House of Lords
Thursday 7 April 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s contribution to the work of the House.
Ukraine: Defence in a Competitive Age
My Lords, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine shows more than ever that the UK must be ready to defend and deter threats emanating from our adversaries in a deteriorating global security environment. That illegal war validates both the integrated review and the Command Paper’s commitments that defence will strengthen its deterrents, become increasingly adaptable and integrated with partners, and improve its ability to intervene and fight decisively. We will continue to review our capabilities and readiness levels accordingly.
I am delighted that we will keep our capabilities under review, but does my noble friend feel that we have the balance of investment correct between sub-threshold capabilities, such as cyber, and warfighting capabilities, such as tanks, planes, ships and armaments? Secondly, while I am sure that there are many lessons to be learned from the war in Ukraine, is one not the value of a reserve? The Ukrainian reserve is three times the size of its regular forces. Here in the United Kingdom our reserve is one-third of the size of our regular forces. Should that change?
To answer the first part of my noble friend’s question, he will be aware that the defence budget will grow from £40 billion in 2019-20 to £47.6 billion in 2024-25. That significant increase since the start of this Government puts flesh to the vision and the reform and renewal proposals of the Command Paper. I think the balance is correct, but as I have indicated we constantly review that balance. He is aware of Royal Navy shipbuilding plans, the future combat air system and the new proposals for equipment for the Army. That all reflects a very healthy resilience to deal with threat, however it arises. On the matter of reservists, I pay tribute to my noble friend, not just for the role he performs but for his excellent contribution in the paper he produced on how we might reform the reserves. This is enabling the Army to move to a much more flexible, resilient whole-force strength, which, including the integrated reserve, will be over 100,000 personnel from 2025.
My Lords, the defence Command Paper had two major errors, caused by one underlying problem. It was wrong to pay off ships, aircraft and people—numbers of Army personnel—for jam tomorrow. Sadly, the enemy has a vote, and he might not want to fight us in 15 years’ time; it might be tomorrow. The second problem was that we have not invested properly in the whole area of hard kill—kinetic kill—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton. Yes, we need cyber, AI and quantum, but people are being killed in Ukraine at the moment by hard kill, not laptops. The reason for all of this was a lack of funding. No matter what fine words are said, not enough has been spent on defence for some years. Could the Minister go back to the Secretary of State and say that, in the final analysis, with the possibility of war right upon us, now is the time to spend money on the Armed Forces? It is crackpot not to do that.
My Lords, I have huge respect for the noble Lord and his experience, but I disagree with his analysis of the Command Paper. Indeed, when he talks about jam tomorrow, I say look in the mirror and face the images. I argue that the budget figures that I quoted earlier to my noble friend Lord Lancaster reflect an extraordinary increase in the defence budget—I think that the noble Lord is unfamiliar with this and would have loved to have seen it when he held his former, very senior role in the Royal Navy. From what the Command Paper has outlined, it is perfectly clear what we have, what equipment we seek to acquire and how we seek to achieve agility, flexibility and resilience. We are doing that to very good effect. Everyone has been surprised at not just the swiftness but the substance of the response to help the Ukrainians in their defence of their country in this illegal war. The UK has played a strong role in that bilaterally, as have our NATO global partners. That is a matter for commendation, not scaremongering.
My Lords, given the extent of the military equipment that we have supplied to the Ukrainian Government—I heartily support that—and the possibility of supplying more such equipment, heavily hinted at in the press today, what assessment have the Government made of the impact on our stock of equipment, which of course has an effect on our capability? What steps are being taken to replace those stocks, and how will this replacement be paid for?
The MoD constantly reviews our obligations—both our primary responsibility to defend the nation and our responsibility to contribute to global security with our global partners, whether in NATO or elsewhere. We therefore constantly review what we need to achieve and discharge that role. We constantly assess what we can donate; I thank the noble Lord for his helpful comments, and know he will be aware of the generous nature of that donation, recognised not just within the United Kingdom but by Ukraine. On payment, when we come to replenish stocks, which will be necessary due to our gifts of equipment to Ukraine, that will be dealt with by the Treasury special reserve.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee has just started an inquiry into last year’s defence Command Paper. One of the issues that it will seek to test is the proposition that structure can be replaced by solutions based on science and technology. Can the Minister assure us that, when departmental representatives come before the committee, they will be able to set out a clear strategy, explaining how this can be done? I also ask the Minister whether it would not be appropriate for the Government to be slightly less self-congratulatory about the recent increases in defence expenditure, welcome though they are, since they have merely repaired part of the damage that was done in 2010 and subsequently, when our defence expenditure was 2.5% of GDP?
I did not intend to sound self-congratulatory; I was merely pointing out the facts, which are a fairly stark improvement, as the noble and gallant Lord will be aware, on what has happened in previous years, under different Governments. On his point about the Command Paper and its relevance and fitness for purpose, I argue that it outlines a very comprehensive vision to reform and renew our Armed Forces for an age of global and systemic competition, dealing with threats and situations that are increasingly new to us. I welcome the noble and gallant Lord’s committee carrying out its analysis, and I am sure that, when representatives from the MoD appear before it as witnesses, they will give of their best, as usual, and endeavour to inform and assist it in its investigation.
My Lords, the world has changed, and we, like the Germans, must change our policy. At the very moment that the Minister is speaking, we are reducing the number of our troops, ships and aircraft. We must change our policy. Does she think that it is sensible to reduce our Armed Forces capabilities at the moment, when there is war in Europe?
I demur somewhat with my noble friend’s analysis. I have outlined an extensive programme of investment that will take place over the next 10, 15 and 20 years, and I think that that has been well received within the single forces. It is seen as a commitment by the Government to the serious business of defence and discharging our roles responsibly and effectively. The new model of the Army to which he refers, under the Future Soldier proposals, will in fact create a much more agile, flexible and resilient Army, able to deal at pace with the different characters of threats, whenever and wherever they arise. This is a matter of reassurance and commendation.
My Lords, given the new security situation in Europe following events in Ukraine, is it the case that, as David Williams, the Permanent Secretary, said to the Public Accounts Committee in February,
“the integrated review looks right to me, but we will of course want to review the calibration and our understanding of the threat and what the right response will need to be”?
So is there to be a review and what will that mean, particularly for the Army—as the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, raised—which is losing 700 warrior infantry vehicles earlier than planned, facing troop cuts and losing a third of its Challenger 2 battle tanks, if we are to potentially fight the kind of land-based conventional warfare launched by Putin?
As we understand the impact of the threat from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we will of course keep plans under review—I have indicated that and we will of course do that. We will remain threat-led; that is our raison d’être and how we operate, and we continue to review our capabilities and readiness levels accordingly. All of that is predicated on both the integrated review and the defence Command Paper. But the integrated review outlined that defence forces must prepare for more persistent global engagement and constant campaigning to counter emerging threats. So although we may not have anticipated conflict so quickly, the review recognised the threats posed by aggression from our adversaries. I remind your Lordships that the integrated review and defence Command Paper set out a year ago that the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security is posed by Russia.
Mr Mike Veale
My Lords, arrangements for the misconduct hearing of former Chief Constable Mike Veale are a matter for the Cleveland police and crime commissioner, and it would be inappropriate to comment further while those proceedings remain ongoing.
My Lords, what on earth is going on in Cleveland, where the PCC announced last August that an independent panel, chaired by a lawyer, would begin the gross misconduct hearing against Veale shortly, following a two-year inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the report of which has not been published? Things seem to move very slowly where police misconduct is concerned. Has the Home Office noticed that a long-standing superintendent in Cleveland denounced Veale last month for subjecting her to, in her words, a “biased, flawed and … unfair” investigation, piling on yet further allegations against him? Is this scandal-ridden man to continue to rake in his £100,000 salary, plus expenses, from his kind friend, the current so-called Conservative PCC for Leicestershire and Rutland? In short, will the Home Office let this very rotten apple get away with it?
My Lords, I think my noble friend will concede that there is a process under way and that misconduct hearings must commence within 100 working days of the officer being served with a notice. But the legally qualified chair does have the power to extend the period of time when they consider it in the interest of justice to do so. It is a decision entirely for the chair, and it would be inappropriate to comment on such a decision.
My Lords, I will follow on from the excellent question from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. The contract that Mike Veale has with the Conservative police and crime commissioner in Leicester, under which he has so far been paid £35,000, includes a clause that says that part of his role is to hold the chief constable of Leicestershire to account for implementation of crime strategies. Does the Minister agree that it is totally unacceptable that the chief constable of Leicestershire, with an unblemished record, should answer to someone facing a gross misconduct hearing?
My Lords, I declare my interest as immediate past chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. Whatever one’s views of Mr Veale, serious questions have been raised about Operation Conifer from all sides of the House as to whether it was truly impartial, honest or effective. When on earth are we going to get a genuinely independent review of Operation Conifer?
As my noble friend is probably aware, we do not have plans to commission a review of either the conduct of the investigation into the allegations or the findings of the investigation. There have been several levels of scrutiny. Operation Conifer was subject to its own scrutiny channel, which checked and tested the decision-making. There were two reviews by Operation Hydrant in September 2016 and May 2017, which concluded that the investigation was proportionate, legitimate and in accordance with national guidance. A further review in January 2017 and the IOPC have also considered specific allegations related to the former chief constable, as noble Lords will have heard this morning.
My Lords, this miserable stain has been spreading since 2015. For all the inquiries—many of which were the police authorities marking their own homework—is this really acceptable? When is this matter going to be finished with—later this year, next year or in another five years? Is it not about time we had an independent inquiry into all this? We could have somebody like Sir Richard Henriques, who knows all about it. It could be up and running very quickly to start restoring the reputation of a police service which, if I may say so, my own family over four generations and 150 years was happy to serve.
My Lords, I will not repeat what I said earlier on, but on the panel that will investigate this, we have a legally qualified chair, an independent panel member and a member of HMICFRS. In terms of independence, I do not think there can be any argument, and there is certainly no argument about the rightly named Independent Office for Police Conduct.
The IOPC report said that Veale had been found guilty of lying about damaging his work phone so that he could not be held accountable. I understand some senior Tories at No. 10 have done something similar, so what is happening with them?
My Lords, I will just repeat what I have already said: that the IOPC is by its very name independent and will conclude its investigations in due course. This House trying to get me to opine on an ongoing investigation is not the best idea for the outcome of that investigation.
