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Lords Chamber

Volume 811: debated on Wednesday 14 April 2021

House of Lords

Wednesday 14 April 2021

The House met in a hybrid proceeding.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally.

Tributes: Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I first met Shirley as a teenage student. I served with her on the Labour Committee for Europe. I was at her side as she chaired every session of every SDP conference. Latterly, I worked with her closely in the Lords where initially she was my leader and, more recently and improbably, I was hers. Over these 50 years, Shirley did not really change. She continued to be passionate about the things she believed in, principally social justice and Europe. She was always fearless in advocating these things and was prepared to take political hostility head-on to promote them.

Shirley had a long political career, which began as general secretary of the Fabian Society. She was MP for Hitchin and then Stevenage, and held a series of ministerial posts in the Wilson and Callaghan Governments, culminating in the position of Secretary of State for Education. In 1981 she left the Labour Party as one of the gang of four founder members of the SDP. Leaving the Labour Party was particularly hard for her because she remained popular within it, was an elected member of the National Executive Committee and could have expected further promotion, possibly even the leadership. But, having made the break, she never questioned her decision. She also quickly realised that good relations with and an eventual merger between the SDP and the Liberals was a political necessity. Her role in creating the Alliance and then the Liberal Democrats was crucial because she was able to build rapport and trust between parliamentarians and members of both parties.

Her victory in the Crosby by-election in November 1981 was critical in sustaining momentum for the SDP in its early months. Her eloquence, directness and popularity guaranteed her regular media appearances, which provided a vital part of the oxygen necessary for our future successes. Having lost Crosby in the 1983 general election, Shirley was nominated to the Lords by Paddy Ashdown in 1993. She combined many of her early years in your Lordships’ House with being professor of electoral politics at Harvard University. She took over from my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank as leader of the Lib Dem group in 2001, a position she held for three years, and from 2004 until her retirement in 2016 she used the bully pulpit of this House to promote her principal causes, and, appropriately, used her final speech to argue for Britain’s continued place within the EU.

But Shirley was no ordinary politician. What set her apart from any other politician I have met was her empathy and charisma. She was genuinely interested in other people, their ideas and their lives. She had a special magnetic charm which meant that people warmed to her and were energised by her.

Two episodes summed this up for me, one personal and one political. In the early days of the SDP, Shirley invited my wife and I to stay overnight at her Hertfordshire house to break a journey up to Yorkshire. Our political discussions with fellow guests went on well into the night. She had all the enthusiasm of a student. But next morning, at 8 o’clock, a knock at our bedroom door heralded Shirley bringing us a cup of tea. It was impossible not to be infatuated.

In the 1981 Warrington by-election, Shirley took part in a cavalcade in support of Roy Jenkins. She stood on the front seat of the car, her head poking through an open sunroof. As the cavalcade progressed down the road in a council estate, we passed a man lying on his back underneath his car repairing it. On hearing Shirley’s voice through the loud-hailer, he looked up and beamed. “Hello Shirley”, he said, as if he had been expecting a visit from a dear friend. To generate that kind of warm response from strangers was as commonplace with Shirley as it is rare with the rest of us.

Shirley gained something of a reputation for disorganisation and was frequently late, but this was borne out of the mistaken belief that she could moderate the passage of time to allow her to fit in an impossibly large number of tasks to which she committed herself. She was immensely energetic and, in a crisis—of which I have seen a number with her—she demonstrated a steely nerve and a razor-sharp focus.

As one of the earliest female Cabinet Ministers, and a single mother, Shirley faced widespread prejudice, but this never embittered her. She simply got on with it. It did, however, make her particularly keen to support young women who wanted to go into politics, and to persuade them that this was an honourable calling—which she fervently believed it was. I know that many of my female colleagues in the Lords and Commons, as well as councillors and activists across the country, were inspired by Shirley to take up politics. This in itself is a powerful legacy.

More generally, in an era when politicians are widely distrusted, Shirley maintained popular affection. She was trusted and admired by millions. As I was writing this tribute, the phone rang on my office desk. The caller had never met Shirley, but had rung to express his condolences for someone he described as “a legend”. He was right: she was—and we will miss her.

My Lords, I do not think that any of us were in any doubt about the impact that Baroness Williams had on our political life, or the huge affection so many felt for her. But it brings it home to hear a close friend and colleague articulate them, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has just done so well.

Our paths crossed in this House for just a short time, so I did not have the privilege of learning first-hand from someone who has been described to me as one of the most talented speakers in this House. However, I did have the honour of winding up the debate when Baroness Williams made her valedictory speech in January 2016. As a relatively new Peer and Whip at the time, it was a nerve-racking occasion for me, but it gave me the opportunity, albeit briefly, to see some of her many qualities, which others will recall.

Of course, I was well aware of the impact that Baroness Williams had on the politics of this country. Our politics may have been different, but a passion for education and advocacy on behalf of women are areas of interest we shared. As we have heard from the noble Lord, she served as a Labour MP from 1964, and held various ministerial posts before landing her first Cabinet job in 1974 under Harold Wilson, and subsequently Jim Callaghan, culminating in her appointment as Secretary of State for Education and Science.

There is no doubt that Baroness Williams’s decision to leave the Labour Party and create the Social Democratic Party with the gang of four was one of the boldest moves in recent political history. Her by-election victory for the newly formed SDP in Crosby in 1981 was a great achievement for the fledgling party, overturning a 19,000 Conservative majority. By-elections are never easy, but her success showed what a formidable campaigner she was. Whether it was for her intellect, her wit, or her down-to-earth sincerity, it is not difficult to see why the voters of Crosby wanted her as their voice in Parliament. Although the SDP achieved record highs for a new party in the opinion polls, that was not translated into winning seats at the subsequent general election, so her time as a representative of the party in the other place was short-lived. However, as the noble Lord said, she was made a life Peer in 1993, and appointed Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords in 2001.

Baroness Williams was often spoken of as a potential leader of her party and a future Prime Minister—for many, perhaps, the best we never had. What is clear is that she had a remarkable ability to communicate, whether on the stump, on television or in the House. When I asked colleagues on my Benches for their memories of her, many recalled her as one of the most fluent and formidable debaters. One said, “She was never with a note—spellbinding sometimes. She could hold the House in the palm of her hand.” Perhaps just as importantly, all agreed that she was gracious and courteous, even to those she fundamentally disagreed with. As the Prime Minister has recalled:

“Even when we disagreed—as we often did—she had the gift of sounding so completely reasonable at all times.”

Even when Baroness Williams was away from Parliament, she was making a lasting impact on policy and politics abroad. Her ideas were transported internationally when she became a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of government, where no doubt she planted the seeds of her brand of liberalism in a generation of students over the 13 years of her tenure. She also left her mark in multiple countries when she assisted in drafting the constitutions of countries around the world.

What is clear is the respect she commanded, but also—as is not always the case—the huge affection, particularly in this House. Indeed, the esteem in which she was held was demonstrated when she was made a Companion of Honour for services to political and public life. We on these Benches send our best wishes and sincere condolences to her daughter, her family and all her friends and former colleagues. She was a remarkable woman. She will be much missed.

My Lords, despite being made a life Peer in 1993, Baroness Williams of Crosby was nearly always publicly referred to as Shirley Williams—not in ignorance, but in affection. She was of that generation of multi-skilled intellectual politicians who could easily have taken a different path in life from politics. Perhaps if Elizabeth Taylor had not pipped her at the post for the lead human role in the 1944 film “National Velvet”, she might never have returned home to the UK and a life of public service. But, like many others of her generation, she managed to combine her other interests with a passion for politics, always believing in it as a force for good and a route to social, political and economic advances.

She proudly described herself as a feminist. Her grandmother had been a suffragist, and she said that her feminism was instilled in her by her mother, Vera Brittain, supported by her father. In a 2015 interview for the book 100 Leading Ladies, she recalled that until she became a teenager she had never encountered anything that made her feel inferior to her brother and simply took that for granted. Her feminism was a constant throughout her life, especially in her politics.

She was pretty dismissive at having been tipped, as a Labour Minister, to be the first female Prime Minister, saying that

“there were then … so few women in politics that if you were quite good at your job and were a good speaker, you were almost inevitably going to be tipped for the job”.

But the feminist in her also claimed that she had

“learnt that politicians, especially male ones, tend to overestimate their own capacities, and so I am careful not to overestimate mine”.

Instead, she described her character as “tremendously involved and energetic”. She felt that whatever you had to do, you had to “throw yourself into it”—and she certainly did.

Having been raised in a strongly political and intellectual home, she brought an academic rigour and energy to all she took on. She was the first woman to chair the Oxford University Labour Club, and her degree in PPE and Fulbright scholarship led to a career first in journalism and then as general secretary of the Fabian Society. She was radical, pragmatic, articulate and enthusiastic. As a Labour MP and Minister in the 1960s and 1970s, she would energise debates in the House of Commons and, in the days of well-attended public meetings, delight audiences around the country. She was a passionate supporter of European integration in the days when it was a divisive issue in the Labour Party.

In 1979 she earned the admiration of many as throughout the election campaign she travelled the country supporting colleagues in marginal seats. As many of us witnessed in this House, she was a naturally engaging, authentic speaker who drew in audiences. On the eve of poll, she was miles away from her own constituency, supporting one of the youngest members of the Government, Ann Taylor—now my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton—who was defending a majority of just 900. Although Ann was returned to Parliament, unfortunately Shirley lost her seat. Some attributed her defeat to the overly hostile press coverage of her visit to the Grunwick picket line to hear from those who were on strike.

However, she remained one of the country’s most popular characters and returned to Parliament, as we have heard, in the 1981 by-election, but this time as one of the leaders of the newly created SDP. Splits in political parties are painful for all and, while the Labour Party suffered as a result, the SDP never achieved the success that some predicted. I had not long been politically active, but I recall that time vividly. Whatever the views of individual Labour Party members, the loss they felt most sadly was that of Shirley, for whom they had enormous affection.

Despite those differences, the warmth of the tributes paid to Baroness Williams by her former colleagues is testimony to her character. She was always generous with her time and passionate about her beliefs. Her commitment to the issues she cared about never wavered. As a Member of your Lordships’ House and leader of the Liberal Democrats, she was a force to be reckoned with. She never stopped working and hoping for a better world. My colleague and noble friend Lady Royall—now principal of Somerville College, which Baroness Williams attended—said:

“She was a … feminist, a woman of great intellect who cared deeply and worked tirelessly to bring about greater social and economic justice … I never spent a moment in her company which I did not appreciate or enjoy.”

Shirley Williams lived a long, eventful and productive life. On behalf of these Benches, I send our condolences to her daughter, her family, her friends and her party.

My Lords, I too rise to pay tribute to Baroness Williams, whom I always knew as Shirley. Others have focused on her political career and I can certainly echo that, but I will pay particular tribute to her for two very distinct but sometimes closely interrelated qualities and achievements.

For me and many women of my generation, Shirley was a profound influence. She encouraged us in the 300 Group, formed to get 300 women into the House of Commons, and encouraged us as individuals. She did that by acknowledging the real problems that women often face in political life, particularly parliamentary life and particularly those trying to combine small children and a parliamentary career. She was very kind to lots of us. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Hayman has just asked me to record her kindness to her. She was kind to us all.

She was unfailingly supportive of women who wanted to make a difference, as she always described it, and she was unflinchingly honest about how hard it would be. I have particular reason to be grateful to her. I had known her slightly as a child, but she was particularly kind to me as a student at Cambridge, as her marriage to Bernard Williams was coming apart. I was then membership secretary of the Labour Club. There was one of the usual internal scandals, and my college room was broken into to collect the membership records for said Labour Club. I was terribly upset by this, but Shirley was immensely comforting. She assured me I was right to make a real fuss about it and egged me on in doing so. I have been making a fuss about things ever since, thanks to Shirley.

Shirley would ask many of us younger women thinking about political interests and careers to work out what we really minded about. She would also always argue that party politics was not the only way we could influence things—though for her it was the main route—and that we should think about academia, as of course she herself did so successfully as a professor at Harvard for 12 years when married to the wonderful Dick Neustadt. She said that we should also think about NGOs.

She influenced many of us. Talking to a group of much younger women yesterday, I heard that many of them, in their 30s, also traced their willingness to enter politics, both local and national, to her straightforward way of talking with them, to her popularity with women voters—“Shirl the Pearl”, if people remember that—and to her immense personal kindness.

Of course, you could not go anywhere with Shirley without lots of people, often women, coming up to her and paying tribute. It was somewhat inconvenient. A group of us would go walking regularly in the Chilterns, and quite often people coming in the other direction would go past us, then realise they had just walked past Shirley Williams, turn back and come and pay tribute. It was wonderful, but slow.

Her obituaries have focused to a considerable extent on her encouragement of women, but they have not really focused on her immense personal kindness. Members of staff in this House have been telling me how kind she was to them, but we as a family have one particular, unforgettable example among many. A friend, Ralph Skilbeck, the former diplomat who became a headhunter, was dying of a very aggressive cancer in his early 40s. He told us how he desperately wanted to meet Shirley but never had. I rang Shirley, and immediately—without hesitation and without knowing him at all—she agreed to come and meet him, which she did a few days later. He was over the moon. He died a few weeks later, talking to the end about how amazing she had been.

I could give this House many other examples of her immense kindness; she was a profoundly good person. I believe her legacy will be memories of her immense strength of character; her inspirational qualities, particularly for younger women; the fact that she became a national treasure; and her legacy of kindness and goodness to so many people. She was a wonderful mother, and particularly grandmother, to her family, and I know they have been amazing to her in these past few years. I officiated with a blessing at her marriage to Dick Neustadt and said a blessing at Dick Neustadt’s funeral. I do feel that I can now say, “May she rest in peace”.

I find myself rising again to give a tribute on behalf of the Lords spiritual from these Benches and wondering what I can add to all the wonderful things that have been said. However, as the first female Lord spiritual in this House, it is a privilege to pay tribute to an amazing person who, as we have heard, was something of a trailblazer for women in politics.

As a comparative newcomer to this House, I did not have time to get to know Baroness Williams, but now, as Anglican Bishop to Prisons, I was pleased to learn that she had once been a Prisons Minister and had a particular interest in improving the experience of women in prison. This may be an apocryphal story, but I believe that at one point she even asked to be locked up in Holloway to see what the experience for women was like. I am only sad that I never had a conversation with her about women in the criminal justice system.

As we have heard, Shirley was one of the iconic figures of British politics, shaped by the post-war world and one of those rare politicians known in public simply by her first name. Although she often seemed to struggle to acknowledge her own brilliance, from the outside others saw her talent and razor-sharp mind.

