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Grand Committee

Volume 824: debated on Thursday 13 October 2022

Grand Committee

Thursday 13 October 2022

Pharmaceutical Research and Development Spending

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the United Kingdom’s share of global pharmaceutical research and development spending.

My Lords, I am pleased to open this debate on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hunt, who sadly cannot be here today. As we know, this subject is dear to his heart and I am sure that the expertise of all noble Lords who will be speaking will do this important and vital issue full justice. I welcome the new Minister to his first Lords debate response and wish him well in addressing the mound of questions that he will face.

Our country faces a challenging time as we look to build back stronger from the impact of the pandemic. It has hit our people, our businesses and our growth hard, but here in the UK we already have a globally leading life sciences industry which, if we take the appropriate steps, can be central to unlocking our economic recovery. The industry currently makes up 18% of all R&D investment across the UK economy. It is the largest private R&D spending sector. In 2020, it was worth £5 billion and contributed more than half a million jobs to the UK.

Existing literature suggests that every pound invested in private R&D today leads to a stream of future benefits to the economy as a whole, equivalent to 50p per year in perpetuity. This sector’s R&D brings these benefits across a diverse geographic presence, with significant hubs in the south and north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With private capital and UK industry playing the largest role in pharmaceutical R&D, they need policy stability and consistency in order to feel confident in investing. The Government must help, not hinder, this.

This kind of R&D has huge value for the NHS and its patients, not just through the end-stage innovation that is produced but through clinical trials. These are a valuable source of revenue to the NHS and provide access to medicines for patients with limited or no-treatment options in routine care, such as people with cancer, dementia and rare diseases.

The UK has the potential to be a global leader in life sciences R&D. We have a mature ecosystem, have historically been a leader in early-stage clinical research and have made huge strides with early access to advanced therapy medicinal products. However, this debate is vital today because of deep concerns that the UK is slipping against our competitor countries in a number of key areas. Between 2012 and 2019, the UK’s share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditure fell from 7.7% to 4.1%. This has led to a loss on average of £3.2 billion per year for the past eight years. Since 2009, our manufacturing production volumes have fallen by 29% and 7,000 jobs have been lost and, between 2018 and 2020, the UK slipped down the global rankings across all phases of industry clinical trial delivery.

We can and must do something now. Urgent implementation of the Life Sciences Vision—it has been welcomed by the sector, which co-developed it—is now critical as the UK’s international competitors, spurred on by the pandemic, are moving at pace to enhance their life sciences offer and capture internationally mobile investment. Can the Minister say when the promised implementation plan for the one year anniversary of the vision, due last July, is to be published? Can he also reaffirm that the Government remain committed to the vision, not least its core ambition to make

“the UK the best place in the world to trial and test products at scale”?

The current uncertainty is not helping the deeply worrying situation that we are in. Moreover, an effective, joined-up approach is also needed on the Government’s wider overall science research and development strategy. We have had a number of separate R&D roadmaps, science plans, strategies and sector deals, ARIA and two reorganisations of the UKRI, for example, but without overall coherence across the board.

I will make a few points on specific issues, which I am sure will be followed up by noble Lords. First, as I have said, despite a strong policy ambition to make the UK a destination of choice for cutting-edge research, the delivery of industry clinical trials within the NHS is in crisis. In addition to the impact on patients, this means less R&D investment in the UK. The pandemic obviously had an impact, but it cannot be ignored that the UK was beginning to decline pre Covid.

Secondly, the use of health data is an area of vast potential, but we have had several false starts, for example and the more recent GPDPR incidents. The data revolution is increasingly fuelling new breakthroughs in treatment, diagnostics and patient pathway redesign and is a key tool to support NHS staff. Given its large and diverse patient pool, the NHS has unique potential to be one of the most effective engines for data research. However, although this potential is well recognised, repeated attempts by successive Governments have failed to make best use of this resource, predominantly as a result of failing to engage both public and clinicians. As a result, the current state of play is a disparate data environment, with many custodians, different access arrangements and a lack of interoperability.

The Government’s Data Saves Lives strategy has taken on board many of the recommendations put forward by Professor Ben Goldacre in his independent review. Stakeholders such as the ABPI, which represents the research-based pharmaceutical sector in the UK, are urging that this must be a comprehensive strategy that appropriately balances the need for effective safeguards and public engagement with the ability of accredited researchers to appropriately access data to perform valuable research.

The false starts suffered from a chronic lack of co-ordination and failure to integrate effective communication with policy development and technical implementation. Provided that we can learn from these past mistakes, pressing forward will significantly enhance UK attractiveness as a destination for research. Will the Minister update the House on the action that the Government are taking?

Thirdly, the key issue is how we make the NHS an innovation partner—one of the areas with which we are struggling most. The life sciences sector is a strongly interconnected ecosystem. An NHS that supports innovation is central to this ecosystem and for that reason is one of the preconditions of success for the Life Sciences Vision. However, right now, the NHS struggles to approve these medicines for use and to provide access for patients once they are approved. Just 68% of medicines approved by the European Medicines Agency were made available in England between 2017 and 2020.

Looking at the uptake of medicines recommended by NICE, we see that the use of these in the UK typically lags behind that in other countries for at least five years after launch. For example, between 2016 and 2020, UK uptake was 60% of the average of 15 comparator countries in the first three years and still below average after five years, despite rising to 81%. This is contributing to patient outcomes falling behind those in countries in Scandinavia, as well as the Netherlands and Spain, for example. Recent data highlights how the UK ranks 17th out of 18 countries for life expectancy, is the worst for stroke and heart attack survival and ranks 16th out of 18 for five types of cancer.

Supporting access to and uptake of innovative medicines is critical not only to delivering better patient outcomes but to creating a thriving life sciences ecosystem. It is because of this link that in 2017 this House secured the amendment to the medical supplies Act specifically recognising that, when enacting policy in the scope of the Act, the Government must take due consideration of the consequences for the life sciences industry and the UK economy that depends on it.

Will the Minister say what action he will take to ensure that patients can benefit from the latest medicines and that the NHS supports a thriving life sciences sector in the UK? Specifically on the UK’s vaccination programme, so vital in the battle against Covid, how do the Government aim to deliver their pledge to develop new vaccines within 100 days? Will the Government continue with their plan to sell off our flagship vaccine manufacturing centre in Oxford? Does this not fly in the face of an effective pharma strategy and send out completely the wrong signals abroad?

In conclusion, recent analysis suggests that effective endorsement and delivery on the Life Sciences Vision could generate an additional £68 billion in GDP over the next 30 years through increased R&D alone and deliver 85,000 jobs through increased exports. We can also ensure that new medicines in the UK continue to be developed, trialled and launched here, meaning that patients benefit from the most innovative treatments in the world. This should be at the heart of the Government’s priorities to deliver growth and place the NHS on a sustainable footing for the future. The Government must act swiftly and decisively to reverse the very worrying downward trends in our life sciences competitiveness in relation to the rest of the world.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on initiating this timely debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for stepping in and speaking so knowledgeably and authoritatively. As she said, this country is a world leader in the life sciences, and we now face serious but welcome competition from Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere.

An area of opportunity to attract increased pharmaceutical investment into the United Kingdom is dementia research. Dementia is among the world’s greatest health challenges. It has a large patient population, with many millions of people worldwide living with the condition and increasing demand for treatment. Currently, no treatments are available to stop, slow or cure the diseases that cause dementia, hence the pharmaceutical industry’s recognition of the opportunity and necessity for investment in this field. There have been research breakthroughs recently and there is now a pipeline of promising treatments. It is widely believed in the industry that we are at a tipping point for progress.

Over the last five years, we have unfortunately seen an overall decline in the number of dementia trials being initiated in this country and the number of participants in each trial. Government investment in dementia research, which is smaller than that of industry, fell from £83.9 million in 2018-19 to £15.7 million in 2019-20, putting us at risk of falling behind our global competitors.

The Government recently announced the national dementia mission, which will hopefully be a galvanising body like recent task forces in other fields. They have also announced a 10-year plan for dementia focused on supporting and expediting clinical trials. In August, they recommitted the £160 million of funding promised in the 2019 election manifesto, described then as the “dementia moonshot”. It would be helpful if the Minister, whom I congratulate on his appointment and welcome to this Committee for the first time, could today or, more realistically, very soon flesh out how these commitments are to be implemented. To do so would be an important signal to the pharmaceutical and global life science industries that this country’s ambitions in this important area are a serious reality.

It would also be a signal to the people of this country that the Government are serious about dementia, the leading cause of death for women for more than a decade and the fastest-growing health condition in the UK. As well as the suffering and distress it causes, it is predicted to be the most expensive health condition to treat by 2030. Dementia, directly or individually, affects very nearly every family in the land. Attracting investment and research into the condition should be a very high priority for the Government.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on securing this debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for stepping in at such short notice and giving us such a comprehensive introduction. I also thank the ABPI, Roche, STOPAIDS, dementia awareness and the Lords Library for their very helpful briefing.

Four decades ago, I was a manager at Newmarket Venture Capital in the City. We funded the first wave of spinning out monoclonal antibodies. I remember one of the senior managers involved with it saying, “This will transform pharmaceutical treatments over the next few years”. She was right. A hundred years ago, my great-grandmother, who also had rheumatoid arthritis, had been told there was no treatment other than gold injections. She was in a wheelchair and unable to use her hands because they were so badly deformed.

Twenty years ago, I started on disease-modifying drugs and these days, along with many other people with my condition, I use a JAK inhibitor, which is a tablet that I take once in the morning and once at night. I used to have to spend a whole day in hospital having my infusion of a monoclonal antibody. We need to recognise the enormous advance in pharmaceutical work that has transformed the work of the NHS. It has reduced the number of beds needed and addressed a large number of other issues. But only one in 10,000 compounds and only 7.9% of medicines that get to clinical development actually make it to approval. It takes around eight to 12 years from initial discovery to launch, although I really hope that we have learned some lessons from the Covid pandemic and are able to start speeding things up somewhat.

Between 2015 and 2019, 43% of NICE recommendations were optimised for access to new medicines. This meant that they were recommended for a smaller patient population than the medicine had originally been approved for by either the European Medicines Agency or the MHRA. Of those optimised recommendations, around two-thirds recommended treatment in less than half the approved population. So, from a patient perspective, in the UK, a large number of patients are not getting access to the treatments that have been approved. The uptake of new medicines is a major concern. For more than 75 medicines recommended by NICE and launched between 2013 and 2019, the per capita utilisation in the first three years was around 64%, which was around the average in 15 comparator countries.

I want to focus on advanced therapy medicine products, the use of data and the voluntary pricing system, also known as VPAS. Advanced therapy medicine products are new, revolutionary medicines based on genes, tissues or cells and have the potential to save, lengthen and improve patients’ lives by treating the root cause of diseases. But they present challenges to health systems because they are so different from traditional medicines. Because they are used as a one-time-only treatment, they have a very high up-front cost, particularly if it takes 10 to 12 years to develop them and possibly up to £1 billion in research costs.

Currently, only a very small number of ATMP treatments are on the market and the NHS is managing to provide access despite these challenges. But, looking at monoclonal antibodies and the way that they are used now, it is likely that ATMPs will become the go-to drug for the future. Unfortunately, already we are behind other countries such as France, which is taking a very forward-facing example. France introduced a measure in its 2023 social security financing bill to allow innovative payment models to be used for ATMPs to share the risk between the manufacturer and the healthcare system.

We must not forget the transformative use of global pharma R&D, especially that which has been developed in the UK, in the spend on the wider world. It is one of the big lessons that we learned from the Covid pandemic. Oxford’s early R&D for the vaccine platform became the AstraZeneca vaccine, but unfortunately those technologies were unobtainable and inaccessible to most of the globe. Many noble Lords present spoke about that in your Lordships’ House during the Covid pandemic. We must make sure that that does not happen again, so I ask the Minister, what lessons have been learned from developing these drugs and how can we share that technology, probably through TRIPS waivers and other systems. in the future?

