House of Lords
Thursday 9 June 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.
Message from the Queen
My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen, signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:
“I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales opened the present Session of Parliament on my behalf.”
Probation and Court Services: Workload
My Lords, as of March 2022, 96% of probation officers and National Probation Service officers held fewer than 50 cases, with an average case load of 34. The average case load for the 4% who hold more than 50 cases is 59. The number of open active children’s cases within Cafcass in May 2022 was 34,834. This has reduced from 38,178 in April 2021 but still represents an increase of 15.1% on pre-pandemic levels.
I will be very interested to discuss those figures with the Minister as I do not entirely recognise them. However, recent MoJ figures show that some regions, including London, are understaffed by hundreds of permanent posts, costing the taxpayer £23 million in agency cover fees. Record high numbers are leaving the probation service due to poor pay and excessive workloads, often of 110% of their requirement. Does the Minister accept that poor pay for probation staff is a false economy?
My Lords, the position in relation to the National Probation Service is that a new model of working is being introduced which necessarily is causing some strain in the service. However, the Government consider that this new approach is necessary and will repay the short-term hurt which its introduction is causing. The Government and the National Probation Service are committed to maintaining levels of staff in this exceptionally important field.
Cafcass is concerned with representing the interests of children in court. In the report assessing the risk of harm to children and parents in private law children’s cases, published by the Ministry of Justice in June 2020, the expert panel recommended that the MoJ should commission
“an independent, systematic, retrospective research study on the implementation”
of the current law and practice
“in cases where allegations of domestic abuse, child sexual abuse or other serious offences are raised.”
Has that study been commissioned and, if so, what point has it reached?
Does the Minister acknowledge that any magistrate would tell him that the family court is central to the work of the Bench? Does he know that family courts in particular care about, help and consider the predicament of children from homes that are underprivileged, time and again? How many family courts are there? What does his department do to encourage and train those who make up the family court, and can he say how many magistrates’ courts his Government have closed in the last few years?
My Lords, once again I do not have the specific numerical answers to the noble Lord’s question, but I agree with everything that he said in his prefatory remarks about the importance of this field. I assure him that the Government are aware of that. Cafcass is an independent arm’s-length body which none the less works within the Civil Service funding structure. The Government have authorised uplifts over budget during the past two years to fund this work, the importance of which the noble Lord and I agree upon, and to lay some stress on the work that Cafcass carries out. With his indulgence, again, I will write to him in relation to the specific number questions that he poses.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of Cafcass. Does the Minister agree that the difficulties of staffing for these services are a reflection of the whole social work profession, with low morale and very great difficulties of recruitment and retention because of poor pay and poor support over a great many years?
My Lords, one of the difficulties in relation to retention of staff in this body is a pay structure which means that the pay of Cafcass staff, tied as it is to Civil Service staffing models, can be less than what is available to professional people working for other agencies, such as in local government. In those circumstances, the Government are in regular contact with Cafcass officials and senior management and are satisfied that they are conscious of the great problems to which the noble Baroness alludes in her question. As to the retention and recruitment of staff, the Government are working with Cafcass to seek to maintain and, indeed, improve levels of staffing in this important area.
My Lords, in view of the continuing scandal of prisoners held on indefinite sentences for public protection, is my noble and learned friend satisfied that the training provided to probation officers for dealing with IPP prisoners has met the aspirations set in the 2019 IPP action plan?
My Lords, disclosure of and taking into account the views of persons who are connected with or are directly victims of crimes is not a matter which bears directly upon the responsibilities of the probation service, but I assure the noble and learned Lord that the views of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the importance of this are being taken into account.
My Lords, I want to ask about unpaid work as part of a community sentence. There is a huge backlog. For example, in January the east Midlands probation service had in excess of 100,000 hours of unpaid work which had not been delivered, and a low number of offenders actually complete their unpaid work. This undermines the sentence itself as well as victims’ faith in the justice system. What can the Minister say about the staffing levels necessary to administer unpaid work? Does he believe that this backlog can be reduced by any sensible proportion in the next year or so?
My Lords, training for probation staff to equip them with the necessary knowledge and information to be able to superintend unpaid work in the community, as with every aspect of their work, is invaluable. The Government have met their target to recruit 1,000 officers holding professional qualifications in probation for the financial year 2020-21 and 1,500 officers for the financial year 2021-22.
As for the noble Lord’s point about recognition of the importance of such work and how to ensure it is addressed, the Government recognise the importance of unpaid work in the community as an aspect of the sentence, note the backlog and the complex background against which that backlog has arisen—specifically the problems in relation to offender management caused by the pandemic—and are resolving them as quickly as possible.
Male Victims of Crime: Support
My Lords, male victims are included in and benefit from the support of measures in the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and the tackling domestic abuse plan. The Government recognise the specific challenges that male victims of these crimes may face. We have published Supporting Male Victims, outlining commitments to address these issues. The Home Office also funds the Men’s Advice Line and is uplifting funding for this year.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Dame Vera Baird, the Government’s Victims’ Commissioner, wrote:
“It is estimated that one in six men will experience sexual violence or abuse at some point in their lives … The Home Office’s refreshed ‘Supporting Male Victims’ document—notably not a ‘strategy’—will do shamefully little to advance the interests of these victims … It’s hard to escape the impression that male survivors are an afterthought.”
Does the Minister agree with that statement?
In all honesty, I have to say that I do not. In the year ending March 2020, the ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 13.8% of men and 27.6% of women aged 16 to 74 had experienced domestic abuse. That is equivalent to an estimated 2.9 million men and 5.9 million women. So the VAWG strategy reflects the disproportionate impact on women, but that is absolutely not to say that we take no notice of the impact on male victims. In fact, we recognise some of the difficulties that men can find in, first, coming forward to report the abuse and, secondly, taking it through the criminal justice system.
My Lords, following on from that question, one-third of domestic abuse victims are men and, per the new Domestic Abuse Act, boys who witness domestic abuse are also victims, yet many male victims of violence are categorised as victims of “violence against women and girls”, while others have no specific policy. Does the Minister agree that this categorisation is semantic nonsense, and that ignoring men’s specific needs makes a mockery of equality? Moreover, will the Government publish a parallel violence against men and boys strategy to cover all forms of intimate violence against men and boys?
My noble friend’s figures are absolutely right. Had we done it in the way that he suggests, there may have been a lot of complaints from women and domestic abuse organisations that we had not reflected the fact that it is predominantly women who suffer from domestic abuse. However, we published the Supporting Male Victims document in March to help to raise awareness of this issue and highlight the specialist support that may be required to assist them. They are included in both the tackling VAWG strategy and the tackling domestic abuse plan. As I said yesterday, anyone who comes forward as a victim of domestic violence will be treated first and foremost as a victim, whether they are male or female.
Is the position paper in itself not inadequate, in that, while it outlines many of the barriers that men face, it does very little to address them? ManKind and other charities are calling for a full-blown strategy called the “intimate violence and abuse against men and boys strategy”. Does not the suffering of men deserve to be treated as equally valid to that of women?
My Lords, in this important issue of violence against men and boys as well as against women and girls, addressing the drivers of violence is as important as responding to it downstream. Can the Minister give an assurance that work is being done to focus on a holistic preventive framework for all domestic and sexual violence, as in Victoria, Australia?
I could not agree more with the right reverend Prelate on the point that preventing it in the first place is far better than having it happen and there being subsequent victims of it. We did a lot of work with the Troubled Families programme in tackling the problems upstream and identifying people who were victims or might become victims—and I think that is the basis for a good government policy.
I do not think there should be any favour. The whole concept and application of domestic abuse means that the system should ensure remedies and solutions for victims—as opposed to “favour”, if that is the right word—and I think the criminal justice system, fair as it is, will see to that.
We engaged widely with the sector before the Domestic Abuse Act and before the Supporting Male Victims document was produced. The whole premise of our actions is based on the advice and support from, and engagement with, the sector.
Retrofitting Buildings: National Strategy
The government response to the Public Accounts Committee report on the green homes grant voucher scheme, published on 24 February 2022, discussed a number of lessons. IPSOS is also undertaking an independent evaluation, due for publication in autumn 2023. The heat and buildings strategy sets out the actions that we will be taking to reduce emissions from buildings and provides the long-term framework to enable industry to invest and deliver the transition to low-carbon heating.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but I am sure she will agree that the failure of the green homes grant, which was eventually scrapped, was largely due to the lack of skilled and trained workers in the construction industry to undertake the work needed. Should not the short-term measures that were involved in the green homes grant be replaced by a genuine long-term funded strategy that emphasises training and skilling? Does she agree that, without that, it is very likely that we will not achieve our decarbonisation targets, and fuel poverty will go on increasing?
I could not agree more with the thrust of the noble Baroness’s question. The heat and buildings strategy is designed to provide a long-term framework for these initiatives. We are investing £2.5 billion in a national skills fund to support the immediate economic recovery and the skills needed to deliver on our net-zero targets, and we invested £6.9 million alongside the green homes grant voucher scheme to deliver over 8,000 training opportunities. We are continuing to work with businesses and key industry bodies and have launched the Green Jobs Taskforce to produce an action plan for just this sort of initiative.
My Lords, there are said to be some 23 million existing homes with gas boilers, although some people believe that the figure could be very much larger. How long will it take to tackle the conversion of all those to heat pumps or hydrogen? What is it going to cost? Is this really the best way of contributing, as we must, to tackling rising global emissions?
My noble friend will be aware of the boiler upgrade grant scheme, which was just launched in May. That will provide capital grants to support the installation of low-carbon heat technologies away from fossil-fuel heating. As for how long it will take to replace all those heat boilers, it will take time because, as my noble friend says, the task is enormous—but we are investing £6.6 billion over the course of this Parliament to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise heating.
My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that future government initiatives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings will also include climate adaptation measures such as addressing overheating and poor indoor air quality, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee?
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. These questions are really for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but the Government are committed to the new home standards and there is a review of building regulations under way, which is probably the best route, rather than legislation.
My Lords, it is the retrofit industry that is able to deliver the Government’s often-repeated target of getting all fuel-poor homes to EPC band C by 2030. But, having been let down so many times, that industry says it would be much more likely to invest in equipment and training with the certainty provided by putting that target into legislation. Can the Minister tell us why the Government refuse to do that?
I cannot answer that specific point but, if the noble Lord had been present yesterday at the University of Birmingham’s presentation on this, he would understand that a lot of what it discussed was in exactly this area. It went on to say that more power should be devolved to local authorities to bring forward the retrofitting of buildings. But companies like Vaillant and Cadent are doing an awful lot of research into retrofitting and adapting to the future possibility of using hydrogen in the heating system, which will also help to decarbonise it.
My Lords, I will pick up on a point from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. It is estimated that only one in six manage to secure tradesmen qualified to install under the green grant scheme, which is an extraordinarily low figure. How do we know that it will improve? What measures are the Government bringing in to improve it, and how will we measure that?
That follows on from my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about how we are trying to improve supply chain capacity and upskill the workforce. We learned these lessons from the failure of the green homes grant scheme—there simply were not enough qualified technicians to install under the necessary upgrade schemes. The boiler upgrade scheme was specifically designed so that installers would be able to invest in their workforce to increase the capacity for the market to make those sorts of changes.
My Lords, I press the Minister on the response that she gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation. Housing associations face real challenges, in terms of both strategic funding and, in particular, green jobs and skills. I press the Minister on the timing: what progress has been made by the green skills taskforce in producing an action plan, and when does she expect it to be published?
My Lords, in the interests of future-proofing against the need for retrofitting, does the Minister agree that, as well as a long-term retrofit strategy for existing buildings, we also need to introduce building regulations on targets and reporting for embodied carbon to ensure that developers consider this in all construction projects, as recommended by the Part Z campaign, which enjoys considerable industry support?
My Lords, has my noble friend reviewed the pilot study carried out by the chief scientific adviser to the DCLG in 2019 on retrofitting a sample of social houses? It found that the average cost of doing this was £85,000 per house, but the reduction in emissions was only 60%. If scaled up nationally and if we take the heroic assumption that costs will be reduced by a factor of three, it would still cost £1 trillion. Have any of the proponents of retrofitting suggested where this money will come from?
I draw my noble friend’s attention to Selly Oak’s project to retrofit many of its poor council houses. This is under way at the moment, but it seems to be having a much better result than the examples that he has just cited.
My Lords, buildings are responsible for about 30% of primary energy use in the UK and nearly half of all carbon emissions. As we have heard, the Government’s failures with the green homes grant and the absence of efficiency measures in the energy security strategy, including the crucial issue of retrofitting, suggest that they have little idea of how to tackle this significant issue. Can the Minister tell us what measures we will see in the upcoming energy security Bill to show that lessons have finally been learned?
I do not think that anyone could disagree that we learned a number of lessons from the failure of the green homes grant—but we need to understand that its primary objective was to upskill the workforce and support jobs after the pandemic, as well as to drive forward the net-zero agenda for this Government. We learned that a limited number of installers were registered, although we did install 47,000 upgrades. We also learned that the 12-week timescale was insufficient to produce a meaningful scheme, and we did not do enough consultation before introducing such a complex scheme. But those issues have been addressed, and the whole heat and buildings strategy needs to be seen in the round—it sets out the long-term objective, and the upcoming energy security Bill is just a part of that overall objective.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the UK’s diverse housing stock—that is part of the problem. Successfully delivering a retrofitting scheme has to balance a number of variables, including complexity, choice, value for money and quality assurance. It also has to address some of the fraud that took place in earlier schemes. The “fabric first” approach to retrofitting buildings before installing heat pumps is sensible, but it has a much longer-term time horizon, which also adds to the complexity of the scheme. Do not forget that, over the past 10 years, the Government have been successful in delivering a number of schemes, such as the energy company obligation, the renewable heat incentive and the green homes deal improvement fund. Over that timescale, we increased the number of houses with energy rating C from 14% to 46%.
Ryanair: Afrikaans Language Test
My Lords, the language test requirement for passengers travelling with Ryanair is not a UK government requirement. The FCDO’s post in South Africa has confirmed this via its social media channels and has been in touch with the South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation. My department has approach Ryanair for comment. As yet, we have received no response.
I am grateful to the Minister for that. Like other noble Lords, she will remember that next week will mark 46 years since attempts to impose the Afrikaans language on black South African children led to the Soweto uprising. Today, in post-apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans is one of 11 official languages, and it is less prevalent than Zulu and Xhosa, so using Afrikaans to verify citizenship is as ignorant as it is insulting and discriminatory. Will the Minister and her Government explore all potential regulatory options to persuade Ryanair to the cause of common sense and decency?
When the noble Baroness raised this with me earlier this week, I thought that the entire thing was morally dubious and surely not appropriate, and my view has not changed. If a passenger is refused the right to fly despite having the correct documents and there being no other grounds for the refusal, they have the right to compensation—I encourage all such passengers to take it up—by being either reimbursed or rerouted to another destination. I completely and utterly take the noble Baroness’s point. As I said, we have not yet heard from Ryanair, and I will take this up with the Aviation Minister and the CAA to ensure that we do whatever we can to make it see sense, frankly, in this matter.
My Lords, the South African Government have recognised that this is not UK government policy, and I also recognise that. But, as the Minister said, Ryanair operates under licences, part of which states that the company has to be in good repute. It is not in good repute if it is, in effect, in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights for discrimination on the basis of language. It is also not in good repute if it gives this whole country a poor reputation among international travellers. Will the Minister not seek to persuade Ryanair or ask it for comment but rather demand a reply? If that is not forthcoming, will she ask the regulator to take action?
I wholly expect that we will get a reply from Ryanair, although our relationship with it has not always been as open as one would like. But the civil aviation consumers and markets group within the CAA is already looking at this and is in contact with Ryanair, so I will not make any further comment at this time, before those conversations have resolved themselves.
I am not sure I can commit to doing that, although I do recognise that Ryanair is based in Ireland. There are a number of people, organisations and Governments involved in this entire sorry debacle that could put pressure on Ryanair to make it see sense.
My Lords, did the Minister have the opportunity this week to listen to or watch the debate on the Irish language regulations coming to this House? Irrespective of what view people took on that, one thing is very obvious: the great sensitivity of issues concerning language, particularly in Ireland at this moment. Is it therefore not ironic that this crass move should have been made by Ryanair? When she is exchanging comments with Ryanair, could she bring this to its attention?
My Lords, this is not the only example of Ryanair, and indeed other airlines, treating passengers in a cavalier manner over the last few days. What action are the Government now taking? Only the Government can work together with the airlines, airports, air traffic control and all the others involved to try to make sure that passengers are treated like human beings and not animals.
I warmly invite the noble Lord to a QSD that will take place in your Lordships’ House at about 3 o’clock today. I will be going into great detail about what the Government are doing in terms of our work with the airports and airlines. It is the case that it is not every single airline and airport, but there is much we can do with the entire sector regarding skills, recruitment and training, and we are working on that. We recognise that there are challenges for the sector, and the Government are going to step in to do what they can.
As I said, I am probably not going to go much further than I already have, because we have yet to hear back from Ryanair. A number of noble Lords have recognised that the CAA, as the UK’s regulator, may well be able to assist Ryanair in reaching the right decision.
My Lords, will the Minister take the opportunity provided by the British-Irish Council, which contains representatives from the British Government, the devolved Administrations, including the Northern Ireland Executive, and the Irish Government, to raise this issue immediately? If it is not possible to have a British-Irish Council at the moment because of the standing down of the institutions under the Good Friday agreement, it would be greatly appreciated if the Minister could nevertheless deal with this issue, given its importance and the need to emphasise equality in all matters in South Africa.
My Lords, following on from my noble friend Lord Foulkes’s question, could the Minister have a look at the processes at Prestwick Airport? I am told that passengers can go through without any delay whatsoever. Maybe they have got something to teach the rest of us.
If we are talking about specific experiences at specific airports, I landed at Gatwick on Friday afternoon and 30 minutes later, I was standing outside waiting for my minicab. The point is that it is not happening at all airports at all times. There are certainly peaks when things are falling over a little, and that is the thing we really have to tackle. As I say, the Government are well aware of the issues and we are looking to see what we can do.
My Lords, I am not sure the Minister answered my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe’s question very satisfactorily. He asked what the Government are able to do under those circumstances. Are we to understand that the Minister’s department made inquiries of Ryanair without being clear what its back-up position was, or indeed what powers it has in this respect?
No. Clearly, we need a response from Ryanair because we cannot always believe what we read in the media, so that is our first step. Of course, the CAA has already issued a statement and as the UK’s regulator and the body that issues licences, it will be looking closely at this.
Health Promotion Bill [HL]
A Bill to re-establish the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities as the Office of Health Promotion; to establish a National Plan for Sport to coordinate, support and maintain access to sporting and recreational facilities essential to public health; and for connected purposes.
My Lords, I declare my membership of the all-party group and my interests in sport generally, particularly in rugby union, being a trustee of the Atlas Foundation and secretary of—and still playing for—the Commons & Lords Rugby Union Football Club.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Addington, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Public Advocate Bill [HL]
A Bill to establish a public Advocate to provide advice to, and act as data controller for, representatives of the deceased after major incidents.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Wood of Anfield (on behalf of Lord Wills), read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Ukraine: Defence Relationships
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of (1) the impact of the conflict in Ukraine, (2) the implications for the Integrated Defence Review, and (3) the case for the United Kingdom strengthening (a) its relationships with the European Union and other European allies, and (b) its commitment to NATO.
My Lords, right at the start of this debate I want to put on record my admiration for the courage and heroism of Ukraine’s people and their president. The Russian invasion of Ukraine constitutes the greatest threat to peace in Europe since the Second World War. None of us imagined that we would ever again witness such terrible scenes of armed butchery on our continent, even though the horrors of Yugoslavia in the 1990s warn us that the blood-soaked legacies of Europe’s history cannot simply be washed away.
I have some experience of Ukraine. Some 20 years ago, the Prime Minister appointed me to head a regular No. 10 dialogue with its presidential administration. We visited Ukraine four or five times, taking in Crimea, Odessa and Lviv, as well as Kyiv, and there were return meetings in London. President Leonid Kuchma’s Ukraine was then deeply divided, caught between its western provinces, which are more nationalist and committed to Europe, and the pro-European east where the oligarchs retained close links to the old Soviet fatherland but did not want a return to Moscow domination. These divisions deepened at the time of 2014 revolution, the deposition and fleeing of President Yanukovych, Putin’s seizure of Crimea and the outbreak of civil war in the Donbass. Putin’s behaviour since then has force Ukrainians to make a choice, with the vast majority choosing freedom and independence, united behind a commitment to a shared European future.
Today, my emotions are very simple ones. Thank God for NATO. Thank God for 70-years of cross-party leadership that learned the lessons of the 20th century: that the world is safer when Britain does not cower, does not retrench and does not abandon our hard-fought values out of political expediency. Also, as a Labour man, let me say thank God for Clem Attlee and Ernest Bevin, who gave us this legacy. Thank God for leaders of the Labour Party such as Hugh Gaitskell, Denis Healey and Jim Callaghan, who consistently sustained that legacy; and, in my generation, my noble friends Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Reid, both whom I had the privilege of working with very closely. Today, Keir Starmer stands firmly in that same tradition.
The Ukraine crisis shows that NATO belongs to the future not the past. It has shown the crucial role that at present the United States, and only the United States, can play. Joe Biden and his Administration have been magnificent, but the shadow of a re-elected Donald Trump hangs over NATO like a suspended death sentence. There will be no closer watchers of the 2022 mid-terms and the presidential primaries than the occupants of the Kremlin.
I congratulate the Government for a good part of their immediate Ukraine response: tougher sanctions on Russia, help for Ukraine’s devastated economy and rapid supply of weaponry. Yet our support for refugees has been lamentable, and we must do more to sanction Russians and hold them financially accountable for their conduct. Liz Truss’s rhetoric on war aims is overblown; she should remember that it is the brave Ukrainians, not us, who are fighting this war on the ground. Our aim should be to put Ukraine in a position where Zelensky can bring Putin to the negotiating table from a position of strength, not be forced to accede to a ceasefire that offers merely a temporary pause while Russia regroups. That requires Europe and the United States to devise a credible offer of military and economic security for Ukraine that, while not full NATO membership, is sufficient to deter Putin from future adventurism. We should also think about offering whoever emerges post Putin as his successor the potential for a relationship based on mutual security and respect, a return to the principles of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. We must preserve and strengthen NATO, and that means Britain and the rest of Europe rising from our past complacency, matching the gravity of current events with a concerted rethinking of the principles of our defence, foreign and wider security policy.
Ukraine has demonstrated that the key to our security is Europe, not the mushy rhetoric of global Britain. The requirement is a stronger and more united Europe with Britain playing its full part. Brexit is done. Let us for now put it behind us. The priority today is a more constructive approach to the EU and its key member states.
Let me suggest five ways forward. First, Britain needs to articulate a Europe-wide strategy to confront and contain Russia. Last year’s integrated review had some strengths. It half-identified the danger that stood before us: a revanchist Russian state intent on aggressively remaking the post-Cold War settlement. Yet it de-emphasised Britain’s commitment to Europe and the need for new thinking on transatlantic and European collective security. It deprioritised the Army. It focused British grand strategy on a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific to confront the rising power of China. It showed, in Professor Michael Clarke’s words,
“frankly insulting indifference to European partners”.
Its claims to be truly integrated now ring hollow. There was no discussion of oil, gas or energy security; no discussion of the role of Russia as the energy tap for so much of post-Cold War European development; no discussion of the power that OPEC nations continue to hold over the West; and no discussion of how the urgent transition from fossil fuels is now a security, as well as climate change, imperative. Furthermore, the advent of economic warfare against the Russian economy, with unprecedented sanctions, the freezing of central bank reserves and the pursuit of oligarchs across the world, is all new in international politics. The integrated review ignored the complexity of it.
Russia is the greatest threat to European security. Let us understand our objectives and our capabilities and build a strategy in common with our allies that will contain its aggressive ambitions. Only by articulating a common strategy, embracing a multilateral security partnership with our European allies, and only by embracing Europe, will we be taken seriously by the United States.
I have a question for the Minister. Are the Government planning to revise seriously their integrated review in the light of changed circumstances? Secondly, this will require reinvestment in British defence capabilities. The integrated review aspired to prepare us for a military challenge on the far side of the world but disregarded the necessary elements that would support our European partners and enable us to proactively confront Russia. The military was to be reshaped as
“leaner, more lethal, nimbler, and more effectively matched to current and future threats”.
Yet the Army in practice are set to lose their entire fleet of Warrior infantry fighting machines, with goodness knows what to replace them, and one-third of their Challenger tanks. Our land forces are now the smallest they have been since the 18th century.
We have been right to provide weaponry to the Ukrainian military, but we need urgently to replenish the stocks of those weapons that we have sent there. Even before Russia’s assault, the defence procurement budget faced a shortfall of more than £7 billion—incidentally, twice the whole of Ukraine’s 2021 defence budget. Rising inflation represents a further axe to the defence budget today, which is held constant in cash terms. My second question for the Minister is how much money has been set aside for replenishment of the weaponry that we have sent to Ukraine, and where is it coming from? The Government wax lyrical about global Britain, but we lack the capabilities to match words with action.
Thirdly, Britain should be an advocate for sustained investment in Ukrainian reconstruction and dealing with the global fallout from the conflict. NATO did not emerge in a vacuum. There was the Marshall Plan, and the focus on economic and social conditions, which brilliantly demonstrated the superiority of our values and economic system. Circumstances call on us to do the same again today. We must help Ukraine with debt—and, as for the emerging global famine, that is going to test us an awful lot over the coming months. We have to consider using the frozen Russian assets to invest in Ukrainian redevelopment and the mitigation of the global food crisis.
Fourthly, we must transform Britain’s relationship with the European Union, which our Government continue to treat with disdain. In some regards, this is deeply comical—for instance, when the Prime Minister would have us believe that the Ukrainian people’s struggle for their very lives is akin to Brexit. When the Foreign Secretary went to Brussels, she tweeted about her meetings with NATO and G7 allies but somehow forgot that she had been invited to the EU Foreign Affairs Council, a very special step on the part of the EU. Contempt cannot be a guiding principle for British foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary’s notion of an international network of liberty sounds appealing, but what on earth does it mean in practice? Sanctions, aid, energy policy and now weapons provisions are being co-ordinated through the mechanisms of the European Union. We must deal with realities, not fantasies, and build a sustainable partnership with them.
