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Grand Committee

Volume 815: debated on Thursday 28 October 2021

Grand Committee

Thursday 28 October 2021

Arrangement of Business


Social Care

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the possible role of the private sector in helping individuals pay for social care.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as the unpaid president of SOLLA, the Society of Later Life Advisers.

I think these proceedings are a bit rum. A Conservative Government are proposing reforms to help people to pay for care: the cap and the revised means test. They say that these should be entirely funded by the state. And here is a Labour Peer saying, “No, you have got the emphasis wrong, and you should be looking at what the private sector can do to solve the problem without recourse to public funds.” Let me try to resolve that paradox.

In a nutshell, the problem is that roughly half of those needing care have to pay for some or all of it themselves. When it is just a few months or years for people with some wealth, that does not provide much of a problem. But a minority of the half—one in 10 perhaps—go on living for many years in a care home. That means that they exhaust all but £20,000 or so of their resources. Their children may be deprived of their inheritance. As Andrew Dilnot argued in his excellent 2011 report, these people need some form of insurance. The private sector will not provide that insurance. There has never been and never will be any insurance policy you can buy in advance to pay for your care. Tory voters will be terribly affected by this—those we used to call middle England and in the south of England—so of course the Government want to help out.

There are two central flaws in the Government’s approach. First, the insurance that will be provided by the government cap is not at all adequate. I will not repeat what I said in the care debate the other day, but it will be seven years at least before anyone benefits from it and I think it will only pay one-third or one-quarter of costs at the most. We can debate that another time. Secondly, and more importantly to me, such little support as the cap provides will not go to those most in need. It will go to the better off. They are the ones with lots of assets and therefore debarred from means-tested help, and they will tend to live longer since being wealthy is a key to a long life. The Government’s policy, I am afraid, represents a levelling down: taking from less well-off national insurance payers and giving the proceeds to the better off and their children.

Worse still, by spending money on helping the rich in this way, the Government give away money that could be deployed on a more important task: improving our wholly inadequate care services. As the population ages, adding to demand, supply has got worse and worse as local authorities are cut back. The quality of care is not by any means always adequate. If the Minister will forgive me in his presence, I speak the language of Nye Bevan:

“The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism”.

For me, providing more care takes greater priority than paying for care for the rich.

Can the private sector step in? It is true that the financial services sector has been chary of this space. I mentioned already that it does not provide long-term care insurance. Its excuse for this is risk: what if people live much longer than expected and therefore it has to pay out more? If you think about it for a minute, this is palpable nonsense, because these same insurance companies are going around the place desperately trying to sell life insurance policies, which are subject to precisely the same risks as apply to long-term care policies. Having been around these people for a long time, I am afraid that the real reason is a simple one: it is very hard to sell long-term care policies. Most people out there are pitifully ignorant about care. They may know about pensions, but they do not know about care. About a third of the population still think that the state will pay for it in full. Even those who understand see it as a problem that is far in the future, to be dealt with when the time comes. Persuading them to cough up now for a need that they may well never have is hard work, even for the most seductive of financial services salespeople.

However—a big however—there are a number of purely private financial products which financial services companies offer that can help, and there could be more. A major one is equity release. With house prices having soared, many people have a large chunk of money which they can access through an equity release to pay for their care. They do not have to spend that money on it. They can take out a point-of-use care product when their need arises. Then there is the immediate care cost annuity: you take it out when you go into a home and your costs escalate, and it will pay out for as long as you live. If you live for 10 years, it will pay out for 10 years. If you live for less time, you will not do so well. There are subtle variants on this—for example, policies which refund your premium if you die within a few months of taking the policy out, because some people are frightened that they might be paying something for nothing. For many, the future may lie with a cheaper and more attractive policy: a deferred annuity policy. When you first go into care you pay for yourself, but as you are in care for a longer period—a specified number of years—the policy will step in to pay for the rest of it. That provides insurance as a sort of privately funded cap. These are not the only possibilities. An ingenious correspondent suggested to me that there could be a product whereby you temporarily give your home to a housing association. It will then pay your care fees out of the rent.

These products are making progress but from a very low base. For example, equity release sales have nearly doubled since 2016. The number of firms offering care annuities has gone from two to four. It is growing, but slowly. How do we encourage it to grow? I am SOLLA president because people do not know much about care. When they do find out, they are disinclined to do much about it. There is a role here for more publicity, but the most important requirement is for better advice for more people. I do not just mean publicly provided advice. There is no substitute for an independent financial services adviser—dare I say it, a SOLLA-accredited one. It is very important that we increase the availability of that advice and do not just leave people to go to the citizens advice bureaux. Great organisation though it is, Citizens Advice is not necessarily capable of dealing with these very complicated issues.

We are in a crisis on care, and we are heading towards disaster. We have one group of older people who cannot get care of adequate quality, and their families are up in arms at this total failure of the Government. We have another group—smaller but much more used to getting their way—who want their inheritances protected for their children, who will discover, I am afraid, that Johnson’s cap is not an answer. They are likely to lose the greater part of their assets paying for care and will not be able to fulfil their last remaining ambition, which is to see their children right when they die.

The private sector cannot do everything to put this right. I am not saying that it can but, properly promoted and properly advised, private financial products can do much to take the sting out of the care cost fiasco. I hope that today the Minister will show some sign that he and his colleagues are beginning to wake up to the serious problem that was left after their proposals came out.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for initiating this debate. We have gone round and round on this subject for many years; as the noble Lord said, he was on a royal commission long before I ever got anywhere near this House—indeed, before I ever thought I would.

One of the difficulties is that there is a wide range of social care. Some people who are in need of residential care, which they pay for, are not that far away from people who are in need of care through the NHS or some other public body where it is not even thought that they will pay. There is a penumbra in between. The wide range of social care is also reflected in the demographics of the country. My generation is living longer than any previous one. No member of the previous generation of my family ever lived as long as I have now, so there is a general tendency to live longer.

However, there is also a general tendency to wish not to face facts. It exists in our household, where we cheerfully say to each other, “Well, of course, all our family died of strokes. They haven’t lasted very long. They’re unlikely to need anything other than an ambulance to take them off to the hospital, and they probably won’t come back.” This is a factor when people look at whether they should make any advance provisions for social care. I stress “advance” because, if you are going to ask people to take out insurance policies, the policy will be meaningless for many of them; they will never draw on the policy because they will die in a way that means them not needing its benefit.

I have a limited example of equity release. I must say, there must be a lot of money in it. Two years ago, in an idle fit on a Sunday night, on my computer, I filled in one of those forms that says, “How much could you get for your house if you sign up to our equity release?” I thought, “That’s interesting. I wonder how much I would get.” I filled in the online form; it is the only form I have ever filled in but, since then, I have had a regular stream of offers of equity release on my house—and not only from the people whose form I filled in. It is fairly obvious that the information has been sold off around the industry. Every couple of months, I get an invitation to take up equity release. Clearly there is a lot of money there. I also think that there is a lot of capacity for mis-selling in the equity release market; we probably need to look at that.

Next, the Conservative Party’s proposals are interesting. I am pleased to say that the Conservative Party is a party that looks after the wealth of people like me. In other words, what we are talking about is wealth preservation. When we talk about the cost of care for the elderly, we are actually asking whether we can preserve our wealth, particularly in our house, to pass it on to the next generation. Putting it crudely, that is what this is all about. Of course, for many ordinary people who live in council flats or rented accommodation, there is no pool of wealth; that is the big challenge that we face.

I am afraid that my solution to help individuals to pay for social care is that they should probably pay a sum of money towards it, and that most of the fancy systems devised will prove to have flaws in one way or another; they all have weaknesses. It is the fairest way of all. It may be hard luck on the children but, frankly, if you have built up a sum of capital it is not unreasonable that you should spend it on looking after yourself. After all, you would not say, “I need to save money for my children, so I won’t eat or pay the rates.” If you are unfortunate enough to need some form of care, that should be paid for by the person utilising that care.

I noted the noble Lord’s point about the housing association remedy. That is fine if you are a single person, but it is no good if you have a partner living at home—let alone dependants of that partner—because they will need to carry on living there. You cannot give the house to a housing association and draw money. My not very happy conclusion is that we probably have to carry on not far away from where we are at the moment. It may produce its anomalies, but the anomaly of getting people who have money to use it for their care is not unacceptable. It is not as bad as some of the anomalies that would occur if you tried to tilt the system so that the owners of capital were somehow exempt from using it for their care. It is a rather gloomy prognostication, but it is my conclusion.

I hope that the Minister and the department will be very cautious before they come forward with plans. I warn them that there has been a problem in some continental countries, in northern Europe. Where you go down this slope of free care, you will face enormous bills. Take a day trip to Denmark, and ask about the cost of care for the elderly. They are not only tremendous but unceasing. At the last election in Denmark, part of the debate was about how many baths per week should be provided by the local services that cared for people in their own homes. That is because Denmark has the universal system, but that system will run out of money every time more money is put into it. It will make the National Health Service look a relatively tame organisation. You will find that there will be huge debt if you go down that path. I caution the Minister: he should be very careful.

My Lords, this is a very simple problem but the solution is very difficult. For a long time, economists have talked about what is called the life-cycle hypothesis—how families or individuals rearrange their consumption pattern over a lifetime by transferring some of the future income to the present, as we do in the student loan system and when we buy a house through a mortgage. Mortgages are interesting; all Chancellors stand up and say, “The debt-to-GDP ratio is really very high. Every family that starts with one of at least 300% will have a mortgage.” Everybody knows how to do that.

Our problem is that people do not know how to do the backward transfer. People do not know how to transfer the present value to the future. That is a matter of incentives. Ultimately, there have to be incentives. Building societies evaluate you and give you the money and you pay it off. I spoke on this when we were discussing the extra tax for social care. By and large, the better-off middle classes have a house. The house is congealed capital gains. The question is how you melt that capital gain to make it available without melting it so much that it flows away. I was at that time proposing some form of council tax, which I will not repeat now.

Interestingly, families have assets which they do not want to sell and realise because they want to pass them on. That is one incentive. We have to give them some sort of scheme whereby they would say, “I want to pass on the money that I have to my children, but I don’t want to pass all of it on. I will split it.” How can we give families an incentive to split? Whenever I get up, I propose a new tax, so I will do that. We treat asset transfers to children very lightly; we do not tax them. If we were to say that passing your house to your children would be fine but we would tax it at 40%, which is the higher rate of income tax, or even 20%, the family would ask itself whether it would be better not to preserve the house but to sell it beforehand and split the equity between the family.

I am always autobiographical, so I will say that I am about move to downsize. I have a house in Camberwell that I am about to sell and I shall move to County Hall, which will be easy for inviting all my friends to come to have a drink at my place. That will release cash for me to keep, which is not taxed under current regulations. That is all right; I can do whatever I like. But if, for example, I were to stay in my house and then transfer it, it would not release cash in my lifetime but it would release cash to my children. If the Government said, “That’s fine, but if your children get it you will pay 20% tax”, I would be more encouraged to downsize while living than to wait until I die for my children to get it. This is a very simple thing. We have to give some kind of incentive or disincentive for people to unfreeze their frozen capital gains. If you look at the wealth distribution, that is the largest amount of wealth people have. It is a matter of ingenuity by people who think about taxation.

My noble friend Lord Lipsey, whom I thank for obtaining this debate, spoke about equity release. If you watch television on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, there are adverts for equity release, funeral insurance and that sort of stuff, so there is a market, but I do not think it is a very efficient market. We have to see why that is. What incentives can we give for the market to be more lively? Is there anything we can give to the sellers so that they come up with interesting products? Right now, all they are talking about is how you can be healthy and enjoy the money while you exist and run around in gardens.

A house is a frozen sum of money. How can you melt it, share it with your children and pay for your care? Everybody should be told about this: you are going to need care and you had therefore better provide for it. This is a harsh thing to say, but the existence of the NHS has discouraged saving. We have begun to believe that we do not need to do anything about our health, because it is taken care of. We do not realise that social care is not included in what the NHS does. We can either merge the two and provide them with more money or clearly separate them and tell people that it is not possible to have social care in hospital. It is a different kind of problem.

This is not strictly to do with assets, but about the running costs of social care. It is a slightly tricky business, but many people are cared for by their own family. This is done on a voluntary basis, usually by women. Women end up looking after their husbands, often because they live beyond them anyway, and they do it unpaid. It is extremely hard work, although they may be able to hire people in. Is there any way in which we can create a social dividend income, so that people taking care of an elderly person, even if they are a relative, would get something? It could be like a universal credit or pension payment, but it would be some sort of sustainable payment. We know that carers for the disabled and so on have problems taking holidays and things like that. We know that this happens so, if somebody, whether a man or a woman, can show that they are taking care of their relative, they would get some compensation for doing it and saving the state money. It is basically giving them the money the state saves.

My Lords, I declare an interest as one of the vice-presidents of the Local Government Association. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on securing this important and timely debate, and for his interesting opening statement about a Labour Peer setting out how the private sector can help individuals to pay for social care. These Benches do not have a problem with that principle; if people wish to make provision for such costs, they should be able to. The big issue from these Benches is whether they understand the social care system for which they are planning to cover costs and whether it will be able to deliver when they need to use it.

I also thank the Association of British Insurers for its helpful briefing, which has wide applicability for the general population, as this issue is not just about financial products. The problem is that, for decades, reform and funding of social care has left us with this current mess—or, perhaps I should say, without the reform and changes to the funding of social care, we have been left with this current mess. It was extraordinary that both your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons each had to pass the Health and Social Care Levy Bill in one day, before Parliament could even see the detail of how the levy and new financial structures will work for social care. This is even before we see the Government’s White Paper on social care, which is still due to be published a few short months away—a line the Conservative Government have been running pretty much since 2015, when they refused to implement the Dilnot commission recommendations. This is very odd, given the Prime Minister’s insistence on the steps of No. 10, two years ago, that it was an absolute priority to

“fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.

For the past 30 years, social care has been funded in this peculiar dual way. Those below the income and asset cap get their care paid for, with the further problem of that being divided into the NHS paying for nursing care and local authorities paying for the personal care element and some, or all, of their accommodation and food costs—misnamed as the hotel costs.

All that the new levy announcement does is raise the cap on the savings element—the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Balfe, set out the problems here. The cap should be viewed as a solution to avoid catastrophic care costs for individuals and is not a way to enable a private market. A cap in itself will not necessarily prompt a market for financial products to develop. In particular, a product that would dovetail with the cap would be almost impossible to create. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, care needs and costs are unpredictable, both for individuals and therefore for insurers. That, frankly, is why there has been some reticence on the part of the insurers over the years to provide a specific tailored product for care needs, as medical progress over time will determine how many people need care and for how long they need it.

Some of the existing products have been mentioned already, but there are care fee plans or intermediate needs annuities; life assurance policies with care cover included; pensions, investment and retirement income products; and equity release and lifetime mortgages. It was fascinating to hear the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, talk about being plagued by people trying to sell him equity release after he had completed a form online. Equity release is already proving to be something of a problem, as such products are being sold to people every day on their television sets and radios for other uses, including their passing on to their children large amounts of money to provide deposits for homes. Some local authorities are now finding that people who started off as being privately funded move into a position of needing public pay once the residual equity has been sorted out with a prior demand from the bank which has offered the equity release. To a local authority’s frustration, when the property is sold after the death of the resident, someone who was thought to be a private payer suddenly becomes a bill that the local authorities has to pay and had no control over commissioning.

What of the future? The noble Lord, Lord Desai, with his usual expertise, set out the wider economic issues facing the public. The first and most fundamental of them returns to the point I started with. Because of the current muddle, we must have a clear state offer from the Government about the boundaries of who will pay what. I add to that a question for the Minister. Is it planned to run an extensive publicity campaign—not just the odd, occasional advertisement, but perhaps a leaflet to every house to raise awareness in advance of the levy being implemented and to explain to people what will be different? I believe that a large number of people think that, by paying the increase in national insurance to fund the levy, they will be exempt in future. As I have said to the Minister on more than one occasion since he took up his post, most people currently think that they do not qualify to have to pay for any element of their social care costs. Even more, virtually everyone is shocked to discover that there are different systems for the nursing element of their care and personal care. It is clear that we will now have to add to that the accommodation and food costs, which are certainly not included in the cap arrangements under the levy.