So much has already been said, but I wish to draw attention to her faith. She came from the tradition of politics of people grounded in internationalism, Catholic social teaching and social justice. Often found at Lambeth Palace, she was prepared to work across parties without fear or favour, with people of all faiths and none, to develop ideas and policy to the betterment of British society. Her Catholic faith and belief in universal values were central to her politics. In her final speech to this House, she called on us as the institutional memory of the nation to protect universal values of human rights, to play our significant part in the world and to think globally, not simply nationally. I can think of no clearer call from Baroness Williams to this House, and it is one shared by the Church: a commitment to social justice, protecting the vulnerable and being committed to global thinking.

After her many decades of faithful public service, I wish to end with the prayer: may she rest in peace and rise in glory.

My Lords, I will just add this very briefly. I saw Shirley Williams in action both in the Commons and in the Lords. When I was in the Commons as a member of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, I did not get the impression that she was one of our natural supporters. She was in fact a formidable critic, but I will say that she was always fair in her criticism. When she came to this House, as we all remember, she retained that fairness of judgment. I remember with gratitude her support for my campaign on phone hacking, for example.

Above all, I will remember her for one thing: in an age when politicians are criticised, rightly or wrongly, for being more interested in what they can get out of politics, she was entirely motivated by what she could give, what contribution she could make to the public good—and her contribution was vast. I will remember her as a true politician and an example to us all.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.

UK Citizenship: History

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to revise the historical section of the Life in the United Kingdom handbook for people applying for United Kingdom citizenship.

My Lords, the Life in the United Kingdom handbook is for all UK residents who need to meet the knowledge of life in the UK requirements when applying for either settlement or citizenship. New impressions are published regularly to keep it up to date, most recently in February, and plans to review the handbook are due for consideration later this year.

The Minister knows very well the sharp criticisms that professional historians have made of the rewriting of the historical section some eight years ago, changing its interpretation of the slave trade, of imperial history and of domestic political controversies. In the next major revision, will the Government consult outside and cross-party advisers, particularly over the portrayal of Britain’s engagement with the countries from which so many of our new citizens come, such as the United States—my American daughter-in-law has just taken the test—the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean and Africa?

Yes, I am well aware of the letter from historians; I had an interesting exchange about it last summer with Professor Frank Trentmann, its lead author. Criticism of the history sections of these tests is perennial. The first edition, written by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick, was criticised by historians, as was the more recent edition, which was published under the coalition Government. We are grateful to the historians for their thoughts. They made some valid and thought-provoking comments that will certainly be taken into account as we review the handbook, but we do not agree with all the criticisms that they made and are wary of history by petition, no matter how eminent the petitioners.

My Lords, in acknowledging the importance of having a robust and fair mechanism by which citizenship is awarded, does the Minister agree that the life in the United Kingdom test should only ask questions of applicants that those who already hold citizenship could reasonably answer? If my noble friend agrees with that, what actions is the Home Office taking to ensure that the questions in place value and reflect the contribution that the applicant may already have made to both their community and British life more generally prior to their bid for citizenship?

My noble friend is absolutely right. People who come to this country and settle here or become citizens make a valuable contribution even before they may take citizenship. The first part of her question allows me to explain that this is a 24-question test with multiple answers. People need to get only three-quarters of them right, and the recent pass rate of 79% suggests that it is a test that people are able to pass.

My Lords, the French citizenship test involves an interview that puts the candidate in an everyday situation; a friend of mine had to imagine that he was buying a washing machine. Does the Minister think the UK test is relevant? Does he believe that the following questions for British citizenship are relevant, and can he answer them? When was the time of growing patriotism? When were the last Welsh rebellions defeated? How many colonies were granted independence in 1947? I look forward to his answers.

My Lords, I believe Standing Orders say that only two questions are allowed in Oral Questions. More pertinently, as I explained, the questions that are put are multiple choice. They are not, as the noble Baroness frames them, designed to catch people out; they are there to encourage people to engage with the story of our nation so far, before they help us to write the next chapter of it. Previous versions of the Life in the United Kingdom handbook did not examine people on the history section, which meant inevitably that lots of people skipped it. I hope she will agree that it is beneficial to check that people have engaged with the glorious past of our country before they help us to write the next chapter, as I say.

My Lords, the Minister talked about a review later this year. I assume that is the review that was announced in October 2018. Can he confirm that it will be a public consultation? In reviewing the test, will the Government look at a report by Thom Brooks, professor and dean at Durham Law School, who, originally being American, took the test himself? He said that people had to learn the height of the London Eye in feet and metres but not about the UK Supreme Court or how many MPs there are. Does the Minister agree that the review must be thorough and radical?

My Lords, the previous Home Secretary announced the intention to review the handbook. As I say, the handbook is constantly reviewed to make sure that it is up to date. We want to consider that more carefully, particularly in light of some of the criticisms and points that have been raised. The noble Baroness mentioned another academic. I understand that Professor Brooks is an adviser to the Labour Party. He has certainly made his representations on the citizenship test well known.

My Lords, the test is not the only barrier that people can face to accessing citizenship. The High Court has recently upheld a ruling that the exorbitant fees that children are charged are unlawful, as they are set without consideration for the best interests of the child. The Home Office has said that this will be reviewed in due course. Has work started on this review, or is the issue still sitting on the shelf waiting to be looked at? Families are left with this grossly unfair charge with no end in sight.

The Government will consider the implications of the court’s judgement carefully and will review child registration fees in the light of the court’s judgment. We believe that it is important to strike the right balance by ensuring that people can obtain status in the UK and access appropriate services, without burdening the UK taxpayer.

Do not our prospective fellow citizens need, above all, a clear account of our constitutional development over the centuries? Without that, it is impossible to understand the role of our much-loved monarchy, of which we are particularly conscious at the moment, our multi-nation state and our parliamentary institutions and take pride in them—which all of them deserve.

I completely agree with my noble friend. The history of this nation is a long, complex and evolving one. It is important that people are given a brief overview of it, so that they can engage with the country as it now is and understand things such as our proceedings here in your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I am grateful for these answers and glad that this document will be revised in due course. It is a concise, often masterful, précis of some quite complex areas of our history, but surely a confident country can cope with complexity and with where we have failed—it is not just our glorious past. History matters. For example, in relation to the role of the Soviet Union during the Second World War, much of what is regarded as glorious standing alone by the western allies would not have been possible without the role of the Soviet Union, which lost 20 million people. Will the rewriting be open to a wider scrutiny, in order that history is perhaps taken more seriously?

I certainly agree with the right reverend Prelate that a confident country engages with its history in all its complexities, including those parts which might be uncomfortable to recall today. I do not fully agree with the way that he characterises the current text. I do not think it gives a misrepresented view of history; it includes some of the darker moments of our history as well. In the three editions of this document, historians have made their views well-known and long may they continue to do so.

Will the rewriting delete references to ancient battles which caused the deaths of so many innocent people and kings like Henry VIII, who is not an example of how a person should behave if they want to live in the United Kingdom?

I think it is important that we understand history, and monarchs such as Henry VIII were hugely consequential, not least in the establishment of the Church of England. It is important that we know all of these things.

My Lords, there is widespread agreement that the life in the UK test needs thorough revision and updating. It has been repeatedly criticised for its random inaccuracies and the irrelevance of much of its content to life in the UK today. I trust, however, that we will not end up with a document which is even more biased in the other direction. I studied history at Cambridge many years ago, where one excellent tripos was on the expansion of Europe—introduced to counter previous left-wing bias in writing about UK history. When Britain’s involvement in slavery is addressed, I trust it will include the facts that slavery was imported from west Africa and, between 1500 and 1800, 2 million British citizens from the west coast were enslaved by the Morocco of the time—

My question is: who will be writing the revised historical section of the handbook? The open letter from 180 historians looks to have its own substantial bias.

I also studied history at Cambridge, a little after my noble friend, but I think that some of the papers were still the same when I was there. The point he makes illustrates how difficult it is for any single person to write a history that does not spark debate, and the purpose of it is to do just that. History is a process of constant inquiry, of re-evaluation and of reconsidering the past and the lessons it can teach us. The history section of the life in the UK test is a starting point for people to engage with the past before they make their valuable contribution to our nation in its future.

Initial Teacher Training Market Review

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consultation they have undertaken with providers about the market review of initial teacher training.

My Lords, the initial teacher training market review is focused on how the sector can provide consistently high-quality training in a more effective and efficient market. An expert advisory group has been appointed to make recommendations to the Government. Ian Bauckham is the review chair and has held early discussions with ITT network chairs and others. We have committed to wider sector engagement in late spring, and your Lordships are the first to be told that we are now going to conduct a public consultation on final proposals before they are implemented.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer and welcome the latter part of it in particular. I also remind the House of my education interests in the register. I hope that this review is truly independent, unlike the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. So far, it appears to have alienated virtually every provider of teacher training in the country, with the likes of our top universities now questioning whether they will continue with initial teacher training because of the potential infringement on their academic freedoms and issues of financial viability. Can the Minister assure the House, in the context of that consultation, that the evidence and principles upon which the review might proceed will be properly consulted on so that, as a sector, we can properly debate how the service of teacher training might be revised in future?

My Lords, the review chair Ian Bauckham is a man of great integrity who has conducted a number of tasks for the department, so we have every confidence that he will engage widely with and receive views from across the sector. The core content framework is a structure, so the curriculum is developed by universities and therefore academic freedom is retained.

The Government have, rightly, long identified service leavers as being ideal candidates for teacher training. With predicted end of service dates being based on age and length of service, many start retraining up to three years before leaving. My concern, though, is that much of the support is not available until after they leave. Will my noble friend consider making that support as flexible as possible so that they can access it before they leave?

My Lords, the expertise of former members of the Armed Forces is an important supply for teacher training, and many initial teacher training providers do offer their courses part-time so current personnel can make that transition. In shortage subjects, such as chemistry, bursaries are available of £24,000.

My Lords, although the initial teacher training market review group has been meeting since the autumn, its deliberations have been shrouded in secrecy. What has leaked out is the suggestion that the Government will introduce a new system of short-term contracts following the review, which has led, as my noble friend Lord Knight has said, to many universities warning that they may withdraw their teacher training provision as a result. I welcome the Minister’s announcement just now of consultation later this year. Can she explain why the so-called expert advisory group undertaking it does not contain a representative from a university, despite that sector currently producing around one-third of newly qualified teachers?

My Lords, it is important that we conduct this review to ensure that the market provides for the 25% increase this year of those applying for initial teacher training. Professor Samantha Twiselton is actually on the staff of Sheffield Hallam University, and I can assure noble Lords that, as universities are involved in providing, I think, 47% of initial teacher training, they will of course be key in the review’s progress.

My Lords, the Minister is clearly impressed with initial teacher training in this country, judging by her detailed reply to my Written Question on this subject, for which I thank her. As the Minister’s department is publishing an international strategy for exporting English initial teacher training as the gold standard, does she now think that there is a quality problem, or not?

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s comments about the Written Answer, which is also informed by the right honourable Nick Gibb, the Minister whose portfolio area this is. In relation to quality, we want to ensure that every person who goes to initial teacher training has that joined-up experience gained from the academic path and being in the classroom. We want to build on the good quality and have asked that the review look at the sufficiency of teacher supply, which is an issue in some parts of the country.

My Lords, over four years ago, at the Government’s request 15 universities developed a modern languages pathway to qualified teacher status, alongside the languages degree. In the light of the current shortage in this subject, are these programmes part of the market review, and is their future, along with school-centred MFL training, to be safeguarded and continued?

My Lords, this review covers the full breadth of the initial teacher training market, so that we can build on the quality that we have. The institutions that the noble Baroness refers to will be able to make their views clear during the public consultation on any recommendations from the review, and there will be stakeholder engagement during the spring. I will take back the noble Baroness’s comments about those institutions and write to her on whether they are part of that process.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their aim of ensuring more standardisation in initial teacher training programmes so that we have consistent standards of basic training for all our teachers. Does my noble friend agree that good quality teaching has been at the core of trying to help so many children through a difficult year, and that our teachers have risen to an exceptionally difficult challenge over the past year?

My Lords, good quality teaching is not the only, but the single most important, determining factor in the quality of education, particularly for disadvantaged students. At a time when not only are we reviewing initial teacher training but, as of September, £130 million will be invested annually to provide two years of professional development after initial teacher training, it is key to put teachers’ professional development on a parity of esteem with that of accountants and lawyers, for example.

My Lords, there are concerns that the market review will recommend a less diverse, highly centralised provision of initial teacher training. What assurances can the Minister give that specific and diverse local needs will be addressed and respected in any future ITT provision?

My Lords, maintaining a good quality and efficient market for initial teacher training is a key part of the review. Some 240 organisations are accredited by the department at the moment; we are aware that in all, some 1,000 organisations deliver programmes. We have therefore asked that the review look at these aspects, and in particular teacher sufficiency across England.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as recorded in the register. I understand the Government’s desire for an efficient and effective market. That, however, does not guarantee that regional inequalities are addressed. I urge the Minister to make a risk assessment of the quality, supply and regional needs of initial teacher training and to publish the outcome.

My Lords, the recommendations will be published and consulted on, and, as I have outlined, teacher sufficiency across England is a key part of the review. As to the early introduction of the early career framework, 1,900 teachers were part of the first rollout in the north-east, Greater Manchester, Bradford and Doncaster, so we are particularly aware of the need to ensure the best quality of teaching across England.

Will the Government put in place a system to ensure that students interested in entering ITT have a clear view of the quality and reputation of the provider as perceived by schools that have employed their graduates?

Ofsted will be reintroducing its inspections following the introduction of a new framework for initial teacher training, which is the main quality mark for people considering initial teacher training. School-centred initial teacher training is now a vibrant part of the market. Teachers are trained by multi-academy trusts and others, and we are in an age where it is much easier to find out about the reputation of the institution, people’s experiences of it and other peer-to-peer comparisons through LinkedIn and other platforms.

Undercover Policing Inquiry

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress of the Undercover Policing Inquiry into police surveillance, established in 2015.

My Lords, the inquiry’s investigations are independent of the Home Office, and I welcomed the commencement of its evidential hearings in November 2020. The department maintains regular liaison with the inquiry on sponsorship issues such as progress and expenditure. We remain of the view that it is important for the inquiry to report as soon as practicable, as set out in its terms of reference.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As she is aware, one of the reasons why the inquiry was established was that a number of women had dishonestly become involved with undercover police officers in quite an abusive way—some of them, indeed, having children by those officers. One of the calls from many of the participants in the inquiry was for the inquiry to be public and live-streamed. One of the reasons for that is that there may be many more women who have been dishonestly treated in this way—and more children whose fathers are undercover police officers. Will the Minister look at live-streaming the inquiry and at how it can be made public, so that the images and names of the undercover police officers are more readily available and activists can see whether they have been impacted in some way?