Fifthly—and this will be more controversial, I think—we should work with our European allies and partners to develop greater European strategic autonomy. Some deride President Macron’s advocacy of European strategic autonomy as a typically Gaullist and anti-American thing. I can see friends nodding on the other side of the House. Or they see it as a federalist project with which we should have nothing to do whatever. But in my view, it can be seen as a means of getting the whole of Europe to be serious about defence, as, thankfully, under Olaf Scholz, the Germans now are. It can, should and will complement NATO, not threaten NATO. How long have the Americans and the UK complained about the continent not living up to our NATO responsibilities? As a result of Ukraine, Germany is set to surpass, quite soon, the UK as the third-largest defence spender in the world.
We have no relationship with the enlarged budget of the European Defence Agency. How are we going to take part in procurement programmes? President Macron recently articulated the interesting idea of a tiered European political arrangement, with an outer political community for nations that are not EU members. Is this not an opportunity for Britain, a potential vehicle for closer European co-operation, without rejoining the EU itself?
I have another question for the Minister. What consideration are the Government giving to President Macron’s thinking? A European political community involves no loss of sovereignty for us. For Ukraine, it offers the chance to fulfil its European vocation. Some 86% of Ukrainians support EU membership— even two-thirds of those who live in the eastern provinces. I believe the EU should accept Ukraine as a candidate for membership, but getting there would be protracted and complex and exacerbated by the war. A European political community could give reality to Ukraine’s European vocation much sooner.
In conclusion, Putin is driving Europe together and driving it to change. Britain has to go with the flow. We are thinking a lot about the forthcoming NATO summit, the welcome prospect of Finnish and Swedish membership, the revision of the NATO strategic concept, but we should also be thinking about how we work with Europe’s common security and defence policy. Brexit has warped the discourse on European co-operation for far too long. There is no better time than this moment of acute danger for Britain to change course.
My Lords, what a pleasure to follow the thoughtful and comprehensive Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. I would like to associate myself with the paean of praise to those level-headed, responsible Labour leaders down the decades who were prepared to deploy proportionate force in defence of western values, starting with that flinty patriot and still underrated politician Ernest Bevin.
I do not think many of us expected to be here after nearly three and a half months. If we cast our minds back to the dark days—figuratively and literally—of late February, I think we were expecting something very different. The talk then was about a Ukrainian Government in exile and counterinsurgency operations behind the lines and possibly some Ukrainian forces operating across the border from NATO territory. Why did that not happen? Why were the expectations, not only from the Kremlin but from most international observers, so misplaced? Obviously, there is not a single or simple answer, but I thought an interesting light was shone on it by a story that emerged towards the end of March, which suggested that the entire leadership of the Fifth Service of Russia’s FSB had been arrested.
These are, necessarily, murky waters and we cannot say for sure what happened in the world of espionage, but what seems to have happened—if the sources are believed—is that, as early as the 2014 intervention, Putin was planning a second intervention. He realised after the annexation of Crimea and part of Donbass that he had upset what had been an equilibrium between —to borrow 19th-century Russian terminology—westernisers and Slavophiles in Ukraine. He had taken several million Russophile voters out of the equation and given the pro-NATO forces a majority. He seems to have decided then on a further and decisive intervention.
If reports are to be believed, Putin set aside a substantial budget of billions of roubles to suborn key Ukrainians when the moment came, to bring regional governors, army generals, policy chiefs, mayors et cetera on to the payroll so that, at the key moment, they would open the gates. They would switch sides, denounce the Zelensky regime or whichever one was in power and accept the jurisdiction of whatever puppet regime was put in by the Kremlin. The problem was that the FSB did not believe the invasion would ever happen, and so the money that was set aside to prepare Ukraine instead disappeared into yachts in Cyprus and into Swiss bank accounts. We can imagine the scenes towards the end of last year when the President of the Russian Federation called in his spy chiefs and said, “Are we ready to go?” We can imagine a lot of nervous fingering of collars: “Absolutely, Vladimir Vladimirovich. No problem at all.” What were they going to do? They cannot even come here because, as we know from the Skripal and Litvinenko affairs, there is nowhere safe for an ex-spy. So they did the only thing you can logically do in that position. They tried to stop the invasion happening so that their embezzlement should not come to light, and they did so by telling us exactly what was planned, which was why our intelligence was so accurate.
I cannot, of course, confirm that story, but it does seem pretty plausible, especially when we look at what happened following the invasion. We saw the same pattern again and again, of failures of equipment and failures of procurement, because the fundamental weakness of any autocratic system is that people tell their superiors what they want to hear. Therefore, what was expected in the Kremlin, even now, was very far from what was happening on the ground. This, it seems to me, is the real strength of democracies. It is why we tend to have a surprisingly good record at winning wars. It is not that our people are braver or more virtuous; it is that we have better mechanisms in place to identify and correct errors. That, among other things, is a system worth defending.
We can argue about what exact military and strategic response we should take. One could take the line the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, just took. One could equally argue that in fact, since NATO was put together largely to contain a Soviet menace, and since the Russian menace has shown to be much weaker than we thought as recently as February, the time to be strengthening NATO was five years ago, and so the argument for it is now weaker than it was. There is a debate to be had, and it should be had in a judicious and thoughtful manner. You can at least make the case for a more global and dispersed approach to security and that the peculiar interest in western Europe’s security that dominated our post-war thinking is no longer quite as pressing.
Whatever view we take on that, the one thing we have learned is that it is worth defending our values even if that means going out-of-area. The invasion of Ukraine was no threat to the United Kingdom. There was no realistic scenario in which Russian troops were going to be marching through Kent. But as in 1914, as in 1939, we took a decision to defend our values in the defence of allied European democracies. Sure, it is an imperfect democracy in the case of Ukraine—I do not think anyone denies that—but, none the less, it had an aspiration to become a more pluralistic and liberal society. When we endorse that process in other countries, we make the world safer and more prosperous for ourselves. It is for that reason that I hope noble Lords on all sides will add their voices to those of the patriotic Ukrainian soldiers as they fire their British-made missiles at Russian armour and join them in saying, “God save the Queen.”
My Lords, while I think it is right that we should review the integrated review in the context of the Ukraine war and a number of global issues that have come to light because of that war, I think the integrated review was broadly accurate in identifying the trends that would shape national security and the international environment over the next decade. It stated very clearly that NATO should remain
“the foundation of collective security”
in the Euro-Atlantic region and identified Russia as remaining “the most acute threat” to the UK’s security—both of which I think were right.
A number of people, including my noble friend Lord Liddle, believe there is not enough emphasis on working with the EU on security and defence matters. Having been involved in the defence arena for some 57 years, and a major NATO commander for a number of those years, I have no doubt whatever that we must ensure that our European allies channel their co-operative defence efforts through NATO, rather than trying to construct what I would call a “lesser NATO”, which will just divert resources for no defence benefit.
I also strongly support the integrated review’s intent that the UK should become
“the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific—committed for the long term, with closer and deeper partnerships, bilaterally and multilaterally”
in that arena. Many of my interlocutors in the US military see this very much as a quid pro quo: the US has supported us in Europe and is delighted that we are actually showing an intent to do so in that region. It would be a catastrophic mistake to ignore the Indo-Pacific and China because of the war in Ukraine. I have no doubt that that will be a threat that comes up on us.
My difficulties are rather around the MoD plans laid out in Defence in a Competitive Age, which covered the contribution of the MoD and the Armed Forces to achieving the objectives set out in the IR. Much of this stems from the fact that, despite all sorts of intentions, there has been a lack of funding in defence for many years. Looking to the future, that lack of funding is exacerbated by the assumption of what are very illusory efficiency savings—they just will not happen; we know this from past experience. Spending money on defence is clearly very hard for Governments in our cosy, secure society, but the reason we are in a cosy, secure society is because we spent money on defence. There is considerable truth in the view that wars are won not on the battlefield but by building up military capability beforehand. It is noticed by competitors, particularly dictators, and therefore it prevents war—but it takes time.
Many of us who have warned of chronic underfunding have been told time and again that we are wrong. The reality is that our Armed Forces are too weak to prevent war, which is something that Armed Forces do rather well, and if there is a war, which I am afraid one day there probably will be, they lack the equipment and manpower to keep us safe. Our Army, Navy and Air Force are too small. They lack the ability to withstand the inevitable attrition and are insufficiently equipped with state-of-the-art, fully maintained weapons—that is important—and sufficient war stocks—that too is important—for the inevitably high war-usage rates that we know happen, as Ukraine has illustrated very clearly.
The integrated review planned to restructure the Armed Forces for
“permanent and persistent global engagement”.
Therefore, our maritime strategy makes sense, not least because we are an island nation, which we seem to forget regularly, and in particular after the large shift of resources away from the maritime into the continental warfare area over decades in our counter-terrorist and failed nation building in south-east Asia. One cannot fault the desire to make the Army
“more lethal, nimbler and more effectively matched to current and future threats.”
Of course we want to do that, but we need to be very wary of making it “leaner”. Numbers matter, whether of ships, aircraft or people. The reduction of the Army to 72,500 is a step too far.
There seems to be a belief in government that future wars will be fought solely in cyberspace, using advanced technologies such as AI and quantum, and that there is no need for traditional military equipment and numbers. That is dangerously simplistic nonsense. Clearly, those new things are very important to the way we fight a war, but we need more than that. Greater integration of traditional maritime, land and air capabilities with the domains of cyber and space, and increasing investment in those domains, makes sense, but it does not mean spending less, I am afraid, on the traditional areas: they cannot be cut. For example, the advantages of high tech in helping the Ukrainians have been highlighted in this recent conflict, but the Ukrainians still need boots on the ground. The steady pressure of heavy forces is grinding them down, and we ignore that at our peril. Tanks, for example, are not redundant. The fact that so much effort and expense are put into destroying them shows that they remain important on the battlefield. No, we do not need large tank armies, but my goodness we still need tanks.
One area we need to note is the recently increased Russian jamming of GPS receivers on the drones that Ukraine has been using to such good effect to locate the enemy, direct artillery fire and attack tanks. They are now becoming ineffective because of Russian jamming of GPS. I have spoken before in the House about our vulnerability to GPS jamming: we really have to do something, and I think this needs urgent government attention. So is this now being done and co-ordinated, because it is a crucial risk to us?
The Government have a choice over whether we spend what is required to ensure the safety of our nation in defence terms to stop world war, look after our dependencies and our people or not. At present, I believe they are getting the choice wrong. The decline in military capability is a choice, and not one we should have made in a highly chaotic and very dangerous world. With war raging in Europe, and possibly extending to a world war, there is a need for an immediate uplift in defence spending.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for this very timely and important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hannan, said we have a better system in place, as a democracy, to identify and correct errors. I thoroughly agree, and I am going to talk about correcting the errors of Brexit.
There has been much debate this week over how to improve the economic and trade relationship with the EU, not least the suggestion by senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood that the UK should seek to rejoin the single market and customs union—a suggestion my party fully endorses, but it has ruffled some Brexiter feathers. A closer relationship in foreign and security policy ought to be less controversial. It was a sadly missed opportunity that this was not part of the Brexit deal, partly because of the poison from the rest of the “done deal”. The lack of trust being generated by this Government is prejudicing the chance of picking up that baton again and capitalising on the UK’s undoubted assets in security, defence and diplomacy. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged the RMT rail union to think again, act sensibly, “act like adults” and withdraw its strike threat. Would that he would address the same admonition to the Prime Minister over the crazy and damaging proposal to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol.
It is not only the prospects for British science that are being damaged by the confrontational approach currently being pursued. British, European, transatlantic and indeed global security are being harmed as well by the absence of trust and the failure to seize opportunities for a closer foreign and security relationship. Apart from changes in attitude, there needs to be a big, clear political declaration of a fundamental change in the UK’s approach, setting out the intention to act as a good neighbour to the EU and to repair the damage caused over the last six years by Conservative Governments, and especially this one. This may not happen under the present Government, but hopefully will under a new one. There is a clear basis for extending co-operation, building on areas where it is working well, most obviously in the policy towards Ukraine. It makes sense to start with the content of co-operative ventures and look later for suitable structures and mechanisms, but it can start with good relationships through meetings of Ministers and officials, maybe backed with exchanges of staff, such as between the FCDO and the European External Action Service.
The present Government have prioritised bilateral relationships with EU states over those with the EU institutions. There is nothing wrong with good bilateral relations, of course, except that doing it in order to undermine the EU and somehow demonstrate that the UK does not need, and indeed disdains, the EU is very unwise and counterproductive. I hope the current Foreign Secretary can adopt a more pragmatic attitude than the arrogant one of the previous incumbent. Maybe the FCDO does not do humility, but the attitude of superiority coupled with cynicism that the UK often got away with as a member state will not wash as a third country.
There needs to be a recognition in London, in particular, that the EU is a serious security and defence actor. The scope for this is evident from the experience on sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, where the alignment has either been explicit, such as UK sanctions mirroring those of the EU, or the two have been complementary and mutually reinforcing. This is an excellent precedent.
The European Council, at the Versailles summit in March,
“reaffirmed their commitment to take more responsibility for the EU’s own security … The leaders stressed that continued strong coordination on security and defence with partners and allies is key in this respect, including EU-NATO cooperation”.
In addition, EU
“leaders agreed to … develop further incentives for collaborative investments in joint projects and procurement; invest in … cybersecurity … ; foster synergies between civilian, defence and space research and innovation”
“invest in critical and emerging technologies”.
This surely gives a good platform for deepening UK-EU co-operation over defence industrial issues, perhaps by joining or becoming an associate of the European Defence Agency.
The UK could also seek to participate in one or more PESCO—Permanent Structured Cooperation—projects. The one on Military Mobility is much valued by EU and NATO members in eastern Europe, and is indeed a centrepiece of the increasing EU-NATO co-operation and overlap as Finland and Sweden are poised to join NATO and Denmark has decided through a referendum—which is very welcome—to end its opt-out from the EU’s common security and defence policy. The importance of the Military Mobility project hardly needs stressing; it enables
“the unhindered movement of military personnel and assets within … the EU.”
The other opportunity, besides the European Defence Agency and PESCO, might be for the UK to participate in European security and defence missions, as other third countries do. There is, of course, a chapter on cybersecurity as an example of thematic co-operation in the TCA. It is disappointing that this has, so far as I know, remained an unexplored opportunity. Can the Minister tell me if there is any more life in it now? Is there any prospect of the UK participating in the EU Agency for Cybersecurity—ENISA—which it can in fact request?
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, mentioned the idea from President Macron of a political community wider than the EU. It may go nowhere, and it is partly designed to head off pressure from candidate countries for early membership. However, it is an olive branch and the kind of idea that offers opportunities for a third country like the UK, so I hope that it will get a positive response, even from the present Government.
My Lords, the timely, multi-headed debate of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, so well introduced by him a few minutes ago, surely requires us not only to recall but to act on Keynes’s dictum: “When the facts change, I change my views.” This is because an awful lot of facts have changed in the last few months which fundamentally affect our national security interests, and it is no good ignoring the need to change the conclusions we may previously have drawn. To recognise the need for change does not require us to admit that we were wrong before; it is just common sense.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has quite simply torn up the post-Cold War rule book on European security we all agreed to in Paris in 1990, as well as some of the basic precepts of the UN charter. The new Cold War is not going to be over any time soon; the war in Ukraine is going to require much determination and unity with our NATO and EU allies, if it is to be brought to a conclusion that does not reward Russia for its aggression and does not merely represent a prelude to further hostilities. That will require hard thought about what we ourselves are prepared to contribute to a newly shaped European security order; it will require more resources, both military and economic. It is not a beauty contest between allies. Evidently, there are consequences and reordered priorities for those—at the time, I believed they were quite well marshalled—in the integrated defence review. There should be no shame or defensiveness about admitting that. Every one of our partners is having to reorder its priorities, and some—Germany in particular—are doing so already in a much more substantial way than we have yet done.
The Indo-Pacific tilt, of which the Government are so proud, is not rendered inoperable; China’s rise and ambitions warn against that. However, the European theatre, and countering Russia’s actions, have again become our top priority. I suggest that we need to pay more attention to Africa, where we should be working in close concert with our European partners and where, together, we could make a real difference. That brings any analysis to our relationships with the EU, its member states and within NATO. Instead of working ourselves up into a frenzy about a European army, or the supposed threat from President Macron’s strategic autonomy, we should recognise that the rise in defence spending right across Europe is precisely what we have been calling for over decades. We need, as a crucial player in European security—and, with France, one of Europe’s two nuclear powers—to be there shaping its form and content, contributing constructive thinking and co-operation, not barracking from the side of the pitch.
That sort of constructive approach is what our principal ally, the United States, would like to see us making. We really should not, yet again, fall into the trap of thinking that we know better than it does what is in the US interest; we have done that quite often in the past, and it has proved pretty painful. The reality is that these fundamental shifts in the security structures around us present us with both opportunities as well as risks and costs. However, those opportunities will be realised only if we show a decent respect for other people’s priorities and not just for our own. That was how NATO was successfully fashioned in the late 1940s by Ernest Bevin, and that is how the NATO of the 2020s will be strengthened if we have the wisdom to throw our weight behind it.
My Lords, it is a very great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his immense diplomatic experience. How right he is to remind us that principles are constant but policies have to change. We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for the thoughtful way in which he introduced this debate.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Hannan and his characteristically charismatic imagination. He made one very important point that we must all recognise: it is 106 days since we woke to the news that the invasion had begun. A day after it, we assembled in your Lordships’ House and had a full-scale debate in which some extremely fine speeches were made. We now must assess the situation because, as he made plain, 106 days ago, we did not imagine that we would be quite where we are now. Indeed, all the talk was of a quick occupation of Kyiv and the probable exiling of the Government, which would force President Zelensky to seek sanctuary. His moving words—“I stay here”—galvanised Europe. Here we are today with the Russians shown up for what they are: those who would destroy wantonly and kill indiscriminately, but who have not succeeded in subjugating.
We must be realistic, and recognise what we can actually do with our limited capacities. That is why I called, on Tuesday this week, for an international conference convened by the UK on Ukraine. The noble Lord, Lord West, in his very sober analysis was right to remind us of our limitations. Of course we have done well, and I congratulate the Government, but I do not think that it is realistic to suppose that an honourable settlement demands a restitution of the whole of Ukraine as it existed in 2014—it demands a restoration of Ukraine as it was on 24 February 2022. That is absolutely essential.
If that does not happen, we are all defeated because the principles of democratic government, freedom of speech and all the things we treasure so much in this House will have suffered a severe rebuff which could be followed—and how right the noble Lord, Lord West, was to refer to this—by a greater confrontation with a greater power later this century. We could be in a very difficult situation.
I urge noble Lords to concentrate on ensuring that we give President Zelensky all he needs to achieve an honourable settlement, because what has happened over the last 106 days is destruction that will take years to repair. We have got to put a great deal of money into that repair. That will cost us, as will the food crisis that looms over the world because of the mining of the Black Sea, which is likely to plunge us into greater difficulties in the year ahead.
Above all, as several noble Lords have referred to, we need to have an adult and proper relationship with our friends and allies in the European Union, many of whom are also in NATO, because we do not want a divided West. We have a duty in this country to ensure that we do not create unnecessary difficulties. I sincerely hope that the recent reports of the introduction of a Bill to override the protocol are wrong; you cannot abrogate international treaties which this Government entered into willingly and urged Parliament to adapt, adopt and pass—and we did it willingly. You cannot set that sort of example of abrogating treaties and claim to be a moral leader in global Britain. We must mend our fences with our European friends and allies and go forward together to ensure that the values that we each seek to encapsulate in our democracies are preserved and not defeated.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I agree with him that we face an extraordinarily great challenge in the West, and those of us who subscribe to our values can only face that challenge together; there is no possibility of us doing so individually. I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, particularly my chairmanship of the European Leadership Network, and vice-chairmanship of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I join other noble Lords in thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lord Liddle for securing this timely and welcome debate and for the careful and balanced way that he opened it.
On Friday I chaired a meeting of the core group of the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group. The EASLG, which was formed after the 2014 invasion of Crimea and Donbass, is sponsored by the European Leadership Network, the Munich Security Conference, the Russian International Affairs Council and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and includes former and current officials and experts from Euro-Atlantic states. The EASLG is designed to test ideas and develop proposals for improving security in areas of existential common interest in these complex and difficult times. It operates as an independent and informal initiative, with participants from more than 15 countries who reflect the diversity of the Euro-Atlantic region, and it particularly includes both Ukrainians and Russians in this conversation.
Our focus was on Ukraine. I will draw the attention the House to two humanitarian challenges that we discussed, which otherwise are unlikely to surface in this debate but are a very strong reflection of the complexity of modern warfare, and also one issue of deep strategic importance that has emerged recently in this context. At this discussion we were joined by representatives of the International Commission on Missing Persons and the Halo Trust, which is a British and US charity set up to remove the debris left behind by war, in particular land mines and unexploded ordnance.
The estimates assembled by the ICMP from a variety of sources suggest that, since the beginning of 2014—when this war really began—more than 2, 500 people may have been kidnapped, abducted, forcibly disappeared or have gone missing from all levels of Ukrainian society, as well as from all sides of the political and conflict divide. This is now a weapon of war, as is moving people deliberately. Six million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have left Ukraine, and many of these children are subject to disappearance because we do not know where all of them are.
The ICMP has been working in the war zones of Ukraine for years. It reported to us that the commitments agreed in an MoU between the Ukrainian Government and the International Commission on Missing Persons had not even begun to be implemented prior to the outbreak of hostilities on 24 February. Now, with a new legal framework, the whole situation has changed and, four weeks ago, the ICMP returned to Kyiv to make new arrangements. It has set up a forensic mission which was sent to Ukraine; it has completed its work and is now able to return with evidence and genetic samples from bodies so they can be identified. There is interest in setting up a data depository that could serve multiple objectives, including potentially the pursuit of war crimes, and the ICMP hopes to set up an office in Kyiv to support these efforts. My question for our Government is, in considering this significant challenge, what resources are we devoting to supporting it?
The Halo Trust has been at work in various locations in Ukraine since 2016, with 450 Ukrainian staff, mostly locally engaged. The programme has now shifted from eastern Donbass to the centre of the country. Survey and risk-reduction teams are on the ground, dealing with new threats, which include anti-tank mines that have been laid in farmland, making these fields unusable and exacerbating the food security issue that will affect a substantial part of the world. Until they are cleaned up properly, we will not even begin to reverse the damage that has been done. Ukraine’s state emergency services have, by Halo’s estimate, already done a huge amount of clearance. Many minefields have been partially cleared, but partially cleared is not good enough in this situation; they require additional time and cost to finish the rest. Halo, however, is working under pre-war restrictions in Ukraine, precluding the use of high explosives. This requires pausing to allow the military, which is not equipped to do this, to deal with the issue before Halo can move in. Halo is trying to lobby the Ukrainian Government to lift this restriction, and any additional support that our Government can give in their communication and discussions with them will be extremely important. I urge the Government to take on this and other issues that the Halo Trust is dealing with. I commend the Government for the financial support that they have given—as have the US Government—to Halo, but it will not be able to do its work properly unless some of these local blockages are removed.
I turn now to the strategic question, which I raised at Oral Questions on Tuesday. Security guarantees in some indiscernible form continue to be referenced as a major issue in ending the war in Ukraine. I understand that Kyiv is now in discussion with the Quad about them. On Monday, the Prime Minister met President Zelensky, and Number 10 briefed the press that they had discussed security guarantees. In March, there was apparently progress on this in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia; in April, that process stopped. There are many questions about this. This is a fundamental issue for us. We need to be at the table if security guarantees that involve our country in commitments are being discussed in the resolution of this conflict.
The most important question for the Government is this: when will someone come to Parliament, explain what is being discussed and spell out the implications of these security guarantees, which are clearly already being discussed, for our future security and that of the West?
My Lords, this is a most dangerous moment—as dangerous as the Cuba crisis of 1962 and more dangerous than the crisis of 1983. It certainly calls for cool heads. But the request by some noble Lords to revisit the integrated review is a rush to judgment. A 100-day war is a short war. This is not the moment to draw definitive conclusions. We have yet to see, for example, the full impact of the weapons systems we and the Americans have sent to Ukraine. I am the last person to question military men on military matters, but when I hear the cry that the UK needs more tanks and a bigger Army, I note that Ukraine, with far fewer men and tanks, has managed to humiliate the Russian army around Kyiv and Kharkiv. Size is not everything, as I should know.
Nevertheless, there are important things to be said. As the noble Lord, Lord West, noted, the integrated review got it right: NATO is the foundation of our security; Russia is the most acute physical threat; the US is our most important ally; and we should work closely with the EU on matters of defence. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine does not require these principles to be revisited. Far from it—it reinforces them.
Putin will make Russia an awkward and aggressive European neighbour for years to come. This is what we must plan for: a strategy for the long run which is both political and military. The French President has urged that we should not seek to humiliate Putin in any peace deal. Macron misses the point. Putin has already humiliated himself. His invasion has strengthened NATO, opening the door to its further enlargement, rained down sanctions on Russia’s head and revealed the Russian army to be as brutal as the Nazis.
Today, the West has a short-term and a long-term challenge. The first is to provide Ukraine with sufficient support to repel the Russian invaders without provoking a third world war. The second is to answer the question: how does this end? There is already much disagreement on who decides the terms of any peace deal. There are even some, including in Westminster, who would sign an agreement with Putin over Ukrainian heads. Yet, no matter how tricky the issues, the unity of the West—of NATO and the EU—is essential. We do not need competition between the two organisations, driven by the French.
The EU talks very loudly and carries only a modest stick. It was ever thus. As Janan Ganesh put it the other day in the FT:
“What began as a cohesive Europe … has become progressively mushier. The spectrum of policies from Estonia to France, to say nothing of Hungary, has widened troublingly.”
The conundrum is this: long-term European peace and stability cannot be achieved without Russia, as Henry Kissinger noted a few weeks ago, but Putin’s atrocities have put him so beyond the pale that many will refuse to negotiate with him.
In the end, the West will have to decide whether the purpose of its support is to put Kyiv in the strongest possible negotiating position with Russia or to see Russia defeated on the battlefield. I ask my noble friend the Minister: is there yet a settled view in government on this question? In which forum are these matters discussed with allies, given that the full NATO membership is prone to leaks?
That is a slightly strange intervention, given that the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, was well under time.