I must say that the answers to the questions being asked seem like a “no comment” interview on the part of the Government. Let us just repeat some things. Mr Veale, the controversial former chief constable of Wiltshire, resigned after 10 months as chief constable of the Cleveland force in January 2019 following gross misconduct allegations. The IOPC investigated the claims over a two-year period and came to the conclusion that
“there was sufficient evidence to indicate that Mr Veale had breached the standards of professional behaviour”
“should face proceedings for gross misconduct.”
Yet he is now carrying out well-paid advisory work for the police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire. As has just been said, his responsibilities apparently include holding the chief constable of Leicestershire to account at a time when he himself faces an outstanding misconduct hearing. You could not make it up. At a time when trust and confidence in the police is not at a level we would wish, what action does the Home Secretary intend to take in respect of Mr Veale’s case, which is doing nothing—to put it mildly—to restore confidence and trust in our police? The whole situation with Mr Veale is a joke and a pretty sick joke at that. For how much longer does the Home Secretary intend to take a back seat? I thought she had responsibility for the standing and status of, and confidence in, our police force on a national basis. It is time she took action on this.
My Lords, as I have said, the misconduct proceedings are ongoing. If an independent panel finds a former officer guilty of gross misconduct, it can determine that the officer would have been dismissed had they still been serving. If that occurs, the officer would be placed on the College of Policing’s barred list, preventing them rejoining policing.
My Lords, the whole House holds my noble friend in high regard, but we have had this time and again. Another reputation is being besmirched—that of the Home Office itself. As the noble Lord opposite has just said, the Home Office has ultimate responsibility. Will my noble friend please, at the very least, tell the Home Secretary today that this House is virtually united in its concern at the way these events have been handled?
I note my noble friend’s comments. There is a process ongoing, and it would be wrong for me to opine on that process other than to say that it is ongoing. The Home Secretary has herself initiated a review into the IOPC, which will be commencing shortly, but I must stress that the police are operationally independent of the Home Office.
My Lords, if I may say so to the Minister, the sense of urgency from the House, in preference to what is happening in real life, is partly due to the police having created a mood of taking false allegations seriously and the undoing of that mood not being taken seriously. Does she recognise that those false allegations make it harder for real allegations to have credibility? That is why it is so important that this is not shoved down the road. In all seriousness, why are PCCs bringing in outside consultants and strategic advisers at any level? Would she at least tell us that this is a waste of time, part of a bureaucratic state and lack of responsibility and accountability?
I think the noble Baroness makes a very good point about false allegations. On the other hand, we must be mindful that allegations that are brought forward to the police must be thoroughly investigated. Clearly, there have been many convictions for non-recent child sex abuse. She asked me another question, which I cannot remember—
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the recommendations of The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, published on 2 February 2021; and what international engagement they have undertaken to further the review’s objectives.
This Government are committed to delivering a nature-positive future in which we leave the environment in a better state than we found it and we reverse biodiversity loss globally by 2030. We are taking action to ensure that economic and financial decision-making, and the systems and institutions which underpin that, support the delivery of that nature-positive future. That includes international advocacy to promote the global Dasgupta review and the UK’s domestic approach to applying its findings.
I thank my noble friend for her Answer. It should be recognised that the Treasury should be thanked for commissioning this excellent review by Professor Dasgupta in the first place. What opportunities does my noble friend think that Her Majesty’s Government will have to advocate this excellent review internationally in the coming months?
My noble friend will know that we have the Convention on Biological Diversity this year, and the UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious post-2020 global framework for biodiversity at that conference. Building on the review’s findings, we will work with partners to ensure that the post-2020 global diversity framework is ambitious, effectively spurring global action and the transformative change needed for halting and reversing global biodiversity loss.
My Lords, the Minister quite rightly referred to the forthcoming conference which I think is in Kunming, China this month, COP 15. Is the Minister aware that, as a result of COP 26 in Glasgow, there was a great deal of concern in the scientific community, which was reported in Nature, that researchers were not given access to the key sessions that took place in Glasgow? Given the fact that overseas territories of this country encompass a great deal of biodiversity and the Dasgupta review, as the noble Lord said at the beginning of his Question, is an extremely important document, can the Minister give some assurance that researchers attending this conference in China will have access to the key sessions?
My Lords, the UK is not responsible for organising the conference. However, despite the delays to the timetable to that conference, we are fully engaged in the negotiations process in the lead-up to it—for example, working through the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance and our role as ocean co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People. The noble Viscount makes a good point about the need for different voices to contribute to that process, and that is something which the UK values.
My Lords, as Dasgupta makes clear, food-intensive farming is the primary cause of all biodiversity loss across the world. Yet, if we look at COP 26 in Glasgow, food was not really on the agenda. Indeed, for Sharm el-Sheikh in November, food is on the agenda, but from a point of view of food security. So I ask the Minister whether there is going to be a change of heart about that, and whether food, as both a cause of carbon emissions and biodiversity loss, will have a bigger presence.
Perhaps I might beg the Minister’s time to ask another question. As we are in a food shortage caused by the Ukrainian war—for instance, Germany is putting down a million acres to grow wheat in an intensive farming fashion, and I hear rumours that ELMS itself might be put back a bit—I urge the Minister to say that this a really bad time. Can the Government put further support into regenerative farming that will produce the same high yields but respect and preserve the biodiversity and good soils we need?
The noble Baroness has a good point that food security and biodiversity and the preservation of our land do not have to be in tension with each other. The aim of our environmental land management scheme is to promote both of those goals by making farming and agriculture more productive and sustainable on some land, while using land which may be less productive to achieve our biodiversity goals. That is something to which the UK remains absolutely committed.
My Lords, the Dasgupta review said that it was vital that UK aid assists countries with population and family planning issues because of the biodiversity implications. The Government’s response last June confirmed that they would continue to prioritise aid for family planning. However, following the Chancellor’s cuts to ODA in November, there is a £132 million reduction in grants for family planning—that is a 60% cut which will result in 9.5 million fewer women and couples receiving any family planning services. How does this match the commitment which the Government gave only five months earlier?
My Lords, this House has discussed many times the difficult decision that the Government took to cut ODA spending, and they have set out the criteria for returning to 0.7%. I say to the noble Baroness that we have committed significant funds to nature-based solutions to climate change internationally and to protecting biodiversity.
The noble Baroness is quite right that our peatlands will play a crucial role as part of our nature-based solutions to climate change here in the UK. That is why the Government have put in additional funding to restoring both peatlands and forests to help with carbon capture in a nature-based way.
My Lords, one of the causes of the loss of biodiversity in Britain is the overuse of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides. What are the Government doing to find alternatives that enable us to produce food in a way which does not destroy our biodiversity?
The noble Lord is quite right. I believe that Defra made some announcements this week about looking at the inputs to agriculture in the context of rising costs there, and the potential for a mutually beneficial solution in terms of finding more natural solutions to some of those inputs. As part of our environmental land management scheme, we will also promote the maintenance of healthy soils. There are two soil standards within the sustainable farming incentive launching in 2022.
My Lords, in her initial response to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, the Minister told the House, in a chain of elegant abstractions, what the Government were going to do. Do the Government recognise that, in order to bring about the aspirations of the Dasgupta review, it is necessary that concrete actions, not abstract aspirations, are the policy?
Absolutely. On the international stage, for example, the UK Government have committed to spending at least £3 billion over the next five years on nature and nature-based solutions in developing nations. Through our G7 and COP 26 presidencies, we have ensured that nature has stayed on the global agenda, and we have got commitments from other countries to embed climate change and nature into economic and financial decision-making. Those are just a few examples of concrete action which we are taking on this agenda.
My Lords, a key message from the Dasgupta review is that we need to change our measures of economic success. That cannot be done without replacing the shareholder-centric model of corporate governance with a stakeholder model of corporate governance. Can the Minister explain what changes the Government are considering to the model of corporate governance, and what alternative measures of economic success they propose?
I do not think that the Government agree with the move towards a stakeholder governance structure for businesses, but the noble Lord is right that, in our financial system, we need to make the decision-making with transparency on the impact of investments on our economy. We set out a green finance strategy in July 2019 that addresses all sorts of aspects of that, from developing a green taxonomy to having nature-related financial disclosures in our finance system. Overall, the Government are committed to the UK becoming the world’s first green global financial centre.
My noble friend the Minister has talked about food security—as has Defra. Do she and the department recognise that we grow only 50% of the food that we eat? In those circumstances, and given the topsy-turvy world in which we live, should the policy not now be called “food insecurity” rather than food security?
Newport Wafer Fab
My Lords, the Government are considering the case and no decisions have been made. I am unable to comment on the details of businesses’ commercial transactions or on national security assessments. The Government always stand ready to act, where necessary, to protect the UK’s national security.
My Lords, the problem here is that we seem to be looking at this issue in a vacuum. The Minister has said in the past that there are no specialist technologies at Newport Wafer Fab, but that ignores the need for industrial capacity to build technology. The Minister will say, and has said, that the factories will not move, so why should we care who owns them? I do care. There is a crippling shortage of microprocessors around the world that is hampering manufacturing. To combat that, the EU and the US have strategies. We seem to be waiting and seeing. So, to put this acquisition into context, can the Minister tell us when will we have a plan? Will he undertake not to allow this business to be sold until such a plan is forthcoming?
My Lords, this about the United Kingdom’s biggest producer of microchips and semiconductors; it is about national resilience and whether or not we wish to become a wholly owned subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China, which has been accused of genocide by Elizabeth Truss, our Foreign Secretary. What can the Minister tell us, for instance, about the value of contracts that his own department has had, or that the Ministry of Defence, perhaps more particularly, has had, with Newport Wafer Fab? What is the value of those contracts, and will the departments become customers of the People’s Republic of China, should this deal go ahead? Why are we not giving consideration to, and why will he not comment on, the remarks of Ciaran Martin, the former head of the National Cyber Security Centre, who said that there are “very real concerns” about the buyout and that it poses a greater threat than allowing Huawei to build the United Kingdom’s 5G network; and this week’s statement by the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, that
“it potentially compromises national security”?
I totally share the noble Lord’s frustration about this, and totally align with his remarks about the People’s Republic of China. On the awful human rights abuses going on there, particularly the treatment of the Uighur people, there is no difference between us. Unfortunately, this is a quasi-judicial decision that will be taken by the Business Secretary under the powers granted to him by the National Security and Investment Act, which many of us debated at great length in this House. I cannot comment on the details of a quasi-judicial decision, or on national security assessments. I apologise to the noble Lord, but that is the position.
