House of Lords
Thursday 24 June 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.
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 all Members to respect social distancing and wear face coverings while in the Chamber, except when speaking. 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’ answers are also brief.
Covid-19: Death Duties and Inheritance Tax
My Lords, as announced at the Budget, rather than rising with inflation, the inheritance tax nil rate band and residence nil rate band will remain at £325,000 and £175,000 respectively until April 2026. Maintaining these thresholds at 2020-21 levels is forecast to raise almost £1 billion over the next five years. Alongside other announcements at the Budget, this will help rebuild public finances and allow the Government to invest in public services.
I thank the Minister for that reply but let us call a spade a spade: we are talking about death duties here, a tax on a deceased person’s estate. Would the Minister not agree that instead of facing yet another wealth or property tax, most people, especially those that are asset rich and cash poor, would prefer to pay tax after they pass away, hence the increasing popularity of equity release? A post-war level of death duties would raise £174 billion. Does the Minister also agree that this is the way to help pay for Covid and prevent a growing generational and societal inequality?
My Lords, as I have set out, maintaining thresholds at their current levels will make a contribution towards repairing the public finances following Covid. However, in order to do that job, we will need to take a broader-based approach, and that is what the Government did at the last Budget, including through freezing personal tax allowances and raising corporation tax.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that we have a highly regressive tax system in the UK? The effective tax rate for the wealthiest 10%, counting income and wealth combined, is 18%, and for the bottom 10% it is 42%. In any rational society, this would be reversed. Does the Minister agree with the IMF that wealth taxes need to rise to pay for the cost of fighting the pandemic?
My Lords, in fact, the UK has one of the highest levels of wealth taxes in both the G7 and the OECD. We also have a highly progressive income tax system. The top 1% of income tax payers are projected to have paid over 29% of all income tax in 2019-20, an increase from 25% of all income tax in 2010-11.
My Lords, I feel the Minister’s reply and arithmetic are rather optimistic. The Office for Budget Responsibility repeatedly reported that the public finances were unsustainable, even before the pandemic resulted in a 24% increase in public sector net debt in the past two years. How do the Government intend to put the public finances on to a long-term sustainable path? What will that mean for taxes and public spending in the short, medium and long term? The Minister’s reply and the arithmetic used are not believed by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
My Lords, I am glad to hear the noble Lord’s support for fiscal responsibility and repairing the public finances. As I set out, a number of measures were taken at the Budget to do this. These included freezing the income tax personal allowance until April 2026; increasing the rate of corporation tax to 25% from April 2023; freezing the pensions lifetime allowance and annual exempt allowance; and measures to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance, which will raise an additional £2.2 billion by 2025-26.
My Lords, given that a large proportion of most inheritances arises from property values, do not the current tax arrangements contribute to inequality not only between individuals, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, said, but between regions? Given the Government’s levelling-up agenda, could they not use a wealth tax or inheritance taxes to increase that levelling up?
My Lords, we seek to balance the contribution inheritance taxes make to the Exchequer in paying for our public finances with the quite legitimate desire of people to pass on assets to the next generation. We believe we have got that balance right.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a callow view, even in some parts of Her Majesty’s Treasury, that there is pile of wealth out there and all we have to do is tax it and all our problems, such as Covid and social care, will be solved? Wiser heads know that most such efforts result in perverse outcomes and hard political cases—capital flight and little old ladies losing their homes— such that, in the end, more harm is done to the economy and the Government’s reputation than the pathetic yield justifies.
My Lords, my noble friend is perhaps referring to the balance in priorities that we need to address when looking at tax rates. We raise a relatively high amount from inheritance tax and assets compared to peer countries, and we believe that we have got that balance right.
My Lords, when the merits of specific tax changes to help pay for the costs associated with the pandemic are being assessed, I am really anxious that pensioners do not disproportionately bear the cost of the crisis. Are the Government looking at the pension triple lock in relation to older people who are working? Are they, strictly speaking, pensioners or are they really older workers to be treated differently?
My Lords, the pension triple lock remains government policy and the state pension remains the foundation of the Government’s support for older people. I am not aware of any work looking at treating pensioners who choose to work after the state pension age any differently.
My Lords, the problem with inheritance tax is that the rich continue to avoid it through the creation of a variety of trusts. Will the Minister explain why the Government have failed to close the loopholes associated with avoidance of inheritance tax?
My Lords, it is important to distinguish between the legitimate use of reliefs and those engaging in avoidance by bending the rules to gain a tax advantage that Parliament never intended. The Government have taken action in this area. Since April 2011, inheritance tax and trusts have been brought into the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes regime. This is to ensure that any new or innovative inheritance tax avoidance schemes involving transfers into trusts must be disclosed to HMRC.
My Lords, I confess to finding this question insensitive at this time, as it seems to be seeking to penalise for ever those who died from Covid and their families. Will the Minister instead consider the Australian system whereby people are taxed during their lifetime but there are no death duties?
Perhaps I can reassure my noble friend, in that some 94% of estates are forecast to have no inheritance tax liability whatsoever over the next five years. However, inheritance tax does still make an important contribution to funding public services, raising more than £5 billion each year.
BBC: Freedom of Information Legislation
My Lords, the BBC is a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act. As with other public service broadcasters under the Act, the right of access extends to all information held other than that held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature. There are no plans to amend this provision.
My Lords, the BBC is a huge institution that took £3.5 billion from the public last year, yet it is the least transparent in its attitude toward freedom of information requests, using, as the Minister has just said, journalism as a broad way of getting out of FoI. BBC Northern Ireland is particularly bad: it even refused an FoI request to tell us what it paid the polling company LucidTalk, which it employed when it could have used other existing polls. The BBC is unaccountable, and now that GB News is established and it has some rivalry, when will the Government change the FoI rules to ensure that the BBC becomes more transparent and more accountable for our money?
As I said in my initial Answer, there are no current plans to amend the rules. As I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, requesters have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner if they believe that a public authority has not complied with the Act. However, my understanding is that in no recent decisions has the Information Commissioner upheld any appeals against the BBC based on journalistic and other exclusions.
My Lords, I think the Minister agrees that FoI exemptions are afforded to the BBC and other PSBs so that they can correctly maintain editorial control. Does she also agree that nothing should be done that might prejudice journalistic integrity, and that BBC journalists should have exactly the same protection of their sources as those working, for instance, for the Daily Mail?
I hear the noble Baroness’s point. What is perhaps behind the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, is perceptions of impartiality concerning the BBC. The noble Baroness will be aware that both the new chairman and the new director-general have made addressing those perceptions a priority.
My Lords, the BBC has to be held to account and to deliver high standards, particularly because of the unique way in which it is funded. Although there is a requirement for the BBC to publish information on salaries of more than £150,000, should the threshold not be further reduced to, say, £100,000 in order to further inform and provide even greater transparency and clarity, which would help to satisfy the general public that more is being done?
A very clear objective in the last charter review was to deliver greater transparency on the part of the BBC. The first step to which my noble friend refers, in terms of those paid above £150,000, was part of that. As she knows, there will be a mid-charter review starting next year, which will look at whether the governance mechanisms are indeed fit for purpose.
Ministers have repeatedly said that the BBC’s mid-charter review into the corporation’s governance and regulation will be a transparent process. Can the Minister tell the House whether the review will be a health check on how the new Ofcom regime is operating, or something more fundamental?
I can only repeat what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said about this, which is that the review will focus on the governance and regulatory arrangements of the BBC. I know that my right honourable friend has gone further and said that there will be no knee-jerk reforms and the mid-charter review will be used to determine whether further reforms are needed.
My Lords, I am all in favour of transparency with regard to the BBC, but transparency surely has to be applied across the broadcasting sector as a whole—and to the Government. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be transparency in the decision-making process relating to Channel 4 as a public service broadcaster and any moves to privatise the channel? When will the Government publish the rationale behind any changes they wish to make to its status, given how successful it is in its current form?
The consultation we recently announced on the ownership structure of Channel 4 and the potential regulation of video on demand services is forward-looking and aims to ensure the long-term success of Channel 4 into the future. As for transparency, we will of course publish the government response to the consultation.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s emphasis on, and welcome for, the initiatives taken by the new chairman and director-general to increase transparency and freedom of information within the BBC. I wish her well in resisting knee-jerk reactions from her own Benches, and from strange places on this side, in reviewing the future of the BBC.
I think the majority of my colleagues on these Benches have echoed the sentiments of the Secretary of State and my right honourable friend the Minister for Media and Data when they have said, again and again, that the need for a strong PSB system and trusted journalism has never been stronger.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the success of global Britain requires support and celebration of those things that the rest of the world most values in the UK, which provide soft power and promote bonds of affection and trust? Will she then congratulate BBC News on the finding in the most recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report that it is among the most trusted news brands in the United States, Canada, India and South Africa? In most cases, it is more trusted than domestic news providers.
My Lords, if the new team at the BBC want to return it to the British Broadcasting Corporation we have been so proud of, and are sincere in their wish to draw a line under the past, does the Minister agree that they should also apologise for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funds keeping the Balen report secret? This report was commissioned to investigate biased BBC reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What are they hiding and what are they afraid of? Will she urge the BBC to be completely transparent and honest and publish the findings?
I absolutely acknowledge my noble friend’s wish to see transparency in all regards. The Government absolutely agree that the BBC should be a beacon in setting standards and that the recent Dyson report, in particular, showed that in some instances it has fallen far short.
Does the Minister agree that misunderstanding and misuse of religion is one of the greatest causes of conflict in the world today? When a BBC fundamentalist Christian producer tries to stop a Sikh presenter on “Thought for the Day” speaking about Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, or Guru Tegh Bahadur, who gave his life standing up for the right of freedom of belief of those of another faith, such arrogance should be open to challenge and scrutiny.
Criminal Justice System: Equal Treatment of Deaths and Injuries
My Lords, where there is evidence of an intention to kill or cause serious injury, offences committed by motorists will be prosecuted in the same way as other homicides or assaults. However, in the context of driving it is often difficult to ascertain the driver’s state of mind or intentions. That is why the law contains additional road traffic offences that consider an objective test of the standard of driving, rather than the driver’s subjective intent.
In 2014, a man travelling at 80 to 88 miles per hour in his car drove straight at the traffic officer who tried to flag him down to stop him. The killer made no attempt to swerve or to slow and he threw PC Duncan into the air like a ragdoll, leaving him with fatal injuries. The starting point for murdering a police officer with a knife or an iron bar is 30 years; this driver got an eight and a half year sentence. Is that justice?
My Lords, first, I acknowledge the gravity of that incident and we should pay our respects to the police officer’s family, remembering the work that police officers do, day in and day out. However, one has to distinguish the road traffic offence from the consequences. In that case, if there were sufficient evidence to prosecute for murder or manslaughter, that prosecution should have been brought. I know that the CPS does bring those charges when there is evidence to support them and sufficient likelihood of a guilty verdict.
My Lords, as would be expected, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. Homicide offences and the specific driving offences of causing death and injury are different. They are designed for different purposes and have different levels of culpability, but there is a complementary structure and, as I said, where there is evidence to charge for the homicide offences, that will be done in addition to the driving offences.
There appears to be a perception that drivers get off with lighter sentences, possibly because people can identify with driver error. It is the kind of attitude that says, “There, but for the grace of God, go many of us”. How will the Government ensure that there are suitable punishments for the most serious cases of dangerous driving, as we have heard the Minister say today, involving the sort of conduct that we would all find abhorrent?
My Lords, I agree that perhaps going slightly above the speed limit is something that, inadvertently, many of us might do for a short period, but no one is sympathetic to the behaviour of those who drive very dangerously, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and cause devastation to the families of the people they kill or injure. This Government, in the PCSC Bill, are looking to increase the sentencing powers for courts where people who have committed that sort of behaviour are convicted.
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware of the tragic death of Ryan Saltern. He was killed by a driver who failed to stop and report the accident, yet upon conviction the driver received only a four-month jail sentence, suspended for a year. With this case in mind, does the noble Lord agree that issues such as this should be addressed in the PCSC Bill, either through the creation of a hit-and-run offence or by ensuring that, in cases where someone is killed or seriously injured by a motorist, magistrates are required to send the person convicted to the Crown Court for sentencing?
My Lords, I am aware of that case, and I send my condolences to the family of Ryan Saltern. Failure to stop offences are often referred to as hit and runs, but that is not really an accurate reflection of the offence. The offence is designed to deal with the behaviour relating to the failure to stop; it is not an alternative route to punish an offender for a more serious but not proven offence. As I said, where there is evidence that the driver caused harm, there are other offences they can be charged with, and the failure to stop will then be an aggravating feature in the sentencing for that offence.
One way of addressing the incidence and consequences of unacceptable driving is to change the culture among road users. Last year’s consultation on the interim review of the Highway Code focused specifically on improving safety for vulnerable users—particularly cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders—and asked respondents for their views on introducing a hierarchy of road users. If introduced, this would ensure that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. Do the Government support a hierarchy and the prioritisation of road users in this way? When will the Government publish their response to the consultation, which closed eight months ago?
