House of Lords
Tuesday 2 March 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leeds.
Introduction: Lord Khan of Burnley
Wajid Iltaf Khan, having been created Baron Khan of Burnley, of Burnley in the County of Lancashire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Harris of Haringey and Baroness Hayman of Ullock, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will adjourn the House immediately.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Ynys Môn: Economy
My Lords, we recognise the need to pursue other opportunities for the region in parallel to large nuclear. In December, the UK Government, working with the Welsh Government and local authorities in the region, committed £120 million to the north Wales growth deal, which has the potential to create over 4,000 jobs by 2036 and to deliver an economic uplift of £2.4 billion.
With the promise of future UK Government investment in Wales, will the Government commit to working with the Welsh Government to encourage a major new energy scheme on Ynys Môn, including options for tidal power, with both barrages and free-standing turbines? Further investments in offshore wind and the grid infrastructure to support it would make north Wales an attractive option for low-carbon electricity generation and bring much-needed economic opportunities for young people in north Wales.
The noble Baroness is right to focus on the energy sector for Ynys Môn. The announcement overnight of the £5 million investment in the Holyhead hydrogen hub, adding to the Welsh Government’s investment, £253,000 from the £120 million north Wales growth deal for the Morlais tidal flow schemes and the commitment to invest in the production of one gigawatt of offshore floating wind, in which Wales has a technological head start, all show that we are delivering on our promises for Wales and working with the Welsh Government.
My Lords, the Minister believes passionately in the need for nuclear power and, judging by her excitement over the result of the match on Sunday, also about Wales. When I asked on 11 January about how many large nuclear power stations were planned as part of our future energy mix, she replied that the country would need “significant, large nuclear capacity”. First, is she able to specify a number? Unless we act now, we will run out of options and, indeed, power stations. Secondly, if we cannot get a major nuclear power station at Wylfa, possibly the best site for one in the whole of the United Kingdom, is there scope for development of advanced small modular reactors, with the benefit of the production of hydrogen as well as power?
We have been ambitious in our plans for new nuclear. We committed to at least one more gigawatt power plant in the energy White Paper published before Christmas and we are in discussions with a number of operators. There will be two operational power stations in 2030 and, by 2032, the first SMR should be operational too. We will look at all reasonable proposals for the development of the Wylfa site, which is, in fact, the best nuclear site in the world, not just the UK.
My Lords, the Government has refused to support the construction of a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, whose suitability will be well known to the Minister. She has referred to the possibility of tidal power in the Anglesey area. Will the Government consider the feasibility of tidal power in the Menai Strait between Liverpool Bay and Caernarfon Bay, a large infrastructure project that would provide jobs for Anglesey and beyond?
Indeed, the Government are committed to exploring all the possibilities for tidal and wave power—in south Wales there is not only the Swansea tidal lagoon but the Dragon Energy Island project, and we will certainly look at other proposals in the north of Wales as well.
Given the unfortunate news that Horizon Nuclear Power has decided to drop its planning bid for Wylfa Newydd, does my noble friend agree that a freeport would transform the fortunes of Holyhead and Anglesey, encouraging greater development, investment and tourism on the island, as was outlined clearly to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee last year? Is the Minister able to inform the House as to whether any progress has been made on a freeport?
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, raises an important point. The freeport bids for England are already in and an announcement is expected shortly. I know that the MP for Ynys Môn, Virginia Crosbie, has worked tirelessly with a group of qualified and interested local stakeholders to put together a bid for a freeport for Ynys Môn. This will be ready to go when we launch the competition for Wales, on which we will work together with the Welsh Government.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. The national thermal hydraulics facility is a key part of the nuclear sector deal and will bring jobs and investment to Anglesey, making the most of the strong nuclear skills that exist in the area. Can the Minister say what progress has been made with this facility and, importantly, how it will align with the testing requirements of the UK SMR programme?
The national thermal hydraulics facility is a key part of the nuclear sector deal and would indeed bring jobs and investment to Anglesey. The issue is very live at present. Collective and separate discussions are taking place between BEIS, the Welsh Government, the UKAEA, Rolls-Royce, whose SMR design is pivotal in this decision-making process, and the Menai Science Park, which would host the hydraulics centre. The technical needs of the Rolls-Royce SMR are being worked into a redesign of the proposed facility, but issues still remain over the height-planning restrictions, extra funding and future financing requirements of the facility. Perhaps all the parties can dig deep.
I heard the referee got man of the match. Is Shearwater Energy, which could be generating power by late 2027, under consideration? The energy White Paper announced £385 million for the advanced nuclear fund to support the development of both SMRs and AMRs, with up to £215 million of investment to develop a domestic SMR design. Does the Minister champion a large sum of this funding to support a small hybrid reactor at Wylfa on Anglesey?
The Shearwater design is indeed an imaginative use of Ynys Môn’s unrivalled potential for generating power, both nuclear and in offshore wind; the Shearwater proposal as I understand it combines both, with an interconnector. The Government remain open to discussing well-developed proposals from all developers for the Wylfa site, and I believe the team has had some discussions with officials in BEIS.
Will the Minister agree with me that what is happening to Holyhead as a port is a very threatening thing indeed? There was no preparation when we were leaving the European Union and the result is that for documentation, lorries from Holyhead, having come over the Irish Sea, now have to go to either Birmingham or Warrington. Has the Minister any proposal at all that will avoid Holyhead becoming a port of the past, with ferries from Ireland going directly to the European mainland? What hope can the Minister bring to Holyhead?
The noble Lord raises an important point in an area of concern. Freight through all Welsh ports is down more than 50%, unlike freight through most UK ports, which have now recovered to pre-Brexit levels. We have no obvious answer as to the question why, as the landbridge between Ireland and Wales remains a vital transport artery, with significant cost and time advantages over maritime routes. The Minister for Wales in the other place has a meeting scheduled with the relevant freight transport association to discuss these issues and what we can do about them.
My Lords, I welcome today’s announcement of government backing for the hydrogen hub at Holyhead put forward by Menter Môn and Anglesey Council, and indeed proposed in the Senedd a year ago by Ynys Mon MS Rhun ap Iorwerth. Given the aspiration of Anglesey, seen as the “energy island”, what steps will the Government take in partnership with the Welsh Government to ensure that the Wylfa labour force, with its huge skill base in energy-generation technology, is retained in the local energy sector and is not lost to the region?
The noble Lord makes an extremely good point about trying to preserve the corporate knowledge within Wylfa and I will certainly take back this concern and proposal to the department. Wylfa still has the potential to be part of the north-west nuclear arc, along with the national thermal hydraulic research centre, the Trawsfynydd site for SMR, AMR and, potentially, medical radio isotopes, alongside Bangor University, which is a centre of excellence for nuclear studies.
My Lords, does the difficulty of finding a company to build a large nuclear power station at Ynys Môn not highlight the lack of nuclear expertise in this country—the first country to actually use nuclear for civil purposes. The one area where we do still have it is building nuclear units for submarines. Perhaps I might add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, and ask my noble friend to consider a small modular reactor at this site; after all, additional modules can be added later.
There are indeed design proposals that involve a number of small modular reactors on that site, and the Government believe that these will play an important role alongside large nuclear for low-carbon energy. As I have said before, the energy White Paper has put £385 million towards an advanced nuclear fund to support research and development into both SMRs and AMRs.
Transport for London: Financial Settlement
My Lords, the Government are committed to providing Transport for London with a financial deal that is sustainable, supports London’s recovery and keeps the capital moving. Any deal must be fair to the UK tax- payer. On 11 January, TfL provided us with a financial sustainability plan, which sets out its plans to achieve financial sustainability by April 2023. The Government hope to announce further Covid-related financial support for TfL shortly.
My Lords, TfL has suffered a double blow to its income from the pandemic and from years of irresponsible fare setting by the Mayor of London. While my noble friend grapples with that temporary challenge, will she also bear in mind that a railway needs steady capital investment too, and that there are parts of London Underground operating with signalling and rolling stock that is over 50 years old and is creaking at the seams. Will she, in support of the Government’s infrastructure objectives, seek to ensure that TfL is allowed a medium-term investment programme—however modest—to address these problems?
My noble friend is quite right: there have been some quite interesting fare increases—or not—from the mayor over recent years. We estimate that over the past four years his fares freeze has cost £640 million, which could otherwise have been spent on capital expenditure. But, as my noble friend knows, transport in London is devolved and it is up to the mayor and TfL to assess the merits of capital projects that they might want to invest in. However, it is absolutely clear that the Mayor of London must set a robust budget, demonstrate that TfL is on a clear path to achieving financial sustainability, and prioritise his capital expenditure. He will have to make difficult choices.
My Lords, many of us are old enough to remember renewing our road funds not with the DVLA but with the county council. It was £12 and 10 shillings when I started driving. I see that the Mayor of London has revived this policy as part of the problems of Transport for London, which would also broaden the base for local government taxation. Does my noble friend have a view on the merits of this policy?
My noble friend raises a very interesting period of time that unfortunately I do not remember, but it is the case that the Mayor of London has some very interesting ideas as to how he wants vehicle excise duty to be spent. It is one of the proposals in the financial sustainability plan he has prepared, which I have to say does seem to have been drafted with a money-no-object mindset. Noble Lords will know that vehicle excise duty is used for the strategic roads network, which is the motorways and the major A roads, so unless we are going to stop Londoners from using our motorways and buying products that have been brought into London by HGVs travelling on them, I see absolutely no rationale for devolving VED.
My Lords, I read in the Financial Times today that the ONS says that as an average Londoner I receive about £4,000 less in public spending than I pay in tax. As a proponent of progressive taxation, I am happy to pay, but the fable of the goose that lays the golden egg comes to mind. Will the Minister agree that the economic prosperity of the whole country depends on a prosperous London, and that that requires, among other things, a well-connected London with excellent public transport? Is it not remarkable that London is the only major city in the world where there is no contribution from general taxation, from which the whole country would benefit?
The noble Lord is right that London will play a very important part in the economic future of our nation; in 2018 it made 23% of UK GDP. But while much of the funding for Transport for London comes from passenger revenues, there are other routes by which it gets money; for example, business rates retention, which is a retention which would otherwise have gone to Her Majesty’s Government. So one might assume that there is a broad breadth of sources of funding for TfL, but I agree—the Government want to support London’s recovery and we want to keep the capital moving.
My Lords, train operating companies have received billions of pounds from the start of the pandemic to keep trains running, with minimal requirements in return. Why has Transport for London not been treated with the same generosity, and why are the Government determined to dictate the minute details of the way services are run, which they have not done on railways elsewhere? Surely this could not be political.
My Lords, TfL has also received billions of pounds over the Covid pandemic. I am not sure where the noble Baroness is getting her information from about the differential between the conditions that are put on the train operating companies and on TfL. The Government make demands on the train operating companies. We work incredibly closely with them on, for example, what the level of services should be and whether engineering works should take place. We put significant conditions on our support for them. We put some conditions on TfL support, such as looking at the future of driverless trains and increasing efficiency targets. All these things are perfectly reasonable.
Instead of levelling up the north, where the Government have cut £4 million from Transport for the North, clearly the Government intend to level down London’s transport network. Virtually every answer that we have heard from the Minister today has confirmed that this is the Government’s approach. Can the Minister confirm or otherwise that the Government are not seeking to force TfL into making cuts to its service level, which would be completely counterproductive and place at risk the economic recovery of central London, which, like it or not, is still the engine of the UK economy?
The Government will provide funding to TfL. We have already said that we will and that we want to keep the capital moving. That is essential. We can also agree that the forecast scenarios that are available for passenger demand will, quite frankly, resolve only over a period of time. The Mayor of London is going to have to think about his capital expenditure and service levels in the future. He may have to make difficult decisions, but there are a number of reforms that the Mayor of London should have done but has not done, and probably should do in the future, in addition to potentially looking at service levels.
My Lords, pursuant to the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Moylan, and in recognition of the long service that he has given to this subject, significant focus has been placed on new underground lines. However, does my noble friend the Minister recognise and accept that the settlement should focus as much on revenue as on the vital need for a fully funded capital programme to upgrade existing underground lines, in addition to the “new tube for London” programme?
There are many strands to the capital programme. Some of them are short- to medium-term. The Government will expect the mayor to make decisions that encourage the economic growth of London. One of the other important considerations when thinking about how we develop the London Underground will be housing. My noble friend may have seen that the Government agreed to safeguard the land for the Bakerloo line extension. It cannot be built now but it may be built in the future.
My Lords, Crossrail’s budget has been under pressure recently, and one of the stations that has not yet been started is Old Oak Common. Can the Minister tell the House what the budget is for Old Oak Common station, and how it is broken down between Crossrail, HS2 and Great Western Railway? If she cannot tell me, can she please write me?