My Lords, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee found no evidence to suggest that a review into the acquisition of Newport Wafer Fab had taken place, yet Politico reports that the Government’s National Security Adviser concluded that there were not enough security concerns to block it. Can the Government confirm, on record, whether the review that was promised by the Prime Minister took place or not?
My Lords, what does my noble friend make of the remarks by the adviser to the Board of Trade, Tony Abbott, that the sale of Newport Wafer Fab would not go ahead were it happening in Australia? What discussions have been had with him, and with our allies in the Five Eyes network?
What would happen in Australia is a matter for the Australian Government. Tony Abbott is a member of the Board of Trade, and of course we value his insight and opinions, but this is a quasi-judicial decision that will be taken in the interests of the United Kingdom by the Business Secretary.
The Minister will know that trade with China over the last few years has doubled, but that doubling has occurred because we now import £40 billion more than we export. This trade deficit is the biggest in this country’s history—with any country. We are now dependent in many sectors on imports from China, while at the same time, imports and exports with our closest trading partners have declined dramatically. Why does the Minister think that is the case?
I suspect there are a number of different reasons for that, particularly the importation of consumer goods. Globalisation and imports from China of consumer goods, consumables, et cetera, are a good thing in terms of global trade, but we have to be wary of dealing with companies from the People’s Republic of China. When it comes to matters of national security, we are incredibly vigilant. The NSI Act gave us new powers in this area, and we will not hesitate to act on anything that threatens the UK’s national security.
My Lords, as the Minister says, the National Security and Investment Act was passed—it shot through this House, actually—to stop things like this happening, because we have been caught out in the past. There is absolutely no doubt—it is known across all our intelligence communities, Five Eyes and everywhere—that this factory has strategic significance and is strategically important to our nation. Therefore, while I understand the Minister’s saying that this is quasi-judicial, it would be nice to have some commitment from the Government that they understand how important this is in strategic terms, and they will not let this go through by some sort of error.
Nothing will go through in terms of an error, I can assure the noble Lord of that. This transaction is being considered very closely and there is an ongoing review by the National Security Adviser, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. But the decision has to be taken, as outlined under the terms of the Act, by the Business Secretary. It is his decision and his alone, in quasi-judicial terms.
My Lords, I realise that the structures and processes of government can be something of a mystery, but I am at a bit of a loss to understand—perhaps the Minister can help me here—how something so crucial to the security and defence of this country and our national infrastructure can be an issue for the Business Secretary.
I can certainly help the noble and gallant Lord on that. That is what Parliament decided under the NSI Act: that these decisions are a matter for the Business Secretary to take under the terms of that Act, under the powers granted to him by Parliament under that Act, and he will take those decisions. Obviously, a lot of advice is coming his way from all different parts of government, and from the National Security Adviser, but the decision is his alone to take.
I am not sure I can help my noble friend—I do not know what investigation he is referring to. If he is referring to the question the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, asked earlier, on the review by the National Security Adviser which the Prime Minister announced, as I said to the noble Baroness, that review in ongoing.
I am sorry, but that comment is unwarranted. This is a commercial transaction between a company called Nexperia and Newport Wafer Fab. There are a lot of jobs involved—people are employed by Newport Wafer Fab—and this is an important issue. The Government will consider it properly with appropriate due diligence, based on the advice from a number of other government departments and from the National Security Adviser. The Business Secretary will take a decision in due course.
This is a commercial transaction. Nexperia already has existing semiconductor facilities in the United Kingdom. It entered into an additional commercial transaction and, therefore, that is being considered under the terms of the National Security and Investment Act.
The noble and learned Lord entertains us royally with his views on delegated powers. On every Bill I have brought before this House on behalf of the Government we have had a long discussion about the use of delegated powers, and I am sure we will do so again. At the end of the day, these are difficult issues. Someone has to take a decision, and the proper person to do so, in my view, is the Business Secretary. That was the power granted to him under the Act. He will do so in due course, and I am sure that when he has we will have further debates on this matter.
Energy Security Strategy
Private Notice Question
The Government’s energy security strategy sets out a comprehensive package of measures to improve the UK’s energy security. We will support the deployment of onshore wind across the UK. This includes a commitment to consult this year on onshore wind partnerships in supportive local areas in England. On the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, we are spending a total of £6.6 billion across the lifetime of this Parliament to retrofit the nation’s buildings, and the Chancellor announced the removal of VAT on energy efficiency measures.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and apologise, because I may have inadvertently misled the House in saying that the strategy had been published today. In fact, what was published yesterday was a four-page press release, two pages of which were supportive quotes about the policy. Perhaps as a starter, the Minister could tell us when we will actually see the policy. With what has been published, in the week of the IPCC’s most frightening warnings yet on global warming, and when customers and consumers face horrifying energy bills, it is deeply disappointing to see a set of policies outlined that concentrates on the expensive and the long term and fails to support what would work immediately and help both consumers and the climate.
I have two specific questions for the Minister. Why are there no extra measures to support consumers in insulating their homes? We have some of the worst housing stock in the world, and that is an absolute no-brainer to reduce demand, so we should support it. Is that the result of the cold hand of the Chancellor? Why, when the figures from both his own department and the Conservative Environmental Network this week show that more than 80% of the public support onshore wind, are the Government being so timid and refusing to allow normal planning procedures to go ahead? Is that the dead hand of the Government Chief Whip?
There were a number of questions from the noble Baroness. I think she may have unfairly maligned my noble friend Lord Ashton. I am not aware that he has any strong views on the subject. I am sure he will communicate with me if he does, but he has not so far. The strategy will be published later today, and I apologise that the noble Baroness has not had a chance to look at it so far.
With regard to her other questions, we are rolling out the development and formation of low-carbon sources of power, be they nuclear or offshore wind, and we are going to go further on onshore wind. I know it is a subject that the noble Baroness feels passionately about. We must do so in full recognition of the concerns of many local communities. We want to take people with us when we do that, so we will seek a number of pilots to take those policies forward.
We are already spending a lot of money on energy efficiency programmes. I have outlined them numerous times in this House before, but I would be happy to do so again. It would have been good to go further but, regrettably, that was not possible in this case.
My Lords, I think there may be a theme to these questions. The Minister is well aware of these Benches’ support for nuclear and offshore wind. However, onshore wind and solar power are the electricity sources that can reduce our reliance on Russian gas the fastest, given their short construction times. Bottlenecks in planning can be resolved through changes to regulation, and doing so would unlock new power to eliminate Russian gas from our energy mix. Yet our understanding is that specific targets for onshore wind, which is the cheapest and fastest, have disappeared or been removed. Could the Minister explain why? Surely it is not possible that the Government are once again prioritising internal party politics rather than the national interest.
There is a lot of good news in this strategy for those who believe in the development and deployment of low-carbon power: the expansion of nuclear and of offshore wind, further developments in hydrogen, et cetera. As I said, in terms of onshore wind, we will be looking to develop a limited range of partnerships with supportive local communities. I should add that this is in England; Scotland and Wales have their own separate planning powers. We will look to develop partnerships with a limited range of supportive communities to try to agree further deployment of onshore wind.
In responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the Minister talked about the concerns of local communities about wind power, but CEN polling this week showed that 83% of all voters and 80% of Conservative voters support the expansion of onshore wind. The journalist Paul Waugh has seen a March draft of this strategy with a target of 45 gigawatts of onshore wind capacity by 2035. What happened to that target?
I cannot comment on leaks of draft documents to journalists. All government documents go through a long drafting process. As I said, we are supportive of the deployment of onshore wind, but we want to do it in co-operation with and with the agreement of local communities, so we will seek to roll out a number of partnerships to enable us to do that.
My Lords, I declare my energy interests. It is a bit difficult to comment on a paper we have not seen, but by the sound of it, it is going to be full of admirable longer-term proposals, including the nuclear one—although I think that actually, as usual, they are going to get that wrong. Generally, it is in the right direction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has rightly emphasised. But is there a recognition of the unavoidable fact that, for the next five to eight years, we are going to remain inextricably embedded in dangerous and volatile global oil and gas markets, and we cannot get out of this? There is only one short-term answer, which is to cut demand—as again the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others, have suggested—and increase supply substantially. What are we doing to get Middle East suppliers, who are supposed to be our friends, to replace Russian exports—which are of course financing Russian atrocities by the day—by pumping much more oil and gas in the short term, which they can easily do? When are we going to get on with that?
The noble Lord is right: we will have an ongoing requirement for oil and gas in the transition period. We will seek to obtain as much of that as possible from our own domestic sources and will roll out an additional licensing round for North Sea oil and gas projects this autumn—they will of course all be done in co-operation with our climate compatibility tests—because it is much better to get those resources locally than source from unstable parts of the world. I cannot comment on discussions that have taken place with various regimes in the Middle East.
My Lords, the IPCC report this week was explicit that emissions need to peak by 2025: that is only three birthdays away if we are to have any hope of holding to below 1.5 degrees, yet this press release says that there are new licensing rounds for oil and gas this year. Does the Minister not agree that drilling for oil will not lower the bills and that the surest and cheapest way to do this is to ramp up all forms of renewables and insulate homes?
We are ramping up all forms of renewables, but we have a requirement for oil and gas in the short term. I remind the noble Baroness that the UK’s emissions are falling fast. We have the fastest rate of declining emissions of advanced western economies. We were the first to set a long-term target. The UK is responsible for a tiny proportion of emissions in worldwide terms, and this is a worldwide problem. We are reducing our emissions; we are making progress; we are rolling out renewables, and we are rolling out energy-efficiency measures.
My Lords, the immediate crisis of energy security relates to the energy security of millions of British people who are facing ruinous bills. In that context, why have the Government chosen a strategy that passes over the cheapest form of energy production —onshore wind—and have instead adopted the most expensive—nuclear—which will be piled on people’s bills through the RAB charge? What is the reason behind that?
As we debated many times in this House, we need both. We need nuclear and are pleased to have the support of the Opposition in accepting that we need it for long-term baseload power supplies. We also need renewables, which is why we already have the second greatest amount of offshore wind power in the world. We are seeking to ramp up those facilities as well. We are also deploying additional solar and hydrogen production. As I said, on onshore wind, we will look to go forward in partnership with supportive local communities. It is not a question of picking one technology over another: we need a diverse mix of energy supplies. The noble Lord was wrong to say that there was a problem with the UK’s energy security. There is no difficulty with energy security; there is clearly a short-term difficulty with the price of energy—particularly relating to gas—and we totally understand the difficulties that consumers are going through. That is why the Chancellor announced the £9.1 billion-worth relief package.