On data, during the passage of the Health and Care Bill, many Members across the House discussed the use of patient data and the safety net that we needed, but there is absolutely no doubt that the NHS has unique potential, given its large and diverse patient pool, to be one of the most effective engines for research. The Data Saves Lives strategy, announced earlier this year, is a good vehicle to overcome these barriers, and it was very much welcomed by the pharma sector. In implementing the strategy, I hope that the Government and the NHS will work to ensure that the national trusted research environment is fit for purpose, and has the necessary functionality to enable safe, high-quality research and the use of advanced analytical tools to derive insights. I am particularly concerned about this after the patient data—the—and the GP data débâcles of this year and five years ago. It is really important that patients’ data can be protected.

Briefly, on VPAS, the Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access between the UK Government and the pharmaceutical industry has historically been very useful, but Roche says that fluctuations of spend are now causing a rapid increase in VPAS payment rates, undermining the industry’s ability to sustain and invest in the UK. There has been a 10% jump from 5% to 15% over the last year and, worryingly, there is a projection that this may increase to over 30% next year. The worry is that this will impact the whole of the sector. Can the Minister say whether the Government are discussing VPAS with the extended life sciences sector?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for securing this debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for so effectively introducing it.

I start this debate from a philosophically different position from other speakers. What we in the UK— and the world—need is not just or even primarily the most effective, efficient pharmaceutical research and development; more than that, we need the best possible health research and development, which often may not involve pharmaceuticals at all but instead improving public health by addressing the social and environmental determinants of health, so pharmaceuticals are needed less and can be reserved—saved—for the most essential, important and unavoidable uses, some of which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, just outlined. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, just focused on dementia, but of course huge and increasing amounts of research show that addressing issues such as diet, exercise and air pollution can have a tremendous impact on reducing the impact of dementia, and we must not forget that focus.

We are now living in the age of shocks. We have already had one pandemic shock in Covid-19, still continuing, both in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the huge and little-understood impacts of long Covid, and we know that others threaten, including the avian flu virus that is cutting such a dreadful swathe through our wild bird populations—and the factory farming systems that incubated it.

So, were I to be wording this question, I would rather ask how the UK most effectively contributes to global health, and in pharmaceutical research—with our current academic and industry frames—we certainly play an important part. But some of our role should surely be to promote and support research and development of pharmaceuticals in the global south to strengthen systems there. I will restrain myself from venturing off into the disgraceful state of ODA funding, although I directly ask the Minister what assessment the Government have conducted on the dangers of the UK failing to deliver the support that others do to the Global Fund, given the assessment that the UK’s current plans could put over 700,000 lives at risk and lead to over 17 million new infections across the three diseases it covers?

What I will focus on specifically is influenced by an issue that many may have seen highlighted last week in the New Statesman in an interview with Dame Sally Davies, the first female Chief Medical Officer of England. It focused on antimicrobial resistance, on which Dame Sally said:

“I do wonder how long I have to go on pushing this. Have I failed? Well I haven’t succeeded, have I, or we wouldn’t be sat here.”

I have to warn the Committee that I am planning on pushing hard on this in the coming months, with the assistance of two brilliant senior interns, Julze Alejandre and Emily Stevenson, whose work is supported by the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

So how is this relevant to pharmaceutical research in the UK? As a rich nation with a well-developed health system, we need to provide a framework for drug development and purchase that acknowledges the need not just to look at the immediate impact of a treatment on a patient but its full impact on public and environmental health. How biodegradable is a drug, what is its ecotoxicity, and what will be the complete impacts of its development, manufacture and use? The Environment Agency has just started providing funding to a new research group looking at the impact of biocides and cross-resistance—but that is starting at the other end, after the damage has been done.

If we think of the UK as a place that truly seeks to understand the impact of medicines, both existing and developing, we can look to the pharmaceutical formulary used in the Stockholm region in Sweden, which considers not just the efficacy and safety, pharmaceutical suitability and cost effectiveness of drugs, as does the NHS, but their environmental impacts. Should not the UK, to provide “world-leading” research and treatment, be operating on the same basis?

I turn now to some specific questions, of which I have given prior notice, about the environment for research, development and use of drugs, particularly relating to the Government’s approach to the European Commission’s water framework directive, which sets out a watch list of priority substances. Once they are included on the watch list, EU states are required to monitor these substances, and the inclusion of these compounds helps to raise research interest in these agents, including their AMR selective potential at environmentally relevant concentrations. Until recently, the data used to inform selection of compounds on the watch list determined ecological risk based only on ecotoxicology tests, and it was only in 2020 that AMR selection risk was also considered as an end point.

Featured on the watch list, updated in August this year with five more drugs, are a variety of compounds with a host of essential applications, including antibiotics, antidepressants, synthetic hormones, diabetes maintenance medication and both human antifungals and agricultural fungicides. Can the Minister update me on how this EU update will be treated in the UK, and how talk of sweeping aside regulatory frameworks transferred from the EU to the UK after Brexit that has arrived with the new Prime Minister will be treated in this area of assessing water issues?

In the post-Brexit era and considering the potential risks of these pharmaceuticals on the environment and in terms of AMR, as a proportion of the UK’s pharmaceutical research and development budget, what is the commitment of His Majesty’s Government to ensuring that the monitoring and reporting of these pharmaceuticals will be done in the UK in a more robust, comprehensive and transparent manner? We were after all promised stronger environmental protections after Brexit. In addition, what are the Government doing to ensure that the results of these environmental monitoring assessments are available for researchers and healthcare providers so that they can make informed and wise decisions in choosing and developing pharmaceuticals that have less ecological impact and risk in terms of AMR?

A number of noble Lords will remember that one of the first votes that I called in your Lordships’ House was as a result of sheer exasperation at the Government’s failure to take seriously in the Medicines and Medical Devices Act, as it now is, the environmental, particularly AMR, risks of human medicines, to mirror the terminology in the Bill used for veterinary medicines. The Minister today has the opportunity to reassure me that, with even more concerning scientific research in the area since then, the Government are now taking it seriously.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for introducing this important debate so comprehensively. There is no doubt that the R&D and manufacture of new medicines already contribute in a major way to our economy, but it is also clear that there is considerable potential for improving that contribution in the interests of patients, the levelling-up agenda and the economy. However, as the noble Baroness said, over the past 25 years there has been a manufacturing capacity reduction of 25%, while other countries, such as Ireland, have seen an increase. We also saw how India produced a lot of our vaccines during the Covid pandemic.

Pharmaceutical companies can choose where they make their medicines, since they sell them all over the world, so what are the factors that they consider when deciding where to invest their capital and create well-paid jobs? Access to skills is important, as is the supply chain infrastructure, the regulatory environment, the attractiveness of the fiscal environment and upfront capital grants. Importantly, at this time of economic crisis, I should mention the importance of stability. In the past, companies have chosen the UK on that factor alone, even when other factors might have been better elsewhere.

There are many things we can do to make us more competitive. Ensuring that local communities have the right skills to attract these companies is vital and, at this time of pressure on public spending, the last thing we need to see is a cut in further and higher education opportunities, particularly in the poorer demographic areas.

As far as capital grants are concerned, the life sciences innovative manufacturing fund, £60 million over three years, is a small step in the right direction compared with our international competitors. This fund is vastly oversubscribed but could contribute to the Government’s growth ambitions. Are there any plans to increase it? The returns in increased profits, wages and taxes would surely pay for it in a few years. We must also encourage companies to increase their own capital investment in manufacturing capacity here. If capital expenditure were to be recognised within the R&D tax credit system, it would encourage them to invest more of their own money in the UK.

We need to get this right in the interests of patients, since UK manufacture of clinical trial medicines, for example, would get innovative medicines to patients quicker. It is really important that we do everything possible to speed up the time it takes to get new medicines to patients, because we are not doing very well at the moment. UK patients have lower access to innovative medicines than those in other countries, as my noble friend Lady Brinton said. For example, 43% of positive recommendations made by NICE between 2015 and 2019 were for a narrower population of patients than other regulators. Even when medicines are cleared by NICE, five years after they are approved for the NHS they are reaching only 64% of the patients reached by other nations. This could be because we spend less on medicines than other countries—9% of the healthcare budget, the lowest in the G7, compared with the average of 14% to 18%.

I now turn to clinical trials, which are so important to getting cutting-edge medicines to patients. In the last four years the UK has slipped down the international rankings for the number of clinical trials and the number of patients taking part, despite the Government’s declared ambition to make us a go-to country. The number of patients involved has almost halved during that period. This represents a cost to the NHS of around £447 million in the last financial year alone. Given that we heard from NHSE’s chief financial officer than the NHS is now short of £20 billion per year simply due to inflation in the cost of goods and services unless it can make serious cuts, surely the opportunity to save money by hosting more clinical trials is almost irresistible.

However, one of the problems is capacity. We have lost thousands of beds over recent years, as recognised by the Government recently in their announcement of 7,000 new ones. We have lost thousands of staff and are not training enough to take their place. Without adequate numbers of health professionals, we will not be able to host these beneficial clinical trials. That is why your Lordships focused so hard on the need for effective workforce planning during the passage of the Health and Care Act 2022.

The effect of this on patients is central to why we must improve their access to potentially life-saving treatments—but it is actually diminishing, partly because the setting-up time of trials is so slow. This also discourages companies, of course, despite the attractiveness of the NHS with its enormous cohort of patients. Relevant to the levelling-up agenda is the discrepancy between patients’ access to clinical trials in different parts of the UK. Cancer Research UK found that cancer patients in west London were 71% more likely to have opportunities to take part in research than patients in Cheshire and Merseyside.

I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, about Alzheimer’s and dementia research. There is huge potential here for the UK to become a global leader—but again we are lagging behind. Over the past five years we have seen a decline in the number of dementia clinical trials taking place in the UK, and the number of participants. Since 2020, the number of phase 3 trials has increased in Germany, France and Italy but fallen here. So can I ask the Minister whether the Government are still committed to the £160 million of funding promised in their manifesto and recommitted to in August this year? Will the Government adhere to the recently announced national dementia mission? I ask because they have dropped so many other very important health-related measures which had been agreed by Parliament. I refer to the mental health Bill, the anti-smoking strategy following the Khan review, the health disparities White Paper and all the anti-obesity measures in the Health and Care Act—which we appear to have wasted our time on.

Looking forward, there are several other areas of research that show great promise and in which we have an opportunity to lead the world. My noble friend has talked about advanced gene and cell therapies. Those should be made and trialled here to make the most of the economic opportunities as well as the benefits for patients.

My Lords, I might end up repeating some things that have already been said, but that will just reinforce the important aspects of this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for initiating it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for introducing it.

I was going to try to focus on two things. One was clinical trials and the other was potential research into dementia. We know that clinical trials are an important part of domestic R&D, an important source of revenue for the NHS and a critical way of delivering early access to promising treatments for patients. As has already been mentioned, in the 2018-19 financial year, in addition to the revenue generated, there were £30 million of pharmaceutical product cost savings from trials supported by the NIHR clinical trials network. Numerous studies have also shown that research-active NHS facilities deliver better patient outcomes.

It has already been said that the UK has slipped down the global rankings and our reputation as a reliable destination to locate clinical trials is taking a hit. The National Institute for Health and Care Research found that there were about 28,000 participants recruited into clinical trials in 2021-22, compared with over 50,000 in 2017-18, and patients in different parts of the country, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already mentioned, have wildly varying experiences of being able to participate in research. The noble Baroness gave the particular example of cancer research. As she said, cancer patients in west London are 71% more likely to be asked to take part compared with those in some other areas. That is quite shocking, because cancer research trials were one area where we excelled.

