Burns committee’s recommendations. Does he not believe that, following the creation of a large number of new Peers, all of whom either have been or will be welcomed to your Lordships’ House, it would be appropriate for the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee to be asked to consider further what non-legislative steps could be taken to address the size of the House?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. Again, this is a matter for the Government, and I know that the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip will be listening to this. I will certainly arrange for that to be noted and brought to the attention of the Procedure Committee—it is a very positive suggestion.
My Lords, the chairman of the Procedure Committee did indeed undertake in June of last year to look at various issues around the size of the House. Has any discussion taken place within the committee? Given the distinguished role of the Procedure Committee to contribute to the smooth running of the Chamber, would it not be appropriate for the committee to undertake some actions in the near future to reduce the number of Peers, thereby contributing to the efficacy and reputation of the House?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question; again, there is something very positive in that. However, the problems that have arisen in the past lie elsewhere; they do not lie in the House itself. Whatever the Procedure Committee can do, it will do because, as mentioned earlier, the whole House endorsed the Burns report and the Lord Speaker’s initiative in setting it up.
My Lords, I do not expect the Senior Deputy Speaker to comment on anything to do with party politics, but I wonder whether he could reflect on whether the Procedure Committee—and the Burns committee, for that matter—could think about the writ of summons to attend the House and whether, after a year of some Members not attending the House physically at all, it would be possible for the political parties to be brought together to think about the implications for those who might choose to stand down once the House returns fully in person.
I thank the noble Lord for that question and apologise for the delay in answering; I am having to unmute every time. On the issue of the writs of summons, the person who receives writs of summons
“to attend the House of Lords and sit and vote therein accordingly”.
So the House is restricted in what it can do to limit introductions without undermining that Act of Parliament. It is the Government and the party groups who are best able to ensure that we continue to reduce the size of the House, should they choose to accept the recommendations in the report from the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House.
My Lords, between 2003 and 2009 there were a number of inquiries into executive prerogative powers by parliamentary committees and the Ministry of Justice, which led to an extension of parliamentary oversight. Given recent controversies over Prime Ministerial abuse of prerogative powers over Parliament, which includes some recent Lords appointments, would it be appropriate to encourage the Constitution Committee to launch a new inquiry into this?
I think that that is a matter for the Constitution Committee itself. I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and her staff will have been listening to that, and they can take it forward if they think it is perfectly acceptable and possible to do.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with me that the efficacy and reputation of the House are determined more by its behaviour and conduct than by its size? Given how the House has operated recently—I am thinking of examples in the last few weeks—would the committee’s time not be better spent in trying to keep our standards to a higher level rather than at the level to which they seem to have sunk recently?
That is the noble Lord’s personal opinion. I think the House has conducted itself in an excellent manner in the past six months, not least with regard to remote engagement. By all standards, according to outside commentators, the House of Lords has been the House that has done most in that regard. I think the work of the House is important and its reputation has to be increased. Indeed, the recent review of committees which we undertook—on which I am moving Motions later today —is to ensure that we enhance the reputation of the House. As a House, we do what we can, and I think we are doing that.
My Lords, I would like to take the noble Lord back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. He said that reconstituting the Burns committee was a matter for the Government, but it is also a House matter. Could the Senior Deputy Speaker, through the Procedure Committee reporting to the House, arrange an opportunity for noble Lords to debate the re-establishment of the Burns committee? This is very much a House matter.
My Lords, I understand that the Burns committee, the Lord Speaker’s committee, has agreed to meet again to consider the latest situation. As we know, the committee is an informal body, which I do not speak for. The noble Lord would be best placed to speak to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, directly—but I will bring this Question to the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Burns.
Small Business: EU Exports
My Lords, small businesses can access trade support from UK Export Finance and the Department for International Trade, including export insurance and free local export champions. Business of all sizes in the UK can also access support services, including those by our free business support helpline, our growth hubs in England, which are expanding, and the British Business Bank. We will continue to review this support to ensure that UK businesses can keep trading successfully with the EU.
My Lords, many exporters are facing new and huge problems in exporting to the European Union, including increased costs, VAT charges and extra red tape. All of this has serious consequences for our economy, which is already hit by Covid. Did the Government realise that their deal with the EU was going to cause these problems? What are they going to do to ensure that our exporters can overcome them quickly?
The noble Baroness highlights a very important point. The Government are not just providing advice, important though that is. Through the British Business Bank, the Government have helped improve and diversify the supply of finance to small businesses. Its start-up loans company provides loans of up to £25,000 and advice. HMRC provides grants for recruitment and training of specialist staff and the Government have a £20 million fund specifically to help SMEs adapt, including grants of up to £5,000. The short answer is that the Government recognise the issues small businesses are facing and are doing their best to alleviate some of them through various means.
My Lords, I am interested in the Answer that the Minister has given to my noble friend Baroness Quin. This has plainly not been a frictionless experience for companies; the arrangements are more complex, there is masses more red tape and there are higher transition charges. Does the Minister share the advice given by some officials—that SMEs should set up inside the EU if they want to conduct business normally, even if the UK staff of those businesses would be dismissed and replaced by EU citizens in the EU? If she would be unwilling to give the same advice that her officials are giving, will she support a compensation scheme to make good on the promise that businesses will not suffer any detriment and thereby also help them save jobs in the United Kingdom?
I do not recognise the advice the noble Lord refers to. These are early days and we are still in the first month after the end of the transition period. Decisions on whether to offshore business operations will be commercial decisions for those companies, which we would not welcome. We are committed to ensuring that businesses have access to a range of support to help them navigate these complicated new trading arrangements with the EU through support services, including those provided by the Department for International Trade. We will continue to engage with businesses about the issues they face to refine our support further.
My Lords, the Minister says that the Government are not only offering affected businesses advice on dealing with red tape, they are also offering them loans. This is all very well but recognises the extra costs. Government officials seem to be making suggestions which involve more costs, such as moving operations to the EU or appointing customs specialists. What prospect can the Government offer them of discussions with the EU resulting in streamlining of the bureaucratic burdens and associated costs? That, of course, requires an atmosphere of good will, which is not helped by some of the disputes going on at the moment.
The noble Baroness makes a number of very important points. The Government have provided the £20 million fund to help SMEs adapt and this includes grants, not just loans, of up to £5,000 to help them through this. In answer to the question on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, it establishes a standard set of committees and contact points to oversee its operation and run the trade partnership, as well as providing for technical discussion across all other areas. A series of grace periods are agreed in the TCA, including on rules of origin, with evidence of third-party suppliers not required until 2022.
Does my noble friend agree that we need to work with SMEs and other businesses to tackle the lower propensity of British businesses to export? We need to seize export opportunities to the EU and those countries outside the EU. Can she therefore update us on what initiatives exist to encourage exports to countries outside the EU?
I am grateful to my noble friend for asking a positive question looking at export markets outside the EU. We are committed to enabling SMEs to benefit from these new markets. They have access to a full range of tailored support from the Department of International Trade, through the Exporting is GREAT digital hub, the “business as usual” scheme for exporters’ working capital and the provision of export credit insurance policies where many commercial providers have scaled back. Further, the general export facility announced in the other place on 7 December provides a government guarantee to the five main banks to provide working capital support for SMEs.
My Lords, as the Minister said, these are early days. However, there are reports—some in the papers today—about small businesses that export to the EU having difficulties and incurring extra costs. This can impact on consumers, particularly if companies are using the uncertainty created by the end of the transition period to load these costs on to consumers. Does the Minister believe that the Government have the powers they need to stamp out such abuses?
While I am not aware of the abuses the noble Lord refers to, I will make sure I am fully informed of them. It is vital that traders set up transparent contracts with their consumers, which clearly explain any costs applied, and our consumer rights regulations enable consumers to take legal action to enforce their rights and recover their money if they think that these fees are excessive. If the noble Lord can share specific examples of this activity, I will be able to consider it further and write to him with more details.
I am sure the noble Baroness will understand that you cannot export what you cannot manufacture. I chair a manufacturing business in renewable heat, and we have critical parts that need to come from Slovakia. The perfect storm of coronavirus, Brexit red tape and order issues, means that hauliers in Slovakia will simply not bring goods to the UK at present. Manufacturing lines will soon halt, even though product and parts were stocked up in anticipation of Brexit issues. What are the Government doing to try and unlock the position for SME companies that are manufacturing in the UK, cannot access parts and do not have leverage to get priority from their European suppliers, as big companies may do?
I understand the point the noble Lord makes. I know that we managed to secure a much better deal for UK hauliers. They can continue to operate through and within the EU throughout the end of the transition period. As we know, that is important to allow the flow of goods, food and medicine into the country and to ensure that we can export our goods in a cost-efficient way to the EU and beyond. On his specific question about goods coming into the UK, I had better take that back to the department and write to him with further details of what we might be able to do to help.
My Lords, while it may be less than one month since the transition period ended, for small businesses the situation is urgent and cannot be allowed to continue for many months. Does the Minister agree that the processes and paperwork from 1 January have turned out to be far more onerous than businesses were led to believe, and much more than the publicity in newspapers, online and on television suggested? That publicity told people to prepare for 1 January when they did not know for what they were actually preparing. I consider the matter urgent and some help is urgently required.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. The Government’s campaign to inform businesses and citizens of the need to change started in July. We published the first draft of the border operating model in July 2020. The campaign encourages businesses to visit GOV.UK/transition and to use the checker tool to tailor the guidance for their individual circumstances. Customs declarations would still have been necessary even if we had had no deal. While I am very sympathetic about the additional administration burden for small businesses, we are doing all we can to help them catch up with what is required.
House of Lords Commission
Communications and Digital Committee
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
Economic Affairs Committee
Joint Committee on Human Rights
International Relations and Defence Committee
National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee
Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy
Procedure and Privileges Committee
Science and Technology Committee
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
International Agreements Committee
Youth Unemployment Committee
House of Lords Commission
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord German, Lord Hill of Oareford, Lord Touhig and Lord Vaux of Harrowden be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Doocey, Lord Wakeham, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall and Lord Laming.
Communications and Digital Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Featherstone, Lord Giddens, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Storey, Baroness Quin, Lord Allen of Kensington and Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall.
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Doocey, Lord Hope of Craighead and Baroness Suttie be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Beith and Lord Pannick.
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Hendy and Lord Janvrin be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Haskel and Lord Thurlow.
Economic Affairs Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Bridges of Headley, Lord Haskel, Lord King of Lothbury and Baroness Kramer be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Tugendhat, Lord Cunningham of Felling, Lord Burns and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted.
The Senior Deputy Speaker to move that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Campbell- Savours, Lord Davies of Brixton, Lord Lee of Trafford, Lord Levene of Portsoken and Lord Vaux of Harrowden be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Cunningham of Felling, Baroness Goudie, Baroness Doocey, Lord Cromwell and Lord Kerslake; and that Lord Vaux of Harrowden be appointed chair of the Select Committee.
Joint Committee on Human Rights
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Henley be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Trimble.
International Relations and Defence Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Boateng, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, Lord Stirrup, Baroness Sugg and Lord Teverson be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Reid of Cardowan, Lord Grocott, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Baroness Helic and Baroness Smith of Newnham.
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Low of Dalston.
National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the Earl of Devon be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Krebs.
Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Laming, Lord Reid of Cardowan and Lord Strasburger be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Powell of Bayswater, Lord Harris of Haringey and Lord Campbell of Pittenweem.
Procedure and Privileges Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Morris of Aberavon and Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe.
Science and Technology Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Viscount Hanworth, Lord Krebs, Lord Mitchell, Lord Sarfraz, Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe and Lord Winston be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Browne of Ladyton, Lord Mair, Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, Lord Borwick, Baroness Young of Old Scone and Lord Hollick.
That Baroness Coussins and Lord Smith of Hindhead be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Craig of Radley and Viscount Ullswater.
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Clark of Windermere and Baroness Deech be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Laming; and that Lord Touhig be appointed chair of the Select Committee.
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness D’Souza and Lord Smith of Hindhead be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Stirrup and Lord Colgrain.
International Agreements Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider matters relating to the negotiation, conclusion and implementation of international agreements, and to report on treaties laid before Parliament in accordance with Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Foster of Bath, L, Gold, L, Goldsmith, L (Chair), Kerr of Kinlochard, L, Lansley, L, Liddell of Coatdyke, B, Morris of Aberavon, L, Oates, L, Risby, L, Robathan, L, Sandwich, E, Watts, L.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;
That the evidence taken by the International Agreements Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee be referred to the Committee;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Youth Unemployment Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider youth unemployment, education and skills, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Baker of Dorking, L, Clark of Kilwinning, B, Clarke of Nottingham, L, Davies of Oldham, L, Derby, Bp, Empey, L, Hall of Birkenhead, L, Layard, L, McIntosh of Hudnall, B, Newlove, B, Shipley, L (Chair), Storey, L, Woolley of Woodford, L.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee do report by 30 November 2021;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
My Lords, as many noble Lords will be aware, the House operates a rotation rule in respect of most Select Committees, which ensures a turnover of membership and broadens the opportunities for committee participation. In October 2020, the House agreed the fourth report of the Procedure and Privileges Committee, which recommended that the House should in future operate a rotation rule, based on calendar years rather than parliamentary Sessions, and that the rotations should occur in January each year.
This change was intended to provide greater certainty around the timing of rotations for committee members, chairs and staff. Today’s Motions therefore represent the first occurrence of what will be an annual January rotation. The overwhelming majority of membership changes on the Order Paper are the result of Members having served the full term allotted to them by the rotation rule. Most of these Members were appointed to their committees in 2016, and have therefore given good service over a number of years, for which we thank them.