Any state offer absolutely must be easy to understand, with preferably just one system. The ridiculous system of having clinical commissioning groups and local authorities arguing about whether a patient’s need is caused by a health issue or is a personal care issue, and the divisive and shameful treatment of dementia as a social care issue, must stop. My brother and I are not alone in having to be present at meetings, in our case about our mother, where the NHS and local council argue about the percentage of nursing care versus personal care on the basis of whether it is needed as a result of her stroke or as a result of dementia. We witness this to a ridiculous degree. All sense of the treatment of the whole person is totally lost when different parts of the system spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to deflect costs to other parts of the care system.

There is undoubtedly a role for the private sector in helping people to pay for social care, but there are two major stumbling blocks to making it happen. The first is that the public and the financial sector need an absolutely straightforward system that the population understands, especially regarding whether they will be covered by state provision or will need to pay for it from their own resources and may want to plan for that, say, from the age of 40. We need state provision that is not used by different parts to deflect responsibilities in payment, calling crises at the moment that people need to use the system. That means a streamlined system. For those who wish to use financial products to fund their care, the Chancellor must also make it plain what people can do and whether they will get some tax breaks for this careful planning. After all, it is prudent planning that will cover costs in future.

The second issue is much more fundamental. As many Members outlined in the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley last week, we need comprehensive reform, not just structural reform to the care system. We need to think about this as part of the public health of our nation. Housing, health, working life and activity in later life are all also vital to reducing the need for people going into care homes, let alone having extended stays there.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for securing this debate and the opportunity it presents to spotlight the issues he raises in his excellent opening speech on the possible role of the private sector in helping individuals to fund their social care costs. His expertise and knowledge across the whole range of social care funding issues—and on all things relating to social care—is much respected across the House and we are always grateful for his contribution and guidance.

Like others, I have drawn heavily for this debate on the very helpful—or not, depending which way you look at it—briefing from the Association of British Insurers, and on the work carried out examining private insurance as a means of funding social care by our own Economic Affairs Committee two years ago in its report Social Care Funding: Time to End a National Scandal. I emphasise that we would have liked to have seen the Government use that report as a first step and springboard to ensure adequate funding to local councils, so that they are able to provide the standards of care quality that are needed. They must recognise that a plan for future care has to include: funding the provision of personal care in people’s homes to meet the unmet needs of the estimated 1.5 million who need help with washing, dressing, toileting and other basic needs to help keep them living well in their homes and in the community; and working towards ending the disparity between entitlement to free NHS care and the adult social care system, ensuring that entitlement is based on the level of need rather than diagnosis, such as in the provision of free care for cancer but lack of free social care for dementia suffers. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke very eloquently on this matter.

Indeed, we have a social care plan that is not a plan; does not “fix” social care, as the Prime Minister promised; places the burden of funding on people who can least afford it; and sets the care cap for two years’ time at a level much higher than the Dilnot recommendation and will not stop people from having to sell their homes—the pledge on which the Prime Minister is fixated and around which his proposals are built.

In the ABI briefing, the criteria set out for social care reforms that would help facilitate what it terms as a more “favourable environment” for insurance schemes have been cited by other noble Lords. They include the need for a clear offer on what the state will provide; an awareness-raising campaign about the means-testing and costs of social care, which it has been calling for since the discussions on the Care Act 2014; an easily understood care offer from the state; helping people to plan for social care costs; adding incentives to encourage people to save and plan for social care and removing disincentives which make saving towards a care plan worth while; and ensuring long-term, sustainable reform to social care that will provide stability for, in the ABI’s words, “decades and not years”.

These key criteria are sorely absent in the Government’s social care proposals. In the words of the ABI, following the Government’s announcement last month, the

“clearer the rules about what the state will provide, the easier it will be for insurers to respond to and support customers with what is not covered”.

Despite the ABI welcoming the Government’s measures as a “welcome step forward”, I am sure that, like many noble Lords, it also has the long memory of the prolonged but fruitless discussions during the passage of the Care Act and of the date for implementation of the care cap being set for 2016, then delayed twice to 2018, and then finally cancelled altogether as unaffordable. Can the Minster confirm that history will not repeat itself, and the cap will not be axed again in 2023 as the health and social care levy is swallowed up by the NHS’s herculean task of dealing with the pre and post-Covid backlog of treatments?

Noble Lords have asked specific questions about the types of financial products that could be made available in the future, such as equity release and intermediate and care cost annuities. On equity release, there have been interesting contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. A lot of financial advisers will say that equity release is only ever worth while over the age of 80. That is generally seen as the only time when it should be considered.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to these issues. Clearly, taking out insurance to cover care costs is not an option for the vast majority of the 1.5 million who need but do not get social care support, which is why the need for state funding for personal care costs is such a key imperative in addressing the current social care funding crisis.

Can the Minister update the House on what discussions are under way on this important issue with the insurance industry? The Prime Minister promised that the Government would be working closely

“with the financial services industry to innovate and to help people insure themselves against expenditure up to that limit”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/21; col. 155.]

of the cap. Can the Minister reassure the House that discussions have started? Who is leading them? Will there be regular briefings on the key issues and progress? Most importantly, is he confident that any new products will be in place before the proposed implementation of the cap in 2023? Does he accept that the discussions with the industry are time-critical and need to make rapid progress?

Finally, my noble friend and other noble Lords, both today and in our debates and Statements so far, have asked key questions of the Minister about how the cap is to operate, its sheer complexity, what costs it will cover and other major concerns arising from the close analysis of the figures—such as that by my noble friend, which showed that it will be at least seven years from now before people with care needs in homes or at home will benefit from the Johnson cap. Time is fast running out for the Government to provide the answers that are vitally needed.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on securing this important debate and I thank him for his well-argued case for the importance of the private sector in helping people pay for care. As he rightly acknowledged, it puts a Conservative politician in an interesting place when a Labour Peer is explaining the benefits of the private sector. I acknowledge his long-standing interest in this area; he brings a wealth of experience to the topic, not least as a member of the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly, which in 1999 began the important discussion of how people should pay for their care. We should also be clear, however, that successive Governments, even before then, have kicked the can down the road. Reports have been issued and have gathered dust on bookshelves. I worked for an economic think tank which surveyed a range of views across the political and ideological spectrum—good ideas that have just been ignored for many years.

In that spirit, whatever one thinks of the announcement made by the Prime Minister on 7 September, it marks an important step on the journey to reforming adult social care. We are no longer talking theoretically or about blank pieces of paper. We are talking about a proposal that can be critiqued and, we hope, improved. I hope that in time, with noble Lords’ experience across the House, we will be able to come up with a package that addresses many of the criticisms made today.

The Government’s view at the moment is that the £86,000 cap in England will end the worry that individuals may face unlimited care costs. In addition, anyone with assets worth between £20,000 and £100,000 will be eligible for some means-tested support, helping people without substantial assets. The Government’s view is that the reforms will bring people peace of mind from knowing that their assets will not be wiped out if they end up needing care.

Let me turn to a couple of the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Lipsey. A few years ago, I read a very interesting article in the Financial Times about financial planning. The journalist asked why we plan for people to build ever larger amounts of wealth towards the end of their lives, then leave it to someone without benefiting themselves; surely we should encourage people to build large amounts of wealth that they then spend towards the end of their lives, including on their own care. That raises some substantial questions, which, I agree, the Government will need to address.

The cap marks an important step in enabling people actively to plan for the cost of their care, and agree that this is where the private sector can play a critical role. Of course, the new cap will protect people from facing unlimited costs and give greater clarity and certainty about what costs they may face. However, I take on board the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about making sure that we have proper publicity and public information. People will need to plan. As many noble Lords have said, to date, too few people think about the cost of care until a point of crisis when they or a family member are affected.

We believe that the financial services industry can play a critical role in helping people to meet their needs and in supporting people to pre-fund their care cost if they wish to do so. As many noble Lords acknowledged, the financial services industry already offers a range of products that can be used to help people to meet their care costs; they may not necessarily be marketed as help for care costs, but they help to build up a sum that can be used for such costs. There will continue to be a landscape of products to meet people’s needs and, we hope, to enable them to fund the cost of their care up to the cap. It is not a one-size-fits-all measure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, outlined.

Some people may prefer, for instance, to invest in a long-term savings product such as a lifetime ISA, or increase their pensions contributions to make use of their pension freedoms. Others may wish to use some of the products that noble Lords have mentioned, such as immediate needs annuities. Some people may wish to draw on their housing wealth, in consultation with their family, to pay for their care and, as such, make use of equity release products offered by either banks or local authorities through a low-interest deferred payment agreement.

No one single product or approach to planning for care will meet everyone’s needs. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, rightly pointed out, quality financial advice will be critical so that people can make informed decisions about paying for their care costs up to the cap. There is already a legal obligation on local authorities to help people to understand how they can access independent financial advice, but we recognise that more is needed. We are working with stakeholders to consider what people need and how the Government can support them.

Noble Lords may think it rather far-sighted of me that, 20 years ago, I started looking at financial products and how I could save for my future. Interestingly, when I interviewed financial advisers, one thing I was advised was that they were not necessarily financial advisers, and that they may well have been financial salespeople trying to sell products. As we ensure that better financial advice is available, we are going to have to be clear about making a distinction between independent advice and the incentive-based sale of products. In many cases, this is where mis-selling has occurred—that is, where the incentives have incentivised the so-called financial advisers to sell an inappropriate product, rather than the most appropriate product, to the person requiring help. With increased demand, and given that this sends a signal that people will have to start thinking about their social care, the Government hope that the market will evolve. I cannot say that for certain because no one can predict how markets will evolve; that is the wonderful thing about spontaneous order, with existing products adjusting and new products developing.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and other noble Lords acknowledged, this will not happen overnight. We will listen to and work with partners and industry over the coming months to consider the development of financial products to help people to plan for their care costs, in line with the introduction of the cap on care costs in October 2023. The Government have also held initial discussions with the ABI. What is interesting about those conversations is that we were clear that this will not be spontaneous, and that these measures will emerge with time as people start to understand the parameters and the amounts that they need to raise for their future. We hope to continue these conversations with a broader range of sector representatives in the months to come.

I give this pledge to noble Lords across the Committee: I want to learn from the expertise in this Committee. Some very valuable points have been made in this debate. I will hope to take them back when discussing with the Government the future course of the Bill. We will be listening and there is great and deep expertise. As I indicated before today's debate, I would like to have a long conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and others because there are some valuable points being made.

It is important to see the reforms as a package. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said—and this is something we should all be aware of—that this should not be something for the wealthy; it should be for everyone. There is not just the cap, but also a much-extended means test. It is about how we can support people with their care costs right from the beginning and be aware.

The problem with being purely private, as I think the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Brinton, said, is that there might be some who cannot afford to take out some of these products—those with less or the just about managing. In that case, unless one is a complete anarcho-capitalist, one would see a role for the state to help those who are unable to make those informed decisions.

Regarding equity release schemes, the deferred payment schemes are effectively a local authority-administered equity release scheme and available in certain circumstances. The Build Back Better document says that we want to make these more accessible, better value and not necessarily for profit.

A number of noble Lords asked questions about raising awareness. We have committed to providing information. We want to make sure that those looking to prepare for their own future, or maybe helping their parents prepare for the future, make informed decisions. It is critical that we make sure that they are getting independent advice. I welcome noble Lords’ advice on how we ensure that we make that distinction between advice, objective advice and pure sales. We also want to work on how to improve access to this advice, for example through the citizens advice bureaux.

My noble friend Lord Balfe talked about people paying for their own care. For this Government, it is about balance. We recognise—as I said previously and many other noble Lords have said—that people do not start thinking about this until it is sometimes quite late. We agree that people should pay towards their care, but we want to make sure that they can somehow plan and overcome this issue of unpredictable costs at the same time. How do we get the balance right between personal responsibility and state support for those unable to provide for themselves?

My noble friend also talked about equity release schemes and existing equity release schemes. He made some very interesting points, as did the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on these. We should take them on board.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the possibility of the insurance market. We agree that the most important point is that the cap in itself will not mean that an insurance market will magically spring up. It will take time for the industry to understand and work through the consequences—particularly the very clever minds in the insurance industry—and then to see what demand there is from the public.

We need to make sure there is a better understanding of who pays for what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said. An extensive campaign should be launched. We very much hope once again to draw on the experience of noble Lords across the House in reaching the public. We are finding this with some other health issues. How do we reach those difficult-to-reach markets?

We will publish details of policy parameters later. I will end with a couple of points. My noble friend Lord Balfe talked about Denmark. It is important that we learn from the best and worst international experiences. If my noble friend can send me details of other international schemes, we will look into those.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said that women tend to look after men. My wife would probably say that that is not just in old age—I think they start rather young. As my wife says to me, she has two sons but three boys.

I apologise if I have not covered all points made by noble Lords today. If I have not, I hope noble Lords will write to me and follow up. I will try to get the answers if I can. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for securing such an important debate today and thank all noble Lords who have taken part.

Sitting suspended.

People with Learning Difficulties and Autism: Detention in Secure Settings

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to prevent people with either (1) learning difficulties, or (2) autism, from being detained in secure settings when an assessment has recommended they should live in the community.

My Lords, more than 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities are currently detained in hospital, mostly inappropriately. Two years ago, the then Secretary of State asked me to review the care of 77 people who were at that time detained in long-term segregation. The number is now 100. My ICETR oversight panel includes people who have experienced long-term segregation themselves, family members, and experts in mental health, housing and social care. Those 77 people have all now had independently chaired education, care and treatment reviews.

We examined the first 26 of the 77 reviews in depth. What we found was profoundly shocking, and we identified several areas for urgent improvement, published in a thematic review. Typically, they had past histories of poorly commissioned education, therapy and care. There was little clinical continuity between hospital and community services, no clear therapeutic purpose for admission, and inadequate clinical assessments, with little recognition of previous trauma or its implications for mental health and behaviour. The oversight panel and NHS England have worked with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to develop a new clinical contract to try to ensure active management and therapeutic benefit.

More than half of those we reviewed were autistic people, both adults and children, but the hospitals where they lived, and those responsible for helping them move back home, lacked much understanding of the autism-friendly environment or care needed by autistic people. Most of the people reviewed were ready either to be discharged or to start a transition process back to their community.

Repeated past commissioning failures were compounded by poor commissioning responses to the ICETRs. Apathy and bureaucratic delays were part of the problem—professionals not turning up to meetings, agreed action not taken, wrangles over who pays for what. We saw interminably slow processes keeping people in situations that were at best inappropriate and all too often violated human rights. One woman had reportedly been ready for discharge for 19 years. I ask the Minister: how will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that ICETRs are being taken seriously by commissioners and that commissioners will be held accountable?

As part of our review, we gathered and published good stories of people who had managed to live happily in their communities after being discharged. We called the document Helping People Thrive, and it was written to inspire commissioners and clinicians. Mr W was one of those good stories. Prior to his discharge, he had been detained in hospital for more than 20 years, spending most of his time in what amounts to solitary confinement. Mr W has now lived in his own home for nearly three years, near his family. His home environment and care have been built around his needs. It costs no more to support him in this way than it did to detain him in hospital. Most importantly, despite still recovering from the trauma of being in the wrong environment for so many years, he is now happy.

We are pleased that our recommendations, both for senior intervention—a form of intensive case management to assist in overseeing discharge arrangements—and for the continuation of independently chaired reviews, have been supported by Her Majesty’s Government.

