Thursday 4 March 2021
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I must ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering, except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down, and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.
The first business is a Question for Short Debate on the steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to promote anti-slavery projects throughout the Commonwealth. The time limit for this debate is one hour. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is on the call.
Anti-slavery Projects: Commonwealth
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, slavery is not a relic of history. It remains embedded in communities and economies throughout the world. Not so long ago, in Liberia, I was in discussions with a development project officer in the north of the country, close to the Sierra Leone border. Liberia’s origins as an independent state are from resettled freed slaves from the United States in the 1800s, courtesy of the American Colonization Society. I was shocked, therefore, when the official calmly recounted that, as a young girl, his aunt had been captured by marauding tribesmen and taken into slavery in a neighbouring country, only to return home some years later, having travelled hundreds of miles to get there—apparently a matter-of-fact, everyday misadventure.
This debate confines itself to anti-slavery projects in the Commonwealth, focusing in the main on Asia and Africa. The continent of Africa is one of the regions where contemporary slavery is most rife. Slavery in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa exists among racial and cultural boundaries in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan. Slavery exists in other forms in parts of Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria. Human trafficking and the enslavement of children as child soldiers and child labourers takes place from Togo, Benin and Nigeria to Gabon and Cameroon. According to Anti-Slavery International, modern-day slavery in Africa includes the exploitation of subjugate populations, even when their condition is not technically called slavery. To quote the society:
“People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ‘employers’.”
Debt slavery or bonded labour is the most common method of enslavement, with more than 8 million people bonded to labour illegally. Some 90% of the practice in the world is prevalent mainly in south Asia, even though most countries in the region are party to the UN convention on the abolition of slavery. Bonded labour has produced goods ranging from frozen shrimp to bricks, diamonds and clothing. Estimates vary widely, with figures of between 20 million and 40 million workers, mainly children, working through debt bondage in India. Some 60,000 brick kiln workers are employed in south Asia, with 70% in India and the 6,000 or so kilns in Pakistan alone. Total revenue from brick kilns in south Asia is thought to be some $15 billion. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than $51 billion is made annually in the exploitation of workers through debt bondage. The fair trade industry, which claims to eradicate modern-day slavery, is estimated by some to exceed $2 billion annually, but that is only a fraction of the total revenue.
The excellent briefing note produced by the House of Lords estimates that there are some 16 million victims of modern slavery living in the Commonwealth, which equates to one in every 150 citizens. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the CHRI, in Delhi, stresses in its report Eradicating Modern Slavery that only 10 years remain to fulfil the London CHOGM commitment to meet SDG target 8.7 of ending modern slavery by 2030. The CHRI stresses that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in the system for protection and the vulnerability of those most at risk. The CHRI is calling on the Commonwealth Secretariat to take a lead in the interests of the 16 million Commonwealth citizens trapped in modern slavery.
At this point, it is worth stressing the scale of the task. According to the CHRI, of the 54 Commonwealth member states, only 29 have national guidelines on how to identify victims, 35 have criminalised forced labour and just 18 have criminalised forced marriage. All 54 have gaps in implementation. The Lords Library briefing notes that the CHRI claims there has been inadequate action by Commonwealth Governments, and that overall progress is far too slow. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on the CHRI claims.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Unit has responded to the 2018 London CHOGM call for effective measures to end modern slavery. It is working with member states’ missions in Geneva, the CHRI in Delhi and the UN special rapporteur on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery. The Commonwealth Secretariat’s strategic plan embeds the CHOGM mandate, committing it to protecting women, girls and other vulnerable groups in member states from violence and other harmful practices.
The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery recognises the UK as a global leader in the fight to end modern slavery, as a founding partner in creating the fund. It is undertaking innovative work throughout the Commonwealth, including in India, Bangladesh, Kenya and Uganda. It has called for a reassessment of how the UK can lead an increase in global collaboration and resourcing to prevent a huge surge in modern slavery as the pandemic ends.
The CPA UK’s four-year multilateral modern slavery project, funded by the UK, provides a welcome signpost. The project aims to strengthen democracy, parliamentary oversight and sustainability in the Commonwealth. It aims to equip, enable and encourage partners and their members to make positive impacts in three crucial areas: public accounts committees, women in parliament and climate security. The CPA UK’s work plans to support good governance and stimulate parliamentary activity in areas of inclusive and representative democracy, effective scrutiny and accountability.
The assessment of the UK’s approach to tackling modern slavery through the aid programme by the Independent Commission on Aid Impact takes us a stage further. Under the guidance of the commissioner, Sir Hugh Bayley, the ICAI report of October 2020 assessed that the Government played a prominent role in raising the profile of modern slavery globally, but that our work in developing countries had limited long-term impact, did not build on existing international efforts and experience, and failed to adequately involve survivors. Overall, the ICAI assessment was amber-red.
The ICAI set out its findings in detail, together with a list of five recommendations, three of which the Government accept and a further two they partially accept. This is a heartening response from the Government, stressing their commitment to defeating slavery. Investment in the Modern Slavery Innovation Fund has been reviewed, and confirmation sought that it is working in sectors and with partners in ways that are known to make a difference. The Government confirm that UK aid is governed by the International Development Act, which places a duty to promote gender equality through development and humanitarian funding in countries receiving aid.
The Government accept that they need to do more to engage survivors in the design, implementation and review of the programmes in their modern slavery portfolio. The Government agree that a public statement will help to explain better their international modern slavery objectives, which they plan to take forward and set out this year. With just 10 years left to meet the SDG goal, will the Government strengthen their leadership in the global effort to support the work of the CPA UK, ring-fencing this and other anti-slavery funding from cuts to the aid budget?
My Lords, I thank my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for arranging this debate. It is absolutely necessary in this situation, as we come out of the pandemic.
Many in the developing countries of the Commonwealth have suffered hugely during the pandemic and have been persuaded by traffickers to let their children go and be sold, with false promises of work; body parts are stolen, such as kidneys, eyes and others. People who are involved in slavery never recover and never have a long life.
The Commonwealth must commit to following the money. We know through the McCain Institute, the Global Fund and others that this is a cash industry, and the cash trail can be followed if the will is there. In many cases, as I have mentioned before, the money is offshore, and it is for us as a leading country—we are seen as seventh or eighth in the global economy, and we are at every table—to exert pressure so that cash from trafficking is followed and the traffickers are taken and sentenced. They should be sentenced to prison for what they are doing to those whom they take away. I call on the Government to persuade Commonwealth countries and the Commonwealth to follow the money.
My Lords, the Commonwealth charter tells us that
“Parliaments … are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.”
The Commonwealth Heads of Government say they are committed to ending modern slavery by 2030, but, alas, progress is very slow. It is therefore essential that Governments are held accountable by their Parliaments, constantly and unremittingly. As a former chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I believe that the CPA is the network by which MPs throughout the Commonwealth can draw strength and encouragement to discuss these issues frankly, which is often the better way, and informally, and to identify means to confront them.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, was right to refer to the CPA UK Modern Slavery Project as a practical example of how this evil can be exposed and curbed. However, if we are to eradicate modern slavery in all its forms, it is a campaign that needs many more hours than one of debate devoted to it.
My Lords, it is somehow fitting that Commonwealth Day and International Women’s Day fall on the same date; there is much to celebrate jointly. I am in no doubt that, in the post-Brexit world, where there continues to be much confusion, an alliance as old and trusted as the Commonwealth has much to offer. All countries need friends and allies, and the UK has a ready-made community of 53 nations around the world, which is a precious asset and one to be nurtured.
As noble Lords have already heard, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which I am a long-term and proud member, is addressing issues of current concern such as modern slavery, women in Parliament, climate change and the seemingly less important topic of public accounts committees. Never have I been more impressed than when talking with a group of women parliamentarians, convened by the CPA and all members of their respective public accounts committees, who were making real differences in countering corruption, raising the standards of accountability and providing a clear model for what other women can achieve. In these practical workshops the CPA continues to provide an invaluable role and contributes to a change of culture around the world.
My Lords, anti-slavery has been a major focus of the Church of England through the Clewer Initiative in this country and through many of our links across the Anglican Communion in Commonwealth countries, where partnership is the key to effective work.
The Anglican Alliance has raised a number of questions and initiatives at United Nations level, but the most powerful agents of change are rooted in local communities in some of the most vulnerable places. It seems to be very important that we hold together the high-level conversations along with local initiatives, where the local networks are often key to the effective rooting-out or identification of perpetrators of modern slavery. I ask the Minister if the Government can use their powers to work in partnership at every level to eradicate this scourge?
My Lords, development projects are essential to tackling slavery. It is therefore shameful and inhumane that, at this time when more and more boys and girls—particularly girls—around the world could be drawn into slavery because of economic conditions created by the pandemic, the UK is going to brutally reduce the amount of money available for humanitarian projects that empower and educate young women and boys and support refugees.
However, the UK can also support projects that ensure enforcement, as my noble friend Lady Goudie has said. I ask the Minister what action we will take to ensure that there is stronger enforcement at the national, regional and international level to have more prosecutions of those organising slavery and those who assist them?
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on securing this debate ahead of Commonwealth Day on 8 March. The theme for this year’s Commonwealth Day is “Delivering a common future: connecting, innovating and transforming”. Clearly, promoting anti-slavery projects is central to this and a real challenge of our age.
It is dreadful to realise that there are over 40 million victims of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking worldwide, and that this number is growing. Our own Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has been active, and, between 2016 and 2020, delivered a four-year project funded by the United Kingdom Government, providing advice and support to Commonwealth legislatures in the pursuit of combating modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour. This is a good thing.
If I could single out one particular project that the UK is backing, it is the attempt to end forced labour in clothing factories in Bangladesh. This is most worthwhile.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has a way of highlighting issues which concern the very poorest, and we must be grateful to him because the Commonwealth as an institution needs much more focus and visibility.
While I was on the anti-slavery council I became aware of appalling examples of slavery and trafficking, including among the victims of the caste system which persists in India today. Since then, an enormous amount has been done to ensure that we in the UK are not benefiting from supply chains that exploit those victims, especially child slaves.
The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, in her lecture last year, said that half the world’s victims of slavery live in the Commonwealth and called for more UK action on child trafficking. ICAI is not pleased, as we have heard, and the CHRI has a programmed tied to SDG 8.7, which means ending child labour by 2025—there is a challenge. I put my faith in NGOs and faith groups, but civil society has a huge potential to bring about change.
My Lords, heinous acts of slavery go back a long way, perpetrated by power and carried out by persecution. We have redefined slavery in modern terms but it still involves power and persecution in many different forms, and it exists in developed countries such as the UK.
I am pleased that many UK-funded organisations, such as DfID and the CPA, are funding and developing projects to combat modern slavery, including support at government level and, essentially, as the right reverend Prelate said, at grass-roots level, involving NGOs and community projects. I congratulate the many NGOs that are working on the ground, often in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances, to combat many kinds of slavery involving local populations.
Can the Minister say briefly how programmes supported by the UK are monitored and evaluated for their impact on the lives of victims of modern slavery? I look forward to his response.
My Lords, if we are to try to stop people entering into modern slavery, what encouragement is coming from the Government to make sure people know what is liable to happen to them if they place themselves in debt bondage or the hands of human traffickers? This can be done only by targeted information in the country of origin of such people. Is it being done in a way that they will receive it? What is the strategy for using social media and local broadcasters?
Without targeting the direct options, and saying where people are lied to and where the problems lie, we will not see people remove themselves from such situations. We may not be able to do anything about people being coerced into these situations but we might be able to slow down the numbers of those who think that they are doing it for good economic reasons.
My Lords, I speak as a very proud executive member of our own UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association here at Westminster. As we celebrate Commonwealth Day next Monday, we must take special note of its work fostering relationships and sharing experiences and challenges, which of course includes the fight against slavery. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has, since 1911, brought together the Parliaments of the Commonwealth to better understand and learn from each other.
The UK has been a global leader in the fight to end modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. In 2017, the UK Government became a founding partner in creating the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. Since then, they have been able to leverage the initial UK investment more than fourfold by securing complementary investments from other Governments. Last year, the UK Government published their first modern slavery statement, outlining the steps that the Government have taken to tackle modern slavery in UK operations and supply chains.
I urge the Government to continue to support the eradication of slavery, and I very much look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response on further promoting anti-slavery throughout the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have competed at the Commonwealth Games and I am a trustee of the Commonwealth Sport Foundation. CSF is a new charity that has a number of work pillars, including historical injustice, equal rights and youth empowerment.
The Commonwealth is a third of the world’s population and has a significant number of modern slavery issues. It is exciting that, next year, the Commonwealth Games will be held in Birmingham. The organising committee is committed to this issue, and it is something that I hope further major games will also take on board through their processes.
We should continue to explore the role that the Commonwealth Games Federation, the Commonwealth Sports Foundation and each host city has to educate the athletes, coaches and spectators on this important issue in order not just to broaden the understanding of modern slavery but to identify it and to find solutions.
The noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. In this extremely short contribution, I will simply make a practical suggestion regarding modern slavery in supply chains—something we should be clamping down on. My noble friend should look into what the US has done to try to remedy this in respect of what it calls “hot goods”, that is to say goods that are produced by forced labour. They have the following clause in their legislation:
“All goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor under penal sanctions shall not be entitled to entry at any of the ports of the United States, and the importation thereof is hereby prohibited”.
This seems a very useful idea, and perhaps something that we could still insert in the Trade Bill.
My Lords, I support that suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Randall; it is a good idea. I declare my interest as a trustee of the charity Arise, which I thank for its briefing.
Can the Government commit to a modern slavery strategy in Commonwealth countries that ensures that support focuses on empowering and building the capacity of local civil society groups, such as local police, religious sisters and local government? Just one example would be the Indian-Nepalese border, which is one of the most prolific corridors for human trafficking in the world. In 2018, it was estimated that 50 women alone were trafficked into India a day, and 2,500 children trafficked annually into Bihar, one of five Indian states bordering Nepal. Horrifically, most of these children are headed for the brothels in India.