Had the noble Lord given me fair warning of that question, I would have been delighted to answer it for the Chamber. However, I will discuss very briefly the amount of funding that the Government have been able to support for Crossrail. Back in August 2020 the board of Crossrail said that it would need another £1.1 billion, which was probably about the P70 budget. The Government have announced £825 million so that the GLA can borrow further funds to get Crossrail over the line and open to passengers.
My Lords, the Government commissioned a report into TfL’s finances from KPMG in June 2020. They said at the time that this was to understand TfL’s needs. The Government are now refusing to publish this report despite businesses and politicians urging them to. The suspicion is that they are playing political games. When will they end this secrecy so that Londoners get the transparency that they deserve?
The noble Baroness is right that the Government did commission that report. It extends to many hundreds of pages, and contains a huge amount of commercial information which we would not want to see in the public domain, as it would not be beneficial to the future of TfL. But the report did give us a firm understanding of where TfL is at the current time. It should be remembered that, even before the pandemic, TfL had a deficit in 2018-19 of £494 million. Combined with that KPMG report and the financial sustainability plan that we have received from TfL, we are in a much better place to help the Mayor of London get TfL back on its feet, and the Government are ready to support that.
Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review: Sodium Valproate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the report by the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review First Do No Harm, published on 8 July 2020, what plans they have to bring forward a redress scheme for women and families who have been harmed by sodium valproate.
My Lords, the Government plan to respond further to the Cumberlege review later this year, as I committed in my recent Written Ministerial Statement. In the meantime, we are carefully considering the recommendation regarding a redress scheme for those harmed by sodium valproate, and measures are in place to limit the prescribing of this drug.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer. Since my noble friend Lady Cumberlege published her landmark review, another 150 babies have been born suffering harm from in utero exposure to sodium valproate, to add to the 18,000 children—18,000, my Lords—who have been harmed in this way since the 1970s. These children belong to families whose lives have been turned upside down, and who often cannot afford the costs of caring for their damaged children. They need and deserve a redress scheme now. Why can the Government not move faster?
My Lords, I pay tribute to those who have put together the valproate registry scheme that became live on 11 February. My noble friend is entirely right. There are 22,095 people on the registry; 462 of them had 490 conceptions, and 180 women were prescribed in a month when they were pregnant. A redress scheme is not necessarily the correct solution to this problem. We are considering it extremely carefully, and when we publish our overall response to the Cumberlege review we will include our considered response to the redress suggestion
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, concluded in her report that the system still did not know how to minimise the risk of future babies being damaged, despite 27,000 women of childbearing age currently taking valproate in the United Kingdom. In view of that, does it not make the case for a redress scheme absolutely persuasive?
My Lords, I will leave it to the response to the Cumberlege review to make the decision on the redress scheme. In the meantime, our focus is on a regime ensuring that those who take this important drug have the right advice to prevent them becoming pregnant. I emphasise that specialists review the treatment and ensure that an annual risk acknowledgment form is signed by the prescriber and the patient. This is an important measure ensuring that all those who take this potentially life-changing drug acknowledge and understand the implications of becoming pregnant.
My Lords, in our report we suggested that every pregnant woman who is on sodium valproate should be warned by her GP of the potential harm to her unborn child. Can my noble friend please tell me how many of the women exposed to this danger have been notified, and what the plans are to ensure that in future they are told? What incentive is given to GPs through the quality outcomes framework to ensure that they carry out this very important duty?
My Lords, as I explained a moment ago, there is an annual risk acknowledgment form signed by the prescriber and the patient, and that is shared with the patient’s GP. GPs should check that the patient has signed an up-to-date annual risk acknowledgment form each time a repeat prescription is issued. We have instituted a valproate safety implementation group that analyses, along with the MHRA, compliance with this plan. We acknowledge the review’s recommendation to introduce an indicator on safe prescribing in pregnancy for future iterations of the quality outcomes framework, and we will respond on that with the rest of the response to the review.
My Lords, redress is important, but so too is patient support. Could the Government confirm that they are considering the recommendation that a network of support centres should be set up to support those women who have been affected by Primodos, sodium valproate or vaginal mesh?
My Lords, I completely acknowledge the noble Baroness’s point. Support is incredibly important and our hearts go out to all those who have been hit by any of the three conditions covered by the review. We are absolutely looking at those recommendations to see how they may be implemented to provide the support that the noble Baroness rightly points out.
My Lords, could my noble friend please update the House on the timetable for the appointment of the patient safety commissioner, one of the key recommendations that I am delighted the Government accepted? I understand that that requires new regulations, and the Government have rightly said that we ought to take time to find the best and widest possible field, but surely that just underlines the urgency of the need to get going with this.
As my noble friend rightly acknowledges, the everyday workings of the commissioner require some work. That work is being finalised and regulations will be made setting out further details about the appointment and operation of the commissioner—for example, the terms of office, the finances and other support for the commissioner. Officials are now working with legal and appointment colleagues to firm up time- lines and begin both the regulations and the appointment process for the commissioner.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when his noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy was the Minister, the noble Lord realised the harm that some women had suffered from taking sodium valproate when pregnant? The noble Lord’s support has been inspirational and has given hope to these victims. Will the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in his position as Minister now, bring forward a much-needed redress scheme for these women and children who have been let down?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her tribute to my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, who has done an enormous service to us all by championing this cause, both as a Minister, when he moved this review and made a huge impact, and since then with his patient and thoughtful advocacy of this important cause. He speaks very movingly and thoughtfully, and we are greatly influenced by his persuasion on this subject. The noble Baroness should be reassured that we are absolutely looking at the recommendations for a redress agency, and we will come back with considered thoughts on it when we answer the review in the round. Until then, I welcome all thoughts and advocacy on the subject.
I have two points. First, last summer only 41% of the respondents taking valproate said that they had signed an annual risk acknowledgment form, so I would like the Minister to reflect on the fact that some GPs are not doing the job that they should be in terms of protecting women. Secondly, those affected by thalidomide and contaminated blood have a redress scheme, but it took years for that to happen. We simply cannot wait years for this to happen for those suffering from the effects of sodium valproate.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s point on the proportion of those who say they have filled in the form. Phase 1 of the registry is a helpful collection of statistics, but we are putting in place phase 2, which will help us to understand exactly how many patients who are taking sodium valproate have actually filled in the form. That will give us the concrete reassurance that we seek on this matter. I recognise that there are redress payments for thalidomide and contaminated blood, but redress payments are not necessarily suitable for every single misfortune that happens in the medical world. However, we will look very carefully at the case for sodium valproate and I take the noble Baroness’s comments on board.
Research from Konkuk University in South Korea has suggested that disabilities caused by the compound could cause autism spectrum disorder transgenerationally—in other words, afflict successive generations within families. What is the Government’s view?
My Lords, the report First Do No Harm underlines the hurt and devastation that can result from not making patients aware of the possible side-effects of drugs. The harm done by giving sodium valproate during pregnancy cannot be undone, and generous support should be provided. Does the Minister agree that, while the appointment of a patient safety commissioner is a move in the right direction, that in itself underlines the importance of keeping patients fully informed of possible side-effects and listening to their concerns?
The noble Lord puts it extremely well and I totally agree with the thrust of his point. For patients to have the right information about the risks of the medicines that they are prescribed is essential. However, if I may stray into a different subject, there is also patient choice. For many patients, sodium valproate provides an incredibly valuable relief from epilepsy and mental illness. It is a drug that continues to be prescribed because some have no choice and there is no valid alternative to the drug. The number of people being newly prescribed the drug—new starters—is down dramatically from previous years, but for some it really is an important part of their therapy. The decisions that they make are personal ones, and we should respect those.
Covid-19: Universal Credit
My Lords, where do I start? I am so proud of the work that my department has done in supporting people during the pandemic. Time does not allow me to reel off everything that we have done, but I shall list these: our plan for jobs; a £2 billion kick-start scheme; increased support for 40,000 jobseekers of all ages; sector work-based academies; the job-finding support service; the help that we have given to 160,000 people; and our £238 million job entry targeted support. There is much more that I could say to the whole House. The department has done an outstanding job.
I am grateful to the Minister for having got that list out of the way, because now she can answer one very simple question from me. Does she accept that cutting £20 a week from the incomes of people on universal credit, whether now or in six months, will push children into poverty and leave out-of-work support at its lowest level in decades, just when unemployment is set to peak? Will she take back to the Chancellor a clear message that he should cancel this cut, extend the £20 to legacy benefits and ensure that our social security system offers a proper safety net to everyone who needs it?
The £20 uplift in universal credit has done an outstanding job. The Chancellor put it in place in a temporary way, and I guess tomorrow we will find out the intentions for the future. But please be assured that I am very happy to go back to the Chancellor and share the views of the noble Baroness and many others who have made that point.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on what they have done in this respect in supporting so many vulnerable people during the pandemic. However, does the Minister agree that the danger of the cut that taking away the £20 a week would be is that the Government would get a short-term saving, but would pay far more in the longer term because of some of the social costs? Given the number of people we see using food banks in my diocese and around the country—including working people—and the number of children in poverty and likely to go deeper into it, the remedial costs of supporting them into the longer-term future will far outweigh anything paid now.
The right reverend Prelate makes an important point. The £20 uplift has made a significant difference and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, he has outlined some of the impacts that would happen should that be stopped. I am terribly sorry, and I wish it were not the case, but I do not have the Chancellor’s ability to make a commitment today.
My Lords, an analysis by the Social Metrics Commission found that, without the universal credit uplift, nearly 1.4 million people would have been pushed into poverty due to the pandemic. With the £20 uplift and other government interventions, however, 700,000 people have been protected, 150,000 of whom are lone parents. Does my noble friend agree that this is a remarkable achievement? What plans do the Government have for ensuring this continued support?
My Lords, on a previous occasion the Minister was extremely sympathetic to the plight of freelancers, especially musicians, who have been caught in the government net and unable to get through it—that is, they were not eligible for universal credit or the SEISS. As I say, she was very sympathetic and said that she would look at this with her department. Has she made any further assessment?
A number of groups of individuals have been impacted by Covid and their incomes have been put under stress. The department continually reviews the impact on people but this is a timely reminder for me to go back and make some more representation, which I will do.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the £20 uplift for universal credit should be extended to include claimants receiving legacy and related benefits, the majority of whom are disabled or carers, or have a long-term illness? These people are suffering great hardship and the Government need to take action now. Will she support that?
Legacy benefits and the £20 uplift have been the subject of lengthy and great discussions in the department. To be absolutely straight and truthful, the only thing I can say is that the Government have no plans to extend the temporary £20 uplift. I know that that will be a disappointment.
My Lords, further to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that many people still on legacy benefits have had their finances hit hard by the pandemic. The need to reduce health risks, such as by taking taxis to appointments to avoid public transport, purchasing more PPE for those with respiratory conditions and using more heating to reduce the risk of complications from Covid-19 all incur high costs. In previous questions, we have heard that the costs of disability and sickness are considerable, particularly to people who have little at the moment and are on legacy benefits. I know that the Minister has answered by saying that the Government have no commitment to add the £20 uplift to legacy benefits, but will she commit to looking into the circumstances of people on legacy benefits and their carers—disabled people, particularly—to see what action can be taken to improve their circumstances?
My Lords, the number of vacancies in the period November 2020 to January 2021 is up by 64,000 from the previous quarter to almost 600,000. What are work coaches doing to ensure that claimants take these vacancies up, and what plans do the Government have to incentivise moving into work by reducing the taper rate and increasing work allowances?
I say to my noble friend and the whole House that we should thank God that we have work coaches. Their training has been enhanced, they are focused on the individual and they make sure that those individuals get the support and access to the benefits that they need. More importantly than anything else, they are getting access to the help they need to get back to work. Universal credit was designed to make work pay, so not all of a person’s earnings are deducted from UC. The department has made changes to improve the financial incentives to work by reducing the taper rate to 63% from 65%. All these things are continually looked at.
My Lords, a little while ago there were widespread reports that fraudsters were illegally claiming public money from the universal credit uplift. The Government moved quickly and took steps to tackle this. Can the Minister update the House on the latest position?
The noble Lord is right to raise the point about people who try to abuse the system with no right to do so. The situation with fraud and recovering sums is being dealt with in the department. To give the best response in the time I have available, I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.
When universal credit was first put together, one big thing was to cut through bureaucracy and waste. I would like to think that we have moved towards reducing the ways in which people can get on universal credit. Obviously, there are many problems for people who want to go on to it, and they are still having to wait a long time. My question is more about the long-term effect of universal credit. How much does it cost to actually deliver £1 of social support, because in the old days it used to be about a fiver to deliver that £1?