The inquiry chair has already opined on the publication of a list, and the noble Baroness will know what his comment on that issue was. I understand her point about women being involved with undercover police, and some of them getting pregnant and having children. On televising proceedings, she would need to go to the inquiry chair to request that; the inquiry is independent of government.

What is the cost of the inquiry to date and what is the target date for its report? It is acquiring the aura of the Saville inquiry. How many immunities have been granted by the Attorney-General? Since it has been said that the legitimacy of the inquiry is bound up with the full co-operation of its participants, is it diminishing?

My Lords, will my noble friend say whether there is any mechanism to ensure that an inquiry as important as this will report in a reasonable time?

My noble friend makes a very pertinent point because, of course, some of the inquiry goes back to 1968, so timeliness is very important. As members of the sponsor department of a statutory inquiry, both the Home Secretary and the Permanent Secretary have sponsorship responsibilities that are set out in the inquiries management statement. I have personally engaged with the chair in my capacity as sponsor to discuss the progress of the inquiry and stress the importance of learning lessons promptly.

My Lords, given that the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act was recently passed by this House with Labour and Conservative support—giving the police the ability to give CHIS participating in protests immunity from prosecution, with no specific prohibition on CHIS acting as agents provocateur—what reassurance can the Minister give to the House that police CHIS were not involved in recent protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill?

HMICFRS published a report just last month on policing protests. It concluded that there was no use of undercover officers in protest policing, which appears proportionate to the nature of criminality inherent in protests generally. It makes only brief reference to the ongoing undercover police inquiry.

My Lords, the chair of the inquiry has ruled that the Special Branch registry files, which could give more information about the work of undercover officers, will not be part of the inquiry. That means that the truth will be very filtered, which makes it hard for core participants, who feel that they will not get justice. Would the Minister agree to a meeting with me and perhaps a member of each of the opposition parties to discuss the major flaws in the inquiry and why the core participants are so upset?

Just before Questions, I said to the noble Baroness that I would look into what I could and could not do because, of course, the inquiry is independent, and rightly so. Parliament would expect it to be independent and therefore would not expect interference from the sponsoring Minister—but I will take back her point.

Can the Government give an assurance that, following the conclusion of the Mitting inquiry, any people who were actively spied upon by the police, including individuals who may have been tricked into intimate relationships with undercover officers, will be made aware of what occurred and will not be denied access to justice?

My Lords, I am sure that the rationale would not be to deny people access to justice. Clearly, the revelation of any names would be a matter for the chairman of what is an independent inquiry.

My Lords, the inquiry was set up in 2015; over five years passed before opening statements were delivered. Some 90 staff are directly engaged, and, as my noble friend has said, the cost, so far, exceeds £36 million, but that excludes very considerable expenditure by police forces responding to the inquiry. I estimate that the inquiry’s total cost to the public purse, by the time it reports—well into the current decade—will be in excess of £100 million. Can my noble friend the Minister tell me if that is a reasonable forecast that the department is budgeting for?

I am not sure whether it is a reasonable forecast, but, responding to my noble friend’s points, I can say that the inquiry needs to deliberate promptly and with an eye properly on its use of public funds in order to do so.

My Lords, could the Minister confirm what the direct role of the inquiry is around undercover policing with other police forces, given that infiltration took place in organisations with a UK-wide reach?

I assume that the noble Baroness is referring to Northern Ireland. It is probably inappropriate to comment on that at this point, while judicial proceedings are ongoing.

An inquiry cannot request files where it does not know that they exist. Can we be assured that there are no files within the Home Office that have not been sought out, retrieved and provided to the inquiry?

If the Home Office is asked for files that it has, it would most certainly have to provide them to the inquiry.

Global Minimum Corporate Tax Rate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support the proposal by the government of the United States of America for a global minimum corporate tax rate (1) as part of the United Kingdom’s Presidency of the G7, and (2) in other fora.

My Lords, the UK has an established record of being at the forefront of initiating global action on international tax. It is no different here: during our G7 presidency, we are leading the way to ensure the delivery of G20 commitments that we secured in January 2019 for a comprehensive global solution based on two pillars. Pillar 1 would deliver on ensuring that businesses are taxed where they make their profits, and pillar 2 would deliver a global minimum tax.

I expect that the Minister will acknowledge that, with their plan to raise the UK corporate tax rate, the Government have, at least implicitly, acknowledged that the 30-year-long global race to the bottom on corporate tax rates has led to major multinational companies not paying their way, while reeling in profits, building inequality and starving public services of essential funds. I also expect that the Minister will know that the recommended and UK-planned 25% minimum rate, as recommended by the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, would raise more than £22 billion for the UK Exchequer. Given that, and given that Germany, France and the Netherlands rapidly supported the US intervention, why is the UK not at the forefront, as the Minister said, but trailing well behind? Why have we not stepped in and backed this plan?

My Lords, we have always been a Government who want to reduce taxation wherever possible. However, the Government have been very active in dealing with the abuse of corporate taxation over the last few years—for example, with the corporate interest restriction rules, which prevent multinationals from avoiding tax using financing arrangements, raising £1 billion a year since 2017. Other examples are the diverted profits tax, which has led to an additional £5 billion by countering aggressive tax planning, and the tax charge on offshore receipts in respect of intangible property, which is forecast to raise £1 billion a year.

Since we left the European Union, the Government say that we must retain control over our money and laws. Is there a danger that we could end up replacing one group of people who are able to tell us what we can and cannot do with our money and laws with another group, other than the European Union? In such circumstances, is there a risk that the United Kingdom actually restricts its freedom and ability to control its own economy?

I am not sure whether the noble Lord is referring to the move by the American Government to put forward their own propositions on international tax reform, but it is important to clarify that the US Government are following the G7 work that has been done on pillars 1 and 2. It is rather good news that they are engaging in a much more front-footed way than happened under the previous Administration.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will agree that the suggestion from the US that the minimum tax rate might be as high as 21% has no chance of global agreement. However, do the Government think that there is any level at which a global deal might be done?

I can only speculate on what that might be, but the important thing is to try to get as much harmonisation on rules for large multinational companies. That is why we were always keen on pillar 1, which ensures that the profits of large digital businesses are taxed in the countries where they make their sales. It is important because, as one of the largest economies in the world, we believe that these international companies should not be able to just come here and take all the advantages of the infrastructure that British taxpayers are contributing to the creation of.

My Lords, the CBI, of which I am president, welcomes the United States’ renewed commitment to engage with the OECD multilateral process, which, after a decade, has two pillars. One is a new regime for the largest companies; the other is on setting a minimum tax rate, which the US aims to see at 21%. Do the Government agree with this rate of 21%? Do they agree that we want to avoid a patchwork of unilateral action—for example, digital services taxes?

My Lords, the Treasury is assessing the statements recently made by the US Government on that tax rate, so we are not in a position to opine on those yet. We agree on the patchwork point: we introduced the digital services tax as an interim to plug at least some of the gaps and problems that exist, but we will certainly review that if we can reach an international consensus.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the Members’ register. A strong, global, minimum tax on multinationals would recover much-needed billions for this country and others. Does the Minister agree it is essential for such a tax to provide a fair balance of taxing rights to all countries, based on allocation factors reflecting the real activities in each country, with a high minimum such as the 21% proposed by the US Administration?

As I answered to an earlier question, we are not yet in a position to announce whether we support that specific rate. Our policy has always been to put the emphasis on pillar one, which is the allocation of profits in the countries in which they are generated. To go back to my earlier point, if a company is going to use the infrastructure of a country in terms of its affluent, well-educated population, and take profits from it, it must contribute to it, too.

My Lords, do the Government understand, having listened to the international response to the Biden Administration and Janet Yellen’s proposals, that pillars one and two hang together and that there is no serious prospect of getting a solution to the right of countries to tax multinationals appropriately for the activities in their country unless there is also a common agreement on a minimum global corporate tax? Do the British Government accept that underlying principle, even if they dispute the rate?

The overriding position is that we welcome the American Government’s re-engagement in this process. As realists, we accept it will not happen without full American support. We agree with the noble Baroness that these things hang together, and it will be a cohesive result that will work.

My Lords, international tax competition is an important constraint on big government. You can raise the rate only to a certain point before the revenue and jobs begin to flee to friendlier jurisdictions. For that reason, it has always chafed with people who want a very large state. Will the Minister accept that the logic of the Laffer curve is not an academic theory but an empirically observable reality—that every cut in corporation tax, down to our current rate in this country, led to an increase in revenue? Will he further accept that having a competitive rate of corporation tax is an important growth strategy for a developing country? The formula that worked for Singapore, Hong Kong and eastern European countries would be cut off if we created a global high-tax cartel.

My Lords, we did not plan to increase corporation tax in the way we have had to do in the last few months. It is only as a result of the appalling crisis we have suffered through Covid and having to address the financial impact of that. I agree with my noble friend that lower corporation tax rates are broadly a good thing. Personally, I do not like to see tax on productive activity, employment or any of the things that make a country prosperous. Therefore, I support his comments that we should always aspire to lower tax rates, particularly on corporation tax. We will try to set it still at a competitive rate, so the US, Canada, Korea, Japan and Germany will all have higher rates than the one to which we are moving.

My Lords, the UN high-level panel published its final report on the impact of financial integrity on sustainable development. The panel called for a UN tax convention and a UN body for international tax rules. The report also includes proposals for the automatic exchange of information, beneficial ownership transparency and country-by-country reporting. Do the Government support the high-level panel’s conclusions, and will we address this issue at the G7?

My Lords, the Government do support increased transparency, and we have done a great deal over the last five years to improve on that, but I accept there is more to do.

St Vincent: Volcanic Eruption

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the (1) humanitarian, and (2) environmental, impact of the recent volcanic eruption on the island of St Vincent; and what representations they have made to the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines regarding aid.

My Lords, I am sure I speak for the whole House in saying our thoughts and prayers are with those impacted and affected by the shocking volcanic eruption in St Vincent. We, the United Kingdom, have pledged, and I have personally approved and ensured, £200,000 to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency—CDEMA—to help to address the immediate humanitarian impact. This will be used for emergency supplies and other immediate needs, including to allow technical experts to support relief efforts on the ground, support emergency telecommunications and restore critical lifeline facilities. We stand ready to look at further support.

My Lords, while thanking the Minister, we can and must do more. I have been in touch with St Vincent and Barbados overnight. The position is that ash continues to fall, and there is a shortage of water. The reality on the ground is of the loss of livelihoods and a continuing threat to life. This is a major environmental and humanitarian emergency, and £200,000 will not cut it. The CDEMA needs technical support. I hope the Minister will authorise that a team go out from the UK to assess the needs. It needs help with the field hospital. Barbados is taking a lead, and is responsible for the emergency relief in the area, but it is hard pressed, and the time has come for this country to act. After all, the prosperity of these islands was based on the labour and sugar of those islands. They deserve more than £200,000.

My Lords, first and foremost, let me assure the noble Lord that I, too, am in touch with the authorities. Even this morning, I spoke to the high commissioner of St Vincent and the Grenadines and assured him of the initial support we gave, which, as I outlined, is specifically for emergency support. The noble Lord rightly articulates the importance of technical support. We are already providing that; we are working closely, including with some of our overseas territories. The noble Lord will be aware of the challenges that Montserrat faced two decades ago and, based on that experience, we are working directly with the Montserrat authorities. We have a volcanologist already on the ground supporting relief efforts, and we are providing technical support. This was the initial, immediate response that we gave last week. There has been some negative press. The only reason why we have not articulated the number of steps we are taking, as the noble Lord would expect, is the current respect and reverence we owe to the demise of the Duke of Edinburgh. However, we are supporting fully the authorities on the ground in St Vincent and the Grenadines and stand ready to offer further support.

My Lords, we have a ship based in the Caribbean specifically for disaster relief. Ships, of course, can make fresh water and they have engineers and all sorts of things needed for disaster relief. I am amazed that it does not seem that this ship, HMS “Medway”, is working in the Grenadines at the moment. Of course, because she is not a destroyer or a frigate, she does not have an organic helicopter, which is very useful in disaster relief circumstances. Are we going to airlift out a helicopter for her and when will she be working in the islands, assisting those who need so much help?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point out that we have a permanent presence in the Caribbean and work very closely with the relief organisation CDEMA. We have invested, since 2017, on specific relief efforts, not just for the overseas territories but for the Caribbean. I note what he has said and we stand ready to provide whatever assistance is required, not only to St Vincent and the Grenadines but to Barbados as well. On the specific issue of aircraft and helicopters in the area, the volcanic ash over both islands at the moment is causing an added challenge. But I assure all noble Lords that we are working closely with the authorities on the ground to see what further assistance can be provided.

My Lords, we understand that only those who have been vaccinated are being evacuated, potentially leaving behind children, young people and others. What engagement are we having with the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the WHO, to ensure that all who are vulnerable can be evacuated?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point to the issue of vaccinations. Currently, about 12% of the population in St Vincent has been vaccinated and there is a lot of reluctance to have vaccinations. She may be aware that Prime Minister Gonsalves announced on 12 April that their Government will not be looking at evacuating through cruise ships. There are green zones on the islands, which are currently being used to house about 3,700 people who have fled their homes, while about 16,000 are being sheltered by families and friends. There is now a significant number of vaccines on island; the great challenge—and again, in my conversations this morning, I offered any learnings we could bring to address the issue—is the reluctance of the population to be vaccinated.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as a teenager I lived in St Vincent, at Calliaqua? It is the most magical place, with delightful people. I experienced a hurricane there and was nearby when La Soufrière blew her top last time. It is not a wealthy area by any means. The main sources of income are agriculture and tourism; both have been devastated by this natural disaster. It will take a long time for the place to recover, as it will the islands around there. Agriculture, especially, will take a while to recover, because of the thick covering of volcanic ash. We must help these islands in every way we possibly can, whether financially or with military personnel, or a combination of both, but we must help them all.

My Lords, I welcome the insights that my noble friend has provided. I reassure him that we are working very closely in any support we can provide. The noble Lord, Lord West, asked about HMS “Medway”. To be quite specific, prior to the volcanic eruption that vessel was undergoing routine operational updates and repairs. That is why it has not been immediately deployed, but I assure him that it is one of the immediate questions I have raised. I emphasise again that we are working directly with the authorities on the ground, whether it is with technical or long-term support. I have visited Montserrat and seen the impact of a volcano that erupted more than 20 years ago; the fact is that its impact is still felt today. We seek to provide long-term support and, I assure noble Lords, we will do just that.