The final two Motions will result in the appointment of a stand-alone international agreements committee, replacing the current sub-committee of the EU Committee, and the appointment of a time-limited special inquiry into youth unemployment. These give effect to recommendations contained in the fifth and sixth report of the Liaison Committee, which were approved by the House earlier this month. Further new committees recommended in those reports will be brought forward for appointment in April, following the winding down of our current EU Committee and its remaining sub-committees. I beg to move.
Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021
Operation of Air Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment) Regulations 2020
West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021
Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Organic Production (Organic Indications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Government of Wales Act 2006 (Amendment) Order 2021
Motions to Approve
That the draft Orders and Regulations laid before the House on 9, 14, 17, 23 and 31 December 2020 and 5 January 2021 be approved.
Relevant documents: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 26 and 27 January.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 27 January.
“The UK is appalled by the politically motivated detention of Alexei Navalny on arbitrary charges. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, Mr Navalny is the victim of a despicable crime, and we call for his immediate and unconditional release.
The Foreign Secretary has also condemned the Russian authorities’ unacceptable use of violence against peaceful protesters and journalists last weekend, and we have called on the Russian Government to respect their international commitments and to release those detained during peaceful demonstrations.
The UK has galvanised the international community in condemnation of these deplorable detentions. As G7 president, the UK issued a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement on 26 January, emphasising our deep concern at these developments and calling on Russia to adhere to its national and international obligations.
The UK has led international efforts in response to Mr Navalny’s poisoning in August. We have worked closely with our international partners at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to urge Russia to uphold its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Last December, the UK led a joint statement in the OPCW, supported by 58 states parties, calling for Russia to be held to account.
We have also taken robust, bilateral action. In October, the UK enforced asset freezes and travel bans on six individuals responsible for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, as well on one Russian organisation. We keep further sanctions designations under constant review. However, it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage on possible future designations, as that could undermine their impact. We carefully consider all options under the relevant sanctions regimes.
The UK has been clear in condemning in the strongest possible terms the chemical weapons attack against Mr Navalny last year. He was the victim of a nerve agent attack, and the UK has called repeatedly for the Russian authorities to investigate and explain the use of a chemical weapon on Russian soil and to declare its Novichok programme to the OPCW.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons against opposition figures further undermines democracy and political plurality in Russia. More broadly, Mr Navalny’s detention is a further demonstration of the concerning deterioration in the human rights situation in Russia. We raise that regularly with the Russian Government, making it clear that Russia must uphold its international human rights responsibilities. I raised the issue myself during my visit to Moscow in November 2020, and our ambassador to Moscow raised Mr Navalny’s case immediately prior to his return to Russia, to underline that the UK was closely monitoring Russia’s actions.
We condemn the detention of thousands of peaceful protestors and journalists on 23 January and the Russian Government’s continued disregard for the fundamental rights of their people to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The UK has also urged Russia to fulfil its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and all the relevant instruments of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and to guarantee those rights, including the right to freedom of expression, to its citizens.
The UK’s policy towards Russia is clear: we want a different relationship, but Russia must stop its destabilising behaviour towards the UK and its partners. Russia’s pattern of aggressive behaviour undermines its claim that it is a responsible international partner upholding the rules-based international system.”
My Lords, first I pay tribute to the courage of the protesters in Russia standing up against corruption. Fifteen months ago, the Government’s response to the Russia report said that
“driving dirty money and money launderers out of the UK is a priority.”
It confirmed legislation to strengthen Companies House, make limited partnerships less open to money laundering and establish a register of beneficial ownership of foreign companies owning UK property. Is this still a priority, and when will we see the promised legislation? What is the timetable for broadening the scope of the Magnitsky sanctions to include corruption?
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I join the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in commending the courage of what we have seen, not just in Moscow but around Russia, in support of Mr Navalny and his early and immediate release from detention. In response to the noble Lord’s question, the Russia report remains a key priority, as I said in your Lordships’ House last week. Our response was issued on the day. In addition to what the noble Lord mentioned, legislation will also enable security services and law enforcement agencies, for example, to tackle early threats of hostile activity. The National Crime Agency offences to criminalise harmful activity will be strengthened. As I said last week, we are reviewing visas in tier 1 issued before 2015. We will be working on the legislative timetable through the usual channels.
On sanctions, the noble Lord will be aware that we have already sanctioned one organisation and six individuals on the issue of the poisoning of Mr Navalny. On the issue of future designations, we will look at egregious abuses of human rights. As the noble Lord is aware, we are currently looking at corruption. We will be looking to see how we can broaden the scope of the sanctions regime in the near future.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to Mr Navalny and the other courageous protesters. The noble Lord rightly said that sanctions are most effective when a number of countries jointly implement them. What joint action are they taking with the EU on sanctions in this appalling case, especially given that Mr Navalny was diagnosed in Germany as having been poisoned with Novichok? Does the Minister agree that it would help such joint working with the whole of the EU if the Government recognised the EU envoy as an ambassador?
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I believe that I have already informed the House that that is currently in discussion with the EU. On the substantive issue of sanctions, I have said that it works in tandem; we are working closely with the EU, not just on the sanctions regime and co-ordination with other allies. On the question about close working with the EU, the noble Baroness will have noted the G7 statement that just went out, which included the High Commissioner from the European Union, underlining the importance we are attaching, within the context of the G7, to the role of the European Union.
Can the Minister confirm that, while our Government rightly use sanctions as a weapon against the loss of Mr Navalny’s freedom, the many other links that our cultural heritage shares with Russia will not be harmed? I refer, of course, to our shared music, creative writing, sculpture, university links, and the many other creative ways whereby our citizens and professionals share common bonds and deep enduring friendships. Can the Minister assure the House that sanctions will avoid harming those important channels of mutual growth?
My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that I agree with her. I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I say that our challenge and dispute is not with the Russian people. We are standing on their side on their right to representation, and in the protests that we have seen in support of Mr Navalny. There are quite strict criteria for how the sanctions are applied: they are for egregious abuse of human rights.
My Lords, any abuse of human rights and corruption must be condemned and be in the best interests of the Kremlin and the people of Russia. I join the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in calling for a robust debate on policy towards Russia. Will the call for sanctions be expected to bring the desired results, or is it the requisite reaction? Are there any areas of trust in which a workable relationship with the Kremlin can be hammered out with evidence that we, with like-minded partners, have the ear of decision-makers in this regard?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first point: wherever sanctions have been applied since we introduced them last year, we have seen that people take notice—Administrations and regimes take notice. But there is an important distinction that we, in using that sanctions regime on human rights, pinpoint individuals and organisations specifically, so it is not about standing against a country in its collective form.
On the issue of relations with Russia: of course, we continue to engage directly with Russia. As I have said before, it is a P5 member of the UN Security Council, and there are many issues around the world on security and conflict in which Russia has an important role to play.
My Lords, I, too, salute the courage of Alexei Navalny. Nobody is questioning the Minister’s commitment to this issue, but the sanctions have not worked. Sanctioning the people with the money is not necessarily sanctioning the people who have committed the human rights offences. It is Putin’s mates in London receiving the dirty money who we need to go for. The connection to Putin is the thing that will hit them, because while that money is allowed into London in the way it is at the moment—and, outside Europe, London is the centre—Putin can act as he wishes. If we fail to do this, it will start to look like the UK Government are compromised in some way. I do not believe they are, but it will look as though they are.
As someone who worked in the City of London for 20 years, the integrity and robustness of the structures of the City of London are of paramount importance to me, as they are to the UK Government. Therefore, I share the noble Lord’s view that it is important we take constructive steps to stop the use of illicit financing and stop money flowing through London in the manner he suggests.
President Putin’s abhorrent disregard for international law has turned his great nation into a pariah on the global stage. I accept what the Minister said about keeping specific measures under review, but do the Government at least accept that the current suite of measures from the UK and our partners is not, thus far, proving sufficient to rein in this behaviour?
While I note what the noble Lord has said, the steps we have taken within the context of the OPCW and with the G7 partners does, I believe, demonstrate to the Russians a strong international response. It is important we continue to strengthen our alliances in this respect so Russia does take notice and, more importantly, does so with regard to courageous individuals such as Alexei Navalny, who is being held without detention. Just to update your Lordships’ House: as I was coming in, I was informed that in his hearing, his appeal was not upheld, so he remains in detention. I will, of course, update the House as we get more details. We hope Russia will take note of these international actions, and I believe in certain quarters it is doing just that.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for updating the House with that news, disappointing though it is. In preparation for this Question, I checked the 2019 Conservative election manifesto, which speaks of the UK being a champion of the rule of law, human rights and anti-corruption efforts. Does the Minister agree that we need to work consistently to have clear, consistent rules dealing with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand and, indeed, the UK Overseas Territories, with Magnitsky-style sanctions and other actions, setting up plans for reaction, if and when standards are breached? I should probably declare my position on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong.
My Lords, the noble Baroness poses a wide-ranging question about different countries and jurisdictions—she also mentioned the British Overseas Territories. Without generalising, it is important that we look at the specifics of each case, but I understand what she puts forward. We need to have measures to hand, and the human rights sanctions regime is one with which we can act specifically and, importantly, with key partners and allies to ensure individuals or groups who abuse human rights are held to account for their actions. I hope that, in time, as we have discussed today, the broadening of any scope of those sanctions, on the issue of illicit finance, in particular, will also be to the satisfaction of Members of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I will call Members to speak in the order on today’s list. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each amendment. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk.
Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect the voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for, if the Question is put, they must make this clear when they speak.
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill
Clause 1: Code rights in respect of land connected to leased premises
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 18, at end insert—
“(f) there are no grounds to suspect the operator intends to use the telecommunications infrastructure, or any part of it, to breach human rights after 31 December 2023.(1A) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(f), “human rights” has the meaning of “the Convention rights” given by section 1(1) (the Convention Rights) of the Human Rights Act 1998.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment seeks to prevent companies from using UK telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate human rights abuse. To the extent that “use” of the infrastructure “or any part of it” brings in the supply chain, this seeks to engage the transparency in supply chain provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1 we return to an issue that we debated at Report stage of this Bill, back in June. Amendment 1 seeks to prevent companies using the United Kingdom’s telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate human rights abuses. To the extent that use of the infrastructure, or any part of it, brings in the supply chain, this seeks to engage the transparency in supply-chain provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Exactly one year ago, I asked the Government what assessment they had been able to make of the implications of their decision to award contracts to Huawei and other companies required under China’s national intelligence law to support, assist and co-operate with that state’s intelligence work. I also asked about Huawei’s compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and what consideration they have given to such compliance in regard to their decision to award contracts to Huawei. Last year, the Government deftly avoided answering my question by simply saying it had
“expressed its concerns about China’s systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang, including credible and growing reports of forced labour”.
Throughout the previous two years, 2018 and 2019, I had raised my concerns about some of the shocking events unravelling in western China, a region in which I have travelled. In August 2019, for instance, I asked the Government what assessment they had made of reports that United Kingdom investors hold shares totalling £800 million in companies that supply CCTV and facial recognition technology being used to track Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Although aware of the reports, the Government said they had
“not undertaken analysis of British investor shareholdings in Chinese surveillance companies”.
I wonder whether that is still the situation. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply she can tell us.
My dissatisfaction with those replies, and in the context of my involvement in the legislative stages of the 2015 Act, my pro bono role as a trustee of the charity Arise, and as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs, prompted me to speak in Committee on this Bill on 19 May, and again on Report, on 29 June, when I moved an all-party amendment to the Bill. Co-sponsors of that amendment were the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is in his seat today, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lady Falkner. Two of them will be speaking to this group today.
In a series of powerful speeches from right across the Chamber—with only one partially dissenting voice—Members of you Lordships’ House made clear their deep anxiety that the Government were ready to hand over up to 35% of our 5G infrastructure to Huawei, a company that actively partners with the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang, where 1 million Uighur are incarcerated and used as slave labour. Parallels were drawn, during the course of that debate, with the way in which companies such as Siemens had used labourers in Nazi concentration camps to build an industrial empire, and the way in which Stalin used gulag labour to power his economic programmes on the backs of those who had been incarcerated.
In June, the Minister asked us not to divide the House but said that she would be willing to return at Third Reading—today—with an amendment to provide a human rights threshold which companies would be required to meet. It was also suggested that the Telecommunications (Security) Bill would be a more appropriate piece of legislation on which to attach such an amendment. I would be grateful if, when the Minister comes to reply, she can confirm that the title of that Bill has been drawn in such a way as to exclude that possibility.
Since June, meetings have been held with the noble Baroness and Ministers from the Department of International Trade, the Home Office and the Foreign Office. The debate also triggered a determination to lay further amendments both to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill and to the Trade Bill. I know that the Minister has genuinely and faithfully tried her very best to honour the commitment that she gave to the House in June, and I really am grateful to her for the time and trouble she has taken throughout.
Let me remind the Government and the House why this issue is not going to go away quietly, and why the House will have the chance, on Tuesday next, to demonstrate that. Academics have described Xinjiang as the world’s most shocking example of state-sanctioned slavery. In Committee, I drew the Government’s attention to the work of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and quoted the institute’s Vicky Xu, who said that the idea that Huawei is not working directly with the authorities in Xinjiang is just “straight-up nonsense”.
I sent the Minister a video recording of shackled and blindfolded Uighur Muslims being led from trains to camps. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, whose own family suffered the grotesque horrors of the Shoah— commemorated yesterday, on Holocaust Memorial Day—said that such scenes were
“reminiscent of something not seen for a long time”.
