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Lords Chamber

Volume 818: debated on Tuesday 25 January 2022

House of Lords

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Water Industry Reform


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reform the United Kingdom’s water industry.

My Lords, this Government have made improving water quality a priority and have introduced reforms to enable that. The Environment Act has modernised water resource planning, introduced new duties to reduce storm overflow discharges, and made drainage planning statutory. The draft strategic policy statement to Ofwat has set a new course so that the industry can deliver more for the environment, customers and the climate. If we do not see improvements, we will take further action.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Environment Act. This Act is ineffective because it has no set timetable or targets to clean up our water. There has been a stream of reports calling for action, all of which call for infrastructure investment by the water companies and for more action and less complacency from the regulator. But, after increasing dividends and company debt, most water companies are in no position to carry out the necessary investment. Indeed, one industry executive said that the water companies were spending more on maintaining their assets, which are deteriorating, rather than replacing them. Does the Minister agree that this situation is a danger to public health and risks creating our very own homegrown pandemic?

Water companies have invested £160 billion in a modernised infrastructure. I disagree with the noble Lord about the Environment Act; it sets out a very clear direction of travel for water companies and others to clean up our waterways. But I refer him to the strategic policy statement to Ofwat. It has been released in draft and will be laid before the House in the next few weeks, and it will add to it targets for improvement.

My Lords, our basement flat in Westminster has twice been flooded seriously with sewage-contaminated water as a result of the water companies opening their sluice gates at times of heavy rainfall. The cost of renovating the flat and its contents has been expensive. Going forward, surely property owners need to have renovation costs financed by the relevant water companies.

I am sorry to hear about the noble Lord’s problems. The overflows into the Thames are activated by relatively small amounts of rainfall. That is why £1.4 billion is being spent on a new super-sewer, which will deal with those sewage overflows and, I hope, limit the problems to Thames Water bill payers.

I apologise to the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, has indicated his wish to speak virtually, and I think this might be a convenient time.

My Lords, Seven Trent and Wessex Water told Gloucestershire county councillors that they had no plans to ever stop dumping sewage, while Thames Water said it intended to stop only by 2050. None of the companies believes that the Government’s Environment Act will change their behaviour. Is this another example of how arrogance, indolence and ignorance freeze the government machine, while our rivers are polluted with raw sewage and water companies rake in the profits? Should we not freeze water bills and directors’ pay and ban dividends until the problem is stopped once and for all?

I believe the noble Lord will find that, if these water companies think that the provisions of the Environment Act and in the statutory policy statement by Ofwat mean that they will be able to carry on releasing sewage at the current level, they have a very serious other think coming.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Question relates to the United Kingdom dimension. He will also be aware that water is largely devolved as far as Wales is concerned. In fact, the main provider in Wales is a not-for-profit company. In these circumstances, will he ensure that any new policy initiatives he might be contemplating will be undertaken only after full discussion with the Welsh Government to ensure that there is co-ordination, particularly along an open border, where there is responsibility on both sides by both authorities?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Many water issues cross the border, not least the polluting of rivers on either side of the border. They require a very joined-up approach, not just between Governments but between water companies and farming interests.

My Lords, is it not the case that our rivers are an absolute disgrace and the worst in Europe? Do we not need to sack the regulator and his group, introduce new legislation and have a Government who back the regulator?

This Government and the regulator are absolutely determined to see an improvement to the situation of sewage being released into rivers. Part of that problem is releases of sewage from water companies, part of it is from farming and part of it is from point-source pollution. It requires a holistic approach. I refer the noble Lord to the statutory policy statement, which has been released in draft and will be laid before Parliament in the next few weeks. It will give him the assurance I think he requires.

My Lords, there also needs to be proper enforcement regarding water quality. The Environment Agency has seen its funding cut by 60% in recent years, reducing its capacity to carry out monitoring and enforcement activity. Prosecutions for environmental crime in England plummeted by 86% between 2000 and 2019 and the number of charges also fell by 84%. Does the Minister recognise that, if the Government truly are serious about tackling pollution in our rivers, they must fund the Environment Agency properly so that it can do the job it was set up to do?

Defra and its agencies received an extra £4.3 billion in the latest spending review in October 2021. We have made extra budget available to the Environment Agency for 50 extra inspectors to be recruited in this financial year to visit farms and other sources of water pollution to ensure that action is taken.

My Lords, what has come of the proposal for a national water grid, which seems to have been pending for a very long time?

The noble Lord raises an important point. Under the way we economically value water, it is extremely expensive to move it around the country, from areas that have a lot of rain to those that do not. That economic modelling will change very quickly if we continue to have serious droughts, and we have to remain open to moving water between water company areas in a much more joined-up way.

My Lords, will my noble friend pay tribute to Yorkshire Water, which has invested in such a grid for the region? Will he also ensure that, where appropriate, water companies and drainage authorities will be part of the catchment management system?

There is a sort of grid, which allows you to move water from Yorkshire as far down as Ipswich, using a variety of different means. Following the disastrous situation in the early 2000s, Yorkshire Water created a much more balanced infrastructure, which has worked for it and needs to be copied by others.

My Lords, this Government seem to be suffering from inaction in many departments at the moment, for various reasons. This subject has cropped up on numerous occasions in your Lordships’ House. Are the Government really serious about doing something about it, or are they simply going through the motions?

I have heard that one before. This is a very important matter for my department. I can assure the noble Lord that I and my fellow Ministers talk to each other about this on a weekly basis. A whole range of measures is being brought forward, and together these measures will continue to make a difference. What we need most of all is continued investment in the infrastructure, some of which goes back to Edwardian times and does not reflect the fact that large numbers of new houses and businesses now exist and require that infrastructure to service them.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer, as set out in the register. Can the Minister please confirm that any measures to reform the UK water industry are taken after full consultation with all the interested parties in that industry? The Environment Agency’s interpretation of the 2018 farming rules for water did not do that, and as a result farming companies, water companies and microbiologists all witnessed damage to the environment, their businesses and so on. Please can there be consultation?

I entirely understand the point the noble Lord makes; that measure was brought in in a less than perfect way. But we have a problem; we have rivers that need to be cleaned up. Government tries to sit between, on the one hand, requiring business to do something and, on the other, supporting the regulator. We hope we get it right, but we do not always.

Rape Trials


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the proportion of rape allegations that go to trial.

My Lords, the rape review action plan has committed to transforming the criminal justice system to tackle systemic failures on rape. In that, we demonstrate our commitment to transparency and public accountability throughout. Our aims are to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, to increase the numbers of victims who stay engaged in the process and to build better and stronger cases so that more people are charged and, ultimately, more rapists go to prison.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I will just remind the House how appalling the statistics are: only 1.6% of reported rape allegations result in a court case. As the Minister said, the Government’s response has been to put in place the rape review action plan. On 22 January the CPS published its latest statistics regarding the handling of rape. Five categories of data were published; they showed either a flatlining of the data or a modest improvement. Is the Minister happy with that improvement, or does he think he should put in place some targets?

My Lords, I acknowledge the data that the noble Lord has placed before the House. I suggest that it is not so much a matter of imposing targets as one of following through on the Government’s approach, which will see an increase in spending over the lifetime of this Parliament and involve more special training for police officers and prosecutors in this area. Finally, although, as I have said, I acknowledge the statistics that the noble Lord has placed before your Lordships, it is important to recognise that the data is necessarily retrospective and relates to times before the Government’s actions, as set out in the action plan, commenced.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that, in the Attorney-General’s regular meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions, she will hold the director to account for the chilling effect of recent changes in CPS charging guidance in relation to rape? Surely it is in the hands of the DPP that the awful statistics can be improved and victims given a proper hearing.

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I remind the House that, of course, as the noble Lord is well aware, we are dealing not simply with the role of government but with necessarily independent bodies, upon which our constitution relies—it relies on the independence of the judiciary and of prosecutors—but I can give the noble Lord the assurance that he seeks.

My Lords, the End Violence Against Women Coalition reported that, as a result of funding cuts in recent years, two-fifths of police forces in England and Wales no longer have a specialist rape and serious sexual offences unit, thereby losing vital expertise in investigating and prosecuting sexual violence. At a time when rape prosecutions remain at their lowest level on record and rape survivors face some of the longest delays to their cases reaching trial of any victims of crime, are the Government serious about prioritising tackling sexual violence against women and girls?

My Lords, this Government are indeed serious about addressing the matters that the noble Baroness has placed before the House. I am able to give the noble Baroness some assurances in relation to figures. We are on track to recruit a further 20,000 police officers by the end of this Parliament. Over 100 prosecutors have undertaken induction training on rape and serious sexual offences—RASSO as it is known—while 674 prosecutors have been trained in a suspect-centred approach; that means focusing the investigation on the suspect and shifting away from the idea that it is the function of the police somehow to challenge the complainer’s account of events. Furthermore, by the end of this financial year, 176 prosecutors will have been trained and skilled in the assessment of the impact of trauma on memory. All these measures will enhance the ability of the system to address these extremely serious crimes.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging the issue of resources in relation to sexual offences, in particular, and for the other commitments that he has made, but does he agree that the culture of misogyny in our police service is leading women not to have the confidence they need to come forward? I refer noble Lords to reporting overnight of the case of the Nottingham academic who was strip-searched in police custody in circumstances that can be described only as a sexual assault.

My Lords, the expression “misogyny”, and the extent, meaning and parameters of that expression, are currently under consideration. Beyond that I do not intend to provide any further answer.

My Lords, what are the chances of investigating and prosecuting serious sexual offences when 70% of victims are regarded at the time of the attack as vulnerable, sometimes due to alcohol and sometimes to age or mental illness? This means that the prosecution decisions can be quite difficult when the account of the victim is regarded as inconsistent. We never know how juries accept their evidence, and we never have any research into how juries reach their verdicts. I wonder whether this area is something on which the Government would consider instigating proper research to find out what it is that influences a jury. It is not always the things that we believe make a difference.

I can tell the House that there is work currently under way by the Law Commission to address misconceptions in this field. The expression often used is “rape myths”, although I am not sure that I am especially fond of that. I think “misconceptions” better addresses and refers to the topic raised by the noble Lord.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that modern technology has, ironically, made rape a more difficult crime to investigate because it depends on victims having confidence in the process? Many young women are not prepared to allow their cell phones to be seized and trawled through for months on end by the police. What are the Government doing to address this dilemma without compromising justice?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely important point. In relation to the end-to-end review and action plan, which the Government have published, we have set up a means by which people coming forward with complaints of rape can be confident that they will receive mobile telephones, so they will not be deprived of their use or their contacts and data. At the same time, we will be doing our best to strengthen the investigation of crimes so that complainers do not feel that their personal lives are being unduly pried into or that their rights to privacy are disturbed.

My Lords, would the Minister like to have another go at answering the question put to him by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, leaving aside the question of misogyny but answering the question about culture?

The culture of the police is an extremely broad topic. I regret if I seemed to have ducked the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, but these are extremely wide issues, which lie beyond the remit of my ability to answer today.

Wet Wipes: Disposal


Asked by

We have launched a call for evidence exploring options to tackle the issues caused by wet wipes. We are seeking views on mandatory flushability standards, mandatory labelling to indicate how wipes should be disposed of, an extended producer responsibility scheme, and a ban on wet wipes containing plastic, with exemptions for medical purposes. Responses to the call for evidence will inform our next steps.

My Lords, I recognise that wet wipes are part of the consultation mentioned by the Minister, but given the enormous amount of damage that they do, both to the environment and in causing sewer blockages, and given too that there is cross-party support for a ban in both Houses of Parliament, will the Government bring forward measures very soon, either by secondary legislation under the Environment Act or by giving government time and support to the recent Bill presented in the House of Commons by Fleur Anderson MP?

The Government wish to reflect the cross-party support for action on this, and will be moving quickly, following this call for evidence and the analysis of it. We are, in spirit, behind the Bill that the noble Baroness talked about, but we think there are more complications that we want to iron out before we bring forward legislation. If she can be patient with the response to the call for evidence, I think we will all find ourselves on the same page.

My Lords, anyone who saw the BBC “Panorama” programme last April about river pollution will remember how much of the riverbed of the Thames was covered in a layer of plastic wet wipes and other domestic products. Have the Government made any assessment of the effect on the health of our rivers from this very unpleasant layer of domestic plastic waste that covers so much of our riverbeds?

Like every Member of this House, I was repulsed by the fatberg found under the streets of London a few months ago, which was largely created out of wet wipes. The Marine Conservation Society says that wet wipes were the third most common type of litter found on beaches in Great Britain in 2020 and that 93% of the material that causes sewer blockages comes from wet wipes, so there is an urgency in dealing with this issue. We really want to get rid of the plastic that exists within wet wipes and to make sure that parent groups’ fears are alleviated, but we also do not want to cause other environmental problems by replacing plastic with other materials that would then be damaging to the environment in how they were harvested. There are complications that we need to deal with, but I share the noble Duke’s concerns.

My Lords, the Minister has just said that this matter is urgent but he has also asked us to be patient. We know that, in addition to what the noble Duke has said about blockages in sewers piling up on our riverbanks and foreshores, it is costing water companies about £100 million a year to clean up these blockages and the pollution, and those costs are being passed on to the consumer. It is not a question of being patient; this is a very particular issue. We know that there are sustainable non-plastic alternatives so I cannot understand why it is taking the Government quite so long to process this when there are alternatives and the issue needs urgent action now. Can he reassure us that there is urgency in the actions that he is taking?

