House of Lords
Thursday 16 September 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.
England: Historic Counties
The history and traditions of this country are very important and the tapestry of our historic counties is one of the bonds that draws the nation together. We support various initiatives to celebrate our historic counties and encourage local leaders across Great Britain to do the same.
My Lords, do our historic counties not enable us to recall many elements of our long and glorious past? Should they not appear on all maps, as a matter of course? Should they not be used on all ceremonial occasions rather than, as is sometimes the case, the more recent artificial creations?
My noble friend is right to raise this issue. The Government have taken steps to ensure it is easier to recognise historic counties. In 2014, planning rules were changed to allow councils to put up boundary signs marking traditional English counties. In 2015, the Government commissioned Ordnance Survey to produce historic and ceremonial county-boundary datasets, and we are open to other ideas.
My Lords, the national insurance hike last week skewed funding under the Barnett formula still further. If the historic county of Yorkshire, which has a population slightly larger than Scotland’s, had its own Barnett formula, it would receive an extra £12 billion. Would that not be levelling up?
My Lords, I recognise that we need stability and point out that many areas have not seen significant change. The last reorganisation in London, where I was a local councillor, was in 1965 which, I have to say, was before I was born. I recognise that we need stability in our administrative structures.
My Lords, all surveys suggest that Yorkshire has one of the strongest senses of common identity of any region or county in England, historically as a single county but occasionally divided into three. The Government, nevertheless, seem determined to divide it into four, each with its own elected mayor, and have just forced a reorganisation on to North Yorkshire. Why have the Government insisted on disregarding very strong representations from almost all councils in Yorkshire, in the way they have pushed their version of “devolved” government?
My Lords, I point out that Greenhalgh is a Lancastrian name, so I dispute Lancashire being second to Yorkshire, but that is a matter for debate. Devolution has required a degree of local consultation and decision-making. We are seeking to reflect functional and economic areas in our devolution programme, so it is important that it continues to be locally led.
My Lords, the maiming of our historic counties in the Heath years, with the destruction of some of the oldest political units in the world, was one of many lamentable acts emanating from that ministry. It may be a bit much to restore completely the administrative status quo ante, but will the Minister at least undertake to align ceremonial counties with the 92 historic counties that make up England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
I am happy to emphasise the strong feeling about Yorkshire in this Chamber. As we have heard, Britain’s historic counties are central to local identities and Yorkshire is the perfect example of that. Unfortunately, the Government have resisted the locally led One Yorkshire devolution deal, supported by 20 out of 22 local authorities, which would celebrate our historic county by bringing power, resources and jobs to the region, allowing it to develop its full potential. Do the Government have any plans to reassess their policy on this and support the ambition of the Yorkshire leaders board and the One Yorkshire committee, which has cross-party support from Members of these Benches?
My Lords, we continue to look at devolution matters. As the noble Baroness knows, we considered One Yorkshire, but we are some way down the line in creating mayors in the different regions. We recognise the real, proud tradition in Yorkshire, which we should reflect in our national way of life.
My Lords, I should declare that I am a vice-chairman of the Historic Counties All-Party Group and a proud son of Middlesex. Would my noble friend—and fellow Middle Saxon, I believe—agree that just changing the administrative boundaries should not in any way harm the importance of those historic counties? Perhaps he will agree to a meeting with the all-party group and our indomitable special adviser, Mr Russell Grant, so that we can discuss these matters.
My noble friend makes that very easy: I even have Russell Grant’s book on historic counties here. He has had a great impact on our department and I am very pleased to meet the all-party group and Mr Middlesex. Yes, I am a proud wearer of a Middlesex tie, admittedly from when I was younger, fitter and svelter. It is very important to consider these issues.
My Lords, as one of the Members of this House who was born, bred and still resides in the West Riding of Yorkshire, I assure my noble friend that the Government and the new Secretary of State would be immensely popular across the whole of Yorkshire if they were finally to overturn the vandalism of the early 1970s and restore the territorial integrity and names of the ancient ridings of God’s own county.
My Lords, there is a very strong Yorkshire theme today. The Government proudly flew the Yorkshire flag outside our headquarters to mark Yorkshire Day. That beautiful flag was part of the display in Parliament Square that flew for a week to mark Historic County Flags Day on 23 July. We recognise that people should take great pride in their local identities and we continue to do so, irrespective of the local administrative areas.
My Lords, would my noble friend agree that our historic counties have a critical role to play in the levelling-up agenda, with their proximity to the people and as an enabler of local identity? Has he ever had the opportunity to visit Worcestershire county cricket ground—surely one of the loveliest spots in the world to spend a sunny summer’s afternoon?
My Lords, my travel schedule is changing with every question. I have not been to Worcestershire; I am very happy to take in a visit to see the delights of that county ground, particularly over a delightful English summer. Of course, the Government recognise that historic counties are a very important part of our identity and need to be promoted wherever possible.
I support my noble friend Lord Lexden’s request. County boundaries have been changed in the past, particularly by the Heath Government, but mercifully were restored subsequently. However, there can be some case to amend boundaries largely to accommodate urban population developments. I suggest that county boundaries might be reviewed every 25 years to check whether the growth in urban areas within them needs to be addressed.
It sounds like someone is pre-empting my response. We need to recognise that historic counties are there and part of our fabric and history. We also need to realise functional economic areas, which do change with time. Obviously, we will reflect our administrative boundaries as the demography of the country changes.
Leasehold: Building and Fire Safety
I declare my interest in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The Government have invested more than £5 billion to remediate unsafe cladding in buildings over 18 metres. For the small number of 11 to 18-metre buildings with cladding remediation costs, our finance scheme will ensure that leaseholders pay no more than £50 per month towards this. A new levy and tax will ensure that industry contributes, and under the Building Safety Bill building owners must explore all reasonable ways to meet remediation costs before passing these on.
My Lords, the action taken by the Government to date is just not good enough. Leaseholders feel abandoned by the Government. All the talk of levelling up and supporting communities means nothing. It is deeds not words that the victims need today. What will the noble Lord do today after this exchange to persuade his new Secretary of State that further action is needed? Will he come down with me to Parliament Square at 1 pm today to meet some of the victims and listen to their heartbreaking stories?
My Lords, I am very happy to join the noble Lord in visiting the people who will be demonstrating today at 1 pm. This is continually a moving feast. I am happy to announce that we are increasing the amount of money we are putting in the waking watch relief fund, which has been a crippling cost for many leaseholders, by a further £5 million to the initial £30 million. That has helped around 20,000 leasehold dwellings and 264 buildings to date. We continue to ensure that we find ways to make sure that the original developer pays wherever possible.
My Lords, many people do not seem to realise that this is having a devastating effect on people of every social class. I was 10 minutes late coming in because I was hearing about a lawyer living in St Albans, where I live, who now faces bankruptcy and may no longer be able to practise if she is made bankrupt. If you buy a defective car it gets recalled and has to be sorted out. What attention and consideration are Her Majesty’s Government giving to the polluter pays principle, which we need to build into this issue if we are to address this devastating problem unfolding before our very eyes?
My Lords, we recognise that if you buy a defective dwelling you expect the person responsible for the building of it to do something about it. That is precisely why the Government, as part of the Building Safety Bill, are proposing to increase the Defective Premises Act redress period from six years to 15 years retrospectively, which will bring in a great number of buildings to be able to seek redress from developers. That is why we continue to work on measures that will ensure that the polluter does pay wherever possible, and we are looking very closely at proposals from Steve Day and his team around the polluter pays amendments.
My Lords, the Government have provided substantial support to deal with the cladding crisis, which I welcome, but that support, together with the new tax on high-rise development the Minister mentioned, will be inadequate to avoid hardship and inequity for many innocent leaseholders. Further to what the right reverend Prelate just said, would it not be fair to bridge the gap by a levy on developers that built and sold these substandard homes?
My noble friend is right, which is why we are looking at a new levy and a developer tax to ensure that the industry contributes. At this stage we are in consultation. We need to ensure that it is set at a level that raises substantial funds precisely for that purpose.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a leaseholder whose freeholder is trying to persuade us to allow him to extend the building by three storeys, with the inducement that it will cover the cost of the cladding remedial work if we agree to that extension. What right do leaseholders have to apply for a government grant when the freeholder, who also owns the management company, does not want to do so himself?
First of all, the duty to keep the building safe is on the building holder. There seem to be a small number of isolated cases in which the building owner is able to access funds and is not doing so. We would like to be apprised of that situation, so that we can see what we can do to encourage them to do the right thing.
Earlier this month Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the independent review of building regulations, urged homeowners to seek a second opinion on fire safety bills, warning that many are being “fleeced”. Do the Government support this advice?
My Lords, the Government support the principle that—in the same way you might go to a doctor and get an opinion, then seek a second opinion—we get the opportunity to have a second opinion on these matters, particularly where there are eye-watering costs. We do not want to see eye-watering costs levied when other mitigations provide a much more cost-effective solution.
My Lords, it is not only the developers that might be at fault. The manufacturers of the cladding and insulation also knew they had problems with materials but carried on marketing them anyway. Are the Government going to let them get away with murder?
We recognise that many people are responsible and that the standard of construction products has not been at the level we expect. That is why we have brought in a construction products regulator, situated in the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to oversee that within BEIS. Obviously, we are looking at how best to ensure that this does not happen in future and that those responsible make a contribution.
My Lords, the Minister has just said that he is considering a further levy on developers to enable leaseholders not to have to pay huge bills. One leaseholder I know has a bill of £200,000 landing on their doormat to pay now. Why are the Government so willing to protect developers’ profits while throwing leaseholders to the wolves?
My Lords, I do not recognise that as a sensible position to hold. Admittedly, this is a situation that has built up over many decades and leaseholders face those eye-watering costs, but we need to recognise that in the 18 months since I have been a Minister, the amount of money put up by the Government, recognising that we needed to step up and in many cases support the leaseholders, has increased from £0.6 billion to £5.1 billion. That is a staggering sum of money. You could always do more, of course, and that is why we are trying to bring forward measures in the Building Safety Bill to make sure that this failure of regulation and of construction quality never happens again. That is what this Government are trying to do.
My Lords, I want to issue a trigger warning: the demonstration by thousands of leaseholders from all over the country at 1 pm today is likely to be very noisy. Luckily, they sneaked it in before the police and crime Bill could ban it. But seriously, I am delighted the Minister says he will come and meet the people affected. They have a range of creative solutions to offer and feel that their best ideas are being ignored and that they are treated like whingers. In addition, will the Minister do some internal lobbying of the incoming Secretary of State for Housing and explain the strength of feeling, frustration and fury across this House about the inadequacy of the solutions so far put forward? Leaseholders have ideas; listen to them.
My Lords, I agree that it is really important to engage with the people affected. I have a considerable number of meetings with leaseholder groups and am in constant virtual contact with some of the people who I believe are doing their very best to see how we can creatively address this difficult issue. I am very happy to meet the people today. It is important that as politicians we step forward and meet those people affected.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that seeking redress retrospectively will not save hundreds of thousands of leaseholders from painful and mounting bills, as all noble Lords have said, causing enormous distress? Has he considered having proper discussions with housing associations and local authorities, which have also sold houses to leaseholders?
We continue to have a number of discussions with members of the G15 housing associations, and particularly with local authorities. The hard yards of achieving a situation in which the same cladding as Grenfell—the aluminium composite material—has been got off around 96% of those buildings, much of that during this pandemic, have required work at every level of government. We will continue to engage with them to come up with practical steps to deal with other buildings with unsafe cladding.
My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are ready to act in line with the new arrangements of the joint review of intergovernmental relations, which establishes an up-to-date and fit-for-purpose system that supports effective collaboration. All Administrations have been working hard to conclude this review, with significant progress made on streamlining processes and emphasising positive co-operation.
The 2019 Tory manifesto contained an entire chapter on strengthening the union between the nations of the UK, but is it not the case that this Government’s internal market Act has made a mockery of that commitment by riding roughshod over the devolution settlements and rolling back the powers of the Senedd? Does the Minister accept that it undermines the devolution settlement when his Government bring forward initiatives such as levelling up and community renewal funds that have been drawn up without any consultation with the Welsh Government and are administered by UK government departments that have not operated in Wales for more than 20 years?
No, my Lords, I do not agree, and I do not believe we should accentuate divisions within our United Kingdom. We are working with the devolved Administrations to develop an approach to how we consider the UKIM Act’s market access principles. For the union to thrive, we must respect devolved Administrations and their powers—but this Government will not abdicate their responsibility for the United Kingdom as a whole.
My Lords, since 2007 health spending in England has gone up by 25% in real terms. In Scotland it has gone up by 10.8%, because the Scottish Government have not spent the Barnett consequentials of health increases on health. At the same time, they are blaming Westminster for so-called cuts in health expenditure. How is it possible to have a constructive relationship with a Government who are so dishonest and are determined to destroy the United Kingdom?
My Lords, as a proud and passionate native of Scotland, my noble friend brings pertinent facts before your Lordships’ House. I cannot answer for the actions of the Scottish Government, but I say to them—and indeed to everybody—that now is the time not to stoke divisions but to focus on what unites the people of Scotland and all of us around the rest of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, setting aside the anti-British obsession of the SNP, do the Government not recognise that post-Brexit legislation has left all the devolved Administrations concerned that the Government are taking powers back from them and are seeking to take United Kingdom decisions using English Ministers as the final buttress? Does he recognise that that approach is not acceptable and not consistent with his opening remarks?
No, my Lords. I do understand that there have been rhetoric and statements about this. I repeat what I said to the noble Baroness opposite: the Government are deeply committed to strengthening the union. Part of that, obviously, is showing full and appropriate respect to our partners in the devolved Administrations. I think that, when your Lordships come to see the outcome, it will be understood that the new intergovernment relations protocol and approaches will fully reflect that mutual respect.
Will my noble friend look very carefully at areas where co-operation and collaboration are perhaps not working as effectively as they might? On a ministerial call with regulators in Scotland—the Faculty of Advocates, of which I am a non-practising member, and the Law Society of Scotland—concern was expressed that regulations implementing the primary legislation of the Professional Qualifications Bill, once adopted, might be passed without consultation with either them or the devolved Administrations. Will my noble friend give the House an undertaking that no regulations will be passed without prior consultation and consent?
My Lords, contrary to the Minister’s remarks, it sometimes seems that by their actions the Government are deliberately strengthening the case for independence in Scotland and Wales. Does he appreciate that Scotland is split 50/50 on the issue of independence, and that perhaps the only way to find common ground is to complete the unfinished business of devolution by starting discussions on how to build a federation of the regions and nations of the UK?
