House of Lords
Tuesday 29 June 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
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 when 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 to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the report produced by NERA Economic Consulting for the Peers for Gambling Reform group Economic Assessment of Selected House of Lords Gambling Reforms, published on 26 May, what assessment they have made of the positive economic effects of implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry (HL Paper 79, Session 2019–21).
My Lords, we are carefully considering the report by NERA Economic Consulting, along with the large amount of evidence we have received in connection with our review. There are clearly difficulties in making precise predictions, but we welcome this analysis. We aim to publish a White Paper by the end of the year, setting out our conclusions and the next steps for the gambling review.
[Inaudible]—the IPPR estimates for the cost of problem gambling are between £270 million and £1.17 billion per annum, but there is evidence to suggest these are underestimates. Extrapolating problem gambling costs from studies in other jurisdictions suggests it could be as much as £6.5 billion—far beyond the £3 billion in annual tax contributions provided by the gambling industry. Will the Government commit to researching the costs of problem gambling, so we can determine whether the contributions from the gambling industry are offset by the damage caused by it?
I apologise; we slightly missed the beginning of the right reverend Prelate’s comments, in the Chamber. If I have missed anything, I will write to him, but I think I got the essence of his question. We are of course looking at the economic costs. I do not recognise the £6.5 billion figure that the right reverend Prelate cites, but he is aware that one of the complexities of looking at this is the comorbidity between gambling and other forms of harm, which we need to take into consideration.
My Lords, I declare my interests, as set out in the register. Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that, when her department develops these crucial reforms to the gambling industry, she will ensure that this review is not just evidence-based but grounded on a wide range of opinion that takes into account both the NERA report and the most recent research from a variety of organisations and groups, including the industry itself?
I reassure my noble friend that we are considering a very wide range of evidence. Our call for evidence received over 16,000 submissions from a wide range of organisations—from charities, academics and the gambling industry, but also broadcasters, local government and sports organisations. We are considering it all carefully.
My Lords, in their response to the Select Committee report, the Government said,
“The Committee is also right to say that further progress to make gambling safer does not need to wait for the outcome of the Act Review.”
Can the noble Baroness update the House on what action has been taken so far?
I would be breaching the Lord Speaker’s guidance if I were to give the noble Lord the full list, but his point is important. We have not waited for the end of the review to take action where it is needed. To give a couple of examples, in the past 18 months, we have banned gambling on credit cards and introduced new rules to limit the intensity of online slot games.
My Lords, the public health policies applied to tobacco and alcohol addiction are not being applied to gambling. The Government can easily modify Section 328 of the Gambling Act 2005 to control gambling advertising. Can the Minister please explain why the gambling industry and addiction are treated differently?
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Peers for Gambling Reform. The NERA report shows that measures to reduce gambling harm, such as banning gambling sponsorship of football, would also help the UK economy. Such sponsorship links football and gambling in the minds of children. Just one edition of the BBC’s Match of the Day magazine, advertised as for “footy-mad youngsters”, had 52 gambling logos. Does the Minister think this is acceptable?
The noble Lord is right to raise these issues. As he knows, we are looking at this as part of the review of the Act. We have seen the conclusions from the NERA report on sports sponsorship, but we need to test them with sports bodies themselves.
Reform is needed sooner rather than later, if we are to get to grips with gambling-related harms. Can the Minister tell us when the Government expect to publish the review findings and associated legislation, and also whether loot boxes, which are currently unregulated, will be drawn into a system of regulation?
On the noble Lord’s second point, he will be aware that our call for evidence on loot boxes closed on 22 November. We had over 30,000 responses; we are reviewing that evidence and will set out our response in the coming months. I cannot give the noble Lord an idea of timing for legislation, but we will be publishing our response to the Gambling Act consultation later this year, and we also intend to publish a White Paper.
I refer to my interest on the register, as the chair of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme board. My noble friend will be aware that there are positive economic benefits from betting shops in market towns and on high streets. Are the Government looking particularly at how to balance the contribution that these shops make, in employing local people and to the local economy, while safeguarding the health and welfare of those who gamble?
My Lords, the problems of juvenile gambling are changing. Seaside arcades are being overtaken by online gambling, and there is a threat it can soon become an addiction that destroys lives. The Government have a duty to protect young people from destroying their future, particularly during lockdown. Does the Minister agree with me that targeted advertising to vulnerable people is one of the main drivers? Will the Government make this one of the priorities for reform?
The noble Lord is right, and we have made it a priority. He will be pleased to know that the biggest category of responses to the consultation was in relation to protecting children. He will be aware that we recently held consultations on the appeal of gambling adverts to children and vulnerable people in particular.
When my noble friend Lord Foster and I were elected to another place on the same night in 1992, I suspect neither of us imagined we would come across so many lives devastated by gambling. I switched on the TV today at 9.30 am, not to a programme but to a betting advert. Can we have a watershed, so those adverts are not shown on TV before, say, 9 pm?
The aim of the current regulation around gambling advertising focuses particularly on making sure that adverts are not attractive to children and vulnerable people, but, as I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, that is being consulted on at the moment.
Gambling can destroy families. Our aim with the Gambling Act review is to make sure that the majority of gamblers, whose lives are not destroyed as a result, can continue to gamble safely, but we protect vulnerable people from the harm the noble Lord talks about.
Mortgages: EWS1 Form
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take to help leaseholders who are unable to sell their flats due to mortgage providers insisting on an EWS1 form despite the guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
We will continue to challenge industry on inappropriate use of EWS1 forms. We have asked lenders to publish data, so that home owners can see how the guidance is being applied, as well as the impact of the process on mortgage applications. Data from one major lender suggests that an EWS1 form already exists for 50% of mortgage applications where one is requested. We are working with industry to ensure this picture improves.
My Lords, the problem is that mortgage providers are insisting on a form that is not necessary, against the guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. People cannot sell their homes because of the actions of overzealous financial institutions, and buyers cannot get mortgages. Can the Minister say more? Has he spoken to UK Finance to sort this issue out? Sadly, for me, this is another example of woeful failure by the Government—all promise and no delivery. Again and again, home buyers have been let down. Issues of fire safety, building safety, poor construction and financial failure are not going away. The Minister will be brought back here, again and again, until the Government finally take some action.
My Lords, we have had repeated engagement with both UK Finance and also the Building Societies Association on this matter. We are seeing a picture that is troublesome but is continuing to improve, bit by bit. We have taken a number of measures to ensure that we encourage lenders to take a more proportionate approach.
Has my noble friend read Inside Housing for April? It reports that buildings are being issued with a succession of different EWS ratings after a sale has taken place. How can inspectors sign off forms, expressed to be valid for five years, but change them later to the disadvantage of the purchaser?
My noble friend raises an important issue about the inconsistency of the application of EWS1 forms by professionals. I point out that we are working with the British Standards Institution to produce a publicly available specification, known as PAS 9980, which is a code of practice designed to ensure greater consistency in these assessments.
What discussions have the Minister or his officials had with the Financial Conduct Authority regarding lenders’ obligations to treat customers fairly in relation to cladding? In particular, what steps have the Government taken to ensure that leaseholders confronted with an adverse EWS1 rating, emerging during the time of a fixed-rate mortgage, are able to roll over to a new fixed rate, rather than being forced into a standard variable rate at the end of their fixed term?
My Lords, I point out that the EWS1 form is not a safety certificate and nor is it a statutory or government document; it has been developed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors along with others. But we continue to have dialogue with the banks and building societies to ensure that they act in a proportionate and sensible way, and we continue to raise issues from time to time, as needed, with the Financial Conduct Authority.
I declare an interest as a former councillor in Southwark. The Minister is using lots of words such as “challenging this”, “working with so and so” and “taking a number of measures”, but have the Government actually made a simple statement, saying to the mortgage or finance companies that this is not necessary before giving money to people who want to move house?
My Lords, we have been working very hard to ensure that there is clear guidance about when such a form is necessary. In certain instances, there is deemed to be sufficient life-safety risk that an EWS1 form is required. The issue at hand is to ensure that lenders take a proportionate approach, and that is best achieved through dialogue.
My Lords, this whole issue is an appalling scandal affecting several million innocent victims, for which developers, building owners and government are responsible, not them. More than 600,000 people in England are currently living in high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding, and there are more than 2 million mortgage prisoners, unable to move because of cladding issues. Why are the Government continuing to inflict massive distress and anxiety through the financially crippling costs of remediation works, which these leaseholders should not have to pay? Why are the Government refusing to offer up-front funding for those leaseholders, off-setting it by future recovery from those who are actually at fault?
My Lords, I think we are straying a little away from the original Question, which was about external wall systems and the need for a certificate to ensure that lenders have the information they need to lend. As I said in answer to the previous question, for 50% of those who make mortgage applications, an EWS1 form is in place, and we continue to take a number of measures and steps to make the provision of an EWS1 form easier.
My Lords, EWS1 requirements have become an overreaction to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, particularly their application to multi-occupancy blocks and buildings below 18 metres. Fear of being sued has limited the availability of required professional assessors, the amount of insurance the insurance industry is willing to provide to the professionals involved, and financial organisations’ willingness to lend. It has ultimately killed the market in leases. Will the Government consider effectively reducing and rationalising the requirements of EWS1 and providing insurance cover for the professionals involved?
My noble friend will be pleased to know that we have announced our intention to provide a scheme that enables professionals who carry out EWS1 to have sufficient professional indemnity insurance cover. We are also engaging with the Building Societies Association, UK Finance and the major banks so that they look at other forms: for instance, an updated fire risk assessment or, for buildings constructed after 2018—post Grenfell—sign-off from a building control inspector. There are lenders that have led the way on this by taking a more proportionate approach in not always requiring an EWS1 certificate.
My Lords, the Minister keeps saying that updated guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors means that leaseholders will no longer need a form to sell their homes, but they do. He says that the EWS1 is not a government formal legal requirement, but mortgage lenders continue to insist on the form. In the end, the only reason all this has happened is because of government policies. When will the Government take responsibility for the leaseholders trapped in homes they cannot sell or remortgage? Has the Minister noticed that the media are now running with this story? Because of grassroots cladding and leaseholders’ groups, there is huge public interest: beyond Inside Housing, we have had Radio 4 and Channel 4, and all sorts of newspapers. We even had Rebecca Long Bailey on GB News—
My Lords, we recognise that there is a problem and we are taking the steps required to ensure that where an EWS1 form is requested, it is easier to get the professional to carry it out, but also encouraging the banks to look at other documentation as an alternative—a proxy—to show that the buildings are safe. It is important that we go ahead and identify those buildings whose external wall systems require remediation.
In November last year, the Government issued a statement recognising that the number of fire engineers qualified to provide these certificates, at 300 people, was woefully inadequate. They said that they would provide finance to fund 2,000 further qualified people within six months and ensure adequate sources of professional indemnity insurance. How many additional people have been funded by the Government to provide the certificate required, and precisely what further insurance has now been, or will be, made available in the market or elsewhere for these other people?
My Lords, that is quite right: we have committed to a £700,000 funding scheme to train up to 2,000 surveyors. That has already begun, and I will write to the noble Lord with the precise number that have been trained up to this point. We have also announced a bespoke insurance model to ensure that professionals have access to professional indemnity insurance cover. Details will be published in due course.
At the heart of this is a very simple question, which I do not believe the Minster has actually answered: what action do the Government intend to take in the event that mortgage lenders continue to insist on this form being obtained for buildings that do not actually need one, according to the RICS criteria, with sellers finding themselves in a classic Catch-22 situation?
My Lords, we recognise that there may still be an outstanding problem. Where the building is outside the scope of the RICS guidelines and lenders are still insisting on the form, we ask that sellers take that up with RICS in the first instance. But I point out that 80% of lenders have adopted the RICS guidance formally, so people who are purchasing properties have a choice in the market to go to lenders that will follow that guidance.
Hospital Waiting Lists
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the time needed for waiting lists for hospital treatment to reduce to the levels they stood at on 1 March 2020; and what plans they have regularly to publish data on waiting times for each (1) medical speciality, and (2) geographical region.
My Lords, the horrible dividend of this awful pandemic has been the impact on the wider healthcare service. That is, I am afraid, what epidemics do, but we recognised the threat from the beginning and have worked hard to keep open essential NHS services. We have financed the biggest surge in healthcare spending in NHS history, including £1 billion this year to tackle head on the waiting lists and diagnostic backlog so that we can get back as soon as possible.
My Lords, that was an interesting statement but it did not answer any of the Question, which is: what is the Government’s estimate of the time needed to get waiting lists back to the state of a year ago and, secondly, what plans do they have to regularly publish data on waiting times for each medical speciality and geographical region? That is the question; would the Minister like to answer?
My Lords, waiting lists are published throughout the NHS and I would be very happy to write to my noble friend with details of the web locations for that data. We are working on the forecasts at the moment. It is not possible to forecast precisely when we can back to where we were, but I reassure my noble friend that a huge amount of work is going on to get there as quickly as possible, including 1.8 million diagnostic tests and treatment for 1.1 million patients since April 2021.
Even if we get back to where we were in March last year, it will be a status quo in which all the key targets have been missed. When will the Government get back to meeting the targets that they inherited in 2010 with the Liberal Democrats? They have presided over a gradual but disastrous deterioration in overall performance.
My Lords, there has been an enormous pandemic, which has, of course, had a huge impact on the healthcare system. During the pandemic, the financial support for the NHS—as well as the system support—has been huge and had a huge impact. We are looking at a backlog and working hard to get through it, but noble Lords should be in no doubt that we are thoroughly committed to getting back to full operational capacity.
My Lords, around 10 million people across the UK are affected by arthritis, and the widespread impact of rheumatology conditions costs the NHS over £10 billion a year. The recent British Society of Rheumatology report, Rheumatology Workforce: A Crisis in Numbers, lays bare the shortage of all multidisciplinary staff, including the consultants, nurse specialists and physiotherapists who are needed to deliver the NICE treatment guidelines. This shortage of staff and funding is already impacting severely on rheumatology waiting lists. Can the Minister say how this funding and workforce gap can be addressed with immediate effect? If he does not have the figures and answer to hand, please can he write to me?
The noble Baroness points very well to exactly the kind of challenge that we face at the moment. She is entirely right that conditions such as arthritis and rheumatology require complex combinations and collaboration between many different staff, as well as the application of new and effective treatments and therapies. That is exactly where we are working hard to catch up. I will go back to the apartment, dig out any statistics I can and write to her accordingly.
My Lords, waiting lists were too long pre the pandemic and there are now some 6 million people awaiting treatment of one kind or another, many of them in a lot of pain and discomfort. The National Health Service has learned a lot during the pandemic. Will the Minister publish how he intends to speed up the treatment that these people need? Can he also advise whether he routinely uses his private email with his contacts?
My Lords, the publication of NHS plans around the catch-up is happening on a regular basis, and there will indeed be further communication from the NHS on this. On the use of private email, I reassure noble Lords that I have read and signed the ministerial code and I seek to uphold it in everything I do.
Specialist surgical hubs have been demonstrated as an effective way of dealing with surgery and would be particularly helpful in dealing with the backlog of cases. Can the Minister say what plans there are for developing specialist surgical hubs, as the Royal College of Surgeons has advocated?
Surgical hubs are exactly the kind of interesting and progressive medical developments that we need to embrace to get through the backlog; in fact, that kind of specialism creates a huge amount of efficiency for the system and a better service for patients. We are working hard to understand how we can use them more effectively, and I would be glad to write to my noble friend with any details we have on the progress that we are making.
My Lords, the Royal College of Radiologists tells us that 62,000 patients were waiting six weeks or more for a CT or MRI scan, and there may be as many as 45,000 missed cancer diagnoses. There are terrible shortages of skilled staff, fewer scanners than the majority of comparable countries in the OECD—we have half the number in France and a third of the number in Germany—and about a third of our scanners are obsolete or nearing obsoletion. Given the huge waiting list catch-up that the NHS faces, these diagnostic facilities are absolutely vital. Will the Government provide the necessary investment to address this urgent challenge—and in what timescale?
I agree with the noble Baroness that diagnostics is one area where this country needs to make further investment. In the 2020 spending review, we ring-fenced £325 million of capital spending to support NHS diagnostics; the funding will be spent on new equipment, digitising NHS imaging and the pathology networks. New capacity is also coming through the new community diagnostic hubs and pathology and imaging networks. This work is critical, and we are working hard to make sure that it is effective.