I know that the Minister shares the sense of revulsion that we have all felt on learning of forced sterilisations and forced abortions for Uighur women, to prevent births within their community; the desecration of Uighur cemeteries to eradicate any trace of their identity; the deliberate separation of family members; propagandised re-education; and their exploitation as forced labour. Indeed, she drew my attention to an article in The Economist, setting out the scale and nature of what is being done. We all need to have a better understanding of what it really means when we see a label that says: “made in China”. Who made it? How was it made? Under what conditions was it made?
By way of exchange with the Minister, I would draw her attention to an article in The Spectator that appeared on 23 January. It was written by Harald Maass. He gives the example of Coca Cola’s production plant, which he says is
“a joint venture with a Chinese state company … surrounded by prisons and re-education camps in which China suppresses local ethnic minorities”.
Within 30 kilometres of that plant, there are 25 prisons and internment camps. In the whole of Xinjiang, there are at least 380 internment camps, some of which have huge structures and watchtowers, barbed wire and thousands of inmates. An analysis of satellite imagery suggests that there are crematoria in at least nine of them. The Chinese Communist Party says that the camps are educational and training facilities. Precisely what purpose does a crematorium have in an educational facility?
Uighurs are forced to work for factories or farms making products, some of which are sold in the United Kingdom. Over the past two years, work programmes have been significantly enlarged, with official statistics showing that 2.6 million “surplus rural workers” in Xinjiang were “relocated” within one year—an increase of 46%.
In July, the Government responded to the concerns expressed about both the use of slave labour and the security challenges by announcing that they would be removing Huawei from the UK’s 5G mobile network. UK mobile providers have been banned from buying new Huawei 5G equipment and they will have to remove all its 5G kit by 2027. I think the Government’s decision is the right one, and they have taken notice of the concerns which were raised during the debate in your Lordships’ House. In December, they went on to publish the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, and I also welcome that.
But the Government have gone further. Last week, Dominic Raab announced more plans to outlaw Chinese imports which can be linked to human rights abuse, and there will be fines and possible sanctions against companies which are connected to slave labour. He told the House of Commons that he had been shocked by, in his words, “the industrial scale” of the forced labour and the concentration camps, saying that he had never again expected to see pictures of people being herded like animals on to trains to take them away from kith and kin to be enslaved and stripped of their humanity. Such echoes from a terrible past have also been heard in reports of human hair taken from the shaved heads of Uighur people being exported to be used in wigs by those who, sadly, seem equally comfortable wearing fashion items made by Uighur slaves.
We await news from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, about how Magnitsky sanctions will be used against senior Chinese Communist Party officials who have overseen these programmes of mass incarceration. Perhaps the noble Baroness can give the House further information about when such action will be taken.
It is instructive that the US Government have already imposed sanctions and restrictions against 48 Chinese companies suspected of using forced labour or providing technical assistance to the suppression system of Xinjiang, described by the US Congress as the
“largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world”.
Adrian Zenz, a leading authority on Xinjiang, estimates that most of today’s cotton in Xinjiang is picked under forced labour conditions and with minimal payment. I particularly pay tribute to the BBC for highlighting this in a documentary recently. Zenz says:
“More than half a million Uyghurs — probably whether they want to or not — are being sent by the state to the fields for three months”.
Brands including Hugo Boss, Adidas, Muji, Uniqlo, Costco, Caterpillar, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have been named in reports linking them to Xinjiang factories or materials. One in five cotton products worldwide is made with Xinjiang cotton. To its credit, Marks & Spencer has pledged to stop using any cotton from Xinjiang.
Next week, on Tuesday, the House will be asked to vote again on the all-party genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, which was passed in your Lordships’ House by a formidable majority of 126. In the House of Commons, with the equally formidable support of the former leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Nus Ghani Member of Parliament and other senior figures from the Government Benches, it came within 11 votes of achieving a majority. The movers of that amendment in both Houses have listened to constructive suggestions and have modified the amendment, which now stands in lieu and is on our Marshalled List.
There is no greater abuse of human rights than genocide: it is the crime above all crimes. No other word adequately describes a state complicit in the destruction of a people’s identity; complicit in mass surveillance; complicit in forced labour and enforced slavery; complicit in the uprooting of people, the destruction of communities and families, the prevention of births, and the ruination of cemeteries where generations of loved ones had been buried. It is the only word to describe a state which seeks to re-educate you so that you will believe that you, your people, your religion and your culture never existed, and the certainty that, through ethno-religious cleansing, you will cease to exist in the future.
Last week, I read the testimony of Sayragul Sauytbay, a woman who escaped from one of the camps. She said:
“Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons. There were prisoners who were made to sit on a chair of nails. I saw people return … covered in blood. Some came back without fingernails.”
One elderly woman’s skin had been flayed. She said:
“Some prisoners were hung on the wall and beaten with electrified truncheons”,
and that prisoners are used for medical experiments:
“Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped.”
On the same day that the House of Commons voted on the genocide amendment from your Lordships’ House, the incoming and outgoing US Administrations both declared events in Xinjiang to be a genocide. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at his confirmation hearing in the US Senate that:
“On the Uyghurs I think we’re very much in agreement. And the forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
There will be a Division on that amendment on Tuesday, and I have no wish to try the patience of the House. I am reluctant to divide the House again today, but before making a final decision I would like to hear from the noble Baroness why the judicial route to determining genocide is being resisted by the Government when they say that only the court can make such a determination and when distinguished jurists, including Members of your Lordships’ House—including two former Supreme Court judges and the former Lord Chief Justice—say there is no practical impediment to such determinations being made by our British courts.
In her letter to Peers of 26 January, the noble Baroness makes no mention of when the Government intend to bring forward legislation to enhance the provisions of the 2015 Act and to tackle supply chain transparency. She will recall that I have specifically asked her what response British Telecom has given her about how it intends to meet its legal obligations. I will listen carefully to what she has to say about those issues, especially when we can expect to see movement from the Home Office.
As always, I will listen carefully to the debate and to the noble Baroness, but I do recognise the efforts that she has genuinely made. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House at this stage in the Bill, especially following that excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I do not wish to repeat many of the arguments that have been put at an earlier stage in the Bill and the information which has been made available to the House about the atrocities which are happening in China today—not just among the Uighur people. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out in great detail the arguments which I would have thought would persuade any Government of the virtues of this amendment.
I join him in paying tribute to my noble friend the Minister, who has worked hard to find a way through this. I appreciate that collective responsibility means that it is not always possible to deliver what Ministers might wish to achieve. However, following on from the remarks the noble Lord made about the debate on Tuesday next week on the all-party amendment on genocide, I think it is absolutely outrageous that those of us who wish to speak in that debate are unable to do so unless we appear in person at the House.
I have just received a letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments advising me that it is very undesirable for Members to come to the House, as indeed it is from a wider social point of view. At the beginning of each sitting, the Chair has indicated that all Members will be treated equally. It seems that the procedures that operate under ping-pong are preventing Members of the House carrying out their duties while being socially responsible and while following the advice from Public Health England and Scotland. I hope very much that this can be looked at before next Tuesday, so that we are all able to carry out our duties to the House of Commons and meet our responsibilities to our fellow citizens.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, seemed to indicate that he would not press this amendment to a Division. Had he done so, I would have happily supported him, because I believe that it is a sensible amendment for the reasons put forward in earlier stages of the Bill. However, as I have said, I will not detain the House other than to indicate my support for the noble Lord and my admiration for the enormous energy that he has put into defending human rights and championing the cause of those people in China who, unbelievably, are experiencing what we have always been told after the events in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s would never be allowed to happen again.
My Lords, I too start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his commitment and persistence. He is so often the conscience of this House on human rights abuses globally, and once more he has made a very powerful speech.
How can anyone who watched the ceremony to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, which was broadcast last night, not be deeply moved. It made plain how propaganda led to persecution and, step by step, to the appalling slaughter of the Jews and others in the Holocaust. It has been said, “Never again”, and international measures were put in place to try to counter such atrocities and bring people to account, yet there have been genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Myanmar and so on. As the Holocaust memorial event also mentioned, we are now hearing appalling accounts coming out of China, especially in relation to the Uighurs, including of forced organ harvesting, the sterilisation of women and the re-education camps. We hear credible reports, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, of slave labour. We know that, in Germany, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, in which the country had an international lead, drew on such slave labour, as did others.
We have seen worrying signs in the UK and across Europe more generally, and especially whipped up recently in the United States, of propaganda and discrimination being exploited by those seeking power. It has been an object lesson in how these things can happen, step by step, and how constant vigilance is always required. We knew it then, and we know it now, so the mover of the amendment and those speaking to it are right that, even here, in this limited Bill covering a specific area, the test should be applied as to whether an operator could be using infrastructure to breach human rights.
I am glad to hear of the efforts being made by the Minister to seek to address this, as the Government also did in the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, and there managed, working with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others, to bring forward a relevant amendment. In her letter to us, the noble Baroness cites the actions of the Foreign Secretary in relation to Xinjiang. We are waiting to see the results of this translated into targeted sanctions, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, and the persuasion of other countries, starting with the EU, to follow suit. Sanctions are most effective if they are undertaken collectively.
We will shortly be considering the National Security and Investment Bill, and I am sure that these issues will be raised again. Prior to that, we have the Trade Bill. Surely if the Government are committed to this issue, when we get to that Bill, it is obvious that the Government must accept the amendment on genocide. How could we possibly agree to trade with a country that is committing genocide?
I thank the Government for their engagement, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, with Sir Geoffrey Nice, the chair of the China Tribunal, on forced organ harvesting, and I look forward to further engagement. However, that engagement needs to turn into specific action. We cannot turn a blind eye, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will make sure that we do not.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine.
My Lords, last night at 8 pm, I lit my candle to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. Yesterday, Jewish leaders asked us to include later, less egregious events that have been committed against other groups—notably, and most recently, Chinese Uighurs. China is a superpower and we are a mid-sized state, but if the measure of a people is its moral standing, the United Kingdom has stood tall in the past and should continue to do so.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is evaluating whether to press this amendment. I say to the House only that the amendment is modest. It seeks to prevent companies using UK telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate human rights abuses. The consumers of that infrastructure would not want infrastructure delivered to them on the back of human rights abuses. It would also give investors a steer, because they would know that the law is clearly set out, and they could make their choices accordingly. There is little that I would add, other than to say that the people of this country rightly hold their leaders to high standards, and this House should uphold those expectations.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak at the Third Reading of this Bill. Like other noble Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for long, because it has taken some time to get to this stage.
I want to speak to Amendment 1, but it is worth reminding noble Lords that this Bill is, of course, intended to help the 10 million people in this country living in flats and apartments have the right to ask their landlord to help them get better broadband connectivity. This is a Bill to stop landlords failing to engage with telecoms operators. If we have learned nothing else in the past 10 months, although I am sure that we have learned plenty, broadband and better connectivity overall is now absolutely essential for people to be able to go about their daily lives in this country. As we have been hearing in the Covid-19 Select Committee of this House, the need for strong and reliable digital infrastructure will continue even after the pandemic has receded.
We have heard a very powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I remember him asking me the question this time last year. I will just say this to him: as he set out in his powerful speech, since the Bill was first debated last summer, events have indeed moved on. Although, as the Minister set out in her letter to all noble Lords, the amendment is not in scope, I am pleased to note that he and other noble Lords have recognised that the Minister has worked very hard to see if a way could be found to bring forward an amendment to the Bill that was in scope. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will accept that the motivation behind his amendment and the passion and knowledge with which he speaks have been recognised and widely accepted, and are already influencing policy. He rightly pointed to the recent statement made by the Foreign Secretary as well as, of course, to the Telecommunications (Security) Bill which is being considered in the other place and will reach us.
I want also to pay tribute to the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy which was published last month. When I was the Secretary of State with responsibility for digital, we made the decision last year about who would be able to work to roll out better connectivity. It was absolutely clear that we must not find ourselves in the situation again of being overly reliant on one supplier; we need to have more suppliers in the chain. I think that the new US Administration will help us through working together to achieve that.
The noble Lord, with his amendment, has compelled the Government to act. He has outlined the fact that there will be another opportunity, next week in the Trade Bill, for the House to consider the very important matters that he and other noble Lords have raised. For the reason that our fellow citizens need better connectivity, and that those who live in flats or apartments must be able to ask their landlords to engage in connectivity issues, this Bill is much needed now on the statute book.
My Lords, on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that this amendment would empower the Government to deny infrastructure access to operators whom, they believed, were abusing human rights. This is part of an important conversation about how modern slavery legislation might apply to the digital economy and especially its supply chain.
Since Report, this argument has been rehearsed on a number of occasions in other places. That reflects the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his colleagues. Each time the argument is repeated, it is no less powerful, horrifying or revolting to hear what is happening.
As we heard from the noble Lord, the Trade Bill has been one focus for this discussion. The Government spurned a real opportunity when they whipped Conservative MPs to vote against the so-called genocide amendment earlier this month. That amendment reflected the discussions during the passage of the Trade Bill in your Lordships’ House. It sought to introduce a mechanism to allow British courts to determine whether a foreign country had committed genocide. The amendment was introduced in your Lordships’ House to deal not just with the Uighurs but with other human rights issues as well. I hope that your Lordships will listen sympathetically next Tuesday when the amendment is reintroduced.
I, too, thank the Minister both for her comments and for her detailed letter, which showed empathy on this issue and explained why her department had been unable to bring forward the amendment previously promised. My admiration for the ingenuity of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others has increased. They have managed to table this amendment to a Bill that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, correctly characterised it, is intended to help tenants obtain broadband.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, also implied that the issue had, as a result of these discussions, somehow been dealt with. Although there has been welcome movement on the Government’s part over Huawei, it would be wrong to say that the issue has been dealt with. I asked the House of Lords Library whether a law exists that prevents telecommunications operators from using their infrastructure to breach human rights. I thank the Library for its thorough work, but it was unable to find evidence of legislation preventing telecoms operators from using tele- communications infrastructure to breach human rights. In other words, there is no such legislation. The Library asked Ofcom whether it was aware of any such requirement in legislation; Ofcom said that it was not. Legal experts were also unaware of anything in telecoms legislation. In other words, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the signatories to this amendment have identified a gap in the legislation.
