House of Lords
Thursday 27 January 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Capita: Turing Scheme Contract
My Lords, the procurement was run in line with Cabinet Office rules and bids were evaluated on the answers to four questions relating to quality and social value, compliance with a range of financial and corporate information tests and the cost of the service. Scores were moderated and weighted in line with the published evaluation model. Capita received the highest overall score and provided the best plan to administer opportunities for students to study and work abroad.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the significant disquiet within the HE sector about this contract, notably from the University and College Union and the University Council of Modern Languages, on the grounds that Capita has a track record of failure on a range of other government contracts? The criteria listed by the Minister do not convince me that due diligence adequately covered the kind of experience and networks across the sector needed to run the scheme, rather than just being a cheaper alternative to the all-round stature and experience of the British Council. What mechanisms are in place to ensure quality assurance in the Capita contract?
I am happy to try to reassure the noble Baroness. We are confident that Capita has the capacity and the skills to administer the Turing scheme. The delivery of the scheme is a major DfE project and therefore subject to best-practice project management principles. We have a dedicated delivery management team that will work with Capita to make sure it is fulfilling its contractual obligations. Looking at the quality aspects relating to the scheme itself, there are performance metrics and financial incentives around the key milestones to make sure that it delivers a good service.
Capita may have been the lowest cost, but what experience does it have of higher education and international student exchange? How many fewer students do the Government expect to go to the EU as a result of this change from the Erasmus scheme? In addition to that, should we not see this in the context of the Government seeking to reduce ties with the EU?
Capita is administering the grants in relation to the scheme, and it has huge experience of that. It works with 21,000 schools, with almost all local authorities and closely with the Department for Education. If I may say so, the scheme is intentionally offering more opportunities to disadvantaged children who want to go to countries where they do not have to speak a foreign language. Over 60% of applications are for outside the EU.
My Lords, does my noble friend not accept that there is considerable disquiet that Turing is not an adequate replacement for Erasmus? It is not reciprocal in the same way, there is no guarantee that we will receive a large stream of students from abroad, and it is more indicative of insular Britain than of global Britain.
I absolutely cannot accept what my noble friend suggests. We have had over 41,000 applications for the scheme this year. That compares with around 16,500 under Erasmus+ in 2019-20. Forty-eight per cent of those placements are from students from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared to 37% under Erasmus. We are aiming for global Britain and this reflects it.
My Lords, a huge concern is that Turing does not pay for tuition fees. What assessment have the Government made of provision within the 120 countries participating in Erasmus, since why would such providers accept UK students when Erasmus will cover the fees for those institutions?
The noble Earl is right to raise the issue of tuition fees, but I am sure he is aware that even under Erasmus+ half of mobility placements were outside Erasmus+. Judging by the incredible success of our universities announced yesterday, with 605,000 international students coming to our universities —a ratio of two to one of in-placements to out under Erasmus—I do not think it is our top concern.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the APPG for modern and foreign languages. Removing the Turing scheme from the British Council, which has a global reach and reputation, is questionable. Awarding it to Capita, whose list of public sector failures in England is extensive, is frankly incredible. How does the Minister justify this decision? Is it based on an ideology that, axiomatically for her, “public sector bad, private sector good”, even in the face of evidence to the contrary?
No, I tried to set out at the beginning how the decision was taken but I can give the noble Baroness more detail. The criteria for appointing the new provider were based 70% on quality and 30% on cost. Within that 70%, 10% was in relation to social value and Capita came out as the stronger provider on both counts.
I thank my noble friend for his question. As I mentioned, 48% of applications have come from students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have made it a great focus of the scheme and its promotion geographically has tried to reach communities that have not previously participated as strongly in these kinds of international exchanges. We are making sure that the nature of the placements and the financial model to support them particularly encourage disadvantaged students.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness not recognise that this issue of a lack of reciprocity and places for overseas—not just European —students in British universities is a serious failing of the Turing scheme? The figures she gives are not very convincing because we have always taken in more students to our excellent higher education sector than we have sent to others, so that is nothing new.
I can only repeat for the noble Lord that funding has been made available this year for over 41,000 placements. I appreciate that they are not all comparable in scale to the previous ones but 41,000 young people will access this scheme, compared to 16,596 under Erasmus. I leave the House to judge.
My Lords, the Minister is talking about how well the Turing scheme started. She omitted to tell the House that the British Council in fact set the scheme up and ran it for the first year of its operation, having previously run Erasmus+. It has absolutely unparalleled international contacts and networks, and an understanding of student exchange. Is the Minister remotely worried that it has taken one cut in funding after another? Does she have any reservations about prioritising short-term savings over supporting a major public institution, which is part of our soft power around the world?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right to pick me up on not having acknowledged the British Council’s role in the set-up of the scheme. We are very grateful to it, as we are for the way that it and the new provider are working together to ensure a seamless transition. The international network is less relevant to this contract because it is about grant administration. It is up to the institutions participating in the scheme to make those international links.
My Lords, is my noble friend not astonished that many of the people now carping about how the scheme is run, even though it has delivered two-and-a-half times more people, were not so long ago telling us that if Erasmus disappeared there would be no opportunities at all? Does she not get a bit tired of those people still fighting old battles?
NHS: Nurse Recruitment
The Government are committed to increasing nurse numbers in the National Health Service in England. We are on target to deliver this commitment by the end of the Parliament. We are increasing domestic recruitment, expanding nursing apprenticeships, increasing ethical international recruitment and taking action to improve retention across the NHS. Nurses employed by NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups have increased by over 10,900 since October 2020, to almost 310,100 as of October 2021.
My Lords, I very much welcome that increase in the number of nurses in the NHS but it is not enough, as the Minister knows. If we are to meet the needs of the NHS, we shall have to look at our dedicated and committed workforce to see if we can increase the level of retention among them. I know that the Minister talks to nurses and I am sure he hears the same as I do: almost every one will say that every day they are on the wards, they face abuse from patients. Can the Minister look at the best practice, which some hospital authorities may be pursuing, to see whether that can be applied more widely across the NHS?
I thank the noble Lord for giving us the opportunity to thank the nurses, and indeed all medical staff, for the incredible work that they do for us, day in, day out. On retaining staff, since 2017 NHS England and NHS Improvement have supported trusts with an intensive retention and support programme. There is also emotional, psychological and practical support for NHS and care staff. It is really important that we not only recruit new staff but retain the great staff that we have.
As the noble Baroness will be aware, there is a bursary available to encourage people into nursing but we are looking at completely different training pathways. It is not the old-fashioned way of being trained as you leave school and that being your one chance. We now have a number of different ways in, including degrees and apprenticeships. I could read all the different pathways out but I am happy to write to the noble Baroness with these details.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats and the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, wishes to speak virtually. This is a convenient point to call him.
My Lords, the Government signed up to the 2010 World Health Organization code of practice committing to a self-sustaining supply of doctors and nurses in the UK. Yet Patrick Cockburn and Professor Rachel Jenkins point out that the UK still trains proportionally fewer medical staff than other OECD countries. When does the Minister expect us to reach the WHO target, rather than recruiting medical staff trained by countries in much worse situations than ourselves?
We do not think we should just have a protectionist view on staff. It is important that we recruit British staff from the UK, but we should not have a policy of British jobs for British workers. There are very good staff across the world. Indeed, in some countries they train more staff than they have places for in their health system so that they become a foreign revenue earner. Many people who have looked at the statistics say that remittances quite often are more effective than foreign aid.
My noble friend makes a valuable point about the cost of agency nurses, which is why we have the goal of recruiting 50,000 nurses. We are looking at completely different pathways to ensure that we can encourage people into nursing. I do not have the statistics with me, but I will write to my noble friend.
I thank the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to explain that. It is really important that we do not suck out the best talent from countries, especially those with a shortage of medical staff. We are very clear that we talk to countries that train more staff than they need for their domestic service so that they can come here as foreign revenue earners. We have also published updated guidelines.
Is it not a real problem that the Treasury has not yet set the budget for Health Education England, given that there are fewer than three months before the new financial year and it has the responsibility for the number of new nurses that are going to be trained in this country?
I am afraid I disagree with the noble Lord, because we are on track to reach our 50,000 target, particularly because we are not just using one route in. We are using a number of different routes; people can retrain from other courses, and we have apprenticeships. We are looking at completely different, innovative pathways into nursing.
My Lords, the Government’s own impact assessment suggests that mandatory vaccination against Covid could lead to the loss of some 73,000 NHS staff in England. When designing their policies, did the Government take into account how many nurses might be among this number? Will the Minister take the opportunity of the Health and Care Bill to bring forward a long-term workforce plan to address the shortages of nurses and other staff?
I congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing up an issue for the Health and Care Bill. In terms of VCOD—vaccination as a condition of deployment—most NHS staff are vaccinated, and those who are reluctant to be vaccinated are being offered one-to-one conversations with management to see whether they can be persuaded to take the vaccine or be redeployed elsewhere.
My Lords, over the last two years I have been encouraged by the way in which the NHS has creatively met the mental health needs of nurses and other healthcare workers, encouraging their well-being and recognising what contributes to that. Can the Minister reassure us that the funding that has gone in over the last two years will continue to be put into the NHS, ensuring that we look after the well-being of our staff?
That is an incredibly important point, which relates to an earlier point put by the noble Lord about retention. It is important that we look after our staff. We know that the last two years have been incredibly stressful, even more than usual, and that is why we have a number of different ways to help the health and well-being of the staff.
My Lords, is it not the case that the NHS should never have got into a situation where we are so dependent on international staff from developing countries? Can he confirm whether it is true that the NHS trusts are being paid by NHS England up to £7,000 for each vacant post to try to fill those posts from overseas countries, including India and the Philippines?
I cannot comment on the exact numbers, but I will find the answer and write to the noble Baroness. I might add that I am the son of people who came from outside the UK or European Union, and I get slightly concerned with the tone when people say, “Let’s not have foreign nurses in our NHS.” It is important. Immigration plays a brilliant role in this country and always has. If you look at the post-war public services of this country, it was people from the Commonwealth who came and saved our public services.
Can I say to the Minister that more nurses means more uniforms and more garments? The NHS boasts about being the largest employer in Europe, so what action does the National Health Service take to ensure that the cotton in any of the garments used for NHS nurses’ uniforms is not grown in Xinjiang in China? The technology is available to do that; paperwork is not required, and people tell lies. The use of technology would guarantee that we could play our part in making sure that slave labour is not part of the production of our nurses’ uniforms.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I tell him that I have not examined nurses’ garments in detail. In terms of provenance, it is important at the moment—and we are doing this on lots of equipment that comes to the UK—to ensure that it is not from regions where there is slave labour, or where the Muslim Uighurs are being persecuted by the Chinese Government. We need to do more; indeed, I have had conversations in the department to find out how we can trace the sources of the products and equipment that we buy to make sure that they are ethically sourced.
I am afraid I do not have the answer to that question, but I can certainly look into it. I am not sure what the deficit will be but, as I said, we are on course to recruit 50,000, not just from the UK and from different pathways—not only degrees and apprenticeships—but also from all over the world and not just Europe.
Social Care Sector: Private Equity
Under the Care Act 2014, it is the responsibility of local authorities to shape their local markets, which are largely made up of privately owned and third sector services. No assessment of the impact of private equity on the sector has been made, but, as of December 2021, 84% of care providers are rated “Good” or “Outstanding”. The market oversight scheme mitigates the risk of a sudden failure of potentially difficult to replace care providers.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which is really unsatisfactory because private equity is a disaster for the care home sector. To take one example, HC-One, which is the largest care home operator, is siphoning off 20% of its revenues to offshore affiliates through intra-group transactions, leaving very little for front-line services. Since 2011, it has declared a loss every year except one and paid no corporation tax but paid dividends of £48.5 million. Can the Minister explain why the Government tolerate such abuses? When will there be an independent inquiry?
We value the role of independent and third sector care homes. It is important that we have that right mix. Some private companies will include private equity, and it is important not to tar all private equity with the same brush. Private equity plays a role in many companies in turning them around and retaining jobs. The important thing for us is that, if any companies are potentially in financial trouble, we have the market oversight scheme to ensure that, if they go bust, there is an ability to transfer patients elsewhere.
My Lords, front-line carers often get paid around £9 or £10 an hour, and it is hard to survive on that. Yet last year, Barchester Healthcare’s CEO collected 120 times more than his care staff. What proposals does the Minister have to ensure that public moneys paid to private care homes are used to improve care and staff welfare and not siphoned off to fat cat executives?
The CQC has a role in making sure that the care provided to care home residents is of satisfactory quality. As I said, 84% of care providers are rated good or outstanding. The market oversight scheme examines companies that could potentially be in trouble and keeps a close eye on them. There are six stages in the market oversight scheme to make sure that we manage that.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, is aware of the major benefits to our economy and the provision of social care contributed by the UK’s successful private equity sector. Private capital is driving the development of the UK’s world-leading technology sector and powers the growth of the UK’s dynamic new businesses. I have been chairman of the EIS Association for some 10 years. EIS has been a significant source of risk finance for new and small businesses. Is the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, aware that 32,965 companies have received £24 billion of EIS funds since EIS was introduced?
I correct my noble friend: his question should be directed towards me. I am not sure whether the procedure allows me to delegate the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, to answer the question—I will have to find out.
The private sector, the third sector and private equity play an important role. The most important thing is the quality of care that patients get and making sure that we have a market oversight scheme, so that if any companies are potentially in trouble, we can manage that, if they go under.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, wishes to speak virtually, and I think that this is a convenient point to call her.
My Lords, typically, private equity-backed providers spend about 16% of the bed fee on complex buy-out debt obligations. The accounts of Care UK show that it paid £4.1 million in rent in 2019 to Silver Sea Holdings—a company registered in low-tax Luxembourg—which is also owned by Care UK’s parent company, Bridgepoint. Given that the ONS says that 63% of care home residents are paid for from the public purse, does the Minister not think that private equity providers should be subject to a financial code of conduct?