My Lords, data from four major studies shows that disadvantaged groups have faced the greatest disruption to medical care during the pandemic. How are the Government ensuring that these health inequalities are dealt with in reducing the NHS backlog, and what targets have been set to deal with this issue?
I completely agree with the noble Lord that the pandemic has illustrated the severe health inequalities that exist across the country as well as the need to address them. The resilience of our health system depends on addressing those who can create the biggest demands on it. There is both a preventive agenda and an agenda for getting through to the communities, to communicate effectively that they can find the treatment they need in their local authority. The Help Us Help You advertising campaign is particularly targeted at the disadvantaged to encourage them to come forward for diagnosis and treatment.
My Lords, the original Question requested a breakdown of geographical regions for waiting lists. Workforce shortages will be a continuing problem, and not just for catching up on the waiting lists. Will the Minister recognise the link between training facilities in regions where there are shortages and the ability to fill those vacancies? He will be much more successful in catching up with waiting lists if he pays greater attention to training places, regions and availability.
I completely take on board the noble Baroness’s advice. When it comes to recruitment, it is right that local engagement with local education has to be the way forward. I can report that the recruitment efforts and marketing campaign that we have put in place to recruit 50,000 new nurses, more GPs and more staff across the healthcare system are working extremely well. There is a renewed interest in careers in health—that is one good dividend of this awful pandemic.
My Lords, the Government’s £1 billion elective recovery fund is most welcome. Will the Minister support this sum being made available every year until we see light at the end of the tunnel? Can he encourage health authorities to redouble their efforts to get the 40 million people in the UK who are overweight to return to a normal weight and thereby begin to release resources to treat more urgent cases, such as cancer patients?
On the elective recovery fund, I cannot make that commitment at the Dispatch Box but I reassure my noble friend that we are in it for the long haul and we recognise that this will be a major project needing major resources. When it comes to the health of the nation, the obesity strategy is a cross-departmental and energetic programme that tackles the issues that my noble friend is concerned about. He is entirely right that the costs of our healthcare system are predetermined by the overall health of the nation, and that is why we encourage people to eat well and lead healthy lives.
Over the past three decades, we have driven down emissions by 44%, the fastest reduction of any G7 country, and set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future. Our forthcoming strategies on heat and buildings, hydrogen, transport and comprehensive net zero will address many of the changes in policy that the Climate Change Committee is calling for, and we will respond formally to the CCC report by 15 October.
My Lords, the Climate Change Committee report rightly praised the climate progress in the past that the Minister has referred to—but the past is the past and the committee was scathing about the Government’s plans to meet future targets. So how will the Government practically now save our nation’s previously good and hard-won reputation and retain our credibility as president of COP 26? A destination is useless without a route to get there.
The noble Lord is of course quite right, and we do have a route to get there. We will be publishing a number of sector strategies, as I mentioned in my opening Answer, including the transport decarbonisation plan and the heat and buildings strategy, which will illustrate to the noble Lord exactly how we will get to the destination that he refers to.
My Lords, it has been reported that over £400,000 was donated to the Conservative Party by firms that subsequently obtained licences to explore North Sea oil and gas. How does the continued extraction of fossil fuel square with the Government’s policy of carbon-neutral energy when hydrogen gas and biogas are capable of coming onstream?
I declare my interests as recorded in the register. The Climate Change Committee has been saying for the past decade that there is a gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality in actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This year the chief executive, Chris Stark, said that
“progress is illusory. Government strategy has been late and what has come has almost all been too little.”
In this context, what action will the Government take, and when, on aviation and dietary change, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee?
As I said in my earlier answer, the noble Lord will have to be a little bit patient and wait for the sector strategies that are coming out, which will help to address his point—but I do not accept that we have not done anything. We have taken action on transport with a £5 billion package and we have spent £3 billion on buildings and £1 billion on carbon capture, et cetera, et cetera. So we have done a lot, but I totally accept that we have much to do.
Can the Minister assure the House that at the very least no decision to approve the Cambo heavy crude field, or any other oil and gas field in UK jurisdiction, will be taken without subjecting it to the test of whether it is compatible with the UK’s legally binding net-zero commitment?
As I said in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the report itself recognises that there is ongoing demand for oil and gas, including in all scenarios for how we meet net zero. We have worked closely with the sector and across government to agree a North Sea transition deal, delivering the skills, innovation and infrastructure required to decarbonise North Sea oil and gas production.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. The Climate Change Committee report, as the Minister will know, was explicit about the need for all government policies to be subject to a net-zero test, yet we have before the House at the moment a skills Bill—and skills will be crucial to the green jobs of the future—that makes no mention whatever of our net-zero targets. So will the Minister undertake to have discussions with his colleagues at the Department for Education about supporting the amendments to the Bill that I am tabling to remedy this serious omission?
I cannot promise the noble Baroness that we will support her amendments; I will need to look at them first. But we are doing a lot on skills. For example, the green homes grant included tens of millions of pounds that we spent on grants to encourage providers to provide the training that will be required to undertake many of the green improvements that we all want to see.
The Climate Change Committee has called out the Government for the scale of the yawning gap that exists between government rhetoric and the Government’s lack of decarbonisation realities. Can the Minister confirm that the missing net-zero strategy will set detailed timelines for how each element of each missing policy will start to deliver decarbonisation with the required urgency, and then ensure that adaptation to climate change is properly integrated into that plan?
My Lords, surveys suggest that public engagement should focus on deepening public attitudes towards climate change, not just by increasing knowledge of the science of climate change but by connecting the public to their values, a sense of identity and a cultural worldview. What plans do the Government have to deepen this meaningful public engagement?
The noble Baroness makes a good point. Achieving our net-zero target will be a shared endeavour, requiring action from everyone across society. We will set out our approach to public engagement in the net-zero strategy. For many years the Government have been funding and running public workshops and deliberative dialogues, and the noble Baroness will be aware that, ahead of COP 26, we launched the Together for Our Planet campaign to further raise awareness.
I cannot give the noble Lord precise dates, but we are committed to publishing the strategy and plans that I mentioned earlier, which will be out later this year. We are currently finalising them within government. So I ask the noble Lord to be a little bit patient and wait for those documents.
My Lords, following the publication of the committee’s report, the Independent quoted a government spokesperson saying that
“any suggestion we have been slow to deliver climate action is widely off the mark.”
Does that dismissive approach to a report from an independent and highly respected committee, chaired of course by a former Tory Minister, reflect the way in which the Government are going to approach the formal response that the Minister told us would arrive by 15 October?
I understand why the noble Baroness wants us to go further and faster, but I remind her that we have already driven down emissions by 44%, which is the fastest reduction of any G7 country, and that we have set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future. So, while I am sure she is going to push us to go further, I think we have made good progress so far.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this issue clearly has added importance as we are hosting COP 26. How we set our targets and the metrics that we use are vital. Do we take into account the impact of technical innovation?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. Over the past three decades, as I have said, we have reduced our emissions by 44%. We will continue with policy engagement. We regularly review the frame- works that incentivise the further deployment of new technology. I can give the noble Lord an excellent example in the form of the UK electricity market framework.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. How is it logical or consistent with the Government’s carbon-footprint ambitions to transport meat all the way from Australia to the UK, especially given that our farmers provide a high-quality product?
The noble Lord of course makes an important point about worldwide emissions and our overall carbon footprint. We have been at the forefront of measuring the emissions associated with our global carbon footprint every year. Defra publishes statistics to account for emissions generated overseas in the production of goods and services consumed here in the UK. The latest statistics show that our overall carbon footprint decreased by around 26% between 1997 and 2018, while our territorial emissions fell by 38% over the same period.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.
Security of Ministers’ Offices and Communications
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 28 June.
“I am grateful to my honourable friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for his Question and for the chance to address concerns felt across the House about the security of ministerial offices and communications. These are concerns that the Government also take very seriously.
As has been the practice of successive Administrations, the Government do not generally comment on internal security matters. On the specific incident relating to the leak of footage from a security camera to the media, given the public interest in the case I can confirm that the Department of Health and Social Care has launched an investigation that is supported, as appropriate, by the government security group based in the Cabinet Office. Until the investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate to give further details. I apologise to honourable Members, who will understandably be seeking a lot of details on this matter. It is the case, however, that robust safeguards are in place around the security of Ministers, parliamentarians and Members of devolved legislatures.
My honourable friend may also want to ask about ministerial communications, which I am happy to go into. Government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communications applications should be used for communicating classified information. Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting government business, but each Minister is responsible for ensuring that government information is handled in a secure way. How that is done will depend on the type of information and on the specific circumstances.”
The former Secretary of State used his private email account for work, which jeopardises security, accountability and transparency. Did the Permanent Secretary know and what action was taken? How many other Members, including in this House, use private emails? Will all these emails now be copied in to the department’s secure archive and retrieval system? Finally, how many people had access to the CCTV and were they security cleared?
My Lords, on private emails, government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communication applications should be used for communicating classified information. Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting government business. Each Minister is responsible for ensuring that government information is handled in a secure way. The specific quantitative points the noble Baroness raised I cannot respond to at this point. But, in answer to another of the noble Baroness’s questions, the official information held in private email accounts is subject to FoI.
My Lords, the government guidance seems to be not entirely clear. When Ministers are using private emails for official business, does this mean that their officials, including their own private offices and Permanent Secretaries, have access to these or are they outside the regard of civil servants? Can we be sure that CCTV is securely held? Are private contractors engaged in this? Is the technology—hardware and software—also secure or is some of it procured from, for example, China?
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness opposite for not answering the question on CCTV, which was a lapsus memoriae—we are not supposed to use Latin, but it was. As I understand it, the Department of Health is looking into the specifics here. It constitutes a leak and is a serious matter with security implications. I can tell the House that our understanding is that this is certainly not a covert camera, nor is there a general policy of such cameras across Whitehall. As far as the question of emails is concerned, Ministers will have informal conversations from time to time in person or remotely, but significant contact relating to government business from such discussions should be, and is, passed back to officials. That would be in line with the relevant guidance on information handling and security. The Cabinet Office has previously published guidance on how information is held for the purposes of access to information. We obviously review this from time to time. I would expect all Ministers to seek to conform to the guidance.
My Lords, I cannot comment on the circumstances. The Department of Health inquiry, I would imagine, would look into all these matters, including who was and should be responsible for making the Secretary of State aware, if he was not aware, of this device.
My Lords, the use by Ministers of private means of communication is dangerous on all sorts of grounds, and Ministers need good advice about that. Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is there a review of ministerial private use of the internet, so that departments can identify which parts of such correspondence are subject to FOI so that they can deal with FOI requests?
My Lords, there is guidance. Obviously, guidance, as the noble Lord with his great experience will know, is reviewed from time to time. That is also the case in relation to FOI, on which I have already commented. The Cabinet Office responded to 92% of FOI requests within 20 working days. As to the boundaries, Ministers are also parliamentarians—MPs and Peers. There are distinctions between official classified information and the day-to-day management of a Minister’s life. One needs to be aware in office of those barriers and those responsibilities. I take note of what the noble Lord has said.
My Lords, with 5G and the internet of things, CCTV cameras become much more than just a camera. They can store data, record conversations, compromise passports, identify phone numbers et cetera. Thousands of pieces of Chinese Hikvision equipment are already installed across the country and connected to our networks. They will all be enabled by 5G. They sit in many offices and corridors, and everything that they see, whether it is on a desk or people going by, can be recorded and monitored. I ask the Minister whether any of these Hikvision cameras has been fitted anywhere on the Parliamentary Estate, as was originally the plan. Or were plans altered after my warning of the dangers, on the Floor of this House, on 18 October 2018?
My Lords, as a Minister, I cannot comment on matters on the Parliamentary Estate, but I understand that the Lord Speaker has recently written to colleagues. This is a security breach—I repeat what I said earlier. DHSC is running an investigation, which will be done with support from the government security group and will take into account all the considerations that the noble Lord has mentioned.
My Lords, having been both a private secretary and a Minister in my time, I had always thought that the private offices were there to protect and assist Ministers. Does my noble friend find it odd that this does not seem to have applied in the office of the Secretary of State for Health?
My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says. I have referred to the different bounds and responsibilities that take place within the normal life of a Minister. I am not going to comment on what may or may not have gone on within the Department of Health, not because it is not my responsibility to answer on behalf of the Government but because those matters are currently being investigated.
My Lords, if the person with the former Secretary of State had been a would-be terrorist, some would have a very different attitude to the CCTV in the department. There will always have to be a balance between privacy and security, but the ministerial statement says that there are “robust safeguards” in place around the security of Ministers. You could have fooled me. Will the investigation try to find whether those in charge of the CCTV sought to tell the Minister that he was risking being blackmailed? On the use of private emails between Matt Hancock and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, will there be a full- scale investigation into their use to ensure that they are available for a future public inquiry on the pandemic—particularly if they involve government contracts? Will the Information Commissioner be invited to investigate?
My Lords, in the first part of her question, the noble Baroness followed on slightly from earlier questions. There are issues of clarity, and Ministers should understand what is being done. My view is that the Government Security Group is obviously responsible for existing departments in securing Ministers’ security across Whitehall, and that work continues. As for the use of private machines for emails, I have referred to that, and they are subject to FoI.
My Lords, I make no comment on Matthew Hancock, but what happened to him raises questions. Is the recent filming of the Secretary of State for Health in his office part of a systematic intrusion into ministerial offices? Is it appropriate to have cameras in the offices of a Secretary of State or, indeed, any other Minister? It is quite possible that highly classified documents might be photographed. What happens to the recordings? Are they erased? If they are, what method of security is there to ensure that they are erased? The recent sale to the Sun is evidence that not all is as it should be for the security of these recordings. Are there bugging devices as well as cameras located in ministerial offices? Could that explain why there are so many leaks from all sorts of government departments—senior, junior or wherever? Might that indicate that there are a lot of recording devices all over the place? The mind boggles about where all this could end up.
My Lords, my noble friend reflects a concern that has been expressed across the House about the potential security implications of such devices being in ministerial offices, the capture and use of such material and how wide it might be. That has been commented on by a number of noble Lords. I am sure that those responsible for the investigation, which is being supported by the Government Security Group, will take those points into account.
Social Care Reform
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 23 June.
“I thank the honourable lady for her question, and for giving me the opportunity to talk about social care reform. I start by paying tribute to carers, paid and unpaid, for all they do in looking after people in their homes and in care homes every single day with kindness and compassion. To any who may happen to be watching or listening today, I say ‘Thank you for what you do.’
Over the past year in government, we have rightly focused on supporting social care through the pandemic. This has included an extra £1.8 billion of funding, sending more than 2 billion items of free personal protective equipment to care providers, distributing more than 120 million Covid tests to social care and vaccinating hundreds of thousands of care home residents and most of the care workforce.
While the pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to social care, it has also strengthened the argument for reform, and we now have the opportunity to build back better in social care. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a care system for the future, and I am hugely ambitious. I want a care system in which we can be confident, for our grans and grandads, mums and dads, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren and, indeed, ourselves. I want people to be able to get the care that they need when they need it, and to have choices—to live life to the full in the way they want, living independently and part of a community for as long as possible, without facing an astronomical bill.
I want to join up health and care around people, so that it works as one system dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals, and giving them the personal care they want and need to live their lives to the full. I want the care workforce to be properly recognised and valued for what they do—for their skills, their compassion and their commitment. I want them to have more training, more opportunities and more prospects for career progression. I am committed to supporting unpaid carers not only in the care they provide but with their own health and well-being, so that they can live their own lives as well as caring for others.
We are already taking steps on the road to reform. The health and care Bill will introduce Care Quality Commission oversight of local authorities’ provision of social care. It will also help to join up health and social care by putting integrated care systems on a statutory footing. We are working on our long-term plan for social care, and we will bring forward our proposals for social care reform later this year.”
My Lords, in last week’s very powerful debate on social care, noble Lords from across the House made it clear that we cannot build a better future for our country after Covid-19 without transforming social care, but instead of a firm date for the Prime Minister’s clear plan, we had the usual reassurances from the Minister that it was still absolutely under way, we would see some social care foundations in integrated care systems under the NHS and care Bill but that it would still be the “end of the year” before the Prime Minister reveals his clear plan to all.
Over these nearly two wasted years we have had delays and broken promises. Almost 42,000 care home residents have died from Covid-19, 2 million people have applied for support but had their request refused, tens of thousands have had to sell their home to pay for care, millions of families have hit breaking point and staff have been appallingly let down. Even after all the horrors of this pandemic, nine out of 10 councils say that they face care budget cuts this year.