The pandemic obviously had an impact on this decline. R&D leaders in the NHS estimate—again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned—that we lost something of the order of £0.5 billion. But it cannot be ignored that the UK was beginning to decline pre Covid, and our post-pandemic recovery is lagging behind that of other countries. Even Spain has now overtaken us in the world ranking of clinical trials. We are now number 8, whereas some years ago we were number 2.

There are ways that we can tackle this, including by streamlining the slow set-up of recruitment to studies. So can I ask the Minister what the Government are doing to prioritise the recovery of industry clinical trials in the UK and ensure that research is embedded as part of routine NHS care across the whole of the UK? I think he has a golden opportunity as a new Minister to get some people into his office and demand that we change this declining position. Clinical trials should be a key part of our NHS research agenda.

I will now return to some aspects of dementia research that the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, mentioned. It is the ambition in the life sciences vision of the Government to escalate novel treatments for dementia. As has already been mentioned, Alzheimer’s Research UK is concerned that the government commitment to research into Alzheimer’s is now slowing—to put it mildly. We know that dementia is the world’s biggest health challenge, with almost 1 million people in the United Kingdom alone suffering, and we know the heartbreak it causes not just to individuals but to their families.

Traditionally, this area has been risky for investment, but the commitment of dementia researchers over many years has led to some recent scientific breakthroughs and a growing pipeline of new treatments in clinical trials from which we in the United Kingdom are not benefiting. In recent news, a treatment called Lecanemab has shown in initial phase 3 clinical trials that it can slow down patients’ decline in memory and thinking. It is very promising. Taking these together, this means that dementia research is at a tipping point of progress. Continued life science investment is crucial to delivering the safe and effective treatments that people with dementia desperately need.

Over the past five years, we have seen an overall decline in the number of dementia trials being initiated in the UK and the number of participants in each trial. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned how Germany, France and other countries have outstripped us in initiating dementia clinical trials, which is sad to have to admit. One of the reasons is that as a country we identify the problem at a later stage of the disease. We currently diagnose people with dementia too late, so their condition has progressed beyond the point where they are eligible to take part in clinical research. There is therefore a need for the NHS to address the diagnostics of dementia. Again, the point has already been made about government investment, which declined from 2018-19 to 2019-20. So the plea for the Government to have a plan to focus attention on dementia research is well made and I hope the Minister will say whether the Government have a plan to take forward research in dementia as identified in the Life Sciences Vision report of July 2021.

My Lords, I apologise for not having added my name to the list. I was responsible for chairing a meeting elsewhere and did not anticipate finishing on time. I am grateful for the indulgence of noble Lords in permitting me to intervene in the gap. In so doing, I declare my interests as chairman of King’s Health Partners and of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research and as an active researcher with studies in the national research portfolio.

I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for introducing this debate so thoughtfully, building, of course, on the immense contributions the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has made over many years in debates on this question.

I shall confine my comments to the increasing problem that the deteriorating performance in clinical research in our country is having on the capacity to invite inward investment in research and development, as we have heard in this debate.

The National Institute for Health and Care Research is responsible for the application of public funds to ensure that there is infrastructure and capacity available within the clinical research network to deliver our national research portfolio. Is the Minister content that the public funding made available to NIHR to establish that infrastructure and create that capacity in the CRN is appropriately applied? Of course, the NIHR has recognised that there are currently important problems in the delivery of clinical research and is trying to take steps to ensure that the rather bloated national portfolio of approved studies is reduced in some way by the removal of studies that are identified to be underperforming or poorly performing. But this action itself has a profound impact on the perception of the standing of our country as a suitable location for inward investment of research funding to undertake clinical trials. Are His Majesty’s Government content that the approach being taken with regard to management of the portfolio and the problems associated with the size of the portfolio that predate Covid are the appropriate steps? Are appropriate measures being taken to ensure that there is no perceptional impact in terms of reducing the attractiveness of the United Kingdom for overseas funding for clinical research in such a way that it undermines the overall life sciences vision and strategy?

It is important to try to understand where the application of funding to drive the clinical research effort nationally is being directed. Again, can the Minister confirm that there is an appropriate mapping of the populations where the research effort and opportunity might be achieved against where the infrastructure funding to deliver that research is being applied, so that there is a targeted approach that ensures that maximum capacity is delivered, particularly in the medium term, to overcome these particular clinical research problems?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for arranging the debate on this vitally important topic. Despite this being the fifth time that I have spoken in the last four days, this is technically my maiden speech. I believe it is customary to start with a few personal remarks, and if that means that I go slightly over time, I beg the indulgence of being given time to make sure that I answer the points properly as well.

First, I thank Black Rod, the staff and the police for my fantastic introduction. I thank my noble friend Lord Nash for his encouragement for me to join the Lords, my noble friend Lord Courtown for his last-minute introduction of me when he had to step in, and my noble friend Lord Kamall, whom I have known since university in 1988. I thank all noble Lords for the kindness that they have shown me, and their welcomes. I especially thank the doorkeepers, who were fantastic to my family on the day of the introduction and have been fantastic at preventing me getting too lost in the myriad corridors.

On a personal note, I am the product of a very loving family. My grandparents and mum were nurses. My dads—I had two dads, for reasons I will tell noble Lords at some later stage—were a policeman and an advertising executive. My wife is a dentist. I went to the local comprehensive school and spent much of my life in and out of A&E—and continue to do so because I still, perhaps unwisely, play rugby. As a result, I like to think that I am very much the product of the public sector and the public system.

I have three children, whom I want to mention so that they are in Hansard: Ben, Sam and Xavi, who are surprised and bemused to now be known as “Honourables”. I have had a very varied career, and I hope to use that experience to add value to a lot of these debates. I have been a CEO, a CFO, an HR director, a strategy director and a chair in lots of different industries, including consulting, retail, media, health and construction. More recently, I have been an entrepreneur in many different fields. At the same time, I have had public sector experience: I was deputy leader of Westminster Council and have been the lead NED on MHCLG and DfT, and worked with the Department for Work and Pensions. I could be seen as a veritable jack of all trades—and if I could master one, it would probably be capturing the language of the House as quickly as possible. I ask noble Lords to forgive me while I learn.

Most of all, I want to talk about the type of Minister that I would like to be. I love learning about new industries, sharing ideas and using critical and constructive challenge to make better decisions. I like to say, “Two plus two equals five”. Noble Lords will find me wanting to share my thoughts and ideas and to hear and discuss theirs, ideally sitting around a table. I must admit that I find this a bit weird. There are a lot of good comments here about how we all want to grow the industry, and I would usually do this around a round table with a cup of coffee, where we are having a good discussion. Maybe that is something we can do as a follow-up to this.

I like to hear and share ideas. I know that sharing my thoughts at an early stage may sometimes get me into trouble—I like to brainstorm—and create many opportunities for people to make political hay, but I want to take that risk because, in our hearts, I think we are all here because we care about our country and want to make it a better place. I put my trust in your Lordships to share some of those thoughts at an early stage so that you can, hopefully, build on some of the good thoughts and politely help me discard the poor ones—I promise there will be many of those—and not to make too much political hay along the way, except maybe on some of the ideas that may be more naive.

Most of all, I would like to be known as a thoughtful Minister, someone who thought, listened and got things done. Part of the reason I am delighted is that I realise I will be here, hopefully, for many years and will make many friends along the way from all sides of the House. I was given this tie by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, 20 years ago on my birthday when I used to work with him at ITV. I still consider him a friend and hope to make many more here.

Turning to the subject at hand, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. I firmly believe that to achieve—dare I say it?— growth, growth, growth you have to pick sectors where the UK has an advantage and leverage them. I have some familiarity with the media sector. After the financial crash, there was a real push to say that it should be one of the sectors we did more about. We did very good things to leverage the key assets, the BBC and ITV. We built an ecosystem. We had critical mass around setting up the BBC in Manchester, alongside Granada, where we could attract the best people and companies. I see a lot of similarities in how we are talking about trying to create ecosystems here, which I will come to later. The BBC has BBC Worldwide, which was set up to leverage that fantastic institution; I feel there are parallels with many of the comments I have heard today about how we can use the NHS and clinical research to better effect.

Life sciences is a high-profile sector, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, mentioned, and it makes a major economic and scientific contribution to the UK. We have a long and rich heritage in this sector, from Edward Jenner’s development of the world’s first vaccine to our fantastic development of the Covid-19 vaccine. As previously mentioned, it is also responsible for £4.5 billion of R&D investment per year, which I believe is about 20% of the whole economy. It has led to such things as the £1 billion investment by Merck in the MSD UK Discovery Centre and the construction around King’s Cross of AstraZeneca’s £1 billion global R&D centre. Importantly, unlike many other tech sectors much of this wealth is spread across the UK and is not London-centric.

However, as noble Lords have rightly mentioned, we cannot rest on our laurels. There are many places where we should and want to do better. I would like to help us do so. That is why, as my noble friend Lord Goodlad mentioned, the Government published our Life Sciences Vision. I am happy to write later to say how we are following up on that and making sure we implement it. The vision reflects the sentiment of many noble Lords’ speeches that, to grow our proportion of global pharmaceutical investment, we must improve every aspect of the life science ecosystem.

I will address that by looking at four areas. First, as was mentioned, in terms of investing in R&D, in the spending review we have committed £5 billion for the sector by 2024-25. This is the largest uplift in public R&D spending we have ever seen. It includes a major uplift for the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The Government also committed to raise R&D spending to its highest level ever—£22 billion by 2026-27.

As part of this investment in R&D, the Government are particularly focused on investing in areas of global strength such as these. This includes £341 million for Genomics England, so ably chaired by my noble friend Lady Blackwood. We are determined to maintain our international leadership in this important field. Fitting in with a lot of the comments on the importance of big data in this field, we are also investing £200 million in a major new data for R&D programme.

Secondly, as acknowledged by noble Lords, we need to do more to make sure the NHS plays its full role. Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, has been unambiguous in stressing the criticality of research, even at times of great service pressure. I am sure we are all aware of initiatives such as the GRAIL blood test and the work being done on it. At the same time, I have had personal experience of the fact that in clinical trials we are not as effective as we should be. I think we all recognise this, and points were ably brought up by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Kakkar. I go back to my analogy of BBC Worldwide. Is there something we should be doing to leverage off the NHS more? It is something I would like to pick up further. Maybe we can have a discussion, perhaps around a round table, at some later point and share ideas on how to make the best of that.

Big data was another point brought up by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Brinton. We all know that there are fantastic opportunities in big data that we are not fully utilising. We all understand that there are lots of thorny issues around that, such as protecting patients’ anonymity, but at the same time there is a huge opportunity that we are not making the most of.

Thirdly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, quite rightly pointed out, we need to make sure that the business environment and the whole ecosystem are as hospitable to inward investment as possible. I highlight the work to improve life sciences’ access to finance and to give a strong pipeline to SMEs. I do not mean just things such as the £500 million committed by the Chancellor to the long-term investment fund but initiatives such as the EIS, which I am sure many of us are familiar with, and the R&D tax credits so that we can get investment in at that vital stage. On attracting and developing the right ecosystem for all this, I would like to understand further whether there is scope to use our investment zones so that they can benefit this area.

My noble friend Lord Goodlad and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked quite rightly about dementia and the potential of the dementia moonshot and asked whether we are really following up on that. I undertake to write to give noble Lords a full picture of where we are backing that. I was very interested in the insight of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about new market venture capital and how we get this capital into this sector. It is vital. Again, these are all points that I would like to pick up around a table.

As far as I am aware, we are aware of the potential impact of the VPAS. I have been a CFO, and I understand that suddenly hearing that your sales line might go down by 15%, 20% or 30% is pretty important knowledge; I get it. I know that we are undertaking a consultation to understand how to make sure that this system works going forward. I think we all agree that there are a lot of good aspects and agree with the intent of what we are trying to do.