What is important is to make sure that we have continuous and high-quality care for patients. Therefore, where there are concerns about the financial stability of any company, whether it is funded by private equity or otherwise privately owned, it is important that we have a system to make sure that we manage that. If a company goes under, there is the ability to transfer patients to high-quality care. The important thing for us is the quality of care for patients—it is important that we put patients first.
My Lords, last year, during the pandemic, the business that my noble friend has referred to, HC-One, paid 10%—nearly £5 million, tax free—of those dividends to its financial controllers, who are holed up in the Cayman Islands. At the same time, it was given almost £20 million from the Government’s infection control fund to help it through the pandemic. Clearly, people’s pockets are getting picked here. If ever anything called for an independent inquiry, it is this behaviour by private equity businesses. Such behaviour is concerning the Bank of England: the Financial Stability Report shows that the level of leveraged debt that these businesses have is a threat to our economy.
The noble Lord makes an important point about the level of debt, but I am sure he is aware that a number of private companies operate with levels of debt. As we saw in the financial crisis, the issue is whether that debt is sustainable. The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, who is an accounting standards expert, understands all of the issues around IFRS 9 and all of the downsides to that when sufficient provision is not made for debt.
My Lords, the Minister’s predecessor in this role repeatedly told the House that there was nothing wrong with the business model for the care home sector, despite record numbers of closures—particularly of small, independent homes, which are the backbone of residential care—and the dire financial problems that they face, with councils unable to pay going rates for staff pay and residents’ fees. This is all compounded by the pandemic. The Centre for Health and the Public Interest estimates that around £1.5 billion leaks out of the health system each year, listed as
“dividend payments, net interest payments out, directors’ fees, and profits”.
Should this not all be going to front-line patient care?
I am sorry if people do not agree with that, but the quality of care that patients receive is the most important thing. As of November 2021, 84% of all social care settings were rated good or outstanding by the CQC. For most people, the experience of adult social care has been positive, but, clearly, the pandemic came. To mitigate the risk posed by debt and other financial pressures in the sector, the Care Quality Commission operates the market oversight scheme, which monitors the financial stability and sustainability of the largest and potentially most difficult to replace providers in the adult social care sector.
My Lords, of course the quality of care is very important, but, at the moment, it is being provided at the expense of the exploitation of workers, who are paid £9 to £10 an hour. How many noble Lords in this House would have been happy to live on that for the whole of their lives?
The noble Baroness raises an important point about the pay of staff. One of the things that we are looking to do with social care staff is to make sure that it is an attractive career and to persuade all providers to try to pay their staff a more sustainable wage. That is why we invested money into social care. We also must make sure that we get away from the situation where some private providers effectively subsidise state-funded providers, and make sure that they receive a suitable return.
My Lords, on a number of occasions, the Minister has referred to the fact that, if these complex financial arrangements go wrong, we have the ability to transfer patients. Would he acknowledge that, when patients are forced to be transferred, the shock is too much for some of them and they die or suffer significant health damage?
I will look into that. I thank the noble Baroness for raising that important point. As I have said a number of times—noble Lords are probably bored of hearing me say it—we take the quality of care seriously. We know that the social care sector has been, frankly, abandoned for far too long, which is one of the reasons that we have brought forward the Health and Care Bill, to make sure that we have integration across the whole of people’s life path and that they are not just forgotten towards the end of their lives.
My Lords, is the social care sector not one in which mutuals and charities are more appropriate providers than private equity companies? My family has benefited enormously from an excellent charity running a number of care homes, but I am conscious that some charities have moved out of the sector. Would the Government not like actively to encourage non-profits to be involved more widely in this sector?
The noble Lord makes a very important point about mutuals: they play an incredible role. Indeed, at the founding of the NHS, one of the sad things was that the state pushed out many mutuals. The number of friendly societies and mutuals went down. It is important that we make sure that we have enough mutuals in the economy.
Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan: Gambling Addiction
My Lords, the action plan contains over 60 commitments worth over £70 million and sets the direction for delivering for our veterans between 2022 and 2024. It does not represent the limit of the Government’s ambitions, and we continue to work across government to address issues affecting veterans. We take gambling seriously. Veterans can access a range of support, including via the 24/7 Veterans’ Gateway, and the National Gambling Helpline also gives advice to anyone affected by gambling problems in England, Scotland and Wales.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but, as in other countries, recent research from the Forces in Mind Trust and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund shows that the UK’s service personnel and our veterans are more likely to experience gambling harm than the general population, and yet Operation Courage, and now the Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan, make reference to help for drugs and alcohol problems but not gambling problems. Does the Minister now accept that there is sufficient evidence to justify much greater action on this issue?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s work in this area. I will not allow myself to venture into personal opinions on gambling—I am answering as a Minister. We are grateful to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund for its work and are assessing its findings and the Forces in Mind Trust report. We will take both those reports very seriously in considering our work going forward.
My Lords, we are at times in danger of giving the impression that the majority of our veterans who leave service are troubled, yet I remind your Lordships’ House that 96% of service leavers make a successful transition to a civilian career within six months of leaving. It is an excellent action plan, but if I were to have one criticism, it is that it is not until page 32 that the Government first talk about promoting a positive image of our veterans. Can I ask my noble friend if that could be the headline—that service veterans are excellent people to employ?
I agree profoundly with what my noble friend said, and he is right that the significant majority of veterans go on to live happy and healthy lives when they move out of the Armed Forces, and make as great a contribution to our society when they are not serving as when they did. That does not absolve the Government of the duty to stand by those who need additional support.
My Lords, the RAF Benevolent Fund research, to which the noble Lord, Lord Foster, refers, merely corroborates the Army’s own assessment that military veterans are eight times more likely to have gambling problems than the rest of the country’s population. Should the Government ask themselves not what do we do for the people whose distress has caused them to fall into this difficulty, but why there is such a prevalence of those who give their military service to this country developing this distressing condition?
I do not detract from the significance of what the noble Lord said, with his very great experience. The reality is that this Government take seriously the gambling concerns and problems in all sectors of society, and are committed to tackling gambling-related harms. As he will know, the Ministry of Defence is continuing to develop welfare support policies for supporting personnel, including those with gambling problems, and the MoD restricts the ability of service personnel to access online gambling sites.
There is a Gambling Act review, which I know that some noble Lords will feel is taking a little time. It will be, and is, the most thorough review of gambling law since the Labour Government’s Act and we need to get it right. We are continuing with that and have already taken interim action—for example, banning gambling on credit cards.
My Lords, it is absolutely right that we pay tribute to those veterans who have successfully transitioned back into civilian life, but nevertheless the research by the RAF Benevolent Fund is striking, with much higher levels of problem gambling and at-risk gambling among veterans, which we need to attend to. Are there any plans by Her Majesty’s Government to screen those transitioning back into civilian life, and to provide additional support where necessary?
As I have already said, the Government are grateful to the RAF Benevolent Fund and are considering that research. The NHS long-term plan is addressing provision for those who have gambling problems, and we will continue to work to ensure that we detect and support problems where they arise. In that respect, I am on all fours with every noble Lord who has contributed so far.
I commend the Government for establishing a review of the treatment of LGBT veterans who served in our Armed Forces between 1967 and 2000, when many were disciplined, dismissed and humiliated for homosexual conduct which was perfectly legal in civilian life. Can my noble friend assure these veterans that, when the review is completed, it will be followed by action to address the suffering and hardship that they endured?
I pay tribute to my noble friend and others on all Benches who have campaigned on this matter. I am pleased to tell him that setting up this process is not the end; the end is the action that follows. We are committed to taking tangible action, where appropriate, to redress past wrongs. To do this in a meaningful way, we have to fully understand the impact that the historic ban still has today, and the independent review will help to do that.
My Lords, we know from research from Swansea University and others that veterans are 10 times more likely than non-veterans to experience problem gambling, yet we do not screen for it. Support for those leaving the Armed Forces has vastly improved in recent decades but there is still more to do, and support cannot be provided if we do not know those most likely to need it. When the Minister goes back to his department and speaks to colleagues at the MoD, will he encourage them to include screening for a propensity for problem gambling as part of the usual mental health screening?
I am sure that my colleagues will take note of everything said in this House; I certainly promise the noble Baroness that. I remind the House, if anyone doubts this Government’s commitment, that it was this Government who set up the first ever dedicated Office for Veterans’ Affairs, to champion veterans in every respect, at the heart of government. We have an action plan and we will have a veterans strategy refresh, drawing on all the wise advice given by your Lordships and others, but I think the Government deserve some credit for what has actually been done here.
My noble friend puts me in a dangerous place. The Government’s answer—and it is right—is to undertake as comprehensive a review of the Gambling Act as there has ever been, and that will be pursued. My personal view, as a sports fan, is that I am sick and tired of gambling advertising being thrust down viewers’ throats.
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their Ministers are expected to abide by the standards of conduct as set out in paragraph 1.3(c) of the Ministerial Code, as reflected in the resolution of the House of 20 March 1997 and paragraph 4.67 of the Companion to Standing Orders.
Yes, my Lords. Like all Ministers, I assented to the Ministerial Code on entering office, as I am sure all those in this House in all parties who have had the honour of serving as one of Her Majesty’s Ministers will have done. The code sets out the standards expected of all those who serve in government. Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in light of the code, and for justifying their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public.
My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lord Foulkes on Tuesday 7 December, the Minister of State—the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith —denied reports that the Prime Minister intervened to evacuate an animal charity from Kabul at the height of the crisis. Yesterday, however, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published an email from the Minister’s private office in August, which stated, contrary to this, that
“the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.
Only one of these two statements can be true—which is it? Given that paragraph 4.67 of the Companion clearly states that Ministers must correct any inadvertent errors at the earliest opportunity, or offer their resignation if they have knowingly misled, surely the noble Lord, Lord True, agrees that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, should, as a matter of urgency, return to make a Statement to the House. It is what all noble Lords would expect.
My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the code, and for justifying their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public. I refer the noble Lord opposite to the statement that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith put out yesterday, in which he said:
“I did not authorise & do not support anything that would have put animals’ lives ahead of people’s … I never discussed the … charity or their efforts to evacuate animals with the”
My Lords, did the Minister by any chance see the strapline comment by Guido Fawkes over the video of the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, leaving the Chamber, which read, “We have now reached the point where Ministers have to explain which scandal of the Government’s they are resigning over”? We have another scandal here—an apparent contradiction between what one Minister has said and what it appears from the official record—which needs to be cleared up. We have a Ministerial Code which is effectively policed by a Prime Minister who has now lost public trust. Could not the Government begin to regain public trust by accepting recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the Ministerial Code should be placed on a firmer statutory basis?
The noble Lord started off with “scandal” and retreated to “apparent contradiction”. I would advise him and others to refer both to the statement put out by my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and the official statements put out by No. 10 Downing Street and the Defence Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee yesterday.
My Lords, once again we are being treated to Ministers in studios and in the House not facing up to the fact that the evidence is out there. These emails are there for people to see. I have not heard one Minister deny that the Nowzad animals were helped out of Afghanistan by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the Prime Minister—and possibly also by the intervention of his wife—or say that these emails are not correct. So the evidence is there. Over and above that, my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who cannot be with us today, was on LBC last night with Dominic Dyer, who explained at length how it happened, because he was involved in identifying the Prime Minister, his wife and the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, as helping them to get the animals out of Afghanistan. He is upset because they will not take credit for it; that is what is upsetting him. So when will we get to the point where Ministers here or in television studios will live in the same world as the rest of us, when all the evidence proves the contrary of what they are saying?
My Lords, I fear I say too often in this House that allegations do not constitute proof. I remind noble Lords that whatever the context of this particular circumstance, a truly outstanding operation was conducted to remove people from Afghanistan safely. I repeat that statements have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, No. 10 Downing Street and the Defence Secretary which repudiate the allegations being made.
My Lords, does the noble Lord not accept that it is the duty of the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to come to this House and correct or explain the statement, or misstatement, that he made—not to make statements generally? He owes a duty to this House.
No, my Lords—I am saying that there is a set of allegations which have been made in many respects and in many circumstances over the last few weeks, in relation not only to this alleged incident but to others, which are allegations and not proof. We well know the impatience that your Lordships have for the conclusion of the Sue Gray inquiry and the Metropolitan Police investigations, but these matters need to be investigated, the facts established and the truth revealed.
My Lords, I do not want to prolong this unnecessarily, but I think the noble Lord may have missed the point. The only point my noble friends Lord Collins and Lord Browne were raising was that if the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, made a statement to this House that appears on the face of it to be at odds with a statement in an email from his private office that is now public, can he not come to your Lordships’ House to explain? I think that is a very straightforward request, and I hope that the noble Lord, given the comments he has made about Ministers acting on their personal honour, would want to convey that to the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, at the very least. No one is making any allegations, but the House would like, and deserves, an explanation.
My Lords, again, I listen respectfully to the noble Baroness and to all in the House. I stand on the answer I gave that it is for Ministers to decide how to justify their actions and conduct, but I repeat that the assertions that have been made have been repudiated by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, No. 10 Downing Street and the Defence Secretary.
My Lords, in the interests of transparency and good government, will the Minister go back to his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and ask him to come to this House immediately and explain the accurate situation of what really happened, because we now have this email?
My Lords, again, I repeat that everything your Lordships say will of course be referred to those with whom your Lordships are concerned. But I must underline the fact that in the current state of affairs in our country, there are a great deal of allegations that are being taken as fact, and I stand by that comment also. People are innocent until proved guilty.
Subsidy Control Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Subsidy Control Bill has been committed that they consider the bill in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 9, Schedules 1 and 2, Clauses 10 to 78, Schedule 3, Clauses 79 to 92, Title.