While the Government dither and cancel key meetings and the Prime Minister blocks various funding options, the social care funding crisis deepens. Now we see in the Daily Telegraph that the new Secretary of State considers that we are completely at the wrong stage of Parliament to launch a new social care strategy. What is going on?
My Lords, the commitment to publishing a review of social care is absolutely heartfelt. We have delivered on Brexit and the vaccines, and we will deliver on social care. The Prime Minister has made it crystal clear that that will be done by the end of the year; that commitment remains in place. It will require enormous financial commitment by the whole nation at a time when our finances as a nation are extremely stretched. Therefore, it is entirely right that very careful consideration is given to it. It will also involve a very large amount of engagement with other parties and the relevant stakeholders. Again, this is not something that has been rushed. We have just been through the most awful pandemic; it is not possible to do a review of this generational nature at the same time as fighting this awful disease, but we will be true to our commitments and deliver the plan as promised.
My Lords, in last Thursday’s debate on social care and carers, the Minister said
“a plan for reform absolutely is under way. We have before us the building of foundations, which will be laid in the social care measures in the health and care Bill, which will support us in working together”.—[Official Report, 24/6/2021; col. 447.]
Arising from that, is it planned to publish a White Paper or any other consultation document or, as the Minister’s speech implied, will the reforms be published as part of the health and social care Bill without any wider consultation? Given his answer just now to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, will parliamentarians be ask to make decisions on the health and social care Bill without seeing the details of the future social care reforms?
My Lords, new legislation will increase integration between health and social care by removing barriers to data-sharing, enabling joint decision-making and putting more power and autonomy into local systems. The noble Baroness is entirely right on that. The Bill has been published and the noble Baroness is very welcome to engage in some of the engagement sessions that I have had on it already. I should be glad to run more, if that would be helpful to her. A White Paper and a public consultation are not planned.
My Lords, press reports suggest that the Prime Minister is in favour of including in social care reform the Dilnot commission recommendations that are now a decade old. In doing so, he could bring into force Sections 15 and 16 of the Care Act 2014, which this Parliament passed seven years ago. Will the Government now consider doing exactly that to enable a cap on care costs to be implemented rapidly?
My Lords, we are extremely respectful of the Dilnot commission report and the recommendations in it, particularly those highlighted by my noble friend on Sections 15 and 16. It is one of many proposals that we will look at very carefully. We cannot make a commitment to anyone in particular at this stage but, as I said to the noble Baroness, we will put forward a full plan by the end of the year and will remain true to that commitment.
Can the Minister assure the House that any proposals on the funding of social care will ensure that working-age disabled people who use care services can access the support that they need to live a full and independent life in the community and that the funding will be sufficient to ensure that they no longer have to pay for it, avoiding inequitable and unfair financial hardship?
My Lords, I hear the noble Baroness loud and clear. Indeed, the needs and priorities of those with disability and the role of care for disability and the emphasis on care in the community are things that we hear loud and clear. I am not in a position to make any commitments on finances standing at the Dispatch Box at the moment, but the noble Baroness’s points are heard loud and clearly, and I would be glad to take them back to the department.
Does my noble friend agree that it would be better for the state to enable homeowners to insure against the potentially catastrophic risk of social care, rather than diverting billions of pounds desperately needed to pay for the care system for those unable to pay for themselves, instead using those funds to subsidise people, like most Members of your Lordships’ House, who want to pass on to our heirs homes worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds? How would that be levelling up?
My Lords, the point made by my noble friend is entirely thoughtful and persuasive. Indeed, there may well be a role for insurance rather than any other mechanism, and it will be one of the options that those who define the policy will look at extremely carefully. The point that he makes about the desire of homeowners to pass on their homes to future generations is completely understandable and human, and one that will take into close consideration.
My Lords, further to my noble friend Lady Campbell’s question, will the Minister commit to mentioning working-age disabled adults every time social care reform is discussed? The needs of older people living in care homes are important, of course, but that is an easier focus for improvement. The real challenge is to improve care and support for disabled adults living in their own homes, including people with learning disabilities and autistic people.
I am extremely aware of the point the noble Baroness is making. A very large proportion of those in care are not elderly at all but the young and adult disabled who need some care for some condition, whether physical or mental. Their needs are paramount in these reforms. We will not forget the people the noble Baroness describes; the financial arrangements for supporting them are one of the things we absolutely want to take on in these reforms.
My Lords, as well as declaring that he had a clear plan to fix the crisis in social care, Mr Johnson stressed in his infamous Downing Street speech of July 2019 that he was the Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom. When the social care plan is finally brought forward, what guarantees can the Minister give to demonstrate that Mr Johnson’s Government value the social care needs of the people of Northern Ireland every bit as highly as those of patients residing in England?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an entirely fair point. The needs of those who reside in Northern Ireland are paramount in our minds. I would be very glad to meet the noble Lord and discuss how their views and needs can be best incorporated in the policies we are developing.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that public opinion has shifted, and that the public are now prepared to pay more to ensure that the elderly and vulnerable are properly looked after? Will the Government look at other countries’ attempts to deal with this tricky problem in terms of financial commitment? Japan has a surcharge for people over a certain age—I believe it is between 40 and 45 —and Germany has long had a solidarity tax to pay for particular hypothecated items. Will they at least look at this before the autumn spending review?
My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that we are looking at foreign parallels. The examples she gives are extremely instructive and thoughtful. I cannot speak for certain on where the public are on this, but I share her sentiments; I think the pandemic has demonstrated that the public are more connected with and thinking more about those in care than ever before in our nation’s history. It is exactly the right moment in terms of public sentiment to address some of these issues. The generosity of spirit towards the elderly living in care could not have been higher than it was during the pandemic. In that matter, I completely agree with the noble Baroness.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 28 June.
“I am honoured to have been asked to become Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. I understand the responsibility that comes with this job, especially at this critical moment. As someone who has sat on the Front Bench for many years, this past year has been a difficult one. I have been frustrated not to be able to play my part in helping to meet the greatest public health challenge that our country has ever faced, so I am especially proud to have been given this opportunity for public service.
Nothing embodies the spirit of public service more than our National Health Service and those who work in our social care. I have seen it in my own constituency; I saw it again just this morning at St Thomas’ Hospital, where I met doctors, nurses and volunteers who have moved mountains over this past year. Now, they are helping us vaccinate our way out of this pandemic. I pay tribute to them all, and I pledge to do everything I can to deliver for them and the people of this great country. I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the House on this vital mission.
We are making phenomenal progress with our vaccination programme. Vaccination is now open to every adult in the country, 84% of adults have got a jab and 61% of adults have had two doses. This progress has allowed us to safely take the first three steps out of the lockdown and towards the greater freedoms that we can enjoy today. We owe this strong position not only to the NHS but to everyone who has played their part.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), who has worked hard throughout all these testing times. He achieved a great amount in the work that he did, and I know that he will have more to offer in public life. I wish him the very best.
There remains a big task ahead of us to restore our freedoms—freedoms that, save in the gravest of circumstances, no Government should ever wish to curtail. My task is to help to return the economic and cultural life that makes this country so great, while, of course, protecting life and our NHS. That task has been made all the more difficult by the delta variant, which we now know makes up some 95% of new cases in the UK. Not only does it spread more easily but the evidence points to a higher risk of those who have not been vaccinated needing hospital treatment, compared with the previously dominant alpha variant.
This narrowing of the race between the virus and the vaccine led to this Government’s difficult decision to pause step 4 on our road map until 19 July. We are using this extra time to protect as many people as we can. When the Government took that decision on 14 June, more than 4.3 million over-40s had had a first dose but not a second. The figure is now down to 3.2 million people over 40. We can all be reassured by how many more people are getting the life-saving opportunity that a vaccine offers.
At this two-week review point, I want to update the House on our progress on our road map to freedom. Our aim is that around two-thirds of all adults in this country will have had both doses by 19 July. We are bringing forward second doses, and bringing forward our target for first doses too, so we can meet that 19 July goal. Vaccine uptake remains sky-high. We have seen that age is no barrier to enthusiasm for getting the jab: as of this weekend, more than half of adults under 30 have taken up the chance to be vaccinated—including, in the past couple of weeks, all three of my own adult children.
Our vaccines are working, including against the delta variant. The latest modelling from Public Health England shows that they have saved more than 27,000 lives and have prevented more than 7 million people getting Covid-19. We know that, after a single dose of vaccine, the effectiveness is lower against the new delta variant, at around a 33% reduction in symptomatic disease, but two doses of the vaccine are just as effective against hospital admission with the delta variant as with the alpha variant.
The jabs are making a difference in our hospitals, too. In January, people over 65 who were vaccinated earlier in our programme made up the vast majority of hospital admissions; the latest data shows that that group now makes up less than a third. While cases now are ticking up, the number of deaths remains mercifully low, and we will continue to investigate how our vaccines are breaking that link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths. I am also encouraged by new data just today from Oxford University’s mix and match trial, which shows that a mixed schedule of jabs, such as getting the AstraZeneca jab first and the Pfizer second, could give our booster vaccination programme more flexibility and possibly even some better immune responses.
Finally, we continue to see a rise in hospitalisations. Although in line with the kinds of numbers we had anticipated at this point in our road map, the number of people needing hospital treatment for Covid-19 has doubled since the start of May. Admissions are most clearly increasing in the north-east and south-west of England, so we have been boosting testing centres and vaccines in those areas and keeping a close watch on the numbers.
I spent my first day as Health Secretary—just yesterday—looking at the data and testing it to the limit. While we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid. We know we cannot simply eliminate it; we have to learn to live with it. We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible. Make no mistake: the restrictions on our freedoms must come to an end. We owe it to the British people, who have sacrificed so much, to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can, and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.
With the numbers heading in the right direction, all while we protect more and more people each day, 19 July remains our target date. The Prime Minister has called it our terminus date. For me, 19 July is not only the end of the line but the start of an exciting new journey for our country. At this crucial moment in our fightback against this pandemic, we must keep our resolve and keep on our road map to freedom so that together we can beat this pandemic and build back better. It is a task that I am deeply honoured to lead and one I know will succeed. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I start by saying how much these Benches identify with the words the Government have issued about the horrifying treatment of Chris Whitty, our Chief Medical Officer. It was completely shocking and disgraceful. For a truly amazing public servant to be treated like this is unacceptable at any level.
I thank the Minister for presenting the Statement and echo the words of my right honourable friend John Ashworth yesterday in welcoming the new Secretary of State to his position. It was pleasing to see the new Secretary of State at St Thomas’ Hospital yesterday; I hope it is the first of many visits to our inspirational and dedicated NHS and social care staff. I hope the Minister’s new boss will be more receptive than the previous one and make arrangements for them to receive a fair pay rise, and not the real-terms pay cut that is currently pencilled in.
Yesterday the Secretary of State let it be known that the 19 July reopening will, in effect, go ahead. He told the news that there is “no going back” and that lifting the restrictions will be “irreversible”. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that many across your Lordships’ House will give a collective and noble eye- roll at these words. Like many here—and unlike the Secretary of State—we have responded to a lot of these Statements in the last 15 months. We heard that there was “nothing in the data” to suggest that 21 June could not go ahead. Noble Lords will remember that children returned to school for one day before the January lockdown and the words “It will all be over by Christmas.” Some time last spring, I think the words “We will send it packing in 12 weeks” were used.
The context this time is that there has been a rise of 84,000 cases in the past week—an increase of 61%. Yesterday saw the highest case rate since January. If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day by 19 July. We know that this variant means fewer hospitalisations and fatalities, but it also means that young people will become ill and some will have long Covid. It will again mean disruption to our schools and our youngsters’ learning and socialisation. When will we see a review of the arrangements in schools?
We also all know that this is a race between the vaccine and the infection, but I fear it will not be won by the vaccine in the next three weeks, so if we are looking at possibly 200,000 people infected with Covid on 19 July, the Minister needs to tell us what impact that will have on the road map out of restrictions. Can he confirm whether “irreversible” means the Government are now ruling out restrictions this winter? Have they abandoned the plan that the previous Secretary of State and officials were drawing up for that?
The Secretary of State has promised to give the NHS everything it needs to get through the backlog, so will the hospital discharge and support funding be extended beyond this September, or will trusts have to make cuts instead? We have already had some discussion about the backlog today; for example, when will the NHS again guarantee that 95% of patients will start treatment within 18 weeks of referral? How long is it likely to be until we can reach those sorts of targets again? When will the Government give primary care the resources to meet the challenge of the hidden waiting list of over 7 million patient referrals that we would have expected since March 2020?
Given the pressures on primary care, is it still the Secretary of State’s plan to press ahead with the GP data transfer? Frankly, if this department cannot keep its own CCTV footage secure, how does the Minister expect it to keep our personal data secure? I think that is a legitimate question.
Given the pressures across the whole healthcare system, will the Government now abandon the ill-thought-out top-down reorganisation of the NHS that the previous Secretary of State was about to embark on?
Finally, I have raised with the Minister the importance of the Nolan principles which must guide the ethics and behaviour of us all, particularly those in government. The Good Law Project today published emails which used the noble Lord’s private address. Transparency is the word I am looking for here. The spotlight has been turned on the Minister in recent days, including a formal complaint to the Lords commissioners about the issuing of passes.
The Minister might do well to consider a couple of things: actually referring himself to the commissioners about that matter, if there is a chance he may have acted outside the rules, and—he has had to deal with this question several times and is very robust about it—making his emails and communications transparent and explaining them. He is sure that he has done nothing outside those rules; he would therefore be wise to be transparent about that. It is not the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble—it is the attempted cover-up, or the chance that there might be one. Transparency is the best advice I can give the Minister today.
My Lords, I echo on behalf of these Benches the concerns about the treatment of Professor Chris Whitty. It is totally unacceptable, and it is good news that the police are now investigating this.
Just now, in reply to my question on the Urgent Question, the Minister said that the health and social care Bill has been published. Over the last few minutes I have been searching the web, but I cannot find it— can he help me any further?
Yesterday’s Statement from the new Secretary of State struck an interesting new note. The department is clearly no longer going to be led by data but by dates. Yesterday, 22,868 new cases of Covid were reported. This time last year, when lockdown was finally lifted, daily cases were under 1,000. Even with the high level of vaccinations, this is causing illness and pressures on the NHS—even if it is a different kind of pressure to that of a year ago. On Sunday, Andrew Marr reported on his programme that his own experience of catching Covid had been difficult. He said that, while he had not needed to go to hospital, he was more ill than he had ever imagined possible, and it was not an asymptomatic experience. In the light of this and the reports of growing numbers of people living with long Covid, can the Minister say why data will now clearly not factor into the decisions about 19 July?
On these Benches, we believe that we need to learn to live with this disease, but unlike the Statement from the new Secretary of State, we do not believe that this is just about vaccination, important though that is. This week, Israel has found that, despite early and comprehensive levels of vaccination, the delta variant is ripping through its communities. We have argued since February 2020 that controlling outbreaks is vital. Can I ask the Minister about the provision of test, trace and isolate arrangements moving forward? Specifically, have local directors of public health been given access to emergency funding for the provision of surge testing and tracing and vaccination in their communities? When will the pilots for increased support for those needing to self-isolate be published? We still believe that people should be paid their wages if asked to self-isolate. As that number is considerably fewer than six months ago, it would be not only cheaper for the Treasury but a much more effective way of ensuring that the spread of the virus is reduced.
Usually the Minister agrees with me on the importance of test, trace and isolate, even if we perhaps disagree on how that should be funded and supported. Can he respond to the concerns of the doctors and scientists who are appalled with today’s proposals that company directors will be able to temporarily leave quarantine for business meetings? People are still furious that the Prime Minister delayed adding India to the red list, with the resultant rapid spread of the more transmissible and more serious delta variant. As Professor Christina Pagel says:
“luckily elites don’t get or transmit covid.”
Stephen Reicher, the eminent behavioural scientist, said he was horrified by the
“scandalous misuse of science as a cover for political decisions … which is putting us all at risk.”
When commenting on the DCMS report published on Friday, he said:
“The headlines and the political response isn’t just an exaggeration, they directly contradict what the report says. It warns that the research wasn’t designed to draw any conclusions about the effects of events on transmission and mustn’t be used to do so”.
Yet Ministers and the press are all reporting that these events in the trial had no effect on infections and were safe to reopen.