The whole House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Liddle for his, if I may say so, magisterial and wide-ranging introduction to this debate. I declare my interest as chair of the National Preparedness Commission, the aim of which is to improve the preparedness of the UK to reduce the risk of and mitigate the consequences of a major crisis or threat.
My noble friend and others referred to the integrated defence review, which now appears—with all due respect to those who say its tone was right—somewhat stale in the light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The Ukrainian resistance to a vile invasion has demonstrated what a well-led, resilient nation can do when faced with an existential threat. But how well prepared would this country be if faced with a similar attack, whether kinetic or hybrid? How resilient would our society be in responding to any other significant threat? We know from Covid how quickly what we would regard as the norms of society unravelled within a few weeks, with deserted town centres, lockdown, social distancing, mask wearing and so on. We are living in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world.
Eighteen months ago, the latest edition of the national risk register was published. It mapped 38 major risks facing the country, including environmental hazards, major accidents, malicious attacks—cyber-based and terrorist—risks arising overseas and, inevitably, animal and human diseases. Supply chain disruption and energy market instability are not mentioned; nor, since it pre-dated the invasion of Ukraine, is the threat of Russian retaliation by cyber or other means for the stance that the EU, NATO and, indeed, this country have taken.
That is why Chapter 4 of the integrated review, on building national and international resilience, was so important. It explicitly promised a “comprehensive national resilience strategy” based on a whole-of-society approach, involving individuals, businesses and organisations. This strategy has been expected for several months. Can the Minister tell us—this is the first of five specific questions I have for him—when it is likely to be published? I assume that it will address the three central questions of what we should prepare for, how much resilience is enough and how we finance the necessary investment.
A whole-of-society approach necessarily implies engagement with the whole of society. My second question for the Minister is: what plans do the Government have for this engagement? Specifically, how will the wider business community be informed, encouraged and incentivised to build its organisational resilience?
What about the general public? In 2018, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency sent to every household in the country a revised version of its household preparedness guide If Crisis or War Comes. It asks the reader to consider what they would do if their normal everyday life was turned upside down. It cites climate change, external incidents and cyberattacks, but is essentially risk agnostic in the practical advice and information it provides. So my third question for the Minister is: do the Government plan such a publication here? If not, how do they envisage obtaining sufficient community engagement to deliver the necessary level of societal resilience to the threats we may face?
A familiar background to those broadcasts that we have all heard from Ukraine in the last few months has been the background sound of air raid sirens. I remember, as many noble Lords will, when air raid sirens were still placed on the top of large buildings in this country—as they had been in World War II. But that system was largely dismantled in the early 1990s. I am told that only about 1,200 remain and are used to warn the public in the event of floods in certain parts of the country. So, what is to replace them in the rest of the country?
In 2013, the Cabinet Office tested emergency alerts sent automatically to every mobile phone in designated areas. It is a technology that has been proven to save lives all over the world. Yet, nine years later, the technology has yet to be rolled out here. So, my fourth question for the Minister is: when will the promised cell broadcast technology—which incidentally is not the best technology to be using, but it is better than nothing—be available across the country and what advice is to be provided to the public on the actions they should take in response to an alert?
During Covid, communities had to come together to respond at local level. Councils and the emergency services worked with local community and voluntary organisations to support vulnerable people in the community. So my fifth question to the Minister is: how are those arrangements going to be sustained and built on as we go forward? This will involve increased funding and proper partnership. The lessons of the response by the Government and people of Ukraine demonstrate why whole-of-society resilience is so important. It is a wake-up call for us to look at our own arrangements. I hope that, when he winds up, the Minister will reassure us that this is central to the Government’s thinking, and that the fine words in chapter 4 of the integrated review will be turned into meaningful action.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on securing this important debate, which gives us the opportunity to look again at the integrated review in the context of unfolding events within Ukraine. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who has quite rightly focused on resilience in the context of his chairmanship of the National Preparedness Commission, and I have been very pleased to work with him as chair of the National Emergencies Trust.
It is on the integrated review in the wider security sense that I wish to focus my remarks this afternoon. I would suggest that our history since the end of the Cold War of security and defence reviews has been at best somewhat chequered. The options for change exercise conducted in the early 1990s I think is fairly described as something of a semi-camouflaged peace dividend taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and across Europe, by other finance Ministers as well. We then went forward to the end of that decade with the strategic defence review of 1997-98; and that review in many people’s view was an extremely good piece of policy work. Unfortunately, it was holed below the waterline by not being fully funded by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those risks came home to roost when we found ourselves fighting hot wars from 2003 onwards in Iraq and subsequently in Afghanistan.
We then went through a period of 13 years when we had no defence review whatever, until we came to 2010 when the coalition Government found themselves having to take rapid action to fill the black hole of about £35 billion in defence spending that they had inherited from the previous Government. The defence reviews of 2010 and 2015 were both again cost-cutting exercises, and when you have a cost-cutting exercise, you have to decide what costs you are going to cut. Quite rightly in my view, major capital equipment programmes, including—to the pleasure of the noble Lord, Lord West —the aircraft carrier programme, continued to be funded. But where there had to be savings, they had to come from our manpower cover. And where do you find most of the manpower? In our Army.
When the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, was Chief of the General Staff and I was his Assistant Chief of the General Staff, the Army was over 100,000. A few years later when I was Chief of the General Staff it was still over 100,000. It is now plummeting to 72,000, and if No. 10 and the Cabinet Office had had their way in the early days of the integrated review, it could have gone down as low as 65,000 or 60,000. That I would suggest is unacceptable. So of course, against that background, we come to the welcome news in 2020 of a considerable boost to defence spending. But that boost was not a boost that was going to be made available to really increase our capability; it was largely an exercise in filling in many of the potholes that once again had accumulated.
However, the integrated review tried to take a broad-ranging look at our security, defence and foreign affairs requirements. I would suggest—as other noble Lords have said—that many of the conclusions of that integrated review were valid and reasonable, including, dare I say, the tilt toward the Indo-Pacific. As the noble Lord, Lord West, said, the Americans are very much approving of that because it is a little bit of a quid pro quo for them continuing to support us in continental Europe. But what the integrated review failed to take full account of was what we are now facing: the consequences of a resurgent Russia with a dictator who is determined to have his will in many ways.
So, we could then argue with ourselves, “Well, what should our response be?” Should we be rebalancing and changing some of the conclusions of the integrated review? I suggest that that is not the right approach to take. Many of the conclusions of the integrated review are reasonable, but what we failed to fully factor in was the requirement to be able to conduct a land war, or have a land capability that was strong enough to deter a land war, in Europe. Therefore, this is not to be a zero-sum game, with the Army, the Navy and the Air Force once again arguing against each other for a shift in priorities. Actually, it argues for an increase in our defence budget from 2% to 3%—an extra £12 billion to 15 billion a year—so that we can properly give ourselves the land capability that we absolutely require.
Our land capability is woefully lacking in armour; we are going to go down as it stands to 148 Challenger 3 tanks, and we have cancelled the Warrior tracked armoured fighting vehicle that can accompany them on the battlefield. What the war in Ukraine has shown once again is that artillery is a fundamental piece on the modern battlefield. We are woeful in the number of rocket and tube systems we have in this country. We have just given some MLRS to Ukraine: my goodness, we have few enough anyway, and where are the replacements going to come from? We need more armour, more artillery and we need more manpower; to have an Army that is going down to its smallest size in the last 200 years is completely unacceptable.
In conclusion, I would say that, when we look at the impact of Ukraine on the integrated review, there is a cautionary tale that we need to take note of. We need to look at that cautionary tale, learn lessons and, principally, ensure that an increased defence budget is argued for, and that much of that increased money goes into our land capability.
My Lords, in view of some of the things I am going to say, I would like to make it clear from the very beginning that I do condemn the Russian invasion. I think it was foolish and misplaced and, whatever else may be said, Putin clearly did not know what the result was going to be and seriously misjudged his own capacity.
I have been to Ukraine and to Crimea on several occasions, including before Crimea was taken over by the Russians. My conclusion on Ukraine is that there has been far too much western meddling. We have not managed to keep our hands off it for years, and we have not stood up to the Ukrainian Government. We have a Government who have conspicuously refused to implement the Minsk accords, and we have done little about it. Macron has done a bit, his predecessors did a bit and Merkel tried, but we have not had the Minsk accords implemented, and we have stood by while the Ukrainian Government have done such things as ban the Russian language—can you believe that they have banned the language of half of the population of the country?—and said virtually nothing about it.
I think Ukraine got itself into a position where it was being batted backwards and forwards by western-oriented policies. The real crunch came when Ukraine got rid of Yanukovych, because the country was a balancing act between the Party of Regions in the east and the parties in the west. It was never a clear dichotomy; it was never one area. I witnessed an election in Donetsk where over 90% of the votes were cast for the Party of Regions. I went round and questioned people, and all I heard was, “Well, it’s our party”. As one local person said to me, demonstrating some knowledge of British history, “It’s like the Valleys, you know. We all vote Regions; they all vote Labour”. I think there is a certain amount of truth in that.
When I used to lecture in European history, I used to say, quite truthfully, that you can rewrite your history but cannot rewrite your geography. The fact of the matter is that Ukraine is where it is, it is going to stay where it is, and we must devise a policy to dial down. There is far too much triumphalist rhetoric at the moment. What do we want to do with Russia? Do we actually want another Versailles? Are we going to suspend what is basically the rule of law in the West to confiscate assets? Of those assets in the West, are we going to distinguish between those of, say, Mr Bill Browder, who is supposedly our friend; Mr Roman Abramovich, who was our friend; and some people who have never been our friend? This is a slippery slope we are investing in if we start to suspend the rule of law so that we can have a rule of confiscation. We are almost back to the Versailles way of looking at the world, and it will not work. My friends in Russia—I do have some, and they are not at the top of the pile—are behind Putin. We have done what Hitler did in Britain: we have united the Russian people, and we need to be careful.
To close, I think we have to get a European peace conference, and we have to work out what we want. A justifiable line to draw is to say that we back the members of NATO and fully support Article 5. That is a line we can draw sensibly in the sand. We can say to the Russians, “So far, but no further” with the Article 5 guarantee. I have a lot of sympathy for the view of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle—I do not believe Labour Party Members are supposed to be my noble friends, so I will call him my ex-good friend—that we need to work with the Europeans. There is no way around that. Being in the same room as those Foreign Ministers is a great advantage. We need to get together with them; we will not get a peace in Europe without Germany and France. We need to get a common position—there is a European phrase for you—we need to get into the room, and we need to negotiate with the Russians from a position where they know that we mean it, but that what we mean does not humiliate them.
My Lords, I join in the warm thanks to my noble friend Lord Liddle for choosing this vital topic for our debate today, and for his magnificent speech in leading what has so far been a very interesting debate. It is just a pity that we have not heard the unique perspective of the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev, in this debate. He might have given us an interesting insight. I hope he would have joined in what is becoming a clear thread throughout the whole debate: overwhelming, unanimous support for the people of Ukraine in their fight not just for their sovereignty but for their democracy—and for our democracy as well, because they are fighting for us.
To follow up with a related topic, we have a scheme in place to assist the huge number of innocent civilians who have been displaced by the conflict. However, I fear that the Homes for Ukraine scheme remains far from perfect. Earlier this year, the BBC reported that up to 30% of registered would-be sponsors were single men over 40 offering to host single women in their 20s. More recently, the Guardian has highlighted the increasing number of refugees becoming homeless, and in many cases destitute, as a result of relationship breakdowns with their Homes for Ukraine hosts. This is dangerous and needs to be reviewed. The safeguards that we do have in place currently prohibit UK families from hosting under-18s who are travelling on their own, which means that Ukrainian children in this position currently have no route to this country. On both these issues, more must be done to ensure that we live up to our duty to shelter those fleeing the devastating effects of Putin’s brutal war machine.
We must also maintain and strengthen UK sanctions at least in line with our European allies. The EU is pushing for a total ban on oil imports. Our own consumption is relatively low compared to other European countries, so it is easier for us, but it is vital that we continue to phase out Russian oil. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently noted at Davos that the war has strangely—paradoxically—given us a unique spin-off opportunity to meet our carbon neutrality goals sooner than expected, so we should join the rest of Europe to push for united climate action and to have this double benefit.
The German Chancellor also stated that it is unlikely that Putin will consider negotiating for peace until he is certain of the impossibility of a Russian victory—a belief I share, incidentally—and it is therefore vital that we continue to honour our commitments to NATO and to ship more weapons to the courageous Ukrainian armed forces. I fear that we are being too selfish in Britain in trying to maintain our stockpiles. We should certainly renew them, but we are not shipping to the Ukrainians enough weapons and new ammunition, which they urgently need.
We must also remember that the effects of this war stretch well beyond Europe; Putin’s blockade on grain is hitting developing countries badly. Therefore, we should recognise that we must improve and expand our foreign aid programmes to mitigate the food crisis that this war has triggered. The sooner we get back to 0.7% of GNP, the more likely it is that we will be able to do that. If we do not, as recent history has shown, the aid vacuum left by Britain and the West will most likely be filled by an authoritarian power—particularly Russia or China—intent on cementing support for them in African countries in particular. I have seen this myself in Africa. I remind noble Lords that African nations such as Senegal and South Africa refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and abstained from the UN vote which demanded the full withdrawal of Russian forces. These countries are, or should be, our natural allies, but they have struggled to keep their economies afloat throughout the pandemic and rightly feel that we prioritised our own narrow interests during that time, and that we continue to do so.
Gordon Brown wrote a powerful article earlier this year in which he commented that our terrible treatment of Africa throughout the pandemic. allowing massive vaccine inequality, was as bad as under colonial rule. This is now an opportunity to try to right these wrongs and to stop the global creep of dictatorship.
In summary, to return to where I began, I say that collaboration with our allies in the face of Russian aggression has never been more important. I hope that the Minister—when he gets back—will commit himself to at least matching our European counterparts when it comes to sanctions and aid for Ukraine. I hope that he will agree that the UK should be mindful of the impact that sanctions and food shortages are having on developing countries. We are at the crossroads of a global battle of dictatorship against democracy where Ukraine is in the front line. Ukraine must win for the sake of us all.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, opened our debate today with a thoughtful and well-judged speech, and the whole House is grateful to him for initiating this debate.
Vasily Grossman once wrote:
“Every epoch has its own capital city, a city that embodies its will and soul. For several months of the Second World War that city was Stalingrad”.
In Britain, of course, it was the heavily blitzed city of Coventry. In the history of Putin’s war, that city will surely be Mariupol, and what savage irony that the descendants of the horrific brutality of Stalingrad have become its perpetrators and responsible for atrocities and war crimes. The barbaric onslaught of Mariupol led to besieged Ukrainian soldiers and civilians enduring weeks in the cellars and catacombs of the Azovstal steel plant. Putin has thought nothing about the criminality of unleashing wave after wave of death, destruction and damage including attacks on 400 hospitals and medical centres, killing civilians in railway stations and children in schools, mining fields and slaughtering animals.
Since 2014, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, reminded us, even before the depredations of Mariupol, Bucha and the rest, some 14,000 Ukrainians had already been killed, with the illegal occupation of Crimea and Donbas merely a curtain raiser. Since February, the Kremlin’s rhetoric has morphed from the pretext of protecting Russian speakers to portraying their special operation as existential, with Ukraine’s enemies hell-bent on its very destruction.
Reports of Russian fatalities vary but, whatever their number, military and political leaders must surely be recalling that wives and mothers, especially the mothers of conscripted boys who were lied to and told their sons would not be sent to the front, turned public opinion against Russian wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan. They may well do the same again. Russian people and culture have so much that we can admire, but Putin is not part of that. In July 2021, in a 5,000-word essay entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” he set out his ambitions. Mercifully shorter than the 153,000 words in Mein Kampf, in which Hitler outlined his pernicious anti-Semitic Aryan ideology, Putin positions himself with the imperial princes and tsars and whips up paranoia around anti-Russian conspiracies and foreign plots, rebutting the legitimacy of Ukraine’s borders and sovereign status.
However, Putin’s attempts—and his decision to abandon for now his failed attempts—to capture the entirety of Ukraine have led to a concentrated, deadly, bloody offensive in Donbas. The capture of Sievierodonetsk would enable domination of the supply lines. Although this hardly smacks of victory, nor does it suggest defeat—diminished and humbled, yes, but it would be absurd to underestimate Russia’s ability to dig in for a protracted conflict or to learn from its failures.
We should also be realistic about fatigue and sustained sacrifice. Despite the many pledges made to the courageous President Zelensky, some of the promised armaments have not reached Ukraine. Nor should we assume that self-interest will not get the better of domestic politics in those western countries facing rampant inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, so our commitment in the United Kingdom must be enduring and sustained.
I have some questions for the Minister. Over the past decade, €1 trillion was transferred to Russia in return for fossil fuels, but Ukraine has the second largest gas reserves in Europe and gas storage space equivalent to 27% of the European Union’s gas storage capacity. What is being done to access that and, ultimately, about the replacement of dependency with sustainability?
Returning to an issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Liddle, Lord Cormack and Lord Foulkes, I ask: what are we going to do about the grain inside Ukraine at present? In his reply to me today, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, said that there were 25 million tonnes of grain. How are we going to get them out? Will we help with the integration of the Ukrainian railway system to enable exports? What are we doing to open the Black Sea ports to ships from neutral countries, many of which face starvation thanks to Putin’s new Holodomor, using starvation as a weapon of war?
I return to accountability and justice. On 19 May, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for prosecution of war crimes, aggression, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It called for a special international tribunal to punish those responsible for atrocities, including indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, forced deportations, use of banned ammunition, attacks against civilians fleeing via pre-arranged humanitarian corridors, executions and sexual violence, all of which amount to violations of international humanitarian law. Are we working with the European Union to prosecute those responsible and, if so, how? Are we systematically asking every refugee who arrives here for eyewitness accounts and statements that can be used in prosecutions? Are we preserving evidence?
On security, important speeches were made by the noble Lord, Lord West—I agreed with it entirely—and my noble friend Lord Dannatt. Will Sweden and Finland be fully integrated into NATO and when? Is Germany meeting its welcome promise to pay its fair share for our common defence? With the horrendous consumption of weapons and munitions, are we ensuring their replacement to safeguard our own defence and security?
Exactly 40 years ago, I listened to Ronald Reagan here in the Royal Gallery. He, Margaret Thatcher and NATO understood that in every generation like-minded nations must be ready to make extraordinary sacrifices to defeat those who threaten them. The heroism which we have seen in Ukraine has given us a clear view of the barbarians once more at our gate. Putin’s war gives sharper definition to the threat posed to our way of life by a growing number of authoritarians, their regimes and ideologies—a threat that must once again be defeated.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Liddle for his initiative. If the first casualty of war is the truth, Ukraine is a fine example. It is hard to know who and what to believe. Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Denys Shmyal, claims that Putin’s forces have destroyed more than 15,000 miles of roads, hundreds of bridges, 12 airports, 100 school, college and university campuses and 500 medical facilities, and contaminated 150,000 square miles of land with explosive devices. Other reports claim 90,000 cars destroyed, and 34 million square metres of residential buildings wrecked at a replacement cost of $30 billion. The World Bank estimates $60 billion in infrastructural damage. The IMF predicts a 35% and rising contraction in the economy, with 11 million people displaced and 6.5 million refugees escaping violence while leaving loved ones at home. We have 8.5 million on either food assistance or exceptional health support. We have the disruption of education for 3.5 million children and a collapse in family income, leaving millions of pensioners unable to move while trapped. That was the position a few weeks ago.
The Kyiv School of Economics forecasts a potential war cost of $600 million—four times the national GDP. These are cash cost estimates. Then we have the loss of life: 22,000 in Mariupol alone. Wider estimates speak of an additional tens of thousands of civilian and military war dead. If that is not enough, we have President Zelensky’s spokesman demanding more weaponry when he states:
“If you ask me, I would say far too slow, far too late and definitely not enough. We are not happy with the pace of weapons delivery”.
Then there is the cost here at home: escalating fuel and food prices, and worrying inflation with additional millions in need, particularly in low-income households. We have economic destruction throughout Europe with the potential to destabilise all populations. I say, when it comes to war, never underestimate the potential of the unpredictable, which in this case is a distinct possibility. Yet all I hear is cries for more war, more weapons, more sacrifice and a refusal to even talk against a background of escalating threats from Moscow.
We need a period of reflection. Personally, I have never ducked a need to face up to decisions on war when national unity was required. I have supported war in the Falklands, and in the case of Iraq visited Washington repeatedly, calling for intervention, but this is different. This war is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies, and the silence of the British public begs questions as to the level of real support, indeed concern, out there. I beg the Government to start thinking outside of the box and reflect on the route to a solution and ending the conflict. Humiliating a proud Russian people in whose name a tyrannical Putin is pursuing a brutal, inhuman and crazed war is no answer.
The man has lost all reason, he is desperate as to his legacy and is acutely dangerous. We need a post-Putin strategy which facilitates the development of a more democratic Russia and its joining a world of more civilised nations. There was a possibility in the early 2000s, but it never materialised. Compromise all round is now needed. I plead: do not destroy the Russian economy in a flawed process. Humiliating Germany in the 1920s brought a world war, and history can repeat itself. We cannot win overall militarily; equally, neither can the Russians—they can only damage their economy.
I say: start the talking, and with an open mind. When the Minister in a recent reply insisted on what appears to me to be total capitulation by Russia, my heart sank. The Minister should listen to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, who has supported calls for early negotiation to end conflict. He should listen to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who in a recent debate set out a comprehensive set of proposals for the resolution of the conflict. He should listen to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who is to follow me now, and who, while supporting military intervention has heavily qualified his remarks on the issue of preparedness.
Finally, I can only repeat my own calls, made before the war started, for protectorate status for Donetsk and Luhansk within Ukraine under international monitoring arrangements and, additionally, the disbanding and withdrawal from theatre of the Azov and associated battalions and the Donbass militia. I believe all this was possible under an agreed settlement before the war started. It is still possible to deliver as Russia’s war losses mount up and make compromise increasingly possible. At least we should start the talking. If history judges that we have fought a war—call it a proxy war if you want—to secure less than what we would have secured by way of negotiation, we will be condemned by our descendants as little more than party to an historic error. I say: listen to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, which was very impressive today.
My Lords, I too join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on obtaining this debate and on the robust way in which he introduced it.
In previous debates on Ukraine, I raised the issue of sanctions and in particular, what assessment the Government have made of their effect on Russia and on Putin. In answer to my question on this on Tuesday the Minister said that they
“have had an inhibiting effect in relation to Mr Putin’s ability to mobilise his forces.”—[Official Report, 7/6/22; col. 1078.]
I doubt that Ukrainians defending the Donbass would agree.
Historically, sanctions imposition has often been a political response to a “do something” cry falling short of war. A most significant distinction between all other sanctioned countries and those against Russia is that the former could be dealt with by Theodore Roosevelt’s diplomatic truism,
“Speak softly and carry a big stick”,
but Russia, unlike all others, also has a big stick.
Viewed from the Russian side, this is the second time that they have been sanctioned in the past decade. American sanctions following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were aimed to make Russia a pariah state. Should sanctions become an existential threat to Russia itself, the risks of their response, being a nuclear power, cannot be downplayed or ignored.
As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, argued in his recent excellent essay on this topic:
“Economic sanctions against Russia are supposed to be an alternative to war, but they can reasonably be expected to change the Kremlin’s behaviour only by becoming tactical components of the conflict.”
Ukraine’s supporters do not intend to make or threaten war themselves directly against Russia, but without such, the true value of sanctions becomes unclear. As the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report in May 2007 on The Impact of Economic Sanctions concluded:
“Economic sanctions used in isolation from other policy instruments are extremely unlikely to force a target to make major policy changes.”
Foremost among “other policy instruments” listed was the threat or actual use of force.
The assessments the Government have made do not show, even after 100 days of conflict, any great reduction in Russia’s war-fighting capability. Bearing in mind that some nations are still trading actively with Russia and many European countries are still paying Russia for oil and gas—no doubt with pricing increases—are the sanctions achieving the result required of a major change in Russia’s “special operation”? Not yet, and do not hold your breath.
Imposing sanctions is not a zero-sum game. Individuals and businesses that are no longer able to trade with Russia will not necessarily be able to make good in other markets what they were achieving in Russia. They will suffer losses, which will increase with time. The financial and banking sanctions sound severe, but workarounds are already evident. The rouble is trading near its pre-war rate. Rising oil and gas prices have increased the cost of living for all here in the UK.
More needs to be said publicly to explain what sanctions achieve. Russia’s combat forces remain active, even if their tactics are less than competent. So where does the balance of advantage lie? Should even more sanctions be imposed, with the attendant risks if Russia feels itself threatened, or has a limit been reached?
What plan, even thought, has been given to an exit strategy? No sanctions can be indefinite. As long ago as 1999, a government review of sanctions policy stressed the principle:
“Sanctions should … have clear objectives, including well-defined and realistic demands against which compliance can be judged, and a clear exit strategy”.
The present sanctions targeting falls far short of such a principle, which, as well as anti-corruption and Magnitsky ones, should have greater exposure in an integrated review.
Looking to the future, when some settlement has been achieved and peace restored—I have little confidence that this will be very soon—what support can be given to the inevitable restructuring needs in Ukraine? Can assets impounded from individuals or Russian banks and businesses be switched to benefit the restoration funds that will be required? Is that going to need legislation, and would that be internationally legal? What steps have the Government in mind or are they taking to study and to implement these post-conflict needs?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Liddle on a masterful speech, which set the tone for a very interesting debate. I want to talk about transport in Ukraine, in particular rail transport, which is the backbone of the Ukrainian economy because it is a very large country, as we know. Whether it is transport for defence reasons, evacuation or keeping the economy going, most goods are carried by rail. I declare an interest as a board member of the European association ALLRAIL and a former member of the European Rail Freight Association.
Other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Foulkes and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the importance of corn. Ukraine produces some 40 million tonnes of corn, plus fertiliser and sunflower oil. It is a major world supplier. This is—or was—nearly all exported via the Black Sea, and the railway system in Ukraine was very good at doing that. As that route is likely to be blocked for the foreseeable future, we have to think about how to get that corn out, probably by rail and probably, most of it, towards the west. That represents a massive increase in demand and capacity not just in Ukraine but in neighbouring countries, particularly Poland. I am in touch with the railway operators in Ukraine and am told that 6,300 kilometres of track have been damaged by the Russians already, with 41 bridges, as well as tunnels, demolished.