Flags (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Motion to Approve
Microchipping of Dogs (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
Transport Act 2000 (Air Traffic Services Licence Modification Appeals) (Prescribed Aerodromes) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
Competition Appeal Tribunal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2022
Motion to Approve
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2022
Motion to Approve
Nationality and Borders Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 7th and 9th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 11th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Historical inability of mothers to transmit citizenship
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 10, leave out “equally” and insert “in the same terms”
Member’s explanatory statement
The JCHR recommended that the Home Office consider how best to ensure that the intention to treat those previously discriminated against equally well as those not previously discriminated against, is made clear in the drafting of Clause 1. This amendment is to probe the drafting of Clause 1.
My Lords, Amendment 1 is grouped with Amendments 2, 8, 9, 10, 12, 17 and 21. Amendment 9 is in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lady Ludford; the others are all in our names.
This Bill is not all bad, so I am glad to be able to start with Part 1, most of which we support, although the exceptions to that support are very significant. This rather gentle introduction is to probe into the clause that remedies historical inequalities. What is not to like? One thing that I do not like—which is not directly related to the Bill, but I am going to take this opportunity to say it—is that I am not comfortable with receiving so many briefings from organisations to which we cannot do justice. That is my discomfort. It is not that we do not want the briefings, but often they come too late for us to reflect concerns in amendments. I know that I am not alone in this House in finding it hard to keep on top of the material and feeling particularly bad about not being able to use all that is sent to us. I hope that organisations—which I know are very often overstretched and understaffed, and have their day job to get on with—will understand that we are not ignoring them, but please could they send us material earlier than sometimes they do? I am sure I am not the only one who has received briefings this morning.
I turn to the substance of the matter. Clause 1 provides for parents where there is discrimination in British nationality law that prevents mothers passing on British Overseas Territories citizenship to their children. It provides for the parents in such cases to be treated equally in terms of passing on that citizenship. The Joint Committee on Human Rights pointed out that this could mean equally well or equally badly; naively, I had not thought about it being equally badly. The way the clause is drafted is not the same as Section 4C of the British Nationality Act, which addresses the same discrimination in respect of British citizenship. That uses the phrase “in the same terms”, and that is what is proposed in several of these various amendments. I understand that concerns have also been raised that the reference to the parents having “been treated equally” is, on its face, unclear. The JCHR said it would be prudent to deal with the drafting so that it is “in the same terms”. I add that when you have different wording relating to very similar situations, that in itself suggests that the two should be dealt with differently.
Amendment 8 takes us to the issue of good character and would repeal Section 41A of the British Nationality Act. That section requires adults and young persons to be “of good character” if they are to be able to register as British citizens. If someone has the right to become a British citizen—or, more accurately in some cases, to have their right to citizenship registered, because the right is to citizenship and registration is simply the procedure—then what is done by the right hand should not, by giving discretion to the Secretary of State, let the left hand take it away. I hope the Secretary of State will allow me, for this purpose, to describe her as the left hand.
This point applies to Amendments 10 and 19 and to Amendment 9 from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lady Ludford. Their explanatory statement is much more elegantly expressed than mine, but it is the same point. This point is particularly acute in the case of a child. Is the test really in the child’s best interests? I saw a bit of resonance with the police Bill, which I was going to say we have so recently finished but of course we have not, when we debated an amendment about candidates’ disqualification for standing for office as police and crime commissioners because of a misdemeanour—I think I can almost use that term in its technical sense—in their youth. This term is not the same as that; it is more amorphous. It is a discretionary matter and is of particular concern. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of Amendments 8 and 9 about good character. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am particularly concerned about its application to children and those whose conduct when a child—and we are talking about children as young as 10—is used to deny the right to register as a citizen, which would otherwise be theirs.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has voiced its concern, not just with regard to this Bill but in a 2019 report, where it pointed out that
“half of the children denied their … right … to British nationality on good character grounds have not even received a criminal conviction (having merely received a police caution)—let alone been prosecuted for ‘heinous crimes’.”
The Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, of which I was a member, expressed considerable concern about the good character requirement. The committee called for a review of its use and description and of the age from which it applies—which is, as I said, 10. The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, of which I am a patron, and Amnesty International, which have been campaigning on this point for some years, say:
“That some British people are required to satisfy the Home Secretary that they are ‘good’ for their citizenship rights to be recognised is divisive and alienating.”
I am not sure how many politicians would come out well as having “good character”, but I shall leave that as it may be. The good character condition is relatively recent in nationality law. It certainly should not be extended; ideally, it should now be scrapped.
My Lords, as we have heard, the Joint Committee on Human Rights spent quite a lot of time considering this and related issues. I should perhaps say at the outset that when I was in the Commons, I served on the Public Bill Committee dealing with the Bill that became the British Nationality Act. I am trying for the life of me to remember some of the details of the discussions. I have not had time to look them all up, but we certainly spent many weeks and many sittings on that Bill, but I do not recall this issue arising. I do not think the good character requirement existed then; I think it was brought in later.
The issue is that in the process of trying to get British nationality, there has been some discrimination, or there would be discrimination if the good character requirement were to apply. I am thinking of somebody who should normally have been able to get British citizenship but was unable to do so and, when applying now, if this is passed, will have to meet the good character requirement. That seems a little odd. I hope I have understood that correctly; that was certainly how we looked at it on the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Perhaps the best thing I can do is to quote from the committee’s report, because it states it very clearly. This is from paragraph 41:
“We reiterate concerns made by this Committee in previous Parliaments that requiring good character when considering applications resolving prior discrimination risks perpetuating the effects of discrimination for those previously discriminated against. Moreover, we also share the concerns raised by the JCHR in 2019 about the appropriateness of the good character requirements being applied to children, particularly children whose main or only real connection may be with the UK. It is difficult to align this requirement with the obligation to have the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.”
That is the case for this amendment.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee has comprehensively explained the reasons for these amendments, which we support. On the issue of good character, if someone has the right to become a British citizen—they already have that right; they just want to register it—what has good character got to do with it, particularly if they are children? Even if the applicant is guilty of a criminal offence, surely denial of citizenship is a disproportionate punishment.
What are we to say about people who acquire British citizenship at birth? We do not say to British citizens, “You’ve been found guilty of a criminal offence, so we are going to take away your citizenship.” What is the difference if people have to apply to register their British citizenship? We fully support these amendments.
My Lords, I just second what everyone else has said, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whose Amendment 9 I have had the honour to co-sign. As he pointed out, the key element to stress here is that the imposition of a good character requirement for citizenship now would perpetuate discrimination against those who have been discriminated against in the past, when the whole—laudable—point of Part 1, which, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee pointed out, is the only good bit of the Bill, is to rectify historical injustice.
Indeed, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights believes, it could well amount to
“unlawful discrimination, contrary to Article 14 as read with Article 8 ECHR, to require a person to prove good character when remedying previous unlawful discrimination against that person.”
When applied to children, it is even more unfair and obviously against their best interests. Hence the need to delete Clause 3(4), which is the focus of Amendment 9. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to the quotation that this is “divisive, alienating” and unjust, compared to the treatment of other British citizens.
Good character is not even defined in statute—in this case, the British Nationality Act—but only in a Home Office policy document. The courts have stipulated that Home Office decision-makers should make an overall assessment, including evidence of positive good character—which is presumably difficult in the case of a child, certainly a small child—but, inevitably, the guidance focuses caseworkers’ minds on when to refuse on grounds of bad character. Instead of that holistic, individualised approach to assessment, there can be an inevitably negative approach.
Due to past discrimination, any conduct subsequent to 2002 could risk being a bar to obtaining British citizenship; whereas, if that person had not been discriminated against and had been allowed citizenship 20 years ago, along with others, any subsequent conduct would not have affected their British nationality. It is a double whammy of discrimination. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, the JCHR has long raised the objection that requiring good character when considering applications to resolve prior discrimination simply perpetuates the effect. It is not only unfair, especially for children, but illegal.
The committee is thus entirely consistent in urging the deletion of Clause 3(4). At the very least, I should like to hear from the Minister in her reply whether she can clarify exactly how the discrimination would be used.
My Lords, briefly, I offer Green group support for these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a point that needs to be reinforced. We have a question, which will arise later with my Amendment 33. Do we have one class of British citizenship or two? If you are not a British citizen because of past discrimination, can we really allow you to be discriminated against again just because of where you or where your parents were born? That is simply unacceptable.
My Lords, we strongly welcome Clause 1 and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, in a Bill where there is so little to welcome, the early clauses of Part 1 seek to redress historical injustices in our nationality law. That is certainly welcomed from these Benches, as well as by other noble Lords who have spoken.
Clause 1 corrects an historical injustice left over from what many would regard as the appalling situation in which mothers did not have the same citizenship rights as fathers. It addresses the citizenship rights of children of mothers who were British Overseas Territory citizens. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her amendments. We raised the clarity of drafting of the clause when the Bill was in the Commons. As the noble Baroness also explained, this concern was raised by the JCHR, which noted that the language in this clause is not the same as the language used for similar purposes in the 1981 Act and raised questions over how well the clause achieves its intention. The JCHR said:
“We recommend that the Home Office consider how best to ensure that the intention to treat those previously discriminated against equally well as those not previously discriminated against, is made clear in the drafting of clause 1.”
In the Commons, my colleagues pushed the Government to amend the clause so that its drafting reflects the drafting in the 1981 Act, when this discrimination was addressed for children of British citizens. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that, in raising this concern, we are all trying to get this right and make the clause work as it should.
The Minister’s response in the Commons was that he did not believe that amendments were necessary, which is quite a standard government reply, and that the current drafting worked as intended. He also said that these points would be further clarified in underpinning guidance. Have the Government given this issue further thought since it was raised in the Commons? What objection do they have to a minor amendment to answer the JCHR’s concerns? If Ministers believe that that will be further clarified in guidance, should they not consider clarifying it in the Bill?
When we consider the good character requirement—I do not want to repeat everything that has been said—the JCHR is concerned that requiring good character when considering applications resolving prior discrimination risks perpetuating the effects of discrimination for those previously discriminated against. Much of this debate is familiar. As has been said, over the past few years the JCHR has routinely raised concerns about the impact of the good character requirement in cases resolving previous discrimination and in cases concerning children. I simply ask: how does that square with our primary duty to act in the best interests of the child and how is that currently balanced with the good character test? Can the Minister provide details to the Committee on how many children each year are refused citizenship based on this requirement and on what grounds it is deemed that they do not meet the test?
I too welcome the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Dubs on behalf of the JCHR on the application of the good character requirement in Clause 3. I simply wish to make the point that we are debating this clause due to gaps left in the law where we attempt to redress historical discrimination. Where the JCHR is raising concerns that the good character requirement is inappropriate where an applicant has already had their rights denied for a significant number of years, the Government should consider that challenge seriously. If we are to remove existing injustices in our system, we should do so thoroughly and with great care, so that we do not find ourselves having to come back for further fixes at a future date.
I look forward to the noble Baroness the Minister’s reply on behalf of the Government—or perhaps it is the noble Lord; I am sorry.
I thank noble Lords, and I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Rosser..
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for tabling Amendments 1 and 2. Both refer to Clause 1, which I am pleased to introduce, as it corrects a long-standing anomaly in British nationality law. I appreciate my noble friend’s attention to detail in seeking to make sure that this new provision is clear and in line with the parallel provision in the British Nationality Act 1981 for children of British citizen mothers. However, we do not think that an amendment is needed, as the proposed wording here achieves what is intended. In saying that this provision applies to someone who would have been a citizen had their parents been treated equally, we are talking about a situation where the law applied equally to mothers or fathers, women or men. We are satisfied that the current wording does what is required.
I turn now to Amendment 8 and consequential Amendments 10, 12, 17 and 21, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. British citizenship is a privilege, reserved for those who meet the requirements of the British Nationality Act 1981 and who respect the law and values of the UK. This is reflected by the statutory requirement for an individual to be of good character when they apply for British citizenship. Published guidance sets out the basis for how we assess whether a person is of good character and the types of conduct that must be taken into account as part of this assessment.
Decision-makers are required to give careful consideration to each application on a case-by-case basis, and must decide on the balance of probabilities whether an applicant is of good character. Grounds for refusal of citizenship on the basis of not meeting the good character test include criminality that meets the threshold laid out in guidance, immigration offending such as illegal entry or unlawful residence, and serious adverse behaviour such as war crimes, terrorism or genocide. Such behaviour is fundamentally in opposition to core British values of decency and adherence to the law. Removing the good character requirement from all registration routes for British citizenship would mean that we could no longer refuse citizenship to those opposed to these values.
I turn, finally, to Amendment 9, for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs; I know he has taken a great interest in a number of the provisions of the Bill. I start by reassuring the Committee that the Government are committed to removing discrimination from nationality legislation. That is the aim of Clauses 1 and 2. The Government also recognise the difficulties that current British nationality law has presented for some British Overseas Territories citizen parents who wish to pass on their citizenship. However, the Government do not agree that the application of the good character requirement as set out in Clause 3(4) results in unlawful discrimination. Removing the good character requirement for those applying to register as a British citizen having acquired British Overseas Territories citizenship through the new routes established by Clauses 1 and 2, as this amendment proposes, would be unfair and inconsistent with the approach for British Overseas Territories citizens who can apply to become British citizens by virtue of Section 3 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 and who are subject to the good character requirement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned the word “misdemeanour” in connection with such matters. We need to be clear that the guidance is clear that a criminal record does not necessarily mean that an application for citizenship will be refused. Those with a non-custodial sentence or who have received an out-of-court disposal will normally be refused citizenship unless three years have passed. Caseworkers have discretion to make an exceptional grant of citizenship in certain circumstances. On the subject of children, we ought to remind ourselves that 10 years old is the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales.
I want to clarify that the good character test applies only to new provisions introduced in the Bill to resolve historical discrimination where it already applies to the current route that the person would have been entitled to register under had the discrimination not existed. So the only people who will have to meet a good character requirement under Clause 3 are those who would have had an entitlement to registration as a British Overseas Territories citizen under Sections 15(3), 17(2) and 17(5) if their parents had been married, because registration under those routes carries a good character requirement.