We should prioritise partnerships that empower and strengthen local communities, which are best placed to ensure sustainable change and to identify victims. It is hard for Governments to prioritise these groups, but we should prioritise building their capacity and commit to supporting small-scale sustainable efforts to end this horrific crime, since they are usually the best catalyst for real and lasting change.
My Lords, I will talk about the UK—it is part of the Commonwealth, so I think I am allowed. I was approached by somebody, though only once before coronavirus stopped any further conversation, about the fact that there are people who came here to the UK illegally and are subject to rather severe exploitation. I am sorry that that person did not come back to me, but they made a request as to whether some sort of amnesty could be declared for people who may have entered the UK in that way. They would gain by handing themselves up to the authorities, rather than suffering as they do right now. I do not know whether this is part of the debate at present but I signed up to speak to make sure that it was declared here. I am very happy to talk to the Minister outside the Grand Committee.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Lord Roberts, you are on mute; can you unmute? We will come back to the noble Lord at the end if we can.
My Lords, could the Minister say whether there is support in the Government for the calls from the Arise Foundation, a charity of which I am a trustee, for mandatory human rights due diligence and mandatory transparency guidelines through company supply chains?
Building on the UK’s landmark 2015 legislation, and in the spirit of William Wilberforce, we should be spearheading a global Commonwealth campaign to combat modern-day slavery. This should include educational projects to liberate the children of India’s enslaved Dalits and Adivasis, condemned to work in kilns and sweat shops. It could include kite marking of supply chains so that consumers can say no to big brands using African child slaves to mine lithium in the DRC. It could include a Commonwealth-wide boycott of cotton products made by enslaved Uighur labour in Xinjiang. It could also hunt down and fearlessly prosecute the criminals who ruthlessly traffic women and girls.
Almost a third of the world’s population—2.2 billion people—live in Commonwealth countries. By mobilising its people against modern slavery, the Commonwealth could both demonstrate its values and give hope to millions of benighted and downtrodden people.
My Lords, I go to the typically excellent House of Lords Library briefing for the estimate that 40% of the total number of victims of modern slavery live in the Commonwealth. Not being “political”, it did not make the obvious comparison: only 33% of the world’s population live in the Commonwealth. We have an outsized, disgraceful modern slavery problem in an institution for which we as a nation have a particular responsibility.
Where did the Commonwealth come from? It grew essentially out of the Empire, whose disastrous, genocidal, ecocidal impacts have been buried, hidden and all too often forgotten about. The thesis I put to the Minister is that colonialism and modern slavery are inextricably linked, and tackling the current scourge requires exposing the dark history to the light. Last year, I asked the Minister whether the Government would consider an inquiry into particularly the legacies of African enslavement. I got a one-sentence “no” answer. Will the Minister now reconsider?
My Lords, the task of adding to this debate in just a minute seems almost impossible so I will keep my remarks just to two questions. First, the anti-slavery work is funded by a number of UK government departments and funds. Can my noble friend say how co-ordinated are the work and the funds across, for a start, the Home Office and the FCDO, but also any other departments that may be involved? Secondly, how do the Government reconcile their strongly held commitment to anti-slavery with their less than enthusiastic support for the genocide amendment that has now been proposed in both Houses in a number of Bills to tackle the appalling treatment of the Uighurs in China?
Nothing causes more slavery in its consequences than war. One thing we can do is to try to reduce the armaments sold to nations that will then go on to slaughter one another. We know, for instance, that in Yemen we now have 8.4 million people on the brink of slavery and starvation. We see that the UK has now decided to cut its aid budget to Yemen from £164 million to £87 million, while at the same time selling about £638 million-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, the other country in this dispute. Is there not something we can do to stop ourselves from this trade? Is there not a William Wilberforce now in the Cabinet?
My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lord Chidgey for bringing this debate to the Grand Committee and commend the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK. I declare an interest in that I supported the CPA’s anti-forced labour project here in the Westminster Parliament and in Ghana. I also declare that I support a project in Sudan and the Horn of Africa, linking in with the Gulf, on human trafficking and forced labour.
Because time is so constrained, I make two points and ask two questions of the Minister. First, the inevitable consequences of Covid mean that the scope for forced labour and trafficking is greatly increased, with the increase in the number of vulnerable women and children, especially those working in markets or domestic labour. Therefore, the unlawful cuts to the UK’s ODA are very regrettable. Secondly, there have been attempts in the Trade Bill to persuade the Government to move on supply chains—in fact, I raised this in our most recent deliberations on that Bill—and I hope that the Government think again.
I have two quick questions, building on one of the points that my noble friend Lord Chidgey asked. Will the Government use their convening power for all Commonwealth countries to work so there is a consistency of definition and application of forced labour legislation? Secondly, will the UK use its chair-in-office transition to Rwanda to make sure that this continues to be a priority area, including for Governments and traditional forms of government and traditional leaders? The convening power of the Commonwealth is to its credit and something that we can ensure goes forward with the new presidency, so there is no gap in any programme that we have discussed today.
My Lords, just to pick up the last point by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in relation to the UK’s investment in the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, it has galvanised political support for legislation in the Commonwealth. I hope that the Minister this afternoon will be able to commit to ongoing work in that regard.
I pick up on a couple of points on domestic legislation, particularly in relation to the supply chain. Dominic Raab, in his Statement on China in January, set out steps on forced labour under the Modern Slavery Act. I therefore ask about progress on those steps and, in particular, in relation to fines for failing transparency obligations. When will we see the necessary legislation? On the extension of transparency requirements to the public sector, when will we see the guidance from the FCDO and Cabinet Office in that regard?
Finally, what is the Minister’s assessment of the impact of the ODA reduction to 0.5% on programmes that encourage anti-slavery legislation across the Commonwealth? How will the Government lead on that priority subject at the CHOGM in Rwanda?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this debate and all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord. We have worked together on various issues relating to the Commonwealth, and it is important that we throw a spotlight on this important issue. I agree with my noble friend Lord Haselhurst that one hour was not enough, but I have very much valued the constructive discussions, suggestions and proposals, as well as the questions put today.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, talked of reviving the spirit of William Wilberforce. It is not lost on me that, on every walk past my home to the local village, I pass a sign that says, “William Wilberforce lived here”. It is perhaps apt that a politician who led our country, Theresa May, herself a Wimbledonian, led the campaign domestically to raise the issue of modern slavery, and continues to champion this cause—and I shall continue to work with the right honourable lady in this respect.
Modern slavery is one of those great human rights tragedies of our time; it is an incredibly complex issue that targets the most vulnerable, as we have heard, and Covid-19 has only made things worse. I listened very carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about focusing on support for victims both domestically and abroad, and I shall come on to that in a moment. It is right that we build on what we have learned, be it domestically or through international partners and ensure that this is shared throughout the Commonwealth, also ensuring that those who employ child labour and engage in modern slavery as we term it are held to account and educated in their role in tackling this scourge. A scourge it is, which is why it remains a major priority for the UK Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested a series of steps and in doing so highlighted the opportunities that exist to do so much more. In the time I have I cannot address every specific question or suggestion that he and other noble Lords raised, but I will focus on some of them. I will come back to noble Lords, and I look forward to further discussions, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, suggested, to take various points forward outside this Committee.
It was not customary to hear a contribution from my noble friend Lady Warsi in a minute, but she was nevertheless succinct in asking quite specific questions on governance. I assure her that the Home Office and the FCDO work together regularly at ministerial level and between officials. We are looking at all our programmes across government for further support in this respect. We have appointed both domestic and international envoys to take this forward; there are well-established channels in this respect. My noble friend also mentioned the genocide amendment and supply chains, which I will come on to in a moment.
I pay tribute to and agree in totality with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. The Commonwealth Games provide an incredible opportunity for us to take forward the issues of child labour and modern slavery, but also the benefits that the Commonwealth can bring in working together.
Looking at the Commonwealth and the world as a whole, in 2016 global estimates on modern slavery found that just over 40 million people were victims of modern slavery on any given day somewhere in the world. Of these, 24.9 million people were forced into labour and 15.4 million were living in a forced marriage. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, reminded us, one in four were children, and 71% were women. I know that that is a particular focus for the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. Commonwealth citizens accounted for almost 25 million of that global figure.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that there is so much still to be done to strengthen the work of the Commonwealth, particularly with CHOGM on the horizon and our role in handing over the chairmanship to Rwanda. I assure the noble Lord that I am working very closely with the Rwandan Government. Indeed, only today I spoke to Foreign Minister Biruta about various issues, including the planning for CHOGM later this year.
The International Labour Organization estimates that trade in human beings is worth $150 billion per year, yet just 0.08% of that amount is spent by OECD countries annually on development assistance targeting slavery. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, highlighted the importance of continuing programmes and funding to tackle this, from the perspective not just of the UK but of how we leverage international funding. The sheer staggering scale of human suffering this represents is frankly, bluntly, and, to put it in a very personal way, shameful. There is no other word for it.
Tackling modern slavery was an important part of the Government’s manifesto in 2019 and I assure noble Lords that it will continue to form part of our integrated strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the legacy of our colonial past, the Commonwealth’s future and specific inquiries. I respect her contribution, but we should also celebrate and recognise the strength of what the Commonwealth is today in 2021. We are learning from our past and our experiences. On a personal note, as someone who has heritage from India and Pakistan, whose wife grew up in Australia, and who now looks after our relationships with south Asia, it is a reflection of the strides we are making not just in government but across society that people enriched by their Commonwealth heritage contribute to the United Kingdom’s progress today.
The new FCDO brings together diplomatic and development expertise. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds talked about the importance of civil society and faith groups. I assure him that, since the creation of the FCDO, I have initiated regular round-table discussions with our faith partners, who are involved directly in humanitarian aid delivery and development programmes, including tackling child labour across different parts of the world.
It is not acceptable that crimes such as modern slavery still exist in the 21st century—I totally agree with noble Lords on that—but the short fact is that they do. As a long-standing champion of the need to tackle the global scourge of modern slavery, including within the Commonwealth, we will continue to play our part. That is why I am proud of the fact that we led on addressing this with our Modern Slavery Act back in 2015.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked of the importance of different roles and the creation of the role of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Internationally, we successfully led the way in 2015 by developing and championing the inclusion in the sustainable development goals of a specific target to end modern slavery, which is SDG Target 8.7. However, there is so much still to be done.
At the UN General Assembly, alongside the UN Secretary-General, we launched A Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. This is a strong statement of intent that we will not tolerate modern slavery in our societies. I led the UK campaign in 2018, ahead of the CHOGM in London, to obtain commitments to, and gather endorsements for, the call to action by Commonwealth countries. My noble friend Lord Davies talked of what has been achieved. I can inform him that the call to action, led by the United Kingdom, has to date received 92 endorsements, which is nearly half of all UN members; included within them are 27 Commonwealth countries. In 2018, we committed to more than doubling, to £200 million, our ODA support that is targeted at tackling the root causes of slavery and exploitation.
Many projects exist across the Commonwealth and I will share just a few with noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about effectiveness. The Work in Freedom programme helps to prevent trafficking and exploitation of women working in domestic households and garment factories across south Asia and the Middle East. Bangladesh was mentioned by noble Lords, and that specific programme has so far reached over 470,000 women and girls, including in India and Bangladesh. I know that my noble friend Lord Bourne was very focused on what has been achieved there.
The Inclusion, Accountability and Reducing Modern Slavery Programme in Pakistan raises community awareness on issues of early and forced marriage, and child labour. It supports 450 Aagahi Centres that work on cases of modern slavery, and strengthens government systems within Pakistan for protecting individuals. Meanwhile the Stamping Out Slavery in Nigeria programme is supporting a coalition of actors, including the Government and local civil society, in tackling modern slavery there.
The CPA was rightly mentioned by others, including the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. I have met and engaged directly with the leadership of the CPA over recent months, including looking at the specific issue of public accounts and the crucial role that the CPA continues to play through its network of 32 parliamentary champions in improving anti-slavery legislation.
We also recognise the crucial role of business. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others. Championing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is all about responsible business and transparency in global supply chains. Despite the significant economic and health challenges faced by the UK due to the global pandemic and, yes, the challenges we faced on the reduction of ODA, I assure noble Lords that we remain one of the leading aid donors. We also remain committed to using UK support and aid to help tackle modern slavery and human trafficking.
Many other countries within the Commonwealth are taking big steps: India, Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia, to name a few. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, will be interested specifically in the work that we are doing in these countries. Yet the global community, as many noble Lords recognised, is still not on track to meet the challenges in addressing this issue by 2030—and Covid-19 has not helped. We certainly adapted our £20 million global fund to end modern slavery to contribute to the humanitarian cause for garment factory workers and migrants in south-east Asia as Covid-19 hit. Let me also inform noble Lords that we provided a £250,000 grant to the Freedom Fund for its emergency relief. However, we must do well and I assure all noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the right reverend Prelate that we continue to strengthen our work—not just as government to government or with businesses, but with charities, faith groups and civil society.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, among others, pointed to the ICAI report. We have accepted three recommendations fully and two others in part. We continue to work closely with ICAI in this respect. I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said about how we can look in-country. As the Covid-19 challenge lifts, I hope that through visits we will be able to look to in-country programmes, including those that he suggested with organisations such as the police, to see how we can strengthen internal mechanisms across the Commonwealth.
In the short time that he had, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, among others, including the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and my noble friend Lord Randall made practical suggestions on the strengthening of supply chains. Yes, we have made announcements. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked a series of questions in this respect. If I may, I will revert to him in writing on the specifics, but work is under way through the FCDO and the Home Office on many of the questions that he raised.
We hope that the next Global Conference on Child Labour, to be held in South Africa in 2022, will be a further opportunity to unite Commonwealth countries, as CHOGM will be. This year, as many noble Lords will know, marks the UN International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, which provides yet another important opportunity.