My Lords, there is a difference in philosophy, which is unfortunate, in that the United Kingdom Government, the party opposite—I believe—we ourselves and the other parties represented in this House believe in a United Kingdom. Sadly, the Administration in Scotland, now supported by the Greens, have a different view and wish to break up the United Kingdom. Despite that, this Government’s duty and responsibility are to govern in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom, seeking the fullest co-operation and showing the greatest respect that we can. That will continue to guide us.
My Lords, we need much more clarity and agreement on crossings between the four nations. During the time of the pandemic, you would be wearing masks on the English side but you would be without masks on the Welsh side, so people crossing were uncertain what to do. If you took the railway train between Chester and Newport, you would be crossing into both England and Wales. It was complete chaos. I ask the Government at least to try to remove that uncertainty, while always respecting devolved power. Now is the time to sort this out: not when the next pandemic hits us but now, when we can do it—respecting of course the determination of the nations, in referendums in Scotland and Wales, to have more powers. Eventually, I imagine to myself—
My Lords, we seek co-operation between the elected authorities in the United Kingdom. That also involves co-operation with local authorities. But it is part of devolution that the decisions to which the noble Lord has referred are made by the devolved Administrations. That is the fact of the law.
My Lords, there were strong signals, which were to be welcomed, from the Prime Minister and Ministers earlier in the summer when the Prime Minister called a meeting with the First Ministers to discuss “build back better” and the economic recovery following the pandemic. That was followed by similar statements from the Chancellor, who I think on a visit to Scotland said that he was going to try to support an economic recovery for the whole of the United Kingdom and involve everybody in that approach. What have been the practical outcomes of those discussions, and will there be further discussions to ensure that, given the tax and economic powers that now exist at different levels of government in the United Kingdom, everybody is pointing in the same direction for economic recovery?
I thank the noble Lord, as always, for his constructive question. At the Covid recovery meeting in June, which the Prime Minister instigated, all present agreed to finalise the new system for inter- governmental relations. We are now exceedingly close to that—we are in a position to conclude the work—and I tell the House that the Prime Minister has written regarding another such meeting in October.
My Lords, I very much welcome and endorse the Minister’s strong commitment to the United Kingdom, and I wish him well in all his efforts to strengthen our United Kingdom. However, since the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland in January 2020, there have been a number of instances where the Government have infringed on the devolved settlement and taken measures that override the responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly in the 1998 Act. For the assistance of the House, can the Minister set out the circumstances and the criteria for the infringement of the Sewel convention?
Does the Minister agree that, in working constructively with the devolved Administrations, Westminster always needs to adopt a collaborative rather than a confrontational approach; that that approach to working constructively should be based not solely on the right to choose but on the right to an informed choice; and that that approach should be placed at the centre of new information-sharing protocols and never protocols built solely on the rhetoric of muscular unionism?
Well, I do agree with that; indeed, it has been implicit and explicit in the answers that I have sought to give your Lordships. I believe profoundly that the peoples of these islands have benefited extraordinarily from centuries of co-operation within our United Kingdom, and I hope and pray that that will continue. That must go with mutual respect—and that goes both ways—between the centre and the devolved Administrations. I think that is the devout wish of the whole of your Lordships’ House.
Afghanistan: British Equipment and Training
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what military equipment provided by the United Kingdom to Afghanistan is now in the hands of the Taliban; and what estimate they have made of the number of soldiers fighting for the Taliban who were trained by British instructors.
My Lords, the fluid and uncertain situation on the ground across Afghanistan means that there is no complete assessment of the matériel and equipment that the UK provided to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, which are now in the hands of the Taliban. The vast majority of the equipment provided comprises non-lethal support. We estimate the current strength of the Taliban to be between 35,000 and 75,000. It is not possible to estimate whether any British-trained Afghan National Defense and Security Forces personnel have joined the Taliban.
My Lords, it is not the fault of Her Majesty’s Government that NATO has suffered a humiliating defeat and disaster in the retreat from Kabul. Is there any information about weapons being sold to hostile states or to non-state actors such as the Wagner Group, and does my noble friend have any idea of the value of the British kit that was gifted to the Afghans that has now been lost? Afghanistan and the surrounding area are absolutely awash with weaponry that is in the hands of terrorists, criminals and our enemies.
I do not have the precise information about the value of kit that over the years was handed to the Afghan national security forces. In so far as a limited amount of government equipment was left, some was handed over to our American allies, but no equipment of any military use has been left that may fall into other hands.
My Lords, this is but one of a number of very serious and regrettable consequences of a premature and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some of this weaponry, such as rifles and pistols, and equipment, such as trucks, is pretty easily used, mended and deployed. But there are also, thankfully, modern aircraft and armoured vehicles which tend to need more skilled operators and technical maintenance including regular software updates. This is a NATO problem, not just a UK problem, because this equipment will be sold to the highest bidder and not just possibly used but, more importantly, reverse engineered, which will create very difficult problems for our future deployment of it. What steps are we and our NATO allies taking to monitor and interdict such possibilities?
The noble Lord makes an important point that this is broader than the United Kingdom. As the Chamber will understand, the NATO alliance activity in Afghanistan—obviously by implication of what it was doing—raised an inevitable risk; do you help and try to support, which includes providing equipment? You cannot have a crystal ball to see into the future. As I said earlier, when it became clear the Taliban were taking control of Afghanistan and an evacuation plan had to be conceived, careful thought was given to controlling what was under our control, and that was the equipment that we had. I have explained the situation in relation to that.
My Lords, Afghanistan, like many of the world’s poorest countries, is, as we have just heard, awash with sophisticated weaponry supplied by Britain, the West and other “friendly countries”. Does the Minister agree that the UK’s adding to this misery by hosting a cosy-sounding arms fair to boost income through the killing of innocents is both repugnant and immoral?
With all respect to the noble Lord, I do not recognise what he describes. I think we are all united in support, admiration and respect for what our troops did, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, within the NATO operation in Afghanistan. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who served in Afghanistan—150,000 of them—in particular the 457 who lost their lives and those who sustained life-changing injuries. They have achieved improvements and change in Afghanistan that would not otherwise have been possible and I think we should celebrate that.
My Lords, does the Minister accept the warning from the Times in its “remembering 9/11” leader on Saturday, which concluded:
“America’s wars helped to radicalise a generation of Islamists, whose poisonous ideology has spread across the Middle East to Africa, from where new terrorist franchises plot fresh attacks on the West”?
How are the Government planning to protect our country from the terrorist threat of this poisonous ideology?
I share my noble friend’s concern about the ideology, as I think everyone else will in this Chamber. Along with our allies and friends, significantly, the United States, we act to try to uphold values, protect freedoms and assist those who find themselves oppressed and isolated. We act to try to minimise threats to this country and our partners. That was one of the reasons we engaged in the NATO alliance in Afghanistan.
My Lords, the Government have overseen a series of chaotic failures and miscalculations in Afghanistan which have damaged our international reputation and weakened our security—including the confirmation that military equipment has been left behind. Does the Minister believe that the UK and US military equipment left in Afghanistan poses a direct threat to the UK? If the answer is yes, why was there not a better plan to ensure that did not happen?
I do not share the noble Lord’s analysis, and I do not share his conclusion based on his analysis. As I said earlier, a very small amount of equipment was left behind. Some of that was gifted to partner nations and therefore is under their control. Anything else that was left—and it was a very small amount—was of no military use whatsoever.
My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers to British-trained soldiers who might have defected to the Taliban. Can I ask the noble Baroness about those trained by the United Kingdom who might now be in hiding? Operation Pitting was very effective, but there are still many people in hiding. What is the MoD doing to expedite their extradition?
The noble Baroness raises an important point. As she will be aware, we have made it clear that ARAP extends to all who worked with us. It is a scheme without a time limit, and we invite people to continue applying. In so far as British nationals are concerned, we have endeavoured to find where they are and maintain contact with them. We are doing our level best to support that. As the noble Baroness will understand, this is a difficult situation. The advice we have given to anyone wanting to try and get out who is either a British national or eligible under ARAP is to try and make their way to a neighbouring country. That is the best advice we can give. I reassure the House that we are supporting that advice by providing additional staff in neighbouring countries.
My Lords, in the wake of the desperate Afghan crisis, almost everybody agrees that we need stronger European defence co-operation, and I believe the Minister shares that view. Will she therefore have a word with the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who is sitting next to her, whose EU trade and co-operation agreement decimates our trade with other European countries, undermines our co-operation with them and is a terrible prelude to greater defence co-operation?
My Lords, how can the Minister be so sure that the kit left behind is of no military value? Can it not be converted for use, as the Taliban appear to be capable of doing? Does what she says apply to the American equipment left behind? Is the danger not that we have left a highly equipped Taliban army there—perhaps the best equipped army in the region?
I think there is little I can add, in response to the noble Lord, to what I have already said. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, astutely identified, this is a broader challenge than the United Kingdom; it is a NATO challenge. It is part of engaging in conflict that certain risks have to be taken; otherwise, we would never seek to intervene in any way whatsoever —and that is an unacceptable premise. What we have done in Afghanistan in co-operation with our NATO allies, we have done as responsibly as we can, and we have endeavoured to ensure as we left Afghanistan that we did not leave a legacy of equipment with military potential.
Imports from EU to GB: Business Preparation
To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to prepare businesses for the introduction of new checks and controls on imports into Great Britain from the European Union on 1 October 2021 and 1 January 2022.
My Lords, on 14 September I announced a pragmatic new timetable for introducing certain controls for goods imported from the EU to the UK to give businesses more time to adjust. These controls will be introduced in two stages, on 1 January and 1 July. The Government continue to support all businesses trading with the EU in all sectors, including by putting in place additional staffing, comprehensive guidance for businesses and funding infrastructure to ease border processes.
In February 2020, the Government indicated that full border controls on EU imports would commence on 1 January 2021. In June 2020, the Government announced that many controls would instead be phased in, with mixed deadlines, from April to July 2021. In March 2021, the Government delayed the introduction of this mix of controls further, with phases from October 2021 to March 2022. Earlier this week, just three weeks before the first part of the mix was due to be implemented, the Government announced yet another delay, with phases from January to July 2022. Three times now, businesses have spent time, and no doubt money, preparing for key deadlines, and three times they have seen the can kicked down the road. What steps will the Government take to restore business confidence in their timetable for import controls, and will they compensate businesses for their wasted efforts?
My Lords, it has of course been an extraordinary year to 18 months economically. We have been dealing with a pandemic of unpredictable quality, and it is very clear that there are global strains on supply chains and other aspects of the business environment. That is why we do not apologise for taking this series of pragmatic decisions to respond to the evolving situation. We have no plans to evolve these changes further, and the money that businesses have already spent in dealing with the situation will have been well spent.
Experiences of déjà vu are becoming not uncommon in this Government’s implementation of their own EU plans, despite repeated assurances. This means that Britain will continue to face full checks and controls on its exports, as it did from day 1, while imports will continue with border-free access. Supply chain problems resolve around massive labour shortages. To keep Christmas dinner on the table, will the Government now introduce a 12-month emergency visa implementation? Can the Government give assurances that extending agreements on the provision of veterinary services and updating paper health certificates online will become part of the solution to guard against the potential risk of disease and infections?
My Lords, we face a complex set of interacting economic facts at the moment, and the decision that we took responds to that. We maintain the controls that are right for us, and we now have the powers to control and manage our economy as we see fit. We do not have to do the same thing as the European Union, and indeed, after 1 July, we are unlikely to have exactly the same levels of physical checks as the EU. We monitor the situation in all its respects, and we will take the decisions that are necessary to support the British economy.
My Lords, on 21 July, the Government published their new border operating model, page 8 of which gives a commentary about how they have taken into consideration the impacts of Covid as the reason why they had made the delays already. So what has happened in the intervening seven weeks, between 21 July and now, that allows the Government to think that they are still not ready at their ports?
My Lords, it has been very evident over the early autumn that there are challenges with maintaining supply chains, and these are not limited to the UK. There are shortages of HGV drivers across Europe and beyond, and there has been a very significant increase in costs globally in the shipping of goods. These strains have become evident over the summer, and we have taken a pragmatic decision to respond to that and do what we can support British business in these circumstances.
My Lords, I welcome this delay, and indeed I hope that it becomes permanent. EU goods are safe, and the food is wholesome; we have been using them and eating it for 40 years. Trade rules do not need to be reciprocal, and, if the European Union chooses stupidly to impose upon its consumers the penalties of protectionism, there is no need for us to reciprocate. Does my noble friend agree that it is about time that the British Government were setting a free trade example to the European Union, and indeed showing it that such an approach could be applied with benefit on the UK’s border with Ireland, in place of the undemocratic protocol?
My Lords, I think our position on the protocol is well known, and we may come to it later. Of course, my noble friend is absolutely right to say that it makes sense for us to put in place the controls that are right for us. Of course, there are controls—customs controls came in on 1 January—but we do not have to replicate everything that the European Union does. We intend to have a world-class border by 2025, with proportionate checks based on risk. That is the right way to proceed.
My Lords, yesterday, my noble friend Lord Adonis shared with us a six year-old photograph of a very slimline David Frost saying that the whisky industry needed the “fewest possible barriers” in order to sell into European markets. That is what business still wants, but the Government do not seem to listen, despite the fact that surely they must be involved in the design of the procedures and not just told at the end, “This is what you must implement”. Next week, almost a year after the trade agreement was signed, the Minister’s consultation on engagement with business closes. Can he assure the House that he will respond rapidly to that and put in place a robust system of consultation with business, unions and consumers?
I thank the noble Baroness for that question. She is of course correct that our consultation on involving industry and civil society more generally in the implementation of the trade and co-operation agreement closes shortly. We will of course respond soon: we need to get these bodies up and running before the end of the year, and it is absolutely our intention to do so. As a general principle, it is right that the fewest possible controls are always best—that is clear. Of course, we are not always in control of the controls that the European Union puts in place. We believe that the benefits of being outside the customs union and in control of our own trade policy very much outweigh any disadvantages.
Of course, the greatest free market was the single market, which we very sadly left. My noble friend negotiated very successfully the trade and co-operation agreement. Will he use his good offices to ensure that this world-class border, which we would all welcome, will lead to a single portal for documentation that will be largely online? If he finds that we have trained most of the EU drivers that have left and gone back to their respective countries, could we at least give them a short-term visa to come back and help us out over the Christmas period—the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, suggested that we might need this?
My Lords, I agree of course with my noble friend that an aspiration for a world-class border is very important; that is where we intend to go. Indeed, we hope that the so-called single trade window —a single portal—will be a very significant part of that, as we take this forward. As regards HGV drivers, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has, on a couple of occasions, set out our plans to make it easier to increase the supply of drivers, and I am sure that that will bear fruit very soon.