I not sure where the noble Lord gets his figures from; I do not dispute them, but I will have to go back and have a good look. The universal credit business case was agreed in 2018 and demonstrated that it remains deliverable and affordable, and provides value for money. In a steady state, universal credit will generate economic value of £8 billion per year, and it is doing a great job.
Covid-19: Brazilian Variant
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the challenge we have is uncertainty. Genomic sequencing data links the Brazilian variant to the South African variant, the so-called E484K mutation. We also acknowledge that there are anecdotes from Manaus on transmissibility, but none of this is clear cut. We are working towards getting the concrete data necessary to make a confident assessment of this mutation. Therefore, we are taking a precautionary approach and we are committed to limiting its spread by all means at our disposal.
I thank the Minister. According to a report by the World Health Organization, the P1 variant that originated in Brazil has been found in at least 15 countries which are not on the Government’s red list, meaning that arrivals from those countries are currently exempt from the hotel quarantine policy. Virologists have warned that the Government’s red list is at risk of becoming out of date at any time because of the time it takes to sequence coronavirus cases. Indeed, these six cases date back to 11 and 12 February. In the light of these facts, and given concerns that the Brazilian variant may be more transmissible and might be resistant to existing vaccines, will the Government review the red list and take urgent action to introduce a comprehensive hotel quarantine system that applies to all UK arrivals?
The noble Baroness is entirely right: this is not the first case of P1 in Europe. As of 11 February, P1 has been identified in 17 countries, with 200 cases reported globally. In the EU, 30 cases have been identified in five countries and areas. We keep the red list under permanent review and have an ongoing process of keeping it up to date. The fact that we have a red list and a managed quarantine programme makes further expansion of the red list possible. It puts our borders and our vaccine under a programme where we can control things, which is to be applauded.
How confident are the Government that our vaccines will cope with the Brazilian variant of the Covid virus and that the passenger from Brazil, who is somewhere in south Gloucestershire, will be traced? What measures are now in place to ensure that an incoming passenger is not lost again?
We are uncertain on the vaccine. There is a huge amount of speculation, but I would recommend that noble Lords take it with a pinch of salt because we cannot know for sure how the virus will behave with those who have been vaccinated until we have much better and clearer data. Regarding the current managed quarantine arrangements, I pay tribute to the teams which have stood up the system extremely quickly and well. The south Gloucestershire and Aberdeen arrangements have been incredibly impressive. It is extremely frustrating to all concerned that one person did not fill in the form and slipped through the net. But overall, the programme has shown itself to be extremely robust and we have an enormous amount of confidence in it.
My Lords, we seem to be devoting a huge amount of state resources to chasing one person with a mutating virus at a time when the National Health Service is on the point of collapse. Waiting lists are going up and we are in a terrible mess. Will the Government accept that viruses mutate and that we need a strategy to deal with that? Constantly locking people up and extending the list of countries so that you can put more and more people into hotels is a self-defeating policy.
The vaccine is absolutely central to our strategy. It is an approach that has proved enormously popular, and I think I speak for a large number of people when I say that defending the vaccine has to be our number one priority. If there were a highly transmissible vaccine-escaping mutation, it would take us back to the beginning of this whole pandemic. That is why we have put in place red list countries and managed quarantine. That is why we are committed to Operation Eagle and the efforts to track down those bringing variants of concern into this country.
My Lords, the scientists are concerned about the P1 Brazilian variant because of three mutations, one of which is common to other variants, making it more transmissible. One of the others is referred to as the “escape mutation”, which may bypass some vaccine-induced immunity. Does the Minister agree that, apart from the measures the Government are taking of trace, track and isolate and surge testing—which I thoroughly approve of—it is important to continue genomic sequencing, at scale, of Covid cases to detect variants that may arise and to monitor and study post-vaccine immune response? That would enable us to modify the vaccines to boost the immune response and deal with the variants.
The noble Lord is entirely right. Our commitment to genomic sequencing, which has lasted for years, has put Britain in great shape to be able to do the sequencing necessary to track these variants. We are doing more sequencing than any other country. But as the noble Lord knows, this is detective work, and it is extremely complex. While the 484K mutation might be the significant change in both the Brazil and South African variants, it might be one of a great many other mutations in its genomic characteristics. This is the detective work we are doing. I am afraid that it will take some time to get to the bottom of it, and it needs to be complemented by field studies into how the mutation reacts in real life, as well as with antibodies. The combination of immunology, virology, biology and real-world clinical study will give us the insight that we need.
My Lords, with due respect to the Minister, I wonder if a pinch of salt is quite the right treatment for some of these variants of the Covid virus. It is not just the Brazilian and other different variants. For example, in addition to Siqueira’s paper, which has just been published from Brazil in the last couple of weeks, the paper from Bogota shows numerous variants which are not quite the same. Some of these may be rather more virulent, and it is possible that they may even cause reinfection—it is certainly not very clear. The point is this: surely we need to be very cautious indeed about our airports and whether the list we have is sufficient. At what stage do we decide that we need to take much firmer action with all incoming passengers to the United Kingdom, making certain that they are properly tracked and traced?
The noble Lord is entirely right. Things are happening around the world which are causing a great deal of anxiety. Stories of possible reinfection in South Africa are extremely concerning and the huge spike in infections in South America has not been properly explained. It is possible that there are a number of mutations, and mutations of mutations, there. The truth is that we do not have the genomic or immunological data that we need to fully understand what is going on. That is why we have taken a precautionary approach, as the noble Lord recommends. We have instituted both managed quarantine and a red list which we keep under review. If we feel it necessary to extend that list, we will do so.
My Lords, tracing new variants will be key in the next phase of this public health challenge. So why does the £22 billion test and trace system not have an individual identifier on each test posted to homes, along with an integrated database? This way, every test could be traced back to an individual, regardless of where the test was sent from, or even if a person incorrectly filled in a form.
I endorse the noble Lord’s observation that tracing is important. I pay tribute to the Operation Eagle team. The noble Lord will note that the South African variant, which made landfall in the UK, is currently being contained through the immense work of this team. They are throwing a blanket over communities and doing a huge amount of forensic, detective work in tracing variants. As to his specific point, it is possible for someone to walk up to a testing station, take the test, be handed a form and not fill it in. We are trying to understand if those were the circumstances in this case.
My Lords, are there risks that the Brazilian variant may not provide adequate protection against reinfection and that vaccinations are less effective against this strain? It carries the same mutation as the Kent variation, which is rated 70% more transmissible than previous strains.
My noble friend is stretching my immunological skills to the limit. The Brazilian variant has a number of mutations. It is not clear to us whether those are mutations of transmissibility, vaccine-escape mutations or reinfection mutations, and therefore which we should focus on. All are possible and we are keeping a careful eye on this. An enormous amount of investment and research is going into understanding this more carefully.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Brazilian companies have a significant footprint in both parts of the island of Ireland? Given that there is a common travel area between the two, what discussions has he had with the Government of Ireland about this? How is it proposed to deal with inflows of people from Brazil who might be able to travel freely throughout these islands?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for flagging the Brazilian connection with Ireland, which I did not know about. I reassure him that there is an enormous amount of collaboration between Whitehall and Dublin on this matter. There are strong links on the managed quarantine programme within Ireland in order to close the “Dublin backdoor”, as it is sometimes called. I pay tribute to colleagues in Dublin for their collaborative approach. We do not currently have a five nations unified approach, but it is of interest. We are definitely keen to ensure that there is no backdoor entrance for VOCs through Dublin, or in the other direction.
My Lords, given the inevitability of variants and that some will evade antibody responses, what plans do the Government have for unified messaging, across the whole of the UK, that long-term distancing, mask-wearing and other measures are essential, and to tell the public that this is not like flu and we need to live differently?
The noble Baroness is entirely right, which is why the Prime Minister struck such a cautious tone when he unveiled the road map. We are not through this yet. A substantial proportion of the country is vaccinated, but we have to protect the vaccine. For those who have not been vaccinated, there are risks, and that is why we still have in force a “do not travel” alert and why we are maintaining marketing and communications at every level on the restrictions that are still in place.
My Lords, to come back to my noble friend Lady Thornton’s Question, the Minister will know that, at the SAGE meeting on 21 January, there were warnings that geographically targeted bans cannot be relied upon to stop the importation of new variants, partly because of indirect travel. He has just said that he does not want a backdoor entrance through Ireland. But what are the Government going to do about indirect travel, which is a clear route into this country to avoid the current quarantine rules?
Those who travel to the UK must fill in a passenger locator form. On the PLF they have to state whether they have been in a red list country. We also share an enormous amount of information with the aviation industry to cover people’s previous travel, and therefore it is not as easy as the noble Lord might think to take a hop and a skip into Britain through a third country, as has been proved by those who have travelled from Brazil and been caught by the red list. However, his point is well made, which is I why I reinforce what I said earlier: we keep the red list under review and, if it proves necessary to extend the countries on that list, we shall do so to protect the vaccine.
My Lords, at the outset, my noble friend said that the Government wanted to use all means at their disposal to combat the spread of all the variants and mutations. I refer to a point I made last week. One means at the Government’s disposal is to ensure that all those who work in care homes are vaccinated. It is quite wrong that they can refuse it and then attend to the most intimate needs of their patients
My Lords, I remind my noble friend that we have some mandatory vaccination already in place in the health service; those who perform operations and other intimate health interventions are required to have hepatitis and other vaccinations, for instance, so there is a precedent for what he talks about. However, it is a huge step, which impacts people’s personal liberty and choices, to make vaccination mandatory for more than a million social care workers. My noble friend makes a persuasive argument, which is why the Cabinet Office is looking at exactly this sort of matter; there is a strong public health argument for mandatory vaccination. Given that we have not rolled out vaccination across the whole population yet, it is premature to make that decision today, but we are considering it carefully.
Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Battery Manufacturing Strategy
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 1 March.
“The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring the future of manufacturing at Ellesmere Port and to secure the jobs and livelihoods of the workers at the plant. Since I was appointed Business Secretary last month, I have held a number of meetings with both Vauxhall and its new parent company, Stellantis, to support the company to make a positive investment decision. Only last week, I also held a constructive meeting with the general secretary of Unite, Mr Len McCluskey. Over the coming days and weeks, I, fellow Ministers and officials at BEIS will continue this intensive dialogue with the company.
More widely, the Government are continuing their long-standing programme of support to keep the British automotive sector at the forefront of technology and maintain its competitiveness, building on the work that my right honourable friend did through the automotive sector deal.
It is my priority as Business Secretary to ensure that the UK continues to enjoy the benefits from our transition to ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles by continuing to build an agile, innovative and cost-competitive supply chain, which we need to secure vital international investment. With that in mind, we remain dedicated and absolutely committed to securing UK battery manufacturing. As part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, we have already announced £500 million to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains, and other strategically important technologies, through the automotive transformation fund over the next four years. We continue to work with investors through the automotive transformation fund, and to progress plans for manufacturing the batteries that we will need for the next generation of electric vehicles here in the UK.
The Government and industry have jointly committed almost £1.5 billion through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and Faraday battery challenge to support the research, development and manufacture of zero and low-emission technologies. Between 2013 and 2020, the Advanced Propulsion Centre has funded 67 collaborative R&D projects, creating and safeguarding nearly 47,000 jobs, with projected CO2 savings of 244 million tonnes.
I repeat: we are 100% committed to making sure that the UK continues to be one of the best locations in the world for automotive manufacturing, and we are doing all we can to protect and create jobs while securing a competitive future for the sector here in the UK in particular, including at Ellesmere Port.”
My Lords, the Ellesmere Port plant is a major employer, and letting it wind down would have devastating consequences, with 1,000 highly skilled jobs lost in the local community. The Government must do all they can to secure the future of the plant, and it is worth reminding ourselves that the automotive sector has had no sectoral support during the pandemic.
To achieve net zero and sustain our automotive industry, we need a plan and action and investment. As such, will the Government bring forward ambitious investment in electric vehicle technology, including the electric battery supply chain, in tomorrow’s Budget—so that manufacturers have the long-term confidence that they need to build new electric models in the UK and so that we can move forward and secure the future of Ellesmere Port as a major automotive producer?
I assure the noble Lord that we are doing all that we can to ensure that Ellesmere Port has a bright future. The automotive industry in general is an essential part of the Government’s plans for green growth, levelling up across our country and driving emissions to net zero. As the noble Lord will be aware, as part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the Government brought forward the phase-out date for new petrol and diesel cars and vans to 2030, and, by 2035, all new cars and vans must be fully zero-emission at the tailpipe.