I fear that I am one who has perhaps betrayed the clock by running some 30 seconds over my allocated time. However, given the strength and quality of the practical insights provided by noble Lords, this will continue to be a focus for the Government, and an area that we will return to in future. Only by joining forces and working together will we be able to eradicate these crimes. We have heard about Wilberforce, but it was Kipling who urged us to
“fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”.
I believe today’s contributions have done that.
NHS: Staff Numbers after Covid-19
Question for Short Debate
The time limit for this debate is one hour.
My Lords, I count myself very fortunate to be introducing this Question. This is an invaluable parliamentary means whereby questions can be asked in a more discursive manner than usual and the Minister will listen and, we hope, provide answers. I shall make a couple of obvious general points.
The people of Britain love the NHS, as has been seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, but there were problems prior to the pandemic. I shall make three basic points to set the scene. The NHS is the fifth-largest employer in the world, yet we spend less on health as a percentage of our GDP than almost every other developed country in the world. To compound the situation domestically, there was a shortage of hospital beds prior to the pandemic. Indeed, we are bottom of the Euro league for intensive care beds, with 7.3 beds per 100,000 of population, compared with the best, Germany, with 33.8 beds—what a difference. Thus, prior to the previous cuts we were ill-prepared, and there have been too many cuts under the austerity measures of the early 21st century.
I am certain in my own mind that it was due only to the dedication, brilliance and sacrifice of NHS staff that we got through—and I mean all staff, from the top consultant to the most junior worker. And it has been at tremendous cost to many of them in stress, burnout and mental health challenges. We owe them a tremendous amount and I hope that, in his summing up, the Minister will confirm that this will be recognised when we have won the battle with Covid-19.
I will begin with nurses. Over the years, the Minister must have become tired of me pursuing him on the issue of nurses. I remain concerned. Currently, we are at least 40,000 nurses short. Over the next seven years we will face a shortfall of 108,000 nurses. I must ask the Minister very bluntly: will HMG drastically increase the training of fully qualified nurses? What discussions has he had to ensure the provision of the educational means to do so?
The Royal College of Nursing has conducted surveys and expressed deep concern about the exodus of qualified staff following the pandemic. I share that concern. Will the Minister push ahead and prepare plans to deliver what is necessary to persuade staff that they are valued, and to retain them in the NHS? According to the RCN survey, 35% of nurses are contemplating leaving the profession within the year. Will HMG also provide the NHS with the means to fund occupational health and psychological support, and, if necessary, breaks beyond annual leave?
Nurses are due a pay rise. They are currently worse off than they were a decade ago. Will HMG ensure that the upcoming pay settlement is really meaningful and commensurate with the ever-rising skills of nurses?
I turn now to GPs. If we are to meet the demands and expectations of the general public, we will have to increase the number of doctors, especially GPs. Does the Minister accept that we are still suffering in the training of doctors from the austerity years, over which his party presided? In spite of the modest increases of late to close the gap, does he accept that we face a shortfall of 7,000 GPs in the next two years? As a starter, we need to double the number of medical school places from 7,500 to 15,000 by the end of the decade.
I will move on from numbers to talk about processes. I am concerned about the reluctance of younger practitioners to enter general practice in many parts of the country, leaving it often to only elderly GPs to carry on as single practitioners, supplemented by agencies and bank locums. Do the Government really feel that that is satisfactory and sustainable?
I have a personal problem with this in Windermere at the surgery I am registered with. It operates from a fine purpose-built building but has been without a permanent GP for a number of years. It functions largely due to the skill, experience, training and commitment of nurse practitioners and other staff with specialist skills. Their work is supplemented by local doctors—if they can be persuaded to come. Five years ago, the practice was leased to a private company, OneMedical Group, 80 miles away in Leeds. Last autumn it took advantage of a break clause in its lease and surrendered it, and we are back to square one; it is far from a satisfactory situation.
The key issue is that younger GPs do not wish to buy into practices which might involve hundreds of thousands of pounds. I know a number of practices in Cumbria have had to undertake severe reorganisation and mergers simply to survive. In a letter to the Guardian on 1 March, a GP who has worked in the NHS for over 30 years made the same point, that younger GPs will not buy in to practices. I ask the Minister the most critical question that I am asking today: is this model, requiring such large financial commitments by individuals, suitable to the 21st century? Would the department do a preliminary examination of this problem?
The pandemic has changed so much, and we were found wanting. The years of austerity caused serious damage to our NHS. Only because of the beliefs of our NHS staff are we getting through it. One thing is clear: there is increased demand on our health service. There will have to be much change, including permanently increasing spending. The Government will have to recognise that what may have worked in the past may not do so in future. Models which have been sacrosanct may need to be examined and, if necessary, changed. All this is essential, with a radical White Paper bringing health and social care together. I ask the Minister: are the Government up to it?
My Lords, the NHS workforce has been working flat out for a year now. Their dedication, professionalism and personal sacrifices have inspired the whole nation. Vacancies stood at over 100,000 before the pandemic. The NHS now faces a huge backlog of operations with an exhausted workforce and increasing levels of sickness absence. Moving forward, a fully funded workforce plan is critical and must take priority over reforms to NHS structures.
I recently spoke to two very senior nurses working in London ICUs, who told me that what they need more than anything was time off for recovery and additional nurses to provide pre-pandemic levels of patient care.
The recent report of the Public Services Committee, looking at the lessons of Covid-19, received compelling evidence that other European countries have considerably more critical care beds per head of population than we do. Does the Minister agree that, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is the need to adopt the rainy day principle and build spare capacity in for future crises?
My Lords, I recognise that the Government want to address the issue of the NHS clinical workforce. The problem is not the ambition, but in having a clear long-term strategy to achieve this. Does the Minister agree that previous attempts have failed? The intensity and stressful nature of the work related to Covid and other factors, such as the recently announced pension cap, may make retaining staff difficult?
Recent surveys by the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association and many others have shown a very high proportion of the workforce are unhappy about their work, with low morale and mental health issues particularly related to Covid. With advances in care, NHS England is likely to require a growth in workforce of 3.2% per year over the next 15 years. That is nearly 650,000 full-time equivalent staff over the next decade. There are also issues about managing the workforce. I hope that through the new NHS Bill we can explore a long-term solution through legislation. Maybe the Minister would welcome that.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for securing this short but important debate. It is always a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I do not intend to repeat all the alarming statistics since it is abundantly clear that we are facing a crisis in the NHS workforce that is likely to get worse post Covid and which requires a co-ordinated long-term strategy. The numbers speak for themselves.
Our debate today is not just about the recruitment and retention of front-line NHS and social care staff. It also raises the issue of an ever-growing demand that drives the need for a larger workforce. There are, of course, many reasons for that, not least long lives and multiple morbidities, but alongside those go questions about lifestyle, behaviours and personal responsibility. The recent White Paper Integration and Innovation emphasises the importance of public health. What plans might Her Majesty’s Government have for making prevention a key part of their strategy for workforce development?
My Lords, with my minute I would like to highlight specifically those involved in treating perinatal mental illness. As many as one in five women experience mental health difficulties during pregnancy or after childbirth. The NHS long-term plan addressed that and workforce numbers are starting to move in the right direction, although we are playing catch-up in what has been a long neglected area.
The pandemic has resulted in women missing out on vital face-to-face interactions with health workers and support groups, so it is not surprising that during my research I found that many health professionals fear an epidemic of post-natal depression in particular. I would like my noble friend to ensure that his department reviews this, recognising that it is about not just workforce numbers but adequate training to spot early signs and to give women the personalised understanding that they need. Sadly, some women may not have felt able to speak up during the pandemic, so we do not know what the long-term effects will be on the demand for services, and I urge the Government to keep that at the forefront of their mind in their workforce planning.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the GMC board. The NHS has responded magnificently to Covid but its underlying problems still exist. As the Health Foundation’s Jennifer Dixon put it, the NHS is under-resourced, under-doctored and under-nursed. The foundation forecasts that by 2033-4, vacancies will exceed 475,000 full-time equivalent, and even more will be needed to meet rising expectations and the impact of a growing older population. Yesterday’s Budget revealed a cut in spending for the Minister’s department of £30 billion from April and social care reform has once again been kicked into the long grass, so where is the long-term approach to the NHS and social care? Where is the long-term approach to workforce planning that is so desperately needed? Where is the innovation?
The GMC has used emergency powers to grant registration to over 25,000 doctors so that they can support the pandemic response, but most of them have still not been deployed. What a missed opportunity to bring those doctors back permanently to alleviate our workforce shortages.
My Lords, the NHS is critically short of staff so it is a credit to all that over the pandemic the amount of care given increased by one-third with the total workforce short by 84,000. The scale and complexity of care have risen considerably over the last few years, and I trust that the NHS pay review body will take all this into consideration.
Our Chief Nursing Officer has £28 million to recruit internationally nurses and midwives who are keen to join the NHS front line. The global market has widened for the ethical recruitment of health and care staff by aligning with the WHO code of practice. How many overseas nurses does the CNO hope to recruit? The forthcoming health and care Bill, which I hope is innovative, puts a duty on the Secretary of State to report on workforce planning responsibilities, which would be an ideal opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. Maybe then we can revisit the issue.
We are having difficulty hearing the noble Baroness. We will come back to her after the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough.
My Lords, I will make a very brief reference to a group of NHS staff who have gone largely unnoticed during this pandemic and the debate but have been trailblazers and lifesavers in equal measure. I refer to the newest recruits in the registered healthcare workforce, nursing associates. The nursing associate register commenced two years ago, and today there are 4,036 registrants with a further 7,000 who commenced training at the height of the pandemic. Many plan to train on as registered nurses. These remarkable people, most of whom were dedicated care assistants, have risen to the greatest nursing challenge ever seen, saving patients and, indeed, the NHS. What steps are the Government taking to recognise the contribution of nursing associates and to redouble the investment in the recruitment and training of future cohorts?
I will move to the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. We hope by the end of her speech to have resolved Baroness Greengross’s communication issue.
My Lords, I am pleased to see that the numbers applying for nursing have been increasing. I know that the Government have started on their task of recruiting 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament. What progress has there been towards that target? More crucially, what is the plan for improving retention rates in the NHS, as well as recruitment? Is there any further plan for improving recruitment and retention in the social care sector, which has not been mentioned so far?
I know that there is also a potentially significant issue with GP shortages being caused by early retirement, which has been encouraged by pension rules. Is there a plan to look into that issue as well?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, outlined, we have for years failed to train the medical staff we need. To take doctors, for example, the numbers are astonishing: over one-third of our doctors—35%—obtained their qualifications overseas, yet in both France and Germany the figure is below 10%. Meanwhile, some 8,000 British applicants are being turned away every year.
The figures for nursing are even worse. Until 2016, more than 30,000 UK applicants were turned away every year, while tens of thousands of nurses were recruited from abroad, often from countries that need them far more than we do.
Finally, the Covid crisis is an opportunity for a major reform of medical training. I certainly hope the Government will take it. The NHS’s standing has never been higher and the number of volunteers has never been greater. We need some firm action. Our young people deserve these opportunities. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross.
I am sorry; I think the difficulty is that the noble Baroness is not close enough to her microphone. When she was tested, it was fine. If we cannot hear her again, perhaps she could write and the Minister will pick up the issues she would like to raise? I will give the noble Baroness one more try right now.
I am sorry; our connection is just too poor for us to hear the noble Baroness. If she could send an email in, the Minister will pick up the issues when he sums up. I thank her very much for her patience.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Winston. No, the noble Lord has withdrawn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. No, he has withdrawn too. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
My Lords, I am indeed here. I have one minute and two points. First, on recruitment and training, the World Health Organization reports that there are 28 million nurses worldwide but a 5.9 million global shortfall in the number of nurses needed. One in every eight nurses practises in a country other than the one where they were born or trained. The UK is a wealthy country and is traditionally a large importer of this scarce and valuable human resource, which other speakers have referred to. Surely we should be training sufficient numbers of nurses for our own needs and more. I note recent figures that UCAS has received 48,830 applications for nursing courses in England, up from 35,960 at the same point last year. In the continuing emergency situation, will the Government ensure that everyone who wants to study nursing gets a place, and will they agree to the Royal College of Physicians’ request to double the number of medical school places?
Secondly, on retention, for which one requirement is surely decent pay, there are many reasons to give the NHS a pay rise that I hardly need to list. However, I note that research by independent analysts London Economics found that 81% of the cost of an NHS pay rise would be recouped by the Government through additional taxes paid by the employee and employer, taxes earned through the greater economic activity that the pay rise would generate, and higher loan repayments by recent graduates. So why not a pay rise?
I offer tribute to our local NHS staff, those hard-pressed, weary, dedicated, resourceful, very local nurses and GPs and ever-courteous volunteers aplenty. They, the nurses, have injected tens of thousands so very professionally. Daily, we queued in our hundreds at the Deeside Leisure Centre. We sought immunity and we got it—the heroic nurses gave it. The nurse and the gatekeeper GP are the backbone of the NHS. We need more of them, urgently, and let us reward the heroic nurses better.
My Lords, I was appalled to read last week that the Government now say that recruiters for the NHS and care homes can actively target 105 countries that were previously blacklisted on ethical grounds. These countries include Zimbabwe, Jamaica, South Africa and India, all of which have an acute shortage of doctors and nurses. India, for example, has 0.8 doctors per 1,000 people—the UK has 2.8 per 1,000 people. It is therefore ludicrous for the Government to say that recruitment from these countries has suddenly become ethical. It has not.
We need a proper workforce strategy. As a result of Covid and the great work of existing NHS staff, wherever they come from, there is real enthusiasm among young British people to work for the NHS—applications for nursing courses, for example, were up by 35% last year —yet medical school places increased by a paltry 500 in the last year for which I have figures. There is a double betrayal here: of those in poorer countries whose doctors and nurses we are stealing, and of the unemployed in this country who we are failing to train. It is shameful.
My Lords, the Government must tackle the long-term underlying problems of training clinical and associated healthcare staff in a sustained and future-proofed way. We had serious gaps in capacity long before the Covid pandemic.