Last weekend, I left the United Kingdom for the first time since the end of transition period. I went to France, and I got in very easily: I showed my passport and my vaccine pass, and that was it. When I came back, it looked like a world-class border when I got to Stansted, where I just showed my electronic passport, but, to get there, I had to fill in numerous forms that the airline was expected to verify. Are the Government proposing to keep that sort of regulation going? Surely that is a deterrent to tourism and other people coming to the United Kingdom, which surely a world-class country would be wanting, not trying to discourage?
I am sure that we all share the aspiration for borders that are as freely flowing as possible. Obviously, we are dealing with the consequences of a pandemic, and that requires controls and processes that, in an ideal world, we would not want to be in place. This matter is very much debated elsewhere. I repeat my point that we wish to see goods and people flow as freely as possible, consistent with maintaining responsible border controls of all kinds. That is what we intend to put in place.
Imports from EU to UK: Grace Period
My Lords, as I have noted, the Government have set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full import controls for goods imported from the EU to the UK. This revised timetable gives businesses more time to adjust to the new processes as they recover from the pandemic, which has impacted supply chains across Europe. As I have also noted, we have no plans to change this timetable further.
My Lords, as well as a damaging, dangerous shortage of HGV drivers and millions of pounds’ worth of food rotting in the fields around the United Kingdom, we now have this unbalanced situation where UK exports to the EU have full checks but there is this further, “pragmatic” delay in checks on imports, which will cause problems for our importers. Can the Minister remind the House who was responsible for negotiating this disastrous deal? Could he tell us the secret which might be of interest to some of his former colleagues: how did he get reappointed to the Cabinet?
My Lords, there are some things that are best not delved into, I think. I am sorry that the noble Lord feels that an agreement with the EU which restores democracy to this country and gives us power over our own rules is so disastrous. It was nevertheless what we were elected to achieve and have achieved. We are very confident that we will benefit from it.
My Lords, in his answer to my previous question, the Minister indicated that the appropriate comparison on trade figures would be with 2018, the last time that the economy was stable. The latest ONS figures, from July, show that trade with the EU is now down by 11%. What other pragmatic measures can the Government take to restore trade with the single market of the European Union?
My Lords, as I frequently note, there are obviously many things going on in the global economy and in global supply chains, including the pandemic, increased costs and so on, and it is very difficult to draw firm conclusions from trade figures. It is true that July’s figures show a small dip in exports to the EU but, nevertheless, since January, exports to the EU have been rising consistently. In June, they were higher than the pre-pandemic, pre-Brexit figures. We are confident that British business is rising to the challenge and will continue to do so.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that what he describes as a “pragmatic” policy is in fact a measure of discrimination by the British Government against non-EU imports at our borders, because they face controls in a way that EU imports do not? Does he accept that, as a result of that, we are potentially in breach of our WTO legal obligations as discriminating against different categories of people? Does he further accept that Covid is no excuse for these “pragmatic” delays? After all, the EU was able to impose its proper border controls in January 2021. Is this not yet a further example, of the many, of this Government’s incompetence in managing a very botched Brexit?
My Lords, obviously there is a distinction in how we manage goods imported from the rest of the world compared to those from the European Union. That is consistent with WTO law and is obviously dependent on the special circumstances of us leaving the customs union and the single market. It is our intention, of course, to have a single set of world-class rules by 2025—if possible, earlier—for all goods that will give us the best border in the world. The decisions that we have taken on import controls are consistent with that and on that trajectory.
I welcome my noble friend’s decision to prolong the grace periods, for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Moylan spelled out earlier, but will he confirm that experience of grace periods in Northern Ireland shows the wisdom of what he is doing: that refraining from introducing the additional controls that the EU wanted us to impose on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has not resulted in a flow of goods into the EU across the Irish border or undermined EU standards in any way, and that the only reason the EU is persisting in wanting us to apply those controls is to punish us and the people of Northern Ireland for Brexit?
Of course, I agree very much with the thrust of my noble friend’s question. We believe that in the decisions we have taken, both in the context of the protocol and on trade more broadly, we are showing pragmatism in the way we are managing our borders, with a due focus on the real levels of risk involved. We hope that the European Union will do the same in the context of Northern Ireland and allow us to put in place arrangements, as set out in our Command Paper, that are consistent with those levels of risk.
My Lords, it is striking that none of the problems raised is anything to do with the Minister or with the Government; it is all about Covid, the French, the Irish or the EU, but the nation is starting to suss this out. The Food and Drink Federation said just this week that the Government are undermining trust and confidence, because responsible businesses prepare for changes that repeatedly do not happen. Frustration is growing. Food and drink is Britain’s biggest manufacturing sector, employing people in every region, and it needs certainty. Does the Minister accept that if we do not reach a lasting agreement soon, these stopgap solutions will cost jobs?
My Lords, we have great food and drink industries in this country; some of them have imports in their supply chains as well as exports and the free flow of trade in both directions is very important. I have noted what the Food and Drink Federation has said on this subject. I could not help noting that, last week, it was worrying about the consequences of introducing these controls and fearing that the just-in-time system would not work, while, this week, it is concerned that we have delayed the controls, so I think we just have to take the best decisions we can in the interests of the whole economy and enable our businesses to prosper as a result.
Does the Minister realise that the grace period puts British industries at a substantial short-term disadvantage? Are there any upsides beyond those already described by my noble friend Lord Moylan? I am very glad to see that my noble friend Lord Frost is still a Minister. What diplomatic and other steps will he take to put this matter on to a more satisfactory long-term basis?
My Lords, we are obviously in constant touch with the European Union through the institutions created in the trade and co-operation agreement and many others. We sought last year to negotiate more relaxed arrangements at the border in both directions, on food and drink and on other issues. Unfortunately, the EU was not open to that at that point, but if it were to become open to it in future, we would obviously wish to engage in that discussion. That is clear, and we will keep making that case, because we believe that it is in the interests of both parties.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that accusations are being made against him that he is of the view that sabre-rattling gets results from Brussels? What can he do improve our relationships both with Brussels and in particular with the Irish Government? Does he agree that our relations with those two are pretty poor at the moment?
My Lords, I do not agree that relations with either Government or entity are poor, though relations can always be better, of course, and there are some significant differences between us at the moment. I am not sure that I agree with the suggestion that we are sabre-rattling; that is not the way we go about things. We are setting out our case and being clear about what changes would produce a better situation, whether as regards the protocol or anything else. It helps relations when countries are clear about what they think and others can respond.
My Lords, one of the things deterring people from becoming HGV drivers is the amount of time now spent going through the ports, with so many extra forms to deal with. The Minister has recognised this by extending yet again the date for implementation of the new rules, but of course they apply going into the EU. What is the Government’s estimate per average lorry of the additional time it now takes to transport goods to the EU? How many additional HGV drivers do we need for that alone?
My Lords, we obviously keep the flow of HGVs, lorries and trade at all our ports under very close scrutiny. I do not have figures to hand on that subject, but I know that trade is now flowing freely, delays are minimal and I pay tribute to the customs authorities not only of our Government but of our closest trading neighbours—France, Belgium and others—who show a degree of pragmatism in enabling this to happen, so that whatever difficulties there were at the start of the year are no longer significant and trade is flowing freely.
Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Power-sharing
My Lords, the Government’s position on this matter is set out in the Command Paper we published on 21 July. In brief, the Government are indeed concerned that the operation of the protocol is causing political instability in Northern Ireland and risks undermining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is why we wish to negotiate significant changes to its operation on the basis of the proposals in our Command Paper. We are, of course, discussing these issues with the EU.
I welcome Her Majesty’s Government recognising that the east-west dimension of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement has been broken by the protocol, which has led to destabilisation of all the institutions in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister understand that many people in Northern Ireland are saying that Her Majesty’s Government must actually choose, very soon, between the protocol and making the devolved institutions carry on successfully?
My Lords, the institutions in Northern Ireland are, of course, extremely important, including for delivery in a range of domestic policy areas—health, transport and so on—and it is important they are robust and continue. We absolutely recognise the frustration with the current situation, which is leading to the build-up of tensions and pressures on the institutions that we are seeing. That is why we need to find durable solutions to the protocol and the trading situation in Northern Ireland that will be a reasonable settlement consistent with the integrity of the UK and the UK’s internal market.
My Lords, given the rising political temperature in Belfast, does my noble friend agree that it would be a supreme and tragic irony if the EU’s implementation of a protocol that it insists is necessary to preserve the Belfast agreement actually became an instrument for the destruction of that agreement, which I would deeply deplore? Does he share my concern that if the institutions were to fall again at Stormont, it could take very many years for them to be restored, if at all?
My Lords, I very much agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s question. Protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement is our top priority; it was the overriding purpose of the protocol and it is why we are so concerned about the destabilising character of the way it is being implemented. Actually, I recognise and welcome the signals that the EU is beginning to understand this and reflect on it, but we still need solutions based on the ideas for significant change that were in our Command Paper.
There clearly is a general and continuing sense in Northern Ireland that its fate is still being decided over its head—that it is not being fully involved or consulted. That was presumably why Commission Vice-President Šefčovič said in Belfast last week,
“let’s see how to involve the people of Northern Ireland in our discussions on the implementation of the protocol.”
The noble Lord’s White Paper talks about the need to give Northern Ireland a greater role in discussions under the protocol, but we do not actually need to change the protocol to do that. Does he agree that when the joint committee considers future single-market laws on devolved subjects, members of the Northern Ireland Executive should play the leading role in the UK delegation?
The noble Lord is correct, of course, that the issue of involving political opinion and institutions in Northern Ireland is for the UK Government. We do that, and the Northern Ireland Executive attend the joint committee when the Irish Government attend on the EU side, which is always the case. I think the EU should exercise caution in suggesting that Northern Ireland parties or political opinion should take part in the EU’s own institutions and decision-making procedures in this area: I do not think that would be consistent with the sort of arrangement we want in the future. The protocol is a treaty between two parties, the UK and the EU, and supporting arrangements need to be consistent with that.
My Lords, as I think is well known, there was at the time in 2019 quite a degree of consultation as we developed our negotiating position but, unfortunately, the outcome of that process and the positions taken by different parties are well known. We did the right thing for the country in putting in place an agreement that delivered a full and fair Brexit but, unfortunately, that agreement has not been implemented in the way we hoped it would, and that is why it needs to change.
My Lords, the Minister was extremely frank in the debate on Monday afternoon about the origins of the Northern Ireland protocol. I for one was grateful for that and, dare I say, for his slight change of tone. In a previous life as chair of ACAS, I would advise the parties to say as little as possible, to maximise the possibility of agreement, so I am aware of the irony of asking him a question, and I will make it a full toss if that helps. Does he agree that the top priorities are peace in Northern Ireland, good relations with the Irish Republic, and assisting those very impressive businesspeople in Northern Ireland that the EU Select Committee and its successor have spent the last two years getting to know?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is obviously correct that it can be helpful to say as little as possible when you are trying to find solutions. This is obviously a matter of considerable political interest on all sides and what we say has to reflect that. I very much agree that the top priority is peace—protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement—but the other aims she mentions are extremely important. It is our job as a Government to promote peace and prosperity for everybody in Northern Ireland.
If our friends, neighbours and allies across the channel, or indeed on the island of Ireland, are not willing to compromise and make changes to this agreement, is it not time to withdraw unilaterally from the protocol, before the political and trading chaos in that part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—gets worse or, as we have heard, before the entire Belfast agreement collapses?
My Lords, we have set out our position in the Command Paper. We are very clear that the conditions for Article 16 safeguards are met, but we think the right way forward is to see whether we can find a consensual solution with the EU. That is what we are trying very hard to do and will continue to do. Consensual solutions are likely to be the solutions that stick—but, if we cannot find a consensual solution, we will have to go down other routes, as my noble friend notes.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the protocol is a breach of the Belfast agreement, that it may undermine that agreement and bring about the closure of devolved government within weeks, and that it may even, worse still, lead to violence on the streets? Does the Minister recall that the Belfast agreement, signed by both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, stated that it would be wrong to make any change to the status of Northern Ireland, save with the consent of the majority of its people? Were the people of Northern Ireland consulted about this protocol? If not, was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland advised in advance of its contents before Her Majesty’s Government agreed it with the European Union?
My Lords, the question involves a lot of rather complex issues and I feel I cannot really do justice to it in the time available. The overriding purpose of the protocol is to support the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and it is a matter of great regret to us that it is being implemented in a way that is undermining that agreement and causing many of the problems that the noble Lord mentions. The protocol is clear that nothing in it infringes the territorial integrity of the UK or its internal market, or our customs territory; the problem is that, in practice, those requirements are not necessarily being put in place as fully as we would wish. That is why we need to find solutions that deal with these problems definitively and consensually, if we can, so that we can move on.
Business of the House
Motion to Agree
That, in the event of the Health and Social Care Levy Bill having been brought from the House of Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday 11 October to allow the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now make a Statement, which is also being made in the other place, on the opportunities this country has now that we have left the European Union.
While we were an EU member, some of the most difficult issues that Governments of both parties faced were over regulatory issues generated by the European Union—to take just some examples, the services directive, the REACH directive, reforms of agricultural policy, very many pieces of financial services legislation and so on. Very often such laws, which had effect in this country, reflected unsatisfactory compromises with other EU member states. We knew that if we did not rescue something from the legislative sausage machine, we would be voted down and risk getting nothing. The laws that resulted were designed to lock every country—no matter its strengths or weaknesses—into the same structures. They were very often overly detailed and prescriptive. Moreover, the results of those negotiations and laws usually either had direct legal effect in the UK or were passed into our law through secondary legislation—either way, with very limited genuine democratic scrutiny.
This Government were elected to get Brexit done and to change this situation, and that is what we intend to do. Much has already changed, even in the last few months, but, given the extent of EU influence over our political system over nearly 50 years, this is a mammoth task. To begin it, we asked my right honourable friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith to lead a team to examine our existing laws in this area and our future opportunities. That team reported back earlier this year, and since then my right honourable friend the Chancellor and I, and other colleagues, have been considering his so-called TIGRR report in some depth. I am writing today to Sir Iain with our formal response to his report and, more importantly, with our plans to act on the basis of it. I am sharing the Government’s response with committee chairs and will deposit it in the Libraries of both Houses. It will also be available very shortly on GOV.UK.
I will now highlight some of the most important elements of these plans. First, we will conduct a review of so-called retained EU law. By this, I mean the very many pieces of legislation which we took on to our own statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We must now revisit this huge, but for us anomalous, category of law. In doing so, we have two purposes in mind. First, we intend to remove the special status of retained EU law so that it is no longer a distinct category of UK domestic law but normalised within our law, with a clear legislative status. Unless we do this, we risk giving undue precedence to laws derived from EU legislation over laws made properly by this Parliament. This review also involves ensuring that all courts of this country should have the full ability to depart from EU case law, according to the normal rules. In so doing we will continue, and indeed finalise, the process of restoring this sovereign Parliament, and our courts, to their proper constitutional positions.