My Lords, I am on the executive of the All-Party Parliamentary Motor Group. In his Statement, the Secretary of State boasted that some £1.5 billion of joint funding had gone to the APC and the Faraday battery challenge. To put that into context, that is about a tenth of what the French Government are putting into this sector. The fate of Ellesmere Port will be decided in days, but the Government have had years to get ready for moments like this. Everyone knew and knows that we need significant battery manufacturing capacity in this country. The Faraday challenge has been running for eight years, so what has stopped a battery gigafactory being built already?
Ultimately, of course, these are commercial decisions for the companies involved, but we are working closely with a number of people interested in establishing gigafactories. We have announced £500 million as part of our wider commitment of up to £1 billion to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains, including developing gigafactories in the UK.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their aim to ban sales of new internal combustion engine cars from 2030. What specific plans do they have to invest in the production of electric vehicles and batteries to ensure that the UK remains competitive globally in manufacturing? Does my noble friend see a role in this for regions such as the north-west, where Vauxhall is sited?
I agree with my noble friend that it is very important that we see a future for these industries. As I have said, we are doing all that we can to help—I outlined our financial commitment in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I come from the north-east, so I want to see it do well along with the north-west, and I repeat my earlier answer that we are doing all that we can to secure the future of the Ellesmere Port facility.
My Lords, like everyone, I welcome the introduction of full electric vehicles, but the Secretary of State said:
“We want to see a circular economy for electric vehicles.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/3/21; col 33.]
However, he also said, “If we attain that”. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the Government are looking into how this can be achieved? A recent report by the Transport and Environment Committee found that it is eminently feasible to have batteries that are one-fifth lithium and nickel and 65% cobalt, coming from recycled sources, by 2035. Will the Government put some sort of target into legislation as a statement of intent to drive the industry to do just that?
I outlined in previous answers the support that we are giving; we are looking closely at all these matters. I am sure that it is eminently possible to ensure that a circular economy applies to electric vehicles as much as it applies to many other parts of the economy.
Are the Government aware that electric vehicles can only ever be a tiny part of reducing our carbon emissions—and that it would be more effective to stop building new roads and not open new coal mines? If they are worried about jobs, the Government should be starting up thousands of schemes to train people to retrofit insulation in houses and install clean heating systems. Are the Government thinking about this?
I am pleased to tell the noble Baroness that we are already investing millions of pounds in training for green jobs under the Green Homes Grant scheme. We invested about £7 million in a training competition, and there are numerous other government schemes doing precisely what she suggested: the eco scheme, the home upgrade grant, et cetera.
My Lords, I appreciate the helpful comments that have already been made, but I must ask the Government to leave no stone unturned in keeping this Vauxhall car plant at Ellesmere Port open—it is crucial, as people have said. Finalising an agreement with Stellantis to manufacture not one but potentially two next-generation battery-driven vehicles is crucial, securing, of course, thousands of high-skilled jobs for Ellesmere Port and, indeed, our country. Battery-driven vehicles are the future for this industry, if we are to have any future at all, and I suggest that it would be unforgiveable if the Government missed the opportunity of this investment and of securing these jobs for our country.
I know the noble Lord’s personal commitment to the north-west, and I agree with him about leaving no stone unturned. I assure him that the Government are committed to securing the future of Ellesmere Port. The Business Secretary and his senior officials are engaging frequently with the company to explore ways to ensure that the plant stays open. The noble Lord will understand that, while these discussions are ongoing, I cannot comment further, but we will do all that we can.
We have the land and the skilled workforce, and we no longer have the bureaucracy of the European Union restricting state aid to new industries. The Minister talks about the private sector—of course it needs to be there. But should we not be in the lead in the world on electric vehicles, with state money—government money—helping to make sure, as we have done with vaccines, that we are first, not second, third or fourth in this technology? Therefore, should those decisions not be made now?
Those decisions have already been made, and I agree with the noble Lord: it is essential for the future of the industry, and in relation to issues such as rules of origin, that we establish domestic supply chains. I outlined in a previous answer the very substantial investments that the Government are making in this area.
My Lords, I was very pleased to hear my noble friend explaining what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to ensure the future manufacture of electrified vehicles, helping us to meet those net-zero targets. Does he agree that there is a huge opportunity for the manufacture of batteries not just for cars but for larger vehicles, such as buses?
I agree with my noble friend and indeed I would include vans as well. He makes a very good point. Developing a competitive UK electrified supply chain is key to maintaining the success of our automotive industry, which I remind noble Lords is one of the most productive and efficient in the world. Doing this will protect and create thousands of high-quality jobs across the UK.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. The electric vehicle revolution can also bring thousands of well-paid jobs to areas such as the West Midlands, but that requires investment in battery technology and mass production. What assessment have the Government made of proposals for a battery plant at Coventry? I commend to the Minister the brilliant work being done in this area by the Warwick Manufacturing Group, where I and many other parliamentarians sit on the voluntary advisory group.
There are a number of good proposals around the country, including from Coventry, for the location of gigafactory investment. Ultimately, of course, the decision will be a commercial matter. Ministers and officials are in close discussion with those developing the Coventry proposals, the Blyth proposals and other factories around the country.
A bid from Coventry, bids from the north-west, a bid from the Wirral as well—we totally understand that. The noble Lord will understand that these are commercial decisions. We are willing to stand behind companies and help them develop their proposals, but there are a number of exciting proposals in different parts of the country. I have outlined the financial support that is available. With regard to the future of Vauxhall, or Stellantis as it now is, we are in discussions with it; my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has had a number of meetings with it, and senior officials are meeting it. Those discussions remain confidential at the moment but we are doing all that we can to assist.
Covid-19: Ethnic Minority Disparities
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 1 March.
“On Friday, I published my second quarterly report summarising the progress the Government have made in understanding and tackling Covid-19 disparities experienced by ethnic minority groups. In my first report of 22 October, I concluded that ethnicity in its own right did not appear to be a factor in the disproportionately higher infection and mortality rates among ethnic minority groups. Rather, the evidence showed that a range of socioeconomic and geographical factors were responsible. The evidence base continues to grow.
The early second-wave data shows very different outcomes for different ethnic groups. In the first wave, for instance, black African men were four and a half times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white British men of the same age, but in the early part of the second wave the risk of death was the same for both groups. The second wave has, however, had a much greater impact on some south Asian groups, driven primarily by differences in exposure and infection. This strengthens the argument that ethnic minorities should not be viewed as a single group in relation to Covid-19 and means that our response to the pandemic and to the disproportionate impact that it has had on certain groups will continue to be shaped by the latest evidence.
The other major development since my first report is the approval of three Covid-19 vaccines and the subsequent rollout of the vaccination programme, with more than 20 million of those most at risk vaccinated so far. Confidence in the vaccine among ethnic minority groups is key, and my latest report summarises our efforts over the last quarter to tackle misinformation and promote uptake.
The report also sets out the extensive measures taken across central and local government to tackle Covid-19 disparities, including the release in January of £23.75 million in funding to local authorities under the community champions scheme and a further £4.5 million in funding for four new research projects looking at the health, social, cultural and economic impacts of Covid-19 on ethnic minority groups.
To conclude, my report outlines a number of next steps with this work and I will update the Prime Minister on progress at the end of the next quarter.”
ONS statistics last week showed that the unemployment rate for ethnic minorities is 9.5%, compared with 4.5% for white people. A key example of a risk factor is socioeconomic deprivation. Research shows that black, Asian and ethnic minority people are more likely to be on zero-hours contracts. One in five people on such contracts is not eligible for statutory sick pay. What plans do the Government have to address precarious work for ethnic minorities specifically? Do the Government acknowledge that this is evidence that structural racism in the labour market and socioeconomic risk factors interact?
My Lords, we recognise that certain occupations have had an increased exposure to the virus. That is one of the risk factors for ethnic minority populations. That is why with transportation, for instance, we have issued two different sets of guidance, for private hire and for public service vehicles, and included those within the mass testing. In relation to the economic disadvantage, we are investing £30 billion in a plan for jobs to enable people who have been put out of work by the pandemic to get work.
My Lords, the increasing levels of Covid-19 are now impacting far more on the south Asian community, particularly the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. What targeted actions involving public health and policies are being deployed to combat this? Will the Government now publish equality impact assessments on the pandemic responses, including vaccine uptake, given the clear structural social inequalities and institutional racism that have exacerbated the pandemic’s impact on the majority of ethnic minority communities?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that the report published last Friday revealed that in the second wave of the pandemic sections of the south Asian population were disproportionately affected by the virus. We have funded community champions to get the message out across certain communities through local authorities. In relation to community centres and places of worship, we have now set up asymptomatic testing centres and vaccination centres to try to increase the take-up within those communities, as getting vaccinated is the best way to protect them from the virus.
My Lords, I commend the work and the actions undertaken by the Government to respond to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on ethnic minorities. However, as we have heard, the data shows that socioeconomic factors are a major driver for disparities in infection rates. Ethnic minority communities are statistically more likely to be disadvantaged. Does the Minister agree that, as we emerge from the lockdown, we must not only ensure that we build on this evidence and develop appropriate responses but take steps to ensure that we reduce the level of socioeconomic disadvantage faced by sections of the minority communities as part of the levelling-up agenda?
My Lords, the pandemic has indeed revealed many inequalities, including health inequalities across certain communities. That is not linked only to race: we also believe that certain coastal communities will have been disproportionately affected by the virus. However, we are aiming many of our schemes at those populations within the ethnic minority community; for instance, with the apprenticeship schemes we have had specific promotion to ensure that black and minority ethnic people take up those opportunities where they disproportionately do not do so.
My Lords, are my noble friend the Minister and her department looking at post-Covid job creation, particularly among the low-skilled BAME communities? I reflect on my own home city of Leicester, where many jobs have been lost. If we are going to try to level up, as she has just said, we need to ensure that the right services and right interventions are in place. Will she consider looking at a pilot scheme to go into Leicester to do the levelling-up agenda on the skills matrix?
My Lords, being relatively local to Leicester in origin, I pay tribute to the people of Leicester, who I think have endured the longest period of restrictions of any part of the country. One of the few pieces of good news for the House over recent weeks has been the FE and skills White Paper and the focus on higher technical qualifications. We are focused on giving skills to people, particularly in low-income jobs, through the lifelong learning entitlement so that while earning they can train themselves up to get better-paid and better-quality work. I will take away the specific idea of a pilot to the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.
My Lords, the right reverent Prelate is correct that this marginalised community is often left out. My noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, who is in the House, is leading a specific initiative out of MHCLG on this community. We now have data on the level of take-up of the vaccine in particular communities. The local directors of public health, who are the best people to know how many vaccines have been offered and how many have been taken up on the ground, should have the detailed information in the coming weeks in order to focus on that particular community in their locality.
My Lords, ethnic minority groups have suffered disproportionately when it comes to health inequalities, economic inequalities and wealth inequality. However, any recovery post Covid will have to be UK-wide, so will the Government undertake to look at best practice and gather data so that we can compare the figures, whether from Birmingham, Belfast, Edinburgh or Cardiff, and therefore learn and overcome the divisions that have been so much more highlighted in the last year?
My Lords, indeed, the department, among other departments, is regularly in touch with the devolved Administrations, because we want to share best practice on this. Obviously, DWP is a nationwide provision and there are more job coaches there, which we hope will enable those communities, particularly BME communities, to access work as quickly as possible if they have lost work now or lose work after furlough ends.
My Lords, several noble Lords have quite rightly highlighted deprivation, unemployment and poverty as causes of Covid spread and I will not say anything different, though ethnicity per se does not predispose to Covid. People of ethnic origin, particularly in south Asian communities, are six times more likely to have diabetes, a condition that does predispose people to more serious impacts of Covid. Ethnic communities are also more likely to live in overcrowded accommodation and multigenerational households and to be poor. It is really poverty that kills. Can the Minister say what wider economic and social policies, including education, income and housing, the Government will introduce to tackle the poverty gap that has got wider in the last 10 years of Conservative government?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the NHS has an obesity strategy and the pandemic has shone a light, helpfully, on how important that strategy is. I can comment only in relation to the role of education in this—we were on track and had seen an overall closing of the attainment gap over the last 10 years. We recognise that there has been a narrowing in the last couple of years, but we are focusing our catch-up recovery to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up as quickly as possible.
My Lords, the report suggests that overrepresentation in certain generally low-paid occupations is a significant factor in the horrific death rate for people from Pakistani backgrounds. There is a lot that might be said about that with regard to structural racism, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, referred to, but in the pandemic context, does it not demonstrate that employers are not doing enough to protect workers, particularly essential workers? What more will the Government do to force employers to behave better to save lives?