To try to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, where people would have become British automatically had women and unmarried fathers been able to pass on citizenship at the time of their birth, the good character requirement does not apply.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked how many children this issue has affected. I am afraid that I do not know the answer and will have to write to him. I should say that if the person would have become British automatically had the discrimination not existed, they will not now have to meet the good character requirement. That deserves reiteration.
I ask noble Lords to withdraw or not move their amendments for the reasons that I have outlined.
Can the noble Lord address the point that I made, which I think was in the JCHR report? The courts have said that there should be an overall assessment—a holistic approach—that looks at good character as well as bad. However, the noble Lord appeared to concentrate only on a bad record being a triggering factor. He used the phrase “balance of probabilities”, but did not say that something bad could be outweighed by an otherwise wholly good record. He did not appear to suggest or confirm that overall holistic approach. He concentrated only on the negative triggers, which is precisely a fear expressed in the JCHR report. It goes against what the courts have said should be the approach.
I thank the noble Baroness for her request for clarification. Guidance is clear that a criminal record does not necessarily mean that an application for citizenship will be refused. As I said earlier, those with a non-custodial sentence or who have received an out-of-court disposal will normally be refused citizenship unless three years have passed. But—and this is the key point—caseworkers have discretion to make an exceptional grant of citizenship in certain circumstances, which, I should imagine, would very much cover the circumstances that the noble Baroness has just described.
My Lords, there is clearly concern about good character. I echo my noble friend’s query; the point about a holistic assessment has not been answered. I appreciate that those briefing the noble Lord might not have anticipated the question, but the way in which a caseworker sets about the task is fundamental to this issue.
I should make it clear that, when I mentioned a misdemeanour, it was in the context of the police Bill and not of this Bill. The Minister mentioned genocide. I am not, for a moment, suggesting that someone guilty of genocide would meet any sort of test of good character. Sorry, does the Minister want to respond?
Thank you. That is good to know.
I come back to the registration point that we are dealing with. The Minister made some distinction between different routes. I take that point. I am not capable of making these distinctions myself, on my feet, without a lot of papers spread around me.
Section 41A is about registration. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that it must have come in after the Bill had been introduced in order for it to be numbered in this way.
I turn to my first two amendments—to replace “equally” with “in the same terms”. I repeat my point that having one concept expressed in different ways in the same Act is bound to cause confusion, if not trouble. This may be very boring and it does not go to the root of a lot of what we are debating, but it is potentially of great importance in practice. I hope that the government lawyers can look at it again—or perhaps all my legal training is out of date. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 46, at end insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under section 17A.
My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken on the Bill, as I was unable to speak at Second Reading. I want to speak to the amendments in my name in this group. I look forward to hearing the thrust of Amendment 13 from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. At the outset, I declare that my mother was a naturalised Brit through marriage, under an earlier incarnation of this Act. I am also a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates.
I shall move Amendment 3 and speak to Amendments 4, 5, 6, 7, 18 and 22. I am enormously grateful to Michael Clancy of the Law Society of Scotland for his expertise and briefing in preparing these amendments, which concern the fees to be charged under Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 7 of the Bill. The amendments are the work of the Law Society of Scotland, and in particular I pay tribute to its immigration and asylum sub-committee, which has considered this part of the Bill in some detail.
The Law Society of Scotland states that it agrees with Clause 1, subject to the registration process being free. There is no clarity around that in Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 7. This is a cause of concern and which is why I have tabled these amendments. In this connection, the Law Society acknowledges and agrees with the 2020 report by British Future, Barriers to Britishness. At pages 10 and 11, it recommends:
“Citizenship by registration should be free for those who become British by this route. This group mostly comprises children and those with subsidiary categories of British nationality, such as British Overseas Territories Citizens and British National (Overseas) passport holders from Hong Kong who now have a route to citizenship through the bespoke British National (Overseas) visa.
Nationality law should be amended to allow children born in the UK to be British citizens automatically, restoring a policy that applied before 1983.
Vulnerable groups of people should be encouraged to take legal advice, which should be affordable and widely available in all parts of the UK.”
The Law Society looked particularly at the case of PRCBC and O v Secretary of State for the Home Department—reported in “ EWCA Civ 193”—where the Court of Appeal held that the fee of £1,012 for certain applications by children to register was unlawfully high. An appeal to the United Kingdom Supreme Court has recently been heard. We await the decision in due course.
I also want to refer to the extremely helpful report from the Constitution Committee of this House about the Bill. Paragraph 16 concludes:
“The Government should clarify its intentions on the amount of fees to be charged under Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 7.”
The committee sought clarity as to what fees will be charged for registration applications under this clause and under similar provisions in Clauses 2, 3 and 7, referred to earlier. The committee also referred to the forthcoming appeal decision of the Supreme Court.
I urge my noble friend, when summing up on this little group of amendments, to come forward and say whether fees are going to be applied and at what level they will be set. It is inappropriate to discuss the Bill at this stage and not to have any idea as to what fees will be charged during the process. With those few remarks, I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 13 in my name. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—who cannot be here today—for their support. I support the other amendments in this group. I am grateful, too, to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, of which I am a patron, and to Amnesty International UK, for their help. Once again, I pay tribute to them for their continued work to promote children’s citizenship rights.
Essentially, the new clause would ensure that children are not excluded from their right to citizenship by registration by unaffordable fee levels, well above the cost of administering that right. It will also require action to raise awareness of this right.
It feels a bit like Groundhog Day. I have lost count of the number of times we have raised this issue in your Lordships’ House. Indeed, we are now known as “Terriers United”, although I do not think that all the terriers are able to be present today. On our last outing, during debate on the then Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill of 2020, I warned the Minister that we would be snapping at the Home Office’s heels until we achieved justice for this vulnerable group of children.
I will recap the arguments briefly. We are talking about a group of children who were either born here to parents—neither of whom was, at that time, British or settled—or who have grown up here from an early age and have rights to register as British citizens. A combination of factors, notably the exorbitant fee of more than £1,000—£640 more than the most recent stated cost of administration—lack of awareness of the need to register, and the difficulties faced by local authorities with regard to looked-after children, have resulted in thousands of children being denied that right to British citizenship, even though it is theirs. A High Court judgment, to which I shall return, noted the mass of evidence. As a consequence, many children born in the UK feel alienated, excluded, isolated, second best, insecure and not fully assimilated in the culture and social fabric of the UK.
When we last debated this issue, as part of an amendment calling for a review of the barriers to registration of the right to citizenship, the Minister said:
“I completely acknowledge the points that the noble Baroness makes about citizenship costs; I will not tell her that you do not need citizenship to live here, because your Lordships will not accept that sort of answer.”
Quite right. I trust that there will be no attempt to revive such arguments today. Instead of trying to combat our arguments, the Minister proposed a “task-and-finish activity”. This would involve discussion of the issues in the wider context of societal cohesion and integration, which, sadly, will suffer as a result of this Bill. She then said that she would
“think about how we can then bring that back to the House”.—[Official Report, 5/10/20; cols. 429-30.]
Well, we had one initial meeting. It was very constructive, but it did not really address the substance of the withdrawn amendment, and nothing came back to the House.
In the meantime, there has been a significant development: the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s judgment which had found the fee unlawful because of the Home Office’s failure to take account of the best interests of children under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act. It is worth noting a few points from the Court of Appeal’s judgment. First, it spelled out:
“There is no issue but that the recent and current levels of fees have had a serious adverse impact on the ability of a significant number of children to apply successfully for registration.”
It noted that payment of the fee would involve “unreasonable sacrifices” for those on low or middle incomes and, in the case of the children of lone parents on benefits,
“it is difficult to see how the fee could be afforded at all.”
Secondly, it underlined the importance of citizenship. Both these points, it said, were
“not disputed by the Secretary of State.”
Thirdly, and crucially, it said that, because
“no other consideration is inherently more significant than the best interests of the child”,
the Home Secretary
“must identify and consider the best interests of the child … and must weigh those interests against countervailing considerations.”
The judgment gave short shrift to the frankly pathetic Home Office argument that the debate on the fees initiated by Members of both Houses constituted consideration of children’s best interests. The chutzpah of trying to put that argument takes my breath away; anyway, the court would have nothing to do with it.
The case was heard by the Court of Appeal in October 2020 and the judgment was given in February 2021. The Home Office chose not to appeal against the best interests judgment yet, nearly a year later, it still has not published the outcome of the best interests review required by that judgment. However, because of a separate appeal on a different point of law to the Supreme Court in the name of PRCBC, of which I am a patron, and O, whose case it was, judgment on which is still awaited, Ministers now argue that publication of the best interests review must await that judgment. Why, given that the judgment has nothing to do with the best interests review?
As it happens, I understand that the judgment will be given next week. Can the Minister therefore commit to publishing the outcome of the best interests review swiftly following that judgment, and certainly before Report? If not, why not? The longer the continued wait, the more children will be denied their right to citizenship because of the level of the fee. This cannot be right. Please do not use the Supreme Court’s irrelevant judgment as an excuse for rejecting this amendment. These children cannot afford to wait any longer. Every month of delay is another month of exclusion and alienation from British society. The terriers are growing very impatient.
My Lords, I will speak on Amendment 13 on behalf of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who sadly cannot be in the House until later today. He wishes to declare his interests in relation to both RAMP and Reset, as set out in the register. The following words are his, but I will say that I wholeheartedly agree with every one of them.
My interest comes from my ongoing engagement in this House with issues concerning children and ensuring that their best interests are central to legislation. The Government should be doing everything they can to ensure that all children in the UK have the opportunity to thrive. We should be working to remove barriers that they may face in seeking to reach their full potential. The current British citizenship registration fees create a barrier for many children to being and feeling fully part of society.
The effect on a person of being excluded from the citizenship of their home country, of where they have been born and to which they are entitled, is deeply alienating. It is simply unacceptable for a group of people living in the UK to be alienated in this way. It is not good for individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. There should not be people unable to access their rights simply because of ability to pay. Children in particular should not have reduced rights because their parents cannot afford to pay for registration—especially when these costs are generating profit for the Home Office and are not purely to cover administrative costs. This simply cannot be justified.
We cannot continue to have a situation where thousands of children grow up in the UK believing that, since they were born here and have a British birth certificate, they have citizenship. It is only when they reach adulthood that they discover that they are not recognised by their Government as belonging to the country they call home. More needs to be done to raise awareness in communities of the right to British citizenship and how to exercise it.
I support this amendment because I want every person to feel valued, recognised and included in our society and to be given every chance to thrive and take a full part in it.
My Lords, it is great pleasure to be one of the terriers of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and a signatory to Amendment 13. I thank her for her conviction, eloquence and persistence in bringing this issue back to us again. It is, as I said at Second Reading, an opportunity to put right old wrongs, and we should not miss this opportunity yet again.
When she introduced this group, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, reminded us of her origins and, therefore, of an interest. I suppose I should declare to the House that I too am the son of an immigrant. My mother was Irish; Irish, not English, was her first language. She came here at the end of the Second World War and married my father, who was a Desert Rat and had fought at El Alamein; he also saw action at Monte Cassino and elsewhere. He was brought up in the East End of London, where he saw terrible anti-Semitism. He and his brothers enlisted in the Armed Forces because they wanted to contest the fascism represented by the Nazis in Germany—and one of them paid the ultimate price.
I say that simply to illustrate that you do not have to hate one country—Ireland, in this case—to love another. I am very proud of the fact that I have both a British and an Irish passport, as do my children and grandchildren. I hope that they, too, will grow up knowing about the traditions that they come from but being incredibly proud to be British citizens.
In the same spirit that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, described her origins, I will say that, when I went to the great city of Liverpool as a student, I was pretty shocked when I went out in my second year looking for accommodation to see in tobacconists’ windows notices that advertised accommodation and said, “No blacks and no Irish need apply”. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I have this shared experience in common.
It is against that backdrop, as well as being a patron of Asylum Link Merseyside and having been involved in these issues over the years in both Houses, that I am particularly keen to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has said today. Indeed, I was involved in the 1981 proceedings in the House of Commons on what became the British Nationality Act. It was, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will recall, a genuine attempt to try to define what it meant to be British. It certainly was not part of our proceedings at that time to take away the rights of children to register because of prohibitive costs debarring them from becoming citizens. I felt so strongly about this that, when I was asked whether I would provide a witness statement about what I believed to be the considerations that we had in 1981, I provided that statement to the High Court in the action that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, described to us.
I should also mention that the late Lord Sacks, Jonathan Sacks, in two great books, The Home We Build Together and The Dignity of Difference, spelt out the nature of citizenship and why we have to learn to live alongside one another and to value the idea of citizenship. During 20 years or so as director of the Liverpool John Moores University Foundation for Citizenship, I explored the issue. It is good to see the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, here today, because she was one of our lecturers as part of the Roscoe series of lectures looking at what it means to be British and how we all should fulfil our individual missions to be good citizens in our society.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has told us the High Court ruling. It is not the fault of the Government that this has gone for further definition at the Supreme Court, but why on earth did the Government not accept the decision of the High Court on this specific point about the cost of citizenship for children and leave the other issues to be decided about the general parameters, as she said? The one does not stop the other and the House should turn its attention to this.
The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling that the £1,012 fee for a child to register as a British citizen was unlawful, because it was set without consideration of the best interests of children. That is at the heart of this amendment. Two of the judges, I might add, also saw great force in the argument that is continuing at the Supreme Court—that it may be additionally unlawful because it effectively deprives many children of their rights to British citizenship.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been very diligent in responding to questions on this issue, including a Question that I had tabled in the House on 19 October 2020. I said then that it was
“passing strange that the Home Office can calculate the difference between the £640 that it costs to administer the citizenship fee and the £1,012 that it actually charges, even to children in care, but cannot assess the legal costs of contesting the High Court’s judgment? Instead of racking up lawyers’ fees and subsidising the immigration system with what Sajid Javid”,
when he was Home Secretary,
“rightly called huge citizenship fees, should it not be reviewing this policy as noble Lords from right across your Lordships’ Chamber have argued?”