I hope I can. This issue is an absolute priority for us and fits in very well with a string of measures that the Government have taken in recent years to tackle plastics and the pollution effects that they have caused. In some cases the plastics in wet wipes are polyester, in some cases they are viscous—that is, they bind the fabric together—and sometimes they are spun into it.

Concerns have been raised by health organisations that wish to continue to use wet wipes because they see them as fundamental to hygiene in hospitals and other places. I hope that this year we will find a solution that reflects the results of our call for evidence, that we will move forward and that everyone supporting the Bill in the other place and here, and everyone who shares my concerns about this pollution problem, will find a solution that we can all be happy with.

My Lords, with 11 billion wet wipes being used every year in this country and 90% of them containing plastic, the public are understandably in need of better and clearer information. Indeed, the flushable standards are voluntary. Can the Minister reassure the House that the flushable standards and the lack of use of plastic will be an urgent priority? Can he give us any timeline for when that might happen?

Currently, Water UK defines plastic as

“synthetic organic material (e.g. petro chemical derived plastic fibres)”.

Water UK has said that that Fine to Flush, the standard that it is applying, contains the flexibility to change within the evolving definition of plastics and that the standard is awarded only for a two-year to three-year period to enable it to be up to date. The Government are working with the industry to find solutions, but ultimately it is for the Government to regulate and we will do so.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that “biodegradable” has become a bit of a weasel word as time has gone on and that it is now a very powerful bit of marketing language that does not always properly describe what you have to look at the small print to find out, which is that things that are biodegradable sometimes also contain plastic? Can he assure the House that the language used in marketing products will not be misleading in that way?

There are many products that we were all told years ago were biodegradable but have now discovered are not, or which may be biodegradable to the eye but break down into microplastics. That is the problem with wet wipes: very often the material may disappear but the plastic is the problem and continues to cause problems in our environment. The noble Baroness is absolutely right.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the principle that the polluter will pay is actually passed down to the producers of these items and they will ultimately be picking up the bill? Would the Minister like to speculate on just how that would improve the development of acceptable replacements?

It is a very similar philosophical point to that raised by disposable nappies. These are created by manufacturers but used by all of us who have children. We need to find a way of giving a clear direction to the industry that one particular type of product will no longer be allowed. Then the industry will innovate and find affordable solutions that the consumer can use. That is the perfect sweet spot to hit when you are trying to regulate against these measures. The precautionary principle is also vital. When talking about biodegradable waste, if there is uncertainty in what we are doing, sometimes we just have to take the precautionary approach.

My Lords, plastics and wet wipes have an impact on our fishing industry and marine environment—on both the catching and the processing sectors. In view of the impact on our hospitality industry and wider society, can the Minister provide us with a timetable that will indicate the implementation of the regulations and an acceptance of the Bill going through the other place that will diminish and eradicate the impact of plastics on our land and marine environments?

We will be working with the proposer of this Bill, Fleur Anderson, to make sure that she understands what we are trying to do alongside her Bill. There are no state secrets here. We will be sharing all the data we get as a result of this call for evidence. We can inform your Lordships about when we are bringing forward measures within the provisions of the Environment Act or other forms of legislation as quickly as possible, recognising the urgency that everybody feels.

Ukraine: Military and Non-military Support


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further (1) military, and (2) non-military, support they will offer to the government of Ukraine to deter the threat of an invasion by Russian forces.

My Lords, we unequivocally support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that is why the United Kingdom has provided considerable military support to the Government of Ukraine through Operation Orbital and the assistance announced by the Defence Secretary on 17 January, as well as a range of economic assistance measures and diplomatic engagement.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. The Prime Minister has rightly signalled today that UK forces will be part of NATO’s defence of its borders, but surely the focus must continue to be on increasing support for Ukraine itself to deter this heinous act of aggression. In addition to punishing economic sanctions, will the Government make clear that lethal military support for our partner will be increased and ongoing in the event of further incursion?

The noble Lord will be aware that under Operation Orbital we have offered a range of military support since 2015. That is continuing. The recently announced ongoing package is a part of that. Another part of it is a maritime training initiative. We have a range of support measures and will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine to defend itself if that becomes necessary.

My Lords, having been involved in many a deal with foreign nations over the donation of military equipment, all too often we supply that which we have in surplus as opposed to what the nation needs. Can my noble friend assure me that that will not be a limiting factor in this case and that any donations of further military kit will be done in co-ordination with our NATO allies?

Yes, I reassure my noble friend that any donations are made within the limitations of ensuring that we have residual supplies for our normal operational needs. These donations—he is quite correct to emphasise that that is what they are— are specific: to aid self-defence if that need should arise.

My Lords, the UN charter authorises the Security Council and General Assembly to take action against any nation that jeopardises world peace. What discussions have we had with our men at the UN to see if any action is going to take place? While understanding that the Security Council would be vetoed by Russia, there are other actions that might help and would show the opprobrium in which the world holds Putin’s actions.

The noble Lord will understand that there has been a range of diplomatic and military engagement by the United Kingdom Government, not least by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary. As to whether that extends to speaking to the men—or, may I say, women—in the United Nations, I do not have specific information, but I can assure him that the widest possible diplomatic activity has been embarked upon.

The noble Lord, Lord Walney, suggested that we should be thinking about direct support for Ukraine, but what support are we also giving to our allies in NATO, particularly in the Baltic states? We obviously have a presence in Estonia—are we increasing our support there? What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with Bulgaria and Romania, whose position in NATO has been challenged by Russia?

Obviously, the noble Baroness will realise that the focus of attention at the moment is on the aggressive and unacceptable behaviour of President Putin in relation to a particular state: Ukraine. We continue as members of NATO to make our full contribution to the forward presence in the Baltic. That has been a very well received initiative which we continue to support.

In gathering together a robust alliance against Russian threats and bullying, will my noble friend assure us that we will include the rising and great powers of Asia and the Middle East, because they are the ones whose voices Russia will listen to most closely?

There has been a wide programme of engagement, not least by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, with colleagues across the globe, but also by the Foreign Secretary. There has been a desire to ensure that we canvass as wide a position of views as possible. Everyone understands that the proposals and activity of President Putin are completely unacceptable. There is a concerted voice asking him please to de-escalate.

My Lords, it is important for Russia to know that Her Majesty’s Opposition stand fully with the UK Government in the actions they are taking with respect to Ukraine and the defence of its sovereignty, including the continuing military assistance, such as the defensive anti-tank weapons sent last week. These are worrying times for security in Europe, so can the Minister say more about the international diplomatic efforts to de-escalate? Can she also say something about the forthcoming visit by the Defence Secretary to Moscow and what he will be saying? Russia needs to know that we support a diplomatic solution, but we will be resolute in our defence of Ukraine and the security of our NATO allies.

I thank the noble Lord not just for his remarks but for their tenor, which is extremely helpful. The Secretary of State is going to meet with his Russian counterpart; that invitation has been accepted. Discussions are ongoing about timing and location. I am unable to say more about that at the moment, but concerted endeavour continues, as the noble Lord will be aware from the Prime Minister’s Statement in the other place earlier today. A very full range of activity was outlined, including engagement with major state leaders across the globe.

My Lords, Russia should be completely aware of the serious consequences of military intervention. Too much “Just you dare” talk can elicit the opposite reaction. Nations, like children, do not take kindly to being pushed into that position; they do not like to lose face, so we have to be very careful in the way we talk.

I would actually agree with the noble Lord, and observe that every effort has been made to invite Russia and President Putin to continue to engage. Whether that is through the NATO-Russia Council or direct communication from other global states, that initiative is there. But the problem arises because President Putin has amassed over 100,000 military on the borders of Ukraine. He has taken that decision, and that is what is causing the anxiety.

My Lords, if the Government decide to send further defensive weapons to Ukraine, will they seek access for RAF aircraft to German airspace? If not, why not?

The noble Lord will be aware that we do not comment on operational matters in detail, and he will understand that that has been a respected tradition for successive Governments, so I cannot comment on that specific detail. However, I can answer a question he asked me last week, to which I omitted to respond, on the allegation that Germany denied access to its airspace. Germany did not deny access, because the UK did not submit a request. There has been no dispute between the UK and Germany on the issue; in fact, the Defence Secretary has plans to visit Germany shortly to meet the Defence Minister.

I declare my interest as trade envoy to Ukraine. Has not the United Kingdom given more support to Ukraine than any other European country, and should not some of our neighbours pull their socks up and do a little bit more to support Ukraine against Russia’s aggression?

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister outlined earlier today in the other place, in fact, significant support has been forthcoming from other nations. As a prominent member of NATO—it being the umbrella under which the UK has been channelling a lot of its activity, along with the United States—there has been a recognition by member states that they need to flex their muscles and make their contribution. The evidence is that they are doing that, and we are very grateful to them.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness return to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, about the position of Germany in regard to Estonia, which has been trying to send munitions to Ukraine for its self-defence? When one NATO country stops another NATO country upholding freedom, liberty and democracy, what does that say about our position as an alliance? Also, what does it say when Germany offers instead to provide a field hospital to Ukraine?

I do not have any information on that precise point, but I undertake to investigate and respond to the noble Lord if I can.

My Lords, innocent civilians will pay the cost of political failure if the current tensions over Ukraine continue to escalate. The most important non-military support we can give Ukraine is to continue intense, robust dialogue. The Secretary of State for Defence explained this in the Statement he made last week, and I commend him for his willingness to meet with General Shoygu in Moscow. Does the noble Baroness not agree that if we are going to find a sustainable solution to this problem without further unnecessary deaths, we need to concentrate on diplomacy?

The noble Lord speaks with authority and makes a very important point. He will be aware that the NATO approach over recent years has in fact been deterrence, dialogue and defence, and that is a sustainable way forward. It is certainly an approach this Government endorse, and it is the approach we are endeavouring to prosecute at the moment. We just hope that President Putin is hearing the entreaties being uttered and understands that there are very, very grave consequences to follow if he decides to pursue his proposals to invade Ukraine.

Coronavirus Grants: Fraud

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the expected cost of fraudulent claims made under the Coronavirus Grant Schemes.

My Lords, this Question might seem familiar because it is the third time that we have asked it. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, for coming to the House to answer this today.

Perhaps I should start by thanking my noble friend Lord Agnew for allowing me the opportunity to stand here today—

I promise that I shall stay the course. Throughout this dreadful crisis that we have had to endure over the past two years, the Government’s number one priority has been to protect jobs and livelihoods while also supporting businesses and public services across the UK. We had to work particularly quickly to produce some generous packages to give the necessary support back in lockdown 1.

I hesitated because I was not sure if the noble Viscount had finished—because, again, he did not answer the Question. Whistleblowing is vital in exposing undesirable or unlawful conduct. The Government rightly expect others to operate to high standards but do not seem to be able to meet those standards themselves.

Yesterday, the serious frustrations of the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, finally bubbled over, leading him to blow the whistle on his own colleagues as he departed. His lengthy statement yesterday exposed chaos and mismanagement across government, but it did not answer the question posed by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. The Chancellor has gone AWOL, and, in his absence, although the noble Viscount did not give the figure today, other junior Ministers have insisted that putting the coronavirus fraud at £4.3 billion is too simplistic.

Taxpayers are footing the bill; your Lordships’ House and they deserve answers. If it is not £4.3 billion-worth of fraud, how much is it? If he has not got the answer today—I think noble Lords will understand why—can we at least be told when we will know and exactly how much of that the Treasury intends to write off?

It is a slightly complicated picture, but the Government continue to work actively with the British Business Bank, lenders and fraud authorities to identify and address fraud risks and recover loans obtained fraudulently. On the noble Baroness’s question, the £4.3 billion figure is not recognised by HMRC; it is an inference made in the report by the Times, which I am sure the noble Baroness has read. The figure that was taken out of that was £5.8 billion, which was in the report and accounts of HMRC. Some £500 million, which was returned, should be deducted from that, so we think that there is £800 million to £1 billion to recover.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Was not the object of the loan scheme to enable existing companies to continue trading through the pandemic? If, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Agnew yesterday, banks paid out money to companies incorporated post Covid, and did so negligently, are we not entitled to revoke the 100% taxpayer guarantee?

Again, we should remember that, in lockdown 1—roughly from March to April 2020—there was a clear need for urgent action to encourage a greater take-up of different support measures. That is why we intervened to change the design of the bounce-back scheme to make it 100% backed, which led to £46 billion being sent to 1.5 million businesses. To take up my noble friend’s point, I am sure that lessons can be learned, but, at the time, it was imperative that the Government acted quickly.

My Lords, when Covid struck, HMRC stopped answering its fraud-reporting phone line—the phones just rang and rang. The alternative way of reporting fraud online required entering intrusive personal details that most people were afraid to provide. How much fraud does the Minister estimate has been unreported due to the Government’s attitude towards whistleblowers?

The noble Lord’s question is focused on HMRC, but I can say that the expected losses to error and fraud in 2021 were £5.8 billion, and expected losses for 2021-22 will be published in due course. But a lot of work is going on in terms of recovery, and the expected recovery by HMRC is estimated to be between £1.3 billion and £1.5 billion.