My Lords, perhaps I can push the Minister a little further on his reply to the last question. While of course it is vitally important that every conceivable measure to deal with our energy problems should be addressed, there is a question about what should be given priority and where the urgency should be attached. While I strongly welcome the Government’s decision to expand our nuclear energy facilities, surely priority should be given to the relatively cheap and relatively popular policy of trying to expand faster our onshore windfarms. More than 80% of the population welcome this, only 4% are opposed to it, so public opinion is behind it. Would it not be helpful to establish priority for that, as well as providing more money—I know the Government have provided some, but not a great deal—for insulation programmes as a matter of urgency?
I understand the thrust of the noble Baroness’s question, but we can prioritise a number of different things at the same time. That is why this is a comprehensive strategy. We are rolling out new nuclear, as indeed we should; we are also rolling out additional offshore-wind capacity and additional hydrogen capacity. As I said, onshore wind is also a priority, but it is a priority that we need to act on in cognisance and recognition of the concerns of local communities. With regard to insulation schemes, we are spending something like £6.6 billion over the term of this Parliament on insulation schemes. It would have been good to have gone further, but the Treasury would not support it.
My Lords, given that the two forms of domestic energy that can most rapidly come on stream and displace expensive imports are onshore wind and onshore shale gas, why does the Minister not introduce a system where, if a majority of the people in the vicinity of any proposed site to produce onshore wind or onshore gas vote in favour of it in return for cheap electricity or gas, it can go ahead?
Both the cases highlighted by my noble friend show the difficulties of proceeding in this environment, because we are a democratic society; we have strict planning rules and we have to try to proceed with these things with care and the support of local communities. I have outlined the position a number of times in relation to onshore wind. With regard to fracking for shale gas, my noble friend will be aware that the Business Secretary commissioned the British Geological Survey to do a further study to see if extraction of shale gas can take place without the unfortunate seismic events that occurred the last time it was tried. We will continue to be guided by the science in this respect.
I appreciate that, and I thank the noble Lord for giving way. As your Lordships’ House knows, the financial risk of funding future nuclear is falling to consumers through the RAB model. Can the Minister tell us when consumers will see their bills go up, and by how much? When will they see the fruits of that investment—in nuclear electricity—coming down their pipes? How long will they have to wait and how much will they have to invest before that electricity comes on stream?
We debated these matters extensively during the passage of the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act. The impact on consumer bills under the RAB model is relatively small. I would be happy to let the noble Lord have the figures that we used during the progress of the Bill. As I suspect he is well aware, new nuclear projects take a number of years to come on stream. This is about the UK’s long-term energy security policy; a mix of policies will be required, which I have outlined at great length. Of course, it will be a number of years before new nuclear comes on stream.
Returning to the question I think the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was about to ask me when the strategy will be published. The answer is today.
Monken Hadley Common Bill
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
British Sign Language Bill
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and that no noble Lord wishes to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Pension Schemes (Conversion of Guaranteed Minimum Pensions) Bill
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Glue Traps (Offences) Bill
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendment has been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects—and they had better not—I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
My Lords, I was going to give a moment to see whether anybody wants to take up the dare, but possibly not.
Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendment has been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill
Order of Commitment
My Lords, I understand that no amendment has been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]
15C: Because the timetable for the rollout of the reform programme for post-16 qualifications should not be delayed further and the additional requirements would introduce unnecessary burdens.
My Lords, I am pleased to be back in the Chamber to discuss the Bill as it reaches its conclusion.
After listening to debate from noble Lords a fortnight ago—the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in particular made a speech that spoke to his own experience, which I profoundly respect—I have come to this House with an announcement and clarifications that I hope will address the main thrust of those concerns. We are taking a pragmatic approach to our reforms as they are implemented and will continue to do so. We have already made important changes after listening to the arguments made in this House.
Last November, the Secretary of State announced an additional year before funding would be withdrawn from qualifications that overlap with T-levels. We have also removed the English and maths exit requirement from T-levels, but we do not think that a further delay will benefit providers, awarding bodies, employers or students. We know that stakeholders need clarity on the timescales for implementation, and we are continuing to support them in the rollout of T-levels. The announcements I am making today should give further assurance that the Government are undertaking their reforms in a measured, evidence-led and sensible manner and that any further delay is not necessary. We want to get on with delivering the Bill and our reforms to technical education qualifications.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education sent a letter to noble Lords. In that letter, he set out the Government’s position that many applied general qualifications, such as BTECs and other similar qualifications, will have a continuing and important role to play alongside A-levels and T-levels. To be approved for funding in future, qualifications will need to meet new quality and necessity criteria.
I want to make it clear that students will be able to take applied general-style qualifications, including BTECs, alongside A-levels as part of a mixed programme. We are not creating a binary system. Our aim is to ensure that students can choose from a variety of high-quality options, of which A-levels, T-levels, BTECs and other applied general-style qualifications will all play their part.
We have already begun our reform process, having confirmed that around 1,800 qualifications have low or no enrolments and will therefore have funding removed from August 2022. Our next phase of reforms will be to consider qualifications that overlap with T-levels. I know that noble Lords are all interested to see the provisional list of qualifications that overlap with waves 1 and 2 T-levels. I want to be absolutely clear to your Lordships today that through this process we expect to remove public funding approval for just a small proportion of the total level 3 offer, including BTECs. This will be significantly less than half. We expect to publish the provisional list in due course. There will be an opportunity for awarding organisations to appeal a qualification’s inclusion on the list to make sure we have applied our overlap criteria fairly. Our final phase in this process will focus on the quality of the wide range of other qualifications available.
I now turn to the commitment the Government are making in the light of the previous debate on the Bill in this Chamber. We want to ensure that we have the best evidence when considering whether to continue funding qualifications. As such, I can now guarantee that employers will have the opportunity to say if they believe qualifications support entry into occupations not covered by T-levels. This will mean that we have the strongest evidence to support decisions through the overlap process. It is important that there are no gaps in provision and that we retain the qualifications we need to support progression into occupations that are not covered by T-levels.
I was pleased in the previous debate to hear the support across the House for T-levels. Just as T-levels are being introduced in phases, we are also taking a phased approach to removing funding approval from qualifications that overlap. Let me reassure your Lordships that qualifications that overlap with T-levels introduced in 2020 and 2021 will not have funding approval removed until the academic year 2024-25. Similarly, we can guarantee that no qualifications will have funding approval removed because of overlap with T-levels being introduced in 2022 and 2023 until the academic year 2025-26. In this way, we will make sure that no existing qualification has public funding approval withdrawn before the relevant T-level alternative is available. Our reforms will ensure that all students have high-quality options that support progression to employment or further study, including higher education.
As I have said previously, we have put in place significant investment in T-levels, as well as support for the sector, to help providers and employers prepare for them. We are confident of their success and will continue to carefully assess the progress of our reforms to ensure that no student or employer is left without access to the technical qualifications they need. We will also continue to publish regular updates and evidence as part of our annual T-level action plans, which can be found on GOV.UK.
I have also heard loud and clear from noble Lords the concerns about reforms for disadvantaged students. Our impact assessment recognises that students who take qualifications that are more likely to have funding withdrawn have the most to gain from the changes. That is because in future they will take qualifications that are of higher quality and meet the needs of employers, putting them in a stronger position to progress on to further study or skilled employment. But we want to go further and continue to gather evidence to ensure that our reforms across both technical and academic qualifications are working as we intend.
In particular, the unit for future skills, as announced in the levelling-up White Paper, will make sure that across government we are collecting and making available the best possible information to show whether courses are delivering the outcomes that we want—helping to give students the best possible opportunity to get high- skilled jobs in their local areas. Today’s announcement and assurances are a clear statement from the Government that employers will play a valuable role in the process to determine overlap with T-levels and that we have mechanisms in place at all stages of the qualifications review to make sure that our reforms are evidence-driven and employer-led, levelling up opportunities for young people across the country.
We have come here with an understanding, a sensible compromise, and a decision that I hope noble Lords will support, as this legislation has support across all parties. It will allow us to start transforming the skills system for the economy and people across the country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. She is renowned in this House for her courtesy and willingness to listen and on this occasion she has done so in an exemplary manner. I know other Members of your Lordships’ House will, like me, appreciate the fact that she has been prepared to have considerable discussions behind the scenes, to talk with her Secretary of State, to ensure that the all-Peers letter sent out today from him adheres to the understanding that has been reached and that her statement from the Dispatch Box is, as I would expect, complementary to and exactly in line with the letter.
I thank my noble friend Lord Watson for his incredible patience with me over the past weeks. I really appreciate that. I understand that his young son is on the Steps and he is very welcome. I would also like to say how much I personally appreciated the support of noble Lords on Amendment 15B. Throughout the passage of the Bill, from Second Reading, Committee and Report right through to the beginning of ping-pong two weeks ago, we have had all-party consideration and support for high-level, top-quality, vocational and technical provision, including the introduction of T-levels. Concerns expressed have been heard and understood. If I might say so, we have done a good job in this House in making this a better Bill. The phasing in and timetabling of the reform and change are now in a much better place. As the Secretary of State’s letter said and as the Minister reiterated from the Dispatch Box, this is led by evidence, and with agreement of further evidence, which should be gathered to ensure that these reforms are delivered in the right way.
The topping and tailing of the Secretary of State’s letter is a reiteration of the standard lines to take, but the centrepiece of the letter is real progress, as the Minister already indicated. On that basis, it is really important that we accept the consensus that has been agreed, that we understand that when you are winning you give way, and that we continue the agreed programme in a sensible dialogue. All of us will have consideration of what “overlap” really means and how it is handled. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady McGregor-Smith, will have heard very clearly the discussions in this House and the statement from the Minister this afternoon. It is welcome that we are no longer going down a binary route, that we are allowing people to take A-levels as well as advanced qualifications such as BTEC, that we understand the needs of individual learners, that we appreciate that people mature in different ways and learn in different ways, and that pedagogy does not demand that one size fits all. I am appreciative of both the Government and this House for the way in which they have been so supportive. Thank you.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, on tabling this amendment because it has helped to shift the Government’s thinking on T-levels. When they were originally announced in July 2021, it looked as though there was going to be a war between BTECs and T-levels. I never accepted that, because T-levels will survive as an important choice at 18 for students who want to take them. I am quite convinced of that. To show my confidence in them, of the university technical colleges for which I am responsible, two have been teaching T-levels in construction and skills for the past 18 months and another seven joined them in September last year.
