House of Lords
Tuesday 18 May 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members to respect social distancing, and if the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers are also brief in their answers.
Right-to-Work Checks for UK Nationals
My Lords, from 21 June, right-to-work checks will revert from the Covid-19-adjusted measures to face-to-face physical document checks for those who cannot use the Home Office online checking service. We are currently evaluating the potential for introducing specialist technology, including identity document validation technology, into the right-to-work checking service. This would provide a permanent digital option for those unable to use the online checking service.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what has the feeling of being, perhaps, an encouraging Answer. The online verification of right to work during Covid has been a huge success for the Home Office. The system works really well; no one I have spoken to is aware of any serious issues. It avoids frauds; it is much more efficient and effective for companies; and it really promotes remote working, helping people in unemployment blackspots get jobs many miles away. What is the reason for junking it? Who benefits? I really do not understand.
Well, I am glad my noble friend feels he got a positive Answer because, in fact, employers have been very positive about the temporary measures we have put in place. It is not about “junking it”; it is about the fact that it has been a temporary measure. Obviously, legislation has not been changed in this regard, and we made it clear that we would revert to the full checking regime in line with the lifting of social distancing measures. But I hope that my noble friend is encouraged by the moves we intend to make going forward.
The answer is actually quite clear: we need to check the security of what might go forward. We are undertaking a review of the value of using specialist technology, including identity document validation, in supporting the system of digital right-to-work checks to include UK and Irish citizens, as they are not in scope of the Home Office online checking services.
My Lords, not only are the Government insisting on in-person physical right-to-work checks but some parents say they are being asked by schools to produce passports to prove their child’s right to education as a result of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Can the Minister confirm whether the Home Office is requiring schools to do this and, if so, on what legal basis? If it is not, will the Minister take urgent steps to stop this practice?
Well, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for a heads-up this morning, and it is important to say to him that Brexit has not changed the rights of foreign nationals to access schools. State schools do not have a role in policing the immigration system. Independent schools, with sponsor licences, do have an explicit duty to have documents proving the right to stay in the UK. I do not know the details of the noble Lord’s case, but I would be most grateful to have some further detail, and perhaps we can discuss it further.
My Lords, following the move to more distanced right-to-work checks during the coronavirus pandemic via video link, in operation to 21 June 2021, can the Minister comment on what measures were taken to check against fraud and abuse of this process? What were the findings?
Well, my noble friend asks the absolutely crucial question. We need security measures in place to ensure that the system is robust. What we have had in place as a temporary measure will, I am sure, be evaluated in due course. But she goes right to the heart of what we need when we progress towards more regular online checking.
My Lords, it has been reported that EU nationals arriving here who were believed to be seeking work were immediately detained in places such as Yarl’s Wood and deported. Apparently, this has stopped, but what sort of example does the Minister think it sets for the treatment of British citizens in the EU? Secondly, EU nationals who have been British citizens for decades are getting letters telling them they risk losing rights to work, healthcare and benefits unless they apply for settled status in the next six weeks. But they do not need this. Why are the Home Office records so poor?
My Lords, EU citizens who have applied to the EU settlement scheme should not be detained in Yarl’s Wood unless there is some exception such as, for example, criminality. In terms of people getting letters, I am sure the reminders are helpful; they are not intended to be hostile in nature.
Electricity Supplies from Europe
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Threats to provision of power to Jersey have highlighted the issue of UK reliance on overseas power supplies. Currently, I think we have four interconnectors and the number is going up by about 10 or even 12. Does the Minister agree that it is highly dangerous for our nation to be reliant on power sources beyond our shores, and contrary to government policy on resilience and sovereignty? Rapid completion of major new nuclear reactors, plus advanced modular reactors, would seem to be the answer to ensuring sufficient UK provision of zero-carbon electrical power.
Interconnectors form an important part of our energy mix, but most of the power consumed in this country is still domestically produced. The noble Lord will know that the White Paper mentioned an ambition to have 18 gigawatts of power through interconnection. In The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, reiterated in the energy White Paper, the Government confirmed their commitment to developing large, small and advanced nuclear projects, and an advanced nuclear fund of up to £385 million was proposed to invest in the next generation of nuclear.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend accept that these electricity connectors, to and from the continent, play a vital triple role, in smoothing and increasing the reliability of our electricity supply—which is mostly low-carbon sourced—through the connectors when the wind drops or stops, in cutting our inflated energy bills and in exporting our electricity surpluses overseas when wind and solar produce too much for our immediate needs? What are the plans for further expansion of these links, both with continental Europe and elsewhere? Is the North Sea-Norway link progressing, and what about the link, which will be the longest of its kind in the world, with Iceland?
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, who speaks with great authority on this matter. The Iceland link is, I think, no longer going ahead, but I can confirm, as I said in an earlier answer, that we have 18 gigawatts of interconnected power provided for within the energy White Paper. It does indeed play a vital role in supporting a flexible decarbonising system, by rapidly responding to changes in demand and supply. Interconnection supports the integration of low-carbon generation in the UK to meet our net-zero goal. It also provides competition in the energy sector that will reduce prices and lead to lower energy bills.
My Lords, reliability is of course an imperative. However, is the Minister able to give an assurance about Russia, which was deemed by the Government to be “the enemy” in their recent integrated policy review? Given that a major UK company is a funder of the Nord Stream 2 gas project, with the promoters emphasising that not just Germany but western Europe will be a beneficiary of the gas from Russia, it would be inextricable that the gas from the original source would find its way to our shores.
There can be no normalisation of our bilateral relationship until Russia stops its irresponsible and destabilising activity. The UK imported less than 3% of its gas in 2020. The Government remain concerned about the impact Nord Stream 2 will have on European energy security, and particularly on the interests of Ukraine.
Can the Minister update us on the interconnector application by AQUIND Ltd, owned by two Russian Tory party donors? One of them, Alexander Temerko, once said he owned enough Tory MPs to dislodge a UK Prime Minister? The two owners control less than 50%; who owns the rest? Can she confirm that everybody on Portsmouth City Council is totally opposed to the proposed cable route through the city, and that even now it is better for this decision to be made locally rather than by Ministers?
I am indeed aware of the issues surrounding the AQUIND interconnector, as the noble Lord outlined. AQUIND has made an application for development consent. All applications for development consent are dealt with by the department in line with government propriety guidelines. We do not comment on projects that are currently in the planning process.
Over the last year there have been significant issues with electricity supply, not least because a number of power stations have either been down or under repair, and we have not yet got the new generation online that has been long talked about. That makes the interconnectors particularly important, but in Northern Ireland, of course, they are fully integrated with the rest of the Irish electricity system. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement that governs all this will run out in 2026. Are the Government actively in discussion with European counterparts on its successor?
I can confirm that the Government are in discussions on its successor. We are in fact planning another interconnector between Ireland and the UK. As the noble Lord knows, the island of Ireland is counted as one electricity market, and I can update him on further discussions as and when they happen.
I follow up on the questioning from my noble friend Lord Rooker, as conflicts of interest have obviously been a large part of public debate recently. Can the Minister confirm which Minister will sign off the final decision on the AQUIND cable, that Ministers in the department have no involvement and that the Government will nominate who has any role in any stage of the adjudication process? Will the final sign-off be undertaken by Ofgem?
The application has been examined by the planning inspectorate; the examining authority is currently writing its report, which will contain its conclusions and recommendations to the Secretary of State. Once he has received this report, the Secretary of State will have three months in which to take his decision. No other Ministers are involved in this decision-making process.
My Lords, interconnectors play an important role in reducing costs, but Britain is not at risk of an energy embargo. We are close to self-sufficiency, we will be closer when hydrogen comes on tap and, in a real emergency, we are sitting on 300 years’ supply of coal. Will the Minister confirm, none the less, that threatening an embargo is not the act of a friend, but rather that of an antagonistic state, such as Putin’s Russia?
Undoubtedly, emotions ran high following the introduction of the new licensing regime in Jersey, but we believe that the measures that Jersey has put on its fishing licences are entirely consistent with implementing access under the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Our strong and healthy reciprocal energy relationships with neighbouring countries have been based on good will for many years; it is in the mutual interest of all parties that we continue to uphold these positive relationships.
We have a strong pipeline of interconnectors. We have 3.8 gigawatts in construction to Norway, Denmark and France, and the completion of these projects will result in 9.8 gigawatts of interconnector capacity for Great Britain by 2023. A further 6.1 gigawatts are in development to Ireland, France, Germany and Norway. We have no capacity in the UK at present to build HVDC cables, but we have the capacity to build the medium voltage cables that service the offshore wind farms.
My Lords, what many Members want to hear is an assurance from the Government that reducing dependence on the import of French electricity will be a strategic priority for the Government in the face of the threats that we know they are likely to issue—they have a track record—when it comes to renewing and renegotiating the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. If my noble friend cannot give that assurance today, which I understand, will she at least promise to take it back to Ministers, so that we can have a clear policy that defends the national interest?
The UK has an extremely strong domestic energy supply—our homegrown mix of energy sources means there is no chance of the lights going out. The UK has a target to build 40 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and our ambition for at least 18 gigawatts of interconnection by the same date will support our energy requirements in this country. I will of course take my noble friend’s concerns back to the department.
Railway Industry Association Report
My Lords, the Government welcome this report and agree that further electrification is required to decarbonise the railway, alongside the deployment of hydrogen and battery trains on some lines. In the last three years, we have completed almost 700 miles of electrification in England and Wales, and we will continue to do more.
My Lords, I welcome that Answer. The Railway Industry Association report is indeed excellent and the case it makes for a rolling programme of electrification is unanswerable. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to decarbonising the railway by no later than 2050? If so, do they accept that the most effective and beneficial way to deliver that is a steady, stable stream of electrification of between 400 and 500 kilometres each year? Will she and her ministerial colleagues in the DfT do their utmost to resist the Treasury’s efforts again to kick this into the long grass and water it all down by putting it off into the spending review?
The Government’s plans for decarbonising all forms of transport will be set out in the transport decarbonisation plan, which will be published shortly, but the noble Lord is quite right that the best way to make the most effective use of the supply chain is to have a rolling programme. That is why electrification projects are included in the rail network enhancements pipeline, which was last published in October 2019 and will be updated in the near future. I take his point about the Treasury, but it is also the case that we must be prudent and stay within the funding envelope that we have available.
The Minister will be familiar with the east-west railway line connecting our two main varsity towns. She will also be familiar with the fact that the design was for a fully electrified line, since when the Government have changed that to a non-electrified line, with electrical specification left for the future and the line being built by a private sector company. Are we really going to decarbonise our transport system by adopting this temporary and, in the view of many of us, expensive alternative, rather than going ahead with building the line as it was originally designed?
I reassure the noble Lord that it is our aim to deliver a net-zero carbon railway. East West Rail is a very important part of the development of the Ox-Cam Arc, which will support housing and jobs. Any decision to grant development consent for the project will need to demonstrate that it would not have a material impact on the ability of the Government to meet their carbon reduction targets. However, EWR Co, the company responsible for it, continues to examine decarbonisation options, including full electrification along the whole route, as well as various options for partial electrification using battery or electric hybrid rolling stock and other sustainable rolling stock options.
There is nothing really new in this review because, of course, electrification has always been a cleaner option and, as I never tire of saying, the Green Party has been saying this for 30 or 40 years. Why have the Government not taken this as a matter of urgency and done it much faster?
I take this opportunity to remind the House that the Green Party is against HS2, a position which I remain a little confused by. The noble Baroness is quite right that now is the opportunity to put our shoulder to the wheel and to electrify our railways as quickly as we can. That is why we will be setting out a rolling programme in the forthcoming RNEP, and why we take great heed of what was written by the Network Rail-led traction decarbonisation network strategy. That is not government policy, but there are some very important conclusions which we are looking at, and we will be putting them in the transport decarbonisation plan.
My Lords, the report mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, makes a compelling case for accelerating the electrification programme so that we can hit our carbon commitments, but it says very little about the industry’s capacity to deliver, which historically has been disappointing. Can my noble friend ensure that if the recommendations are accepted, we have the technical skills and know-how to deliver, on budget and on time, and that any reorganisation of Network Rail will not impede progress?
My noble friend is quite right. Indeed, the Rail Industry Association report in 2019 set out that one of the root causes of the challenges of electrification was the 20-year hiatus that had previously occurred in the electrification projects, which led to a loss of specialist knowledge. But we are looking at the supply side of this to bring forward the rolling programme of electrification; I specifically point my noble friend to the Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, which has a lot of information about the supply side. We are confident that, if we have the right programme in place, we can not only use the existing supply-side skills and expertise but grow them for the future.
Does the Minister agree that all the options in this report are better than diesel trains, which are just as bad as diesel cars for the environment and health? Can she therefore explain why the Government have fixed 2030 as the year to phase out all diesel cars while they are still promoting hybrid trains, which are of course simply diesel trains for large parts of their journey?
The noble Baroness will be well aware that decarbonisation of different modes has to happen at different speeds. For example, the reality on the railway network is that freight is a challenge, because it takes much higher levels of energy to pull freight cars along. Therefore, it is right that we look at each mode and try to decarbonise them as quickly as we can, and that is what we will set out in our transport decarbonisation plan.
Does my noble friend agree that had there been some diesel trains operating on the east coast main line, there would have been a greater number of trains operating, given the recent problems with the cracks? The electric trains can operate from any power source; which power source do the Government intend to use for electric trains?
I am not sure that I entirely understand that question. The electric trains will use the power sources available. Decarbonisation of the power network is, of course, very important and a huge amount of work has already been done to decarbonise power generation. Therefore, when we combine decarbonising not only power generation but the transport system as a whole, we will reach our target of net zero by 2050.
Why Rail Electrification? rightly claims that electricity is the cleanest and most efficient power source for UK railways, but electricity itself must be cleanly produced. It cannot be stored and requires the use of energy to convert it to other potential energy. There are other linked components to the use and distribution of power; does the Minister agree that tackling each of these in parallel is essential in meeting the target of net-zero emissions by 2050?
I agree, and I refer the noble Lord to the answer to my noble friend’s question just now. But I also point out that this is not just about electricity and electrification; there is huge potential for hydrogen in the mix. The Government are very clear that we should invest in various new technologies. Indeed, we have now invested up to £3 million on various alternatives to straightforward rail electrification. On hydrogen, for example, we have invested £750,000 in HydroFLEX, the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train. These trains may be particularly useful for freight in the future.
In light of the Government’s commitment to decarbonisation, when will the Great Western main line into Bristol Temple Meads and from Cardiff to Swansea and Didcot to Oxford now be electrified? What will be the additional costs of now doing so at a later date, arising from the earlier decision to defer electrification of these key parts of the Great Western main line?
The Great Western electrification programme is now substantially complete. However, I recognise that some parts of the network will still need to be electrified. As with all projects within the rail system, each one is looked at from the bottom up, and analysis is undertaken and development work done. If it meets value for money and is affordable, it will go into the RNEP system and therefore be done in due course.
When the Minister’s colleague Chris Heaton-Harris met the Rail All-Party Group, he was presented with a package costing less than £100 million which would enable 2 million train miles a year to be hauled by existing electric locomotives instead of diesel—the equivalent of decarbonising 80 to 100 million HGV miles a year. Has any progress been made with this?
I know that my honourable friend in the other place will be very grateful for the suggestions of the noble Lord about some of these quick wins—the fairly small, low-cost, infill electrification schemes that he refers to. We will of course look at these schemes, and they would be developed through the RNEP process.
Size of the House of Lords
My Lords, the Government have of course noted the committee’s latest report. However, given retirements and other departures, some new Members are essential to keep the expertise and outlook of the Lords fresh. This will ensure that the House of Lords continues to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation while respecting the primacy of the Commons.
My Lords, good progress was made in the last Parliament in reducing the high numbers in your Lordships’ House by a combination of increased retirements by your Lordships and restraint by Theresa May. But the incentive for your Lordships to play their part is diminished if the Prime Minister does not play his. Will my noble friend encourage the Leader of the House to persuade the Prime Minister to do what the Burns committee recommended —namely, to engage positively with the House—so that we can continue to make progress towards our target of 600?
The Government always seek to engage positively with the House; the House does not necessarily always engage positively with the Government. The Government did not accept the cap when it was proposed to come in by 2027 in the first report, and they do not accept it in the latest report, when it is due by 2024.
My Lords, I think the House has been freshened up rather enough, and we hope that the Government might pause for a little time. Have the Government now set themselves against substantive reform of the House? If they have, why not at least engage with your Lordships’ House to see what incremental change could be agreed?
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, there have been a number of changes in your Lordships’ House over recent years. The Government have made their position clear: we are committed to looking at the role of the House of Lords, but we do not want to do so in a piecemeal way.
My Lords, I strongly endorse the views of the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Hunt, and indeed those of the Lord Speaker. Is it not now obvious that Mr Johnson is seeking to deliberately damage the reputation of the House to reduce our influence? Will the Government now accept the recommendations of the Burns committee, and the view of the large majority of the House, and take the lead in legislating to end the 20 year-old temporary hereditary Peers by-election anomaly? This is way past its sell-by date.