The Human Rights Act applies only to public authorities and other bodies—public or private—that perform public functions. There is no general requirement on companies to comply with human rights obligations, although that has sometimes been applied to the relationship between companies and private individuals. As others have said, there are UN guiding principles on human rights and business. The Companies Act 2006, the EU non-financial reporting directive 2014 and the Modern Slavery Act all contain commentary on human rights but none deals with this particular issue.
It is a shame that we have had to have this debate almost by proxy. Even the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would admit that this Bill was not designed to address this issue. Such a Bill is needed so that we can have this discussion in a discrete environment. I understand that my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones was promised that there would be a communications security Bill. I assume that the National Security and Investment Bill is what that has metamorphosised into—perhaps the Minister could confirm that. As my noble friend Lady Northover suggested, this issue could be discussed in that context. I am working on that Bill, but it seems to me to have to been drawn very narrowly. Given this legislative absence, it is appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have brought forward this amendment now. If the noble Lord, Lord Alton, decides to push it to a vote, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will support it. If he does not, we shall support an amendment to the Trade Bill. Even if the noble Lord decides not to push for a vote today, the Government can be sure that this issue is not done with and will not go away.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has rehearsed the background to his Report stage amendment and explained the reasons for bringing it back to your Lordships’ House today. We simply cannot turn a blind eye. Standing aside or ignoring what is happening in China is tantamount to condoning the appalling actions described by the noble Lord in his powerful and moving speech.
A lot has changed since June. I am sure that the Minister will update us on subsequent government action, particularly in relation to Huawei equipment. As a number of noble Lords have said, other legislation—including the Trade Bill, before your Lordships’ House again next Tuesday—has amendments bearing on this issue. The case made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is unanswerable, as I have made clear. However, tabling this amendment to this Bill is perhaps not the best way of achieving his wider objectives. It might, I suppose, adversely affect the chances of the big win that we hope to achieve on Tuesday with his amendment to the Trade Bill.
Everyone who has spoken today has supported the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and paid tribute to his campaigning and his ceaseless tenacity on this cause. If he chooses to divide the House, we will support him, but I hope that he will feel able to accept the Government’s position on this narrowly focused Bill and that it would be better to defer the decision to Tuesday’s debate on the Trade Bill.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. We all agree that this is a matter of great importance, which is why, on Report, I committed to bringing the issue back at this stage. I said:
“We will endeavour to find all the time possible to have sufficient ground to bring back a government amendment.”—[Official Report, 29/6/20; col. 538.]
I would like to reassure noble Lords that, working with officials in my department, I have tried my utmost to find a way forward.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his generous words. I have virtually met and spoken with him and other noble Lords on several occasions to discuss their concerns. My officials have had discussions with their colleagues in the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Public Bill Office on how the Government might bring forward a legislative provision that—to quote the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on Report—had “teeth”.
We put two different versions of a government amendment forward to do this but were advised by the Public Bill Office that they were out of scope. It has been unequivocal that this includes any amendment addressing issues in the supply chain, such as those issues rightly raised by the noble Lord. Such issues—and thus, amendments seeking to address them—are therefore out of scope of this Bill. As a result, regrettably the Government have been unable to table an amendment to this effect, as I set out in my letter to all Peers on 26 January.
This also means that this amendment will not impact on the supply chain in the way that its sponsors intend. Indeed, it does not touch the supply chain at all. This is why we are resisting the amendment today, but along with other noble Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for beginning a very important new stage of the conversation about modern slavery, particularly in Xinjiang, and human rights more broadly.
Several noble Lords invited me to share some of the actions that the Government have taken, and I am pleased to do so. On 12 January, the Foreign Secretary announced a series of measures to ensure that UK businesses and the public sector are not complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang. This includes four main actions: first, strengthening the overseas business risk guidance to make clearer the risks to UK businesses investing in, or with, supply chains in Xinjiang; secondly, a review of export controls as they apply to the situation in Xinjiang, to ensure that we are doing all that we can to prevent the export of goods that may contribute to human rights violations in Xinjiang; thirdly, the introduction of financial penalties for organisations which fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act; and, fourthly, ensuring that government and public sector bodies have the evidence that they require to exclude suppliers that are complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang.
This announcement is a clear demonstration of the UK’s global leadership role in standing up for the rights of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. I thank all noble Lords who acknowledged that Government’s work in this area. These measures will help to ensure that no British organisation, whether public or private sector, is contributing inadvertently to violations in Xinjiang. As we know, consumer opinion and reputational considerations can and do play an important part in influencing corporate behaviour, and we as a Government are sending a strong signal that we will not stand by as these violations continue, and that there is a reputational and economic cost to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked me three questions. The first was about the timing of putting into practice the legislation from the Home Office. We will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows us to introduce penalties for non-compliance, and other measures which will strengthen the transparency legislation.
Regarding our conversations with BT, I am sure that he will understand that it would not be appropriate to comment on conversations with an individual company, but I think that he will also agree that we, like him, want respect for human rights to be at the centre of all business that takes place in this country.
On the role of the judiciary and state genocide, which the noble Lord understands much better than many people, and certainly me, state genocide clearly is very difficult to prove in a judicial context. The evidential threshold is high, and proceedings tend to be long and costly. It would be difficult for the High Court effectively to determine genocide, with the inevitable constraints that would exist on access to evidence and witnesses, and it would be wrong for the Government or MPs to subcontract to the courts our responsibility for deciding when a country’s human rights record is sufficiently bad that we will not engage in trade negotiations. Parliament’s responsibility is to determine when sanctions take place and with whom we negotiate. We continue to believe that responsibility rests with Parliament.
I trust that noble Lords will recognise the work that has been done in response to the situation in Xinjiang since we last debated this Bill, but, importantly, I hope that noble Lords have listened to what I said in earlier debates about the real-world impact of this amendment, which would discourage any telecom operator from making use of the legislation while not having the intended impact on the issues that the noble Lord raises. I also highlight that we have introduced the Telecommunications (Security) Bill in the other place since this Bill was last before your Lordships. Furthermore, we have published a diversification strategy, which addresses the lack of diversity in the supply chain.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked about the limits and suggested that a promise had been made—which surprised me—to his noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the ability to put down amendments in relation to human rights with the Telecommunications (Security) Bill. The Telecommunications (Security) Bill is an appropriate vehicle for amendments relating to equipment vendors, but it is focused on network security and national security. As I said earlier, our ambition is that our response to human rights should go across all business. Many noble Lords may have noted that, in advance of Second Reading of that Bill in the other place, illustrative drafts were published of how the Government could exercise the designation and direction powers contained in that Bill. I look forward to discussing that Bill when it reaches this House.
Returning to this Bill, as I said on Report, telecoms operators would be disincentivised from making use of the Bill’s provisions, were the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to stand part of the legislation. This opinion has also been endorsed by a representative body of telecoms operators themselves—namely, the Internet Service Providers’ Association. As my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes noted, this Bill was designed initially to be used only in a narrow set of circumstances, to connect people who live in blocks of flats and who have landlords who have failed to respond to repeated requests for access. I am sure that all Members of this House understand that, as drafted, this Bill offers very real benefits to millions of people in flats and apartment blocks across the UK. It will allow families to get better broadband now and not have to wait until their landlord decides finally to respond. To risk that for something that would not have a material effect on supply chains would be wrong.
I have the greatest respect for the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the important issues that his amendment seeks to address. The noble Lord has been an assiduous advocate for this cause, and the House recognises that he speaks with not only experience but great courage on human rights. Equally, I hope that he recognises how much the Government have done to respond to the human rights abuses that he has rightly highlighted.
Given that it remains the case that this amendment does not deliver the human rights benefits which the noble Lord and so many others in this House seek, that it risks preventing millions of people living in blocks of flats from accessing broadband, and that the Government are taking concerted action in relation to the abuse of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, I beg the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, we are very grateful for the Minister’s reply. She said that the Government wished to table a specific amendment which was ruled out of order by the Public Bill Office. Is it the Government’s intention to bring the precise power that they were going to take in this Bill in the Telecommunications (Security) Bill? The Government control the legislative process. Will they bring forward the precise proposal they wished to bring forward in this Bill in another, which will come before us in the near future?
Just to clarify, the Government brought two versions of the amendment, not one. To the best of my knowledge, there is no intention to bring it back because the focus of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill is on telecoms security and national security. Therefore, any such amendment would face the same barrier as it faced in this Bill—namely, it would be out of scope. If it were effective on the supply chain, it would be out of scope.
The Government have always said that genocide must be decided judicially. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has always reiterated that. Can the Minister clarify what she apparently said —that the Government seem now to have decided, in effect, that genocide might be decided by Parliament?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the way she set out the case to the House. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, she talked a little more about digital supply chain transparency. Given that this falls within her departmental brief, can she explain whether it will be within the security Bill that will come forward, so that it can be part of the discussion that takes place on that Bill? Also, will she share the wording of the two amendments she referred to in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, with the House so that Members can decide whether there are things that we would like to test on the Table Office, to see whether they could be brought into scope?
On the noble Lord’s second point, I will have to defer to colleagues about the ability to do that. In relation to the supply chain, my understanding is that that work is complementary to the security Bill rather than directly within it. Again, I am happy to write to the noble Lord to confirm that.
My Lords, I promised the House that I would listen carefully to noble Lords’ contributions. I gently say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, that we would not have been having this debate if the amendment had not been in scope, so this amendment is in scope. The problem for the Government has been being able to get an amendment in scope to deal with the human rights issue. I recognise that the problem is that this is not a tree on which you can very easily hang new limbs. The Bill was therefore an opportunity, rather than necessarily the right piece of legislation, to bring before the House the enormities of what is happening in Xinjiang and the links of state agencies and arms, such as Huawei, to the Chinese Communist Party. That we have done across the Chamber very successfully, and I am grateful to the Government for the moves they have made. I set that out in my remarks at the outset of the debate. I am particularly grateful to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, who has been exemplary in the way she has dealt with the arguments and with individuals, especially difficult, persistent, awkward Members of your Lordships’ House, who do not easily let go on issues of this kind, and I do not think the House would expect us to.
The Minister has been given notice that we will be here again on Tuesday dealing with the extraordinary issue of genocide and what can be done about it. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I was puzzled by what the Minister said to the House a few minutes ago. It has always been the position of the Government—not just this Government, but their predecessors as well—that the determination of genocide is a matter for the courts. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that in the House of Commons only a week ago, and therein lies the problem. If there is not a court mechanism in the United Kingdom to deal with this, we have to rely on international courts, particularly the International Criminal Court, and everyone knows that if you were to take to the Security Council the horrors taking place in Xinjiang, which have been described in your Lordships’ House, the possibility that the People’s Republic of China would refer itself to the International Criminal Court for a criminal investigation is risible.
I am a great supporter of the ICC, which was set up by the Rome statute and a genuine attempt to fill the gap that has always been there since the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide, but sadly it has not done so and we still have to address how we can get determinations of genocide made. I think the only way we can do that is now through our own courts. Senior figures from our judiciary have spoken in favour of this. Retired Supreme Court judges, a former Lord Chief Justice and many senior figures in your Lordships’ House with a legal background have said that it is practical and something that our courts can and should do. I hope the House will have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said today.
I end by saying two things, one which the Minister will be pleased to hear and the other directed to the House authorities. Like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I find it extraordinary that, under ping-pong arrangements, it is not possible to take part in a debate on something as important as an amendment sent back to your Lordships’ House by the House of Commons on an issue such as genocide without being physically present. To be told that in the same week that we are being told that we should not be here at all unless we really have to be is vexing, to put it mildly. I hope the House authorities will consider that and see whether there is anything that can be done before next Tuesday, as the noble Lord said.
Having made all those points, the Minister will be very pleased to know that it is not now my intention to force this issue to a vote today. I simply thank all those who have taken part in our proceedings. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I say to the House that this is not over yet and there is so much more that can be said and will be said before it can be brought to a resolution. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 5, line 7, at end insert—
“(k) aimed at ensuring that nothing done by the operator in the exercise of the Part 4A code right unnecessarily prevents or inhibits the provision of an electronic communications service by any other operator.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require a Part 4A code right to be subject to terms intended to prevent uncompetitive behaviour.
My Lords, I have tabled this amendment in light of the strength of feeling in both Houses. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have been clear about the intentions and goals of the legislation. We want to make it easier for digital infrastructure providers to access multiple-dwelling buildings so that those living in flats and apartments can access the connectivity they need from the providers they want. We want to ensure that residents are given choice and are able to access fast, reliable connectivity without being limited by their property owner’s silence.
Members of both Houses have raised concerns that consumers could find themselves locked into a provider as a result of this legislation. We continue to believe that such a scenario is unlikely and the legislation as drafted originally prevents it happening. The Bill, for example, does not limit the number of concurrent Part 4A orders that can exist at a property. This allows any resident in the property to search for the provider or service they want and request a service, even in properties where gigabit-capable, full-fibre connections might already exist. That provider is then able to make an application for a Part 4A order via the courts, should the landowner repeatedly fail to respond to requests for access.