Some people we reviewed had social workers, advocates and families who were trying hard to move them back home, but a lack of local housing and care providers with the expertise needed was hindering their plans. A key part to successfully supporting someone in the community is the provision of good-quality housing. Sometimes commissioners are persuaded that moving the person to a single-person residence in or near the hospital is the solution, but such interim moves make it less likely that the person will ever move properly back to their own home community, and they incur continuing high fees for commissioners. How will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that there is enough housing, without months or years of delay? We must do everything we can to give people the choice to live where they want and with whom they want, just as we all do.

Sometimes, people tell us what they are unable to put into words through their behaviour. Recognising what they are trying to communicate and helping them to find a way to understand their feelings is often what enables people to move on from patterns of destructive or difficult behaviour. Good relationships with care staff are key, as shown in Dr Rebecca Fish’s recent research.

Speaking as a mother and former practising psychiatrist in this field, I believe that more attention needs to be given to really listening to people and enabling them to communicate what is troubling them, using whatever method works for them. Books Beyond Words—I declare an interest, as it is the charity I founded—creates word-free health and social stories to help people communicate their hopes and fears through the universal language of visual communication. Respond, the only specialist charity in the country offering trauma psychotherapy for autistic people and those with learning difficulties, is overwhelmed by referrals. Medication continues to be the main response to challenging behaviour. When will Her Majesty’s Government invest in widely available psychotherapy and specialist trauma therapy for people with learning disabilities and for autistic people?

Current community mental health and learning disability teams are rarely well equipped and resourced to provide the support needed for traumatised people. This deficit contributes to people’s care arrangements breaking down and to hospital admissions. If we invested in good local care, we could properly support people being discharged from hospital and prevent a new generation being admitted because of a lack of the right community support.

The social care system is nothing without the workforce. The pandemic has shone a light on the extraordinary dedication and determination of those who work in care. It is now time to address the many issues that have faced the workforce for several years, but which the pandemic has strained to breaking point. We do not currently have enough staff with the right training to ensure that people’s needs are met—staff who can empower and support that person to life their live to the fullest, who respect and value them, and can create good relationships with them.

Back in 2016, I chaired a report for Health Education England called Care Roles to Deliver the Transforming Care Programme, but little action to introduce effective training, supervision and meaningful career pathways seems to have happened. I recently visited care settings in Germany and was impressed by parity in length of training, pay, and terms and conditions for care staff, nurses, primary school teachers, occupational therapists and others. There were no staff shortages and services were much more joined-up.

How will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that care providers with expertise to support people like Mr W are available all over the country? Will they consider changing the rules, so that care workers can enter under the skilled worker immigration scheme? I hope the Minister will reassure me and the Committee that the expected reforms to the social care workforce and the promised cross-departmental strategy will tackle training as a priority. Could the noble Lord confirm whether recent recommendations from my oversight panel, and from all the other recent high-profile reports, are being taken forward in the Government’s new strategy?

Finally, I ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty’s Government will consider making it a statutory requirement to report restrictive practices, including long-term segregation, and to publish details of commissioning organisations that still have patients in long-term segregation. Noble Lords may be surprised to know that many commissioning organisations that I have asked do not know if they have people in long- term segregation.

They could do this, for example, by making an annual report to Parliament about the numbers of autistic people and people with learning difficulties being detained in hospital, including those in long-term segregation, naming the responsible authorities, and reporting about the action being taken to develop effective care and support in the community, so that crisis admissions to hospital due to local service failures no longer happen.

We have debated this issue many times and read so many shocking reports. It is time to end scandals and tragic deaths and to give people back their lives. The new strategy needs political support. It needs resources to untangle the bureaucratic web and to reverse the perverse financial incentives that seemingly trap people in hospital. I am grateful to noble Lords for speaking in this debate and for helpful briefings from Mencap, Rightfullives, the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, the National Autistic Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I look forward to hearing everybody’s contributions and the Minister’s response.

My Lords, this is one of those occasions when I almost feel like saying, “You’ve heard the noble Baroness, and that’s about it”, but I will indulge myself by following on from much of what she said, particularly about training and staff.

Looking around this room, I see many people who have done more on autism than I have, but anybody who has realises how difficult it is for somebody with autism, especially at the lower-functioning end, to interact with the outside world. Some can get through it and make you understand what they are doing, if you give them the time and if you have some training. I have less experience of learning disabilities but, if we stick with autism as a factor, these are people who have communication and perceptual difficulties, meaning that they cannot interact well with you. If they have got themselves in a position where people cannot cope, often because they are becoming adults and their demands on society and their expectations are realistically higher, you must have people who are properly trained to interact with them.

If you do not have those people and everything gets terribly difficult and occasionally frightening, pushing them away into a darkened corner is a perfectly understandable response. I can see why people do it. It is wrong, damaging and expensive, but people do it. However, once you are shoved away into a corner—and the point that the noble Baroness made about opening up everything is probably one of the keys here—if you do not know what is going on, how can you possibly intervene to change it? The idea that you should open up is key.

The Government have accepted that the situation that we had a few years ago at Winterbourne View is unacceptable, and they have made some progress, so congratulations for that. Whenever congratulations come, as the Minister has been here long enough to know, then comes the criticism behind it. It is not there yet, and it is about getting people not only outside but sustained outside.

So how are we doing with training? Has it become the norm that a person in a controlled unit is trained in how to de-escalate a situation without reverting to a chemical cosh or physical restraint? What is the relationship in the numbers between those people? I recently had a conversation with a young man of about 23 who went to a unit training in how to deal with this type of person, and he said that they spent most of their time in arm locks, and he was one of the oldest people working in that environment. This cannot be right. Do we have a situation where people are trained to do the communication, de-escalate and ensure that you can have a civilised conversation? Are they there on all occasions? If they are not, you are just playing Russian roulette and something will escalate and go wrong. That is almost a guarantee. Once something goes wrong and you have the problems that I have inarticulately described, somebody will be even more frightened than you or I would if we were being contained. Trauma and its effect on mental health are almost guaranteed; it is just a matter of how bad it will be in individual cases.

We have a situation where we all accept that something should happen. We are even reasonably agreed on what should happen, which is getting a person out to live as independently as they can with enough support to do it. What action are the Government taking to make sure this happens and that, when something goes wrong when they are living independently, we can intervene and correct it without getting into more conflict, fear and trauma? That is what is required. It is the fact that you can communicate with that person.

Across the disabilities sector, this is a very common structure. If you have somebody who does not quite fit into the bracket you are talking about, and you try to make them fit, putting square pegs in round holes—we can throw our own clichés at it—we will always get this trauma, lack of communication and outcome. This leads to things such as legal costs, lack of things and other greater costs. Will the Government please give us an idea of what they are doing to make sure that staff are trained to intervene and guide people towards correct—or perhaps I should say better—solutions?

People have a right to live independently and securely. With a little help, most of this group can do it, at least for long periods of time. If the Government are not making that intervention, they are probably wasting money, first and foremost. Can the Government give us an assurance that they are taking steps to make sure that this waste of money, which leads to a lack of human dignity and human rights, is being corrected? Without it, they are offending everybody at every level.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, not just for her comprehensive introduction to this important debate, but for her work over so many years for people with learning disabilities and autism. I also pay tribute today to Professor Sir Michael Rutter, who died this week and whose work in this area gave hope to so many families, including one known to me. It was Professor Rutter who diagnosed their four year-old son and offered them hope of a life in which, with the right support, he would be able to flourish, despite his challenges. As that young man turns 30, that same hope is in painfully short supply. He is among the 2,085 people with a learning disability and/or autism currently confined in an in-patient setting—a number that has risen by 40 over the past month. The average stay is 5.4 years. He has been detained since 2011, with around one-third of that time in locked seclusion.

As we have heard, many of these people are not there because they need in-patient mental healthcare; they are there because the right kind of community support is simply not available. For some, these settings are not only inappropriate; they are deeply triggering environments in which they can be subjected to profoundly damaging practices that compound existing trauma, including segregation, restraint and seclusion. The environment can be horribly reminiscent of the extreme deprivation suffered in early years: no furniture, no personal belongings, no family contact except through an intercom, treatment delivered through a small Perspex window, no activities, no stimulation, no choice.

The NAO has estimated that in a single year, 2012-13, the NHS spent £557 million on in-patient services for people with learning disabilities whose behaviour can challenge. These are vast amounts to spend on keeping people in situations that, far from helping, are causing untold harm. There are perverse financial incentives underpinning this. While responsibility for community provision typically rests with local authorities, in-patient care costs are met by the NHS. The Commons Select Committee heard that this is a disincentive to local authorities to invest in community provision, as it would lead to more patients becoming their financial responsibility. This makes no sense. The Care Quality Commission estimates that hospitalisation costs roughly three times the price of community-based care.

The Government promised transformational change after the 2011 Winterbourne View scandal, but progress has been unacceptably slow, with the target of a 50% reduction in in-patient beds now pushed out a further five years to 2024. In the meantime, vulnerable and blameless individuals continue to suffer.

When will the Government produce a robust, detailed, costed, evidence-based, cross-departmental plan to deliver on this long-overdue commitment? What will they do to ensure that the right community support is in place, not just to enable successful discharges into the community but to prevent admission in the first place? What steps will the Government take to build the much-needed capacity and skills in the workforce about which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, just spoke? Will they act to remove the perverse financial incentives and redirect funding flows from poor care models to the development of robust community services? Will they stop commissioners buying places in services that are failing to meet appropriate models of care?

Also, will the Government deliver reform of the Mental Health Act, under which the vast majority of in-patients are held? Currently, people with a learning disability can be detained if they display challenging behaviour. However, all too often, this behaviour is not because of a complex mental health problem, but because one or more of someone’s social care, communication, environmental or sensory needs are not being met. Once admitted, their quickly get stuck in a system in which effective routes for challenge are hard to find. What will the Government do to ensure that care, education and treatment reviews take place and involve the right expertise, as well as families, and that recommendations are followed within specified timescales?

As we have heard, in the end, this is a question of human rights. The Joint Committee on Human Rights stated:

“The detention of individuals in the absence of individualised, therapeutic treatment risks violating an individual’s … right to liberty and security.”

It also found that

“their rights to private and family life … and their right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment”

are threatened. Sadly, in my limited experience, all of these ring horribly true. Those individuals who achieve their ambition to return to community living leave traumatised by the experience that they have undergone, with their families equally traumatised and, frankly, exhausted by their unrelenting fight to improve their loved ones’ situations.

It cannot be right that any one person should be failed so many times: failed by the absence of appropriate services, then failed again through the treatment they have received in a place where they ought not to have been. I think that 2,085 is too high a number, but it is also low enough that the development of individualised pathways to support community living should, in a civilised society, be an achievable goal. The costs might be high but the costs of the alternative are far, far higher.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society.

Autism is not a mental health condition, but many of Britain’s estimated 700,000 autistic people develop mental health problems and too many reach a crisis point that could be avoided. This is often because they cannot access the support in the community that they desperately need—a point well made in the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins.

Due to way the Mental Health Act currently works, autistic people are at risk of being admitted to hospital and detained not because they have a separate mental health condition but because they are autistic. Not having enough services can be the reason for an autistic person’s detention or for preventing their discharge. Yet, as we know, the Mental Health Act code of practice clearly states that hospital is unlikely to be helpful in supporting autistic people.

More than 2,000 autistic people are currently in in-patient facilities, and more than one-third of them have been flagged as no longer needing care. Once detained, the average stay is almost five and a half years. This is an abuse of human rights, a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, just now. As a former member of the Council of Europe, a body that Churchill helped to set up to protect human rights, Britain should be ashamed of its record in this respect.

I welcome NHS England’s long-term plan to reduce the numbers to below half the 2015 levels by March 2024. However, since the plan’s publication, there has been no significant reduction in the number of autistic people in mental health hospitals. Indeed, for much of the time, the number of autistic people in such hospitals was increasing. In 2015, autistic people made up 38% of the number; now, it is 59%. Autistic people should be able to live full lives in their communities with their families and friends. The Government must change the Mental Health Act to make sure that autistic people are not detained inappropriately in hospital.

Changing the definition of mental disorder to remove autism and learning disability in non-criminal justice-related matters is definitely the right step and to be welcomed, but we must provide the right community service support for autistic people with mental health needs. This must be underpinned by legal duties to have the right levels of support available in every part of the country—it cannot be some sort of pick-and-choose system. We must make sure that all mental health services have the right training fully to support autistic people, and there is a huge gap.

I welcome the rollout of the Oliver McGowan mandatory training in autism and learning disability, which is currently being piloted, but it must go further by promoting best practice, such as work recently done by the National Autistic Society in collaboration with Mind. More than that, we need to give talking therapists the guidance they need to make those vital early interventions work much better for autistic people. What steps have the Government taken to make sure that autistic people are not left behind in in-patient mental health hospitals when they should not be there in first place? How will the Government make sure that all mental health services have the right training to provide quality mental health support to autistic people because they do not have it now? In particular, will the Minister commit to funding the full rollout of the Oliver McGowan mandatory training? How will the Government guarantee that the right community services are available in every area for autistic people with mental health needs? Will the Minister commit urgently to review and improve the commissioning of support for autistic people and people with learning disabilities? Finally, will the Minister commit to develop clear guidance for commissioners in each area and provide commissioning support for those areas that need it most?

Locking up autistic people in the way we do now is a stain on British society. We should be ashamed of it, and we should put an end to it.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Hollins on getting this debate. I want to spend a moment on those congratulations. At a time of Covid, climate change and geopolitical tensions, it is really important that we do not neglect some of the smaller-scale issues. This issue affects 2,000-plus people and their families, but it is not millions, and it is not the billions who live on this earth. In that sense, it is small scale, but for these families this is massive and all-embracing. I also note that Covid has affected people differently and has been a healthy reminder of the inequalities in our society, and this is a massive and rather hidden inequality. So I congratulate my noble friend on the way she opened the debate, spreading out all the issues that are involved.

I want to say a few words about the current situation and focus on the plan, the non-existent plan. We are talking here about 2,000-plus people, 210 of whom are children who have learning disabilities and/or autism. I have been out of touch with this sector for some time, but I sense from the briefings that I have been getting that all we are doing is warehousing these people. They do not need to be there. They are admitted because there is nowhere else for them to go, and they cannot leave because there is nowhere else for them to go. Meanwhile, while there, they deteriorate. It is a dangerous environment for many, and goodness knows what it does for the children and their education, socialisation and development.

I know that similar things are happening to acute adult mental health admissions because I have done a recent review on that, and people are stuck in adult in-patient units, but the difference is that we are talking about people being in this situation for 5.4 years on average. They go in now and come out, possibly in 2027, or, looking backwards, they would be coming out into today’s world from the very different world of 2015, or, as a child, growing from 11 or 12 to 16 or 17 through the early years of adolescence. We can all imagine the personal tragedies behind these bald figures.

So what is the plan? I mean “what is the plan?” and not “what is the policy document?” My noble friend Lady Bull made the terribly important point that this is small enough to count. They can all go on somebody’s list and somebody can tick them off when they are moved out of hospital.

I have had a lot of great briefings from organisations, great descriptions of the problem and great advice. We know what good looks like. There are lots of overlapping recommendations. There is a lot of discussion of inspection and holding to account, but I do not see anything about personal responsibility and who is responsible for delivering the change.

I joined the NHS in 1986 from a background in industry and charitable sector as—in those days’ language—the unit general manager of a mental handicap unit and I am familiar with this sort of problem because in those days we had a target to remove children from mental handicap hospitals. I make these comments as a manager.

Public sector planning can just mean a document all carefully worked through with timelines, targets and many wise words. A plan is not a document but something that is going to happen, but it does not mean anything if there is not somebody charged with implementing it and for whom there are consequences, frankly, of both success and failure. I was staggered to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, point out that some of the people who appear to be responsible for implementing this do not know how many people they are responsible for in this situation.

We need money to sort some of this out, I am sure, but a person is the most important first step. Money can be wasted, and a responsible person can fight for the money. Of course, quality and safety are also vital; this is not just about getting people out of one bad situation in hospital or inpatient unit and putting them in another bad situation in the community.