My Lords, some of the points the noble Lord has raised are really for my colleagues in the Department for Transport, and I will pass those on. But he is absolutely right that culture is an important part of this debate; we can all think of examples around the world where there is a different culture in the way that road space is used. Of course, one has to remember that everybody who uses the road is subject to the Highway Code. That includes both the drivers of juggernauts and, if I may say so, cyclists, who sometimes appear to think that they are subject to the pavement code.
My Lords, I know the House will remember the cycling safety Bill in 1993, which I introduced in the other place as a 10-minute rule Bill—I see my noble friend nodding his head. This would have made a presumption of a charge of dangerous driving if a motorist had collided, through his or her fault, with a cyclist, and I still stand by that. But in this particular case, there must be a difference between accidental and intentional malign behaviour, and surely we should allow some leeway for the CPS and magistrates and judges to make their judgment on the case, rather than pass yet further laws.
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right when he says that the purpose of criminal law generally is to look not only at the consequences of the behaviour but, far more importantly, at the culpability of the offender. That is the same in the context of driving as well. Where the driver intends to kill or commit serious injury by driving deliberately at somebody, it is right that they should face homicide or similar charges. But, in other cases, the problem with driving offences is that a relatively small driving error can lead to catastrophic consequences.
My Lords, the Vienna convention on diplomatic immunity is to protect diplomats in doing their duty. It has been used to escape prosecution for road traffic offences—not only for one very sad death but also for injuries. Could the Minister communicate with his colleagues in the Foreign Office and ask them, first, to get agreement where possible from missions that they will not claim diplomatic immunity for road traffic offences, and, secondly, to seek an amendment to the Vienna convention?
My Lords, I have some experience of this; in a former life, I argued a few cases against some other Members of your Lordships’ House relating to the Vienna convention and the consequences of it. I fully understand the point that my noble friend makes, and I will pass it on to the appropriate department, as he suggests.
[Inaudible]—change of personality with some people behind the wheel; we have seen road rage lead to murder in some cases. Could the noble Lord say whether there has been an increase in motorists driving while using mobile phones, drinking or eating, and, of course, driving while drunk, drugged or disqualified—all of which are against the law and could result in accidents, sometimes fatal? Does he agree that the most effective penalty is to remove their wheels and, if they persist, for the court to deprive them of their liberty?
My Lords, I am afraid I do not have those precise figures to hand, but I will write to the noble Lord with them and place a copy in the Library. So far as bans are concerned, the noble Lord will be aware that, in the table of road traffic offences and penalties, there are discretionary bans towards the bottom end but obligatory bans towards the top end of the scale.
My noble friend may recall the very sad case of Kim Briggs, a pedestrian mowed down by a cyclist using an illegal bicycle. Will he ensure that the objective test to which he refers will extend to all those e-scooters, e-bikes and other cyclists who inadvertently mow down pedestrians, whether on a road or pavement, so that they face the full consequences of the law on an equal footing with other road traffic offences committed by motorists?
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. I made a comment about cyclists earlier, and I will not ask the House to indulge me by saying it again. As far as e-scooters are concerned, one does not hear them coming; when they come down pavements at fairly quick speeds, they can be extremely dangerous. However, this is really a matter for the Department for Transport. I will pass it on and ensure that my noble friend receives a written response to that part of her question.
Homeowners: Cladding-related Costs
The Government will fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for leaseholders in residential buildings of 18 metres and over in England. This will make homes safe and protect leaseholders from costs. There is no reason to suggest that there will be a funding shortfall for eligible applications to our remediation funds.
My Lords, the response from the Government is woefully inadequate. When will the noble Lord, the Government and the Prime Minister get a grip? The thousands of people trapped in this living nightmare need their Government to help and support them. When are we going to see action on the failures of the companies who built these buildings; the professional failures; the insurance companies not delivering on their obligations; the increased insurance premium costs levied on people; the building safety fund contract terms, which are not fit for purpose; the unrealistic bills being sent to innocent victims; the dangerous fire safety and building safety defects which have not been addressed; and the EWS1 form fiasco, which is making buildings unsaleable? What will it take to get the Government to make those responsible pay up, so that innocent victims get the justice they deserve?
My Lords, I think that extended beyond two points. In addition to the unprecedented sum of £5.1 billion towards the remediation costs, we recognise the need to strengthen redress mechanisms. That will come forward as part of the building safety Bill. We have also stepped forward to support the installation of many hundreds of alarms to ensure that people do not have to pay for a costly waking watch, with our waking watch relief scheme of some £30 million. We recognise that it is for the building owners to shoulder their statutory responsibilities to keep their buildings safe. We will continue to work with all levels of government to make sure that that happens and that the costs are not passed on to the leaseholders.
My Lords, four years on from Grenfell, one of the heaviest burdens being borne by those trapped living in unsafe buildings—whether due to cladding or otherwise—is simply not knowing when their plight will end. Will the Minister now urge Her Majesty’s Government to present this House with a clear timetable and deadline for resolving all outstanding issues, so that residents will know when they will be able to live in their homes safely and when they will be able to sell them for a proper price?
My Lords, we have made further progress on the remediation of all forms of unsafe cladding. Nearly 700 buildings have had their funding approved, and around £400 million has been allocated as part of the building safety fund. We recognise some people’s problems with regard to access to EWS1, but that is why we have the RICS guidance, which has been adopted by about 80% of lenders. I hope that it that will see a more proportionate approach.
Is my noble friend the Minister aware that there are instances where leaseholders have paid for recladding, mainly through their service charges, but freeholders, who are the only people who can claim for repayment, are withdrawing their applications because of onerous conditions imposed by the Government? Will he consider changing the legislation to allow leaseholders to claim for repayment of funds, rather than freeholders?
Unfortunately, we are aware of cases such as that my noble friend has raised with me; I thank him for drawing it to my attention. It is shameful that some building owners would rather refuse the Government’s offer of funding and push unaffordable costs on to innocent leaseholders than take responsibility for ensuring that their residents are safe. The conditions for government funding are designed to ensure that residents are protected from shoddy or delayed remediation works. As they are taxpayer funded, we require building owners to make reasonable efforts, claiming costs back from developers using warranties where possible.
One solution to funding remedial work following Grenfell is to take robust action against the French manufacturers Arconic and its then-parent Saint-Gobain, which supplied the defective panels. Following concerns over the safety of these panels in France, I read that they withdrew them from sale in their own country yet continued selling them in the UK. This is disgraceful and ethically dishonest. What action are the Government taking to demand compensation from Arconic and/or Saint-Gobain? It should not be a UK taxpayer burden.
My Lords, we have to let the inquiry take its course, but we recognise that deficiencies in testing have been thrown up, so the Secretary of State has commissioned an expert group to look at construction products testing. We are establishing a new regulatory regime as well.
My Lords, the Minister will remember that, when we had the emotional debates on this issue at ping-pong, he said that the Government would come forward with further measures to deal with a comprehensive settlement in respect of leaseholders. That was the argument why he was not prepared to accept the view of this House that we should impose a timetable. That was two months ago. Can he tell us precisely what measures the Government have come forward with in the last two months?
We have continued with the progress of the existing fund, which is now at over £5 billion. As I have said, nearly 700 buildings have had their funding approved for the remediation of other forms of unsafe cladding, similar to the type seen on Grenfell Tower. Obviously, further details around the financing scheme will be announced in due course.
On 24 May, I asked the Minister about the funding gap in remediating external wall cladding. The Government estimate that £15 billion will be required to fully remediate. The Government are putting in £5.1 billion and there is £2 billion from developers. That leaves a gap of £7.9 billion. In reply, he said,
“We need to watch this very carefully.”—[Official Report, 24/5/21; col. 807.]
Having cast his watchful eye over this matter, will he say whether these figures have altered, and how the gap will be filled?
My Lords, those are not official figures. There are a lot of estimates, and there is a great range in those estimates. We are carrying out some detailed research so that we can properly understand the incidents, particularly in lower-rise and medium-rise buildings, where remediation would be required. Then we will be in a position to know the burden that will potentially fall either on the taxpayer or on leaseholders.
My Lords, I welcome the substantial support that the Government have provided to deal with the cladding crisis but, on its own, it is clearly not enough to deal with the problem and with hardship. In February, the Government announced a new tax on future high-rise development, but would it not be fair to complement that with a levy on those developers who built these substandard homes?
Of course it is right that the polluter pays. That is why we have announced not only a building safety levy on future high-rise developments as part of the building safety Bill, but a tax on developers that is aiming to raise some £2 billion over 10 years.
My Lords, because of high demand on relatively few surveyors, the hazardous cladding on my home in London was only recently identified as needing to be replaced. We have been told that applications to the Government remediation fund closed in July last year. Leaseholders now face bills of up to £15,000 for something not of their making. How can the Government justify such a position?
Although the registration closed for the initial tranche of £1 billion, we have announced a further £3.5 billion. There is a process of registration for further amounts of money available. If the noble Lord’s building qualifies, he would be eligible for government funding and would be able to register. Further details will be announced in due course.
My Lords, this Government and previous Governments have encouraged essential workers to buy into shared ownership schemes. In the last week, various newspapers have reported that some shared owners who own as little as a quarter of the flat in which they live are receiving demands for up to £100,000. This includes teachers, nurses and laboratory technicians. Will the Minister please outline how the Government intend to work with housing associations to resolve this issue swiftly?
My Lords, there was media coverage of a medium-rise building where leaseholders and shared owners were facing demands of around £100,000. I was struck by that, not least because the building in question did not have unsafe cladding. There we have a medium-rise building without unsafe cladding, but with some building safety defects that refer to compartmentation. Talk about levying bills of £100,000 seems to be disproportionate, so I have met in that case with the housing association and talked it through with my officials, to encourage them to find a more proportionate approach to keep people safe in these sorts of buildings.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing. We now come to Oral Questions to the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, the noble Lord, Lord Frost. There will be three Questions, with 10 minutes allowed for each, and we will proceed in the same way as for other Oral Questions. I call the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to ask the first Question.
Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
My Lords, the Government are working hard and in good faith to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, including by providing the EU with more than a dozen detailed proposals on the way forward. We continue to look to make progress in these discussions, but the situation is now urgent. If we cannot find solutions, we have to consider all options to meet our obligations to support peace, prosperity and stability in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, in the light of the encouraging report last night that there is a prospect of agreement with the EU on extending the grace period in Northern Ireland in certain areas, can the Minister confirm that the Government have abandoned threats of unilateral action as a fruitless negotiating tactic and intend henceforth to solve problems through the dispute resolution mechanisms agreed within the protocol?
My Lords, we continue to discuss the grace period for chilled meats with the European Commission. It is not yet resolved and there are still a number of issues to sort out. We will continue to consider all our options on this or any other matter if we cannot resolve them by consensus.
The question of trust is important in these negotiations. Trust is required on all sides. The protocol is, in our view, not being operated in the pragmatic and proportionate way we hoped for when we agreed it. If we are to establish trust between us again, we need to operate it in that fashion.
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord understands the fragility of the situation in Northern Ireland due to the protocol. I hope that he also understands the feeling that I saw at the rally in Newtownards last week. People feel not just angry but desperately upset and saddened that they have been neglected by their Government. Can the Minister answer what criteria Her Majesty’s Government will use to judge when the protocol is not realising its objective, in Article 1, to protect the Belfast agreement in all its dimensions, not just north/south—which sticks out strongly for the Irish Government—but east/west too?
My Lords, the question asked by the noble Baroness is obviously a very political one. It is important to bring political judgment to these questions, rather than mechanical criteria. It is clear that we have already seen political turbulence in Northern Ireland and that the delicate balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement risks being disrupted. We keep this matter under close review and recognise a clear responsibility to act in support of stability and security in Northern Ireland, if necessary.
My Lords, earlier this week, the Irish Government said that they would “go the extra mile” to find solutions to the problems caused by the protocol. In welcoming that intervention, does my noble friend agree that it would also help if the Irish Government impressed on their EU partners the extent to which implementation of the protocol is now fuelling political instability in Northern Ireland, and that solutions are urgently needed if we are to avoid the situation deteriorating to the extent that it threatens the institutions established under the 1998 agreement?
My Lords, I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend. We welcome the intervention and statement referred to by the Irish Government; we should all go the extra mile to find solutions to problems. I urge all EU member states to look carefully at the situation in Northern Ireland and consider whether they can support durable and pragmatic solutions to restore the balance in Northern Ireland and support the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is certainly what we will be doing.
My Lords, the Minister may have seen that his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, told the Irish Times that the UK Government should “tell the truth” and implement the “legally binding” Northern Ireland protocol, adding that
“the problem at heart is not the sausages you get from Sainsbury’s but the porkies that we all get, home and abroad, from Downing Street.”
Is it not the case that honesty from the Government about what they have negotiated, signed and ratified would be a good start in finding that durable and pragmatic solution to which the Minister just referred, with maximum flexibility?
My Lords, I have the highest respect for the expertise of my noble friend Lord Patten on Northern Ireland. I read his speech in full this morning; it is extremely interesting. I note that he urges the European Union to show flexibility in some areas, for example areas where we have pressed for flexibility such as the trusted trader scheme and pharmaceuticals. I do not believe that the conclusions he draws from the Brexit process, as it affects Northern Ireland, are correct. It is important that all those commenting on the situation in Northern Ireland show responsibility in the way they do so. If I may say so, the tone of some of his comments in that speech was not entirely consistent with that.