No, my Lords, for the reason I have just given. The noble Lord speaks with the strength of 86 Liberal Democrat Peers behind him. At the rate of retirement we have seen recently, it would be some time in the 2060s before their representation was reduced to that awarded to them by the British people in the House of Commons in 2019. Maybe there is another aspect of your Lordships’ composition that might be examined.
My Lords, I really hope that the Government have not lost their enthusiasm for proper reform of this House but, given that over the last 20 years there have been a tiny number of Divisions of over 600, I cannot really see what the problem of numbers actually is. Being a practical person, has my noble friend considered the relevance of asking the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee to look again at the whole subject of age limits in this House, as so many other professions are legislated with age limits?
My Lords, of course I was struck by what my noble friend said in the debate on the gracious Speech last week and some of the striking figures he gave then. Having said that the Government are not looking for piecemeal change, I will not follow him directly, but it is of course a fact that somewhere above 110 Members of your Lordships’ House are over 80.
My Lords, the Minister has repeated the Government’s desire not to have piecemeal reform, but does he not accept that the only progress that has been made in your Lordships’ House has been through piecemeal reform? Can he think very seriously about the report’s recommendation about the worrying blurring that has happened between the process for appointing Cross-Bench Peers and party-political Peers? Will he also accept the recommendation that the House of Lords Appointments Commission should regain its control of this process, and perhaps consider the view—which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—that that commission should be put on a statutory basis?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness rightly says, the Appointments Commission has an important role. However, I cannot agree that there has not been progress in reforming your Lordships’ House. I seem to recall a very dramatic reform of your Lordships’ House in 1999—which, considering the age of your Lordships’ House, is relatively recent. Substantial proposals were also put forward in the 2010 Parliament which failed to make progress because the Labour Party would not agree to a programme Motion.
My Lords, I am sorry not to be present, but I am off to get my second jab after this Question. I return to the quite inadequate answer that the Minister gave to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. He referred to the Burns report but did not accept its recommendations. The Burns report has the interests of the House at heart; clearly, the Government do not. When the Minister mentioned refreshing the House, what he really means is refreshing the Conservative Benches. Since the first Burns report was published in 2017, we have seen an overall decrease in the number on the Official Opposition Benches of 16 Peers and an overall increase on the Conservative Benches of 20 Peers. This House works best when we work as a team to examine legislation. That does not seem to be the Government’s understanding.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the role of the Official Opposition is extremely important, and new Peers have been appointed —the Prime Minister has nominated people to the Labour Party Benches. Indeed, I had the great privilege of hearing the maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, only last week.
My Lords, may I follow the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith? The Labour Party acted with great restraint in the first 11 years after the 1999 reforms. It was six years before there were more Labour Peers than Conservative, and at the end of the Labour Government there were only 26 more Labour Peers than Conservatives. We now have 83 more Conservative Peers than Labour, almost as many as there are all other party Peers. Do the Government intend to respect the convention that no group should have a majority in this House or do they intend to carry on appointing more until they approach an overall majority?
My Lords, the Conservative Party has only about 33% of the seats in the Lords, which obviously is way short of its share of the vote. This House has always benefited from negotiation and balance. However, there is a fundamental principle of our constitution that the Queen’s Government must be enabled to carry on, and everybody watches very closely the relationship between this House and the House of Commons.
My Lords, I refer to my registered interests. I wonder whether it is time to take advice from Albert Einstein, who said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.” As we are about to enter a period where I think the United Kingdom will reflect on its constitutional arrangements as a whole, it may in that context be appropriate to look at the function of the House of Lords, and then its composition and size may well flow from those conclusions quite naturally.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart, that we need to look at the function and the purpose of the House and not concentrate just on its size. This constant concentration on the size of the House detracts from the real purpose of what the House can do. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that we need to put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis and look at the role that the House can play in post-legislative scrutiny.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness was able to intervene, and, as I replied to the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart, I agree that the broader role needs to be considered. I can only repeat that, yes, the House of Lords Appointments Commission has an important role. However, I will go no further than that.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume and I ask Members to respect social distancing.
Osimertinib Cancer Treatment
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether Osimertinib (Tagrisso), a cancer treatment drug recently approved by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, will be available to residents of Northern Ireland (1) on the same timescale, and (2) with the same ease of access, as in the rest of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the innovative lung cancer drug Tagrisso has recently had its licence expanded to include patients with early-stage lung cancer through Project Orbis. I am pleased to confirm that Tagrisso is currently available to all patients, including in Northern Ireland, at clinical discretion with no delays. The UK Government are committed to supporting parity of access to medicines across all parts of the UK.
My Lords, people will be reassured to hear that but the fact of the matter is, surely, that the use of this drug for early treatment of lung cancer remains subject to the approval of the EMA and access at the moment is available on application by clinicians on an individual-case basis, which is not the same ease of access as exists in the rest of the UK. While it may be of some assurance that the EMA is expected to approve the drug’s use for early treatment in the near future, that remains wholly outside the Government’s control. What does that say about the integrity of our National Health Service and for how long can this situation go on?
My Lords, we estimate that there are currently just eight patients in Northern Ireland who would benefit from the expanded use of Tagrisso for early-stage disease. Perhaps I may reassure my noble friend that they will all have the same access as in the rest of the United Kingdom without any delay or restraint on that access.
My Lords, we should all wholeheartedly welcome the news of the agreement to enable early access to Osimertinib for early-stage lung cancer patients in England and I absolutely recognise that it is also available to patients in Northern Ireland. However, early diagnosis is as important as access to treatment. It is therefore deeply concerning that the number of people in England and, presumably, across the UK being seen by a specialist for suspected cancer, following urgent referral from their GP, has dropped dramatically. What steps are the Government taking to bring those waiting lists down? We certainly cannot wait for a reorganisation of the NHS, as proposed this year. Does the noble Lord acknowledge that reorganisations tend to have a chilling effect on the recovery of our NHS?
The noble Baroness is entirely right to be concerned about the backlog of oncological diagnostics. It is of grave concern to all of us. That is why the NHS has massively prioritised the tests she described. We are working extremely hard to get through the backlog. GPs are extremely focused on identifying those most at risk and those who are late for their tests are being followed up with great energy and endeavour. I pay tribute particularly to the role of NHS D, which is using the kind of data gains that we made during the pandemic to mobilise all the technology we can to get the right people into tests at the right time.
I am really pleased that this drug can now be used as I understand that it is something of a wonder drug. That is good news. Are there any other drugs that might fall foul of the Northern Ireland protocol? Will the Minister update the House on the current problems in Northern Ireland with over-the-counter medicines such as Strepsils and others that appear to have fallen foul of the protocol?
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Northern Ireland protocol runs the risk of medicines not being available, that there will be divergence in the availability of medicines—and, importantly, medical devices—because the approval process might be different, and that the Government are due to report in six months on the effect of that divergence?
My Lords, we are watchful of the concerns to which the noble Lord refers but it is our hope and aspiration that there will not be the kind of delays or trouble that he explained. The Northern Ireland protocol means that Northern Ireland will stay aligned with EU rules, particularly for this kind of specific cancer medicine, but that does not mean that there need to be any delays. However, we are watching the situation carefully and the report that he described will give a full account of the problems, if there are any.
Can my noble friend, in this instance at least, explain the divergence between the MHRA and the European Medicines Agency? On 22 April, the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use gave a positive opinion under an accelerated assessment, but the EMA has not yet given the new indication of marketing authorisation. What is the potential gap between MHRA authorisation and EMA authorisation?
My noble friend is, as ever, all over the detail. It is my understanding that the gap is a matter of weeks rather than there being any clinical divergence in assessment of the evidence. However, I am afraid to say that I would have to leave it to the EMA to think for itself on that.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, rightly mentioned waiting lists. According to the most recent statistics, 9% of the population in England are on hospital waiting lists—the highest figure since records began in 2007. In Northern Ireland, the figure is 23% of the population, by far the highest proportion in the four home nations. The drug that we are discussing has been widely used in Northern Ireland to treat mid and late-stage lung cancer until now. Cancer patients in Northern Ireland now feel that they are being placed at greater risk than cancer patients elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister confirm that the supply problems that Northern Ireland is facing would not exist if the United Kingdom Government had not agreed to the European Medicines Agency having jurisdiction in Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I do not agree with either the basis or detail of the noble Lord’s assertion. There is absolutely no delay or problem of access for this drug. He is entirely right to say that Tagrisso is currently offered to patients across the UK, including Northern Ireland, for mid and late-stage disease and it will now be offered to patients across the UK, including Northern Ireland, on exactly the same terms for early-stage disease.
My Lords, Northern Ireland is subject to EU law when it comes to the single market for goods and medicines because there is a grace period until 31 December 2021. After that, say representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, the supply of 98% of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is at risk of being discontinued. That is a truly outrageous and scandalous situation. The effects are already being felt. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will take whatever steps are necessary in terms of the protocol to guarantee the continued supply of medicines to Northern Ireland from Great Britain without any further regulation being required?
My Lords, I have met with industry on this matter for the past 18 months. I am afraid that the message I get from it is not of the alarmist kind that the noble Lord described—quite the opposite. I pay tribute to the industry for its enormously collaborative sense of partnership and I really do not believe that there is any threat of the kind that the noble Lord described.
Speaking from Aberdeenshire, I know that drug approval can differ between Scotland and England. Now that we have left the EU, is it not inevitable that there will be differences in drug approval and timings from time to time? What are the Government doing, having signed the agreement, to opt out of the EMA and negotiate an arrangement that minimises disruption but does not pretend that it cannot happen because that is what they signed up for?
My Lords, there will be an occasional moment when there are slight differences between the EMA and MHRA; we are not anticipating them to be huge and, in this case, we are anticipating them to be a matter of weeks while one approval does not quite overlap with another. The UK Government and the MHRA are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the supply of medicines to all UK patients, including those in Northern Ireland, remains smooth, seamless and efficient.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his calm and reassuring Answer, but does he accept that the real problem is the one pointed to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, namely, that of waiting lists? Can we perhaps devise some sort of Nightingale solution to bring forward and have people seen in a special place or special places? The real danger is that people will be diagnosed too late, and then, whatever the drugs, they will die.
I endorse my noble friend’s recommendations. He is entirely right that the old method of diagnostics, which relied a lot on patients attending diagnostic appointments in hospital, feels very out of date after the pandemic. I note the review on diagnostics by Professor Sir Mike Richards, which recommended community hubs, and has a huge amount of support within the NHS. We need to build up our diagnostic capability, bring it closer to where people live and make it more approachable so that people get early interventions.
My Lords, I fear what seems to be a certain complacency in the Department of Health about what will happen in Northern Ireland from next January, when Brussels takes control of medicines coming into Northern Ireland. How can a Conservative and Unionist Party accept that our National Health Service will now be separated out, whatever the good will that my noble friend might express about making sure this does not happen?
My Lords, I reject the accusation of complacency. We have worked unbelievably hard with Northern Irish stakeholders, the pharmaceutical industry and EU colleagues to ensure the smooth running of the supply of medicines in Northern Ireland. The facts speak for themselves: so far, they have run extremely smoothly indeed. I reassure the noble Baroness that the UK Government are committed to parity of access to medicines across the UK, including Northern Ireland. Despite different approval routes, we have ensured that all patients have access to medicines at the same time, and we will maintain that commitment.
My Lords, will the Minister commit to meet the pharmaceutical industry, otherwise known as PAGB, which I met several weeks ago and which told me about problems that could ensue from 1 January next year in relation to the availability of over-the-counter medicines in Northern Ireland, due to the requirements of the protocol? Will the Minister undertake to meet this organisation to ensure that there are immediate discussions between the UK and the EU to resolve any ongoing difficulties and impediments?
I note the point made by the noble Baroness. As I mentioned in relation to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on this issue, it is not one that I am not aware of, but I would be pleased to meet with the party she described in order to understand it better.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and indeed answered.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision about local skills improvement plans; to make provision relating to further education; to make provision about functions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and relating to technical education qualifications; to make provision about student finance and fees; to make provision about assessments by the Office for Students; to make provision about the funding of certain post-16 education or training providers; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Penn (on behalf of Baroness Berridge), read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps and Local Authority Enforcement Powers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Motion to Approve
That the Regulations laid before the House on 9 April be approved.
Relevant documents: 52nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Session 2019-21, and 48th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Session 2019-21 (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 17 May.
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2021
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) Order 2021
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) Order 2021
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Recovery of Listed Assets: Code of Practice) Regulations 2021
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2021
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2021
Motions to Approve
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 17 May.
“No one could fail to be appalled by the disgraceful scenes of anti-Semitic abuse directed at members of the Jewish community in the past week. In Chigwell, Rabbi Rafi Goodwin was hospitalised after being attacked outside his synagogue. In London, activists drove through Golders Green and Finchley, both areas with large Jewish populations, apparently shouting anti-Semitic abuse through a megaphone. These are intimidatory, racist and extremely serious crimes. The police have since made four arrests for racially aggravated public order offences and have placed extra patrols in the St John’s Wood and Golders Green areas.
During Shavuot, as always, we stand with our Jewish friends and neighbours, who have sadly been subjected to a deeply disturbing upsurge in anti-Semitism in recent years, particularly on social media. Like all forms of racism, anti-Semitism has no place in our society. A lot of young British Jews are discovering for the first time that their friends do not understand anti-Semitism, cannot recognise it and do not care that they are spreading it. British Jews are not responsible for the actions of a Government thousands of miles away but are made to feel as if they are. They see their friends post social media content that glorifies Hamas—an illegal terrorist organisation, whose charter calls for every Jew in the world to be killed. Today, the world celebrates International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Under Hamas, people are murdered for being gay.
Every time the virus of anti-Semitism re-enters our society, it masks itself as social justice, selling itself as speaking truth to power. This Government are taking robust action to root it out. We are leading the way as the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and calling on others to do the same. As a result, nearly three-quarters of local councils have adopted it. I have written to councils and universities that are still dragging their feet. They will shortly be named and shamed if they fail to act. All Members of Parliament, bar one, have signed up to it.
We are also doing our utmost to keep the Jewish community safe through the £65 million protective security grant to protect Jewish schools, synagogues and community buildings. We are working closely with the Community Security Trust to ensure that victims can come forward and report attacks to the police.
We recognise that education is one of the most powerful tools we have for tackling anti-Semitism. We are proud to back the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Anne Frank Trust, among others, to ensure that we challenge prejudice from an early age. With the last Holocaust survivors leaving us, we are also ensuring that future generations never forget where hatred can lead through—I hope—a new world-class Holocaust memorial and learning centre next to the Palace of Westminster. It is currently awaiting the outcome of a planning inquiry. Some of the opposition to it has only served to make the case for why it is needed.
Today, the Government and, I hope, the whole House send a clear message of support and reassurance to our Jewish friends and neighbours. We seek a society where the UK’s largest established religions can live safely and freely, and can prosper, as an essential part of a nation that is confident in its diversity but ultimately strong in its unity.”
My Jewish 97 year-old aunt Rose lives in St John’s Wood. I never imagined I would see such scenes on her street. As Simon Wiesenthal said,
“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”
And Pastor Niemöller wrote:
“First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.”
Does the Minister agree that each and every one of us must stand up to, and speak out against, what we saw at the weekend?
I completely agree that we must stand in solidarity with British Jews. The events we saw in the past week were abhorrent and I am pleased the police acted swiftly to arrest four individuals for that offence of driving up and down Finchley Road. Equally, there was the violent attack on Rabbi Rafi Goodwin in Chigwell, and I am pleased to say that the latest news is that the police have arrested two individuals concerning that incident.
My Lords, it is poignant that today’s exchange on anti-Semitism coincides with the important Jewish festival of Shavuot, which has kept some of our colleagues away from this debate. One of the examples that accompanies the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, is
“Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”
Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all public and private bodies adopt not only the definition but also the examples? Can the Government stress at every opportunity that the supposedly pro-Palestinian demonstrations of recent days have actually been pro-Hamas, and not in support of the Palestinian people?
My Lords, this Government are very proud of the fact that they were the first adopters of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, and we are working very hard to ensure that that is fully embedded across our universities and local councils and, of course, every single Member of Parliament, bar one, has also signed up to that definition. It is important that we take that forward and we will continue to work very hard to ensure that we tackle anti-Semitism wherever we see it.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. The Jew haters and the women-despising thugs who threatened murder and sexual violence on our streets brought great shame to our nation. At the first chance, they exposed the thin veneer between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Does my noble friend share my sadness that many of the car convoys of violence came from my native city of Bradford, a city that has a proud record of co-operation between communities, not least through the Near Neighbours programme? Does he agree that we cannot allow the men of violence to define the relationship between communities? Will he commit to measures that combine strict policing and a strong social cohesion? We must, as a priority, remove fear from our streets.