I will not labour what happened 35 years ago—but it happened. There was both money and responsibility and it happened. I remember quite a lot of pressure coming down the system to me as a unit general manager to make sure that it happened. At that stage, no more children were living in hospitals. It may not be quite like for like for where we are today, but it is tragic to hear how far backwards we have gone in 35 years.

Therefore, my questions for the Minister are of course: what is the plan and who will be responsible for delivering it? Will whoever is personally responsible also be impacted by their failure or success in achieving the plan? Let me add that this is just the sort of small-scale thing where ministerial leadership can make a massive difference. If a Minister took an interest and wanted to make it happen, they could really make it happen. I know it is not the Minister’s brief, but will he raise this with his ministerial colleague, the Minister for Care? My simple point is: who is going to get a grip on this?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, on securing this important debate, especially with her expertise following the excellent review that she led two years ago. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The Health and Social Care Select Committee’s report published on 13 July this year makes it absolutely plain that, 10 years on from Winterbourne View, the provision for autistic people and those with learning difficulties sees far too many placed in residential settings, which is unacceptable.

Jeremy Hunt MP, the chair of the Select Committee, said:

“Despite commitments by governments over the years, the totally inadequate level of community provision means that autistic people and people with learning disabilities are wrongfully admitted to inpatient facilities and detained for a shocking average of six years … it is time to recognise that a voluntary approach to reducing the numbers has failed and long-term admissions should now be banned with alternative community provision set up in their place.”

The Select Committee report follows on from the oversight panel review of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, saying once again that this is an emergency and needs dealing with immediately. I start by asking what is probably also my final question: can the noble Lord the Minister say when the Government will announce not another plan, but the recommendations and how they will be delivered?

I welcome the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, about what happened 35 years ago; 25 years ago, when I was chair of education in Cambridgeshire, it really felt as if this country was beginning to become progressive in its approach to ensuring that those with learning disabilities and autistic children should, wherever possible, be living with their families or in their communities with support and going to their local schools. We believed that we had changed things. The evidence is—as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said—that too many people are being warehoused in unacceptable settings.

For some people, specialist residential provision has been developed over the years, but there are now complex commissioning rules with health and local government again fighting over the costs—as we heard about in our previous debate. Additionally, the lack of funding from central government to local government for this specialist provision, as well as the general funding crisis that local authorities are facing following cuts of about 30% to their overall budgets, means that there is a real problem and it appears that short cuts have been taken.

Noble Lords have also spoken about the further worry of restrictive practices. The horrors of the Winterbourne View covert videos, showing staff treating in-patients badly, were seared on the public’s soul. Everyone said that this must never happen again. But the evidence is that it continues. Indeed, there was a video of a staff member dragging a young autistic person by his hair only last month in a school. As both the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and my noble friend Lord Addington have said, this speaks to the lack of supervision and a lack of training of staff in these institutions. As the Select Committee report said:

“None of this is worthy of a 21st century healthcare system”.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for giving a successful outcome for one patient, now living successfully and happily in the community. The problem is the inertia and structural problems with commissioners and funding, meaning that 2,000 are still in inappropriate settings at best, and at worst living their lives with their human rights ignored. Immediate action is needed now.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for her sensitivity, her work on this crucial matter, and today for her use of her voice in giving voice to those who do not have a voice. The manner in which this debate has been conducted has spoken volumes.

When people are in the wrong environment, they suffer trauma, deep unhappiness, ill health, abuse of their human rights and lack of dignity—the list goes on. I ask myself: why is it that those who have learning disabilities and/or autism are seen to be less worthy of the right environment than those who do not? My noble friend Lord Touhig said that we should be ashamed of the years of failures and that this is a stain on British society. I agree with him because we are judged as a society on how we treat those in greatest need, to whom we owe the most.

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, spoke of people getting stuck and their situation deteriorating because of the so-called care environment in which they have been put. This is not acceptable. It is a sorry and lengthy catalogue, which I hope the Minister will today commit to put an end to—a sorry catalogue of missed targets. Every figure that we refer to is not just a figure; each one of that number represents a person—and not just a person but their family, friends, colleagues and communities. They all carry that suffering along with the person.

I found myself shocked, as I am sure many noble Lords did too, by what I understand of the situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made a very good point that shocking though the figures are, they are actually small enough to make an impact. I hope the Minister will outline to the Committee today how he will undertake, with his colleagues, to put an end to this outrage once and for all.

The figures that shocked me were not just that there are over 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autism in in-patient units or that there are 210 children there, but that the number of people in units has gone up by 40 from the end of September. So we have seen no sign of change. The figure that really tells the story that we are here to address is that the average length of stay for people with a learning disability and/or autism in in-patient units is 5.4 years. That is 5.4 years that no person will ever get back.

We have heard in the debate about the thousands of reported incidents of restrictive interventions—physical and chemical restraint. The most recent data show that in one month alone, July 2021, we saw over 4,000 reported incidents, 930 of which were against children. I go back to the point that has been made repeatedly in this debate, which I ask the Minister to address: much of this is because of the environment, nothing else. How can it be justifiable when we know, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, said, that the costs of keeping somebody in an inappropriate environment are no less than to keep them in a caring, happy and appropriate environment? The finances do not stack up, so can the Minister address how the finances are worked out, as well as the quality?

We find ourselves in a shocking situation. We know, for example, that the mental health White Paper, issued in January 2021, took the important step that learning disabilities or autism will no longer be grounds for detention under the Act, but can the Minister update us on the timetable for bringing forward the legislation? We know that recently, in June, the Government published the results of the consultation on the White Paper, and there were positive responses on the necessity for these reforms. It would help to know, first, when that legislation will come forward but, secondly and key to this debate, when and how will there be a grip on this and by what means will the Minister measure the right progress having been made to protect and advance the interests of every individual about whom we are speaking today.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for securing this important and heart-wrenching debate, and for leading the work on the independent reviews of people with a learning disability and autistic people in long-term segregation. I also thank the oversight panel that works with the noble Baroness on this vital issue for its report and recommendations, which the Government wholeheartedly welcomed and responded to in July this year.

Some of the stories we heard were heartbreaking. I am extremely concerned to hear about the number of people who remain in long-term segregation and, in too many instances, the unacceptably poor care to which they are subject. As the noble Baroness rightly says, no one should be detained where they do not need to be and where they can live a full life in the community but, sadly, we know that this is still happening and, frankly, it is not good enough. The Government are committed to taking action, both for those already detained who can and must be discharged, and to prevent people who do not need to be admitted from being so in future. We must move away from responding to crises to ensuring that the right care and supporting legal framework are in place from the very beginning of someone’s life.

We are determined to reduce the number of people with a learning disability and autistic people in mental health hospitals, which is why we are investing more than £90 million of additional funding in 2021-22 in community services and support for discharges. The Government are also undertaking wider action, which I will set out as I address the important points raised in this debate. I aim to address as many of noble Lords’ points as possible today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, started the debate by talking about housing. There is clear evidence that the right housing arrangements can deliver improved outcomes and meet people’s preference to remain in their own home. We agree, as the noble Baroness said, that the right housing for people with learning disabilities and autism is not always available, or available as quickly as we would like. In England, we are providing funding to build specialised housing through the Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund—CASSH—for older people and adults with learning and physical disabilities or mental ill health. We have provided £71 million for the fund in 2021-22.

Also in England, we fund the disabled facilities grants to support eligible people, including people with learning disabilities and sensory impairments, in adapting their homes to make them safe and suitable for their individual needs, subject to a means test, eligibility criteria and their needs assessment; £573 million has been provided for this in 2021-22. Housing is one of the six priority work streams of the Building the Right Support delivery board, and will form part of its upcoming action plan.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned training and expert staff. We accept that the right workforce is critical in enabling the highest standards of care and support for people with learning disabilities and autistic people. Skilled staff, leadership and creativity can be key in supporting someone towards discharge. For those in long-term segregation, the launch of a senior intervenors pilot is vital. Senior intervenors are being recruited, and we hope that they will help to remove barriers and bring creativity to planning and moving people towards discharge. The role will bring with it the necessary expertise and experience to assist in overcoming some of the barriers to progress.

More generally, we have provided £1.4 million of funding for the development and trialling of Oliver McGowan mandatory training to improve awareness and understanding of learning disability and autism for health and social care staff. Hundreds of staff have already been trained through the trials. The Government recently announced at least £500 million over three years to fund social care professionalisation initiatives to improve workforce well-being and other issues, especially for those who work with patients with autism and learning disabilities.

As we set out in Right to be Heard:

“Our vision is that in future all professionals will, before starting their career or through continuing professional development, undertake training which covers a ‘common core curriculum’ for learning disability and autism so that we can be confident that there is consistency across education and training curricula.”

The Government are currently working with Health Education England, the Medical Schools Council, regulators and medical schools to establish the best approach to developing a core curriculum. In addition, to improve patient services supporting autistic people, we are investing £1.5 million to develop training for staff in adult in-patient mental health centres. I know that the noble Lord said that there are much wider issues around mental health, but it also includes supporting autistic people, in line with tier 3 of the core capabilities framework.

As part of the Oliver McGowan mandatory training in learning disability and autism programme, we are working with a number of people, backed by that £1.4 million investment. Subject to evaluation, this should be available to all of the 2.8 million health and social care staff on autism and learning disability. As I said, the workforce is one of our six priorities. Also, as part of the new national autism strategy, we are taking a number of steps to improve the understanding of autism among educational professionals, as well as the training that we have already announced.

There are a number of incredibly important reports and recommendations, especially those by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Health and Social Care Committee and the CQC oversight panel. The Building the Right Support delivery board has been established to drive further and faster progress on the exact issues that a number of noble Lords raised today. We are considering how to bring these recommendations together as part of the Building the Right Support action plan; this will require a cross-government, cross-system effort, as many noble Lords have said.

We also want to ensure better reporting on the number of people being detained. The Government are fully committed to reducing restrictive practices and poor care for people with learning disability and autistic people. Reporting on our progress on the use of these restrictive practices is an important part of that, which is why the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act statutory guidance, on which we recently consulted, set the reporting requirements for restrictive practices under the Act. That guidance makes reference to the mandatory requirement to report this information, in line with current NHS England and NHS Improvement requirements. We will publish the final guidance, reflecting feedback from the public consultation, later this year.

The noble Baroness will be aware of existing reporting data which is also already published. NHS Digital publishes its annual Mental Health Bulletin, a monthly public dashboard about the use of restrictive interventions and assuring transformation data about the number of people with a learning disability and autism in in-patient settings.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and perhaps one or two other noble Lords, also raised the issue of changing the rules so that care workers can enter the skilled worker immigration scheme. We should all acknowledge the valuable role that immigrants play in our economy. Within the social care workforce, nurses, occupational therapists and social workers are eligible for the health and care visa. The new health and care visa will make it cheaper, quicker and easier for eligible social care professionals from around the world to come to work in the UK. We hope to attract the best talent from around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked whether we have training for staff to de-escalate and minimise restrictive practice. NHS England and NHS Improvement have commissioned the rollout of the HOPE(S) model, a national training model to be delivered through NHS-led provider collaboratives to reduce the use of restrictive practices and long-term segregation and to develop positive cultures. The HOPE(S) model will follow a human rights-based approach, be person-centred and be informed by experiences of trauma. A number of noble Lords raised the issue of trauma and we think it is important that we address it. I would welcome feedback from noble Lords across the Committee who take an interest in this issue to make sure that we are on the right path.

I want to dwell on the senior intervener role, which is being trialled in response to the recommendation of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for the introduction of an additional senior person to support local services to plan discharge, guide where there is challenge and agree actions to facilitate a reduction in restrictions. It is important that we do this planning and that we are planning for discharge as the ultimate goal. The project builds on the positive evaluation of the pilot of children and young people’s senior interveners. The ultimate goal of senior interveners is to establish and oversee this robust programme, making sure that we are all working towards discharge from long-term segregation and hospital.

I was asked by a number of noble Lords, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about independent case reviews. We have accepted the recommendation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the oversight panel to resume independent case reviews for those in long-term segregation. We are working with NHS England and the CQC to ensure that IC(E)TRs will be restored as soon as possible. It is important that the reviews that take place are high quality and that we have the right panel of experts in place. We are trying to work on this as fast as possible in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A number of noble Lords asked about Winterbourne View and targets. We have a clear target in the NHS long-term plan of a 50% reduction by 2023-24 and are taking action across several fronts to achieve this. There have been more than 10,000 discharges since March 2015 and a 28% net reduction in in-patient numbers. We accept that this does not meet the target of a 35% reduction previously set out in March 2020, but we hope to continue and to make real progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about mental health issues and Mental Health Act reform. Reform of the Mental Health Act is important and a White Paper was published in January 2021. We have consulted publicly on the proposals, and we published a response in July 2021.

I will try to answer the other questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about limiting the scope of detaining people with learning disabilities or autistic people. The proposed reforms will create new duties for commissioners to ensure an adequate supply of community services and make every local area understand and monitor the risk of crisis at individual level.

I would like to say more about commissioners, if I may, but, if I have not answered noble Lords’ questions in the time allotted, I hope that they will write to me, so that I can give them all a more thorough response.

I end by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for this important debate. I think all noble Lords agree that all parts of the system must play their part and take action, so that no one is detained when they do not need to be. Hospitals must always have a therapeutic purpose and detain people only for as long as is absolutely necessary. We hope that the actions we have set out today for both the long and short term—I will write to noble Lords about our significant reforms—demonstrate the range of activity already under way or planned. We hope that this will help to ensure that we prevent people with a learning disability and autistic people being detained when they could live a full life in their community with their friends and family, as every one of us deserves.

Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for securing this debate. I look forward to working with her in future.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others, and to wear a face covering when not speaking.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; and whether they have any proposals to improve that organisation.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their participation. I am grateful to the Library for its helpful briefing note.

It is important that we are reminded about the OSCE and its functions, for the record. I acknowledge my fellow member of the UK delegation to the parliamentary assembly, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who continues his work and concern for refugees as vice-chair of the assembly’s migration committee. I also acknowledge the tremendous work done by another Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon; she is no longer a member of that delegation, but she carried out a formidable number of election observation missions. I declare my interest as the current president emeritus of the parliamentary assembly.

Arising from the Helsinki agreements entered into at the end of the Cold War, the OSCE now comprises 57 participating states. They are not member states because the OSCE does not enjoy legal personality, which can cause difficulty. The 57 states stretch from Vancouver to Vladivostok. It is the largest regional organisation recognised by the UN. There are three areas of work, or dimensions: the politico military, including arms control and countering terrorism; economic and environmental, including economic growth, good governance and co-operation to avoid disputes, for example over water; and the human dimension, including support for human rights and democracy. There is also cross-dimensional work, touching on cybersecurity, education and combating human trafficking.

Most of the OSCE’s staff are to be found in field missions or programmes in south-eastern Europe, eastern Europe, the south Caucasus and central Asia. There is also the vital special monitoring mission in Ukraine. The work carried out by the field missions is varied, whether it is helping states to establish democratic process, training judges and police, looking after minorities or helping to establish small arms and border controls. That is by no means a complete list.

In the OSCE, there are structures and bodies that support its work, including the High Commissioner on National Minorities; the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which supports democracy and human rights; and the Representative on Freedom of the Media, who ensures that the states’ commitments to freedom of the media are observed. Since 1992, there has also been a new tool: the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. As its name implies, its task is to resolve disputes between participating states. I see that it has not actually heard any cases, but it has been ratified by 30-plus participating states. Can the Minister tell us why, as an example to others if nothing else, the United Kingdom has not signed or ratified the Stockholm Convention, which established that court?

All this work goes on, and the participating states meet weekly in Vienna in a permanent council and other specialised structures. However, for decisions to be taken, consensus is needed. Although this was seen as a strength in the optimistic early days of the OSCE, it now has the ability to create deadlock. The optimism of the early days is behind us. There is no longer a general acceptance by all of the international norms and behaviour. Participating states have flouted the norms and ignored the borders of others. We have the issue of Moldova and the Russian-backed separatists in Transnistria. Georgia has two areas of its territory occupied by Russian puppet regimes recognised by virtually nobody but Russia. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan flares up despite the best efforts of the Minsk Group, and Ukraine is constantly with us and causing concern.