Yesterday, a No. 10 spokesperson explicitly denied that government Ministers have used private email addresses. They said:
“Both the former health secretary and Lord Bethell understand the rules around personal email usage and only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses”.
This is directly contradicted by the Second Permanent Secretary in meeting minutes published by the Sunday Times. Those minutes clearly state that former Health Secretary Matt Hancock
“corresponds only with private office via a gmail account”.
As the Good Law Project has reported, on 19 April 2020, the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, emailed the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, at his private address, about the availability of Covid-19 test kits via a Canadian company, saying:
“Certainly worth contacting … to see if they can help … and the pricing seems competitive.”
Self-evidently, this is government business, and specifically within the portfolio of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. The noble Lord, Lord Feldman, once co-chair of the Conservative Party, was writing to the Minister at his private email address on government business. In addition, I note that the Minister’s meeting with Abingdon Health on 1 April 2020 was not disclosed on the ministerial meeting schedule.
We note that, unlike the response from the noble Lord, Lord True, on the earlier UQ, it is not possible for the public to access private emails; the Freedom of Information Act specifically excludes it. Not going through the formal government-approved routes, whether for emails or declarations of meetings, gives the impression that perhaps the Minister has something to hide from his dealings with a former chairman of the Conservative Party and the company he was acting for. I note that the company was awarded an £85 million contract after the meeting and the emails.
There has been considerable speculation about the role of Ms Gina Coladangelo as a lobbyist, unpaid adviser to Matt Hancock and then a non-executive director for the Department of Health and Social Care. The press and media have also reported that the Minister gave Ms Coladangelo a parliamentary pass last year. Can he tell the House what personal parliamentary service she provided for him during that period? Does the Minister feel that his position is tenable, given this evidence?
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for those extremely thoughtful questions. As ever, I welcome the challenge and scrutiny that the House of Lords always provides on these matters.
I completely endorse what the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thornton, very thoughtfully said about Chris Whitty. Chris Whitty and JVT are both complete legends, and both have been accosted in public. This is completely unacceptable. We must look at the security of those who serve us so well, and we must somehow address the disrespect that often happens when public figures walk in public. It is a great regret that this has happened.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about nurses’ pay. I repeat to her what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health said yesterday: this absolutely remains a priority. We must have a fair pay settlement. That pay settlement is going through the pay review process at the moment, and we look forward to receiving the output on that.
Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thornton, asked about the basis for the optimism that we have at the moment. I have stood at this Dispatch Box for 18 months as the purveyor of difficult news to the House, and have lived through some very difficult moments in that time. I am acutely aware of the concerns that noble Lords have. I think the questions put were very reasonable and deserve a clear answer, so let me explain why we are a bit more optimistic than I think we ever could have been in the recent past. The case rates are slowing down, for both over and under-60s. Hospital admissions among the over-60s have started to fall, and while there are signs in both measures that the rate of growth is slowing, there is just not enough to fundamentally change our assessment of the risk of delta. In the last two weeks, we have seen case rates fall in both Bolton and Blackburn. That is an incredibly important observation, and one that bears testimony to the effectiveness of the local authorities, test and trace, and all of those who have contributed. It is mainly driven by the under-60 group, but not wholly. Rates among older people are plateauing right across the country at a lower level, and hospitalisations and severe illness are being prevented by people being doubled vaccinated against Covid-19. There are very clear signs that the vaccine is working in lots of ways.
By 19 July, two significant things will have changed that may give us stronger confidence. First, we will have offered a first dose to all adults in the United Kingdom. The NHS states that it can do this by 19 July. We will have also given a second dose to a higher proportion of over-40s, giving them more protection against hospitalisation. Secondly, we will be very close to the school holidays, which start on 26 July, and school-aged children being out of school. This will significantly reduce transmission among the population which is unvaccinated and has driven case growth. Universities should also be out.
We are monitoring the data every day. So far, we have not seen indicators that substantially change our assessment of the four tests. I hear loud and clear what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, says about Andrew Marr and his experience. Vaccination is not a panacea. It does not save everyone from any illness at all, but it has a significantly strong effect for us to move on to the next stage.
In terms of the backlog, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that we are putting funds in place to do whatever it takes to get us back to where we began. I cannot give the specific reassurances she asked for on whether specific funds will be extended, but it is our aspiration to work as hard as we can. On GP data, I assure her that the clinical trial progress that we have made on things such as Regeneron in the last few days gives us such a clear inspiration and motivation for ensuring that we get this project right. On trusted research environments, we have demonstrated that we listen and that we will change how we implement the GP data transfer, but our objective remains resolute. We are committed to continuing with this programme of work.
I will give a very clear response to the very important question regarding emails, asked by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thornton. I am absolutely rigorous in ensuring that government business is conducted through the correct formal channels. Contracts are negotiated by officials, not by Ministers. Submissions from officials are handled through departmental digital boxes, and that is right. Official decisions are communicated through secure governmental infrastructure.
I have read the Ministerial Code; I have signed it and I will seek to uphold it in everything that I do. The guidelines are clear that it is not wrong for Ministers to have personal email addresses. I have corresponded with a very large number of noble Lords in this Chamber from both my parliamentary address and my personal address. That is right and I will continue to do so. In their enthusiasm, third parties often seek to engage Ministers through whatever means that they can find, including their personal email. That is not the same as using a personal email for formal departmental decision-making. Those who have seen material on the internet should judge it extremely sceptically, because distorted fragments of evidence do not provide sufficient grounds to rush to judgment on how Ministers do their business.
I do not recognise the substance of the comments of the Second Permanent Secretary, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and he has indicated to me that he does not recognise the substance of those comments. I completely recognise the comments that were made regarding the meetings with Abingdon Health. The meetings schedule from that week was overlooked because of an administrative oversight. It has now been uploaded to the internet. I will be glad to share a link to that register. On the complaint made by Anneliese Dodds, I have written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and would be very glad to share that letter with the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton.
I take this post extremely seriously. During the work of the pandemic, many people—officials, Ministers and those in industry—worked extremely hard to address the severe epidemic that we face, and I am extremely proud of how that business was conducted.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, I note the impressive acceleration of the vaccine rollout and its relevance towards taking step 4 on 19 July, at a time when relief at the end of restrictions could lead to lack of caution and a surge in cases. Have the Government assessed whether it might be safer to prioritise those requiring first jabs over those waiting for their second—or, indeed, the opposite?
My Lords, the question of prioritisation is one for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. In terms of operational delivery, we have moved to a moment of opening up jabs to all those over 18, and many places do not even require an appointment. Between now and 19 July we are escalating the speed at which we deliver the jab. I encourage all ages to step forward for their first jabs, and those who have an appointment for the second to ensure that they make use of it.
My Lords, some of the vaccines used in the United Kingdom have been found to be less effective against the beta variant currently spreading in South Africa. What assessment have the Government made of the risk of travellers from South Africa bringing the beta variant to the United Kingdom following the rugby tournament that is taking place there?
As ever, the noble Lord is extremely perceptive in his questions, and he is right that as we vaccinate more and more of the population, the risk will become less from highly transmissible mutants and more from those which can somehow escape the vaccine. The South African variant is the one that so far has demonstrated the greatest escapology. For that reason, we are extremely cautious about visitors who may come from areas that have the South Africa variant, including South Africa itself.
My Lords, although the Statement is upbeat, it does say that hospitalisation has doubled since May. This will not be solved in three weeks. What would it take to extend beyond 19 July on safety grounds and is the Minister ruling out restrictions this winter? Also, will the proposed top-down reorganisation of the NHS be abandoned?
My Lords, hospitalisations have doubled but the vast majority of them are among people who have not been double-vaccinated for plus two weeks. It is very striking, when you look at the list of who is in hospital, how many simply have not been vaccinated. That is why our focus is on seeing through the vaccination programme, particularly getting all those at-risk groups—those over 50—double-vaccinated as soon as possible.
I cannot rule out anything, but I am more optimistic today than I have ever been, and that optimism is grounded on a very careful study of the facts, having sat through the joint biosecurity presentations day in, day out, for months on end. While I cannot be 1000% confident of everything, since this virus has a lot that it can throw at us, I really am hopeful for the future.
My Lords, to minimise the need for another national lockdown, effective local test, trace and isolate systems will need to be in place. Therefore, can the Minister explain why, in the test and trace budget, centralised corporate services, which has no front-line test and trace activity, has £931 million more allocated than the localised front-line test, trace and contain allocation? If he does not have those figures to hand, can he please write to me, although not from his personal email address?
My Lords, I suspect that I have corresponded with the noble Lord from my personal email address; I am deeply hurt that he does not want to receive any of my emails again, but not entirely surprised. The waiting at test and trace has moved dramatically, as I think the noble Lord knows, from the central supply of testing and tracing services to a much more local model, and that does not always manifest itself in the corporate accounts of the organisation. It manifests itself in both the management and the delivery, and I pay huge tribute to those who are involved in the local implementation. As I said earlier, the way in which the delta virus infection rates, which were skyrocketing at one point, have been turned around in places such as Hounslow, Blackburn with Darwen and other areas of the north-west is phenomenally impressive and is a tribute to the impact of test and trace.
My Lords, what has the SIREN study most recently established about the effectiveness of infection-induced antibodies over time? Furthermore, as per my Written Question, answered by the Minister on 2 June 2021, why has not Public Health England or another government-backed health body conducted a review of research on the long-term effects of face mask wearing when clinicians such as Antonio Lazzarino from UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care cite deleterious health effects?
My Lords, SIREN is one of the most thought-provoking and interesting of all the many studies that we have done. It is a sad fact that we do not understand many of the aspects of the body’s immune system, and that is why we are so committed to that study. It suggests that once you have had the virus, your body’s immune system is extremely strong. The proportion of people who catch it a second time round is incredibly small. That is good news for those who have caught it and for those who have had the vaccine, because if the immune system works well after catching the virus, it probably works well after the vaccine. However, we continue to publish from the SIREN study. On the health impacts of wearing face masks, I am not fully across that, but I will be glad to write to my noble friend with any details that I may have.
The Government have been concerned for some time that even though someone is symptom-free and has had both vaccine jabs, there is still some risk that they might pass it on to others. But surely the risk must be minuscule. Have the Government ascertained how minscule the risk is compared with other much more major kinds of risk, and has there been a danger of the Government overcompensating here, particularly with respect to those in that position wanting to enter this country?
My Lords, what a perceptive question from the noble and right reverend Lord—he absolutely hits the nail on the head. The honest truth is that we do not have the precise figures on this but the indications are that he is right: the vaccine does not stop you being infected or transmitting it, but it reduces the chances of both those things dramatically. That is one of the reasons why we have kept our foreign travel arrangements under review. It is possible that the effect that he describes may mean that we can look very thoroughly at foreign travel—I think all noble Lords would welcome that.
My Lords, I have no doubt about the Minister’s personal integrity but he will recognise that he is part of a Government who are not exactly renowned for their probity or truthfulness. I want to ask him about lateral flow tests. There have been reports that the accuracy of this test, which has been less than 100% in any case, is less still when it comes to the delta variant. Can he say a little more about that, and what discussions are taking place with UK companies, who appear to have developed better models which may be more accurate?
My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right that the Porton Down verification team has looked extremely closely at all lateral flow tests and their sensitivity to the delta variant in particular. There is suggestion and some indication that for very low viral loads, the LFTs are not quite as sensitive, or if they are sensitive, the band is less easy to read. However, for higher viral loads—in other words, the kind of viral loads that the body needs to carry to be infectious—there is no change of sensitivity. Therefore, from that point of view the LFTs continue to perform their original purpose very effectively but we need to keep a very close eye on sensitivity with the new variants.
I pay tribute to all UK companies which are coming forward with LFT, PCR or genomic sequencing tests. I am extremely proud of the progress that the UK diagnostics industry has made. We have extremely high standards and extremely high validation and authorisation protocols through Porton Down. Those standards are very difficult to achieve but we are working extremely closely with UK companies to try to get them over the line so that they can play an important role in our response to the pandemic.
My Lords, the Statement places great emphasis on regaining freedoms but has relatively little to say on the specifics of how we learn to live with Covid, as we surely must, given the rising number of new cases and concerns about new variants. Apart from a very brief mention of care workers, there were no other details of how the planned end of restrictions on 19 July will affect care home residents and their families. Can the Minister say what thought is being given to how we learn to live with Covid in care settings and when we can expect to see detailed guidance on this which balances the need for protecting the elderly and vulnerable from infection and improving the quality of their daily lives?
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s question is entirely reasonable and I wish I could be more specific on the precise timing. The honest truth is that we look at the data every day; our experience through this pandemic is that our understanding improves every day and therefore the guidance that we provide is often provided at a relatively late stage. It is an unfortunate aspect of this awful pandemic and one that I know noble Lords have commented on with vigour in the past, but it is an unavoidable fact of life. However, the comments made very thoughtfully and persuasively by noble Lords about the conditions in care homes, the restrictions that are put on residents and the pressure that that puts on them and their families have been heard loudly and clearly by all those in the department and across government, and we will seek to address those concerns when the moment is right.
I remind the House of my interest as Deputy Colonel Commandant Brigade of Gurkhas. According to the Daily Telegraph, 63 unvaccinated Gurkha veterans have now died in Nepal. Had they lived in the UK they would have been vaccinated, but because they left the Army before the law was changed, they have no right of abode here. Under the Armed Forces covenant which we are enshrining in law, we have a duty of care to our veterans, and the differential way in which we are treating our Gurkha veterans from their UK counterparts is a clear breach of that covenant. Just 20,000 vaccines, or less than 3% of a single day’s rollout in the UK, is all that is required. When will those vaccines be made available?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the points made by my noble friend and to the persuasive and energetic way in which he made them. Our thoughts go to those in Nepal, who face an awful position; the pandemic there is running extremely hot. I reassure my noble friend that colleagues at both the Department of Health and the FCDO are fully aware of the concerns of the noble Lord and the Nepalese people. We will put in place the kind of vaccination provision programme that we would like to see as soon as we can. Our priority for the moment is the UK. For all the reasons I just described, we must continue the march towards 19 July and get our own people vaccinated. However, my noble friend makes the point well; the sums involved are relatively small and we will seek to address them as soon as we reasonably can.
My Lords, there is a growing feeling in the arts that they are being taken for a ride. Up to 60,000 will attend the Euro semis but festivals such as Kendal Calling, with less than half of that capacity, and now WOMAD, have had to cancel because they have no access to the Events Research Programme data or to a government-backed insurance scheme. On top of that, despite the Costello study, our amateur choirs are restricted to six while professional choirs in similar settings are not. For the arts, none of this makes sense.
My Lords, I completely understand the noble Earl’s points. On WOMAD, I have a particular interest in that fine festival and I am extremely sad to hear that it has been cancelled, and to have to change my family plans accordingly. I reassure the noble Earl that we have not overlooked the arts at all. They are absolutely paramount in our thoughts. The events research programme is making progress, but it consumes a high number of tests and we simply do not have the capacity, despite the huge investment we have made, for the kinds of figures that would be needed to open up the whole of the arts world at this stage. But I am hopeful that the research we are doing will create the kind of persuasive data necessary to figure out safe ways of reopening the arts, so that we can get back to the life we had as soon as possible.
I welcome the Minister’s openness and transparency about his conduct. I also support what he said about the attacks on Dr Whitty. If there are no arrests before the end of the day, it will just show how useless the Metropolitan Police is under its current leadership. In his Statement, the Secretary of State talked about keeping the NHS safe. What I have not really connected, both from the previous Question and this Statement, is that keeping the NHS safe cannot be done in isolation. The issue of social care and its reform is inexorably linked to keeping the NHS safe, and that point does not seem to be used by Ministers as a serious connection. Finally, without abuse, if this country starts boosters or third jabs later this year when people in countries such as Nepal are still going without vaccinations, it will be a thundering international disgrace.
My Lords, I have failed in my mission, because I have sought to convey to the Chamber that we completely understand that the NHS, social care and public health—the three sectors of our healthcare system—are inextricably linked. That is why we are bringing to the House the health and social care Bill that we are. That is why we have already brought about a large number of reforms, including ICSs and the integration of various diagnostic elements, and have sought to bring more parity for social care workers and those in public health. The noble Lord absolutely hits the nail on the head. I completely agree with his point, and that is our guiding star for the future.