My Lords, what direct contact have the Government made with any NGOs working on the ground in St Vincent, particularly local churches working with evacuees, such as Marion House in Kingstown and St Vincent Girls’ High School?

My Lords, our primary contact is through the relief efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross. As for specific liaisons on the ground, we are working directly with CDEMA and the St Vincent and the Grenadines government authorities.

My Lords, the diocese of the Windward Islands is linked with my diocese here in St Albans and I have been in touch with the bishop, Bishop Leopold Friday, overnight. The churches are already doing a huge amount of work and stand ready to help in any way they can, not least because here in my diocese, in Luton, we also have a large Vincentian population and this matter is affecting people’s families. If there are people who are forced to evacuate from the country, will the Government consider a temporary resettlement scheme for those with family links here in the UK?

My Lords, I fully acknowledge what the right reverend Prelate says about the important role that church authorities play. Indeed, on the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about the vaccine rollout, I suggested to the high commissioner this morning how the churches can also assist. On the right reverend Prelate’s wider question about long-term impacts, we will obviously remain engaged with the authorities of St Vincent and the Grenadines about their medium and long-term requirements.

My Lords, I share my noble friend’s concern at the amount of the initial response on the humanitarian effort but, of course, it is not just a humanitarian effort. At the request of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, the UN Environment Programme is now developing and implementing a debris management plan to clean up ash and promote environmental health and safety in the longer term, so that we are getting the economy back on track as soon as possible. Are we working with the United Nations Environment Programme, and have we offered professional support to that programme in the near future?

My Lords, we are working with all international agencies, including the United Nations, but I reiterate that the lead agency on disaster response is CDEMA. We are working constructively on all elements including immediate responses, medium-term responses and additional responses that will be required.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of Fauna & Flora International. While I completely understand that the priority must be the safety of the islanders and their economy, may I gently remind my noble friend of the unique endemic wildlife, such as the St Vincent parrot? Will Her Majesty’s Government consider what assistance they can offer in due course to the various NGOs to ensure that the endemic wildlife of the island is conserved and protected from any potential accidental introduction of non-native species by those providing much-needed relief to the island?

My Lords, I always welcome gentle reminders from my noble friend. I assure him that we recognise the importance of biodiversity, especially in the context of climate change and our chairmanship of COP26. He made some notable suggestions and recommendations and I certainly look to take them forward.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned Montserrat. When Montserrat was devastated by that volcanic eruption, I was the Minister at DfID dealing with it and we sent out emergency relief teams immediately to help. Why is that not being done now? We also committed long-term help, not of thousands of pounds but of millions. Are these poor people going to be the first victims of the cuts in DfID assistance?

My Lords, while I also welcome the valuable insights of the noble Lord, first and foremost, I assure him that we have given an immediate response, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Boateng. What we have announced thus far is immediate support. The reason we are not sending out direct support is because we have invested, since 2017—I can speak with some insight and expertise—in CDEMA and in the structures in the Caribbean and the region to ensure that the response can be as effective and co-ordinated as possible. The noble Lord talks about Montserrat, which I continue to support. Indeed, it is this Government who have provided close to £30 million of capital spending to continue to help Montserrat. We are also supporting, through the Caribbean Development Bank, specific projects including roadbuilding in St Vincent. That kind of long-term infrastructure support will also continue.

Environment and Climate Change Committee

European Affairs Committee

Industry and Regulators Committee

Built Environment Committee

Justice and Home Affairs Committee

Membership Motions

Moved by

Environment and Climate Change Committee

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the environment and climate change;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Boycott, B., Browne of Ladyton, L., Cameron of Dillington, L., Chalker of Wallasey, B., Colgrain, L., Lilley, L., Lucas, L., Northover, B., Oxford, Bp., Parminter, B. (Chair), Puttnam, L., Whitty, L., Young of Old Scone, B.

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

European Affairs Committee

That a Select Committee be appointed:

(1) To consider matters relating to the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and the European Economic Area, including:

a) The implementation of any agreements between the United Kingdom and the European Union, including the operation of the governance structures established under those agreements;

b) Any negotiations and further agreements between the United Kingdom and the European Union;

c) The operation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland;

(2) To consider European Union documents deposited in the House by a minister;

(3) To support the House as appropriate in interparliamentary cooperation with the European Parliament and the Member States of the European Union;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Couttie, B., Faulkner of Worcester, L., Foulkes of Cumnock, L., Hannay of Chiswick, L., Jay of Ewelme, L., Jolly, B., Kinnoull, E (Chair)., Lamont of Lerwick, L., Liddle, L., Purvis of Tweed, L., Trenchard, V., Tugendhat, L., Wood of Anfield, L.

That the Committee have power to appoint a sub-committee and to refer to it any matters within its terms of reference;

That the Committee have power to appoint the Chair of the sub-committee;

That the Committee have power to co-opt any member to serve on the sub-committee;

That the Committee and its sub-committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee and its sub-committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee and its sub-committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the Committee or its sub-committee be published, if the Committee so wishes;

That the evidence taken by the European Union Committee be referred to the Committee.

Industry and Regulators Committee

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider matters relating to industry, including the policies of Her Majesty’s Government to promote industrial growth, skills and competitiveness, and to scrutinise the work of UK regulators;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Allen of Kensington, L., Blackwell, L., Bowles of Berkhamsted, B., Burns, L., Curry of Kirkharle, L., Donaghy, B., Eatwell, L., Grade of Yarmouth, L., Hollick, L. (Chair), Noakes, B., Reay, L., Sharkey, L.

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

Built Environment Committee

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider matters relating to the built environment, including policies relating to housing, planning, transport and infrastructure;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Bakewell, B., Berkeley, L., Best, L., Carrington of Fulham, L., Cohen of Pimlico, B., Grocott, L., Haselhurst, L., Lytton, E., Moylan, L., Neville-Rolfe, B. (Chair), Stunell, L., Thornhill, B.

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

Justice and Home Affairs Committee *

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider justice and home affairs, including the domestic criminal justice system, and international cooperation in respect of criminal justice, civil justice, migration and asylum;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Blunkett, L., Chakrabarti, B., Dholakia, L., Hallett, B., Hamwee, B. (Chair), Hunt of Wirral, L., Kennedy of The Shaws, B., Ricketts, L., Sanderson of Welton, B., Shackleton of Belgravia, B., Pidding, B., Primarolo, B.

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

In December 2020, the Liaison Committee published a final report resulting from its extensive review of House of Lords committee activity. The report, which was subsequently agreed by the House in January, recommended the creation of five new sessional committees focused on the built environment; the environment and climate change; European affairs; industry and regulators; and justice and home affairs. These committees, which build upon our earlier recommendations and changes, will give the House a new thematic committee structure which allows for more effective and comprehensive scrutiny of all major areas of public policy.

The Motions before us today are to appoint members to the new committees. It is expected that the European Affairs Committee will, at one of its early meetings, also appoint a sub-committee focused on the operation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, completing the structural changes recommended through the review of committees.

In recent years I have received representations from across the House regarding the relatively low number of committees chaired by female Members of the House. With that in mind, I am pleased to note that three of the five committees that we are appointing today are to be chaired by women. Across all committees as a whole, excluding those chaired by office holders and Joint Committees chaired by MPs, one-third of our committees will now have female chairs, which represents good progress on recent years.

Today’s appointments also mark the end of an era, as the new committees will effectively take the place of our previous European Union Committee and its sub-committees, which published their final reports late last month and have now concluded their work. European Union Committee reports, whether before, after or during Brexit, have demonstrated a depth of inquiry, a level of expertise and comprehensive scrutiny that has not been matched elsewhere. I have previously paid tribute to the work of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and his colleagues, but wish once again, on behalf of the House, to thank them for the service they have performed in recent years.

Lastly, I remind the House that the review of committees has established a firm but flexible framework within which our committees will operate. We are in a position to consider future adjustments to our committee structures as and when the need arises, particularly during our annual reviews, the first of which is expected in the autumn. In this way, our comprehensive review, including the Motions before us today, should provide committees with a firm foundation for many years to come. I beg to move.

I have one question, and a couple of observations, on what will probably be the Senior Deputy Speaker’s last outing in this House. I am sure we all admire the work that he has done in his many years in the job.

The withdrawal agreement from the EU provides for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee between the British Parliament and the European Parliament. I wonder whether the Senior Deputy Speaker can give us any information as to how the House of Lords is to be represented in that committee, and whether we will be taking one of either the chair or the three vice-chairs of that committee. I happen to know, because I wear several hats in this game, that the European Parliament has already decided on its chair and vice-chairs, so I just wonder what we are doing, who is leading for us and how it will fit into that structure.

My second point is that we seem to have again arrived at this position through some sort of magical mystery tour. We are told that the Committee of Selection has done this, but who has it approached? I have not seen anything. I have not been asked whether I would like to serve on a committee. How do these names come forward? I suggest that they come forward because all that we say about this being a self-regulating House is basically a load of old rubbish. The leadership runs this House. We are pushed around in whatever way a very small group of people chooses. It really is as simple as that.

I would like the Senior Deputy Speaker to follow the great tradition of leaving a note for one’s successor. He does not need to leave a note saying that there is no money left, but I think he could well leave a note saying that there is a call from some quarters—they may be unrepresentative, but I would certainly like to see it—for much greater democratisation.

In the other place, the chairs of committees are allocated to the political groups and then elected by the whole House on the basis that it can look and decide what the competencies are of those committees and the chairs can have the confidence of the House. They are not plucked out of some magical hat somewhere. I would like to see that procedure extended to this House. Clearly it cannot be done in this resolution, but I am getting a bit fed up with constantly going on about this. If the issue comes back yet again, with another series of committees and no movement whatever, I might just be tempted to divide the House—although I would lose—to prove that there are probably at least two people who support what I have got to say.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak but will say just a brief word. I cannot speak for the noble Lord’s party, but I assure him that we on these Benches have a very open process of selection for committees. All Members are notified of committee vacancies; they are asked to apply and, in consultation, the Chief Whip makes a decision and our group discusses it. He obviously has grievances with his own group, for which I cannot speak, but I am looking at my colleagues behind me and know that they do not share those grievances.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for that question on the European area. It was the joint parliamentary committee that was to establish the partnership assembly and already I have had informal discussions behind the scenes on that. I will write to the noble Lord further and put the letter in the Library for people to see.

The process of committee nominations is left to the usual channels of the parliamentary parties. It is for the parliamentary parties to engage with their members, and I assume that they are doing that. The Committee of Selection then gets those nominations and decides, at the end of the day.

Writing a note is quite good idea. The only thing that I would say are these two words: “Bye-bye”.

Motions agreed.

Greensill Capital

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 13 April.

“Greensill Capital (UK) Ltd was approved by the British Business Bank for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme last year in accordance with the bank’s published guidance on accreditation. All decisions taken by the bank were made independently and in accordance with the bank’s usual procedure.

The criteria by which the decisions were made were based on those used in the existing enterprise finance guarantee scheme, dating back from 2009, and were set out in the CLBILS request for proposals, which was a publicly available document. These criteria included minimum requirements such as the ability to demonstrate a track record of lending to larger enterprises, provision of evidence-based forecasts, the ability to demonstrate sufficient capital available to meet the lending forecasts, a viable business model, robust operations and systems, that the proposed lending will not have unreasonable lender-levied fees and interest, and that the lender has all the necessary regulations, licences, authorisations and permissions to operate the scheme. All accredited lenders are subject to regular audit by the bank to ensure their compliance with scheme rules.

Following analysis of loan data as part of its standard due diligence, the bank opened an investigation into Greensill Capital’s compliance with the terms of the scheme in October 2020 and informed the Government of this on 9 October. That investigation is continuing and the Government’s obligations as guarantor under the CLBILS guarantee are suspended on a precautionary basis. It would not be appropriate to comment further on the investigation at this time.”

My Lords, the government response fails to grasp the seriousness of this issue. Not only did the former Prime Minister lobby his mates through the backdoor for Greensill Capital but it now emerges that the Government’s chief procurement officer, Mr Crothers, a full-time civil servant, was also an adviser to the Greensill Capital board, apparently en route to becoming a director. I have here his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, in which he says he was given approval to transition back to the private sector, that it was not contentious and, he says, “not uncommon”. At best this is sloppy governance; at worst it is dodgy in the extreme. I have two questions: who gave that approval and how many other cases are there across Whitehall? The Minister should have that information. If he does not, I will settle for him writing to me. The Minister is known to be an honourable man. Is he really comfortable defending this?

I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. She will be aware that the Prime Minister has asked Nigel Boardman to conduct a review that will look into all the decisions that were taken around these developments and the questions of supply chain finance, which was the original point of the question that was posed. I say to the noble Baroness that I think it is a good thing that there is some cross-fertilisation between civil servants and the private sector. It is wrong for people to have experience purely in the public sector. These are long-standing arrangements. It has happened under Governments of all political persuasions.

My Lords, I hope very much that the Minister will rethink his response to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. But my question is focused on the UQ itself. There are many press reports that the British Business Bank is now taking a look at the loans that Greensill made under the CBILS programme, but what investigation is going on to understand how on earth a company with as many red flags as Greensill was accredited to the CBILS programme in the first place? We all know that the British Business Bank told us, when we questioned why there were such long delays in many of the challenger and alternate lenders getting approval to make loans under CBILS, that it was a very thorough accreditation process, so we need some proper answers to that. Can he also tell us whether Greensill was put at the front of the queue for getting accreditation, along with any other companies that came with recommendations from Government or Conservative Party members, in the same way as the VIP system for procurement of PPE worked earlier in the year, which the Government have acknowledged?

The noble Baroness makes a number of allegations that are not supported by the facts. Greensill’s applications for accreditation to both CBILS and CLBILS were assessed independently by the British Business Bank on the basis of the separate criteria for those schemes, which were designed to be accessible to a range of lenders in accordance with the goal of supporting lending to businesses impacted by Covid-19. A number of similar companies went through the same process and were also accredited to the schemes.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about the surprising nature of the Minister’s response to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Is the Greensill scandal not a sign of a systematic problem going back decades through successive Governments, arising from an ideological desire to bring for-profit business ideologies into what should be decision-making for the public good? Is it not now clear that business and the Civil Service should be two separate schemes of employment, without a revolving door between them? Given the current level of embarrassment, will the Government consider legislation so that Ministers, particularly Secretaries of State and Prime Ministers, are limited by statute not to take any paying role that enables them to use for personal enrichment the knowledge and contacts acquired during what should be a period of public service?