Fourthly, inspired by the Vaccine Taskforce, we are delivering a series of healthcare missions focused on the leading causes of death and disease. These missions will fuse private sector ingenuity with the UK’s scientific excellence, drawing in significant private investment in areas such as dementia, cancer and mental health, which were mentioned by many speakers.

I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for a lot of her thoughtful comments and for writing some of them beforehand. I realise that I am about to run out of time, so I probably cannot answer them specifically. I will be pleased to write to her. As an ex-economics student, I was interested in how she talked about understanding the externalities of a lot of the investment in drugs and their impact. I would like to turn my thoughts further to that when I get my feet further under the table.

The Government are confident that through Life Sciences Vision we will develop the end-to-end improvements required to attract an ever-growing proportion of pharmaceutical investment to the UK. At the same time, I hope noble Lords see that I, for one, am not resting on any laurels here. There is a lot more we can do and a lot that I want to learn from the wisdom and comments made in this Room. We will be relentless in picking up these opportunities.

With that, I once again pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for securing this important debate and, in his absence, to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. I reiterate my commitment to serving the House and Government faithfully in my role as Minister for as long as I have the honour to do so.

Horticultural Sector

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support (1) careers in the horticultural sector, and (2) the role of that sector in protecting the environment.

My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gardening and Horticulture—quite a mouthful. I shall refer to it only as a “group” in future. When I first took on the role, some years ago, I do not think that I appreciated the whole role of horticulture. I knew about the craft of gardening and production of plants; what I had not appreciated was that it embraced cell science, inquiry into new plants and how they might be developed, particularly those able to deal with climate change, arboriculture, dealing with amenity trees—quite distinct from forestry—landscaping and gardening design, and so forth.

This came to the fore in 2019 when an independent group, the Oxford Economics group, brought forward an interesting report which gave a very good indication of the scope of horticulture in 2019. I am not very good with figures, so I shall read them very carefully. In 2019, horticulture contributed £28.8 billion to gross domestic product and jobs numbered 674,000. Much more interesting was the scope for development that the report saw, provided that the Government and the horticultural industry co-operated. It reckoned that, by 2030, GDP could be £41.8 billion and there could be 763,000 jobs. If the watchword of the new Government is “growth, growth and growth”, I give them horticulture, on a plate, as a wonderful way of increasing growth to everybody’s benefit.

There are a number of worries in the horticultural world at the moment. One is that employers feel held back by a shortage of skilled workers. That includes not just the lower skills but many of the higher skills that are well paid. We certainly need to address this. I believe that, for young recruits, a lot of the problem lies with schools and careers services, which seem to me woefully inadequate in their knowledge of what opportunities there are for young people. Indeed, it is worse: sometimes I fear that they give a clear indication that they think gardening is only for those who are idiots and cannot do anything more. I put that bluntly, but I believe it to be the truth.

What they do not seem to understand is that a variety of qualifications lead up to degrees in horticulture. Recently, I went to the land-based Plumpton College in East Sussex, where there are a variety of qualifications at different levels, the last one being a degree, and every single person there, the principal assured me, would have a job at the end of the course. Clearly, there is scope for young people. There is another stream, of course, for those who are career changers, who perhaps need slightly different qualifications, but there is not enough time now to deal with that aspect.

To look at it in more general terms, I think it could be very helpful if the Government recognised certain facts which seem to me perfectly obvious but do not always seem so in government circles. First, all jobs in horticulture are by their nature green jobs—and we are supposed to attach great importance to that. Secondly, we need to ensure that the Office for National Statistics, which at this moment is consulting on the definition and classification of green jobs, includes horticulture in its calculations. Thirdly, the Government need to recognise that in the great 25-year environment plan, with its various goals, horticulture contributes to at least half of them, so it has a very important role to play.

I shall deal now with one or two more specific ways in which horticulture could be helped. Research funding for horticulture has declined in recent years to a scandalously low level, and it seems to be very much the poor relation to agricultural research. However, if it is to play an even greater role in developing skills and, more importantly, in the environment, it is vital. I hope that the Government will give strong consideration to real research funding. We have had an example in recent days; the new Secretary of State for the Environment has trumpeted a very new scheme which is to help horticulture in edible terms—the crop side—through £12.5 billion of research funding, matched to others, to develop high-tech skills and robotics. That helps deal with the difficulty of finding people to work on seasonal jobs, and ones which require a lot of effort, unless they can be dealt with in new, innovative ways.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of horticulture in its ornamental sense beyond a passing reference to the fact that a new government adviser is to be appointed shortly who will cover both sectors. I have to say to my noble friend the Minister: “This is not good enough”. I expect that horticulture in its ornamental role should have equal access to such funds and I hope very much that he will persuade the Secretary of State to amend somewhat this excellent new scheme as far as it goes, because it does not go far enough. I hope that I will not be pushed into the role in the biblical story of the widow whose just complaints the unjust judge did not want to deal with—in the end he gave way because she persisted and persisted and he could not stand it any longer. But if I am pushed into that, I jolly well will.

Let us look now at other aspects to mitigate climate change, where I believe that horticulture has a very important role. We all know about planting trees, but has anyone looked at the number of private residential gardens that could play a role in this on a small scale? I asked a Parliamentary Question about this: 1.5 million acres—I do not do hectares—in the land are there for the taking and that does not include parks, green spaces and great historic gardens. So, all in all, you have an enormous contributor.

Of course there is tremendous biodiversity with garden plants. It is very interesting: the RHS did a survey and found about 400,000 ornamental plants growing in gardens in the UK alone, but only 50,000 food crops worldwide. That gives an indication of the diversity that can be utilised in gardens. We are very worried about the decline in insects, because it has such implications for food production. I believe that gardens and green spaces could have a very good contribution to make. You have only to look at the Chelsea horticultural show and the number of insects that gather around the new gardens. I hope that that will be taken on board.

I will make one final point in the time that remains. I am concerned that new developments will often make short shrift of landscaping and the maintenance of plants. It is usually there in theory, but by the time they get to the end of the development, there is not enough money left. I suggest that there should be a special fund into which the developers have to put their money and then it will not be sent out to them until they start on the actual landscaping and maintenance of plants. We certainly do not want to see the scandal repeated of 100% of trees dying because nobody thought to water them in this hot summer.

I see the clock flashing so, although there are many other points I would wish to make, reluctantly I will have to rest my case here.

My Lords, I declare my farming interest as set out in the register and my membership of the Gardening and Horticulture APPG, so ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, whom I congratulate on bringing about this important debate. It is sad that there are so few speakers, as this touches on key, long-term issues such as skills and training as well as the overarching issue of the environment. Like others, I have received some very good briefing papers from the House of Lords Library, the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group and the Horticultural Trades Association. The Library briefing helpfully covers the actions of the Government to address the issues of labour and skills, and innovation funding, as well as the 25-year environment plan. Of course, there are issues with the scale and timing of some of these measures, particularly in relation to long-term access to seasonal workers, but, broadly, we are moving in the right direction.

This afternoon I want to concentrate on developments in the horticultural industry caused by increasing and changing consumer demand that have implications for the sustainability of production and hence the environment, as well as careers and investment as we enter this new world. Horticulture is a very diverse sector, with many different crops, cultivars, growing media and planting material. It also involves processing, storage and distribution. Labour and land costs have driven much production offshore. This obviously gives rise to less stringent production techniques and more food miles, as well as less reliance on domestic production. The 2022 agriculture land use census indicates a 5% drop in the horticultural acreage and a 9.1% drop in the potato acreage. The best way to address this fall and associated environmental issues through increased horticultural imports is through affordable technology, a skilled workforce and innovation to meet demand. However, it is crucial that our new production practices meet sustainability requirements and environmental concerns.

At the same time, consumer demand is increasing with the desire for year-round supply of horticultural products. This is a further challenge to sustainable production. Two huge issues are increasingly important. The first is water availability, as drought conditions can either kill or severely affect the yield of crops and cause growers to leave the sector, or can lead to overextraction and environmental damage. The building of reservoirs, water usage efficiency and development of drought-resistant cultivars are obvious solutions. The other issue is that of soil fertility and health. Developing and implementing the best management practices to promote carbon sequestration and reduce harmful emissions is crucial, as well as introducing sustainable growing media to replace peat. This will not be welcome to some, but integrated pest disease management is crucial. Research is needed to explore innovative methods of dealing with new and existing pests and diseases, bearing in mind that consumers will not accept pesticide residues in food and toxicity in benign organisms.

Other issues facing horticulture are the rise in demand for fresh rather than frozen food, which has implications for produce restoration and hence quality. This involves much science, innovation and skills, as well as now the more problematic matter of energy usage. Associated with this is that customers expect year-round supplies of fruit, flowers and vegetables, which further increases the demand for storage and transportation. This will, I hope, lead to the development of new cultivars and production systems to extend the production season.

Your Lordships can now see the way this is all going, with the increasing need to invest in new and safe technologies. Automation is crucial. The use of robotics for repetitive tasks will reduce the unskilled labour requirement and the use of artificial intelligence will assist timely crop management. There is a huge role for research and development and the resulting technological improvements must be accompanied by the training to provide the necessary skills to operate in this new world. In this respect, I welcome the Government’s farming innovation programme and the formation of the institute of agriculture and technology, the brainchild of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, which is due to make a presentation to parliamentarians on 24 October.

The other vastly important area in the horticultural world is breeding new varieties with precision techniques. The breeding cycle is currently around eight to 15 years, so the introduction of targeted gene editing is immensely important but must be accompanied by close liaison with the regulatory authorities.

Finally, coming back to the environmental element of this debate, it is essential that we move quickly towards net zero in horticulture to address climate change risks. In order to do this, the development of the innovative methods I have outlined requires Defra to supply baseline data on the environmental footprint of individual processes of primary production and subsequent management, such as storage.

The horticulture industry has no generally accepted assessment tools for conducting analysis, known as LCA or life cycle analysis. Can the Minister assure us that an LCA tool will be available to the industry which will quantify the environmental footprint of the horticultural processes so that we can develop and optimise crop production innovations that improve productivity and contribute to net zero horticulture? Getting this right is as important to the environment as trees, green spaces, gardens and those ELMS. With the issues of labour availability, government encouragement of automation technology and support from the farming innovation programme, farming and horticulture are looking at technological solutions, but they are greatly hindered, particularly in relation to sustainability and net zero, without adequate measurement tools. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for securing this debate and introducing it in an informative and lively way. I join the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in regretting that we do not see more Members of your Lordships’ House in this debate. Perhaps if I point out that there were excellent briefings from the Wildlife Trusts, Buglife and NFU, that might encourage a few more to engage next time.

I had cause this morning to be reminded that on 1 November I will have an Oral Question on the importance of philosophical education at all levels of education for critical thinking. Had the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, not secured this debate, I would have been tempted to do something similar for food growing because while this question focuses on the importance of education for careers, I assert that in this age of shocks, with resilience needing to be uppermost in Government’s mind, everyone in our society being able to grow their own food—food security at its most personal and basic level—is a crucial skill. This would truly be education for life not just exams.

I say that as someone who has an agricultural science degree—admittedly I specialised in animal husbandry—but it was only in my 40s that I grew some of my own food and learned all sorts of useful things, such as that brassicaceae and slugs really do not go together and that if you put beer traps in a garden with a Staffordshire bull terrier who loves beer, it does not work out very well either.

This is not just a food security issue. It is also an issue of public health. In 2018, only 28% of adults were eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. The average was 3.7 portions and only 18% of children aged five to 15 ate five standard portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Horticulture is a public health issue. Indeed, this is recognised in the National Food Strategy, which has a target of a 30% increase in fruit and vegetable consumption in the UK by 2032, but that raises a key question. Where are these fruit and vegetable crops going to come from?

One aspect that has not yet been touched on is the potential for urban horticulture, which is largely overlooked in the national food strategy. However, it was historically important. In the UK during the “Dig for Victory” campaign, 18% of fruit and vegetables that the population ate were grown domestically in allotments and gardens. With more than 84% of the population in the UK now living in cities and towns, this is an area we need to look at, and that requires education. A study in Sheffield, admittedly a very green city, showed that if domestic gardens and potential and existing sites for allotments and community gardens were utilised, Sheffield could be 122% self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit.