During Covid, exhausted and stretched staff have doubled, or even tripled, ward capacity in a makeshift manner to save lives over the past year. We must be better prepared for the future. Will the Minister commit to increase funding for the workforce development budget and internal education? We need a flexible, nurtured, resilient workforce to face the health challenges of tomorrow and incentives to retain our excellent NHS heroes.
These issues were urgent prior to the pandemic, and this has been a contributing factor to the appalling death toll in this country. The Government must make fully funded workforce planning a central aspect of any upcoming reforms.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Clark on this debate. He is such a great champion of nurses; they could not have a better one. I also echo the request by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Why not have a pay rise for nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff? It is a bit of a slap in the face not to have one.
At least 230 NHS staff have died during the pandemic, while thousands have been on long-term sick leave as a result of working on the front line. The Government have often cited their success in recruiting new nurses, saying that record numbers are working in the profession. However, the number of unfilled nursing posts in the NHS has barely changed. Can the Minister explain why there is not a publicly available, fully funded, long-term workforce plan for the NHS and social care to boost the numbers of nurses and NHS staff? I am sure that he would agree that the workforce remains key to the next phase of dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath.
My Lords, I am hugely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for securing this very important debate and I pay tribute to his campaign on this subject. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken so well in such a short amount of time. There is clearly widespread agreement that building a resilient NHS workforce to meet the future needs of this nation is essential, and I completely agree.
I also echo the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for the extraordinary contributions of health and care workers across the UK during the pandemic. It is important that we recognise their extraordinary efforts. With the exceptional success in the UK of the rollout of the vaccines programme, we are at last approaching a time when the worst of the pandemic is over and the NHS can return to its business as usual—caring for the nation and providing world-leading healthcare.
I will say a word about the long-term plan. A £3 billion, one-year package has been announced for 2021-22 as part of the spending review to support the NHS in tackling the impact of Covid-19. This will include £1 billion to address backlogs and tackle the long waiting lists raised by noble Lords, by facilitating up to a million extra checks, scans and additional operations.
As the NHS gets to grips with the backlog of care, it is essential that we continue to change the way we deliver healthcare over the next 10 years. All those who spoke about innovation are absolutely right in that regard. We have a road map to do just this in the NHS long-term plan, which clearly sets out a new service model for the 21st century: more care delivered in the community, digitally enabled primary and outpatient care, and a relentless focus on the health of the local population and reducing health inequalities. I reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle that the plan absolutely identifies how we can make better use of early diagnosis and technology potentially to improve preventive care, population health and patient care. This will be supported by new and integrated models of care, as laid out in the NHS Bill.
I shall say a few words about staff retention. To do these things, we need more staff, yes, but critically we need to hold on to those that we already have for longer, help them to recover from the herculean efforts of the pandemic, nurture their skills and enable them to provide the care to patients that drives their efforts. The commitment of staff and the wider impacts of the pandemic mean that the NHS continues to see much stronger retention rates.
Despite that, troubling issues need to be addressed to ensure that dedicated NHS staff have the best possible experience of work. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, made an absolutely fair point on the need for a holiday. Our black and minority ethnic staff, in particular, report some of the poorest workplace experiences. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that the NHS people plan sets out exactly the kind of programme that she called for to tackle these issues, and we will continue to strive every day to ensure improvement on that front.
I come to NHS workforce growth and planning. The workforce has increased by over 160,000 already since 2010, an increase of 16%. This growth continues to be a key focus to ensure that we meet the rise in demand for health and care services. The 2020 spending review provided £260 million to continue to grow the NHS workforce and support commitments made in the NHS long-term plan. Nursing is absolutely the most critical component in this vision. I am pleased to report to the noble Lord, Lord Clark, that we are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament and put the NHS on a trajectory to a sustainable long-term supply in future. The 50,000 commitment is underpinned by a robust delivery programme, which will be achieved through increased domestic and international recruitment, and improved retention. The latest NHS workforce statistics show that nurse numbers have increased by almost 10,600 from almost 289,200 to over 299,700 between December 2019 and December 2020.
To reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clark, and echo the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, the future domestic pipeline is strong, with UCAS end-of-cycle data showing 25,000 student nurses enrolled on courses in 2020-21. This is a 27% increase. I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that we cannot give everyone a place. As I am sure she knows, the job is highly skilled; it is a very difficult vocation, and it is extremely hard work. Not everyone is suited to it. More recent UCAS data shows unique applicants to nursing and midwifery courses in 2021 have increased dramatically to 48,300, or by 34% compared with last year. I hope that that provides some reassurance to my noble friend Lady Wyld.
On primary care, we are equally committed to growing the workforce and expanding the number of appointments available to patients. This will mean improved access to GP services and bigger teams of staff. On the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, on the GP model, we are completely open to change: we have already looked very carefully at the independent review partnership model, the GP fellowship scheme and other schemes for GPs. But, with record numbers of GPs being recruited at the moment, it is too early to call time on the successful existing model. We have committed at least an additional £1.5 billion in cash terms for general practice over the next four years for additional staff. We will grow the workforce by 6,000 more doctors and 26,000 more primary care professionals. As of December 2020, there were 438 more full-time equivalent doctors compared with a year before.
Education was raised by many noble Lords. The Government have funded an extra 1,500 undergraduate medical school places per year in England—a rise of 25%. I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Willis and Lord Green, that the number of medical school training places will rise to 7,500 each year. We have also delivered five brand-new medical schools: in Sunderland, Lancashire, Chelmsford, Lincoln and Canterbury.
My noble friend Lady Wyld made extremely good points on the importance of perinatal care—a subject in which we share a keen interest.
UCAS data shows that there has been a large increase in the number of applicants to study medicine this year, with almost 5,000 additional applicants compared with 2020.
International recruitment was raised by a number of noble Lords. There is excellent growth in our domestic workforce, but we do still value the workers from all over the world who are playing a leading role in the NHS’s efforts to tackle coronavirus and save lives. We have made £80 million available for the recruitment of overseas nurses and the recruitment of healthcare support workers. Trusts are working hard to fill these nursing positions.
To the noble Lord, Lord Jones, I say that there is nothing ethical about blacklisting healthcare staff from certain countries.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I say that I do not have the precise number to hand, and I suspect that it is not in the public realm, but I will try to find it and send a note to her. Perhaps I can reassure her that the supply of international nurses wanting to work in the NHS remains strong and, in spite of travel bans in some places, we are seeing more nurses arrive all the time. We have recently published our code of practice for the international recruitment of healthcare professionals, which will ensure that the UK is a world leader in ethical international recruitment and will, I hope, go some way to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Jones.
I reassure my noble friend Lady Altmann that we are also doing more to attract people into social care. We ran a national recruitment campaign across broadcast, digital and social media. The latest phase in the campaign was launched in early February, highlighting the vital role that the social care workforce has played during the pandemic.
On pay, while most pay rises will be paused in the rest of the public sector for 2021-22, the Government recognise, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the uniquely challenging impact of Covid-19 on the NHS, so we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, including nurses. For recommendations on pay we are looking to the independent pay review body and will carefully consider its recommendations when we receive them.
A number of noble Lords touched on staff coming back from retirement, which has been raised in previous debates. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised this point. I acknowledge that former healthcare professionals came forward in extraordinary numbers to support the NHS during Covid-19, and we are enormously grateful for their response. Due to the postponement of elective care, the skills and experience of many of these professionals were not deployed at the time—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was entirely right to make that point. We need to understand the reasons for that more clearly and to learn lessons for the future—I acknowledge that. In many areas, hospitals preferred to make more use of their existing staff rather than take on unfamiliar staff in a time of pressure, where teams were dependent on trusting relationships to manage the crisis. In future we need to ensure established ongoing relationships at local level, so that when the need comes again—as I am sure it will—this invaluable and public-spirited resource can be quickly deployed to ease pressures.
I am confident that there is the potential to build a permanent legacy through the development of a form of NHS and care reserve, which could help former healthcare professionals remain part of the NHS family, keep their skills up to date and provide additional support in times of pressure. NHS England has been piloting models for an NHS reserve across the regions of England. NHSEI has established seven pilots, one in each region of England. It is drawing on the learning from these pilot sites, the experience of the Bring Back Staff programme and five subject-specific national framework task and finish groups to investigate the best way forward to make additional flexible workforce resources available to the NHS.
I finish by reassuring noble Lords that growing and supporting the NHS workforce is a key priority for this Government. The breadth of our work, which I have only touched on today, should be a testament to the Government’s focus on this essential mission.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. The next business is a Question for Short Debate on the steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to support hauliers transporting goods internationally. The time limit is one hour. I call the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I believe he is on the call, but perhaps he is having problems unmuting himself. We shall adjourn for five minutes so that the technical problem can be overcome.
Question for Short Debate
I thank the noble Lord, the Deputy Chair of Committees, for calling me. I have been here, but we were out of contact.
I thank the Minister for taking this short debate. She is rightly highly regarded and respected in this House. Much of what I say will be the responsibility of other government departments; their inter-relationship with haulage and overseas trade is complex. I look forward to her response. She will know that I have been encouraged by the digital engagement team to participate in the pilot, using this debate to demonstrate the range of knowledge which is represented by Members of this House. They have asked those working in the industry likely to be interested of their take on the debate. I will refer to some of them later.
I begin by declaring my interests in the register. Noble Lords will understand that I will draw on my horticultural experience, as the business is very much involved with trade in the Netherlands and elsewhere and in both parts of Ireland. It could be said that the situation is much improved since 10 weeks ago, when the Kent variant of Covid-19 first appeared and France unilaterally denied access to road transport. Dover ferries and the tunnel were unable to function. This ended when the Government negotiated a resumption of traffic by a Covid-testing scheme for drivers which over the Christmas holiday relieved the stack. The dress rehearsals which had been held earlier in the year for a no-deal stalemate proved their worth, and the department is to be congratulated on the smooth running of what could have been a chaotic situation.
It was also demonstrated how our overseas trading links and full supermarket shelves depend on our road hauliers. I believe a remote customs and inspection facility has been constructed to relieve pressure on Dover. Will my noble friend tell me how well it is functioning and whether other such remote facilities likely to be constructed in connection with the newly announced freeports?
There are a number of remote border control posts. There is one at FreshLinc, Spalding, and we ourselves are a place of destination. Does my noble friend have some figures on how many of these are registered? Noble Lords may be surprised that they are considered necessary. However, although we have a trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union, negotiated so ably by my noble friend Lord Frost, who will be making his maiden speech in the next debate, we are now a third country and some elements of traffic are subject to not just customs declarations but product inspections. Frictionless this is not.
I can give noble Lords a personal example. Because of our new relationship, our business is subject to UK phytosanitary certification inspection regulations, as our biosecurity has been repatriated. I welcomed these regulations when they came before the Grand Committee in December. However, they are complex and introduce a great deal of friction into trade. Noble Lords will probably not be aware of the considerable paperwork in the export and import of plants and flowers, and, for that matter, meat products. New computer programs are being designed by Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. Meanwhile, we have had to use an old program. Although there is some easing of pressure, paperwork and inspections are still the order of the day.
One of the respondents to the digital team’s survey, Mike from the West Midlands, called for “Less complex requirements for customs procedures, and make it all online—less paperwork”. I agree. Can my noble friend the Minister update the Grand Committee as to when traders can expect the arrival of this updated platform, and what sort of transfer arrangements will be made for change? Is the Department for Transport in discussion with colleagues in government on the design of digital systems, with the intention of making trade as straightforward for hauliers and traders as possible? I know that two staff members at Taylor’s have been invited to meetings. Perhaps I might say that I view traders and hauliers as having the same interest in this regard. Easing friction and limiting costs is very much in everyone’s interests. The Government have done much to assist the push-pull of trade across borders with TSS—the trader support service. These are free to use but not without costs to the trader in collecting and inputting data. It is the sort of partnership which a Government supporting trade and commerce need to provide. In addition to encouraging trade support services, what other support can be put in place to support hauliers transporting goods internationally?
I mentioned previously the cost to traders of the regulating procedures involved. This becomes even more of a problem when groupage or part-loads only are involved. I was told of a nurseryman who had to pay additional costs of £250 for one trolley of plug plants from Belgium for growing on at his nursery. Parcels traffic, which used to keep retailers stocked, can be even more disproportionate; parcel companies can be excused for not providing this service for products subject to phytosanitary regulation. What efforts are the department making to reduce the friction on such businesses to markets which were freely accessible within the EU pre-Brexit, regrettably with Northern Ireland now included?
Easing friction is in everyone’s interest. I am grateful to Logistics UK, formerly the FTA, for its briefing which reinforces this maxim. I hope all noble Lords participating in this debate have received it. I have sent a copy to my noble friend the Minister. It presents a number of ideas, particularly to address the difficulties for deliveries to Northern Ireland, which are less certain following the recent decision not to develop port inspection facilities.
The grace period ends on 1 April and noble Lords will be aware of today’s news on this. Those of us in food and non-food agriculture and horticultural produce need a viable groupage provision for hauliers to offer traders. Our season top-up business to garden centres needs a parcel service. With the will, we can improve systems and structures. Logistics UK also made a similar request for advice on additional EU trade requirements from April that I endorse.
Haulage of all types has been impacted by the pandemic. How is traffic? I ask my noble friend the Minister what the latest figures are compared with the first two months of 2020? What are the Minister’s views on this? What measures in particular will help the industry recover now we have a road map?
Several correspondents to the digital engagement team of the House commented on this. Noble Lords will not be surprised that I received a number of submissions from groups representing performing arts and music about the particular challenges of touring not only in the EU, but even ATA Carnets and CITES in Northern Ireland. The hauliers involved are anxious at what they see as unworkable cost trade and cabotage restrictions.
I hope I have been able in framing this QSD to indicate the importance of the link that international haulage provides for our arts, trade and commerce. I thank noble Lords for their interest in this QSD. I look forward to the speeches that follow and to the response of my noble friend.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has spelled out the problems. The reason they have not been as apparent as they might is not just the Covid effect, but as the period of grace means that the regulations have not been fully implemented either across the channel or in Northern Ireland.