Since the Bill was first debated, the attitude of the Government has moved. I read only a few minutes ago the letter from the Secretary of State, large parts of which the Minister, who has been very helpful in this matter, repeated. BTECs will still be needed in the future because over 200,000 are taken by students each year. I was very glad that the Minister said that the views of employers would be taken more into account, because three large manufacturers, JCB, Rolls-Royce and Toyota, have approached the Government and said that BTECs should run alongside T-levels until students decide whether they want to take them or not.
The real success of T-levels will be if students actually want to take the exam and see it as a way to get into university. Many of them will do that but, on the other hand, lots of students will not want to take them. We found in the two experiments that we were engaged in that students who get grades 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 in GCSEs are reluctant to handle T-levels as they are really above their capability. But they also want a technical way of getting to level 3; that is very important. AGQs, which the Minister mentioned, and BTECs do that. She did not actually mention the national diploma and the extended national diploma, but I hope they will be carefully considered by the Minister. That is how many people, particularly black and ethnic-minority students, get into a university.
I hope that this is a genuine change in the attitude of the Government towards BTECs. They are an important part of the educational process of our system. As I have said before, hundreds of thousands are taken each year. The letter from the Secretary of State is reassuring, but we will know only when we see the results of T-levels. We will have the first results of T-levels from a few hundred schools this August, more in August next year and more in August the following year before any BTECs are defunded. Then the House will have the opportunity to see whether the pledges given today by the Ministers are being fully implemented.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister and the Government for listening to our concerns. It was good to get the letter from the Secretary of State, although only this morning, which was cutting things a little fine. However, we appreciated the meeting with the Minister yesterday, which gave us a whole day to absorb what was planned. In this place, we have to listen and think rather rapidly.
Anyway, we felt very strongly, as the Minister knows, that defunding BTECs when T-levels were untried and untested could spell disaster for students wishing to learn practical, work-based skills. We constantly pointed out that BTECs are well understood and respected by employers, by academia and, perhaps as important, by parents. It is a benefit that they can be combined with A-levels, which T-levels cannot, giving additional opportunities to students in their choices.
We will continue to try to ensure that schools celebrate their BTEC and apprenticeship leavers with the same enthusiasm as their university entrants. Until the Government amend their highly academic criteria for schools, that may be a pipe dream, but there is hope that young people are increasingly looking at the high cost of university, the absence of social life during Covid—no getting drunk in the pubs, although that is mercifully coming back again—and considering that learning and earning is a better alternative than learning and being in debt.
However, it will inevitably be many years before T-levels are understood enough to be celebrated as warmly as BTECs and apprenticeships. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has set out the timescale. We do not know anything about T-level results yet, but it is always a very slow process to introduce a new qualification and have it widely understood. When NVQs first came in, for years people were not asking about them; people still wanted to do City & Guilds qualifications and we had to explain that they were City & Guilds NVQs. It takes a long time, particularly for employers, as they are focused not on education and training but on making a living.
We are relieved and pleased that very many fewer BTECs will be defunded than was originally envisaged and to hear assurances that no existing qualification will have public-funding approval withdrawn before the relevant T-level alternative is available—and, I hope, understood and respected. As we know, it is not envisaged that T-levels will be available in the multitude of BTEC subjects, so hopefully there will be a long life ahead to give hope and aspiration to the very many BTEC students. As the Minister said, it is very important that there should be no gap in provision. Who knows what the world will look like by 2025—or indeed what the Government will look like?
It is vital to the success of the country that young and old are encouraged to improve their skills in all the areas which are needed for prosperity, and so it is a great relief that the Government are not cutting off their nose to spite their face, and have listened to the many well-argued and passionate arguments from around this House and given this reprieve. I thank the Minister.
My Lords, as at previous stages, I draw attention to my interests in the register.
I echo the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and others in welcoming that we are no longer planning to move straight to a binary world of A-levels and T-levels. I was glad to see that the Secretary of State, in his letter to Peers today, said that BTECs and similar qualifications will have a continuing and important role alongside T-levels and A-levels.
Can the Minister please reassure us on two further points? First, will the Government seek parity of esteem for all quality technical and academic options, so that there is no hierarchy between A-levels, T-levels, BTECs and similarly applied general qualifications? This would mean that the Government would cease to refer to T-levels as the best option and the best technical route. Secondly, can she address the continuing issue of the blight that hangs over the provision of BTECs and other applied general qualifications during this extended reform process, so that it does not deter providers from offering these important and valued technical options and discourage students from embarking on them out of concern that these qualifications will be disparaged by the Government in the process of the reforms and lose their value over time?
My Lords, it has been a long and winding road with this Bill, stretching back over 10 months from the position that we find ourselves in today. There is very little to add to what noble Lords have said in the last 20 minutes or so, but of course that does not mean that I will not make an attempt at it.
It is very pleasing that we have reached this position because, when the Bill arrived here, it was skeletal in form and many noble Lords made the point that it would be fleshed out only through secondary legislation. I do not think that many find that an acceptable means of legislating, given the restrictions on scrutiny that it entails. But we have had some fleshing out. We have the lifetime skills guarantee—albeit from only level 3 upwards—which will be introduced in 2024. We have the lifelong loan entitlement, which we know a bit more about and which is out for consultation at the moment; it will not come into play until 2025. There are also other consultations ongoing on level 2 and level 3 qualifications, so there is still quite a lot out in the ether and what will finally emerge is for the future.
I echo the points of noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Blunkett, about the discussions into which the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, and officials entered with us in the last few days. They have been productive.
I was slightly disappointed to get a message this morning from someone in the higher education sector who said that they were disappointed that the fight against BTECs being defunded, had fizzled out. Being a fairly forthright Scot, I replied that this was, shall we say, not quite the case. I have also had messages about the extension to 2024 and the clarity that will be provided in the documents that the Minister referred to—the Secretary of State’s letter and the table. I am not sure whether the table has yet been distributed to noble Lords, but it will be. It sets out the defunding process. The main point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, mentioned, is that when this started, it was said that only a small range of BTECs would survive. We have now come not quite full circle but some considerable distance, with only a small range of BTECs facing defunding and in certain circumstances, as the Minister outlined. That is very much progress, and we welcome it.
To echo the noble Lord, Lord Baker, T-levels will ultimately be a success—we want them to be and they will be; it is a question of time. In our discussions earlier in the week, the Government’s target was 100,000 T-level starts in 2024. That is quite ambitious, given that we have only 5,000 at the moment, but I wish them well. Equally, I welcome that for those young and not so young people for whom T-levels are not appropriate for whatever reason—there are many reasons why that might be the case—there are other options remaining open to them, not least the route into higher education, which has been, as many noble Lords have said, very important. I am pleased that we have got to this. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, the Minister has been very helpful in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, deserves considerable credit. Through his efforts, the clause bearing his name from the 2017 Act has been beefed up and will carry much more weight and be much more effective than it has hitherto been, with the ability of providers to be brought into schools. There will be much less likelihood of head teachers saying, “No, no, we don’t need that actually. Most of our young people are going to university, we don’t really need to hear about apprenticeships or any form of technical education”. That is wrong in any situation and is now much less likely.
The question of careers education is important. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned it, and I am very proud to say that there is a young man—my son Thomas—sitting on the steps of the Throne who is about to enter senior school. By the time he reaches 16, I hope that these reforms will have bedded in and he will have many options open to him and his cohort, enabling them to make informed decisions on how their lives will pan out, whether through further education, higher education, apprenticeships or whatever. I very much hope that that will be the case.
I do not really have anything else to say, other than that the Bill is in a much better state than it was when it arrived here. Many noble Lords have played an important role in getting us here, and I have to say that the Government have been willing to listen and act. It is important that this Bill is a success. The futures of many young and not so young people depend on it, and the future economy of this country depends on it. I hope it will succeed.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, this Bill has been with us for a while and I know that noble Lords are keen to start their Easter break, I hope with their families. I thank noble Lords for their very generous words on the work that we have done in government, with officials and with many of your Lordships to get the Bill to where it is now. I hope that it will deliver on all our shared aspirations in this area.
I shall try to respond briefly to the questions from my noble friend Lord Johnson regarding parity of esteem. Without wanting to play with words, we are aiming for clarity of esteem—although I am not sure whether that exists. We want to have a range of high-quality options for young people. We want them to be absolutely clear which ones work for them, which are suitable and which offer the right path forward. Of course, that is underpinned by parity, but we need clarity as well, because that has been lacking in the past. In relation to his second point, we also need absolute clarity for providers. There is an enormous job still to be done to communicate the value of all the different options that young people will be offered.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Watson’s correspondent, and the fight against BTECs fizzling out, I think we could agree that the fight for quality is certainly not fizzling out in any way. I am not sure there ever was a fight—but anyway.
Before closing, I thank all noble Lords here today, many of whom have contributed to debates throughout the passage of the Bill. I pay particular tribute to the Front Benches, to the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Storey, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock, Lady Wilcox and Lady Garden. I say two things to the son of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who is sitting on the steps of the Throne. I share the aspirations of the noble Lord that our reforms are bedded in, and I hope that his son and all his classmates will have a great range of opportunities. I also remind him that what he sees in this House today is the tip of the iceberg of the work that the noble Lord and his colleagues have being doing over the last few months to get this Bill to where it is.
I also thank the many former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State in this House whose insights we have benefited from—my noble friends Lady Morgan, Lord Willetts, Lord Baker and Lord Johnson, my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. I also say special thanks to my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith. She has been a great mentor and helped me to understand how this Bill will work in practice.
I also thank my noble friends Lady Penn and Lady Chisholm for their support. I thank the Bill team officials who have worked on the Bill—Kady Billington-Murphy, Ellie-May Morris, Emma Sisk, Lois Clement, Georgia Scoot-Morrissey, Charlotte Rushworth, Katrina Leonard-Johnson, Catherine James and Stephen Wan. I especially thank Jessica Clarke in my private office, who has been an exemplar of calmness under pressure.
Motion A agreed.
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
Motion on Amendments 1 and 2
1: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
“(4A) Recommendations made by the Committee must respect legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
2: Clause 6, page 3, line 16, leave out subsection (5)
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 and 2. Amendment 1 would require any recommendations produced by the animal sentience committee to respect
“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage”.
We have carefully considered representations made by noble Lords in debate on a similar amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. Honourable Members in the other place raised many of the same concerns. We recognise the strength of feeling in both Houses. We have listened, and we have accepted the amendment.
The Government have always sought to create a targeted, balanced and proportionate accountability mechanism within this Bill. We want the animal sentience committee to be led by science and to comprise members who are experts in sentience and animal welfare. Religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage will be neither their area of expertise nor their focus. This is a role for Ministers. We expect the committee to respect provisions and customs relating to these areas when they make recommendations under Clause 2(3) of the Bill.