In the autumn of 2020, agreement could not be reached in the permanent council to reappoint the four executive heads, so the organisation was left with no secretary-general, no director of ODIHR, no High Commissioner on National Minorities and no Representative on Freedom of the Media. Of course, dedicated staff carried on vital work, but the organisation was leaderless. My predecessor as president of the parliamentary assembly, Mr Tsereteli, issued a call for action in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the OSCE. It was supported by many distinguished players in the OSCE from Governments that had acted as the chair-in-office, not just the parliamentary assembly. The object is to examine ways in which the effectiveness of the OSCE may be improved. It is not to dictate the governmental side, but to endeavour to be helpful.

I am quite certain that the ills of the OSCE will not be cured without the full involvement and attention of the Governments of the participating states, but the OSCE never seems to be very high on their agendas. Perhaps that is because so much good work is done in the field and, indeed, by the permanent representatives in Vienna—including our own ambassador, Mr Neil Bush.

The Minster may tell me that, in the March 2021 integrated review of security and defence, the Government committed to supporting multilateral organisations that uphold national norms on security, including OSCE, and that we are one of the largest contributors to the special monitoring mission in Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is likely that the funding needs of the organisation will grow, not decrease, given the current situation within the region.

However, none of that goes to the working of the organisation, which has to be by consensus. There is provision for decisions by consensus minus one, but that has been used only once, at the time of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Consensus is the weakness and, at the same time, the strength of the organisation, but if it can be misused to hold up the continuation of the mandate of the special monitoring mission in Ukraine, agreement on the budget or the appointment of executive heads, the organisation does not function at its best. Indeed, coupled with the abandonment of the norms of international behaviour towards other states and, in the case of Belarus, norms of treatment of its own citizens, the ability to act effectively is severely curtailed.

The United Kingdom, with our ambitions to adopt a greater global role, should be well placed to raise our game politically within the organisation, put the future of the OSCE clearly on our political agenda and work with our friends on both sides of the Atlantic. I believe that the United States will prove an open door, as Congress has a very strong Helsinki Commission, which is fully involved in OSCE events and has a parliamentary involvement greater than that of any other participating state.

A start would be to ensure that the work of the OSCE was better known. Even in this building, how many people know or are interested? Because we need political leaders to be involved, I suggest taking the time between now and the 50th anniversary to build consensus for a summit. There is an annual ministerial council each year, attended by Foreign Ministers. The OSCE chair-in-office is a Foreign Minister of the relevant participating state. Our Library Note says that heads of state participate in summits, which set the priorities of the organisation. The last summit was in Kazakhstan in 2010; it was attended by the then Deputy Prime Minister, now Sir Nick Clegg, so, given the state of the organisation and the time that has elapsed, perhaps it is high time that we had another summit. I may be told that there are or will be difficulties and dangers in bringing these matters to a summit and giving those not so well affected to OSCE the opportunity to seek different political settlements not to our liking, but there are dangers and difficulties in doing nothing. I am sure that, if the OSCE did not exist, it would have to be invented.

I therefore ask Her Majesty’s Government what their assessment is of the political state of the OSCE. Do they have any ideas or ambitions to change the same, and will they move to bring the OSCE up the political agenda of our Government and that of the participating states, and discuss the possibility of a summit with our friends and allies with a view to this taking place in 2025, the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki accord?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, on securing this debate. He has described the situation in the OSCE so clearly that all I can do in my remarks is supplement some of the things he said, rather than repeat them. I have been a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly for some years. It has been a great privilege and opportunity, even if, inevitably, I have some criticisms of the organisation.

Let me say a little more about the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. He is widely respected across the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. He has a superb reputation, and he enhances our reputation as a country because of the key part he plays. If he had wanted to stand for president, he would have been elected pretty well unanimously, but he did not want to. I say to the Minister with all sincerity that, given that the previous lead of our delegation had to stop after he became a government Whip in the Commons, I think the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, would be the best person to resume leadership of our delegation. I am a friend of his, but I think it would be good for this country and our delegation if he were to do that. He is so well-regarded across all members of the OSCE.

Our membership is important because it is yet another way in which we maintain international links, in this case with parliamentarians not just across Europe, but from North America and Asia. There are some positive and negative aspects, one of which is that we from the UK and some other countries are there as parliamentarians, not as messengers from the Government. We are there as independent parliamentarians, who come to our own views. We can be critical of our Government; we seldom are, but we reserve that right. The delegations from some countries see it differently—this is not a criticism of the way it works—and regard their members as being there to speak on behalf of their Governments. It is a sort of government handout, which nullifies the benefit of the parliamentary assembly because it means we are simply getting the party line from some countries, but not all because many members are independent.

Let me give you an example. There was once a resolution to a plenary that was critical of a regime in central Asia. The ambassador from that country came to see me and demanded that I vote against the resolution criticising his Government. First, I said, “I don’t think so”. His Government was accused of human rights breaches. Secondly, I said, “It’s interesting. The only time you want to see people like me is when there is a criticism of your Government. The OSCE is not meant to be the voice of Governments.” Since then, I have been inundated with emails from him, but that is my punishment for having said that. That shows the way in which some countries see it in a way which we do not. Of course, parliamentarians from many countries act independently and reserve the right to differ from their Governments.

I appreciate the helpful Foreign Office briefings we get before plenaries. When we meet in Vienna once a year—the other plenaries tend to be in different countries—our ambassador to the OSCE hosts a helpful working dinner, to which he brings his senior people, so we get a pretty good briefing on all the key issues. I hope the Minister passes on our appreciation for the work that is done, the time put in and how helpful that is.

There are several committees within the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I am an active member of the migration committee, which is especially effective. It is well-serviced by excellent OSCE staff, and it carries out an overview of migration issues in Europe and beyond. When we visit sensitive areas, which I do not always have the time to do, we get good access to government Ministers and others so it is a useful effort. The migration committee of the OSCE is one of the great successes of the parliamentary assembly, and I am privileged to be a member of it.

The plenary sessions are less useful sometimes, as they tend to get into traditional areas of dispute. Whatever the theoretical topic, of either the full plenary or the human rights committee, which is also large, they tend to get into traditional arguments about Cyprus, Armenia, Ukraine and so on. Whatever the topic, parliamentarians tend to have a go at each other, which is a pity because it does not add much value to the plenary. Within that structure, there is also an opportunity to raise issues of concern. I have been involved in debates on human rights, detention in Guantanamo, freedom of the press and anti-Semitism.

Sometimes there are what we in political parties call fringe meetings as an addition to the plenary which take place in the same venue in the gaps between plenary sessions. An American senator initiated a very useful discussion on anti-Semitism and hate speech generally. We have also had discussions on the Magnitsky sanctions and Bill Browder spoke. In fact, one of the first times I heard of him was when he came to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and we had a plenary. Within it, we had a fringe discussion about what had happened to Bill Browder, the terrible stories of what happened to his friend and his argument that there should be Magnitsky sanctions. These arguments have now been much more widely adopted as a way of punishing countries that are in great breach of human rights.

Another useful activity is election monitoring. Again, there is not as much time to do this as I would like, but I have been on some very interesting election monitoring visits. Although we do not uncover enormous scandals, the fact that we are there keeps the process cleaner than it would otherwise be because they know we are going to go to a polling station. They know which town we are allocated to, but we chose which polling station we go to. We just appear there and have a look at it.

The tricky thing in some countries is that they open the ballot boxes at the start of the counting session, then at the end of the election when the polls close—at 8 pm or whenever it is—the votes are counted in the polling station. So we not only monitor the way in which the ballot papers are checked when they arrive at the polling station before the polls open, as all sorts of things could happen if it was not kept under close control, but also the counting. I have seen counting that has gone very efficiently. It is normally inefficiencies in the process that I have noticed rather than any breaches of the electoral regulations in the country. It is an interesting process. Election monitoring also has a benefit in that one sees parts of the country one is monitoring that one would not normally see in the normal course of events. I have really enjoyed, for example, going to eastern Turkey. I have done monitoring in Serbia and in other countries.

I value my membership. I very much appreciate the privilege of being there and being able to meet parliamentarians from many countries. As the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has said, I would like to feel that we are not beneath the radar of the Government, and that the Government pay tribute to the important work that goes on in the OSCE and to the importance to the United Kingdom of our activity in the OSCE. It is a useful forum where we can express our views. I think we are pretty well respected by OSCE countries for the contributions we make, so it is up to the Government to respond positively.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for raising this matter in this short debate. I am particularly pleased to follow him and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who are both the United Kingdom members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. My interest comes, apart from in other ways, from 17 years as a UK member of the European Parliament and my ongoing interest in UK international involvement post Brexit. I apologise now that some of the things I am going to say will be rather repetitive, but I do not see any harm in underlining the importance of this organisation, so I hope the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, in particular, will forgive me if I am going to repeat some of the facts about it as I go.

Our discussion today is a bit like opening a cupboard for the first time in years and discovering something you have either forgotten about or put out of the way as you had little use for it. Most people, sadly, have no idea that the OSCE even exists, including—I have to say in following my noble friends—quite a number of Members of this House and particularly the one along the Corridor. Nevertheless, to those who do know it, it is sadly also often regarded as fairly irrelevant to the challenges facing the world and the UK in the 21st century. Some regard it as another international talking shop with no power to enforce anything against anybody. I regard it in a very different way, and I urge my noble friend to persuade his colleagues in government not only to expose the issue more to the light of day but seriously to consider ensuring that, as a diplomatic and strategic vehicle, the UK and its new post-Brexit situation can play an even greater role in the organisation.

I am not going to repeat the organisation’s whole history, but it is worth emphasising the main areas of interest: security, conflict resolution, conventional arms control, economic and environmental security and, of course, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the monitoring of democracy and elections. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to his exercises in looking at elections. I certainly found my experiences in East Germany as an observer in the 1990 elections extremely useful, although that was not under the auspices of the OSCE.

As has been said, 57 states signed up to these functions in the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. These states cover, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned, a geographical area extending from the United States and Canada as far as Russia and Mongolia. Within its ranks are many diverse political systems, social deployments and environmental challenges. It is the world’s largest regional security organisation. Some of its biggest challenges are provided by the actions of its members, such as the issues of the conflicts in Georgia and the Russian occupation of Crimea and its ongoing approach to Ukraine. The response of the OSCE cannot be military, but its special monitoring missions have been doing useful work in Ukraine, with international monitors, including those from the UK, providing dispassionate evidence of activity and warning member states if they are in breach of the agreements they signed up to.

Some will say that this is not enough, but it is a fact that such reporting influences behaviour and acts as a form of restraint without the risks inherent in military threats. After all, the United Nations can pass resolutions, but itself has limits and, apart from peacekeeping missions, it cannot always act decisively in situations where resolutions are ignored. The OSCE, however, can point to successes that are more than merely jaw- jaw.

Conventional arms control in Europe through the Vienna document is one area of importance where restraint and constructive co-operation can be demonstrated. Functions include monitoring of military exercises and deployments. The open skies treaty, which gave greater transparency to military activity and with which I was coincidentally involved for a while when in government in the 1990s, has an important reflection of the right to know between all members. As a result, little can occur—or deployments be made—which is not known to everybody else. The OSCE is also working in the field of cybersecurity, which is a vital area, as we know. It is tackling organised crime in relation to the exchange of data and the vital information obtained is terribly important to all of us.

In the area of the environment—where the UK has COP 26 coming and the Government’s declared aim is to lead in the global fight to net zero—the OSCE could really be utilised more in helping us to remain at the front of that campaign. It also has special competence in the field of energy security, which remains a very big issue in achieving our aims, and as a forum for sharing best practice. That is across the 57 member states and is of course enhanced by the parliamentary assembly, on which the UK has a strong representation from both our Houses, including the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Dubs.

After all that, noble Lords may wonder why the OSCE has seemingly been neglected for so long. I know that it can work only through consensus, which is clearly missing on a number of occasions when member states do their own thing; however, as we know, influencing conduct by example, or just by airing concerns, can stabilise situations for the benefit of our citizens.

Now that we have left the institutions of the EU—I will not bore noble Lords with any further arguments on that today; “Get over it” is what noble Lords would tell me—it is really important that the UK decides which old alliances are to be enhanced or renewed and what new alliances are to be formed to replace or influence our global affairs. There is of course the Commonwealth, which remains very important; the United Nations, where our permanent membership of the Security Council is very valuable; other new and replicated trade deals that are now being negotiated; NATO, where our military priorities remain, now to be enhanced by other defence alliances further afield; and not forgetting the Council of Europe, which, again, has representatives from the UK.

The Government seem at the moment to be pursuing a bilateral approach to renewing and refreshing our European relations. This may succeed, especially with a few of our closest allies on the continent, such as Germany and France—perhaps I ought to leave France out today. We must acknowledge, of course, that even if they no longer apply to us, those countries that are member states of the EU are subject to the rules and restrictions that apply to that bloc, and always will be.

So, organisations such as the OSCE should be revisited now. As has been referred to by colleagues, we already provide it with funding, personnel and an active delegation. Perhaps the time is right for a ministerial reinnervation of our interest in and commitment to the organisation. I have complimented my noble friend Lord Bowness on a number of occasions in other debates—usually on a remote basis—but I think he is just the right person to reinnervate this organisation. In fact, he is the personification of innervation. If he agrees to this challenge, more power to his elbow; I say the same to all others of a similar disposition.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope.

I spent my time as a graduate student studying a relatively small and understudied parliamentary assembly, as it was originally known. It was the European Parliament, which gradually gained rather more powers. Assemblies can gain powers and become more influential and better known. On the other hand, we need to make sure that, however important these assemblies are, they do not become the focus of opprobrium in their own right. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, in opening this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, about the OSCE’s role and the fact that it is rather understudied and little understood.

It is slightly strange to be standing here in a Question for Short Debate where we have only six speakers. For people looking at Hansard, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said that we need to put some things on the record. During the period of the virtual Parliament, it was almost impossible to get one’s name down for a Question for Short Debate, so attractive was it to everybody to speak in one. If you were lucky, you had a minute to speak. Today, we have six speakers in an hour. In preparing my remarks, I wondered whether I had nine minutes of comments to make, because we have relatively few people wishing to contribute.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, pointed out at the start of the debate, it is important to put on record why the OSCE mattered in the 1970s and why it still matters in the 2020s. It is one way of bringing states together. The noble Lord pointed out that the technical version is not a member state and is not the same as a member of the European Union, where the role of a formal signatory state is clearly delineated. These are participating states, but they range from the United States all the way to Russia. In many ways, that creates huge advantages and disadvantages. The noble Lord also talked about consensus, which I will come back to in a moment.

Clearly there are real questions about how an organisation of 57 countries, which include Russia, many central Asian countries and Turkey, can have the same values and aspirations. Here, I suspect that there is a strength and a weakness. When the 57 come together, the OSCE talks about human rights. If that is the case, is it not the perfect venue for us to talk to Russia or Turkey about human rights—or, indeed, for us to talk to our erstwhile partners in the European Union about human rights, press freedom and freedom of the media? The Library briefing talks about this; the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also mentioned it.

Will the Minister tell the Grand Committee how far Her Majesty’s Government think that the OSCE could be a forum in which we begin to explore press freedom? Several countries that are members of the OSCE, even if they are current members of the European Union, are not necessarily countries that are renowned for their freedom of the press. Hungary—I am hoping to catch the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to confirm that Hungary is a member of the OSCE, and he has. I read through the 57 and did not want to accuse a country of being a member when it was not. Hungary signed up to all the Copenhagen criteria for membership of the European Union, signed up to the Council of Europe and is a member of OSCE—but under Viktor Orbán it is not renowned for its media freedoms. Is the OSCE then a way of having a venue to talk to Hungary about having a more open media framework, not all run by Fidesz?