My Lords, today is the fifth anniversary of when the British people had the temerity to vote to be free of the restrictions of the EU. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to arrive at a mutually beneficial settlement on the Northern Ireland protocol, particularly for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but also for those of Great Britain. What concerns me about these negotiations is whether both sides are negotiating in good faith. I hope my noble friend can reassure me that they are and that the EU is not trying to punish the British people for their determination to leave the EU.
I give both sides the courtesy of believing that they are negotiating in good faith. I am sure they are but, as I said frequently in the negotiations last year, the European Union spent a bit too much time speculating on our intentions and not looking at actions and what we said. To turn that principle around, we look at the actions of the European Union on Northern Ireland and the things it does and says about the protocol. Those actions and words, in the way we are operating the protocol, cause the difficulties we are facing, so I urge, as we always do, thought about pragmatic and proportionate solutions as the way forward.
At the time, we faced the need to find pragmatic and proportionate ways to implement the protocol in a balanced way, respecting all the dimensions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement—east-west, as well as north-south. If we are to find a solution, it will be in re-establishing that balance and making sure that east-west trade is subject to as few difficulties as possible, so that the balance in these arrangements can be re-established.
My Lords, in answer to an earlier question, the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said that these were matters of political judgment. Indeed, his political judgment brought us the Northern Ireland protocol which he negotiated in the first place. I want to look forward on the subject of how this will work. Has he yet had the opportunity to read the written evidence to the inquiry that our Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee is undertaking? If not, I urge him to do so. I particularly refer him to the submissions from the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group and from Queen’s University, Belfast. If he has not read those, he really must do so, because they look at a pragmatic, best-interests way forward. Surely any judgment is best made on the basis of facts, not just of political views.
My Lords, I have indeed looked at that evidence. It is extremely interesting in all kinds of ways. Obviously, we talk directly to many of the groups which have submitted evidence. When I look at the views expressed by the business group, I am struck that it recommends solutions which we ourselves have put forward. We have put forward a proposal for the veterinary agreement based on equivalence, for a trusted trader scheme, for arrangements for pharmaceuticals, and so on. I think we have a good common understanding of the problems. The difficulty is in developing a constructive negotiation that gets us towards solutions.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Moylan.
UK and EU Relations
My Lords, we are very pleased that the trade and co-operation agreement has entered into force and that its governance mechanisms are operational. This includes the partnership council, which met for the first time on 9 June. There are of course some outstanding issues between the UK and the EU, notably as regards the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Although we want to improve the situation, realistically, things may remain bumpy for a little time. We continue to engage constructively and pragmatically with the EU as a sovereign equal.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. This morning, the European Union ambassador to the UK was a witness before the European Affairs Committee. In his evidence, he talked of the need to raise the mutual level of trust and to improve the quality of co-operation. He felt that it would produce a positive impact on the relationship. Does the Minister agree with this analysis? What are the Government doing to raise the mutual level of trust and improve the quality of co-operation today?
My Lords, as I mentioned, the governance mechanisms of the trade and co-operation agreement are now operational. The specialised committees will meet in the weeks and months to come. As this process gets going and the teams get into contact and discuss the issues, I am sure that matters at this level of detail will improve. The best way of improving the level of trust between us would be to engage in a pragmatic negotiation on the Northern Ireland protocol. If we can find solutions there, I am sure that things will greatly improve.
My Lords, if everyone is serious about adhering to the Belfast agreement as amended by the St Andrews agreement, we must all agree that it fails the test of cross-community support in Northern Ireland. It undermines the three-stranded approach to the east-west relationship and the constitutional settlement as far as the Assembly is concerned. In bringing forward solutions, which are urgently needed as we approach the summer, does the Minister agree that, as well as the trade friction, the constitutional and democratic flaws at the heart of the protocol need to be addressed?
My Lords, when one observes the situation in Northern Ireland, there is a clear sense in one community that ties with the rest of the UK risk being weakened. That has the political consequences with which we are very familiar. The situation needs to be dealt with. Consent is extremely important. We recognise the issues of democratic accountability, which is why—unusually—we built arrangements for consent into the protocol. The whole protocol depends on consent. If there are clear doubts about it in either community, in practice it will be very difficult to operate, which is why it is so important to come together to find pragmatic solutions.
My Lords, the ability of the arts to work across Europe is an aspect of good relations. The agreements with EEA countries represent a small part of the market for the performing arts. The desire of the music industry for us to have a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU remains paramount. Has the Minister seen the agreement which the industry has carefully drafted, and which does not break the commitment to take back control of our borders? If so, will he consider taking this agreement to the EU? I am sure that it would be receptive.
My Lords, in the negotiations last year we made proposals to try to fix the problems to which the noble Earl refers. They were rejected by the European Union. We were able to agree better arrangements in negotiations with the EEA—with Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland—which is an indication of what could have been possible. I have seen the proposal for a visa waiver agreement. I do not think it consistent with our requirement to retain discretion over our own immigration arrangements. We are actively working with all the member states to find solutions in how they operate their visas for touring performers to see if we can reduce the burdens that way.
My Lords, the Minister wears two hats. The first is that of chief negotiator, wherein he rightly calls for trust, pragmatism and compromise. This is the hat of a relationship builder and deal maker. The second hat is that of the Minister for Post-Brexit Affairs, wherein he writes editorials to the Mail on Sunday saying that drastic action may be needed in response to EU intransigence and telling the EU that it needs
“a new playbook for dealing with neighbours.”
Does he understand that there may not be room for both hats? In strongly criticising the EU to a UK audience for political reasons, Lord Frost 2 may be undermining the work of Lord Frost 1, who actually has to work and negotiate with the EU.
My Lords, I am afraid I do not see the same inconsistency with the two hats to which the noble Lord refers. My approach has been to tell it like it is and to make sure that what we say in these negotiations is what you get. We believe in saying the same in public as in private, so the European Union is not hearing different things in the negotiations from what it may read in the press. These issues are quintessentially matters of political debate. It is perfectly natural to engage in political debate within this country about them, and I do not apologise for it.
My Lords, the Minister negotiated an agreement with the European Union whereby, from Thursday next week, e-commerce businesses and customers for internal UK trade—which never encroaches on the EU market—will have to apply EU rules, pay EU rates and apply a new VAT system, without any representation at all. Why on earth did he negotiate this?
My Lords, we are aware of that issue and in discussion with the European Union about it. It is of course consistent with taking back control ourselves that the other party to the treaty also takes back control. That is what the treaty is designed to regulate. We believe that the benefits of having control over our own rules and the opportunities that offers us globally will be best in the long run for this country.
It was indeed five years ago today that we got the results of the referendum. For five years I have been at this Dispatch Box. I have done the talks, the Statements, the Bills and Questions to the Ministers: the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, the noble Lord, Lord True, and now the noble Lord, Lord Frost. In taking my leave of this portfolio this week—and not before time—I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Chapman will hold the Minister’s feet to the fire in future. She is a welcome addition to our Benches. But before I depart, perhaps the Minister could explain to the House how the deal that he negotiated and advised the Prime Minister to sign has led to quite such a “bumpy ride”—his words—and whether he can persuade the Prime Minister to heed Monsieur Barnier’s advice to respect his signature on the withdrawal agreement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for our sadly brief but enjoyable co-operation. I look forward to standing here at the Dispatch Box and dealing with her successor. On her question, the difficulty is that we did something pretty exceptional as a country in the withdrawal agreement, which was to agree that goods could be controlled in a particular way as they moved within our own country. Self-evidently that can happen only if it is applied with a degree of delicacy, pragmatism and proportionality, which, unfortunately, we are not seeing. That is the core of the difficulty. If we can re-establish the balance, we shall be able to find a satisfactory way forward.
My Lords, I look forward to discussing the problem of musicians touring in Europe at a later date, but there is one specific problem that I will put to the Minister. Will there be some arrangement between the UK and the EU over emergency replacements? Let me give an example: suppose the Royal Opera House is putting on the “Ring” here and Wotan falls ill. As the noble Lord might know, only a handful of singers can sing Wotan in the world. This is analogous with sports as well. Will there be any way to deal with this in the coming months?
My Lords, I am very familiar with that particular issue. In fact, my last private trip aboard before the pandemic was to see “Das Rheingold” in Berlin. I look forward to such things resuming. I will take away the particular point he mentions. DCMS has established a working group with representatives from across the sectors looking at these particular problems in a high level of detail. I will make sure that that is drawn to the attention of those involved.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. My apologies to noble Lords who were unable to ask their questions. We now come to the third Question to the Minister of State. I call the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.
Civil Society Forum: UK Delegation
To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) when Her Majesty’s Government expects to establish the United Kingdom’s delegation to the Civil Society Forum set out in the United Kingdom-European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
My Lords, we are absolutely committed to working with a broad range of business and civil society groups on the implementation of the trade and co-operation agreement. At the 9 June Partnership Council, we agreed that we and the EU should begin to work and to agree, we hope, on the operational guidelines for the civil society forum in good time so that it can meet this year as required. Obviously, we will draw on the network of business and civil society groups we talk to domestically to make sure we have a balanced representation at that forum.
My Lords, in the Minister’s reply to my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, which he sent eventually—interestingly, just after I tabled this Question—he did not answer a question that Mr Gove also failed to answer in the other place the other day. Could he now, as the Minister ultimately responsible, give us an assurance that representatives of charities, social enterprises and trade unions will be included on the civil society forum?
My Lords, the Minister went a long way to addressing my question. However, is not the right messaging that civil society engagement across the board is a key strand that would serve to deepen our relationship with all EU regions by identifying common interests, bringing greater understanding and generally enriching our lives, building on our recent association to include that of Northern Ireland and the Republic, for example? When operational guidelines to the Partnership Council are being determined, will the Government go beyond that of the Brussels-centric forum on interparliamentary exchange and advocate that any civil society networks created be EU-wide and meet on a regular basis, possibly using our APPG movement as a working model?
My Lords, we will certainly reflect on the issues that the noble Viscount raised. There is, of course, a provision in the agreement for a partnership forum between Parliaments, work on which is also moving forward effectively. It is the nature of civil society that it does not need the Government’s permission to develop such links and to work effectively with fora established under the treaties. We certainly hope that that would happen.
My Lords, it is six months since the noble Lord’s Brexit deal and this institution, like the border arrangements in Northern Ireland, still is not functioning properly and may never do so. Has he had the chance to reflect on the evidence he gave to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee earlier this week, where he said that he could not have been expected to foresee the problems with the Northern Ireland border, only to have the chairman point out that almost everybody else had foreseen them, including the noble Lord, Lord Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff, and almost everyone who commented on this issue in the House? Does he appreciate that he is coming to look a bit like Anthony Eden in the Suez crisis in perpetrating an escalating crisis, and undermining our foreign policy and our standing in the world, which is apparent to everybody except himself?
My Lords, obviously I do not accept the conclusion. The noble Lord is oversimplifying what I said at the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is precisely because we knew we had agreed something exceptional, complex and difficult that we built in consent arrangements, and why we had a reasonable expectation of the arrangements operating pragmatically. That has not turned out to be the case. There has turned out to be a very significant chilling effect on Great British businesses moving goods to Northern Ireland. We knew that there would be such an effect. It has turned out to be very much stronger and much more rapid. I do not think there is anything unreasonable in learning from experience when we deal with such a sensitive and delicate situation and trying to find a more reasonable balance as we go forward.
My Lords, given that the civil society forum must bring a wide range of experience to collaborate with government and business leaders in finding and advocating solutions, would my noble friend agree that engagement with civil society representatives from a wide range of experiences, including the recreational and active lifestyle sectors, could benefit government by drawing together expertise from across government and the recreation sector to ensure the success of the recently announced office for health promotion in the Department of Health, which in turn would focus on how an active lifestyle could benefit our population, tackle obesity and mental health challenges, and enable us to emerge stronger as a nation from Covid-19, as well as sharing all our experience with the UK-EU civil society forum?
My Lords, I certainly agree that the civil society forum, when it is up and running, should seek to draw in as wide a range of expertise and ideas as it possibly can. I certainly agree that it is also important that the Government meet as wide a range of civil society organisations, broadly defined, as possible. I certainly meet business representations weekly from sector to sector. I have met a wide range of civil society representatives in Northern Ireland, and we continue to do so.
My Lords, we know that this was discussed at the beginning of the month in the Partnership Council. Indeed, I raised it at the previous Questions to the Minister on 27 May so, as my noble friend just described, it was very nice to get the letter last night. We have a habit of getting letters from Ministers late at night—one of the Minister’s colleagues does the same thing. I know that time might move a bit slowly for the Minister, but can he confirm two things? First, is there beginning to be a list, on paper, about who might sit on the forum? Secondly, does he agree that the domestic advisory group, which should feed into the forum, needs to be up and running before the forum so that that group—in other words, the British section of the forum—can begin meeting, thinking and preparing, so that when it meets its EU counterparts it is equipped to do the job that the forum will be set up to do?