My noble friend, with his experience as a leader of Bradford, is absolutely right. We need to combine that strict policing, where we do more than engage and the police act to ensure that we take the hate off our streets and online wherever it occurs, with an equally strong and robust approach to social cohesion. In fact, Bradford pioneered the Near Neighbours programme, which brings different communities, such as the Muslim and Jewish communities, closer together. We can learn from that.
Is the Minister aware that the Union of Jewish Students has raised serious concerns that Jewish students and societies are now being targeted with really quite disgusting anti-Semitic abuse due to the conflict in the Middle East? Will he reassure Jewish students that the Government will clamp down on all forms of campus anti-Semitism and encourage all universities not just to adopt but to implement the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism?
My Lords, we are aware of this tension. The Community Security Trust has reported a massive spike in anti-Semitic incidents, but equally, Tell MAMA has seen a similar increase in anti-Muslim incidents of 420% in the past week. We are funding the Union of Jewish Students to do precisely that: to tackle these issues. We want to see the full implementation, not just the adoption, of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
The Jewish community will be very grateful to the Minister for what he said today. He knows that anti-Semitism is not confined to appalling attacks on a rabbi in Chigwell and threats to Jewish women in north London. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, to which the Minister referred a few moments ago, gives as an example applying double standards by requiring the State of Israel to behave in a way not expected of any other democratic nation. Does the Minister accept that there have been many examples of those double standards in the past week, particularly by broadcasters, and that this more subtle form of anti-Semitism contributes to an atmosphere in which the cruder forms breed?
My Lords, my right honourable friend in the other House talked about how sometimes anti-Zionism is a subtler form of anti-Semitism. We need to root out even those most subtle of forms absolutely and ensure that we take these forms of anti-Semitism away from both the internet and the streets of our big cities.
Just a couple of days ago and less than half a mile from my home, a motor convoy with loudhailers passed by calling for Jews to be killed and our daughters raped. I know that there has been a quick response from political leaders and the police, although I must say to what effect I do not yet know. I abhor Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. No decent safe society can live with either. I have never come across a Jewish group calling for the death or rape of Muslims. If I did, it would find me an outspoken enemy. What discussions have the Government held with the many law-abiding Muslim groups to encourage public expression of their anger and repudiation of the hatred of Jews? What concrete additional help can be given to the Community Security Trust to enhance community protection?
My Lords, we continue to have our cross-government working groups to tackle both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments. We continue to work with a number of stakeholders to address those challenges. We also provide substantial support to the Community Security Trust. It is £14 million this year, but it has been £65 million to date. We will continue to support what those groups do, but they also provide important support for other minority and faith communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew.
The remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, about the speedy action by the police were extremely welcome. For the sake of Holocaust survivors, such as my beloved sister, and the whole of the community, can we ensure that once prosecutions are brought, they are brought quickly and not delayed? Will the Government call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to account to the Government for the speedy way in which these cases should be processed?
My Lords, does the Minister understand that while all decent people in the United Kingdom disapprove of anti-Semitism and find it abhorrent, there is particular resonance for the Jewish community in what was happening on the streets of London just a few days ago? In the 1930s, that is exactly the kind of thing that proved to be a precursor to a Holocaust. Does the Minister agree that it behoves all of us, not just the police and the judiciary, but those of us in this and the other House and journalists, to take the utmost caution in the language we use to describe events in the Middle East just now so that we do not inadvertently inflame the fires of anti-Semitism?
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, but the time has now elapsed for this Question.
The following statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 17 May.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on coronavirus. Since January last year, and especially since 8 December, when the world’s first clinically authorised coronavirus vaccine was given in Coventry Hospital, we have been engaged—all of us—in a race between the virus and the vaccine. As a nation, we have taken some huge strides forward and we can make careful further progress today, and we must remain vigilant.
I can report to the House that there are now fewer than 1,000 people in hospital in the United Kingdom with coronavirus, and the average number of daily deaths is now nine. This progress means we are able to take step 3 in our road map today, carefully easing some of the restrictions that we have all endured. People have missed the things that make life worth living, businesses have endured hardship, and everybody has made sacrifices. While we can take this step today, we must be humble in the face of this virus. We have all learned over the past year that, in a pandemic, we must look not just at where we are today, but where the evidence shows we may be in weeks and months down the track. The vaccination programme can give us confidence, but we must be alert to new variants that could jeopardise the advances that we have made.
Today, I would like to update the House on the work we are doing to tackle variants of concern—in particular, variant B16172, which is the variant of concern first identified in India—so that we can protect the progress that we have worked so hard to achieve. There are now 2,323 confirmed cases of B16172 in the UK; 483 of these cases have been seen in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where it is now the dominant strain. Cases there have doubled in the last week and are rising in all age groups. In Blackburn, hospitalisations are stable, with eight people currently in hospital with Covid. In Bolton, 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus, the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but have not yet had one. That shows that the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older vaccinated groups, and underlines again the importance of getting the jab—especially, but not only, among the vulnerable age groups.
In Bolton and Blackburn, we have taken the approach that worked in south London against the South African variant. We have surged in our rapid response team: 100 people so far, who visited approximately 35,000 people this weekend to distribute and collect tests. We have installed six new testing units, brought in more than 50 new vaccinators and set up two new vaccination centres, as well as extending opening hours and capacity at our existing sites. In Bolton, we have quadrupled the rate of vaccination. We carried out 6,200 vaccinations over this weekend, and it is brilliant to see so many people from the most vulnerable groups coming forward to get the protection, whether it is their first or second jab.
All in all, this is the biggest surge of resources into any specific local area that we have seen during the pandemic so far. It has been co-ordinated by Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the new UK Health Security Agency, drawing on all the health capabilities, locally and nationally, that we have built in the past year. I thank everyone who is working so hard to make it happen, including everyone at the two local authorities; the rapid response team; all the volunteers, including those from St John Ambulance; and, most importantly, the people of Bolton and Blackburn for the community spirit that they are showing.
It has been really heartening, as I am sure the whole House will agree, to see the videos published over the weekend of people queuing up to get the jab. I say to anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine, not just in Bolton or Blackburn, but right across the country: just look at what is happening at the Royal Bolton Hospital. The majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but had chosen not yet to have it and have ended up in hospital—some of them in intensive care. Vaccines save lives. They protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.
This is not just about Bolton and Blackburn. There are now 86 local authority areas where there are five or more confirmed cases. The next biggest case of concern is Bedford, where we are surging testing. I urge everybody in Bedford to exercise caution and engage in testing where it is available.
I also want to tell the House the latest scientific assessment of this variant. The early evidence suggests that B16172 is more transmissible than the previously dominant B1117 variant. We do not yet know to what extent it is more transmissible. While we do not have the complete picture of the impact of the vaccine, the early laboratory data from Oxford University corroborates the provisional evidence from the Royal Bolton Hospital and the initial observational data from India that vaccines are effective against the variant. This, of course, is reassuring, but the higher transmission poses a real risk.
All this supports our overriding strategy, which is gradually and cautiously to replace the restrictions on freedom with the protections from the vaccines. The data suggests that the vaccine has already saved more than 12,000 lives and prevented more than 33,000 people from being hospitalised, and we are protecting people at a very rapid pace. Last week was the biggest week of vaccinations since the end of March. Some 36 million people have now had a first dose, and yesterday we reached the milestone of 20 million people across the UK having had their second dose.
I am delighted to see the figures released by YouGov today, which show that the UK has the highest vaccination enthusiasm in the world, with 90% of people saying that they have had or will have the jab. This was no accident. We began planning the campaign for vaccine uptake a year ago. I thank the huge range of people involved in promoting the benefits of vaccination, from Her Majesty the Queen to Sir Elton John, Harry Redknapp, Lenny Henry, Holly Willoughby, Lydia West and many, many others. Our campaign has been based on positivity and science, and I am grateful to everybody who has played their part.
I can confirm that from tomorrow we will be inviting people aged 37 to come forward, before expanding this further later in the week. It has been brilliant to see people’s enthusiasm when they have been invited to come forward, and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to show that they have had the protection the vaccine provides. I am delighted to say that, as of today, people can demonstrate whether they have had their jab, quickly and simply, through the NHS app.
Since January, we have been following a dosing interval of 12 weeks for second doses. Because of the extra protection people get from the second dose, particularly among those most likely to end up in hospital or dying, it is incredibly important that everyone comes forward for that second dose at the right moment. The approach we have taken aims to give the most vulnerable the strongest possible protection against this virus. Since January, that has meant getting the first dose to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. The research shows that this approach has saved about 12,000 lives.
Now, it is important to accelerate the second doses for all those most vulnerable to ending up in hospital or dying. Our vaccination strategy for all parts of the UK, including the areas of surge vaccination, will therefore stick by the clinical advice set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: first, prioritise anyone over 50 who has not yet been vaccinated; next, second doses to those over 50 are vital—that will now be done on a schedule of eight weeks; and then, follow the cohorts in priority order, and the age groups as we open them. This clinically approved approach is the best way to save the most lives, rather than jumping ahead with first doses for younger people. Although the JCVI of course keeps this under constant review, we are clear that its advice is the best way to protect those most in need of protection and so save as many lives as we can. The NHS will be reiterating this advice to all vaccination centres and all directors of public health, and I am very grateful to everyone, in the NHS, local authorities and in the whole system supporting this vaccination programme, for following it.
Today’s opening and step 3 marks an important step on our road to recovery. We must proceed with caution and care, and bear down on the virus, in whatever form it attacks us, so that in this race between the vaccine and the virus, our humanity, science, and ingenuity will prevail. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for being here to take this Statement. We keep meeting like this; it is over a year now. I wonder whether our relationship needs to move on.
The Covid variant first detected in India looks as though it has now seeded in 86 areas and is set to become the dominant strain in the UK within the next few days or weeks. Indeed, many experts think that it was a mistake for the Government to go ahead with the easing of lockdown restrictions implemented yesterday. I suppose that there must be increasing doubt about whether the further lifting of lockdown measures will be able to go ahead as planned next month. I will not ask the Minister to give any definitive answers on that because I absolutely accept that uncertainty is the name of the game. However, I quote one of the four tests that the Government set out for proceeding with the road map out of lockdown, which is if
“our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern”—
in other words, if there are new variants of concern, that may be the issue. Is this still the case?
The Royal Statistical Society, which promotes the proper use of data, is concerned that the Government have failed to publish the information justifying their decision that stage 3 of lockdown easing should go ahead because the new variant threat has been met. Will the Government publish the framework for that decision and the data that fed into it so that people can be assured that the facts justify the policy? Can the Minister confirm reports in the Times that officials have drawn up plans for local lockdowns modelled on the tier 4 restrictions introduced last year, and that, under these measures, people will be advised to stay at home and non-essential shops and hospitality will be closed, if the new strain is not brought under control?
On Bolton and Bedford, I regret to say this, but it seemed that the Secretary of State reverted to a blame game yesterday, perhaps to deflect from the fact that the Government did not do enough to protect us from this new variant. He said that people infected by the new variant in hospitals in Bolton had refused or not taken up the vaccine and had chosen not to take the jab. I felt that was very unfair.
My honourable friend the MP for Bolton, Yasmin Qureshi, says that the vaccine is not easily accessible to some of the poorer and BAME communities in Bolton: for example, some people have to take three buses to get to the vaccine centre in the centre of the town. If you are not mobile and do not have flexibility in your working hours, or are a key worker and have caring responsibilities in a multigenerational household, you are not refusing the vaccine if you cannot get to it.
Turning to Bedford, the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, has said that Bedford is now to be among the areas given surge testing, as the borough recorded the second highest rates of Covid-19 infection in the country, and that cases were doubling every five days. This comes after the MP, the mayor and the health chiefs all called on the Government to act quickly to prevent further spread of the variant in Bedford. For days they have felt ignored. They have felt that the Government wanted to recognise the new variant as a northern problem, which clearly is not the case because it is in Bedford. My honourable friend Mohammad Yasin MP said that, after a fair bit of dither and delay, he welcomes surge testing in Bedford.
Can the Minister tell us whether it is true that Bedford has no access to the Pfizer vaccine at the moment? This must limit a comprehensive vaccine campaign in that town; you cannot do a comprehensive vaccine campaign, especially if you are dealing with the under-40s, if you do not have two or three of the vaccines that are available. I am aware also that reports of many people choosing to delay their jab were about concerns over side effects and whether they would be available for work or might struggle to manage their responsibilities. So the Government must give resourcing and support on these issues and improve the flexibility, information and understanding at a local level.
The Minister is also aware that achieving the truly remarkable vaccine take-up among adults will still leave 20% of the wider population—our children—unvaccinated, meaning of course that the virus can still spread. So can he update the House on any plans to vaccinate the under-18s? It also remains unclear for how long vaccines prevent Covid-19. Initial studies suggest that it may be six months, or possibly longer. Well, those who were vaccinated in December are rapidly approaching that. So we need to know whether there will be declining protection from Covid and what assessment the Minister has made of this risk. Can he update the House on plans to roll out booster shots this autumn?
Finally, at this critical time when we need to work internationally, why are we the only G7 nation cutting our aid budget? How can the Government defend cutting our contribution to vital science and research projects? Given the Government’s total silence on President Biden’s support for the temporary lifting of patent protections to increase vaccine production, should we assume that the British Government do not agree with the President?
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for coming before the House to deal with this Statement, and also for his work ethic in dealing with Covid-19 over the last 14 months.
From these Benches, we have always said that we will support whatever is proportionate and follows evidence to keep people safe. The more that you delve into the Government’s reason for not including India on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and Bangladesh, the more it feels like a big ball of candyfloss that initially seems tempting but disintegrates on touch. Yesterday, both the Minister and the Secretary of State said that India was not put on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and Bangladesh because of the positivity rate.
Looking at the figures for the two weeks before Bangladesh and Pakistan were put on the red list, the positivity rate for India was 5.1%. For Pakistan, it was slightly higher at 6.2%, yet for Bangladesh it was lower, at 3.7%. The same data—the Government’s test and trace data—shows that in the same two-week period, 50% of all new variants entering the UK, including those of concern, were from India: the largest country by far. Therefore, variants of concern and positivity rates show India to be on a par with, or ahead of, Bangladesh and Pakistan. So what data were the Government actually using, if it was not their own test and trace data? Can the Minister place on the record that data and the raw data which made him, and the Secretary of State, say that India’s positivity rate was three times higher?
Another area of concern is people entering the UK being huddled together at the border with people entering from red-list countries. One needs only to look at the significant Twitter feeds from yesterday of people arriving from green or amber countries, who were spending up to four hours in queues to get over the UK border and having to stand next to and mingle with people entering from red-list countries. Heathrow and Manchester Airports were responding that, despite asking the Government for more border staff to deal with the issue, none had been forthcoming.
This was planned. We knew that international travel was allowed and the Government knew that the traffic-light system was being introduced, so why have the Government not carried out the wishes of the airport operators to ensure that more border staff and more guidance are available to segregate those entering from red-list countries? This is a clear public health crisis at our border, and the Government have not, to date, solved it. So, as a matter of urgency, when will this public health breach right at our borders be solved?
Finally, as variants of concern continue to enter the country and replicate at speed, “isolate, isolate, isolate” becomes vital. Yesterday, the Secretary of State in another place indicated to Munira Wilson MP that the Government were worried that isolation might not be as robust as required, and that some pilots were taking place. Can the Minister outline where they are, what the parameters of the pilots are and when the results will be made public? Also, overwhelming evidence now shows that people on lower salaries must be paid their full wages and given support to ensure that they can comply with full isolation requirements. Will the Government now look at this as a matter of urgency?
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the very detailed and thorough questions from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, and I am also appreciative of and touched by their kind comments.
The noble Baroness asked about the Indian variant and the uptake of the vaccines. I reassure her that we are doing absolutely everything that we can to ensure that there is a thorough uptake of the vaccine among all communities. She spoke touchingly about the feeling of blame associated with those in hospital who people hear have not taken the vaccine. I hear her comments, but there is no attribution of blame meant in this. It is a simple statement of fact that if you do not take the vaccine that is offered to you, or if you do not take two doses, and you then expose yourself to the virus, that is putting yourself in substantial danger, and it is a clinical observation that many of those who have ended up in hospital with severe disease are those who have not had the vaccine, even though they may have been offered it.
The noble Baroness asked about accessibility. She is entirely right that there are some people to whom we as a healthcare system have not made ourselves accessible enough. During this pandemic we have moved on from using the phrase “hard to reach” and we now think of it in terms of people who find us “hard to access”. She makes a perfectly reasonable observation in that respect, but I reassure her that we have absolutely bent over backwards to do everything we can to put the vaccine in front of all groups in the country, particularly those in areas such as Bolton, which we recognise have in the past been places where we have not got our message across.