We have always been clear that it is not the role of the committee to make value judgments about policy or to provide recommendations that do not reflect its expertise or its remit. This amendment will provide additional reassurance on this point. I hope that noble Lords will be content to accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I first declare my interest as in the register. I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I thank the Minister for useful discussions during the passage of this Bill, and I hope that he is a very happy grandfather this afternoon.
I accept these amendments, particularly Amendment 1, but, as a vet and a veterinary scientist, I have to say that I do not condone some of the activities covered under the amendment in terms of,
“religious rites, cultural traditions and historical heritage.”
Some of those activities are not consistent with best practice in animal welfare science or indeed regulation, and I will take this opportunity to make a plea to those directly involved to consider very carefully and to reflect on whether practices which had some historical relevance in ancient times are relevant, necessary or at all acceptable in the 21st century. Having said that, I respect national and international laws pertaining to freedoms—in particular, Article 9 of the Human Rights Act on religious freedoms.
I will make one further point. During prolonged discussions about the Bill in this House, a number of noble Lords raised the potential threat to the use of animals in medical research. That was a fair concern, but one which could be countered—I spoke to that effect, as did others at the time—by the fact that the rigorous application and implementation of our Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was a sufficient response to the requirement for government departments to have due regard to animal welfare and the development of policies. We have thorough, world-leading regulations around the controlled use of animals in medical research.
Recently, it has come to my notice that there are changes afoot in the Home Office with regard to the implementation of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act. It is not yet clear to me what the effect of those changes might be on the welfare protection of animals used in medical research. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that any changes with regard to the implementation of the law pertaining to the use of animals in medical research should not weaken—or be perceived to weaken—that regulation, which could lead to increased legal challenge to the use of animals in medical research when the Bill becomes an Act. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing the Bill to this stage. My concerns about it have not changed, but we are where we are. I want to lend my support to and associate myself in particular with Amendment 1. In doing so, I repeat that I am a fellow of the British Veterinary Association and share some of the concerns outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, regarding its practice.
I seek reassurance from my noble friend as to the response of the devolved Parliaments to the amendments. Have the Government had the chance to square the amendments with them? I further seek reassurance that in the operation of the Bill the Government, particularly my noble friend’s department, will be mindful of the role that farmers and especially livestock producers play in rearing our farm animals, and perhaps recognise that they are best placed to respect animal welfare and are masters in their own right of animal husbandry.
I hope that, in light of the short debate we had elsewhere in Questions this week, the Government will be mindful of the fact that there is still a severe shortage of seasonal workers which is impacting on abattoirs and the slaughter of animals. I hope that there will not be any undue concern over potential animal welfare consequences of that. I realise that it is not entirely within the scope of the Bill, but I wish to draw it to my noble friend’s attention. I congratulate him on accepting the two amendments before us today.
My Lords, I had thought that the Government had completely forgotten this Bill, because it has been so long threading its way through both Houses. Anyway, I am glad that it is happening. It is not the Bill that I would like to have seen passed, but I guess that we have to accept it, since it is better than nothing—although that is not exactly glowing praise. I hope that we can see some effectiveness coming from the Bill and real action, so I say well done for bringing it back and getting us to this point.
My Lords, I want first to thank my noble friend the Minister, who has put an inordinate amount of effort into discussing concerns about this Bill with those of us who have them. I congratulate him not only on becoming a grandfather but on landing this Bill, as he does today.
However, it remains a very bad Bill and I think it is worth repeating why. It is not because it entails a huge administrative reorganisation; in this House, we take huge administrative reorganisations in our stride. We have been reorganising the National Health Service over the past few weeks, which is possibly the largest organisation in the world, certainly in Europe. The Government’s defence of the measure is essentially that it is administratively very minor: it just sets up a committee; it is an advisory committee, and Ministers will make final decisions—“There is nothing to see here; move on”. But the important part of the Bill is not its administrative effects but the fact that it is a declaratory Bill. It declares something in the law of the United Kingdom for the first time to be true—that is, that animals, vertebrates and certain non-vertebrates, are sentient. I know that this appeared previously in a treaty that we were party to, but it moves it on a considerable step to incorporate it into domestic law in this way.
It is worth asking why that declaration matters. It matters because it is very much part of the agenda of the animal rights movement to achieve agreement on three things. The first is that animals are sentient; the second is that sentience is the sole basis for judging moral conduct; and the third, as a consequence of that, is that humans and animals are to be treated on the same basis in moral terms. That is a complete upturning of our established view of moral conduct; it is a completely new anthropology. This Bill is therefore profoundly anti-human. It opens the door to a moral calculus in which people can ask the question: how much chimpanzee suffering is equivalent to a human baby suffering? That is why it remains a very bad Bill. It is a Bill that we will come to regret.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register. I thank my noble friend the Minister for indicating that the Government wish to agree with these sensible amendments, which merely import principles which previously existed in relation to sentience provisions in the Lisbon treaty and will create a better balance in the Bill and in the operation of the sentience committee.
I fear that I rather agree with my noble friend Lord Moylan that this remains a bad Bill and it stores up trouble for the future, but we have made all those points before. Even if the Government came to this late, they are wise to have accepted the view of the Commons that some balance needed to be injected into the measures, so we are doing the right thing by agreeing with them. I thank my noble friend for everything that he has done to get us to this place.
My Lords, I endorse thoroughly the remarks of my noble friends Lord Herbert and Lord Moylan. I congratulate the Minister on entering this whole discussion with great good humour and with a certain amount of patience as well, because we have certainly asked him many questions and put him under quite a lot of pressure, but I hope that at all times we have been courteous to him, too.
My starting point was exactly the same as that of my noble friend. This Bill really was not necessary. If one looks at the raft of legislation in this country that protects and stands up for animals, one sees that it is one of the most effective legal frameworks anywhere in the world. Some of those laws date back to the start of the last century. Flowing from those different Acts of Parliament have been numerous regulations, such as the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations, which are pretty comprehensive.
So the Bill was not necessary, but in the context of realpolitik, I understand why the Government decided that they had to move down this route. The Bill has certainly been improved by the Commons amendments, which I welcome. I once again thank the Minister for what he has done to help improve the Bill substantially from where it was when it started out.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Commons amendments to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This was a very small Bill which was trailed in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. I am not usually an advocate of following another party’s manifesto, but, on this occasion, it was necessary to bring forward the Bill in this parliamentary Session. I would have wished the Bill to have had more detail in it and perhaps to have had more support from the Government Benches, but to have amended it further would have delayed it, and it could possibly have been lost in the welter of other legislation we are dealing with.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to the shortcomings in the Bill, as have others. It is nevertheless long overdue that animal sentience should be recognised in law and on the face of legislation. This Bill fulfils that need.
The Bill, although short, received minor amendments in the other place. The first, to Clause 2, inserts the provision around religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage. It seems sensible that those who have strongly held religious beliefs should be able to have those rites and cultural traditions respected; this is the correct way to proceed. However, insertion of the provision is not necessary, as the Bill already gives the ASC the right to consider non-welfare factors, but we are content to let it stand.
The other amendment made in the other place was to Clause 6. A clause inserted in the Lords prevented any charge being placed on the people—on public funds—but it was removed in the other place. We do not oppose the removal of that amendment and hope that others similarly do not oppose its removal.
For some considerable time, animals have been recognised as being capable of feeling pain, sadness, hunger, thirst and warmth, and able to enjoy a good life. This is now recognised in legislation, and it will be the responsibility of the animal sentence committee to ensure that consideration is given to that during its work. I look forward to the reports which the ASC will produce, informing us all how it is carrying out its work and how sentient animals are being protected through its deliberations.
I thank the Minister and his officers for their time and briefings during the passage of the Bill, which was at times somewhat choppy. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her work on the Bill; it has been a pleasure to work with her to ensure its passage. We have now reached the stage where the Bill can move to Royal Assent, and those of us who care about the plight of animals can be assured that the end of the current Session is not the end of this vital Bill—and I apologise for the interruption from my phone.
My Lords, I will be brief. I thank the Minister for his clear introduction to the amendments that have come forward from the Commons and for his explanation of the Government’s acceptance and the changes to the Bill.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, will not be at all surprised when I say that I completely disagreed with absolutely everything he said. I think the debates we had in Committee and at Third Reading will have shown him exactly where I stand on the Bill and my support for animal welfare.
On these Benches, we very much welcome the Bill, which we believe will be important. It may not be perfect, but we will be very pleased to see it on the statute book. We are also very pleased that the Government earlier accepted the amendment to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods; we believe that is an important addition to animal welfare sentience. I thank the Minister in particular for all his hard work on that particular area of the Bill.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for her support on the Bill. We have done important cross-Bench work to get to this stage. I am fully aware that not all noble Lords agreed with us, particularly on the Benches opposite, but we have got the Bill to the place where we think it needs to be and it is good to see that it will move forward and provide more protection for animals in the future.
On the further government promises on animal welfare that we have yet to see, does the Minister have any kind of update on the situation is with the animals abroad Bill, which seems to have hit the buffers? Obviously, we are very pleased that the kept animals Bill has a carry-over Motion but it would be useful if he had any further information on that.
Finally, I give the Minister my very warm congratulations on becoming a grandfather, if that is true—will he confirm it?
I am very grateful to noble Lords for their somewhat premature congratulations. I am waiting for a call on that particular matter—which is not a matter of state.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to today’s debate, which are very much in keeping with the very interesting and at times enthralling conversations we have had during the progress of the Bill. I had not expected to be standing here talking about it again but the Commons have made the right call, and I am glad that most noble Lords think that we have made the right call in accepting their amendments.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Trees, whose wisdom and understanding on this and other issues are of enormous value to me and to the department. I hope to continue to have discussions on this and other issues. He raised some important points. As he knows, the Bill is about the government policy-making process. It does not change existing law or impose any new restrictions on individuals or businesses. The Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but we respect the rights of Muslims and Jews to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. Strict rules are already in place which govern these slaughter methods. Official vets from the Food Standards Agency are present in approved slaughterhouses to monitor and enforce animal welfare requirements.
The noble Lord raised an important additional point about medical research. The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work in both health and disease. Such use is crucial for the development of new medicines and cutting-edge medical technologies. Central to any decision to use animals in research is the need for robust scientific evidence to justify the use of animals. As the noble Lord is well aware, the use of animals in science is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, which is implemented by the Home Office. His concerns are noted and have been passed on to my colleagues in the Home Office.