My Lords, obviously, a prerequisite for moving this forward has been the first meeting of the Partnership Council to kick it off, which happened only two and half weeks ago, so we are in the early stages of identifying the possible UK representatives. It is for departments to do that, and departments are engaging very actively with the civil society groups they meet. Our intention is absolutely to establish a collective capacity on the UK side to begin the discussions with the European Union. We are at rather an early stage of that process.
My Lords, Article 14.3, which deals with the establishment of the forum, states:
“Each Party shall promote a balanced representation, including non-governmental organisations, business and employers’ organisations and trade unions”.
I remind the Minister that between one-third and 40% of trade unionists support the Conservative Party and a number support other parties. It is doubtful that the Labour Party even has a majority of TU support these days. Will the Minister ensure that, when the government departments appointing people to UK places are appointing representatives of the trade union movement, they take steps to ensure that they reflect the political balance of the members of trade unions, not just the leadership?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point about the possible gap between the views of trade union members and the views of those who speak in their name. This has been a feature of British politics for some time. It is absolutely our intention to ensure that the UK component of the civil society forum is balanced in every possible way, so that there is full representation of all shades of opinion and interest.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Customs Safety and Security Procedures (EU Exit) Regulations 2021
Motion to Approve
Local Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2021
Motion to Approve
Scotland Act 2016 (Social Security) (Consequential Provision) (Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2021
Motion to Approve
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order
Motion to Approve
At end insert “but this House regrets that the draft Order is necessary to correct errors in the original Order; and further regrets that the volume and nature of secondary legislation means that Parliament is limited in its ability to offer detailed scrutiny that could assist Her Majesty’s Government in preventing such errors”.
My Lords, I have put down an amendment expressing regret at this order for two reasons. The first is to highlight to the House, if it needed highlighting, the volume and complexity of secondary legislation that this House is being asked to scrutinise. It is so vast and complex that it would appear that not even the Government are able to draft legislation correctly—let alone noble Lords being able to scrutinise it properly. The second is to draw the attention of the House to the unreasonable pressure being placed on government Ministers in general, and on the noble Baroness in particular. As well as having to deal with these tsunamis of secondary legislation, she has been having to cover two important and demanding ministerial posts during the absence of one of her colleagues. I take this opportunity again to send my very best wishes to the right honourable James Brokenshire MP, the Minister of State for Security.
On 19 January 2021, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) Order 2021 was laid before this House and it was noted as an instrument of interest by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on 2 February. It was considered by this House on 2 March. On 20 May, the Government laid this order, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021, to correct mistakes in the drafting of the original order. In a letter from the Minister dated 20 May to noble Lords who took part in the 2 March debate, she wrote:
“I am acutely aware of the pressures on Parliament over the past year as a result of the pandemic and EU exit and apologise unreservedly for these errors.”
In the 2 March debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said of immigration law:
“It is just the sort of legislation that frustrates parliamentarians—and others, presumably—because it relies on so many statutory instruments, orders and regulations, rather than the primary piece of legislation, to introduce the rules.”
I agreed, saying that, when I got to examining the regulations, rather than the Explanatory Notes accompanying them,
“I had to admit defeat.”—[Official Report, 2/3/21; cols. 1101-04.]
I quoted from the regulations. I was going to do so again but suffice it to say that they are practically unintelligible. I asked the Minister to explain precisely what the section that I had quoted meant. Understandably, she declined to comment at the time, but she did not write to me subsequently to explain.
In the same debate, I asked the Minister a series of perhaps easier questions, such as why the regulations covered only the French channel ports and not the Dutch and Belgian North Sea ports, as they do apply to Eurostar terminals in those countries. I asked why the regulations appeared to extend all immigration enactments to control zones in French channel ports, whereas the previous regulations extended only a few. I also asked about double jeopardy and jurisdiction, including whether offenders would be tried in French or British courts, or potentially in both. None of these questions were answered at the time, nor in writing afterwards.
I have heard from other noble Lords, and from other parts of the House, that they feel that the Government are either unable or unwilling to be held to account. Not only is an extraordinary amount of secondary legislation being pushed through this House, often weeks after it has come into effect, but the House is being given little opportunity to scrutinise it and, by its nature, no chance to amend it. Such is the complexity and volume of legislation that the Government are now making mistakes in the drafting, and even when noble Lords ask questions about that legislation, we receive no response.
I am grateful to the Minister’s office for confirming to me yesterday in an email:
“We are currently in the process of drafting a letter to cover points that were unanswered in yesterday’s debate and the points you raised during the debate on 2 March.”
This is not effective scrutiny of government. This House needs to exert its right to scrutinise the Government. I beg to move.
The original question was that the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021, previously debated in Grand Committee, be approved, since when an amendment has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to insert the words set out on the Order Paper. The question I therefore have to put is that this amendment be agreed to. I have been notified that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, wishes to speak.
My Lords, there is an early opportunity, at the beginning of a Session, to raise these issues. As noble Lords will be aware, they have come up before. I want to make a brief comment and offer a way forward that I think may be helpful to both the Government and the House.
First, we have only to look at the previous Session of Parliament and read the reports of the Constitution Committee, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee to see that they all raised concerns about the Government’s overreliance on secondary legislation and the use of skeleton Bills. They commented that the Government’s reliance on secondary legislation has grown markedly in recent years. The Constitution Committee said:
“Skeleton Bills inhibit parliamentary scrutiny and we find it difficult to envisage any circumstances in which their use is acceptable”.
There are examples from the previous Session. The noble Baroness was involved with the then Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which was a particular issue, and there was also, again, immigration legislation from the Home Office.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is slightly different, because he asked questions in Committee during the debate on a statutory instrument, to which the Minister was unable to respond. She is still unable to respond to him even at this stage when we are being asked to vote on that order.
I can recall an instance when a former Home Office Minister, in response to me, agreed not to bring something forward until they had answered the questions that I had asked, because they were unable to answer them in Committee. The House may want to consider that idea in future because it is best to have answers to questions before we are asked to vote.
It is inadequate to have an early debate on revised legislation. However, it would help—I have raised this idea before with the Government, and I hope that the Minister will take it back if she cannot give me an answer today—if the Government could commit to ensuring that, although there may be an occasional exception, draft SIs are published prior to the Report stage of legislation going through. That would give this House an opportunity to look at an SI while discussing the legislation, which would then give us an opportunity to scrutinise it better. I would be happy to discuss this further with the Government. The situation at present is not always, but too often, unacceptable— but there is a way forward that might help both the Government and your Lordships’ House.
Does the Minister wish to reply? I call the Minister.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for tabling this Motion—[Laughter.] I did mean that sincerely, although it might have come out all wrong. On the noble Lord’s second point, I join him in wishing my right honourable friend Minister Brokenshire all the very best for a speedy recovery. In fact, I can update the House: he is making a speedy recovery. May I also say that it has been my absolute pleasure to cover his work for him in his absence? I wish him a speedy return.
I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that correct legislation is in place and that, where errors are identified, they are rectified swiftly. This second order—the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021—which we debated in this House on Tuesday and on which answers were given, corrects drafting errors in the earlier order to ensure that the law is absolutely clear.
That order, which I shall refer to hereafter as the earlier order, was debated and approved by this House on 2 March. The corrections that the second order will make to the earlier order will remove the potential for any ambiguity in the law and ensure that the law is explicitly clear. I repeat what I said during consideration of the draft order in Grand Committee on Tuesday. I say it now and I said it then: I fully accept that mistakes were made, and I again offer my full apology for the fact that errors were made. It is highly regrettable but we have been swift in taking corrective action. The department has been proactive in taking steps to improve internal quality assurance procedures to prevent such errors recurring.
I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the importance of detailed parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation. I also note the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, about the amount of secondary legislation. We have, of course, had a legislatively busy couple of years, and I wholly agree that proper oversight of delegated legislation is an essential function of Parliament.
It is for this reason that both this order and the earlier order were subject to the standard procedures in place to ensure that delegated legislation is fully and properly scrutinised by Parliament. That includes consideration by both the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, as well as debates on the content of orders by both Houses.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was not content with my responses to points made by noble Lords during the earlier debate, for which I apologise. I was not able to answer all the questions fully, but I hope that I did respond to some of them when they were made again during the debate on this order on Tuesday. I will now endeavour to address some of the key areas raised.
One of the issues on which the noble Lord challenged me was the potential for double jeopardy to arise, whereby an individual, having committed an offence and then been detained, could be subject to both UK and French law. As I explained in Grand Committee, matters relating to the responsible state as regards offences have been considered and are the subject of specific provisions in the underpinning of Le Touquet, the purpose of which is to negate this possibility.
The noble Lord also asked me about the jurisdiction of courts and raised concerns about Article 12 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003, which relates to the jurisdiction of courts as regards offences. Article 12 makes it clear which court, either UK or French, has jurisdiction over offences committed in the UK control zones at Calais and Dunkirk, in line with specific provisions contained in the underpinning of Le Touquet.
On whether errors occurred because of deficient processes, rather than simple oversight, they occurred because of human error. To prevent the recurrence of such errors, the department has directly informed all staff working on the drafting of statutory instruments of the steps to be taken on preventing them.
Another issue brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was Belgium and Holland. We obviously do not operate juxtaposed controls at the seaports of Belgium or the Netherlands, but I think he was making precisely that point: we do not have international agreements enabling us to exercise immigration powers in these countries, other than for the Eurostar service. We do have international arrangements underpinning the international rail regime with France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and separate domestic orders setting out those arrangements.
I hope that I have answered the specific points that the noble Lord called out for clarification. On draft SIs, I can certainly recall SIs that were previously brought in draft for noble Lords’ consideration, but I shall take both those points back: adding to legislation by secondary legislation, and the point on SIs. With that, I apologise yet again and commend this order to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for her support and her helpful suggestion. The Minister said that standard procedures were followed in the amendment of the (No. 2) Order and the original order. It should not be standard procedure that the only way in which noble Lords can get answers to the questions that they raised in a debate on 2 March is to put forward a regret amendment to an amendment order on the Floor of the House. Those answers should be given promptly, following the original debate. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Australia
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 17 June.
“I wish to make a Statement on the new UK-Australia free trade agreement secured by our Prime Ministers this Tuesday. We have agreed a truly historic deal, which is the first negotiated from scratch by the United Kingdom since leaving the European Union. This gold-standard agreement shows what the UK is capable of as a sovereign trading nation: securing huge benefits such as zero-tariff access to Australia for all British goods and world-leading provisions for digital and services, while making it easier for Brits to live and work in Australia.
The agreement also paves the way for the UK’s accession to the vast market covered by the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, coupling us with some of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, worth £9 trillion in global gross domestic product. Our Australia deal shows that global Britain is a force for free and fair trade around the world. We believe in 21st-century trade. We do not see it as a zero-sum game like our critics, who doubt we can compete and win in the global marketplace. We want to be nimble, positive and open to new ideas, talent and products, without sacrificing our sovereignty.
We have laid out the core benefits of this deal in the agreement in principle document. It means that £4.3 billion-worth of goods exports will no longer have to pay tariffs to enter the Australian market, from Scotch whisky and Stoke-on-Trent ceramics to the 10,000 cars we currently export from the north of England. Meanwhile, we will enjoy greater choice and top value in Aussie favourites such as wine, swimwear and biscuits. Young Brits under the age of 35 will be able to live and work in Australia for up to three years with no strings attached. Our work and mobility agreement goes beyond what Australia agreed with Japan or the US, making it much easier for Brits to live and work in Australia.
We have agreed strong services and digital chapters that secure the free flow of data and the right for British lawyers and other professionals to work in Australia without needing to requalify. We have secured access to billions of pounds in government procurement, which would benefit businesses such as Leeds-based Turner and Townsend, which is contracted to expand the Sydney Metro.
This deal promotes high standards, with the first animal welfare chapter in an Australian trade deal, as well as strong provisions on climate change, gender equality and development. On agriculture, it is important that we have a proper transition period. That is why we have agreed 15 years of capped tariff-free imports from Australia, which means that Australian farmers will only have the same access to the UK market as EU farmers in 2036. We should use this time to expand our beef and lamb exports to the CPTPP markets, which are expected to account for a quarter of global meat demand by 2030. I do not buy this defeatist narrative that British agriculture cannot compete. We have a high-quality, high-value product that people want to buy, particularly in the growing middle classes of Asia.
This Australia deal is another key step to joining the trans-Pacific partnership, a market of 500 million people that has high-standards trade, 95% tariff-free access and very strong provisions in digital and services, which are of huge benefit to Britain, the second largest services exporter in the world. It covers the fastest growing parts of the world, where Britain needs to be positioned in the coming decades. While some look to the past and cling to static analysis based on what the world is like today, we are focused on the future and what the world will be like in 2030, 2040 and 2050.
Of course, Parliament will have its full opportunity to scrutinise this agreement. Our processes are in line with those of other parliamentary democracies, such as Canada and New Zealand; the Trade and Agriculture Commission will play a full role, providing expert and independent advice; and the House can rest assured that this deal upholds our world-class standards, from food safety and animal welfare to the environment.