My main point is a different one. Once we return to something like pre-existing levels of exports and imports, there will be a serious problem of a lack of skilled HGV drivers. A disproportionate number of HGV drivers from and to the UK, whether employed, subcontracted or owner-drivers, have been EU citizens, mainly from central and eastern Europe. A lot of small EU firms also operate over here. The British-based driving workforce is ageing.
Brexit has meant thousands of haulage drivers who are EU citizens leaving the UK and small EU-owned hauliers are also pulling out. Part of the post-Brexit plan for road haulage has to be an upgraded workforce. We need a systematic training and upskilling system and recruitment of a new generation of drivers. I see no plan for that, either by Government or by the industry. In her reply, can the Minister please enlighten the Committee on what is the strategy for upgrading the UK road haulage workforce?
My Lords, the guidance to hauliers on the government website about the trade and co-operation agreement requirements amounts to 37 pages—some little light reading.
Ian Wright, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation, told the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the EU that
“we now have to treat every different bit of a consignment and every different product with the same approach that we might have previously done to whole lorryloads … we are going to see the re-engineering of almost all … supply chains over the next six to nine months.”
The difficulties of Brexit red tape result from the choice made by this Government for a very hard Brexit. By prioritising sovereignty over market access, they were determined to leave the single market and customs union. The only real hope is to change that situation in the years ahead. Now there is a unilateral move by the Government to change the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol. This foolish and regrettably confrontational move has surely prejudiced hopes for negotiated easements of the protocol or the TCA, unless the Minister can assure me that that is not the case.
My Lords, reports last November said that one reason for incoming lorries being stuck at Dover was that drivers from Lithuania, Hungary, Romania and elsewhere could not understand the customs forms, as they were only in English. The Minister told me in a Written Answer that the DfT road haulage handbook was being translated into 13 other languages, starting with Welsh, Polish and Romanian. Are the other 10 translations now complete and available? Other DfT measures include the multilingual incident reporting line. Have all these initiatives had the intended effect and eased the logjam attributable to language barriers?
An answer I had from the Treasury sadly did not reveal the same foresight: customs declarations are available in only English and Welsh, with no plans for translated or bilingual versions. Will the Minister speak to Treasury colleagues to see whether best practice by her department might be copied there too?
My Lords, I am getting reports that the French roaming permits system for abnormal loads is not available to UK hauliers, which is causing obvious difficulties. Can the Minister give us an update, and perhaps take into account the possibility of amending the special types rules so that the special types general order is available only to operators with a UK operator’s licence? On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, perhaps it would help if we improved the conditions of employment and in particular rest facilities for lorry drivers.
My Lords, today the department of agriculture in Northern Ireland said that the number of regulatory checks required by the bizarre and unnecessary Northern Ireland protocol equates to 20% of all similar checks across the entire European Union. That is more checks in Northern Ireland than are carried out by any single EU member state, even the biggest. Think about that; it is an absolutely horrendous situation, and that is with the grace periods still in force. If they end, as the EU and anti-Northern Ireland interests start demanding, then each of the 1,350 retail lorries arriving in Northern Ireland per week, which at present require a single declaration, will require 20,000 to 30,000 between them. That is absolutely unacceptable—it is nearly the same amount as for the entire EU, and it would be for the internal UK movements of lorries delivering from and to the UK. We need to get real here. I welcome the action by the Government yesterday, but it is not a permanent solution. Can the Government ensure that this scandalous situation is addressed very quickly for the long term?
My Lords, I am less concerned with the supposed delays to heavy goods vehicles crossing the channel and more concerned to see that the Government meet their carbon reduction targets in 2050. Some one-fifth of total carbon emissions in this country come from road vehicles, 21% of which come from heavy goods vehicles. Yet in 2019, the last year for which I have figures, no fewer than 1.6 million lorries were carried through the Channel Tunnel by Getlink, and 2.5 million lorries took the short sea crossing.
I have always been in favour of the Channel Tunnel. Back in the 1980s, I was chairman of the Channel Tunnel All-Party Group. I was at Canterbury when President Mitterrand and Mrs Thatcher signed the treaty of that name. We were told then that the opportunities for long-distance rail freight would be enormous, once the Channel Tunnel was opened. Yet, traffic by rail never exceeded more than 2,000 tonnes, and that number is falling. Given that the channel crossing is overdependent on road haulage, can the Minister tell us whether she is confident of meeting the government targets for carbon emissions?
My Lords, the international logistics industry is very complex, competitive and efficient. The trade and co-operation agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom does not make provision for the industry’s very time-sensitive arrangements, which are expensive and, almost inevitably, take up time. Can the Minister tell the Committee whose advice was sought in drawing up the agreements? Did they have intimate knowledge of how the logistics industry works? It seems as if many issues were swept under the carpet with scant regard for the effects on commerce. Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to an FTA circular. I certainly have not seen it and it has not been widely circulated because the FTA does not communicate with the general body of opinion.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on spotting the need for these critical issues to be aired and responded to by the Government. I wonder whether the Minister would be minded to bundle her responses to noble Lords’ questions into a single note. It would be helpful if all the points raised could be addressed in a single place and distributed to all those taking part in this important debate.
I have three questions to add to those posed by others. Do the Government believe that serious problems exist? If so, what are the options for solving them, or does the Minister anticipate that they will continue?
My Lords, in opening this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that easing friction is in everybody’s interests. I believe that everybody in this Committee would agree with that. However, as other speakers have said, we have exacerbated friction between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, almost to the point at which it is utterly ridiculous. A small piece of earth on the tyre of a vehicle can cause it to be prevented from entering Northern Ireland because it is contaminated with soil from Great Britain.
Groupage issues will be a nightmare for hauliers because, as everybody knows, people build up loads and try to ensure that they can be delivered in small parcels to different people. The paperwork for a pallet on a groupage lorry will be dramatic. Even the Irish Republic is suffering. It can send lorries directly to Europe without crossing Great Britain, but it costs between €600 and €800 extra per lorry. This results in hugely increased costs and empty lorries coming back. It is unacceptable.
My Lords, this debate can best be described as delays caused for want of data. Does the Minister agree that this is a question of data not wagons? Where is the data? When can we reasonably expect it and how can it be effectively deployed to take out the delays in the system? Has she had a chance to look at the paper on reducing friction in international trade that I published last year and which is part of the 2025 UK Border Strategy on page 40?
Does she agree that we in the United Kingdom have an excellent opportunity to create a utility trade platform that not only would reduce delayed costs but could be commercially beneficial? It could be sent right around the world for the benefit of every member of the United Kingdom.
Turning to musicians, this is a huge problem, but what is the solution? We need a solution, so we need to have those discussions with our European partners. Finally, I commend all the efforts of Elton John towards unblocking the problem with musicians. We all need to become “Rocket People”.
My Lords, all the speakers in this excellent debate have identified real problems that I suggest could have been thought about four years ago when we had the first Brexit vote. They can all possibly be solved, but it will take time, and at the moment it is a complete disaster. What have the Government learned from these issues and how will they change the procedures, documentation et cetera? More importantly, how do they intend that these improvements will be communicated to the industry? How will they work when we have the extra lines of problems coming in on 1 April and 1 July? Lastly, what consultation has taken place with the equivalent people in the European Union—or is it just us working on our own?
My Lords, much concern has been expressed about the post-Brexit problems faced by creative groups such as orchestras and theatre companies wishing to tour in Europe. In addition to the problems around work permits and other paperwork requirements, they also face, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned, transport problems. Prior to Brexit, such groups often visited several venues in multiple countries, with their own or rented specialist vehicles moving their instruments and equipment from venue to venue. But under the post-Brexit cabotage rules, this will no longer be possible unless UK creative groups stop using UK vehicles and rely on EU ones.
When, in January, I raised this with the Culture Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, assured me that colleagues in the Department for Transport were working hard to address these issues. So can the Minister tell us what has been achieved in the intervening time? Surely we should at least be able to get an exemption in cases such as this, where what leaves the UK in a lorry returns to the UK in the same lorry. Can she also tell us whether we should be additionally concerned now that the EU has shelved plans to ratify the trade deal with us because it no longer trusts us?
For Irish Sea freight, extending the grace period makes sense—but not unilaterally; not by resiling from due process and the protocol. Breaking our word is not what Britain does—or used not to be.
On the wider problems hauliers face, I see no quick fix, because they stem directly from ditching 60 years of market-opening endeavour. At a stroke, we have gone back not just to before the Thatcher single market success, or Mr Heath’s customs union, but back before the Macmillan Government invented EFTA successfully. How astonished they would be to see their party now put autarchy over access and opt for frontiers over freedom. It has consequences. In the decade after rejecting the EEA, Switzerland grew more slowly than every EU member state. In yesterday’s Budget Red Book, we saw that our exports are forecast still to be shrinking in 2025. I fear that the hauliers are only the harbingers.
My Lords, traders and hauliers moving goods from GB to Northern Ireland urgently require certainty, stability and simplicity, which can be resolved or solved only through intergovernmental agreement and co-operation between the UK and the EU—not, as we witnessed last night, the unilateral actions of the Government, which simply fuel discontent. In this regard, I urge the Minister to provide an update to the House on the retail movement scheme, the groupage scheme, parcel delivery services and a bolted-on scheme for the trader support service for SPS food products as a matter of urgency. Also, will she indicate when discussions will resume between the UK and the EU, which are urgently required?
My Lords, I entirely support the comments of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach and I refer to the fact that I am an honorary president of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association.
There remains great confusion in the paperwork required before a lorry leaves the UK for EU ports, and sometimes Northern Ireland too. The Government must give clearer advice. Can my noble friend the Minister say when digitalised forms will be available? As regards the issue that my noble friend Lord Taylor set out concerning groupage, it is unacceptable that even the smallest mistake involving only one item in the consignment means that the whole consignment will be lost. This must be addressed urgently.
I received a letter today from my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook. She says:
“We recognise the need to provide as much support for the haulage sector as possible.”
I ask the Minister: what is that support?
My Lords, a highly successful sector of the UK haulage industry specialises in transporting staging, instruments and equipment around the UK and Europe for touring musicians. There are about eight major companies in this sector and they also work for dance companies, theatre, fashion, museums, and big events businesses. These British companies are pre-eminent in their field and it is estimated that they transport 80% of British and American bands on European tours.
However, the Government’s failure to secure a cultural exemption from cabotage rules in the EU trade negotiations means that it is all going to hell in a handcart. Their trucks must now return to the UK every two gigs in a tour of perhaps 25 venues, which is not remotely feasible. They are moving their businesses into the EU, at great cost to themselves and UK plc. How did the Government allow this catastrophe to happen and what are they going to do to save the industry?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. No? Then I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.
My Lords, I want to expand on the impact on international performance touring and I am grateful to One Dance UK for its briefing.
Theatre and dance companies work closely with hauliers, designing touring shows to fit into specific trucks. Drivers remain with the tour throughout, effectively becoming part of the crew and ensuring safe packing and movement of specialised materials, sets and equipment. Under the new cabotage rules, companies will now have to implement either a cross load to an EU supplier during the tour or bring an EU supplier to the UK to establish the back-and-begin touring pattern—which means four ferry crossings instead of two, extra mileage and more costs. As few tours complete in seven days and only go to two stops, the new rules will force UK companies to use EU rather than UK hauliers.
The ideal solution would be, as we have heard, a cultural exemption from cabotage for the movement of goods, especially where subject to a carnet, on the basis that the goods will not be sold but transported for touring use and then returned to the UK. This solution would also benefit EEA performing companies coming to the UK. Can the Minister commit to finding a solution that does not lead to further costs for UK performing companies or reductions in business for UK hauliers?
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in pointing out that the issues on cabotage are part of a huge cloud now hanging over the creative sector, including the requirement for work permits or visa exemptions in many EU countries, CITES certificates for musical instruments, ATA carnets for all instruments and equipment, and proof of origin requirements for merchandise. Cabotage provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement will mean that performers’ European tours will no longer be viable, because the agreement specifies that hauliers will be able to make only two journeys within a trip to the EU. Having to return to the UK between unloading sites in the EU will have a significant negative impact on the UK’s cultural exports and associated jobs.
A successful UK transport industry dedicated to our creative industries is at risk of relocation to the EU, endangering British jobs and jeopardising the attractiveness of the UK as a culture hub, as support industries will follow the companies that relocate to the EU. What proposals do the Government have for a negotiated solution, such as they have heard about today, that will meet their needs?
My Lords, my brief remarks are based on having spent 10 years in the European Parliament as a foot soldier in the creation of the single market. I was on the EU Goods Sub-Committee and am now chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership.
The point of the single market and the customs union is frictionless trade, which eases business and creates wealth. If you leave them, as we have done, it is an inevitable and direct consequence that grit gets in the engine, as we have already heard this afternoon from speaker after speaker. In reality, unlike almost all other sectors, the international road haulage industry cannot, for reasons of geography, exploit possible promised trading opportunities elsewhere around the globe. The sector is therefore inevitably collateral damage of Brexit. The Government have imposed that on the industry. What, if anything, do they propose to do both for the industry and, equally importantly, for its customers in the unhappy circumstances in which we currently find ourselves?
My Lords, UK international haulage and trade has faced the most significant and sudden changes in 20 years after the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Hauliers and traders are starting to see the difference between adjustment issues and the new commercial and structural changes. As president of the CBI, I can say that we are seeing at first hand that business managing disruption has become the immediate priority. The changes at the GB/EU and GB/Northern Ireland borders have been the top priority: new customs processes, delays at ports, groupage, as we have heard, and inconsistent approaches from member states are just some of the challenges.
Meanwhile, firms face a new set of challenges due to the end of the grace periods and bridging mechanism timeframes. Does the Minister agree that these grace periods are not enough? Some are saying that we need at least two years. Does she believe that we should negotiate in good faith with the European Union to extend the grace periods to up to two years? Trade is essential if we are to build a competitive, dynamic and modern economy. This year—2021—is a golden opportunity for the UK to redefine its place in the world, showcase leadership and promote our values with the chairing of the G7 and hosting the UN COP 26 summit.