My Lords, since 1974, I believe, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act has been in force in this country and, overwhelmingly, employers take their responsibilities in this regard very seriously. The NHS, as a key employer, had by the end of last year done a risk assessment of the overwhelming majority of its ethnic minority workforce. As I said, we are also including certain groups in the mass testing asymptomatic pilots to ensure that we reduce rates of transmission.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 25 February.
“I would like to update the House on the Government’s progress towards ending rough sleeping. I know that many colleagues on both sides of the House share my interest and commitment to this issue, so today I am pleased to report that the rough sleeping annual statistics for 2020 have been published, and that the number of people sleeping rough across England has fallen for the third year in a row. In fact, we have seen the largest fall in rough sleeping since the annual snapshot began.
Across England, the number of people sleeping rough has fallen by 37% over the past year and almost halved since this Administration took office in 2019. I am heartened that this fantastic result has been mirrored in London, where there are particular challenges in tackling rough sleeping, but where none the less there has also been a 37% fall in the number of people sleeping rough.
Some of our largest cities have seen exceptional reductions. In Birmingham, for example, the snapshot records just 17 individuals, down from 52 last year. A number of places recorded no rough sleepers at all in the statistics, including Ashford and Basingstoke. These independently verified statistics are our most robust measure of rough sleeping. They enable us to estimate the number of people sleeping rough on a single night and to compare changes over many years. As colleagues know, these numbers represent lives rebuilt, families reconnected and communities strengthened.
These encouraging figures highlight the success of our ongoing Everyone In programme. We launched Everyone In almost a year ago, at the start of the pandemic, with the simple aim of bringing as many people as possible in off the streets—reducing the transmission of Covid-19, protecting the NHS and saving people’s lives. By January, Everyone In had successfully helped over 26,000 people who were either sleeping rough or in very precarious accommodation and at risk of sleeping rough to move into longer-term accommodation. Through the programme, we continue to support an additional 11,000 people in emergency accommodation while longer-term solutions are found. In total, at least 37,000 people are in safe and secure accommodation today as a result of this exceptional effort.
Local authorities have each drawn up their own plans to support those accommodated during the pandemic, with our support and guidance. Those plans have been backed by £91.5 million through our Next Steps accommodation programme. Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind, and I am pleased that the United Kingdom has avoided some of the scenes that we have seen in other great cities and communities around the world, which bring shame on those places that could have done more. Research published in the Lancet showed that the measures we took in the first phase of the pandemic alone may have avoided 21,000 infections, 266 deaths, 1,100 hospital admissions and 330 intensive care admissions of homeless people.
Our priority now is to ensure that we maintain this momentum and end rough sleeping altogether. To that end, we will bring forward 6,000 homes for rough sleepers, backed by over £400 million of funding, over the course of this Parliament. That is the largest investment in accommodation of this kind, and I am proud that it will leave a national legacy of support for those helped by Everyone In.
Meanwhile, we will continue to invest in the initiatives that were already in place before Everyone In and that are helping to drive down the numbers of people sleeping rough. Those initiatives were created before my tenure, and I pay particular tribute to my two immediate predecessors, my right honourable friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who put in place and reinvigorated the rough sleeping initiative created in the early 1990s by another of my predecessors, the now noble Lord Young.
The £112 million of funding from our rough sleeping initiative this year has helped 291 local authorities, and further funding next year will continue to boost outreach teams, establish first-stage accommodation and introduce targeted support for mental health, employment and life skills, and wider support. We also continue to learn from and build on our Housing First pilots. The first three pilots, in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, are currently supporting over 800 people into safe and secure homes. Today, we are strengthening our commitment to Housing First through the publication of the Mobilising Housing First toolkit, which sets out examples of best practice and recommendations for areas keen to implement Housing First at a local level, using the funding that we have made available.
Over the course of the year, we planned and prepared for further targeted interventions to support areas with higher numbers of rough sleepers. This included the Protect programme to provide extra support to high-need areas, and the cold weather fund to bring forward additional Covid-secure accommodation over the winter. Latterly, we have had the Protect Plus programme, which helped councils to redouble their efforts and, in particular, to ensure that rough sleepers are registered with a GP, are woven into the vaccination programme in their area and receive the vaccination when their time comes.
Westminster, a borough that faces unusual pressures—not least because of the very high numbers of non-UK nationals—has consistently had the highest number of people sleeping rough since the snapshot approach was introduced. As a result of this targeted approach and the exceptional efforts of the council there, we have seen very significant progress. The number of people sleeping rough in Westminster has fallen by 27% since 2019 and is believed to be at its lowest level in recent memory.
In recognition of how instrumental the community, charity and faith sectors have been to our national effort, I am today announcing further funding for the voluntary sector to support its work. That will help local community night shelters to provide accommodation that is Covid-secure in time for this autumn, in case that is needed, and is dignified and focused on sensible, sustainable housing solutions for rough sleepers. It will also support Homeless Link, Housing Justice, StreetLink, St Basils and the National Homelessness Advice Service delivered by Shelter. I pay particular tribute to all those and many other community and charitable organisations.
Taken together, these interventions have led to a dramatic reduction in rough sleeping of a kind not seen in many years. The additional data my department has published today shows that the number of people sleeping rough on a single night has continued to fall since the annual snapshot. Over the winter period, numbers fell to 1,743 in December and to just 1,461 in January. Many of the individuals will have been offered accommodation but will have chosen not to accept it for a wide range of reasons.
While those are not official statistics of the kind of the November count that is also published today, they demonstrate the incredible achievements of council officers and outreach staff, who have been at the front line of tackling rough sleeping in the past few months, operating under extraordinary circumstances to meet the demands of the extremely cold weather that we have seen recently. Their work is often unglamorous and unnoticed, and I pay huge tribute to them for what they have achieved.
We have made great strides over the past 12 months, but we do not view that as an end in itself; it is only a beginning. In the next financial year, we will be spending more than £750 million to continue tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, so that everyone who has been extended a helping hand off the streets during the pandemic has no need to return to them again.
Our ambition is that no one should need to sleep rough. To achieve that, we must raise the safety net from the street and address the causes of rough sleeping. We believe rough sleeping is a symptom of family breakdown, of domestic abuse, of the treatment of ex- offenders, of the historical inadequacies of our immigration system and, above all, of poor health, substance misuse and mental ill health.
At the heart of the strategy that we will be laying out in the weeks and months to come will be the marriage of health and housing. The partnership between those is surely one of the central lessons of this pandemic. We will fortify those partnerships between local homelessness and health services, and between central and local government and the NHS, all of which have been strengthened enormously over the course of this year. I will work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle drug and alcohol addiction and mental ill health, and with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that prison leavers have access to housing upon release. We will seize this opportunity to build back better—not merely mending or returning to a status quo, but building a better country post Covid-19, in which no one needs to sleep rough. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for bringing this Statement to the House this afternoon. I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The Government promised to “bring everybody in” during the pandemic and, despite good work done in the first wave, today we sadly have many people sleeping rough again on our streets, many very close to this building. The people sleeping on the link bridge between Waterloo station and the street, who I have mentioned before, are still there: I saw them yesterday on my way to this House. According to the Government’s own figures, there were 2,688 people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2020. People who are homeless are three times more likely to experience a chronic health need, including respiratory conditions, putting them at higher risk of poor health outcomes, including from Covid-19.
It is tragic that in one of the richest countries in the world, in one of the richest cities in the world, we have people sleeping rough on the streets tonight. So, can the noble Lord tell the House why the response to the homelessness situation of people living on our streets was so much better and more effective in the first wave in comparison with the second wave? What happened in government that led to the response being so much worse this time around? What happened to the Everyone In policy? It created a safe space for people to access the support needed to move on from homelessness.
On the wider picture of homelessness, the situation is even worse, with people living with friends and sleeping on sofas, including up to 130,000 children in England. The Government have a manifesto commitment to end the blight of rough sleeping in England by 2024. The response by the Government to this pandemic must surely be part of the plan to deliver on that commitment, and not an obstacle that puts the policy pledge in jeopardy. What we need from the Government is a strategy in place to ensure that people experiencing homelessness can move on from homelessness or expensive temporary accommodation into secure, safe, warm, dry, long-term accommodation that enables them to start rebuilding their lives.
Local authorities should be congratulated on the work they have done, with limited funding and unclear guidance from the Government. Will the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, identify for the House the various sums of money that are mentioned? Which of those are new money and not just restatements of previous funding commitments?
Housing First is a recognised and accepted method of ending homelessness for people with multiple needs, including mental health issues and addictions. The scheme is in place in Scotland and is being piloted here in England, but the fact is that many people experiencing homelessness in England will need a Housing First offer to finally end their homelessness. There are three pilots in place, which provide around 2,000 places, but this is a long way short of the investment and commitment needed to deal with the issue finally. So when does the Minister expect a decision to be made on rolling out the scheme in England, as has already been done in Scotland, and when does he expect funding for the rough sleeping accommodation programme to ensure that a long-term housing solution is not just an aim but a reality, which is not the case today?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for bringing us the Statement. There is no doubt that Everyone In last spring was a significant achievement. Louise Casey, now the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, wrote in her email at the start of the pandemic, after her first week in MHCLG:
“I don’t care what’s happening; I don’t care what’s going on, you’ve got to get everybody in.”
Rough sleeping was treated as an urgent public health issue, resource was prioritised and brought forward, and central and local government worked in tandem with all the charities and the hotel sector and lined up safe accommodation. This was without question a success. But, as so many witnesses to the APPG for ending homelessness made clear, these numbers are never static. Homelessness, like a river, expands and grows. Substantial boulders are the only thing that stop it at source, and those boulders start with social and truly affordable housing.
Will the Minister explain why social housing build last year was only 5,716 homes, far below both Shelter’s annual target and the National Housing Federation’s goal of 145,000 social homes per year? Tomorrow in the Budget we are expecting to see a significant subsidy, not to social housing but to first-time buyers, who will be encouraged to borrow 20% of the purchase price. Will the Minister say where that money is likely to go? What is the possibility that it will end up in the profit margins of the large developers, many of which donate regularly to the Conservative Party? To prevent an increase in the number of people sleeping rough, rapid access to secure, long-term accommodation is vital. This period, following the achievement of Everyone In, is a unique opportunity to do just that and never return to the levels that were way too high just before this pandemic.
The target date of the manifesto commitment—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—is fast approaching, and policies need to be in place now. So surely—as the noble Lord also said—it is time to commit to a rollout of Housing First across England, instead of continuing with the pilots. The scale of current provision is 2,000 places, which falls far too short of the 16,450 places needed that were identified by the charities Crisis and Homeless Link. Can the Minister explain what is preventing the Government rolling out these successful pilots now?
It is welcome news that local authority guidance is encouraging registration of people sleeping rough with GPs, but why are the Government not following the success of some London boroughs, together with Liverpool and Oldham, which are using current JCVI guidance to vaccinate homeless people, in order to mitigate health inequalities? Some local authorities are unclear about this; will the Minister commit to clarifiying the issue? Even at the height of Everyone In some local authorities turned homeless people away. Can the Minister explain why? Does his department know why there were 2,600 people, or more, sleeping rough in October, and how many of them had no recourse to public funds?
The Statement rightly refers to research in the Lancet but not to the wider arguments used. It was clear that what was critical was the absolute refusal to resort to emergency shelters at all. So why are the Government considering using them? Large cities in the US continue to use emergency shelters, to huge detrimental effect. If social distancing is still advised next autumn, should emergency shelters not be ruled out? Can the Minister explain, in detail, in what circumstances they will be used?
The Statement refers to many of the underlying reasons for rough sleeping but fails to mention the precarious position of so many in the private rented sector. Why is that? While it is welcome that the pause on evictions has been extended, that has not stopped every stage of the process. Will the Minister acknowledge that, during the winter lockdown, 500 people were evicted from their homes and that last month 445 were either in arrears or served with eviction notices? Does the Minister agree that if the landlords’ associations and charities have united to ask for assistance, in the form of grants to tenants to keep roofs over their heads, this should be a priority to prevent homelessness?
As we continue to see the economic impact on people’s incomes, it is worrying that there is no longer-term strategy from the Government to ensure that people will be able to keep a roof over their heads. We are expecting unemployment to rise by this summer. The Government have frozen housing benefits once again. Can the Minister give reassurances that the Government are looking at ways to support people to prevent homelessness, including by helping them to avoid eviction due to arrears? Finally, is there any news on the long-awaited end to the use of Section 21, which has such an impact on vulnerable tenants?
There are many paths to homelessness. I sincerely hope that this period has been a pause and we can move forward from here. However, unless some of the problems in areas which give rise to homelessness—such as the private rented sector—are anticipated and stopped in their tracks, we will continue to see rises in homelessness.