Following the agreement in principle, we will finalise the text of the full FTA agreement, which will then undergo a legal scrub before being presented to Parliament, alongside an economic impact assessment. I look forward to further scrutiny from the Select Committee on International Trade and the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
This deal means we have now struck agreements with 68 countries plus the EU, securing trade relations worth £744 billion as of last year. The deal with our great friend and ally Australia is just the start of our new post-Brexit trade agreements. It is fundamentally about what kind of country we want Britain to be. Do we want to be a country that embraces opportunity, looks to the future, and believes its industries can compete and that its produce is just what the world wants? Or do we accept the narrative some peddle that we need to stay hiding behind the same protectionist walls that we had in the EU, because we cannot possibly compete and succeed? To my mind, the answer lies in free trade. Our country has always been at its best when it has been a free-trading nation. This deal is a glimpse into Britain’s future—a future where we are a global hub for digital and services, where our high-quality food and drink and manufactured goods are enjoyed across the world, and where we are open to the best that our friends and allies have to offer. That is what this deal represents, and I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his letter and the Government for their update on the progress of the UK’s trading relationship with Australia. I had been waiting for the detail, following the announcement at the end of the G7 conference, as it seemed from reports that nothing had been signed and was unlikely to be before October or November this year. The information was released under the cover of darkness, on the night of 17 June. I imagine this was the time that Tony Abbott, on behalf of the Secretary of State, signalled agreement with the Australian counterpart, Dan Tehan. The information reveals it to be a series of commitments that the Government have entered into to agree many details yet to be worked up. Can this be described as “historic”, as claimed in the Statement?
These commitments were translated into negotiating wins for the Government: tariff reductions for UK exports of food, drink, clothing and cars; provisions for the under-30s to work in Australia to be extended to those under 35; and reductions in barriers for services exports, and data and digital exports. I certainly congratulate the Government on them, but none of these so-called wins has ever been controversial or problematic for Australia. Its tariffs on UK goods were already very low, and making it easier for young people to work in Australia is a positive boost to the Australian economy, particularly its farming industry, which relies on casual labour from British backpackers.
What do the Australians make of these commitments? Would the meaning of “historic” be revealed on their website? Indeed, yes, as the Australians could not believe what they had achieved. Yes, it was only, as they put it, an agreement in principle—AIP—but, to them, these commitments are locked in to benefit Australian farmers and workers, as well as their consumers. We begin to see a different perspective: one that highlights the fears of the farming industry throughout all parts of the UK, and perhaps suggests why the Secretary of State for Defra was so alarmed in Cabinet.
The Government describe the agreement on beef and sheep as securing 15 years of capped, tariff-free imports, while the Australians state it as 10 years, as the subsequent five years include enough significant extra volumes as to be pretty meaningless. But the cap on volumes rises in significant leaps, all without tariffs, in complete contrast to the agreements the Australians had achieved in recent deals with Japan, China, the USA and South Korea, where tariffs on their beef were reduced gradually in the various deals between 10 and 18 years, with additional safeguard triggers.
This deal has historic elements for Australia. The trade expert and former Australian negotiator, Dmitry Grozoubinski, described it as follows:
“I don’t think we have ever done as well as this. Getting rid of all tariffs and quotas forever is virtually an unprecedented result.”
Has the Minister worked out what this means for the UK? We await the impact assessment and the reconstitution of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to assess the AIP, as required in the Agriculture Act and Trade Act, as secured by your Lordships’ House last year. In the meantime, it seems to mean that Australia would be able to increase its beef exports to the UK to more than 60 times their 2020 levels in the first year before any quota would apply. Australia could export four times more beef to the UK in the first year of the deal than it did to the whole of Europe in 2020 before any quota would apply. Indeed, the UK would leap from 27th place to sixth in the global ranking of Australia’s biggest beef exports markets if Australia were to use its full quota in the very first year.
This commitment offered to the Australians has triggered an array of angry responses from agriculture in all corners of the UK, especially the devolved Administrations, where agriculture is such an important part of their economies. The Welsh have particular concerns for their lamb, and Northern Ireland for its dairy trade. While Scottish whisky producers will be pleased, Scotland’s agricultural input suppliers will be concerned, along with its beef producers.
Environmental groups, animal welfare groups, consumer groups on food and nutrition, and trading bodies are all concerned: Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Compassion in World Farming, and the National Trust are all alarmed. Sustain points out that Australia has no model conditions for animal welfare and no federal animal welfare legislation, opting instead to devolve responsibilities to states and territories. The world animal protection index, which ranks 50 countries according to their legislation and policy commitments to protect animals, has awarded Australia a D mark, versus a B for the UK. Being the first deal that the Government have signed after leaving the EU, even if only in principle, how will they negotiate their further ambitions to achieve deals with other countries, such as America and India? The Statement proclaims that this deal is only a precursor to the CPTPP deal that the Government have set their ambitions on next. Australia is committed to helping the UK sign up to this existing CPTPP deal without any changes or protections, as a deal taker not a deal maker. Do the Government see UK agriculture as a sacrifice worth giving up on the way to this further agreement?
The Government are truly making a hash of Brexit. The UK has left the EU, to be sure, but so far the Government see more mileage in being anti-EU than in being pro-British. The Secretary of State compared this deal to trade with the EU in her replies last week in the Commons, but our neighbours in Australia are not 20 miles away. First-quarter exports to Europe were down £2 billion during the first part of 2021. Sales of dairy products plummeted by 90% after the trade and co-operation agreement was signed at the last minute in December. As far as Europe is concerned, it seems that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. As far as Australia is concerned, everything is agreed while nothing is detailed.
The Government are hopeless on trade after Brexit. Northern Ireland is in turmoil. The fishing industry, whose voice was so strongly for Brexit, has already been sacrificed. The steel industry is collapsing and farmers who also wanted Brexit to be successful for them have already had £255 million slashed from their budgets this year in reductions to BPS payments. The Welsh football fans are certainly unhappy that they cannot visit Amsterdam to support their team this weekend.
Many important questions remain. I finish by asking just a few. The interim Trade and Agriculture Commission made a series of important recommendations, including for the establishment of a new national framework of food and farming standards, against which all future trade deals could be judged. Can the Minister explain why there has not been a formal response to the commission’s report and why that national framework of standards is not yet in place? Have the Government made plans regarding a proper labelling of Australian beef, so that consumers can identify it clearly on menus and supermarket shelves? Have the Government demanded that the Australians raise their standards in correspondingly high leaps over the years in tandem with the increase in their agricultural supplies? Finally, what will be the cumulative impacts from all the deals that the Government plan if these follow the precedent of the Australian deal, or do the Government have plans to rescue the farming industry from the disaster that it sees ahead?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his letter of 18 June with a copy of the agreement in principle and an explainer. He is very good at keeping the Front Benches informed in the House, which is appreciated.
These Benches that I speak for want more free, fair and open trade, for the UK to export more and for UK consumers to have a wider choice of higher-standard goods at globally competitive prices. We want trade deals to reflect growth in UK export potential, but we want them strategically used for wider social, climate, human rights, labour and environmental standards. We do not want them to be an opportunity for the UK to miss, to provide market access for other countries without commensurate or better gains for us.
The desperation of this Government to have any deal, no matter what, is noted among our trading partners, and they take advantage. A bad deal is better than no deal, it seems. On the much-heralded £15 billion Japan deal, £13 billion was for Japan and £2 billion for the UK. On this deal and the agreement in principle, UK exports to Australia will go up over 15 years by £500 million, the Government say, while Australian exports to the UK will go up by £700 million. That is about three royal yachts. The telling point on market access was in the bullet point that
“both sides formalise their agreement on splits of TRQs at the WTO and Australia withdraws its objections to the UK’s goods schedule.”
That was the giveaway. Australia has got exactly what it wants. It has withdrawn its objections at the WTO—objections which, I remind the House, this Government said had no foundation. It turns out that our negotiation had rather weak foundations. I co-chaired, with the Nigerian Trade Minister, a commission of inquiry looking at areas where we can expand Commonwealth trade. Why is there no reference to the Commonwealth in this agreement?
However, let me quote positively from the website of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:
“an ambitious and comprehensive FTA will assist with post-pandemic economic recovery by providing new opportunities in a highly significant market for Australian goods and services. It will provide Australian exporters with a competitive edge and more choices about where they do business. Australian consumers and companies stand to benefit through greater choice in goods and services at lower prices.”
That is the headline of the Australian Government of the agreement with the European Union, now in its 11th round. The Australian Government go on to say:
“We want an FTA with the EU to set the benchmark for what can be achieved between like-minded partners.”
The narratives for the EU and the UK are remarkably similar. The UK scoping exercise for this, an ambitious and comprehensive FTA for Australia, said that it would bring GDP growth ranging from 0.01% and 0.02% over 15 years. The EU scoping exercise in 2018 said that
“an ambitious and comprehensive FTA will bring about GDP growth ranging from 0.01% to 0.02% over 15 years.”
Why has a Brexit agreement no greater benefit than we would have had anyway? On goods, we are expecting an increase in exports of up to 7.4%, which is of course positive. In the Government’s own document, Australia is looking for exports to the UK to increase up to 83.2%. Why is there such a difference? It is estimated for the EU scoping exercise that EU exports to Australia could go up under their agreement by one-third. Why are UK exports up by 3.6% and European exports up by 36%?
On legal services, the Minister said to me on Tuesday that:
“It will contain provisions on legal services, as we have heard, but it will not confer the automatic ability for Australian lawyers to practise law in the UK.”—[Official Report, 22/6/21; col. 163.]
The fourth bullet point of the agreement in principle mentions:
“Legal services provisions which will both guarantee that UK and Australian lawyers can advise clients and provide arbitration, mediation and conciliation services in the other country’s territory using their original qualifications”.
I regret to say this, but I believe that the Minister misled the House. I hope that he has an opportunity to correct that at the Dispatch Box today.
Can the Minister explain why in the agreement there will be a chapter on mobility, which could well be positive, about companies sponsoring
“visas committed in the FTA without first having to prove that a national of the country in question could not be hired to do the job, through the reciprocal removal of economic needs”?
Is this now a direct repudiation of the points system that the Home Office has put in place, and, which will be the case—the UK Home Office points system for Australia or this trade agreement? On goods, during the trade negotiations the Government’s press release in November said that the Government had a suite of tools including tariffs, tariff quotas and safeguards to ensure that British farmers, with their high standards, were not unfairly undercut in any trade deal. However, the NFU said that it was not consulted, and none of these methods seems to have been used.
We know that, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand—FSANZ—around 40% of cattle are given hormone treatment, but the quotas for imports are currently for accredited hormone-free cattle. There is no differential quota guarantee in this outline agreement; will it be in the final agreement? Neonicotinoids are used on Australian crops—cotton, canola, cereals and sunflowers—but their use in the United Kingdom is banned. What guarantees are there that we will not import goods for which illegal pesticides have been used as part of their production? What guarantees are there that we will not import sows that have been reared in sow stalls, which have been banned in the UK since 1999? What guarantees are there that pigs raised by intensive farming methods and chickens reared in battery cages, which we have banned, will not be imported?
Finally, it is of course a fallacy to suggest that, if we are critical of this agreement, we are critical of free trade. We are critical of the Government’s ability to negotiate good trade agreements. If imported goods are cheaper, the Government say that they will safeguard against undercutting—but that is not in this agreement. Workers with skills having to get a visa because of economic need is not mentioned in this agreement. The continuing protection against hormones and pesticides that Defra has indicated is also not in this agreement. Who is in charge of our agriculture, immigration and economic policy?
My Lords, it is a constant disappointment to me that Opposition Front Benchers find it difficult ever to say any nice things about trade agreements. Of course, the whole purpose of our striking them is to benefit British businesses and consumers. This deal with Australia eliminates tariffs on all UK goods, making it cheaper to sell products like Scottish whisky and cars to Australia, and supporting industries that employ 3.5 million people in the UK. It would be nice to hear some recognition of such positive impacts when we debate these agreements.
For our consumers, this means lower prices and better choice, and that includes iconic favourites such as Aussie wine, which I would not be surprised at all to learn that the two Front-Bench spokesmen enjoy from time to time. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has great expertise in farming matters, but I should make it clear that this deal will not undercut UK farmers unfairly or compromise our high standards. Indeed, we believe that it will open up opportunities in fast-growing markets such as CPTPP countries. It would be nice to hear some recognition of the fact that our farmers, who are among the best in the world, will be able to take advantage of these agreements.
I say categorically that, throughout the negotiations, we have listened closely to the concerns of farmers and other stakeholders, which is why we have agreed 15 years of capped tariff-free imports from Australia. This means that Australian farmers will only have the same access as EU farmers 15 years after the agreement comes into force.
Of course, so far, this agreement is only at the “in principle” stage, and the House will have an opportunity to scrutinise it fully. Some of the questions asked by noble Lords will be more easily dealt with once we have commenced that formal scrutiny. Let me explain for a moment what I mean by that. The agreement in principle signifies only that the main elements of the deal have been negotiated; both countries will now work together to continue to translate the agreement into legal text. Parliament will have full opportunity to scrutinise this agreement: the FTA treaty will be presented to it after signature, alongside an independently scrutinised impact assessment. I know how carefully the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, always reads those, and I am sure that he will find answers to his questions when that impact assessment is published.