I just do not agree with the fundamental point the noble Baroness makes. Of course it is important that all decisions taken by Ministers and civil servants are taken independently, but I return to my original point that it is a good thing that people have experience of the private sector—and that people in the private sector have experience in the public sector. There should not just be two distinct career paths which never meet. As long as the appropriate propriety and transparency are followed, it is a good thing.

My Lords, early last year three of Greensill’s major clients—NMC Health, BrightHouse and Agritrade—collapsed. This provided a reminder of the precariousness of its business model. We know that Greensill was not subject to capital adequacy tests by the FCA or the PRA, so how did the Government perform due diligence checks before approving it as a lender? Can the Minister give a firm commitment to publish all documents relating to Greensill’s designation as a lender?

I remind the noble Lord of the answers I gave to earlier questions. These decisions were taken not by the Government but by the British Business Bank, and there were also other non-bank lenders accredited under CLBILS. These were loans which the Government put in place in emergency conditions to save viable businesses. The whole object was to try to preserve jobs and employment in the economy. I am sorry if the Opposition do not think that is a good thing, but I think it is good that jobs are being preserved.

My Lords, the Greensill affair was a scandal waiting to happen. Lobbying has tainted our politics for too long—those are not my words, but those of former Prime Minister Cameron 11 years ago. He even described how it works: the lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-Ministers and ex-advisers for hire. It has worsened since then, as it appears that current civil servants can now be hired also. This is an opportunity to do what the former Prime Minister should have done: shine a light on the whole sorry business. Can it really be true that Bill Crothers, who worked in Whitehall for eight years and founded the Crown Commercial Service, controlling more than £15 billion of purchases, was at the same time employed by Greensill Capital? It beggars belief and needs to be rooted out. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that all documents and records involved in this serious allegation of high-level cronyism will be published in due course?

The Prime Minister has announced a review into this matter. I have seen the media reports the noble Lord refers to, but the Boardman review will cover all available facts. The Government will provide all necessary documentation to that review, and all participants have said that they are willing to provide the appropriate information as well. The noble Lord should give him a chance to do his work and see what he comes up with.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has said that the Greensill inquiry has carte blanche, so could the Minister assure the House that it will be able to look into the Scottish Government’s failed deal with Gupta and Greensill for the Lochaber smelter, which has lost the taxpayer half a billion pounds? Will it also look into the private meetings over dinner which Scottish Minister Fergus Ewing had with them, of which no records were kept and which were not reported to the Civil Service? The Cameron sleaze seems to have crossed the border to the Scottish Government.

The noble Lord is nothing if not firm in the points he makes. I can speak only for the British Government on this, as I suspect he knows very well. I cannot comment on or speak for the Scottish Government on their dealings. Our review will examine matters for which the UK Government are responsible. Perhaps he could take up his concerns about what happens in Scotland with the First Minister.

Chinese Government Sanctions on UK Citizens

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 13 April.

The Government stand in complete solidarity with those sanctioned by China. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, this action by Beijing is utterly unacceptable and unwarranted.

The House will recall that on 22 March, the UK, alongside the EU, Canada and the United States, imposed asset freezes and travel bans against four senior Chinese government officials and one entity responsible for the violations that have taken place and persist against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. In response, China sanctioned nine individuals and four organisations, including Members of this House and the other place, who have criticised its record on human rights. It speaks volumes that while 30 countries are united in sanctioning those responsible for serious and systematic violations of human rights in Xinjiang, China’s response is to retaliate against those who seek to shine a light on those violations. It is fundamental to our parliamentary democracy that Members of both Houses can speak without fear or favour on matters of concern to the British people.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made absolutely clear the Government’s position through their public statements and on 22 March. I also summoned China’s representative in the UK to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to lodge a strong, formal protest at China’s actions. This Government have been quick to offer support to those who have been sanctioned. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary held private meetings with the parliamentarians named in China’s announcement. My noble friend the Minister for Human Rights, Lord Ahmad, met other individuals and the entities that have been targeted. Through this engagement, we have provided guidance and an offer of ongoing support, including a designated FCDO point of contact and specialist briefing from relevant departments.

Just as this Government will be unbowed by China’s action, I have no doubt that Members across this House will be undeterred from raising their fully justified concerns about the situation in Xinjiang and the human rights situation in China more broadly. I applaud the parliamentarians named by China: my honourable friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham, for Tonbridge and Malling, for Harborough and for Wealden, my right honourable friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for the vital role they have played in drawing attention to the plight of the Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

This Government have worked with partners to build the international caucus of those willing to speak out against China’s human rights violations and increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour. We have led joint statements at the UN’s human rights bodies, most recently joined by 38 countries at the UN General Assembly Third Committee in October, and we have backed up our international action with robust domestic measures. In addition to the global human rights sanctions announced on 22 March, the Foreign Secretary announced a series of targeted measures in January to help ensure that British businesses are not complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang. The United Kingdom will continue to work alongside its partners to send the clearest possible signal of the international community’s serious concern and our collective willingness to act to hold China to account for its gross human rights violations in the region.”

My Lords, I believe that all sides of the House stand in solidarity with the UK nationals—including Members of both Houses—who have been sanctioned by the Communist Party of China as a consequence of calling out the genocide and horrendous human rights abuses. In standing in solidarity, we must also offer support. I understand that a number of individuals have been subject to cyberattacks; can the noble Lord tell us what support we are giving on that? Is our infrastructure sufficiently resilient to any further such attacks? Can he also say why at this time the Government are reopening the two UK-China government investment forums, which were closed when Beijing introduced the Hong Kong national security law last summer?

My Lords, I agree totally with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about our solidarity and our support for Members of both Houses of Parliament, and equally those beyond it, who have been sanctioned. Ironically, those who have stood up for human rights are having their rights suppressed for speaking out. We absolutely support them. On the specific areas the noble Lord raised about support being given to Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as those outside Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have met with parliamentarians who have been sanctioned by the Chinese Government. Equally, I have led on direct engagement with those individuals outside Parliament, including organisations, who have been impacted. We have direct points of contact in the FCDO to offer them whatever support they require. There is active engagement and we are ready to support whatever concerns or issues of security, cyber or otherwise, they may have. On our trading relationship with China, no active trade agreement is currently being negotiated. On the specifics of the investment forum, if there are further details I can share with the noble Lord I will of course do so.

My Lords, given that the major parties in the European Parliament have said that until sanctions against their MEPs are listed they will not ratify the EU comprehensive investment agreement with China, is it to be business as usual for us while UK parliamentarians are being sanctioned for exposing genocide in Xinjiang? Will my noble friend confirm for the record that this country would never make bilateral trade agreements with any country guilty of genocide?

My Lords, first, let me assure my noble friend that, while acknowledging that we have important trade between the UK and China, we are not currently negotiating a trade agreement with China. On the issue of genocide, which has been debated in your Lordships’ House as well as the other place, we have already made the Government’s position absolutely clear: that is a determination for the courts and there is a due process to go through before that determination is made. But I can share with my noble friend the actions we have taken, notwithstanding that issue being determined or otherwise. We have acted and led on action against China, both with direct sanctions, as we have imposed recently against senior government officials in Xinjiang, as well as in multilateral fora such as the Human Rights Council, where we have seen increased support for the United Kingdom’s position and statements.

My Lords, the Minister will know that the Chinese Communist Party’s sanctions against parliamentarians should always be seen in the context of the harrowing evidence of genocide and human rights violations given by courageous witnesses to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups of which I am an officer. Parliamentarians must not be cowed or intimidated into silence or losing focus on those substantive issues because of sanctions. In a week in which young Joshua Wong, who has spoken in your Lordships’ House, has seen his prison sentence extended, did the Minister also see that 75 year-old Koo Sze-yiu, a pro-democracy campaigner who has already served 11 prison sentences, said when defending himself in a Hong Kong Court that he would not seek mitigation or leniency for treatment of his cancer as he fully intended to continue protesting? He said:

“The next time, I will deliberately break the National Security Law. Do not be lenient or take pity on me.”

Does not such courageous dignity demonstrate to the CCP that it has united East and West, young and old and parliamentarians from all political traditions? Was not Liu Xiaobo, who suffered at the CCP’s hands, right when he said:

“Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth”?

My Lord, in agreeing with much of what the noble Lord said, let me assure him that we totally and utterly condemn China’s attempt to silence those highlighting human rights abuses, be they at home or abroad.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for the support they have given to those who have been sanctioned by China. It is vital that we defend the right to freedom of speech, by parliamentarians in particular but by academics and others as well. Last time the Uighurs were discussed in the House, the Minister agreed to write to me about why the head of the Communist Party in Xinjiang province, who has overseen the atrocious abuses there, was not included in the UK’s list of those sanctioned. As I have not received a letter, will he answer my question now?

My Lords, first, on the letter and the response to a specific question, I shall of course follow up on that with my officials. Without speculating on future sanctions, an evidence threshold needs to be met that is tested robustly before we apply sanctions to any given individual.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that yesterday I asked him a question based on a passage at page 63 of the Integrated Review, which said:

“We will not hesitate to stand up for our values.”

Is that not exactly what our colleagues in this House and the other place have been doing, which, as a consequence, entitles them to our unanimous and unfailing support?

My Lords, on 23 February I said in this House that the Uighurs were calling out for justice and freedom. Our colleagues have been sanctioned by the same Chinese authorities who deny the Uighurs justice and freedom. The Minister in the other place, Nigel Adams, said yesterday:

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that freedom of parliamentarians to speak out … is fundamental”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/4/21; col. 165.]

and that the Government will stand firmly with them. So what does “standing firmly” actually mean, and how does it translate into real action against the Chinese authorities—not nice words, but real action?

My Lords, first, the solidarity that has been shown in your Lordships’ House and the other place with colleagues across both Houses and beyond reflects the unity of purpose and action in support of those who have been sanctioned. The Government are offering direct support, as I said in response to an earlier question, to all those organisations and individuals who have been sanctioned, and we will continue to do so. Because there is ambiguity in what the sanctions actually mean for those individuals, we continue to press the Chinese authorities for that further detail.

While these outrageous sanctions persist, is it not incumbent on Ministers—and, indeed, all parliamentarians—to formally suspend any co-operation in the various bilateral mechanisms that we have between parliamentarians in the UK and China, such as the people to people dialogue and the UK-China young leaders bilaterals?

My Lords, I can speak from my experience as a government Minister, and we have been very clear in calling out the human rights abuses in China. We have called out the issues within Hong Kong. However, equally, I recognise, as we do in multilateral fora, that there are issues such as the environment and conflicts such as the situation in Myanmar which require direct dialogue with the Chinese authorities, because they are part of the solution. There are many things we disagree on but, equally, we recognise the important role China continues to play in the international community.

My Lords, I declare my position as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. The sanctions on UK citizens make it very clear that the Chinese Government are seeking to silence democratic dissent and free speech around the world. They are also doing that more and more in Hong Kong. I am sure the Minister is aware of reports of plans to criminalise any collective call to leave ballot papers blank or otherwise spoiled in internal elections. Are the Government taking any steps to make representations on this, to highlight it or take any action regarding it?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to raise the recent decisions taken by the Chinese authorities about the future operation of the legislative bodies within Hong Kong. She also rightly raises a number of other concerns, and I can assure her that we are raising them directly. The implications are such that the democratic right and will of the people of Hong Kong is being totally and utterly diluted and denied, and we will continue to defend that right. Let us not forget that China is also party to an agreement to protect the democratic will of the people of Hong Kong. It should stand by that international agreement. It is lodged with the UN. I assure the noble Baroness that, whether it is in international fora or directly with the Chinese, we will continue to raise that, because the rights of the people of Hong Kong matter to us all.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, that there was not time to take her question.

We now come to questions on a Statement made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 March, on the new plan for immigration. I first call the Front Bench speakers, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

Immigration

Statement

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 24 March.

“I wish to make a Statement on our new plan for immigration. The Government have taken back control of legal immigration by ending free movement and introducing a points-based immigration system. We are now addressing the challenge of illegal migration head-on.

I am introducing the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades—a new, comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan—because while people are dying we have a responsibility to act. People are dying at sea, in lorries and in shipping containers, having put their lives in the hands of criminal gangs that facilitate illegal journeys to the UK. To stop the deaths, we must stop the trade in people that causes them.

Our society is enriched by legal immigration. We celebrate those who have come to the UK lawfully and have helped to build Britain. We always will. Since 2015, we have resettled almost 25,000 men, women and children seeking refuge from persecution across the world—more than any other EU country. We have welcomed more than 29,000 close relatives through refugee family reunion and created a pathway to citizenship to enable over 5 million people in Hong Kong to come to the UK. Nobody can say that the British public are not fair or generous when it comes to helping those in need, but the British public also recognise that for too long parts of the immigration system have been open to abuse.

At the heart of our new plan for immigration is a simple principle: fairness. Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers. If someone enters the UK illegally from a safe country such as France, where they should and could have claimed asylum, they are not seeking refuge from persecution, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system; instead, they are choosing the UK as their preferred destination and they are doing so at the expense of those with nowhere else to go.

Our system is collapsing under the pressures of parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smugglers. The existence of parallel routes is deeply unfair, advantaging those with the means to pay smugglers over those in desperate need. The capacity of our asylum system is not unlimited, so the presence of economic migrants, which these illegal routes introduce, limits our ability to properly support others in genuine need of protection. This is manifestly unfair to those desperately waiting to be resettled in the UK. It is not fair to the British people either, whose taxes pay for vital public services and for an asylum system that has skyrocketed in cost—it is costing over £1 billion this year.

There were more than 32,000 attempts to enter the UK illegally in 2019, with 8,500 people arriving by small boat in 2020. Of those, 87% were men and 74% were aged between 18 and 39. We should ask ourselves: where are the vulnerable women and children that this system should exist to protect? The system is becoming overwhelmed: 109,000 claims are sitting in the asylum queue. Some 52,000 are awaiting an initial asylum decision, with almost three-quarters of those waiting a year or more. Some 42,000 failed asylum seekers have not left the country, despite having had their claim refused.

The persistent failure to enforce our laws and immigration rules, with a system that is open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals, is eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help. That is why our new plan for immigration is driven by three fair but firm objectives: first, to increase the fairness of our system, so we can protect and support those in genuine need of asylum; secondly, to deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of people smugglers and protecting the lives of those they endanger; and, thirdly, to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here. Let me take each in turn.

First, we will continue to provide safe refuge to those in need, strengthening support for those arriving through safe and legal routes. People coming to the UK through resettlement routes will be granted indefinite leave to remain. They will receive more support to learn English, find work and integrate. I will also act to help those who have suffered injustices by amending British nationality law, so that members of the Windrush generation will be able to obtain British citizenship more easily.