Education does not necessarily have to be in a formal context. I credit the organisation Incredible Edible with having done an enormous amount. There are now more than 100 groups in the UK and many around the world educating people in food growing through informal elements. But when we are talking about education for commercial growing, I want to focus, too, on the excellent work done by the Kindling Trust in Manchester. Its figures and those from the Royal Horticultural Society show that the number of applicants for work-based training programmes have reached the highest numbers in decades. There is a huge demand from people who want to get into horticulture, but many of them, rather than simply seeking a job in horticulture, want to set up their own small businesses or join a co-operative with a small number of like-minded people to produce vegetables and fruit. Doing that requires one crucial thing—access to land. Access to land to be able to start those small businesses for people to develop those skills is a huge, pressing issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

We need to think about the human resources. We have long been stuck on the idea of finding people jobs, but that thinking is being turned around in all sectors. Earlier today in your Lordships’ House, we were talking about the shortage of people for the social care sector. The human resources of time, energy and talent are scarce resources and we need to use them well, and horticulture is a space where we can do that. Maybe we need a large-scale training programme to convert financial sector workers into fruit and vegetable growers. That would be a good use of human resources in an age where we have so much danger from our financial sector.

The UK is only 18% self-sufficient in fruit and 55% self-sufficient in fresh vegetables. The vegetable figure has declined 16 percentage points over the past two decades. We must ask ourselves what right we have to rely on other people’s scarce water supplies to produce our fruit and vegetables in ways that may destroy other people’s soils and involve human rights abuses and abusive labour conditions. There is a huge responsibility for us to take the kind of actions that the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, outlined. The Food Foundation calculated that if everyone in the UK ate five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, we would be 2.1 million tonnes annually short of the supplies that we need for the UK. Yet as work from Sheffield shows, it is perfectly possible to grow enough vegetables and fruit here in the UK: we have simply not devoted the land or human resources to doing that.

I thank the noble Baroness for stressing the environmental aspects of horticulture, as well as the need for skills and education. Buglife’s briefing focuses particularly on the risk of invasive, non-native species and risk of the trade in pot plants. We tend to focus on fruit and vegetables in horticulture, but growing trees for the reforestation that we need and even growing the plants that enliven our homes and public spaces is crucial. We currently import £1 billion-worth of live plants and planting materials. That is not only a lost economic opportunity for the UK; it presents an enormous threat in terms of imported diseases and species. Buglife notes that the invasion of non-native flatworms risks reducing local earthworm populations by 20%. People knowing about these things and replacing our supply systems from overseas with local systems are crucial.

Peat is an area of absolutely crucial environmental concern in terms of both climate and nature. We need to look at education, research and development to ensure that we end all use of peat in horticulture. The endless foot-dragging on the peat sales ban is an enormous government failure of this past decade. As an example of the positive alternatives, Dalefoot Composts takes 100% of its inputs from the Lake District, including bracken, sheep’s wool and comfrey. This is an agroecological approach to producing inputs for our horticultural sector. This is the kind of innovation, technology change and social innovation that we need, and it requires input of not just physical resources but human resources—time, energy and talents.

Finally, I also note the importance of real development in paludiculture. Even if we leave the soil sitting there on the peatlands, we must not allow them to dry out. We can be growing different fruits and vegetables—a diversity of crops—on those lands if we put the human resources in.

My Lords, I thank the Grand Committee for allowing me to speak in the gap. I should declare my interests. My family business is well known for its daffodils and bulbs. I am no longer active in that business, but noble Lords should none the less be aware that I was a professional horticulturalist before I came to this place.

We also grow a substantial acreage of brassicas and potatoes. There is a link between horticultural products in my part of the country, which is England’s Holland, or Britain’s food valley, and agriculture. As president of the Institute of Agricultural Management, I am very aware that science and technology that support horticulture and agriculture are key factors in the future growing techniques to address food security, not just in this country but throughout the world. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who is my friend but sits in the other part of the House. I am delighted with the work that he has done in this area.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister can see that the horticultural industry is part of the growth economy. It involves smallish businesses but they have great potential, as my noble friend Lady Fookes, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said. The industry will need the support of the Government as they question things such as supply and skill sets for those engaged in it. Those in the industry certainly see themselves as key to maintaining and protecting the environment, making this world a better place to live in. They are indeed green jobs.

My Lords, I apologise for failing to register my name for this important debate and thank noble Lords very much for the privilege to speak. I will be brief.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord already mentioned the potential for the horticultural sector. It is regarded by those in agriculture and horticulture as one of the most successful sectors in terms of its innovation and ability to very efficiently produce crops and the range of products already referred to. The scope is huge. It is almost irresponsible of us as a nation not to seek to encourage the further production of horticultural crops to fill the huge gap in our trade of horticultural products. If we were able to expand production here at home we would also contribute to the reduction of carbon and climate change, the use of water globally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, and the carbon impact of global travel.

There are three key factors required. One is the labour/skills issue, which has been mentioned already; the second is science; the third is investment. As has been mentioned, I have been involved in the skills area through the establishment of TIAH; I am sure the Minister will refer to that. I chaired a really important meeting last week on careers in agriculture and horticulture in that regard.

Secondly, the need to invest in science is a constant process. We have fallen behind in our investment in science. A recent study that I have been involved in, which we will discuss in November at a breakfast, demonstrates that one of the reasons is the fragmented nature of the British science structure. It has led to a lack of communication and delivery of knowledge. We need to do something about that, and I believe that the Government have a responsibility for investing more in science.

The final bit of investment is that we on our farms and our horticultural production units need to continue to invest. The ability to use robotics is increasing all the time, but we are not there yet in terms of having robotic solutions to many of our harvesting challenges. I was in France on holiday in the Bordeaux area. Due to the shortage of labour—it is not just in Britain that there is a shortage of labour; there is a shortage of labour in harvesting crops right across Europe—many have now made enormous strides in harvesting grapes through robotics and new machinery. It is only in those vine-growing areas where selective harvesting is necessary because of the quality of the wine that they still use labour. We need to be able to do that ourselves in time; in the short term, we are heavily reliant on migrant labour. The Government need to address that issue.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the gap. In France, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, alluded to, there are at least four top-class horticultural institutions. I know of two horticultural institutions in this country that made great use of exchanges of students, up till Brexit. They came very well trained and worked extremely hard; they were very easy to get on with and, most of all, they provided opportunities for their colleagues to come from their respective institutions. The Irish, being a resourceful people, both north and south—I speak obliquely here—have ways in which to address this problem, but it is just not possible on the UK mainland. I hope that the Minister will bring this to the attention of Home Office colleagues, as this is one of the skill areas that needs to be addressed in future negotiations with the European Union.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on securing this important debate on the plight of the agriculture sector and its role in the environment, and on her excellent introduction. I am grateful for the many briefings that I have received from various sources. It is important to become self-sufficient in food production in the country and to eat what we produce, rather than exporting it and then importing replacements to meet the home market. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised that issue. To do this, we need a domestic skilled workforce.

Following the Covid pandemic and lockdown, many sectors of our society are finding it difficult to recruit to roles that were previously easily filled, including in the horticulture sector. Some of this is due to the reduction in workers coming from EU countries; many returned home after the vote on Brexit and have left gaps in our workforce. Efforts to recruit a domestic workforce have not been successful. Vacancies are not just for those working directly on the land but for those at medium and senior managerial levels. For the industry to remain competitive and productive, it will be necessary to provide skills and training to provide a career path for those currently working in the sector and to encourage others to join the sector.

Providing access not only to levels 2 and 3 but to level 4 and 5 qualifications is essential. The RHS qualification facilitates 12,000 assessments per year through 75 approved centres. This is vital, since apprenticeships and T-levels would not be appropriate for all, but there are others for whom these qualifications would be appropriate. Investment in skills and training is a step in the right direction.

Fostering the correct environment for our UK workforce to prosper is as important as encouraging the overseas workforce to return. However, Defra seems to believe that automation, robotics and technology will solve all our problems—the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, referred to this—and science is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, indicated. Although it is undoubtedly true that machinery, science and technology could greatly increase productivity, many functions can be carried out only by workers in the fields.

During the recent leadership campaign, the Prime Minister stated that she recognises that some jobs simply cannot be replaced by machinery, which is why she is a supporter of reintroducing the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. What progress is being made on this front? Attracting seasonal agricultural workers is important, but it is also necessary to have the correct workers available all year round. There are many instances of middle and even senior management of horticulture businesses starting initially as seasonal workers.

The removal of the SAWS in 2013, followed by the ending of freedom of movement in 2020, has seen a huge reduction in skilled workers in the horticulture sector. An integrated immigration policy is needed. This is affecting not only the large business that the Secretary of State plans to visit but the smaller, but nevertheless vital, businesses providing specialist food, plants and shrubs. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the importance of smaller businesses.

I turn now to the effects of the shortage of workers on what can be classed as the public realm, including parks, open spaces maintained by local government, woods and copses maintained by the Forestry Commission, estates and gardens—some maintained privately but many in the ownership of the National Trust, English Heritage and other organisations. All require skilled workers who know the difference between a weed and an attractive flowering plant, have the ability to prune correctly and know when to do so. As this sector is not involved in food production as its primary purpose, it could be overlooked by government officials, but its importance is not overlooked by the public. Everyone knows the enormous benefit that can be gained by a family visiting a nearby park or wood for a walk and a game of hide and seek. A wander around a well laid-out garden covered with beautiful flower borders where the pollinating bees are busy on the fragrant blooms is peaceful to the troubled soul. At a time when a large proportion of the population suffers from stress, anxiety and more serious mental health issues, the role of formal gardens should not be overlooked.

For those lucky enough to have one, the domestic garden can also provide relaxation and enjoyment. It also helps create and restore wildlife-rich habitats in rural and urban areas. The rise in the popularity of television garden programmes is witness to the public’s appetite for improving their gardens. The planning and planting of a border can provide relaxation and enjoyment, with many visits to garden centres to choose plants and grow seeds, all contributing to biodiversity. However, my visits to local garden centres indicate that they too are unable to recruit the necessary staff to prick out seedlings and water and tend their plants.

This brings me on to the need for the country as a whole of produce more of its own potted plants rather than import them. During the SI phase of Brexit, many of which originated from Defra, some dealt with invasive non-native species, or INNS. The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, was eloquent on the need for plant passports for imported plants and the protection they would bring for the horticulture and garden centre business sectors. However, a plant passport does not appear to extend to the soil in which the plant is grown. This soil can be contaminated and harbour many INNS, such as New Zealand flatworms and Spanish slugs, both of which damage garden plants and crops. The imported plant market is worth some £1 billion each year, but the growing material is not regulated. Will the Minister say whether there are any plans to begin regulating the soil in which plants with passports are grown? I am not an experienced gardener by any means and I have no idea when doing a spot of weeding whether I am digging up an earthworm or a flatworm. I wonder whether the robin hopping around looking for a meal knows the difference; perhaps he is cannier than I am.

The Government are currently engaged in fostering trade deals with countries with which we have not previously traded. Do invasive non-native species form any part of these negotiations? Does the Minister agree that the phytosanitary requirements of the UK are currently not fit for purpose and allow any number of invasive species into our soil to destroy our crops and insect life?

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, raised the issues of a ready supply of water and gene-editing and I regret that I do not have enough time to deal with them at the moment.