In 2020, there was indeed a widespread view across the House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said:
“Putting a financial barrier on being able to access one’s rights is a clear barrier to one’s access to justice”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said:
“this is not about immigration but about children with the right to register as citizens and potentially denying them their right to register if they cannot fund more than £1,000”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, asked:
“Will the Minister tell the House whether the Home Office carried out a children’s best interest assessment of the Government’s policy on fees in light of the original judgment?”
As far as I know, that question remains unanswered. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked the Government to explain why
“the Government want the immigration system to be self-funding in a way that no other government department is”.
Again, this seems an unanswered question, but in the course of these proceedings we really need to have an answer. I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, one of the longest-serving Members of your Lordships’ House, said from the Government Benches. She asked,
“whether the Government have assessed how many people forgo registering for British citizenship for themselves and their families as they cannot afford it? How this might contribute to their sense of belonging and well-being is important”.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, asked:
“Can the Minister tell the House whether she believes it is right that the immigration system is subsidised by children who are born in Britain and have lived their entire life in Britain and have the right to be British?”—[Official Report, 19/10/20; cols. 1273-74.]
I could go on, but I will not. The point is surely now registered with noble Lords. We have the chance between now and on Report not to turn this into yet another contested issue. There is feeling across the House that we need to put right this injustice. This is about putting right an old wrong and I hope the Government will attend to it.
My Lords, I briefly pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for her campaigning on this issue and on so many related issues on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and other distinguished Members of the Committee on bringing this issue to the fore.
For me, the nub perhaps lies in the distinction between some comments that the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe—made on the previous group about British nationality being a privilege and comments made in this group repeatedly by almost every speaker about the rights of these children or the rights of this or that group.
We all acknowledge that to be British is, in a colloquial sense, always a privilege in that we are proud and fortunate to be British. Whichever route we have taken, we are all very proud and fortunate, given the other places in the world where we could be. However, in the legal sense at least, in a number of cases—not all, but including those that the Government are attempting to deal with in Part 1—citizenship is a right. The Government’s intention seems clear in some of the early clauses to rectify previous injustices and to confer rights on people who should have them. It would be a terrible shame to do this and then to make the right illusory or difficult to access on the basis of a financial bar, particularly for children.
Noble Lords have approached this in slightly different ways, and different options have been made available in this raft of amendments for the Government to look at between now and Report. I urge Ministers, with all the controversy that I fear is inevitably coming on subsequent clauses, to see what they might do in relation to the rights that they are conferring here, if not to citizenship rights and fees more generally.
My Lords, there is obviously strong feeling on this issue across the House. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on the work that she has put into this over the years. It is an important campaign. I sympathise with all the remarks that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others. This is an interesting and important issue. The problem is that the solution proposed does not work.
Very often, in these sorts of debates, it is proposed that the cost be related to the cost of registration or some aspect of that. The difficulty is that the cost can be manipulated. We never know what can go into the cost of producing a particular form or what overheads are involved. This is the difficulty; I have seen it again and again. In the end, the object is subverted by people manipulating the cost in such a way that they get the result they wanted in the first place.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh is right that we need some clarity from the Government in saying exactly what their proposals are in this area. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister replies and on Report we will get more clarity on this issue. I fully agree with the principle of what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is putting forward. The difficulty is with the suggestion that it should, first, be in primary legislation, with the inflexibility that it brings; and, secondly, that it is related specifically to the cost of registration, which can be manipulated. That is my concern and I hope the noble Baroness, who is about to rise to her feet with a charming smile on her face, will understand what I am saying.
I thank the noble Lord for his support of the principle, but is he suggesting that the Home Office would manipulate the cost in this way? The figure that we have is a Home Office figure. The Home Office tells us how much it costs to administer it, and therefore it seems reasonable that the fee should be linked to that. Ideally, I would like there to be no fee for this either, but that might be pushing things too far. Certainly, we are arguing for no fees for those who are in local authority care, but it is a Home Office figure, not a figure per person who is registering.
I appreciate that perhaps “manipulate” was the wrong word. I simply meant that events and costs can change over time. If you have it in an Act of Parliament, you cannot change it; you introduce inflexibility, which may in some instances work against you. Often the case is put forward that this is the right way to do it; I have seen a number of these instances, but it never works.
Perhaps I can clarify. We all agree that we should know what the figure is. We are also seeking clarification from the Government Benches on why the fee is almost double the cost of processing the work. That is where there is a bit of a mismatch, if I have understood Members correctly.
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, that there is no suggestion of putting a figure in the legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, is suggesting that there should be no fee at all, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, does not mention any numbers at all in her amendment.
Absolutely, and I understand that that might be the case, but that is not the essence of either of the noble Baroness’s amendments. If I have not explained it by the end of what I have said, I am sure that the noble Lord will come back to me.
We support all these amendments, and I am grateful to Amnesty and many others for their briefings. As we have heard, and as the Explanatory Notes explain, Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 7 are aimed at ending anomalies in British nationality law, such as allowing women as well as men to pass on citizenship at the time of birth, including where the parents are not married. They also aim to allow the Secretary of State to grant citizenship where a person failed to become a British citizen and/or a British Overseas Territories citizen because of an historical legislative unfairness, such as an act or omission by a public authority or other exceptional circumstances—the Windrush injustices come to mind. But all these measures come to nothing if those entitled to citizenship cannot afford to pay the required fees to correct the injustice; hence Amendments 3 to 7, 18 and 19, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Mcintosh of Pickering. The Government accept that applicants have been unfairly treated, but they then continue to treat them unfairly by charging, in many cases, prohibitively high fees.
I pay tribute to the sustained and tireless work of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, on this issue, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who summarised previous debates in the House so well. Amendment 13, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, takes a slightly less generous approach than the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, but one perhaps more likely to be accepted, ensuring that the Home Office could charge only cost price for citizenship—still a considerable amount of money—or less in the case of children if the family cannot afford it.
I take this opportunity to clarify what is says: it says that no person may be charged a fee that is “higher than”. It is not saying that it should be the cost price. Given that, every year, the Home Office must look at the fees, I do not see that there is a problem. I am sorry to interrupt.
I am very grateful for that important clarification. The cost price is the maximum that should be charged, not the actual cost that should be charged.
There may be some difficulty around whether there is to be a means test, as implied by subsection (3), but the important addition to the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Mcintosh—subsection (4) —is the requirement for the Secretary of State to raise awareness of the right to be registered as a British citizen or British Overseas Territories citizen. As Amnesty rightly points out, thousands of children grow up in the UK excluded from their citizenship rights because they are unaware that they are without British citizenship and need to exercise their right to be registered.
Citizenship should not be an optional extra. It is the right to have rights. It is not, as the Minister said on the previous group, a privilege. It is a right that these people have. It is also likely to make those who acquire it feel more included, and more likely to be loyal to this country, its laws, values and traditions. It is not just of value to those who acquire it but to everyone in the UK, and, as such, the cost of acquiring it should not fall solely on the applicant but on society as a whole.
My Lords, I express our support for the amendments in this group. The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, raise a simple and crucial point. The intention of this part of the Bill, at least its early clauses, is to remove barriers for those who have been unjustly denied citizenship. To then present a barrier to that citizenship in the form of fees for accessing those withheld rights raises obvious problems. This is particularly, and one would hope undeniably, the case for those who would and should have been automatically granted citizenship if it were not for outdated injustices impacting their mother or the marital status of their father.
What has so far been missing from the Government is clarity on this issue. I understand that in Committee in the Commons, the Minister would not directly answer questions as to whether fees will be charged. I hope we may fare a little better today, with the noble Lord the Minister—if that is who responds—telling the House whether the Government intend to charge people to access these routes. Is the intention no fees, fee waivers in some cases, reduced fees from what we have now, or the continuation of existing fees? When and how will this be made clear? In the Commons, the Minister suggested that this was more appropriately dealt with in secondary legislation, but why should clarity not be provided in the Bill in relation to this key issue?
I express too our support for Amendment 13, in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, with notable cross-party support from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. As has been said, to say that my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett has been tenacious on this issue would be the understatement of the year; she has been rather more than that.
The amendment tabled by my noble friend addresses a current fee policy that charges people who have the right to register for citizenship exorbitant amounts to do so. As has been said, the amendment does not ask the Government to scrap the fee for application; it simply requires the fee not to be higher than the actual cost of the registration process. As has been said, this means it could be fixed at a considerably lower level or there could be no fee at all.
In particular, I add our strong support for measures to reduce the cost for children to register their citizenship, which they have as much right to access as any Member of this House, and to remove the cost completely, certainly for children in our care. Although the Government have repeatedly resisted this change, it is not without Cabinet support, as has been said. After all, the Health Secretary has described the fees as
“a huge amount of money to ask children to pay”.
I repeat that these costs are levied against children who are born here, grew up here and go to school here but who, unlike their classmates, are not automatically British at birth. Surely it is the will of this Parliament and our nationality law that those children are entitled to citizenship after certain conditions are met. But, in reality, that right is being denied for at least some—probably many—because it is just too expensive for them to access. The Government have already been asked for information on the numbers who have been denied citizenship on the basis that the fees are too high. I am not sure whether we are going to get a response to that point.
There has been some discussion about the legal position. As has been said, in February last year the Court of Appeal, in referring to the best interests of the child, ruled that the child citizenship fee, at over £1,000, is unlawful. That had also been determined earlier by the High Court. A number of noble Lords commented that, instead of using the obvious vehicle of this Bill on citizenship to rectify the issue, the Government have argued—as I understand it—that they want to await a further ruling in the Supreme Court.
Finally, I admit my surprise that, in the Commons, the government Minister claimed that this issue of the cost of registering citizenship was
“not a matter for the Bill.”—[Official Report, Commons, Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, 19/10/21; col. 165.]
This part of the Bill is about access to citizenship. I question how the Government can say that this issue, which has been raised many times across both Houses and with cross-party support, should not be regarded as a matter for this Bill. I hope we have a helpful response from the Government when they now reply.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester speaking on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for tabling Amendment 13; and to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling Amendments 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 18 and 22 on fees charged for applications for British citizenship and British Overseas Territories citizenship. My noble friend the Minister would also like to place on record her thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for engaging with her on this subject in various meetings.
I first turn to the amendments put forward by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. You will be aware of the importance that application fees play in the funding of the migration and borders system, which has been noted in this debate, and that this income is vital to reduce the reliance on taxpayer funding and run a sustainable immigration system. Immigration and nationality fees are set in fees regulations, which are laid before Parliament and subject to the negative procedure. I hope that answers a number of noble Lords’ questions. If we were to remove or amend fees during the passage of the Bill, it would undermine the existing legal framework without proper consideration of the sustainability of the system and fairness to the UK taxpayer. Not only that, but it would create an alternative mechanism for controlling fees, which would reduce the clarity of the fee structure.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, noted, I am of course aware that similar provisions were considered in the other place. We are sympathetic to the view that a fee should not be charged where a person missed out on becoming a British citizen due to historical anomalies.
In answer to the specific questions of the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, about those who cannot afford application fees, we have always provided for exceptions to the need to pay application fees for leave to remain in a number of specific circumstances. These exceptions ensure that the Home Office’s immigration and nationality fees structure complies with international obligations and wider government policy.
The subject of children in government or local authority care also came up. The Government do cater for children and their well-being. There are a number of exceptions to application fees, which protect the most vulnerable, including young people who are in the care of a local authority and applying for limited or indefinite leave to remain.
Does the Minister accept that there is a difference between leave to remain and citizenship? We are talking about citizenship, and the courts were very clear about the importance of citizenship. Please do not rerun the argument that leave to remain is as good as citizenship, because it is not.
Of course I accept the distinction. There is no arguing about that at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, raised the point that the provisions in this Bill are about righting historical wrongs, and I assure the Committee that it remains our intention to continue to adopt the approach of not charging fees in instances where unfairness or injustice has occurred. But as I tried to outline above, this is not a matter for the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Horam noted, it should be remedied through secondary legislation in line with other changes to immigration and nationality fees, as far as applications for British citizenship are concerned. Administration of British Overseas Territories citizenship applications is a matter for the overseas territories. We have consulted with them about the new nationality provisions; that applies to all the amendments except Amendment 13.
I apologise to the noble Lord. On the previous point about regulations for fees, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in fact anticipates regulations. It limits the amount of fees that can be paid, but does not seek to use primary legislation to set the specific fee.
Will the Minister clarify what he just said? The existing legal framework has itself been undermined by a decision of the High Court. Is that not something we now need to rectify? From the expression on the Minister’s face, I think he is coming to that and I am grateful to him. To return to the point that has been repeatedly made about not specifying the amount of money in the Bill, this amendment does not do that. It seeks to create a context in which fees can be charged, in which the cost is no more than the administrative cost. The point the noble Lord made about taxpayers is dealt with in this amendment. I hope he will concede that and, when he does, will he confirm the remarks by the previous Home Secretary that what is being charged at the moment is
“a huge amount of money”?
Is that the view of the current Home Secretary, the right honourable Priti Patel?
My Lords, that it is a lot of money is not in dispute. I am coming to the part that deals with the various reviews and the High Court judgment, so I hope the noble Lord will bear with me for a second. I think this will address his other questions.
Amendment 13 was put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. I note that this new clause is identical to one considered in the other place. That the noble Baroness has put it to this Committee to consider leaves us in no doubt about the strength of feeling on this matter, and this debate has reinforced that.