Nevertheless, while we are confident that sufficient protections are already in place, we believe there is a benefit in taking a belt-and-braces approach. This amendment ensures that when operators access a property under a Part 4A order the terms on which they will do so will preclude them installing their infrastructure in such a way that would prevent a subsequent operator installing their own apparatus. As with the other terms imposed by a Part 4A order, they will be contained in regulations. Those regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and, before they are made, they will have been consulted on with a range of key stakeholders. In this way, we seek to prevent a scenario whereby an operator purposefully installs their network equipment within the property so that it obstructs a second operator in installing theirs and providing a service to the building. I hope that this amendment reassures noble Lords and alleviates their concerns on the matter. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment, which we welcome, brings us into the territory of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, if she is still in her virtual seat, will be sitting more easily in this part of the discussion.
When speaking previously to an amendment brought by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, supported by myself and others, the Minister agreed that we should aim to simplify the lives of consumers. To that end, she said that the Government would be willing to table an amendment at Third Reading. My understanding is that this amendment honours that statement. The Minister said that Her Majesty’s Government consider it fair to amend the Bill in this way and that the aim is to include measures to ensure that an operator must not install their equipment in any such anti-competitive way. Therefore, the test of the amendment is whether it reaches that objective.
I shall discuss two aspects of the amendment’s wording. First, the words,
“nothing done by the operator”,
seem to imply more than just technology, because there are other things that an operator could do. Perhaps the Minister can explain “nothing”. It could refer to a contractual matter or all sorts of other areas, including service as well as the purely technological. Secondly, there is the phrase, “unnecessarily prevents”. What is a necessary prevention? In other words, how will the regulations deal with those two areas—“nothing” and “unnecessary”?
I had the opportunity to virtually bump into the Minister this morning—obviously with at least two metres between us—and give her some warning of my concerns. Regarding the practical way this matter will work, let us imagine that I am a tenant in a new property. I move in, wish to switch my operator and start to encounter technological problems with the process. What do I do next? How does the amendment help me to deliver on that?
Quickly in conclusion, none of this means anything if we do not have great connectivity. I could not, therefore, pass this opportunity by without asking the Minister where we are on that. The delivery of ultrafast broadband was a subject for discussion in Committee and on Report, as was the creation of an open source network. It is safe to say that some time has passed since we last discussed that issue. As the Minister stated, some technological developments have included, not least, the gradual removal of Huawei from the supply chain. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has made several statements about the bandwidth that will be provided and its extent—statements at odds with what network providers have said is possible. Where are we on the Prime Minister’s gigabit connectivity being available to everyone? Where are we on the development of open source networks? If the Minister can answer those questions, I am sure that we will support the amendment.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. I was not a Member of this House when the Bill was debated at Second Reading or on Report. Therefore, I begin by saying how much I welcome it. In my experience as the Minister responsible for rural broadband rollout between 2010 and 2016, I soon came to realise that planning is the biggest obstacle that prevents the rapid deployment of the broadband that this country desperately needs. The planning system is hopelessly complex and time-consuming, and imposes enormous costs on operators. Anything that can make their lives easier has to be welcomed. Multi-dwelling units contain dozens of potential recipients of ultrafast broadband. If we can make it easier and simpler for operators to deploy their technology, that is to be welcomed.
I was also delighted that the Government yesterday published a consultation on reforming the Electronic Communications Code. Again, I was the Minister who had a first stab at that, which was obviously not good enough, and that is why we need a second bite at the cherry. I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that the foreword to that consultation document contains some heartening statistics on the deployment of gigabit broadband. From memory—I read it only this morning, but I am getting older—some 30% of homes can now potentially receive gigabit broadband. It is good to see the Government pressing ahead on another front.
I should say on operators entering multi-dwelling units that one of the Government’s commitments during the passage of the Bill was to publish a consultation on the code of practice and then a code following Royal Assent. Given that the Bill imposes obligations on landlords and effectively interferes with their property rights, it is vital that landlords are reassured that the operators will adhere to the highest possible standards. The code of practice is also important for some of the smaller operators. There is some nervousness among them. If landlords are worried about operators’ standards when deploying the technology, they will simply take refuge by dealing only with the biggest operators and not allow insurgents, as it were, or start-ups to fibre-up their buildings. I hope that when she responds the Minister can give some reassurance that the code of practice consultation will be issued imminently.
I should also point out that the Bill does not yet cover the issue of shared freeholds, and I hope that the consultation on the Electronic Communications Code, which I am not covers this issue, could be used as a vehicle for looking at how operators can enter buildings where there is a shared freehold—the typical building being a Victorian house that has been split into flats. Some 5 million premises fall within that category and there needs to be some way forward to allow operators to access shared freehold premises.
I am not sure whether the amendment is necessary in practice, but I understand the Government’s motivation to reassure Members of both Houses that the Bill will not inadvertently create monopolies in multi-dwelling units. I should also ask the Minister to respond, either now or in writing, to the concern of some operators about the Government and Ofcom’s ongoing intentions to impose wholesale access on operators. It is one thing to say that an operator should not do anything, intentionally or inadvertently, to prevent a competitor supplying technology to multi-dwelling units, but it is quite another to impose on a company the obligation to allow others to use the infrastructure it has invested in and paid for. What is the direction of travel of the Government and Ofcom, because I know that they have previously thought about imposing wholesale obligations on operators in multi-dwelling units?
However, as I say, I welcome the amendment. My understanding is that any attempt to physically impede competitors from entering a multi-dwelling unit would fall foul of the ATI regulations and, indeed, the EU’s Electronic Communications Code, so I am not entirely certain that the amendment is necessary. However, in the sense of providing statutory reassurance that a much- needed piece of legislation will open up access to ultrafast broadband to many millions of people living in multi-dwelling units the amendment has to be welcomed.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and to welcome him to the select band of broadband and telecoms legislation aficionados in this House. As my noble friend Lord Fox said, on Report we welcomed the principle of the previous amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in respect of Part 4A code rights. Likewise, we welcome the Government’s Amendment 2 today.
Strangely enough, however, I do not think that the Government’s amendment is as good as the original, in terms of what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, was trying to achieve. It substitutes an arguably unclear negative injunction for a positive duty, where it is clear what is intended. On these Benches, however, as my noble friend Lord Fox indicated, we understand the intention behind the amendment, but how it is interpreted when put into practice will be the test. As he also said, we have throughout been encouraged to hear of the development of open radio access networks and strongly support them.
As the noble Baroness mentioned in her letter to us, in the period between Report and today, we have seen the publication of the Government’s 5G diversification strategy. I see that now NEC acting as the systems integrator will be building a testbed for O-RAN funded by the DDCMS, the new O-RAN project. Will the Minister say when this will be up and running and is this the promised Smart RAN interoperability centre—SONIC—or a precursor to it?
What is the current status of the telecoms diversification task force and the National Telecoms Lab, and what is the status of international collaborations? When developed, these open RAN standards will provide operators with the flexibility to use different vendors and obviate the need to take out existing networks on a change of operator. By the same token, for the consumer it would mean likewise that they are not captive to any particular operator with their equipment. That is a development that we wholly welcome.
My Lords, I thank the Government for their amendment. As other noble Lords have said, this was originally raised in the other place by the Labour Party and withdrawn. A similar amendment was tabled by myself and others, supported by the Liberal Democrats, and we had a good debate in Committee. It is important for the progress of the Bill as a whole that these points were picked up. It is very good that the Government have come back with a proposal. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the language is slightly different, the intention is clear and similar to what I wanted, because it deals with a real-life issue which could affect consumer choice. Despite the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, I would argue that it is pro-competition and will benefit to those involved in this process.
The noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised some interesting points of detail and I look forward to the Minister’s response. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, raised some important wider points about the Bill’s narrow focus, which, of course, it cannot be blamed for, in the sense that it is what it is. It is about a particular issue which will unblock the current arrangements, in which non-responsive freeholders can hold back developments wished for by their tenants.
He also made some good points, which I hope we will not lose sight of as we look forward to further work from the Government on this issue: planning issues relating to the access required for new-generation technology; shared freeholders; questions about street works—how we synchronise them and make sure that they are effective; and the use of masts, particularly for 5G and other superstructure, which is not covered by this Bill but obviously needs wider consideration, perhaps in the next round of legislation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, although a blizzard of other issues were raised in his short introduction, it is very good to have the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, with his extraordinary experience in this area, contributing to this debate. I hope he will keep on with his very focused questions. I am happy to support the amendment and look forward to the Government’s response.
I think that might be from the previous group. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is not in his place. He wanted to ask the Minister a question on the first group, but I think the message he sent was delayed in reaching the Woolsack electronically.
I thank noble Lords who spoke in this short debate for their support and reflections. In response to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about “unnecessarily” and “nothing”—a level of detail of which your Lordships’ House can be proud—“unnecessarily” is included to allow for the possibility that there might be circumstances in which an operator may have to, by necessity, prevent or inhibit the provision of a service, such as a broadband connection by a subsequent operator. I am happy to put this in writing. Similarly, nothing done by the operator is a protection to make clear that an operator cannot hide behind exercising their Part 4A code right, to do something that would unnecessarily prevent or inhibit the provision of a connection by a subsequent operator.
The key point, as I said in my opening remarks, is that we will be setting out in secondary legislation the terms under which operators will be granted access rights. We have committed to consulting on those terms and it is of the utmost importance that we get that right. The noble Lord also asked how this will impact on real life and the tenant—another important question. A customer can always request an operator of their choice; nothing has changed in the legislation. Nothing in the Bill prevents a second operator requesting code rights from a landlord.
Turning to the noble Lord’s questions about the Government’s ambition in this area, I thank my noble friend Lord Vaizey for highlighting the important progress we have made. The Government are working hard with industry to target a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025, but will seek to accelerate rollout further to get to 100% as soon as possible We have committed £5 billion to support the delivery of gigabit-capable connections to the hardest-to-reach locations in the country.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred to the further progress needed to facilitate the rollout and welcomed the new consultation on the electronic communications code, which was announced yesterday. We are seeking advice and guidance on a number of potential changes, including addressing unresponsive landowners outside multi-dwelling building environments—a subject debated by your Lordships in earlier stages of the Bill—and supporting operators and landowners to reach mutual agreement that facilitates the deployment of gigabit-capable networks. While the consultation does not propose specific reforms, it sets out a range of possible measures to tackle the issues raised with us about the current code. These include the time it takes for agreements to be completed, the confusion about upgrading and sharing rights, the lack of consistency in the treatment of entirely new agreements and the renewal of expired agreements.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey asked some very particular questions, including about the imposition of obligations on companies to allow others to use their infrastructure. If I may, I will write to my noble friend to clarify those points.
In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked a “blizzard” of questions about diversification. Our diversification strategy was published on 30 November. We were very clear in it that we seek to create a much healthier supply market that is open, flexible and diverse. We have backed that initially with £250 million of investment. In relation to the noble Lord’s other points, I hope I may write to him.
Amendment 2 agreed.
My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, this piece of legislation, though short in length, has taken many months to reach this stage and has sparked impassioned debate from all sides of this House. It is a Bill that will benefit huge numbers of people, and I appreciate the dedication with which your Lordships have scrutinised it. Our debate and your Lordships’ questioning have exposed important global issues, particularly in relation to human rights, and no one watching the passage of this Bill could doubt the rigour of your Lordships’ scrutiny.
I am particularly grateful for the openness and co-operation shown by Members on the Front Benches opposite: the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Livermore, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox. I must of course mention the noble Lord, Lord Alton, from whom I have learned much in our conversations during the passage of the Bill. He has shone a light on some terrible human rights abuses. I also thank his co-signatories: my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
I will take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on his appointment to your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee. I thank him for his generous advice behind the scenes and his friendly challenge in the Chamber. I will miss seeing him opposite me, virtually or physically, but look forward to working with his successor.
I am pleased with the shape in which the Bill leaves the House. Once it comes into force, it will ensure that those living in apartments and blocks of flats are supported in accessing fast, reliable and resilient connectivity. I do not need to remind your Lordships how important that is.
Finally, I take the opportunity to thank the Bill team and officials across government who have worked tirelessly and very patiently with this Minister to deliver this important piece of policy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her kind words. We have enjoyed working with her over this period. The Bill has been an exemplary one in terms of making sure that the House is able to do its job and that the processes necessary to make it fit for legislation once it leaves Parliament are carried out in the best way. That can be done only if there is a spirit of mutual support and trust, and we certainly had that.
I actually took this Bill over at a relatively late stage. Most of the heavy lifting was done initially by my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and the show was kept on the road by Dan Stevens, our legislative assistant, whose skills and expertise I have drawn on mercilessly. I join the Minister in thanking members of the Bill team, who made themselves very much available and answered our detailed questions in the private meetings that we had.
This is a small but important Bill. As the Minister said, it will affect a lot of people; it will make their lives better and give them access to what has become a utility necessary for modern living. It has been scrutinised carefully in this House, and I am confident that it will play a part in helping to achieve a gigabit-enabled economy across the whole country—something that we need as soon as possible. There remains a lot to do, as we picked up today, but it is good to hear that the consultations on the remaining issues are taking place, particularly on the rollout of 5G and the development of fibre to the home. I urge the department to up its game on this and on a number of other issues that we talked about, and I will be watching from the sidelines.
My Lords, I doubt very much whether the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, could ever possibly watch from the sidelines—but that is an aside.
After an unusually long gap between Report and Third Reading, we are sending the Bill back to the Commons in much better shape than when it arrived. It is still, however, a modest Bill with much to be modest about, to coin a phrase. We on these Benches have never thought that it was adequate in itself to deliver the ambition of one-gigabit-per-second broadband capability by 2025, and of course the goalposts themselves have now been moved by the Government. However, we now have the consultation on changes to the Electronic Communications Code, which is a step forward. I do hope that the Government will see the wisdom of retaining the review mechanism of the code in Clause 3, which the House inserted on Report, which can assess after that what other measures might be needed. We on these Benches will continue to press the Government on their electoral promises.