Lastly, I come to the knotty issue of peat. Defra’s consultation showed that 95.5% of people support a peat sales ban. Peat, as we all know, stores 30% of all soil carbon globally. UK peatlands store more than 3 billion tonnes of carbon. Coming from Somerset, I know how important the peat moors on the levels are to the area and to the environment. Can the Minister say when there will be a total ban on imported peat? Until that happens, this issue will not have been tackled sufficiently.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said, horticulture is capable of delivering five of the 10 key goals in the 25-year environment plan, so it is by no means a poor relation to agriculture. This has been a wide-ranging debate over a number of vital areas. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for bringing this debate to the Moses Room and for her introduction, which was, as usual, excellent.

As we have heard, the UK horticulture industry is worth more than £5 billion annually but has been facing serious workforce challenges, particularly in relation to seasonal labour shortages and the skills gap. A large proportion of labour has historically been supplied by the European Union. This was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that EU workers accounted for as much 99% of seasonal labour in the edible horticultural sector, which is why we are seeing so many problems. This spring, this led to record levels of seasonal worker shortages with businesses reporting shortages as high as 40%. This has the unfortunate consequence of fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers being unpicked. That represents a significant financial loss to UK producers, a reduction in our domestic production and poorer choice for UK consumers. If the industry is to remain competitive and productive, we must look at skills development and how we can encourage more people to follow a career in horticulture. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, talked about the scope for development that we have, so what practical support will the Government give the industry to support these aims? We are aware that the Government have previously announced their aim to reduce the sector’s reliance on foreign labour and to attract new domestic workers.

In March, Victoria Prentis, the Minister in the other place, stated that

“the Government has been clear that more must be done to attract UK workers through offering training, career options, wage increases”

and that Defra had been working with the DWP to

“raise awareness of career opportunities … among UK workers.”

Can the Minister provide an update on progress in this area? Have the Government carried out an audit or analysis of the sector to identify clearly how it can move towards growing more and importing less?

The Minister in the other place also talked about the need for investment in increased automation technology. We have heard a lot about this from noble Lords. Earlier this week, the Environment Secretary announced plans to boost homegrown fruit and vegetable production and drive the growth of high-tech horticulture. This is very welcome; the noble Lord, Lord Curry, talked about the need for increasing production and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, talked about issues around increased imports. The NFU’s figures have shown that we are only 18% self-sufficient in fruit, 55% in fresh vegetables and 71% in potatoes.

However, the Government’s review also drew attention to the difficulties the industry faces in workforce recruitment. It stated:

“A long-term Seasonal Workers Scheme would help to stabilise workforce pressures in the sector, helping growers to better evaluate their labour needs over time and incentivising long-term capital investments in automation technology. While a new Seasonal Workers Visa Route has been announced for 2022 to 2024, the length of any future schemes should ideally match the period preceding the feasible mass-adoption of automation technology.”

The NFU clearly spelled out in its helpful briefing the difficulties facing the industry. With increasing competition for UK workers right across the economy, the temporary nature of farm roles and their rural locations make it very difficult to attract enough domestic workers to fill the ever-growing seasonal worker gap. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned that the Prime Minister has said she supports expanding the seasonal workers scheme. I would be really interested to hear from the Minister what action is happening on these aims. What are the Government doing or planning to do to make a difference in this area?

Moving to the role of horticulture in protecting the environment, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, talked about private gardens and green spaces. I absolutely support her comments on this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the importance of food-growing in gardens, how we used to do more of it as a nation and the access to land that will be needed if we are genuinely going to grow more. The Horticultural Trades Association has said that

“policy-makers are under-estimating the significant role that the UK horticulture sector can play in tackling climate change and achieving Net Zero.”

Groups within the sector have encouraged the Government to work with them on this. Can the Minister confirm what the Government are doing and what their commitment is in this area?

We have heard about non-native invasive species. Our trees and landscapes are under unprecedented threats from both new and established pests. Whenever I go back to Cumbria, I could honestly weep when I see the state of the ash trees. So many are dead and dying. We must look at how we can not only improve our biosecurity for the future but have a co-ordinated approach from government, industry and horticultural scientific research and development to tackle these threats and look at how we can deliver innovative and sustainable solutions where we have these terrible problems.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned Buglife’s excellent briefing on invasive non-native species, so I will not go into further detail, but I stress that it talked about serious concerns around flatworms, ants and slugs coming in on plants. It would be good to see what the Government’s plans are to improve our biosecurity and phytosecurity in these areas.

A number of noble Lords mentioned peat. We know that healthy peatland can sequester carbon and support wildlife habitats, but we also know that it has become a source of greenhouse gases because much of it is in such poor condition. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I urge the Government to act and bring in a ban on peat sales and peat in compost. We also know that two-thirds of the peat currently sold in the UK is imported, so a ban must include imports into this country because they damage global environments. In addition, a ban on horticultural peat sales would bolster the growth of new markets and supply chains in the UK and could create development opportunities in this country. Does the Minister agree that we have a fantastic opportunity to develop a world-leading sustainable horticultural sector in this area?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in particular, for saying “paludiculture”. It was great to get the briefing on it, but I had never heard of it, so I was not quite sure how to pronounce it. Again, that is a very interesting and innovative technique. Was the Minister aware of it previously—I am sure that he knew more about it than I did—and it is something the Government could support? This has been a very interesting debate, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register. I will do my best in the short time I have to answer the many questions that have been asked.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Fookes on securing this debate and welcome the opportunity to respond on the matter of careers in the horticultural sector, as well as on the sector’s role in protecting the environment—a point she eloquently made. She is entirely right, as were other noble Lords, to talk about the wider benefits of this sector in terms of the Government’s growth agenda, biodiversity, net zero, well-being—which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell—and of course for our food security. The Government recognise my noble friend’s commitment to this important sector, including through her work, which she referred to, with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gardening and Horticulture, which she so ably co-chairs. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to say a few words on this important subject today.

We are all aware of the importance of the horticultural sector to our economy both locally and nationally, with production worth more than £4.8 billion in 2021. Our climate allows our talented and hard-working growers to produce a wide range of wonderful fruit and vegetables. I am sure your Lordships will agree that, being a nation of passionate gardeners—there are 30 million gardeners in this country—we need, for want of a better word, to weaponise them for all the good that I referred to earlier which they can deliver, as well as, of course, for the aesthetic beauty of what they produce.

My noble friend Lady Fookes and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned the importance of using unused space in gardens. I saw a wonderful scheme of garden swaps, where people who do not have access to gardens can go to those who have too much garden and grow food. It does not even require the transfer of money; they can pay for the space in fruit and vegetables.

We know that this is a hugely diverse and vital industry which we can justly be proud of, but, more importantly, it is one with enormous potential to grow. None of this would be possible without the hard work of our highly skilled and enterprising growers, and I am constantly impressed by their skill and dedication, which is so evident all around us, not just in the food that they produce but in wonderful parks and gardens and elegantly landscaped urban areas.

Perhaps more important is what they do for our economy. The horticulture sector faces an exciting but challenging, future. It needs to be sustainable and to use modern technology and practices that help the environment. So, it is now more important than ever that we make sure that these skills and this expertise are passed on to the new generation who are entering this exciting area of horticulture and agriculture and that they are progressive, professional and as excited about the opportunities as their predecessors. Attracting bright new talent into horticultural careers and having a skilled workforce in place is vital for the future of UK food and farming.

A career in horticulture is not what some people might imagine, as my noble friend said in proposing this debate. It is grounded in innovation and the use of advanced and ever-progressing technology. To be successful, it requires a good understanding of business management, climate and logistics—goodness me, we have seen that in recent years in trying to get food to market. Those skills too often associated with other professions but absolutely vital in horticulture.

By raising awareness of horticulture as an exciting and attractive career path, people will understand that the opportunities available to them in the industry are worth pursuing. That is where our friends from the Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture come in. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the tireless efforts of TIAH’s founding patron, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in his work driving TIAH from its inception, through to its creation and into its current exciting stage of development. He referred to a meeting that took place last week that brought together this sector with others. We are working together and learning from the success of other sectors in how they stimulate young people to get qualifications that they can take with them through different aspects of their working lives.

TIAH is an initiative we have been supporting aimed at ironing out the fragmentation that exists within the current learning and skills landscape for farming businesses, enabling the industry to drive forward greater uptake of skills. TIAH is developing professional competency frameworks and career profiles to demonstrate the skills required across a number of agricultural and horticultural roles and where to access the training to develop them. It also works to raise awareness about the huge variety of rewarding and exciting career opportunities available in the sector. Currently, only production is within TIAH’s remit, but its long-term intention is to bring other elements of horticulture into scope. Collaboration, however, is at the heart of what TIAH wants to deliver, and the ambition is to ensure close co-operation with the ornamental sector in areas where there are common issues.

My noble friend Lady Fookes will be familiar with the work of the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group and of course its ambitious action plan, Unlocking Green Growth, which she helped to launch at an event at which I was present. This looked at the opportunities and barriers that this dynamic horticulture sector faces in achieving sustainable growth which can be addressed through government and industry working collaboratively. The action plan identifies huge potential for growth in the sector, which could employ an additional 39,000 people by 2030 and be worth, as she said, an astonishing £42 billion to our economy. It goes on to highlight the wide range of potential benefits to society and the environment, including physical and mental health benefits for countless gardeners and all who use green spaces and nature-based solutions to the challenges presented by a changing climate.

We have an industry which, as a whole, can rightly be considered a green economy industry. That is why we in this Government are 100% on its side and are committed to work with the industry to maximise the sector’s potential. Taking up the challenge, my noble friend will no doubt have seen the reference to the development of a horticulture strategy for England in the Government’s food strategy, which we launched in June. This is a rolling programme that will examine the diverse roles of small, large and emerging growing models to increase domestic production and productivity in a sustainable way. While the government food strategy was the vehicle for the announcement, the HSFE will also include measures to support the ornamental sector in increasing productivity and domestic production in a way that enhances sustainability and resilience. We will primarily focus on the time period between now and 2030, but we intend that this work will lay the foundations for long-term impact beyond 2030 and there will of course be opportunities for industry to feed into the development of the strategy.

To award farmers and growers who produce environmental and other public goods and services, we launched the sustainable farming incentive in June this year. In that, we included the arable and horticultural soils standard. We also plan to introduce an orchards and specialist horticulture standard in the not-too-distant future.

As per a commitment in the England peat action plan, we have recently announced our intention—this answers the points raised by a number of noble Lords—to ban the sale of peat and peat-containing products in the amateur sector by the end of this Parliament, and we are exploring how to extend this ban to the professional horticulture sector. I was involved in conversations with the industry a decade ago on this. I was convinced at the time that the right way was a voluntary system. That has been proved wrong, despite wonderful advances by the industry. I applaud it for them, but they have not been good enough and therefore we are going to have to proceed with a ban. We are continuing to engage with the industry on making the transition to peat alternatives as seamless as possible. For example, we jointly funded research with the industry on peat replacements in professional horticulture. We will continue to work with the industry to identify blockages and help those who have not already switched to peat-free to do so.

The lights are flashing, but I gather I have a few more minutes so I will try to finish.

Defra has undertaken a review of automation in horticulture, a point raised by a lot of noble Lords, covering the edible and ornamental sectors in England. In addition to increasing productivity and horticultural-related innovation, automation can also lead to more sustainable horticultural practices. We published the report in July, and the government response will follow in the next few months.

I will refer in passing to a number of different points. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made a very good point about water usage. The industry is doing an enormous amount of work to try to limit the amount of water used in the production of food right across agriculture and horticulture. This is where government, the private sector and academia can work together.

We take innovation seriously. The farming innovation programme is part of a wider set of measures to stimulate innovation and boost sustainable productivity in agriculture and horticulture. We have invested £70.5 million so far through the new £270 million farming innovation programme for industry-led research. We announced our farming innovation pathways competition in March last year. Across the farming innovation programme, 47 projects are now live and more than a third are horticulture products.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about invasive non-native species. I assure her that this is one of my absolute priorities and a priority of my department. Our plant health experts do an amazing job. She is absolutely right to refer to growing media. I am constantly impressed by the work done to identify and limit potential risks. I am happy to talk to her in more detail later.