Of course, the House will then have the benefit, for the first time, of advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which we have debated many times in this House. Some of the really important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will no doubt be dealt with in that report. Once the Agriculture Act’s Section 42 report and the TAC’s advice have been laid in Parliament, there will then be a further chance to scrutinise these matters, so that will be the time to come back to some of these detailed points.
Turning to some of the specific points that have been raised, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked where we are with the very good report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It is still being carefully analysed, and I am sure the Secretary of State will make her views on it known to Parliament in due course.
I would like to deal specifically with the accusation the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, made about my misleading the House. I categorically refute that suggestion, and I will explain why I am so categoric about that. This agreement allows lawyers from both sides to practise not domestic law, either in the UK or Australia, but foreign or international law in certain limited areas such as giving advice, arbitration or conciliation. These are not regulated matters, so it will be possible for an Australian lawyer to open an office in Edinburgh and put a sign on the door saying that he is an Australian lawyer, but from that office he will be able to offer advice on foreign and international law, on arbitration in relation to those matters, and to comment on Australian law. Having given that explanation, I would be grateful if the noble Lord felt able to withdraw his very serious allegation that I misled the House from this Dispatch Box.
I believe that this is a positive agreement. It is the first that we have negotiated from scratch since leaving the European Union, and it shows what we are capable of as a sovereign trading area. I believe that it will lead to a whole succession of broader and even better agreements going forward.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the owner of a livestock farm in the Midlands. Before I ask my substantive question, I note something that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said. I think that sow stalls are still permitted in the European Union; could my noble friend clarify that?
I congratulate my noble friend, and all those in government involved in this, on an excellent start to an FTA that will be to the mutual benefit of the people of the United Kingdom and the people of Australia. Does he appreciate that, whatever carping he may hear in this House against free trade agreements, many here do not want the FTAs to succeed because they want to prove Brexit wrong? We heard that from the Labour Benches. They want to prove that Brexit was a terrible mistake, while the people of the United Kingdom will rejoice at the increased prosperity that this free trade agreement and others will bring them.
My noble friend is quite right: Australian animal welfare standards are in fact higher than those in many other countries around the world, and in some cases higher than those in the EU. My noble friend has given one example. Others include the practice of castrating chickens and the production of foie gras, which are banned in Australia on welfare grounds, as they are in the UK; however, they continue to be permitted in the EU. Australia is marked five out of five—the highest possible mark—in the World Organisation for Animal Health performance survey.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate this FTA. Let me say something nice: I congratulate the Government on having negotiated this deal very speedily. Incidentally, I want this and other FTAs that will follow to succeed. I have two questions for the Minister. When the TAC, the Trade and Agriculture Commission, is eventually established and able to scrutinise the agreement, and when Parliament has a chance to debate it, will it be possible to amend the agreement if genuine concerns exist, or is it a fait accompli? Secondly, do this agreement and others that will follow put our free trade agreement with the European Union at risk?
My Lords, I think the House is well aware of the scrutiny processes that these agreements go through. The process culminates in the CRaG process, in which the other place has the ability to vote against these agreements, so there will be scrutiny there. That provides a real bulwark. I do not know the answer to the question about the European Union, and if I may I will write to the noble Lord about that.
My Lords, when I worked in No. 10 and was involved in the Brexit debate, I was told on many occasions by Members of this House and the other place from all political parties that Britain would never be able to negotiate any free trade agreements and did not have the capability—it was just folly—so I am really pleased today to be able to congratulate the Minister on getting this deal done, especially as the EU is still struggling with its deal. I am also delighted that he has not listened to the protectionist voices from various parts of our community.
Can the Minister please confirm to me that although the priority is the CPTPP, he will give equal priority to some of the others, particularly the GCC? In this, I declare my interests as the co-chairman of the UAE-UK Business Council, where tariffs are not the key issue. The key issue is the same as with Australia: professional qualifications, access to markets and generally the removal of red tape—all the things he has managed to deliver with the Australian deal.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to answer my first question from my friend and noble friend Lord Udny-Lister from this Dispatch Box. He is right: we are making extraordinary progress on negotiating these free trade agreements, and the free trade agreements we hope to strike not just with the Trans-Pacific Partnership but with the GCC, Canada, Mexico, India and a number of other countries around the world are designed entirely to benefit the British consumer. I welcome his support for that.
My Lords, now that we are out of the EU, I welcome trade deals we do with the rest of the world, though I have concerns about the agricultural dimension of this. I have great respect for the Minister as a highly intelligent and objective man. If he reads the Statement delivered in the other place, does he not agree that it is hyperbolic and propagandist? It is hyperbolic in the sense that it talks about “huge benefits”. Most economists estimate the benefit to UK GDP of this agreement to be about 0.2%. It is propagandist in that it talks about how we are no longer
“hiding behind the same protectionist walls that we had in the EU”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/6/21; col. 453.]
He must recognise that in the new Pacific world to which we attach so much importance, Germany—a member of the EU allegedly held back by those “protectionist walls”—is able to export two or three times as much as we do at present.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord for his kind comments. It is the case that politics sometimes enter into these matters in the other House. Maybe that is not a surprise, given the importance of these agreements. I hope the noble Lord agrees that when I comment on these matters in this House or in front of our very well-run IAC, I try to give my answers in a measured and constructive way.
My Lords, I think I welcome the Minister’s comment that the House will have the opportunity to fully scrutinise the text of the agreement, which will be presented after signature, but given the limited parliamentary oversight arrangements in both Houses, will he commit to presenting the document immediately after signature so that the committees have sufficient time to review the agreement before it is formally laid under the CRaG arrangements?
My Lords, I can certainly confirm that the House will be given sufficient time to scrutinise these agreements, not just because that is right in its own instance but because our International Agreements Committee will want to scrutinise them. Importantly, the new, independent Trade and Agriculture Commission will need time to scrutinise this agreement properly. The sequence of events will be that the agreement will be laid in this House after signing, these other matters of scrutiny will then proceed, and only when that is completed will the agreement be brought back to the House formally to take its chance under the CRaG procedures.
My Lords, this agreement could offer an opportunity for many smaller UK businesses to get into the Australian market. The economic impact and benefit for the United Kingdom could be much more if we can gear up our businesses to take those opportunities. The time to do that is now, even if the final FTA takes some time. Can my noble friend say what initiatives the Government are taking to work with businesses to achieve this?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. A point I have made previously from this Dispatch Box is that it is not the signing of these agreements that is important but the operationalising of them afterwards, to the benefit of British businesses and consumers. Interestingly, we already have 13,400 UK SMEs—that includes micro-enterprises and sole traders—exporting goods to Australia. I completely agree with my noble friend that we have to mobilise our efforts to explain the advantage of this agreement to them. Chambers of commerce and intermediaries will have a valuable role to play. With our friends in Australia, we certainly intend to make the information on how to trade clear and easily accessible. There will be a dedicated website and a search database, but most importantly we will be out and about informing British businesses and customers of the advantages of the agreement.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. As a carrot—forgive the pun—to win farmers’ support for this agreement, the Government have indicated investment in and funding of technology to improve productivity through ELMS. Can the Minister inform us of the status of the promised comprehensive cross-government strategy to improve productivity and competitiveness and, secondly, the promise to provide adjustment assistance for farming in the changing market conditions resulting from the new FTA?
My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests in the register. In particular, I am a livestock farmer, but I have no fears about competing with Australian imports on price. However, does the Minister not agree that if agricultural imports from Australia—or from anywhere else, for that matter—are not subject to the equivalent welfare, phytosanitary and husbandry standards and so on that apply to domestic production, that gives foreign producers financial advantage over domestic producers in the UK market, and that this is unfair competition for UK producers? Further, does he not agree that arguments to the contrary echo the thought processes of those who supported the abolition of slavery but at the same time supported the slave trade?
My Lords, I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that there will be absolutely no diminution of the controls that we apply to imported agricultural produce. As he will know, our phytosanitary regime is very strong. I sometimes hear scare stories from noble Lords that, for example, hormone beef will be allowed into this country as a result of this agreement. I can put people’s minds completely at rest on this: we will be maintaining our strict animal health standards and our own animal welfare standards.
My Lords, how extraordinary that there should be this opposition to a trade deal with Australia—a country with which we enjoyed the closest commercial relations before the artificial diversion of our trade by the phased imposition of European tariffs and non-tariff barriers in the 1970s. It is a country to which we could hardly be closer in language, law, accountancy systems and interoperable regulations. Does my noble friend the Minister find it odd that in this debate Australian trade is attacked on the contradictory grounds that the deal will wipe out our agriculture while making little difference? Does he detect behind those questions the real problem, which is nostalgia for EU membership? We heard it in almost every intervention from the Benches opposite—a few desultory remarks about Australia and then a prolonged complaint about Brexit. Does he share my surprise that people who spent the referendum brandishing their internationalist credentials have, on this issue, now descended into mercantilism, protectionism, nostalgia and fear?
My noble friend makes an important point. If someone came to listen to these proceedings for the first time, they would think we were debating an agreement with a hostile country—a country with which we had perhaps had a long period of enmity. This agreement, and the agreements that we are hoping to strike with New Zealand, Canada, India and elsewhere, are with our Commonwealth friends. I detect that nostalgia for the EU on the other Benches. I just wish I could also detect a nostalgia for the Commonwealth and dealing with those countries that have stood by us for many years.
My Lords, this is a short description of Australian farming:
“The introduction of a distinctly European agriculture in 1788 had a vast and extreme impact on the flora and fauna of Australia, with land-clearing, invasive species and foreign crop and livestock breeds degrading soil, water and vital ecosystem functions. Decades of continued land clearing and overgrazing coupled with industrialised farming methods have culminated into considerable challenges”.
In that context, does the Minister believe that, as chair of COP and, we hope, a responsible international actor, we should be encouraging more trade, particularly in beef and sheepmeat production, with Australia in those products, given their ecological and environmental climate damage? He referred to the impact assessment. Will it include a calculation of the carbon and ecological impacts of the trade deal?
The noble Baroness always speaks with authority on these matters and I always listen to her carefully. I am happy to reassure her that trade does not have to come at the expense of the environment. Those two matters are not incompatible. I am pleased to report to noble Lords that we have worked with Australia to secure provisions on a wide range of environmental areas in this agreement, including preventing pollution from shipping and co-operating on addressing marine litter, including plastics and microplastics. We have committed to an environment chapter that will go above precedent, and both parties have confirmed commitments under multilateral environmental agreements, including the Paris Agreement. Noble Lords will see that in detail when the full agreement is available and the impact assessment will, of course, cover these matters. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to welcome that environmental chapter when she is able to see it in full.
My Lords, the Statement refers to what the world will be like in 2030, 2040 and 2050. One reality is that China will play a much more significant part and that the Pacific area needs defenders of democracy. This agreement must be welcomed and we should seek agreements with democratic countries in the region and on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will redouble their efforts to get those agreements?
I am very happy to give my noble friend a full assurance on those matters. As noble Lords will be aware, we applied to the Trans-Pacific Partnership as to whether we could commence negotiations. It was pleasing that, as a multilateral group, it came back very quickly. Those negotiations are now commencing and I look forward to bringing their results before the House in due course, and when I do so it will absolutely meet the point that my noble friend is asking about. We will see that it is yet another agreement reinforcing British interests and benefiting British businesses and consumers.
I congratulate my noble friend on negotiating this agreement but, before we get too carried away, our existing trade with Australia is 0.5% of our total trade and the increase will be 0.02%. He said that high standards of food production that farmers and consumers in this country are delighted to support will not be compromised. However, the Government are going further in their pledge to this country to impose even higher standards, yet we are going to accept beef produced in Australia, which travels much greater distances, which must surely increase its carbon footprint while not meeting our high animal welfare standards. Will he accommodate the request from the outgoing chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission that any trade agreement be presented to the incoming commission well before signature and at the earliest possible opportunity?
I thank my noble friend for that. I indeed looked into the question of food miles before this debate. I was pleased and slightly surprised to find that Australian farming methods are less carbon-intensive than ours in certain instances. As that is the case—it is, of course, subject to further analysis—it will more than compensate for the food miles point that my noble friend raises. As I said, there will be full time for this agreement to be scrutinised by our new Trade and Agriculture Commission.
Social Care and the Role of Carers
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to open this debate on social care. I am sure it will be rich and varied, and that the Minister will struggle to sum up the points made in the time he is given. I am sure we will welcome a letter from him with his responses to our more trying queries. This debate also doubles as my health and care swansong, as I now move to defence.
I start by putting on record my, and our, utmost thanks to all those who work in social care systems, from carers to cleaners and caterers, to management in care homes and domiciliary care, and those who provide so much care for friends and family, expecting nothing in return.
I want to cast our minds back to the time of the coalition, when the Liberal Democrats made reform of social care an absolute priority, and the Dilnot commission provided a framework for us to fix the inherent unfairness in how social care is funded and provided. Cross-party talks were promising and it felt as though progress was being made. Not so. Later, both Prime Ministers May and Johnson said that they would sort it. But somewhere along the way this issue has been pushed into the long grass again and again, despite two Conservative Prime Ministers pledging to make it a priority. Of course, Covid has not helped.