My Lords, the Oral Statement relates to rough sleeping. The figures are very clear: we have seen a 37% reduction in rough sleeping—a huge reduction. There has been a reduction of 43% since the Prime Minister took office in 2019. The 2,688 statistic that was referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in his opening remarks, is down from 4,751 in 2017. This Government retain the ambition to end rough sleeping. I point out, too, that subsequent analysis, in December and January, shows continued reductions in the levels of rough sleeping.
One of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, is not correct: the Everyone In programme continues and by January had helped 37,000 people, with over 11,000 in emergency accommodation and 26,000 moved into longer-term accommodation. The programme continues to operate, along with subsequent programmes and the Protect Plus programme.
It is important to address the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on funding. The commitment on homelessness and rough sleeping in the 2021 budget was £700 million, and that will increase next year—since we had a single-year budget commitment—by a further £50 million, to £750 million. Significantly, within that £750 million is a commitment to a block grant of £310 million for homelessness prevention. That grant is to ensure that there are no further pressures, and to support people at risk of homelessness.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, mentioned the Government’s record on social housing. Social housing is underpinned by the multi-billion pound affordable homes grant, which has had record funding. We continue to be committed to build all forms of affordable housing, of all tenures, including social housing.
The Housing First pilot, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, is a world-class project. It was pioneered in Finland and we are piloting it to get the policy right. It continues to be piloted in three areas—the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region. It is important to use the findings of the evaluation, and other experiences with pilots, to inform our next steps, and we are commissioning a consortium led by the ICF to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the programme. When you do something new like this, it is important to test what you want to expand and expand what you test, rather than hurriedly implement something and get it wrong.
We remain committed to removing no-fault evictions; that will happen as soon as parliamentary time allows, as I have said in previous answers. We recognise the underlying problems of people on our streets, and that we need to continue to address them. This Government, however, have made huge, unprecedented strides in reducing rough sleeping, and we continue to see that in the latest information that we have published.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on what has been achieved. I am particularly glad that they are trying to ensure that every rough sleeper has a GP. Can my noble friend tell the House what percentage are now registered with GPs? Furthermore, has any any study been conducted into how many are driven into homelessness by drugs and how many are driven to drugs by homelessness?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for showing the complexity that underpins rough sleeping. We know that 82% of rough sleepers have a mental health vulnerability; 83% have a physical health need; and 60% have substance misuse needs. We do not necessarily know the interrelationship between those problems. Getting rough sleepers vaccinated is very much part of the Protect Plus programme, which is backed by £10 million to support and urge local authorities to play their part in getting rough sleepers—whether on the streets or in emergency accommodation —vaccinated when it is their time in the queue. We also continue to work closely with NHS England and Public Health England to ensure that this vulnerable cohort of people gets vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.
The Government are to be congratulated on the initiatives they have taken over rough sleeping during the Covid epidemic, and particularly for their success during the first lockdown. But the key question, of course, is whether there is the right policy, with adequate backing, to ensure that this is a permanent change. There were worrying signs before the pandemic that there were many more first-time rough sleepers; there was a report from Southwark recently, for example, that there are still new people coming on to the streets, with the number of applications from the homeless rising. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, emphasised, the problem is still there before our eyes. Of course, this has a great deal to do with the loss of jobs and the shortage of long-term accommodation, so how do the Government intend to ensure that during the difficult months ahead, we do not slip back into the old, pre-Covid situation?
My Lords, I point to the commitment through an entire Parliament of building 6,000 new homes for rough sleepers, which is backed by over £400 million of funding. We hope to see the reductions that we have seen on the streets of London, which were in line with the national reduction of 37%, continue.
On the issue of Covid vaccination policy for rough sleepers, is it not true that they are not treated nationally as a priority group for vaccination and that we have a postcode lottery in operation? Some areas treat them as a priority, others do not, yet they are a particularly vulnerable and difficult group. What action are the Government taking to organise a national framework for rough sleeper priority vaccination? I was concerned when I heard the Minister say, “When it is their turn in the queue”—they should be at the very front of the queue.
My Lords, the JCVI has set the overall framework for vaccination, and there is, by definition, a queue in terms of relative vulnerability and when people are called to be vaccinated. Of course, as part of that it is important that rough sleepers are registered with their GP. Therefore, we have been working closely with local authorities—backed up by £10 million of funding—to ensure that rough sleepers are registered with GPs so that they get the vaccination when it is offered.
My Lords, we should not be too self-congratulatory about what has happened, bearing in mind that the number of people sleeping rough on our streets is still more than 50% higher than it was a decade ago. The action around Covid has shown that taking direct action can get people off the streets. It is notable that most of those coming on to the streets are not returning but are coming on for the first time. Charities such as Crisis are warning of an imminent peak, however, as special measures, such as housing benefit increases and the temporary ban on evictions, end. Does the Minister agree that there is a real risk of a new peak in rough sleeping? What specific action will the Government take to replace these schemes, which clearly cannot continue for ever, to address this issue?
My Lords, I recognise the risk of a cliff edge given the level of support from the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic. An important plank of the support for people at risk of homelessness is the uplift in the local housing allowance, and there has been a commitment to maintain that at the same level in cash terms. In addition, we have seen increases in universal credit and working tax credit of up to £1,040 for the year. Of course, it is a matter for the Chancellor to decide how that continues as he makes his comments in the Budget.
My Lords, it is very good news that rough sleeping is in decline, and I congratulate the Government and all those concerned on that success. There is one difficult cohort that is not covered in the Statement: those coming temporarily from abroad, often to beg or for other purposes, who, for instance, set up filthy encampments in Park Lane which we can all see. I understand that up to 50% of the rough sleepers in central London are in that category, and they are described as having “no recourse to public funds”. Do Her Majesty’s Government have any plans to address that issue?
My Lords, my noble friend is right that we see more people who are either EU or non-EU foreign nationals on the streets of London. We encourage local authorities, including those in London, to connect those people with family and friends. We can also provide legal support, as well as helping them into work or training where appropriate, so there is flexibility for local authorities to do that for this group of people.
My Lords, I acknowledge the progress of Everyone In, but the debate in the other place exposed some very disturbing factors, such as the Minister admitting wide variances across the country of the delivery of rough sleeping and homelessness services and, shockingly, that many homeless people eventually end up in poor-quality, publicly funded supported housing. What regulatory or other plans do the Government have to level up provision for rough sleepers and homeless people?
My Lords, it is a fairly consistent national picture. I went through the data with a team as preparation for this; in every region in England we are seeing a very significant drop in rough sleeping, and they are very large in the south-east and London. It is only in the north-east, which has relatively low numbers of rough sleepers and where the figure is up by five rough sleepers according to the data, that we have some concern around not seeing a reduction. But we will continue to push the policies that are working in those areas and ensure that we encourage local authorities and others to adopt those in areas where it is proving harder to do so.
My Lords, the excellent work done in response to Covid in housing those living on the streets followed the implementation from 2018 of the Homelessness Reduction Act, a Private Member’s Bill from Bob Blackman MP which I had the honour of piloting through your Lordships’ House. This was beginning to work well in preventing homelessness and rough sleeping. In congratulating the Minister on the several new initiatives to assist those sleeping rough, can I ask whether he is satisfied that sufficient resources are now available to all local authorities to fully implement the Homelessness Reduction Act to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on supporting my honourable friend Bob Blackman in the other place. It is an important piece of legislation, and prevention is an incredibly important priority to ensure that we do not see more people sleeping rough on our streets. I remind noble Lords that we are seeing an increase in the budget for next year to £750 million, and £310 million is for the Homelessness Prevention Grant to do precisely what the noble Lord encourages local authorities to focus on: preventing homelessness.
My Lords, as someone who once worked for a charity supporting homeless people, I welcome the reduction in the numbers of those sleeping rough. Rough sleeping is a blight on any civilised society and must be wholly eradicated, and I am sure that the Minister would agree. But apart from no-fault evictions and existing benefits, how do Her Majesty’s Government propose to prevent an upsurge in homelessness resulting from the end of the furlough scheme and rising unemployment—particularly among private renters, as mentioned by a number of noble Lords?
My Lords, I cannot really comment on any additional measures. It is a matter for the Chancellor to set out the protection that we will be able to afford renters, while recognising the considerable amount that we have already done during this pandemic.
My Lords, the Government’s commitment to end all rough sleeping is admirable. However, if this is to be achieved, they need to do much more in terms of both the immediate response to the numbers continuing to sleep on the streets and of solving the long-term causes. In relation to immediate actions, will the Government commit now to a national rollout of Housing First as soon as the pilots have been reviewed? I understand what the Minister said about the need for the pilots to be evaluated, but the fact that they are in existence must mean that the Government intend to take them further where they are working. I would hope that Housing First will have its funding increased so that around 2,000 places that are being helped by the scheme can be greatly increased to cover the numbers needing support. In the longer term, will they make a commitment that no one will be released from prison without adequate housing to go to?
My Lords, all I can say in addition to my response to earlier questions is that the Government are committed to expanding Housing First. That commitment was made in our latest manifesto, but it is important to take on board the lessons from the three pilots.
My Lords, like others, I welcome the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and the progress being made towards that. But the Statement says, of those sleeping rough:
“Many of the individuals will have been offered accommodation but will not have chosen to accept it, for a wide range of reasons.”
How, then, will the commitment be delivered?
My Lords, I commend my noble friend on his tireless work that started in the early 1990s with the launch of the Rough Sleepers Initiative. Recognising that the moral mission of ending rough sleeping will be difficult shows the need to work in harness not only with our health partners and others in local authorities, but also with the community voluntary sector to deal with the underlying problems. The Housing First principle is first to find secure accommodation, then to deal with issues so that the person involved does not return to the streets.
My Lords, homelessness and sleeping on the street is never done by choice. It is about our societal and institutional failures. Some 250,000 people, including 130,000 children, are regarded as being homeless and significant numbers of them are sleeping on the streets. They may have no recourse to public funds or be fleeing domestic violence. Among those sleeping rough, there are serious concerns about mental health and substance misuse, for which they do not have any access to services. Last year, almost 1,000 people perished on the streets.
Through the outstanding leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, the Government have made incredible advances and provided necessary services, which is to be commended. Does the noble Lord accept that banning evictions and regulating the private rented sector, along with supporting local councils to meet and manage housing needs and additional support services, are the correct solutions? They would have the most impact and be the most genuine way of eradicating sleeping on the streets and homelessness.
My Lords, the Government have already made a commitment to ending Section 21 no-fault evictions. I shall return to my previous answer and point out that we have seen a further decrease in the number of people aged 25 or under who have been sleeping rough this year. It is important, if we want to end rough sleeping, that we see a decrease in numbers among our young people.
My Lords, to follow on from what the Minister said, the voluntary sector and local authorities are expressing concern about the number of young people who are rough sleepers. Can he say what is the ratio of homeless young people and what will be done to prevent them becoming homeless by, for example, providing support for conflict in families and for mental health problems, both of which have become increasingly important during Covid?
My Lords, we have put in place bespoke support for local authorities through our homelessness advice and support team, which includes dedicated youth homelessness advisers who will inform the response to support young people. In addition, we recognise the role played by the community and voluntary sectors play if we are to end rough sleeping. That is why, included in the £6 million-worth of emergency funding, is around £100,000 that has been given to St Basils to ensure that we upskill and fund Youth Voice, which is a training scheme for young homeless people across the country.
My Lords, I am very encouraged to hear about the improvements in the rough sleeping figures and I sincerely hope that they can be maintained. Perhaps my noble friend could say what is being done and can be done to relieve the plight of those living rough in rural areas, who so often seem to be forgotten.
My Lords, I point out that in my noble friend’s constituency, the level of rough sleeping has dropped by 90%, which is one of the largest decreases in the country. On the rural figures, of course we work very carefully to ensure that the snapshot includes both rural and urban numbers. The regional figures would seem to indicate an across-the-board reduction in rough sleeping and, in particular, very steep reductions in some of our major cities.
My Lords, the Government’s ambition to end rough sleeping is of course to be welcomed, provided that there is progress towards achieving it. I want to ask the Minister about two specific groups. One has been referred to by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. She asked what is being done about ex-offenders who find themselves sleeping rough. Can the Minister say a little more about that group? Can he also say something more about members of the Armed Forces? If they have served our country as well as they have, we have a responsibility to ensure that in the end they do not sleep rough when they are discharged. We owe them a better future than that.