We could say that we are on a war footing. There are problems in Poland, not with the war, of course, but largely with bureaucracy. Getting the railways across Europe to work seamlessly as one team, finding wagons, finding locomotives and making sure that the tracks are repaired is a massive undertaking. I give credit to Network Rail and the Government for giving quite a lot of support in the form of equipment, including Bailey bridges and the like, for repairing bits of railway that have been bombed, but we need to do a great deal more if we are to enable the massive increase in grain exports that is needed if we are not going to have famine in the world, as my noble friends have said.
I was a bit surprised yesterday when the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, said:
“The truth is that we are almost self-sufficient in wheat”.—[Official Report, 8/6/22; cols. 1150-51]
Well, that is all right for us, but what about the rest of the world? I hope that we can look much more widely.
There are many problems. I have received a long list, which I will pass on to the Minister, of ways in which the West, the UK, Europe and United States—which is very keen to do so—can help in making sure that the railways can expand this massive capacity. Noble Lords will know that the track gauge is different in Ukraine—it is the same as in Russia. There are many ways of transferring freight from one gauge to another—I could bore noble Lords for hours on the subject, but I shall not—but it needs investment, wagons and a reduction in bureaucracy, which sadly is still there in Europe. The railways across that part of Europe and Ukraine need to work as if they are on a war footing now. That might seem a bit over the top, but we should get rid of all these regulations. There is a regulation in Poland that says than any wagon coming from Ukraine, if it is transferred, has to have its axle box checked for temperature every 50 kilometres, so the train has to stop. Is that really necessary when up to 20 million tonnes of corn are waiting to be exported?
I am in touch with United States railroad operators as well, and I hope they can help, but, whether it is by way of a task force, a conference or whatever, all the railway administrations that can do it need to help the Ukraine Government help themselves and to support Poland and other countries in making sure that freight can move as quickly and as seamlessly as possible to the ports, mostly in northern Europe, where it is needed if we are to get it away and help the economy of Ukraine and the rest of the world. At the moment, they are all saying, “We can’t do this, because who’s going to pay us?” The question of who gets paid and for what will need urgently addressing. I suspect that it was done before and at the beginning of the last war—I was not in a state to have much of a view then. I will send the Minister a long list of requests from Ukrainian Railways, and I hope that we can help with that, but let us hope that we can encourage everyone to go much faster to increase the capacity of rail export.
My Lords, the broad conclusions of the more general integrated review were correct, but reference should also be made to the defence Command Paper. I propose to the Government that both be updated regularly to reflect changes in circumstances.
I am concerned that this war of attrition masks the fact that Ukraine, from Russia's perspective, is a means to an end and not a strategy in isolation, representing an attempt to craft a new world order with a reconstruction of its role in international affairs. Events are the consequences of 20 years of strategic thinking on Russia’s part. It follows, therefore, that the Euro-Atlantic community should frame a Russia strategy in the longer term, and not as a problem of the last century, looking forward not backwards, with all its future implications.
Russia has returned to its traditional role of an aggressive, expansionist state, and an effective response to this remains to be shaped. A senior British defence official said in 2016:
“Russia is a reality on the world scene and we cannot go on pretending it is not”.
That is correct, with all the opposing ideology, interests and explicitly differing values. A new generation of Russian leaders will change little. We must work to understand more than I suspect we do or face sleepwalking deeper into the quagmire.
The scale of the reconstruction required defies comprehension, with President Zelensky estimating in April that $7 billion monthly, totalling $600 billion, is required. From where is this to come and with what conditionality? A future Ukrainian state awash with money and flooded with arms could itself become a challenge.
HMG will be only too aware also that democratic politics can usher in a new guard. With elections supposedly due in a year or so, there will be many from a military background who will enter politics and, depending on outcomes, bring with them a differing approach. I must ask the Minister, therefore, what HMG’s assessment of that situation is. Are election assistance and process planning being conducted, or are we in active consultation with the electoral commission in Kyiv about a delay to a future election?
On the world stage, it would appear that Russia is hell-bent on building an Iran-China-India axis, in addition to quietly making inroads on relationship building in South America and Africa, with the Indo-Pacific also in its strategic planning. I have been calling around, and it has become clear that a large number of states wish to remain neutral, which is not good.
A vision of Russia would appear to be multiregional, now strengthened by the Arctic route becoming more realistic. That will be of particular appeal to China, which is already investing in securing land for its future infrastructure and military needs along that route.
London is acting in important ways in Ukraine, but very much in the now. Now and looking ahead are essential, and in this context the integrated review is right: Moscow will be a challenge for London through the 2020s. The UK has positioned itself as Moscow’s enemy 1.5, with our strategists having to manoeuvre through a minefield of British policy and determine how global Britain will manage a ubiquitous Russia. It is legitimate to ask what kind of threat Russia might pose to the UK. Moscow has not yet used its strategic assets in this war, but we should be prepared for an intensified cyberthreat.
On a practical note, I am reminded of the loss of the depth of expertise in the FCDO on Russia and the Russian language. We urgently need to build a cadre of Ukrainian expertise and language capability.
In the search for common ground with Russia, while always being explicit that London has very many policy and value disagreements with Moscow and vice versa, urbanisation, climate change, infrastructure, and issues of the 2030s, including how to manage ageing social disruption, might be areas of commonality of challenges.
The war in Ukraine has reignited great power competition. If we are ever to move forward, the institutions that govern the world order must adapt to new ways of thinking and new ways of working.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for introducing this debate, but it seems that for a while we were fighting not just the Ukraine-Russia war but the EU war as well, between Brexit and no-Brexit. Let us suspend that war for the time being and concentrate on the Ukraine-Russia war. What we do about Brexit is another issue. I speak as a remainer.
The most important thing is to understand and decide that the only solution to this war is that Ukraine regains its entire old frontiers and is re-established as a country safe from external aggression. If this is to be realised, we cannot go down the road that France and Germany, for example, have been proposing, of a peace in which Ukraine would lose its eastern Russian-speaking zones and be left with only western Ukraine. One principle that we established when we established the United Nations in 1945 was that national borders are sacrosanct and cannot be arbitrarily violated by one power set against another.
The problem will last much longer than people think. This is not going to be a 100-day war but probably a 1,000-day war, if not longer. Europe has a habit of going to war quite frequently. We went to war in 1914 until 1918, and then, within another 21 years, in 1939 we went to war again until 1945. We then thought that we had peace but again, we are back at war in Europe in 2022. This is because there are certain unresolved national issues in Europe. Russia has always felt that Ukraine somehow should be part of Russia and not an independent country. I had a colleague at the LSE who taught Russian history. When asked what his biggest dream was, he said, “An independent Ukraine.” At that time Ukraine was not independent. It then became independent temporarily and now it is threatened with control by Russia.
One thing we must make clear to the Russians and the Ukrainians in this battle is that we will stand by Ukraine until it regains its frontiers. Like many other noble Lords, I am in touch with some Ukrainian groups, who send me emails about what their idea of liberation is. We must make that the first priority. Neither our energy supplies nor our wheat supplies nor the debt position of third-world countries should gain priority over the world getting together to give Ukraine its borders back and some future guarantee of safety from another external attack by Russia. Some noble Lords have talked about a new world order, and one very important thing to recognise is that the United Nations has failed in this respect. The United Nations Security Council was built up as an oligarchy of big powers—the permanent members—and we saw the farce whereby Russia could not be indicted for its attack because China used its veto to protect Russia.
The UN will have to be repaired at some future date because right now it is not an effective body. We are left with the EU and the US. The western alliance is divided about how to deal with the Ukraine crisis. Some western European countries would like a quick, patch-up treaty, which will leave Ukraine divided in two and then Russia will go away. I think that is a mistake. We ought to insist that the UK will aid Ukraine for as long as possible, and that our aim is to guarantee that we will stand by Ukraine until the end, just as we stood in the Second World War.
My Lords, in this most welcome debate on the impact of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine we have heard some very thoughtful contributions. It has been made clear that the Ukraine war is not a little local European difficulty; it is a global crisis. The effect of food shortages and the associated price increases threaten widespread famine in Africa. The destruction of energy supplies is contributing to increased global inflation and the overall economic shock will affect living standards around the world.
However, its significance goes beyond the economic. It goes to the heart of how the world is to be ordered in future, how nations are to deal with one another in the years ahead, and how much stability we can expect to see in the international community. This should condition our thinking about the UK’s role in the crisis. Our strategic objective should be to ensure that Putin’s invasion is widely seen to have failed and that such an illegal use of force is fraught with uncertainty and danger for the aggressor. This will not, of course, entirely eliminate the threat of future conflict, but it will at least give pause to those who contemplate starting one. The question then becomes, how is that strategic objective to be achieved? The answer is in two parts—military and economic—but in the time available today I shall restrict myself to military issues.
We must of course continue to support the Ukrainians in their valiant efforts to deny Putin his objectives in their country. They have already defeated his attempts to seize their capital and split their nation in two, and they must now frustrate his latest goal of achieving total control of the entire Donbass region. President Zelensky naturally wishes to regain control over all his nation’s territory. That may not be a realistic short-term objective, but neither is it necessary in order to deny Putin his aims. Given continued Ukrainian resistance, Russia will be unlikely to advance much further and will be tied down in an attempt—almost certainly doomed —to pacify the area it occupies. However, this relies on the Ukrainians continuing to receive the military wherewithal to counter the kind of artillery-heavy attritional attacks that the Russian forces are now mounting.
More widely, we need to relearn some old lessons. The first, as I have remarked before, is the unbounded capacity of the future to surprise us, usually in very unpleasant ways. International crises and the armed conflicts that sometimes flow from them have seldom been anticipated, nor have we been well-prepared to meet them; and every time such a crisis comes to an end we seem to assume—or we certainly act as if we assume—that it will be the last. It never is. Not long ago, some observers were questioning the continued relevance of NATO. They usually did so without considering what sort of organisation might replace it, bearing in mind that we had long ago forsaken the idea of national defence in favour of collective security. Occasionally the EU has been put forward as an alternative focus for European defence, despite the fact that many European nations have declined to make the level of investment necessary to sustain NATO itself, let alone to develop independently the very expensive strategic capabilities currently provided by the United States.
The UK’s recent integrated review, while acknowledging the challenge still posed by Russia, indicated a tilt more towards the Asia-Pacific region, but it was less than clear what that actually meant. How great a tilt? How much of that tilt was to be diplomatic, how much economic and how much military? We have now been rudely reminded that the peace and security of our own continent should always be our top priority. It is also clear that those European nations most directly threatened by Russia put their faith in NATO for their defence, not in the EU. Therefore, at least for the foreseeable future, NATO must remain the bedrock of European security. However, to be credible, NATO must ensure that it has the plans and capabilities to defend its peoples effectively. It needs to be able to operate in the so-called grey zone of warfare but it also needs hard combat power, and power that can be sustained.
The war in Ukraine has reminded those who may have forgotten of the appalling rate at which munitions are expended in high-intensity conflict. For too many years, we and other NATO nations have taken too much risk with our weapon stocks. They were already inadequate and they have, rightly, been depleted further because of the need to supply Ukraine. We now need a concerted effort to bring our munition stocks, across all three services, not just back to where they were but to where they should have been in the first place, and we must press our NATO partners to do the same. That will mean careful planning and much greater investment, not just in defence budgets but in the wider industrial capacity to provide and sustain those weapons, which is currently inadequate. That will not be easy in a period of economic stress but, while the conflict in Ukraine has created great human suffering and threatens to cause much more, it has also changed the world that we have known for the past two decades. We cannot now return to business as usual. We must recognise as much and adapt accordingly.
“it has always been the case that our security at home is best advanced through global co-operation, working with institutions that support that, including the EU … This cannot be a time when any of us allow competition between partners, rigid institutional restrictions or deep-seated ideology to inhibit our co-operation and jeopardise the security of our citizens … where we can both be most effective by the UK deploying its significant capabilities and resources with and indeed through EU mechanisms—we should both be open to that. On defence, if the UK and EU’s interests can best be furthered by the UK continuing to contribute to an EU operation or mission as we do now, then we should both be open to that. And similarly, while the UK will decide how we spend the entirety of our foreign aid in the future, if a UK contribution to EU development programmes and instruments can best deliver our mutual interests, we should both be open to that … So we very much welcome the EU’s efforts to develop Europe’s capabilities in this field. We need to keep open all the options which will enable the UK and the EU to collaborate in the most effective way possible … We are keen for this to continue”.
Every single word that I have said so far is a direct quote from Prime Minister Theresa May to the Munich Security Conference on 17 February 2018. Those plans had a degree of prescience as they now seem obvious, but they were reversed by her successor—in the same party —just a year later. We have a good basis for reviewing the integrated review again by looking back at what Theresa May said in 2018, which we also debated in this House.
There are some clear examples of that move away, and I shall cite two. The first is the EU Military Mobility project, moving military equipment across internal EU borders, which is very bureaucratic and difficult although I am sure that noble and gallant Lords will say it is a fundamental aspect of mutual defence. The US and Canada are involved in the EU Military Mobility plan to simplify this, but not the UK. Why is that?
Third-party countries like Chile contribute personnel to EUFOR, or Operation Althea, the EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia, which is UN mandated. However, after Brexit, the UK withdrew all personnel from the Balkans, a critical and intense area that our Prime Minister has highlighted, and one of the collateral areas of the Russian invasion. I ask the Minister: will the Government consider this? We now have the European defence fund—€8 billion between 2021 and 2027. The UK would have been a leader in securing funding opportunities for research, development and increasing member states’ capabilities, but we are not participating in this. Can the Minister write to me about EU programmes or operations in which third countries can participate but we choose not to?
As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, there should be common ground. I agree with all noble Lords who commended him very strongly not only for bringing this debate to the Chamber but for the extremely comprehensive way that he introduced it—he covered this thematically and progressively, and it set the frame for the debate. He also said very clearly that security, development and prosperity here at home are so intertwined with that our nearest neighbours and indeed those further afield that are like-minded, through NATO in particular.
In his comprehensive remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to Ernest Bevin; from these Benches, we would say that there is no difference between us in commending that foresight. In studying the early days of NATO, I was struck that, for Ernest Bevin, it was in many respects the successor organisation to the Brussels Pact between the UK, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This European mutual defence agreement was put in place in 1948 to encourage the Truman Administration to go wider and support NATO. So we should never see this debate as purely about one rather than the other; the concept and the delivery are integrated.
The noble Lord also referenced his very frequent visits to and involvement with Ukraine, as have many others in this debate—I have visited Ukraine and the Verkhovna Rada on a number of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, touched on the civilian element of this: over 4,000 civilians, including 300 children, have sacrificed their lives for the cause of self-determination and their wish to live in a democratic country. This is on top of all those brave individuals who have signed up or been called up to the forces. However, it is a depressing fact that we are likely to see scores more people—hundreds of thousands—dying of hunger, as the collateral damage of Putin’s aggression. This is on top of the world facing increased dangers through the climate emergency and the growth in fragile states. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, indicated the very imbalanced way that Covid has been managed across the world. We see the warnings that 8 million to 13 million people will suffer acute hunger in the Horn of Africa and central Africa as a result of this conflict.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, also indicated, we cannot take for granted that all countries see our thinking and perspective, especially those that are developing or are in fragile, sensitive and complex areas, such as the Middle East. In the week of the Russian invasion, I was in Baghdad and then Beirut. Subsequently, I went to central Africa, where I will be next week, before I go to the civic forums of the CHOGM in Kigali. I heard, and no doubt will hear, differing perspectives on not only the conflict but the consequences of it. This is why the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is absolutely right: the UK’s reputation and trustworthiness is critical in this debate if we are to lever further support for UK interests, given that it has been indicated that this will be a long-term situation.
It is wrong that the UK has cut support from 0.7% to 0.5%—of course it is—and, while it is positive that the UK has committed 0.18% of GNI to Ukraine support, which we support and endorse, it is still not clear whether that is offsetting cuts to programmes in other countries. It is in addition to the 0.5% cap? Or will it be squeezing out other support that is critically important, especially when we see growing poverty, increased instability, the lack of action on climate change in many areas, the growth of mercenary groups in Wagner and also, depressingly, the growth and the recruitment of terrorist groups such as Daesh.
If we are introducing legislation that breaks the rule of law here at home, we cannot be the strongest in calling for the rule of law abroad. That is really important, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, indicated, when we see India, China and others taking a different course from us. We need to lead by example not only militarily and economically but morally and on trust.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, indicated, we are engaged in hybrid warfare, where our sanctions and economic measures are markedly different from those in the past. They are now designed not only to deter actions but to change strategic and military campaign decisions. We need to debate this soberly and clearly, with regard to the exit that needs to be in place. That exit will be at a time of increased fragility, with the climate emergency and other pressures. So, we do need to revisit the integrated review in practical ways, and measures suggested by my noble friend Lady Ludford. As I said earlier, when we review this—perhaps not to the extent of the German Zeitenwende: the watershed moment they have indicated—we should start by going back to 2018 and that speech of Theresa May.
My Lords, I too would like to thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and for his excellent introduction. I too emphasise that we are all at one in our support for Ukraine; across the House, both Opposition and Government are absolutely at one. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us that there are some very good things in the integrated review. The fact that we had the integrated review is a positive thing too. Joined-up government is absolutely essential.
Let us remind ourselves what the integrated review was about. It highlighted the need for the United Kingdom to play an active role in ensuring that open societies and economies can flourish across the world by championing free trade and global co-operation, tackling conflict and instability and standing up for democracy and human rights. Just how will the Government address these issues? The recently published international development strategy, promised in the review, made no explicit prioritisation of this. Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has highlighted how misguided many of the Government’s strategic assumptions about foreign policy have been.
As we have heard in this debate, the integrated review wrongly de-emphasised the importance of European security. Boris Johnson described it as a British “tilt to the Indo-Pacific” and scarcely mentions Europe beyond NATO. Certainly, there is no mention of the Russian aggression against Ukraine that was started in 2014.
Let us also think: Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February but, four months later, there is no action to reboot our UK defence plans. As we have heard, threats to Britain are increasing. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, along with my noble friend Lord West, the Government have cut the Army by 10,000 troops; they commit UK forces to be “persistently deployed worldwide”, yet cut the full fleet of Hercules transport planes.
All democracies must respond to the newly realised threats to national and European security. That is why we argue that Ministers must rectify the flaws in the integrated review; must review defence spending; must reform defence procurement and must rethink Army cuts. They must reinvigorate UK leadership in NATO—and we have heard about that leadership at its inception. Now it is time for us to return to that leadership.
Also on European security, the key recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia remain unimplemented. Tackling and challenging Russia’s political, economic and military reach is imperative to European security, and the work must start at home. The United Kingdom must stop acting as a hiding place and service industry for criminals and their money. A key part of defending democracy and the international rules-based order is through international co-operation, whether it be NATO or other forums such as the G7, the United Nations or the Commonwealth. The Ukrainian conflict forcefully reminds us that almost no nation can do anything alone and that Britain is a bigger force for good in the world when we act with our allies.
Brexit is done, no doubt, but the EU is emerging as an organised force in geopolitical security, and President Biden has affirmed US support for
“strengthening the NATO-EU strategic partnership”
and for a
“US-EU dialogue on security and defence”.
It is in Britain’s national interests to forge post-Brexit arrangements to work with, not within, the EU. Britain is NATO’s leading European nation, and we should not allow this status to be damaged or deflected by Boris Johnson pursuing his “Indo-Pacific tilt”. The first priority for Britain’s Armed Forces must be where the threats are greatest, not where the business opportunities lie.
At the end of this month, NATO nations will set their strategy for the next decade, with all democracies now facing new threats to their security. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendations for the new strategic concept stress the central importance of resilience in our democracies and societies. It is the way we can counter hybrid warfare and shore up support for our increased defence commitments. In the run-up to Madrid, democracies and their civil societies will rightly demand a say in the priorities set for NATO for the next decade. Yet this is a closed process, confined to Governments, which is why Labour is asking the Government to open up the UK process to create a common vision for NATO. I urge them to lay out to the public the UK’s view of NATO’s strategic goals. The UK needs to be the driving force, driving debates as NATO gives a greater focus to defence, alongside deterrence and diplomacy.
Although our current focus is rightly on Ukraine and Russia, this is far from the only global crisis. Many countries have experienced almost non-stop conflict over the past decade. Our support for Ukraine, including humanitarian assistance, should not come out of overseas development assistance. As my noble friend Lord Foulkes said, the poorest in the world should not have to pay the price for Russian aggression. There are currently multiple crises of nutrition that will only get worse with increasing conflict and the negative effects of climate change. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us, east African countries are dependent on Ukraine and Russia for 90% of their grain imports, and parts of the region are also experiencing severe drought.
Rather than restoring the United Kingdom’s development expertise, targeting aid on poverty reduction and prioritising climate, conflict and health funding, the Government instead prioritise a naive aid-for-trade approach that simply will not work. This is an approach that takes us back to the 1980s and the corruption scandals of the Pergau dam. I hope that the Government will reconsider a much swifter return to the 0.7% target and using the aid budget to help those most in need, not trade favours with big corporations.
Ukraine has survived because its people—of diverse faith, age, ethnicity and language—have a national story of hope to unify them. Their hopes are simple: prosperity, security and respect; to be a democratic country at peace with its neighbours, within a rules-based global order; and those are Labour’s hopes for the British people.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for tabling this important debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their insightful contributions, which go to the heart of our country’s role in the world at this turning point in European history. I will try to respond to all the points raised, but there were a lot, and if I miss any, I will follow up in writing.
Putin’s unprovoked, illegal war is a reprehensible, premeditated attack on Ukraine and on the principles of self-determination and the rule of law. It is now clear that Putin cannot break or subjugate Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have shown that they will resist. Their courage in the face of the Russian forces’ brutal tactics is, simply, an inspiration. The UK and the international community stand together with our friends in Ukraine against this naked aggression. We stand together for freedom, democracy and the sovereignty of nations around the world.
As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, articulated, the human toll of Putin’s war is colossal, from the levelling of cities such as Mariupol to the slaughter, rape and torture of innocent civilians in Bucha. Almost a third of Ukrainians have fled the invading forces, and nearly 16 million people are in need of humanitarian support. The economic damage from the invasion has rippled across the globe, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, in the form of rising commodity prices and more. Russia’s blockade on Ukrainian grain exports is fuelling hunger and having a catastrophic impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The UK will continue to play a leading role in the international response to this invasion, working intensively with our allies and partners. I note the slightly gloomy description from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, of the UK’s place in the world on this issue. But it feels to me that her depiction, or her understanding, of where we stand in the world in relation to Ukraine, is very much at odds with the reality. It certainly seems to be at odds with the views expressed by the leader of Ukraine and so many Ukrainian people. Our support for this effort includes backing Ukraine to defend itself against Russia through £1.3 billion in military support.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, we are the third-largest humanitarian donor nation, providing £220 million of assistance, and that includes more than £110 million to the UN and the Red Cross and £25 million in matched funding to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. As Russia’s invasion has threatened global food security, we have announced emergency humanitarian assistance to vulnerable regions such as the Horn of Africa and Yemen, and we are working to co-ordinate with partners through the new G7 Global Alliance for Food Security.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made the point extremely well, if I may say so, about Vladimir Putin’s use of starvation, I think he said, as a weapon of war. He is right also to say that we believe that at least 25 million tonnes of grain have been locked up as a consequence, not by accident but as a deliberate policy decision. Clearly, releasing that grain has to be a priority, not just for the region but for far beyond. We are working very closely within the G7 and with the global alliance to figure out how we might do that; it is not straightforward.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made an important point about the need for infrastructure to be maintained and, where necessary, repaired. I am grateful to him for citing the efforts of Network Rail in helping to repair some of that key infrastructure. We are looking for opportunities to do more. It is certainly the Government’s intention to find ways to do more to repair that infrastructure. I am not sure we can do much about Poland’s regulations around axle temperature, but the point is well made, and if we have an opportunity to persuade our friends to look at that regulation, I am sure we will do so.
We are also working with international partners, including the US, the EU and development banks to support Ukraine’s economy. The UK has given £74 million to support the Ukrainian Government’s day-to-day spending. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there is a £100 million, three-year package to reform energy supply in order to secure alternatives to Russian oil and gas. UK Export Finance, our export credit agency, has £3.5 billion available to support trade with Ukraine, helping UK exporters and Ukrainian buyers access the finance they need. When the PM was in Kyiv, he announced an additional $500 million in World Bank guarantees to support Ukraine’s economy, bringing UK guarantees for World Bank lending to almost $1 billion.
In response to comments by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Browne, I simply say that they are right to say that Russian forces have, indisputably, committed war crimes, including intentionally targeting civilians in the manner we heard from a number of noble Lords. We are working with partners to hold those responsible to account for their actions. We led efforts to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court, which has now secured support from 42 other countries. We have also committed to provide the court with further resources to help secure evidence and conduct prosecutions, starting with a £1 million contribution. In April, the Foreign Secretary announced a £10 million fund to help expert organisations support victims of the conflict, including, of course, survivors of sexual violence.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on the visa situation in relation to Ukrainian refugees, I was looking up the numbers while he was speaking, and our two visa schemes will allow an unlimited number of Ukrainians to find safety in the UK, working through either family members or UK sponsors. As of 1 June, we had issued more than 120,000 visas in total for the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine sponsoring scheme. More than 65,000 Ukrainians had arrived in the UK by that date.
With our allies, we continue to impose the largest and most severe economic sanctions Russia has ever faced. Since the invasion, we have sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and more than 100 entities. I note the comments and questions by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, around the efficacy and, indeed, the purpose of those sanctions. There is compelling evidence that we are succeeding in cutting off funding to Putin’s war machine. We are hitting his corrupt cronies and targeting the outlets that are spreading disinformation. We will continue to ratchet up the pressure until Ukraine prevails.
The UK and our allies support Ukraine’s efforts to secure a settlement that delivers a sustainable peace in line with established principles of European security and in line with Ukraine’s aims—a point made very powerfully by my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lady Meyer, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Desai. It is important to emphasise that any outcome of the peace process that will eventually ensue needs to ensure a full Russian withdrawal. Above all, whatever is agreed upon must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. That matters—and I note the comments by my noble friend Lord Balfe—as the bottom line here is that we are not discussing an ambiguous event within Europe; Russia is engaging in an act of aggression, an act of violent expansionism, against all international norms and law. There is no justification whatever for what is happening, and we need to keep that in mind as we discuss and agree actions that this country needs to take in order to support Ukraine.