My Lords, did the Government anticipate the potential use of existing ready-made off-the-shelf companies as instruments of fraud? Is it yes or no?

I think the answer has to be no. We had to move particularly quickly in very difficult circumstances. Of course, there is always a risk of fraud—all fraud is unacceptable, but there was a risk because we had to move quickly. As I say, there is a lot of work and, particularly from HMRC’s point of view, in the months and years ahead there is big scope to recover.

My Lords, fraud in government is rampant and is estimated at just under £30 billion—so writes the noble Lord in the Financial Times today. Why, in those circumstances, did the Government agree to drop the long-awaited economic crime Bill from next year’s legislatory list for Parliament to consider?

I do not have an answer to that; I will have to get an answer to the noble Lord. I say again that the schemes brought forward during those very difficult times were designed in response to a pronounced market failure, particularly with the UK’s smallest businesses struggling to access the finance that they needed to survive at the start of the pandemic. Voices from across the spectrum, including from the party opposite, were shouting at us to be sure that we acted quickly. We were already doing so, but we continued to do so.

My Lords, I express sympathy for my noble friend: yesterday he took the letter and today he has drawn the short straw. Does he accept that this matter really is important now? This was an Answer to an Urgent Question in the other place, and it is important that we have a definitive Statement from the Government giving as many figures as possible. While I acknowledge that fraud is more difficult to detect than to denounce, we need to have these facts.

My noble friend makes a very good point. As I alluded to earlier, HMRC and BEIS are working very hard in conjunction with the lenders to recover as much as we possibly can. I reiterate that the figures, as noble Lords will tell me, are big. We have paid out altogether more than £400 billion to support the economy. It is fair to say that to that extent it has been a great success, because the economy is in very good shape.

My Lords, I listened to the debate yesterday, in which the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, indicated that some lenders were failing on fraud. Can the Minister say which lenders are failing on fraud?

I do not accept the premise that lenders are failing on fraud, and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, will know that I am not in a position to name individual lenders. However, lenders continue to work closely with the Government on counterfraud, including recovering £1.2 million on facilities identified as fraudulent so far. It is important that lenders are held accountable for taxpayers’ money, and all lenders continue to be subject to a robust audit process by the British Business Bank.

My Lords, two 30-second checks would have saved the Government billions of pounds. First, no one can open an ISA account without providing a national insurance number, but the Government did not require that information from anyone seeking furlough support. Secondly, all applicants for Covid loans should have been required to provide an HMRC reference number. That would have killed off all dormant companies and offshore tax haven companies. Will the Minister please explain why these two 30-second checks were not applied?

That is a very fair question and of course the sort of detailed question that I cannot answer. In terms of the fraud that we are looking to identify as part of the loan book, as of 17 December 2021 some £67 million worth of claims had been settled for the loan scheme. Of those, £13 million for 337 facilities had been flagged by lenders as suspected fraud. That is the sort of detail that we want to get into.

My Lords, I too have sympathy with my noble friend the Minister, but will he reassure the House that the Government are looking seriously at the remarks and observations made by our noble friend Lord Agnew yesterday, particularly at any recommendations that he has for improving the situation and lessons learned at both BEIS and the British Business Bank, as well as at HMRC?

I am aware that my noble friend has much experience in this area, linked to her work on pensions and in respect of HMRC. She is absolutely right: preventing fraud is incredibly important. We designed the schemes to prevent as much fraud as possible before any payments were made, while still quickly supporting those who needed them in unprecedented circumstances. For example, the first furlough payments went out within six days of being announced. We had to move quickly but, clearly, as she said, lessons will be learned.

My Lords, yesterday, my noble friend Lord Agnew of Oulton told the House that he was at odds with what he said was the Treasury relying on after-the-event audits, saying that this was “too reactive” and too late. Why have the Government relied on auditing lenders after the event instead of taking preventive steps beforehand?

That is a good point. It is certainly something that I shall need to look into and I shall need to write to my noble friend about it. There is no question but that the auditing side is particularly important.

My Lords, the sorts of fraud that we heard so vividly described yesterday would have been a lot more difficult if directors’ identities had to be verified. The Government announced some 18 months ago that they would do that. When will they start insisting that Companies House verify identities of directors?

My Lords, what is the point of designating a Minister as Minister for Fraud Prevention and then not listening to his advice? If you were the Chancellor of the Exchequer, surely you would want to listen to that advice and take some account of it.

My Lords, is it true that BEIS had only two officials working on counterfraud at the start of the scheme and they have so far refused to engage with the Cabinet Office?

My understanding is that BEIS has invested significantly in the expansion of its counterfraud function, in terms both of increased resource and, critically, of capabilities. A key role of its counterfraud function will be to embed a governed and risk-assessed approach throughout BEIS and the arm’s-length bodies.

Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, was accountable and did the right thing, but is not the Chancellor of the Exchequer ultimately responsible for this mess and should he not resign?

No, he should not resign. I go back to the most fundamental point, which is that we had to act particularly quickly back in lockdown 1 to support businesses. As a result, we put in the £400 billion package of economic support that I referred to earlier. That protected more than 14.5 million jobs and thousands of businesses. It is a great credit to the Chancellor that he took those bold steps.

My Lords, as we seek to claw back money misspent over Covid, can the Minister tell us whether those who benefited from fast-track VIP PPE contracts and delivered unfit goods will be paying back the money?

On PPE, we acknowledge the severity of these claims, and the DHSC takes its responsibilities around due diligence extremely seriously. Of course, this goes back a bit further. As the DHSC has recently set out, all offers that come to the mailbox are triaged by an official from the high-priority appraisals team to be processed and responded to.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons

The Bill was returned from the Commons. It was ordered that the Commons amendments be printed.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Entry to Venues and Events) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 15 December 2021 be approved.

Relevant documents: 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument). 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 January.

Motion agreed.

Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 29 November 2021 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 January.

Motion agreed.

Data Protection Act 2018 (Amendment of Schedule 2 Exemptions) Regulations 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 10 December 2021 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 January.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motion agreed.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Third Reading

My Lords, it may be helpful for me to say a few words about Third Reading amendments. In line with the procedure agreed by the House, yesterday evening the Public Bill Office advised the usual channels that Amendment 1 on the Marshalled List for Third Reading today falls outside the guidance in the Companion on Third Reading amendments. The Clerk of Legislation advised as follows:

“In my view, this amendment falls clearly outside the guidance. The issue was fully debated and decided on a vote at Report. The Minister was asked to reconsider and come back at Third Reading; he clearly and repeatedly declined (see cols 1947-50). In my view, the amendment is not addressing an uncertainty; it would reopen the issue and significantly change what the House decided.”

On the basis of that advice, the usual channels and the Convener of the Cross-Bench Peers are recommending to the House that Amendment 1, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, should not be moved. I therefore invite the noble and learned Lord, when the time comes, not to move his amendment.

My Lords, before we move on to the amendments, I want to put on record a few remarks about the position of the Bill in relation to devolution. The great majority of the provisions in the Bill apply to England and Wales; a number also apply to Scotland and/or Northern Ireland. Throughout the preparation and passage of the Bill we have been working closely with each of the devolved Administrations and I pay tribute to officials and Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for their constructive engagement and support.

There are provisions in the Bill which engage the legislative consent process in the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament has issued legislative consent on the advice of the Scottish Government in respect of those provisions which relate to devolved matters in Scotland. Just last week, Senedd Cymru considered two legislative consent Motions and, on the recommendation of the Welsh Government, agreed to legislative consent to one of these Motions but rejected the other Motion. I am pleased to say that the LCM agreed by the Senedd gave legislative consent to all the measures in the Bill which, in the view of the UK Government, engaged the LCM process in the Senedd itself. In addition, the LCM passed by the Senedd also covered the measures in the Bill relating to the increase in the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker and the extraction of information from electronic devices. In the view of the UK Government, these measures related strictly to reserved matters and therefore did not engage the LCM process or, indeed, require legislative consent.

Turning to the second Motion put forward by the Welsh Government, the Senedd declined to give its legislative consent to certain provisions in the Bill relating to criminal damage to memorials, public order and unauthorised encampments. I therefore want to put on record that, in the view of the UK Government, these measures again relate to reserved matters and therefore did not engage the LCM process, or indeed require legislative consent.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has already agreed to a legislative consent Motion in respect of certain measures in the Bill that engage the LCM process. That Motion did not, however, cover the Bill’s provisions relating to the extraction of information from electronic devices, which, in part, also engage the LCM process. I understand that the Northern Ireland Executive have now agreed to bring forward a supplementary LCM in respect of these measures, and that is due to be considered by the Assembly shortly.

Clause 3: Required life sentence for manslaughter of emergency worker

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 3, page 4, line 39, at end insert—

“(c) manslaughter in circumstances where—(i) the death was not caused by dangerous driving or driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, and(ii) but for causing death or serious injury to the emergency worker, the unlawful act would have attracted a maximum sentence of less than five years imprisonment.”

My Lords, on 24 November 2021, the Government announced in a press release that they were introducing into the Bill a provision that imposed a mandatory life sentence where a key emergency worker dies as a result of manslaughter. The introduction of that provision into the Bill was not the product of any debate in this House or the other place.

On 1 December 2021, the relevant amendment giving effect to the provision that there was a mandatory life sentence for manslaughter was tabled with the Table Office. On 8 December 2021, the matter was debated in this House. A large number of Peers spoke in the debate, including the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox, Lady Hamwee and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord Pannick, Lord Carlile and Lord Marks, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. They gave a variety of reasons why the provision had particular defects; there was a range of detailed complaints about it. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, spoke on behalf of the Labour Front Bench and indicated that Labour accepted the amendment in principle but that there were problems with the detail.

Before there was a vote on the amendment itself, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, suggested an adjournment to discuss the detail. There was a vote on that and it was rejected. There was then a vote on the amendment. Anybody fairly reading that debate would conclude that the principle of the amendment was agreed to—that this House agreed to the principle of a mandatory life sentence where an emergency worker dies as a result of manslaughter. However, nobody reading that debate could possibly conclude that the detail was treated as being resolved in relation to that.

One detail that affected many noble Lords was the consequence of having a mandatory life sentence for manslaughter if, for example, in a demonstration about, say, HS2, a demonstrator pushed over a police officer acting in the execution of his or her duty, who bumped their head—which would be common assault at worst—and died. That demonstrator would end up with a mandatory life sentence. They would not be saved from the mandatory life sentence by the exceptional circumstances defence.

This caused many people in the House considerable concern. I completely accept that the principle of the mandatory life sentence is no longer up for debate; that has been resolved. However, in conjunction with my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—to whom I pay tribute for her work on this issue—I have crafted an amendment that does not touch the detail of the provision, in the sense that it leaves in place the principle agreed but says that, where the offence you would otherwise be charged with does not attract a sentence of more than five years, you will not be susceptible to it. This is to deal with the one-knock manslaughter case. It leads to justice and reflects where the House is coming from. I strongly commend the amendment to the House and very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, will address the detail.

I should deal with the point that the Chief Whip made to start with. He has left, sadly, but there you are. On amendments at Third Reading, the rules say:

“The practice of the House is normally to resolve major points of difference by the end of report stage, and to use third reading for tidying up the bill … The principal purposes of amendments on third reading are … to clarify any remaining uncertainties … to improve the drafting; and … to enable the Government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the bill.”

I accept that this amendment does not come within any of those three identified bullet points, but it is under the chapeau of this phrase:

“The practice of the House is normally to resolve major points of difference by the end of report stage”.

How can we do that when the first we heard of this amendment was on Report? Read the Report debate. Noble Lords will see that it was a Second Reading-type debate, as they would understand it. Of course that rule does not apply; it is not normal.

This is the second point made in the rules:

“Where the Legislation Office considers that amendments fall clearly outside the guidance, including, for example, amendments which are identical, or very similar, to ones tabled and withdrawn at Committee and Report … or amendments raising completely new major issues, it will advise the Lords Member concerned.”

The guidance deals with the normal circumstance whereby, if you have not resolved the major issues by the time you get to Report, it is too late to raise them at Third Reading. That is not the case here. I completely respect the Public Bill Office for giving me the advice it did because I am not acting within one of the three bullet points, but I strongly urge this House to recognise that, where a major change is introduced this late, the guidance does not prevent an amendment of this sort going through at Third Reading.

We exist to be an effective scrutinising House. After this, we will come to an IPP amendment. We went so badly wrong on that after full scrutiny. This is such an important measure. It is about a mandatory life sentence. Therefore, although I have thought earnestly about the advice I have been given, I have not thought it appropriate to withdraw my amendment. In those circumstances, I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise in support of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who is, as your Lordships will appreciate, a former Lord Chancellor and law officer.

I reiterate that the Government came here on 8 December to commend Harper’s law to your Lordships’ House. However, in the course of that debate, to which I listened with great care, concerns were raised by every single group in your Lordships’ House about the potential unintended consequences that went beyond the Harper’s law case—a case of severe criminality that included dangerous driving that led to manslaughter. In particular, one-punch manslaughter was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and many other noble Lords; as my noble and learned friend said, there was huge concern.