Our second goal is to review comprehensively the substantive content of retained EU law. Some of that is already under way—for example, our plans to reform the procurement rules we inherited from the EU, or the plan announced last autumn by my right honourable friend the Chancellor to review much financial services legislation. We will make this a comprehensive exercise. I want to be clear: our intention is eventually to amend, replace or repeal all retained EU law that is not right for the UK. That problem is obviously a legislative one. Accordingly, the solution is also likely to be legislative. We will consider all the options for taking this forward. In particular, we will look at developing a tailored mechanism for accelerating the repeal or amendment of this retained EU law in a way which reflects the fact that, as I have made clear, laws agreed elsewhere have intrinsically less democratic legitimacy than laws initiated by the Government of this country.
Secondly, we intend to begin a new series of reforms to the legislation we inherited on EU exit, in many cases as recommended by the TIGRR report. Let me give just a few examples. We intend to create a pro-growth, trusted data rights regime, more proportionate and less burdensome than the EU’s GDPR. My right honourable friend the previous Secretary of State for Culture announced on 10 September a consultation that is the first stage in putting new rules in place. We intend to review the inherited approach to genetically modified organisms, which in our view is too restrictive and not based on sound science. My right honourable friend the Environment Secretary will also shortly set out plans to reform the regulation of gene-edited organisms. We will use the provisions of the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 to overhaul our clinical trial frameworks, which are based on outdated EU legislation, giving a major boost to the UK’s world-class R&D sector and getting patients access to new life-saving medicines more quickly. The MHRA, which as we know is a world-class regulator, is already reforming the medical devices regulations to create a world-leading regime in this area.
We will unleash Britain’s potential as a world leader in the future of transport. My right honourable friend the Transport Secretary will shortly set out ambitious plans, which include modernising outdated EU vehicle standards and unlocking the full range of new transport technologies. We also intend to repeal the EU’s port services regulations—a very good example of a regulation which was geared heavily towards EU interests and never worked properly for the UK.
We will drive forward our work on artificial intelligence, where the UK is already at the forefront of driving global progress. We will shortly publish the UK’s first national AI strategy, which will set out our plans to supercharge the UK’s AI ecosystem and set standards which will lead the world.
Thirdly, as recommended by TIGRR and the Penrose review, and as promised in the current consultation on reforming the better regulation framework, we will put in place much more rigorous tests within government before we take decisions to regulate. Now that we have control over all our laws, not just a subset of them, we will consider the reintroduction of a one-in, two-out system, which has been shown internationally to make a significant difference to how regulation proceeds.
Finally, Brexit was about giving everybody in this country, once again, a say in how it is run. That is true in this area too. We aim to tap into everybody’s ideas. So we will create a new standing commission, under visible and energetic leadership, to receive ideas from any British citizen on how to repeal or improve regulation. The commission’s job will be to consider such ideas and make recommendations for change, but it will be able to make recommendations only in one direction,: the direction of reducing or eliminating burdens. I hope that, in this way, we will tap into the collective wisdom of the British people and begin to remove the dominance of the arbitrary rule, of unknown origin, over people’s day-to-day lives.
Let me finish by being clear that this is just the beginning of our ambitious plans. I will, of course, return to this House regularly to update your Lordships on our progress and, more importantly, to set out our further intentions.
Brexit was about taking back control—the ability to remove the distortions created by EU membership, to do things differently, in ways that work better for this country, and to promote growth, productivity and prosperity. That is what we intend to do. I recognise that Brexit was not a choice originally supported by all in the country, or even, it seems, by some in this House. But Brexit is now a fact. This country is now embarked on a great voyage. We each have the opportunity to make this new journey a success—to make us, as a country, more contented, more prosperous and more united. I hope everyone will join us in doing so.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for advance sight of the Statement. Having read it several times, I find myself underwhelmed. Eighteen months since the UK left the European Union— a moment which the Prime Minister referred to as
“a new act in our great national drama”—
I think we are all left asking the same question: is this it? Dealing with laws that the Government had already promised to address and a novelty engagement exercise is not the ambitious, outward-facing, world-leading plan for prosperity we need. The Government are suffering from a chronic lack of ambition.
While the Minister wants to talk about GM food, he needs to sort out the existing problems for growers in this country first. UK industry is currently dealing with supply chain chaos, a situation compounded by the Government’s mismanagement of our exit. The disruption is leaving business without goods and shoppers with gaps on supermarket shelves. We cannot divorce this from the new barriers at the border, or from driver shortages resulting from a lack of a workforce strategy and a failure to see the foreseeable. We need urgent action, leadership and direction from the Government. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government will now establish an urgent workforce plan to deal with the 90,000-strong shortage of HGV drivers? Have they yet appointed—maybe they have—a government Minister tasked with specific responsibility for tackling the supply chain crisis and co-ordinating across multiple government departments? When will they secure the veterinary agreement with the European Union to limit further disruption?
There is also, of course, the Northern Ireland protocol. Again, the problems were entirely foreseeable by everyone it seems, including the Government, and yet the technological solutions long promised by Ministers have still to materialise. As he was unable to clarify previously, can the Minister now confirm whether, when and in what circumstances he would commence Article 16 processes?
On agriculture, the Minister speaks of opportunities. If only the Government were not jumping from one crisis to another, perhaps they would be able to see the possibilities ahead of them. Just yesterday, on Back British Farming Day, the National Audit Office released a report finding that Ministers are failing to gain farmers’ trust. It is little wonder, given the problems with agriculture visas and worker shortages, but there is an opportunity here to reward British farmers and gain back their trust. The Government should take steps to help public bodies buy more British food all year round, including by passing legislation requiring them to report on how much they are buying from domestic sources with taxpayers’ money. Where was “Buy British” in his Statement? Across rural England, £255 million will be lost this year alone as a result of cuts in grants to farmers, with no certainty about what will replace them. This is putting 9,500 agricultural jobs at risk. The Government need to take notice of the problems facing UK agriculture before livelihoods are lost.
Now is the time for the Government to deliver on the promise of post-Brexit Britain, but if, 18 months in, all we have to celebrate is supply chain chaos and lost jobs, it would be fair to say that the Prime Minister’s “great national drama” is becoming a farce. On rules of origin, equivalence for financial services, creative industries and so much more, the Government are letting Britain down. Instead of sabre-rattling and blaming others, the Government need to stand up, find real solutions and deliver the opportunities we were promised.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, I was slightly surprised by the Statement, which I thank the Minister for giving advance notice of. When I heard that there was going to be a Statement—and we were told only this morning that there would be one this lunchtime—I was quite excited, because I thought it would be on the much-awaited impact assessment showing the economic opportunities for the United Kingdom as a result of Brexit. The Minister’s colleague on the Government Bench, the noble Lord, Lord True, promised me in correspondence two years ago that this impact assessment would happen. But as we heard during Questions to the Minister, it is the fault of everybody other than the Government that this has not happened. Instead of an economic opportunities assessment, we have a shuffling of the legislative rulebook.
Apart from a bit of revisionist narrative from the Minister about some of these regulations that the UK helped design, and then added to when we put them into domestic legislation, there has also been an enormous increase in the bureaucracy and number of regulations as a result of the Brexit process itself. Even during the Questions we just asked the Minister, we saw that the Government have failed to prepare our borders, failed to prepare systems for businesses to be ready and failed to have a system where businesses will even label the goods that are manufactured in the UK. Why do the Government not tackle these urgent issues first?
The Government have indicated that they wanted to end the legislative sausage machine, but by the end of 2020, Ministers had laid around 960 Brexit SIs, with more this year and more to come. Three chairs of committees in this House condemned the use of broad delegated powers instead of policy detail. Will the Government now rationalise the delegated powers they had given themselves to do all of this, where they had indicated that they need new legislative powers to do so, or will the UK legislative sausage machine increase?
The Minister did not mention in his Statement that the EU now has proposals for higher standards on carbon emissions, chemicals, medical devices and copyright protections. Will we fall in line on those areas? Will we update our own legislation to ensure that we are consistent with these higher standards, or will we fall behind?
Why was there no mention in the Minister’s Statement of copyright protection, which is currently being put in place by the European Union? If we do not follow suit, for generated content the UK will have less protection for copyright than our competitors within Europe.
I understand that we will need to review and then replace continuity trade agreements; the Minister did not mention the fact that we have incorporated into many trade agreements the very areas that he said we now want to review. What is the status of all the trade agreements the Government have heralded that we have made up until now?
On the specific areas the Minister mentioned on GDPR, is it still the Government’s position that in the adequacy review from Europe for 2025 we will still seek to be considered to be adequate when it comes to data? Is that a consideration as far as the Government’s position is concerned?
On GMOs, can the Minister confirm that this is England only? There is no reference to the devolved powers. I think the Minister is listening, so can he state that this is England only or will this now be for Scotland too? On clinical trials, is that England only? There was no mention of Northern Ireland in his Statement, which I was curious about. As we heard in Questions and as we debated in Grand Committee, the Government indicated in their Statement today that
“laws agreed elsewhere have intrinsically less democratic legitimacy than laws initiated by the Government of this country.”
However, Northern Ireland will be continuing under many laws from a foreign entity, with no say over them. When I asked the Minister to set out proposals of how the democratic deficit would be addressed for Northern Ireland, he said to me that
“we have set out the issue without proposing a specific way forward”.—[Official Report, 13/9/21; col. GC 286.]
Finally, then, what is the specific way forward? There are many areas that are not present in the Minister’s Statement today, so when will there be a proper debate to allow us to have proper consideration of the Government’s legislative proposals?
My Lords, I am encouraged by what I have heard from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord because it seems that they share our ambition to do more in this area and are disappointed by the fact that there seems to be less than they had hoped for. I encourage them to read the full reply to Sir Iain Duncan Smith, which I was not able to do justice to in my Statement.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord underplay what we have been doing. We left the transition period only a few months ago, and already we have a new immigration system; we have agricultural reform arrangements that are different from the common agricultural policy; we are putting in place a new subsidy regime; we are planning to reform procurement rules; and we have put in place an international sanctions regime. We have plans for free ports and, as I said, for data and gene editing, and for reforms of port services, HGVs, energy and much more. That is not a bad list for a few months. We note the ambition and will do our very best to keep driving it forward. I note only that it is self-evident that none of these things would be possible if we had remained in the European Union, and they would also largely not be possible if we had remained in a so-called soft Brexit or European Economic Area model of Brexit, which so many parties opposite recommended.
We are pushing forward change. A large number of issues were raised and I am quite pressed for time. We are setting out a plan to increase the supply of HGV drivers. As I have said, we are in constant touch with the EU about equivalence and SPS rules, and if we could make progress that would be excellent. We are taking steps to support our agricultural industry—my right honourable friend the Prime Minister touched on that yesterday. Labelling is certainly something that we are consulting on, and we are supporting our fishing industry after Brexit, and so on.
The question of the devolved Administrations was raised. I have written to my opposite numbers in all the devolved Administrations and obviously I can guarantee that we will work very closely with them where these reforms intersect with devolved competence, and we wish to work as closely with them as we possibly can.
On the question of the impact assessment and the effect on the economy, I note that the economy is the fastest-growing in the G7. We have 1 million vacancies in the economy in this country, and this economy and this country are already prospering vastly under the arrangements that we are putting in place.
I had better wrap up, but I just say that we stand for change as a country and as a party; that is what people voted for. We want to make us a high-wage, high-productivity economy with controlled migration. People have to invest in the skills of everyone in our country. We do not want to be a low-wage, low-skilled economy reliant on cheap labour and where parts of the economy are neglected. We are putting in place reforms, a process of constant change and improvement, and rules that suit this country and will make a big difference for us in the future.
My Lords, I welcome a number of the advantages that the noble Lord has identified of us being able to make our own laws again, but it might have been interesting or even entertaining if he had also listed the things that have not happened as a result of us leaving the European Union, which I have certainly listened to interminably over the last four years. At random, I say that we do not have the half a million unemployed that George Osborne said would occur; I seem to remember that it was said somewhere that the M20 would be a car park; and essential medicines were not going to be able to get into the country as a result of it all. It might be quite useful to have a list of that sort. However, the exhilarating thing in the Minister’s essential remarks is that if the Government make a mess of this, in two or three or maybe fewer years the British people will throw the Government out—they will have the capacity to do that. In contrast, when the EU has made laws via the Commission over so many years, many of them very bad, no one has been able to do that. That is at the heart of what has happened, and it is still exhilarating.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. That is a very good suggestion; indeed, a lot of things have not happened that the gloom-mongers said would happen, and they are not going to happen. He is right that this is about bringing back democracy; if you do not like what we are doing, there are ways of dealing with that. We believe we are doing the right thing for the country and that it will prosper under the agenda we are setting out.
My Lords, will my noble friend give me some comfort? I thought that “take back control” meant an elevation of parliamentary sovereignty. Why are we therefore seeing so many government Bills stuffed with Henry VIII clauses? We had one on Tuesday this week. What we want is the sovereignty of Parliament—Parliament in control—not the sovereignty of the Executive.
My Lords, I have a huge amount of sympathy with the thrust of my noble friend’s comment. It is about bringing back democracy and restoring the authority of this Parliament. I recognise the controversy about the Henry VIII clauses, as he describes them. They deal with a particular situation involving the inherited EU law and the complexities of managing the legal transformation out of the European Union, and I hope that they will be seen in that very specific context.
My Lords, the Minister now boasts on his Twitter feed profile:
“You don’t get something for nothing, you can’t have freedom for free.”
Apparently, it is from a Rush song from “2112”. I do not recall him carrying that message around as he was leading us into Brexit. Since we have heard what we are going to do with that new-found freedom, in the absence of an impact assessment, can he tell us at what cost this freedom has been bought?
My Lords, I do not think it has been bought at any cost. I make no apology for standing up for freedom—free enterprise and freedom to think and debate—and that is what we did not have very much of in the final years of our EU membership until the referendum. It is axiomatic, in my view, that free debate, free enterprise, free economies and the ability to change your Government will always benefit the countries that have those things. There is a lot of empirical evidence around the world that that proposition is correct.
My Lords, the Minister’s predecessors in his position—the noble Lord, Lord True, who is sitting next to him, and the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—gave us repeated promises during the passage of the Brexit Bills through Parliament that the Government had no intention to weaken in any way the social, environmental and consumer protections that were involved EU law. Will he repeat that commitment today? Moreover, if he is not prepared to repeat it in full, will he give us a guarantee, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that these issues will not be dealt with by some tailored mechanism to speed up legislative passage but will be put before this House for full debate?
My Lords, we are a high-standards country. The manifesto on which we won the election in 2019 was very clear about our intention to maintain high standards in all those areas. That does not mean that we do not intend to change them. The world moves on; high standards need to reflect the context in which we are operating. I am sure there will be change, but I do not believe that those changes will result in regression of standards.