We will increase investment in industry-led research and development into solutions to help deliver net zero in agriculture and horticulture, including through the farming innovation programme. The Government are excited to work with the horticultural sector to meet these commitments to safeguard our environment for the future and leave it in a better place than today. His Majesty’s Government recognise the value of a thriving and competitive horticulture sector. I will try to answer any questions I have not been able to answer in the few minutes I have been given to reply. I thank my noble friend for bringing this debate forward and I look forward to further conversations on this subject in future.

My Lords, I should perhaps say to those patiently waiting for the next debate that this debate did start a little late and, on Questions for Short Debate, Ministers are guaranteed a 12-minute response if they wish to use it. I apologise to those waiting.

Corruption in the United Kingdom

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effects of corruption in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much for coming today. It has been incredibly difficult for me to finalise what to say this afternoon, simply because I wanted to mention a current fiasco—a current example of corruption—and there were so many popping up that I had to keep delaying what I was putting into my speech. I decided to go with the Kwasi Kwarteng issue, because I thought that was a rather nice one.

For me, the point is that political corruption is absolutely endemic in our country, and we really ought to be ashamed of that. It is embedded in our system. We often fail to recognise it simply because we do not know about it, because it is covered up. It does a huge amount of damage. It damages our social fabric and individuals who engage in it. It is not all about personal greed—it is sometimes about corporate greed—but it is about greed, and it contributes to the growing gap between rich and poor. It also stops us dealing with major issues such as poverty and our climate emergency.

In 10 minutes I do not have enough time to deal with all forms of corruption, as noble Lords can imagine. For example, I cannot deal with corruption in the police, in prisons, in local government, associated with our borders, in the construction sector or even among Lords appointments, which of course would be a rich source of stories about corruption. I will deal with four types of corruption, and there is some overlap: political access, corporate lobbying, party donations, and procurement and privatisation.

First and foremost, and most obvious, is political access. In his previous job, our Chancellor held undisclosed meetings with—I could list them all—the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer; the chief executive of SABIC, the world’s fourth-largest petrochemical company; and the chair of Alfanar, an industrial conglomerate. Obviously, meetings with these people are absolutely fine and could easily be part of his job, but they are meant to be logged by civil servants. A government spokesperson said there had been an “administrative oversight”. It leads to the question: how many administrative oversights of this kind never come to light? Kwarteng was flown around the kingdom by various helicopters and jets, which apparently provided the opportunity for the oil company to lobby the Minister then responsible for the UK’s energy policy on opportunities for the company. Other points of discussion on the flights were redacted, so we do not know what they talked about. Although it is perfectly okay to take lifts, he really should not have taken them from private companies.

Then we have people such as Owen Paterson working for Randox as a second job and David Cameron using his inside track to lobby for Greensill. Money buys access to, for example, the personal phone numbers of civil servants, Ministers and officials. A recent Public Accounts Committee report said that it could not be sure that all the Randox contracts, which were worth £777 million, were “awarded properly” and that there was obvious potential for conflicts of interest. On Greensill, the Treasury Committee accepted that

“Mr Cameron did not break the rules governing lobbying by former Ministers, but that reflects on the insufficient strength of the rules”.

So we cannot hold people to account.

The public view becomes that there is one rule for people like us and another for them. Of course, it is not only things such as partygate, which showed a clear division on what people were allowed to do—it is also clear from the way in which the Government tried to change the rules to get Owen Paterson off the hook. This is systemic corruption, not isolated, individual corruption. We should all be very concerned. These examples are the tip of the iceberg—the individual cases that we get to hear about because of media activity.

My second issue is corporate lobbying, and its influence over policy. Uber spent £75 million a year on public relations and lobbying to successfully swing policies in its favour. Companies spend that kind of money only because they think that it will guarantee them a profitable return. Many second jobs that MPs have are actually a form of corporate lobbying, a value-for-money addition to the company’s PR budget that buys them the access they need. For example, Nadhim Zahawi allegedly earned £1.3 million from his second job at Gulf Keystone Petroleum. Again, this is not illegal—he can do that—but it is a much bigger and more damaging influence on our politics and policies than parliamentarians want to admit.

As well as individual companies lobbying, there is a network of right-wing think tanks that refuse to declare their corporate donors but launch policy reports on issues that directly benefit those donors. The media should be demanding transparency, and so should Parliament, when we see those policy institutes give us opinions disguised as evidence. Sometimes their members are even promoted to jobs in government. To quote George Monbiot in 2011, “Downing Street and government in the last decade has been completely captured by this network.” He is referring to the right-wing think tanks.

The third form of corruption, party donations, is more direct and visible, because big donations to political parties have to be declared. We can strongly suspect that the reason why we are still building houses and new developments without solar panels, without the best energy conservation standards available and without charging points or heat pumps is that property tycoons account for around one-fifth of donations to the Conservative Party. The reason why people are buying new homes and are energy bill payers rather than net contributors to the grid is because developers paid a toll of £891,000 to the Conservative Party in the first quarter of 2021 alone. The reason we are struggling to get a common-sense measure such as charging points for electric vehicles as standard on new buildings is that developers do not like it, and they pay good money to ensure that the Conservative Party listens to them more than it listens to climate scientists.

Is it not strange that oil and gas companies are getting new licences in the North Sea despite the climate emergency, or that they are getting £150 billion of taxpayers’ money which they have not done anything extra to earn, or that taxpayers are carrying the burden of that £150 billion for the next 20 years, instead of a windfall tax? Systemic political corruption has real-world consequences and real victims, so it is important to put this on the record now so that the next generation understands how Parliament did relatively little while the world started to heat up and burn in our climate emergency.

The fourth category of corruption, and perhaps the largest in terms of profitability, is the British system of procurement and privatisation. It has become a visible form of corruption due to the excesses of the Covid crisis. The system for preventing conflicts of interest failed, with firms referred to the Government’s VIP lane, a dedicated mailbox for parliamentarians and officials, where they were 10 times more likely to win contracts. Twenty-five of the 50 companies in this VIP lane supplied PPE worth £1 billion that was not fit for purpose, amounting to 59% of all money awarded to VIP-lane companies for PPE. The Covid purchasing fast track was open to abuse, and that is what the Government encouraged in the middle of a pandemic.

This is a reason why the Government are now burning £4 billion of unusable PPE supplied by donors and friends of the regime and bought with taxpayers’ money. This corruption was hidden behind a wall of lawyers, who worked on behalf of the Government to hide the most basic information about who benefited from the contracts and who they spoke to in order to get them. This is collusion or corruption and points to systemic corruption.

Of course, we are not immune here in your Lordships’ House. In June, it emerged that one Conversative Peer accepted £3,000 a month from a private firm to open doors with No. 10 and Ministers. Now I like open doors. I nudge a few doors open myself to help people. But I do not take money for it. I do it for people who cannot afford to pay for it, and I make sure that they get their voices heard. It is not a democracy if you have to pay for access. It is more like a Putin-style oligarchy run for and by the rich and corporations.

I think I am running out of time, which is absolutely infuriating because I have another two or three pages. Of course, I could spend all day here listing the problems and the corruption. We need this Government gone. I am not so naive as to think that that will be the solution to everything, because of course it will not. What we need is strong, decent rules and for people to understand that they are going to get caught.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for securing this debate, and I fully agree with everything she said.

The UK is drowning in political, financial, legal and other forms of corruption. Evidence is all around us. Open any newspaper any day and what do we find? We find mis-selling of financial products on an industrial scale, rigging of interest and foreign exchange rates, pension abuses, tax dodges, money laundering and cooking the books. I have been doing accounting since 1968—that is a long time—and I cannot make head or tail of the accounts of large companies any more. They are incredibility opaque, yet the Government do absolutely nothing, and that opacity provides the cover to shift profits, dodge taxes and launder money. Whenever you ask questions in the Chamber, you get a standard kind of answer read from a sheet. Nobody really deals with the issues. We have phone hacking, diesel emissions, raw sewage dumping, insider trading and auditors such as KPMG admitting that they falsified audit files. Companies are filing fictitious accounts. A large number of small companies are doing that, yet nothing seems to happen.

The UK does not even have a central enforcer of company law. There is cognitive capture—not just capture, but cognitive capture—and regulators are pretty much useless. I shall give the Committee some examples. Between 2017 and 2021 there have been just two successful convictions for insider trading in the UK. NatWest is the only bank ever convicted of money laundering, and only because it admitted it. Despite strong condemnations in the courts, no big accounting firm has been investigated, fined or prosecuted for selling unlawful tax avoidance schemes. I keep asking Ministers to please name one firm. They always dodge the issues. The Bribery Act 2010 introduced the offence of failure to prevent bribery. The Crown Prosecution Service has secured just one conviction. The SFO has secured two. That was after the companies themselves pleaded guilty because of what came out of the US. Separately, Standard Bank, Rolls-Royce and seven other companies were let off with a deferred prosecution agreement—in other words, carry on as usual.

In 2018, the Government launched the National Economic Crime Centre to tackle what they call high-level fraud and money laundering. There is yet to be even a single prosecution. It is no good the Minister in response referring me to a plethora of laws. What we need is action, and that action is missing. The key reason for corrupt practices is to secure profits and high executive pay. The Government have absolutely no mechanism for ensuring that executives do not benefit from ill-gotten pay packets.

The state continues to fail to tackle corruption because it has a close relationship with big business. I am reminded of a quote by Adam Smith in his 1776 book, in which he says that

“the English legislature has been peculiarly attentive to the interests of commerce and manufactures”.

Some 250 years later, little has changed. This Government actually shield organisations which in writing say that they have been engaged in criminal conduct.

For example, in the US in 2012, HSBC admitted in writing that it had been engaged in criminal conduct. It paid a $1.9 billion fine for money laundering. It is a UK-registered, supervised bank, but it faced absolutely no investigation of any kind. Without making any Statement to Parliament, it later emerged that the Chancellor, George Osborne, the Governor of the Bank of England and the head of the Financial Services Authority secretly wrote to the US authorities asking them to go easy on HSBC. It was too big to jail and too big to fail—so carry on. And HSBC has carried on.

In how many other countries do Ministers cover up criminal conduct? It is certainly happening here. If we do not investigate these malpractices, there is zero chance of developing any effective laws, regulations or other mechanisms.

The Financial Conduct Authority and the National Crime Agency know that banks have been forging customers’ signatures to repossess their homes and businesses. I have had a dialogue with the Minister before; more than 10,000 pages of evidence have been submitted. Three years later—nothing. No action whatever. Even worse, the City of London Police fraud investigation unit is now funded by Lloyds Bank, which is no stranger to banking fraud. You cannot make this up.

A former Thames Valley police and crime commissioner said:

“I am convinced the cover-up goes right up to Cabinet level. And to the top of the City.”

That is the indictment—but nothing happens.

Secrecy is a key ingredient in corrupt practices and the UK leads the way. The financial secrecy index published by the Tax Justice Network ranks the UK as the 13th most secretive nation out of 141 countries. As I said, I cannot make head nor tail of company accounts any more. The rules are made by the corporate elites, auditors do not care—they sign and disappear—and there is virtually no accounting accountability or transparency in company accounts.

The Government’s obsession with deregulation has resulted in many small companies filing false accounts at Companies House. I have tabled many Questions drawing attention to that. Too many of these small companies are now fronts for money laundering. I have looked at the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill and it does not curb any of these things.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, our political system is not up to the job of curbing corruption. It is available for hire to the highest bidder. Knighthoods and peerages are for sale. As Mohamed Amersi, who funded Boris Johnson’s campaign, said:

“You get access, you get invitations, you get privileged relationships, if you are part of the set-up”—

and obviously lucrative contracts then follow.