My Lords, if we are to return to normality on 19 July, as the new Secretary of State has stressed in the other House is his aim, can my noble friend assure me that the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, will be properly and effectively answered by a return to normality with choirs, inside and out? Can he also assure me—and I am sorry to press him on this yet again—that, by the end of August at the latest, all care home workers will have to have been vaccinated?
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to address both points. On singing, I have heard loud and clear the points made by many noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Cormack. The right honourable Secretary of State for Health said very clearly yesterday that it was his aspiration that we should return to normal as soon as possible and that he himself would be joining in the singing when it happens. I completely echo that point.
On social care workers, I am advised that we are working as hard as we can to get through the very delicate employment law and the consultations necessary. I know my noble friend would wish that this could all happen a lot more quickly, but the way in which we go about the treatment of our workers needs to respect their human rights, and that is why it is important that we do this in a thoughtful way. It is also necessary to build trust in the vaccine and I do not think that there would be anything gained by in any way pre-empting those processes.
My Lords, the hotel quarantine for those returning from red-list countries is having a huge, stressful impact on those using the hotels. I have a couple of examples to share and one or two suggestions to make. The first case is family A from Huddersfield. They went to bury their father in Pakistan. On return, they had huge difficulty booking hotels. At Heathrow Airport some family members were taken to Swindon and others to Camberley, which are about 50 miles apart. They could not be put in the same hotel, for some reason. They have made a formal complaint. I have received a copy of it and I am willing to send it to the Minister as well. It shows the level of dissatisfaction people are feeling.
The second example is from my home town, Luton, where, sadly, a young teenager lost his life in a tragic incident. His father and some other relatives, including somebody who is epileptic, were in Pakistan at the time. On their return, whatever amount of stress they had, they were taken to the hotel straightaway and were not allowed out, other than just coming for the funeral.
The third example—and I would say a more tragic one—is a family who went to Pakistan before it was put on the red list. The father was under stress and there are two disabled children. The mother died there and the children are waiting to come back to the UK—
My Lords, the suggestion is, please can those returners be tested and those who are found to be positive asked to quarantine in their own home? To observe their quarantine, they should have some kind of electronic tag instead of being put in expensive hotels and having these terrible experiences.
My Lords, the noble Lord’s testimony is very moving and I have no doubt that the red-list system has put a lot of pressure on a lot of families. I personally sign off on these exemptions, and every evening as I go through them and read about the stories people have, it breaks my heart—and I do it with huge regret indeed. However, the noble Lord needs to understand that we put the red-list system in place to protect this country. People simply cannot expect to travel in large family groups as if the pandemic had not happened, and they cannot expect the testing system to work as some kind of barrier to infection. We have tried that. It did not work. The proof is absolutely categoric.
If I may be honest with noble Lords, it is likely, unfortunately, that we will have to live with some red-list countries for some time to come. That is one aspect of the unwinding of this pandemic that is not likely to go away very quickly. I completely take on board the noble Lord’s guidance. If he would like to write to me about the specific examples, I would be happy to correspond with him. However, I would not be levelling with him if I did not make it clear that this is something that we are extremely committed to.
My Lords, I welcome my right honourable friend Sajid Javid to his new role and also offer my public endorsement of the integrity of my noble friend the Minister. I echo the words of this Statement that we must learn to live with Covid, so that our country benefits from the fantastic vaccine success. I fear we have lost perspective on real life. Zero Covid and stopping people being ill with just one disease among the myriad diseases around us all our lives are wholly unreasonable—and indeed unattainable —aims. Can my noble friend comment on when we will take more seriously the mental health damage that lockdown and deprivation of freedom to see all our loved ones is causing, and the importance of trusting the British people to decide for themselves who they need to meet and hug and who—as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and my noble friend Lord Cormack said—they feel safe to sing with?
My Lords, I hear my noble friend’s comments loud and clear, and I think that we have hit some kind of inflection point where our focus is now much more on the learning-to-live rather than the saving-life dimension. I say that with unbelievable caution, having, as noble Lords know, been through all sorts of rollercoasters of expectation over the past year. I am extremely hopeful that the vaccine has laid out a clear path out of this pandemic. It is one that is fragile, delicate and could be overturned at any point, but, so far, the vaccine has seemed to be extremely durable.
On the mental health of the nation, I completely agree with my noble friend. It has put huge pressure on families, loved ones and communities. There have been positive benefits—my honourable friend Nadine Dorries spoke movingly about that to the Health and Social Care Committee the week before last. Some families in some communities have been drawn closer together— there is good evidence for that—but, for a great many, there has been a huge amount of pressure. I, for one, look forward very much to some lessening of that burden.
The Minister has just commented that there may be red-list countries for some time to come, and that is clearly correct. That is a reflection of two things. First, many countries, particularly poorer countries, have not been able to vaccinate at our rates—not even close to that. The changes to Covid, which are making its spread both more easy and more dangerous mean that it is ripping through many of those countries and threatens many, many more deaths. Secondly, in doing so, it increases the chances of variants being bred in those countries and ultimately finding their way here—we know from experience that they will find their way here sooner or later. So, while feeling more optimistic about the situation here in the UK, what can we do to further ramp up the effort to support countries around the globe that are struggling to vaccinate their populations, struggling to save lives and, frankly, struggling to stop the creation of new variants that threaten this country?
The noble Lord is entirely right: those three things are linked. We cannot live in a world where there is a high infection rate in large parts of it, where new variants prosper and where we cannot travel. That would be inhuman and unpragmatic. I met with the CEOs of the major companies that manufacture the vaccines in Oxford during the G7, and we discussed this point in great detail. It is frustrating, but I also have optimism that the manufacturing capability in the hubs around the world—in the geographical places where populations live—are being built today and, by the middle of next year, there will be a huge amount of vaccine capacity in order to address this problem. It is frustrating that it cannot happen overnight, but vaccine manufacturing capability takes time to build up, as we know only too well. However, those investments are taking place, and I believe that, as a world, we can beat this pandemic together.
Notwithstanding the disclosures of the past few days, may I tell my noble friend that I, for one, very much appreciate what Matt Hancock did and the immensity of the effort he put in to combat Covid infection? Step 4 is not a return to normality, so, for example, self-isolation requirements will continue after contact tracing. The Government now have a lot of research to look at whether daily lateral flow tests can replace self-isolation both for schools and for businesses, which are must disrupted by self-isolation. Can my noble friend say when the Government may be able to proceed to allow some schools and businesses to shift to daily lateral flow tests?
My noble friend’s comments are very much appreciated and taken on board. On his question about daily lateral flow testing, he is very perceptive and correct. This is an area that we have been exploring for some months, and we are working extremely hard to bottom it out with rigorous clinical trials—clinical trials are difficult to nail down, by their nature, but we have invested substantially in them. He is right that, for schools, for international travel and for contacts—those three things—daily testing may well offer an alternative to 10-day isolation. That would be a huge relief to many in the country, and it is something that we are very focused on delivering.
I welcome the change of tone when the new Secretary of State said that the big task ahead is to restore our freedoms—freedoms no Government should ever wish to curtail. Regime change is a bit disruptive, so I ask the Minister: are all the department behind this new approach, because it is in rather stark contrast to the Secretary of State’s predecessor’s more doom-laden, illiberal approach? As we have seen in this debate, there seems some reluctance, at least within Westminster, to allow fellow citizens to embrace freedom.
The noble Baroness is quite right to ask the question, but I would say to her that it is not actually the regime that has changed, although the regime has changed; it is that the data has changed. Last Tuesday, I sat through Covid Gold, which is our big set-piece data session—a two-hour deep dive into national and local data. Every week for the past 70 weeks, that has been a very chilling experience where we have looked at the progress of and tactics of this awful virus, and I have often left it with a very heavy heart. Last week, I genuinely felt that we had reached some kind of turning point and, on Friday, when I sat in my kitchen, I felt a great weight beginning to lift off my shoulders for the first time in a very long time. I cannot disguise from your Lordships that there may well be more surprises left in this virus. I cannot promise that I will not be standing at this Dispatch Box giving bad news at some point in future, but, right now, I am more optimistic than I have ever been, and I think that the Statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State reflected that.
Charities Bill [HL]
Motion to Refer to Second Reading Committee
Telecommunications (Security) Bill
My Lords, this past year has put into sharp focus the importance of digital connectivity, which has been vital in keeping both people and industries going in these challenging times. In the other place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State spoke about the potential for 5G and gigabit broadband to transform our lives. The Government are investing billions of pounds into these cutting-edge technologies. However, we can be confident in the technology only if we know that it is secure.
That is why we have introduced the Telecommunications (Security) Bill. The Bill will create one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world. It will protect our telecoms networks even as technologies grow and evolve, shielding our critical national infrastructure both now and for the future. I will briefly outline the context for the Bill and why it is necessary, before turning to the intent of its clauses and delegated powers.
The security and resilience of 5G and full-fibre networks is not just in the national security interests of the UK. It is also crucial to the UK’s economic interests and future prosperity. The House will recall that this Government published the UK Telecoms Supply Chain Review Report in July 2019. It found that telecoms providers lack incentives to apply security best practices and recommended a new framework for the UK’s public telecoms providers that will respond to new and emerging threats to the security of our networks. The review also recommended new national security powers for the Government to control the presence of high-risk vendors in UK networks. The Bill is our response to those recommendations.
I will now outline the intent of the Bill’s clauses, which can be broadly separated into two groups. Clauses 1 to 14 introduce a stronger telecoms security framework, placing new security duties on public telecoms providers. Clauses 15 to 23 introduce new national security powers to address the risks posed by high-risk vendors.
I turn first to Clauses 1 to 14. The Bill amends the Communications Act to create a tough new telecoms security framework, which consists of three layers. First, the Bill places strengthened overarching telecoms security duties on public telecoms providers in primary legislation. Secondly, specific security requirements will be set out in secondary legislation. Thirdly, guidance on the detailed technical measures that providers could take to comply with their legal obligations will be set out in a code of practice. The new legal duties in the Bill and the measures in the secondary legislation will apply to public telecoms providers operating within the UK.
To illustrate the specific measures that providers may be expected to adopt, we published an illustrative first draft of the security framework regulations on GOV.UK in January. We have been, and continue to be, in close contact with industry following the publication of the draft regulations. Comments received as part of this engagement are being considered in the drafting of the final version. We will launch a public consultation on the draft code of practice once the Bill achieves Royal Assent. This will ensure that views from all impacted groups are heard ahead of the new framework coming into force.
The Bill provides Ofcom with a new general duty to seek to ensure that telecoms providers comply with their new security duties and builds on Ofcom’s existing security duties. Ofcom will have new powers to assess providers’ compliance. In cases of non-compliance, Ofcom will be able to issue a notification of contravention and, ultimately, financial penalties of up to 10% of turnover. Recognising that Ofcom will have expanded duties, DCMS is working with it to ensure that it has the necessary capability and capacity to deliver those vital functions. We have already increased Ofcom’s security budget for this financial year by £4.6 million to reflect its enhanced security role, in addition to its existing funding. Ofcom will also continue to work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre in the delivery of its security functions. The two organisations have published a statement, available on Ofcom’s website, which sets out how they plan to work together.
Clauses 15 to 23 introduce new national security powers to manage the risks posed by high-risk vendors in our telecoms networks. The Bill includes new powers for the Secretary of State to designate specific vendors in the interests of national security and issue directions to public communications providers. Those directions will place controls on a provider’s use of goods, services and facilities supplied by a designated vendor. Once a designated vendor direction is issued, the Secretary of State can direct Ofcom to collect information from providers and report back so that the Secretary of State can determine whether a provider is complying with a direction. Government amendments were passed in Committee in the other place to bring the powers in Clauses 15 to 23 into force immediately upon Royal Assent.
The Government have announced that UK telecoms providers should cease to install Huawei equipment in 5G networks after September 2021 and remove all Huawei 5G equipment by the end of 2027. We published an illustrative direction and designation notice in November 2020 to demonstrate how the powers in the Bill could be used in relation to Huawei in line with these announcements. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, any proposed designated vendor directions and notices will be subject to the relevant consultation requirements set out in the Bill.
I will now turn to the delegated powers in the Bill. It contains nine delegated legislative powers to make secondary legislation and two administrative powers. Six of the delegated legislative powers are to amend the maximum penalties specified in the Bill. These are Henry VIII powers and are subject to the draft affirmative resolution procedure. A further two are powers to create regulations setting out specific measures to be taken to comply with the new security duties and are subject to the negative resolution procedure. Finally, one power is to make regulations commencing certain provisions in the Bill and is not subject to any procedure. The two administrative powers are the power to issue codes of practice and the power to give designated vendor directions to providers.
Our approach to the delegated legislative powers is in keeping with precedent. The powers to amend maximum penalties in the Bill are consistent with those in the Communications Act 2003. I appreciate the need for Parliament to have the right mechanisms to scrutinise the powers that we are taking in the Bill. I am confident that the approach we have taken finds the appropriate balance. As the House would expect, we have submitted the delegated powers memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I thank it very much for its prompt report on the memorandum, which I read with interest. The Government will consider the committee’s recommendation concerning the power to issue codes of practice about security measures and aim to respond to the report fully in due course.
To conclude, the Bill has not been designed around one company, one country or one threat. Its strength is that it will create an enduring and effective telecoms security regime that will be flexible enough to keep pace with changing technology and changing threats. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will welcome it. I beg to move.
My Lords, those of you who participated in this House’s consideration of the National Security and Investment Act may, I am afraid, detect a few similarities in the nature of my contributions to this legislation. That is an unfortunate consequence of the Government’s failure to listen to the strength of feeling in the House on the subject of oversight during those debates.
Like that Act of Parliament, the Bill seeks to address concerns first raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee some seven years ago in its report, Foreign involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure, namely that there were serious failings in the way in which successive Governments managed the entry of foreign telecommunications companies into the UK market. Clearly, the Government have been listening to what the ISC, with its unparalleled access to highly classified material, has been able to discover on behalf of Parliament, leading to both pieces of legislation.
The ISC therefore welcomes this Bill. We strongly support the principle behind it and the new safeguards it introduces. However, as with the National Security and Investment Act, we are concerned that the Bill does not provide for sufficient parliamentary oversight of these important new powers. As noble Lords are aware, the Bill provides significant powers for the Secretary of State to designate certain vendors as high-risk and to direct telecommunications providers to abide by certain requirements about the use of equipment from designated vendors. When the Secretary of State issues, varies or revokes a designation notice or a designated vendor direction, he will lay it before Parliament, except when this is contrary to national security.
This is a perfectly reasonable provision. I, for one, would not wish the Government to publish information that would damage national security. However, as things stand, this results in a significant gap in Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the Government’s decision-making and use of these powers. I am sure noble Lords agree that this is not what Parliament expects.
There is a simple and elegant solution to this problem: any designation notices or designated vendor directions that cannot be laid before Parliament for reasons of national security should be provided instead to the ISC for scrutiny. Parliament established the ISC for this purpose. Indeed, it is the only committee of Parliament that has regular access to the most sensitive protectively marked information. ISC colleagues have made these points repeatedly in the other place but they, again, have fallen on deaf ears. The Government’s resistance to this idea, coming so swiftly after their resistance on the NSI Act, gives the unfortunate impression that they are seeking to avoid scrutiny—an impression I am sure Ministers will wish to correct.
The Government have been clear that they do not think the ISC’s scrutiny role should be included in the Bill. This is regrettable. We should not knowingly be passing legislation that has holes in it. However, once again, there is a ready solution to that problem. As noble Lords are aware, the Justice and Security Act 2013 requires the ISC’s specific remit to be set out in a memorandum of understanding between the committee and Prime Minister. The Government told Parliament that the MoU would provide the ISC with oversight of substantially all the Government’s intelligence and security activities. However, with the passage of the NSI Act and now this Bill, the MoU is self-evidently out of date. It is a very simple matter to update it to provide the ISC with oversight of these powers in the specific and limited way I described a few moments ago.
The committee has formally raised this issue with the Government and asked them to take forward updating the MoU to ensure that it meets the commitments the Government made to Parliament during the passage of the Justice and Security Act. For that reason alone, I do not intend to table an amendment that would put the ISC’s essential oversight role on these powers in the Bill. However, the Government should be in no doubt that they must address this issue; the current situation is not tenable. If the Government do not wish to amend the Bill to fill this oversight gap, they must give a commitment to update the ISC’s memorandum of understanding and provide the oversight that Parliament requires in that way.