On the noble Lord’s second point, I come back to the point I made earlier: many of these laws were not subject to any form of meaningful scrutiny in this Parliament and may have been imposed against the will of the Government. The way we progress on them needs to reflect that fundamental reality.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement and the fact that my noble friend is here to give it. I very much welcome the report. I was astonished, when I was a new MEP 21 years ago, by how much big corporations lobbied for precisely these kinds of regulations, almost always because they saw an opportunity to disadvantage a rival by getting standards that they happened to follow anyway. Of course, they did not put it in that way— they would call it consumer rights or environmental protection—but that is almost always what it was, and it is wonderful that we are finally doing something about it.
Does my noble friend agree that the same principle should apply to our trade policy? Does he share my concern that the Trade Remedies Authority’s recommendation to remove some of the steel tariffs brought in by the European Union in retaliation against Trump was overturned? Does he see the same possibility of politics overriding economics, and does he believe that a global Britain should be an engaged, free-trading country where imports are cheap, costs are low and people have more money to spend on stimulating the entire economy?
My Lords, I do believe those things. I have two points in response. On industry support for regulation, one reason that we intend to set up our standing commission is to make sure that we can listen not just to trade associations and big companies, important though they are, but to small and medium-sized enterprises, the people who gain from change and doing things differently, as well as those who gain from things being as they are. On free trade, of course I am a free trader. I believe that this country prospers by free trade; I think the whole Government believe that. On steel, obviously there is a particular situation in the global market in steel which has been discussed elsewhere, but, as a general proposition, we wish to reduce barriers, reduce tariffs, get in place free trade agreements and allow everyone to prosper.
My Lords, the Minister referred to medicines and the MHRA in his Statement. Can he give your Lordships’ House assurances that the issues around the delivery and supply of medicines to Northern Ireland will be resolved in an amicable manner with the European Union? When do the Government expect to bring forward legislation to deal with that issue?
My Lords, we set out our view on that in the Command Paper. It is obviously right and essential that people in Northern Ireland have the same access to medicines as those anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and we intend to ensure that. We think the best way would be to remove medicines from the protocol entirely, and that is what we still hope to be able to agree consensually but, as we have made clear, the tests for using Article 16 are met, safeguards are justified and this is obviously an area where there is a matter of the state’s responsibility to all our citizens. The actions we take need to be seen in that context.
My Lords, I very much welcome this Statement from the Minister. It is one of the reasons millions of people all over the country voted to leave the European Union. I want to ask him about the timescale, because I worry that sometimes reviews get stuck at the bottom of some civil servant’s tray. I would like to make sure that this comes back to us very quickly and that we see the results of leaving the European Union as soon as possible. I ask him to say something about the timetable.
My Lords, there is a complex list of proposals, consultations, ideas for legislation, specific plans for legislation, and so on, so it is hard to generalise. However, I wish to be clear that we intend to pursue all this urgently. That is why it is my responsibility as a Cabinet Minister to make this happen, over and above the departmental responsibilities that other Secretaries of State have. We certainly intend to pursue the review of EU law extremely urgently so that we can deliver results and make a difference rapidly.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s Statement and, like him, I welcome the call from the Labour Front Bench for even more ambitious deregulation. It is healthy that there should be this competition between the two sides to improve and update our legislation, which we had no opportunity to do when we were in the European Union. I suggest that the way to move forward now, on top of the excellent TIGGR report, is to go back to the original briefs that Ministers were given when these directives were being negotiated. Invariably, they said, “Minister, we don’t really want this, but the best thing to do is to try to get it amended a bit here and a bit there”—and, if possible, a bit more than we actually got. If nothing else, there would be a guide to changes we can make just by going back to those briefs.
My Lords, I very much welcome that suggestion from my noble friend. It is an extremely good one and a reminder that in many cases, Governments of both parties opposed proposals that have now become law and to which we are supposed to reconcile ourselves. I will certainly take that up and see what we can find—within the limits of Civil Service record-keeping capacity, which may impose some limits on what we are able to do.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the issue with the protocol in Northern Ireland is not necessarily its operation but its existence; that is the basic problem. Will he confirm that large swathes of the law that he proposes to amend and change will not be possible in Northern Ireland? We had evidence at our committee yesterday to that effect. The gap between the two parts of the United Kingdom will increase, not decrease, as this process goes on.
This is obviously a very significant issue and why we put forward the proposals that we have in the Command Paper to try to deal with the problem. Our proposals for dual standards for goods circulating in Northern Ireland and a different way to manage the governance of the arrangements would, we hope, deal with the anomalies that exist, but, of course, they remain to be negotiated. It is a very significant difficulty which we have debated frequently and hope to resolve.
My Lords, I am not used to this unarmed combat. Will the Minister update the House on the work of the Partnership Council? It held its first meeting on 9 June, since when we have heard nothing. This is despite the series of difficult issues that the council is meant to resolve following our departure from the EU, not least the recognition of professional qualifications. This body has the appearance of being the “long-grass council” where the issues that the Minister has failed to resolve will be left to fester.
My Lords, I am certainly happy to update the House. The Partnership Council met before the summer, as the noble Lord noted. I would expect it to meet again before the end of the year. It is of course the supreme body of a complex substructure and the specialised committees have been meeting. Those that have not will meet over the rest of this month and in October, and will provide proposals and ideas to the council. So, although it may not be as visible as we would wish, there is a huge process under way that is designed to look at difficulties and, we hope, find ways of resolving them, including the question of qualifications that the noble Lord mentioned.
My Lords, the issue of taxation without representation is becoming a bigger problem every day for Northern Ireland. These suggestions and proposals by the Minister, which are very welcome in many respects, simply cannot be applied to Northern Ireland. He must recognise the urgency of this situation. The EU is trying to kick the can down the road until after the Assembly elections next year. Will he act within the very short timeframe that we now have if stability is to be restored and proper democratic accountability for laws made for Northern Ireland introduced?
My Lords, we certainly recognise the urgency of the situation and very much share the noble Lord’s anxiety on this question. The relative stability in Northern Ireland is because our Command Paper proposals are regarded as a good set of proposals that are capable of resolving the problem. Obviously, it is one thing to put them forward and another to see them implemented, so we absolutely need to have a meaningful negotiating process with the EU, which we do not quite have yet, to see whether we can resolve the issues centrally and to know that quickly. If we cannot do so, as I have said, other ways forward are possible.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement by my noble friend. Can he assure us that the Government will be able to respond quickly in certain areas when problems arise unexpectedly—not least on the issue of lorry drivers, which is perhaps a good example at the moment, and the requirements of the CPC regulations? For some lorry drivers who recently retired and are unable to go back into the industry because they do not have CPC regulation, would one of the solutions not be to allow them to operate within the United Kingdom without that regulation if they have a long record of driving safely?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has of course set out proposals in this area, and I am confident that they will deal with the situation over time. My noble friend’s general point is a good one. There is often a tendency to dismiss problems until they are evident, rather than get ahead of them. A degree of responsiveness, perhaps, via our standing commission—but not only through that—should help us to reap the benefits of the ability to move quickly, which we did not have in the European Union.
My Lords, the purpose of these reforms is, in the long run, to improve the productivity of the UK by putting in place regulations that are tailored to our conditions, rather than the average. So the goal of this Government is to improve productivity, growth and prosperity for everybody after Brexit. That is obviously one of the metrics on which the British people will make their judgment when the time arises.
My Lords, I am sure that the business community, which faces considerable pressures on costs and competitiveness, will be pleased to hear about the standing commission and the opportunity to address regulatory issues. However, will my noble friend add something about the Government’s quantified objectives in this regard? Last year, not including the effects of Covid, Brexit or Grenfell, regulation on business increased by £5.7 billion while the Government’s target was a net-zero increase. So what kind of objectives are the Government looking for in this regard, and will he and the Government confirm the importance of independent verification of that by the Regulatory Policy Committee?
My Lords, the matters that my noble friend raised in his question are germane to the consultation on the regulatory framework, which I touched on and which obviously is still open—so I do not want to get ahead of that. I certainly very much agree with his general proposition that there is a kind of dead weight that tends to move in one direction, and it takes a lot of effort to push back against it and improve regulatory conditions overall. As I said, the possibility of “one in, x out” is one way of doing that, but there are other ways, and we are looking into how Governments around the world, including national sub-states and so on, have achieved this—so we will have more to say on that question.
Net-zero Carbon Emissions: Behaviour Change
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the role of behaviour change in helping the United Kingdom to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as set out in the report by the Climate Change Committee Reducing emissions: 2021 Progress Report to Parliament, published on 26 June; and of the case for a public engagement strategy to facilitate this.
My Lords, I applaud the Government’s commitment to net-zero carbon by 2050 and appreciate that they are working to try to achieve a successful outcome to COP 26 in November. However, I am not confident that they have done enough yet to engage the public in order to facilitate the behaviour change necessary to reduce emissions. I want to set out the case for doing so, following the valuable report to Parliament of the Climate Change Committee at the end of June.
I begin by briefly summarising what the CCC said. It argued that 62% of measures needed to reach net zero required changes to public behaviour. However, there is currently no centrally led strategy. Although there is high public support for action on climate change, research suggests that there is a lack of understanding about the actions that need to be taken and the urgency required. I understand that the Government’s net-zero strategy is to be published imminently to precede COP 26. My first question to the Minister is whether it will definitely include a public engagement strategy, and, if so, whether it will be genuinely cross-departmental. People will need to change their lives in relation to transport, heating their homes, diet and more general problems of consumption.
There also needs to be a higher level of public understanding and involvement in shaping decision-making, without which success in reaching net zero is unlikely. There is, of course, a role for employers, and business in particular, as well as for local government, the print—and especially the broadcast—media, and the education system. However, the Government need to take the lead. They must also take on those who irresponsibly are purveying false information and scare stories about the negative impact of climate change measures on people’s lives.
It is often helpful to learn from what other countries are doing. For example, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have assessed work on climate change assemblies undertaken in Scotland, as well as France and Denmark, which have involved their citizens in climate policy-making. What other international initiatives can he tell us about that we might draw on? Clearly the fight against global warming is international and no country is exempt from the challenges it poses.
Concern about climate change is higher in the UK than in many other countries, with 80% of the population recording such concern. However, at the same time, when asked about net zero in March this year in a BEIS survey, only 14% indicated that they knew a lot or a fair amount about it. It is worrying, too, that only 51% of the UK public think that climate change is either entirely or mainly caused by human activity. Moreover, they tend to pass the buck and seem to think that responsibility belongs to others rather than themselves.
Only 26% of those asked had made any change in their behaviour. Even when people want to act, there are worrying misconceptions about the most effective ways to do so. While around 50% of those surveyed were aware that saving on energy consumption at home was a step that they can take, far fewer were aware of the value of eating less meat and fewer dairy products—15% and 6%, respectively—nor of the size of the impact that this could have. Changing our diets is urgent in order to free up land to sequester carbon.
A recent report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change reinforced the importance of focusing on a relatively limited number of changes in behaviour that have the most impact. One of the three measures that it cited was eating less meat. The others were reducing our car travel and our flying. A common misunderstanding, not just in the UK but many other counties, is that recycling is very effective. Though there are of course good reasons why we should recycle, it comes some way down the list for reaching net zero.
If far too few of our citizens are well informed about the actions needed to counter climate change, what must the Government do? Above all, they must engage the population, including those who are hard to reach. They should find ways to bring people together to discuss the challenge that we face and how to address it. One small example, close to home, is the citizens’ assembly that was run last year by six House of Commons Select Committees. It showed that, when problems and solution are discussed with members of the public, for the most part they support making changes.
Starting with pupils at school, only this week research on young people’s attitudes showed how concerned they are about climate change and how anxious they are about the survival of the planet. Three-quarters said that they are frightened about their survival and their future. It is noteworthy that 80% of those participating in the parliamentary assembly that I just mentioned thought that climate should be a compulsory subject in all schools. Can the Minister tell us what the current position is on the national curriculum regarding coverage of climate?
We must build on the positive mindset of young people, giving them the tools to take the action needed to stop further rises in temperature. Little progress can be made unless teachers feel confident about their own competence and knowledge in this area. There is evidence that many of them want more training. In a survey this year of 7,500 teachers, 70% said that they had received none. Knowledge alone is not enough. They must learn about best practice in learning approaches and how to convey to young people a sense of their own potential to be part of the solutions, as well as how to be ambitious and resilient in responding to the challenges. What resources are being put into initial and in-service training to help teachers rise to this task?
The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is an excellent opportunity to address behaviour change among college students. The same issues apply to them as to their parents, such as the forms of transport that they use in their daily travel, where there are choices available to them. In addition, there is a need for FE to provide courses that will create the skills needed in a green economy and to make their students aware of the job opportunities available to them if they acquire these skills. More attention must also be given to phasing out qualifications that make no contribution to the net- zero economy. Just as schoolteachers need improvements in their preparation for curriculum initiatives on climate issues, so too do college lecturers, especially in specific areas such as decarbonising heat in homes. Please can we have a skills strategy from the Government to power the transition to green technologies?
The work needed to put in place targeted public engagement costs money, especially to reach those groups who feel socially and economically excluded, who do not typically take part in discussions about public policy and indeed are rarely invited to do so. Back in June, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, asked the Minister about spending and when figures would be released. The reply was, “in due course”. Has due course been reached, and can the Minister tell the House what the budget is for public engagement? It is all very well accepting the Government’s words that
“Public engagement can help build awareness, acceptability, and uptake of sustainable technologies … over the long term and can also help improve the effectiveness of policies”,
but they must will the means to do this as well as aspiring to it. Would it be too much to ask the Government to create a national debate on the contribution that each and every one of us can make to countering climate change and reaching net zero? In every city, town and village, invitations might go out to join community discussions around a short paper setting out what the options are.
I hope that the Minister will respond positively and be willing to set in motion an approach of this kind, which might be announced at COP 26 in November. At the last global conference, the Paris Agreement stipulated that measures should be taken
“to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information”.
Having done far too little since then, we now have the opportunity to take the lead at COP and, in doing so, particular emphasis should be placed on public participation. This can be done in the context of the UN’s action for climate empowerment, which commits all nations to engaging their citizens on climate change. At present, Governments are not measured on their commitments and there is a lack of infrastructure and no monitoring or reporting process, according to the charity Climate Outreach. If the Government could take the lead by announcing a comprehensive and radical approach, and in doing so get public engagement with climate change much higher on the international agenda, that would be a triumph. Let us try to be a world leader in this area.