My Lords, part of the ministerial working group is looking at the issue of rough sleepers in London who are former members of the Armed Forces. I pay tribute to the work of my honourable friend in the other place, Johnny Mercer. The key is to work with local authorities to identify those people so that we can get support services to them. The support services for our Armed Forces as well as for ex-offenders are in place; it is a question of ensuring that we identify those people so that we can wrap the service support around them.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. In the past hour, London has become the largest city in the world to call for a trial of universal basic income. An unconditional income sufficient to meet basic needs would be one way to ensure that no one ends up sleeping on the streets —that conditionality of benefits or insecurity of employment would not lead to eviction. As the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, said earlier, today’s figures report a fall in rough sleeping, but the future of rising unpayable debt, in particular among private tenants, looks grim. The Government keep saying that they will not introduce a national universal basic income, but will they support London and the 14 other local authorities that have voted for trials in their communities?
My Lords, it is indeed blue-sky thinking to guarantee someone an income that is paid by the state. I point out that in the pandemic we have seen the national debt increase substantially to the level of our economic output for a year, which is some £2.2 trillion. In that environment, it is very difficult to make these kinds of spending commitments, and I will certainly leave something like that to the Chancellor.
My Lords, all the questions have been taken. Before we move on to the next business, I suggest that we take a short breather to allow people to move in and out of the Chamber.
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) Order 2021
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this order was laid before Parliament in January and is required to align the juxtaposed controls regime at the seaports of northern France with the regime currently in operation at Coquelles for the Channel Tunnel shuttle service and at the Eurostar rail terminals in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The order will replicate the legislative approach taken at the other juxtaposed control locations and enable all UK immigration legislation to be applied in the UK control zones at the ports of Calais and Dunkirk.
The security and integrity of our borders depend on the effective enforcement of our immigration controls, particularly at the UK border controls in northern France, where each year thousands of people make perilous attempts to enter the UK illegally. It is essential that Border Force officers working at our border in northern France are empowered to carry out immigration controls to the fullest extent.
As noble Lords will know, the UK has several international agreements with France that allow UK Border Force to operate border controls at specified ports in France. This allows Border Force officers to conduct checks on passengers and freight destined for the UK. It is a reciprocal arrangement, with French officers completing entry checks at certain points in the UK on passengers and freight destined for continental Europe. This form of pre-departure immigration control plays a crucial role in tackling irregular migration and disrupting organised immigration crime.
Currently, Border Force conducts juxtaposed immigration controls at the ports of Calais and Dunkirk, with the French Police aux Frontières undertaking Schengen entry checks at the UK port of Dover prior to travel. The juxtaposed controls in Calais and Dunkirk are provided for at an international level by the 2003 Le Touquet treaty. This was put into effect in the UK by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003, which I shall refer to as the 2003 order. It was made under Section 141 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
The 2003 order granted officers of the Immigration Service, as it was then known, specified immigration powers enabling them to carry out immigration controls in specified geographical locations, known as control zones, at the northern French seaports. At that time, only the powers specified in the order were necessary for the efficient and effective conduct of immigration controls. However, the way in which Border Force operates has changed in the intervening years. Officers at Calais and Dunkirk therefore now operate with fewer powers than are available to their colleagues elsewhere.
The order under debate amends the 2003 order to grant UK Border Force officers working at the juxtaposed ports of Calais and Dunkirk the full range of immigration powers currently available to them under the Immigration Acts. This includes the power to use reasonable force, as set out in Section 146 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which is available to their counterparts at other locations.
The order therefore empowers appropriately trained Border Force officers at the juxtaposed seaports to use reasonable force under English law when carrying out any power conferred on them by the Immigration Acts. This will enable trained Border Force staff to intervene to prevent harm where an individual’s behaviour endangers themselves, the travelling public or other Border Force staff. It will also allow trained Border Force officers to enforce compliance with immigration processes, including fingerprinting.
Border Force officers will continue to take all reasonable steps to avoid using force, as they do elsewhere, by engaging with the individual and encouraging them to comply. Reasonable force would only ever be used as a last resort where an individual repeatedly refused to co-operate with Border Force officers and such force became necessary either for health and safety reasons or to ensure that full immigration controls were completed.
This measure builds on the steps the Government have already taken to reform the immigration system, strengthen border controls and reduce illegal migration. It will strengthen Border Force’s ability to manage those who seek to frustrate our immigration processes or circumvent UK immigration controls, and it will ensure that Border Force officers are properly empowered to intervene to prevent harm. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for setting out the intention and effect of the order. It seems entirely reasonable. It brings the practice and powers at the French channel ports of Calais and Dunkirk into line with the practice and process at Coquelles and at the Eurostar terminals in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. I support it.
I have some questions to ask my noble friend. Since these powers are exercised outside the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction, although they are provided for by domestic legislation, I assume that express or implied powers for Border Force officers to exercise reasonable force extraterritorially in France are contained in the provisions of the Le Touquet treaty, which my noble friend referred to. This seems highly probable, but it will be good to hear my noble friend confirm it.
Secondly, not only do we have border controls in France, but France exercises controls at the port of Dover. Do the French authorities exercise similar powers to those that we exercise in France?
Thirdly, what discussions do we have with the French authorities about these matters, both specifically on these recent issues and more generally on an ongoing basis about border controls in Calais, Dover, Dunkirk and indeed at the Eurostar terminals and at Coquelles?
The Explanatory Memorandum to the order is explicit that when the border controls were first deployed at these sea ports in 2003 the immigration powers were considered,
“sufficient to effectively administer immigration controls at these locations.”
What has changed is clearly the escalation of attempts to enter the United Kingdom illegally. I understand that—I am sure that we all do—but I would be grateful if my noble friend could update the House on the current position at Calais, Dunkirk and the surrounding area. Obviously, there is real concern in your Lordships’ House on a humanitarian level, not least because of the pandemic. Could my noble friend therefore give the House an assessment of the current position and of the longer-term outlook? I appreciate that it is bound to be a changing position and perhaps fairly volatile, but it would be good to hear how the position is at the moment.
Subject to these concerns, I strongly support what seems a very sensible provision.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to the order. The controls proposed in it ensure consistency of controls across all the juxtaposed locations and bring these controls into line with current UK operations. Harmonising the legislative regime will allow greater efficiency and effectiveness in border control officers assessing passengers and improve the border process.
Although the international sea traffic to which the order applies currently ends in England, the territorial application remains the whole of the United Kingdom. Another consequence is that the order allows immigration officers to use the full immigration powers available to them under the Immigration Acts, leading to early intervention against individuals or groups aiming to harm the UK or undertake organised immigration crime. It also extends the use of force powers, thereby allowing Border Force officers to use reasonable force if required to enforce compliance with immigration processes.
It is right that we provide the earliest possible intervention to prevent those wishing to do us harm reaching our shores. Unfortunately, there are those who make great profit from organised immigration crime; their plans must be thwarted. At the moment, Border Force officers are not granted powers in English law to exercise force, although they have the appropriate training to do so professionally. There is evidence of numerous attempts by organised criminals to bring people into the United Kingdom illegally through northern French seaports. Thankfully, many of them are intercepted but the officers concerned need enforcement powers for when they are presented with persons who would endanger themselves and others. Serious breaches of security must not be overlooked, and officers must be granted appropriate support to carry out their duties effectively, minimise disruption and contain sensitive situations. It is therefore imperative that we use every possible tool to keep our country safe. I support the order.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the order. I place on record my thanks to my noble friend the Minister for dealing with this difficult area among the many difficult challenges she faces.
My noble friend knows as well as the rest of the House does that the problem of illegal immigration across the channel seems to be growing. I have some questions. First, one wonders why it has taken quite a long time to co-ordinate seaports with the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar. In the interim, we have seen a considerable increase in illegal cross-channel traffic. Can my noble friend elucidate on what more we can do, are doing or should be doing to crack down on this form of illegal immigration?
I am not clear whether Border Force is restricted geographically in where it can go in terms of Dunkirk and Calais; in other words, can it even operate on the beaches there? Also, does the order—I have read the whole of it—apply to the staff at ports in Belgium and the Netherlands as well? The Explanatory Memorandum states that Home Office consultation was undertaken “with operational partners”. That is good, but did any adverse reactions or difficulties come up in that consultation?
Border Force officers do a difficult job well. At the moment, is there a shortage of men and women who are fully trained for the Border Force role? Within that role, is there any resistance to being posted to Calais or Dunkirk?
If I may, I want to widen the issue a little. Can my noble friend the Minister clarify—certainly for me but also, I suspect, for a number of your Lordships—the law on turning back rubber dinghies? At what point can they be sent back to France, and are French officials co-operating fully?
I am nearly at the end of my questions. On illegal immigration, which is increasing, is there a problem coming from Belgium and the Netherlands? Is there a problem for our other east coast ports, such as Hull? While I am on the subject, my noble friend may know that I take a great interest in aviation. Is there any evidence of an increased problem with our small airports, where no Border Force officers operate?
Finally, on monitoring and review, since this illegal immigration from France is very much in the public eye, is there not a case for an annual—or biannual—review of the order’s effectiveness?
My Lords, this is a sad piece of legislation because it perpetuates the Government’s cruel and dehumanising approach to people who want to come to live, work and be safe in the UK. Instead of legislation to ensure safe passage and humanitarian assistance, we see new rules allowing Border Force agents to use physical force in northern French ports. Can this Government really not see that it is partly our fault that people are desperate to get to safety, away from war zones, drought, famine, floods and death? These horrible events happen either because we have sold weapons to despotic regimes or because we insist on climate-destroying activities.
Last week, the Prime Minister seemed to understand the problem. He talked about having to deal with the security aspect of climate change, although Greenpeace called his speech “weapons-grade hypocrisy” when he is
“planning new coal mines at home and stripping funds for carbon-cutting energy efficiency measures.”
I agree. He is all talk and no action—or, as my grand- mother would have said, all fur coat and no knickers.
This “Fortress Britain” approach does not help anyone; it only pushes people into more dangerous routes of entry. The Government should fund the coastguard and RNLI lifesavers. We should be saving and helping people in dire circumstances, not increasing force and risk.
My Lords, when looking into this order, I found myself perplexed that the legislation governing borders and border control is spread across such a great many statutory instruments. It is no wonder that there is a discrepancy between the powers permitted for use on some borders and not on others.
I welcome that this order seeks to rectify that discrepancy by allowing the use of reasonable force where appropriate and necessary, so as to provide a unified approach for UK border officials across our international borders. However, I wonder whether it might be useful for the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—I speak from personal experience as a past member of it—to revisit this order at some stage in the future. It is just the sort of legislation that frustrates parliamentarians—and others, presumably—because it relies on so many statutory instruments, orders and regulations, rather than the primary piece of legislation, to introduce the rules.
I support the order but I believe that review, and perhaps consolidation, would be useful for everyone going forward.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
I understand that this instrument would align the legislative regimes in place across juxtaposed control sites by extending the powers that immigration officers have to use reasonable force, where necessary, at sites such as Eurostar terminals and operations at Calais and Dunkirk.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I have certain concerns about this piece of legislation. As a consequence of it, we are all too aware of the tragic scenes of migrants in Calais living in horrendous conditions, fleeing war-torn countries, facing a life of uncertainty and wanting to come to the UK. In dealing with these people, a humanitarian and compassionate attitude is required while working within the legislative requirements. Many of these people have had to make the choice to leave their war-torn country, having been separated from their family and neighbours. Their villages in Syria, Iran and Yemen have been destroyed.
In that context, I have several questions for the Minister. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted that this was an instrument of interest and, in its report, indicated issues around reasonable force. Due to the fact that thousands of attempts have been made by individuals seeking to enter the UK illegally via the northern French seaports every year, and with many of those individuals not necessarily complying with immigration processes once intercepted due to the terrible conditions that they are fleeing from, it is considered necessary to grant Border Force officers at seaports the power to use reasonable force.
Can the Minister explain what is meant by “reasonable force” to take fingerprints? Will these people be restrained in some way? Will some form of physical force be used? Will they be placed in detention? Are these fingerprints taken for the purposes of deportation from the UK? What steps will the Government and Border Force officers take to ensure that no forms of xenophobia are displayed towards migrants? Will such elements of reasonable force be human rights-compliant? Have the various human rights organisations commented on this instrument and assessed its compliance with human rights legislation and international requirements in terms of respect for human beings?
I note that no impact assessment was required, a fact that was raised in the other place. Why was that the case? The order will have an impact on Border Force officials and on the individuals who could be subjected to reasonable force—of which I would like a definition. If that is the case, surely an impact assessment is required if there is going to be a significant impact, as this will be a much-enhanced operation when considered alongside the original work.
The Explanatory Note states:
“The Home Office has consulted with operational partners, as the persons most likely to be affected by the matters in this instrument, and are continuing to work with them to implement this instrument.”
Who are these operational partners and what is the nature and extent of their work?