I personally am hugely touched by the videos I have seen of people now queueing to have the vaccine. I applaud all community leaders and those who work with communities in Bolton, who have clearly mobilised a huge amount of public sentiment behind the vaccine programme. We are seeing a transformation in the penetration rates among some very important communities.
There is more that we can do. I am open to any suggestions from noble Lords on how we can do better, but I would like to reassure noble Lords that we have strained every sinew in trying to achieve vaccine equity across all groups in the country. That is true not only in Bolton but in Bedford, and I am disturbed to hear that people in Bedford feel they may have somehow been overlooked. I do not believe that is the view of the Vicky Head in Bedford, the DPH, and we have worked extremely closely with her. I assure the noble Baroness that cluster 2, linked to 12 cases in Bedford, was targeted immediately. An MTU went to the community on 8 May, and two community sites were opened up on 10 May. We have absolutely prioritised Bedford, as we have Sefton, Leicester, Nottingham and London—all areas where clusters have broken out. There is absolutely no question of prioritising one area over another. On the availability of the Pfizer vaccine in Bedford, that is news to me. I will be glad to look into that and to write to the noble Baroness accordingly.
On children, as noble Lords will be aware, this is an area in which some of the vaccine companies are making considerable progress in their clinical trials. None is categoric yet. It is too early to have agreed policy in this area, but the noble Baroness makes a very good point. Opening up the Covid vaccine, as we have with the flu vaccine, means that not only are children with some kind of vulnerability, particularly to long Covid, put into a safe place but that the transmissibility of that important age group can be reduced.
I am afraid we cannot know for certain the long-term effect of the vaccine until time has passed, but the CMO’s view is that the indications on the body’s immune system are extremely strong. At this moment it seems the vaccine is working, and our confidence is at a reasonably high point, but we remain vigilant. VoCs could emerge that either reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine or, for instance, effect some kind of decline in protection from the vaccine. That is why we have put in place contingent plans for boosters in the autumn. Those boosters might be of the existing suite of vaccines that are proving extremely effective. We are also looking for VoC vaccines that may be used to supplement the range of immune responses so that they cover any new mutations or variants that may emerge.
I cannot immediately recognise from the Bench the data the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, gave on the India VoCs. I wonder whether it was data that emerged after we made the decisions, because a lot of the sequencing data is retrospective; it takes between a week and 10 days to emerge from the Sanger Institute. That is one of the difficulties in making these decisions, which sometimes seem so clear-cut in retrospect. When you have the data available to you on the day, the decisions are not necessarily quite so apparent.
I do not really recognise the criticisms the noble Lord makes of the red list system. The red list system we have in the UK is an incredibly important shield and is proving extremely effective. Segregation is unbelievably difficult during travel. It is very difficult to segregate amber list and red list passengers on a plane, train or ferry. Within an airport it is very difficult to segregate people, because of the physical proximity. That is why travelling is dangerous, why we tell people not to travel and why, when people do travel, we tell them to isolate. Travelling is dangerous, and that is not news to us or to the people who get on those planes in the first place. The ultimate sanction here is that, particularly as we go into the summer, we tell people: travelling is not for this year. Please stay in this country.
On the isolation pilots the noble Lord referred to, we are running a large amount of work on pilots for isolation generally. If he would like to write to me about the particular pilots he was referring to, I will be glad to give him an update. I am afraid I am not quite clear at this stage which ones he is referring to.
My Lords, we now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. We do not have that many Back-Bench questioners, but it is still quite good discipline if people keep their questions and answers as brief and relevant as possible.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his repeat of the Statement. It is indeed welcome news for people and the economy that we are able to move to step 3 in our road map. However, as the Health Secretary said,
“we must be humble in the face of this virus.”—[Official Report, Commons, 17/5/21; col. 424.]
While the UK has had the highest vaccination enthusiasm in the world, does the Minister agree that it is deeply worrying that many people eligible for a vaccine, particularly among vulnerable age groups, have still not had one? This was seen in Bolton, where the majority of the 19 patients admitted to hospital with the new Indian variant, especially people from ethnic-minority communities, have not had a vaccine. What further support can the Government give to promote the better uptake of vaccines among ethnic minorities?
My Lords, my noble friend refers to humility and he is right: we have all had to develop a stronger sense of humility in the face of this awful virus and this dreadful pandemic. It has taught us that, despite all our 21st-century healthcare systems, we are all vulnerable to its awful effects. His words are absolutely spot on. I repeat the statistic that 69.4% of adults across the UK have had the vaccine, because the overall story of the vaccine rollout has been one of incredible participation by the British public. Not only have I never been involved in anything quite so successful in my life but there are very few national projects anywhere in the world that have been as successful. I really applaud all communities in every part of Britain for the way in which they have stepped up to the vaccine. My noble friend is right that there are some communities in which those levels are not as high as they should be. That has led to higher transmission among younger people, and in a few cases that has led to severe disease among older people who, frankly, should have taken their vaccine. I urge everyone to step up to their opportunity.
As the Minister, who has worked tirelessly during Covid, knows only too well, an outbreak anywhere can become an outbreak everywhere. Can he tell us how the UK plans to increase vaccine distribution globally through COVAX to control the pandemic and decrease the risk of further variants arising in countries with high rates of infection, particularly as the risk of vaccine-resistant variants will remain high for at least a decade?
My Lords, the Tedros principle of us being safe only when we are all safe remains the most profound insight. The noble Baroness is entirely right: we must do more to try to help those in the developing world. The frustrating truth is that the world simply does not have enough capacity for the manufacture of these very complex and tricky substances. We are straining every sinew to try to deliver the 9 billion vaccines we need to deliver worldwide vaccination, but the rate of manufacturing is not as high as any of us would like. I take my hat off in particular to AstraZeneca, which has provided licences for the vaccine worldwide on a no-profit basis, but I also pay tribute to the other vaccine companies, which, despite what one might read in the press, are trying all they can to set up manufacturing sites all around the world. Progress is being made.
My Lords, I too salute AstraZeneca for its noble efforts. However, I would like to take the Minister back to the SAGE meeting of 13 May, when the Government were warned:
“In the areas where numbers of infections are increasing rapidly … an even faster increase can be expected if measures are relaxed”.
The Government went ahead with relaxing the measures yesterday. I know that Mr Dominic Cummings can perhaps not be regarded as the most reliable of commentators, but was he not right to say that fast, hard and effective action is the best policy for the economy, as opposed to always delaying taking decisive action? When it comes to the next stage, can we be reassured that the decision will not be taken until the evidence in June is fully assessed and evaluated?
My Lords, I am a big supporter of the “fast and hard” principle. In our response in Bolton, Bedford, London and elsewhere, we have demonstrated that principle in our handling of the Indian variant. I point out that the use of testing and social distancing measures in schools has been enormously effective. One of the remarkable aspects of the infection rate so far is that transmission levels among school-aged children have not increased in the way that SAGE and others, including myself, once feared. We should take a “glass half-full” moment to applaud that fact. I reassure the noble Lord that we will absolutely make these decisions on the data. Space has been put in between the steps for exactly that reason, and we are not going to rush it.
My Lords, could the Minister outline the Government’s plans for test and trace as lockdown is lifted, particularly in areas such as Bolton and Bedford where surge testing is currently being deployed? With former centrally based Public Health England staff being disbanded and senior civil servants returning to their own posts, what financial resources are being passed to the local resilience teams, run by local directors of public health, to operate test and trace, which will be so critical to controlling the spread of the virus alongside the vaccine rollout?
My Lords, the outbreak in Bolton, Bedford, London and elsewhere has demonstrated, if that were needed, the paramount importance of keeping resources for test and trace at a critical level, and that is what we have done. Since the national infection rate is lower, there is a much greater emphasis on the kind of surge activity and outbreak management that the noble Baroness describes. Sequencing has proved to be an essential part of that process, and we have brought sequencing from the back of the laboratory to the front line of test and trace operation. Every single positive case is now treated as though it were a VOC, with the same amount of tracing and sequencing that a VOC would have had a few weeks ago. We have the full operation on standby. Should another wave of infections arrive, as it may well do with the relaxing of social distancing, we have the systems in place to be able to deal with it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as Deputy Colonel Commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Indian variant is spreading not just across the United Kingdom but across the north Indian plains and into Nepal, a country ill-equipped to deal with such a pandemic. Given the speed of response and support offered to India, I simply ask my noble friend whether the Government will respond positively to Nepal’s request for 2 million doses of vaccine.
I am grateful for the briefing on Nepal I had earlier from my noble friend. The scenes that we have seen in north-west India are heart-breaking. Nepal is such a good example of the kind of country that the global community needs to surround and support with vaccine technology that, frankly, is for G7-style countries to help to provide to developing countries. I take my noble friend’s point completely on board. I do not have immediately to hand the statistics about what Britain is doing for Nepal on the vaccine front, but I will be glad to write to him with any data that I can put together.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. With the move to stage 3 of the road map, university students can now return to campus. Most of them are too young to have received vaccines so students around the country will form a significant cohort of young people undertaking regular and frequent testing as a matter of course. What consideration has been given to the benefits of sustaining PCR testing and sequencing at scale in universities as a way of rapidly identifying and understanding new variants? Will the Government consider providing funding to support that in future?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the vice-chancellors and to the universities and colleges of Britain for the way in which they have embraced campus testing. It has been a salutary lesson in what can be done, and it has helped to keep infection rates down on campuses where there has been a small number of returning students to date. That is done mainly through LFD testing. Positive tests then have a complementary PCR test, and the PCR test is automatically sequenced if it is positive. The combination of LFD, PCR and sequencing is the right one for keeping infection rates down, but we tweak the formula as and when best advice comes in.
My Lords, the pandemic has hit the low-paid and the poor the hardest. The Government need to commit to a road map to a better post-Covid society so I invite them to make two pledges. First, at the very least, they need to reduce the NHS waiting lists in England from the present 4.95 million to 2.5 million, which was the case in 2010. Will the Minister pledge to do exactly that by the end of this Parliament or even sooner? If not, why not? Secondly, the poorest 10% of households pay 47.6% of their income in direct and indirect taxes, compared with 33.5% for the richest 10% of households. This condemns millions of people to poor food, housing and health, which is a key reason for deaths during this pandemic. Will the Government pledge to eliminate that injustice by the end of this Parliament?
My Lords, I recognise some of the noble Lord’s insights. It is undoubtedly true that the low-paid and the poor have been hardest hit by Covid, both by the infection rates themselves and by the lockdown. That is a frustrating truth that is completely recognised and acknowledged by the Government. It is also true that the low-paid and the poor have health inequalities that have themselves made people more vulnerable to sickness, both from Covid and from the non-Covid diseases that have been exacerbated by limited access to some parts of the NHS. We are absolutely committed to reducing NHS waiting lists—that is an incredibly important part of the “build back better” mantra—but we need to do more to bring a degree of levelling up to all parts of society in order to address the symptoms that the noble Lord rightly describes.
My Lords, I welcome the remarkable progress of the uptake of the vaccine in all communities, and I thank the Minister for coming to us with this Statement. However, I am sure he will understand that serious questions remain about the Government’s decision not to red-list being a direct cause of this dangerous Indian variant—I am sure that at some point the Government will have to answer fully to Parliament—and that it is not true, even as a clinical assessment, despite the media repeatedly and consistently suggesting this, that the uptake of vaccinations is the responsibility of certain communities. The Minister will appreciate the likely and even inevitable consequences of rising Islamophobia and hate crimes, as has been reported by Tell MAMA. What are the Government going to do to monitor and support local communities to ensure that they do not face such consequences? Also, echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, what plans and resources are in place to monitor and support compliance as we enter the next phase of the road map?
My Lords, I have to be honest with the noble Baroness: I am not sure it is helpful to try to connect healthcare policy decisions with a commentary on hate crime. The people who have not stepped up to the vaccine come from a very wide variety of communities; it is not one single community that has been singled out. We are talking about everyone from migrant workers in the apple yards of Herefordshire, to hard-working off-book sweat-shop labourers in east Leicestershire. In between there are people from many different communities who have not taken advantage of the vaccine opportunity. We are working really closely at NHS level to reassure community leaders and individuals concerned that the vaccine is safe and will provide protection. That is the right conversation to have.
The bus industry has cleaned up its buses and introduced lots of ventilation, and people are wearing masks. Is there any hope that the amount of social distancing on buses will be reduced in the near future, because there is a lot of unused capacity?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the bus industry. Many noble Lords will remember those terrible stories at the beginning of the pandemic about bus drivers having an extremely high incidence of severe disease and even death. But the noble Lord should have hope as there is a really good reason why the buses will one day be full, and that is the vaccine. The vaccine gives us all hope that the kind of life we once had can be revisited, although we have to take some time to ensure that the vaccines are working as well as they should. We have to ensure that booster shots, if needed, are delivered. We have to ensure that the vaccine cuts through to all communities and that hygiene—the social distancing, handwashing and other personal hygiene disciplines which are going to be a long-term commitment by the entire nation—is truly imbedded in everyone’s habits.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the Statement repeat and congratulate him on the work he has been doing over the last many months. Does he agree that the public health messaging, which has been very good in all communities, should continue because we are going to get many other forms of variant? As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, says, this is going to be an ongoing issue, probably for a number of years, and continuous messaging will be key. Will he also tell me, given the recent new variant, what conversations he is having with counterparts from the countries concerned to see how that variant is reacting, what is happening there and whether it is reproducing rapidly or slowly, so that better informed decisions can be made in our own country?
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for her insight. She is entirely right; this awful pandemic does have a silver lining, which is that it can be an inflection point for a complete transformation in our public health messaging. The work we are doing on communicating the threat of the variants is one example of that. The next front line will be the flu jab rollout in the autumn, where take-up rates have been okay but not great. I hope that, when the flu jab campaign begins this autumn, a completely different generation and spread of people will step up to that opportunity. We are working extremely hard to use the public mood and sentiment behind preventive medicine to full effect to ensure that the flu jab works, that therefore a much smaller proportion of the population will transmit flu, and that deaths and severe disease from flu will be reduced. That can be the legacy of this awful pandemic.
My Lords, I welcome the vigilant focus described in this Statement that has been adopted by the Government, and that the response is being co-ordinated through the UK Health Security Agency. Could the Minister explain how England is working with the other three countries in the UK to ensure that a proactive approach is taken to the new virus variant, that the uptake of vaccines increases, that the monitoring of transmission continues, and to enable early intervention should the number of cases increase? In particular, what data are the Government collecting on the number of people in quarantine hotels testing positive for coronavirus and how many people have absconded from quarantine? Would the Government consider adopting a process similar to the electronic tagging undertaken in South Korea, to more accurately monitor the movement of people in and out of the country at its borders?
I am enormously grateful to the noble Baroness for that creative and thoughtful question. The good news is that the number of absconding residents from managed quarantine is minimal; it can be counted on one hand and many of them have been retrieved. The bad news is that the positivity rate in managed quarantine is far too high. I do not have the precise number in front of me and do not want to guess at it, but it is clearly true that far too many people are getting on planes when they are infected and far too many people are catching the disease on their travels. When we think of how to manage any vaccine-evading and highly transmissible variants, we have to look to the red list for secure protection for this country. She asked another question I cannot remember, but I will be glad to write to her about it.
I was genuinely excited to be able to attend a Saracens rugby match last night, and I notice from my noble friend’s Twitter feed that he too was out last night enjoying a thoroughly well-deserved visit to Sadler’s Wells. My sincere thanks go to all those who have made this step to normality possible, particularly my noble friend. However, like others, I have concerns about the entry arrangements at airports. While I fully understand the difficulties of segregation and that international travel should be strongly discouraged, does he agree that more should be done to prevent passengers arriving from red, amber and green countries mixing—particularly at airport border entry points with those from red countries, where, as he has just said, there is obviously a high degree of infection?
My Lords, I enjoyed the contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells, which really lifted my heart, but I rather wish I had been at Saracens for that thumping victory and to see my favourite team doing so well after a difficult year. I very clearly hear the concerns of noble Lords about social mixing of amber and red route passengers at airports, and one reads about it in the papers. I reassure noble Lords that the amount of segregation in place in the airports is the focus of both Border Force and the Home Office. We are absolutely doing our best. We are looking at red list terminals, but the practicalities of that when there is a relatively low level of flights are very challenging indeed. I reiterate my point that if you are travelling you are putting yourself at risk, and there is no way we can pretend otherwise. If you are travelling, you should isolate yourself for a substantial amount of time when you touch down in the UK. This question of mingling in airports is, to some extent, a red herring.
My Lords, it is clear that the B16172 variant of SARS-CoV-2 is now established in the community, but that only highlights the need to keep out further variants of concern that will inevitably arise around the world as the coronavirus runs rampant. Following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, can the Minister reassure me about the security arrangements in quarantine facilities given the number of cases of transmission in New Zealand and Australia, who have long practised quarantine? How often are staff being tested? Are they being paid in ways that mean they do not have to take other jobs, particularly jobs where they may have contact with large numbers of people? Are ventilation systems being checked regularly?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is entirely right to cite the examples of Australia and New Zealand and the challenges they have had with staff manning managed quarantine facilities. I am extremely grateful to officials from both Australia and New Zealand for the very thorough briefings we had when we set up our managed quarantine facilities. We totally took on board their profound insight on that area and that was the number one thing they told us to get right. We focused on it, we have invested in it, and that has worked well to date.