Within the UK, we must evaluate and monitor our progress in getting the public participation that the Climate Change Committee espouse. Can the Minister say what the Government propose to do in this respect? It is vital to understand the barriers that may emerge, to know what forms of communication work best, who the best people to promote public dialogue are and how to get people debating together about what they as individuals can do, avoiding the feeling that they are being talked at or just bombarded with information.
My last point is the value of trust. Increasingly, there is an absence of trust in Government and a denigration of politicians. There is a need to build trust in the messages that are sent. To do so, the messengers must be perceived to have integrity and must demonstrate that they themselves are committed to individual action on climate change. The upside of any debate on tackling climate change is that it is not largely about party politics. We can and should put political differences aside and unite to meet the expectations and hopes of young people, to save the planet and to engage the hearts and minds of our citizens in doing so. I beg to move.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness for bringing this topic to the Chamber this afternoon and for her excellent speech.
Up to now, most of the adaptations and changes required to reduce carbon emissions have been done to us, or for us, by the Government or have been as a result of business decisions. For example, all the changes in the means of production for energy have been done for us. We have hardly been aware of those changes—unless, of course, like me, noble Lords have solar panels on their roof. Only now are we starting to get to the more difficult bits, such as starting to change how we heat our homes.
There are exceptions. For example, we have adapted to paying for plastic bags; as a result, we use far fewer of them. Most of us could talk at length about local recycling schemes, the differences between them and the benefits of some of them. However, the lessons of those two examples are that it takes a long time to bed in change in our behaviour. We face a climate emergency. The big question is: is 2050 early enough for net zero? There is real doubt about that. The answer? Probably not. The longer it takes to start, the more radical the changes must be.
In the time I have, I will concentrate on transport because it is the single biggest sector for CO2 emissions. It is also the only sector where, in recent decades, emissions have not fallen despite technological improvements. Earlier this summer, the Government produced a welcome transport decarbonisation plan. Unfortunately, it started with a complete fallacy. It said that we can carry on doing everything we currently do and that technology will make the changes we need to reach net zero. This argument was even applied to aviation.
The problem with transport is that we all want to travel more, not less. The pandemic has given us pause for thought and demonstrated that a lot of our travel can be avoided. During the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about finding new, healthy and environmentally friendly ways in which to live and work. Now that the Government think the pandemic is over, their rhetoric has immediately pressed us to get back to the office despite the fact that we have demonstrated that we can do a great deal of work without being in the office. Fortunately, many employers and employees are resisting this, but trains, the Tube and buses are crowded again and our roads are very congested, with traffic volumes up to and beyond pre-pandemic levels because people are now reluctant to use public transport. We were beginning to see the switch to public transport, but that has regressed.
There is a saying: “Never waste a crisis.” The danger is that the Government will waste this one by not seizing the moment and not capitalising on the pause that the pandemic created. There is every reason to review, for example, business travel because Zoom can do much of it without the same waste of time or CO2. There are major opportunities for change, but we are also at a dangerous point because we are no longer bound to the EU where the rules have set world standards for so long. We must not allow ourselves to slide back from that.
Specifically, there is the problem of time lag. Vehicles manufactured today will still be on our roads in 20 years’ time. The time lag is even greater for buses, planes and ships. The Government need to influence what we buy and use now. We are buying enormous modern SUVs. The Government also need to influence how we drive them. We need information so that we understand all the implications of our behaviour. All social revolution needs this; it needed it for drink-driving, seatbelt-wearing and smoking. We must have government information backed up with regulations to give us a nudge. We need taxation to encourage us not to buy SUVs, to ensure that aviation tax is reformed and to discourage frequent flyers. We need regulation change; for example, to encourage us to drive more slowly.
We face an emergency, and emergencies require urgency. The rain is falling on the ice caps now. Belgium as well as Bangladesh face people dying in flash floods. It is not enough to plan for tomorrow. The Government need to plan for today, utilise the expertise of our universities, our scientists and throughout the Civil Service, and ensure that we have an effective public debate.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on the extreme timeliness of her Motion, amid the final preparations of the build-up to COP 26 in November. I declare my related interests in energy issues, as set out in the register.
Currently, I see two major public behavioural barriers to addressing successfully the dangers of climate change and extremism. One—noble Lords can read about it in this morning’s papers—is exemplified by Extinction Rebellion and its associates. Frankly, they have done untold damage to the climate cause here, hurting a lot of people quite unnecessarily along the way.
The second, more serious, barrier, or problem, is the ocean of wishful thinking that still surrounds the preparations for COP 26 and the UK’s own net-zero goal, as well as the priorities being urged by the Climate Change Committee. Our net-zero goal, if it can be achieved, will of course have no direct impact on rising world emissions; we are brave but too small for that. That is just a statistical fact. Furthermore, the “zero” applies only to the production of carbon and not to the swathes of carbon embedded in the CO2 we import and consume instead of generating it here, as authorities such as the excellent Professor Dieter Helm constantly remind us.
The theory, I know, is that, by going all out for UK net zero, which might be attainable in the UK at considerable cost and hardship, we will set an example, offer a model for others and gain moral standing. The fact is rather different. The fact is that global emissions are all set to resume a rapid rise anyway after the year’s pause of the pandemic because, for most of the major emitting nations and regions, while they may note—even admire—our efforts, development and the escape for millions from poverty are the absolute priorities. For China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Brazil, to name but a few, these are goals from which they deviate at their peril. Of course, that is why we can see that some of these countries have rejected the COP 26 wording for an end to coal generation.
As a consequence—this must be faced as a reality—world demand for oil, gas and coal will inevitably continue to grow in the years ahead, thanks mainly to the Asian and African utilities. For the advanced economies, the best path to curbing soaring emissions of carbon and of methane, which is an even worse greenhouse gas, lies in a different direction to the one we are currently being enjoined to pursue in this country.
The Climate Change Committee asserts that, for us, net zero is compatible with our climate interests and targets. That is definitely not so under present policies. As the emissions figures clock up—as they will—going flatly in the opposite direction of the Paris goals, which require not just levelling but falling numbers, there will be considerable frustration and anger. Talk of betrayal will come not only from the likes of Greta Thunberg.
Legally binding reduction targets, extracted with huge effort by COP 26, will be washed aside by reality, simply because Governments in the big emitting countries, although they may have serious carbon-reduction targets, have no choice but to press ahead with power supply expansion by the quickest and, in many areas, the cheapest available means, including by using the sunk capital in their present energy systems. If we can offer a useful model to assist them in escaping this trap and decarbonising their entire energy grids, it must be built around a massive technology input, showing how all the smoking chimneys of Asian and African electric power, and all the coal stations, current or planned, could be retrofitted or capped with carbon capture swiftly and affordably, allowing an expanding flow of plentiful cheap energy to continue. This is the essential ingredient of sustainable growth.
I note, finally, that many of our own green voices are actively against carbon capture from burning oil, coal and gas, just as they are actively against the search for cheaper nuclear power. That eliminates two of the main means of checking global emissions growth. This is not progress; it is going backwards towards certain failure. Demand for fossil fuels worldwide will grow further before it falls.
If we are truly serious about averting climate catastrophe, we should be looking in other directions. Time does not allow me to expand on those: they are available, possible and should be tackled honestly. The COP 26 planners should be looking at these areas, instead of trying to pull together the shaky bandwagon of net-zero commitments, which will not—indeed cannot—materialise without fundamental changes in our policy direction and in the whole of Asia. Nothing short of that will do. Perhaps it is time to be honest, change direction and thereby remove a big barrier of misunderstanding and misdirection for genuinely lasting success for the forthcoming COP 26 conference in Glasgow and our national contribution to the climate struggle ahead.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on securing this debate on such a vital topic and setting out the issues so comprehensively. It is increasingly recognised that the equation of human advancement with economic growth has been catastrophic in fuelling the climate crisis, and that tackling this crisis will require not just technological and scientific innovations, but considerable shifts in the way we behave. We must all consider the implications of our choices and actions on societies beyond our shores and lifetimes and put ourselves in the shoes of future generations when choosing how we act in the here and now.
Encouraging and maintaining these changes in behaviour will require much more than just a laying-out of the logic. Sustained behaviour change will involve calls on our imagination, compassion, creativity and ability to empathise. If ever there was a time to “only connect”, it must be now and on this issue. We will need to combine the prose and the passion, the heads and the hearts, if we are to achieve the change we need at the speed required.
The obvious place to start is with education, and yet the presence of climate change in primary and secondary school curricula is, at best, limited. Where it exists, teaching generally takes place within natural sciences, explaining the devastating impact of human activity and the potential consequences of rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and increasing sea levels. Yet climate change cannot be seen in isolation from the social, political, cultural and economic, all of which are absent from climate education. This is problematic, not least because this broader agenda would offer routes for young people to study potential solutions, rather than to focus on the catastrophic.
Research has found that this focus on fear and disaster can lead to a growing sense of hopelessness and panic in young people, with a poll last year by the Royal College of Psychiatrists revealing that 57% of child and adolescent psychiatrists have seen patients who are distressed about the climate crisis and the environment. While these responses are normal, to some degree, a balance needs to be struck in which education about the consequences of climate change is matched with a focus on solutions, empowering children to respond positively and with hope.
Julia Bentz, from the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes at the University of Lisbon, suggests that this is where the arts and humanities can play a critical role. Arts-based learning about climate offers space for experimentation, perspective taking and the co-creation of imaginative solutions. It can help to transform emotions away from fear and towards hope, responsibility, care and solidarity. Evidence shows that this kind of arts-based engagement, from an early age, has a greater chance of leading to pro-environmental behaviours and attitudes. Despite this potential, climate change is rarely integrated into the curricula of arts subjects.
This disconnect between arts and science extends beyond education into the ways we think about research and innovation, with a persistent dominant view that science alone will deliver solutions to our most pressing challenges. The current HMRC definition of research and development reflects this view; it specifically excludes the arts, humanities and social sciences, and therefore excludes them from associated tax relief too. This misses the important opportunity for scientific and technical advances to be informed by insights into human behaviour, social norms and culturally appropriate communication, which reduces the likelihood of new technologies being adopted at the rate or scale required.
The AHRC’s Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, backed by a wide range of sector bodies, has called on the Government to amend their definition of R&D to drop this explicit exclusion. Can the Minister say, in winding up, how the Government will respond to this call following their consultation on R&D tax credit schemes? Acknowledging that the definition of science includes the systematic study not just of the nature and behaviour of the physical and material universe, but of humankind, culture and society would be a valuable step towards the integration of technological and behavioural advances that will be vital, if the UK is to reach its target of net zero by 2050.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for the opportunity of this debate. I have just finished reading a book about wilding in the UK, and it is a classic story of how difficult it is to change a culture, attitudes and expectations from deeply embedded practices and convictions, in this case about how we manage our land—which was appropriate, with the Environment Bill this week. The same difficulty applies in this debate, which is less about government policy and more about how we, as citizens, choose to live.
My main point, in discussing the role behaviour change can play in helping us towards net-zero carbon emissions, is this: it is essential that our expectations are aspirational, but also realistic. They need to apply to all people. It is my fear that the poorest 10% will be left not just behind, but feeling that they are part of the problem, when they would rather be part of the solution.
So far, the behaviour changes we wish to see have been inaccessible to many on low incomes, simply because they cost much more. I believe cars that are powered without petrol or diesel are the future, and I hope to see a mix of financial incentives and legislation to encourage their uptake and so change our choices, but they remain considerably more expensive in outlay and then do not hold their value. A petrol car is cheaper and easier to sell on and, if I live in accommodation without a driveway, is considerably easier to fill with the required fuel. So it is for other goods, such as locally grown organic food, which remains more expensive than highly processed food grown out of season abroad. Similarly, I have complete sympathy with any working single parent who decides to shop for the cheapest school shirts money can buy, instead of those made of fair-trade cotton. Food, clothing, travel—all these remain prohibitively expensive for some. When we seek to change the behaviour of the whole population, we must consider how we might incentivise with price reductions or even subsidise these things to make them accessible to all.
Also, the industries that employ people on lower incomes must be those we seek to incentivise, and possibly most strongly penalise when they fail to make the necessary changes. Manufacturing, food production, aspects of the gig economy: these are all sectors that will have to put their greenhouses in order or presumably risk facing sanctions designed to force a change in behaviour. Wages could be pushed down and jobs could even be lost to pay for the necessary changes in production and carbon offsetting, and the burden will be borne by those at the bottom of the pay scale.
Finally, it feels that every time I am here I bring up the same matter. I follow the focus of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, which is that public transport in the north of the country remains inadequate, particularly between the big cities and most especially for those on low incomes who need it most. It is essential for the change of behaviour we seek, and for the sake of the climate, that funding per head on transport infra- structure is, to use Her Majesty’s Government’s phrase, levelled up.
One should not be surprised to find out that spending on transport infrastructure is higher in London than in any other part of the country, but that spending per head is so considerably higher in the capital than in the north of the country is less easy to comprehend. Indeed, I recently read that it is twice as much per head than in the north-west and more than three times as much as in Yorkshire and the Humber. How can people be expected to change their behaviour and choices if the opportunity is not given them to do so? Without proper and fair investment in greener ways to travel, reliance on road travel will only increase, especially after the pandemic, which still impacts the numbers who use our trains, trams and buses.
In summary, the blend of incentives and penalties I have heard suggested will be essential in helping us all change our behaviour, which is incredibly important and very possible as we seek to reach net-zero carbon emissions. However, we must do it in a way and a manner that does not leave any constituency behind. Lack of financial means should not prevent some sharing the journey to net zero. I mentioned the book I read just recently, in which the quote is given: you can’t be green if you’re in the red.
My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I commend him for reminding us how important it is to consider first those at the bottom of the pay scale; I thank him for that.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Blackstone and thank her for instituting and introducing this important debate on the role of behaviour change and the case for a public engagement strategy in helping us to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. She made an excellent and comprehensive speech, which has already been commended. I hope the Minister will respond positively to it, as she asked him to do.
I thank all the organisations that have circulated briefing papers to speakers and more broadly. They are all of value and, like the excellent Library and Peers for the Planet briefings, have increased my knowledge and contributed to our debate even before a word had been spoken in the Chamber. On that point, let me take just a few seconds to repeat a suggestion that I have made twice before in the context of debates in your Lordship’s House.
I cannot do justice to any of the briefings—I have no intention of going through the many proposals they suggest; we can all read them for ourselves—but they contain many good points and, as the focus of this debate is on public engagement, I ask again: can we not open a web-based portal for every debate, or at least some, which would allow people who wish to engage with us to post their briefings in real time and have them preserved with the official record of the debate, and would expand the debate out into society? It would create a much more inclusive context for our work and allow us a significant amount of outreach too, given that we are constantly seeking ways to make our deliberations more relevant to a wider audience.