I am also extremely grateful to other noble Lords who spoke in this debate. My noble friend Lady McIntosh is right to make sure that what we are talking about is shared with our devolved colleagues. As was apparent during the progress of the Bill, Scotland already has a similar committee and others are either being formed or talked about. We regularly discuss this with our devolved colleagues to make sure that we are learning from the best from them, and they, I hope, are learning from us.
My noble friend is right to raise the issue of farmers. It is important for us to say that the vast majority of farmers are invested in the care of their animals. It makes economic sense for them, but they feel this personally, and the vast majority of farmers, who look after their animals to the highest standards of animal welfare, are wounded by those who do not. They want everyone to know that they are doing their best to care for their animals and for them to have the highest welfare standards of anywhere on this planet.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, contributed at many stages of the Bill and I thank her for it. I too share her wish that this will be an effective piece of legislation. Ministers will have at their call the best evidence they need to make the right decisions across government, not just in Defra. I hope that she will continue to take an interest in thism and I am sure that she will inform me if she thinks that we are in any way not being effective.
I very much enjoyed the discussions I had with my noble friend Lord Moylan. We delved into realms of philosophy at times, which is always fun, if testing on the Hansard scribes. My noble friend had a different opinion to me about the importance of the Bill, and I understand his concerns and those of my noble friends Lord Herbert, Lord Bellingham and others on our Benches. However, after the processes we went through, the Bill is better for their challenge. As a relative newcomer to the House, I recognise the value of being challenged and trying to make sure that we are doing the best we can.
My great thanks go to the two Front-Bench spokesmen from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Hayman of Ullock. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised a point about the other amendment, and she is absolutely right. Amendment 2 and the text it removes are both procedural formalities, but we must recognise that money-raising powers should remain in the other place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked me about the animals abroad Bill. She would seem to have the better of me with knowledge that there is some possibility that it should not happen. That quite possibly means she is better informed than me because, as far as I am concerned, we can expect to see it—in the words that irritate most people on all Benches of this House—in the relatively near future.
I also thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who has been an enormous support to me in taking this Bill through, and the Bill team, Katherine Yeşilirmak, Kalyani Franklin, Jack Darrant, Tess Hanneman, Hannah Edwins, Phoebe Harris and, from my private office, Lucy Skelton and Adam Diep.
This Bill provides recognition of animal sentience in UK law and will see Ministers held to account on considering the animal welfare implications of their decisions. These are both outcomes for which there is overwhelming public support. I look forward to seeing this Bill become law. I beg to move.
Motion on Amendments 1 and 2 agreed.
Town and Country Planning (Napier Barracks) Special Development Order 2021
Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the Town and Country Planning (Napier Barracks) Special Development Order 2021 (SI 2021/962) extends the planning permission for the Napier Barracks to continue to be used as asylum accommodation despite (1) a High Court judgment on 3 June 2021, which found standards and operational systems at the barracks to be unlawful, (2) concerns being raised over the unsanitary and crowded conditions, and (3) reports of intimidation and mistreatment of residents; and that, despite the current expiration date on planning permission being known for 12 months, the Order was laid when the House was not sitting.
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument).
My Lords, I start by suggesting that there may be a form of discrimination going on in this House. It seems that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, the Minister, always seems to get last business on the day before Recess. I know she is far too diligent and industrious to complain herself, so I thought I would put that on the record.
I move that this House regrets this order, which permits continued use of Napier barracks despite a High Court judgment which found standards and operating systems at the barracks to be unlawful, with concerns being raised about unsanitary and crowded conditions and reports of intimidation and mistreatment of residents.
The 13th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of this House drew the House’s special attention to this order. The fact that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the High Court had concluded that Napier barracks was unsuitable for long-term use, should have been disclosed to Parliament, yet there was nothing in the order nor in the Explanatory Memorandum about those things. It criticised the Explanatory Memorandum for lacking detail about proposed improvements to the living accommodation and amenities on site and said that better arrangements for physical and mental health care were a matter of urgency. The committee also criticised laying what was in effect an emergency provision, when the date of the current planning permission had been known for 12 months in advance, reporting
“we found this reason for laying a potentially controversial instrument when Parliament was not sitting unconvincing.”
This House recently discussed Napier barracks being used to house asylum seekers in our debates on the Nationality and Borders Bill. On 3 February, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, who regrets she cannot be in her place today, told the Committee that the APPG on Immigration Detention had received evidence, all of which was “overwhelmingly negative”,
“from stakeholder organisations and from those with experience of living in Napier”—[Official Report, 3/2/22; col. 1014.]
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, whose contribution to that debate I am relying on heavily today.
Placing large numbers of asylum seekers into one location is not good for integration or good relations with local people, providing a focus for anti-immigrant protest, including harassment of asylum seekers. The larger the centres, the less the residents feel that their humanity is recognised and the more likely the centres are to attract hostile attention, working against social cohesion and integration.
The use of dormitory-style accommodation means a lack of privacy, which can be particularly problematic for gender and sexually diverse residents. It can lead to sleep deprivation, affecting mental health and well- being. Five years ago, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that room sharing, where asylum seekers have to share sleeping accommodation with people they are not related to, should be phased out across the asylum estate. The use of former military barracks can be traumatising for those who have suffered abuse or torture. For these reasons, evidence to the APPG from a dozen organisations said that accommodation such as Napier barracks was inappropriate for people seeking asylum, representing a threat to public health and impeding medical care. People have little to motivate or occupy themselves in such accommodation, making them increasingly desperate, particularly when their detention exceeds six months and they are still unable to work. The current time limit of six months in places like Napier is being removed by the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Even those with vulnerabilities are being housed in Napier barracks. We know from the experience of those who have suffered significant trauma that they are unlikely to readily identify themselves and, although a Minister in the other place gave an assurance that torture victims receiving treatment would not share sleeping quarters, there is no guarantee that those who have suffered significant trauma will be readily identified.
In the same debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, reminded the Committee of the judgment in a case against the use of Napier barracks in June 2021, where the courts found that there were inadequate health and safety measures, that there was a failure to screen victims for trafficking and other vulnerabilities, and that the Home Office continued to use the barracks, against Public Health England advice. A Covid outbreak affecting 200 residents was described by the court as “inevitable”. Some 70% of those in Napier barracks accessing clinical services disclosed an experience of violence in their home or transit country, according to Doctors of the World, demonstrating their vulnerability and the inadvisability of their being detained in Napier. Placing too many people in one place was also likely to overwhelm local health services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, told the House that, because of the “poor health” experienced by residents, “deaths within the centres” and the other reasons that I have already mentioned against the use of places such as Napier to house asylum seekers, the Republic of Ireland is phasing out accommodation similar to Napier by 2024. Meanwhile, this Government are extending the use of Napier barracks by five years and using it to inform the final design of how accommodation centres will operate under the proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill. What plans are in place for similar accommodation to Napier being brought into use?
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham visited Napier barracks earlier this year and described the conditions at the camp as “far from ideal”. He said that he remained “deeply concerned” after visiting. Military helicopters flying overhead and landing next to Napier, so loud that visitors could not hear each other speak, were likely to have a retraumatising effect on residents, for example. The right reverend Prelate made the important point that
“People thrive in communities. A more compassionate and effective asylum system would give people accommodation within communities that allowed for proper social integration and proper access to education and healthcare”.—[Official Report, 3/2/22; col. 1022.]
He said that this would people to better “integrate” in the long term.
In the Explanatory Memorandum, the Government blame the Covid pandemic for not being able to follow the previous regime, where asylum seekers spent only a few weeks in “initial accommodation” such as Napier barracks before moving to “dispersal accommodation”, generally flats and houses, with hotels sometimes being used as a short-term contingency. The Government claim that the usual turnover, where asylum seekers leave the asylum support system and make their own way in society, was disrupted because of Covid. However, the numbers claiming asylum also significantly reduced because of Covid.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham quite rightly pointed to the fact that asylum application processing needs to be quicker and more accurate so that time spent in asylum accommodation is shortened rather than extending the use of accommodation such as Napier barracks, as this SI does. The Government also try to blame those crossing the channel in small boats to claim asylum in the UK, yet the overall numbers claiming asylum is about half of what it was more than a decade ago.
The Minister may say that conditions at Napier have improved but today, the APPG on Immigration Detention published its report of its visit to Napier barracks on 2 February this year. In summary, it found: inadequate safeguarding of vulnerable people such as victims of torture and trafficking, with little done to identify residents in need of support; the physical environment of the site was run down, isolated and bleak, with many buildings in an extremely poor state of repair; a near total lack of privacy and private spaces at the site, with residents continuing to be accommodated in dormitories of up to 12 to 14 people and having to share showers, toilets and other facilities; high noise levels in the dormitories, and the sleep deprivation and the negative impact on residents’ mental health resulting from this; inadequate access for residents to healthcare and legal advice and the difficulties they face in engaging with their asylum claim at the site; the site’s prison-like nature and military features, including security checks upon entering and the presence of security guards patrolling; and the lack of autonomy, choice and control over the daily lives that residents experience at the site.
In 2016, Louise Casey, now the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, in her report on social integration called for more to be done to bridge divides between people in order to bind communities together. The continued use of Napier barracks as set out in this statutory instrument will have the opposite effect: a detrimental effect on residents both within and around the barracks and on social integration generally. This House should regret it, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bringing this Motion. It is regrettable that the poor Minister is here yet again—clearly, someone thinks she has not worked hard enough this term—but I thank both her and the noble Lord for making this possible. It is a source of huge regret that we are still in this place with Napier barracks and the asylum detention estate more generally, which is too large and overcrowded because we detain too many asylum seekers. If we can learn something from recent weeks and months and from the public response to the Ukraine crisis—the way people in our country have been prepared to open their hearts and homes to refugees and asylum seekers from Ukraine—we might extrapolate from that a broader policy change in relation to all refugees and asylum seekers, regardless of the conflict and the continent from which they are escaping.
I refer noble Lords to the very recent annual global Amnesty International Report, which your Lordships will know covers the entire world and cites profound human rights concerns from Amnesty. In the section on the United Kingdom, the accommodation of asylum seekers in former military accommodation is cited as “inhumane conditions”. That is what Amnesty International says about the United Kingdom. That must be a source of embarrassment and shame, not just to those of us in your Lordships’ House but to most people in the United Kingdom, were it brought to their attention.