Arrangement of Business
Debate (5th Day)
Moved on Tuesday 11 May by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is a privilege and pleasure to open this fifth day of debate on Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech. Today’s debate on justice, home affairs and cultural issues will allow us to explore some of the key themes that Her Majesty expounded in her Speech last week. Many of these matters are central to a well-functioning society, including the recovery of our justice system in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic; the prevention of violent crime and the delivery of justice for victims; the basis and operation of our constitutional settlement; the way that our immigration and asylum systems work in practice; and how the United Kingdom will respond to digital and technological developments, including online safety and the security of our communications. Given the wealth of experience on all sides of the House, my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford and I look forward to hearing the contributions that will be made by noble Lords in today’s debate.
The last year was like none in recent memory and has been difficult for everyone. None the less, this Government have remained steadfast in responding to the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic affected all areas of life, both private and public, and the justice system is no exception. The past year has been particularly challenging for our courts and tribunals, so I first, and importantly, want to express my gratitude to those working across the justice system, whose efforts over the last year meant that the wheels of justice never stopped turning. They are now turning faster: almost all jurisdictions are now completing cases at pre-pandemic levels.
However, we are aware that there is much further to go—so, as we begin a new Session and social distancing restrictions ease, one of our top priorities will be to accelerate the work already taking place to address the effects of the pandemic on courts and tribunals, and we will also use this opportunity to secure further improvements for our justice system. As such, we will implement measures to ensure that the Crown Courts are running to their maximum capacity, using every judge and courtroom available, with no limit on sitting days this year. We will learn from our experience with remote hearings and seek to retain them where appropriate. These measures will enable us to deliver swifter outcomes for victims who might otherwise see their cases delayed. We know the old adage: justice delayed is justice denied. We do not want to see justice denied to anyone, so we will work hard to speed up the justice system, as it emerges from the pandemic.
However, our commitment to delivering justice for victims does not end at trial, and it certainly does not begin there. We want to ensure that victims are supported and their rights recognised at every stage of the criminal justice system. During the last Session, we published a revised victims’ code, which set out the rights to which victims are entitled. We will now go further: we will work to ensure both the standard and the availability of victims’ rights, beginning with a consultation on a ground-breaking victims’ Bill that will enshrine the new code in legislation.
We are acutely aware that crimes such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence, which disproportionately affect women and girls, shatter not only the lives of the victims but also those of their families. The whole country was shaken earlier this year by the death of Sarah Everard, which was a harrowing reminder of the violence to which many—far too many—women and girls in our society are subjected. As such, in addition to the landmark Domestic Abuse Act passed last Session, we will continue to make supporting victims and survivors of these crimes a priority. We will publish the end-to-end rape review action plan, working to ensure that, at each stage of our justice system, from reporting and investigation to trial and sentence, rape cases are considered with the diligence and gravity that they deserve.
We will publish a new tackling violence against women and girls strategy and a domestic abuse strategy, which will work in tandem to drive real change in this area. We received 180,000 responses to our call for evidence to inform these strategies. The views of victims, survivors and the public will be at the heart of our approach. We will also review our national statement of expectations, to ensure that police and crime commissioners approach these crimes in a collaborative and robust way.
This approach reflects our wider strategy. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has been held over from last Session, will further our commitment to being tough on crime and its perpetrators. We will give our police more powers to tackle crime, we will protect our emergency workers and increase sentences for those who would harm them, and we will establish a new, smarter approach to sentencing that sees our most dangerous criminals spend longer in prison.
I am aware that there has been a lot of discourse about the public order provisions in this Bill, much of which is based on a misunderstanding of what the provisions actually do and the genesis of the legislation. These measures have been portrayed by some as draconian and a dismantling of our civil liberties; this is both misinformed and wrong. The right to protest is a fundamental and important freedom—but so is the right to go about your business unhindered. These provisions allow police to take a more proactive approach in managing disproportionately disruptive protests, which place an unnecessary burden upon our citizens.
It is that sense of balance that permeates a lot of the work which this Government plan to deliver over the next Session, and nowhere is this more apparent than in relation to our work on the constitution and judicial review.
I am sure everyone will agree that our uncodified—I did not say unwritten— constitution is something to be both celebrated and preserved. That includes examining the fine and critical balance between the Executive, the judiciary and the legislature.
That is why we plan to introduce a judicial review and courts Bill, which will not only introduce many of the court recovery measures I mentioned earlier, but will work to restore the balance between our institutions of state. We want to protect the judiciary from being unnecessarily pulled into political matters. Let me be clear and unambiguous: this is not about abolishing judicial review. We will ensure the integrity of the judicial review process. But the idea, put about by some who should know better, that the judicial review process cannot be improved or that it must remain a no-go area for government is false. Public law is too important to be left only to public lawyers.
We are still considering the submissions made to the recent consultation, which itself built on the work by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and his team, and considered further areas for reform. We expect to increase the flexibility provided to judges by ensuring, among other things, that more flexible and effective remedies are available, and to review the merits of the Supreme Court’s decision in Cart.
Our desire to ensure that our society’s vital systems function as fairly and as effectively as possible extends to our plans for the borders Bill that we will introduce. This will implement the most significant overhaul of our immigration and asylum systems for decades.
At the heart of this Bill is a simple principle: fairness. Presently, we have a generous asylum system that offers protection to the most vulnerable people around the world through defined safe and legal routes. But this system is collapsing under the pressure of parallel, often extremely dangerous, illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminals smuggling people into the UK.
We believe that access to our asylum system should be based on need and not on the ability to pay people smugglers. When people are dying, as they are, we have a duty to act. The Border Force already has a range of powers and capabilities to deal with maritime threats, but we will use this legislative opportunity to strengthen them further. We will introduce new powers to target the increasing use of vessels by criminal gangs to facilitate illegal entry to the UK.
Over and above that, our ability to enforce immigration laws, passed by and with the authority of Parliament, is being impeded, contributing to a downward trend in the number of people, including foreign national offenders, being removed from the UK. Our Bill will enable us to remove more easily those with no right to be here. Our time and resources should be directed to protecting and supporting those in genuine need of asylum, and to reclaim control of our borders.
Cicero’s maxim, “Salus populi suprema lex esto”—your Lordships will of course require no translation—remains absolutely true. The safety and security of the people of this country must be, and will be, the primary concern of this Government. We live increasingly in an online world, as the television screens above me show, so we also want to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online as well as offline.
That is why we will deliver on our manifesto commitment to introduce an online safety Bill to set a global standard for safety online. It will include the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation, requiring platforms and search engines contained within its scope to tackle illegal content and protect our young people from harmful material.
Major platforms will also be required to set out, with clarity, their own terms and conditions about legal but harmful content for adults, and to enforce these rules consistently and transparently.
The Bill will also enshrine in law safeguards for free speech. We will use this opportunity to defend freedom of expression and promote the valuable role of a free press that now exists online as much as it does in newsprint. This will allow us to usher in a new era of accountability for technology giants, and to protect our children, ensuring that future generations have a healthy relationship with the internet.
We are also aware of the importance of ensuring the long-term security and resilience of our telecommunications network. The Telecommunications (Security) Bill will create one of the most rigorous telecommunication security regimes in the world. It will protect and future-proof our networks as technologies grow and evolve, shielding our critical national infrastructure both now and in the future. It will allow us to manage the risks posed by high-risk vendors.
We will also ensure that the national telecommunications system flourishes. We will introduce a second Bill, the product security and telecommunications infrastructure Bill, to allow us to deliver on our connectivity ambitions by making sure that telecommunications equipment can be installed, shared and upgraded as quickly and efficiently as possible, and by assuring consumers that the smart devices that we all now bring into our homes—the so-called the internet of things—are secure. This legislation will underline the UK’s continued global leadership on cybersecurity and allow consumer-connected technology to continue to grow.
We also have to look at the threat posed to us by hostile activities from other states—a threat that is ever-growing, diversifying and evolving. Unlike terrorists, who rely on grabbing the public’s attention, this sort of hostile activity operates in the shadows and remains hidden. Although these acts fall short of open conflict, the consequences for our democracy, economic security and prosperity are real. To address this threat, we will introduce a counter state threats Bill, which will modernise our existing counter-espionage laws to reflect the modern threat and introduce modern legislative standards. It will create new offences, tools and powers to detect, disrupt and deter hostile activity in and targeted at the United Kingdom. We will do this through reform of the Official Secrets Acts 1911, 1920 and 1939, as well as the Official Secrets Act 1989, and the creation of a foreign influence registration scheme. The Home Secretary has published a public consultation on our proposals in this area, and the response to that consultation will help us shape the tools and powers at our disposal to make sure that they balance the protection of national security with the important rights and values that we all enjoy in the United Kingdom.
Lastly, we will introduce two new Bills to support the voluntary sector by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for charities, and to unlock additional funds for good causes. The first is a charities Bill. Charities occupy a special place in our society, and the law should both protect and regulate them. The reforms that we introduce will remove or replace inappropriate and unnecessary burdens while safeguarding the public interest in ensuring that charities are properly run, so that charities will have more time and more resources to spend on their charitable objectives.
The second of these Bills is the Dormant Assets Bill. The dormant assets scheme has already released £745 million, including £150 million for Covid relief last year. Expanding the scheme using this Bill has the potential to unlock a further £880 million over the coming years.
These measures, as outlined in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, will set a clear direction for the future of our country. By implementing them, we will ensure that we are a country where swift justice is delivered to victims and meted out to perpetrators of crime, and that victims’ rights are respected and enshrined in the law of the land. We will ensure that our police, judges and border officials have the powers necessary to secure our society and protect our citizens. We will ensure that when they are online, as well as offline, our citizens are protected, and that our systems are robust and secure. In the wake of a life-altering pandemic, and a year of prolonged difficulty and disruption, we will ensure that our country has all the resources needed to build back better, stronger and safer. Over the coming weeks and months, I look forward to discussion, discourse and debate, with your Lordships and with others outside this House, about the many measures which it has been my privilege to outline today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing today’s debate. It is a privilege for me to respond and open for the Opposition. I remind the House that I sit as a magistrate in London.
I look forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, who brings unparalleled experience in the arts, particularly music. I look forward to her maiden speech, and I also look forward to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook. She has a background as a former MP and in local government, and I note that she went to the same university as my daughter, which is no doubt a good omen.
I shall speak on the justice-related Bills and refer briefly to the DCMS Bills, and my noble friend Lord Kennedy will speak on the Home Office Bills. By way of background, a decade of cuts by the Conservative Government has left our justice system weak and vulnerable—and that was even before the pandemic began. Half of all courts in England and Wales were closed between 2010 and 2019; today there are 27,000 fewer court sitting days than in 2016. The Crown Court backlog, now more than 57,000 cases, has increased from 39,000 before the pandemic. Rape prosecutions are at an all-time low. Victims are being told to wait up to four years to get their day in court, which of course leads many to drop out of the system. Convictions for rape, robbery, theft, criminal damage and arson, drug offences and fraud have fallen to a 10-year low.
The Labour Party has called for the rapid extension of Nightingale courts and war juries of seven jurors, in an attempt to reduce the backlog, but the Government have not accepted our proposals. Beyond the pandemic, we need to increase sitting days to clear the backlog, provide greater support for legal aid, embrace technology where it works and restore victims’ faith in the justice system.
On judicial review and the courts Bill, the Government propose to introduce reforms to judicial review to, as they see it, protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions. The Government are unhappy that their own panel has not advocated the widespread changes that they wanted, so they have announced further consultations on various aspects of judicial review to get a different answer. I have a specific question for the Minister. Why have the Government announced a further consultation on the use of ouster clauses, when their own review explicitly said not to do this? The Labour Party believes that judicial review is a key part of our constitution since it gives members of the public and organisations a legal forum to challenge the Government and public bodies when they act unlawfully.
On the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is a carryover Bill, the Government say that this legislation will increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders and ensure the timely administration of justice. This is a large Bill which is poorly thought through. It is a mess and could lead to unintended consequences; for example, we could have harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman. In recent months and years, the Labour Party has worked constructively with the Government to, for example, increase maximum sentences for front-line workers and increase sentences for terrorists. We would like a similar constructive approach to this Bill, and call on the Government to drop their poorly thought-out proposals and focus their legislation on tackling violence against women and girls. Why not use this Bill, as well as the victims Bill, to enact a more comprehensive strategy to protect women and girls? Indeed, yesterday the Labour Party published a “green paper” with a number of suggested policy proposals to end violence against women and girls, which could be adopted through this and Home Office legislation.
Having said that, we believe there are good and important parts of this Bill. Some of those have come from Labour MPs: Stephanie Peacock on dangerous driving, Holly Lynch and Chris Bryant on protecting the protectors, John Spellar on reform of the DBS system and Sarah Champion on sexual abuse by people in a position of trust—all this as well as reforms taken from the Lammy Review. We believe that the Government are undermining the parts of the Bill that we support through unnecessarily draconian measures on free expression and the right to protest. There is no evidence that I have seen that these more severe measures will do anything to reduce reoffending. The Minister said that many of the protests are misinformed, and I hope that he is right; we will look forward to exploring that when we come to the legislation.
I move on to the victims Bill. It has been a long wait for this Bill, which was first announced in the 2016 gracious Speech. In fact, Keir Starmer, when he first became an MP in 2015, introduced a Private Member’s Bill, co-drafted with the Victims’ Commissioner for London, which in many ways underpins this Bill. Speaking as a magistrate who sits in both adult and youth jurisdictions in London, I rarely see a victim in court, and it is also relatively unusual to have a victim impact statement read out in court—although I acknowledge that this has improved in recent years.
There are many things that we can do to improve the legal rights and the experience of victims, both inside and outside court. I look forward to working constructively with the Government to enshrine victims’ rights in legislation and protect those who suffer persistent anti-social behaviour.
I will briefly refer to the four DCMS Bills. The charities Bill will introduce a range of Law Commission recommendations. We support this Bill; we will be focusing on the issues of governance and transparency and on ensuring that they are not watered down through the Bill.
With regard to the Dormant Assets Bill, the Minister said that he hoped to get £880 million by unlocking further assets. We support that and look forward to working with the Minister on it.
Next is the product security and telecommunications infrastructure Bill. As the Opposition, we would be concerned about reforms to the electronic communications code. There is a lot of detail in this Bill, and we will wait to see it before we consider our approach.
The Telecommunications (Security) Bill is a carryover Bill. While there were some amendments in the Commons, we agree with its general thrust.
Finally, I want to talk about the online safety Bill. The Minister used some expansive language in talking about this Bill: he spoke of setting global standards to which other countries could aspire. However, nobody knows better than the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, the great strength of feeling in this House on the slowness of the introduction of the Bill. During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act and many other bits of legislation there has been constant frustration at the fact that we are not getting on with this Bill. We understand that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and that the intention is to enact a statutory duty of care, to be enforced by Ofcom that would require companies to prevent the spread of illegal content and activity online.
The Bill is presented as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for legislation, and the Government’s thinking appears to be a continuation of the self-regulatory approach that we have seen to date. This approach has failed our children. Online crimes are proliferating, and people’s rights online remain confused and unclear. The Government’s decision to water down its legislative proposals and hold back on criminal sanctions for company executives will continue to put children and others at risk.
This will be a complex piece of legislation, and it will be one of the most important in recent years. Although Ofcom has been named as the regulator, it is far from clear that it will have the powers or resources needed to address the issues that it will face. The noble Lord gave a good example of disinformation. We see it on an almost daily basis—in fact we see disinformation being spread about, for example, vaccines and their use literally daily. That is another reason why this legislation is so important.
Keeping children safe is the most important task we have. If children were being abused and put at risk in the same way offline as they are online, people would rightly go to jail. Criminal sanction for senior executives is the most direct way to get large corporations to take their responsibilities seriously.
We routinely co-operate across parties to amend legislation in this House. Sometimes the Government say that they welcome this approach. I hope that we can continue to co-operate with all corners of the House to improve this legislation.
My Lords, I first pay tribute to her Majesty the Queen as we enter her Platinum Jubilee year. Her example of a lifetime of public service at the highest level is extraordinary. I am also greatly looking forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Fullbrook and Lady Fleet—the first of many valuable contributions to this House, I am sure.
As we consider the home affairs, justice and culture aspects of the Queen’s Speech, I remind the House of the comments of my noble friend Lord Newby, who said last week:
“The Queen’s Speech contains many Bills of second-order importance but none offering fundamental change”.—[Official Report, 11/5/21; col. 16]
I would go further. The Government seem to be continuing along the same path, following policies where the broadsheet analysis of the right-wing tabloid headline shows the negative unintended consequences of government policy.