The continued support of the UK and its partners will help ensure that Ukraine is able to negotiate from a strong position. This includes committing to ensuring that Ukraine is in a strong position to deter future Russian aggression. We and others are discussing with Ukraine how we can best do this, as the statement by Ukraine and the G7 leaders made clear on 8 May. I say this in response again to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, who also mentioned the Halo Trust, which is an extraordinarily valuable organisation. We have directly raised with Ukraine the issue of mining and the new specific demining challenges faced by the people of Ukraine. We are asking for guidance on how we might be able to provide support. I cannot tell the noble Lord any more than that at this point, but I can tell him that this is an issue we take extremely seriously, and we will do what we can.
The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, made a really important point about elections. All I can really say, without wishing to diminish the importance of his question, is that right now it is understandable that for President Zelensky, stopping this conflict must be the overriding priority above all else. The noble Viscount talked about a lack of Russian expertise within the Foreign Office. I am afraid that I do not know the figures, but I will use his comment as an excuse to heap some praise on Melinda Simmons and her team, who are based there in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and are doing an amazing job. The noble Viscount is nodding, as I expected he would. They are in a very difficult position and are doing this country proud.
Putin’s acts of aggression confirm the trends and threats we set out in the integrated review. This includes challenging international rules and norms; forming geopolitical blocs that cut across our security, economic and democratic institutions; deliberately targeting vulnerabilities within democratic systems; and using a growing range of instruments to undermine and coerce others. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Collins, pointed out, the integrated review did identify Russia as the most acute threat to security in the Euro-Atlantic area, and it set out our commitment to deterring and defending against that threat. This includes action through NATO, combining military, diplomatic and intelligence assets in support of collective security. We also undertook to support others in eastern Europe and beyond, including in Ukraine, where we pledged to build the capacity of its armed forces. Like my noble friend Lady Meyer, the noble Lord, Lord West, and others, I do not agree with the assertions made by some noble Lords that the war in Ukraine is in any way at odds with the conclusions we drew in the integrated review—on the contrary.
Turning to the invasion and our response, the Foreign Secretary set out three key strands to our approach. The first is military strength, and, in the words of President Zelensky:
“Freedom must be better armed than tyranny.”
Ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid, we are working to strengthen the alliance and to arm and support Ukraine. Inaction would be the greatest provocation to Russia; in our view, this is a time for courage, not caution. We are also ensuring that the western Balkans, and countries like Moldova and Georgia, have the resilience and capabilities they need to maintain their sovereignty and freedom.
The second strand of our response is to use all the economic levers we have—trade, sanctions, investment and development policy—in a much more assertive way. This is how we will take on ruthless aggressors like Putin who use patronage, investment and debt as a means to control and coerce.
The third strand—which I point out in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—is forging deeper global alliances against those who seek to harm us. Partnerships like NATO, the G7 and the Commonwealth are absolutely vital, and increasingly so. We will continue strengthening our bonds around the world, including the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, the Five Eyes partnership and our AUKUS partnership with the US and Australia. Of course, Europe remains at the heart of these global alliances, and we share the same interests and hold the same values as our neighbours across the continent. We recognise the important role played by the EU in the peace and prosperity across Europe, and we will find new ways of working with the EU on shared challenges. We will co-operate with the EU on matters of security and defence as independent partners, as a number of noble Lords have emphasised. We often hear about post-Brexit isolation but that is the not view shared by people outside this country, not least in relation to Ukraine but on other issues. The UK is now unambiguously seen, including by our friends in the European Union, as a world leader on climate and the environment. These are also top priorities in the integrated review, as emphasised again in the international development strategy.
We share an unwavering commitment to European security. We have been working closely with countries across Europe, including those most exposed to Russian aggression on NATO’s eastern flank. I will use this opportunity to respond to points made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Liddle, Lord Collins and Lord Hannay, who I felt were ever so slightly dismissive of the Indo-Pacific tilt. I do not have time to go into detail and perhaps we will have another debate on this issue soon, but I would suggest that they and others will not be so dismissive of that tilt in the years to come, given everything we know about geopolitics in the region.
We are doubling the number of UK troops in Estonia as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence. In Poland we have deployed around 800 service personnel in response to the Ukraine crisis. This rapid response underlines the UK’s resolute commitment to NATO, which, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has said, is needed now more than ever. More widely, the UK has contributed to every NATO mission through the provision of forces, headquarters, capabilities and funding. We were also the first ally to offer offensive cyber capabilities to NATO. The UK consistently meets the 2% commitment to defence funding and we encourage allies to meet and, where possible, exceed that target to ensure that NATO is ready for future threats; where they do, we celebrate and acknowledge it.
I will respond briefly to the noble Lords, Lord West, Lord Dannatt and Lord Collins, who raised the issue of investment in our own capability. They make a good point and I do not think anyone is going to argue with them on the need for greater investment. We are increasing defence spending by over £24 billion over the next four years—the biggest investment in the UK Armed Forces since the end of the Cold War. As part of military support that has been provided to Ukraine, the Prime Minister announced on 3 May £300 million specifically for electronic warfare equipment, including GPS jamming and a counter-battery radar system.
More broadly, we continue actively to make the case for democracy in Europe. Last month, the Foreign Secretary attended the annual Council of Europe Foreign Ministers meeting. She praised the council’s decision to expel Russia but appealed for it to be more pro-active in tackling authoritarian regimes, countering disinformation and promoting democracy. We have also been developing new agreements with key European partners, and that includes the joint declaration on foreign and security policy with Germany, and similar new foreign policy co-operation agreements with the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Norway. This all goes hand in hand with our close co-operation with the EU. We stand shoulder to shoulder, resolute in our determination to face up to Russian aggression. The Foreign Secretary’s attendance at the EU Foreign Affairs Council in March, alongside the US and Canada, illustrates that.
In response to a question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, I can tell her that our co-ordination on sanctions is having an impact. I mentioned earlier the effects of those sanctions on Putin’s war machine, but we have acted in concert with the EU against Russia and Belarus, hitting those who are supporting that war machine and Putin’s aggression. Since the outset of our independent sanctions policy, we have worked closely with the EU, regularly consulting with its institutions and member states. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, we continue to look for ways to work with partners to hold Russia to account. With the EU and the US, we recently announced the creation of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group. This will help to co-ordinate our efforts on the ground to ensure that those responsible for committing violent atrocities in Ukraine are held to account.
Beyond Ukraine, we are supporting efforts to build resilience across the European neighbourhood. As part of the Quint and together with the EU, we are working with western Balkan countries to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and to tackle crime and corruption. We are also working with the G7 to build the region’s energy, security and resilience. In answer to a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, where we can encourage the EU to complement NATO, as opposed to compete with it, we absolutely should. In the interests of our future and our security, we must remain open to all suggestions and all initiatives, wherever they arise from, including within the European Union. I am going to write to the noble Lord, as he requested, because I only have two minutes left, with examples of UK co-operation with the EU defence programmes—those we have signed up to and those we have not. I will not be able to answer that now, I am afraid; he will understand why.
In conclusion, allow me briefly to reflect on and strongly welcome the unity shown across the House, and indeed across the Commons, since Russia invaded Ukraine more than three months ago. We have been united in condemning Putin’s brazen aggression and the despicable war crimes that Russian forces have committed. This debate, too, has shown that we are fundamentally united across the House on the need for the UK to work together with our partners to support Ukraine and protect European security. Her Majesty’s Government remain resolutely committed to doing that, and I would like to end by thanking once again the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for tabling this debate and all noble Lords for their contributions.
My Lords, it was a privilege to introduce this debate and it has been a great pleasure to listen to the many and varied contributions we have had, even from very distinct perspectives such as those of my noble friend Lord Berkeley on the railways and my noble friend Lord Harris on national resilience. I was particularly interested in and am always eager to listen to the very thoughtful contributions from noble and gallant Lords. One of the biggest influences on me when I worked in No. 10 Downing Street was Charles Guthrie, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, from whom I learned an enormous amount and whom I was very privileged to know.
I will make just two big points. First, I am not trying to reopen the Brexit debate; I am talking about co-operation with the European Union. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said that the Government were open to new initiatives. That is good. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is absolutely right that the way NATO was created was first, fundamentally, from a bilateral security treaty between Britain and France—that is what Bevin started with, and then he extended it to Benelux—and then NATO came in. European security must have a European dimension to it. No one picked up on my point about the risks of how the politics of the United States might change to Europe’s disadvantage in the coming years. That is a very serious problem. So I am not trying to reopen an old debate, I am just trying to emphasise that Europe must be a vital part of NATO, and I am very strongly pro-NATO.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, gave a very comprehensive reply, but I asked him three questions which he did not really answer. The first was whether the Government would reconsider the integrated review. I rather gathered from what he said that they do not think that is necessary—that the integrated review can stand, despite the change in circumstances. I would be very grateful if he could confirm that in a letter to me.
I also raised a point about the funding of defence equipment, given what we have done for Ukraine—are we taking a hit on that in our own defence capacities or is the Treasury willing to open up the coffers to ensure that our defence is not weakened further? I would like a response on that if possible.
Thirdly, our longest and oldest ally is France. Therefore, when President Macron makes interesting suggestions about how European defence and co-operation should develop, it is the duty of the British Government to take him seriously and offer their own response to the points he is making. I wonder what that is and I would be very grateful in future if the Minister would tell me—and I beg to move.
Northern Ireland Protocol: First Treasury Counsel
Commons Urgent Question
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office to an Urgent Question in another place on the Northern Ireland protocol. The Statement is as follows:
“As the Foreign Secretary set out to the House on 17 May, to respond to the very grave and serious situation in Northern Ireland, the Government intend to bring forward legislation to fix the Northern Ireland protocol. As she also set out, the Government’s view is that such a course would be lawful in international law. In line with long-standing convention, we do not set out details of the internal deliberations regarding that view. But we will be setting out further detail about the Government’s legal position in due course.”
My Lords, this is a hugely important issue and I have to say it requires calm diplomacy rather than a rerun of the internal markets Bill debacle. Noble Lords will be aware of the reports that Sir James Eadie was specifically asked not to give a legal opinion on the compatibility with international law of the Government’s proposals, but instead to assume there is a respectable legal basis. I say to the noble Lord: does he understand the concern that Ministers opt not to ask the questions that they think they will not like the answer to?
I think we all understand and appreciate the Government’s long-standing position that internal legal advice is not published, but will the Minister give his personal assurance that Members of this House will have access to all the information that is needed whenever this Bill is brought forward? And can I ask that the Government urgently consider reviving the reading rooms process that was established during the Brexit process.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for stating at the outset that she is aware of the terms of the convention. We do not discuss legal advice, but we have set out clearly the Government’s view that this would be lawful in international law. To go further I fear would risk trenching upon that convention. In relation to the specific question about the reading room, I shall consult with colleagues to see whether or not that position will be returned to in relation to this Bill.
My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord had been in the previous debate, he would have heard of the serious concerns about our reputation around the world on this issue. He is also aware that his predecessor, in his letter of resignation, said that he was unable to reconcile his role as a law officer with the Prime Minister’s policy objectives. He said:
“I have endeavoured to identify a respectable argument”
on the basis of international law. We do not want “respectable arguments”; we want our reputation to be held in the world and we want law to be honoured. On the basis of the noble and learned Lord giving factual information about which he can say, have any MPs been given a draft text of the Bill to be consulted on?
My Lords, the Minister has stated the convention about not providing the advice the Government receives on legal matters. That is interesting, but it happens to be exactly contrary to what was said. Perhaps if he looks at Hansard he will see that, when this matter was debated shortly before the Recess, the Government spokesman said quite categorically that the Government would be bringing forward a separate document setting out the basis for the legal case. He has just contradicted that.
I have a second question. Could the Minister, perhaps just now, cite word by word any part of the Northern Ireland protocol that authorises either party to it, the European Union or the United Kingdom, to unilaterally depart from its terms. Could he please cite that?
My Lords, one of the themes of the debate we have just had was that if we are to be looked upon as a moral leader in the world, it is completely wrong to abrogate treaties that we have signed, particularly when the same Government who signed, negotiated and commended the treaty to both Houses then wish to abrogate it. Is my noble and learned friend aware that there is deep disquiet among many Conservatives in both Houses at what is being proposed?
My Lords, there is deep disquiet in Northern Ireland about undermining the very institutions of the Good Friday agreement. I come from a different position from that of the DUP, but I have to say that a majority of people in the Northern Ireland Assembly want the protocol to remain, with mitigations. What exact consultations took place between the Prime Minister and the First Treasury Counsel in relation to this new legislation, which is considered a breach of international law?
My Lords, first, the Government’s intention is to protect the operation of the protocol. As the noble Baroness is aware, the Northern Ireland Executive has not been re-formed. It will not be re-formed in the face of such disquiet as currently exists. The Government intend that the protocol should be protected by the measures that they will bring forward, and they will bring forward simultaneously a statement of their legal position.
My Lords, I was present on the occasion to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred, and I expressed an interest in the opinion apparently provided by the Attorney-General to the Government. We were assured that that opinion, or something similar, would be made available. If the noble and learned Lord checks Hansard, he will find that to be the case. But we should not really be surprised, because this is a Government of recidivists. They are very happy to offer the alternative of breaching the law. Indeed, they set out to do so in the internal markets Bill but had to retreat with their tail between their legs. The noble and learned Lord, like me, was reared in the Scottish legal tradition. He will remember his Roman law: pacta sunt servanda—promises ought to be kept. Why are the Government departing from this fundamental principle?
My Lords, pacts are indeed there to be kept: pacta sunt servanda. The Government are not departing from a legal principle; they are acting in good faith to preserve the protocol for the benefit of all communities within Northern Ireland.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that senior representatives of Sinn Féin were recently in this building, setting out their vision? At the very least, they put a case that I felt the Government should respond to—will the Minister care to do so now?
First, will the Minister consult the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, on his opinion of the legality of what the Government are now proposing? I really recommend that he does so. Secondly, does the Minister not see that there is a clear distinction between changing the protocol under its terms and Britain legislating independently to breach an international treaty?
My Lords, I sympathise with my noble and learned friend the Minister, but I echo the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Cormack and will ask a brief question. When the Prime Minister insisted that there would not need to be any checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain on goods entering Northern Ireland, where did he expect those checks to take place?
My Lords, the Minister referred to the absence of the Executive. It was expected that the publication of the Bill would be an incentive to create the Executive, but I understand it is being reported that the DUP has said that the publication of the Bill will not make any difference; it wants to see it implemented. How many steps have to be taken?
My Lords, we are in contact with all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland, trying to move forward the position whereby the institutions of devolved government can be restored and the process of normalising relations between communities and between the United Kingdom and its international partners can proceed.
Travel Disruption at UK Airports and Ferry Ports
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, clearly, this is a topical issue that is causing much concern to many people. I am sure that all noble Lords will have read reports in the press, heard interviews on the radio and seen scenes of chaos at airports on the television. For example, yesterday’s Daily Mail reported:
“No end in sight to holiday nightmare. Airlines ‘resign themselves to summer of chaos’ and Heathrow boss warns of 18 MONTHS”—
“of misery as passengers face more mayhem today with huge queues and bag collection in ‘disarray’”.
Today’s Daily Mail reported:
“The airline chaos causing travel misery for Britons plumbed new depths today as a video showed baggage falling off an overloaded conveyor belt and left strewn across the floor in Manchester Airport’s arrivals hall.”
However, we must remember that this is about individuals and families, not generalities. We should not lose sight of how this has impacted on people who were just hoping for a holiday. Tuesday’s Mirror quoted Ali Haynes, who arrived at Luton Airport with her partner and five month-old baby three hours before their easyJet flight to Palermo was due to depart, only to learn that the plane had been grounded. She said:
“We’re now stuck in Luton departures with no information on what next. Holiday ruined.”
The Financial Times reported on Michael Norman, who tried to fly back to Manchester from Faro, Portugal, on Sunday. He said that easyJet did not tell passengers that their flight was cancelled until they were at the departure gate. He said:
“We have no idea, it is as if they abandon you … they should not be flying people out on holiday if they cannot fly you back”.
The Daily Mail again:
“Furious mother posts picture of her exhausted six-year-old daughter while stuck in Cyprus after Tui cancelled family’s flights TWICE”—
again, its emphasis—
“as experts warn travel chaos is set to get even worse.”
Now, there are many horrendous things going on in this world. For example, there is the suffering of people in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas and, at home, there is the increase in poverty with families being forced to choose between food and heating. However, I make no apology for raising the issue with the Minister. In the context of what everyone has gone through during the Covid pandemic, we can all sympathise with those who are thwarted in their simple and understandable wish to take a break, typically somewhere warmer and sunnier than they might expect at home. While most of the coverage has focused on those on holiday, it is entirely possible that there has also been an adverse effect on business travellers, who increasingly use budget airlines.
In raising the question I am not really interested in conducting a post-mortem on who has been to blame for this situation. I am not even that interested in hearing about what action the Government have already taken to address the problems. What I would like to hear from the Minister is some empathy with travellers and an indication of what further action the Government might take to help alleviate the distress that is still arising daily—particularly when we are told by none other than John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport, that, as things stand,
“it will take 12 to 18 months for the aviation sector to fully recover capacity”.
Is there really no end in sight? With my flights booked for later in the summer, I really should declare an interest.
We therefore need to be clear about the Government’s analysis of the reasons for the problems that travellers face, and then what more should be done about them. I think it is reasonably clear that an inadequate response to the recovery of foreign holidays is at the heart of the problems. We know about the impact of the pandemic on the global aviation industry. The Government did the right thing in supporting aviation, but it was not enough: tens of thousands of jobs were cut. In the first lockdown in particular, the industry made significant cutbacks in its workforce. The problem then was the uncertainty about any recovery in travel; no one knew how long the pandemic would last or how it would turn out, so it was unclear until relatively recently when things would get better for the travel industry.
It has been suggested that the airlines should have predicted that there would be surge in demand when the world opened up again. But there were various false starts, and it is not surprising that the industry acted, as it has turned out, with caution. Now, however, it is clear that, with vaccination, fewer border restrictions and no sign of a more dangerous variant, things are returning to something like normal. Flights are returning to levels not seen since 2019 and, as a result, the understaffed airlines and airports are struggling to cope with the increased demand.
It appears that the biggest problem is the recruitment that is needed to fill the gaps in staffing required to meet current demands. Airlines and airports need countless different jobs to operate, from security guards to cabin crew, but there are widespread staff shortages across much of the economy following the pandemic. Many people who previously worked in the industry have also found better jobs elsewhere, without the pressure of shift work and relatively poor pay. It has also to be said that there is no doubt whatever that the problem in recruitment in the UK has been exacerbated by Brexit. I am not trying to reopen the issue of Brexit, at least in the context of this debate, but as a result, there are simply fewer people available to work in the industry. To the extent that it is possible for EU citizens to work here, the terms of employment that they now face because of the additional restrictions make the work far less attractive.
I hope that the Minister will not strain our credulity by claiming, like one of her colleagues, that Brexit has improved the staffing situation. I hope that she will admit the problems and, accepting that Brexit is done, look at what scope there is within the agreements that have been reached to adjust the rules on employment to alleviate the staffing problems. We know that there are also problems with the rate at which new employees can be recruited. Some of the jobs are sensitive, requiring lengthy background checks and training.
My question today is: what more will the Government do to alleviate this situation, or are they effectively saying that everything that could be done has been done and that it is really up to the airports, the airlines, the ferry ports and the ferry companies to solve the problem?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for initiating this important debate. I speak from the experience of working to support the chaplaincy of Gatwick Airport—I was glad to hear the Minister speak so positively of her experience of coming through it recently. However, like so many other parts of the aviation industry, the airport was dealt a harsh blow by the Covid pandemic. Many staff who were foreign nationals, though receiving furlough payments, went back to their home countries and have not returned to work in the UK. This affected the security department, hospitality industry and the hotels especially, and it has had a devastating effect on the economic life of the town of Crawley, which was already in receipt of investment from the towns fund as part of the Government’s levelling-up programme.
It has been hard to replace this pool of experienced workers, nor has it been easy to recruit new staff locally, especially for specialist jobs that require a significant period of training to meet a necessarily high standard of security. The Government have provided some assistance by amending airport security regulations, but there is a plea from Gatwick that Ministers do more to ensure that there is sufficient resource to process security and ID checks as well as manage the border and process passport applications.
I understand from my colleagues at Gatwick Airport that the salaries it offers in recruiting new staff are comparable to those in other airports and in other sectors, comparing well with salaries for posts of similar responsibility in the NHS, education and the service sector. We found that the package at Gatwick is sufficiently attractive to draw new staff from the police force and from British rail management, so also depleting staffing in those important services.
New staff, especially younger recruits, are experiencing verbally threatening behaviour in their working lives which they have not experienced before and find very disturbing. This rarely seems to be addressed in their training, with the result that many people just do not turn up for their shifts or have even resigned, thus creating more staff shortages at short notice on terminal concourses.
This is an indication of a serious shortage of able people from whom to recruit in order to sustain a service industry that cannot offer working from home, which has become the norm since the pandemic. Those working in the transport and hospitality aspects of tourism continue to look to government for investment in recruitment, training, maintenance of quality and delivery of service.
In this context, I urge serious consideration for the role of chaplaincy in an airport, which is comparable with a hospital, prison or school, where those served are not simply the users but the staff, who face significant challenges. Airport chaplains minister to distressed travellers as much as they contribute to sustaining the morale, professional aspirations and quality of life of staff in such places, in order to deliver the best possible service. Salaries for chaplains represent good value for money and should be required for best practice on the part of any company running one of our airports.
The successful presentation of the UK to foreign travellers is formed by first impressions. Emerging from a well-run airport at Gatwick, they will find that Network Rail has done good work on improvements to Gatwick rail station, but the quality of trains on offer is then poor. Apart from two Gatwick Express services an hour, the other trains have no provision for luggage and are often already crowded and very uncomfortable. The mix of suburban and international travellers is not a good start to a happy visit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount. I support my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton and congratulate him on securing today’s debate and the expert way in which he introduced it and laid out the context for what I hope will be its main purpose: finding out the Government’s view of what is going on and what, if anything, they are trying to do about it. It is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I have learned a bit about chaplaincy services and, as someone who goes on some on the trains to which he has just referred, I know exactly what he means about the mix of commuter traffic and people who are visiting this country, sometimes for the first time.
Today’s debate is very timely. It is not very popular with the Government Benches so far as I can see, but I understand that it is still very timely because we all know that it has been triggered by what we saw happening over Easter and over the recent Whitsun half-term; and, in the summer that lies ahead, these problems are likely to cause even more chaos. I do not know if the Minister happened to see the news last night; I should think that from time to time she does. At the moment, there is no end of scenes of luggage and queues, and more news about flights being cancelled. In fact, it is not difficult to film huge queues at airports these days, and we have also seen photos of air crews helping to get luggage off planes because there were not enough baggage handlers.
My own experience, for what it is worth, has not been as bad as that. However, on a recent flight back to the UK, the plane landed on time but there was then an inordinate delay while finding enough ground crew staff to find it a berth and take the luggage off. Maybe that has happened to other noble Lords. As for the queues that can arise at passport control, as happened at Heathrow on 24 May, I have known the sheer frustration at seeing large numbers of automatic entry gates seemingly shut because of a lack of staff. I thought that the whole point of these e-gates was to make returning to the UK streamlined and quick for British citizens. No wonder we are told that some airlines are now taking action to cancel even more flights because they know that in the current circumstances there simply are not enough staff to cope with the work.
There is no doubt about the significant disruption. I will cite a couple of examples which the House may well know about. First, on 28 May, easyJet announced that it would cancel more than 200 flights. The airline said that about 24 flights from Gatwick would be cancelled each day between 28 May and last Monday. Secondly, British Airways cancelled 120 short-haul flights to and from Heathrow Airport on 3 June, although it did say that the cancellations were pre-planned and that passengers had been given advance notice. Thirdly, TUI announced that nearly 400 flights would be cancelled from 31 May until the end of June.
Then there is the issue of delays. For people at Manchester Airport on 29 May, it was not good enough for the airport to apologise for the delays at check-in and baggage reclaim and say only that the reason was that there were issues facing several airlines. Of course, very few of the thousands of people who have been adversely affected in recent weeks—and who will be in the months to come—will be watching today’s debate. However, if any of them are, I hope that they will see that Parliament is an important forum for their complaints to be heard and answered.
Mind you, am I the only person to look at what is happening—to see the airport queues and the cancelled flights and the delays that people face at airports and to learn that it is taking far longer than it should for people to have their passport applications processed, and to be told that the Government cannot process in good time the numbers of security applications now being made for airline and airport staff—and then discover that the Government have now announced that they want to reduce the size of the Civil Service?
It feels as though these are the ingredients of what we might otherwise call a failing state. People are entitled to ask who is to blame for all this. Like my noble friend, I am not here to indulge in a blame game because I hope there will be a educative purpose to this debate—to identify who might be to blame for what—in the hope that we can put things right. I often feel that in a debate such as this the Minister’s speech should come first, to enable us to contribute our views in the light of the Government’s arguments. However, it is up to my noble friend Lord Davies to do that in his winding-up remarks.
What has been going wrong? Is it that too many people want to travel? As my noble friend said, after the Covid restrictions of the past two years, it is hardly helpful to blame people for wanting to travel again. Is it because the airlines have acted recklessly? I hope the Minister will tell the House whether she agrees with the Secretary of State, who has apparently said that airlines and operators had
“seriously oversold flights and holidays”.
Is it, as the airlines claim, because it is taking too much time to get security clearances for the staff they now need? Here it seems that the Government have a case to answer. The director-general of IATA recently said that security clearances which used to take three or four weeks are now taking as long as three months. Can the Minister tell the House whether this is true and, if it is, what the Government are doing to fix it? Has it in some way all been affected by the war in Ukraine because Civil Service resources have understandably been diverted from regular Home Office tasks to deal with the urgent need to process visa and asylum applications? Or is it for some other range of reasons? Some people have suggested IT glitches, supply chain issues and even runway maintenance problems.
Whatever the explanation, it all amounts to something of a perfect storm with fuel and energy prices and the cost of living rising, which we are about to address in the next debate, and rail strikes looming, and those planned might not be the only ones. Air travel problems are an ongoing problem and the Government at least owe the country an explanation for what is happening and what they think is going wrong. I hope the Minister can tell us what it is, together with any government plan to remedy the situation because action is needed. I much look forward to her reply.