Similarly, Turkey is a member and a NATO ally, yet it is a country where human rights are perhaps not respected in way that we would want them to be. Again, can the OSCE be an area where the Minister and his colleagues could have bilateral conversations in the margins? If part of the aim is not just to monitor democracy but to look at freedom of the media, these are two examples of where greater activity could be an opportunity.

I said I would come back to the issue of consensus. The Library briefing reminds us that decisions are taken by consensus. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, pointed out that it might be “consensus minus one”. We know from the European Union that when decisions have to be taken by consensus and two member states perhaps have decided that they are not too bothered about the rule of law and are not necessarily signed up to the values that other countries espouse, they can very quickly and easily block things. I can absolutely see that decision-making by consensus can be a problem, and clearly there is a need for discussion and, one hopes, persuasion. So, in terms of brokering consensus, can the Minister tell us how Her Majesty’s Government view their role in helping broker consensus on issues that matter to the United Kingdom?

I have a word of warning: be careful what you wish for. The OSCE may move away from consensus. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned the budget and a set of things where over the years the United Kingdom was so good at stalling activity in the European Community, later the European Union. Well, if you move to qualified majority voting, which is what happened in the European Union, you might be able to expedite decision-making, but that does not necessarily mean that, once taken, the decisions will be implemented. Countries that have been outvoted—we have seen this with the Visegrád countries on refugee issues—might simply say “We didn’t vote for it”, “We abstained” or “We were out of the room”, and they will not necessarily implement decisions. So I suspect that consensus is probably here to stay.

My final question is: “To what extent does the Minister feel that the OSCE offers an opportunity for the United Kingdom to have those side conversations that we used to be able to have within the European Union—our conversations with 27 partners which we no longer have on quite such a regular basis?” It has obviously been a very long time since Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister attended a heads of state—sic. I do not think we would envisage Her Majesty the Queen attending, but even a head of government? Could we envisage such an event by 2025? Would the current Prime Minister wish to lead such a delegation, assuming that the head of state would not? Would the Minister wish to encourage the Prime Minister to do so? Or should we perhaps be thinking that the Minister would be the perfect leader of such an event, perhaps to host the event? At the same time, I reinforce the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, would be fantastic suggestion to be the leader of the parliamentary delegation.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for initiating this debate. While preparing for it, I took the opportunity to reflect on some things and look back. When world leaders signed the Helsinki accords in 1975, which laid the groundwork for the OSCE, they shared a common ambition to end the divisions in Europe. I think that is still very much what our aspiration should be. I want to take the opportunity to quote Harold Wilson—who, sadly, is not quoted enough, in my opinion. He saw the initiative as a means

“to look towards new and more constructive relationships on the basis of an agreed code of behaviour and undertakings to advance co-operation of all kinds”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/8/75; cols. 230-31.]

That is exactly what that forum should be about. Certainly, half a century later, the OSCE has played its part in facilitating that, but of course it has evolved in a way which I think world leaders then could never have foreseen.

The OSCE acts as a champion for the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, all of which are a precondition for security and prosperity, while also supporting conflict prevention and monitoring in some of the world’s most difficult environments. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, recognises in the Question for this debate, the organisation must strive to improve, and it is up to the members, particularly the United Kingdom, to facilitate that sort of change.

I also took the opportunity to reflect on our past debates on this subject, initiated by the noble Lord, and, sadly, I realised that I had participated in all of them—so I have to strive to be consistent in case someone looks back in Hansard. In 2012, we had a debate about the role of the OSCE; we had a debate in November 2013 about the hopes and priorities for the Helsinki+40 process; and in March 2017 we had a debate, again initiated by the noble Lord, about the role of the OSCE particularly in addressing the conflict in the east of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Of course, at that time, a year after the referendum, we were considering the implications for peace, security and co-operation of Brexit, which obviously also dominated the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, reminded us in all those debates that, even in Parliament, there is a lack of awareness of exactly what the OSCE does and how it responds to the very complex and varied issues it has a responsibility to look at.

The noble Lord mentioned his work in the UK delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I echo all noble Lords: I do hope that his incredible work is maintained and advanced. We would lose someone really important in promoting the UK’s values if we were not to support him in his work. I also acknowledge the work of my noble friend Lord Dubs, particularly on the migration committee, because this is such an important issue in terms of the sort of co-operation and dialogue we need to ensure not only that the human rights of migrants are protected but that we address and promote the root causes of migration.

I mention, in passing, my noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon, who did an amazing amount of work on election monitoring. We undervalue the importance of election monitoring and the work of the OSCE, because it is not only what you see when you get there but the fact you are going there can influence behaviour, as it can ensure that people will behave properly knowing that somebody will turn up.

The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned tensions, particularly last year over appointments to divisions, which is a clear concern that we should seek to de-escalate. We have been a little successful in that, but we need to ensure focus. The noble Lord’s point is that the OSCE’s strengths are also its weaknesses. That it includes the Russian Federation and a lot of eastern European countries, the western powers and the US makes it a forum to de-escalate and to address those incidents that can escalate into situations that we all want to avoid. I hope the Minister can give us a clearer indication of how the United Kingdom, particularly considering the integrated review, sees the importance of this multilateral institution in delivering our overall joined-up strategy, the three “D”s—defence, diplomacy and development. This again addresses migration.

We also have to consider some of the clear challenges ahead. The organisation’s work will not be easy and includes tackling extremism, promoting climate security and responding to emerging conflicts. There is an issue, as the Secretary-General has called for an increased budget for the organisation, so I hope the Minister will clarify the Government’s stance on this. Whatever their stance on the budget, what the OSCE needs most from this Government of all is a clear indication of a political commitment to its work.

I reflected on the debate in 2017, when the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, responded. I did not realise it was nearly five years ago; I always accuse the Minister of having longevity, but on this occasion I may have beaten him. The point is that we need to ensure that that political commitment and the words that the noble Baroness said in 2017, which I have no doubt the Minister will repeat today, have some meaning and purpose behind them and that we put our resources and effort into the organisation. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, on the 50th anniversary summit is worthy of consideration. I hope the Minister will respond to it positively.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, in particular my noble friend Lord Bowness for tabling this debate. I join others in paying tribute to his service to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly over many years. We look forward to hosting the assembly in Birmingham in 2022.

Several speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lord Bowness, talked of the anniversary in 2025 as a possible date for the OSCE summit of political leaders. We will carefully consider the merits of holding a summit. I listened carefully to all the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and join others in paying tribute to his contributions to this important assembly and his wider leadership on the important issue of migration. In the wider assembly of your Lordships’ House, he often keeps me and other Ministers on our toes on the importance of ensuring migration remains high up the Government’s thinking and priority list. I pay tribute to the contributions he makes to the OSCE as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about the small number of speakers in this debate, but as is often the case in your Lordships’ House, it is the quality rather than the quantity of contributions or speakers. I am very much taken by the kind comments made by my noble friend Lord Kirkhope about power to my elbow. I feel enhanced and lifted, spiritually and as a Minister, but as I am not Minister for the OSCE I will go no further in case other colleagues are listening with great attentiveness to this debate. The sentiments and practical suggestions that have been made are very valid. I will certainly share them. I hear very clearly the importance of the OSCE and the value that it brings in the context of the multilateral system.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also mentioned consensus. My right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, said that consensus is at times not a bad word. Sometimes, in an international context, consensus is exactly what is required. As the Minister for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, I assure the noble Baroness that I am quite used to differing opinions in the room, as are others who represent Her Majesty’s Government.

The Government agree with my noble friend Lord Bowness that the OSCE is a vital pillar of the international system. We recognise the crucial role that it has played since its creation and the end of the Cold War, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to, in reducing the risk of conflict across the Euro-Atlantic area and de-escalating where necessary.

My noble friend Lord Bowness asked what the Stockholm convention is seeking to do. I see no reason why we would not be supportive of it in terms of its principles, but I will certainly take that back to understand better why we have not yet signed it. Perhaps it is because, as my noble friend suggested, it has not yet adjudicated. There are other international fora that provide for such issues of reconciliation and adjudication.

However, the Government believe that, as the international challenges mount, multilateral responses are as important as ever. The OSCE is well known for its election observation work—a point made by all noble Lords—in helping to strengthen the democratic process. Its special monitoring mission continues to play a prominent and vital role in responding to Russia’s aggression, particularly against Ukraine. I was in Ukraine a few weeks ago in commemoration of the Holocaust and the tragic, horrendous situation which prevailed and which many Ukrainians faced at that time, particularly members of the Jewish community. It underlined the importance at a unilateral level of standing in solidarity with Ukraine as it responds to Russian aggression in the Donbas and the continued occupation of the Crimea.

The OSCE does a lot more than just election observation. We value the key role that it plays in regional peace processes. This includes the 5+2 process in Moldova, the Geneva international discussions on the 2008 conflict in Georgia, and the Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh, which my noble friend Lord Bowness referred to. On the wider issues, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, made a practical suggestion on media freedom. This is a key priority for the UK Government. My colleague and honourable friend Minister Morton, who leads on OSCE engagement, met with the representative on freedom of the media, Teresa Ribeiro, just a few weeks ago, on that very point.

The OSCE’s network of field operations in Ukraine, central Asia and the western Balkans all work effectively to support participating states in delivering upon their OSCE commitments. We must not overlook the important work of the parliamentary assembly, which has been mentioned, which brings together representatives of national Parliaments from 57 participating states. As we have heard, those countries are from across Europe and further afield, and have not traditionally been members of the European Union. I assure noble Lords that, as we embark on the vision of global Britain, the OSCE remains an important part of how we strengthen our multilateral work. It provides a valuable forum for dialogue and leads to some very important election observation missions as well.

Therefore, the UK is wholly supportive of the OSCE, both financially and in terms of the principles that it stands for and values in issues of security, and we seek to deploy UK expertise to influence others. I believe that, currently, we have 78 Brits working within the OSCE networks within its institution. In particular, we use the weekly permanent council to hold Russia and other states to account for their actions. A small point, just from my own observations as a Minister, is that, in many multilateral organisations, it is interesting to see the number of countries who might seek to block things or go against the grain yet are very much in the front line when it comes to seeking election to these bodies. It shows perhaps that, if one were to look for a silver lining, a real need is felt by some countries to ensure that they remain part and parcel of discussions and represented around the table.

To look at specific issues, following the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus and brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, the UK and 16 other states within the OSCE triggered the Moscow mechanism. The resulting recommendations provide a real pathway to a peaceful resolution and free and fair elections. We take every opportunity at the OSCE to urge the Belarusian authorities to implement the report’s recommendations.

Since last year, our ambassador to the OSCE—I will of course take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the hospitality that he extends to the delegation back to the ambassador and I thank him for his remarks—has chaired the OSCE’s security committee. This means that the UK influences the agenda on work to tackle serious and organised crime, enhance cybersecurity and deliver the priorities set out in the integrated review, which put diplomacy at the centre of international efforts to counter state threats and build international coalitions.

However, the hard fact is that, as noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, have pointed out, discussions within the OSCE have become steadily more polarised over the past 20 years, which has often led to deadlock. As a consensus-based organisation, there are of course limits as to what it can achieve, often because it is exploited by certain countries—notably Russia. It and others seek to reduce the OSCE’s implementation mechanisms, particularly on important issues of human rights and the mandates of field missions.

The political and military aspects of the OSCE’s work have also encountered significant challenges. Three treaties in particular have contributed greatly to peace and security in Europe since the end of the Cold War: the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which established verifiable limits on specific equipment and personnel; the Vienna Document on confidence and security-building measures; and the Open Skies Treaty, referred to by my noble friend Lord Kirkhope, who talked of his own involvement, which allows unarmed observation flights over members’ territories. It is therefore deeply regrettable that Russia has withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty after its long-standing pattern of non-compliance led the US to do the same last year. We will continue to call on Russia to reconsider its position and to lift its suspension of activities under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. It should also comply with both the letter and the spirit of its commitments under the Vienna Document.

Let me assure noble Lords that the United Kingdom remains a strong supporter of conventional arms control arrangements and further assure my noble friend Lord Kirkhope that we support all elements under these particular arrangements. We supported Ukraine’s use of the measures within chapter 3 of the Vienna Document to seek clarification from Russia following the troop build-up in the Crimea. We will also continue to press Russia to engage constructively, provide transparency and aid de-escalation by supporting the joint proposal to bring the Vienna Document up to date. We will also ensure, as outlined in the integrated review, that the UK remains a strong supporter of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and continues to play a vital role in responding to Russia’s ongoing aggression against the country.

The UK is also a strong supporter of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights—although I do fear the acronym sounding like “Oh dear” sometimes takes away from its effectiveness as a particularly robust institution. It undertakes vital work in deploying missions to observe elections and we are a regular, reliable and generous contributor. This allows the UK to support democracies around the globe, which remains a vital strategic goal.

There are other wide areas of the OSCE’s work, which I do not have time to go into, from combating trafficking to the women, peace and security agenda, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, countering terrorism. These all remain vital areas of work. Let me assure noble Lords of this: while this debate may be short and have a limited number of contributions, the Government’s commitment in terms of the strategic support we extend to the OSCE—financially, through our people and through attendance at meetings—remains very strong and we will continue to be there. The OSCE has played a vital role since its creation nearly half a century ago and we believe it plays a vital role today and will continue to do so tomorrow. We call on all participating states to hold firm to its principles and I assure your Lordships’ Committee that the UK’s commitment to those shared goals remains absolutely resolute.

Sitting suspended.

Exports to Africa

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking (1) to raise awareness among United Kingdom businesses of commercial opportunities in African markets, and (2) to support UK exports to Africa.

My Lords, I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s envoy to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a role that neatly brings together my main political interests: UK SMEs and Africa. Being African-born, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I am slightly biased, but I believe that building stronger trade and diplomatic links with Africa post Brexit should be Britain’s first priority to secure our nation’s prosperity and economic future.

Brexit offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our global posture, to shift our focus away from Europe and back to Africa and to rebuild the ties with, and re-establish a strong presence in, the booming economies of Africa. To put the scale of opportunity into context, Africa’s 54 countries cover a land mass of 30 million square kilometres with very fertile soil. That is bigger than China, the US, Europe, Japan and India put together.

Today Africa accounts for 17% of the world’s population but only 3% of global GDP. However, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050 to 2.5 billion—one-quarter of the world’s population. As Africa’s population goes up, so will demand and consumption in a range of sectors, so there is a real commercial opportunity for the future.

We in the UK look at Africa through a Band Aid lens: a poor continent characterised by poverty, civil war, corruption and dictatorships. However, we are dealing with a new Africa that is embracing free markets, democracy and trade to help drastically increase life expectancy, improve access to education and reduce poverty.

Africa’s young democracies have grown more democratic in the past 30 years. Multiparty elections are common. Opposition parties are gaining ground. Most leaders leave office peacefully rather than in coups. Politics is becoming more competitive. There is a free press and an open society. The job is far from complete and there are still major challenges to doing business in Africa but, as we assess our potential trade partners for the next few decades, it is important that we see Africa as it is now rather than how it was perceived in the 1980s.

Despite many positive sets of economic figures over the past year, our balance of payments remains poor. We have a significant trade deficit for the past four decades that currently stands at over £100 billion a year. In other words, we do not have enough exports to pay for our imports. The UK’s trading relationship with Africa is worth around £27 billion, with £18.5 billion in exports. Not long ago our share of trade was 30%; today it is less than 4%. In comparison, Chinese goods exports to Africa are eight times higher than ours, while we have dropped from being the biggest exporter to the 13th biggest. Most of our large companies left Africa in the early 1980s, including Barclays Bank, which sold its interest last year having been there for more than 100 years.

Perhaps we should see that as a glass half full. By establishing the Department for International Trade in 2016, the Government at least acknowledged a chronic weakness in our economy. The UK is the second largest investor in Africa and our historic ties, particularly with Commonwealth countries, are a major bonus, as is our soft power, with English as a business language.