The reason why my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer is right to ventilate this today goes beyond what we believe about Harper’s law, mandatory sentences, or even judicial discretion. All of these should be of particular concern to this second, revising Chamber. The reason he is right to ventilate this issue is that where significant, potentially controversial and rights-impacting measures are to be introduced, it seems to me—and I believe to other Members of your Lordships’ House—that there should at least be two bites at the cherry. The measures should at least be looked at twice.

Without the aid of my noble and learned friend, what will happen is this: it is presented and debated once in the second Chamber—not even in the first Chamber and then the second Chamber. The vote is on the same day and that is it—because, let us be honest, this is not going to have detailed consideration when your Lordships’ amendments go back to the other place. Whatever my noble and learned friend decides—and with the greatest of respect, I totally agree with the clerk about the irregularity of his amendment in terms of procedure at Third Reading—we are forced into a gentlemen’s agreement that is not reciprocated in the other direction. There must be adequate time, and it seems to me that, going forward, any significant and controversial measure must at least be looked at twice, so that there can be an opportunity to ventilate, study it, and correct any potential glaring, unintended consequences.

My Lords, I came cold to this debate, as it were, to hear what was to be said. I am certainly not an expert on the law, but I have had quite a bit to do with the Companion over the years, and I remember vividly a time when it was quite routine, on Third Reading, to present amendments that clearly should have been debated earlier. The authorities of the House at the time—and I may have been part of that—decided that we needed to tighten up the circumstances in which amendments could be laid at Third Reading. But—and this is a huge “but”, which my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer has already dealt with—it was always assumed that there would be flexibility in the decision about the admissibility of amendments at Third Reading.

There were occasions—I would have come armed with them if I had anticipated this debate—when the usual channels would get together, during or after Report, and say, “Look we really can’t resolve this now, we need to put down an amendment at Third Reading”. Had it been challenged by either Front Bench or by anyone among the usual channels, that would have been resolved at that point. But nearly always, there was such a common-sense argument about, “Well, we’ll let this one go at Third Reading, the air needs to be cleared with this at Third Reading”, that it was agreed among the usual channels; it was never seen as completely Stalinist rule. Indeed, as my noble and learned friend has said, there is flexibility actually written into it. But I can say with confidence that this issue has been addressed in the past. It seems to me overwhelmingly the case, in the way my noble and learned friend described it, that quite clearly it should come within the auspices of the Companion, with the agreement of the usual channels, to be able to debate this hugely important issue at Third Reading.

My Lords, I deeply regret the deformity to our law which results from the Harper amendment, made, as your Lordships know, for Third Reading. A mandatory life sentence for murder is one thing—indeed, one must recognise that, although entirely understandable, even that is questionable—but a mandatory life sentence for the manslaughter cases now spotlighted by the Harper amendment is really quite another.

I will content myself today by saying that not only may it cause a great injustice but it may be that, if one were a defence counsel in one of these cases, one would positively welcome Harper’s law and emphasise to the jury the awesome consequences of a conviction—consequences from which juries might well shrink. If this matter now goes back unamended to the House of Commons, I suggest that the other place may wish to reflect on those consequences. To pass as potentially unjust a law as this may prove to be counterproductive and a disaster for long-term justice.

My Lords, I came into the debate late on the day we voted. I was really quite shocked to find what was being debated, and I listened very carefully to the contributions. Because I had not heard the Minister speak from the Dispatch Box, I did not take part in the debate; I felt that I would be criticised for coming in without having heard the full discussion. But I have practised in the criminal courts for 50 years—I was called to the Bar 50 years ago—so I can tell noble Lords that I was very alarmed at the content, and I echo what has just been said by one of our distinguished judges.

I really was concerned at the absence of discretion here. You could have such a range with this kind of manslaughter charge, and it is a shocking idea that a mandatory life sentence might be passed on someone very youthful in circumstances such as were described—you can never completely cover every possibility—by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, where the consequence of a tragedy could also lead to the double tragedy of somebody spending their life in prison because the sentence is mandatory. So I really do think we have to think twice here. Of course, we have to protect our public servants, but it is vital that we keep true to the idea that different cases require different responses, and that there have to be some exceptions.

My Lords, relatively new as I am to this House, I try to follow procedure and often fail to do so, and I am rightly reprimanded by fellow Peers when that happens and when mistakes are made. I am also very conscious of the democratic deficit of this House as unelected legislators. But, in relation to this issue, I was shocked by what I saw as an abuse of procedure by the introduction of this very important Harper’s law at such a late stage. I felt that that was bending the stick, to say the least, in terms of taking this House and its procedures seriously.

So, from my point of view, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has explained very well that this is a modest amendment that does not try to overturn the spirit of what was passed earlier on but is trying to deal with what I think are unintended consequences that the Government themselves do not want to see—that is not their intention. But Harper’s law is not a minor matter. Since that bit of a mess by which it was passed last time, I have had some sleepless nights imagining that I might in any way be responsible for the unintended consequences that I really do not think the Minister wants to happen, but which could happen unless the Bill is unamended—which is why I support this amendment in these unusual circumstances.

My Lords, as I understand the position, the amendment, without qualification, was pressed to and supported in a Division. The normal situation to deal with the kind of question that the noble and learned Lord mentioned would be to modify that amendment by another, but that, for reasons that may be quite understandable, did not happen. Therefore, the amendment that was passed was unqualified and accordingly, strictly speaking, the rule would be as the clerk has said.

However, this House has discretion in these matters. The rules that are laid down are the best we can think of for every circumstance, but not even we can think of all the possible circumstances. Therefore, the clerk is perfectly right in this case, but justice suggests that it would be wise for the House to realise that, in this particular situation, a modification of the original amendment was certainly raised in the debate, although it was not put formally into the procedure. Therefore, to do justice in this sort of case, it would be right for the House as a whole to agree, in this very special circumstance, that this matter should be dealt with.

I want to throw my considerable Green weight behind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The Members opposite must realise in their hearts that this is unfair. I came into politics to make things fairer and this is not fair. It is unjust, as we have heard. Please let us debate it properly. I would vote for it—anyone can move it to a vote—and I hope it would pass.

My Lords, I support my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He put this with beautiful simplicity and total clarity. He underlined the fact that, at the end of the day, we are answerable for what we decide. I deplore bringing in important things at the late stage of a Bill, which is why I withheld my vote when we were voting and not debating last week, because it made a mockery of Parliament. This is not making a mockery of Parliament; it is underlining the humanity of Parliament. I believe we should follow the sage advice of my noble and learned friend.

My Lords, I apologise and feel rather guilty about the fact that I have neglected this Bill during its passage through the House because I was simply unable to attend and I decided not to participate. I came to listen to this debate to find out what was being put on the statute book, having followed it a little from a distance. This issue therefore took me completely by surprise. I have listened to the exchanges, but I thought I should add the voice of a third former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to the very eloquent case that has been made on both sides by the two others who share that position.

Personally, I do not approve very much of mandatory sentences, which have spread on to the statute book far too frequently in recent years in response to dramatic and publicised cases. I do accept the mandatory life sentence for murder; that is a very long-standing practice. We should deal with considerable care when we add new mandatory sentences in response to understandably emotional and dramatic cases that appear in the media but, unfortunately, responding to the media has become a feature of criminal justice Bills rather too frequently.

I rose simply to do what my noble friend Lord Cormack did: to add my voice, in so far as it helps at all, to those that have been put forward. This House would be letting itself down if it just let this go through by overstrict adherence to the normal procedures, which of course we should normally follow.

My Lords, this amendment has been tabled—in haste, it appears, as I will explain in a moment—at a very late stage in proceedings. It is not clear in its intention and appears to relate to an important category of people who I do not think any of the speakers in support of the amendment referred to. I will come back to that point.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who said that he came cold to this matter. Far from being cold, I have had a number of warm meetings with Members from all sides of this House on all matters relating to Ministry of Justice provisions in the Bill. I regret to say that until this amendment dropped without warning, half way through my dinner last night, none of its proposers had found the time to engage with me or approach me in any way on this matter since it was debated in your Lordships’ House. That is a matter of regret, because in my relatively short time here I have found that discussions before matters are raised in the Chamber can be very useful. Had the matter been raised with me, I would have had the opportunity—and I would have availed myself of it—of pointing out some of the confusion behind the amendment and asking the noble and learned Lord whether the amendment he has tabled is in fact the amendment he wanted to table. I will come back to that point.

Having heard the words of my noble and learned friends Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Clarke and my noble friend Lord Cormack, I will not get into the propriety or otherwise but will deal with the substance of the point. Harper’s law, which is the focus of the amendment, requires the imposition of a life sentence in cases where an emergency worker is the victim of unlawful act manslaughter. The intention of the amendment appears to be to restrict this to cases that involve an underlying unlawful act that is of a certain level of seriousness. My understanding is that it seeks to do so by excluding from the scope of Harper’s law those cases in which the unlawful act that underpins the unlawful act manslaughter of the emergency worker is one that, had the offender been convicted of that as a stand-alone offence, would have carried

“a maximum sentence of less than five years imprisonment.”

There is, I am afraid, real confusion as to what the amendment seeks to do. Noble Lords who enjoy it really ought to turn to page 4, line 39 of the Bill and remind themselves that this seeks to include an exception into Harper’s law. That is very important when one sees that in proposed new paragraph (c)(i) of the amendment there is a “not”, so it ends up with a double negative.

It seems to me that there are two interpretations of this paragraph and, from what the noble and learned Lord said, I am really not sure which interpretation he seeks to put forward. The first is—bear with me here—that it appears to except from that five-year maximum category, and therefore include within Harper’s law, cases in which the death was

“caused by dangerous driving or driving when under the influence of drink or drugs,”

even if the maximum penalty for the unlawful act offence was less than five years. If that is the case, it is not clear why that should be if the main thrust of the noble and learned Lord’s argument is that Harper’s law should not apply if the underlying offence carried a sentence of less than five years.

I also point out, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord knows all too well, that dangerous driving and the other driving offences here do not and cannot themselves form a basis for unlawful act manslaughter in any case, because that is the result of the decision in Andrews v DPP.

The alternative explanation of this form of words put forward by the noble and learned Lord is that the amendment appears to intend that where the unlawful act underlying the unlawful act manslaughter is one that in and of itself would attract a maximum penalty of less than five years’ imprisonment, that will be outside Harper’s law unless that act is accompanied by

“dangerous driving or driving when under the influence”,

which in the context of unlawful act manslaughter would be the circumstances that render the unlawful act dangerous.

I apologise to the House for subjecting it to a disquisition on unlawful act manslaughter but this is precisely the sort of point I would have discussed with the noble and learned Lord, had it been brought to my attention before I was halfway through my main course last night. More to the point, this would be an insertion at page 4, line 39 of the Bill; it would therefore go into proposed new Section 258A, which applies where

“(a) a person aged under 18 is convicted of a relevant offence, (b) the offence was committed … when the person was aged 16 or over”.

So, this amendment to Harper’s law, which is put forward on the basis of general principle, applies only to 16 and 17 year-olds. I did not understand from any of the speeches in favour of the amendment that the principle underlying those speeches was limited to 16 and 17 year-olds. The point was put on the basis that it ought to be of general application.

Why, I ask rhetorically, since the point has not been made, is this limited to 16 and 17 year-olds? Of course, the answer is obvious: it is not intended to be limited to 16 and 17 year-olds. Again, had this amendment been shown to me before halfway through my main course last night, I would have pointed this out, with respect, to the noble and learned Lord. What we have, therefore, is a late amendment, brought without any discussion with me or my colleagues, which fundamentally seeks to uproot the position taken by this House in Committee and on Report. It also suffers from fundamental uncertainty as to what it actually does, and the fundamental problem that it seems to apply only to 16 and 17 year-olds.

Quite apart from all of that, I simply do not see any merit in restricting Harper’s law in this way. We have already taken care to ensure that the provisions inserted by Clause 3 will apply only in cases of unlawful act manslaughter of an emergency worker who is acting in exercise of their functions as such a worker. Unlawful act manslaughter, as noble Lords certainly know by now, captures those cases where an unlawful act has been intentionally performed in circumstances rendering it dangerous, and that has caused death. It is the Government’s position that the unlawful act manslaughter of an emergency worker merits a mandatory life sentence. The seriousness of such conduct and the harm it causes both to the emergency worker—obviously—and to our wider society are evident. I respectfully see no reason to limit the sentence in the way this amendment appears to intend.

I come to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—I respectfully congratulate her on 50 years in the criminal justice system—about discretion. There is, of course, a judicial discretion built in here; we have had this debate on several occasions during consideration of the Bill. Where the court considers that there are exceptional circumstances relating either to the offence or the offender that justify the imposition of a sentence other than life imprisonment, this could be done. I accept that some people want the exception to be broader, while some people may not want an exception at all, but that has been the Government’s consistent position throughout the Bill. I find it a little surprising that, at Third Reading, such a fundamental point is apparently up for discussion again.

Before I sit down—and I apologise to the House for delaying it—I come to the “one knock” case that the noble and learned Lord has put. If a person at a protest or demonstration were to hit a police officer who was then, for example, to fall over, hit their head and, God forbid, die, that could be captured under Harper’s law if it amounted to unlawful act manslaughter. Why is that? The reason is that what has happened here is not a simple case of battery. Under the offences made out here, the offence for which the offender would be sentenced is unlawful act manslaughter, and the Government believe that that crime, when done against an emergency worker acting as such, merits a mandatory life sentence other than where there are exceptional circumstances.