Proposed new subsection (2) would prevent the Secretary of State charging a fee to register as a British citizen or British Overseas Territories citizen if the child is being looked after by a local authority. I just mentioned that as well. The Government already have waivers in place, which I referred to, that will allow any child looked after by their local authority, irrespective of nationality, to apply for both limited and indefinite leave to remain, which I accept is not the same citizenship, without being required to pay application fees. This ensures that children in local authority care can access leave to remain, and the benefits of living, working and studying in the UK, without having to pay a fee.
The noble Lord acknowledges that leave to remain is not the same as citizenship. When we last discussed this, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, accepted that this is not an argument that this House will accept. Please do not keep putting that argument, because it does not wash here.
I assure the noble Baroness that I am not going to try it again today.
Proposed new subsection (4) would require the Secretary of State to take steps to raise awareness of rights under the British Nationality Act 1981 to be registered as a British citizen or British Overseas Territories citizen among people possessing those rights. The Government publish information about becoming a British citizen on GOV.UK and we are committed to ensuring that such information is fully accessible by all.
Going on to the Supreme Court, pretty much every speaker has alluded to the fact that child citizenship fees have been the subject of a legal challenge brought forward by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, and that this litigation has not yet concluded. We await the final judgment of the Supreme Court hearing, which took place on 23 and 24 June 2021, so that we can take proper account of the Supreme Court’s views. I believe that judgment is due next week, to confirm what I think has also been said here. In the meantime, the Home Office will continue to charge the fees set out in the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2018.
I am very sorry to interrupt yet again, but I pointed out that the appeal that has gone to the Supreme Court is a completely separate legal point from the one that requires the Home Office to carry out a best interests review. Why do the Government keep putting this argument when it has been over a year since the judgment? Why can they not produce the best interests review now? It has nothing to do with the appeal to the Supreme Court.
I was just coming to that.
The Government are currently carrying out a Section 55 assessment, in tandem with the best interests review, in relation to the child registration fees. I cannot predict the outcome of that assessment, but that does not necessarily mean that the fees will change. I cannot give the noble Baroness the assurance she seeks on when it will be published, but the reviews are ongoing.
I promise not to intervene again, but before the noble Lord leaves this point, is he not inviting the Committee to be like Don Quixote and to tilt at imaginary windmills? As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pointed out, this is not the substance of the continuing action in the Supreme Court. The question of the cost of the fees was dealt with by the High Court. The Home Office lost. Surely that is the issue that should be laid to rest in these proceedings.
With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, they are all part of the same debate. As I said, I cannot pre-empt the Supreme Court’s decision or the outcome of the ongoing review, for which I obviously apologise. I would like to give him the answer he seeks, but I cannot.
When the court has said that this is illegal, why do the Government not accept what the court has said? Or are the Government setting themselves up against the court and deciding that it is not illegal? If it is illegal, it should be changed at once.
I am sorry, but the lawyers behind this are very clear that these are completely separate legal points. The people who appealed the Court of Appeal’s judgment were not appealing in relation to the best interests of the child. The Government accepted the best interests of the child judgment a year ago. Why do we still not have the best interests review? As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, surely the Government should have acted immediately once they accepted that it was unlawful to charge this fee without taking account of the best interests of the child.
As I said, I do not have the answer to why it has taken a year, but I will write to the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have expressed an interest in this subject to try to explain.
Having said all that, I hope you understand that I cannot comment on the Supreme Court’s judgment. We remain of the view that it is the right course of action to wait until the judgment—I am sorry to labour the point. Accordingly, for the reasons I have given, I invite noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, first, we do not address each other as “you”. I know that the Minister is new to the House, but we do not use that term.
Secondly, there is a difference between an on/off decision about whether to charge a fee, as suggested by the Baroness in her amendments, and interfering with the current system, where the fee level is set by regulations. They are two different issues.
Thirdly, the noble Lord kept talking about interfering with the existing legislative framework. That is our job. We interfere with the existing legislative process by passing legislation. That is a nonsense argument.
Finally, the noble Lord talked about fees being waived in exceptional circumstances. People do not apply to register their right to British citizenship and then, when they take a look at what the fees are, say, “There’s absolutely no way that we can go ahead with this. We’re not even going to apply.” The fee being waived in exceptional circumstances does not even arise. Does the noble Lord not accept that?
The noble Lord said something about how the system relies on these fees. Could he clarify what he means? I hope he does not mean the immigration system, which is often referred to, because we are not talking about immigration here. Many of these children were born in this country.
My Lords, I thank everybody who contributed to this debate. I thank my noble friend for his courteousness in giving as full a reply as he is able to at this time.
I acknowledge the indefatigable campaigning skills of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the work they have done. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for sharing the concerns of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and his work in this regard.
I will focus on one particular aspect of my noble friend’s reply. I will not get involved in the best interests review because that is a separate argument. We need a very clear undertaking that, if the Supreme Court is to rule on the appeal as soon as next week, the Government will come forward and let us know what the scale of fees will be. I accept that the amendments I have put forward are the more radical. They say that the fees should be waived for all the reasons given during the debate: they are proving a barrier to children who, as the Government Benches and the Minister have agreed—I welcome that—should be welcomed, and citizenship should be awarded to them provided they meet the conditions. I do not think that a fee of £400 more than the cost of the work being done is satisfactory. It is unacceptable.
In the words of the Law Society of Scotland and of the Constitution Committee, I urge the Government to clarify their intention on the amount of fees to be charged under the relevant clauses—Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 7—after the Supreme Court judgment is announced, and to come forward with an amendment in this regard before Report, otherwise I will feel obliged to retable the amendments. At this moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Historical inability of unmarried fathers to transmit citizenship
Amendments 4 to 6 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3: Sections 1 and 2: related British citizenship
Amendments 7 to 9 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Period for registration of person born outside the British overseas territories
Amendment 10 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Committee adjourned until a convenient point after 2.15 pm.
My Lords, I probably should have consulted my absolutely authentic book of words, but I believe it is now clear that we wish to resume the Committee at a convenient moment after 2.15. I think I must have had a particularly bad night, and I do apologise to the House—no sympathy required—for the slight confusion. We will now take the lunchtime business.
Draft Revision of the Highway Code
Motion to Regret
That this House regrets the draft Revision of the Highway Code because, despite making important changes to protect road users from harm, Her Majesty’s Government has failed sufficiently to educate the public on the changes.
Relevant document: 24th Report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)
My Lords, I was so sorry to have missed the earlier debate in full: it looked very exciting—and I rather think that this debate might be exciting as well. There might be quite a lot of opposition.
In spite of having tabled a regret Motion, I am, in fact, fully in favour of these changes, and I congratulate the Government on their foresight in actually bringing them in to make our roads safer. It is absolutely brilliant. I wholeheartedly welcome the changes to the Highway Code. They try to create a situation on our roads where those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger that they may pose to others. That means that a cyclist should assume responsibility for the safety of those walking; and a driver has greater responsibility to look out for those cycling, horse-riding and walking. [Interruption.] Shush!
It means that car drivers do not turn at junctions when someone is waiting to cross the road—although I have to say that I thought that was the rule already, and I always stepped out fearlessly, scowling at the drivers. So I am glad that that change is being made. It means that drivers should not cut across people on cycles and horse-riders travelling straight ahead when the drivers are turning at a junction. It means that drivers use the “Dutch reach”, using their left hand to open the door, which makes the driver look over their shoulder to check for nearby road users.
All this is common sense, so I am quite curious about what people perceive as the problem. In fact, of course, the answer is that many drivers believe that might is right: the bigger your vehicle, the more right of way you have. In the UK, drivers are still buying bigger and more polluting vehicles. These are safer vehicles—but only for them, the drivers. Road casualties have fallen a lot over the past three decades, but that is because far fewer car drivers are being killed or injured, because cars are safer for their drivers. The number of pedestrians killed or injured in busy cities such as London has plateaued rather than declined. We made safer vehicles but we did not create safer roads.
Many drivers think that they are beyond the law. In 2018, a staggering 540 people were injured or killed every week in Britain. That is the most phenomenal cost in all sorts of ways. It costs the NHS; it costs the emergency services; it costs social services to mop up after these collisions and injuries, some of which of course are life-changing. We have lawless roads, and the reason for that is that road crime is not treated in the same way as regular crime. I have always supported our amazing traffic police; they do an incredible job against the odds. They make the most astonishing number of arrests because, when they see an illegal car moving around and they stop them, they quite often find that the drivers are criminals: they have drugs and weapons and all sorts of stuff in their car.
The problem is that many drivers will pay as much attention to these changes in the Highway Code and the guidelines as Boris Johnson did to the Covid rules. Our only hope is a massive publicity campaign to convince the majority of people that being a responsible driver or a responsible cyclist—or even a responsible pedestrian—is a matter of courtesy, caring and common sense. We need the same energy that went into the TV ads for the Green Cross Code, drink-driving or “clunk-click”. Without that, I am worried that these changes will escalate injuries on the road. Pedestrians will assert their right to cross the road at a side junction, and car drivers or cyclists will not stop. Pedestrians will be in the right, but that will not stop them being hurt.
These new measures need immediate publicity, including notices, for example, sent with every notification that drivers receive. I found out about these changes only by accident, and if I, who care a lot about road safety and road danger, found out about them only by chance, there are going to be an awful lot of people who have not heard about them yet. So I appeal to Ministers to spend the money to make these Highway Code changes relevant and noisy. I hope they will be a small step towards changing the culture of lawless roads, which leaves so many grieving for lost family and friends and many thousands suffering from life-changing injuries. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on so ably setting out the changes, on which I will not elaborate. It is not entirely clear whether cyclists or drivers of e-scooters will be covered by these changes as well, so I hope that the Minister might address that in her reply. Does she agree that one of the difficulties of the present Highway Code—and, in particular, with these current changes—is that cyclists can, on occasion, display insufficient regard for other road users. I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said about insufficient awareness.
I speak from the vantage point of a rural dweller who travels on country lanes a lot by car rather than by bicycle, particularly in North Yorkshire and County Durham. What concerns me is that, if I understand the Highway Code changes correctly and cyclists are to be asked to cycle in the middle of a country lane, it is going to be impossible for other road users to pass them safely. I want to flag this up to my noble friend the Minister, since in the pubs and tea rooms of North Yorkshire people will talk of little else until these come into effect. It would be helpful to know whether that is the case. Also, with regard to cycle lanes in cities, is it the case that cyclists are now requested not to use them if they do not feel safe but to revert to using the lane?
Finally, my noble friend is aware of my Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, extending the Road Traffic Act 1988 to include the offences of causing death by dangerous cycling, causing serious injury by dangerous cycling and causing death by careless or inconsiderate cycling. The reason why I raise this in the context of the Highway Code is to ask whether we require primary legislation to make these changes. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State announce that the Government are now prepared to make these changes. Do we need legislation? Can I lay my Bill to rest, or do we actually require primary legislation? If so, when do the Government intend to bring that legislation forward?
My Lords, as a former Secretary of State for Transport and a keen cyclist, I very much welcome the new Highway Code and congratulate my noble friend and her colleagues in the department on producing it. It makes a very sensible adjustment in terms of the trade-off between pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders on the one hand and those driving cars and motor vehicles on the other. As such, it goes with the grain of the Government’s overall transport policy of promoting sustainable forms of transport. My only reservation, which has already been touched on, is not about the measures themselves but about the information vacuum that has been filled by some inaccurate press reporting, which I will come to in a moment.
Four years ago the Government committed to revising the Highway Code to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Cycling UK, along with Living Streets and others, put forward proposals that were then refined by the snappily named Highway Code review stakeholder focus group. These went out to consultation, and what is before us basically reflects those proposals.
I welcome the principle that those using the roads in vehicles with a greater potential to endanger others have a greater responsibility to avoid doing so, which seems to me to be self-evident. I welcome the advice to cyclists to stay away from the edge of the road and from potholes and parked cars. This has actually been the advice given to cyclists for the past 16 years in the government-backed Bikeability training scheme, but it has only just made it into the Highway Code. It does not advise cyclists to pedal in the middle of the road or to ride two abreast all the time, but it does say that that can happen in certain situations when it is safer to do so.
On cycle lanes, which I welcome—indeed, I successfully campaigned for the first one in Hyde Park in the 1970s—perhaps cyclists should be encouraged to use them where we have them. I know that car users are irritated to find cyclists on the road when there is a parallel cycle lane. The relevant rule 140 says:
“Bear in mind that cyclists are not obliged to use cycle lanes or cycle tracks.”
Perhaps an additional few words could have been added, saying, “But they are strongly advised to do so, not least for their own safety.” Related to that, could my noble friend alert local authorities to the opportunity to redesign junctions crossed by cycle tracks, giving them priority over vehicles turning across them?
My concern, shared by others, is that so far there has been an inadequate public awareness campaign to publicise these changes. We have seen stories that drivers will be fined £1,000 for opening a door with the wrong hand, which simply are not true. I welcome the proposed factual awareness campaign. I would be grateful if my noble friend could perhaps concede that there could have been more publicity before the scheme came into effect—as happened, for example, with the publicity before the Covid regulations were passed, so there are precedents. Can she say a little more about the timing and the budget for phases 1 and 2 of the public awareness campaign?
Against that background, I very much welcome the new Highway Code.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for securing this debate. As has been mentioned, this statutory instrument enables the proposed revision of the Highway Code aimed to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders when using the highway, but 71% of the members of IAM RoadSmart, the UK’s largest road safety charity, feel that it will increase conflict.
I declare my interest: I am a driver, a pedestrian and a horse rider, and there are cyclists in our house- hold. Surely it is important that everybody using the road takes responsibility for themselves and for other people’s safety. I think it is regrettable that these changes are being put through Parliament in such a way as to avoid proper scrutiny and debate. I understand that they are to be introduced almost immediately, but the general public know absolutely nothing about them.
I question whether some of the proposed changes are realistic. For instance, the recommended two metres of space for passing bicycles and horse riders is welcome, but anyone who has been on our single-track country lanes will know that this is simply impossible. Why are cyclists and horse riders not also made to give two metres’ berth to other road users?