My Lords, I apologise to the House at large and to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for speaking before time. I fully concur with him that it would be helpful if Ministers were minded to speak first and then we could all join in accordingly thereafter.
The seeming unpreparedness, the random cancellations and the lack of information to passengers is galling, with airlines caught on the hop. For all the justifiable criticism, however, a thought should go out to the poor souls on the ground who are having to field an impossible situation. The whys and wherefores are, in reality, academic. What is required now is to identify what measures are to be implemented to alleviate the situation. Many have been put forward already. I have six, some of which are somewhat duplicates.
First, more resources to vet new staff for security clearance are essential, as the current two weeks to two months is a bottleneck. Many give up and go elsewhere. Secondly, an immediate increase in staff at check-in procedures is fundamental. Thirdly, we need more trained air crew and ground staff to be able to cope with absences. As an interim measure, airlines should organise crews from elsewhere. On Tuesday, a crew was parachuted in from Latvia for my flight back to the UK.
Fourthly, airlines have depleted cash reserves, with many having borrowed heavily to survive the pandemic. Would something akin to the furlough scheme to help airlines recruit and retain their reserve staff be a solution? Fifthly—I was surprised at this—liquids do need to be removed from bags at security checks, but do computers really need to be? Portugal, for example, has removed the need.
Sixthly, the policy of airlines knowingly overbooking flights should end forthwith, a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. With the current situation, any seat capacity should be required for those affected by flight cancellations and the like.
On the wider front, if the Minister is minded to reply to this while she is her feet, what is the current situation regarding the registration of outgoing passengers by Border Force, so that we can keep better control of who is actually leaving the country as opposed to having a record of those entering it? Since time immemorial, we have been informed that the process is being sorted. What is the latest on that, if the Minister is minded to respond? If not, I look forward in due course to a letter.
I was saying that I greatly look forward to the Minister’s reply to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I hope that what I am going to say now will not be taken as any criticism of her; she defends her department’s brief in this House with style and stamina.
However, I have to ask: where is the Secretary of State for Transport? He is Macavity, the mystery cat: when things go wrong, he is never there. We have gridlock at Dover, chaos at the airports; queues at the pumps; a tube strike and a looming train strike, and it seems that none of this has anything to do with the Government and there is nothing they can do to put it right. The Government’s job is to govern. When problems like these arise, it is time for Mr Shapps to step forward.
I heard a rumour that he is moonlighting—that he has something else. Perhaps he is running for the leadership of his party, or maybe he is doing as he did when he first came into Parliament: running, under a pseudonym, a private business offering to make one very rich in return for sending him a small cheque. Whatever he is doing, he should stop it and revert to the job of the department and try to put right the problems so clearly set out by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I greatly look forward to the Minister reassuring me that that is indeed what will happen.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for introducing this important debate. These are complex issues that have harmed the tourism-related sector in general and have done further harm to our international reputation as an efficient and competent country. This sits alongside our sorry status as the slowest-growing major world economy—with the single exception of Russia—and adds to our problems as the G7 country with the highest inflation rate. I would not go quite so far as talking about a failing country, but it is a serious situation.
The border situation has caused stress and had a financial impact on many families trying to travel abroad, many of them for their first foreign holiday for years. In relation to ferry ports, it has caused even further harm to traders trying to export goods to the EU in particular because of the costs associated with long delays to get through customs.
We as a country are not alone in having problems with processing airport passengers, but we are suffering a more widespread problem for several reasons. We have firmer borders than most EU countries, which benefit from freer-flowing traffic due to Schengen. Some other Governments have taken a more organised and timely set of measures to support passengers and traders as traffic flows expand following Covid. And of course, uniquely, we have Brexit. The Minister will not mention it, so I will: prior to Brexit, 40% of ground handlers were from EU, and they are proving impossible to replace.
I am certainly not going to stand here and say that all of the blame attaches to the Government. Some airlines in particular have a poor record on cancellations; for instance, the last-minute cancellations by Wizz Air are totally unacceptable. These companies were cushioned during Covid by significant amounts of customer cash that was frozen in the form of vouchers. People are now using these, and any well-run company would have predicted that they would use them as soon as possible. BA has also cancelled a lot of flights, but it has done so with a much longer lead-in time. It is facing recruitment problems, which is not a surprise because it took the opportunity of the pandemic to reduce terms and conditions for flight crew—so BA no longer has the recruitment advantage that it once had.
Aviation is a complex industry; the services provided involve airport facilities from runways to shopping as well as airlines, ground handling, baggage handling, passport control, security and air traffic control. These are run by a range of separate commercial companies and by the Government, but the passenger sees them as all part of a single integrated experience. Throughout the pandemic, the Government showed themselves willing to intervene to support other industries, such as the railways. But government support has been much weaker for aviation, and airports in particular. Since last summer, the sector as a whole has been warning the Government that it could not just restart but instead needed a long lead-in time. The Government’s stop-start approach to foreign travel, although understandable, made that more difficult.
The Government cite £8 billion-worth of support for the industry, but, if you look at this in detail, the overwhelming majority of it is commercial loans and export guarantees. Unlike airlines, airports could not totally shut down; for safety reasons, runways have to stay open and life-saving flights have to continue. Overall, airports lost £10 billion during the pandemic, and they now need government investment in their future.
This debate is an excellent opportunity to ask the Minister some questions. During the pandemic, there were long queues for passport control and inadequate numbers of Border Force staff. Border Force currently says that it has training for new staff in hand, ready for the summer season. Can the Minister tell us about these expansion plans, particularly because there will be additional demands on personnel at our ports, as new and more complex checks will be introduced later in the year?
Lying behind all of these stories of ruined holidays are those stuck at home because they cannot get their passports renewed. Can the Minister update us on how the Government plan to rapidly improve this service? Are they able to speed up security checks for staff at airports?
Some new freedoms come with Brexit. One specific one is the possibility of VAT-free shopping at airports. This would help them to recover, but the Government have failed to introduce it, and UK airports are now at a disadvantage in comparison with some EU countries. Do the Government intend to tackle this anomaly? What are they doing to improve consumer rights?
Some airports have been much more heavily affected by airline cancellations, over which they have no control, of course. Does the Minister agree that there is a need for a much more strategic government approach, working closely with the industries concerned, to provide steady long-term support to rebuild these sectors?
I was appalled to hear the Secretary of State hectoring the travel sector, full of blame for a complex industry that has faced a disastrous on-off situation. That attitude damages our country. International travel and trade are our window to the world. If we cannot manage to operate them effectively, it does fundamental damage to our reputation. This complex sector needs the Government to rise above the blame game.
My Lords, as experts warn that disruption is likely to persist through the summer months, the Government must take responsibility and act to ease the chronic disruption at ports and airports. This week alone thousands of flights have been cancelled and hauliers have had to wait at Dover as a result of lengthy queues.
The travel chaos is now damaging the UK’s supply chain and world-class businesses, as well as ruining holidays. Sadly, this disruption was not inevitable. Ministers should have prepared months ago, working with the industry representatives to put together a co-ordinated plan. It is now eight months since the Government appointed a logistics task force to manage the supply chain crisis causing chaos at Dover, but Ministers have since admitted that this task force was abolished the day after, when the reshuffle took place.
The defining feature of good government is an ability to spot crises ahead and then co-ordinate properly to avoid them, but this is exactly what Ministers have been unable to do. I am reminded of the millennium bug ahead of the year 2000, which many now erroneously think was a myth. As the head of a large, complex organisation at the time, I found the Government’s intervention tiresome, but, as our understanding of the problem grew, we were grateful for the early intervention. The truth is that the millennium bug did indeed pose a real danger to the UK economy and infrastructure. It was only through proper management that the danger did not materialise.
The Government have failed to avoid this crisis, and now Ministers need to show some responsibility and take concrete steps to tackle the chaos growing on their watch. First, we need co-ordination, and that means convening emergency talks with the major ferry operators and Eurotunnel Freight to boost capacity on routes over the channel. Parallel talks are needed with the airline industry to try to solve the crisis, or at least manage the shortages in an orderly way. As part of this, the Government must bring together industry, airports, unions and Governments to tackle the chronic low pay hampering recruitment and address the skills shortage leaving the aviation industry thousands of staff short for this summer. In the past, there was loyalty in the civil aviation industry. That has been eroded by employers’ efforts to reduce costs by making workers poorer. Not surprisingly, people made redundant in the pandemic have better jobs, with more sympathetic employers, that they are unwilling to leave.
Secondly, Ministers need to form a supply-chain council of key industry groups, ports, unions and Government, so their voice is heard loud and clear in the planning, preparation and delivery of measures to tackle the disruption. This council can then be used as a springboard to cut the red tape choking British business, with veterinary agreements to reduce checks and forms for fresh food and goods, contributing to the lengthy waits at ports.
Finally, we also need real leadership to tackle the Cabinet Office backlog in security checks for airport staff, to allow employees to be safely recruited ahead of the busy summer period. In addition to this, the Government must also look to the future and improve conditions for hauliers around Dover, with proper facilities for drivers to wait in comfort along the first phase of the route. If Ministers had properly planned, prepared and co-ordinated, this crisis could have been avoided. Sadly, they have not, and we are therefore dealing with the consequences.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to discuss the important issues that noble Lords have raised today, and particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for securing this debate. I shall try to focus on what the Government are doing currently and will do in the future. I agree that it is not about blame, but it is the case that this is a private sector, operated by quite talented and well-paid people, and they need to take some of the responsibility for making sure that communication happens in what is a complex sector, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—it is not just one sector; there are all sorts of different elements within it. The Government clearly have a role to play in that, which I shall come on to fairly shortly.
It is great to see people returning to international travel—it is really good. When I was stuck in a queue in Gatwick about 10 days ago, I actually really enjoyed it. People were in particularly good humour; we all got on our flights eventually and it was fine. People were actually very happy to be going away again. It is such a positive thing to see people traveling again. But very short-notice cancellations of long-awaited trips are absolutely devastating for those families and individuals. Clearly, we have to resolve various elements of what is going on at the moment.
I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, quoted numerous times from that standard of journalism, the Daily Mail, which was surprising to me. Nevertheless, one takes one’s stories from where one can—particularly when the support a particular argument. However, things are not as bad as they are portrayed in the Daily Mail—not by a long shot. The CAA has indicated that, over the jubilee weekend, the percentage of departing flights that were cancelled was 3%. So it is not, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, a crisis. There are issues that we must resolve—I absolutely accept that—with the Government working with industry, and I shall speak as I can.
I am trying to take a more measured tone about this, because we must also recognise that this is happening in all sorts of places across Europe. Noble Lords will have seen what has happened in Dublin and Schiphol. KLM has announced a suspension of ticket sales. In the United States, they had to cancel 4,000 flights at the end of May because of staff shortages and bad weather. This is not unique to the UK. It also means that there are not endless amounts of aviation personnel all over the world waiting to flood into our country. Therefore, even if providing additional visas was an option, which it is not, I am not entirely sure that there are staff who are willing to jump on board in the short term.
The issue of overbooking flights is a very important one. The Government are very clear that we want to see the industry being able to operate the schedule that it has committed to. Cancelling flights a couple of weeks before departure, as happened to me, although it was fine, or on the day of departure, is really not acceptable. We really want the industry to get together, plan properly and make sure that it can deliver what it has promised to deliver—then we will not have the stories in the Daily Mail, because people will be able to get on their planes. So we are working very closely with the CAA to make sure that the industry gets that message—and that, if it has to cancel a flight, which occasionally happens, it gives as much notice as possible. We are also very focused on refunds and compensation, because it is absolutely right that passengers get that.
I want quickly to turn to security alleviations, about which there has been a number of reports in the media. The Government are always very mindful that security must be our top priority; however, we have been able to put some alleviations in place. We have laid a statutory instrument before Parliament which will agree temporary changes to permit certain training to be undertaken while the background checks are still being completed. This is very helpful in shortening the period between the date of recruitment and the date of deployment.
We have already boosted the resourcing of security checks, and I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that there is no backlog of security checks within government. We have also agreed that HMRC employment history letters can be temporarily used as a form of reference check. Again, this helps contract the time between recruitment of staff and deployment. We have agreed to a series of alleviations to aviation security regulations, but noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot go into the detail of what those moderate alleviations are.
I am afraid that suggestions that the police, the military et cetera could be brought in to do baggage handling—I know that some airline CEOs have suggested that—are also wide of the mark. Frankly, although people in the military are highly skilled, they are not highly skilled at dealing with baggage. It is a job that requires training and confidence, so it is not a route we will be going down.
We have engaged significantly with the industry throughout the pandemic, obviously, but particularly on this issue. The Secretary of State and the Aviation Minister had an industry round table on 1 June. Minister Courts, and Minister Hinds from the Home Office, also had an industry round table on 12 May. We are establishing a strategic risk group, chaired by the Aviation Minister, which will bring together all the different elements outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. We feel there has not been enough conversation and interaction between the airlines, airports, ground handlers and security people, all of which need to come together. We need to identify the risks—I would hope the industry has already done so—but we also need to identify some of the solutions the industry can put in place, as well as more things the Government can do, because if there are more things we can do, we would be happy to do them. Obviously, we have already done many things.
We have also recognised for some time that we need to focus on aviation skills. We published the Flightpath to the Future strategy very recently, and back in February last year we launched the Aviation Skills Retention Platform, because we recognised, as did the right revered Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, the importance of staff to the sector. There is also this thing about the people who work in it: they quite like it and they want to go back to it; they feel an affinity with it. Once an aviation person, always an aviation person. So, we are trying to make sure that we keep people, at least to a certain extent, so that they have visibility of what is going on in the sector, even if they have chosen not to work in it for a certain period of time but may yet come back to it.
Consumer rights is also top of mind at the moment because, obviously, we see the distressing stories and we want to make sure that consumers are getting the compensation they need. They need the information and the guidance, and they need to know exactly what their rights are and how to go about exercising them. The Flightpath to the Future strategy has put consumers first, and it recognises the importance of government and the aviation sector working together to rebuild consumer confidence. This will lead on various consumer rights elements, and, of course, noble Lords will have recognised that we published a consultation earlier this year on ways to boost air passenger rights. We have received a large number of responses to that, and we will be publishing a response in due course.
Turning to Border Force, the right revered Prelate referred to the important work of those at the border and spoke eloquently about the role of chaplains at airports. When I was Aviation Minister three years ago, I too was struck by the work they do. Border Force has been through a period of extensive planning and resource management to make sure it is as prepared as possible for the peak demand period. We are content that we will be able to cope with the various peaks. Sometimes there will be delays, but it is not going to be massively disruptive. The e-gates have been upgraded over recent months to support the flow of passengers. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke about additional checks coming in from Europe. If they do come in—again, there is some doubt about that—they will be for PAF to undertake, not Border Force.
There were a couple of questions about the Passport Office and getting passports. I am afraid that is not within my brief today, so I will write on that matter.
I turn briefly, because I have a couple of minutes left, to Dover. Again, there is a lot in the press. I am responsible for roads in Dover and Kent and when I was away for the Recess, I would get sitreps probably two or three times a day on what was going on at Dover. They bore no relation to what was in the media. There was no gridlock at Dover, or lengthy queues. There were some delays, but nothing greater than one would have seen pre-pandemic on a busy summer day. Sometimes, people queue a bit for freight: it does not mean they sit in queues for eight hours. The queues still move; people just have to wait a little while. The reason we do that is to allow passenger traffic to move through more quickly. We did not see delays of more than an hour or two for passengers to check in; again, that would have happened pre-pandemic and in many circumstances, in Eurotunnel and at the port of Dover. TAP is currently not operating and we are about to remove Brock, which we do not now need; we will assess it later, towards the summer. Again, I am as relaxed as a Transport Minister ever gets about the situation in Kent. There is no shortage of capacity across the short straits; P&O Ferries is back sailing now, so capacity is not a problem. We had a minor problem with the PAF booths on Sunday 29 May, I believe—a few people did not turn up for work, but eventually the French sent some more, so that was all fine.
In general, we are not complacent but we have very good plans in place. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether we have plans and systems in place. Absolutely. I am all over it; I am on top of it. The Kent Resilience Forum has very good local plans and it reports back to the Minister. The noble Lord also asked whether we have a council. We do. A freight council was established last year; it meets quarterly and talks about supply chains and their integration with the transport system. The future of freight strategy will be launched very shortly.
I believe I have run out of time now, but I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions and I will write on any matters I was not able sufficiently to cover.
Cost of Living
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, consider this family holiday in Britain today. Setting off for their luxury staycation in their brand new electric BMW, our family spends wearisome hours sitting in noxious traffic jams. They pass through pretty towns rendered ugly by dilapidated high streets and persistent potholes. At lunchtime, they enjoy an exquisite picnic hamper, complete with champagne, sat beside a handsome river—polluted with raw sewage. Unfortunately, their teenage son sustains a nasty cut from some broken glass and they spend hours that evening waiting in a crowded, understaffed A&E rather than enjoying their 5-star hotel. The car is vandalised overnight.
Noble Lords familiar with John Kenneth Galbraith’s book The Affluent Society will recognise that I have borrowed from his famous description of the coexistence of private affluence and public squalor. Galbraith also wrote:
“There is no blight on contemporary life so great as the enduring poverty in our great cities and of the still unseen poor in the rural regions.”
We are all aware that the British economy performed poorly after 2010, with the decade resulting in the lowest per capita growth rate since the war, and the second lowest rate of productivity growth in the G7. Then came the triumvirate of shocks of the past five years. Brexit, according to the OBR, has reduced long-run GDP by 4% per year—for ever. In the pandemic, the UK suffered the highest number of deaths and the poorest economic performance in Europe. Now we have the cost of living shock, derived from the toxic combination of Brexit, the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UK has the highest rate of inflation in the G7. In these rankings, Britain fares worst—every time. The Minister may argue, quite rightly, that the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are global crises. However, she must explain why the UK is now battling it out with Russia for the title of the worst-performing economy of the G20. Why is Britain proving to be so lacking in resilience, compared with everyone else?
The Government must face up to the fact that the greatest damage to the UK economy—the damage that eroded our capability to stand up to these shocks and undermined national resilience—was inflicted by the austerity policies of the Conservative-led Administration since 2010. These are the very policies, by the way, that Mr Sunak declares are his desire to reinstate in his quest for a small state. This Conservative conventional wisdom attributes the national lack of resilience to limitations imposed on the so-called wealth-producing part of the economy—the private sector. We are told that it is the private sector that generates the wealth that provides the resources for the public sector; the dominant flow of wealth creation is one-way. It is the Chancellor’s oft-repeated belief that a successful private sector needs a low-tax, deregulated economy—just as he raises taxes, by the way.
In the wake of the Prime Minister’s recent humiliation, Cabinet Ministers have rushed to display their Conservative credentials by urging tax cuts. When the Minister sums up, will she tell us how tax cuts are to be paid for? This conventional wisdom is seriously flawed. For example, it is simply not the case that cutting corporation taxes increases investment; investment depends predominantly on the confident expectation of positive returns, not on marginal tax rates. More seriously, the conventional wisdom neglects the vital role of social capital in the determination of economic performance—flawed analysis has generated flawed policies.
The term “social capital” refers to our investment in society: education, health, the legal system, the police, social security and defence. These are all vital components of the glue that binds our country together. It is social capital that provides an indispensable foundation of economic activity. Without investment in social capital, the economy loses resilience. This lack of resilience has resulted in the low-growth, high-inflation and high-taxation Britain of today. Yet social capital was the target of Conservative austerity: from 2010 to 2019, real-terms public service spending was cut by 20%. Britain was ill prepared for the shocks to come, and this is the road to Mr Sunak’s small state.
Let us consider this: how resilient could the NHS be in the face of Covid, and what were the consequences for the economy? From 2010 to 2019, government health spending grew at an average real-terms rate of 1.6% per year—lower than in any previous decade in NHS history. The NHS entered the pandemic with 40,000 nursing vacancies in England, and fewer doctors, hospital beds and CT scanners per person than in many similar countries. It was underequipped and understaffed. No wonder the Government called on the nation to “protect the NHS”.
Let us consider this relevant example: the 2012 Health and Social Care Act abolished local area health bodies. Community control teams and consultants in communicable disease control were cut. We ended up with nine regional hubs serving 343 English local authority areas. This was a recipe for disaster—or, more accurately, a recipe for the waste of billions of pounds on a failed test and trace system that might have worked if there had been sufficient local directors of public health, local field epidemiologists and local environmental health officers to make it work. Yet these were the very people who had been swept away by Conservative austerity.
What of the impact on the economy? As we know, there are currently major labour shortages in many sectors. Around 1.1 million workers are missing from the labour force. Of these, around 500,000 are due to the long-term impact of Covid. If these half a million workers were still in the labour force, then, according to OBR estimates, the GDP would be more than £8 billion greater. The less resilience shown by the NHS in the face of the Covid shock, the worse the short- and medium- term impact on the economy.
Another target of Tory austerity was education. School spending per pupil in England fell by an average of 9% in real terms between 2009 and 2019, with, most disgracefully, the most deprived fifth of secondary schools experiencing the worst fall of all: 14%. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, this squeeze on educational resources is
“without precedent in post-war UK history.”
The result? England is today one of only a few OECD countries where the young have worse literacy and numeracy skills than 55 to 65 year-olds. Perhaps the Government were trying to balance things up, as they also cut spending on adult education by 49%. Is it any wonder there is a skills shortage? Cutting spending on education was a sure way to reduce productivity growth, making the economy less resilient in the face of the triumvirate of shocks.
The damage done by Conservative policies towards health and education has been amplified by the persistent increase in inequality. The Office for National Statistics has shown that growing inequality has been predominantly the result not of market forces but of government cuts in social security. Here is the bitter irony: there is clear evidence that the main mechanism through which inequality affects growth is by undermining education opportunities for children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, lowering social mobility and hampering skills development. It is not an issue just for those in dire poverty. The impact of inequality on growth stems from the gap between the bottom 40% and the rest of society, not just the poorest 10%. When combined with deteriorating healthcare and underfunded education, growing inequality has helped diminish resilience yet further, limiting our ability to respond to shocks and endangering our economic future.
Recognising the crucial role of social capital suggests that improved economic resilience and growth require not Mr Sunak’s longed for small state but the reversal of the Tories’ destructive policies—not just the current desperate short-term approach of throwing money at problems but an unrelenting commitment to rebuild social capital, plus an ambitious plan for sustained investment at higher levels than in the past.
But there is a problem. It is far easier to destroy social capital than to build it. It is as if you do not bother to service your car for years until it suffers a catastrophic breakdown. The cost of repair is then far greater than the earlier “savings”—or, to take an analogy beloved of Conservative commentators, you do not “fix the roof”. It will cost more to restore our social capital than the spurious “efficiency savings” of Tory Chancellors. Fixing the roof will require well-crafted, long-term policies—policies notably absent from the record of this Conservative Government.
However, recent government decisions do embody an approach that may be part of a political solution to the long-term challenge. The social care levy, due to take over from the increase in national insurance contributions, was, when introduced, characterised by the Government as a hypothecated levy, with the funds from the levy committed to social care and the health service.
The impact of this approach was somewhat undermined by the recent increase in the NICs threshold, which automatically cut the levy funding available for social care. But, none the less, an interesting point was made. All research suggests that people are more willing to fund social capital if they can see where their money goes and if it goes to create opportunities, expertise, production and jobs in Britain.
A long-term plan for the reconstruction of social capital that includes a regular audit linking payment of taxes or levies to expenditure in specific, if broadly defined, areas is what Britain needs. It would also allow a far better-informed public debate about the scale and content of public expenditure. The Government would and should be accountable to the people for their use of taxpayers’ money.
Of course, the Treasury hates hypothecation because it limits its discretion. However, careful examination of the Treasury’s record over the past dozen years suggests that limiting Treasury discretion would be no bad thing, as it has a clear propensity to cut long-term investment programmes in the face of short-term pressures. That is not a good way to build a resilient economy.
Building resilience will also require a complete rethink of the relationship between investment in social capital and industrial policy, recognising their mutual dependence. A lesson from the pandemic was that global supply chains are not just risky but downright dangerous. We must underpin the growth of social capital with production at home, repatriating our supply chains wherever we can. Investment in social capital must help build safe supply chains in Britain.
Fixing the roof will require both well-crafted long-term policies and a covenant with the British people. This covenant will provide the framework for a commitment to better-informed debate around the scale, contents and outcomes of public expenditure—a debate that will embody accountability. Secure social capital provides the bedrock on which the private sector thrives. It is an indispensable component of the resilient economy that the people of Britain deserve: no longer insecure private affluence and public squalor, but secure private affluence and public excellence.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for securing this debate. I will concentrate not on the whole panorama of government policy in its economic and political context, which he has done wonderfully, but on the number one issue of the day and the first part of his three-part Motion: the cost of living and inflation. I will make three points.
The first is about the seriousness of this situation. The inflation we have was totally unexpected. As we know, many—in fact, most—families are struggling at present with the cost of living, and low-income families are moving into destitution. The two consolations I have are that, first, whenever I turn on the radio at breakfast, one always hears of certain charities and community organisations helping people in need and, secondly, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now introduced two amendments to policies to help alleviate this situation. However, I have one concern: people are in such a situation that they are being forced into debt, with credit card loans and “Buy now, pay later” apps, and even into payday loans.
Some years ago, I chaired a commission for the then shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin on the problems of low-income families getting into debt and what could be done about them. It was a very salutary commission to chair. The results of a Citizens Advice survey reckon that over 40% of people are borrowing simply to meet repayment. Can the Minister say what the Treasury is doing to make sure that the companies that can lend money in this way are acting responsibly in the loans they are providing?
My second point is that social capital is, in my judgment, absolutely crucial. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that it is important in terms of public investment, but “social capital” as an expression was invented by James Coleman who was—to the best of my memory—a sociologist. Social capital is important in any society because it is really the foundation of our culture. It is the glue that binds us together as a society and it depends, more than anything else, on trust and trustworthy institutions.
It is precisely trust and trustworthy institutions which inflation undermines. Inflation creates a culture of suspicion, distrust, blame and, ultimately, social conflict. A novel in 1977—when inflation was high—said that:
“All over the country, people blamed other people for all the things that were going wrong – the trades unions, the present government, the miners, the car workers, the seamen, the Arabs, the Irish … idle good-for-nothing offspring, comprehensive education.”