I just hope that, in her reply, the Minister might look to future planning. We are where we are for the moment with Napier barracks, and this is highly regrettable given the High Court judgment and all the reports which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out. Can the Minister give us a glimmer of hope for a vision of what asylum accommodation might look like in the months and years ahead? Is there some inspiration to be drawn from this Ukraine response?
I visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre a few years ago, which is supposedly nothing as bad as Napier barracks, and I found that to be a wholly traumatic visit. It took about a year to be granted permission, even as a Member of your Lordships’ House, to attend Yarl’s Wood detention centre, with the former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP. What I saw there, in the treatment of these human beings in both the medical facility and the general accommodation, has not left me. I really think that we can do better nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for raising this issue again and, as others have, I pay tribute to the Minister for the hard work she has done throughout this Session and hope that she has a very good Recess.
I speak on this issue because I regularly drive past Napier barracks and, even though there have been improvements—which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham acknowledged—it is still an extraordinarily sorry sight. For anyone to be incarcerated there for more than a few days must be deeply depressing. Clearly, 12 to 14 people in a dormitory is better than the 26 who were originally there, but it is by no means perfect. The sooner we can get people out of Napier barracks, the better.
I have one specific question for the Minister about the people who are not at Napier barracks but are housed at nearby hotels: the youngsters and adolescent boys. At the height of the summer, those youngsters were in the hotel with windows closed and guards outside ensuring that no one came or left the premises. Can the Minister assure us that innocent children are no longer housed in accommodation such as that hotel with no means of getting fresh air, and that this will never be allowed to happen again in this country?
My Lords, I spend my life in a state of barely supressed fury at the things which this Government do, particularly in their treatment of vulnerable people—whether they are poor, disabled or whatever. When it comes to asylum seekers and refugees, the Government surpass themselves in their cruelty and inhumanity, and I simply do not understand how anyone can accept that.
The High Court judgement was nearly a year ago— 3 June last year—so I ask the Minister: are we sure that, in Napier barracks, the reported intimidation and mistreatment does not happen anymore? Are the conditions still unsanitary and crowded, and are the standards and operational systems still unlawful? These are people who are traumatised. Where I live, we have been discussing what would happen if we got stormed by Russian tanks and, quite honestly, most of us feel that we would just up and run with whatever we could carry—and this is the condition which many of these people are in. Sometimes they have almost nothing; they are traumatised, possibly injured and damaged in all sorts of ways, psychologically and physically, yet we treat them like this. I do not know how it is acceptable; I really regret that we will pass that Nationality and Borders Bill and that we are just going to carry on treating them badly.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for putting down this regret Motion. He introduced it very fully and, though I doubt he will, if he were to move it to a vote, we would support him. I have a number of questions, some of which have already been put by noble Lords who have spoken.
There was a major outbreak of Covid-19 at the barracks at the height of the pandemic. At that time, 28 people were sharing a dormitory with access to only two showers and two lavatories, and no ability to self-isolate. What are the current arrangements for Covid? What testing is available and are there now facilities for people to self-isolate?
Napier barracks is a symbol of the failures of the asylum system and this order shows that what was intended to be a short-term solution is now having to be relied on in the longer term, in spite of the poor reports we have heard about. Those concerns were raised by not only the Opposition but Conservative MPs and, crucially, the High Court and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
What has been done on overcrowding? We have heard that the numbers have gone down to about 12 to 14 in a barrack room. What has been done about the run-down buildings, the fire risks and the “filthy” conditions which the High Court referred to? People with serious medical conditions were housed in the dormitories at Napier, including those with diabetes, cancer and tuberculosis. What is the policy now on holding vulnerable asylum seekers in this type of accommodation? Is it still the case that Napier barracks is classed as contingency accommodation, rather than an accommodation centre, despite now being used over the longer term? What impact does this designation have on the Government’s duties in the operation of Napier barracks?
Turning to mental health concerns, major safeguarding concerns were raised with Napier barracks. A survey conducted by the inspectorate found that one in three people had felt suicidal during their time there.
The Government have included plans in the Nationality and Borders Bill to move to a model of large accommodation centres for asylum seekers. These plans will essentially replicate Napier barracks and this style of accommodation on a wider scale. After the track record we have seen, it is obvious why there is concern about this, as we have heard from other noble Lords. What other similar barracks-like accommodation is being used or considered for use to house asylum seekers? This question was also put by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. How will safeguarding be approached in these accommodation centres, so that none of the same failures is repeated?
Members of both Houses and the Home Affairs Select Committee were repeatedly told that all public health guidance was being followed and that the site was safe and fit for purpose. Independent inspections showed that neither of these things was the case. What are the oversight arrangements now for Napier and what will be the oversight arrangements for accommodation centres that are to be set up?
I end by saying that I am particularly intrigued about the answer to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. I had not realised that there were adolescent boys in neighbouring hotels in that area. I thought her question was an important one, and I look forward to the Minister’s answer.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in this debate and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who brought it forward. I just thought I would clarify that I do not think the right honourable Diane Abbott visited Napier under the previous Home Secretary—I am being told that it was not Napier.
A number of noble Lords have referred to Napier as a detention centre but it is not a detention centre—I will go into further detail on that. It is being used as contingency asylum accommodation, which enables the Home Office to continue to meet its statutory obligation to accommodate and support destitute asylum seekers. As noble Lords will be aware, the accommodation at Napier was set up in response to the enormous pressures that were placed on our asylum accommodation by the Covid pandemic. The pressure to accommodate individuals continues to grow, and it has been exacerbated by the rise in the number of dangerous and illegal small boat crossings of the channel.
The use of Napier barracks was against that backdrop. In September 2020, the Home Office approached the MoD regarding the use of Napier barracks. The Covid pandemic, coupled with pre-existing pressures on the asylum system, meant that this significant number of people had to be accommodated at considerable speed. The use of Napier barracks was intended to be of a temporary nature, and it was expected that the MoD would retake possession of the site in September of last year. The Home Office therefore originally took occupation of it for an initial six-month period under permitted development rights for Crown land in response to the pandemic. In December 2020, those rights were extended for a further six months.
My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft asked about the use of hotels. I will go on to give further details about the barracks, but on the use of hotels, if we did not put people in them, those children would be without somewhere to stay. Such were the pressures on the system at the time, but it is by no means an ideal situation.
It is not merely a question of them being housed in hotels. It is the manner in which they are kept in hotels, and the fact that during the hottest days, when people were on the beach, which they could see from their windows, they appeared to be kept indoors with guards outside.
I probably should not have brought this aspect up. As I am going on to say, these centres are not detention centres; people are not detained in them. Therefore, it may be something to do with the pandemic, but if I am wrong in my assessment of why people might be inside, I will clarify that. I am assuming that they may have been self-isolating, when the restrictions were quite severe on absolutely everybody in this country.
Going back to the continued use of Napier, following the outcome of NB and others’ litigation in June 2021, the Home Office progressed work to ensure that the department could continue to use the barracks and avoid any potential breach of planning control given under permitted development rights. These were due to expire in September of last year. Given the urgency to ensure that there was additional capacity in the system and the statutory obligation on the Home Office to provide support to destitute asylum seekers, the only viable option was to proceed with a special development order. I should add that the tenancy agreement with the MoD confirms that the site will be handed back in March 2025—in three years’ time—to support the full decommissioning of the site.
On the conditions of the site, I note comments by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about Napier. Maybe I just listened to what I want to hear, but the right reverend Prelate seemed to confirm that things had significantly improved; although they were not absolutely perfect, things had improved significantly at the site. As I have said, the site is used to provide temporary accommodation for around 300 otherwise destitute adult men for up to 90 days. The average length of stay is about 70 days. Service users staying at Napier are free to come and go as they please—they are not detained at Napier. The accommodation at Napier meets our statutory obligations. It is safe, warm, dry and it provides a choice of good hot meals, as well as proper laundry and cleaning facilities.
Turning to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, a significant amount of work has been carried out to make improvements to the conditions at Napier barracks—hence, possibly, the right reverend Prelate’s comments about it. There is a prescribing nurse; dental care is provided on site, and there is access to local GP services. There is also a prayer room and a multifaith room. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham confirmed, sports and recreational activities have been re-introduced. Additional furniture, table-tennis tables and a library have been installed, and CCTV and night-time courtesy patrols have also been put in place. The Home Office has significantly improved the management and oversight at the site, with an emphasis on identifying issues early and ensuring that the accommodation is safe and well maintained. The frequency of inspections and visits has also increased.
Finally, all residents of Napier have been offered Covid-19 vaccinations. There is Covid-related signage in multiple languages, and residents have been provided with personal cleaning kits. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who asked about isolation if Covid is detected. Given that the general regulations have changed for the wider population, I imagine that it is in line with that, but I will provide more information to him if I can.
We have engaged with community stakeholders, including charities and NGOs, in relation to the site. There are regular meetings at which matters relating to the site’s operation are discussed and issues can be raised. These meetings are attended by Home Office officials, alongside representatives of the NHS, the UK Health Security Agency, the police, Folkstone and Hythe District Council and Kent County Council. In addition, several NGOs sit on the Home Office strategic engagement group and the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum, where they can raise concerns and receive updates on the site.
We have recently welcomed the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to Napier to conduct a follow-up inspection at the site. We look forward to the publication of his report, which may identify further ways in which we can improve the service provided there. We remain fully and firmly committed to delivering an asylum system that is fair and effective and works in the interests of both the people of this country and those in need of refuge and sanctuary.
My Lords, I thank all noble Baronesses who have spoken in this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I thank them for raising other important issues and for their support for this Motion. I also thank the Minister for her response.
Whatever the pressure on the asylum system, and whatever the problem, Napier barracks is clearly not the answer. The Minister kept talking about destitute asylum seekers. Most asylum seekers are destitute—for example, those fleeing the war in Ukraine. She appeared to choose to ignore the findings of the report from the APPG on Immigration Detention, published today, which I summarised. Both the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and I asked about further centres similar to Napier— whether they were being planned, developed or brought into use. These plans appear to be surrounded in secrecy. The lack of an answer from the noble Baroness today unfortunately adds to that. I think she is going to intervene on me now.
I am, because there is no conspiracy here. I completely neglected to answer both noble Lords on that point. Obviously, we keep our asylum accommodation estate under constant review and I will update the House with any developments if new centres are considered.
I am not sure whether that was an undertaking by the noble Baroness to write to us with any details of plans in the pipeline. She is nodding, so that is helpful.
It is regrettable that Napier continues to be used to house asylum seekers but bearing in mind that we are at the end of a very long Session, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
A very happy Easter to everybody.
House adjourned at 1.45 pm.