One of our strongest sectors is culture, yet the only legislation in that space is the online safety Bill, which is an inadequate reaction to protecting children and other vulnerable internet users who are being exposed to things online that they would be protected from in the physical world. Meanwhile, there is nothing to encourage or facilitate our musicians and performers, who are facing the disastrous twin impacts on their livelihood of a global pandemic and restrictions on their ability to tour in the European Union.
We on these Benches believe in freedom and fair play—what some might call traditional British values. That includes the freedom to succeed no matter who you are or what your background or backstory is, and the freedom of the individual from unnecessary interference by government. Yet this Conservative Government seek to unfairly discriminate, further marginalising minorities and the poor, further limiting challenges to government overreach, and pursuing populist policies where the evidence clearly shows that they do not work. This is a Queen’s Speech of promising headlines with unintended negative consequences.
Proposals to ensure that speakers are not “no-platformed” in universities make it more likely those with radical views—ones that need to be heard, challenged and debated—are not invited in the first place. The electoral integrity Bill is a solution in search of a non-existent problem, and is likely to disproportionately disfranchise the poor and ethnic minorities.
Whether through the extension of treason offences, or longer and longer prison sentences for existing offences, not only are the Government pursuing a policy that has proved to be ineffective in deterring criminals, they are adding to overcrowding in prisons, making rehabilitation more difficult and radicalisation easier. Sedition has its roots in the perceived unfairness of society, and draconian punishment is one of those unfairnesses.
In their immigration proposals, the Government seek to penalise legitimate asylum seekers, contrary to our international obligations on refugee resettlement. This is not because they do not have a valid and lawful right to seek sanctuary in the UK, but because they arrive here by what the Government consider the wrong route. For the majority of those desperate enough to put their lives at risk by crossing the channel, there is no alternative safe and legal route to take. There is currently no way for those being bombed in Syria by their own President, or those caught between warring factions in Yemen, to claim asylum within their own country. All UK resettlement schemes are currently closed, with no plans or timetable for reopening them, nor for establishing new ones.
Instead of first establishing or re-establishing resettlement schemes and setting targets for the number of asylum seekers to whom the UK will give sanctuary, the Government are spending millions of pounds on barbed wire and enforcement patrols on the French coast. They are forcing legitimate asylum seekers into the hands of people traffickers—the only people who know how to get around the increased security measures.
One people smuggler, quoted by the Guardian, said:
“We thank your government for our full pockets.”
If you say to voters in the red or blue wall, “Look at these illegal immigrants crossing the channel”, you encourage xenophobia. If you say, “This is the only way these desperate people, who are not safe in their own country, can seek sanctuary here”, you encourage understanding. It is a choice, and the Conservative Government, through their immigration proposals, are choosing the former.
In the year of the 40th anniversary of the Brixton riots, this Conservative Government choose to ignore the recommendations of the Scarman report and instead condone enforcing the law over maintenance of the Queen’s peace, as we saw at the Clapham Common vigil. At the same time, they fail to address the unfairness, discrimination and waste of scarce police resources on disproportionate stop and search.
Placing further restrictions on protests might seem reasonable in the light of the Extinction Rebellion protests last year. I know from years of experience as an advanced public order-trained senior police officer that it takes several degrees of magnitude more police officers to enforce a ban on a demonstration than it does to work with organisers to ensure compliance with conditions. Outside London, the majority of police leaders consulted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said that it was not a lack of legislation but a lack of police resources that was the limiting factor in policing protests.
What are the consequences? Following the tragic case of Sarah Everard, the Mayor of London claimed that women and girls were not safe on the streets of London. The commissioner of the Met barely qualified that statement last week, when she said that the streets were
“not safe for everyone all of the time.”
The streets of London are not safe because police officers are increasingly being withdrawn from their beats to enforce bans on demonstrations and because they are targeting stop and search on black people, looking for drugs. You are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs if you are black, but no more likely than white people to be found with drugs. The overwhelming majority of stop searches are for drugs, not for knives. No wonder the black community still feels “overpoliced and underprotected”, as a black clergyman told the Macpherson inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence.
We all want the freedom to be able to walk our streets in safety and for our women friends and family to walk safely down any street at any time. For this to happen, we must restore a visible policing presence, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council said yesterday. We do not want even more of our police officers sitting in police vans, ready to enforce a ban on a peaceful protest —which is the likely consequence of the Government’s proposals. We do not want our police officers wasting their time stopping and searching innocent people in the vain hope of finding a small quantity of drugs. We want violent criminals to be in fear of the police, not for women and girls to be in fear of men.
Fair play is not just about protecting the most vulnerable. It is part of what makes us proud to be British. Fair play is not just about ensuring lawful protest and that black people feel welcomed and protected. It is about focusing scarce police resources on ensuring everyone’s freedom to walk the streets in safety. Freedom and fair play are what make our country great. This Government’s proposals are in danger of undermining that greatness.
My Lords, I shall focus not on asylum but on immigration. I declare a non-financial interest as president of Migration Watch UK.
Noble Lords may have seen a recent article in the Times by the noble Lord, Lord Hague. He referred to extraordinary events in France, where two groups of retired military officers have declared that their country is disintegrating—yes, disintegrating. A subsequent opinion poll found that nearly three-quarters of the French public agreed. The main theme of the article by the noble Lord, Lord Hague—with which I entirely agree—was the vital importance of a shared national identity. His view is that its promotion in the UK has become a matter of urgency.
I have three important points to add. First, this will not be possible unless and until immigration is sharply reduced. For the time being, the public believe the Government’s claims that they are taking measures for this purpose. For reasons I have set out elsewhere, the Government will fail in this matter.
Secondly, recent work has shown that high migration, combined with the higher birth rates in some immigrant communities—and a generally younger age structure—are driving major changes across the UK. We now find that about a third of all children born in England and Wales have at least one foreign-born parent. In both primary and secondary state schools in England, around one-third of all pupils are from an ethnic minority background. In the population of Great Britain, the share of ethnic minorities, including other Europeans, has nearly doubled to 21% in just 20 years. In more recent years, more the 90% of our population increase has been due to immigration.
Thirdly, there can be no doubt that the whole nature of our society is changing very rapidly and at an accelerating pace. Meanwhile, the public are instinctively aware of this and are, albeit privately, very concerned. A recent YouGov tracking poll found that nearly 60% say that immigration has been too high during the past decade. That is about 30 million adults.
That is enough about numbers. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, will be a valuable addition to this House. She put it very well in her report of December 2016:
“It is not racist to say that the pace of change from immigration in recent years has been too much for some communities.”
People are understandably uncomfortable when the character and make-up of a town change out of all recognition in five or 10 years.
In calling for a sharp and sustained reduction in net migration, I am conscious that I shall be strongly opposed by those who profit from immigration, whether politically or economically. My answer is clear: these are vital issues for the future of our country. Having been appointed to your Lordships’ House for my work in this area, I think it no less than my duty to speak for those who have entirely valid concerns which our political system is simply not addressing.
My Lords, I too look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook and Lady Fleet. In my few minutes, I shall briefly mention women in the criminal justice system, the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, violence against women and girls and the online safety Bill. I refer to my interests in the register, as Anglican bishop to prisons.
I begin by asking: when will we see a renewed timetable for the 2018 female offender strategy? While I welcome the implementation of some of the deliverables, analysis by the Prison Reform Trust shows that the Government have met less than half the commitments. The concordat published last year does not appear to have been progressed. Then there was that shocking announcement of 500 new prison places for women, totally at odds with the strategy’s direction to reduce the number of women in prison. What evidence is it based on, and why is the designated £150 million not being spent on women’s centres and implementing the concordat?
The Government have pledged to give every child the best start in life. I am a big proponent of prioritising the early years. But, related to today’s subject, I would say that if one of the justifications for the new prison places is to allow children to stay overnight with their mothers, this seems a strange way to implement the Farmer review findings. It would be far better if those mothers who do not need to be in prison were supported in the community with their children. Again, why are policy proposals seemingly ignoring evidence and expertise?
Perhaps that is a good segue into the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In our scrutiny, we will need to ask whether it is supported by the evidence available and reflects a clear strategy and ethos that can be justified ethically. While I welcome certain proposals, such as diversion and community cautions and empowering problem-solving courts, other aspects raise serious concerns. For example, the use of life sentences for younger offenders seems to undermine any chance of reform and redemption. The measures relating to longer sentences seem to ignore the fact that decades of lengthening sentences have done nothing to improve outcomes for offenders or prevent cycles of reoffending. Yet the myth is perpetuated that longer sentences will provide greater public protection. Rather than policies being driven by evidence, it seems that they are driven by populist views and some headline cases. Furthermore, there is a woefully little focus on rehabilitation and what happens during someone’s sentence. Thus, victims and communities, as well as offenders, are poorly served, and longer sentences will only put more pressure on our overcrowded prisons. It is also troubling that after all that has transpired in recent years, little attention is paid to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
We did good work in this House on domestic abuse with the Act. Yet a number of issues remain, not least the vulnerability of migrant victims. The pilot project must be closely watched. I look forward to the publication of the violence against women and girls strategy, and, once again, I commend Australia’s framework for primary prevention. I would also welcome greater consideration of the contributions of faith groups in the future VAWG strategy.
I want to end by commenting on the draft online safety Bill. Within the commendable commitments to safety, there is still work to do. From my conversations with young people around physical appearance and self-worth, I urge the Government to encourage more diverse representation in advertising and to ban, or at least restrict, the use of altered images.
I must close. I will finish by encouraging the Government to ensure that future legislation is based on evidence and research and underpinned by a clear ethos of the flourishing of all people.
My Lords, it is the greatest honour and privilege to address your Lordships for the first time. I have received such a warm welcome and so much helpful advice from all sides of this House. I thank noble Lords. In particular, I thank Black Rod and the doorkeepers, who have answered all my questions with knowledge and cheerful courtesy. I must also offer my thanks and gratitude to both my supporters—my noble friends Lord Trimble and Lord Arbuthnot. I was the council leader in the constituency of my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot when he was a Member of the other place. His guidance, intellect and good humour saw us take on many issues together. My noble friend Lord Trimble is an inspiration of mine.
As a Glasgow-born descendant of Ulster Scots with strong ties in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, I was seen by my company as ideal to be sent to Belfast for my first ever audit assignment—my first ever proper job—as a young woman in the 1980s. That assignment lasted for two years during the hunger strikes and the Troubles, and I saw the devastation brought to all people of Northern Ireland during my time there. I went on to spend over 20 years in senior management roles with several international blue-chip companies, working mainly in Europe and Africa and, latterly, in the Middle East.
But back home, having never considered elective politics, I experienced first-hand the fear, misery and devastating impact that illegal encampments have on the lives of law-abiding people. But what truly astounded me is that local victims of this criminal behaviour came second to the lawbreakers by a long way. This experience dramatically changed the direction of my life, as I put myself forward and was elected as a councillor to Hart District Council in Hampshire. Within a year, I was leading the council.
Before entering the other place in 2010, I was for several years the first executive director of Women2Win, working alongside my new Whip, as well as my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington and the former Prime Minister, the right honourable Theresa May. By the time I had stepped down, we had seen Conservative women MPs triple in number, not through quotas or women-only shortlists, which I totally oppose, but through support, advice and training so that good, able women could navigate the political world—for women to contribute to their fullest. Many of those Women2Win alumni are still serving proudly in the other place.
I was the first female to represent the constituency of South Ribble in Lancashire. But through my passion for law and order I was drawn to the home affairs brief, and I was fortunate to serve on the Home Affairs Select Committee for five years in the other place, with a personal focus on policing, counterterrorism and the trade in narcotics. Given my experience of local government and on the Home Affairs Select Committee, I would like to take this opportunity to state my support for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill outlined in Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech. This Government are committed to protecting and empowering our police by passing the police protection Bill and introducing new powers to tackle unauthorised Traveller camps while empowering the courts to tackle crime and ensuring a fair justice system. It is clear to me that this Bill contains several important measures to support the delivery of those commitments. I would like to mention some specific elements of the Bill.
Experience has taught me that unauthorised encampments create significant challenges for local authorities and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby. Unfortunately, as I have found all too often, current law enforcement provisions are simply inadequate to deal with the scale of the disruption these invasions have caused. Therefore, I support the measures to create the criminal offence of residing in a vehicle on land without permission. A person guilty of this offence will be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—currently £2,500—or both.
If we are to look after our communities, we must ensure that the police are provided with sufficient powers to effectively and efficiently enforce against a range of harms caused by unauthorised camps. I believe this new offence and strengthened police powers will also deter the setting up of unauthorised camps in the first place. As we emerge from this tragic pandemic, it is right that the Government seek to lead with a programme that does just that.
I thank noble Lords again for their kind welcome to this House, and I look forward to working with all noble Lords for the good of the country.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Fullbrook. We have been friends for many years, since long before her distinguished career as a councillor, council leader and Member of the other place. She led her council with great style, committed to producing quality services at an affordable price. That commitment to public service was further evidenced by her time in the other place. Her full title refers to Dogmersfield, which is Anglo-Saxon for a field of waterlilies—a fitting title for a noble Baroness.
I would like to say a few brief words in support of the election Bill. Many of the measures are based on recommendations that I made to the Government a few years back. Voter fraud is, by its very nature, covert and difficult to prove. A system that relies on trust is vulnerable to manipulation. We have ignored those concerned with the administration of elections, and overseas observers, for too long. Now is the time to make our ballot boxes safe.
The most important provision is on postal votes: banning party campaigners from handling postal votes altogether; stopping the practice of “harvesting” by limiting the number of postal votes that one person may hand in on behalf of another; extending the secrecy provisions that currently protect voting in polling stations to absent voting, so that it will be an offence for anyone to attempt to find out who a postal voter has chosen to vote for; and requiring those registered for a postal vote to reaffirm their identities by reapplying for a postal vote every three years. Postal voting will remain on demand but require renewal every three years. The total number of people for whom someone can act as a proxy would be limited to four, regardless of their relationship.
There seems to be opposition verging on hysteria to the sensible provision of voter ID, which would bring the United Kingdom in line with other democracies. In this respect, the Government have moved further than I recommended by insisting on photo ID. I am relaxed about this for two reasons. First, the number of people possessing photo ID has increased since my report. The pandemic has given that a push. Secondly, the Government have shown flexibility about what photo IDs are permissible. We are no longer restricted to passports and driving licences, but a much wider selection—including various concessionary travel passes, work pass cards, Ministry of Defence cards and blue badge parking permits, and even my OAP bus pass—would qualify. The result is that 98% of the voting population has a form of ID that would qualify. That figure, for ethnic minorities, goes up a further percentage point to 99%. The Electoral Commission and the OSCE support the measure; both organisations have warned about Britain’s vulnerability to voter fraud for years. Neither organisation would support voter suppression.
I agree with the Labour Minister’s assessment introducing this same measure for Northern Ireland in 2003:
“The measures will tackle electoral abuse effectively without disadvantaging honest voters.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/01; col. 739.]
I also agree with the Labour official on the introduction of photo ID for Labour Party elections when he said,
“It is rare members have no form of ID.”
The Bill contains sensible measures that will make our ballot boxes safe.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech and look forward to clashing with her over the years to come. I look forward to the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, making her maiden speech today.
The right honourable Member for Haltemprice and Howden, speaking on the Queen’s Speech, said that he was concerned about an
“illiberal solution in pursuit of a non-existent problem.”
He was talking about the Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, has just referred, but he might have been talking about several elements of other Bills as well. As with so much, there are elements of each of the pieces of legislation that have been put forward in this Session of Parliament with which you can agree; other parts lead to very grave concerns.
Very briefly, I will mention the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I have got no problem dealing with anarcho-syndicalists who misuse and abuse the privilege of freedom to encourage others to do things they would never otherwise have done. I think we need, however, to be absolutely sure that we do not put the police in an impossible position, where they are making impossible judgments based on changes in the law, which will either not be implementable, and therefore ineffective, or will cause the exact opposite of the problem that they were trying to resolve. I hope we will be able to deal with this in your Lordships’ House effectively, amending those parts relating to public order.
I want to concentrate, in the short time available, on the issue of immigration. The Minister referred to border officials having the resources. Tell that to the people, in the limited numbers that are currently allowed in, coming through Heathrow. Either the decision by the Home Secretary is because of incompetence or indifference or intent. It has to be one of those three, and if it is intent, then the lack of application of resources is causing not only major hold-ups but, in doing that, causing the likelihood of a greater spread of infection. If we cannot get that right in the months ahead, how on earth are we going to deal with the complex piece of legislation that creates two tiers of asylum seekers, in circumstances where we claim that we can send people back to countries that will not have them and were not aware of their presence in the first place? Having pulled out of Europol, no longer having the European arrest warrant, having disengaged effectively from working on organised crime across borders and detached ourselves as an island, it ill becomes the Government to then say that we are going to find ways of returning people to countries that will not have them.