For those reasons—and, frankly, with renewed regret that I am having to deal with this on the floor of the House when I could have had conversations about it in good time previously—I respectfully beg the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.

I am incredibly grateful for the support from all around the House. I am particularly grateful to my noble and learned predecessor and my noble and learned successor for supporting me in this matter.

The response from the Minister was incredibly disappointing. It was bombastic and technical and failed to address the essential issue, which is: what about the “one knock” manslaughter case? The answer that came in the end appeared to be, “Actually, we intend to cover that.”

The Minister made one good point on the drafting. He is absolutely right that my draft covers only 17 year-olds because it refers only to page 4. I would have had to submit the same draft in relation to pages 5 and 6 as well, which, if I had got page 4 in, I am sure would not have made much difference.

This is such an important issue that I would have been tempted to obtain the opinion of the House. All around the House there has been support for it, but the only encouragement I get is the technical point the Minister made. It may be that when this comes to the House of Commons, the Government will consider that they could improve my drafting and get to the same result. In those circumstances, with regret, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 80: Key national infrastructure

Amendment 2

Moved by

Amendment 2: leave out Clause 80

Member’s explanatory statement

This clause is consequential on a clause which was not added to the bill, as it was defeated by a vote of the House. This clause therefore provides background detail for a power and a clause that do not exist. This amendment would remove this non-operational clause from the bill.

My Lords, my amendment would leave out Clause 80. The clause is consequential on a new clause from the Government that this House declined by a Division last week to add to the Bill. That new clause introduced the offence of “interference with use or operation of key national infrastructure”. What is now Clause 80 should surely not have been moved following that vote; it provides background detail for a power and a clause that do not exist. It starts off, for example, by saying:

“This section has effect for the purposes of section (Interference with use or operation of key national infrastructure)”,

and goes on to define types of national infrastructure for the purpose of the Government’s new clause to which this House disagreed. My amendment would thus remove that non-operational clause from the Bill. I understand that the Government will not be opposing this necessary tidying-up amendment, and I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for that. I beg to move.

My Lords, I want to make the very simple point that even if the Government were not going to accept the amendment, the clause would be pretty nonsensical due to the very strange way in which it defines “national infrastructure”. It has a unique set of definitions that includes some things that would not normally be regarded as infrastructure and excludes other things that are critical to the nation and the way it operates.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who has explained that the amendment would remove Clause 80 from the Bill. It defines “key national infrastructure” for the purposes of the Government’s proposed offence of interfering with the operation or use of key national infrastructure. Of course, I was extremely disappointed that the House voted not to add this new offence to the Bill on Report. The proposed offence would help protect the British public from the misery that certain individuals targeting our key national infrastructure have been able to cause.

The Government fully defend the right to peaceful protest, but we stand behind the British public in protecting them from the serious disruption caused by some who think their right to protest trumps the rights of the public to go about their daily lives. That said, the fact remains that as your Lordships did not support the introduction of the new offence, we are not going to play games: what is now Clause 80 of the Bill is redundant, and, consequently, the Government will not oppose this amendment.

I had moved the amendment and wanted to put it to the vote, and I hoped that the House would be prepared to accept it. I thank the Minister for what she has said.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—

“Imprisonment for public protection etc: duty to refer person released on licence to Parole Board

(1) Section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (imprisonment or detention for public protection: termination of licences) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (6).(2) In subsection (2)(a), after “Chapter” insert “(whether or not the prisoner has subsequently been recalled to prison under section 32)”.(3) For subsection (3) substitute—“(3) Where—(a) the prisoner has been released on licence under this Chapter (whether or not the prisoner has subsequently been recalled to prison under section 32);(b) the qualifying period has expired; and(c) if the Secretary of State has made a previous reference of the prisoner’s case under this subsection, the period of twelve months beginning with the day of the disposal of that reference has expired,the Secretary of State must refer the prisoner’s case to the Parole Board under this subsection.”(4) In subsection (4)—(a) in the words before paragraph (a), for “an application” substitute “a reference”, and(b) in paragraph (b), for “application” substitute “reference”.(5) After subsection (4) insert—“(4A) A reference under subsection (3) must be made, and a reference under that subsection must be determined by the Parole Board under subsection (4), even if at the time of the reference or determination the prisoner is in prison having been recalled under section 32.(4B) If at the time of the determination the prisoner is in prison having been recalled under section 32—(a) subsection (2) does not apply, and(b) subsection (4)(a) has effect as if it required the Parole Board—(i) to determine whether it is satisfied that it is not necessary for the protection of the public for the prisoner, when released, to be released on licence in respect of the preventative sentence or sentences, and (ii) if it is so satisfied, to direct the Secretary of State accordingly.(4C) Where the Parole Board gives a direction under subsection (4B)(b)(ii)—(a) if at any time the Board directs the prisoner’s release under section 28, that section has effect in relation to the prisoner as if, in subsection (5), for “to release him on licence” there were substituted “to release the prisoner unconditionally”, and(b) if at any time the Board directs the prisoner’s release under section 32, that section has effect in relation to the prisoner as if, in subsection (5), for “immediate release on licence” there were substituted “immediate unconditional release”.”(6) In subsection (5), in the definition of “the qualifying period”, after “on licence” insert “(whether or not the prisoner has subsequently been recalled to prison under section 32)”.(7) Subsection (8) applies to an application made by a person under section 31A(3) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 before this section comes into force.(8) If the application has not been determined when this section comes into force, subsections (4) to (4C) of section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 apply in relation to it as if it were a reference of the person’s case by the Secretary of State to the Parole Board under subsection (3) of that section.(9) Subsection (10) applies if a person remains on licence under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, or remains subject to release on licence under that Chapter, following—(a) the disposal before this section comes into force of the person’s application to the Parole Board under section 31A(3) of that Act, or(b) the disposal under subsection (4) of section 31A of that Act, as it has effect by virtue of subsection (8) of this section, of the person’s application to the Parole Board under subsection (3) of that section.(10) Subsection (3) of section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 applies in relation to the person as if the application had been a reference of the person’s case by the Secretary of State to the Parole Board under that subsection.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendments in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar at page 133, line 13, page 135, line 13 and page 233, line 33 give effect to an undertaking given by Lord Wolfson on 15th December 2021 (Hansard col. 359). This amendment imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to refer the case of a person who is serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection (or the equivalent youth sentence), and has been released on licence, to the Parole Board after ten years and annually after that.

My Lords, following my commitment and undertaking to the House on Report, I am pleased to be able to bring this package of amendments relating to imprisonment for public protection—IPP—before the House this afternoon. I thank sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—and I understand why he is unable to be in his place today—the noble and learned Lords, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood and Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lord Moylan for their commitment to this cause and continued engagement with me on this matter. We have had a series of meetings and calls, which have been invaluable. They offered me their considerable wisdom and experience both of this subject and of this House in order to get this amendment—if I may put it this way—across the table and over the line.

It was made very clear at all stages in this House that there was enormous strength of feeling that some beneficial change for IPP offenders was both right and necessary. I am pleased that we have cross-party support for this sensible, proportionate and effective change that will provide such benefit but at no risk to public protection.

I committed on Report to bringing forward an amendment which puts the Secretary of State’s policy of automatic referral of applications to terminate the IPP licence on to a statutory footing. This would enable all eligible IPP offenders to be referred to the Parole Board for consideration for licence termination at the appropriate time. The new clause that I have tabled delivers on this commitment.

The position is that Section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 sets out how IPP offenders are currently able to apply for licence termination. Once the qualifying period of 10 years has elapsed—that is, 10 years from the offender’s first release by the Parole Board—this section provides that offenders can apply to the Parole Board to be considered for licence termination. In practice, the Secretary of State has made it policy to do this on the offender’s behalf, but first had to obtain consent from the offender.

The principal change in the first of the amendments in my name is in new subsection (2), which amends the wording of Section 31A so that the Secretary of State will be legally required to automatically refer the offender where the 10-year qualifying period has expired. Where the offender has previously been referred to the Parole Board for licence termination, they will automatically be referred if 12 months have elapsed since the previous reference. That removes the need for the offender to give permission for the Secretary of State to make applications on their behalf, and will enable the IPP licence to be brought to a definitive end for more offenders.

The clause also adds a new subsection to Section 31A which deals with offenders who are in custody following recall under the IPP licence. When an offender is recalled to prison, their licence is automatically revoked, so they cannot have their licence terminated while they are in prison following recall because they are no longer on licence. But, in these cases, the Secretary of State will still be required to refer the offenders to the Parole Board on the point of eligibility and every 12 months thereafter. The Parole Board will then determine whether the licence should remain in force following any subsequent release decision. It will be up to the Parole Board whether to terminate the licence of an IPP offender in custody—but these provisions are specifically intended to ensure that all eligible IPP offenders, who are either on licence or have been recalled and had their licence revoked, have the opportunity to have their licence terminated.

The remaining subsections are technical, transitional and clarificatory to ensure that the clause works correctly. But I make it absolutely clear from the Dispatch Box that time spent in custody on recall does not affect the running of the 10-year qualifying period. There are two further amendments in my name, both of which are consequential. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for joining me in them. The second amendment ensures that this clause operates correctly with other subsections that might prevent a referral, and the third sets the commencement date at two months following Royal Assent.

Taken as a package, these amendments appropriately balance the need to protect the public with ensuring that IPP offenders who are assessed by the Parole Board as no longer posing a risk to the public are given every opportunity to have their IPP licence, and the IPP sentence as a whole, terminated. So, with renewed thanks to those noble and learned Lords who joined me, particularly in supporting the first amendment, for their sustained engagement, I beg to move Amendment 3.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Judge has asked that I go next. I have indeed added my name to the first substantive government amendment, but I indicated that I would—and I do—make it plain that I do so without any great enthusiasm. Rather, it is on the basis that one must be grateful for small mercies—here, alas, I put the emphasis on the “small”.

I am grateful to the Minister for doing what he could for us, and, so far as it goes, I welcome the small change brought about by the amendment. But, in my respectful view, it does not go remotely far enough. It is difficult to overemphasise how small a concession this is in relation to the overall problem of the remaining IPP prisoners. Even in respect of the recall prisoners, we had hoped that the maximum term for which a licence should remain in force would be reduced from 10 years to five.

Beyond that, I fervently hoped to do something for the 1,700-odd cohort of IPP prisoners who have never been released and who remain incarcerated 10 years after this whole sentencing regime was abolished by LASPO in 2012. Many of the 1,700 are substantially more than 10 years beyond their tariff term—but there it is. We now have to—and we do—put our faith in the House of Commons Justice Committee, which has taken evidence and listened to many, including me, and is shortly to report on the whole question of this remaining regime. One hopes that it will do something to meet this grave, continuing and, indeed, growing injustice. In the meantime, I make it plain that I support this most modest of amendments.

My Lords, with the agreement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, I rise to thank my noble friend the Minister. I know from conversations with him that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who cannot be in his place today would join me in expressing our appreciation to my noble friend the Minister for the integrity, openness and engagement—and consequently the trust—he has engendered since Report. This is an example of government and the House working constructively to improve the operation of the criminal justice system and those affected by it.

The amendment moved by my noble friend addresses one limb of the amendment in my name in Committee and again on Report. It puts into effect the Government’s own previously announced policy of making the termination of licences automatic. I welcome that, but I still hope that soon the Government will also adopt the second limb of that amendment to reduce the qualifying period from 10 years to five. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, the Justice Select Committee in the other place is considering this whole case.

I hope that when my noble friend replies he will be able to say that, if that committee recommends a reduction in the qualifying period from 10 years to five, the Government will be quick to adopt that amendment and put it into effect. Both measures—the automaticity of the referral and the potential reduction of the qualifying period from 10 years to five—are primarily aimed at IPP prisoners out on licence, not those in prison, though I appreciate that my noble friend has pointed out that those on recall may gain some benefit from this.

This is the first crack in the wall of this regime made in the last 10 years. It would be very easy for noble Lords to think that now is a moment when we could perhaps relax; the Government, having made a concession and implicitly recognised an injustice, will move, quietly perhaps, to resolve the whole matter quickly. But that is not what the Ministry of Justice is expecting to see happen.

In a Written Answer given in the other place by my right honourable friend Kit Malthouse on 3 December last year, the Ministry of Justice set out in round numbers how many IPP prisoners it expected to see released on licence in each of the next five years. It came to 800. But when asked how many of those out on licence it expected to see recalled to prison over the same period, the total came to a staggering 3,400. The Ministry of Justice expects 2,600 more IPP prisoners, net, to be in jail over the next five years than there are today. That is nearly a doubling of the number of IPP prisoners in prison today. This problem is not resolved; we have not even begun to resolve it. This problem is going to get worse and the Government are obliged to take it seriously.

My noble friend referred on Report to the existence of an action plan. He said that the ministry had an action plan for dealing with the problem. Requests to see the action plan have been met with a response from my noble friend to the effect that it will be available shortly, or it is not currently available, but we may look forward to it. I do look forward to it; we might all look forward to it, but we would like to see it soon. We would like to see it address this problem and put this scandal properly behind us as soon as possible.