So will it be Dilnot, Forsyth or something completely different? How will it be funded? We have seen, over the last year, what is possible when resources and energy are mobilised to address a crisis. We know that this an issue exercising the Chancellor. I want to be clear: what is happening in social care is a crisis, and we need to approach it as such.
Looking at the sector since the onset of Covid, we see that the Government have provided significant short-term support to help care providers through Covid-19, but it is vital that the Department of Health and Social Care now sets out how it will help providers move beyond it. The costs of the pandemic and the dramatic fall in care home occupancy, from around 90% at the start of the pandemic to 80% in February this year, puts many providers at risk of failing. In response, the Government provided short-term funding through local authorities and the infection control fund. This support has stabilised the market and kept most providers from falling over. However, the department does not have a strong grip on the variable levels of support that individual providers received, and there have been some reports of providers struggling to access some of the additional funding. The commitments around extra funding and free PPE—personal protective equipment—until the end of next March are welcome, but the department does not yet have a road map outlining how long extra funding and support will be in place. Can the Minister tell us please?
The Care Quality Commission warns that ongoing support is likely to be required in 2021-22 if care home admissions remain low or costs are inflated. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Department of Health and Social Care, working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has an assessment process in place to determine how much support providers need in the short to medium term to deal with Covid-19 and lower occupancy in care homes?
I want to address the role of carers, both paid and unpaid. For those who work in social care, it is time for parity to become a reality. This relates to a number of issues. As I am sure carers themselves would say if they were here, the first issue is pay. Noble Lords will remember the outrage over a mere 1% pay rise for some of our NHS workers earlier this year, but the reality is that this is something our social carers can only dream of. Of course, the sector is far more fragmented, and much of it private, but the Government need to be ambitious in providing a fair, living wage to our social carers for all the hours that they work. This means leading the way on developing a framework that outlines what social care staff should be paid.
Secondly, along with pay, our carers need recognition and career progression. During the first stage of the pandemic, on Thursday nights, we all went outside and clapped to support all the NHS workers and care workers who were doing their very best. But care work, as many of us know, can be immensely rewarding and challenging in equal parts. Our workers need to know that their skills are valued and there is space for them to grow and progress in their career. We know that retention is an issue, when pay matches that in a supermarket. Greater recognition and regulation are needed. In both Wales and Scotland, care work is acknowledged as a profession. Would the Minister explain why care workers in England are not regulated and their pay derisory? What is stopping their recognition and regulation in England, as for those working in Wales and Scotland?
Turning now to unpaid carers, I draw on family experience, which is typical. For five years, my brother was my mother’s carer. He was able to get out of the house and shop when her carers came to get her up or get her ready for bed. His main breaks came when I got back at weekends, or when she went into a care home while we all went on holiday. Caring for a loved one is hard work, particularly when dementia is involved.
A Carers UK report found that, during the pandemic, 72% of carers have had no breaks from their caring role, with an average of 25 hours of support lost each month. Caring for someone can be a 24/7 job, and more. Research suggests that a third of unpaid carers now feel unable to manage their role. What assessment have the Government made of the impact on unpaid carers of the closure of respite care during the pandemic?
Will the Minister tell the House when the Government last looked at the issue of family carers? Family carers deserve breaks, so will the Minister commit to making sustainable funding available, to ensure that respite and day care centres can provide these much-needed breaks? If we fail to do this, we risk seeing an increase in burnout and mental health problems among carers, many of whom are old. This will lead to a vicious circle, where we find ourselves asking the question: who cares for the carers? Many day centres were run by organisations such as Age UK and funded by local authorities, but that funding was pulled five or six years ago by stretched local authorities. We cannot continue to rely on the unpaid labour of women—it is most frequently women—to prop up a social care system that is not sustainable or fit for purpose.
The devolved nations have instituted occupancy guarantees where they are falling, due sadly to the deaths of residents and hesitancy of individuals to move into care settings during the pandemic. In England, occupancy rates have fallen 7% to below 80%. Will the Government follow the example of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and intervene with this short-term measure before wider reforms of funding and provision are announced? If not, I fear there will be no social care system left to reform.
The issue of indemnity for care homes has also been raised in this House many times. This comes back again to the theme of parity. As we hope to enjoy more freedoms over the next few months, these need to be extended to homes, with visits from family and friends and trips out. However, homes will not be able to provide these experiences if they are not adequately insured. Will the Minister please agree to look into this issue as a matter of urgency?
Looking to the future, our current model of care provision is unfair and unsustainable. Funding is one obvious issue. With the sector so fragmented, cuts to local authorities and a postcode lottery, we need to find consensus on how to fund the system. Government funding for local authorities fell by 55% in the decade between 2010 and 2020. Where there are cuts, we now see self-funders picking up the tab, but also subsidising the care of others in the care homes they live in. This is not fair, nor is it sustainable.
Workforce planning is another issue. We need to commit to a 10-year workforce plan that will adequately fill vacancies but also allow care providers to aim higher, providing continuity of care and allowing relationships to develop, to the benefit of both staff and those receiving care. The ideas have all been laid out and opposition parties are ready to work with the Government on the solution. What are we waiting for?
Through Covid-19, the Government provided significant short-term support to help providers. It is vital that the Department of Health and Social Care now sets out how it will help providers to move beyond it. The costs of Covid-19 and the dramatic fall in care home occupancy, from around 90% at the start of the pandemic to 80% by February 2021, puts many providers at risk of failing. In response, the Government provided short-term funding through local authorities and the infection control fund. This support has stabilised the market and kept most providers from failure. They are very grateful but still fear for the future. However, the department does not have a strong grip on the variable levels of support that individual providers received, and there have been some reports of providers struggling to access some of that additional funding.
Commitments around extra funding and free PPE until the end of March 2022 are welcome, but the department does not have a map out. The Care Quality Commission warns that
“ongoing support is likely to be required … if care home admissions remain low or costs remain inflated.”
It recommends that the Department of Health and Social Care, working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, should assess and outline by the end of July—next month—how much support providers need in the short to medium term to deal with Covid-19 and lower occupancy in care homes. Can the Minister outline how this work is progressing?
For several years, I was the chairman of one of the large charities that provide residential care for people with one learning disability or more. We cared for more than 1,000 people across England. Local government pays their fees and essentially what they get is a roof over their heads, full bed and board and care. More often than not, their homes are in large semis in residential parts of town with access to public transport. Supported people are in receipt of benefits, and the older ones a pension. This helps them to save for an annual holiday. They use their buying power to go out in the evening with their carers for a pizza, to the bowling alley or to a film. A day at the seaside is a favourite. Many are helped to find local jobs. Some of the large coffee chains will pay and train people with a learning disability to work the espresso machine, make milkshakes and clear tables. Job placements are carefully chosen and it is rare that the arrangement fails due to lack of commitment. The skill set and temperament that is required to care for someone with a learning disability is very different from what we expect from the carers of older people.
Many of us have seen at first hand the work of care homes, carers in our locality or those caring for family or friends. Many of us have seen people with a learning disability out with their friends enjoying themselves. All that points to dedicated carers in that sector. I know that there will be much expertise and wisdom in this debate today; I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions and the Minister’s responses. I beg to move.
My Lords, the forensic, measured and moving opening speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, demonstrated that there are a number of pressing issues to be addressed within the wide topic of social care. The Government have committed themselves to resolving the issue of who pays for residential care in old age, and we are all eager to learn of their plans as hundreds of families face this challenge every month. I shall focus in my three minutes on two points: social care provided by the not-for-profit sector; and social care provided by family, friends and others who are unpaid—what is called informal care.
As chair of the National Housing Federation—I declare that interest—I have taken a keen interest in housing associations’ provision of not-for-profit care and housing, and seen the amazing work they do not just for the elderly but for those with disabilities, learning difficulties and physical and mental illness. I echo the call from Anchor Hanover, England largest not-for-profit provider, on the need to tackle the negative perceptions of social care in terms of low pay and lack of career progression. This is not new: before the pandemic, there was a shortfall of 1.1 million care workers in the next 15 years. With a current workforce estimate of 1.6 million, that is a massive challenge. What will the Government do to deal urgently with these negative perceptions and begin to address the shortage challenge?
On my second point, about informal carers, my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley has consistently and passionately advocated their cause in this House; I look forward to hearing her contribution shortly. In my experience, the majority of all social care is provided by family or friends caring for their loved ones. In most cases, they do not even label themselves as carers; they do it because they are husbands or wives, daughters or sons, sisters or brothers. It is what they do, and it is what we do. This vast army of carers increased dramatically during the pandemic. In most areas, services for carers, including young carers, vanished overnight, and there are real concerns that they will not be reinstated. There are an estimated 13.6 million of them, plus 800,000 young carers, yet they are often invisible when it comes to public policy and they have to fight every inch of the way for support, often at the cost of their own health or financial security.
Despite their warm words, the Government entirely missed the opportunity in their health and social care White Paper to recognise the contribution of informal carers. The Minister will be well aware of the mounting criticism of the Government’s response to the pressures on social care provision and on carers as a result of the pandemic. Can the Minister assure us that carers will be specifically included in any forthcoming legislation, and that carers themselves will be directly involved in its preparation? The Government now have an historic opportunity to make changes that will at last deliver parity of esteem between social care and the NHS.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on securing this timely debate. I declare my interests with Marie Curie, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and other charities; I also chair the National Mental Capacity Forum.
There are two main groups needing social care: those with long-term chronic conditions, both physical and mental disorders, often both; and those who are terminally ill and dying. The first group often slips into the second as disease progresses. I want to focus on those families providing unpaid informal care. More than three-quarters of those carers bereaved during Covid reported that they were not offered the care and support they needed, and Carers UK data suggests that one in three may be nearing breaking point. Pre pandemic, it was no better. The Motor Neurone Disease Association found that more than 75% of unpaid carers had not had a carer’s assessment and a third spend more than 100 hours a week caring. When caring for other conditions, the average hours are less, but more than 1 million people are providing 50 or more hours of care per week. Marie Curie estimated that there were 6.2 million carers in the UK in 2018 and 500,000 were looking after someone with a terminal illness, which is about 8% of all carers.
Most informal carers are not professionally trained, and of the 1 million people eligible for attendance allowance, it is estimated that about a third do not claim it. When someone is nearing dying, a prognosis of six months is impossible to provide with accuracy, so the DS1500 form for funding is sometimes filled in relatively late, leaving the financial burden on the family even greater. For many, the care of a person who is critically ill, whose recovery is unpredictable or who has been in intensive care is particularly difficult. These family carers need to be taught some basics of caring and they need to know who to call for immediate support 24/7. The current systems of even supporting them are not adequate.
Those millions of people providing care usually do it well and willingly, but they are exhausted and are becoming more exhausted as there seems to be less support available. What consideration is being given to creating eligibility for a total of up to one month’s paid leave from work for informal carers when someone is critically ill or dying? This could be leave taken flexibly as required for the individual circumstance. After all, we recognise maternity and paternity leave. Why do we not recognise carers’ leave?
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society, as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society and as an informal carer. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on securing this debate. I shall miss her contributions in this area, which we have shared over many years. I am going to leave to others today discussion of the urgent need to reform social care for the elderly and flag up how important it is that reform, when it comes, includes those of working age.
According to Rethink Mental Illness, from 18 to retirement age, those with mental illness, learning disabilities, autism, as well as physical disability and declining mental health, are among a third of adult social care users. Half of the spend of the adult social care budget is with this group, which gives a good idea of the numbers. Services are stretched and, since March 2019, they have been reduced due to Covid. Legislation that we already have on the statute book—the Care Act 2014, the Mental Health Act, the Mental Capacity Act, and the long-awaited strategy to go with the Autism Act 2009—is meant to provide statutory services for all those people. People have a right to expect them to be provided. This House has supported that legislation along with the codes of practice and some of them are not even implemented. I hope that when we see the new reform, there will be a review of everything on the statute book to make sure that it is being used in practice.
Perhaps I may say a word about informal carers. Informal carers of working-age adults struggle. It is estimated that they are over 7% of the population. Parents and carers battle to advocate for adult children when services are not provided. That leads to mental health breakdown of both carers and those cared for. We have yet to learn the lesson of making cuts to low-hanging fruit in this area. It is all too easy to cut out some of the low-budget issues such as advocacy, befriending, welfare rights and employment—to name but a few. They are easy things to remove, but there are big consequences when they are. We are being made to wait and wait for the long-promised social care reform, So, when it is presented, there should be no excuse if it is not comprehensive, fair and fit for purpose. I say to the Minister: bring it on.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on securing this timely debate. I should declare an interest as co-chair of a newly formed archbishops’ commission on reimagining social care. Understandably, much of the current discussion of social care involves the issue of funding. That is fundamentally important, but I believe the time has also come for a radical—in the sense of going to its roots—reappraisal of the values and principles underlying social care, not only for the elderly but for those with disabilities and severe mental illnesses. It has been clear for many years that we need an inspiring, cross-party, long-term vision for social care which involves rethinking how we want it to be understood as well as delivered, with those in need of care valued for who they are rather than simply regarded as an inconvenient burden. It has also been clear that that should include reference to some of the underlying societal conditions that contribute to the overall need, such as deprivation, lack of family support and loneliness.