Africa will continue to develop through this century, with or without our support. We need to be at the forefront of that development, with British firms playing a key role. Through increased trade levels with Africa, we can help to bring about the political and social reforms needed as a by-product, with increased prosperity and stability correlating with increased trade.

What should we be doing now? First, we need a fresh approach to Africa that builds on the deep and historic links we have with the continent and the affection that many Africans have for Britain. Secondly, we need a clear trade plan for each African country, working with our embassies and high commissions to identify the key sectors and opportunities available. Thirdly, the DIT website lists a number of schemes to help businesses, including trade show access, linking businesses with trade advisers and getting local market help. There are a lot of worthwhile ideas involved in the GREAT campaign, but are businesses aware of them? Is it really a comprehensive strategy or just a catchy slogan?

We need to market UK companies, especially SMEs, to showcase the potential Africa has. We need to be advertising regularly, holding trade shows and writing articles on the opportunities available. While the UK-Africa summit was a high-profile beginning to this initiative, there was very little follow-up. We need action on the ground. Global Britain is a fine idea, but it should not be a slogan; it requires re-engagement with emerging markets. Related to that, Ministers are moved too soon and too often. Since 2010, we have had eight Africa Ministers.

I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister will have a list of schemes designed to increase exports ready for his remarks, and I will pre-empt that slightly by saying that the Government do have some worthwhile schemes to help exporters, including UK Export Finance. However, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which came into being at the beginning of this year, will also help by creating the largest free trade area in the world, with 54 countries participating, a population of 1.3 billion and a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion. It will reduce tariffs among member countries, address regulatory measures to ensure high standards, reduce red tape and simplify customs procedures. We need to work with it and make the most of it.

We need to open up African markets and speed up trade agreements. Currently, only eight trade agreements with African countries are in place. We need to create an appetite for UK businesses to increase trade and investment on the continent.

The trade envoy programme is a welcome initiative that can open doors to building contacts. Trade envoys are de facto “Ministers” for the country they cover and can visit more frequently than actual Ministers, allowing our ambassadors to set up important meetings and to work with British businesses and organise trade delegations. However, the trade programme needs to be more entrepreneurial and dynamic if it is to reach its potential. We need to expand the trade envoy programme to cover more African countries.

Without wishing to be self-indulgent, I have witnessed first-hand the tremendous impact the trade envoy programme has had in the region I represent. Our trade with Uganda has gone up fivefold. In fact, a UK company is building an international airport in Uganda, to the tune of £270 million. Just six weeks ago, we managed to sign a trade deal between the Ugandan Government and the British company McDermott, to the tune of $1.9 billion—the largest deal we have done in Africa. Three years ago, I took a mining delegation to Rwanda to negotiate an export contract worth £30 million that involved Arsenal Football Club—despite being a Tottenham supporter.

When I met President Kagame and President Museveni in Kigali, they complained about British Airways having stopped flying to Entebbe, to which it had flown for 60 years. So, I suggested that they set up their own airlines, which they did, acquiring two Airbuses with the help of UK Export Finance, and now there is a direct flight between Kigali and London. Next month, there will be a direct flight between London and Entebbe. It will not be long before there is a direct flight between London and Kinshasa.

On the subject of Kinshasa, DRC is a country with which we have limited trade. It is the richest country on the continent: it has $30 trillion-worth of minerals. Chinese and French influence is wavering, and it is very keen to do business with our country. Some 70% of the world’s supply of cobalt and lithium, which we need for electric cars and batteries, comes from DRC. There is a new democratically elected president in DRC, President Tshisekedi, who I will receive next week for COP 26. He is coming with the largest delegation—150 people.

In conclusion, global Britain will be decided not in the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea but on the continent of Africa. Africa is on the move and poised to play a bigger role in a world that is moving out of the shadows of the past and being replaced by the light that it offers in an interconnected world.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on securing this debate for us and on the succinct way in which he set out the key issues. I want to speak specifically about exports to Africa, with examples of where I believe we have failed in the past but where we might still succeed in future. I say this advisedly, having spent some 20 years as a chartered engineer and senior executive with a leading London firm of consulting engineers responsible for business development and project management, predominantly in Africa—a continent of more than 50 nation states, each complex, individual and, to some degree, developing. In terms of business development, each requires a blend of flexibility, determination and, above all, tenacity to succeed. Add to that another 25 years on parliamentary committees and delegations to the continent, and it brings my experience full circle.

In these situations, it is often helpful to illustrate with a few horror stories, and I make no exception. When the wind of change was still blowing itself out, I was in west Africa project managing international infrastructure projects, and it so happened that the regional Land Rover salesman was passing through on his quarterly sales tour. There he was, going from ministry to ministry, order book in hand and the pages steadily filling—no matter that nothing would be shipped or delivered for 18 months. The trick here was that the basic Land Rover had been the staple transport across the colonies since the late 1940s. Every bush garage knew how to repair them—never mind a manual—and had a scrapyard round the back where Land Rovers beyond repair were gradually being cannibalised for spare parts. But it could not and did not last. Within a decade, Toyota Land Cruisers began to dominate the streets and the market. It really was a genuine offer that you could buy two Land Cruisers for the price of one Land Rover, complete with a modern maintenance and repair service. The illustration of complacency is quite clear.

In more recent times, in the Ministry of Communications in Senegal, I came across a UK technician maintaining a huge industrial photocopier shipped in from the UK. He had been on his own for a week, progressively finding faults which required replacement parts to be airfreighted in from the UK—whereas in Addis Ababa the Ethiopian Government had adopted a new economic and development policy, leading to industrialisation, and a leading French engineering group had opened an office and distribution centre where replacement parts were available off the shelf.

Even more recently, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers here in London—of which I happen to be a graduate—launched a report on its investigation into global food waste and how to reduce it. Reporting to the United Nations, the president of the institution stated that 40% of all food produced in the world went to waste. She then set out a range of measures that could be used to mitigate this. They included investment in high-efficiency, low-cost mobile refrigeration units for road transport, enhanced warehouse and storage design and construction to minimise the impact of extremes of climate, and, most importantly, investment in low-cost transport and transport networks to get produce from farm to market. This is a good example of how science and manufacturing can work together.

Now for the good news case: the science and materials department of a UK university developed a synthetic material that expands and contracts differentially according to its proximity to water. When flexibly welded to a neutral material, it would bend and curl in the same way as a bimetallic strip bends when exposed to heat. Using this material, the scientists produced a tubular product that would curl up on itself when immersed in water, effectively sealing the tube.

In many parts of Africa, tending and irrigating cash crops is challenging. With a self-closing and opening water supply tube, it is a different picture. With a repurposed oil drum acting as a reservoir and a length of bi-expanding tube run from a saucer-shaped depression in the soil surrounding the plant, you are ready. When the saucer is empty, the tube will open, allowing water to flow and irrigate the plant. When the plant is fully watered, the saucer fills, the tube bends and the flow stops. This system is now widely used in Kenya and is sold under licensed patent all over the world. Sadly, the licence is owned by American investors, as no British funding could be found at the time.

These are just a few examples from my business development scrapbook to demonstrate the importance of flexibility, determination and tenacity not just from the exporting organisation but, most importantly, from the state agency alike.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, who brought such technical knowledge and experience to the subject.

I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Popat. He put his finger on the problem, which is a perception lag. In my experience, national stereotypes can last for decades after they have ceased to apply. We still have the stereotype of Americans as rough, ponderous frontiersmen when, as we all know, they are the primmest and politest people in the West. We still have the stereotype of the militaristic German. In fact, if we want to have stereotypes about our German friends, we would be more accurate in seeing them as a nation of right-on pacifists. We still have the stereotype of terrible British food when this city offers a more diverse and subtle range of cuisines than any comparable place on the planet.

So it is with Africa. We grew up seeing images of gun-toting teenagers and flies crawling across the lips of children with swollen bellies, but look at the facts. According to the IMF, Africa will regain its growth rate of 6.5% by 2025. In the same year, the majority of African countries will qualify as middle-income states. Depending on how you measure it, six or seven of the top 10 fastest-growing economies on the planet are in Africa. Africa is the great unremarked and unreported economic success story of the 21st century, but still we have these perception lags. We still tend to think in terms of ongoing duties, almost as a paternalistic former power.

The noble Lord, Lord Popat, put his finger on the solution when he talked about the way in which air links to Entebbe have been restored. The last time I flew there, I had to go through the Netherlands because, as the noble Lord said, British Airways had withdrawn its flights. However, the cut flowers market is a big deal in Uganda, as the noble Lord knows. It seemed extraordinary to me, as well as to many Ugandans, that they had to go through the Netherlands to get to London. How wonderful that there is now a solution that was indigenous to Africa.

My only quibble with the precise wording of the debate before your Lordships is the implication that it is for the Government to make companies aware of opportunities. Governments are not terribly good at that sort of thing; they were not terribly good at installing telephones or building cars, and they are not terribly good at anticipating what business ought to be doing. What Governments, and our Government more specifically, can do in the current situation is identify specific obstacles and barriers to trade and investment and set about dismantling them.

I am thinking not just of removing tariffs, on which, to be fair, most of the heavy lifting has been done—although, as I said on a previous occasion in this Room, there is more to do. I want to look at our opportunities, particularly in services. Africa has a young and increasingly educated population. Again, the spread of educational opportunity on that continent is one of the great unremarked stories of our age. There will be generations of people coming with skills as coders, computer programmers and so on, looking for opportunities to exploit that combination of skills and cheap wage costs in a global market. As an English-speaking and common-law country, we are exceptionally well placed to benefit from links with African states that share those criteria.

Will my noble friend the Minister consider whether we can do more to move towards a template for Commonwealth trade deals with some of the countries that it might otherwise take us a little bit of time to get round to? I understand that we have bandwidth and capacity issues—we are putting together a trade policy at an extraordinary pace after 50 years of not having one—so it may be a while in the normal scheme of things until we get round to the Malawians, or whatever. But surely there are ways for us to offer not a Commonwealth trade deal, because it would not be regional or legal under WTO terms as things stand, but a template on which you can write the name of a country and say, “Here is the basic offer, and you qualify as a Commonwealth nation”. In particular, I would like to see that deal involving a lot of mutual recognition and reciprocity on services.

I finish by reiterating the point my noble friend made. Pliny was supposed to have said, quoting an ancient Greek proverb, that there is always something new—ex Africa semper aliquid novi—but the new thing now is that Africa is becoming very much like everywhere else: a middle-class consumerist society with people who want better things, just like people in North America, Europe or Asia. Therein lies an immense advantage to us as a country if only we would pursue it. We should stop thinking of Africa as an obligation and start thinking of it as an opportunity.

My Lords, that was a tour de force from my noble friend, and I follow it with trepidation. In the run-up to this debate, I read an excellent article in the Law Society Gazette written by Andrew Skipper. In a sentence that jumped out at me, he said:

“Put simply, Africa is a continent, which for a range of geopolitical, demographic and business reasons, will be at the centre of global business in the coming years.”

That was what my noble friend was saying and what my noble friend Lord Popat said in opening this debate.

I welcome this debate and thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Popat on securing it. I declare my interests as set out in the register, which is a rather inadequate way of saying—it is something I disapprove of anyway—that I am involved in two businesses in Africa, one in infrastructure and the other in agricultural commodities.

I put on record my appreciation for the work that my noble friend Lord Popat has done and is doing as trade envoy to Uganda and Rwanda—he has now bravely taken on the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well. I know the work that other trade envoys do across the world, which is remarkable and extremely effective, but nobody works harder or has achieved greater results than my noble friend.

I cannot emphasise enough how a proactive trade envoy such as my noble friend can make a huge difference to opening doors both in relevant countries and within the Government here in the United Kingdom. We have spent an awful lot of time in the last few years, for reasons we all know, talking about our business relationship with Europe. Of course, it is always difficult to open up business opportunities in new countries and new markets—whatever business one is in—but to open up a new market or business in a country that is far away, with a new culture, in a continent that is far away is very difficult at the best of times, so any help that the Government can give to entrepreneurs seeking to do business in Africa is very welcome. Equally, I respect and agree with what my noble friend Lord Hannan said. It is not the Government’s business to fix everything; they cannot fix everything, but where they have a diplomatic presence in countries and an ability to do so, they can open doors, and that is hugely important.

For example, yesterday, here in London, I attended an event hosted by the Ugandan High Commission and the United Kingdom High Commission in Kampala at the same time—so we were here in London and the others were in Kampala; we had them on a screen and they similarly had us on a screen—where there was a discussion with coffee producers, roasters, traders and users of coffee. We discussed all the opportunities to open the doors here in the UK for Ugandan coffee. It is a big business in Uganda; we are huge consumers of coffee in the United Kingdom. We need to put those two together, and they have not really been put together yet. The challenge we face, and we made great strides on it yesterday, is showcasing the best coffees that Uganda has to offer. The opportunities lie with large supermarkets and large roasters opening their doors to Ugandan coffee and creating their own brand of original Ugandan coffee here in England. That is a great new business for both sides. I put on record my congratulations to the Ugandan deputy high commissioner here in London, John Mugerwa, and the United Kingdom high commissioner, Kate Airey, for a really first-class example of what diplomats working for different Governments can do in opening doors and putting that sort of thing together.

There is a huge market not just for coffee but for cocoa, maize, wheat, barley, rice and soya throughout much of Africa. These commodities need to be bought and sold, both for the people of Africa and for the good business they can do. They need to be bought, sold, transported and stored. The market for these is considerably larger in Africa than in Europe. We in the United Kingdom have tremendous expertise in these areas. What plans do the Government have to encourage and facilitate British companies into that market?

My other area of interest is infrastructure. Africa has an almost insatiable and incalculable need—if those are the right words—for better infrastructure. As Africa is now so much more stable than it was, as my noble friend Lord Hannan was saying, it is a good place to do business. It needs roads, ports, airports, hospitals, schools and every other imaginable source of development. Here in the United Kingdom we have a vast pool of expertise in securing such developments, and we need to do whatever we can to help.

I ask my noble friend the Minister to tell the Grand Committee what the Government will do to help open the door for those UK businesses. UK trade export finance is absolutely excellent and has done marvellous work, but it is quite bureaucratic and slow, and it would be great if we could speed it up.

My last point is something that we talk about a lot in this House from time to time: soft power. Soft power in Africa for us means that, although at the moment we are looking at our colonial past, we need also to bear in mind that people in Africa seem, for various reasons, to have respect and affection for us. Most of them do business in law based on English law. That is a huge advantage and one we should use. I hope we will do that in future.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Popat, made an outstanding introduction. His drawing attention to the necessity for a fresh start was spot-on. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, that too much is often asked from government. What government can bring is assistance and funding. With funding, we will be in a good position.

Nothing will give more satisfaction than the words of the Chancellor noting that the UK is entering an “age of optimism” with the mantra of global Britain becoming a reality. However, we will not achieve positive results by carrying on as in days of old: relying on historical associations which, with today’s digital world and the proximity of near-neighbour markets, have not stood by for the UK to return to the fold.

It can be said that we carry certain advantages in Africa and can reasonably expect a warm welcome in traditional Anglo-African markets. We should not, however, take anything for granted. We must compete and explore new marketplaces. The bedrock to success must surely be expressed in terms of identifying and fulfilling overseas market opportunities in non-traditional locations. Africa is made up of disparate associations past—anglophone, francophone, lusophone and North African—all rich in culture and opportunity.

My contribution today attempts to move away from Commonwealth links and look to opportunities often overlooked by British interests. The francophone world is keen to extend dialogue beyond the clutches of Paris and is looking to link with the Anglo-Saxon world. At this point, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the register.

The francophone Africa region, once the preserve of France, presents increased opportunity for investors and businesses. With increased investment in infrastructure and improved business environments, it is expected to show some of the fastest regional growth rates in Africa. As an example of increased infrastructure spending and diversification, Côte d’Ivoire is projected to be the fastest-growing economy. Cameroon represents a market of more than 50 million people, making francophone Africa viewed as a must-do region. Ernst and Young has identified Côte d’Ivoire with agriculture, Senegal with tourism, and countries such as Cameroon, Gabon and the Republic of Congo as reliant on the oil and gas industry. Mining is also growing in prominence in countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger. In terms of a regional hub, I normally associate either Casablanca, Abidjan or Dakar as good places from which to make inroads into the francophone world.