According to the CCC report, three-fifths of the measures required to get to net-zero emissions will require at least some degree of behavioural and social change. However, as Lorraine Whitmarsh, professor of environmental psychology at the University of Bath, commented:
“But this only factors in changes in consumer behaviour, such as switching from petrol to electric cars, or gas boilers to heat pumps.”
The list is endless; it has already been covered substantially in contributions. She continued:
“This is a very narrow definition of behavioural and social change. People are not only consumers—they are citizens, parents, members of communities, employees, employers and political actors.”
I add to that that people are company directors, politicians and Ministers. One view is that the truth may be that all the measures required to get to net zero depend on behavioural change by people.
As I have already said, I cannot do justice to any or all of the briefings I received, but for the rest of what I am going to say I will concentrate on the issue of trust, because that is about our behaviour—not just that of Ministers but of parliamentarians. I was struck by the last bullet point in the Climate Outreach briefing I received, which says:
“The public takes strong cues from government action so policies and government spokespeople”—
I would add parliamentarians—
“need to be seen as being in tune with the action being asked of individuals.”
The heading that it gives is that the Government needs to be in step.
Regrettably, at a micro level the Government, and probably many of us, have recently had problems in this area. The sight of a Cabinet—at which there were at least 27 senior members of the Government sitting close together around a table without face masks—agreeing that a key message to deliver to the people is to wear a mask in crowded settings was not helpful, nor is the regular drumbeat we have of Ministers and others being embarrassed by being asked simple questions such as, “What sort of car do you drive?” This is really important, and all of it is very good fun at this level, but at the macro level there is an important issue. If people are to be persuaded to change their personal behaviours, Governments, leaders and we must inspire confidence that we are tackling the larger and more difficult challenges—and we are comprehensively failing to do that. We regularly say that the Government’s primary responsibility is their duty to protect citizens. We have to be really careful that asking individual citizens to bear the burden of a substantial share of global warming does not reverse that relationship, moving responsibility from the protectors to those who should be protected. Part of the public engagement strategy must be empowering citizens to hold their Governments to account for their responsibilities, first and foremost.
A relatively recent report from the Carbon Disclosure Project—now known as the CDP—found that just 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988 and that a mere 25 corporations and state-owned entities were responsible for more than half of global emissions. Mostly these are fossil fuel companies, and China is responsible for a disproportionately large share of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its coal production and consumption. A few countries and companies are responsible for so much of global greenhouse gas emissions that our first response should be, at business and government level, to ensure that people take responsibility for curbing industrial emissions. That should be our priority.
This is not to say that individuals cannot do things. They can, of course: we have heard about them and there are lists of them. Every contribution helps, but we must be careful not to get to the point where these failings are considered morally blameworthy. In particular, individuals living in poor countries who have contributed almost nothing to climate change deserve the most support and the least guilt.
I repeat that the most effective change in behaviour will be to empower citizens to hold those who are responsible for climate change accountable for their actions. That is why a successful COP 26 is so crucial. Unfortunately, I am not very confident that it will deliver.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on this debate; I wish we could have this sort of debate every day. It is absolutely true, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, that our young people are terrified. We need to talk solutions. I try to offer solutions in this Chamber, but I am afraid that the Government simply do not understand the urgency. This is an emergency and a crisis, and the Government are not stepping up. For all their fine words, they do not measure up to the task.
Most of us here in this Chamber will die of old age; that is what I suspect we would all like. By contrast, many of the young people at school today will die from the consequences of climate change: flash floods, droughts, and conflicts brought about by shifting climatic conditions. It is going to be an unstable world—more than it is already.
I will deal with only one aspect of this crisis: sea level rises and their impacts. To some extent, of course, every single person has to do something—behaviour change has to be universal—but I am afraid that the Government have to take the lead on this. The Government can make it easy for people, and at the moment they mostly are not.
In 2007 the IPCC had a worst-case scenario of a 0.5-metre sea level rise in the next 100 years. It was a fairly reassuring analysis that did not include any figures from melting glaciers and ice sheets, because that was not going to happen in anyone’s lifetime. The evidence started to say otherwise, and has rapidly changed with each new report from a satellite or Arctic monitoring station. Every IPCC assessment in the last 14 years has shifted the worst-case scenario much closer to us. The most recent assessment has shifted everything upwards again, but the really terrifying bit is that, due to the IPCC’s rigorous process of analysis, consensus building and governmental oversight, those conclusions are already likely to be out of date.
Any debate we have in this place or the other place needs a new starting point. In the last year, a large section of the scientific community has realised that the models were wrong and that we have lost the 70- to 90-year buffer we thought we had to turn these things around. Things that were not meant to happen until 2100 are happening now. The poles are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, as receding sea ice reduces the ability to reflect heat back upwards and melting permafrost releases methane that creates a warming cloud of local gases. The decline of the Greenland ice sheet is inevitable. That alone would lead to an estimated 7-metre rise in sea level. To put that into perspective, this House is 6 metres above sea level, so much of London will face regular flooding unless multi-billion-pound mitigation works are undertaken. Even then, it will not stop the flash floods.
When we discuss behavioural change, we are talking about more than switching off the lights when you leave an empty room, not leaving your TV on standby or even buying an electric car. As for all these technological advancements that are going to save our planet, they are not here yet. We cannot rely on something that could be five or 10 years in the future. We absolutely have to deal with what we have now.
We need wholesale change, which requires government to make the choices easy and more obvious for people. For example, the cost of travel by car has declined by 16% since 1997, but the cost of coaches and buses has gone up by a third. Why has the cost of domestic flights gone down by 16% but the cost of a train risen by a quarter? That is the Government sending signals in the wrong direction. When the Government finally put a charge on plastic bags, the result was a huge public switch. They have refused to put a deposit charge on plastic bottles or plastic-lined coffee cups, so the results have been completely different.
Plastic has been the one big growth area of the oil industry, and it nearly all goes in the waste-bin. The oil companies make money out of making it and the waste companies make money out of burning it. The consumers end up paying the long-term cost for something they did not ask for. We need the Government to make the alternatives cheaper and easier to use.
None of this can wait until 2050; we have lost that chance. The fundamental changes to our lifestyle have to be made now. Our biggest challenge is not stopping the Greenland ice sheet melting—that chance has gone—but stopping the massive glaciers of Antarctica slipping into the sea. If that happens, no walls will be high enough.
When our current Prime Minister was Mayor of London, in the first few weeks of his term I wrote him out three simple rules of sustainability, which I will list now in the hope that your Lordships can use them in future. I stood over him and made him read them, and kept them simple so that he could read them quickly. The first was that every single person has to do something. It is not enough to say that we will all do our personal bit; the Government have to do something as well. The second was that you have to make sure that there are no unintended consequences of something you do now; for example, that green airline fuel does not mean we cannot grow food in a certain area. The other thing is that there is no one answer. People always look for a big solution, but it is too big and too complex. Al Gore said there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and I totally agree with her that we must have a sense of urgency in taking action now. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for introducing this debate and bringing it to us. It is so important, and I was very impressed with the way she introduced it.
It is self-evident that we will all have to start doing things differently if we are to stand any chance of keeping warming within the aspirant 1.5 degree target agreed at Paris. The Climate Change Committee’s report to Parliament in June this year said that profound changes in behaviour and high-impact action from consumers, workers, households, businesses and citizens are needed to reach the target. However, there is one other crucial sector that has to step up to the plate and change its behaviour if we are to have any success whatever in asking others to change theirs. I am speaking, of course, of Governments.
My remarks will concentrate on the importance of the Government leading by example. Time and again, they have demonstrated that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. All too often, they seem to be engaged in a tug of war. Government departments are pulling in opposite directions. They seem to be acting in a contradictory manner and sending mixed signals to all the other sectors.
Let me take policy on fossil fuels as a glaring example. In its sixth assessment report, published last month, the IPCC makes it crystal clear that fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we are to stay within the 1.5 degree warming limit. The International Energy Agency states in its report Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector that the necessary wide-scale transformation of the sector dictates that reliance on fossil fuels must cease almost completely by 2050.
The IPCC and the IEA are agencies whose reports are underpinned by rigorous scientific evidence, yet the Government appear to be in hock to the fossil fuel lobby. How else does one explain their willingness to toy with giving the go-ahead to the new Cumbrian coal mine and the expansion of the Cambo oilfield to the west of the Shetlands? How else does one explain the report in the Guardian six days ago that:
“Ministers, including the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, held only seven private meetings with renewable energy generators between July 2019 and March 2020 compared with 63 with fossil fuel producers”,
among them controversial biomass interests? When will the Government make it clear that the era of fossil fuels is over in the UK? When will we finally draw a line under the anachronistic MER policy, which says that the UK Government must maximise economic recovery of oil and gas in the North Sea?
Surely tidying up our policy on the extraction of fossil fuels will send a message to countries such as China and India that we mean what we say about being a world leader on climate action. What a fillip it would give to COP 26, which is just a few weeks away, if we were to signal our intent to phase out fossil fuels. The industrial economy based on fossil fuels started here. Let us end it here too.
I am going to give other examples of where behaviour change on the part of the Government is necessary, and where questionable policy changes that they have made ought to be reversed. Why is it that sectors that pollute receive far greater subsidies than sectors that do not pollute as much—for example, road tax and fuel duty freezes versus train and bus fare increases; subsidies that airlines receive on fuel versus train fares; and keeping gas prices low at the expense of cleaner electricity?
Subsidy reform would be a great tool, as a carrot and a stick, to push forward behaviour change. Businesses and consumers will change their behaviour when they see that the Government are also getting their house in order. Indeed, government actions signalling policy certainty are a prerequisite for business to change.
My noble friend Lady Randerson also impressed on us the importance of tackling transport emissions, and I shall end with a few words about a simple, proven, popular and cheap measure that the Government could take which would signal their willingness to encourage the behaviour change needed to get more people out of their cars and walking or cycling instead. Introducing 20 mph speed limits on roads where people live and work has been shown to do just that. Introducing such a limit in one fell swoop would reduce the number of vehicles on our roads, reduce fine particulate matter from brake and tyre wear, reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured and reduce demand on the national grid. Surely this is a measure that is a compelling candidate for encouraging people to embrace behaviour change.
My Lords, when we consider the issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, the first priority is of course to examine ourselves and our actions before we reflect on the behaviour of others and the institutions and organisations that dictate to the population as a whole.
All of us here are no doubt seeking ways to reduce our own contribution to that pollution, although I admit to not being very good at it. When I recently decided to replace my car, I opted to buy a hybrid vehicle that can be plugged in to give it a greener and greater range. My journeys to London allowed me to feel just a bit better in my conscience—only to be somewhat disappointed on arrival when I found that within the Parliamentary Estate there are no real charging facilities for hybrid or electric vehicles. How can we lecture the country on the benefits of electric vehicles when not only are recharging points around the country currently rather uncertain and inadequate, but legislators do not themselves have such facilities?
In some people’s opinion, even purchasing a new car might be regarded as a negative act. You hear, “What about all the pollution and emissions that are produced in the manufacturing process?” Then there are those who refuse to make any changes in their behaviour and lifestyle because, as they say, “Why should the UK move to net zero, with all the costs and inconveniences, if other countries in the developing world are not?” In a way they have a point, but I happen to think that the situation with climate change and our contribution demands action and that leading the way is fully justifiable as long as we are also willing to help others to follow.
Large countries such as India and China, and even the USA, may well be behind some, but the speed with which they are moving technologically and scientifically ensures that they will catch up and even overtake us soon in this area of policy. Yes, there may still be coal-fired power stations in China, but its embrace of new and greener means of power generation and advanced technology in the field of electronics and electric transport, as well as its use of alternative energy such as solar, wind, wave and hydro power, is progressing at a very fast rate. The resources being committed by China and other developing nations to research, including into hydrogen power, are extensive, and the joint projects between our research institutions and universities and theirs are most likely to produce exciting innovation, all helping us to meet our targets.
I will not talk about COP 26 as there are others speaking today who know much more about the specific aims and programme, but I am proud that the UK is hosting that event.
My remarks so far have been reasonably positive, but even the most sincere declarations and aims of the UK and the international community are pretty pointless unless we gear up our progress. Time is not on our side, and those of us who are now of a certain age must ensure that our actions safeguard the futures of our children and grandchildren.
So where are the problems, and where are the actions after all the promises by government? Where, for instance, is the full heat and buildings strategy? Already, resistance is building up in the media to heat pumps replacing gas boilers and the like. Where is the strategy to get full public engagement and support, as has been referred to by other speakers? It is promised before the COP 26 conference, and we certainly need that to make progress. We also need the extra educational elements put in place for our young people.
Where is the evidence post Covid on the balance between emissions caused by more working from home and non-residential work? Have the Government assessed this, taking into account all aspects, including the inevitable pollution, referred to by a number of noble Lords, caused by attendant travel?
Where is the wholehearted support for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant for our Planet scheme? It is not quite “Dig for Victory”, but it is worthy of support. The campaign reminds us that one tree planted today will remove one tonne of carbon from the air over 40 years.
Where is the real action necessary to roll out effective carbon capture and storage? My region of Yorkshire is a perfect example of where and how such schemes could be used to great advantage, but we have been talking about this for years. When I was MP for Leeds back in the 1990s, a clear plan was provided by the then Conservative Government. It was pushed forward by the new Labour Government, but they did little more. There I was for 17 years, and EU money was available—but what did we actually do about it?
Frankly, there are many areas where we have been promised more and more but nothing has happened. However, I have lots of confidence that my noble friend the Minister, whom I know well, will now assume the role of a modern Action Man. COP 26 will be important, but we need to ensure that all the no doubt fine words that we are waiting to hear from my noble friend a little later, and the promises of Governments of all complexions, are followed up with real and meaningful outcomes.
Finally, I ask: is my noble friend confident that the international structures are now in place to monitor and enforce the outcomes? Is he confident, in the new role that I have given him of our Action Man on the environment, that he can take our citizens with him and with us? That is vital on this urgent mission.
My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for her introduction and for giving us this debate. I think we need to spend more time on this question because effecting behavioural change, as many of us know, is very difficult indeed.
The biggest change in my lifetime that affected most people was the Second World War, which brought great social changes but also took millions of people off the planet. The next big change that I remember was under Ted Heath’s Government, when we had a three-day week; for the first time in my life we were living without electricity and had candles in the house. That was major behavioural change. The winter of discontent in 1979, which emerged from my old background of the trade union movement, led to a very big change because we got Mrs Thatcher—and without doubt she effected change in the behaviour of the nation in quite a big way.
However, we have now just come out of the biggest change, in my experience, in our behaviour, through Covid. It would be worth while to reflect on what Covid was all about—what its purpose and meaning is. We have not had that debate. My view is that Covid is here to reduce the numbers on the planet. The numbers have gone down, but perhaps not on the scale that might have been anticipated if we had not had agility and the brains to find the vaccines and so on.