A large body of opinion from all corners of the House feels strongly about this and, should another Peer table an amendment on it, I would support it. The Minister will recall the strength of feeling in the House when the Government failed to provide for ISC oversight of the powers introduced by the National Security and Investment Act. I urge the Government to work constructively with the ISC on this issue.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very clear exposition of the purposes and modus operandi of this Bill. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord West—Admiral West—and I look forward to working with the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, who is on the Front Bench.
During late summer last year, we debated the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act, when this security Bill was held out as a carrot, largely to try to curtail discussions of a Chinese nature. It did not work, of course, and we had those discussions, but here we are at last with this Bill. As we have heard, it provides the Government with considerable new national security powers to issue directions to privately-held public telecommunications providers, primarily with the aim of managing issues arising from high-risk vendors. As such, the Minister will acquire wide and sweeping powers.
The Bill also gives Ofcom wide duties and legal powers to monitor and assess the security of telecoms providers. For teeth, as we have heard from the Minister, companies that continue to use high-risk vendors could or will face very heavy fines. Perhaps the Bill’s headline outcome is the new controls on the use of Huawei 5G equipment, including a ban on the purchase of new Huawei equipment from the end of 2021 and a commitment to remove all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by 2027.
How will these Benches respond? First, I am happy to confirm that Liberal Democrats are strongly in favour of having secure telecommunications networks. I am sure the Minister is relieved to hear that. Secondly, Liberal Democrats want to see Huawei technology removed as quickly and expediently as possible. However, I note, as the Minister hinted at but did not detail, that the issue is with more than one supplier and more than one country. I add that the issue of the treatment of Muslim Uighurs does not stop with this Bill. The genocide going on there creates much wider implications for our relationship with China than the issue of which technology makes our phones work. These implications are very important, but I understand that they are beyond the scope of this Bill.
Thirdly, Liberal Democrats strongly believe that the Government must now invest in developing telecommunications technology in the UK. We want to see an increase in the diversity of the UK’s telecoms supply chain. We also believe that a strong relationship with the European Union and the intelligence alliance Five Eyes will help us to ensure that security risks are dealt with quickly. Finally, Lib Dems want to see stronger protections for the privacy of people in the UK.
What we will be testing in Committee is threefold. First, does the Bill effectively shut out the technology it is meant to shut out? The trick to making communications secure will be the nuts and bolts of the Bill. Secondly, do the Minister and Ofcom have the right powers, and the necessary checks and balances, to make this Bill work? Thirdly, when it comes to supply chain diversification, can we actually shut out Huawei et al and have an effective communications network?
One at a time, first let us look at the prime intent of the Bill: to keep our networks secure. On the face of it, this is another skeleton Bill. With the presentation of a few statutory instruments here and there, the Government should theoretically be able to react swiftly, but are the Minister and Ofcom placed to pre-empt issues, rather than react to them? There is a technical difficulty here: in 5G particularly, the distinction between the core and edge of networks is blurred. With technology moving faster than government can, that distinction is almost meaningless and the threats will change from week to week. So can the Minister explain how Ofcom can ever successfully be ahead of the game and not chasing issues?
As we know, plans for removing Huawei have been announced, but this does not stop with Huawei. For example, legislation in the US is considerably broader. It identifies specific companies, including Huawei, but also ZTE Corporation, Hytera Communications Corporation Limited, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Limited and Dahua Technology Co. Limited. Also, US legislation covers telecommunications and video surveillance and services. Given the news this weekend, the Minister might like to review where we source CCTV cameras from in this country—I note that that was discussed in a previous debate. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that this legislation will cover the full range of security threats that we need to cover or will we see another Bill to broaden it yet further into surveillance and surveillance services?
Turning to the powers granted by this Bill, it gives wide-ranging powers to the Secretary of State and next to no oversight to Parliament. Included are sweeping powers to address matters of national security and it is not clear, although the Minister has hinted, how Ofcom will really interact with the intelligence community. Furthermore, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord West, the committee, which has express oversight of national security, has been excluded from scrutinising how this legislation will operate. I support the words of the noble Lord, Lord West. In addition, there is no dedicated role for judicial or technical oversight. This is very different from the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, in which such provision exists. I expect my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones to comment more on this issue.
The Bill also gives sweeping powers to Ofcom. We heard from the Minister how Ofcom will be co-operating with the intelligence services, but this creates a conflict of culture within Ofcom and will inevitably lead to more opaque operations which will, in turn, create issues elsewhere. I am still not clear how that interface will work. It will be useful to investigate that in Committee.
Finally, I turn to supply chain diversity. The Minister in the Commons said:
“We must never find ourselves in this position again. Over the last few decades, countless countries across the world have become over-reliant on too few vendors”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/11/20; col. 75.]
Fine words, I am sure, but they come from a Government whose Chancellor and Secretary of State for BEIS have cancelled the industrial strategy and disbanded the Industrial Strategy Council. Undaunted, alongside the Bill the DCMS has published a diversification strategy. I suggest that Oliver Dowden, who adorns that document, is rowing somewhat in the opposite direction from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Assuming that this strategy makes some headway against a running tide within government, it has three legs: “supporting incumbent suppliers”, “attracting new suppliers” and accelerating “open-interface solutions”.
I will take those legs one at a time, beginning with “supporting incumbent suppliers”. I am bemused by the term “incumbent”. I think it means domestic suppliers, because Huawei is an incumbent supplier and we have heard that it will not be getting support. Assuming domestic suppliers is what is meant—there are world trade rules that make it difficult to preferably treat domestic suppliers, but assuming these can be surmounted —can the Minister give us the current estimate of how many incumbent domestic suppliers are in our network and what percentage, in terms of value, they represent?
To fill that gap, we are going to need pretty rapid innovation. Innovation is not easy and the speedy innovation we have just seen with the Covid vaccine, for example, was helped by two important conditions: first, a very strong existing R&D base in this country and secondly, a guaranteed private sector market for the vaccine. I do not think these conditions exist for telecoms technology. So, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of telecoms research and development in the UK? How will the private networks be encouraged to guarantee a market for any UK-based and UK-developed products that emerge?
The second strategic leg is “attracting new suppliers”. I suspect this is going to be an easier job than building an industry from scratch in this country. Will the Minister confirm how the vetting process will work? I assume this will be in the code of conduct. Will the networks have to be externally cleared? Will they be subsequently audited, and how deep does approval go? Does every component of every sub-assembly need to go through a process, and how will this all unfold in building the networks? It begins to sound quite cumbersome if there is going to be a nuts and bolts check of the technology.
The third leg is accelerating “open-interface solutions”. The Government are moving ahead at speed with open-access radio networks and open RAN piloting, and should be congratulated. If it goes to plan, when will we start to see this becoming significant? How will the Government get the existing vendors to increase the scope of their interoperability? What, in a sense, is in it for them?
We overwhelmingly support the objectives of this Bill. There are serious issues, particularly in the absence of detail and scrutiny. The regulations remain a mystery until they are published, and the process is potentially pretty bureaucratic. I think the Government have recognised that there are issues, which probably reflects why there are four days in Committee ahead of us. We may need all four of those days.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill. It is not only necessary, it is also overdue, but it is just one step on a path along which we have much further to go. By itself the Bill will have only a limited impact. If we are to realise its benefits, we need to think about the wider questions it leaves unanswered. Addressing these questions is crucial to our future safety and prosperity.
Throughout history, technological advances have brought with them exciting new opportunities, but they have also introduced serious vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, as our society has grown more complex, interconnected and interdependent, so its ability to weather shocks has grown more fragile—to the point now that serious technological disruptions could have catastrophic consequences. This should not be taken as an argument against embracing technology and the benefits it confers. It should, though, make us think very seriously about the new vulnerabilities we create and how we might mitigate the associated risks.
The Bill goes some way towards meeting that responsibility, but it does not provide the whole answer. As the title of the Bill tells us, the issue we confront is one of security, but we have to ask ourselves what exactly we mean by that term. In my view, we do not mean invulnerability. We should certainly seek to defend critical areas such as our telecommunications from attack, but a defender always has certain disadvantages. The choice of when, where and how to attack lies with the assailant and the defender is, at least at first, on the back foot. This problem is particularly acute when the space or activities to be defended are widely spread, as with our telecommunications network. We cannot therefore assume that an attack will fail, no matter how well we prepare. Quite the opposite: we have to assume at least a degree of success. So, the security of our national telecommunications infrastructure becomes a question less of how to prevent attacks entirely and more of how well we can absorb and recover from them.
In its first report of May last year, the National Infrastructure Commission acknowledged as much and recommended an architecture which can “anticipate” challenges, “resist, absorb” and “recover” from attacks and adapt accordingly. It calls on the Government to set “resilience standards”, appoint regulators to “oversee regular stress testing” and require that:
“Infrastructure operators produce long term resilience strategies”.
Can the Minister tell the House what progress has been made in implementing these recommendations?
All of this seems to throw up two different categories of question: what policies and actions would best protect our infrastructure from attack and achieve the necessary resilience, and how do we provide appropriately rapid assessments and directions to counter the effects of such attacks?
On the first point, at which this Bill is aimed, the Huawei experience would seem to suggest restricting the provision of parts of our infrastructure to trusted suppliers and operators, but who are they and how are they to be engaged? They cannot be drawn solely from the ranks of “British” companies—whatever that means in today’s globalised business environment—since we do not have the mass, the spread or the technologies within our economy to meet all our own needs. It is certainly possible to identify less risky 5G suppliers than Huawei, but not ones that are risk free.
Even where we do have a national capability to provide and operate parts of our infrastructure, problems remain. Are the Government to identify such national champions in selected areas of business? This may be necessary in some very restricted areas, but such dirigisme has a poor track record in the UK for two principal reasons. First, the Government are not very good at identifying winners. Secondly, in order to remain in business, such champions need a regular drumbeat of UK orders, which, in turn, stifles competition and efficiency. There are many salutary examples of this in the history of defence procurement.
A more productive approach might be to decrease reliance on one or even a few suppliers and thus build a degree of redundancy into the most critical parts of our infrastructure. This would not be the cheapest solution, at least in the short term, but the level of insurance that it provides might be well worth paying for. The Government need to develop an approach that balances cost, risks and resilience—that constantly monitors and rebalances this equation in the context of our complex and dynamic world.
This requirement, alongside the observation that some of our judgments will inevitably prove to be wrong, and in the expectation that some attacks will succeed, at least in part, brings me to my final point. Things move quickly in the world of technology, and they will move even faster during a determined attack on our telecommunications infrastructure. If we are to respond successfully, if we are to absorb the first blow, recover from it and reshape ourselves for the future, we will need two things: agility and adaptability. Agility in this sense is our ability to respond quickly to those things we did not or could not foresee—to change our systems, plans and, indeed, our thinking on the fly to check and outmanoeuvre our opponents. Our resilience and ability to recover will depend on this. Adaptability, by contrast, is about our ability to change our longer-term posture in the light of emerging threats and opportunities and to learn from both failure and success. Agility keeps us in the fight and helps us master immediate challenges. Adaptability maintains our readiness in a changing world.
Provision of these crucial attributes cannot be left to the individual service providers, but neither can they be delivered by the Government or by a regulatory body such as Ofcom. Those organisations can and should formulate policies, allocate resources and check compliance, but we also need a much more flexible arrangement to provide effective command and control of both our detailed preparations for, and our response to, attacks. Perhaps there is a role here for an expanded National Cyber Security Centre. So, while I welcome and support this necessary Bill, I urge the Government to view it as just one stage of a much longer journey. It is a good plan, but like all plans it will not survive first contact with the enemy. If we are safely to reap the benefits of new technologies, we need ways not just of regulating them but of dealing swiftly and competently with the dangers presented by their malign exploitation. This Bill goes only so far; we need to go much further.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate. In the time available, I want to welcome the Bill, which, as we have already heard, delivers on promised made by the Government and Ministers in 2019 and 2020: that a comprehensive telecoms security framework would be put in place. As my noble friend the Minister said, this is a comprehensive security framework that will provide an opportunity to look beyond just one company or one country of concern. As we have heard from previous speakers, over the years there will of course be more threats and more areas and companies of concern that will arise.
I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that of course this is a first step. As we know, with security threats and with emerging technology, over the years a more comprehensive response will be needed, but I think the Government are to be congratulated that the midst of the disruption over the last 15 months, this telecoms security framework Bill has been brought forward as was promised. The other side to this, as we have already heard, is noble Lords’ desire to hear about the pace and rollout of the diversification strategy. My noble friend the Minister will, I hope, be taking this from the House and be able to address it in her comments.
As noble Lords will be aware, the use of 5G technologies, the importance of 5G to the delivery of the internet of things, the use of artificial intelligence and other technologies, are only going to grow. Just this morning, I was part of this House’s Covid-19 Committee listening to evidence about the increase, as we have seen, of course, of people working from home over the last year, running their businesses from home and, as some of us have seen more closely than others, home schooling—which we all hope there will be no need for again in future. Without secure, reliable and resilient broadband internet and 5G connectivity, we will put ourselves at a disadvantage as a country.
The need for that resilience—as well as having secure networks—means that if we are asking companies to take out the technology from a particular other supplier, or to not use technology from particular countries in future, for extremely understandable, wise and prescient security reasons, we will need to make sure that we build up a secure, long-lasting and sustainable supply chain strategy in this country. This may not relate only to domestic companies; we have allies around the world and will want to be able to work with other companies and countries around the world to make sure we have that diversity of the supply chain. The lack of diversity has been referred to as a market failure, and I think that was correct. The Government have now very much got on top of this and got ahead of this. I hope the Minister will, as the Bill goes through this House—I will have great pleasure in supporting it as it does—and in future, be able to keep the House updated about the delivery of that diversification of the supply chain, as was announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in November last year. I wish the Bill every success as it proceeds.
My Lords, I hope to be very brief. We ought to remember three things. First, our lives are very short—although I am 85—in comparison with the 300 years of the Industrial Revolution. Secondly, that is 0.1% of Homo sapiens’ existence on this world. Thirdly, the world is much older still. Is the Minister assured that the development of innovation that is part and parcel of what we want to see over the next few years is going to continue, or is this going to be a block on the continuation of that?
More importantly, much of what Ofcom deals with is international, not national. Therefore, it is going to be much more difficult to respond to an entitlement of that nature internationally than nationally. It is easy to deal with four or five companies that deal with telecommunications within this country, but it is not so easy to deal with them internationally, particularly with Facebook and Twitter and all the other things that go with that. I have no idea where they come from. Does anybody know where they come from? Netflix is a massive organisation, now producing more than the BBC, but where does it come from? Where exactly is it, in terms of telecommunications generally? Amazon Prime—again, where does it come from? I pay my bill to Amazon Prime regularly, but where on earth do I pay it to? Where does it go?
I suggest three things: first, that we deal with the international issue; secondly, that we deal with the issue that I raised to start with; and thirdly—more importantly—that we ask whether our democratic system keeping up with the improvements in science and technology that are happening around the world at present. Yes, in 1820, two-thirds of people in Britain lived below the level of absolute poverty. Now, the United Nations is talking about abolishing that term because that level no longer exists. Poverty exists, of course, but absolute poverty does not exist. On vaccines, even in the present crisis, the number of people who are vaccinated now is higher than in the past. The number of people who can read and write is also higher. So, why are we not tackling the problem of changing our constitution to ensure that we keep up with the scientific and technological improvements happening around the world?
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her clear and convincing explanation of the need for this Bill, which I support. I have a possible interest as a beneficiary of the British Telecom pension scheme but, as it was a nationalised industry when I worked for it and our main preoccupation was the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling in the 1960s, I fear that much of my knowledge of the technical side of the telecommunications industry is 60 years out of date.
I mention in passing the report by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which says, on the power in Clause 3, that the committee is unconvinced by the department’s case and recommends a negative procedure for the code of practice. That seems to me to be a concession that the Government could consider. I noticed with approval the Minister’s conciliatory response when she spoke about the committee’s report.
There are three issues I want to raise briefly. The first concerns whether the Secretary of State’s directions and designations under the Bill are justiciable and whether issues of national security could end up being decided not by Ministers but by the courts. For example, could a potential supplier, such as Huawei, assert that there was no risk to national security in any ministerial designation, that decisions were being taken to protect domestic suppliers and that no reasonable Secretary of State could have reached such a conclusion and seek an injunction? In which case, despite the passage of the Bill, we would find that there was extensive and time-consuming litigation, during which time investment in telecoms infrastructure would be frozen and potential security issues would be ventilated in the courts. Can my noble friend say that every precaution has been taken to avoid such a scenario?