We also stressed during the passage of the Bill that we would like to see broadband treated as a utility, as with gas, water and electricity, with all the necessary and equivalent rights of entry. The last year could not have demonstrated more graphically the essential nature of good broadband to all our lives, alongside, if not ahead of, all those other utilities. We on these Benches advocate strongly for the universal service obligation to be raised to 25 or 30 megabits per second—that is, superfast levels—which should be treated as the minimum for these rural areas.
That said, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, together with her Bill team, as ever, for their very good nature. I also thank her for her kind words, good nature and patience with us all throughout the Bill and for her willingness to listen, even if she did not always accept our arguments. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his collaboration and co-operation during the course of the Bill, which showed how we always achieve better results by cross-party working.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising some extremely important questions with reference to human rights abuses and modern slavery. His campaigning has clearly changed the Government’s approach and, despite what the Minister has said, it might become even more relevant in the context of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, which, as we have heard, will come to this House shortly. Of course, the acid test will come next Tuesday on the Trade Bill ping-pong. This is of great significance in terms of the relationship between human rights and trade as a whole. Like him and many other noble Lords, I urge the Government to reconsider their position ahead of that vote.
Lastly, I thank Sarah Pughe in our whips’ office for her valuable help, and my noble friends Lord Fox and Lady Northover, who have contributed so knowledgeably throughout on different aspects of the Bill that they have given me a very easy run when leading on it.
My Lords, it is a privilege to make the concluding speech for the Cross Benches on this Bill today. I place on record our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and the Bill team, who have been so ready to engage with our concerns, albeit to limited avail in the end.
It was the late Robin Cook who, as Foreign Secretary, first set out a framework for the UK to have an ethical foreign policy in 1997. Given where the UK is now—debating sanctions only an hour ago against Russia in defence of human rights and democracy, standing up for the rights of people in Hong Kong and shortly to be in the process of discussing the National Security and Investment Bill—I think he would have been pleased with the progress made in the intervening period, not least with our efforts to prevent Chinese commercial enterprises, under the control of that country’s national security laws, from participating in egregious human rights violations and cashing in their profits in this country.
I first spoke to my amendment preventing firms that are a security threat operating our critical national infrastructure on 19 May 2020 in Committee on this Bill. In the intervening eight months and numerous debates, it was never my intention—and I think I speak for all other noble Lords who have led this charge; the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Forsyth and Lord Adonis, joined by the Front-Bench speakers of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party—to prevent the necessary tools needed to roll out broadband to those who need it. Our concerns were well grounded and have, regrettably, come to pass as more information on the treatment of Chinese Uighurs comes to light.
It is also the co-operation between the House of Lords and the other place, so ably led by my noble friend Lord Alton, on these numerous amendments that has allowed us to help the Government to think through where the balance lies in relation to commerce and complicity in human rights abuses that has helped us reach this place today with our amendments. It is now for the other place to decide where that balance lies. I wish the Bill well.
Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [HL]
In moving that the Bill do now pass, I shall make some brief observations and reflect on its passage. At the outset, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his patience, focus and good humour in scrutinising the Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her very valued input. I also thank the cadre of noble Lords who showed a particular interest in this very important Bill and shared so much of their experience and wisdom in scrutinising it. Contributions and questions from all sides were thorough and searching. We listened to concerns and made changes where needed, and we have a better Bill for it.
The Bill has had a rather longer gestation than I would have liked, but that was to be expected in the circumstances. Having been introduced to your Lordships’ House in January 2020, it entered an unprecedented period which has thrown numerous challenges at the Bill and, of course, the aviation industry. However, the Government are clear that the powers in the Bill remain critical, even in the current Covid-19 context. The need to modernise the UK’s airspace has not changed, and the Bill will help reduce aircraft noise, reduce traffic delays and support the aviation industry’s recovery and growth. Additionally, there are emissions savings from modernisation.
It has been 20 years since the establishment of an economic regulatory regime for the provision of en-route air traffic control services. The Bill will modernise regulatory provisions relating to air traffic services, provided by NATS (En Route) plc, or NERL, and regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, ensuring that the framework remains fit for purpose and continues to build on the UK’s excellent safety record. Following Report, the Bill now also enables the Government to continue to provide alleviation from the requirement to use slots at co-ordinated airports 80% of the time for them to be retained. These powers will be temporary, until August 2024, and I thank all noble Lords for their constructive engagement on these amendments. It was far from ideal to bring these amendments to your Lordships’ House before Report; however, Covid-19 has provided many unexpected twists and turns.
Finally, the Bill will give the police new powers to enforce the existing law surrounding unmanned aircraft to ensure the skies above us are safe without damaging the unmanned aircraft industry. There are, as ever, many people beyond your Lordships’ House who have helped shape the Bill—the CAA, NATS, the police and others across government—and, of course, we have a fantastic and more than a little patient Bill team who have had to shepherd the Bill through interesting times. I am very grateful for their hard work and persistence.
Speaking for myself and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister and all her officials and colleagues involved with the Bill for their willingness to have informal meetings to discuss, in an open and helpful way, a range of complex issues relating to the Bill as a whole and Parts 1 and 2 in particular. This has greatly contributed to effective scrutiny, needed technical amendments and useful clarifications and amplifications, including those read into Hansard by the—
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has been cut off, so we will proceed with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and return to the noble Lord if we can.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister and her officials for the time and patience they have devoted to explaining the Bill and, in particular, the many amendments. I am very grateful to them, as I am to the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, and all noble Lords who added their expertise to our debates.
This Bill is, I believe, the third recent attempt at aviation legislation. On Report, I called the Bill a bit of a mess: it is, indeed, an extraordinary saga, worthy of featuring in one of the excellent briefings we get from our Library about historic aspects of our proceedings. There can rarely have been a year between Committee and Report on a Bill, and certainly not a year of such momentous events. Covid and Brexit have both had a profound effect on aviation, and technological development meant that drone capability has greatly increased.
There are now three elements to the Bill; it started with only two. The modernisation of airspace seemed urgent a year ago—less so now that flights are at a fraction of previous numbers. However, concerns remain for airport operators about the conflict between the CAA’s new enforcement powers and other aspects of their role. There are concerns about the financial costs of modernisation at a time when airports have suffered severely financially, and concern about the requirement to release so-called spare airspace capacity for general aviation.
The wholly new section on slot waivers is a direct result of the pandemic and is welcome in order to avoid environmentally damaging ghost flights, but I remain concerned and hope that the Government will make sure that in future the rules are tightened to ensure fair competition and fair prices for consumers.
The section on unmanned aircraft has been subject to wholesale rewriting because of the changed legal situation. However, it is still far too narrow in scope, concentrating on new police powers rather than on the modern capabilities of drone technology and how drones should be used safely and effectively.
My amendment, which would have ensured a wholesale review, narrowly failed to secure a majority. However, I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will take that approach in the near future, because BALPA, our airports and airlines, as well as many drone manufacturers and commercial operators, believe that more is needed on this. The Bill now goes to the other place and I am sure that many Members there will pick up on the issues that I have referred to.
My Lords, from the Cross Benches, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, and the Bill team. I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak.
As others have pointed out, the Bill must have gained an entry in the Guinness book of records. It started life in your Lordships’ House with its First and Second Readings over a year ago. After Committee in early February, it sat month after Covid month in the pending tray, then, at the last minute, the Bill team had to drag it swiftly into a new framework—one created by that large amendment to ANO 2016 that took effect so close to Report. However much forewarned, it cannot have been a straightforward task to draft and present so faultlessly the plethora of government amendments required to bring the Bill up to date. That was a great effort that all should admire.
For the noble Baroness herself, it must have been a considerable challenge to master her brief on this complex subject so fully and comprehensively, and I pay tribute to her, too. I admit to having been something of a thorn in her side, but she willingly and courteously exchanged, both on and off the Floor, on our respective views. In her reply to my amendment on Report, she got one point spot on: she said that she suspected that I might not be reassured.
I expect the issue to resurface, but honest differences are the meat and drink of legislation. Given the complexity of this subject, the noble Baroness earns credit for her steady determination. When discussing drones a year ago in Committee, she said, referring to the future of manned and unmanned aircraft traffic management, that it would be
“a whole new world of pain.”—[Official Report, 10/2/20; col. 2111.]
I hope that the passage of the Bill has not been too painful for her. From the Cross Benches, I thank her and the Bill team for their efforts.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who I think is back in contact.
I am afraid that I have little alternative but to start again from the beginning, because I do not know at what stage I got cut off, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for that.
Speaking both for myself and for my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister and all her officials and colleagues involved with the Bill for their helpful approach and willingness to have informal meetings to discuss in an open and constructive way a range of complex issues relating to the Bill as a whole and Parts 1 and 2 in particular. That has greatly contributed to effective scrutiny, needed amendments and useful clarifications and amplifications, including those read into Hansard by the Minister on Report. I know that my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe has been particularly appreciative of this way of working with the Minister and her team. It has undoubtedly resulted in a better Bill.
I also thank Ben Wood in our office for all his hard work, which has been of real value to me and to my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe on the Bill. Our thanks go, too, to all other Members of your Lordships’ House and outside organisations with whom we have worked, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.
As has been said, the Bill has not had the quickest of passages through the House. It started out in your Lordships’ House a year ago around the time when, as I remember it, I was temporarily out of action. It now goes to the other place for their consideration, and I am quite sure that the work that we have all done on the Bill will assist its passage through the Commons.
My Lords, once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I of course note the points raised and look forward to further debate in the coming months on matters relating to aviation and unmanned aircraft. With that, I think we are done: the Bill is clear for take-off.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 27 January.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the Government’s measures to safeguard our United Kingdom against the new variants of Covid until we have administered enough vaccinations to free ourselves from the virus.
I am acutely conscious that at this moment parents are balancing the demands of working from home with supporting the education of their children, businesspeople are enduring the sight of their shops or restaurants or other enterprises standing empty and idle, and, sadly, too many are coping with the anxiety of illness or the tragedy of bereavement.
I am deeply sorry to say that the number of people that have been taken from us has surpassed 100,000, as the House was discussing only an hour or so ago. I know that the House will join me in offering condolences to all those who have lost loved ones. The most important thing we can do to honour their memory is to persevere against this virus with ever greater resolve.
That is why we have launched the biggest vaccination programme in British history. Three weeks ago, I reported that the UK had immunised 1.3 million people; now that figure has multiplied more than fivefold to exceed 6.8 million people—more than any other country in Europe and over 13% of the entire adult population. In England we have now delivered first doses to over four-fifths of those aged 80 or over, over half of those aged between 75 and 79, and three-quarters of elderly care home residents. Though it remains an exacting target, we are on track to achieve our goal of offering a first dose to everyone in the top four priority groups by the middle of February.
I can also reassure the House that all current evidence shows that both the vaccines we are administering remain effective against the new variant that was first identified in London and the south-east, by means of our world-leading capability in genomic sequencing. The UK has now sequenced over half of all Covid-19 viral genomes that have been submitted to the global database—10 times more than any other country. Yesterday, my right honourable friend the Health Secretary announced our new variant assessment platform, through which we will work with the World Health Organization to offer our expertise to help other countries, because a new variant anywhere poses a potential threat everywhere.
To guard against this danger, we must also take additional steps to strengthen our borders to stop those strains from entering the UK. We have already temporarily closed all travel corridors, and we are already requiring anyone coming to this country to have proof of a negative Covid test taken in the 72 hours before leaving. They must also complete a passenger locator form which must be checked before they board, and then quarantine on arrival for 10 days. I want to make it clear that under the stay-at-home regulations, it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes. We will enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel.
We have also banned all travel from 22 countries where there is a risk of known variants, including South Africa, Portugal and South American nations. In order to reduce the risk posed by UK nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government-provided accommodation such as hotels for 10 days, without exception. They will be met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine. The Department of Health and Social Care is working to establish these facilities as quickly as possible. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will set out the details of our plans in her statement shortly. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has this morning spoken to the First Ministers of Scotland and of Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and, as we have throughout this pandemic, we will be working closely with the devolved Administrations to implement these new measures so that, where possible, we continue with a UK-wide approach.
It was the emergence of a new variant that is up to 70% more transmissible that forced England back into lockdown, and I know that everyone yearns to know how much longer they must endure these restrictions, with all their consequences for jobs and livelihoods and, most tragically of all, for the life chances of our children. We will not persist for a day longer than is necessary, but nor can we relax too soon, because if we do, we run the risk of our NHS coming under still greater pressure, compelling us to reimpose every restriction and sustain those restrictions for longer.
So far, our efforts do appear to have reduced the R rate, but we do not yet have enough data to know exactly how soon it will be safe to reopen our society and economy. At this point, we do not have enough data to judge the full effect of vaccines in blocking transmission, nor the extent and speed with which the vaccines will reduce hospitalisations and deaths, nor how quickly the combination of vaccinations and the lockdown can be expected to ease the pressure on the NHS.
What we do know is that we remain in a perilous situation, with more than 37,000 patients now in hospital with Covid, almost double the peak of the first wave, but the overall picture should be clearer by mid-February. By then, we will know much more about the effect of vaccines in preventing hospitalisations and deaths, using data from the UK but also other nations such as Israel. We will know how successful the current restrictions have been in driving down infections. We will also know how many people are still in hospital with Covid, which we simply cannot predict with certainty today. We will then be in a better position to chart a course out of lockdown without risking a further surge that would overwhelm the NHS.