However, it gives us a chance to review what gross national product and growth are all about and whether we can continue to grow in the way that we have in the past—or whether this gives an opportunity to reflect and look for a different direction. We have to look at some of the papers that have been produced by the Government on the major issues: what we eat and how we live at home. Covid has left people working at home—should we have more people working at home? I think the party that produces a policy of allowing people to work at home will get a lot of support, which will grow. Factories have disappeared; offices will disappear. Technology is moving at pace. What the mobile phone has done within a short space of time is absolutely phenomenal, and it is getting faster and faster all the time. My faith is in the youth, not in our age group.
I live in an area where we can change nothing. Since 2015, I have been trying to get them to install charging points for electric cars, but we are still no further forward. People have been working from home, and we have roof spaces and attics that can be converted into rooms and used, but no one will permit anyone to have a window to let fresh air or light into these additional spaces. We need to change the tiles on the roofs so that we have solar panels everywhere—yet we have planning rules that completely prohibit that. This all needs to be reviewed, if we are going to start to move in a different direction.
We need to talk about the numbers on the planet as well. This is controversial. Bill Gates raised this some years ago and said that the easiest solution to the world’s problems is to take 3 billion people out. Of course, he quickly withdrew that, but we need to recognise that we cannot continue to grow at the current pace. We are heading for 10 billion people, and it is quite unsustainable. We have to start talking about policies in which people will limit the number of children that they have.
The Chinese are planning: they need a 5% increase in the Chinese population. This would be a phenomenal problem in terms of climate change, so we need to get people at COP talking about the world population and whether we can reduce it. We need free contraception in order to limit this. We also need the rules on abortion that have been introduced and changed during Covid to continue so that there is greater freedom for that from home.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will be doing, we need to review the end-of-life issue. There was no mercy in watching some of those people die on machines in an awful state. There is nothing Christian about that. We should look for ways in which we can exercise true mercy. If people want to go, they should be permitted to go. We have the technology for it. Millions of people take a sleeping tablet every night because they cannot sleep, and, if people want to end their lives, they should have a right to have a tablet to come to an end, rather than face the awful lives that you can experience when we spend all our time trying to extend life, rather than focusing on the quality of it.
That is the kind of change that we need to try to make, in economic terms: moving more into quality than quantity. There are many areas in which we can do it that would be beneficial and that the people would be willing to embrace, if it was presented in an educational and sensible way. So I hope that we can have something more radical than we have experienced so far in the debate on climate change—because water and fire will take so many people out if we do not take it seriously and move quickly on it.
My Lords, I am very happy and glad to support this Motion, and I am equally glad to have listened to and learned from other noble Lords’ speeches on this crucial issue.
There is general agreement that a serious public engagement programme is necessary—every serious institution is urging this—for one simple reason: 62% of remaining emissions reductions will rely, to some extent, on individual choices and behaviour. The key issues of how we travel, what we eat and what we buy are made by not just institutions but individual people in and for their personal lives. They will need to be persuaded of this, brought to see that they have a personal responsibility to respond to it and motivated to do something about it.
So, first of all, people will need to be given accurate information about the challenge and clear guidance about what they, as an individual, might be able to do in response. The background picture that we have at the moment is highly unsatisfactory, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, brought out. People are generally aware about the impact of climate change but misinformed about the main causes of it, hazy about what should be done and confused about how to go about it. Concern about climate change is high: some 80% say that they are concerned and 63% think that changes affecting the UK will continue to do so. However, only 14% indicated that they knew a lot or a fair amount, and overall awareness has decreased, amazingly, over the last year. Only 26% of people asked had made any change in their own behaviour. Particularly concerning is the fact that, while young people are the age group most likely to be concerned about climate change, they are also the age group that is least likely to act upon it. So there is a huge gap between a general awareness of this issue and any kind of meaningful engagement with it by the majority of the population.
For people to be so engaged, the first requirement is clear and accurate information. Leaving aside the deliberate misinformation that is around, there are some basic misconceptions: as we know, many people think that recycling will be a key player in reductions, but, while it is vital for a whole range of reasons, it only accounts for 0.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. Some 50% of people think that using less energy at home is crucial. This is important, but it is actually less significant than reducing the amount of meat eaten. Only 15% think that avoiding meat is a major factor, and only 6% think that eating fewer dairy products is—but the CCC had recommended a 35% reduction in meat and dairy by 2050 if the net-zero target is to be achieved. Few responding to the survey realised that the most important thing that they could do would actually be to have one fewer child, accounting for 58.6 tonnes a year, not own a car, accounting for 2.4 tonnes a year, and avoid one long-distance flight, accounting for 1.6 tonnes a year.
So the first essential thing is accurate information, clearly set out; then, we want people to respond. However, if someone actually wants to do something about it, confusion can quickly set in. For example, try looking up installing solar panels, or switching from a gas boiler to one that emits less carbon dioxide, on the internet, and it is very difficult to disentangle what help the Government might be offering and what a range of commercial organisations are trying to sell you. For a start, I would like to see a short pamphlet sent to every household in the UK with some basic agreed facts about the challenge of climate change, what an individual might do in response and what help the Government might give to help them to respond.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, rightly reminded us of the very serious problem of emissions in the Asian countries, but surely the two approaches—doing what we can in our own sphere and encouraging those Asian countries to move into carbon capture and storage or to alternative forms—are not mutually exclusive. Surely we have a responsibility to do what we can in our own immediate sphere of influence.
Questions to do with diet, use of energy at home, how we travel and what we consume affect us all. Every day, we make decisions in relation to them that will affect the kind of world that our grandchildren and their children will grow up in.
But there is also another area that is surprisingly absent from some of the briefing material that we have been receiving: the use of our savings, if we are lucky enough to have them. How we invest our money is of crucial significance, and I am glad to say that the Church of England actively engages in companies that it invests in, with a policy of disinvesting if certain rates of emissions reductions are not reached by certain dates.
What the Government should do is essential, but this by itself is not enough. As we know, the Government are much less trusted than a whole range of other organisations and people, and they must mobilise that whole range of other organisations and people. A good example of this was the recent joint statement by the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, with its theme, “Choose life”. This is a crucial issue and I very much look forward to the Government’s response.
My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to what has been an excellent debate and I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on leading the debate and choosing such a timely moment to do so. I am slightly confused, because I had the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, down as being the action man for the environment, so I hope we are not going to see interdepartmental strife as to who the true advocate for environmental measures in this context will be. But as my noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate identified, we are looking to see joined-up government here.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned new boilers in new houses. We have been promised them, but just not yet—I think by 2030. That begs the question of what is going to happen to those new houses that do not have those boilers and at whose cost will refitting the boilers be.
What I took mostly from the introductory remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was how to involve the public, not just through schools, universities and higher education, but each and every one of us as we lead our daily lives.
My noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate has bought a hybrid. I was foolish enough, 20 or 30 years ago, to buy my first diesel car because the then Government said that this was the way forward and we were all invited to drive not just SUVs but 4x4s. If you live in the rural part of North Yorkshire that I do and want to visit your family at Christmas, 40 minutes away, you often have six inches of snow to go through. With my first purchase of a diesel car, I was then faced with the fact that fuel duty was very high and the car tax had increased, so I am going to let others play guinea pig with the hybrid and electric cars until such a time that we have sufficient power points. I understand the Government are now thinking of turning off the power for powering up electric cars for nine hours overnight; I think that is going to cause enormous problems. I hope my noble friend will take the opportunity from the Front Bench to show that that is not the case.
I have been heavily involved with the issue of flooding, not just as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Water Group but as vice-chair of the Association of Drainage Authorities and, in my previous life, as chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and, before that, as shadow Minister, as well as MP for the Vale of York, which was prone to substantial flooding. I have followed the flooding events that my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to and the impact that floods can have.
What hugely disappointed me this week was that water companies came up with a formula to stop surface water flooding going into the combined drains, foul drains and every form of drain in the event of a major surface water flood and, potentially—as we know happens on many occasions—coming into people’s homes and forcing them out for up to six months while the public health issue of sewage is removed. This was such a simple measure to make homes safer, more resilient and resistant to floods, but we could not even get agreement in the House. I think we have a long way to go in this regard.
I think it was under the Blair Government that there were three reviews: the Cave review on competition policy in water, the Pitt review on flooding and the Anna Walker review on water efficiency. We now have retail competition in water, particularly in Scotland, where it was led, and to a certain extent in England. We have more or less implemented nearly all the Pitt recommendations, apart from the most crucial one of ending the automatic right for water companies to have to connect. This means that, in times of flood, as I mentioned earlier, floodwater and sewage is taken not just into rivers but into people’s homes as well.
The often-overlooked recommendations of the Anna Walker review strike a chord with the remarks from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on how it will benefit the public. One of those was a very simple measure to, in a household of, say, four, heat up and use only the water that you need, rather than leaving the hot water on the whole time. I regret that the Walker review never really got any traction and I hope that we can revisit those recommendations.
I live in a deeply rural farming community. Farmers want to play their part and we can help by substituting imports for locally produced food. Here, I would like to give a shout out to Shepherds Purse Cheeses, the makers of which live just across the field from us and are doing a very good job of making sure we eat more Mrs Bell’s Blue rather than Roquefort. So there is a lot that each and every one of us can do.
I end with a plea to my noble friend for more joined-up government between the departments in question: BEIS, Defra and MHCLG. More especially, when we pass legislation such as the Agriculture Act, the Trade Act and eventually the Environment Bill and the planning Bill, we need to ensure that all the recommendations reflect the issues we have discussed this afternoon.
My Lords, I declare my interest in the register as chair of the advisory board of Weber Shandwick UK. I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for bringing this important debate and all noble Lords for their contributions to it. As other noble Lords have said, it is particularly timely as we look forward to COP 26 in November, when we as a country have a clear responsibility to show leadership. I also thank all the organisations that have briefed us. I very much endorse the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for a portal on which all these things could easily be accessed by us—and perhaps more importantly, they could be on the register.
Sadly, on the issue of the public engagement that will be needed to achieve the behaviour change required to achieve net zero, our Government are failing to show leadership in the UK, let alone in the world. Worse, as my noble friend Lady Randerson said, the Government are promulgating the fantasy that we do not have to significantly change behaviour in, for example, transport, because technology will take care of it—the cake-and-eat-it approach. That just will not wash, given what we face.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, mentioned, Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement both set out responsibilities on the parties to take to engage their citizens and measures to enhance climate education and awareness. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made a compelling point on the importance of education in this process.
At this point I want to take on some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. He made an attack on XR, which he said had done untold damage to the issue of the climate. I disagree with some of the tactics of XR, but I understand the reason for them. As I said in the debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill earlier this week, the reason XR and others are taking action on the streets is the reckless failure of this Parliament to take sufficiently urgent action to address the climate emergency, and the years of deniers and now delayers. I also reject his view that we cannot as a country have influence and that it is all somehow hopeless.
In 1940, when Britain stood almost alone against fascism, we did not say, “We cannot do this because it is too expensive, no one else is doing it and we will probably be defeated anyway.” Actually, some people did say that, but thankfully they were not heeded. Instead, we recognised that we faced an existential threat and had to do whatever was necessary to counter it, whatever the cost. We had to lead the world until others stepped forward to join us in the fight. Thank God that approach was taken.
As I have said, lack of public awareness of the scale of the challenge we face and the changes we have to make is a real problem, but there is also a lack of understanding of the benefits that can accrue to our economy and our quality of life. It really is the responsibility of all of us, but particularly of the Government, to take the lead in engaging the public.
I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord says, but he has not quite understood my message—of course, that is my fault for not having the time or the clarity. The contribution this nation ought to be making is going to be very expensive and very extensive and could be very effective. What I am arguing is that the contribution we are making now—and putting the resources where we are, like removing gas boilers from 27 million homes—is not the way to do it. Vast resources are required to be transferred to the developing world from us—$100 billion has been mentioned and probably at least one nought should be added. It is not a question of not contributing; it is a question of making the right contribution.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and I take his point, but we have to do some of the things in regard to decarbonising our homes as well. We face a vast challenge and we cannot duck any of it. I hope that he therefore very much supports the position of my party and of many Peers in this House, which was absolutely against the cut in the 0.7% of GNI going to those economies that he mentions.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and other Peers have mentioned, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change argued in its excellent report on the role of behaviour change in delivering net zero that we need to focus very much on key measures that people need to take, and not to overwhelm them with all the measures it would be possible to take. Among those are reducing car and air travel and, as other noble Lords have mentioned, a cut in dairy and meat consumption, which is often not understood. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, shared some of the figures that were set out in that report—I think they were BEIS figures originally—on public attitudes and public understanding, and they show a great deal that needs to be done. I think his suggestion of a simple public information document to every household to start this process would be a good thing.
My noble friend Lady Sheehan referred to the Climate Change Committee report that argued that public engagement should be an absolutely key priority for government. According to that report, 62% of measures that are needed to reach net zero require change to public behaviours and we need a meaningful effort to engage across all areas of the country, particularly those dependent on high carbon-emitting industry. We need to ensure that there are a diverse range of messengers giving these messages. They have to be not just us as government or organisations talking down to people; they have to be about interactive communications and participatory engagement.
We all have a role in changing our behaviour—government do, business does and academia does. Perhaps most importantly or very significantly in the business world is the finance industry. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned what we can do, and what organisations such as the Church of England do, in terms of investments, but we really need the finance industry and the regulators to put in place measures to ensure that capital does not continue to be misallocated, as it is now, towards those industries that threaten our climate and instead is allocated to those industries that can help rescue us from the situation we find ourselves in.
The difficulty we have is that, given the importance of behaviour change and given its vital role in reaching the Government’s targets, which the Government acknowledge, it is deeply alarming that the Government appear to have no strategy at all. I reinforce the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone: can the Minister tell us whether such a strategy will be in the net-zero strategy, because it is clearly a priority? We also need to learn from international partners. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, mentioned some countries, including a domestic example in Scotland, but our COP 26 partner, Italy, is a leader in public engagement on this subject and we should learn from it. We should also learn from and work with local government, because it is a trusted partner that can help to deliver some of those measures on the ground.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn said, we cannot just expect people to change their behaviour if we do not give them the opportunity to do so. There are so many policies that need to change if the Government are to allow people to make the changes they often want to make. You might want to change your car to an EV but you do not have off-street parking and there are no chargers on your street, or if you use a commercial charger, it costs you six times as much as if it is from your domestic electricity supply. There are all sorts of things like that that need to be fixed as well.
We all know that climate change is not waiting on our procrastination; it is taking advantage of it. We also know that public engagement and awareness campaigns cannot be effective overnight, but more often take a period of years, which underscores the urgency of action now. The Government need to get on with this, to correct their lack of strategy and to do so now. They need to show a lead in this country and a lead in the world.