That was a novel by Margaret Drabble, not the words of Margaret Thatcher. Our social capital is already being undermined by social media and inflation is simply adding to this. We have a blame culture: the local corner shop jacking up prices, Putin, the embargo on gas, China, a zero-Covid policy, supply shortages, companies with monopoly power, increasing prices, the rail unions, the Bank of England, the governor, the Monetary Policy Committee, shrinkflation from people reducing the amount of contents in a bag. And there are questions like why is Waitrose increasing prices more than Aldi or Lidl, or why are the prices at the petrol stations—BP and Shell—not coming down?
Inflation at present is really undermining the social glue that holds our society together. What therefore can be done about it? I think there are three things. First, getting inflation down should be the policy priority. Supporting the Bank of England in raising interest rates is painful but is, I believe, absolutely necessary. One would like to see the Bank increase rates in a way that there can be no recession, but I doubt if that is likely. However, we need to get inflation out of the system before we can have the kind of prosperity that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell has demanded. Secondly, the Treasury must pursue fiscal prudence, not increasing spending by creating money. Thirdly, as this is done, the Government have a major responsibility to look after those people—the poorest in our society—who are bearing the brunt of what is happening at present.
I thank my noble friend Lord Eatwell for his incisive analysis, and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, whom I hold in enormous respect. CPI inflation at 9% is, in reality, 11% for households on low incomes who have to spend a higher proportion of their resources on energy and food. Inflation for them may hit 14% by the autumn. Families on exiguous wages and capped social benefits are in deep difficulty.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, spoke rightly about how inflation is corrosive of trust. I suggest that the erosion of social capital—in the sense of strong social relationships and trust, which are a precondition of a strong economy—has been due above all to what proved to be excessive reliance since the 1980s on free market policies. Markets, for all their wealth-creating dynamic, are solvents of institutions, traditions and social bonds. The twin cults of individualism and competition have set all against all. As rewards to asset holders have exceeded the rewards to labour, there have been huge accumulations of private wealth, and inequality has reverted to the levels of a century ago. The wages of the disadvantaged and undefended in the labour market have stagnated and their lives have become more precarious. Young people see the system as stacked in favour of older generations. Toxic pathologies have been induced by such inequality. The effusion of national solidarity at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee expressed a longing for a more solid sense of mutuality than is experienced in day-to-day life in Britain. Without it, our economy has been debilitated and lacks resilience.
Faced with a series of exogenous crises, the Government have made large-scale fiscal interventions. We are not in a good place. In 2021, the public sector net debt to GDP ratio was over 100%. We have exhausted the scope for quantitative easing that allowed government after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow freely without affecting interest rates. Interest rates have already risen painfully, while the pound has weakened. The prospect for government outlays in interest payments, and for departmental spending limits, is grim. The Chancellor’s tax increases have hit the limit of what his party will tolerate. The labour market is tight. The outlook for growth, particularly in Britain, is darkening. Interest rates in the UK will rise yet further to douse inflation. The Bank risks precipitating recession, compounding social misery and choking off tax revenues.
Even if recession is averted, how can tax revenues be sustained, let alone increased, to enable us to address the fiscal implications of an ageing population and to fund decent services for all? A strong economy requires us to tackle our deficits in education, housing and the social determinants of health. Failure to invest in a timely transition to net-zero carbon and a green economy which generates plentiful good jobs would be catastrophic.
The Mirrlees review in 2009 exposed a tax system riddled with disincentives, incoherence, inefficiencies and poor targeting. This rickety system does not yield enough. One major source of revenue, fuel duty, is bound to fall. The Chancellor is considering how the tax regime can remedy the failure of UK businesses to invest. He should also be looking at the relative taxation of capital and labour, the taxation of land and property and the taxation of carbon. The system needs reform to channel entrepreneurial energy away from rent seeking into investment in productivity.
Productivity, which is key to non-inflationary growth and higher living standards, has hardly improved since 2010. To achieve competitive productivity requires not only tax reform but improved infrastructure, regulation, skills and access to capital. Regional differences in productivity are exceptionally large in the UK. I believe that this is significantly due to the concentration of decision-making, both in government and in business, in London. With the emasculation of local government since the 1970s, power and wealth have been concentrated in London and the south-east. George Osborne’s austerity axe fell excessively on local authorities in deprived areas, weakening their economies further. The Government’s levelling-up strategy has so far been wasteful of resources and does not offer adequate powers to the city regions and local government. We need more globally competitive cities.
My noble friend thinks our troubles are due in considerable measure to Brexit. Some price has to be paid, of course, for leaving the EU single market, but Brexit should not be made a scapegoat for deep-seated and persistent weaknesses in our economy. That said, the Government’s handling of the Northern Ireland protocol and their ill-judged trade diplomacy with the EU are damaging our performance and threatening our prospects.
A responsible Government would work to develop a shared view of the needs of the economy across the whole United Kingdom. Leaving our fortunes to the market, deregulation and cheap, casualised labour, with an implausible aspiration to get back to a balanced budget and low taxes, would be an abdication of responsibility.
My Lords, I too want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for his excellent introduction to the debate. I was not going to say much about social capital. Like others, I was brought up on Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone and reading his excellent work. I notice that the noble Lord’s analysis was very much on the economic aspect. From my perspective of having responsibility for over 400 churches across two counties, the voluntary aspect is also an important part of that work.
One of the things that I have observed over the last 40 years is that the decline in social capital is due to a whole lot of reasons, which we really ought to debate in this House, including things such as the Government’s attempts to professionalise volunteers. It has become increasingly difficult to find people to help. As an organisation that is running numerous food banks, debt advice centres, lunch clubs and breakfast clubs for children who are not going to get breakfast before school, we are very eager to be part of this, but it has got more difficult for us to deliver it. I must not stay on that too long, or I will be over my time.
The challenges we are facing are stark, starting with the massive increases in fuel and basic food costs. A Food Standards Agency survey has found that one in five people has recently either skipped or reduced the size of meals to reduce their costs. Our evidence coming in week by week at the food banks is that demand has grown massively. Nobody is engineering that; we are just getting the reports in week by week.
We do indeed need a strategy for the short and the long term. I think it is very good that the cost of living payment is going to be a welcome step to easing the pressure on those on the lowest incomes. I hope Her Majesty’s Government will look at other ways of giving immediate short-term benefits. Without that, there will be the most extraordinary crisis within a very short time.
Having said that, I want to concentrate on one other aspect of the long-term response. The cost of fuel has gone up at a time when there is a desperate need to reduce our carbon emissions. It is worrying to hear that some of the very carbon-productive forms of energy are likely to be extended when we are in a crisis. We need to think about whether some of this can come together in some new ways of thinking. Fortunately, we are not in the difficult position that, for example, Germany and some other neighbouring countries are in who are profoundly reliant on gas from Russia. Nevertheless, we are affected by markets across the world, and the war in Ukraine has revealed how vulnerable we are to fluctuations in gas and oil prices. If we had made much more progress in the past in renewables, we would not be in such a weak position today.
The grants provided by boiler upgrade schemes, which I think were referred to in Questions earlier today, will undoubtedly help in this regard, although it is going to be decades before we make sizeable inroads into that. However, at a time when families are struggling, it is questionable whether they are going to have the capital that they will need to make up the shortfall for that scheme. To make a success of the scheme, we will need further loans which will help people access that market.
Likewise, the urgent need to encourage the private adoption of solar photovoltaic panels to allow households and commercial buildings to generate their own energy will play a modest part in averting the economy’s vulnerability to fluctuations in fuel prices. There is a glaring incentive problem whereby it takes far too long for the average house or business to recoup their capital costs if they install these renewable forms of energy.
If the Government are to make the economy more resilient to better absorb future energy shocks, addressing this incentive problem will be crucial. There are various ways to address it. Of course, in the most extraordinary way, these huge hikes in the cost of fuel are in fact shortening the period over which you can then recoup the costs and begin to benefit from the installation of solar panels.
Another way to tackle this is to introduce legislation so that companies providing electricity are required to pay a much more realistic price for the surplus electricity that households sell back from their solar panels. Under the old feed-in tariff scheme, householders were receiving much more money back from their providers than they do now for their surplus energy. They now receive about one-10th of what they were receiving, depending on which provider you use. Therefore, electricity companies are making a much greater profit out of buying separate energy and selling it at a huge cost back to others. What consideration have Her Majesty’s Government given to imposing a minimum price to increase the income that householders receive back from that spare electricity, thereby incentivising people to bring in these forms of renewables much more quickly?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Eatwell for a brilliant speech. I also read his blog, which he issues every week. We go back a long way. We were friends before Labour came to power. He was one of the major architects of building the Institute for Public Policy Research, which was such an important body in giving influence to economic policies within the then Labour Government of 1997, and which of course produced so many Cabinet members as well.
As we come out of Covid and with all the additional problems now facing us, this may be an opportunity—I am primarily addressing my own party—for us to sit back and take a longer look, in a way that we have not done for quite some time, in determining what the party’s economic policy should be. I do not think I will persuade the Government to change their position much. I do not feel that the Government have learned a great deal from Covid, and there are some important lessons there which need debating—fundamental issues which have not been addressed, way beyond simply the health service.
Many people worked at home and had a different lifestyle for two years. We ought to spend a bit of time talking to people about that lifestyle change that they have gone through. Many of them do not want to go back to the work they had before, because it was poor quality and poorly paid, and they found that they were happier at home. A million people have disappeared out of the economy, and we need to get those people back in one way or another.
There is a way of getting them back in. Instead of constantly saying, “Get back to work! Get back to the office!”, is it not time that we started examining whether in fact people could work from home on a far greater scale than they have done in the past? People found they were happier, healthier, less stressed, and they were saving money on not travelling and on the very high costs of childcare that many face. These are all savings that could be made for people who are in financial difficulties if they are allowed and encouraged to work from home.
I address that appeal primarily to the Labour Party as it works out its future policy. I believe that the party that says that it is looking for a fundamental change away from people working in offices in great groups to operating in their homes, within their local communities and developing them, will have a very good policy indeed that will be very attractive to many people around the country.
Secondly, linked to that, we need an overall review of where we are going with benefit support. Just as Labour went for a minimum wage in the 1990s, so we now need to move forward and look for a minimum salary for all, whether you are working at home or not, so that you can be at home with that minimum wage, you can look after your family, your children and the people around you, and you can work from home. This is an entirely new style of life which was pointed to us in Covid. It gave us the outlines of it. It behoves us now to spend more time looking at it and to see what kind of longer-term economic policy and social structure we can develop that will be more in accord with a happier nation than we have at the moment.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to thank my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I have known him for a very long time, and it is a great pleasure to be able to hear his erudition and the concern that he has always had. It was also a great pleasure to listen to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. I commiserate with the Minister, because she has only one good Tory friend on the Back Benches taking part in this debate, but I am sure that she will bounce back and give the answer that she has prepared.
I want to concentrate my six minutes on something that I think is worth remembering. We have been through this before. In the 1970s, when the oil price quadrupled, we had a supply shock in the energy sector like we are having now. At that time, a lot of things changed in our lives. First, we had stagflation for a very long time, with very high unemployment. That was when the consensus on a one-nation politics changed. The Butskellism collapsed, and we very soon had Thatcherism.
One thing I will say in defence of Thatcherism is that it was not all about cutting taxes. People have very short memories. They do not remember that the 1970s were very hard on the economy. When Mrs Thatcher got into power in 1979, the first thing that Geoffrey Howe did was to double VAT rates from 8% to 15%, if I remember correctly; it was not 16%, because they did not want to have vindicated the allegation that Labour had made that they would double VAT. They did not quite double it; it went from 8% to 15%. Then we spent all the North Sea oil revenue and all the proceeds from selling public industries on financing unemployment benefits. The tax cuts came only at the end of the 1980s. Mrs Thatcher waited quite a while before she knew that tax cuts were affordable. Right now, they are not affordable—let me say that here and now. People have already said that we need much more money for health and social care; we need much more money to restore a lot of social capital. It would be an incredible folly for the Government to listen to their Back-Benchers who are clamouring for tax cuts. What tax cuts always mean are tax cuts for the rich; they are never for the poor. The poor have wage cuts; the rich have tax cuts—that is the way this kind of policy works.
I like the suggestion made by my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke—and the Greens have recommended it too—of a basic income. I have written about it over many years. A basic income is a citizen’s entitlement of income. I know that people think it is very expensive and so on, but, right now, perhaps up to 30% or 40% of families are suffering from severe hyperinflation. I have never seen things so bad in terms of people having to go to food banks and things like that. They are unable to heat their houses; their children cannot get hot meals unless they go to school.
The Government ought to treat this set of circumstances as a serious emergency. Stagflation will last about five to 10 years. It will not go away. This is not a temporary problem. Serious creative thinking is needed, just as the Government did during the pandemic, to say, “How can we, first, relieve the bottom 40%?” The key to that is not just universal credit. That does not cover everyone in that bottom 40%. How do we protect that bottom 40%?
A basic income would be the right idea. I can tell the Government more about basic income, as I have written quite a lot about it. People often say, “Oh, if you pay people to do nothing they will never work.” That is not true. Women work without pay a lot of the time to sustain the social capital. Do not worry about people not working. Try to construct a basic income platform as soon as possible. If the Government do this, rather than thinking of tax cuts, we may yet get through this stagflation with less damage than we have done so far.
My Lords, I find this debate more intimidating than any other in which I have taken part, because I am surrounded by eminent professors. I recently threw away my undergraduate economics essays. It was a bit of a shock to see what appalling marks I received. Therefore, I suggest that these remarks are tentative, in case they receive another poor mark.
Tentatively, I make a simple point. I characterise inflation as a class issue, which has a corrosive effect on social capital. The first-order effect of inflation is to redistribute income and capital. There are second-order effects, which the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, set out so clearly for us, but the key effect of inflation is to redistribute, and, of course, it redistributes from the poor to the rich. Over the years some of us have done well out of inflation. I include myself in that group. It is a lot more complicated than this, but to express it at its simplest, lower-income groups depend more on essentials, which are more affected by inflation, so they suffer the most. There has been discussion about this in the press but the evidence is clear that the things that are going up in price affect low-income individuals and families most.
This is impacting on low-income workers, who have suffered a standstill, if not a fallback, in their incomes over the last 10 years. This is not following a period of growth. It is the culmination of a period in which people in the groups that I am talking about have not seen their income increase. Real wages are currently falling more quickly than in any modern times.
It is ridiculous in these circumstances to argue, as central bankers and others have done, that we are verging into a wage-price spiral. The big difference between now and the 1970s, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is that trade unions are much weaker now than they were in the 1970s. This has a big impact on the ability of working people to defend their living standards.
We are suffering not from wages being too high, but from them being too low. The problems we face, the causes of inflation, will not be addressed by holding back wages and resisting wage demands. That is the instinctive reaction of a Conservative Government, but what working people need now is pay increases. That will reduce the inequitable impact of inflation and as a result reduce its impact on social capital. Wage increases are part of the solution, not the problem.
My Lords, I have a confession: I do not know the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, at all—I deeply regret that, obviously—but I thoroughly enjoyed his panoramic exposition of the Government’s failings. It occurred to me that we could carry on listening to them all day, and there would be a lot of fun in it for me, except that some of it is incredibly painful. For example, the damage that this Government have done to schools, social housing and the NHS really hurts me because those things had an enormous impact on me, growing up.
My father and my mother told me horror stories of the poverty they both grew up in. My father was born in 1905 in south Wales. He was fatherless at the age of eight because of the Senghenydd mining disaster. He walked all the way to London with one of his brothers to find a job. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, they told stories about living in a council house with an indoor loo, a bath and a larder that they could keep their food cool in. They could also go to hospital if they hurt themselves and I, and my older brother, were able to go to school to learn and then to go on to university. These things that the Government have damaged really make me angry.
What we hear again and again from this Government is that they put forward their ideas, some of them—I do not want to say “mad” because that almost diminishes it—stupid, incomprehensible and incoherent; for example, sending migrants to Rwanda or bringing back imperial measures, which we have never lost anyway. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, mentioned sewage discharges. We in this House amended a Bill so that not only would sewage discharges be illegal but companies would be forced to stop them. The Government took that out. They voted for illegal sewage discharges which damage our ocean. The economic cost of that is huge in terms of human and ecosystem health.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for mentioning basic income. I will be giving him an application for Green Party membership. It is an idea that has worked in other countries. It is not a particularly communistic idea; it is actually an incredibly sensible idea. However, the Government do not like sensible ideas. They have had all these ideas, and they say, “Nobody else has come up with an idea so these are the best we have.” I am going to give them three ideas. They are really simple, very basic and can be implemented moderately quickly, especially the first one.
The first is community energy projects. They are very fast to set up, they save people money and they can happen anywhere, from tiny, remote villages to urban neighbourhoods. They can involve anything from installing a wind turbine or solar-voltaic insulation and promoting energy efficiency. They save a lot of money and they can be done. The Government should do them quickly. They should make these things easy.
Secondly, all new housing developments should be set up as community energy schemes. Why are we not doing that? It is a simple measure and can be done; people are doing it all over the place. It would add about £9,000 to the price of homes but pay back within three or four years. That is good economics, and I urge it on the Government. Combine that with community land trusts and we could produce affordable housing that stays cheap to run—and stays affordable because it is owned by that community.
I mentioned earlier the damage that this Government have done to social housing. Right to buy was the most incredibly mad—I am using “mad” again, sorry; it was a very bad idea. I say that even though I live in a flat that somebody else bought under right to buy and it is great; it is in a 1950s council block, I still have loads of council tenants as my neighbours and it is a wonderful place to live because it is actually built quite well. However, right to buy was a disaster and we have to recognise that. Home ownership is not the be-all and end-all that the Tories seem to think it is.
I have given the Government three ideas. I would like to know why they will not implement them very quickly.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Eatwell for tabling this debate. The major reason for the erosion of our social capital and the undermining of social cohesion is the state-sponsored squeeze on household income. In 1976, workers’ share of GDP, in the form of wages and salaries, was 65.1%. The ONS reminds us that just before the pandemic that had declined to 48.7%—a decline unmatched in any other industrialised country. Some 16 million people could now be living in poverty and therefore excluded from social consumption, with dire consequences for building a sustainable economy.
Huge amounts of wealth have been transferred from labour to capital. Indeed, the state itself has been restructured; it has become a guarantor not of the provision of public services but of corporate profits, as evidenced by PFI, privatisations and outsourcing. At the same time there is virtually no concern in state policy about the declining share attributed to labour, so labour’s share of GDP is being eroded. Hopefully, the Minister will tell us how the Government are going to increase labour’s share of GDP. Just this week Sainsbury’s CEO was paid £3.8 million—treble the salary that he collected last year—while workers got only 5.3%. Again, the Government have no policy for reducing income inequalities.
Taxation policy has been grievously misused to impoverish the masses. The poorest 10% of households pay 47.6% of their income in direct and indirect taxes compared with 33.5% for the richest 10%. I hope the Minister will tell us when the Government are going to end such regressive policies.
The Government target the poor for taxes while letting off the rich and big business. HMRC recently admitted that it has no idea how much tax is evaded by wealthy residents holding £850 billion in assets and accounts overseas, including £570 billion in tax havens. The Government are also soft on the tax-avoidance industry. I have asked many times, but the Minister has been unable to name even one big accounting firm that has been investigated, fined or prosecuted for peddling unlawful tax-avoidance schemes—that is the judgment reached by the courts.
We are now in a situation where work is penalised by government tax policy. A worker on gross wages of £30,000 takes home £24,205 after paying income tax and national insurance. In contrast, a speculator with £30,000 of capital gains takes home £28,230 after paying only £1,770 in capital gains tax—no national insurance is payable. There is absolutely no justification for such anti-work and anti-worker policies—yet all of this is central to what the Government do.
Unsurprisingly, work does not pay—41% of claimants of universal credit are in work, and 68% of families living in poverty include at least one working adult. I have received wage slips from people who are holding three jobs simultaneously and still cannot make ends meet. The Government say that the number of jobs has increased. Well, perhaps the Minister would like to meet the people who are holding down three jobs and still cannot make ends meet. No economy can thrive when the income of the masses is squeezed, and the Government need to attend to this.
We have had a decade of low interest rates and low inflation, but this has not stimulated investment in productive assets. The UK invests around 16.9% of its GDP in productive assets, compared with 20.1% in EU countries, and this low investment leads to low productivity. The Government give over 1,100 tax reliefs but have little or no idea of their economic benefits. They have become tools of tax avoidance, with accountants weaving their way through them.
Companies appease capital markets by focusing on the short term. In 1970, major companies paid out £10 of each £100 of profits in dividends; by 2015, that number reached between £60 and £70, and in some companies it is now 80%. How will these companies invest? How will the Government check this short-termism?
In conclusion, the Government need to change their economic policies. Policies that have plunged the country into crisis cannot deliver the solutions.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Eatwell, who made a masterly speech in introducing this debate—to which there has been, if I may put it this way, a rather professorial aspect. I rather share the view of my noble friend Lord Davies that it was a little on the intimidating side—although I should say that I myself have had a lot of storage problems in life, partly because I have not yet thrown away my undergraduate essays. Of course, this is also a timely debate, not least because of yesterday’s OECD report predicting that the UK economy will slow down and that the issues we are facing today will only get worse.
In my brief contribution, I will emphasise a few of the basic facts about the current increases in the cost of living. Yesterday’s news of the biggest rise in the price of petrol in a single day for 17 years provides an ample reminder that the phrase “cost of living crisis” really means something to people. I have found that filling up my car costs more than £100, and I have the receipt to prove it—which makes me feel really old, because I can remember when petrol was two shillings and 11 pence a gallon.
Whatever the nature of the political debate about whether the Government are doing enough to mitigate the effects of these rises, it is important in this debate to get some of the basic facts on the record. Like other Members here, I am indebted to the House of Lords Library for its impartial assessment of the facts, and I hope that it will help the debate if some of these find their way into Hansard.
In late April, the Office for National Statistics published the findings of a survey undertaken in March that found the following. First, nine in 10 adults reported an increase in their cost of living in the previous month, compared with around six in 10 the previous November. Secondly, nearly a quarter of adults reported that it was “very difficult” or “difficult” to pay their usual household bills in the last month, compared with a year ago—an increase of 17% since last November.
Thirdly, around four in 10 of those who paid energy bills reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to afford them. Heaven knows, this is only going to get worse. I add here one extra point: it is scandalous that people on prepayment meters, some of whom are the poorest in our society, continue to face utterly unjustifiable discrimination by being forced to pay more for their energy, at a time when energy costs are rising sharply, and will do so again in the autumn. If the Minister can find time when she replies to address the unfairness of prepayment meters, I would appreciate it.
According to the ONS survey, 30% of adults paying off a mortgage, a loan or rent on shared ownership reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to afford housing costs compared to November. Some 17% of adults reported borrowing more money or using more credit than they did a year ago; and 43% of all adults reported that they would not be able to save any money in the next 12 months—the highest reported figure since the question was first asked in March 2020.
On 23 March—the very day the Chancellor introduced his Spring Statement—the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that real household disposable incomes per person will fall by 2.2% in 2022-23, which would be the largest fall in a single financial year since 1956. This forecast was based on a projection that inflation will reach a high of 8.7% in the fourth quarter of this year, but we all know it is likely to be more.
Other bodies have reported on the current situation. The Institute for Government has reported that rising prices for living essentials have disproportionately affected poorer households, which spend more of their disposable income on food and energy and have less flexibility than richer households to absorb price increases. It is not as though the Government are responsible for every aspect of the rising cost of living. Of course they are not, and I am not suggesting they are. The effect of the Russian war in Ukraine is something no Government could reasonably have been prepared for. Its consequent impact, as we can already see, on grain availability, never mind the price, is a very serious aspect of what we currently face. However, tax and benefit changes and higher interest rates are the responsibility of this Government and they have further affected incomes and the capacity of household budgets to absorb rising living costs. We await to hear what the Minister says regarding current government policy.
There is one issue I want to raise before finishing. The rising cost of food and energy, as I say, disproportionately affects the lower-income members of our society and means their choice about what to eat is being adversely affected. I have heard people talk about being at their wits end when trying to save money. When it comes to the food they buy, to be told that they should “shop around” is an utterly inadequate response to the crisis they face in their daily lives. The use of food banks speaks for itself. People are desperate for help and, unsurprisingly, they are changing their food habits in the light of the rising cost of basic foodstuffs.
We heard earlier this week in this House about the buy-one-get-one-free policy. I have no time to talk about that now, so I will come to my final point. Today’s cost of living crisis will, in time, become a health crisis. We are storing up future health problems as people understandably react to the rising cost of living by changing their healthy eating habits. We all know that you can eat a pack of biscuits and get the calories you need for a day. That is not a healthy meal.
I hope that when the Minister replies, she will acknowledge the risks to the health of people who are being forced to eat increasingly unhealthy meals to save money. I do not want to take part in a future debate on a health crisis in which we look back on what is happening today and wish we had done more to prevent it.
My Lords, when we discuss the cost of living crisis, we often talk in narrow economic terms, but this debate gives us the chance to look at the human impact. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for that opportunity, although I join the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, in being rather intimidated by the intellectual quality of so many of the speeches. I shall do my best.
I am also thankful to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for laying out, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, did too, the background economic crisis in which we currently sit, with inflation at 10%, the highest in the G7; rising interest rates; a further drop in business investment; and the slowest growth in the G20 except for Russia—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out, no growth at all according to the OECD.
I want to pick up first on some of the issues developed by the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths and Lord Howarth, regarding the impact on those who are the most vulnerable in our society—the people on the lowest incomes. The OBR Welfare Trends Report, and the Government’s own work, states:
“The lag in benefit uprating in the context of rapidly rising inflation means that non-pensioner benefit rates are forecast to be 6 to 7 per cent lower in real terms this year than they were in 2019-20. This would be a deeper trough than in the wake of any of the preceding three recessions”.
That gives us some sense of the extraordinary scale of the problem so many people are facing.
Picking up on issues raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, according to the Food Foundation, nearly half the households on universal credit have experienced food insecurity in the past six months. This statistic really left me aghast—that almost one in 20 of all British households say that members of their household have gone a whole day without eating because they could not afford or get access to food. Of course, that feeds into the nutrition problem that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, underscored.