When I announced the lockdown, I said that we would review its measures in mid-February, once the most vulnerable had been offered the first dose of the vaccine, so I can tell the House that when Parliament returns from recess in the week commencing 22 February, subject to the full agreement of the House, we intend to set out the results of that review and publish our plan for taking the country out of lockdown. That plan will, of course, depend on the continued success of our vaccination programme, on the capacity of the NHS and on deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated.
Our aim will be to set out a gradual and phased approach towards easing the restrictions in a sustainable way, guided by the principles we have observed throughout the pandemic and beginning with the most important principle of all: that reopening schools must be our national priority. The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms. I know how parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible, including two weeks’ notice of the return of face-to-face teaching. I must inform the House that, for the reasons I have outlined, it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half-term. I know how frustrating that will be for pupils and teachers, who want nothing more than to get back to the classroom, and for parents and carers who have spent so many months juggling their day jobs not only with home schooling but with meeting the myriad other demands of their children from breakfast until bedtime.
I know, too, the worries we all share about the mental health of our young people during this prolonged period of being stuck at home, so our plan for leaving the lockdown will set out our approach towards re-opening schools. If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by 15 February—and every passing day sees more progress towards that goal—those groups will have developed immunity from the virus by about three weeks later, that is by 8 March. We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday 8 March, with other economic and social restrictions being removed then or thereafter, as and when the data permits.
As we are extending the period of remote learning beyond the middle of February, I can confirm that the Government will prolong arrangements for providing free school meals for those eligible children not in school, including food parcels and the national voucher scheme, until they have returned to the classroom. We can also commit now that, as we did this financial year, we will provide a programme of catch-up over the next financial year. This will involve a further £300 million of new money to schools for tutoring, and we will work in collaboration with the education sector to develop, as appropriate, specific initiatives for summer schools and a Covid premium to support catch-up. But we recognise that these extended school closures have had a huge impact on children’s learning, which will take more than a year to make up, so we will work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this Parliament.
I know that the measures I am setting out today will be deeply frustrating to many honourable friends and colleagues, and disappointing for all of us. But the way forward has been clear ever since the vaccines arrived, and as we inoculate more people hour by hour, this is the time to hold our nerve in the end game of the battle against the virus. Our goal now must be to buy the extra weeks we need to immunise the most vulnerable and get this virus under control, so that together we can defeat this most wretched disease and reclaim our lives, once and for all. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I always think that it is shame that we are not able to hear the Statements in the House first.
When I heard the Prime Minister’s Statement, I was struck by how quickly it moved on from reflecting on how we have got to this point straight to vaccinations and quarantine. Obviously, the focus must be on the future, but surely at every stage we need to reflect on what has gone before—both on the successes and on what we would do differently.
More than 100,000 people across the UK have died. That figure is chilling. Each death has been mourned, often in shock and despair. In the 11 weeks since 11 November, the number of deaths has been higher than in the previous eight months. So when the Prime Minister says that the most important thing that we can do to honour their memory is to persevere against the virus with even greater resolve, he is only partly right. It is the absolute minimum that we must do.
We agree that we must use the expertise, energy and commitment of every agency and resource of government to ensure that our lives can start to return to normal as soon as possible. But there are two other ways in which we must respect the memories of those who have died: first, by recognising and learning the lessons of past mistakes and, secondly, by preparing for the post-Covid economy and the society of the future.
Such a worldwide crisis is unprecedented. The scale and severity of the pandemic would be challenging for any Government. Britain is the first country in Europe to suffer 100,000 deaths, with one of the highest death rates in the world. Add to that the deepest recession of any major economy and the lowest growth, and we are on course for one of the slowest recoveries of any developed nation. We recognise that the Prime Minister is trying to manage competing pressures from those who want to put health first and those calling for restrictions to be lifted early because of the economic impact. However, as we have said so many times, these are not competing issues; it is impossible to have a healthy economy without a healthy population and we will not emerge from the economic crisis with a further hokey-cokey approach to lockdown, where we start too late, stop too early and then start all over again.
With so many across the UK struggling mentally, physically and economically, Boris Johnson should reflect on his reaction to those who raise questions and concerns, or offer advice. Early last month, Keir Starmer questioned the Prime Minister on whether the Government’s four-day window for lifting restrictions over the festive period was appropriate, with the R rate rising. In response, the Prime Minister shouted that Labour wanted to cancel Christmas, before bowing to the inevitable a few days later. Again, last month, when schools in some London boroughs sought to stop transmission by closing early, they were threatened with legal action—by a Government that then took that same course of action. The Prime Minister has never properly addressed the times when he has been too slow to accept the advice from SAGE. Even if it is a different viewpoint, which does not chime with his position at that time, Mr Johnson should consider the merits of the suggestions and comments put to him. We want, and we need, the Government to get this right. It is no exaggeration to say that lives, and livelihoods, depend on it.
The way out of this nightmare has now been provided by amazing scientists, our National Health Service, the Armed Forces, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The vaccine programme is making incredible progress—a truly national, and an unprecedented, effort. The Government are of course right to focus on the rollout. There will be problems and glitches, so transparency and clarity are critical to success, and I have three questions for the Minister on that point. Can she tell us how the Government are ensuring the even distribution of vaccines around the country? How are they working with local government and other public bodies to ensure efficient targeting and take-up, particularly in the priority groups? Can she also tell us how quickly, when best practice is identified, it is communicated elsewhere?
Reports today that cases are falling, but not fast enough to ease the pressures on the NHS, bring home just how important it is that the test and trace scheme is effective. At a cost of £22 billion and rising, we were promised a world-beating system, and we desperately need it to succeed. I still think it would be helpful to your Lordships’ House if the Government permitted the Minister’s colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, to answer questions in the House on test and trace. In her absence, I ask the Minister: given the failures of test and trace in the autumn, what lessons have been learned since?
The Minister will be aware, as I am, of the changes to counting methodology. An individual who tested positive, having come into contact with others, four of whom then tested positive, would previously have been counted as one identified contact, because that person was the contact who passed the disease on. Under the new counting rules, that individual will now be counted as four identified contacts. I do not understand the reasons for that. The figures may look better, but no additional people will have been contacted. Even the Government have admitted that this change will result in duplicate counting. Can she explain why the counting is being changed but the process is not? The Government have confessed to spending almost £1 million a day on private consultants for test and trace. Is this really the best they can come up with?
We desperately want schools to be safe, and we agree that this is complex. We will look at the details of the Education Secretary’s plans for the Covid support premium, including how it will be allocated to help children catch up on missed education. Can the Minister tell me how the Government are dealing with gaps in online provision? On the previous Statement, I asked her how many children still did not have adequate access; she replied about how many people did have access. Yes, I agree that that is impressive, but the immediate priority is those who do not. Can she answer that same question today, or write to me with the number, and about immediate plans?
The Prime Minister has suggested that some schools might return in early March. Can the Minister therefore comment on Labour’s proposal—echoed, incidentally, by both the Children’s Commissioner and the Conservative Chair of the Commons Education Committee, Robert Halfon—to use the window of the February half-term to vaccinate school staff and other key workers? With the weekends either side, there will be a clear 11 days in which that could be done. We must appreciate that, if it were done, it would have an impact on the initial plans for a rollout. This is part of my point about clarity and transparency. Ensuring that everyone knows and understands how, when and why the vaccine is being rolled out will reassure, and assist with public confidence.
Finally, we know very little about how the Government’s quarantine plans will work in practice, including who will be responsible for enforcing them and how. I listened to the Home Secretary’s Statement, and I have to say that it provided more questions than answers. So I have two questions for the Minister today. Given reports that only three in every 100 people quarantining are contacted, how is that figure being increased, and what agreements have been reached with the hotels that will be accommodating those quarantined? I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness’s answers, and I trust that, where she does not have full details, she will write.
My Lords, this Statement marks the most sombre milestone. One hundred thousand deaths is an horrific figure. Our hearts go out to the families of all those who have died and to all those who are currently suffering from the disease, either at home or in hospital. We must also pay tribute again to the staff in the NHS and in care homes, who are fighting the battle against Covid on a daily basis, often under the most extreme pressure.
On Monday, in announcing the 100,000 figure, the Prime Minister said that the Government “did everything we could”, since the pandemic struck, to minimise its impact. This simply is not true. Among the many things the Prime Minister chose not to do was to take SAGE’s advice, on 21 September, for a circuit-breaker of restrictions. Instead, he did nothing for three weeks and then introduced a watered-down version of what SAGE had recommended. Many people died as a result. I know it is a big ask, but I ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to suggest to the Prime Minister that he would have more credibility in the future if he stopped misrepresenting his actions in the past.
I have not, until now, been a huge fan of the immediate initiation of an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic because I thought that all our efforts should now be going into fighting it. However, as the Government clearly do not believe that they have made any mistakes, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I can now see no other way in which a light can be shone on past failings to ensure that they are not repeated. When do the Government intend to make good on the Prime Minister’s commitment, some six months ago, that an inquiry should indeed be held?
Today’s Statement repeats some past mistakes. Most obviously, the restrictions on arrivals to the UK from 22 countries where there is a known variant of the disease are both too little and too late. The requirement to spend quarantine in a hotel is a good one; it has been extremely effective elsewhere—Australia, for example. But given the weakness of the policing of self-quarantining, it surely makes sense now for all arrivals in the UK to quarantine in a hotel. The measure is too little, and it is certainly too late. We should have been doing this months ago.
The Statement is understandably upbeat on the progress of the vaccination programme, and we congratulate all those who have worked so hard to develop the vaccine, and now to deliver it. But it is curiously silent on the other principal pillar of the fight against the virus—the track, trace and isolate system. That system may have become a bit more successful at tracking and tracing, but it remains very largely ineffective in persuading those who are asked to stay at home actually to do so.
The reason for that is undisputed. A large proportion of those affected simply cannot afford to take the time off work. The Government’s response so far, in terms of financial support, has been pathetically inadequate. We hear that arguments are still under way within government about what to do next. Given that they spent £22 billion on the track and trace system but peanuts on the isolate system, surely it is now time to introduce a system that makes up for people’s loss of earnings if it is to stand any chance of being successful. So when do the Government intend to announce a new compensation scheme that might actually work?
Looking forward to the easing of the lockdown, the Government say that nothing will happen for at least another six weeks. But they completely fail to set out the criteria against which they will make their decisions in mid-February. That failure has both practical and psychological costs: practical because nobody can begin to plan for the reopening, and psychological because all that people can see in front of them is a further long period of lockdown, with no clarity on the conditions that will allow its easing.
Why is it impossible to set thresholds of case numbers and hospital occupancy, above which restrictions will remain, but below which they might—not will, but might— be reduced? Why cannot the Government say in advance of mid-February how, and by what stages, the opening of schools and the economy as a whole will proceed? In that way, school leaders would be able to plan now for a resumption of normal classes and would not need a further two weeks while a decision was taken to open up. The idea that parents need two weeks’ notice for their children to go back to school is just nonsense; given the stress they are under, two days would be more than long enough.
Will the Government therefore bring forward the point at which they tell schools the basis on which they will reopen, whenever the actual reopening date proves to be? Will they equally signal to those businesses which are now unable to operate the triggers that will enable them to do so?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments. Like them, my thoughts and sympathies are with every family that has tragically lost loved ones during this terrible pandemic.
The noble Baroness asked about working with local government. I assure her that we are working extremely closely with local government, and indeed many partners. This is a national endeavour, uniting local and national government, the NHS and many more. Over the past few months, we have recruited and trained a vaccination work force of 80,000, including retired clinicians, the Armed Forces, pharmacists and volunteers. Over 200,000 members of the public and businesses have offered non-clinical support and help with the logistics of the programme.
I can certainly assure both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that we are doing everything we can to roll this programme out as smoothly as possible. We are sharing data to ensure that priority groups around the country are receiving their vaccines as quickly as possible. We have vaccinated over 80% of the over 80s, and 75% of elderly care home residents. Vaccinations are now being offered to everyone over the age of 70.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about an investigation or inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. As the Prime Minister has said, we will turn to that, but at the moment I hope he understands that we have other priorities that we are working on.
The noble Baroness once again rightly asked about schools. We have bought 1.3 million devices and delivered over 870,000 to schools in England so far during the pandemic. We bought an additional 300,000 laptops and tablets this year, increasing our investment by another £100 million. We have spent over £400 million supporting disadvantaged children who need help with access to technology. I fully recognise that there are people who will fall, and currently are still falling, through the gaps, but we are working closely with our school partners around the country to try to make sure that all families and all children have access to the technology that they need.
The noble Baroness asked about vaccine prioritisation. It is an issue that many have rightly raised. I reiterate that the JCVI advises that the immediate priority for the vaccination programme should be to prevent deaths and protect healthcare staff, with old age deemed the biggest single factor determining mortality. That is why we are following the advice of the independent body. The top four priority groups account for 88% of Covid deaths.
I say to the noble Baroness that the ONS has looked at rates of death involving Covid in men and women who work as teaching and education professionals. They were not statistically significant when compared to the rates seen in the population among those of the same age and sex. I know that sounds slightly bureaucratic, but we are looking at the data and have taken advice from the JCVI. There is a reason for the prioritisation, although I entirely accept that there are many groups who would like to have the vaccine as soon as possible. That is why we are rolling out the programme as we are.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the international travel situation, as announced by the Home Secretary yesterday. The noble Baroness asked a number of questions. There will be further information and details set out next week, so I am afraid that I am not able to provide any additional information than that provided yesterday. But we will introduce a new managed isolation process in hotels for those who cannot be refused entry, including those arriving home from countries where an international travel ban has already been imposed. Further details about this policy will come next week—we are working as quickly as possible across government and industry to bring these measures in.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about test and trace. We have contacted over 7 million people who may otherwise have spread the virus through the system, and we have reached 86.7% of those testing positive, so the system continues to work and improve.