My Lords, the Minister will undoubtedly defend the Government’s record but, as a haulier said to me this week, no amount of flannel really fools anyone. Post pandemic, the UK needs an economy firing on all cylinders, not a Government who have deliberately and knowingly created major additional hurdles. The number of empty lorries returning to the EU with no British goods on board is now around 45%. Hauliers say that this figure is usually far lower—around 15% to 20%. In April, additional checks will add problems.
Trade through Welsh ports, meanwhile, is being replaced by direct ferries from Ireland to continental Europe. A competent Government would have adapted to the circumstances and negotiated to extend the Brexit deadline until we start to recover from Covid. Instead, the Government are dangerously threatening unilaterally to abandon the Northern Ireland protocol.
The issue is the extent to which the current difficulties faced by international hauliers are temporary ones that will be resolved in the next few months or either permanent or likely to be long-term. I am advised that the key issue is the value of exports being transported. Do the Government have any up-to-date figures on that aspect?
I am told that a higher percentage of traders than normal are having to head back to Calais empty due to Brexit difficulties; that there is a shortage of customs agents; that Northern Ireland haulage is down by half; and that while some sectors—mainly those with bigger businesses—are managing and masking the overall economic damage that is occurring, other sectors are being decimated, with agricultural rules in particular being very difficult for traders to overcome. No doubt the Minister will cover some of these points in her response.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach for raising this important issue and, of course, for the contributions of all noble Lords. I am also grateful to the members of the public who shared their concerns digitally.
We have been working with the logistics industry over a number of years to understand and minimise the potential impacts on hauliers and the traders they serve at the end of the transition period. We want to increase understanding and reduce confusion across the system, and make the process as seamless as it can possibly be. Where improvements can be made, we make them as quickly as we can so that, in time, the system will adjust.
I believe that these processes will be part of normal business life, like filling in a VAT return: it is not pleasant, but you just do it. We are absolutely committed to reducing friction as much as we possibly can—to remove the grit from the engine, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said. I assure noble Lords that the latest available data shows that overall freight volumes between the UK and the EU are back to normal levels. I will write with further details about value and the number of empty containers—in fact, I will probably be writing on pretty much everything today, but that is a tribute to the quality of the debate.
I turn first to market access for hauliers, because the deal we reached with the EU allows 95% of journeys to continue as they previously did. That is one of the most important things that we were able to deliver for the haulage sector as a whole. I assure the Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that we received a substantial amount of advice, both commissioned and unsolicited, from a wide range of voices in the logistics sector.
As we have heard today from several noble Lords, specialist hauliers—those involved in cultural and sporting events—have significant concerns following the TCA, and they have of course been impacted because of the number of internal EU movements on which they rely. Market access agreements for hauliers transporting equipment for cultural events was discussed regularly and in detail during the negotiations between the UK and the EU. The UK put forward specific proposals for liberalised access but the EU was unable to agree more flexible arrangements. Of course, the Department for Transport remains in contact with the industry, and we are also working in close collaboration with DCMS and BEIS to see what we can do to support the creative industries.
Turning to the wider changes—perhaps a little beyond transport—introduced by the end of the transition period, on exports, since the start of January, traders and hauliers have needed to comply with new requirements to export to the EU, including customs declarations and sanitary and phytosanitary checks. I am pleased to say that the number of turn-backs at the border is far lower than some forecasts and, indeed, than some noble Lords suggested in their remarks today. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who called it a complete disaster, might be interested to know fewer than 5% of trucks at the short straits have to be turned back, and some of those will be because they do not have a valid Covid certificate, not because they do not have the correct customs forms. We need to temper our messages. I am not saying that there is no room for improvement—we must strain every sinew to make sure that people are fully aware of their obligations—but I am saying that the system is not completely broken, as has been implied by some noble Lords.
On imports, we have assisted international hauliers by taking a phased approach to the introduction of various checks. Until 1 July, traders can import non-controlled goods from the EU by using the existing customs processes or by making a declaration in their own records at the point the goods entered GB, followed by a supplementary declaration, which must be submitted to HMRC within 170 days of the date of import. That seems a reasonable and doable solution. The next milestone is 1 April and relates to some products of animal origin; we are of course communicating those changes. The more significant change happens from July 2021, when traders moving any goods will have to make full customs declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs.
Of course, we are taking many steps to make sure that we as a Government are ready and that traders are ready. We are making sure that HMRC can cope with the increased volumes by building on the successful delivery and upscaling of systems for the end of the transition period. I will write with more detail, particularly to my noble friend Lord Holmes, who I understand is a bit of an expert, so I will need some officials’ help with that.
We are also delivering new compliance capabilities to improve HMRC’s ability to spot and tackle non-compliance, including using data from when staged controls end. We are introducing a compliance approach to support traders to get ready and continuing to take robust action against those who choose not to comply. We are streamlining authorisation requirements, applications and processes to help meet the expected increase in demand and to improve effectiveness. We are also working with the intermediary sector to increase capacity and capability for traders to comply with the new declaration requirements.
Of course, all those changes need to be communicated, and the Government have done an enormous amount of outreach to hauliers and haulage managers. That started many months ago, and it continues. It is continually being improved. We are learning lessons and putting them in place. All information is provided on GOV.UK, and there is a haulier handbook, which is updated when needed. We engaged in the process of drafting the handbook with Logistics UK, the Road Haulage Association and many others to ensure that it was as clear as possible. It is published in English and 13 other EU languages. We will consider other languages if there is a demonstrated need, but we feel that we have enough at the moment. We also have 46 information and advice sites. When I first heard about them, I thought, “What use are they going to be?”, but more than 137,000 hauliers have visited them since they opened in November. I think that is astonishing. More than 11,400 hauliers have received specific border readiness consultations at our sites, so it is not surprising that less than 5% of trucks arriving at the border are fully non-compliant. We are doing all right.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach mentioned the inland border facilities. There are, and will be, a number of them. Information on all of them has been published on GOV.UK, with details of their logistics, their functions and their facilities. Hauliers are told what to expect at the site, what they need to prepare and any key documents that they need to bring.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was concerned about whether we have been talking to EU hauliers. I can reassure him that, of course, we have. We not only speak at their industry days, but we make speeches at their major conferences and events, and we have exhibition stands both physically and virtually. Much of that will continue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, asked whether we have digital interaction. We do. We have a dedicated haulier website with an embedded live chat function. This function has on average 35 in-depth conversations, lasting 20 minutes, each day, and around 700 hauliers a day ask advice. We have agents who speak English, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian. We are particularly pleased that that is working well. However, we understand that there are lessons to learn, and we have learned them. We must put that into our communications as we go through April and then through the second change in July.
I now turn to Northern Ireland support and the specific situation in Northern Ireland. The Government remain committed to supporting hauliers in moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. For example, we established the Trader Support Service—the TSS—which is designed to support all businesses impacted by the Northern Ireland protocol. The service is free to use, and it can complete declarations on behalf of traders without traders needing to engage directly with new digital customs systems and processes. More than 34,000 traders are registered to use the service, and thousands of declarations are being processed each day. The contact centre is, of course, providing additional support. To date, the TSS has processed more than 68,000 goods movements, involving 200,000 consignments, since launching. The contact centre has more than 700 staff and answers more than 17,000 calls, with an average answering speed of six seconds.
Not only do we have the TSS but there is also the movement assistance scheme—MAS—which was announced to complement the existing TSS. It provides help to all those traders who move food or agricultural products for which specific sanitary and phytosanitary—SPS—controls apply. This means that a trader moving live animals or other animal or plant products does not need to pay to have them inspected. The MAS scheme also has a dedicated helpline for general enquiries for traders and, together these measures, it is making it easier to move agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
A third intervention in Northern Ireland was Defra’s digital assistance scheme—DAS—which supports the continued movement of agri-food goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It also addresses the costs and burdens of compliance with a protocol for industry. It uses digitised certification and verification processes and was backed by a major amount of government funding.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned groupage, which is a concern that we are well aware of. We have developed two groupage models, and they have been agreed. The guidance for these models for Northern Ireland was published on 29 January, and we will be looking to see how these models work and whether further improvements can be made.
Noble Lords will know that yesterday the Government went further to support trade between GB and NI. My noble friend Lord Frost is clear that progress needs to be made to address the direct and often disproportionate impact that aspects of the protocol are having on the citizens of Northern Ireland, contrary to its intended purpose. So, yesterday, following official-level notification to the Commission earlier this week, we set out temporary technical steps that largely continue measures that are already in place. They provide more time for businesses, such as supermarkets and parcel operators, to adapt to and implement the new requirements of the protocol.
For my noble friend Lord Attlee, I will speak very briefly on abnormally large loads. I am aware of this issue, and we have taken it up with the French Government via the British embassy. I will write with further details, but we hope to have it resolved.
I have not covered haulage drivers, but I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that they are towards the top of my list of things to do. It is a significant issue, and the Government are doing a significant amount on apprenticeships, but it is time for me to speak to the industry because I believe that it has to step up and start looking at ways to recruit its own drivers. It is critical.
To the noble Lord, Lord Snape, I say that of course we want to see a switch to rail freight where it is feasible. We had an Oral Question on this recently. It forms part of the Government’s plans for the future.
All the measures I have mentioned today highlight the fact that my department and the Government are supporting hauliers to transport goods internationally on many fronts.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned. I remind Members to sanitise their chairs and desks before leaving the Room.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I apologise to the maiden speakers that we cannot give them the normal indulgence of exceeding time, but they have been granted between one and a half and two minutes as a special concession. Everyone else is restricted to one minute, except the welcomers, who equally may indulge themselves into a minute and a half after the maiden speakers. The time limit for this debate is one hour.
Question for Short Debate
I am delighted that your Lordships are debating the UK space industry. It is key to building back better. It is rapidly growing—by 60% in the past decade—and is spread across the whole country, from Goonhilly in Cornwall to the north of Scotland, via Guildford, Leicester, Glasgow and elsewhere. I declare my interests, especially my roles with Surrey Satellite Technology, SatixFy and Skyrora and my position as chancellor of the University of Leicester, which has a long and distinguished history of space science and is now creating a space park, which it hopes will host a national centre for space manufacturing.
I also welcome the Minister, my right honourable and noble friend Lord Frost, to his maiden speech at the end of this debate. I believe there will be two other maiden speeches as well, to which I am greatly looking forward; I am only sorry that the time constraints in this debate are so intense.
I very much welcome the initiatives the Government are taking to promote the British space sector. The National Space Council should integrate governmental policy work on space, and the investment in OneWeb was a welcome and bold initiative. The Government have also led the UN initiative on responsible behaviour in space, an excellent example of soft power. Britain is also one of the key players in the European Space Agency, which is an intergovernmental body and not part of the European Union, which I am sure the Minister will welcome. Now the Government are committed to a comprehensive space strategy, to be published in the next six months, which is also very welcome. Meanwhile, I would like briefly to set out four challenges, which I hope the Minister will be able to address in his response at the end.
First, there is funding. Space is one of those classic areas where well-designed public spending crowds in private spending rather than driving it out, so we do need a well-funded national space programme. However, there are concerns about the future of some existing programmes; for example, the space international partnership programme, which has been part of the Government’s ODA spend. There is a very tiresome media trope that developing countries should not have anything to do with space. The opposite is the case; many developing countries which do not have conventional infrastructure need space-based services even more. This programme provides for partnerships with them, and I very much hope it will be maintained. Also, a national space innovation programme was launched last year, which is an excellent initiative. Because of the lack of a long-term comprehensive spending settlement, there is a risk to that programme as well. It would be marvellous if it could be maintained.
The second challenge is regulation. The Space Industry Act 2018 sets out the framework, but it is important that the detailed regulation is correct and not too onerous. There are exciting prospects for space launch from Scotland. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, whose maiden speech we may hear shortly, who, when he was Minister, pushed the space launch initiative forward. We all want to see space launch from the north of Scotland soon.
This is a race and we must not be complacent. There is a real gap for a European space launch capability, because when you launch small satellites into low-earth orbit, equatorial launch is not what you are looking for, you want to launch north, over the poles, so there is competition between the north of Scotland, Sweden and Germany, which is investing a lot. If the regulations from the CAA are too onerous, we will lose out in this race, so it is important that they are proportionate.
There are also burdens of regulation on satellite operators who are not launching from the UK, but are legally based here. There are long-standing issues, which all of us who were Ministers in the past with responsibility will remember—the tricky issues around liabilities, the cost of insurance, the right balance between private insurance and ultimately the Government taking the risk. It is very important that we do not expect greater legal liabilities from UK-based entities than companies located elsewhere, particularly—I am looking again at the Minister—if EU regulation is less onerous than ours and launch companies move to the EU to escape onerous British regulation.
The Government have just launched an excellent new initiative on innovation and deregulation. Will the Minister give that team the opportunity to review the proposed space sector regulations with the industry to check that they are proportionate, promote innovation and do not put us at a disadvantage.
Thirdly, the Government’s investment in OneWeb is already proving its worth. It will be crucial to Five Eyes capacities over the Arctic and it can do much more in the future when we move on to the second generation of OneWeb satellites. A lot of work was done on a British alternative to Galileo, but the original idea of a technology similar to the Galileo and GPS systems—the large satellites way out in distant orbit, further than 10,000 kilometres—would not have added resilience to the US or European system, because it would have been copying their technologies. It is far better for us to invest in a new LEO—low-earth orbit—constellation, complementing what GPS or Galileo can do.
I put it to the Minister, with his geopolitical interests, that one may imagine a deal in which the EU were given some place at the table in OneWeb in return for our getting access to Galileo once more. But as a minimum, it is important that we look at using the next generation of OneWeb satellites to deliver position, navigation and timing services. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the MoD will commission research on those services for the second generation of OneWeb satellites.