No one has particularly mentioned those with mental health issues. Very sadly, this affects an increasing part of our community, given the impact of Covid. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has taken a deep look at this issue, and its results are shocking. It says that there are deep links between money and mental health and that:
“A greater share of people with mental health problems are in debt, and those debts are harder to manage”.
It also says that:
“The stakes are incredibly high, with strong connections between financial difficulties and suicidal thoughts or attempts”.
I shall pick up on another issue, which feeds a little bit into the discussion of social capital as glue, which the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, expanded on. A quick survey of the impact of extraordinary price rises, especially for the basics such as energy and food, absolutely makes it clear that we are not all in this together. The IFS has made the point that the 1% highest paid workers have been pulling away from the rest of us. This point was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. At a time when most people are finding that wage increases are tiny—and one of those noble Lords made the point that real wages have actually declined—the City is once again an exception, with the FT reporting that bonuses paid to the UK’s bankers, insurance brokers and other financial sector workers have hit a record high and are rising six times faster than average wages in the UK.
I am especially concerned about the impact of all this on young people. As the Resolution Foundation has said, they were the
“hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic”.
Many have bounced back, and the furlough scheme played an important role, but we hear that
“1 in 3 young people who experienced worklessness during lockdown have returned to atypical contracts, which often means insecure work”.
We also hear that
“the number of young people dropping out of education and the labour market altogether has risen—especially young men”.
I do not think that I had recognised that; it is a very high-risk issue. Some 50,000 young men have quit both education and labour. Some of that may be associated with work/life balance. I buy very much into everything the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said about needing to rethink how work is structured. That is part of social capital. But the loss of those people and the impact on social mobility is really important.
Again, let me pick up the Financial Times, because that had active quotes from young people:
“the disparities are just going to grow, the wealthy are going to grow wealthier and those that aren’t will get more and more removed.”
There is a sense of real disenfranchisement among so many of our young people, which I suggest is really dangerous. We risk a real rift between the generations. The disparity in economic security is already compounding an alienation that has risen in response to our slow response to climate change, as people realise they are going to bear the brunt of all this inaction in the future, as well as deep generational divisions, which are inherent in Brexit and which often get glossed over but are really deep and significant, if you look at the surveys of young people and their opinions.
We are also seeing self-employed people hit harder than employed people. According to IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, a quarter of self-employed people only have enough money to cover basic costs for three months if they are unable to work. Combine that with the impact of Brexit on trade, hitting a lot of the supply chains that involve self-employed people, and recent changes to IR35, we have, according to IPSE, seen hundreds of thousands of solo self-employed people leave the industry. Self-employment, since 2010, has been the primary source of new jobs in the UK, particularly in crucial future sectors including IT and the creative sector. If we have this crash in self-employment, the whole economy is seriously put at risk.
Small businesses are also bearing the brunt, and they are genuine engines of the economy in the UK. I quote the British Chambers of Commerce:
“For business, the toxic mix of inflation, raw material costs and supply chain disruption is the flip-side of the coin to the problems facing consumers. Unless steps are also taken to ease business costs, they will likely feed into the inflationary pressure on the economy”.
Last time I was in the debate, I quoted some of the BCC’s reports on the indebtedness that is beginning to drag down one small business after another.
We have been asked to come up with ideas, and I have to say this is an area where I have to do a great deal more work. But I am interested in something that has not been raised at all here, which is the idea of basic minimum services. It strikes me as something really worth exploring, possibly with more potential than universal basic income, because it addresses the problems of the poorest. How much does it cost to have a roof over your head and decent food on your table, to be able to access health and the basics of a lifestyle? That is an area we have to explore.
It also leads me to think we need to rethink the way we structure public finances, because as we change society, we have such a narrow concept of what an investment is rather than day-to-day spending. To me, education is investment, not day-to-day spending, for example. The transition to a green agenda, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans raised, which may often look like day-to-day spending, is again more in the investment category and needs to be treated completely differently in public finances.
I am coming to the end of the time I can spend, but I think there is a great deal of opportunity here to explore some new ideas and recognise we are in a changing era. We have to respond to a world that is fundamentally different from that which existed ten years ago and which, at least in my case, formed the framework for a lot of my thinking. New thinking, I do think, is required.
My Lords, let me begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Eatwell on securing this debate. I am grateful to the other noble Lords who have participated. This discussion comes at an important time. Parties of all stripes talk about building back better after the pandemic. If we are to do that, we must, as the debate title suggests, consider how to boost social capital and make our economy more resilient to future shocks.
Earlier, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made a particularly powerful contribution about the challenges faced by many individuals and communities across our country. The cost of living crisis is at the forefront of our minds at present, and rightly so. Even with the energy measures announced by the Chancellor before Recess, that crisis is going nowhere. Energy and other costs will rise further in the coming months and that may require further interventions from the Treasury.
However, we must acknowledge that as well as putting household budgets under strain, the current economic situation is subjecting people to numerous other pressures: there are concerns that personal finances may be taking a toll on people’s mental health; it may impact on the frequency and quality of interactions with friends, family and neighbours; and it may change how people interact with civic processes and institutions or core public services. Addressing these issues and, in doing so, developing social capital is not straightforward at the best of times. It requires time, political will and appropriate funding. Few in this country would consider these to be the best of times.
It is worth repeating that, despite the Government’s protestations, the current economic context is not solely the result of global trends and the war in Ukraine. As other noble Lords have noted during the debate, the situation has not been helped by the Government’s recent changes to tax and benefits, which have left many low-income people worse off in real terms. Neither has it been helped, as observed by my noble friend in his introductory remarks, by the fundamental weakening of some of our most important institutions and public services since 2010. It may not have been the policy intention, but the austerity agenda caused lasting damage to our National Health Service, to the education system and to communities through cuts to local councils and other services. We cannot have economic resilience in a broad sense if core public services lack it in their own right.
Many noble Lords will have seen recent footage of an A&E nurse at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. She was filmed informing patients that they faced a wait of up to 13 hours, and that there might not even be a bed for them when eventually assessed and admitted. A 13-hour wait in A&E is not the result of a Covid backlog, nor, sadly, is it an isolated incident in 2022 Britain. Rather, it is symptomatic of wider issues with the direction of the health services since 2010, including the watering down of proven targets and a failure to properly address related issues such as social care. The Government argue that they are trying to address those issues through the health and social care levy, but that is taking more out of people’s pockets at the worst possible time.
There have been many other signs of our ever-decreasing economic resilience. While efforts are being made to measure things such as social capital, GDP growth remains the dominant economic indicator. Nobody can dispute that the UK economy has endured a disappointing time since the global financial crisis: we have averaged just 1.8% annual GDP growth since the change of Government in 2010. While other countries’ economies rebound strongly from Covid, our recovery has been inconsistent and stop-start. That cannot be blamed solely on Covid restrictions, as some other countries moved earlier and maintained them for longer. Although it is true that there is a global surge in inflation, the most recent figures suggest the UK is performing worse than any other G7 nation. The end-result of these different factors is that the UK economy now stands on the brink of recession. Indeed, just yesterday the OECD confirmed these fears, warning that growth will grind to a halt next year, with only Russia performing worse than the UK among the G20 nations.
An economic downturn would inflict even more pain on people up and down the country at the worst possible time. Of course, there is no single answer to the challenges we face. However, as I said earlier, change can be achieved given time, political will and funding. In her response, I am sure that the Minister will cite the Government’s levelling-up agenda and their spending on related initiatives. It will take time to measure the impacts of that agenda, but it is hard to have any confidence in it when the earlier White Paper left so many questions unanswered.
Elsewhere, the Chancellor has acknowledged the need to boost productivity, calling for increases to capital investment and a rapid improvement of skills in the workforce. Those ambitions are worthy, but do not seem to be backed up by concrete initiatives to bring them about. While the answer can never be public spending alone, we know that public investment in key sectors of the economy not only produces jobs but also unlocks private sector money. This has been acknowledged by the Treasury itself through its establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank, which aims to achieve crowding in of private funds. There is no magic money tree, but there is room for spending wisely, taxing fairly and getting the economy firing on all cylinders.
The Chancellor recently adopted Labour’s policy of a windfall tax on energy producers, and perhaps he could adopt another. Is now not the time to accelerate investment in insulating homes and taking other steps to fight climate change? The first step would create immediate jobs, while sustained investment in the green transition would facilitate the high-skilled roles of the future. The Government clearly need to take control of the current economic situation. If they were to adopt some of the suggestions outlined today, perhaps the UK could achieve the higher levels of growth, resilience and social capital so desperately desired by my noble friend Lord Eatwell.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for bringing about this important debate. If the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, thinks that it is intimidating to contribute, maybe he has some sympathy for the Minister trying to reply.
It is right to start with the first part of the question put before us: the cost of living challenges that millions of families up and down the country face. They are worried about high inflation, and many are struggling to make their incomes stretch. As the Chancellor previously set out, the Government remain deeply committed to helping with those challenges. We stand behind people, and while we cannot solve all the problems of inflation—especially the complex and global supply chain challenges and other causes of inflation—we will help the British people where we can, just as we did throughout the pandemic. However, alleviating these pressures alone will not be enough. We must continue our work to address the structural challenges that make some of our communities and households more vulnerable to these kinds of shocks. Our levelling-up agenda is precisely about ensuring that more communities are economically and socially resilient to the current and future shocks they may face.
It would be wrong for me to pretend that the cost of living pressures that we are all facing will soon subside. Worldwide shocks continue to be a major force in why we are experiencing such high inflation, as noble Lords have noted. Responsible fiscal policy is also essential for controlling inflation. It must be appropriately utilised to ensure that we meet our fiscal rules and keep public finances sustainable in the long run, while supporting the country in times of need. That is why the Government are providing support for the cost of living, but it is timely and targeted at those with the greatest need. In the announcement made a couple of weeks ago by the Chancellor, the Government said that the majority of households will benefit from at least £550 of support this financial year to help with rising energy prices. In addition to that, the most vulnerable households will receive at least £1,200 of support in total this year to help with the cost of living.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, talked about the uprating of benefits, and the support that we have provided through this scheme will be more generous than if the uprating of benefits were brought forward from its planned date. Alongside the support for energy bills that is being provided now, the Chancellor has made clear that, next year, benefits will be uprated with the September inflation figure, which we expect to be high —and higher than the following April, so we have that commitment to those who are least well-off. My noble friend Lord Griffiths made the point that the long-term solution is to get inflation under control. I may have had only one noble friend on my Benches to support me, but I am glad to say that I agreed with everything he said.
The Government have a three-pronged approach, as expressed by my noble friend. In terms of setting interest rates, there is the independent monetary policy of the Bank of England; it is worth noting that, since the Bank of England got its independence, inflation has averaged 2%. There is also responsible fiscal policy, which involves investment in public services and support for the most vulnerable, but it must be paid for and within our fiscal rules. I thought the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, about the health and social care levy, and the link for the public between the taxes they pay and the services they receive, was an interesting one. The Government do produce a summary for people of where their taxes go.
Several noble Lords talked about fiscal policy and the balance between spending on public services and tax cuts. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, gave us a good history lesson about the Thatcher years and the affordability of tax cuts. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has been absolutely clear that he is a Thatcherite, not a Reaganite, and all tax cuts must be affordable. After the difficult years of the pandemic and the unprecedented support that the Government put in place for people, we had to make some difficult decisions to consolidate our public finances. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, when he says tax cuts are for the rich. One of the first decisions that the Chancellor took last autumn was to cut the universal credit taper rate, which is, in effect, a tax cut for some of the poorest in our society. As the cost of living challenges became more apparent this spring, we increased the national insurance threshold, while keeping the health and social care levy in place. That has allowed us to provide more support for the poorest in our society, while also ensuring that there is funding for our National Health Service, which we heard about a lot in this debate, to improve outcomes for people after the pandemic and to invest in social care, which is a pressing area for reform in this country.
I do not think the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Brooke, or the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will be surprised to hear that the Government do not agree with them on the idea of a universal basic income.
In addition to the two approaches of an independent monetary policy and responsible fiscal policy, there is also supply-side activism. The Government’s energy security strategy will, over the long term, reduce bills by increasing energy supply and improving energy efficiency. We heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans about the current energy crisis as an opportunity to invest in renewables. He will know as well as I do that the UK is the G7 country that has gone furthest and fastest in decarbonisation, but of course we have a lot more to do. He is right that we heard in a Question earlier today about the challenges of decarbonising our homes and buildings, but the Government are committed to tackling this through the heating and building strategy. And it is not all bad news on that front: the most effective part of that scheme was the social building decarbonisation fund, which has the joint benefit of reducing bills for those who may need the most support.
The right reverend Prelate asked a specific question about the feed-in tariff price; if I may, I will write to him on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also gave me several suggestions in this area which I will take back to the Government.
My noble friend Lord Griffiths asked what the Government are doing to ensure responsible lending, as people may turn to credit in these times. The Government legislated to require the FCA to introduce a cap on the cost of payday loans, which came into force in 2015. We are also taking action to regulate “buy now, pay later” providers, although it is important to note that they provide an interest-free service, so it is not considered high-cost lending. None the less, the pace of expansion of those services means that regulation is important. We have also provided record levels of funding to the Money and Pensions Service this year, which includes free debt advice.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, asked about prepayment meters. I was asked about this when we announced our support for the cost of living just before the Recess, and was able to reassure noble Lords that the support for energy bills will go to people on prepayment meters, either through being added directly to those meters if they are smart or through vouchers. However, I have an outstanding letter to write on the higher tariffs that people can face on those meters, and I will ensure that all noble Lords receive a copy of that. He also mentioned the impact of cost of living pressures on nutrition. The Government have extended free school meals and the holiday activity and food programme will be really important in ensuring that children have access to healthy meals not just in term-time but in holidays.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, talked about the pressures of the cost of living on mental health. After the pandemic, the Government instituted the mental health recovery plan, which has seen significant additional investment in mental health services in 2021-22. As part of the long-term plan, we have committed to increasing spending on mental health as a proportion of health service spending each and every year.
In terms of government action on the cost of living, we will continue to tackle the underlying, long-term factors driving cost of living challenges. In addition to these measures, we must also focus on building successful and resilient places. That is at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has given us the opportunity to discuss social capital, and the right reverend Prelate talked about the work of Robert Putnam, whom I was lucky enough to study under. I think we actually need a bit more sociology in our policy-making; fashions for it have come and gone in people’s thinking. I have found that it can be a really useful tool for analysis, but it can be a much more challenging job to turn that into concrete policy solutions. That is something the Government have been trying to do through their levelling-up agenda.
The levelling-up White Paper highlights six capitals, including social capital, which must be strong in order for places to flourish—if one is deficient, it has knock-on impacts on others. The 12 levelling-up missions will support stronger places by 2030, by boosting productivity, jobs and pay, spreading opportunity, improving public services, restoring local pride and empowering local leaders. For example, those places with poor educational outcomes often experience lower pay and productivity, and are some of the areas where people are hit hardest by cost of living pressures. As part of our levelling-up strategy, we have 55 education investment areas across England, in the lowest-performing third of places, to which we will give additional investment.
However, I need to challenge the picture painted in this debate of education in this country. Some 87% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, up from 68% in 2010. On inputs, we are the top spender in the G7 on schools and colleges, but it is also about outputs—from 2011 to 2019, the gap between disadvantaged children and others narrowed at each assessed stage from primary to secondary school. There is a different side of the education picture to the one we have heard today.
My noble friend Lord Griffiths also expressed very well the importance of strong, empowered local institutions. We are extending and deepening devolution in England. Our mission is that every area that wants one will have a devolution deal by 2030, allowing places to take greater control of their own destiny.
As well as robust institutions, strong economies are also built on strong communities, as we have heard. There is a clear correlation between the most deprived places in the UK and those with the lowest scores for social capital, the lowest scores for positive community relationships and infrastructure, and where there are fewer quality places for people to meet. We are trying to help strengthen the heart of communities through investment in pride in place, and funds such as the levelling-up fund, the UK shared prosperity fund and the towns fund will all enable local authorities to invest in local priorities.
We are significantly increasing spending on arts and culture outside of London, investing in sports pitches and tennis courts across the UK, and taking forward a new national youth guarantee to give young people in England greater opportunities for out-of-school activities. Our new approach to regeneration will see towns across England transformed. The community ownership fund, which notably supported fans of Bury FC to assure the future of their club, has recently been expanded to help more communities take ownership of their treasured local assets.
The levelling-up White Paper is very much the start of a process, not the end of it. Levelling up is now the golden thread throughout our domestic policy. Our forthcoming strategy for community spaces and relationships will further set out our approach to strengthening community infrastructure and social capital across the UK.
This has been a wide-ranging and important debate on an issue of crucial social, as well as economic, importance. I would like to thank all noble Lords for their contributions. The Government’s position on this is clear: levelling up the entire nation and supporting households through the cost-of-living challenges up ahead continue to be a key priority. We have taken significant action this year in terms of support for the cost of living, with £37 billion of support announced, targeted at those most in need, and in the longer term, in terms of social capital, through the commitments made in our levelling-up White Paper. There is much more to do, but improving living standards, restoring local pride, spreading opportunity and empowering local leaders across the country are at the heart of this Government’s agenda.
My Lords, I am grateful to all participants in this debate, which has been I think both timely and interesting.
There have been two background themes in what people have had to say. One has been concern about the very bad place that Britain is in now, whether we are referring to inflation, as did the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and my noble friends Lord Davies and Lord Stansgate; whether we are discussing energy issues and how the crisis is perhaps pushing energy and green issues in the wrong direction, as was suggested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe; or whether we are referring to the issue of trust in society, going back to Robert Putnam’s famous Bowling Alone—and the way in which the glue of trust is being eroded by inflation as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, most powerfully argued—about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, was also concerned, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, in particular with her reference to young people, and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. There has also been the overall despair at the rise in poverty in this country at this time, expressed very powerfully again by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, by my noble friends Lord Sikka, Lord Davies and Lord Stansgate, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. This is the sort of desperate concern about the position we are in.
But the other theme has been “Well, what are we going to do about it? How do we rebuild?” Do we learn, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, argued, from when it happened before, with respect to the experience of the 1970s? Are we willing to undertake the sort of radical reconstruction of our economy and our society, of the basic arrangements by which this country operates, to create the resilience so that this does not happen again on the same scale of desperation as we have had now?
My noble friends Lord Howarth, Lord Sikka and Lord Tunnicliffe made reference to issues of taxation, and there has been discussion of basic income as a way of completely reforming the underlying structure of support in society. But looking forward, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, having acknowledged and discussed the extremely difficult position of the economy, society and particularly the poorer members of our community —by which I mean not the bottom 10% but the bottom 40% or 50% of society, a good half, who are suffering—focused very much on the levelling-up White Paper. This was something of a surprise for me, because I was very struck when the levelling-up White Paper was published that the communities to which it referred regarded it as a complete damp squib. It was very striking that this central theme in government policy seemed to be so amorphous or inadequate.
The noble Baroness is right that we need a Government to provide real economic leadership for change and to provide some credible vision for a better future. We have plenty of romantic and colourful visions coming from the Prime Minister—it is just that none of them is credible. We need a real rethink. This could be part of her levelling-up agenda, and that could be turned into credibility, but it has to be part of a wider concern about economic change. We cannot have a situation where we sit back and allow the largest chip-producing company in the world—a British company—to be sold off to a Saudi-funded hedge fund. We cannot any longer tolerate the position in which Britain is just blown around with the storms of international economic markets.
I hope that what we can take from this debate is both the enormous concern around the House—I am leaning very heavily on the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, when I say “around the House”—about the situation in which the people of Britain find themselves, and the equally great concern that we have to change. We have to think about a different way of organising our economic and social structure. I thank everyone who has participated in the debate.
Health and Social Care Leadership Review
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 June.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the independent leadership review of health and social care.
This is an important report that comes at a critical time. This Government are embarking on a huge programme of reform to tackle the Covid backlogs, to improve people’s experience of the NHS and social care, and to place this system on a sustainable footing for the future. But we cannot seize this opportunity and deliver the change that is so urgently needed without the best possible health and care leadership in place, because great leaders create successful teams, and successful teams get better results. So a focus on strong and consistent leadership at all levels, not just on those who have the word ‘leader’ in their job title, will help us in our mission to transform health and care and to level up disparities and patient experiences.
This review, which I have deposited in the Libraries of both Houses, was tasked with proposing how to deliver a radical improvement in health and social care leadership across England. It sets out a once-in-a-generation shake-up of management, leadership and training, as well as how we can make sure that health and care is a welcoming environment for people from all backgrounds, free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.
The review was led by General Sir Gordon Messenger, former Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, and Dame Linda Pollard, the chair of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. I thank them both for taking on this role and providing their varied experience of leadership, along with everyone in their review team who has contributed to this important review.
Before I turn to the recommendations of the review, I shall update the House on its findings. The review found that, although there are many examples of inspirational leadership within health and social care, from ward to board, these qualities are not universal. The report states that
‘there has developed over time an institutional inadequacy in the way that leadership and management is trained, developed and valued.’
As a result, careers in management are not viewed with the same respect and prestige as clinical careers. The review also found
‘too many reports to ignore’
of poor behaviour, and that the acceptance of bad behaviours such as discrimination, bullying and responsibility avoidance has become ‘almost normalised’ in certain parts of the system.
We must accept only the highest standards in health and care, where failures in culture and leadership can make the difference between life and death. So we must do everything in our power to share and promote brilliant, innovative management and to act firmly where standards fall short. This means culture change from the top of the system to the front line. The review identifies a number of areas where improvement is needed, and it makes seven transformative recommendations. I will quickly update the House on each of them in turn.
First, the review recommends new measures to promote collaborative leadership and to set a unified set of values across health and care. This includes a new national entry-level induction for new joiners to health and care, and a new national mid-career programme for managers.
Secondly, the review recommends that we should agree and set uniform standards for equal opportunities and fairness, with more training to ensure that the very best leadership approaches become ingrained. The Care Quality Commission must support this work by measuring progress through regular assessments. This does not mean more people working in diversity, but fewer. In my view, there are already too many of these roles and, at a time when our constituents are facing real pressures on the cost of living, we must spend every penny with care. Instead of farming out this important work to a specific group of managers, it must be seen as everyone’s responsibility, with everyone being accountable for extending fairness and equal opportunities at work.
Thirdly, the review recommends a single set of unified leadership and management standards for NHS managers. These standards will apply to everyone, including those who work part-time and flexibly, with a curriculum of training and development to help people meet them. This modernisation is well overdue, and completing the training should be a prerequisite for advancing to more senior roles.
Fourthly, the review recommends a more simplified, standardised appraisal system for the NHS, moving away from variation in how performance and career aspirations are managed towards a more consistent system that takes into account how people have behaved, not just what they have achieved.
Fifthly, the review identifies a lack of structure around careers in NHS management. It proposes a new career and talent management function for managers at a regional level, to oversee and support careers in NHS management and to provide clear routes to promotion, along with training and development.
Sixthly, the review recommends that the recruitment and development of non-executive directors needs to be given greater priority due to their vital role in providing scrutiny and assurance. It proposes an expanded specialist appointments team in the NHS, tasked with encouraging a diverse pipeline of talent.
Finally, there is currently little or no incentive for leaders and managers to move into the most challenging roles, as the barriers are often seen as simply too high. I want leaders in the NHS to seek out those roles, not shy away from them. It is essential that we address that and get great leaders into areas that feel left behind. The review proposes an improved offer, with stronger support and incentives to recruit top talent into those positions.
We will be accepting these comprehensive, common-sense recommendations in full. The recommendations have been welcomed by groups representing people who work throughout the NHS, including by the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers. By taking the review forward, we can finally bring how we do health and care leadership into the 21st century, so that we have the kind of leadership that patients and staff deserve, right across the country, and so that we make sure that some of our country’s most cherished institutions can thrive in the years ahead. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank everyone who works in the NHS for their continued dedication and skill. We owe them our gratitude. I also put on record my thanks to General Sir Gordon Messenger and Dame Linda Pollard for leading this very important review.
We know that we are at the foothills of a huge programme of NHS reform and reorganisation, which your Lordships’ House carefully scrutinised during the passage of the Health and Care Act. It came through loud and clear that the healthcare system requires proper leadership and a workforce that has enough staff to do the job, something that we know is not the case at present nor is suitably in the pipeline.
I confirm that these Benches support the review’s seven recommendations and welcome that the Secretary of State has already agreed to implement them. However, the critical thing will be to see whether, when and how the proposals are implemented and we will keep a close eye on this. Regrettably, we have too often seen the commissioning of a review by Ministers only to see those same Ministers drag their feet on implementing the recommendations or shelve them completely. Will the Minister give us today a firm date for when he intends to publish the plan to implement the seven recommendations?
The social care survey from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services shows that more than 500,000 people are waiting for a social care assessment in England, and we need swift action to alleviate this. Will the Minister explain why the review has not covered leadership in social care or primary care in sufficient detail? Is not this a missed opportunity?
Of course, this review is just one part of dealing with the crisis that the NHS faces. New staff getting an induction when they first join the NHS is sensible, but that is just a basic requirement of any organisation worth its salt. We all know that there are bigger, real mountains to climb. Waiting lists are at a record high: 6.4 million in the queue for treatment—nearly one in 10 people—patient satisfaction is at its lowest since 1997, and there have been longer waiting times for cancer treatment in every year since 2010. So it goes on.
There are currently 106,000 vacancies in the NHS, and staff are leaving in droves. In many specialities, they are leaving faster than they can be recruited to those vacancies. It remains to be seen how a shake-up for management will help our health outcomes and alleviate pain and suffering when there are not enough front-line staff. This has to be the Government’s focus.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State talked about the 15-year workforce strategy that he has commissioned. When can we expect it? It would be much appreciated if the Minister could put more flesh on the bones of this brief reference yesterday. Who will be leading this and what will be its terms of reference?
It would be negligent not to mention the role that managers played in the North East Ambulance Service cover-up. The Government are still considering whether to launch a review. Will the Minister provide an update? Surely, if management is to be improved, there is a need to learn from the times when it fails. The incidents at the North East Ambulance Service are a clear case in point.
Finally, it is regrettable that NHS senior leadership still does not represent the diversity of the population that it serves. How will the Government drastically improve equality, diversity and inclusion? And how will the best leaders—whether or not they have a so-called good network—be encouraged, prepared and brought into the most challenging roles where we need to see them?
These Benches welcome the review and its recommendations, but there are many outstanding questions while the NHS is in dire need of support and a workforce able to meet the demands and serve the people who need it.