Related to this is whether the Secretary of State has to give reasons for his decisions. We are told in the Explanatory Notes:
“Designations and directions may only be made in the interests of national security.”
Paragraph 35 then sets out the factors that the Secretary of State will take into account, which presumably could give ammunition to a potential litigant. Subsection (5) of new Section 105Z1 of the Communications Act 2003 inserted by Clause 15 says:
“A designated vendor direction must specify … the reasons for the direction”.
However, the next subsection says that “specifying reasons” need not be given if it
“would be contrary to the interests of national security”,
while, in new subsection (2)(1) we are told that a direction can be given only
“in the interests of national security”.
So, we seem to be going round in circles. I wonder whether my noble friend can shed some light on this paradox.
My second question relates to responsibility for telecommunications security within the Government. The Explanatory Notes tell us:
“The security of telecoms infrastructure needs to be considered within an international context”
and we read how cyberwarfare is going to displace conventional warfare. The powers given to the Government in the Bill to protect the integrity of our communications network rest with DCMS but, at the moment, the Secretary of State is not on the National Security Council, which to me seems a surprising omission. The National Cyber Security Centre, whose work is central to the operation of the Bill, is part of GCHQ, which reports to the Foreign Secretary. The Cyber and Government Security Directorate sits within the Cabinet Office, leading on the co-ordination and delivery of the classified national security risk assessment, which assesses the most significant risks to the UK. When I answered Questions for the Cabinet Office in Your Lordships’ House, I had to answer Questions about Huawei—or, if I did not answer them, I at least replied to them. Finally, a significant proportion of telecommunications research is led and funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its external bodies, such as UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK, report to BEIS. Can my noble friend explain, perhaps in a letter, the inner wiring of responsibility for dealing with cyberwarfare between the FCDO, the Cabinet Office, the MoD, BEIS and DCMS?
My last point concerns the ambition to create one of the toughest security regimes in the world and set up the UK as a global leader in the telecoms supply chain, a point made by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes. I very much welcome this. Other countries in the free world face the same challenges as the UK in protecting the integrity of their national networks and others are reducing their dependence on Huawei. So, there is a real opportunity here to win new markets, create fresh investment and employment in the UK on the back of this Bill and build back better. To what extent is the UK liaising with other countries to ensure that the standards—the codes of practice mentioned in the Bill—are recognised by other countries, so that the new supply chains that we plan to create in the UK enable us to penetrate new markets? Can my noble friend amplify what she told us in her letter of 2 June about the steps we are taking to set up the UK as a global leader in this field? What progress has been made in attracting new suppliers to the UK market? What is the follow-up to the telecoms diversification task force under my noble friend Lord Livingston? It reported in April with a wide range of recommendations: the co-ordination of government activity, a targeted international engagement strategy, joint working on standards and buy-in by other countries.
I conclude by quoting from that report—-:
“It is therefore essential that the UK coordinates its efforts with like-minded nations and focuses investment in areas that can succeed on an international, not national scale. … If the Government is to move the dial towards the UK’s long-term vision for the market, it will require buy-in and support from a critical mass of nations.”
I have not seen a government response to those thoughtful and wide-ranging recommendations. Perhaps, again in a letter, my noble friend could set out how we plan to build on the recommendations in that report.
With these comments, I wish my noble friend well as she pilots this Bill on to the statute book.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very fair introduction to the Bill. As a former member of Huawei’s international advisory board, I am somewhat conflicted in a discussion about the principles of the Bill, especially following the various twists and turns in government policy. I very much support the 5G supply chain diversification strategy, but the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Fox and the noble Lord, Lord Young, need to be answered. How it is progressing and where any financial support is going need to be the subjects of regular report by government, given that in the short term we are faced by a stark dual-supplier market.
As my noble friend Lord Fox has indicated, however, I want to focus on, and confine myself to, a debate about the wide-ranging new powers in the Bill for the Secretary of State and Ofcom and the lack of adequate checks and balances, especially in terms of oversight, whether parliamentary, judicial or, indeed, technical, which permeates the Bill. If there are going to be these extensive new powers, we need to make sure that they are exercised properly and with due process and consultation.
The Delegated Powers Committee report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Young, is just the tip of the iceberg. It draws the attention of the House to the proposed new Section 105E of the Communications Act 2003, which gives the Secretary of State power to issue, revise or withdraw codes of practice about security measures that should be taken by providers in the performance of their duties to prevent security compromises. There is a duty to consult with Ofcom and providers but no oversight or approval role for Parliament.
I am glad to say that the committee, in the light of the importance of the code in assessing compliance and in enforcement by Ofcom, was unconvinced by the department’s claim that this was too detailed and technical, and “not legislative”. As the committee says,
“The Bill provides for codes of practice to play a significant role–both in relation to the exercise of OFCOM’s regulatory functions and in legal proceedings - in supplementing the important duties to take security measures that the Bill imposes on providers.”
“In our view, it is unacceptable for codes of practice that will have the significant statutory effects provided for in this Bill to be subject to no Parliamentary scrutiny procedure.”
I differ from the committee simply in that, in my view, the procedure to be adopted must, at minimum, be the affirmative procedure. As Comms Council UK has pointed out, Section 105E is not the only proposed new section which gives the Secretary of State extensive powers; there are others. Proposed new Section 105Z1, for example, gives power for the Secretary of State to outlaw the use of individual vendors, where there is potentially no parliamentary oversight, if the Secretary of State considers it would be contrary to national security—as has been referred to by other noble Lords. Surely that is exactly where oversight by the Intelligence and Security Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord West, has so cogently said, or by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, as the Constitution Committee has suggested, would be not only appropriate but essential. The whole area of enforcement of compliance and, under proposed new Section 105Z27, as regards power to require information and the requirement not to disclose, needs similar oversight.
Nor is there any dedicated role for judicial oversight. Unlike similar legislation, such as that under Part 8 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, there are no provisions for judicial oversight of the Secretary of State’s powers. This is compounded by the fact that, under Clause 13, in any appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal, the tribunal cannot take account of the merits of a case against the Secretary of State, the rationale for which, as the Constitution Committee says,
“is unclear and is not justified in the Explanatory Notes.”
Can the Minister make a better fist of the explanation today?
With regard to Ofcom’s new powers to ensure compliance with security duties, as set out in the proposed new Section 105M, how will these relate to Ofcom’s existing powers under Sections 3 and 6 of the Communications Act 2003? Will this duty and the new powers Ofcom is being given still be subject to good regulatory practice so that, for example, it still must have regard to the principles of transparency, accountability, proportionality and consistency, and not impose unnecessary burdens? How will this fit in with the statement to be made by Ofcom under proposed new Section 105Y? What assurance can the Minister give? Will we see a draft during the passage of the Bill?
Similar considerations apply to the new Ofcom powers to assess compliance under Clause 6 and in regard to inspection notices under Clause 19. As the council has also pointed out, there are no clear mechanisms for technical feedback or expertise to be fed in. It observes that many of the technical requirements that will be placed on its members are not in the text of the Bill but in accompanying documents which are either yet to be published or are receiving very little scrutiny.
Already it is clear that, in the draft Electronic Communications (Security Measures) Regulations, which are to be made by virtue of the proposed new Sections 105B and 105D, giving the Secretary of State power to make regulations to require telecoms companies to take “specified security measures” and “in response to security compromises”, there are real issues with regard to provisions about patches and supply chains and definitions regarding audit and monitoring of foreign network operations centres, and it is not clear that expert technical industry comments are being taken on board. What further consultations are planned? Is this not exactly where a technical advisory board and/or panel, as under the 2016 Act, is needed? Will they even be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament?
This lack of clarity and transparency is causing a great deal of uncertainty within the industry. Measures are being proposed that are either technically unworkable or potentially damaging to the strength and health of the UK telecoms industry. Particular concerns arise for providers whose networks are not based purely in the UK and who do not have the relationships with the department, Ofcom and the NCSC that domestic providers may have if there is no structured consultation, oversight and update process when codes are being drawn up. BT itself says:
“we believe greater clarity is needed on OFCOM’s planned approach, with safeguards introduced in the Bill to ensure operator burdens are proportionate.”
It also makes the point that the flexibility in the Bill should not be used to bring forward any deadlines for removal of equipment. What assurance can the Minister give on this?
As well as concerns about the new powers, there is also concern reflected by the Constitution Committee about the width of crucial definitions such as “security compromise” and “connected security compromise” contained in the Bill, and the consequences that flow, particularly as regards planned outages and the need to make a clear distinction between reporting on security compromises and on resilience.
I think that I have gone into enough detail at this Second Reading to amply demonstrate that we have quite an amendment job ahead of us in Committee and on Report.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for making time to see me and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, last week. The noble Lord is chairing his Select Committee this afternoon but intends to speak at later stages. By way of follow-up, the Minister will have seen the letter to her from the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, sent yesterday. Like them, I want to speak about human rights, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the strengthening of national resilience and diversification, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes.
On its front cover, the Bill begins with a declaration from the Minister referencing the Human Rights Act 1998 and stating that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms—to give it its full title—was originally proposed by Winston Churchill and drafted mainly by British lawyers, and it is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among other things, the convention insists on the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, the right to respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to marry and start a family, the right to participate in free elections, and the abolition of the death penalty. In considering a Bill which has been framed to explicitly rule out, in 5G provision, the future involvement of a company with close links to the Chinese Communist Party but which enables other links with other companies, it needs to be restated that every single one of these articles are broken each and every day by the Chinese Communist Party, and that they affect citizens outside its territory as well.
Although the Government may say that the ECHR is not the instrument with which to test their commitment to human rights, the compatibility statement should be read in line with other international law obligations, not least the prohibition on violating peremptory norms of international law, genocide, crimes against humanity, slavery and torture. The UK is, of course, a signatory to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and is bound by its own law on modern slavery. All provisions of customary international law and conventional law are binding on the UK Government, so we need to know what due diligence has been undertaken when considering their duty to prohibit and prevent genocide, along with the commissioning of other grave crimes.
The inadequacy of the compatibility statements led to an amendment to create a human rights threshold being tabled to the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill. Later, in the Trade Bill, the House voted overwhelmingly for the all-party genocide amendment. Perhaps the Minister can say what has happened to the promised committee to examine genocide determination. In this context, the Joint Committee on Human Rights should re-examine the purpose of those declarations.
One year ago, the Minister pointed me to Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, and she will recall promises to examine supply chain transparency and export controls. As I was assured:
“The Home Office keeps compliance under active review.”
Supply-chain transparency has been referred to in our debate by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes. In the absence of any progress on that promise to tackle the issue of supply-chain transparency, on 15 June I presented a Private Member’s Bill in your Lordships’ House to amend the Modern Slavery Act. To honour the Government’s undertaking, perhaps the Minister will consider adopting that Bill and providing it with parliamentary time.
Although this legislation is not specifically about China or Huawei, those were the country and company that have featured heavily in our debates. I welcome the explicit references to Huawei in the illustrative draft designation notices and designated-vendor direction to which the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, referred in her introductory remarks.
The situation in Xinjiang has not improved. The Government continue to say there are
“systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang, including credible and growing reports of forced labour”,
and the Foreign Secretary says this is “on an industrial scale.”
In 2019 and 2020, I specifically asked about Huawei’s compliance with the Modern Slavery Act and drew attention to China’s national intelligence law requiring Chinese organisations such as Huawei to support, assist and co-operate with state intelligence work. I also asked about reports that UK investors hold shares totalling £800 million in companies that supply CCTV and facial-recognition technology used to track Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The Government admitted that they were aware of those reports but complacently said they had
“not undertaken analysis of British investor shareholdings in Chinese surveillance companies.”
Meanwhile, however, Foreign Office Ministers were telling me the department had
“serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including extensive and invasive surveillance targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. An extensive body of open source evidence suggests such surveillance, including the use of facial recognition technology, plays a central role in the restrictive measures imposed in the region.”
The House should recall that the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, urging him to
“cease consideration of Huawei as a contractor or partner for the UK’s 5G infrastructure until investigations have been conducted into Huawei’s work in Xinjiang and its relationship to the mass persecution”.
Has that investigation taken place, and what were the conclusions?
Professor Adrian Zenz, a German scholar who recently gave evidence to the independent Uyghur Tribunal, says:
“Huawei is directly implicated in Beijing police state and related human rights violations in Xinjiang … it has lied to the public about this … In 2014, Huawei received an award from Xinjiang’s Ministry of Public Security for its role in establishing citywide surveillance systems.”
Professor Zenz says that Xinjiang represents
“the largest detention of an ethno-religious minority since World War II.”
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute meticulously details the global expansion of 23 key Chinese technology companies. One of its researchers, Vicky Xu, says the idea that Huawei is not working directly with the local governments in Xinjiang is “just straight-up nonsense”.
Since the Second Reading of this Bill in the Commons last November, there have been a number of developments that make it even more important to address the implications of being joined at the hip with any company operating under the auspices of the CCP. How do we justify deepening trade relations, as the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has told us he is seeking to do, with a country found by the House of Commons, in a vote on 22 April, to be complicit in events in Xinjiang where a genocide is under way? That was a vote in the House of Commons. It is not just my view or that of a group of human rights advocates; it is a view reached by the Commons. What action have we taken following that vote?
Last month, following that vote, Amnesty International issued a devastating report detailing arbitrary detention, forced indoctrination, torture, mass surveillance and crimes against humanity while the Daily Telegraph recently carried major first-hand reports from Xinjiang, including the destruction of 16,000 mosques. Harrowing evidence has been given to the independent Uyghur Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, some of whose sessions I was able to attend with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and whose brave witnesses and their families are now experiencing threats and intimidation.
If we add to the charge sheet reports of forced organ harvesting and the destruction of the rule of law, free speech and democracy in Hong Kong, along with the outrageous incarceration of legislators, lawyers, journalists, and campaigners, it is obvious that as well as security questions the House should give close attention to the human rights dimensions of this Bill. Although Huawei equipment in respect of 5G must be removed by 2027, and since the beginning of the year there have been prohibitions on purchasing any Huawei equipment, I hope we will probe how the installation prohibition will work from September and whether companies have been purchasing stockpiles with the intention of installing such equipment until 2027. How will the Government monitor this? Will some parts of the network—the most sensitive parts—be prioritised?
Earlier this month the Sunday Telegraph revealed that UK local authorities will review contracts for CCTV equipment from Hikvision, a Chinese tech firm that makes cameras used to monitor Uighur Muslims in China’s detention camps. The company is blacklisted in the United States but not here. This weekend the Washington Post reported on how Hikvision had recruited former legislators to extend its power and influence despite President Biden banning Americans from investing in the company, citing its links to the Chinese military. The UK is not immune to the influence of organisations such as The 48 Group Club, with a network of links to former and current politicians—including one who now publicly urges us to tone down our criticism of the treatment of Uighurs.
Beyond such influence, the role of hidden cameras was dramatically illustrated last week, as others have said, from the office of the former Secretary of State for Health. Yesterday the Lord Speaker wrote to us all saying that there are several hundred CCTV cameras in Parliament. I hope that in Committee we will consider the implications for civil liberties of placing such power in the hands of companies that install or own these cameras.
We should also consider the implications for security of giving such power to a regime intent on the overthrow of parliamentary democracy and which makes no secret of its goal of global hegemony. The hidden hands on the levers of power was a theme explored by the admirable Dr Julian Lewis MP, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, at Second Reading in the Commons. He asked
“in view of the revolving door, via which too many businessmen and ex-civil servants effortlessly glide between their former roles and the Huawei boardroom, what assurance can we have that the Government will be immune from lobbying campaigns by those on the payroll of high-risk vendors?”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/11/20; col. 84.]
That question was not answered in the Commons, and I would like to hear the Minister’s opinion on it. I have another question that I shall ask her directly: why have not we, like the United States, banned Hikvision? The company has been accused of helping to build the CCP’s surveillance state and profiting from human rights abuses. Does the Minister agree with that description or not? What will the Bill do to take back control of CCTV equipment in our high streets, public buildings and even government offices?
I shall speak briefly about the implications of this Bill for diversification and national resilience. During the Commons stages, Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State, said the Bill recognises that there are real threats to the UK’s security and interests, a point that my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup explored in his excellent speech. I welcome what Oliver Dowden and my noble and gallant friend have said about security and diversification. In addition to the diversification of telecoms to companies such as Ericsson and Samsung, is that not a principle that should be applied across government?