Fourthly and finally on my list, there is the role of space in tackling the climate emergency, with the prospect of COP 26 being held in Glasgow later this year. Earth observation data, in particular, is very relevant to COP 26, There is one estimate that half the 50 essential climate variables that have to be monitored can be observed only from space. There is also the visual observation of marine conservation areas—one of the main ways, incidentally, in which space-based services help developing countries, by enabling them to police their own maritime areas—as well as mapping tropical rainforests and deforestation, and helping disaster response to extreme weather events.
There is a real prospect of space playing an important role in COP 26 and the monitoring of decisions taken there. I very much hope that, given our exciting position chairing COP 26, it will be possible for us to promote and identify a distinct space strand to that discussion.
The Government are strongly committed to space. All of us who have worked closely on space policy in whatever capacity will know the potential that exists there for the UK. I very much look forward to seeing the UK play a crucial role in new technologies, space surveillance and tracking, space debris removal and in-orbit servicing. The Government have already taken very useful initiatives in space, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address the challenges I have identified today and make further progress in the future.
My Lords, I welcome the maiden speakers, including the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, has stolen my thunder a bit because he has focused very much on OneWeb, which is one element of government investment in the space industry. They co-invested half a billion pounds in OneWeb, which was a failed satellite communications company that had gone bankrupt and had to be raised from the dead. Although it is based in London, OneWeb’s satellite manufacture is in Florida, and there is little evidence of benefit so far to UK taxpayers or jobs. The company’s plan was to provide global broadband coverage from space in the hope that it could provide an alternative secure satellite navigation system now that the UK has been thrown out of Galileo.
It is proving difficult to get information on the Government’s intentions on OneWeb—the UK Space Agency declines to comment. Can the Minister confirm whether OneWeb is to be the UK Galileo alternative, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, outlined? If not, what has the investment of half a billion pounds secured for the UK?
My Lords, there cannot be any other industry where international links are more fundamental. Since 31 December, we have been excluded from important schemes such as Galileo and EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service. From 25 June, UK users will lose access to the EGNOS Safety of Life Service. Can the Minister clarify the impact of that and the alternatives that the Government plan to provide?
Despite losing so much we are still awaiting the Government’s space strategy. The Government’s rather random decision to invest in OneWeb does not fill us with confidence. Launch is not the be-all and end-all—it is just an enabler. The space industry and its highly skilled researchers need a strategy that amounts to much more than picking possible winners. It needs balanced investment.
My Lords, I am delighted to have this brief opportunity to make my maiden speech. It gives me a moment to put on record my great thanks for the generous kindness of the Convenor, Black Rod, the Clerk and the excellent House authorities. I want to make special mention of Kate Long, Daisy Christy, Ayeesha Bhutta and Gabby Longdin. I also thank my noble supporters—both colleagues and personal friends for many years—the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale.
I am honoured to join many very distinguished noble Lords and friends in this House whom I have valued over the years as teammates in this country’s national security machinery, whether in the police service, the Armed Forces, the Civil Service or in political, judicial or scrutiny roles. There are too many to name today, but all are bound together in the single common endeavour of protecting this country. For my own part, I could not make this maiden speech without taking the opportunity to pay tribute—as I may now do from the outside—to the exceptional dedication and skill of all those who work so hard in MI5 and its partner organisations to keep this country safe through thick and thin. They do more than we know, and we owe them our wholehearted admiration and thanks.
I had been very much looking forward to contributing where I could to the legislative programme of this House and perhaps even serving on a Select Committee in due course. This House is tackling a slew of important Bills on national security matters of considerable interest to me, where I had hoped I might add some value. I would also have liked to engage on a range of other matters, including conservation, faith, social justice and science and technology, including this important question before us now.
However, as your Lordships will understand, this first speech must also be my last for some time. Since my recent appointment to this House, Her Majesty the Queen has graciously further appointed me as the next Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household. I am absolutely delighted and humbled by such an extraordinary honour. It follows that the work that I had planned to do in this House as a participating Member will now properly be restricted to my prospective duties as Lord Chamberlain, following in the highly distinguished footsteps of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I very much look forward to serving Her Majesty in every way that I can in this role.
Congratulations, Lord Parker. I call the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Parker, into our midst. The noble Lord has served our country within the national security space during particularly testing times. In a career of public service spanning 37 years, he rose to the rank of MI5’s director-general. On behalf of the House, I confine myself to thanking him and his former colleagues in MI5, together with the other intelligence agencies and police, for making our country a safer place.
In the normal course of events, he would embody the contribution that your Lordships’ House brings to the national debate. As he has just informed us, however, Her Majesty has other plans and has determined that she wishes him to head the Royal Household as Lord Chamberlain. He should know that, while his contribution to our deliberations is on hold, and we wish him well in his new post, we await his return and trust that, in the meantime, he can also find time to follow his passion of watching and photographing birds.
I offer just one brief point on space. The relationship with China is pivotal to the UK space programme, and vice versa. China has, as a national priority, the development of new, innovative approaches in space science applications and space skills development. The UK is a recognised world leader in these areas. Cool heads need to prevail generally in this relationship, taking account of course of all the recent, well-rehearsed challenges, but also to reflect carefully on the potential strategic nature of that relationship.
My Lords, the UK space industry is made possible because it adheres to the laws of science but also to the laws of humans, upheld by the United Nations. Satellites orbit on agreed paths and transmit their information on agreed frequencies. Through these laws, we avoid chaos in the cosmos. There is a trust between nations evident above the earth that sometimes eludes us on it. When viewed from space, we see the earth without borders; we see a beautiful planet of colour and contrast, home to all the life we are currently aware of in the universe. This should remind us of our solemn responsibility to care for our common home and for those we share it with. Space invites us to explore its wonders and unravel its mysteries, and we can do that if we remember the first law of human dynamics: we can accomplish immeasurably more if we work together and learn from each other.
My Lords, I was delighted to see that the European Space Agency recently announce that it was intending to send a disabled person into space. There was much celebrating from non-disabled people, who saw it as a step towards inclusion, but personally, I would prefer it if it were possible for me to get onto the Northern line.
Asking the International Paralympic Committee to help highlights some of the challenges of not being able to go down the more traditional recruitment route. The sector employs 42,000 people but, as with other areas, it is hard to find data on representation, and we know that getting into STEM subjects is not easy for disabled people. It is not quite comparative data, but the British Medical Association stated that 77% of respondents were worried about being treated unfavourably if they disclosed a disability or a long-term health condition to their employer or place of study. I would be interested in the data for the sector and, as we are under a strict time limit today, I will just say that I would also be interested in the employment of disabled people and how it can be included in a future strategy—not just one person being sent into space, if the ESA finds someone.
My Lords, it is good that we have the noble Lord, Lord Frost, with us to be accountable for Brexit, because he has a lot to be accountable for. His UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement is the most damaging treaty negotiated by a British Government for more than 50 years. It reduces our trade and undermines our co-operation, and nowhere is the damage of Brexit greater than to our space industry. Some £1.2 billion has been needlessly squandered in our expulsion from the Galileo project, and £500 million has been speculatively invested in OneWeb. Dr Bleddyn Bowen, a space policy expert at Leicester University, says that the OneWeb investment is a “tech and business gamble”, and OneWeb satellites have been described as unsuitable for navigational purposes by our own space agency. Space is turning into another Brexit catastrophe, and no one is being held accountable.
My Lords, first, I welcome the maiden speakers. The Sutherland spaceport will be the first spaceport in the United Kingdom, with the first launch as early as next year. I would be grateful to hear from my noble friend—and does he agree—that the demand for commercial, vertical and horizontal launch facilities is enormous. If so, have other sites been identified, boosting employment and revenues not only in Scotland but in the whole of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, humans can travel in space at 40,000 kilometres an hour, and I will have to speak as fast to deliver my maiden speech and refer to my relevant interests at Harvard, Kings and in Skyrora, in a minute. First, I thank Black Rod, the doorkeepers and my sponsors, my noble friend Lord Risby and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for helping me acclimatise to an environment that is so similar and yet so different to the Commons, to which I was elected three times, and where I spent 10 increasingly tumultuous years in various roles, including as head of the Policy Unit and as Universities and Science Minister under three different Prime Ministers.
My noble friend Lord Willetts referred to the Space Industry Act, which I had the privilege of taking through the Commons as Space Minister. It received Royal Assent three years ago, yet we are still waiting for the regulatory framework to arrive. We need it fast and we need it to be proportionate, as my noble friend Lord Willetts rightly said. We also need much greater commitment. If we are serious about developing sovereign launch capability, which was one objective of that Act, we need a great much greater commitment to ensuring that it is UK industry that benefits from opportunities from the Act, including launch, not just the usual giant US aerospace companies. We messed this up once before as a country in 1971, when we abandoned our Black Arrow programme after being made promises of free rides for our satellites on US launches. Those offers disappeared and left us the only country to have launched a satellite successfully into orbit and then to have abandoned that independent capability. Let us make a reality of sovereign launch capability and not make those mistakes again.
It is a great honour to follow my noble friend Lord Johnson, to welcome him to the House and to praise him for an excellent maiden speech, which I know will be the first of many fantastic contributions he will make to this House. I have to say that I know all the Johnsons, but let me say in the privacy of this room, to go no further, that he is by far my favourite. As he alluded to in his remarks, he has had an extremely distinguished career, working for the Financial Times on the Lex column but also as its Delhi correspondent; he has written a seminal book on contemporary India. He was a distinguished Member of Parliament, the head of the Policy Unit and indeed a fantastic Science and Universities Minister, highly regarded by his sector. I have just realised that I am sitting between two former Science and Universities Ministers, both of whom I love. However, for the purposes of the maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Johnson is my favourite former Science Minister, at least for the next minute. He will make a wonderful contribution for the next 50 years, because he is also very young.
The International Trade Minister Graham Stuart announced the space sector Covid support plan this week, which is very welcome, but it will take time to deliver an impact. In the meantime we must find a way to bring forward the next phase of investment in the national space innovation programme, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which has been delayed by the postponement of the CSR. The current phase runs out at the end of this month. If that is allowed to happen, it will create another R&D gap, further compounding the impact of the lost EU contracts. We must also find ways of bringing forward other delayed capital investments—for example the disruptive innovation for space centre proposals at Westcott and Fawley, which will underpin future private sector R&D investments. I end my speech.
I welcome today’s maiden speakers and thank the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for the way in which he introduced this debate. I was interested to hear his positive comments on OneWeb, which were particularly striking in contrast to the remarks others have made on that issue. Following the latest fundraising for OneWeb, can the Minister tell us where the country’s holding in that company now stands? It had been 42.2% and I wonder whether it has been significantly diluted. Could he also tell the Committee how much money was spent on trying to develop our own GPS system, a scheme that has now been abandoned?
More positively, astronauts such as Chris Hadfield are now talking about colonising the moon. NASA is setting up a lunar village, or has plans to. Can the Minister say whether the government’s space strategy will be similarly forward looking? Can he also tell us how we are regulating commercial activity in space?
My Lords, we have been involved in space for over 50 years. In 2000 I was recognised by the Americans for my work in the national security space missions of both our nations over the previous three years. In the one minute allowed, I intend to address that critical and crucial national security space mission.
The UK must harness existing UK and Five Eyes capabilities in geosynchronous satellites and medium earth orbit capabilities, particularly low earth orbit capabilities, for a sovereign space-based position, navigation and timing system. This is crucial militarily, for our nation’s security and for the operation of many things. It should be interoperable with the Five Eyes nations and also provide secure satellite communications. This is forced on us not least by the outrageous behaviour of our European friends over the use of the Galileo system. We should also consider establishing a national space operation centre. Could the Minister let us know if this is the plan and by when it would happen?
My Lords, the Government’s decision to create UK space command is a golden opportunity for greater co-operation between defence and industry. Its creation is a huge step forward because space is fundamental to our national security, vital to our economy and to our very way of life. As space becomes ever more congested and contested, it is critical that the UK is integrated in its approach. It is envisaged that space command will interact with the UK Space Agency to deliver joint national space capability. It will be a joint command based at RAF High Wycombe and be staffed from all three services of the Armed Forces, the Civil Service, and key members of the commercial sector. At its heart, its success will be determined by our ability to network our capabilities and share skills between industry and defence through the enterprise approach. Central to the ability to share skills will be the greater use of reserves splitting their time between uniformed service in the military and civilian employment in the space industry.
My Lords, I declare my interests as disclosed in the register. If the Government’s ambition is for the UK to seize 10% of the global space economy by 2030, there needs to be much more joined-up thinking and a clear policy. I seriously question the likely success of the Government’s deal to rescue OneWeb. While it is admirable and imperative that the UK creates and supports a launch capability, such a strategy must go hand in hand with supporting those designing and building satellites, and constellation of satellites, which will need launching. My simple question is whether the UK’s funding of the space sector is effective at maximising growth. The UK needs to encourage innovation in the space industry and support space start-ups, which have the potential to deliver world-class and world-first technology.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Willetts mentioned Scotland. A’Mhòine in Melness, Sutherland was announced as suitable for a vertical launch site and spaceport in 2018, promising increased economic activity in the area. But some two and a half years on, the community is divided, with some of the opinion that this would be destructive to the natural environment, as the site is within the largest area of peat and wetland anywhere in the world. It is at present under consideration for UNESCO world heritage site status. The project for the spaceport is currently halted and under judicial review. If the spaceport is located in Unst in the Shetland Isles, the alternative site mooted, will the Government make efforts to offer investments and incentives to other related space industries to locate in Melness in Sutherland? Economic resource and resilience are vital for the long-term future of the area and its youth, and space offers that opportunity.
My Lords, I declare an interest as, until recently, vice-chair of Eutelsat. LEO—low earth orbit—satellites have high potential. Unlike geostationary satellites, they have low latency and universal reach, enabling instant broadband communication anywhere on the planet. But OneWeb, the LEO player in which the Government recently acquired a stake, has no track record, limited capability and went bust. How will OneWeb compete against other LEO players including Elon Musk, Amazon, China and the EU’s flagship project? How will OneWeb finance the massive rollout needed and acquire the capability to enter markets and reach customers? I ask the Minister: when will the Government finally articulate a long-term vision and plan for OneWeb?