When is the Home Secretary bringing forward the sovereign borders Bill to reform asylum, including curbing litigious human rights claimants who seek to delay their deportation from Britain after their cases are reviewed? I understand that such legislation, which is very worrying, will make provision for judges to place more weight on asylum seekers’ criminal records when considering their appeals against deportation. Is this instrument stage one in the process as the Government move towards the sovereign borders Bill and its implementation?
I am sad to say that I do not see much of an element of social justice in this piece of legislation. With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, what are the requirements for quarantine arrangements for the migrants, who have already been subjected to so much terror and trauma in their lives? I look forward to the Minister providing answers to these questions.
My Lords, this SI has been prepared by the Home Office. The purpose of the order is to harmonise the legislative regimes across the juxtaposed controls, thereby also extending the powers to use reasonable force, as set out in Section 146 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, to the juxtaposed controls at the northern French seaports. The UK currently operates border controls at ports in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. This allows Border Force officers to conduct immigration checks in the same locations, policing and goods checks relating to passengers and freight destined for the UK before they begin their journey.
This is a reciprocal arrangement with the French officers who conduct entry checks at ports in the UK on passengers and freight destined for continental Europe. This optimises the efficiency of border control processes and provides earlier intervention to prevent those who seek to do harm from reaching the UK and are crucial to tackling irregular migration and disrupting organised immigration crime.
With thousands of attempts made by persons seeking to enter the UK illegally via the northern French seaports every year, and with many of those individuals not complying with immigration processes once intercepted, it is necessary to grant Border Force officers at the juxtaposed-control seaports, the power to use reasonable force where strictly necessary when non-compliant persons present a danger to themselves or others.
Will children wishing to join their families or relatives be protected and allowed to enter the UK?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining these amendments. This has been an extremely wide-ranging debate.
If I have understood the Minister correctly, powers are given to United Kingdom officials in control zones in northern France, Belgium and Holland, and to French, Belgian and Dutch officials at Channel Tunnel control zones in the UK, to enable the enforcement of immigration law at the border before passengers enter the destination country. These powers include arrest, detention and the seizure of documents, and for offences committed in control zones to be treated as if they had been committed in the destination country. Arrangements at Channel Tunnel control zones are provided by different legislation: the Channel Tunnel (International Arrangements) Order 1993 in relation to French control zones and the Channel Tunnel (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 1994 in relation to Belgian control zones.
According to the Explanatory Notes, one part of these regulations is to reconcile the regime at the juxtaposed-control seaports in northern France with that for international rail services via the Channel Tunnel. The other part, Article 2, extends all immigration enactments to control zones in France and makes the necessary modifications to other enactments to ensure that UK immigration controls are able to function properly in those control zones. Why not Belgium? Are there no international agreements between us and Holland? What steps are being taken to extend arrangements to Belgium and Holland?
In effect, this measure ensures a consistent approach to the Channel Tunnel and seaport control zones in France, and that UK immigration law can be effectively enforced within those control zones as if the control zones were in the UK. However, the Explanatory Note fails to explain that French officers operating in control zones within the UK are to be treated as if they were UK immigration officials in relation to offences committed or omitted in relation to an immigration officer, including assaulting an immigration officer.
What I am concerned about, and I hope the Minster can clarify this, is that if the arrangements are entirely reciprocal, there appears to be some kind of double jeopardy where a person could be committing an offence under both British and French law. For example, someone who assaults a French official in a control zone in the UK could be prosecuted both in the UK and in France, were the French to have equivalent legislation to these regulations. If that were the case, who would have precedence in terms of prosecution? Would it depend on whether it was a French national or a British national? My concern is enhanced by the addition of Article 12(7) to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2002, which states:
“Any jurisdiction conferred by virtue of this article on any court is without prejudice to any jurisdiction exercisable apart from this article by any French court.”
The regulations appear to significantly expand the enactments having effect in a control zone in France from a specific and limited number of enactments in the 2002 order to all immigration control enactments; the Minister explained that the remit of Border Force officers has expanded since 2002. Even if that is necessary and proportionate, for the sake of clarity should the regulations list those immigration control enhancements so that people know exactly what they are subject to?
The regulations appear to remove the protections provided by the Data Protection Act in relation to data processed in a control zone in France in connection with immigration control. Why is that necessary and proportionate?
On the issue of reasonable force, can the noble Baroness confirm that such powers are already available to Border Force officers where they operate elsewhere and are not an additional power exercisable only under this order?
When I got to this stage of examining the regulations, I had to admit defeat. Can the Minister explain what exactly the effect of the following is? I quote from close to the bottom of page 2 of the order:
“(b) in paragraph 2 (modification of the Terrorism Act 2000 … (i) in sub-paragraph (1)—(aa) after paragraph (d), insert—‘(da) in paragraph 5A omit the words “or 3”;’; (bb) after paragraph (e), insert—‘(ea) in paragraph 6A omit the words “or 3” in each place where they occur”.
I could go on in a similar vein. If the Minister cannot explain the precise effect of these changes now, from the Dispatch Box, how are we supposed to make sense of this impenetrable legislation? I could go on, with pages and pages of similar changes in these regulations where it is not clear at all from the regulation or the Explanatory Memorandum what changes this order brings about.
The Explanatory Memorandum basically says that the order makes other amendments to the 2003 order and makes the necessary modifications to other enactments to ensure that UK immigration controls function properly in the control zones. In effect, it says “just trust us”. My Lords, I do not.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 permits the making of an order to provide for a law of England and Wales to have effect at a juxtaposed control at an EEA port. At present, the juxtaposed control locations governed by such an order in 2003 are at the ports of Calais and Dunkirk in France and, for the French authorities, at Dover.
Unlike their counterparts at UK ports and other juxtaposed locations, Border Force officers working at the northern French seaports have not been explicitly empowered under domestic law to use reasonable force if necessary to carry out their duties when dealing with serious breaches of security at the port, including in relation to those seeking to enter the UK. This order aligns
“the regime at the sea ports of Northern France with the regime currently in operation at the juxtaposed locations in Coquelles and at Eurostar terminals in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where the full range of immigration powers are available to fully trained officers.”
National security is a key issue for us, and we are not opposed to the order. However, I have a few questions about the impact of the order in the absence of any impact assessment.
In paragraph 12.3, the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument because there is no, or no significant, impact on the private or public sector.”
However, in paragraph 14.1, the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“Impacts will be monitored through regular collection and analysis of use of force data as well as the existing internal review system.”
On the one hand, the Explanatory Memorandum says that there will be
“no, or no significant, impact on the private or public sector”,
but, on the other hand, it says that “impacts will be monitored.” Could the Government explain this apparent contradiction in their response? What impacts are going to be monitored that will have no impact, or no significant impact, on the private or public sector?
Will this order have any impact on the number of people entering the UK without authority through the northern French ports? If so, what impact will it have? If it will not have any impact, what purpose does the order serve? At other juxtaposed control locations, where Border Force officers already have powers to use reasonable force, on how many occasions per week or month on average do they have to use these powers? How far can they go in exercising “reasonable force”? What actions does it cover and what actions does it not cover? Are Border Force officers who can use reasonable force also armed officers or are they ever armed officers?
The Explanatory Memorandum refers to Border Force officers able to use “reasonable force” as being fully trained. How long does it take to train a Border Force officer in the appropriate exercise of “reasonable force”? Will enabling Border Force officers to use reasonable force at the northern French ports mean that fewer officers will need to be deployed or will the change provided for in this order have no impact on staffing levels? How will we assess the impact of this change, in respect of the use of reasonable force, on national security?
In paragraph 7.4, the Explanatory Memorandum refers to
“thousands of attempts made by persons seeking to enter the UK illegally via the Northern French seaports every year”.
Are the Government saying that, because the power to use reasonable force is not currently available to Border Force officers at these ports, more people have entered the UK without authority through them as a result? In which case, why has it taken this length of time to bring forward this order? Have concerns been raised by the French authorities that Border Force officers do not have sufficient powers in relation to reasonable force and that that increases the responsibilities and workload of the French authorities? Once this order is in force, what impact will it have on the numbers of people entering the UK without authority via the northern French seaports?
I hope the Government can provide answers to all the questions raised in the debate, including those relating to people genuinely fleeing persecution. One would like to think that this order is designed and intended to improve national security in a meaningful and measurable way, and that it is not just about ensuring uniformity across juxtaposed control locations for the sake of it.
My Lords, there were indeed a lot of questions, some relating to this SI and others slightly outside it. I will happily try to answer as many questions as I can, and I will write to noble Lords where I cannot.
I hope I have made it clear that the integrity of the UK’s immigration system depends on the effective enforcement of the Immigration Rules. This measure empowers Border Force staff based at the ports of Calais and Dunkirk to exercise their powers to the fullest extent at the UK border controls in northern France.
Border Force officers will always seek first to engage with the individual, explaining the requirement to comply with immigration controls and encouraging the individual to do so. This order will allow suitably trained Border Force officers to exercise reasonable force, where necessary, to enforce compliance with immigration processes, where, for example, an individual attempts to abscond from Border Force custody or refuses to provide their fingerprints. It will also allow trained Border Force officers to intervene if a person’s conduct endangers themselves, Border Force staff or, indeed, the public. I assure noble Lords that such reasonable force would be exercised only as a last resort and only where its use is considered necessary, justified and proportionate. I hope that answers the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about training. Training will be provided and only Border Force officers who have been suitably trained will be permitted to use force when carrying out their duties—and only where it is absolutely necessary, justified and proportionate. The Home Office provides Border Force staff with comprehensive training on the use of force and officers are required to refresh this training annually.
On fingerprinting, it is correct that there have been some low levels of non-compliance with fingerprinting at Coquelles, where we are already able to exercise these powers. When encountered, officers have been able to use their training to contain and resolve the situation. It is inevitable that Border Force officers will occasionally encounter non-compliance, but they are trained to deal effectively with these situations; as I have said, they undergo comprehensive training. All incidents involving the use of force are recorded and may, where appropriate, be subject to review and/or investigation so that we can continue to ensure the safety of our staff and ensure that training is sufficient.
I now come to some specific questions. I welcome my noble friend Lord Bourne’s support for this SI. He asked about the juxtaposed controls and EU exit. The juxtaposed border controls are not an EU construct. They have been established through bilateral and multilateral arrangements with partners in France, Belgium and the Netherlands and allow the officers of each state to exercise controls as they would in their own territory. For the UK, this includes officers being permitted to use reasonable force where necessary, as I have said, when carrying out their duties, such as when fingerprinting irregular migrants and in cases where they have to intervene if a non-compliant individual’s conduct endangers themselves or other people.
My noble friend asked about the situation in Calais. The package of support that we have agreed with the French covers four broad areas. It has increased the number of gendarme reservists, with double the number of officers patrolling French beaches from 1 December last year. We have increased surveillance and technology. We have improved port infrastructure to reduce opportunities for smuggling, and we have reception centres, which support migrants into appropriate and safe accommodation in France, informing and enabling them to access the asylum system in France, and taking them out of the hands of criminal gangs.
My noble friends Lord Bourne and Lord Naseby asked about consultation. We have, of course, co-operated closely with the French for many years to tackle irregular migration and maintain the integrity of our shared borders. The measure will strengthen UK border controls at the juxtaposed seaports of Calais and Dunkirk and we are continuing to work closely with our French partners on implementation. My noble friend Lord Naseby asked about any adverse reaction to this; the answer is no—so far there has not been any.
My noble friend Lord Bourne asked whether oversight was in place to ensure that the power is properly exercised. Reasonable force would be exercised only as a last resort and only where its use is considered necessary, justified and proportionate. Border Force has robust internal procedures in place to ensure that its officers are exercising this power correctly. As I said earlier, every incident involving the use of force is recorded and, where appropriate and proportionate, reviewed locally by senior Border Force staff and/or the Home Office’s operational safety unit. Incidents involving serious professional misconduct may be subject to full internal investigation, including, where appropriate, by the professional standards unit. Border Force functions at the juxtaposed controls are overseen by a number of external oversight bodies, including the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and HM Inspector of Prisons.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about French officers based at Dover. This order relates to the powers of UK Border Force officers based at the juxtaposed seaports in France. The international agreements that underpin these juxtaposed controls allow the officers of each state to operate immigration controls as they would in their own territory, as he articulated; therefore, British and French law may not necessarily align in this regard. French officers carrying out immigration controls at Dover already have the power under their domestic law to use reasonable force where necessary. The Le Touquet agreement already allows UK and French authorities to use their full range of powers in their respective control zones.
To expand on the point I made to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about fingerprinting, it is migrants who attempt to circumvent UK immigration controls who may be fingerprinted.
My noble friend Lord Naseby asked what more we can do. We have the sovereign borders Bill coming up—I cannot give an exact date, but it will be soon—which completely overhauls the system to a