I will give two brief examples. In May, I asked how many Covid lateral flow tests we had bought from China. The answer was a staggering 1 billion—not 1 million but 1 billion. The Government declined to say how much they had cost taxpayers or to reveal the names of the companies involved, saying “It’s commercially sensitive”. I tabled a further Question asking why we could not be told how much 1 billion lateral flow tests had cost us and which companies had carried out that trade. Are we seriously saying that we could not have used taxpayers’ money to make those tests in the UK and to give British workers jobs doing it?
My second example raises equally troubling issues. I was recently contacted by a librarian in Wigan, a lady of 34 years’ standing, who has been suspended after using social media to criticise her council’s decision to award redevelopment contracts to Chinese companies. She was fearful that they might have links to Xinjiang.
The Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, should require all local authorities to provide details of such deals, and demand to see whether subsidised lowest bids for council developments have undercut unsubsidised UK companies, just as has happened in the telecommunications sector.
The persistent breaking of WTO rules on subsidies and competitions has enabled CCP dominance in telecoms, and now it is happening in other sectors as well. The Minister should tell us when we are going to raise this at the WTO and across Whitehall. Does he personally believe that it is ever licit or right to deepen trade with a country credibly accused of the crime-above-all-crimes: genocide. Diversification, national resilience and the upholding of our values, especially on fundamental human rights, are all reflected in the way we trade. Genocide is a line we should never cross. I support the Second Reading of this Bill today. I hope to return to these and other issues when we get to Committee and later stages.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after my noble friend Lord Alton, following his extraordinary commitment to the Uighur community and to issues of human rights. I too will speak in support of this hugely important and timely Bill.
The UK stands at a reset moment in an increasingly changing world. We have delivered on Brexit, confronted a global pandemic and have an ambitious levelling-up agenda. It is in this context that we are looking now to empower those who have been left behind, revolutionise our critical information infrastructure with the rollout of 5G and see us become a more prosperous and innovative nation. Yet, as we get ready to build back better, it is also time for a rethink of our geopolitical, strategic and technological approaches to make a more honest assessment of the world we find ourselves in, ensuring that we harness the opportunity to become stronger, safer and more prosperous than before.
I support this Bill, as it is the first of many steps that will be needed in adapting to our changing geopolitical landscape. The provisions in the Bill are necessary, as we need to act quickly to ensure our security apparatus is configured for today’s challenges. According to MI5, the UK has at least 20 foreign intelligence services actively operating against the UK’s interests. The Government’s own telecoms supply chain review, published by DCMS in 2019, found that the telecoms market was not working in a way that incentivised good cybersecurity. In its October 2020 report, the Defence Committee concluded that the current 5G regulatory situation for network security was “outdated and unsatisfactory”.
We have a world-class security and intelligence community but, as we enter this new era, we must accept that enabling it to adapt to emerging threats will be the defining feature of its success. This Bill needs to mark a national security turning point, where key infrastructure decisions are based on fact-based risk assessments, and not on commercial or political convenience.
This Bill also recognises the threat posed by high-risk vendors such as Huawei. We have known that Huawei is a security risk since 2013. A report from the Intelligence and Security Committee concluded back then that Huawei posed a risk to national security and that private providers were responsible for ensuring the security of the UK telecoms network.
According to Ofcom, Huawei accounted for about 44% of the equipment to provide superfast full-fibre connections directly to homes, offices and other buildings in the UK. Although it is not in the text of the Bill, the Government have now accepted, as we have already heard, that 2027 needs to be the end point for Huawei as a provider. This is an important moment in taking back our information technology sovereignty.
The reason behind this is clear. We have entered into a new era of geopolitics, with the battle for control of information technology at the forefront. The recent integrated review acknowledged that China’s growing international stature was by far the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today, with major implications for British values and interests and for the structure and shape of the international order. It recognised China as the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security. Yet that same review remains ambivalent as to the action we should take. We need to rethink our relationship with China into a more robust foreign policy strategy that prioritises both our security and our sovereignty.
While I support this Bill, there is more that needs to be done. There needs to be a more formal structure embedded in the Bill with regard to the powers given to Ofcom and the Secretary of State, as other noble Lords have said. Could the Minister outline what powers the Government intend that Ofcom and the Secretary of State should have, and how they will work with the ISC and the security sector to ensure accountability and to ensure national security is not compromised through lobbying?
Even beyond the Bill, we also need to invest in diversifying competition. As part of this Government’s ambitious levelling-up agenda, they have promised the nationwide rollout of 5G across Britain. But we have become hamstrung by our dependence on Huawei for this critical infrastructure. It did not need to be this way. This situation has been constantly described as a “market failure”, but it was not really a market failure. The failure was in the reality of one country breaking WTO rules on subsidies. The key problem has been that China has subsidised its providers dramatically, destroying the market over the past 10 years.
The diversification of our telecoms network, working in close partnership with our Five Eyes allies, needs to be a priority for this Government and an integral part of Ofcom’s reporting. When we genuinely open up the market to competitors, we create the environment for the innovation and dynamism that will be required as we move into the next quarter of the 21st century.
Huawei, however, needs to be stripped out quicker. While it is encouraging to see that the Government have set the 2027 target as the date by which Huawei should no longer be a provider, we cannot afford to wait until 2027 to remove Huawei from our existing networks. The process of removing Huawei’s influence from the UK is an extensive task, but an absolutely necessary one.
The Government should take the opportunity to consider other high-risk vendors such as TikTok and other companies operating here. This problem goes beyond Huawei. We face the existential question of how we coexist in a world with a technological superpower that does not share the same values of privacy of personal information, freedom of speech and democracy.
Chinese national intelligence laws dictate that private companies must share their data, when asked, with the CCP. The White House has sanctioned 11 Chinese companies, including suppliers to Apple, Google, HP and Microsoft. The list features companies that work with major fashion brands, along with technology giants such as Amazon, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. I would like to ask the Minister what assessment the Government have made of other high-risk vendors that could compromise UK citizens’ safety and security due to reporting requirements that exist in China.
Although this Bill encompasses all security threats and high-risk vendors, it is impossible not to address the need for a reshaping of our relationship with China. That country has overtaken Germany to become the UK’s biggest single import market for the first time since records began. The worth of goods imported from China rose 66% from the start of 2018 to £16.9 billion in the first quarter of this year. As we witness events in Hong Kong, which absolutely break my heart, because I used to live there, and we learn more about the ongoing genocide against the Uighur people, observe the breaking of WTO protocols in ongoing trade wars with our closest allies and uncover espionage across our universities, tech and innovation sectors, it is perplexing to me that we continue to sit on the fence.
The much-vaunted belt and road initiative has united authoritarian leaders across Eurasia in providing a forum to plan strategically, without being held back by discussions of human rights, freedom of speech or rule of law. It is in that policy programme that China’s tech giants, such as Huawei, export their communications infrastructure. I would encourage us to take the lead in the build back better world initiative, as discussed in the G7, to create stronger diplomatic alliances across Africa and the developing world but also to facilitate a viable alternative to the belt and road initiative, which threatens our geopolitical and economic security. The UK also needs to strengthen its ties with its Five Eyes allies and south Asian neighbours in the region such as Japan, India and South Korea, as well as approaching this issue with our European friends.
Safety and security is the first building block for the prosperity of a nation. Without secure defence measures at the heart of our critical infrastructure and online, our country runs the risk of opening itself up to foreign intelligence working against our nation’s interests. This Bill is an important step to creating that foundation, and I encourage the Government to use its passage to ensure that the foundation is as strong as possible.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. I find myself in agreement with everything that she said.
Anything that improves the security of our tele- communications systems must be welcome, so I support this Bill, but I think it misses a golden opportunity. Telecommunications security covers a wide range of risks: from the resilience of the system to risks such as weather or power outages, through resilience to malicious attacks from hostile states or criminals, to the misuse of systems to access, alter or destroy data. From a consumer point of view, all those are really important, but the one security risk that impacts on people’s daily lives the most is the misuse of telecommunications networks and services by criminals and, apparently, by certain states, to facilitate fraud.
I explained during Second Reading of the Online Safety Bill that fraud is so widespread because it is easy, and it is easy because there is no incentive for a whole range of service providers to take the necessary steps to stop it. Those service providers include the search engines and social media companies, web-hosting companies, banks and more, but the list also includes telecommunications companies, which in effect facilitate fraud through three key weaknesses.
First, the most serious weakness is when a criminal is able to convince the service provider to transfer someone’s phone number so that they can control it. This is known as sim-swap fraud, which gives the criminal complete access to the victim’s emails, bank accounts, one-time passwords, contacts and so on. Indeed, with the ever-growing list of things that we can access and control from our phones, it could also give access to our front-door locks, our burglar alarms, our cars, which can now be unlocked and started by phone, and more. In fact, imagine the possibilities for criminals once we have genuinely self-driving cars all connected by 5G.
The second security weakness that telecommunications companies are allowing is the falsifying of caller IDs, when a criminal is able to appear to be calling or texting from a legitimate number, such as a bank or HMRC. As a result, the victim, believing the call to be genuine, is persuaded to provide bank details or transfer money.
The third security issue is allowing criminals to send out bulk malicious texts and calls using the networks, often in conjunction with false caller IDs. We are all bombarded with these all the time. I received one that I had not heard before just this morning; apparently, my national insurance number is being used for criminal purposes, and I must call the number or I shall have my assets seized and be arrested—so there we go. The calls can lead to fraud being perpetrated, and texts can include links that result in malware being loaded on to the victim’s phone, which allows access to emails and bank accounts. As well as fraud, they cause very real anxiety, yet we seem to have to accept them as an irritant of modern life. I probably receive more fraud calls than genuine ones, which might be a reflection on my social life. I have not been able to find any reliable statistics, but it seems that at least a material proportion of all calls and texts made over the networks are fraudulent.
This Bill seems to be a perfect opportunity to try to make life harder for the criminals who are exploiting mobile phone networks and services to perpetrate fraud. The best way in which to do this is to provide a real incentive for the telecommunications providers to prevent it; they should be liable for the penalties—although I hesitate to use that word, given what is happening in an hour or so—and for the losses incurred as a result of allowing the service to be misused, unless they have taken reasonable action to prevent it. At the moment, it is arguably in the telecommunications companies’ interests to allow the activities to continue, as they are being paid by the criminals for all the calls and texts.
Reading the Bill, I find myself unsure as to whether it covers these types of risks or not. I understand from a letter that I received from the Minister earlier today that it is not intended to, although I think that it could with not much change. Her letter, for which I am grateful, only refers to the issue of fraudulent calls and texts; it does not cover the other risks that I have mentioned. Clause 1 introduces a duty on communications networks and service providers to take measures to identify and reduce the risks of security compromises occurring. It then goes on to define what a security compromise is, with a pretty wide range of definitions. Among them, new subsection (2)(f) refers to
“anything that occurs in connection with the network or service and causes any data stored by electronic means to be … lost … unintentionally altered; or … altered otherwise than by or with the permission of the person holding the data”.
As far as I can see, nothing in the Bill limits security compromise to those that come from hostile states, and that is a good thing, since security compromise could well come from criminals. The risks that I have described do occur in connection with the network or the service, and they may cause electronically stored data to be lost or altered. So on my first reading, it appears that the risks that I have described may be covered or could easily be covered in the Bill if a suitable code of practice was issued.
In passing, on that subject, I share the concerns raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that the codes of practice will not be subject to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny.
If the security risks that I have described are not intended to be covered by the Bill, we are missing a golden opportunity to make it harder for criminals to use our communications networks and services to perpetrate fraud on consumers. The Government are planning to produce a fraud action plan, but not until after the spending review. In the meantime, people will continue to lose their money, with all the mental and personal impacts that brings. It may not currently be intended to do this, but this Bill with very little change could be used to cut off one of the major facilitators of fraud with very little delay. Would the Minister be willing to consider how the Bill could be amended to meet that goal, and would she be willing to meet to discuss what actions we can take to safeguard users of the services from criminal misuse of telecommunications networks or services?
My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to take part in this important debate. This Bill is, broadly speaking, uncontroversial. No one would seek to oppose legislation that makes our telecommunications networks in the UK more secure. Certainly, if one looks at the debates in the other place, amendments were very few and far between, and they were tweaking amendments rather than fundamental.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said about combating online scams; whether the Bill can be used as a method to test the Government’s resolve in combating this issue remains to be seen. I certainly recall when I was the telecoms Minister working closely with Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office to try to combat nuisance calls. There are a variety of factors in play in trying to combat this kind of plague. One is the willingness of the regulators to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in carrying out prosecutions, and another is certainly technology solutions, which can and should be encouraged by all the operators.
The third—the noble Lord referred to the Government’s review of action on fraud—is a much wider landscape approach from the Government on how to combat this. For example—and this is no criticism of the police—it seems to me that we still have a Victorian police structure in the 21st century. We should be thinking about leaning in and recruiting cyber specialists far more effectively to work in the police force to combat these kinds of crimes, not simply bringing people to justice but combating this kind of work on the network.
I will begin with one of the elements that lies behind this Bill: the concern over Huawei and its presence in our telecoms network. Many noble Lords have set out strong views on Huawei and the Chinese industry in general during this debate. I was particularly struck by the excellent speech of my noble friend Lady Stroud. When I was a Minister, I worked closely with Huawei, in the sense that we had in place a protocol with the security services to check the kind of equipment Huawei was installing in the networks. It was a transparent process; nobody was pretending that Huawei was not involved in selling equipment to our telecoms providers, nor that it was not being installed in the UK telecoms networks. That equipment was reviewed in a very transparent way and Huawei was forced to put in place a UK board made up of UK citizens to supervise its work.
While I wholly condemn Chinese behaviour as far as the Uighurs and Hong Kong are concerned, one should be cautious in assuming that every piece of Chinese commercial activity is somehow linked to espionage. I certainly do not think that, when one of my children uses TikTok, they are somehow being caught by the Chinese state. There is some irony that we often debate these issues while looking at our iPhones, which of course are manufactured in China, or perhaps using a Dell laptop supplied by the Parliamentary Estate, which has been made in China as well. One must be open-eyed and transparent about this, but not assume that everything coming from China will undermine our national security. Nevertheless, I wholly agree with my noble friend that one of the problems with Huawei was that it was effectively an unfair competition. Our markets are much more open to foreign investment than the Chinese market, and Huawei was certainly heavily subsidised by the Chinese state, so a pushback in that sense is very welcome.
The key to this Bill is ensuring that we have secure telecoms infrastructure, and I echo the remarks of noble Lords about the general resilience of our infra- structure. It is not only state actors who can provide malign effects on it; we have only to look at the recent SolarWinds attack on a critical piece of US infrastructure to see how easy it is for criminal groups, sometimes tacitly supported by the states in which they reside, to attack our networks. To make those as robust and secure as possible must be an absolute priority for the Government as we move more and more into the digital age.
It is quite right that this Bill comes forward to put security duties on our telecoms companies for the first time. I note that the detail of those security duties will be contained in regulations and hope that the Minister will bring us up to date on how those regulations are progressing. I also note that Ofcom will take a key role in overseeing how those duties are fulfilled, working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre. I am delighted to see that Ofcom’s budget has been increased to take account of those new duties.
Given the recent political furore over Ofcom, this is a useful reminder that it is not a political regulator; it is a boring but essential regulator that carries out vital work to keep our network secure and our communication markets competitive. I hope the Government take that point on board and give Ofcom as much freedom as possible to carry on doing the excellent work it has done for some 20 years. Ofcom is working more and more with other regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Competition and Markets Authority. This is partly out of necessity, because to hire the talent that these regulators need, they will sometimes now have to hire employees who work across all three regulators. It is an illustration of how regulation is becoming more and more intertwined.
With that in mind, I hope that the Minister will bring us up to date on how Ofcom is working with other regulators to keep all our essential infrastructure secure—and with regulators across the world, because this affects us all, particularly western democracies. I also hope the important work carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Livingston, on supply chain diversification will be leaned into. I particularly support his call for government-sponsored research into how open RAN networks can play a vital role.
Finally, can the Minister bring us up to date on how well new vendors are doing in coming into the market? With Huawei effectively expelled from our market over the next five years, I hope we will see many more European vendors able to take up the slack and provide the equipment that our infrastructure providers need.
My Lords, this Bill is generally welcomed and very well intentioned, but it really lacks any effective parliamentary or judicial oversight, as has been quite forcefully pointed out. I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord West, said on this issue. We should use the ISC for th