We need a much more sophisticated approach. In the year leading up to the pandemic, 32,000 people were turned away because of the measures that were taken in 2003 to put immigration and security officials on European soil, enabling us to turn people back not just on Eurostar but at the border itself so they did not actually reach Britain. More of that effective work, across countries, tackling the criminals that the Minister quite rightly referred to in his speech, would be the way forward. I hope we will be able to do that in a way that, in reference to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Green, does not counterweight the decision to welcome Hong Kong residents—27,000 to begin with, but possibly half a million over the five years ahead—by making it impossible for other people to make their way to this country and claim their international rights. That would be a great disservice to the name of our country as well as, by the way, to those we are welcoming from Hong Kong.
In essence, there is a great deal we can do in this Queen’s Speech that will be extremely welcome out there—the victims Bill is an obvious one, and the online safety Bill is another. But let us also be clear that, if we do not get the measures right, instead of the bluster and frippery that substitutes for clear thinking and positive action, then we will let people down. In making it possible to take practical measures, we build trust. When we tell people—as I know from my time in Government—that we are going to do something that in our hearts we know is impossible, we lose their trust. While the Government are riding high at the moment, in a few years’ time some of the measures that have been outlined in the Queen’s Speech will catch up with them, and people will realise that they have been misled.
I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech.
The Government say they want to build back better— an aim we share, as we do levelling up—but I have a major concern, already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Paddick. There is a deafening silence about the creative and cultural sector, whose contribution to the economy was £111.7 billion pre pandemic. Its huge contribution to well-being is not so easily demonstrated through figures, but we all know it to be true. It is a sector whose very nature is about levelling—about the communality of humanity—and it is a sector for which Covid has been nothing less than catastrophic. While the Government have been generous with their rescue packages, there is much that has left a terrible legacy.
First, there is the effect on individuals. The vast majority of cultural workers are self-employed; they are the ones who fell through the gap and who have largely found themselves ineligible for the support on offer. This has led to a damaging migration of people from the creative workforce. The Government’s skills agenda must recognise this and, in particular, that those hardest hit have been from lower-income, diverse and disabled communities. Does the Minister not agree that addressing this is an essential part of levelling up?
Secondly, live events were inevitably particularly affected. Help is at hand—introduce a Government-backed insurance scheme, as has been done for TV and film. But the Secretary of State has provided a positively Catch-22 response to this request: no support until live events are possible again and it becomes clear, which it will, that they cannot happen because of insurance market failure. This is too late. Live events involve planning; it is not a matter of switch on, switch off. Does the noble Baroness not agree that an indemnity insurance scheme should be put in place right now? It is not expenditure but investment.
Then there is the major problem faced over touring. Here, the restrictions of Covid have been exacerbated by the fact that the creative sector was dealt a no-deal Brexit. Can the Minister report on progress towards achieving a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU and bilateral agreements with member states that do not offer cultural exemptions?
Returning to skills, the acquiring of a skill begins at school, but successive Conservative Governments consistently and persistently undervalue and undermine arts education, first via the EBacc, then via proposals to scrap the performing arts BTEC, and now HE and the announcement that there is to be a 50% funding cut to arts subjects. “STEM not STEAM” has been the mantra—totally ignoring the fact that there should not be a choice between arts and science: they are symbiotic. The success of the iPhone is as much about the design genius of the UK’s own Sir Jonathan Ive as the tech genius of Steve Jobs, yet this Government say that arts subjects are not strategic priorities. This is the same Government whose industrial strategy prizes the creative industries as a “priority sector”. This is baffling. Can the Minister explain the disconnect? Will she listen to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, last week that the cuts are “misguided and ill judged”?
Finally, among the most successful drivers of our world-beating creative sector are our PSBs, in particular the BBC. PSBs held us together during the pandemic, providing news that people could trust and, in the case of the BBC, essential support for home schooling. What the PSBs need is prominence extended to all digital TV platforms. What they do not need is an underfunded BBC and a privatised Channel 4. This is a world-leading sector that we have. Global Britain needs it—so support it, do not unravel it. Culture, creativity and our public service broadcasters will be central to getting us through this next period, both the recovery and the renewal.
My Lords, there are two sentences in the gracious Speech on which I should like to comment. The first is:
“Legislation will be introduced to … restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
The second is:
“Measures will be brought forward to establish a fairer immigration system.”
The first I understand to be a reference to proposals in the Government’s response to the Independent Review of Administrative Law under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. The second is a reference to the proposals in the Government’s New Plan for Immigration.
Both of these documents were issued by the Government in March. They were both put out for consultation, but the consultation period in each case was only six weeks. Given that this period included the Easter bank holiday weekend, this surely was far too short to allow sufficient time for all those affected or interested to comment in detail on these far-reaching proposals—and, of course, the time allowed today is far too short, too. I do hope that time will be found for this House to debate them fully before the legislation is introduced. In the meantime, I will make the following points.
First, with regard to any reform of judicial review, it is important to note that most of these proposals can apply to England and Wales only. I leave it to others more familiar with that system than I am to comment, but Scotland has its own system of judicial review, which is devolved. On the whole, Scotland has been able to align itself fairly closely with the system in England, but it may not be willing to do that if the reforms are pressed too far. That could lead to forum shopping, as I was able to do under the then current rules when I was still in practice to successfully challenge the Government’s policy on aviation in Scotland. It should also be noted that the justification for the abolition of the so-called Cart reviews, which is questionable in England and Wales, is even more so on the figures that relate to Scotland.
Secondly, on the New Plan for Immigration, there is much to be concerned about. The new two-tier system that is proposed appears to be based on discriminating against asylum seekers depending on how they arrived in the UK. Those who use irregular routes of entry, involving passage through a third country, will be considered to be inadmissible. This seems to run counter to the overriding objective of the reforms, which we are told is fairness and access to asylum based on need. For most asylum seekers, unauthorised entry is the only means they have of entering the UK, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out. Further, the fact that no successor agreement to the Dublin III regulation has been developed means that there are currently no safe and legal routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to enter the UK from the EU—so they too will be discriminated against under the proposed two-tier system. I find myself in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that a more sophisticated approach is needed to deal with these problems.
There is also an absence of detail in the plan about how the Government would secure a returns agreement with the safe country through which those who have used an irregular route will have passed, or how they will be protected when they get there. The proposal to remove support from those who arrived by an irregular route but cannot be returned is also very worrying. For them, that would mean destitution. Are we turning our back on our treaty obligations once again?
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. In the gracious Speech, the Government have promised measures to ban conversion therapy. No one should seek to justify dangerous medical or other practices that are abhorrent, coercive or humiliating in the name of so-called conversion therapy, but freedom to carry out legitimate religious activities, such as preaching the gospel, prayer and pastoral support, must not be hindered or criminalised. People have a right to seek spiritual counsel, and threatening preachers who fulfil their God-given duty is a serious denial of religious freedom. Indeed, the coverage of this issue is quite prejudiced against biblical Christianity.
Preachers who faithfully expound God’s word and call people to repentance and salvation—will the Government’s proposed legislation limit or criminalise them? I note that the Education Secretary in the other place has heralded the Queen’s Speech as a “milestone moment” and that universities could be fined if they fail to protect free speech on campus. But recently a 71 year-old pastor was forcibly pulled down from the steps on which he was standing in west London and led away with his hands cuffed behind his back for exercising his religious liberty to preach. He suffered some injury to his wrists and elbow. Recently, Blackpool Council banned adverts from the Lancashire Festival of Hope and it took a court’s intervention to overturn that decision. Also, the Robertson Trust terminated a contract to rent its premises to Stirling Free Church and ordered it to leave. There is open hostility to the Christian belief in marriage. It makes me wonder: are we losing our religious liberties here in the United Kingdom? I challenge this Government to reaffirm their commitment to freedom of speech and religious belief.
In the gracious Speech the Government promised to increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders, yet many in Northern Ireland fear that we are being told that those who brutally murdered our loved ones may never have to face the possibility of a criminal conviction or imprisonment. After the release of the report into what was termed the Ballymurphy massacre—I offer my genuine condolences to those families—I received a text which included photographs of 30 innocent victims of IRA terrorism with these words: “Where is our truth and justice?” The answer is, they have received none. There has been no justice for the families of Teebane, where 14 innocent construction workers were blown up. Eight were murdered and the rest still bear serious injuries. On that unforgettable night, I personally walked among the dead and assisted the injured into the ambulances. What about justice for the massacres of Kingsmill, Enniskillen, Warrenpoint and so on? Yet no Sinn Féin leader has been ordered to any dispatch box to unreservedly apologise for their evil deeds; nor have they offered to go and look the innocent families of their victims in the eye and tell them why their loved ones had to die, as Mary Lou McDonald asked our Prime Minister to do. There is one law for them and another for everybody else.
As for Ballymurphy, I note that no one has mentioned that, prior to those killings, seven British soldiers were murdered by the IRA, when it is widely accepted that Gerry Adams was the so-called officer commanding. I will read out their names lest we forget their sacrifice: British soldier George Hamilton, aged 21; Stephen McGuire, 20; Alan Buckley, 22; Eustace Hanley, 20; George Lee, 22; James Jones, 18; and Brian Thomas. They were all murdered in Ballymurphy by IRA gunmen.
I acknowledge that the pain and heartache experienced right across the community is the same but I will not allow Irish Republicans to equate British soldiers with terrorists. Neither will I allow to go unchallenged the vexatious claims against veteran soldiers or police officers simply for the promotion of anti-British propaganda. Successive Governments sent our young soldiers out for the purpose of protecting the community and preserving law and order, but every terrorist went out with lust for blood, deliberately aiming to leave some home in grief or a child fatherless. Justice demands that the legacy of our past in Northern Ireland is tackled, but to rely on some supposed truth-telling exercise is totally unacceptable. Remember that Gerry Adams still denies that he was ever in the IRA. My appeal to this House is that justice is not for the chosen few, nor for those who shout the loudest, but for all.
My Lords, we heard a beautifully balanced maiden speech by my noble friend Lady Fullbrook. I congratulate her and look forward to more.
The gracious Speech commits the Government to addressing “racial and ethnic disparities”. Bravo! Britain is not an outrageously racist society. My own personal life has been overwhelmingly enriched and indeed transformed by the opportunity to embrace friends and loved ones of a different colour and culture. I am not an exception; that applies to millions. I am not making an argument to sit back and be self-satisfied but an argument for balance, context, and for looking for the abundant good in society and building on it, not pretending that things are worse than they are and exploiting ignorance. Yet, sadly, we live in a post-truth world of fabricated hatreds, such as the anti-vaxxers, who deliberately and despicably target non-white communities, trying to weaponise Covid. Black lives matter—of course they do—along with Asian and Chinese lives, and Jewish lives. Yes, our commitment must include the fight against anti-Semitism, too.
Even the vocabulary of racism has been weaponised: a violence of language used to intimidate and browbeat ordinary, sensible people into assuming that they must be wrong. Even Tony Blair says that he no longer knows what he is allowed to say and think. Although why do we still refer to minorities? Is that the right word? Does it imply that anyone who is not white is somehow a little juvenile or less equal? Perhaps we need to look at things like that.
We have been making a right modern mess of some of this, allowing zealots to take hold of the argument and to throttle common sense to death like some modern-day thought police. We, the sensible, decent majority, need the confidence and sometimes the courage to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants such as William Wilberforce, who was wise enough to denounce those who turn a blind eye to unpleasant reality:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
There is only one certain way to defeat racism—by levelling up, offering everyone equal opportunity, where colour is no longer used as an insult or an excuse. We must find the language, means, schools, jobs, inspiration and innovation to bring our communities together, to extend an open hand rather than the clenched fist. We must change the dialogue.
Nearly 60 years ago, another giant, Martin Luther King, caused the world to hold its breath. Sixty years ago—but we all remember it, do we not?—he said:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
It was a proposition he gave his life for: a proposition—a dream—that was worth dying for then, just as it is worth a new generation living by today. Levelling up, not tearing apart: I embrace that prospect—I cannot wait.
One of the proposals included in the gracious Speech is the statement that legislation will be introduced to
“restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”.
The suggestion is that certain decisions of the courts on applications for judicial review are responsible for this alleged lack of balance. Having been personally involved in judicial review since its inception, I question whether this alleged lack of balance of power exists. I furthermore suggest that legislation, far from restoring the balance of power, could create a lack of balance which at present does not exist.
I can state this with added confidence because the Government set up an independent review of administrative law, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, which as recently as March of this year published its report which set out its conclusions. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, will shortly speak to the House and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. The report made no suggestion, as far as I could identify, that there was any lack of balance that needed to be addressed, saying:
“Judicial review is considered an essential ingredient of the rule of law … an essential element of access to justice, which is a constitutional right”
“On balance, little significant advantage would be obtained by statutory codification, as the grounds for review are well established and accessibly stated in the leading textbooks”.
I have the privilege to be editor of one of them. In their response to that report in March of this year the Government said:
“This does not mean we think there needs to be a radical restructuring of Judicial Review at this point. Rather, there are aspects of the current system and the doctrine applied by the courts where it would be useful for Parliament to intervene and clarify how Judicial Review should give effect to statute.”
If there is no clear case for intervention, I strongly urge the Government to think again before intervening.
Judicial review was uniquely crafted—not by government and not in the first instance by Parliament, but by the judiciary—to achieve and preserve the proper balance of power between the different arms of government. If there is a need for fine-tuning, it is better that this is left to the judiciary to remedy rather than legislation. In saying this, I do not refer to the procedural amendments recommended by the Faulks committee; those I would warmly welcome in the majority of cases.
My Lords, the Government’s legislative programme is inseparable from a well-functioning courts system. In its report, COVID-19 and the Courts, the Constitution Committee, on which I sit, applauded the monumental effort by all those working in the courts to maintain a functioning justice system during the pandemic. But recognition of those heroic efforts cannot obscure the scale of the challenge that courts in England and Wales face. Court funding fell by 21% over the preceding decade, the courts modernisation programme struggled to deliver, and legal aid cuts increased litigants in person. Therefore, when Covid-19 suddenly rendered courts reliant on remote technology, those very vulnerabilities exacerbated the devastating impact of the pandemic, and the need for more investment in the justice system was laid bare.
The Lord Chief Justice described the rapid adoption of new technology during the pandemic as
“the biggest pilot project that the justice system has ever seen”
and said that the shift to remote hearings provided an opportunity to
“take the best of this new way of working to improve access to justice”,
but the information to support improvements to the courts service was “just not available”. The pandemic shone a light on the absence of quality data. An opportunity to capture users’ experience in that “biggest pilot project” has been lost—yet without adequate data, the fundamental questions about the operation of our justice system remain unanswered.
The sudden move to remote hearings during the pandemic has been uneven in its impact. Senior courts and those dealing with commercial cases adapted relatively well. The lower courts, particularly those dealing with criminal and family cases, have had a much more difficult time.
The evidence reveals the practical challenges facing ordinary people in virtual hearings, including—among other things—limited broadband access; phones or iPads shared between users in a household; no private space; a dependency on pay-as-you-go phones and expensive data packages; sensory impairments; and limited digital literacy. Yes, they may use email, but electronic document management may prove impossible for many lay users. Remote hearings can make it difficult for lawyers and their clients to communicate, frustrate users if they cannot see or understand what is going on, and undermine litigants’ ability to engage. On the other hand, there was clearly evidence that court users with special requirements have benefited from remote proceedings.
The backlog of cases, which predated the pandemic, has reached record levels, undermining access to justice and public confidence in the justice system. In the criminal courts, the backlog now exceeds 530,000. The prison population fell by 6%; those in prison awaiting trial increased by 28%. Litigants and victims wait longer for justice. Unsentenced children in custody grew in number. More than half of children and young people in custody and 87% of children on remand in London were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. In family courts, the backlog exceeds 10,000. As the public advisory group of the Family Justice Board observed:
“For children who remain stuck in the middle of the court system, the detriment to them is immeasurable.”
The Government have committed to modernising the justice system and improving the experience of court users, but what targets are being set and resources allocated to reduce the backlog of cases? What is the time limit for the collection of key data points across all court services—physical and digital—needed to assess the vulnerability of court users?
My Lords, as a number of noble Lords have said, the gracious Speech referred to the possibility of restoring balance in the constitution. It is well known that the constitution is not always easy to identify. In fact, one of my revered colleagues on your Lordships’ Constitution Committee—the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—says that he has spent his lifetime looking for it.
The combination of Brexit, a minority Government, division in the Conservative Party on the approach to Brexit and the rigidity of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act amounted to a constitutional crisis. The purported Prorogation of Parliament by the Prime Minister resulted in a decision by the Supreme Court that he had acted unlawfully and that Parliament should return. This was the second occasion on which Brexit had caused the Government to lose a major constitutional case before the Supreme Court.