My Lords, I thank the Minister, who has found himself wallowing in a misery of injustice and has done a great deal at least for the issue to be recorded in statute. For me, that is the only advantage of this amendment, but I respect very much the efforts he has made to produce an amendment at all.

Beyond that, I entirely agree with the observations from my noble and learned friend Lord Brown and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. We have not got to the end of the beginning of this, but the end of the beginning has possibly come into sight. For me, after the shambles of this dreadful piece of statutory—I could get carried away and then I would be speaking unparliamentary language, but noble Lords all know what I mean; I shall just stick to shambles—we can begin to make up for what has gone on over too many years.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the amendment. He has followed through on a commitment he made on Report, which is greatly appreciated. However, like all the other noble Lords who have spoken, I wish the Government had gone further. Indeed, our little cross-party team put several other amendments forward, a number of which have been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan.

This is one small improvement to a system that needs to be abolished for this group of prisoners caught on the wrong side of history. It is, however, a movement in the right direction. When the Minister spoke to me on the day that he made the commitment to bring the amendment forward, he quoted Newton’s second law. For noble Lords who, like me, do not have a clue what Newton’s second law is, it says that it is easier to move an object already in motion than one at rest. Well, the object is in motion and we—and, I believe, he—will try to push it along as far and as fast as we can whenever the opportunity arises. The ball is rolling and we will keep on pushing for justice and fairness for those whom the law has left behind.

My Lords, I appreciate that Third Reading is not the time for long and ponderous speeches, but I wanted to place on record—as someone who tabled amendments on Report and in Committee to deal with IPPs and the injustice that remains—that I wholeheartedly support the remarks of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Brown and Lord Judge, my noble friend Lord Moylan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt.

This is just the beginning and must be seen as something that will continue to be looked at, both by the Select Committee in the other place and the Ministry of Justice. I also place on record my personal thanks to my noble friend the Minister, who has dealt with this question with sensitivity and within the bounds of possibility that being a Minister in this House places on him. I thank him for what he has done and look forward to hearing more that will undo the injustice that the IPP regime is still visiting on a number of people.

My Lords, I feel very guilty that I was unable to arrange my diary to take any part in the Bill as it went through because this is the part of the Bill in which I would otherwise have taken an active part. I have already apologised to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, outside this House for the fact that in the end I was not able to offer him any assistance.

I add only, as my noble and learned friend just has, my support and simply record that I was the Lord Chancellor who abolished indeterminate sentences in 2011 with the wholehearted support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who was then in the House of Commons with me and defused any attempts to preserve this stain on the statute book, which he had accidentally introduced without any expectation that it would be used as it was and resolve into a problem.

If you had told me when we abolished this sentence that there would be thousands of people in the position that they are now, 11 years after abolition, because they were left over to be dealt with, I would not have believed it. What I proposed was simply a change to the burden of proof that the Parole Board had to apply when deciding whether it was safe to release somebody, but that was never implemented. The fact that all these years later we face these problems is something of a disgrace. I thank the Minister for making this modest move, but I certainly agree with what everybody has said about the modesty of it. It needs urgently to be addressed by the Select Committee in the other place.

My Lords, I too would like to echo the thanks for the Minister. He has, in a sense, been a lobbyist within the Ministry of Justice to get this modest amendment over the line. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, summed up the position very well when he described it as the first crack in the wall. I was alarmed by the figures he quoted from his Written Question, where he seemed to indicate that there would be more prisoners in jail because of recalls, so the problem is likely to get worse and not better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, referred to the Minister’s reference to Newton’s second law—that it is easier to move an object that is already in motion. My first degree was in physics, and I would phrase that slightly differently, in a way that is relevant to the politics: the rate of change of movement is proportional to the impressed force. We on this side are certainly interested in increasing the impressed force on this object which is currently under way.

My Lords, I am grateful for the kind words a number of noble Lords have said. This may be a modest start, but it is a start, and I am sure that the conversation will continue. In particular, as I said when we discussed this matter substantively, I am well aware that the Justice Select Committee is looking at this matter. It will be reporting soon and, while I cannot go quite as far as my noble friend Lord Moylan would want me to by saying that, if the committee recommends, for example, changing the qualifying period from 10 years to five years, the Government will adopt it, I can say—which I hope would be obvious anyway—that we will take anything that comes out of the Justice Select Committee extremely seriously and look at it with very great care.

The action plan has been provided to the Justice Select Committee. We will review it again following the publication of its report to take account of our consideration following its recommendations. I hope the House will forgive me if I do not respond to everybody who contributed. I am conscious that we are at Third Reading and there is other business before the House. But I thank everybody who has contributed to this short debate. In particular, I respectfully thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for our conversations and the correspondence we have had, which she knows I have been dealing with.

I am conscious that Newton has now been invoked on a number of occasions. I am not altogether sure whether Newtonian physics applies to government action, but I will proceed on the basis that it does. I will try to push things as far as I can, but for present purposes, the only things I will immediately seek to move are these amendments.

Amendment 3 agreed.

Clause 142: Calculation of period before release or Parole Board referral where multiple sentences being served

Amendments 4 and 5

Moved by

4: Clause 142, page 133, line 13, at end insert—

“(3A) Subsection (3) does not apply to a reference by the Secretary of State under section 31A(3).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the new Clause in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar to be inserted after Clause 136. It disapplies section 33A(3) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (inserted by Clause 142) in relation to a reference by the Secretary of State under section 31A(3) of that Act.

5: Clause 142, page 135, line 13, at end insert—

“(3A) The reference in subsection (3)(a) to a requirement of the Secretary of State to refer a prisoner’s case to the Board does not include a requirement to do so under section 31A(3) of the 1997 Act.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the new Clause in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar to be inserted after Clause 136. It disapplies section 267C(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (inserted by Clause 142) in relation to a reference by the Secretary of State under section 31A(3) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997.

Amendments 4 and 5 agreed.

Clause 209: Commencement

Amendment 6

Moved by

6: Clause 209, page 233, line 33, at end insert—

“(ma) section (Imprisonment for public protection etc: duty to refer person released on licence to Parole Board);”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the new Clause in the name of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar to be inserted after Clause 136. It provides for that Clause to come into force two months after Royal Assent.

Amendment 6 agreed.

My Lords, perhaps I may just detain the House a little longer to mark the end of this Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House. It has been a big Bill, with much scrutiny across no fewer than 11 days of Committee; and six days on Report has added to its size. During this time, we have added some important new measures to the Bill, including to further tackle violence against women and girls. Noble Lords have also made a few changes to the Bill, against the advice of the Government. It will now be for the House of Commons to consider those amendments, and we will no doubt be debating them again soon.

I reiterate the Government’s disappointment at the removal of some very important measures, the aim of which was to prevent a repeat of the scenes we saw last year, with people blocking roads, preventing those going about their daily lives from doing so and—yes—preventing essential services such as ambulances getting through to hospitals. The public demanded that the Government act to stop this serious disruption. We did so, but noble Lords on the Benches opposite decided to block these measures. That will not go unnoticed by the public.

Notwithstanding that, I want to take this opportunity to recognise the contributions of those who have supported me in steering this Bill through the House. I pay particular tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton and my noble friends Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, Lord Sharpe of Epsom and Lady Scott of Bybrook for sharing the load on the Front Bench. We have been ably supported by the joint Bill team in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and by numerous officials and lawyers not only in those two departments but in the Department for Transport, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Education and Defra. On behalf of myself and my ministerial colleagues, I extend our thanks and appreciation to all of them for their professionalism and understanding over these past months.

I single out for particular thanks Charles Goldie, who is well known in the Home Office parish; I have almost lost count of the number of Bills that he has supported me on to date. I also thank Katie Dougal, Alice Harrison, Becky Martin and, of course, our private officers, who sit day and night while we debate these matters.

I also thank the Front Bench opposite for their engagement on the Bill, accepting that there have been some areas of disagreement between us. The noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Coaker, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lord Kennedy of Southwark—and, in the early stages, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington—have at times, including today, made points and have been open to helpful discussions to resolve issues where we can.

I single out the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for praise for being able to articulate in a sentence some very complex points.

Similarly, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, who have been very active during the course of the many weeks we have been engaged on this Bill. Again, I recognise that there have been, and continue to be, some areas of disagreement between us.

Given its wide scope, many other noble Lords have also contributed to the many hours of debate on this Bill. There are too many to mention now but, again, I extend my thanks to all noble Lords for their scrutiny of this important Bill. There should be no doubt about the merits of this Bill’s ultimate objective, namely keeping the public and our communities safe. On that note, I beg to move that the pill—pill? I think maybe I need a pill at this stage—the Bill do now pass.

I say to my noble friends behind me that I will resist the temptation to make political comments on the Bill. After all the days we have had in Committee and on Report, I am sure they will understand why I do not wish to go down that road.

I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Sharpe of Epsom, for all the work that they have so obviously done on this Bill. I also thank them for the meetings we have held and the changes that have been secured through government amendments or government support for amendments.

I also thank my noble friends Lord Coaker, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lady Chapman of Darlington. As the Minister reminded us, my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark has also been involved, as has been my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. We seem to have had a fairly large Front Bench on this side of the House, and I am extremely grateful to all of them for the work that they have done.

I too thank the Bill team. Everything that the Minister said about them we would certainly endorse and wish to be associated with. They have been extremely helpful, and we have appreciated that. I also thank the many outside organisations with an interest in the terms of this Bill for the briefings that they have given us, both written and verbal. That has been extremely helpful too.

Talking of help, I would like to thank for the vital and invaluable work they do colleagues in our office here in the Lords, particularly Grace Wright, who has been a key figure and has certainly kept me on the straight and narrow. I am quite sure that any mistakes I have made have been nothing to do with her; she has prevented me making an awful lot as it is.

The Bill has been improved by amendments that this House has made and, in some cases, by resisting amendments to which this House has not agreed. As the Minister said, it now goes back to the Commons. Like her, I too wait to see what the Commons will now make of this Bill as amended by your Lordships.

I again thank everybody whom I have mentioned, and I am quite sure that there are others whom I should have mentioned but have not done so. For that, I apologise.

My Lords, I remember looking at this 307-page Bill—or at least it was 307 pages to begin with—in August and wondering how on earth to tackle it. I was reminded that the way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time, which is the approach we took. This was about five Bills stapled together, except the PPO could not staple them together because it was too big. The Bill returns to the other place considerably improved, although you cannot make a silk purse out a sow’s ear—these are separate metaphors; I am not mixing them—or should I say a boar’s ear in these days?

I shall not resist what the Minister has said about the Bill. As far as we on these Benches are concerned, the existing legislation to control protest was adequate, and the measures that we have removed from the Bill were not necessary in the first place. The majority of the police consider that a lack of police officers is the limiting factor when it comes to policing of protests rather than a lack of legislation.

I would normally thank the Minister and the Bill team for their engagement, but, certainly, I am not alone on these Benches, at least as far as the home affairs side of things is concerned, in feeling that the Government have not reached out to us as much as they could or should have done. None the less, we have all been in this together over a considerable period, and I am grateful for the time that the Government have given in allowing us to debate these issues.

I thank the Official Opposition, both the leadership and Back-Benchers, the Cross- Benchers, non-affiliated Peers and the Greens for their support and co-operation. In particular, I thank Elizabeth Plummer and Grace Wright for their invaluable help on the Bill, as well as all the outside organisations which helpfully provided us with briefings. We would not have done any of this without that help, and we hope that the Government will see the improvements that we have made to the Bill as improvements when it is considered by the other place.

My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, the Bill has been much improved. I pay particular thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for working over six years with me and my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, in widening the pardons and the disregards for historical homosexual offences, including in the Armed Forces. It is truly historic when a state apologises for what it has done and reaches back over 500 years. It is the end of a six-year campaign that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been an active part of. I cannot thank her and the Bill team enough, and indeed colleagues and the team in the Armed Forces. I also put on record our thanks to Professor Paul Johnson, the country’s leading expert on this. Finally, it might have been a six-year campaign, but some of us have campaigned for more than 33 years, not for ourselves but so that injustices can at last be put right.

My Lords, I will try not to repeat too much of what my noble friend Lord Paddick said. He pointed out—it is not a new point—that this has been a long and difficult Bill. I am bound to say that we must all hope that such a mammoth Bill, with such a wide range of diverse topics shoehorned into a single piece of legislation, will never be put before Parliament again. It has taken too many days, with too little time for the content involved and too much pressure, not just on MPs and Peers but on parliamentary staff, officials and those many organisations that seek to brief us about legislation. For us here, there have been too many early starts and too many late nights. It has been a very difficult experience.

None the less, I completely agree that the House has done its job well. We are very grateful to the ministerial team and their officials. On justice issues, I am, of course, particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for the care, courtesy, approachability and engagement, not to say humour, that he has shown in our discussions. We have had some significant successes, from our point of view, on breastfeeding voyeurism and common assault in the context of domestic abuse. We have had some limited progress—my goodness, it is limited—on IPPs. That is clearly not the end of the story.

On Home Office issues, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her care and the comprehensively courteous way she has dealt with the House, although I am bound to say that I share my noble friend Lord Paddick’s view that we have felt that she has not been able, on behalf of the Government, to make the concessions she perhaps might have liked to have made in some areas.