Within this general framework, I want to focus on two specific areas that have already been raised and must demand our attention. One concerns the status, recruitment and retention of paid carers, especially in care homes. This issue has of course been highlighted by the particular burdens placed on care home staff during the pandemic. Quite often, those staff have had to work in more than one care home, with attendant implications for both their health and well-being and that of residents. It is essential that we raise the status of paid carers to ensure that caring, like service in the NHS, becomes a viable career choice rather than a last resort. Being a carer should be as much a source of pride and dignity as being a healthcare professional. This would involve the registration of carers, a suitable suite of qualifications, agreed national pay scales and realistic career progression structures.
The other specific area is the role of informal unpaid carers, including family members, who enable people, as we have just heard, to stay in their homes and who need better recognition. This applies in particular to the 750,000 or so young carers in England, many of whom, as we have recently been reminded in your Lordships’ House, regularly miss school and have little or no extra support. They, together with unpaid carers of all ages, need to be identified and properly supported if the UK’s standards of social care are to become world class.
My Lords, I shall speak about home carers which is something I know about as I have them myself. So, I declare that interest. I feel strongly that being a carer is not a low-skilled job. Even helping to dress a frail, elderly or disabled person safely is a skill which should be recognised. Disabled people might be under the care of well-paid hospital consultants, but the consultants could not do their job without the day-to-day work of competent but low-paid carers. Half-hour-only visits are common, with no travelling time paid. It is not uncommon for carers to be the first people to find that a client has fallen or even has died in the night. Carers, particularly in large cities, are often from overseas and have to get used to difficult clients who sometimes resort to mild racial abuse, particularly if those clients are slipping into dementia. Good carers are like gold dust. They should be much better rewarded.
We are in a vicious cycle. After decades of reviews and failed reforms, the level of unmet need rises, the pressure on unpaid carers grows, the supply of care providers diminishes and the strain on undervalued care workers ever increases. Yet, far from having an “oven ready” social care deal, the Government are seemingly paralysed and constantly postpone the hard decisions they need to make.
Paid carers make up a 1.5 million workforce, but there are millions more unpaid carers. As a society, we rely on unpaid carers and exploit them while giving them a lack of personal support, respite care or funding. Carers UK has carried out research on the impact of the pandemic on unpaid carers. It shows that 81% of carers provided more care during the pandemic, 64% have not been able to take any break because of a lack of respite care, and 74% feel exhausted and worn out. If we are to support these amazing people, we have to reform social care, starting with implementation of the Dilnot proposals by putting a cap on care costs, but that is not sufficient. As Dilnot himself has said, additionally we need a pay rise for social care staff and extra cash for the current system to increase the numbers eligible for care. It will cost: the Health Foundation says £11 billion a year, but I suspect that is an underestimate. Rather like the experience of the NHS at its formation, there is a huge level of unmet need that will emerge if the current tight eligibility criteria are relaxed, as they must be. It will cost, but if our experience of the last 15 months has taught us anything it is that it is imperative to sort this out.
Why then have the Government postponed a decision time after time? It appears that the latest setback is due to the Prime Minister’s financial illiteracy in refusing to allow any increase in income tax, VAT or national insurance to pay the additional cost. He may think it is smart politics. He may think it is best to waste money on vanity projects such as the ludicrous proposal for a new royal yacht—I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, much joy in focusing on that and other defence matters in the future—but the Prime Minister’s ultimate legacy will be to be remembered as a man who ducked the most pressing public policy issue of the day.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and echo the thanks for the wonderful work done by carers. Our care system is broken: every part of it is in need of radical change, from the arbitrary distinction between what counts as social care and what qualifies you for NHS healthcare, the healthcare lottery; to the way in which care is provided, the postcode lottery; to the standards applied to the workforce of 1.5 million people, such as social care nurses relative to NHS nurses, an employment lottery; to the lack of funding that has increasingly rationed care; to the draconian means test and funding shortfalls, which force the entire cost of care on to the most vulnerable, who pay not only significant sums for their own care but usually a 20% or 30% surcharge to subsidise council underfunding as well, whereas those who do not need care pay nothing; to the lack of support for unpaid carers; and to the financial fragility of care home operators, who can load their business with debt, extract equity, take rental income to their offshore companies, and have provided handsome profits to hedge funds, which buy and sell their distressed debt.
Each of these parts of the system needs reform, and there is no silver bullet. Extra funding is of course needed, but system redesign is also required. Leaving social care to cash-strapped councils leaves more than 1 million people who need care. The demographics are such that, within the next 10 years, the enormous bulge of baby boomers will start to enter care needs. At the moment, the current cohort is rather small. Social care seems to have been the forgotten front line at the start of the pandemic, and it was used by the NHS as an overflow service, perhaps being considered as part of the private sector rather than part of the health service. If someone has a health problem, however, and they need social care, why should that not qualify for free basic care at the point of need? It could be modelled on the lines of our pension system.
Carers have suffered significantly; unpaid carers have often been taken for granted. They have lost, according to Carers UK, an estimated 25 hours per month of extra support that they would have had before the pandemic from support services, family and friends. I am keen to see how we can better recognise their needs. Will the Minister agree to meet Peers from across the House and Carers UK to learn from the new measures that have brought together for the first time the various parts of our service to help vaccinate carers?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on securing the time to discuss this vital topic. I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly as a qualified nurse. Despite extensive knowledge and expertise as a country, we have moved forward at a snail’s pace in trying to address the real problems and opportunities that face us in the domains of respite and support for carers and readily available social care support, as other noble Lords have said.
Social care is funded and paid for differently in the four nations, yet we have a central funding system for the NHS. Unless more resources are allocated for social care, the NHS will continue to attract staff much more readily because of the employment terms there compared with the zero-hour contracts on which many care staff are employed. Today I looked for a job that I would apply for in social care, and noble Lords will be pleased to know that I found one on Housing Today, but it requires me to be the Swiss army knife of care: to work flexibly, and to use the salary-sacrifice system in order to have a pass to go around the city in which I would work. In return, they will give me a regular full day’s work—which are actually really good terms for many people. When will the Government take initiatives to drive the parity of esteem between the NHS and social care employment so that we can recruit, train and retain an excellent social care workforce with the skills and compassion needed for this intimate personalised work? The Government have a real opportunity to correct this by providing apprenticeships and meaningful, secure employment, while demonstrating to the current social care workforce how much we value its work through career development opportunities and fairer terms and conditions of employment.
Respite for carers is particularly important at this time, because most family-based carers have managed with little or no respite or external assistance during lockdown. Many are now exhausted and need respite to rest and recuperate in order to continue with their caring responsibilities. Some are young carers who have had particularly difficult challenges: for example, supporting a single parent with issues including mental illness, addiction and long-term physical disabilities.
It will surprise noble Lords to know that Bumble, the social dating platform, has given all its staff an extra week off for respite, due to the demands of the increased workload associated with the gradual reduction of lockdown and people seeking new partners. How will the Government instigate and monitor policy to guarantee a similar respite for all informal carers? Will they give young carers the right to have breaks? How will their support be prioritised, promoted and guaranteed?
My Lords, in the olden days when I was first in your Lordships’ House, it was very difficult to get anyone to be interested in a debate on social care, still less on the role of carers. I used to call the valiant Peers who turned up the usual suspects, and we tried to bring the problems of social care and the difficulties of carers to the attention of your Lordships. Today, however, so many of us want to speak that our time is very limited and there is an agreement on the social care situation on all sides of the House. I am sure that we shall hear that the Minister himself is in agreement that the situation is bad for everyone: it is bad for councils, because local authorities cannot meet their obligations; it is bad for the NHS, because hospital beds are filled with people who should and could be treated at home; it is bad for care homes, which even before all the problems brought about by Covid were finding it increasingly difficult to balance the books; and it is very bad for family carers.
We all now know that families and friends are holding the social care system together by providing support for the most vulnerable in society. Many were at breaking point before and the Covid crisis has further exacerbated that: many are now saying that they are sick with worry. We are asking even more of these carers than ever before, and they urgently need to be supported and recognised. A recent ADASS survey said that there was now greater awareness of carers among local authorities, which is very good news; but a majority of directors are pointing to increased carer breakdown and requests for more complex support, a result of carers having gone without support for so long.
In all the years I have been banging on about this issue in your Lordships’ House, I have always been amazed that the economic case for supporting carers has not been more acknowledged. I have regaled your Lordships often with the billions saved for the Exchequer by carers, whose care is given willingly and with love. During the pandemic, carers are estimated to have provided care worth £530 million per day. It dwarfs any funding the Government could contemplate. Many carers have given up paid jobs to care, and want to return to work, but the services are not yet there to help them. That, of course, results in a loss of tax returns to the Exchequer. We now estimate that there are 13 million unpaid carers of every age, and they are by far the most cost-effective way of providing care, so it must make sound economic sense to support them and prevent the breakdowns that are going to happen.
Let me tell you about Shelly, who I spoke to during Carers Week. She is caring for both her parents, one with dementia, and her 30 year-old son who has severe learning disabilities. Before Covid, she was just about managing—a bit of respite here, a daycare place there, provided by the voluntary sector. All those services have now gone and she is going to break down. When she does, four people will need state support. Surely the Treasury, naturally concerned about the cost of social care reform, will take note of this. If Covid and what followed brought anything to the party, it is that we will finally be forced to take bold decisions about the funding and provision of social care. That is what I want to hear from the Minister: that “bold” is the watchword when we finally see the reforms.
My Lords, it is a real honour to follow the noble Baroness, who does so much for carers. I declare an interest as the father of a profoundly autistic daughter. My experience with our daughter, whose residential care was disrupted during the pandemic, was a real eye-opener. It is an exhausting business looking after a disabled adult, tending to their well-being 24/7. I have nothing but admiration for the carers who dedicate themselves to this task and I join the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, in thanking them all.
Greater than the physical demand is a concern that our loved ones will be properly looked after when we are no longer around. A social care system for the 21st century needs to make us feel more secure on that score. Others are far worse off than my wife and me. I know a family with two profoundly disabled sons, aged 28 and 32, the elder in a wheelchair—sadly not electric because the parents are not disabled, so do not qualify. They have relied on carers provided by their local council to help with this full-on exhausting care, day after day. There is a chronic shortage of carers, who are on very low wages, in the care industry, so I join other noble Lords in asking the Minister how the Government plan to address this. Will the Government consider increasing the carer’s allowance to the minimum wage?
The closure of day centres, which provide much-needed respite from the constant, round-the-clock supervision, as well as swimming pools and places of worship, was a blow to this couple. Could special exemptions be considered in future lockdowns for disabled people and their families in well-supervised, safe environments? The imposition of strict procedures to limit the spread of the pandemic has weakened an already fragile and fragmented system, causing untold suffering. Covid exposed a plethora of gaps and shortfalls, in addition to contradictory and counterproductive measures, which unwittingly endangered people’s physical and mental well-being. In short, instead of social care, we had social carelessness.
The NHS will continue to suffer, as long as the social care structure is neglected, whether we are facing killer viruses or not. How do the Government propose, in practical terms, to better integrate adult social care services with services provided by the National Health Service?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Jolly on her excellent opening speech and declare an interest, as I have a close family member in a care home. As we have just heard, the pandemic has cruelly exposed the plight of those dependent on social care. The NHS provides free care for all, based on need, but there is no equivalent care service to which families can turn when they or their loved ones need help, causing untold heartache. Only countless money and time from individual families is stopping the system from complete collapse. Age UK has estimated that more than 1.5 million people are missing out on the care they need, and the cost of inaction is falling on the shoulders of 11.5 million unpaid carers, some aged 80 and above. This national scandal is no longer hidden from view due to Covid, but it is something the country increasingly understands and feels is grossly unfair.
Not just the elderly are affected. Younger disabled adults make up half the costs of the adult social care budget and generally do not own their own houses. The NHS provides insurance against the cost of health- care, primarily paid for through taxes, but there is currently no way for individuals to insure themselves for social care. Addressing this requires bold action and a strong political will. We need a comprehensive programme of reform for social care, both now and in the future, and I believe that programme needs three key pillars.
The first is to shore up a fragile and highly fragmented sector reeling from the impact of Covid, increased costs and low occupation rates, with some care homes becoming increasingly unviable financially. Immediate funding is needed to improve the quality of care and introduce minimum standards.
The second is individual funding. A cap on individual social care costs, as proposed by the Dilnot commission 10 years ago, alongside a more generous means test for access to publicly funded social care, would at least fix one of the system’s big problems: the lack of protection for people and their families against potentially catastrophic care costs. The architecture for doing this already exists; Dilnot’s proposals were put into legislation in 2014, with cross-party support.
Thirdly, we urgently need a new deal for the care workforce, with action on pay, training and development, career progression, professionalism and recognition. Care staff, who have given so much during the pandemic, deserve to be paid well above minimum wage.