Secondly, this plan marks a step change in our approach as we toughen our stance to deter illegal entry and the criminals who endanger life by enabling it. To get to the UK, many illegal arrivals have travelled through a safe country such as France, where they could and should have claimed asylum. We must act to reduce the pull factors of our system and disincentivise illegal entry. For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful. We will deem their claim inadmissible and make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country first in which they could and should have claimed asylum. Only where removal is not possible will those who have successful claims, having entered illegally, receive a new temporary protection status. This is not an automatic right to settle—they will be regularly reassessed for removal—and will include limited access to benefits and limited family reunion rights. Our tough new stance will also include: new maximum life sentences for people smugglers and facilitators; new rules to stop unscrupulous people posing as children; and strengthening enforcement powers for Border Force.

Thirdly, we will seek to rapidly remove those with no right to be here in the UK, establishing a fast-track appeals process, streamlining the appeals system and making quicker removal decisions for failed asylum seekers and dangerous foreign criminals. We will tackle the practice of meritless claims that clog up the courts with last-minute claims and appeals—a fundamental unfairness that lawyers tell me frustrates them, too—because for too long, our justice system has been gamed. Almost three-quarters of migrants in detention raised last-minute new claims, or challenges or other issues, with over eight in 10 of these eventually being denied as valid reasons to stay in the UK. Enough is enough. Our new plan sets out a one-stop process to require all claims to be made up-front—no more endless, meritless claims to frustrate removal; no more stalling justice. Our new system will be faster and fairer and will help us better support the most vulnerable.

Our new plan builds on the work already done to take back control of our borders, building a system that upholds our reputation as a country where criminality is not rewarded, but which is a haven for those in need. There are no quick fixes or short cuts to success, but this long-term plan, pursued doggedly, will fix our broken system.

We know that Members of the Opposition would prefer a different plan—one that embraces the idea of open borders. Many of them were reluctant to end free movement, with Members opposite on record as having said that all immigration controls are racist or sexist. And to those who say we lack compassion, I simply say that while people are dying, we must act to deter these journeys, and if they do not like our plan, where is theirs?

This Government promised to take a common-sense approach to controlling immigration, legal and illegal, and we will deliver on that promise. The UK is playing its part to tackle the inhumanity of illegal migration, and today I will press for global action at the G6. I commend this Statement to the House.”

The Statement is apparently geared to what the Government describe as “illegal immigration”. In the Commons, the Home Secretary referred to “a broken system”—the Government’s words. After nearly 11 years in office, it is this Government who are responsible for the present system and its consequences, and it is time that the Government accepted their failings.

In 2010, the Government’s policy was to reduce net migration below 100,000. That policy—whether one agreed with it or not—was not implemented. We have never had an explanation from the Government as to why, nor will we have one today, because they will not wish to admit that it would have damaged our economy. It was certainly nothing to do with membership of the EU and free movement, because that was a known factor at the time when the policy was drawn up. That policy was clearly not drawn up with the intention that it would be implemented; it was simply because the Government wanted to attract headlines for sounding tough on reducing the number of people coming to this country. Time will tell whether the real purpose of this Statement falls into the same category.

We have a broken system because, over the last decade, the Government have been more interested in sounding tough to secure headlines than in addressing the broken system over which they now admit they have presided for some years and continue to preside. The Statement says that the Government’s current broken system

“limits our ability to properly support others in genuine need of protection. This is manifestly unfair to those desperately waiting to be resettled in the UK.”

It also refers to the system being overwhelmed, and to the

“persistent failure to enforce our immigration laws”.

Who exactly do the Government think is responsible for that failure which they have now recognised? The Statement also refers to the

“pathway to citizenship to enable over five million people in Hong Kong to come to the UK.”

We welcome this. Five million is somewhat larger than the 16,000 unauthorised arrivals detected in the UK in 2019 and which apparently

“limits our ability to properly support others in genuine need of protection.”

This assumes that none of the 16,000 is also in need of protection because they are fleeing war and persecution or, in the Government’s view, even worthy of protection simply because of the way in which they have reached this country.

The Hong Kong pathway is evidence of the need for safe, legal routes for those in need of refuge. Can the Government say how many of the 5 million eligible people in Hong Kong they expect to come to the UK? The policy statement says that

“an estimated 320,000 people [may] come to the UK over the next five years.”

How was that estimate arrived at and how many is it estimated may come from Hong Kong to the UK after the first five years? Can the Government also confirm that there is no restriction on the numbers of people in Hong Kong who are rightly allowed to come to the UK being able to do so?

The Statement says that, under the Government’s broken system, 109,000 claims are sitting in the asylum queue. No doubt, this is—at least in part—because the Government have allowed the share of applications receiving an initial decision within six months to fall from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. Why did the Government let that happen? Why are so many appeals successful? Are the Government going to tell us that it is all the fault of “leftie lawyers” or will they at last accept responsibility for the system which they now describe as “broken” and “collapsing”?

The Government have previously told us about pending agreements with France to stop criminal gangs involved in the terrible crime of human trafficking. What has happened to those promised agreements? The Statement is silent on that issue, though the policy statement tells us that, in 2019, 32,000 attempts to enter the UK by unauthorised groups were prevented in northern France.

The Government have previously referred to those who have arrived here through non-recognised routes being returned to the first country in which they could have sought asylum, or to another country. With which countries have the Government reached agreement to take back those seeking asylum who have arrived here through non-recognised routes? Is it their view of the provisions of international law and of the Refugee Convention that refugees fleeing war and persecution have to claim asylum in the first safe country through which they pass, and that they have no right to transit through another country to get to this country to claim asylum? Many would disagree with this stance is correct or right, but is it the Government’s position?

What safe and legal routes currently exist by which refugees, including children, can reach this country, following our departure from the EU and the ending of the Dublin arrangements? This is on top of the earlier abrupt cessation of the Dubs scheme. Is there any limit on the number of refugees who can come to the UK by safe and legal routes? If so, what is it? If there are no, or minimal, safe and legal routes, that is only going to make dangerous and unauthorised entries to this country, including through traffickers—whether by small boat, air, in the back of a lorry or a shipping container—more, not less likely.

The Government claim that, since our departure from the EU, we have control of our borders. Does that mean that implementing what is set out in the Statement is not dependent on reaching agreements with any other countries? Does claiming that we have control of our borders mean that, at all our ports of entry, the level of checks will be such that the likelihood of successful, unauthorised entry into this country is minimal?

Finally, how will success or failure of the policies set out in the Statement be judged? What will be the criteria, yardsticks and statistics against which the Government will make this assessment?

My Lords, the Statement claims to have taken back control of legal immigration by ending free movement. Not only can EU citizens continue to enter the UK without a visa, using the e-passport gates at UK airports, but rather than taking back control of legal immigration the Government have extended the use of these e-passport gates to a further seven countries. Before, citizens of those countries had to have a valid reason for entry, enough money to sustain them and evidence that they would leave again. As a result, thousands were turned away at the UK border every year. Can the Minister say what checks are now done on these visitors?

The Statement says that people are dying at sea. Is this not because safe and legal routes for genuine asylum seekers are inadequate or non-existent? How many safe and legal routes are open to genuine asylum seekers? Can the Minister explain how vulnerable people in a war zone can apply under such a scheme? What advice does she have for legitimate seekers of sanctuary in those parts of the world with no safe and legal routes to the UK?

The Statement says that the UK’s asylum system should be based on need. Yet the Government propose to set up a two-tier system, based not on need or the validity of someone’s claim but on how they got to the UK. Are the Government aware of Article 31 of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees? It states:

“The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees... provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

Are the Government’s proposals to penalise those who do not use safe and legal routes—routes which do not currently exist and for which the Government have no firm plans or timetable—not in contravention of its international obligations?

The Statement talks about someone illegally entering the UK from France. Can the Minister say on which piece of legislation the Government rely when they claim that asylum seekers who travel through a safe country to get to the UK can only claim asylum in that safe country? Even if they had claimed asylum in an EU country, what mechanism will the Government use to deport them, now that the UK is no longer part of the Dublin regulation?

The Statement claims that the immigration system “is collapsing” under the pressure of asylum applications. In the early 2000s, around 100,000 people a year were claiming asylum in the UK. In 2020, it was 36,000—a reduction of almost two-thirds, despite an increase in the number of people crossing the channel in small boats. Is the reason that the system is collapsing not channel crossings but Home Office mismanagement? Is the reason for the increase in channel crossings not due to the fact that people can no longer claim asylum from outside the UK?

Can the Minister confirm how many of the 42,000 failed asylum seekers who have not left the country are in the process of appealing a Home Office decision, when, on average, 50% of those claims are usually successful? Of those who have exhausted the legal process, why has the Home Office not deported them?

This is not a common-sense approach to controlling immigration. This Statement highlights a catalogue of government failures, along with an illegal proposal to discriminate against those legally seeking sanctuary in the UK and a hollow promise to help the most vulnerable at some unspecified date in the future. The policy has thrown open the UK border to even more countries while slamming the door shut on genuine asylum seekers. I have the greatest respect for the Minister—even though she rises in an attempt to defend the indefensible.

I thank both noble Lords for their questions. I found them quite interesting. I always find the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, interesting. However, in a funny way we agree on some of the issues, although it would not seem so on the face of it. The last question that the noble Lord asked was: why has the Home Office not deported people who have exhausted their claims? In the proposals is the idea of a one-stop process in order that people do not keep on bringing claims, including on the steps of the plane or whatever the mode of transport might be, when being returned to their country of origin. The noble Lord asked why there had been an increase in channel crossings. It is due to criminality. There is a commonality within this House and the other place that we want to stop that criminality. All that it does is feed human misery and cause deaths, quite often in the English Channel. The criminals are the only ones who profit from it.

The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, asked a totally fair question: what are the legal routes? The legal routes are not being proposed but asked about in the consultation process, in which I hope a lot of people will engage. In fact, thousands have done so already in relation to what legal and safe routes look like. Resettlement, whereby we have given refuge to more than 45,000 people since 2010, has been an incredibly efficient way in which to get to this country from the regions really vulnerable people who need our refuge. Obviously, if someone has a visa and the situation changes while they are in this country, that is another legal route. A good example of that might be Myanmar at the moment. If there is no visa regime in place in the country of origin, people can travel to the UK to claim asylum. But, as I say, there are the three obvious routes, including resettlement, and a consultation process is under way, which will elucidate the answers for the Government to consider.

The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Paddick, talked about controlling our borders and leaving the EU. Yes, we make absolutely no bones about that. One of the reasons why the British public decided that they wanted to leave the EU was so that we could take control of our borders. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right; it is not necessarily any more about numbers but about having control over who comes in and out.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also talked about the BNOs. The estimate that about 320,000 people will come here is correct; there is no restriction on them. He also talked about people from war-torn countries. Of course, they are the very people we want to give refuge to. That was the origin of the resettlement scheme: so that people in Syria and the MENA region could get our refuge. We have now extended resettlement to include anywhere in the world where people might be vulnerable as a result of either persecution or war.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also talked about successful appeals. That goes back, again, to the one-step process. Appeals are frustrating the whole process of giving genuine people asylum, and it is important that we do not allow gaming of the system. We want the most vulnerable to be able to avail themselves of our asylum.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about pending agreements with France. Yes, discussions continue with EU partners and he will know that I do want to go into the details of that on the Floor of the House. He and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked whether we are complying with the refugee convention. Yes, we are. On the issue of first safe country, the system was established under Dublin. It is nothing new that people who arrive in safe countries should not then seek to come to this country if, in fact, they have been given refuge in a safe country. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also raised the issue of inadmissibility rules. They are of long standing and existed under Dublin.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the abrupt cessation of the Dubs scheme. The number of people under it was based on the ability of local authorities to take asylum seekers. We made it very clear to Parliament at the time—and Parliament was in agreement—that we could not commit to bringing people here if we could not house them within local authorities.

In terms of e-gates, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is absolutely right. The ability to get into this country via the e-gates has been extended to include seven countries. However, if you have not signed up to the EU settlement scheme and, therefore, cannot prove your right to work or rent, your journey is very restricted thereafter. The noble Lord asked how someone in a war zone applies. This is why I keep talking about resettlement—someone in a war zone should be picked up within our resettlement schemes. I repeat: some 45,500 people have been given refuge since 2010. The noble Lord posited that we were going to penalise people who do not use safe and legal routes. The people we really want to penalise are the people traffickers, the criminals—those who make money out of other people’s misfortune and, quite often, death.

My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. There are only eight questioners, so if noble Lords exercise their normal discretion, we should be able to hear from everybody. We start with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper.

My Lords, we must all deplore the tragic consequences of people smuggling and recognise the need to turn the tide of illegal immigration. Looking ahead, since primary legislation will be required to implement the new plan, I ask my noble friend the Minister to expand on chapter 9 of the policy statement, concerning the consultation process that started on 24 March. She has touched on this, but can she give us some examples of the stakeholders involved and that will be involved? In particular, can she tell us whether the IMO—the International Maritime Organization—is to be included in the consultation? I think it is the only United Nations body to be based in the United Kingdom with responsibilities for security, among other things.

I took the opportunity this morning of seeing how many people have, thus far, replied to the consultation. You can see the rolling number on the website, and it is well over 7,000 to date. As for telling my noble friend who might have replied, I could not see a list on the website. I probably cannot see that until the consultation is complete, but I will look into it for her. I take her point about that one body based in the UK and will see if I can give her any further information on that.

I begin by declaring my interest as a trustee of Reset and a member of the RAMP Project, as in the register. The Minister knows that I have deep respect for her work, and I am extremely grateful for the co-working we have done on a range of issues over the last few years. There is much that I welcome on the refugee side in the Statement and the policy statement. However, I have some very deep concerns around the asylum side of this. I would almost divide it into one half good, one half bad. The specific question I would like to ask today is this: under the Government’s proposals, the route by which people seeking asylum arrive in the UK will be indicative of the leave they are granted and the support they receive throughout their time. What basic support package, even if less generous, will be available to those granted temporary protection for two and a half years, to ensure that they do not face destitution? How will such temporary systems enable effective integration, which is one of the things that the Statement and the policy statement seek to achieve? I look forward to some robust discussions with the Minister in the future.

I have been most grateful for the discussions that the right reverend Prelate and I have had on this subject, particularly around integration and community sponsorship. For all that we talk about the laudable Dubs scheme, very few people—the right reverend Prelate excepted—have made reference to this. It will integrate people into communities very quickly and smoothly; it is such a commendable scheme. I thank the Church of England, and indeed the Catholic Church, for the role they have played in it.