The noble Lord asked about support for those self-isolating. As he will be well aware, there is a one-off £500 test and trace support payment, which helps those on low incomes who are self-isolating, and we have extended that until the end of March. In total, more than 4 million people could be eligible to receive this support payment. In addition to that, accepting that not everyone is covered by it, we have provided £25 million funding to local authorities to make discretionary payments to those facing financial hardship who are not eligible for the £500 scheme. We have also made statutory sick pay available from day one, while making emergency changes to reimburse small and medium-sized businesses with two weeks of sick pay per employee. Of course, we continue to support the lowest paid with a temporary universal credit uplift worth £1,000.
The noble Lord asked about our future plans. The reason why the Prime Minister set out the end of February as when we will return with a plan is that at this point we do not yet have the data on the impact of the vaccine rollout on case rates, hospitalisations and deaths, which will be vital in determining the timeline to releasing the measures. By mid-February, we will know much more about the effect of vaccines in preventing hospitalisation and deaths, using data from both the UK and nations such as Israel. We will know how successful the current restrictions have been in driving down infections and we will know how many people are still in hospital with Covid. We intend to look at all that data and information and will set out the results of that and publish our plan for taking the country out of lockdown when we announce that on the week of 22 February.
Our aim will be to set out a gradual and phased approach towards easing restrictions in a sustainable way, beginning as we have said with the reopening of schools, which is our national priority. We hope to commence the reopening of schools from 8 March with other economic and social restrictions being removed after that.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, I draw attention to the relevant interest in the register, which I have declared. I welcome the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday and, in particular, the remarkable rollout of the vaccine which has, rightly, impressed so many. Would my noble friend accept, however, that, despite fully recognising what she said about the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation—and of course we all accept the view that the most vulnerable people should be vaccinated first—there are particular claims from groups of people for priority for the vaccine that we should listen to? In particular, the police—although I accept there are many others—are on the front line, very often putting their own lives at risk. A view has been expressed by the Police Federation and others that the police service and in particular front-line officers should be recognised when it comes to decisions about who should be vaccinated next. Can my noble friend take that view to the relevant authorities?
I am grateful to my noble friend for setting out an eloquent case for the police, as indeed many others do for teachers and many of the other keyworkers who we have been so relying on, and we are so grateful for all their help and work during the pandemic. As he alluded to, I set out the fact that we are following the advice from the JCVI, and I am sure that it hears the strong cases that people put forward. I reassure my noble friend that the JCVI has considered evidence on the risk of exposure and mortality by occupation. Under the priority group’s advice, those over 50 years of age and all adults in a risk group would be eligible for a vaccination in the first phase of the programme. This prioritisation catches almost all preventable deaths from Covid, including those associated with occupational exposure to infection.
My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, Public Health England has reported that people with learning disabilities are six times more likely to die of Covid, and those under the age of 35 with learning disabilities, 30 times more likely. They are at greater risk of transmission via peripatetic care staff and less likely to be able to understand and follow guidance on hand hygiene, social distancing and masks. Despite this, they are not recognised in the vaccination list; currently, they are in the sixth tier. Given that the Secretary of State has now accepted that he was not required to accept the JCVI advice on prioritisation, will the Government act swiftly to address this and give priority access to individuals with learning disabilities on an equal basis with other highly clinically vulnerable individuals?
The noble Baroness makes an eloquent case, but I have set out where we are with prioritisation. As we have said, the JCVI’s advice is clear that we should initially focus our efforts on those in care homes, health and social care workers, the elderly and the extremely vulnerable.
My Lords, the position for young people in school and education is mixed, with some students in poorer areas still not having access to online education and those in remote rural areas with not-spots simply not able to get online. Could the noble Baroness comment on the priority of trying to ensure that we move much more rapidly on the provision of broadband, particularly in those difficult areas? Secondly, we are going to have to do a big catch-up on educational standards and achievements, but it is important, at the same time, to look holistically at the spiritual, emotional and psychological work we are going to have to do with our young people. What plans are being made by Her Majesty’s Government?
The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. While we are putting in support to help now, we recognise that the long-term damage caused by this extensive period in which young people and children have not been able to go to school is clear and significant. We have set out that we will work with parents, teachers, schools and colleges, and, I am sure, wider community representatives, to develop a longer-term plan to make sure that pupils have a chance to make up their learning over the course of the Parliament. While we of course have short-term schemes to attempt to address issues now—for instance, partnering with the UK’s leading mobile network operators to guarantee internet access and providing free data to key educational websites for disadvantaged families—there is a much longer-term issue that we want to address, and we will be doing that in partnership.
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s claim that the Government have done everything they could to minimise death and suffering during the pandemic has, tragically, been contradicted by the shameful figure of 100,000 deaths. The BAME community has suffered disproportionately. I have two questions for the noble Baroness. First, can she tell me what the take-up of the vaccine is among BAME communities? Secondly, what are the Government doing, with whom and to what effect, to maximise take-up? We are one of the richest countries in the world and we have one of the best health services; we should not have failed our poorest communities in the way we have.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. We are still in the early days of collecting vaccination data, but the early data we have confirms that we need to work hard to make sure we get the vaccine take-up that we need. We will be looking to improve the data that we publish, although we are doing a lot already, to make sure we are aware of the issues she raises. I reassure her that we are cognisant of the need to encourage BAME communities. That is why, for instance, patient leaflets have been published in around 20 languages, as well in easy read and British Sign Language, and as audio advice. We are doing targeted advertising in 13 languages and holding regular meetings with local authorities and local faith leaders to encourage take-up. I do not know whether noble Lords have seen it, but there is an excellent video on social media with BAME MPs from across the House of Commons, highlighting the importance of taking the vaccine. These cross-party, cross-community initiatives are what we need to ensure that all our communities take up the vaccine.
My Lords, countries that have managed this public health crisis best, with fewest deaths, least damage to their economies and young people being kept in education, have adopted “elimination of the virus” lockdown strategies. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House inform the House whether the lockdown exit plan criteria will be predicated on achieving elimination or suppression in the next phase of government policy for dealing with the virus?
As I said, we will be looking at all important data, which we will be publishing and reviewing so that we can then set out a strategy for leaving the lockdown. Our aim will be to set out a gradual and phased approach towards easing restrictions in a sustainable way. A sustainable way is critical, beginning, as I said, with the reopening of schools, which is our priority.
My Lords, when the Prime Minister says in his Statement that the UK has more than enough vaccines for this year, does he mean that we have sufficient vaccines on order or sufficient vaccines accessible to the NHS and the vaccines rollout programme? If we have only sufficient vaccines on order, and in view of the EU conflict and in particular the threat of the German Government to block exports of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK, can the noble Baroness guarantee that the most vulnerable groups will still have access to their second vaccinations within 12 weeks, as promised, and that the rollout of our first vaccinations can continue as planned?
I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness that we have total confidence in our supplies. We remain in close contact with all suppliers, and scheduled deliveries will fully support vaccination of our top four priority groups by mid-February, as intended. I can also confirm that individuals will receive their second dose, as it does provide better, long-lasting protection, as we planned.
My Lords, this is not a time to play the blame game, and as my noble friend recognised in her opening words, it is a time to strive for national unity. To this end, would she not agree that all information on the pandemic should be shared on Privy Council terms with all opposition leaders, and that Sir Keir Starmer should be invited to meet the Prime Minister every week, both before and after Prime Minister’s Questions? That affair does not help to cement national unity.
I think the engagement between the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition is for them. I have been extremely heartened by the unity your Lordships have shown in presenting the importance of the vaccination programme and in raising important issues in the House during this. It is in that spirit that we will continue to work.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. Lord Morris? I will move on. I call the noble Lord, Lord Storey
My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree to publish the written advice from NHS England and the Chief Medical and Scientific Officers that led to the letters issued by the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution to political parties and MPs about campaigning in the local elections? Will she request a statement from the Government’s law officers confirming the precise legal status of this advice? Could the noble Baroness tell the House whether this is her advice, the Government’s view, or part of the legally enforceable Covid regulations?
My Lords, clinically extremely vulnerable shielding patients below the age of 70 who receive some private healthcare are not being given any priority to receive the vaccine, despite their critical condition. They are told by despondent clinicians and their NHS-registered GP surgeries that they must wait in the queue for their age category. I am sure there is no intention to discriminate against these incredibly ill patients. Could my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal ask the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to address this critical issue as a matter of urgency?
Many noble Lords’ contributions have shown how difficult this issue is. So many groups and individuals rightly have a claim to prioritisation of the vaccine, which is why we have been following the advice of the JCVI, which has taken all these issues into account and come up with its prioritisation list. Most importantly, that is why we are rolling out our vaccination programme as quickly and effectively as we can, so that we can reach the largest number of people as quickly as possible during this endeavour.
My Lords, the Covid-19 pandemic has so far taken the lives of over 100,000 people. Businesses small and large have collapsed or are on their knees, 800,000 fewer people are in employment, and millions more remain furloughed. Would the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree that the Government should have used the experience of other countries to improve its approach, to save lives while protecting the economy?
We have in fact put in place one of the world’s most comprehensive economic packages in response to the pandemic, spending over £280 billion on support so far. That is absolutely not to diminish the situation that many people have found themselves in, or to question the hardship that many have faced, but we have put an extremely generous package in place. We have continued to review and refine it as and when it has been necessary. I also remind the noble Lord that we have protected more than 12 million jobs through the furlough and self-employment schemes, both of which have been extended until April.
My Lords, the question from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, showed that we currently suffer from an immature system of national leadership. I spoke earlier today with a year 8 pupil. She wants to get back to school. She said she did not feel that schools would be safe at present, and that she wants a staggered return, announced as soon as possible after 8 March. She also thought that support for the staff to be vaccinated was a good idea. Is she being sensible?
She sounds like an extremely sensible young lady to me. I hope that the noble Lord reassured her that the issue we face with school closures is not that schools are unsafe for pupils or teachers. The problem is that the new variant is so pervasive that we need to use every lever at our disposal to reduce all contacts outside households, wherever possible, to reduce the pressure on the NHS. I am sure she will be aware that her teachers will, I have no doubt, have implemented a lot of protective measures to ensure that children who can still attend school are safe. Perhaps he might also like to let the young lady know that we are offering biweekly asymptomatic testing for all secondary school and primary school staff. Over 90% of secondary schools and colleges have now registered for this testing.
My Lords, we can probably all agree that sending pupils back to school on the Monday and keeping them home from Tuesday was not a wonderful situation to put schools, pupils and families in. The Government are clearly trying to give some indication of a timescale well ahead this time, which is welcome, but as a single parent of three boys, who are here at home with me now, it is evidently the case that parents and schools need good notice. There also needs to be some understanding of the pressures on parents. What does a phased return mean? Will it mean one child stays at home while a parent drives the other to school? How will it be managed? Is it regional? The more notice that can be given, the more arrangements can be made at school and at home to make this work. I hope the Government will continue to work to give the earliest possible indication of how schools will be brought back to functioning.
The noble Lord speaks on behalf of parents throughout the country. He is absolutely right that, when we do start to re-open schools, we want to ensure that will be sustainable. That is why we have taken the difficult decision, in the light of the current data and the current situation, to say that we will not be able to open school immediately after the February half term. He will also know that we have promised to give at least two weeks’ notice to schools, colleges and universities of when they can return to face-to-face teaching to do exactly as he says: to allow student, staff and parents to prepare.
My Lord, I really must press the Minister to reconsider her scant response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, on the pressing need of those with learning difficulties. Does she not understand the desperate challenges facing these people’s families and carers? I beseech her to think again and, in doing so, I declare my interest—[Inaudible.]
I entirely understand the points that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness made. I am sorry if he felt that I had not responded properly, but I have reiterated in answer to a number of noble Lords that many individuals and groups throughout the country would love to get a vaccine, and quickly. All I was trying to do was to explain that we are following the independent JCVI advice. I hope that I have set out the reasons for that, albeit while entirely acknowledging that many noble Lords feel that there are other very worthy groups, which I would not question.
My Lords, I had wanted to speak from personal experience, since, as someone aged over 80, I have been very satisfied: I have been given both of the injections and I think well of them. However, I will ask the Minister about the plans to impose hotel quarantine on travellers from 12 countries with new Covid variants. As an Australian, I know that Australia has been using this system for quite a long time. It has a high profile at the moment because the Australian Open tennis players are in hotel quarantine. How can we be certain that travellers will not seek to hide their country of travel origin by routing through other countries to avoid restrictions and costs? In addition, how effective is it to ask all other travellers to quarantine for 10 days after arriving when my noble friend Lady Harding tells us that track and trace reports that only 60% of people isolate when asked to do so? Should all travellers be made to quarantine in hotels?
People from any country have to fill out a passenger locator form, on which they have to declare which countries they have previously visited. Any traveller coming into the country would have to fill that out, so we will know who has visited the red countries, even if that was not the immediate place they travelled in from. We can therefore make sure that they go to a hotel. I am sure that my noble friend would be interested to know that failing to provide information accurately on a passenger locator form is an offense and can lead to a £500 fine. As I said in my opening remarks, more details about how this scheme will work will be set out next week.
My Lords, Covid is rampaging through our hospitals, but some eligible in-patients are not receiving the vaccination. That ensures that infection continues to rise in some hospitals. It also seems that the latest strain is behaving differently in relation to unborn babies. In the early stages of this virus, pregnant women might contract the virus, but their babies did not. This time it seems that the babies, too, are at risk. Could the Minister answer two questions? First, what is the policy on vaccinating elderly and vulnerable patients in hospital for other reasons? Secondly, when will the Government consider reversing the policy on vaccinating pregnant women, which was arrived at before this strain arrived?