Courtesy and consideration need to be exercised on the roads, not just rights. When I am riding a horse on narrow lanes and encounter a car, I find a gateway or a drive to pull into to let the car pass. I notice that HGV drivers often do the same when they find a long queue behind them, but many bicyclists do not, and they sometimes create huge tailbacks.
I am pleased that the revised version says that cyclists must give way to horses on bridleways. Many horses are terrified of bicycles, but off-road cyclists often appear to be completely oblivious to this fact, to the safety of walkers and that of their dogs, and to the fact that they are not meant to cycle anywhere but on bridle paths. How can this be enforced, and how can these cyclists be held to account?
I know that many noble Lords in this House are cyclists, and I am sure they all cycle in a considerate and responsible manner. However, one has only to spend a little time on London’s streets to see that this is not always the case. Indeed, the recent IAM survey found that 57% of cyclists admitted to red-light jumping. Just last night, coming across from my desk to the House, I saw four bicyclists go through red lights. They are never apprehended. Two years ago I was knocked over on that crossing and, even though a policewoman took evidence, nothing was done about the bicyclist.
Roads are going to be safe only if everyone obeys the rules. Surely serious thought ought to be given to bike owners being registered and therefore identifiable. This would also help with crime, as bicycles are often used for getaways, as well as tackling the off-road issues that I mentioned earlier. Of course, the safest way is to separate cars and bicycles, so I applaud the effort to create new bike lanes. Where there are bike lanes, I really think bicycles should stay in them.
Changes to rule 204 emphasise that, in any interaction between road users, those who cause the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat that they pose to others. The last thing any driver would wish is to be involved in an accident, and especially to hurt someone; that has huge mental health ramifications for everybody involved. But while I recognise that a lorry or car can create the most damage, it feels as if the blame set out by these revisions is always one-way. Sometimes the fault is genuinely with other road users who are not abiding by the rules—going too fast, jumping red lights or overtaking on the inside. When you are in a line of cars it is often impossible to see a bicycle whizzing up the inside or people weaving in and out of traffic, not signalling properly. How are those going to be fairly addressed under this new hierarchy? Can the Minister assure me that those responsible for an incident will be treated equally, regardless of mode of transport?
Following last week’s debate, I trust that e-scooters will not be introduced on to our roads. You do not need a consultation or trial period to see how incredibly dangerous these things are.
I hope the Minister can offer some comfort on these specific issues in her response today.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for raising this important issue. It is not usual for noble Lords to claim in debate that they do not know what they are talking about but that is the position I find myself in. This is despite being, I think, the only person in either House who is an HGV driving instructor, albeit out of date. I will speak from the perspective of a vocational driver.
Yesterday, I tried to obtain a copy of the new Highway Code from WHSmith in Petersfield. I was told that new copies were not due in until April; they had none of the old. I then tried to download an online version but could find only the existing code and the amendments to it, not some form of PDF or the like that would show me the whole code, complete with graphics. Even your Lordships’ Library could not do better and we are grateful for the briefing that it has supplied.
Outside your Lordships’ House, I have detected considerable concern about the new and/or amended rules. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to allay some of that. It is important to read these new provisions in the context of the whole code and with the benefit of the excellent and clear graphics that we have come to expect in it. We do not have that, which is why I claim not to know what I am talking about. Most motorists will be in the same position, yet the code comes into operation on Saturday, if I understand matters correctly.
Notwithstanding my limitations, I have a few points to make, which are shared by many who I talk to. Ever since I first drove an HGV in about 1976, I have recognised, as I was taught, that there is a hierarchy of road users. The HGV drivers were at the top while pedestrians and children were at the bottom, and most vulnerable. I am therefore perfectly content with the new hierarchy. It seems that the whole point of vocational or professional driving is to ensure that the needs of other road users are respected and met. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made the point that might is not right; she is perfectly correct, and I was always trained and taught that HGV drivers should not abuse their bulk or weight.
On priority for pedestrians at junctions when a vehicle is turning off the main road, it seems that the Minister has placed an imaginary zebra crossing at every such junction. However, a zebra crossing has several other features to enhance safety. There are the flashing yellow lamps and the zig-zag lines that have the effect of prohibiting waiting, unloading, parking or overtaking. When I was training HGV drivers to negotiate a zebra crossing, I would make sure that they identified the hazard in good time and ensured that there was no possibility of any pedestrian getting to the crossing before they did. This is easy enough, because of the layout that I have referred to. There should never be a need for heavy braking, let alone an emergency stop, on the approach to a zebra crossing. However, the same cannot be said for these junctions and, not having been able to study the code properly, I and others are deeply concerned. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can provide reassurance.
Turning to the new rules regarding cyclists, I have always been trained to respect cyclists and take special care with them. As your Lordships would expect, I always do so. I am currently undertaking a lot of driving on rural A roads and unclassified roads. I understand my travel time to within a few minutes on a 45-minute journey. When there is no possibility of safely passing a cyclist or a group of them, I will hang back so that they can enjoy their ride without feeling under pressure. When conditions are more propitious, I will move closer and overtake safely, giving them plenty of room. This is what they expect of me.
Meeting the needs of cyclists, which I am happy to do, never causes me measurable delay on my journeys. Since the Conservative-led Government so wisely increased the speed limit for HGVs on a single carriageway, neither do HGVs. What does cause significant delay is a few older motorists driving at far below the prevailing speed limit. In my opinion, they would fail if on a driving test for failing to make normal progress. Not only can I not pass them safely, HGVs cannot do so either but that is not the problem for today. My concern is that the side-by-side rule for cyclists, which I hope my noble friend the Minister will carefully explain, will have the same effect as a car being driven far too slowly and without the possibility of a safe overtake. It could not only increase journey times but seriously damage the relationship between responsible and skilled motorists and cyclists, as pointed out by my noble friend Lady Hodgson.
I have one technical question for the Minister regarding the code but I expect that she will have to write to me. The code makes it clear that a warning triangle should not be placed behind a broken-down car, especially on a motorway. There must be a good reason for this but it is contrary to advice, and sometimes to the law of many countries on the continent. Our continental friends do not get everything right in terms of road safety. Can my noble friend please write to me and other noble Lords speaking to explain the reasoning for this rule? My greatest concern is the non-availability of the Highway Code in its complete form, so that we could understand what is meant in the whole document.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for bringing this debate to the House today. I agree completely with the concerns expressed by those noble Lords who have already spoken in it. Having said that, of course one welcomes an update to the Highway Code. I welcome the reordering and clarification of the hierarchy of road users and the concept of basing it on vulnerability. I also welcome that there is a precise spelling out of the rules on cycling and safety.
However, it is surreal that e-scooters are not mentioned in this document. I realise that the Minister will tell us that the Government are waiting for the pilot project results but, in the meantime, tens of thousands of them are out there on our pavements and driving heedlessly through red lights. There is a great deal, which is welcome, on how to deal with horses. I live in an urban area; I have lived in my house for 40 years and cannot recall ever seeing a horse walk down the road, but every day I see dozens of illegal scooters going down it. It is all the more concerning because rule 42 refers specifically to mobility scooters being allowed on pavements. That is right, of course, but given the present information vacuum it is likely to mislead people. Even a simple restatement of the current rules—that e-scooters are illegal, except in pilot areas—would have been a welcome clarification.
I also share the concern that, as I read it, having spent many millions of pounds on developing cycle lanes, which was greatly welcome, cyclists do not actually have to use them. One of the great things about cycle lanes is that, as a motorist, I can say that you know where the cyclist should be, so you know how to use them. The fact that cyclists may now feel that they can, rightly, go to other parts of the road is a matter of concern.
My major concern is the timescale because, as noble Lords have said, this comes into force in two days’ time, in the face of almost total public ignorance. How will it be fair if a police officer decides that they wish to enforce some of these new rules in the next week or two, when the Highway Code is not available either online or in bookshops, as the noble Earl just spelled out? When will people doing the written part of the driving test have to answer questions using this new information? Will it be immediately or will there be a time lag before people have to have knowledge of the new provisions?
I realise that there is the 40-day rule about implementation but, to be honest, it is clearly in the Government’s power to change that. I draw attention to the concerns of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Government’s astonishing defence that the printed copies will only be available later on because there is an acute paper shortage—I had not heard about that—and because the price is too low for the booksellers to stock it. I have two points on that. First, increase the price so that booksellers will stock it. Secondly, you do not need to go to a bookshop to buy books any more: you can buy them in supermarkets, which stock an awful lot of things that are less than £2.50. Buy it along with your newspapers and birthday cards, if the booksellers do not feel that it is worth while to stock.
There needs to be a much more ambitious approach to publicity. People will not buy or download something that they have never heard of. We need modern methods of publicity—emails to us all or tweets—as well as the usual visits by police officers to schools and youth clubs. I have some specific questions for the Minister. How much of the Government’s budget is dedicated to publicity? How much extra or additional money will be allocated to police and local authorities so that they can fulfil their essential roles in educating people on this? What publicity methods do the Government plan to use in the modern age, when many people do not watch television news and certainly do not watch public information films? Will they urgently address the need to provide paper leaflets as well, because a lot of the most vulnerable people are elderly and do not necessarily have the skills to find these things on the internet?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for initiating this debate. The changes to the Highway Code are a welcome addition to help cyclists, who are feeling increasingly unsafe. However, without any effort to publicise these changes, they risk being entirely meaningless and, indeed, unsafe. With the changes now imminent, the Government should be leading a national campaign to make the public aware of the new code, as part of a comprehensive national safety campaign. Instead, Ministers are missing in action.
The justification for these changes is in the Government’s own data, which reveals that 66% of cyclists think that roads are too dangerous. As part of the transition to net zero, we all need people to cycle more often than drive, but clearly more people than ever are being put off doing so because of the risk. More and more cyclists are now being killed or seriously injured on UK roads. In 2020, the number killed or seriously injured was 4,320, with the number killed being 140. This is having a knock-on effect on the number of people prepared to bike, given that 66% of people thinking that it is too dangerous to cycle is a 30% increase on a decade ago.
It is worth noting that the same survey, the National Travel Attitudes Study, found that most would be more prepared to cycle if new infrastructure was introduced. Some 55% said that segregated cycle paths would make them more likely to cycle, while 49% said the same for well-maintained road surfaces. This shows that it is entirely within the Government’s gift to encourage people to move from driving to cycling. Unfortunately, the Government are still refusing to release the remainder of the £2 billion of funds promised for active travel.
Although the new changes to the Highway Code are welcome, few people are aware of them. The AA has conducted research that has found that many drivers have no intention of looking at the new rules, while Cycling UK warned of the dangers of a lack of official publicity—no wonder, given that there seems to be no concerted effort to make the public aware of these changes. In response to a Written Question by the shadow Transport Secretary last month, a Minister responded that an awareness-raising campaign would not begin until February, with a broader behaviour change campaign later in the year.
I have discovered in recent days that even those who actively seek to learn about these changes will struggle to do so. I have had a similar experience to that of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. On Monday, I visited the Waterstones bookshop in Trafalgar Square to purchase a copy of the new Highway Code—I thought that, if it is anywhere, it will be there—only to be told that none was available in any store and, further, I was advised that none was expected until April. Can the Minister confirm whether the public are currently able to purchase a copy of the updated Highway Code anywhere?
Although the amendments have been published, I, like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was unable to find the full amended version of the Highway Code online. Can the Minister confirm that this has not been published online? I reckon myself to be a black belt in googling—that is the only way that I can survive in this role—so I tried again last night just to make sure that it had not crept in in the previous 48 hours. I went on GOV.UK, where, if you simply click on “Highway Code”, you find a Highway Code and you think, “Oh, that’s it”, until you notice that that Highway Code was last revised in 2015. I persevered and moved around that site and I was treated to eight newspaper-type articles about how the new code was changed, but nowhere could I find a copy of the code so that I could view the whole thing holistically.
It is important to understand that this revision is not just a tweaking of the present rules, responding to the changing world of electric scooters et cetera—I wrote that before I discovered in this debate that it makes no reference to electric scooters. It is about—this is crucial—a fundamental change, requiring road users to do things differently. It is not a tweak or a refinement; it is about fundamental change. This is not being adequately communicated.
Consider a scenario where a well-informed cyclist who believes that he or she has the right of way meets an ill-informed HGV driver who believes that he has the right of way. This is exactly the scenario set out in the code, where the cyclist gets run over. The cyclist presumes that they have the right of way to proceed and the HGV driver believes that he has the right to turn. The outcome could be catastrophic: another cyclist death. Were such deaths taken into account in the decision not to prepare a full impact assessment? Given the department’s lamentable performance in communicating the changes, surely the scenario that I have described is credible, as are many deaths in the next 10 weeks. These deaths will be the responsibility of the DfT and its leader, the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for giving noble Lords the opportunity to discuss the Highway Code changes today. It has been a good debate with some very interesting contributions, which I will come to. I would first like to set out the Government’s position clearly so that we have a good framework from which to delve into some of the points raised.
I note at the outset there were some changes to the Highway Code just a few months ago which did not attract a debate, and it has not been republished since. Putting that to one side, for any changes there is a parliamentary process which needs to be gone through. At any time, they could be prayed against, in which case those changes would not happen. I could also imagine, had I started communicating this 40 days ago, noble Lords being very cross with me for communicating something Parliament had not yet agreed. There is definitely a balance, but the end of the 40-day period has now come almost to a close.
Noble Lords will note that only yesterday we issued a press note to stakeholders and the media, which essentially kicks off the process of informing and educating the road-using public. I agree with noble Lords that most people do not read the Highway Code; it is not where they get their information from at all. It is all about enabling us to communicate with trusted stakeholders and the public via the media and paid-for promotion, which is also part of what the Government intend to do.