As for accommodation and destitution, of course we are not a country that would legislate to enable people to be made destitute, but what we seek through the consultation is quite broad. We do not want to pre-empt what the consultation might throw up. For accommodation, we have Home Office accommodation that we have used, and we have had to use temporary accommodation throughout the pandemic. I will be very interested, as I am sure the right reverend Prelate will, in what the consultation yields for us to consider.

My Lords, if, as the Home Secretary asserts, the UK asylum system is collapsing, why is there such dysfunction in the Home Office that it cannot process an annual 20,000 to 30,000 claims—which is not overwhelming—efficiently and fairly? Is not the only outcome of penalising asylum applicants arriving irregularly—which is not illegal, so it would be a breach of the refugee convention—to create an insecure, impoverished group of vulnerable people who cannot be removed? How can that possibly help the situation?

The answer to the second question is that criminality is what yields the worst outcome for people genuinely claiming asylum. Either they do not get here because they drown at sea, or their money gets taken from them and they are left in a very precarious position. Therefore, the safe and legal ambition of the Home Office is to try to come down hard on criminals, while also protecting people who genuinely need asylum here. The noble Baroness asks about the claims, and why we cannot process them quickly. That is exactly what we are aiming to do through our new asylum system—through the one-step process—so that people cannot bring vexatious claims time and time again, including on the steps of a plane. We will be able process people much more quickly. This House has constantly pressed me on this, and I do not disagree: why can we not deport people quickly and why can we not process claims quickly? That is precisely what is outlined in our new plans.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is really time now to rethink how we spend money in countries where there is need for investment—whether in development or through the Foreign Office in relationship building—so that people do not feel desperate to leave their shores to come across dangerous channels? Maybe a real rethink needs to happen across government and all sectors involved in supporting refugees when they do get here. For those who have come here, will my noble friend the Minister consider, rather than not helping, skilling them up so that when they are returned home they have a skill to offer in the countries they come from, are not minded to leave their countries of origin, and instead stay there and build those countries up?

My noble friend makes two very important points. There is an assumption sometimes that asylum seekers are poor and without skills—that is absolutely not the case. Many are incredibly skilled. One of the conversations I had with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham was about how people can get straight into the immigration system should they have the skills we require. Also, on my noble friend’s point about spending money in other countries, not only is it a good idea to help people in their country of origin, many of them want to stay in their country of origin and do not want to come here. A pound spent in a country of origin is spent far more efficiently in terms of the number of people you can help.

My Lords, we should perhaps reflect on the comments just made by the Minister in the light of the cut to overseas development aid. I am sure the Minister is aware that asylum applications fell by 18% in 2020 and, in the year ending September 2020, the UK received 31,752 asylum applications from main applicants. The comparable figure for Germany is 155,000, for France 129,000, for Spain 128,000 and for Greece 81,000. Does the Minister agree that the UK is taking less than its fair share of people fleeing war and political turmoil—often related to our foreign policies—and people fleeing areas from which, during its colonial history, Britain extracted huge amounts of wealth? Perhaps the scheme has been affected by Covid-19, but are the Government looking to significantly step up the number to what might be said to be a fair share compared to other European states?

The Refugee Council briefing on this Statement, which I am sure many Members of your Lordships’ House have seen, is expressed in very careful, factual language, but it can be described only as a cry of horror about the policies contained in this Statement. I turn to just one area, that of age assessments.

Okay. On age assessments, how can the Minister say that it is fair to put 18 years of age as the cut-off point when it is obvious that people coming from war zones, having grown up and spent their whole lives in them, are not going to look like 18 year-olds who have been brought up in comfortable circumstances in a safe environment?

I will answer two of those questions. Eighteen is the cut-off age because 18 is the age of an adult, and we do not want adults sharing classrooms with young children, for example. It is important to assess people’s ages, and we will try to do so on a more scientific basis. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that applications fell in 2020. We had a pandemic and everything fell in 2020—so did returns. I am sure that the applications will be back up this year.

In the recent past, the Government have closed down two safe and legal routes for unaccompanied child refugees to reach this country from the continent—the Dubs amendment and the provisions under the Dublin treaty. How can the Minister reconcile closing down those routes with the claim that the Government want only safe and legal routes for people to come to this country? She has made that virtually impossible. Are not the Government getting very close to saying that family reunion will depend on the method by which somebody arrived in the UK, not the merits of their case? Surely we are turning the clock back in a most retrograde manner.

I disagree that we have closed down routes. The Dubs scheme specified a number, which was subsequently increased to 480. It was based on the ability of local authorities to take children—the noble Lord shakes his head, but he knows that. We did not close it down; we successfully completed it. As for Dublin, we left the European Union, so we were never going to continue it. As I said during the passage of the immigration Bill, all the routes would continue to be open and we are now in consultation on what our new sovereign borders and immigration system will look like.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for being specific and parochial, because I am sure that she will agree that any long-term immigration policy must allow for the free movement of people who have legitimate work to do for British employers. Those who grow our fruit and flowers have this year not been able to get the regular supply of labour on which their industry depends. I am particularly mindful of south Lincolnshire. The local television programmes night after night during the Easter period showed fields of rotting daffodils. This is a tiny thing in comparison with what many of my colleagues have raised, but it is important. Can she assure me that everything will be done to ensure that a genuine free movement of labour of people who have regular jobs to do will be able to continue?

My Lords, our new immigration system is skills-based. Free movement obviously ended under our leaving the EU. I empathise with my noble friend’s point, but the whole world is about to enter a period of economic challenge. It behoves employers in this country to employ people from this country to do the jobs needed in this country.

I know, but he dropped off the call. I do not think we have the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, sadly, in which case all the supplementary questions have been asked.

Financial Services Bill

Report (2nd Day)

My Lords, I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are discouraged, but any Member wishing to ask such a question must email the clerk. The groupings are binding. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group to a Division must give notice in debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the question is put, they must make that clear when speaking on the group.

Amendment 14

Moved by

14: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—

“Regulated activities and application of Consumer Credit Act 1974

(1) This section applies on or at any time after the making of an order under section 22 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, after this section comes into force, which has the effect that a relevant credit activity becomes a regulated activity for the purposes of that Act.(2) Section 107(6) of the Financial Services Act 2012 (power to make provision about the application of the Consumer Credit Act 1974) has effect as if—(a) the reference to an order of the kind mentioned in subsection (1) of that section included an order of the kind mentioned in subsection (1) of this section, and(b) the references to a transferred activity included a relevant credit activity which is the subject of an order of the kind mentioned in subsection (1) of this section.(3) “Relevant credit activity” means the activity of—(a) entering into an agreement described in article 60F(2) or (3) of the Regulated Activities Order (certain borrower-lender-supplier agreements for fixed-sum credit or running-account credit) as lender, or(b) exercising, or having the right to exercise, the lender’s rights and duties under such an agreement,so far as the activity is not a transferred activity (as defined in section 107(1) of the Financial Services Act 2012).(4) “The Regulated Activities Order” means the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/544) as it has effect on the passing of this Act.”Member’s explanatory statement

Section 107(6) of the Financial Services Act 2012 provides that the Treasury may disapply provisions of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 in relation to an activity previously licensed under the 1974 Act, or exempted under specified provisions of that Act, where the activity has become a regulated activity for the purposes of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. This amendment extends that power to certain other activities of lenders.

My Lords, the Government have brought forward Amendment 14 to ensure that buy now, pay later products can be brought into scope of regulation in a way that is proportionate to the risks that they pose to consumers. As noble Lords will recall from previous debates, to which the Government listened carefully, on 2 February following the publication of the Woolard Review into the unsecured credit market, the Government announced their intention to regulate interest-free buy now, pay later products. Following that announcement, the Government have been working at pace to ensure that this can be done in a proportionate and timely manner. Amendment 14 is the next step in this process. Many noble Lords were keen to see progress on the issue, so I hope that they will welcome the amendment today.

The Government recognise the concerns that exist with these products as the market continues to grow in the United Kingdom. We are therefore acting decisively to address the risk of detriment to consumers. The Government intend to bring buy now, pay later products within the scope of the regulatory framework, which includes the application of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. However, as noble Lords have previously heard, it is important to note that those products are interest-free, and thus are inherently lower-risk than most other forms of borrowing. Used properly, they can provide a lower-cost alternative to mainstream or high-cost credit. The Government’s view is that they can therefore be a useful part of the toolkit for managing personal finances and tackling financial exclusion, a topic that I will return to later in the debate. It is therefore essential that when buy now, pay later products are brought into regulation, it is done in a way that provides robust consumer protection, while ensuring that it is viable for firms to continue to offer these products. Amendment 14 will ensure that that can be done.

Some of the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act could be disproportionate, given the short term, interest-free nature of buy now, pay later products. They could also materially impact the way in which consumers are able to access these products. As a result, this amendment seeks to provide the Government with the power to ensure that the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 that will apply to buy now, pay later products are proportionate to the risks that the products present. This will allow the Government to apply only the provisions of the Act that have been determined to be proportionate to the risks posed by buy now, pay later products.

The Government intend to publish a consultation later this spring where the views of consumers, buy now, pay later providers and the retailers that offer these products will be sought on this matter. We will carefully consider these views to inform our approach to creating a proportionate regime, including decisions on which provisions in the Consumer Credit Act should apply to buy now, pay later agreements. Following this, we will take forward the necessary secondary legislation to bring buy now, pay later agreements into regulation. That secondary legislation will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, meaning that noble Lords will have the opportunity to further scrutinise and comment on the Government’s proposals. I therefore ask that your Lordships support this amendment to ensure that the regulation of buy now, pay later can proceed both at pace and in a proportionate manner. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Minister. In doing so, I declare my financial services interests as set out in the register. I would like to be the first to offer my support for Amendment 14 and what it seeks to achieve. I congratulate my noble friend on the decision to use the affirmative procedure to bring these powers into force.

I will now speak to Amendment 35 in my name. The thinking behind it is quite straightforward: financial exclusion has dogged our nation for decades, ruining individual lives and putting down potential. Solutions exist and thousands of people are working so hard in this area, but we need to do more and we need more innovation: hence the two elements in Amendment 35. It seeks to give the Bank of England—our central bank—a more significant role when it comes to financial exclusion. The Bank has an enviable brand, respected right across the UK and revered around the world. This brand could be well put towards solving the problem of financial exclusion.

The first part of Amendment 35 seeks to give the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England an objective to monitor financial exclusion. As noble Lords know, the FPC is responsible for financial stability in the UK. I believe there are 407 billion new reasons to take this opportunity to reconsider financial stability and include financial exclusion within the remit of the FPC.

The second limb of the amendment seeks to suggest the opportunity for the Bank to offer basic bank accounts to those who find themselves financially excluded. The take-up of bank accounts for those financially excluded is not just a measure of what is currently available from retail providers. The history of those individuals also plays a key part, so, again, the brand and the central place of the Bank could play a critical role here. If we considered some of those accounts potentially being digital accounts—perhaps central bank digital currency accounts or digital pound accounts—the Bank might play a critical role in addressing digital as well as financial exclusion.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street could be not just lender of last resort but potentially, through Amendment 35, provider of first support for those individuals en route to financial inclusion. Provider of first support is certainly worth a thought. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I shall speak only in respect of Amendment 35. My noble friend’s amendment is very well intentioned, covering financial exclusion and basic bank accounts. Despite basic bank accounts having been in existence for nearly 20 years now, there remain problems with take-up. The know-your-customer rules, about which my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond raised concerns in Committee on this Bill, also make life difficult for individuals trying to access them. It is no secret that the banks regard basic bank accounts as a costly burden that they have to bear, which is probably at the heart of some of the issues.

There are two main problems with my noble friend’s amendment. First, the Financial Policy Committee is absolutely the wrong place to put anything in relation to financial exclusion. The FPC was set up in the Bank of England in relation to the Bank’s financial stability objective, as my noble friend said. It requires mental gymnastics of an extraordinary kind, however, to think that financial exclusion would ever have a significant impact—positive or negative—on the financial stability of the system as a whole. The FCA has responsibility for policies in the area of financial exclusion. That is the right place for it, because it aligns with its consumer protection objectives.

The second problem that I have with the amendment is that it asks for a report from the Treasury on progress made by the Bank of England on offering basic bank accounts. As far as I am aware, the Bank of England does not itself offer any bank accounts. In fact, I believe that it closed the last bank accounts that it offered about five years ago. I was very proud to have a Bank of England bank account, which I acquired when I was a member of court. It had an extremely grand cheque-book and I was very unhappy when the Bank of England closed the account. It did that because it was a relatively small operation, and it simply could not keep up with the online technology that one needs nowadays to make a retail offering. It closed them down and does not have the capacity to do it now, so it would be completely wrong to expect the Bank of England to step back into retail banking, having consciously stepped out of it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, has withdrawn, as she is speaking in Grand Committee, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

My Lords, I welcome the government amendment in this group. We are seeing regulations catching up with financial innovation. As ever, it seems that the regulator is being forced to chase after advances that are screaming into the future with potentially very disturbing results.

However, I chiefly wish to speak to Amendment 35, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and to offer my support for it, or at least for its principles. As the noble Lord said, we are talking about innovation, but innovation that is actually for the common good—innovation that works for people, and particularly, innovation that works for the most vulnerable in our society. The figures really are deeply shocking: estimates of 1 million unbanked people; 8 million people with debt problems; 9 million people with no access to mainstream credit. One thing that is not adequately recognised is the poverty premium: the fact that not having a bank account or access to mainstream credit means much higher costs for everything from utility bills to borrowing and very well documented impacts on health and wellbeing.

This seems like an apt time to ask the Government whether they have given further consideration to the recommendation from the Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, which reported in March 2017. It called for a Minister responsible for financial exclusion. Is this something that the Government are really going to focus on by means of this Bill? The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, may have concerns about the structure of this, but the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, are very clear. Are the Government going to take action?

My Lords, I offer a few words of caution on the subject matter of Amendment 35 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who has done so much to promote financial and digital skills since we joined the House together in 2013. The amendment is concerned with the very real problem of the “financially excluded”, in today’s jargon. This problem is of long standing. Under the description of the poor, the New Testament informs us that “they will always be with us”, and similar quotations can be made from the Old Testament. More recently, as just mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, we have had good reports on the subject from our own committees.

Experience shows that another ancient saying is also relevant and helpful. I refer to the injunction on doctors when seeking to treat disease—“first do no harm”. Unfortunately, this latter injunction was not followed when the United States authorities sought to improve the lot of the financially excluded, which arguably led to the subprime crisis of 2008 in the United States, or at least made that crisis much worse than it would otherwise have been. Noble Lords will recall that, when it came to the attention of the federal authorities in the United States, some communities, called marginalised groups, received fewer house loans per head than others. The lenders concerned were threatened with prosecution under federal laws on discrimination. That was a major factor behind many subprime loans being made, which those receiving them had no real likelihood of being able to repay. Such loans were included in bundles sold to investors, which in many cases inevitably defaulted. The end result was a crisis in which some of the worst affected were those who had received the subprime loans in the first place—namely, the financially excluded, whom we are trying to help.