It may be that these reversals were a factor in the Government’s decision to set up the independent review. They convened a panel, which I was invited to chair. The terms of reference were broad; the timescale short. Having received an enormous amount of very high-quality material, the panel was not ultimately convinced that judicial review needed radical reform. We set out our reasons, probably at too much length. While some of the panel, including me, preferred the decision of the strong Divisional Court to that of the Supreme Court in the prorogation case, we considered that it was very much a one-off and an unreliable basis on which to conclude that there was something structurally awry with judicial review, which is a vital ingredient in the rule of law.
However, we did accept that it was perfectly legitimate constitutionally for the Government—any Government —to legislate to reverse particular court decisions, whether they were the result of judicial reviews or, indeed, in any other context. We specifically pointed out two areas which we thought were ripe for reform and would need legislation, and they both involved reversing decisions of the Supreme Court. The Government have accepted our recommendations, and some of the judges involved in the decisions have graciously acknowledged that they did perhaps need revisiting. The question remains: will the Government go further?
I understand why the Government are concerned about judicial review. In his Reith lectures, Lord Sumption memorably described “law’s expanding empire”. But as we conclude in our report, it is inevitable that the relationship between the judiciary, the Executive and Parliament will from time to time give rise to tensions, and a degree of conflict shows that the checks and balances in our constitution are working well. We must trust our judges to identify cases which are—to use the words of a Court of Appeal judge—using judicial review as “politics by another means”.
A theme which we also hope emerges from our report is that the issue should not be characterised as merely a conversation between the Executive and the judiciary. We emphasise the importance of Parliament. If legislation is clear, there is little scope for judicial review. But while Governments continue to use framework Bills and Parliament does not prevent them doing so, it cannot be altogether surprising that government decisions are challenged in the courts.
I briefly mention one other constitutional principle: free speech. The online safety Bill, as it is now called, is an exciting and unprecedented piece of legislation. Our newspapers are mostly regulated—I declare an interest as the chair of IPSO—and it is time that social media, where most people gather their news and other information, should also be regulated to protect the vulnerable and safeguard the integrity of the news-gathering process. This legislation is to be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny and no doubt will be closely scrutinised by both Houses. However, the Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, was right when he said last week that it was vital that the Bill did not compromise freedom of the press, whether in print or online.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook—who is not now in her place—on her excellent maiden speech. I also mention a maiden speech made last week by the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev. He said that, coming from Russia, he did not take freedom of speech or the rule of law for granted. Neither should we.
My Lords, I will talk about fraud, which is one of the great scourges of modern life but was largely ignored in the gracious Speech. More than 822,000 frauds were reported to Action Fraud in 2019-20, totalling £2.3 billion, but only a fraction of frauds are reported. It is estimated that the real number is around five times that. That is seven frauds every minute, and accounts for more than a third of all crime in England and Wales. These numbers represent people losing their life savings, their pensions, their house deposits. It is not just about money; being the victim of a scam is deeply traumatic and wrecks lives.
Why has fraud become so commonplace? There are two reasons: it is easy and it is low risk. Why is fraud easy? It is because so many businesses profit from facilitating it and have little or no incentive to stop it. I will give a few examples. Search engines and social media platforms take money to advertise fake pension and investment sites, fake online shopping sites, fake holiday letting sites and so on. To add insult to injury, they then make more money from the regulators. The FCA apparently paid £600,000 last year to post warnings on Google.
Web-hosting platforms are paid to host the scam websites. Telecom providers are paid for the calls and texts that plague us, and make things worse by failing to prevent false caller IDs. The banks are also facilitating frauds. All that stolen money has to be received somewhere, and most is processed through UK bank accounts. Instant payments allow the stolen money to be whisked away through multiple accounts and overseas before the victim has even realised that they are a victim.
Why is fraud low risk? The statistics speak for themselves: fewer than one in 13 reported frauds is actually investigated and less than 4% lead to a prosecution. Anyone who has dealt with the laughably named Action Fraud will understand why that is.
I welcome the fact that the Government have at last agreed that the online safety Bill will cover user-generated frauds, but they have chosen—it is a choice—to exclude most types of economic crime from the Bill, including frauds arising from fake adverts. It is perverse that the tech companies will be responsible for scammers’ social media posts but not for the adverts they are actually paid to publish.
The Government say that they will publish a fraud action plan, but only after the 2021 spending review, and that DCMS will consult on online advertising, but only starting later this year. This is not good enough. Every day that passes without action means more than 10,000 more frauds, more than £6 million more stolen, and more people losing their life savings and having their lives wrecked. We must push the risk of fraud back on to those facilitating it. The big tech companies, telecoms companies and the banks, with all their resources and know-how, could easily find ways to make life harder for the fraudsters, but they have proved that they will not do it voluntarily, so the time has come to create a real financial stick to encourage them.
At the same time, we must stop blaming the victims and make it easier to recover losses. The banks’ voluntary code has failed and should now be replaced with a compulsory code, under which the bank that received and processed the stolen money has to refund the loss automatically. Policing of fraud is critically underfunded. Training and resources are urgently needed so that scammers actually face some risk of being caught and prosecuted.
Fraud has become an epidemic that is wrecking lives. It must be made a much more urgent priority.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf and Lord Hope, quoted the Government’s expressed desire to
“restore the balance … between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, with whom I largely agree on this topic. It is misleading to talk in terms of balance rather than of function. In our constitution, the legislature makes the laws, the courts interpret and apply them in specific situations and, in theory, the Government obey them. The problem arises when the Government do not wish to obey the laws that Parliament or the common law have created and seek to reject courts’ interpretation of them.
It is not a question of balance. In a judicial review, the scales of justice do not weigh the interests of the Executive against the strictures of the law. The concept of the scales of justice in a court setting is that, where an individual or organisation seeks judicial review of a government decision, the judge’s duty is to apply the law without favour to either side. If the Government’s purpose in introducing a judicial review Bill is to carry out the recommendations of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, it will be unexceptional. No doubt we can argue about the details of the two main areas he recommends. If, on the other hand, the Government pursue the aims outlined in the Lord Chancellor’s statement setting out the further consultation to make areas of policy non-judiciable, that is an entirely different matter. The noble Lord’s committee would not support it, as he has made abundantly clear.
Ouster clauses are not effective because the courts assume that Parliament does not intend to give licence to a Government or to a Minister to break the law. Mr Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, attempted to introduce clauses that expressly involved the Government in illegality by breaking the Northern Ireland protocol. This episode demonstrated that Parliament will not stand for it. The attempt was defeated overwhelmingly by all parties, including former Prime Minister Theresa May and responsible and experienced Members on the Government Benches in this House.
I suppose it would be possible for the Government to introduce into a Bill or statutory instrument a clause that reads, “On questions of policy, a Minister can do what he likes”—or, to put it rather more formally, “A decision by a Minister under this Act shall not be set aside or voided by reason of illegality”. I very much doubt whether such a clause in its naked simplicity would get past a competent Attorney-General, never mind Parliament itself.
The Government can huff and puff when they lose a case, but that does not change the reality that they function within the rule of law as interpreted by the courts. As for the courts themselves, their decision in a particular case may have implications for the policy that the Executive wish to implement, but it is well understood that the system of judicial review does not permit a judge to substitute his own views or his own decision on the issue. All he or she can do is quash the decision that has been made and invite the decision-maker to think again. As for ousting the jurisdiction of the court, you can sum it up in seven words: “If it is illegal, it is justiciable.”
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register, in particular as a partner in the international commercial law firm DAC Beachcroft, and as chairman of its financial services division.
I warmly welcome the Queen’s Speech and, in particular, the atmosphere of renewed positivity and optimism in which our debate is taking place. Let us hope it does indeed prove to be the solid foundation for our nation building back better as we bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic. A mass of criminal justice reform is adumbrated in the Speech, and I think we all confidently foresee some lively debates on matters including sentencing, online safety and immigration.
In contrast, the Speech is understandably quite light on civil justice issues. We are, however, witnessing the creation of numerous obligations and rights. We must therefore be mindful of the need to ensure that those do not spawn mass litigation in the civil justice sphere. The compensation culture—blame and claim—insidiously undermines civility within our society and is not in any sense a victimless activity. Someone has to pay for every settlement, not just the compensation that goes to the complainant but the full legal costs. It is an all-too-common characteristic of claims inspired by claims farmers that the lawyers earn more from cases than the claimants do. Might the Government therefore issue a call for clarity on the use of alternative dispute resolution to help avoid legal costs exceeding damages, which is the catnip for claims farmer activity and which we have all been trying to avoid?
I do not intend to focus unduly upon the recent indication on restricting the small claims limit rise for employer’s liability and public liability injury claims to just £1,500. We should entirely support restraint in employer’s liability claims where it is important that the rights of employees are protected. I would, however, urge everyone to be mindful of the possible unintended consequences of the injury limit for public liability claims, where claims farmers forage for rich pickings—no doubt all the more so, post whiplash reform.
We are also discussing cultural matters and it is a matter of considerable regret for many of us that there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of reciprocal, visa-free travel and work for UK and EU performers and their crews. It was a great achievement—in no small part UK led—when the old era of complicated ledgers, carnets and other expensive and time-consuming paperwork was swept away, and a new and welcome freedom ruled for creative artists. Touring is the lifeblood for creative artists—musicians in particular—and it seems to be purely a question of whether the will exists to create a mutually beneficial arrangement. Particularly in light of the welcome news that quarantine requirements may imminently be waived for fully vaccinated UK citizens going to the EU, I join others in urging Ministers please to sort this problem out with the utmost urgency.
Finally, I strongly support the tribute to Her Majesty by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. For some time, I was honoured to be Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household, for which she kindly gave me four-and-a-half yards of British cloth, which my wife had made into this suit that I now proudly wear for the debate on the gracious Speech.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his special suit and the two noble Baronesses who will make their maiden speeches.
This past year has certainly thrown up a whole range of important issues for both Parliament and government to confront. I am privileged to be a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee looking at life after Covid and some of the long-term problems that we have to deal with, not necessarily through legislation. Noble Lords will be aware of our recently published report on the pandemic and the internet, which concluded that internet use over the past year had accelerated by a decade the changes in that world and exposed alarming inequalities in the digital society. It also exposed a lot of the problems with online life that have already been referred to in this debate.
One perhaps less immediately obvious topic on which the Select Committee has received powerful written evidence but has not discussed concerns the sensitive questions about how we care for the dying and our choices at the end of life. The tragedy of the daily death tolls reported on the evening news and the extraordinarily sad stories about bereavement in lockdown seem to have crystallised and stimulated a new interest—a determination that we must make changes for the better. These issues bring together the legal, ethical and medical dilemmas that we in this House have often debated.
However, I am convinced that there is now an appetite for a more open, evidence-based approach. Somehow, the pandemic has enabled us to talk about death in a way that reduces superstition and taboos. The organisation Compassion in Dying reports that calls to its information helpline have increased by almost 50% in the past year and that the number of people making so-called living wills—that is, refusing treatment in certain circumstances —has soared by 160%.
We are all, of course, acutely aware that the coronavirus has put unprecedented burdens on our healthcare professionals and their resources. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were disturbing stories about inappropriate rationing of intensive care and “do not resuscitate” decisions being made without proper consultation. That was troubling but it prompted open and honest discussion which has, in turn, produced useful developments led by the Care Quality Commission. It reported earlier this year and there is now, for example, a new ministerial oversight group established to improve the use of “do not resuscitate” decisions.
In our new post-pandemic world, we must also respect those people who want neither resuscitation nor intervention but whose preferred choice at the end of life may be a medically assisted death—still, of course, illegal here. Over the past year, the situation in which those who want to exercise that choice are forced to travel to Switzerland has become even more intolerable. Outsourcing this emotionally and practically difficult option to another country has always been regrettable and unethical. Today, Covid restrictions have made it almost impossible. We must now look again at our own law and its cruel blanket ban, which has led to an increasing number of reports of desperate suicides by dying people.
It is therefore extremely helpful that the Health Secretary has now asked the ONS to look at those reports and examine the statistics on suicide among the terminally ill. Mr Hancock has committed himself to ensuring that, in general, good factual evidence is available for future parliamentary debate on assisted dying. In this House, we will have that opportunity when the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on this subject is introduced. She is speaking almost next in this debate and I look forward to her contribution and, most importantly, to her Bill. Noble Lords will remember that five years ago, we supported the proposal of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on assisted dying and I very much hope that we will support this similar Bill. The pandemic experience has created the circumstances for safe, compassionate legislation to give dying people the right to choose the death they want for themselves.
My Lords, tourism has been the sector most affected by Covid-19 and it will be the last industry to reopen. One in 10 jobs depends on it, yet there was no mention of tourism in the Queen’s Speech or the accompanying 163-page policy briefing, and there were no Bills that directly support the UK’s tourism industry. It has been taken for granted as a national cash cow for years but government policy is now slaughtering the UK’s £31 billion inbound tourism sector because the new traffic light system favours people leaving the UK to holiday abroad while doing nothing to encourage tourists to come here.
With many people working from home and businesses allowing more flexible working, UK residents will be able to travel to amber countries and then self-isolate on their return while working from home. In contrast, people in amber countries who want to travel to the UK for a holiday will have to remain in their hotel for 10 days, meaning that there is no point at all in coming.
The Government’s present position also risks making overseas travel the preserve of the wealthy. The cost of a Covid test for people travelling even to a green-list country is £150 per person, vastly increasing the cost of a family holiday. Travel to an amber country involves £450-worth of tests per person. Meanwhile, there is a baffling range of potential test providers all making a pretty penny from the process. Given that the UK’s testing capacity was radically expanded in 2020, there must surely now be scope to permit UK citizens, say, one set of NHS tests per year for travelling purposes.
The overall effect of the present arrangement is that the UK loses its most lucrative domestic travellers to overseas holidays and gets hardly any inbound tourists to make up for them. The potential inbound tourism revenue from green-list countries—the only countries whose residents can credibly visit the UK—amounts to just 3% of the UK’s normal inbound tourism revenue. The Government could boost that figure and support the half a million—or more—people in the UK whose jobs directly rely on inbound tourism revenue. They could allow fully vaccinated people from the UK’s main tourism markets, such as the USA, to come to the UK without having to quarantine, and they could also provide targeted support for businesses reliant on inbound tourism to protect jobs in this sector.
The industry also needs the Chancellor’s £1.6 billion business rate support, promised in March for the most severely impacted businesses that have not been eligible for other rates relief. Coach operators, tour operators and English language schools are desperate for this support, but there is still no word from the Government on which businesses are eligible or how they can apply.
The Queen’s Speech is always the product of negotiations within government, with Ministers and departments vying for a slot, but without a Cabinet Minister for tourism this sector misses out time and again. This year, of all years, surely the Queen’s Speech should have included a tourism Bill. The fact that there was no mention whatever of tourism is a bitter disappointment but, sadly, not a surprise.
My Lords, I swapped my slot with my noble friend Lady Meacher, at her request.
In the gracious Speech, Her Majesty the Queen referred to
“measures to increase the safety and security of … citizens”.
I pick for comment from that broad aspiration the proposed legislation to make it easier to counter threats to this country from other states: the counter-state threats Bill, to which the Minister referred at the beginning of this debate. We do not yet have a Bill, although we can get a reasonable sense of it from the Home Office consultation. The Minister described the aims of the legislation and—for once, despite the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that Cross-Benchers always disagree with the Government—I wish to reinforce what the Minister said in his opening remarks: modern tools and powers are needed to detect, prevent and respond to threats from states whose aim is to undermine the safety and interests of the UK.
In thinking about what I wanted to say at this very preliminary stage, I reflected that in my dozen or so years in your Lordships’ House I have rarely spoken about hostile state activity, despite many years of experience of trying to counter it, mainly in the Cold War. The fault is mine; my excuse is that successive Governments have not had the appetite to tackle the problem, rather preferring to rely on creaky legislation from the last century designed to deal with German espionage in the run-up to the First World War and Nazi espionage in the run-up to the Second World War. The Government moved to fill some of the legislative gap in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, but then recognised that more was needed. I strongly welcome their intention to legislate, and I look forward to seeing what the Bill says.
Why do we need it, and what are we talking about in 2021? I start with what we are not talking about. As a young intelligence officer, I remember interviewing a Russian intelligence officer who was distressed to discover that the papers in his carefully chosen dead letter box—a hollowed-out tree in which his agent was going to stow top-secret documents—had been eaten by squirrels. That is not what we are talking about any more; we are talking about activity at scale—industrial, economic and academic espionage, and cyberattacks to steal our secrets, distort data, spread lies, amplify disinformation, and, as I hope is of particular concern to this House, to interfere with and undermine democratic process.
I look forward to the scrutiny of this overdue legislation. I do not anticipate that it will have an easy passage, as it is a complex subject, but we need a law that is balanced and proportionate, recognising the public interest while allowing us to better defend ourselves against covert attacks, of which the scale and cost of the damage are not well understood.