Keeping our roads safe for everyone, in particular those most at risk on our roads, is one of my key priorities. The Highway Code and the rules therein are central to that mission. I noted that my noble friend Lady Hodgson said that the roads will be safe only if everyone obeys the rules. I agree with her; everyone must obey the rules. But I am the Roads Minister, so of course I would think that. That is for pedestrians and cyclists, but it is not just about obeying the rules—that is a very harsh way of looking at it. It is also about respect and consideration for other people travelling on the roads. I will come back to that in relation to rural roads, where I sometimes feel that the motorist feels they have the run of them.
At the heart of these changes is active travel: cycling and walking. The Government would like to increase the number of people doing both and these changes to the Highway Code should ensure that they can do so as safely and respectfully as possible, because everybody has the right to use the road. We want to make sure they do so in a safe, considerate and responsible manner. We want to encourage people to think about how they travel and choose more sustainable and active modes of it. One of the biggest barriers to people choosing to cycle or walk is safety, and the perception of safety. It is often due to the users of motor vehicles of whatever type who also choose to use the roads that that perception—or reality—of a slightly less safe environment comes to pass.
These proposed alterations to the Highway Code seek to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders and make active travel an attractive alternative to using the car. However, they are in no measure anti-motorist. We had an enormous response; I think 21,000 people responded to the consultation and we believe around 60% were motorists. I think that motorists want a calm, respectful and law-abiding road network as well.
There are three key alterations in these changes. The first is on the hierarchy of road users, which was ably explained by my noble friend Lord Attlee. We are all cognisant that those people driving the heavier and faster vehicles are able to cause greatest harm. The second is clarifying the existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements, and that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road. Finally, we are strengthening guidance on safe passing distances when overtaking cyclists or horses. Guidance on safe passing distances has existed for quite some time—this is not a new invention. We have to look at a positive shift in road user behaviour.
I think it might have been my noble friend Lord Attlee who asked whether, if you are turning left, for example, you should give priority to a pedestrian. Yes, you should, but you should not be going around a left-hand turn at 30 miles per hour anyway. You should be able to stop safely if there is a pedestrian waiting to cross. Just stop safely, let them pass and continue with your journey, and nothing bad will have happened.
I take issue with my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who unfortunately cannot see cyclists whizzing up on the inside. They have been allowed to travel up the inside of a car for quite some time; that is why the left- hand wing mirror is there—to enable you to check your wing mirrors before you make a left turn. Just as you would not, if you were on the outside of a car, turn left in front of it to go down a left-hand side street, the same applies to a cyclist. Do not cut in front of them —wait for them to pass, wait for it to be safe, and do not whizz around the corner at 30 miles per hour.
We are going to face some challenges, but it will lead to a much more respectful environment on our roads. It is certainly needed, having suffered some terrible road rage yesterday involving a gentleman throwing an apple at my car. I had done nothing wrong—indeed, I was not even the driver. But let us move on.
I turn to the publicity for the changes, which is incredibly important. I have already said that the Government would not have embarked on a massive publicity campaign prior to the completion of the parliamentary process. That would have been wrong. However, there has been an enormous amount of debate about the proposals dating back to 2018. There was the consultation in October 2020 and the response to the consultation in June 2021; it filled up a lot of column inches in places where they were supportive of the changes and places where they were not. The debate is already out there. I believe that people are starting to become aware that there will be a change.
Now it is up to the Government to set out exactly what those changes are. We have set out some myth-busting summaries of what is and is not changing. For example, we are not saying that cyclists should cycle down the middle of the lane. That is not what the rules will say; they say that you might consider it if it is safer to do so on quiet roads or approaching a junction. Ditto, the rules do not say you should cycle two-by-two down the road; they say you might consider doing so on quieter roads and if it is safe to do so, et cetera. Much of the Highway Code, noble Lords will be aware, is not prescriptive; it is not set in law at all. It is a code for using the road. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said “What are we going to do about the police if they pull someone over on the basis of these new rules on Monday?”, but we have not changed the law, we have changed the code.
Will my noble friend permit me to intervene? I think the concern is this. I was pinged with the press notice, for which I am very grateful, because I subscribe. I would just like to flag up these two sentences:
“Many of the rules in the code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you’re committing a criminal offence. If you do not follow the other rules in the code, it can be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability.”
We are changing the law here, not the guidance.
That is exactly what I am trying to say. A “should” or “should not” that is in the code can be used. Going back to my noble friend Lord Attlee’s point about an HGV and a cyclist going around the corner and having an incident, whoever is at fault, the fact that they were going against the Highway Code would be a factor if it were ever to reach court. But this is not necessarily about the changes—
My Lords, it was not my point; I think it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. But I would like to intervene and point out that an HGV driver is trained to never endanger a vulnerable road user. The only problem arises when the HGV driver, for one reason or another, is not aware of the vulnerable user’s position.
I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing that out. I apologise for assigning the wrong speaker to that point, but it remains the case that noble Lords should be cognisant about what the Highway Code is and is not, and what certain rules in there are or are not. Some reflect what the underlying law says, and others are in the code because they are guidance on how one operates the road system. I will not dwell on that further, otherwise I could go into a long treatise on road safety and how it works. Let us not do that, because I want to come back to communications.
We are going to use the free channels as much as possible, via the press notice and our trusted stakeholders, and we will then use the THINK! campaign. The code will come out over the weekend, once the parliamentary process has been completed. Therefore, our paid campaign will start in February; the noble Lord is quite right. It will be badged under the very successful THINK! campaign, and over half a million pounds has been targeted towards that. The communications plan has been tested with all trusted stakeholders. It is slightly different from the old days—the Clunk Click days—because, of course, audiences have massively atomised, so they may not see something on a terrestrial television network. Quite frankly, I have not heard of many of the channels we use either, but I am reassured that people actually watch them.
I turn very briefly to some of the points raised. On the timing of the communications, there is the initial hit in February. Obviously, we will continue with that and will have another burst as we head into the summer because that is when cycling becomes a greater issue.
Should e-scooters be allowed on British roads, we would revise the Highway Code accordingly.
I will come back to the issue of rural roads. I spoke to my noble friend Lady McIntosh yesterday about this, and she asked if I had ever driven on a rural road—yes, I have, and one of the things I am astounded by is the speed at which people travel on those roads. We know that they were never designed for cars. They started off as tracks from one village to another. Many vehicles hare along them at great speed, and they are some of our most dangerous roads in the country. I am afraid that if you cannot overtake a horse because it is on a rural road—I take my noble friend Lady Hodgson’s point that the horse rider might want to just move over periodically—you will just have to wait behind the horse. It is okay; nothing bad will happen. You should do that instead of trying to squeeze your way past and haring off into the distance on a very dangerous rural road. We have to calm down on those sorts of roads, because they are incredibly dangerous. They kill far more people than cyclists are killed. We really need to get back that respect for cyclists, horse riders, pedestrians—all the people who are out enjoying the countryside.
On my noble friend Lord Young’s point, I can say that we have recently revised LTN 1/20, which sets out how cycling infrastructure should be constructed. That will, of course, enable us to spend the money—about which I am going to write to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, because I sense that I am running out of time and the House has a Bill to be cracking on with.
I will very happily write with further details. On the point on the shortage of paper, I had no idea that that was the reason, but I am aware that we do not update the Highway Code in paper copy very often. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will be aware, we updated the Highway Code for the smart motorway changes. Again, we would not have reprinted it after that, but most people do not access the Highway Code via a printed copy.
I will certainly go back and look through Hansard, because so many good points were raised and I have not been able to cover them all. I am grateful to all noble Lords.
Before the noble Baroness sits down I ask that, in the letters she will undoubtedly write to us, she will address my very specific questions about budgets for publicity and for the police and local authorities to spread the word on this. Can she also clarify when the new information will have to be known by people taking the driving test written examination?
My Lords, I thank every noble Lord who has taken part in this debate, and I particularly commend the Minister. It is such a pleasure to agree with a government Minister and to hear her spirited defence of old and new regulations.
There are a lot of issues here and, of course, I disagree with quite a lot of what has been said. We always have to remember that car drivers are subsidised by the rest of us. They are subsidised by cyclists, pedestrians and, obviously, other car drivers. Please let us not think that car drivers have the right to do whatever they like on our roads.
There are too many issues to cover, but on the issue of cyclists killing other people and so on, that hardly ever happens. In fact, 99% of pedestrian deaths are from motor vehicles. Please let us not forget that. I was going to refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, but the Minister corrected that. Cycle lanes are often dangerous, and the infrastructure has to be looked at.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about the budget. That is quite important, because I think there is £500,000 at the moment, which will be nowhere near enough. I recommend that if government Ministers could get that out there and notify people on prime TV time—talking about this instead of cake—that would obviously help to spread the word.
The Government have been very slow to produce a draft of these changes. In fact, they were told back in July 2018 that there was a need for a public awareness campaign, yet the relevant people looking at it were given the details only a week ago.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his positive and sympathetic response. As somebody who does not cycle any more, because I walk, I am well aware of the dangers of cycling in London and other places, including rural areas, and I commend the Minister for saying that we should show some patience and courtesy. It is perhaps time that we all learned that. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Nationality and Borders Bill
Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
11: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision for Chagos Islanders to acquire British nationality
(1) Part 2 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (British overseas territories citizenship) is amended as follows.(2) After section 17H (as inserted by section 7), insert— “17I Acquisition by registration: descendants of those born in British Indian Ocean Territory(1) A person is entitled to be registered as a British overseas territories citizen on an application made under this section if they are a direct descendant of a person (“P”) who was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of P’s birth in the British Indian Ocean Territory or, prior to 8 November 1965, in those islands designated as the British Indian Ocean Territory on that date.(2) An application under this section must be made before the date specified in subsection (3).(3) The specified date means—(a) in the case of a person aged 18 years or over on the date of coming into force of this section, five years after the date of coming into force of this section, or(b) in the case of a person under the age of 18 years on the date of coming into force of this section, before they reach the age of 23 years.(4) A person who is being registered as a British overseas territories citizen under this section is also entitled to be registered as a British citizen.(5) No charge or fee may be imposed for registration under this section.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow anyone who is descended from a person born before 1983 on the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as a British overseas territories citizen. They may also register as a British citizen at the same time. Both applications would be free of charge. The application must be submitted within 5 years, or in the case of a minor born before the date of coming into force, before they reach 23 years old.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, for their support for the amendment. The amendment would extend the right to register as citizens to the descendants of Chagossians exiled from their homeland, subject to a time limit. I am grateful to Rosy Leveque of BIOT Citizens for her help with it, and to Chagossian Voices for its briefing.
To understand the case for this amendment, a bit of history is necessary. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago—a British Overseas Territory which became part of the British Indian Ocean Territory—were evicted by the then British Government to make way for a US airbase on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands. They have never been allowed to return. Not only did they lose their homeland, but their grandchildren and other descendants have no right to British Overseas Territory citizenship and, therefore, to British citizenship. Only those born on the islands and the first generation born in exile have such a right. I should perhaps make it clear that the right to citizenship should not be confused with the quite separate right of return, which is not affected by this amendment, important as it is.
The Chagossians were deported to Mauritius and the Seychelles and now around 4,000 live in the UK, but because of the unjust citizenship rules many are undocumented and children have been and continue to be deported. Families have been broken up and communities are divided, as some members have access to citizenship rights while others do not. This has caused hardship for many and has aggravated the trauma associated with exile. The lack of citizenship rights has created insecurity and made it harder to integrate into local communities.
In the Commons, in Committee, the Minister, Tom Pursglove, expressed some sympathy for the case made for the extension of citizenship rights and acknowledged that
“the Chagossians present a unique case.”—[Official Report, Commons, Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, 4/11/21; col. 644.]
He said he would “reflect further”. It all looked rather hopeful but when the Conservative MP, Henry Smith, raised the issue on Report, what looked like a half-open door was slammed shut by the Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, which was very disappointing. Mr Smith emphasised the anomalies created, the injustices caused and that we are talking about no more than a few hundred to the low thousands of people who would benefit. So far, BIOT Citizens has identified 500 descendants. What is at stake is a small concession but one that would make a huge difference to the lives of those affected. It would also have symbolic importance for a people who have lost their homeland through no fault of their own.
Mr Smith’s amendment was rejected in a single paragraph. There appear to be two strings to the Government’s case. The first is that the amendment
“would undermine a long-standing principle of British nationality law … under which nationality or entitlement to nationality is not passed on to the second and subsequent generations born and settled outside the UK and its territories, creating quite a major precedent.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/21; col. 258.]
I am sure noble Lords can spot what a specious argument this is in this context. The only reason the Chagossians in question do not meet this condition is because they are descended from people who were evicted against their will from a British Oversees Territory. Forced and continued exile prevents them from meeting these long-standing conditions. It is not clear that the Government really understand this, but as the Junior Minister acknowledged in Committee, it is “a unique case” so no precedent would be set, unless the Government have plans to evict others from their British Overseas Territory homelands. I hope and trust that, if the noble Baroness—I think it is the noble Baroness—the Minister has been briefed to use this argument, she will scrap it now.
The second government concern is more credible. They do not want to create an open-ended right in the way that the Commons amendment did, and I think that is reasonable. This amendment therefore creates a five-year time limit for applications, following the Windrush precedent in the British Nationality Act 1981. Those aged under 18 at the time of enactment will have up until the age of 23. I am offering the Minister an opportunity to add something positive, that would be widely welcomed, to a Bill that—with very few exceptions to be found in this part of it—has been widely condemned. If this particular way of capping entitlement is not to the Government’s liking I am, of course, open to discussions about alternative means, such as a generational cap. I very much hope that the Minister will accept the amendment or a revised version of it for Report. Is she willing to meet virtually with me and other signatories to the amendment and those advising me to discuss how we might proceed? I plan to return to the issue on Report to try to put right what Henry Smith MP correctly described as an “appalling injustice”. I beg to move.