None of this argues against the amendment before us proposed by my noble friend Lord Holmes, although I note that my noble friend Lady Noakes has some reservations. We always need to listen to her because of her great expertise in this area. However, it shows that, in efforts to improve the lot of the financially excluded, we need to proceed with as much prudence and attention to the risks to them and more broadly, as we do in pursuing other wider objectives.

My Lords, I am delighted to support government Amendment 14, and congratulate my noble friend and the ministerial team on listening to concerns expressed across the House, and in particular, in echoing my noble friend Lord Holmes, for introducing the follow-up provisions under the affirmative procedure. I will also address, perhaps more supportively than other noble Lords, my noble friend’s Amendment 35. I must say that I am increasingly envious of my noble friend Lady Noakes and, in particular, the rather splendid account that she had previously with the Bank of England. She must be torn, not wanting to destroy her rather splendid cheque book. For security purposes, she might err on the side of caution and do so.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond has done the House a great service by raising this issue. Yes, we can debate whether it should be a Bank of England account, which I understand no longer exists; perhaps this is not the right time to revisit that. I have become increasingly concerned—as, I know, have many in consumer circles with much greater knowledge than I about this—by the way in which one’s credit score can be disadvantaged. All sorts of extraordinary things seem to be happening at the moment, without us even knowing. We are apparently encouraged to do regular credit checks; I did, and was delighted to see that on one, the Experian account, my credit score was sound. But apparently the Government have discontinued Experian, so I do not know to whom to address that in future.

This raises the issue of those who have a poor credit score and are having trouble finding a bank account. My noble friend Lord Holmes has identified the difficulties in doing so. If it is not the wish of the Government to support the terms of Amendment 35, I hope that the Minister responding to this debate will nevertheless look carefully at the circumstances by which it is becoming increasingly difficult for those with poor credit scores to access even the most basic banking services.

I understand what my noble friend Lady Noakes said about how we are coming under increasing commercial pressure to make banks’ retail services financially viable. This is causing great concern for those of us in rural areas, because it is increasingly difficult to keep small rural branches open. To me, they perform a social function as much as anything, particularly for local shops, in banking their cash, allowing them to access bank accounts and, for example, banking their money when there has been a local mart. My noble friend has identified these very real concerns and I hope that the Government look on them sympathetically.

My Lords, I will speak briefly on government Amendment 14 and say a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, because of his ongoing campaigns and successes in making us think harder about financial inclusion and the use that could and should be made of fintech, in reaching out to those who are not provided for by the financial system. Government Amendment 14 has our support because, as seems obvious from the Woolard review and other comments, there is an issue around this new-technology approach to purchasing.

Buy now, pay later has all the ring of a scam around it although, having talked to some providers and looked at their business plans in more detail, it seems to be a well worked-through and carefully crafted approach to the process of trying to buy goods, mainly. It may also apply to other services. Those on reasonable budgets who are unable to pay, with confidence, the amount for the goods that they are purchasing get the benefit of the opportunity to spread the payment over more than one month—the majority are for three months—largely at the expense of the retailer. The amounts are small and the sanctions applied by the providers are severe: you get dropped if you miss a payment or two.

There does not seem to be a sense of some of the fringe approaches that were available in other schemes that the House has looked at and which we have read about in the papers. In a sense, this may not be quite the scam and worry that we thought it was when the Woolard review came out, but the Government are right to ensure that the regulatory book is in order and that there is an opportunity to keep a close watch on this, and to act, as and when required.

Therefore, although it is unusual for the Opposition to offer powers to the Government in this way, we are reassured by the way that they have approached this, having brought us into the discussion and debate. We are aware that any regulations brought forward will, in practice, be under the affirmative basis and therefore open to scrutiny within your Lordships’ House and elsewhere in Parliament. We support this approach, even though to do so is slightly unusual. We think that doing it this way is a good move by the Government and hope that it will not be necessary, in the sense of some of the scare stories that we have read about. But if it is, at least the powers are banked.

This is an important Bill and I record my formal thanks to my noble friends on the Front Bench for the way that they listened to the earlier debates. Here, we have evidence in this first set of amendments, certainly Amendment 14, that not only have they listened but we are getting a positive response.

Amendment 14 is good and I support it. I am delighted to hear that we will have a consultation with stakeholders. I wonder whether Her Majesty’s Government could produce a list of those whom they think they are going to consult, because a number of us know a fair amount about the fringes of the financial world and there may be a section missing.

On buy now, pay later, I remember that when I started buying things that I could not afford there was a technique called hire purchase. That was very similar and there were all sorts of arguments when I got into politics, while HP was still active, on the nuances of the HP world. The same applies now, so I say well done on Amendment 14. I look forward to seeing the consultation and hope to take part myself. As someone who has sat in the chair, I will welcome enormously having an affirmative resolution when it comes back. I also ask my noble friend the Minister to make sure that the Financial Ombudsman Service and claims management companies fall within the circumference of this consultation, because they are important to this large market. It is buy now, pay later, in a sense, but not the modern version; it was historically called home-collected credit.

On Amendment 35, I also give credit to my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who has had a huge effect upon coming to your Lordships’ House. He has put his finger on it here, particularly with proposed new subsection (3). I suspect all noble Lords know that two dimensions are happening. First, the concept of branch banking is disappearing. I started life banking, and still do bank, with the Royal Bank of Scotland, but there is no RBS bank in Bedfordshire as far as I know, and certainly not within easy distance of Sandy, where I am sitting at the moment. I was then referred to and had my transactions covered by the National Westminster Bank, part of the RBS group, but that is no longer in Bedford either. Branches are disappearing fast. Where do I end up? It is with telephone banking in the depths of Scotland with some lady who is working from home. It is very efficient, I dare say, but it is not easy banking.

Secondly, we know that the Post Office is increasing its profile in this area. That is greatly to be welcomed, but usually around the corner from the post office, or quite often adjacent to it, are ATMs. These were an absolute godsend to most people who were not carrying out major financial transactions and who wanted cash, but now we hear complaints from those faced with financing the ATMs. That suggests that it will not be long before the banking profession says that it cannot possibly finance them and that it is making a great loss. I say to my noble friend of the Front Bench that this needs addressing, because ATMs are vital to society as we know it, whether in distant rural areas or for people who in one way or another cannot use a bank. Having said all that, I very much second my noble friend Lord Holmes’s amendment and hope that it will find favour with Her Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, the two amendments in this group are significantly different from each other, so I am afraid that I will have to address each one separately, starting with government Amendment 14. We obviously support this step, but some comments need to be made. First, the very fact that legislation has to be passed for these financial transactions to be captured by the regulator demonstrates some of the flaws in the whole approach of using a regulatory perimeter as the mechanism for deciding which activities are regulated or not.

The buy now, pay later industry has been growing at an astonishing rate over the last several years. The largest player is Klarna, which I think was valued in its last funding round at $31 billion—three times its value six months earlier. That gives noble Lords the idea of the pace. Anybody who wants to look up buy now, pay later on the internet will find company after company. This issue has galloped away without the regulator becoming involved. It suggests to the Government that some real rethinking needs to happen, given the pace of innovation that we now see generally in finance.

Secondly, I was concerned by some of the language the Minister used when talking about this as a relatively low risk and rather benign form of financing. There is no free lunch. There is no such thing as a delayed payment that does not have an interest cost embedded in it. I understand that with buy now, pay later, it is the retailer that pays fees to the intermediary providing the advance payment. Those costs then fall on everybody buying products from that particular company. We get to the point where you are a fool if you pay up front, because within the cost of the product is embedded an element of financing that is falling on you. If you are a bit like me, you see the price and you pay it, but I know that I am paying more than I should because I am picking up the cost of financing that has been given to other people using the buy now, pay later product. There certainly is cost embedded in all of this; it is not a free lunch.

Martin Lewis gave evidence to MPs in December, pointing out that this is a product very much targeted at the under-30s, although I know that Klarna disputes this. It is having the impact of getting them into debt. Again, I looked to a quote from Jane Clack, a money adviser at the debt advice firm PayPlan. She was talking about what had happened over the two-year period. She said:

“This form of introduction to credit … supports the ‘I want it now’ purchases of items people may not be able to afford. We have seen a worrying increase in the number of young people contacting us for free debt advice. It now makes up more than a fifth of our total client base.”

This is a mechanism that is getting a lot of young people into overpurchasing and consequently into debt. Indeed, the advertising on websites directed at retailers, encouraging them to sign up to buy now, pay later firms, tells them that the average spend will go up by 20% if they sign up to a buy now, pay later scheme because individuals feel, “My goodness, if that’s all it costs I can spend even more.” Noble Lords can see the pattern that is developing. Frankly, there is a lot of risk associated with all this, and I hope it is with that perspective that the whole consultation will go forward and regulation will be structured.

I say this because we went through the same process in this House of saying “it is largely benign” when we looked at payday lending. That was the argument made by the regulator. If this House remembers, the regulator had the power to take action in a serious way against abusive payday lenders. It showed a light touch because it saw payday lending as relatively benign. It was only when this House forced the regulator’s hand by passing regulation that required it to start using interest rate caps that that industry was brought under control. Indeed, most of the players instantly disappeared, because without the abusive part of their activities the other part could not be sustained. This issue should be taken very seriously by the regulator, which should not get caught up in the idea that this is low risk or in some way benign. I am always troubled when I hear that something is interest free. No, it is not; the interest is differently packaged.

On Amendment 35, I continue with apologies from my noble friend Lady Tyler, who is the former chair of the Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion. As the Deputy Speaker said, she is speaking in Grand Committee and has had to scratch here. She very much appreciates the spirit of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, but I will quote a sentence from the speech she wrote that I think captures the fundamental issue: “What is still missing is an overarching strategy and responsibility across government, regulators and industry proactively to promote financial inclusion.” In a way, that is the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, is picking up and addressing and that I hear echoed in the words my noble friend would have used.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, made the case that the Bank of England is really not the place to have a basic bank account, and I want to pick up on this important issue. The current high street banks that provide basic bank accounts do so, as the noble Baroness said, reluctantly. It does not make any sense in the context of their business plan, their overheads or the clientele that they want to build.

There is an important strategy that could be addressed, certainly by the PRA, along the lines of, “As a condition of your banking licence, perhaps you don’t have to provide a basic bank account, but you do need to support the civil society groups that can service this excluded community”—because that is a community that often needs a detailed helping hand. That is one of the reasons why opening a basic bank account at the Bank of England would not get people in that community very far. Typically, they are people who need particular services and particular kinds of support to become financially included, and to get the advantages that come with being financially included in our modern society.

That takes me to the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe; it is a canard that needs to be captured very quickly. The Community Reinvestment Act in the United States, to which she referred, was passed in 1977. It was not a play into the sub-prime mortgage crisis. I lived in Chicago in those years, so I know that it came about as a civil rights Act, because disadvantaged communities—primarily black ethnic communities—had been literally red-lined by all the major banking players, which would take deposits from them but would never lend back to support mortgages or businesses. It was a crucial Act that completely changed the nature of financial inclusion in the United States, and it was probably one of the most important pieces of legislation there. I have always regretted that we have not picked up its themes and extended them here, because it created a layer of community banks and credit unions that serviced this community, and did so very well throughout the years of recession.

The sub-prime crisis was, on the one hand, sheer fraud—as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, knows—and, on the other, the packaging up of fraudulent loans into portfolios against which securities were then issued on the grounds that diversification within the portfolio removed the risk. This was not a case of lending into communities in the responsible way driven forward by the Community Reinvestment Act. I hope that we will pick up the lessons of that Act, because in the United States people are not unbanked and excluded to the extent and breadth that they are here in the UK.

My Lords, the Government’s response to the Woolard Review was swift and positive. As doubts remained over exactly when and how Ministers’ promises on buy now, pay later products would be delivered, this Bill appeared to us to be the perfect vehicle—although, sadly, the Treasury initially disagreed with that view. In Grand Committee the Minister stressed the complexity of the issue, and the need to work with the industry to get the scope of future regulation right.

Of course we agreed on the necessity for the Treasury and the FCA to get this correct, and we are realistic about the difficulty of striking the right balance. As I have said before, we would not wish forthcoming regulatory changes to impact on the availability of certain short-term payment agreements, such as for gym membership or sports season tickets, which have proved to be relatively low risk. We also recognise that there is a growing market for buy now, pay later, and that many of the people using such services experience no problems with them. Indeed, we are grateful to the providers that have engaged with us in recent weeks and shared their ideas on next steps.

In March the boss of Klarna expressed disappointment about the concerns voiced about buy now, pay later products. He said he was “emotionally upset” by comparisons with the former payday lender Wonga. I am sure that this was not aimed at your Lordships’ House, but let me be clear that we recognise the differences. However, just because two business models vary, that does not mean that we cannot and should not learn lessons from past regulatory failure. These products may not have interest charges attached to them, but that does not mean they are risk free. That was recognised by Chris Woolard in his review when he warned that there was significant risk of consumer detriment if the market continued to grow at pace without the implementation of appropriate consumer protections.

In his recent comments, Klarna’s boss acknowledged that his firm had made mistakes, particularly in relation to how it had advertised its products in the past. Such self-reflection is hugely important, and I am sure that advertising is one of the areas that will feature in the future regulatory framework.

We did not want this issue to be kicked into the long grass, particularly when the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the use of buy now, pay later grow exponentially. Again, we welcome the positive response that we have had from some lenders, who indicated enthusiasm for having regulation in place as soon as practicable. We strive to be reasonable people, so in Committee we made an offer to the Government, saying, “Even if you don’t have final answers at this stage, use this Bill to take powers that you may need going forward.”

It is rare for the Opposition to call for more delegated powers in a Bill, but on this occasion we welcome Amendment 14. We are grateful to both the Minister and Treasury officials for their engagement on this important issue. At the same time, we are conscious that the matter is not entirely closed. We look forward to further consultation and will closely follow subsequent steps taken both by the department and by the regulator. We hope that their joint efforts will crack the nut at the first attempt, but I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm what has been said in meetings—that the amendment comes with the option for tweaks further down the line should that be deemed necessary.

I will not speak at length on Amendment 35, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, but I hope that the Minister will be able to outline what steps are being taken to address financial exclusion. Progress has been made over the years, but too many people still find themselves unable to access basic banking products. In many senses the Government have picked the low-hanging fruit, but we must now grapple with some of the t