Moving on, the African Continental Free Trade Area is making Africa’s Portuguese-speaking countries an attractive destination for investor interest, with incentives for investors. Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique and São Tomé are diverse. They have a common heritage and language, and all have close ties with Portugal and Brazil. Public-private sector partnership investments and technical assistance projects are enabling the private sector with access to finance. Although our excellent ambassador in Lisbon, Chris Sainty, will probably not thank me for saying so, Portugal could be considered a gateway.

I am conscious of not overstaying my welcome this afternoon, but I wish to conclude with a final word on north Africa. Africa is Africa and should not be defined in terms of sub-Saharan Africa, which, by definition, excludes the important markets that stretch from the Maghreb to the Arab-speaking countries of Libya and Egypt. North Africa is a region of strategic importance to us, not least as an important energy provider. The Government might wish to consider, for example, unlocking energy supplies to the UK by supporting the trans-Saharan pipeline project, long in the making but not as complicated it seems, with the strategy of just joining up the dots of the disparate pipelines that exist from, for example, Nigeria up to the Mediterranean. Many opportunities for trade exist, beyond building regional value chains but integrating them into global value chains. Regional economic integration, combined with new technologies, would bring a plethora of opportunities.

Knowing that he understands, let me share a direct thought with the Minister. I urge the establishment of a global unit in his department, should one not currently exist, to identify opportunities that transcend language and legal frameworks, possibly providing a matchmaker operation as a winning formula centred around all-important local partnership, which is essential in avoiding pitfalls and providing solutions to local complexities.

My Lords, as always, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord on the areas of principle in trade with the continent, both the distinct north and south. He and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, raised the areas of general principle in this debate, while the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and my noble friend Lord Chidgey raised specific examples to illustrate. I join them in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on bringing this debate to us and introducing it so well. I also commend him for, remarkably, putting loyalty to his country before loyalty to his football club. Not all people would do that; we will make sure that we do not send Hansard to north-east London, just to save his skin.

The noble Lord showed how many areas of this are positive in looking at the growth potential within the continent as a whole; it will become a quarter of the world’s population, as he said. This is also a massive market; it will be the most innovative, youthful and potentially entrepreneurial continent on earth. Notwithstanding the tragedy of Sudan, where I was scheduled to be next Friday, the growth in the stable economies and progress of some of the SDGs, the 2063 African Union strategy and the immensely ambitious African continental free trade area all represent huge, positive opportunity. Africa is the continent of opportunity for the United Kingdom; I agree that this mindset is how we must see it.

However, analysis by Dirk Willem te Velde of the Overseas Development Institute has shown that trade with Africa is now back to 2003-05 levels. In many areas, there is a decline. Imports from Africa since 2021 have been the lowest in a decade. The impact of preference erosion with the UK global tariffs, as well as other technical barriers, is also seeing imports from Africa struggle in many sectors. To see this grow, there must be a change not only in mindset but in strategic approach. One area of concern was raised in this House by the International Relations Committee, which I served on, in its inquiry into sub-Saharan Africa. It analysed what it described as the new strategic approach. In paragraphs 82 and 83, the committee highlighted this:

“It is not a strategy, but rather some broad ideas and themes, and there is little clarity on how the Government plans to put it into action … Communication of the new ‘strategic approach’ to Africa has been confused and confusing … and has relied on jargon”.

There is a need for much more specific plans as far as taking the opportunities that exist is concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Popat, indicated that the churn of Ministers is seen by many of our African colleagues as meaning that the UK Government are not taking this opportunity seriously. In the last 25 years, there have been 20 Ministers for Africa. The lack of consistency in the strategic approach is an issue.

However, I welcome that the UK is supporting the ODI in its work with the secretariat of the African Union on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. It has presented an enormously challenging agenda, especially for phase two of that approach, looking at competition and digital trade. This will also lead to key strategic decisions that will have to be made on the regulation of digital trade, the design of the investment protocols, dispute mechanisms and eroding tariff barriers in intra-country trade.

I agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, that the Commonwealth members have a great opportunity here with not just bringing forward Commonwealth standards and a Commonwealth approach but using a network of consensus and agreement in working with others who are working with Africa when the Africa free trade area is making some of these key strategic decisions. In many respects, in shorthand, this is about whether it is a Chinese, an American or a European approach. I think part of the mindset is saying that there will be an African approach. Therefore, we have to take that relationship very seriously, so I welcome the Government’s support for that work.

I hope that the Minister can give positive remarks on UK aid for trade. He knows that I have asked him repeatedly about us honouring our treaty obligations in the continuity trade agreements. So far, I have not been satisfied that the Government will honour commitments to support the implementation of these trade agreements.

I want to end with a request to the Minister on a proposal that has been put forward by the ODI and others, including myself as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trade out of Poverty. There is a ripe opportunity for a joint UK-Africa prosperity commission. Theo Clarke MP and I met with the former Africa Minister, James Duddridge, to present a case for a UK-Africa prosperity commission, looking at trade barriers, investment opportunities and critical aspects such as the approach of credit rating companies, the UK City of London, legal frameworks and of course aid for trade support and capacity building.

To take advantage of the enormous potential there is for Africa, the UK needs a coherent and specific plan of action. I hope the Minister might find time to meet with me and colleagues to discuss the opportunities for a UK-Africa prosperity commission, focused primarily on investment, so we can start to realise the enormous potentials that the noble Lord, Lord Popat, has indicated.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for bringing the important subject of trade with African countries to the attention of the House. With his Ugandan background, he has many notable insights, as Africa continues to present huge challenges to the world from both its colonial past and its own internal problems.

African countries are vastly different from each other in so many ways, including in religion, culture, terrain, economy, development and relationships. In its new status since leaving the EU, with continuity agreements, interim associations or new agreements, Britain now has eight trade agreements with Africa. On the face of it, that is perhaps not a huge number, yet trade between the UK and these countries was worth just under £17 billion in 2019, almost 49% of total African trade that year. Some £11 billion, two-thirds of that £17 billion in trade, was with South Africa, a Commonwealth partner and the UK’s biggest trading partner on the continent. However, this is but a mere 1.2% of all UK trade in 2019.

The Government’s stated ambition is for the UK to be the biggest G7 investor into Africa by 2022—not very far away—on the basis of its post-Brexit ability to agree trade deals and Britain’s historic ties with many African countries. The Government are a long way from achieving that ambition. Indeed, Africa is not just a small part of UK trade, it is a shrinking destination for the UK, with UK goods exports to the whole continent accounting for only 2.6% of total UK goods exports in 2019, down from 4.1% in 2012. Does the Minister have a clear understanding of why that has happened?

We have heard of the many challenges throughout this debate. The fading attraction of UK trade is illustrated by the fact that only 16 of Africa’s 54 heads of state or Government attended the January 2020 UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, compared with the dozens who attended the Russia-Africa Summit that year and attend China’s regular trade summits.

As my noble friend Lord Boateng, chair of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, has said, we have a lot of catching up to do if we are to make the most of what is an historic opportunity to recast the relationship between Africa and the UK away from it being seen solely as a philanthropic exercise, to an opportunity that requires investment, risk-taking and support from the Government for British companies. Can the Minister say what is going to change?

The UK-Africa Investment Summit in January this year was a high-profile beginning to the effort to increase trade and investment significantly. Concerted follow-up will be required. Can the Minister set out the steps that the Government are taking in this respect? The Government provided a detailed response to your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee’s report last year, recognising the challenge as

“a long-term and cross-Government endeavour.”

There were many misgivings that the Government’s merging of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development to form the FCDO could work effectively to recognise both the need for aid to encourage development and entrepreneurial relationships to encourage trade. Can the Minister say how his department, the Department for International Trade, is supporting and working with this new department to encourage as a priority throughout potential trading communities that benefits will accrue and be shared with all citizens who create wealth and not merely the top African leaders?

There is also much that Africa needs to do itself to encourage trade, especially around its governance and regulations. Infrastructure in energy, water, communications and logistics should be improved to attract investment. There is much that can be facilitated by the UK. In the final week before COP 26 in Glasgow, that transformation must also include measures to reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience and adaptation to climate change. In its report, your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee also called on the Government to extend their announcement that they will no longer invest in new coal mining, by going further and committing to ceasing all promotion and credit funding of fossil fuel investments. Can the Minister clarify the Government’s position on this?

Finally, the world is still in the grip of a Covid pandemic. While the Government have, to date, committed generous funding to the global COVAX scheme, they have yet to agree the WTO approach to suspending intellectual property protections. A waiver of vaccine patents is one necessary step towards boosting the global vaccine rollout. Many of us put forward a 10-point plan to boost global vaccines to encourage production and distribution. Can the Minister say in his reply to this debate what proposals the Government are now considering to enhance the COVAX scheme?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for raising this important question today and giving me the opportunity to share the Government’s vital work with countries across Africa to increase trade and prosperity. I will speak later, if I may, about the excellent work that my noble friend does in this area. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed today for the expertise that, as always, has been on display.

We already have strong trade and investment relationships with countries across the continent, but the Government are committed to going further. I very much support the pressure that noble Lords put on us in this area. I particularly share the aspiration that my noble friends Lord Popat and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere have in this area. I also absolutely recognise the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, about the opportunities available to us in the francophone area, and I will ensure that those are followed up. The long-term opportunities that exist in Africa are truly staggering. By 2050, one in four global consumers will live in Africa and we are committed to increasing trade between the UK and Africa and between Africa and the global economy.

In January 2020, at the UK-Africa Investment Summit held in London, the Prime Minister set the ambition for the UK to become Africa’s investment partner of choice. As the UK’s Minister for Investment, I endorse that aim. The summit laid the foundation for new partnerships between UK and African nations based on trade, investment and our shared values. We have announced £6.5 billion of investment deals, with a further £8.9 billion of commitments at the time of the summit. I am pleased to say that despite the pandemic—and we do not always see this—not one of these deals has been lost since then. In January this year, as a follow-up, we held the Africa Investment Conference to mark the anniversary of that summit. The conference brought together 3,000 delegates, including over 1,000 business delegates from more than 40 African nations, and north of 1,000 business representatives from across every region and nation of the UK. I do not think there can be any better evidence of the opportunities than the fact that businesses small and large came together at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, is of course absolutely right that these conferences mean nothing without follow-up afterwards, and part of my role is to ensure that that is done.

I hope I can reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that the DIT’s Africa network plays a vital role in helping UK businesses seize opportunities in African markets. It supports commercial projects through its expert advice to companies and works with local officials to encourage UK investment. I believe that our newly independent trade policy is enabling us to reduce barriers to entering African markets and offers increased access to the UK. As we have heard, we have already negotiated nine trade agreements covering 16 countries across Africa that represented almost £22 billion of bilateral trade in 2019. My noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere gives way to no one in his enthusiasm for using free trade agreements to bolster Commonwealth ties, and I really share his aspirations in this area. I see free trade agreements with our Commonwealth friends as a way of rejuvenating and expanding the role of the Commonwealth going forward.

Our generalised scheme of preferences is reducing tariffs on imports from developing countries, further enabling trade. A public consultation on our proposed new developing countries trading scheme—DCTS—has just closed. Policy options are being developed with the aim that the new DCTS is simpler, more generous and less bureaucratic than our current system. I share the belief of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in the importance of this; he has raised it with me in the past. My noble friend Lord Hannan is completely right that while removing trade barriers is of course a Government-to-Government activity, the heavy lifting in this area has to be done by the private sector and it is our job to facilitate this. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is also right to stress the importance of door opening in this area.

I will quickly turn back to my noble friend Lord Popat, who is of course one of our 11 trade envoys in Africa, appointed by the Prime Minister. They enhance our trade with the continent by building on the UK’s existing relationships in these markets and joining trade missions to identify export opportunities. Nobody is more hard-working or conscientious in this area than my noble friend Lord Popat in his role as the trade envoy to Uganda and Rwanda over the past five years. Today, we heard some of the practical outcomes of his work, and I thank him for that on behalf of the Government.

Supporting economic growth in Africa is a key priority for the Government. Our vision is to do this through a trading partnership geared towards a safer, greener and healthier continent, one that is ever more resilient to shocks and stresses. We are determined to support countries across the continent to build back better from the pandemic. As I said earlier, the private sector will have a key role to play here, but the Government will be on hand to support exports. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, who of course spoke from real practical expertise in this area. I think I probably detected a fellow Land Rover enthusiast.

We are launching a refreshed export strategy designed with the needs of our business at its heart. We want to give businesses the flexibility, resilience and capabilities that they need to thrive in this fast-changing global environment. Picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I will ensure that opportunities in Africa are fully taken account of in that strategy.

Demand for UK Export Finance in Africa is booming. It supported more than £2 billion-worth of projects in Africa in 2020-21, which is of course helping us to deliver on our strategy to make the UK Africa’s trading partner of choice. Of course, it is absolutely right and proper that many of these projects have a sustainable impact on the continent. For example, a UKEF loan to the Ghanaian Government will help UK-based Aqua Africa to provide clean drinking water for 225,000 people across the country. However, I will pass on my noble friend Lord Mancroft’s points about the importance of speed and the reduction of bureaucracy as far as possible in this area.

In investment, as many have retracted from Africa, I was very pleased to see that, last week, the CDC Group, our development-oriented private equity business, together with DP World, announced a £1.7 billion partnership to accelerate Africa’s trade potential and improve the economic prospects of millions of people, starting in the ports of Berbera, Dakar and Sokhna. The CDC, working together in partnership with others to bring sustainable investment opportunities to Africa, will become increasingly important. I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary shares my aspirations in this.

African Governments need to create conditions that attract the private sector and provide a stable environment for investors. We all know that a better-educated, healthier workforce will create the entrepreneurs, start-ups and consumers of tomorrow. Improving access to education and health will help us to deliver the transformational change that the African continent needs to secure growth in the future.

We have heard today many references to the African continental free trade agreement. I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the opportunities that this presents. We are pleased to be supporting the secretariat with some practical help. When it is fully implemented, this agreement stands to boost intra-Africa trade by up to one-third, establishing a common African market with a combined GDP of £2.5 trillion and a population of 1.3 billion people. I am very pleased that, in September this year, Ministers signed a memorandum of understanding with the secretariat of the ACFTA, to continue to provide support. It is a testament to our commitment to the continent that the UK is the only non-African country to have entered into such an agreement.

Throughout the G7 presidency we are working with other development finance institutions to increase ambition on investment into Africa in the post-Covid world. I have already had various approaches from sovereign wealth funds elsewhere in the world, to see whether they can join us in this important initiative.

Finally, I emphasise that all the previous steps—we often say this in our House—need to be underpinned by our concern for the environment. Investment and development finance will increasingly flow, and should flow, to those who have clear, sustainable growth plans. COP 26 will provide an opportunity to champion a green economic recovery from Covid-19 across the continent and the rest of the world.

I truly believe that this Government and British business have a significant role to play in Africa’s brighter future. I believe that it is only through trade and investment that countries across Africa can continue to grow and prosper. I am happy to meet the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, to discuss further how we can push prosperity in Africa.

I have tried to deal with as many questions as possible that were raised today. I am conscious that, as always, I have not answered all those that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, raised. If I may, I will write to him on some of his specific questions.

I reassure noble Lords that the UK will be on hand to support African countries every step of the way. I must thank again my noble friend Lord Popat for being such a champion for African trade and industry and for allowing us to debate this important topic today.

My Lords, I apologise for intervening but I would like to draw attention to Emeka Anyaoku, who was Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. He emphasised the importance of a consultative process at the invitation of countries in Africa to consider, sector by sector, what can be done between those sectors in African countries and their opposite number in this country to see how we can work together. I want to put that on record.

Committee adjourned at 4.57 pm.