These Ministers illustrate the pressure there has been on all of us. In this context, I mention the tireless and efficient work of my noble friend Lord Paddick, who has borne the brunt of days and weeks of debate over many hours and days of sitting, and there have been many more days of preparation.

Before the Bill finally passes, we on these Benches regard it as largely profoundly regressive. On human rights issues, the House must expect Liberal Democrats and others in the Opposition to continue robustly to defend individual liberty in a way that we do not believe the Bill does. On justice, we will keep the pressure up for a humane sentencing system dedicated to rehabilitation and reform, combined with increasing use of community sentences. We will continue to work on women’s justice, where it seems that we are accepting very slow progress when we should be looking for dramatic improvement.

I realise that I ought to be gracious, but I have hated almost every minute we spent on this Bill over the days, weeks and months. I deeply regret that it will pass. I wish it had not been presented in the first place and I wish we had not been forced to let it through, but it has been historic. One of the things that has been historic is the united opposition to some of its worst parts. That is something the House can be proud of. I look forward to many more days, weeks and months of arguing with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord on the Benches opposite.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Downing Street Parties: Police Investigation

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my honourable friend the Paymaster-General to an Urgent Question in another place on the investigation into Downing Street parties following the statement from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The Statement is as follows:

“As the House will be aware, earlier today the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the Metropolitan Police Service will be investigating alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations within the Government. This is a matter for the police, and the House will understand that I am not in a position to comment on the nature or content of the police investigation. I previously made it clear from this Dispatch Box that the Government recognise, and I recognise, the public anxiety and indignation that it appears as though the people who have been setting the rules may not have been following the rules, and I would like to repeat that sentiment today. This is why the Prime Minister asked for a Cabinet Office investigation to take place.

The terms of reference for that investigation, led by the Second Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Sue Gray, have been published and laid in the Library of the House. Those terms made it clear that, as with all internal investigations, if, during the course of the work, any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused.

As the House would expect, there is ongoing contact between the Cabinet Office investigation and the Metropolitan Police Service. However, the Cabinet Office investigation will continue its work. I would urge the House to wait for the findings of that investigation and for the police to conclude their work. That is important to allow the work to take place unimpeded and to protect the rights of all those involved. I must emphasise that matters relating to adherence to the law are properly a matter for the police to investigate, and the Cabinet Office will liaise with them as appropriate.

Finally, I can confirm that the findings of the investigation will be provided to this honourable House and made public. The House will understand that there is a limit to what I can say, given that this is an ongoing investigation. I also cannot comment on what is now an ongoing police investigation, and therefore I ask that Members of the House let the investigation run its course and do not pre-empt its conclusions.”

My Lords, I know the Minister to be an honourable and decent man. I just have to wonder how many more times he will be comfortable coming to the Dispatch Box to defend the indefensible to your Lordships’ House. So I thank him for being prepared to answer questions today.

I have to say that defending this Prime Minister is a tough gig, particularly now it is the Metropolitan Police asking the questions. First, if I may press the Minister on a point of clarity, this morning we were told that the Sue Gray report was not able to be published, but parts of it—I think he used the word “findings”—would be published. We are now told that the Metropolitan Police is happy for all of it to be published. There has been some confusion over the course of the day as to what will be available, when it will be published and what will happen. Can the Minister please say whether the Government will commit to the publication of the report—not just the findings—and not in any way block it from being made available to the public in its entirety?

Secondly, and I appreciate that this may be a difficult one for the Minister, can he confirm reports today that after the Prime Minister was personally informed about the police investigation, he then chaired a Cabinet meeting and chose not to inform his own Cabinet of the police investigation? The Minister will know how deeply shocking that would be and what an enormous concern that would give, if that was the case. I would be grateful if he would comment on those two points.

My Lords, on the second point, obviously, I am not a member of the Cabinet and not informed on that matter. It is not custom, as the noble Baroness knows, to comment on Cabinet discussions. On the first point, I must repeat what I said in the Statement. As the terms of reference set out, the findings will be made public. Obviously, there is an interrelation between the Cabinet Office inquiry and the police investigation, and any intimation must be left to those conducting the inquiries. As far as the Government are concerned, I repeat: the findings and the investigation will be made public.

My Lords, it is not disputed that the Prime Minister attended his own birthday party at a time when such gatherings were illegal. So he is now simply awaiting the executioner’s blow, either from the Gray report or the police investigation. In the meantime, his authority has disappeared completely. Will the Minister pass on to the Prime Minister the view of the country, and I suspect of this House, that the only positive act that he could now perform would be to resign today?

My Lords, could the Minister give us a little more precise guidance about the effect of these developments today on the timing of Sue Gray’s report? Can that report still be expected within the next few days?

Most noble Lords will understand why I am not going to speculate on the timing of the progress of either investigation. I have told the House that aspects of the Cabinet Office investigation will continue. Obviously, there is an independent police investigation. I am sure the noble Lord, with his great experience and great service to the country, will understand that those two inquiries must be allowed to run their course.

My Lords, I am not, contrary to what people might think, a cheerleader for the Prime Minister. Indeed, when I had the opportunity, I did not vote for him, for a number of reasons. However, I think we should get things in perspective. It seems to me that the great British public are not terribly concerned about—

I am not talking about Members of the House of Lords sitting opposite, I am talking about the British public. I do not think they are very concerned. I care very much whether the Prime Minister lies, as it happens, because I think Prime Ministers should have integrity. However, the instability at the top that has been caused by this furore is deeply worrying when we have geopolitical events in Ukraine. Frankly, I think most people would like to see the Government getting on with it. Perhaps the Prime Minister will eventually have to resign, but I think that what is now happening in Ukraine and elsewhere is more important.

I will not agree with every aspect of my noble friend’s remarks, but he does make a point: the business of government must continue. We all know there are very grave matters before the Government, both domestic and international. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is fully and actively engaged in those and made a Statement on events in Ukraine in the House of Commons earlier. I believe it is important that that factor is recognised.

My Lords, Kate Josephs, who was director-general of the Covid task force and is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, has admitted going to a drinks party for her leaving do on 17 December 2020. Subsequently, she tried to mislead the local press by denying that she had been to drinks parties. She apologised only 19 minutes before the story went public. Does the Minister believe that this is the leadership behaviour expected of a chief executive in local government?

My Lords, I am not going to comment on any particular individual at the Dispatch Box. I am sure the noble Lord is a greater expert on Sheffield than I.

My Lords, there is great concern around the country. The graphic photograph of the Queen alone at her husband’s funeral, juxtaposed with other pictures, did cause a great deal of disquiet. Will my noble friend the Minister do his best to guarantee that both reports—that of Sue Gray and if there is a report from the police—are published on a day when both Houses of Parliament are sitting?

My Lords, I can only say to my noble friend that the reports of findings will be published in due course. There are investigations under way; those investigations, with great respect, should be allowed to continue and be completed. At that point, obviously, the matter of publication becomes condign.

My Lords, we have just done the Third Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and I wondered whether the Minister would comment on the number of people who have been fined extortionate amounts of money for breaking rules and have been accused of breaking the law. Will they receive an amnesty, as a consequence of realising there was wide-scale rule-breaking?

Secondly, the Minister said the business of government will carry on—needs to carry on—but is there a danger that the Government will be distracted by this police inquiry, and hugely important matters of rebuilding society after lockdown are going to be neglected because of this preoccupation with No. 10 and parties? That is what the country is worried about.

I agree with what the noble Baroness has said, and I can certainly give her the assurance that the work of governing is continuing. I do note that people on the Benches opposite are extremely distracted by their perusal of social media. But on the first point, she will understand that I cannot comment on the judgments that are being made in the courts or any individual cases, but obviously, I hear what she is saying.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has apologised several times and has shown that he understands the public’s indignation. Does my noble friend not agree that, until the investigations are conducted, we should better concentrate on more important issues such as Ukraine and the NIP, and instead of destabilising the Government we should all work together and move forward?

My Lords, we hear the voice of those who do not want to work together or move forward. I agree with what my noble friend said. I do believe, also, that there is a great principle, in public life and private life, that no one is guilty by accusation. We should let the reports be concluded.

My Lords, I infer from the noble Lord’s statement that we can expect publication of only the findings of Sue Gray’s report and not the whole report. Am I right?

Secondly, does this sequence of events not raise serious questions about the nature of policing these lockdown regulations? It is almost impossible not to conclude that the police went from saying, “We are not investigating anything because we have no evidence”, to Sue Gray interviewing police officers and finding that they had evidence all along, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, having seen them, saying, “I either discipline the police officers or I investigate the crimes”?

No, my Lords, nothing may be inferred of that kind. I refer the House to the very clear statements made by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner this morning, in her own words, where she set out the position. I do not think it is for me, as a Minister of the Crown, to add to or substitute the words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

BBC Funding


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 17 January.

“Mr Speaker, under article 43 of the BBC’s royal charter, I am required to determine a funding settlement for the level of the licence fee for a period of at least five years from 1 April 2022. I am legally required to make my determination as far in advance as possible. I also highlight that, this year, the licence fee settlement has featured S4C prominently for the first time. In line with the recommendation from the independent review of S4C completed in 2018, the licence fee will be the sole source of public funding for S4C.

Negotiations began back in November 2020, and both I and my predecessor met the BBC on several occasions during this period to discuss this settlement. As part of those negotiations, the charter requires that I assess both the BBC’s commercial income and activities and the level of funding required so that the BBC can effectively fulfil its mission and public purposes. In addition, this Government set out our own relevant factors to consider during the charter review in 2015-16: evasion, commercial income, household growth and industry costs.

As the Prime Minister has said, the BBC is a great institution. It has a unique place in our cultural heritage. Beyond our shores, the BBC broadcasts our values and identities all over the world, reaching hundreds of millions every day. Likewise, the Welsh broadcaster S4C plays a unique and critical role in promoting the Welsh language, and in supporting our wider public service broadcasting landscape.

However, in reaching this settlement, I had to be realistic about the economic situation facing households up and down the country. The global cost of living is rising, and this Government are committed to supporting families as much as possible during these difficult times. Given that climate, we had to think very carefully about imposing any potential increase in the TV licence fee, particularly when any increase would expose families to the threat of bailiffs knocking on their door or criminal prosecution. When it comes to monthly bills, this is one of the few direct levers we have in our control as a Government. In the end, we simply could not justify putting extra pressure on the wallets of hard-working households.

Every organisation around the world is facing the challenge of inflation. I simply do not believe that those responsible for setting household bills should instinctively reach into the pockets of families across the country for just a little more every year to cover those costs. Today, I am announcing that the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years, and will rise in line with inflation for the following four years.

The BBC wanted the fee to rise to over £180 by the end of the settlement. Instead, it will remain fixed at £159 until April 2024. That is more money in the pockets of pensioners and of families who are struggling to make ends meet. We are supporting households when they need that support the most. This settlement sends an important message about keeping costs down while also giving the BBC what it needs to deliver on its remit. The approach to funding will be the same for the BBC and for S4C. However, I can announce that S4C will receive an additional £7.5 million funding per annum from 2022, to support the development of its digital offering. That is a 9% increase, following five years of frozen funding.

We believe this is a fair settlement for the BBC, it is a fair settlement for S4C and, most importantly, it is a fair settlement for licence fee payers all across the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that the BBC will continue to receive billions in annual public funding, allowing it to deliver its mission and public purposes and to continue doing what it does best.

To support the BBC even further in what is a fast-changing broadcasting landscape, the Government will more than double the borrowing limit of the BBC’s commercial arm to £750 million. That will enable the BBC to access private finance as it pursues an ambitious commercial growth strategy, boosting investment in the creative economy across the UK. But, as Tim Davie said in his first speech as director-general of the corporation, the BBC must be a ‘simpler, leaner organisation’ that offers ‘better value’ to licence fee payers. We agree with that. Ultimately, this settlement strikes the right balance between protecting households and allowing broadcasters to deliver their vital public responsibilities, while encouraging them to make further savings and efficiencies.

The licence fee settlement is only one step in our road map for reform of the BBC. In the last few months, I have made it clear that the BBC needs to address issues around impartiality and groupthink. Those problems were highlighted definitively by the recent Serota review. The BBC’s own leadership rightly recognised those findings in full and committed to deliver all the review’s recommendations in its 10-point action plan on impartiality and editorial standards. I have had constructive discussions with the BBC about those issues in recent months. The BBC now needs to put those words into action. It needs to convince the British public that those changes are being made, and to provide regular and transparent accounts of its progress.

We will shortly begin the mid-term review of the BBC’s charter, which will consider the overall governance and regulation of the BBC. A key part of that review will look at whether the BBC’s action plan on impartiality has, in fact, materially contributed to improving the organisation’s internal governance.

It is also time to look further into the future. As any serious commentator will tell you, the broadcasting landscape has changed beyond all recognition over the past decade. We are living in a world of streaming giants, on demand, pay per view and smart TVs. Technology is changing everything. Some 97% of homes already have superfast broadband. A family in Cumbria can stream five different movies in five different rooms in their house at any one time, and our gigabit rollout is transforming those networks even further. More than 65% of UK households now have access to the fastest connection on the planet.