My Lords, I too congratulate all the maiden speakers today and declare an interest as set out in the register. The United Kingdom can be the world leader in space technology. There are many spin-off technologies that originated from space research, including ear thermometers, artificial limbs, water purification and even enriched baby food, so this is not about space alone. Last year, we witnessed the SpaceX Crew Dragon transporting NASA astronauts to the international space station. This could never have happened without close co-operation between government and a young company; our success in space depends on that spirit of partnership.
While I congratulate the Government on their significant efforts, we need to think about strengthening our space situation awareness capability, developing financing for constellations and improving insurance for small satellites. Finally, we are currently in the middle of a recruitment drive for the next cohort of British astronauts. This is an opportunity for us to inspire kids in schools across the country by talking about space, letting them hear from British astronauts and helping them develop a love for the stars and the planets.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. We do not seem to have him. I will then go on to—oh, have we got you?
My apologies. The essential satellite services that maritime operators, the Royal Navy and indeed all of us rely on are at risk from growing congestion, debris and threats from irresponsible or hostile actors in space. There is no international rules- based order as such in space—indeed, no organisation to oversee properly the development of such an order. The International Maritime Organization, based here in London, has performed a wonderful role in establishing rules for maritime. Is it not time that we had an international space organisation to promote a safe and sustainable space, perhaps also run by the UN and based here in the UK?
My Lords, perhaps I may briefly, in advance of his maiden speech, welcome my noble friend the Minister to your Lordships’ House. He brings with him a rare combination of diplomatic skills, commercial knowledge and political astuteness, having served as Her Majesty’s ambassador in Copenhagen, as the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association and as a special adviser to the Prime Minister, both at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and at No.10. He has also negotiated not one but two major agreements with a tough and aggressive counterparty, two more than many of the most distinguished diplomats of his or recent generations can claim. I am sure that we all welcome him.
I welcome this debate. As my noble friend Lord Willetts clearly explained, we have tremendous opportunities in LEO satellite technology, but to achieve our potential as a sovereign independent nation, we need a strategy and I look forward to hearing further from my noble friend on that.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister and look forward to his maiden speech. There are many questions about the £400 million purchase of OneWeb, a bankrupt UK company trading in the US that required a ministerial direction for the purchase to proceed. Have all the US court consents to the purchase now been obtained? Is the manufacturing capability to be transferred from the US to the UK and when will that happen? Will we ensure that satellite launches are not dependent on the Russian Roscosmos agency? How does the purchase of OneWeb fit with the work of the space-based navigation and timing programme, which is exploring new ways of delivering satellite navigation to the UK? What part in our space policy will be played by the international agreement between the UK and the US on technology safeguards associated with US participation in space launches from the UK? When will that be debated in the House? If we are to develop an alternative version of Galileo or GPS, what is the estimated cost and how long will it take?
My Lords, the future is data and the future is now. Much of that data needs to, and can come from, space, not least EOD, as my noble friend Lord Willetts pointed out in his excellent introduction. We also have a phenomenal opportunity to bolster our cyber effort and I, like the noble Lord, Lord Parker, in his excellent maiden speech, pay tribute to all in our security services who work tirelessly and rightly in the shadows to keep us safe 24/7. We have a phenomenal opportunity with the new satellite industry. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is a great opportunity for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom? How does the space strategy fit within the overall industrial, digital and data strategies? Does he agree that space is not the final frontier but, if properly approached, is a universe of economic endeavour and possibility?
My Lords, we rightly celebrate the UK’s outstanding ability in the technical and scientific fields that are making science fiction into science fact, but we must also build on the UK’s ability in creating international law. Our maritime history is relevant here. Space is a new frontier governed by, frankly, a few pretty generic treaties that lack key signatories. We have made progress but much more needs to be done if space is not to become, as frontiers tend to do, a mass of short-term competing commercial and military interests. That may well be more difficult to achieve than the technology for the exploration and exploitation of space, but if we fail to regulate it properly, if we simply give rein to the human instincts that have so damaged this planet and if we make the heavens a hell, as with climate change, those who come after us will curse our lack of foresight and self-control. Will the Minister commit to engaging with this?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Willetts for this debate, be it short. I also want to welcome my noble friend the Minister and congratulate him on his maiden speech and new role. As a person from Leicester, where we have the National Space Centre and where the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is the chancellor of the University of Leicester, I want to ask my noble friend where we can explore better collaboration programmes with the emerging markets in space development and high-tech knowledge exchange. Cities such as Leicester need to reinvent themselves post pandemic. We have brilliant universities and brilliant research collaborations going on across the world. We now need to maximise those partnerships globally. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz, that it is not just about space; it is about all the other side events that can come into fruition from better collaboration.
My Lords, it is very clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, said, that we have been down this road before. Some of us are old enough to remember Blue Streak and Black Arrow. What is needed first from the Minister is a clear commitment to a long-term strategy for the space industry. In doing that, will he clarify for us what the role of the national space council will be and how it will act as a conduit between the private and public sectors? Will the Minister also tell us whether either academic or commercial space co-operation will be inhibited by the powers in the National Security and Investment Bill now before Parliament? As a last thought, will he consider using his diplomatic and negotiating skills to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to return to government to give the sector the political vision and commitment that it needs?
My Lords, from Labour’s Front Bench I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Parker and Lord Johnson, who spoke earlier, and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who we will hear from in about 45 seconds’ time. There is a guy, Sanjeev Gupta, who currently rents a one-bedroom flat above a hairdresser’s on Lewisham High Street so that he can work from home. Sanjeev is a geologist, and in his flat he has five computers and two other screens for Zoom meetings. He is helping to direct and control the movements of Perseverance to drill and collect samples to help determine whether there has ever been life on Mars. Compare his endeavour with the Government’s investment in OneWeb, against the advice of experts and the concerns of the space agency. Is this OneWeb investment part of the UK’s global navigation satellite system? If not, what is it? As we have heard, OneWeb continues to manufacture its satellites in Florida. The high-skilled, well-paid jobs will come only if we get our investment and industrial strategy in sync—or are we destined, like Sanjeev Gupta, to rent more flats in Lewisham from which to explore the final frontier?
My Lords, it is an honour to make my maiden speech in this debate and it is a privilege to do so here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for initiating this debate. I know, not least because I was an official in his department when he was the Minister responsible for this issue, that he has a long-standing and most important interest in this subject. Under his leadership, he reinvigorated this country’s work on the space sector, and where we are now is very much the product of his efforts. We intend to build on them to the benefit of the whole country. He made a number of very important points and, indeed, listed some challenges, as did many other noble Lords, and I will respond to them as I go.
First, however, I begin with thank yous. They may be traditional but they are no less heartfelt for that. I thank Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments for their help and advice, and I thank the doorkeepers, who, in the short time since my introduction, have been unfailingly helpful and friendly. I am grateful to my two introducers: my noble friend Lord Shinkwin—a friend and colleague from our time supporting this country’s great wine and spirits industries—and my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a distinguished Minister in many capacities and currently in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Johnson of Marylebone and the noble Lord, Lord Parker of Minsmere, on their incisive maiden speeches, the latter particularly on his distinguished future appointment.
As has been said, it is also my own maiden speech today. I have spent most of my life working on international relations in various capacities—on international trade, as the head of trade associations and, of course, as a diplomat—although I fear I seem to have acquired a rather undiplomatic reputation during the last year or two in negotiating with our European friends. It has been an honour to have been part, for 25 years, of the best diplomatic corps in the world. I am delighted to rejoin in this House many former colleagues from that world, all more distinguished than I in the depth of their knowledge and breadth of their experience. I look forward to debating with them, as I am sure I will, but more importantly to learning from their expertise.
I now turn to my subject. The UK has an extraordinary history of discovery and innovation. We remain a global innovation leader and we want to cement the UK’s place as a science superpower. Our aim is to invest in science and research that will deliver economic growth and societal benefits for decades to come, and to build the foundations for the industries of tomorrow. Space technology is a clear example of what can be done. The global space market could be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040. The past decade has, indeed, brought a global space revolution and the exploitation of space is vital to our economic future. As my noble friend Lord Holmes said, it is a frontier of possibilities.
In the UK, we are pioneering a new space age. On the back of the Space Industry Act 2018, we have established a new National Space Council to co-ordinate space policy. I reassure my noble friends Lord Willetts and Lord Moylan and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we will publish very soon—this summer—the new national space strategy to boost UK space innovation, and that it will be appropriately funded. Our space sector already employs 42,000 people across the country, from Cornwall’s Goonhilly Earth Station to a future Shetlands space centre. The Government are working to help every region to benefit. My noble friend Lady Verma underlined the importance of making sure that the whole country benefits. We are backing plans for a network of space hubs to attract commercial investment. It is very important that all this work, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, said, supports the aims of boosting maximum growth across the country.
From Guildford to Glasgow, the UK is already home to world-leading small satellite manufacturers. Now we want to be Europe’s best destination for launching them into orbit too. I agree with many noble Lords who noted that there is competition for this facility. We are investing £40 million to ensure that we match up to that. My noble friend Lady Mobarik raised the potential spaceport in Scotland, and I can reassure her that we are considering appropriate plans for both the sites she mentioned. We are very conscious of the spin-off benefits for communities wherever facilities eventually settle.
We expect the first launches in 2022 and I reassure my noble friend Lord Johnson that of course we intend the regulatory framework to be in place by then. On that point, which my noble friend Lord Willetts also raised, our rules will be based on the world’s most modern space legislation, building on industry consultation to ensure safety and drive innovation. Of course, outside the EU, as he said, we also have the ability to set these rules for ourselves and create the best possible context for innovation and growth. It is certainly not our policy to have more complicated legislation than the European Union in any area, and my own responsibilities as Minister for the opportunities of Brexit underline why we will take this seriously.
My noble friend also raised our aspirations for OneWeb and associated issues. I note the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and many others, and the controversy that still surrounds this investment. We believe that it was a justified risk and will show benefits in the future. We are committed to making a success of our investment in OneWeb, and we anticipate that the satellite communications service will be live at the end of this year. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, asked about our share in OneWeb. We have invested £500 million and we maintain a significant share in OneWeb. This will obviously dilute over time but we will retain a special share, giving us the final say over the company’s future and the technology that it uses.
We are also working across government, including the Ministry of Defence of course, to ensure resilient delivery of positional navigation and timing. This is central to underpinning the UK’s critical national infrastructure. The space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme is currently analysing a number of innovative options for capability in this area, including different satellites at different orbits. We will set out our requirements soon.
As my noble friend Lord Bates and many other noble Lords said, although we aspire to be a leading space power in our own right, we cannot achieve everything that we want to achieve without international collaboration. As has been said, the UK is a proud founding member of the European Space Agency. Currently, we invest more than £370 million annually in the agency, ensuring that UK scientists and engineers take lead roles in ground-breaking missions. As many noble Lords mentioned, last month the European Space Agency made its first call for new astronauts since 2008. I very much hope that we shall see new British candidates to follow Tim Peake in reaching for the stars, inspired by the huge opportunities before us.
Our EU trade agreement, which I negotiated, has opened the door to our continued partnership in the world’s largest earth observation programme, Copernicus. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about other EU programmes. In those negotiations, we were not able to reach a satisfactory outcome that would have enabled participation in our interests.
We are also investing in new broader international partnerships. Only last week, the UK signed the world’s first space bridge with Australia, deepening a space relationship that goes back to the test launch of the Black Arrow rocket from Woomera in South Australia, 51 years ago today. My noble friend Lord Willetts raised COP 26. We are committed to ensuring that it is used to showcase world-leading scientific expertise in this and many other areas. Also on international collaboration, my noble friend Lord Willetts raised the space international partnership programme. This is the biggest such programme and is world beating. We will take his points into account as we consider the future of this programme and its funding. We will also reflect on the suggestions from the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Cromwell, regarding the governance of space—a new frontier, as has been said—and an international space organisation. We will draw this to the attention of the responsible Minister.
UK space businesses need skills and technology to compete. That is why, last week, we announced new support for a space sector export academy to help build valuable trade skills. We are using space to support STEM education, notably by helping university students and apprentices to access placements in our thriving space enterprises.
I note, and will reflect on, the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about access for disabled communities and others in this whole area. I will draw this to the attention of the responsible Ministers.
Last year, the UK Space Agency launched its national space innovation programme—the UK’s first dedicated fund for cutting-edge space technologies. Partnerships with the private sector are of course also critical. If I may be forgiven another personal allusion in a maiden speech, I come from the greatest city in the East Midlands, the city of Derby, where my parents spent their working lives at that great British company Rolls Royce. That is why I was personally pleased to see the Government’s announcement in January of a partnership with Rolls Royce to investigate the possibility of nuclear power in space exploration. This will be a genuinely game-changing technology.
On space and defence, as my noble friend Lord Lancaster mentioned, last year we announced the new joint Space Command and have recently appointed its first commander, Air Commodore Paul Godfrey. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord West, that we are committed to protecting national security in space, as we are anywhere else. This is the first priority of the Government. We are committed to countering aggression in space and, as has been said, we have worked to achieve the UN resolution on responsible behaviours in space—once again, a first.
To conclude, I thank my noble friend Lord Willetts once again for raising this important question. I have tried to answer all the many rich points made in this debate, and of course I will review Hansard and write if there are any points that I have failed to deal with. This Government are backing British businesses and scientists to ensure the maximum benefit: economic, scientific and, as my noble friend Lord Bates said so eloquently, for the imagination. Our space programme will forge the next chapter in our space story.
My Lords, perhaps I might presume to congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech and extend to him a very warm welcome both to the House and to his ministerial post. I also congratulate all the speakers on the discipline with which we have conducted this debate—including the maiden speakers, who have shown great promise for future contributions to the House.
That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room. The Committee is adjourned.
Committee adjourned at 6.40 pm.