As the tech has changed, so have audience habits, particularly among younger viewers, so it is time to begin asking those really serious questions about the long-term funding model of the BBC and whether a mandatory licence fee with criminal penalties for individual households is still appropriate. As we have said before, we will therefore undertake a review of the overall licence fee model. Those discussions will begin shortly.

The BBC has been entertaining and informing us for 100 years. I want it to continue to thrive and be a global beacon in the UK and in the decades to come, but this is 2022, not 1922. We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting; a BBC that can continue to engage the British public and command support from across the breadth of the UK, not just the London bubble; a BBC that can thrive alongside Netflix, Amazon Prime and all its other challengers that attract younger viewers. The licence fee settlement represents a significant step in that journey and in our wider reform of the BBC.

I look forward to continuing to work with the BBC and others across the industry over the coming years to secure the future of these vital British services. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, in truth, we know that this Statement was about distraction—a vindictive distraction at that—away from the Prime Minister’s behaviour during lockdown, the Government’s unlawful VIP lane for Covid contracts and their continued refusal to deal with our country’s cost of living crisis.

The Secretary of State pleads that she is interested in the cost of living crisis; if she were, she would be telling the Prime Minister to reverse the cuts to universal credit, put a stop to the national insurance and tax hikes this April, back Labour’s VAT cut on fuel bills and follow the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, and raise the alarm about the £4 billion-worth of Covid-related fraud. Freezing the licence fee increase pales into insignificance when put alongside those issues.

Given the BBC’s stated desire to become a leaner outfit, and with the new ability of the corporation’s commercial arm to access more private finance, I can see why the Secretary of State believes there is a rationale for a freeze, but we do not necessarily agree, as it will have a significant impact on the BBC’s output. Surely, the Government’s discussions with the BBC should have been concluded before any decision or announcement was made. Secretary of State after Secretary of State has looked at alternatives to the licence fee and not managed to find a feasible solution. If there is one, we are, of course, happy to look at the detail, but why does this Secretary of State believe she will succeed where others have failed?

The Secretary of State has expressed unease that pensioners face punishment if they do not pay the licence fee, so she must be appalled to find out that it was her own Government who stopped subsidising free licences for the over-75s. She cited concerns about impartiality and groupthink, an area in which, in my view, the BBC is very self-aware—perhaps even more so than the Government. Both sides of our political divide often accuse the BBC of bias, which probably means that, on balance, it is getting things about right. During the current government crisis, it has seemed to us that ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have, if anything, been even more questioning of the Government’s credibility.

In general, the BBC is rightly viewed by most as a national treasure and an international icon, so perhaps the Minister can say why the Government are so determined to undermine it. You can almost set your watch by the Government’s constant threats to public service broadcasting. The knock-on impact of the freeze—a real-terms cut of some £285 million by the end of the settlement period—is likely to have a larger economic cost than what the BBC loses by way of income. As we saw at the height of the pandemic, reduced commissions put enormous strain on the production and creative ecosystem, which has been left far more fragile than it was pre-pandemic.

The fact is that the BBC acts to underpin our creative sector. It the Government start chipping away at its foundations, they will undermine the structure and fabric of our cultural institutions and a big part of what makes the cultural industries so profitable and popular internationally. At present, production costs are spiralling due to inflation and increased competition from other broadcasters. The BBC has already trimmed quite a lot of the fat behind the scenes, so the impact of further cuts is likely to be more obvious to viewers. Will the Minister speculate and tell us today where he thinks the cuts needed for the BBC to balance its books should come from?

To give the Minister credit, in recent debates he has defended the work of the BBC and the way it is funded. I appreciate that decisions on funding statements are taken at a higher pay grade by his superiors, but did the Minister know that they had been taken and that this announcement was due? Perhaps he can share with us today his feelings when he saw the tweet about the future of the BBC’s funding and the threatened end of the licence fee. The Treasury has indicated that it will not chase down the £4 billion fraudulently claimed from its coronavirus support schemes at the height of the pandemic, so why not reverse that—track down the money in order to properly fund the BBC and other services and reduce, or at least offset, the planned tax increases that will hit family budgets far harder than the licence fee ever could?

We need a stable and secure funding base for the BBC, a more co-operative and collegiate approach from the Secretary of State, and a proper plan in place to effectively review the BBC’s charter and address the long-term issues that the Secretary of State raised about the dynamic and fast-changing nature of the digital, media and communications sector, which contributes so much to this country, its national life and our economy. This Statement was about little of the above, and I am afraid that it was much more about the shambles that, hour by hour and day by day, this Government have descended into.

My Lords, the BBC is 100 this year—what a birthday present from the Secretary of State this is. What possible reason is there for this attack on an institution that is the backbone of our world-beating creative industries, doubling its money, so far as investment in our creative economy goes?

Does the Minister not agree that the effect of initial BBC spending multiplies as it ripples through the economy, from region to region and sector to sector? Does he agree that it is pivotal in supporting our creative industries through innovation, skills and training, which directly feed into the Government’s levelling-up agenda, making programmes across the country that boost local economies and utilise local skills? BBC investment over decades has helped to develop significant local creative hubs across the UK, not to mention a network of local radio and TV, ensuring that a spotlight is shone on important regional issues and essential local news.

Does the Minister agree that 43p a day, which is the cost of the licence fee, offers exceptional value to all audiences across the UK, supplying via television, radio and the internet British content that is universally available to everyone across the country? Cuts will affect everyone but especially those with only free-to-air TV and radio, who tend to be less well off and older. Does the Minister not also agree that the BBC has been a lifeline through the pandemic, providing both news that the public trusted and essential support, through Bitesize, for those home-schooling?

Does the Minister agree that the World Service and the programmes that it exports, which showcase this country’s creative talent, are central to promoting the UK around the world, and are the envy of the world? The BBC was described by our Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, as

“the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values”.

The DCMS is not the department for social policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has mentioned; there are more direct ways to help those who are trying to deal with the burden of inflation plus increased energy bills. So will the Minister please listen to the words of Richard Sharp, chair of the BBC and a member of his party:

“I believe that the case for a well-funded, modern and efficient national broadcaster has not diminished over the past decade, but grown”?

Have the Government assessed the impact of this funding freeze on the BBC? Given that 95% of BBC spend goes into content and its delivery—despite what the Daily Mail says—what would the Minister be happy to do without? What about an impact assessment of this decision on the UK creative economy as a whole? Finally, does he not agree that these decisions cannot continue to be made behind closed doors—we believe that there is disagreement within the Cabinet about the announcement—and that we need an independent licence fee commission?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their questions. I will deal first with the question of timing and the assertion that this may be to do with other matters. I point out that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is under an obligation, under Article 43 of the BBC’s royal charter, to determine a funding settlement for the level of the licence fee for a period of “at least five years” from 1 April this year. She is also required to make her determination as far in advance of April as possible—that is what she set out in her Statement to another place on 17 January.

I welcome the focus of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on the cost of living. I was not clear from his remarks whether he agrees with the Government’s decision to announce the freeze in the fee so that the licence fee remains at £159 for two years, before rising in line with inflation—or whether he would have supported the alternative, which was for the licence fee to rise to £180 by 2027. But I welcome his recognition that there is a rationale for the decision that the Secretary of State has taken.

As the noble Baroness says, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is not a social policy department as some others are, but this is one area in which we are able to help people with the bills they face as the cost of living rises. Again, it was not clear from her Benches whether the decision to help people met with her party’s support.

Across the country, businesses and households face rising bills and are tightening their belts. It is right to expect the BBC to do the same and to support people as they do so. The decision we have taken follows extensive discussions with the BBC—negotiations that began as far back as November 2020—which involved my right honourable friend and her predecessor as Secretary of State and continued until, most recently, 12 January, the Wednesday before she made her Statement in another place. I was aware of those discussions and welcome the decision to help people with the rising bills they face.

On the idea that this attacks or undermines the BBC, which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said, I simply point out that the settlement provides the BBC with some £3.7 billion in licence fee funding this year and £23 billion over the duration of the settlement period. It also gives the BBC financial certainty for the next six years, to the end of the current charter period, so that it can continue doing its excellent work, which I have been very glad to pay tribute to in your Lordships’ House before; I continue to do so.

I agree with the noble Baroness in her remarks quoting the Prime Minister, who, since he left the Foreign Office and moved to Downing Street, has repeated the comments about the value of the BBC—not just the World Service but at home—and the lifeline it provided to many people during the pandemic. That is why we have given the settlement that we have.

We also gave a generous settlement to S4C, which was set out in the Statement. S4C plays a vital role in supporting the Welsh economy, culture and society, and the Government decided to award it a £7.5 million per year uplift from the licence fee to support its digital development. In total, that will provide S4C with approximately £88.8 million in licence fee funding per annum, which will rise in line with increases to the licence fee from April.

We believe this is a fair settlement for the BBC, S4C and licence fee payers across the United Kingdom. It strikes the right balance between protecting households and allowing the BBC and S4C to deliver their vital public responsibilities. The settlement will encourage the BBC to make further savings and efficiencies as it becomes a leaner organisation that delivers better value to licence fee payers.

The Government will also more than double the borrowing limit of the BBC’s commercial arm to £750 million, which will enable the BBC to access private finance as it pursues an ambitious commercial growth strategy and to boost investment in the creative economy across the UK. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness are right to point to the important part it plays in the wider creative economy.

The BBC is a beacon for news reporting and the arts around the world, and has a unique place in our cultural heritage. We want it to continue to thrive in the decades to come, and to thrive alongside its competitors. That is why, as the Secretary of State also announced, the Government believe that it is the right time to begin asking serious questions about the long-term funding model of the BBC. We need to ask whether a mandatory licence fee is still appropriate, particularly as audience viewing habits have changed, especially among younger viewers.

The context of that debate is important. Over the last three years, the number of licence fees paid has declined by some 700,000. We need to acknowledge that the criminal sanction for non-payment of the licence fee can cause considerable stress and anxiety for people, particularly at a time when the cost of living is rising.

I was staggered to learn that almost one-third of convictions of women in this country are for non-payment of the licence fee. A growing number of women are getting criminal records and some are being imprisoned for non-payment of the fines imposed. These are the questions we should be asking and the debate we should be having as we undertake the review of the overall licence fee model. As the Secretary of State set out in her Statement in another place, this is the start of a discussion. I saw in the papers this weekend that the former Labour Culture Secretary, James Purnell, a senior executive at the BBC until recently, has started to engage in that debate in a very thoughtful way. I look forward to having that debate with noble Lords from across the House, but I hope they will agree that it is an important discussion to have.

My Lords, I apologise for being premature, but I wanted to congratulate the noble Baroness on what she said, which my noble friend repeated. I have no objection whatever to re-examining the basis of the licence fee. That is a sensible thing to do, but what concerns me is the accompanying statements made by the Secretary of State for Culture, which seem to suggest that this has been more about a political battle between the Government and the BBC than the future of the corporation. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will dissociate himself from that campaign and say that that is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, this is not part of any political discussion, other than the politics of ensuring, in the short term, that people are assisted with the rising cost of living and, in the long term, ensuring that the BBC has a sustainable model to continue to produce the excellent output that it does, both at home and around the world. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State paid tribute to it in her Statement and we all continue to do so. It is because we want to see it thrive that we want to make sure that it has the best sustainable model for the long term.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of just how much the BBC licence fee payer gets for his or her relatively low outlay on the licence fee? Let me just list the services: 10 TV services; 10 national radio services; 40 local radio stations; BBC iPlayer; BBC education programmes; the World Service; the BBC website and much more. Why are the Government jeopardising the quality of these many, varied services by their mean-spirited decision to freeze the licence fee for two years, thereby leading to a real-terms cut in BBC revenue? The explanation given in the Statement and implied by what the Minister said earlier—that the Government want to put more money into hard-pressed households’ pockets—just does not make sense, given the trivial amount entailed per household. If that is really what the Government want to do, I am sure the Minister will agree that abandoning their increase in national insurance payments, which really would make a difference, would be a better approach.

I do not think a settlement of more than £23 billion can be called mean-spirited. The noble Baroness is right to point to the wide range of things that the BBC does, but it is right, as we decide what the cost to the licence fee payer should be, that we look at those services in the context of the changing landscape and the other ways that people are consuming their news content and their entertainment provision and make sure that the BBC continues to be funded in a way that maintains its excellence and is fair to the people who pay for it.

My Lords, notwithstanding the success of S4C, does the Minister agree that BBC Cymru Wales makes an extraordinary, virtuous and unifying contribution to the life of people in Wales? Will he give an undertaking to the House that nothing will occur to undermine the quality of public service broadcasting through the BBC in and for Wales, given the huge contribution that BBC Cymru Wales makes to news, popular culture and sport for the people of the Principality?

My Lords, as the BBC is operationally and editorially independent, it is up to it to decide how it spends its settlement, but I know it will want to maintain its excellent reputation throughout the United Kingdom in representing and delivering an excellent service to people right across the British Isles, as S4C does in Wales, as the noble Lord says.

Will the Minister advise the Secretary of State that it would give greater veracity to her criticisms of the BBC if she refrained from commenting on party-political bias? That is the job of the party chairman. As Secretary of State, she is the sponsor for the broadcasting industry and I suggest she leaves criticisms of party-political bias to a different authority.