Too many legislators, in both Houses, are on the payroll of corporations, including those that are engaged in illicit financial flows. The inevitable outcome is inadequate scrutiny, laws and legislation. People can see that the system is corrupt and really needs reform, but I cannot see this Government reforming it—so hopefully they will make way for a Labour Government to do so.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on allowing us to talk about this important topic. I declare an interest as chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, although I speak in my own capacity this afternoon.

I do not share the apocalyptic vision of corruption that some have put forward. In comparison with some countries, we are fortunate not to have high levels of visible corruption in the UK. We have a respectable but not outstanding position in the Transparency International perceived corruption index but that does not necessarily tell us the whole story. The trouble with corruption is that it is an insidious threat. It can creep up on us a step at a time, and once it has taken root it is extremely difficult to get rid of. We would therefore be wise to take steps to head off any further deterioration in our position in this country. While the UK does not have the blatant corruption that you see in some countries, we have clearly, as a matter of policy, turned a blind eye to the perpetrators of corruption overseas using London for business or leisure purposes, and this introduces a risk to the integrity of our institutions and our national life.

I will focus on two areas in my brief remarks. First, corruption is about the misuse of entrusted power. Therefore, those of us who have the most power in our society, including those in political life, must be seen to be beyond reproach where corruption or potential corruption is concerned. We have a patchwork of arrangements in this country to protect public standards, not all as strong as they need to be and some under considerable pressure. The Committee on Standards in Public Life made a series of recommendations last year to strengthen these arrangements, and I hope that the Minister can give us an update on when the Government are likely to be able to respond to that report. So far, the response has been very patchy.

Similarly, corruption thrives where there is a lack of accountability, openness and due process, so the reluctance of some in public life to give an open and honest account of their actions and the failure of some departments to meet their freedom of information and transparency release obligations is a matter of considerable concern because it opens a door to corruption. Again, I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance that those undertakings will be met in future. Once again, Lord Nolan’s seven principles of public life, which include honesty, integrity, openness and accountability, demonstrate their continuing value and relevance.

The second point I want to touch on is investigation. The UK, with a few exceptions, has a pretty good suite of laws and regulations relating to money laundering and financial crime, as a result of which FATF, the international money laundering body, gives us good points and good scores. In my view, the problem is that we lack the well-resourced and proactive investigation capability for breaches of those regulations, which is what gives the regulations their teeth. By comparison, the United States does not have quite such a comprehensive array of regulations but has a much stronger system for investigating those who fall short, and that determined and aggressive investigation ensures that the rules are actually followed more often because of the deterrent effect.

However, in the UK, what measures are in place, for instance, to ensure that accurate details are provided in Companies House records? Why are ultimate beneficial owner rules so easy to avoid and why does government appear to have been reluctant to implement them? Given the vast number of suspicious activity reports made by banks and other institutions to the National Crime Agency, why does the National Crime Agency have so few resources to follow these up and to investigate the suspicious activity that has been reported to it? That leads to considerable frustration in the banks, for instance, that they report activity but they very rarely get any feedback. Why does the UK Treasury not have the determined and aggressive investigative posture of the US Treasury, which has an impact internationally? Without investigation and enforcement, regulations are a dead letter.

I received an email last year from a British businessman, who wrote the following:

“I’ve run a software company whose role is to provide tools to those battling against fraud and financial crime. I therefore sadly have a ringside seat to the explosive growth of fraud and crime in our country in the last decade. Encouraged by tolerance of sleaze, the growth of unimpeded criminality has accelerated in the last two years. The UK is now the undisputed world capital of financial crimes of all kinds. Law enforcement is splintered into myriad organisations which all have no real mandate and no funding. Tax payer funded organisations like Companies House or Action Fraud are put at the disposal of criminals to assist their activities or prevent law enforcement. Known criminals directly purchase influence in political parties without any fear.”

I leave it to noble Lords to judge whether that is a fair assessment of our current situation, but it is absolutely clear that the UK has questions to answer. We are vulnerable to corruption, especially as we host so many corrupt individuals and organisations.

A useful first step would be the appointment of an anti-corruption champion to take forward the work previously done by John Penrose MP. Can the Minister update us on the prospects for that appointment being made? We could be doing much more to avoid sliding down the international ratings. If we fail to act, we will find it very difficult to reverse our decline.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for securing this urgent debate, unnervingly but possibly appropriately overseen by a rather Caucasian Moses.

I was pleased to see that the United Kingdom Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-2022 and the Library note for this debate both begin with definitions of corruption. Broadly speaking, they define it in terms of the abuse of office or illicit procurement for personal gain—the misuse of entrusted power, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, put it. That is reasonable enough, but I want to offer another definition. Corruption happens when integrity is reduced to expediency and principle to mere pragmatism.

Of the many possible examples we could draw to mind, we might fix on the years of complacent steering of Russian money through the sewers of London. Despite many warnings about both the nature and impact of this, it was financially convenient and politically cost-free. Then, once Vladimir Putin went off-piste in Ukraine, suddenly the language changed to that of moral outrage: same money, same people, same oligarchs, same “brutal dictator”, same banks—the only thing that had changed was the temperature and political expediency. Principles of integrity and transparency, the virtues extolled by Nolan, were frequently mentioned and comprehensively ignored when convenient money was involved.

In the wake of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the tortuous years of subsequent legislation, the House heard many challenges to the abuse of language—the “normalisation of lying”, the “corruption of the public discourse”. Virtue received a nod while those in the highest power in our land sought to ignore both the claims and consequences of corruption. Corruption is not primarily about systems; rather, it is about character, both individual and corporate. What do we see in today’s papers? Reports in the Times of a letter from the chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission to the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition asking them to avoid promoting candidates who are “unsuitable”. I do not need to name examples who, by virtue of their nomination, bring our polity into disrepute—money, power and influence.

I am not naive and I do not speak from some moral pedestal. Lord Acton’s famous dictum:

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

was, after all, addressed to an Anglican bishop and related to the writing of history about the Inquisition. In fact, his point was pertinent to today’s debate. He wrote:

“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong.”

That is why it matters when those with power throw integrity and virtue to the winds while enriching or protecting themselves. It is utterly corrosive of public ethics and the common good.

Earlier I referred to what I call the corruption of the public discourse. Corruption begins with language. The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk writes that the nature of our public discourse matters because

“moral and political aberrations almost always start with linguistic neglect”.

Edmund Burke understood the powerful influence of abstract terms such as liberty or equality, which have the power to move people without enlightening them. Yet politicians who revere Burke also seem to see fit to defend draft parliamentary legislation that proposes to breach international agreements and therefore the rule of law, give unlimited power to Ministers to fill in the detail of skeleton Bills, see accountability as a nuisance and ignore conventions such as correcting on the record things that have, to put it generously, been misspoken in our parliamentary Houses.

These things matter. Behaviour and language are never neutral. The insidious truth is that corruption ignored, downplayed or spun opens the door to corruption elsewhere in both individual and corporate life. Why no ministerial ethics adviser? Why no anti-corruption tsar? Why still no real pinning down at a systemic level of cronyism, dodgy lobbying and unaccountable political donations that lead to personal reward? Why a laughing dismissal of hedge fund professionals who game a mini-Budget and make millions out of the economic and social misery caused to the rest of the population? No champagne parties for the losers. Why do we tolerate a legal system that is being run down, as if justice does not require adequate funding and resourcing? Why a Ministerial Code that reduced moral accountability on the part of Ministers? What just recompense for the public, whose money was used to pay billions in contracts to government cronies during the Covid pandemic? I will not mention the honours system.

All this is in plain sight. If we choose to ignore what is evident, we incur ethical judgment on our neglect. This is not incidental. If democracy and the rule of law are to mean anything, if integrity in public life is something to be honoured and not mocked, if public virtue is not to be shrunk into political or economic pragmatism or expediency, this Parliament must clean up its own act, pay attention to its use of language, show an example of transparent accountability in its vital work and demonstrate the power of humility in setting a public culture.

I have positive proposals for the Minister: set up an anti-corruption board with teeth and independence and appoint an ethics committee in Downing Street or the Cabinet Office with the power to hold the powerful to account.

My Lords, I join those congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on obtaining this debate. I wish it had a much wider audience. It really ought to be taking place on the Floor of the House because corruption, particularly in political life, impacts everything we do. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talk about the VIP lane that we were all aware of as a fast lane for friends and family to get PPE contracts during Covid. For many of us, that was almost the nadir of a collapse in standards. As we look far more broadly, every speaker so far has raised issues of that kind of corruption, all the way through even to our procedures, which now allow this structure of skeleton Bills and policy disguised in the form of statutory instruments so that it is not subject to refusal or amendment. So many areas need to be tackled.

In this country we are particularly vulnerable because we tend to be quite complacent. We believe that we, the British, may have our problems but we are so much better than everybody else. Having some real debate in the House, with major attendance, might persuade people that instead of resting on what we perceive as our historical and iconic laurels, we need to examine what we do in almost every aspect. I will pick up the focus that the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Evans, pursued and the other speakers touched on: the financial services sector. It is the one I know best.

The right reverend Prelate talked about the way in which we ignored the London laundromat. We tut-tutted about it but knew that oligarch kleptocrat money was flowing into the City and that it was a major facilitator, but until the invasion of Ukraine the Government were not particularly interested in taking any action. The legislation in the first round of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill had been sitting in an in-tray for at least a decade. It was ready to go and might, had it been introduced in time, have had a more significant impact in stemming that ongoing development of corruption.

When we passed the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, at the heart of which, noble Lords will remember, was the creation of a register at Companies House of overseas beneficial owners of property in the UK—one of the main mechanisms for washing dirty money—we put in place no meaningful verification system. I understand that there is some strengthening in the economic crime Bill version two, but I want to ask the Minister about that, because I am extremely worried that it seems to outsource to third parties the role of providing verification. I am not clear that there is command and control with the registrar of Companies House or whether the registrar has been given the resources to make sure that verification, which is critical, is effectively enforced.

I am focusing on the registration scheme as a narrow example. It relies heavily on enforcement. This issue was well described by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, in a broader context, because that enforcement has to come from the National Crime Agency. It has 118 staff in total to investigate financial crime despite the complexity of the issues. Frankly, the power of the enablers—the lawyers, accountants and property developers, all of whom are involved in money laundering—is often overlooked. They are capable of fighting back against any enforcement agency and making life extremely difficult. I do not understand why—perhaps the Minister can tell me—we do not say that at least some portion, if not all, of the money that comes from fines, forfeitures and confiscations of the wrongdoers should not flow back to the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and even, when they are engaged with it, to local police forces because we might finally have a sufficiently funded resource to take action against corruption. We must also focus on those enablers. I do not understand why we do not have a failure to prevent anywhere that I can find in the economic crime Bill. They must be dealt with, and they must understand that they will pay if they engage in facilitating corrupt behaviour.

We also have a problem at the regulatory level, and again I will focus on the financial services area. Frankly, the Financial Conduct Authority and even to some extent the PRA are a busted flush when it comes to any kind of enforcement. I have two quick examples. One is HBOS. I sat on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and listened to weeks of evidence on the collapse of HBOS. It collapsed because senior management, including the last two CEOs, dropped credit standards to a ridiculous point so that they could grow their loan portfolio like mad, which of course resulted in very high bonuses in their take-home packets. They also funded the bank in the overnight markets, giving it no stability. The FCA and PRA came out this summer with a complete whitewash of the senior management. Obviously, a few junior people have been thrown to the wolves, but the senior management has walked away and has not being declared unfit. In the Libor scandal, which no one ever dares refer to these days, ordinary borrowers and businesses across the globe—because something like 60% or 70% of all lending was priced off Libor globally—will have last quadrillions of pounds, dollars, yen and other currencies in lending because false submissions were made to establish the Libor benchmark. Those submissions were deliberately falsified to enhance bank profits and the bonuses of senior bankers, and no one at senior level has ever been declared unfit as a consequence of all of that.

I am out of time but there is so much to be done. I would have liked to address whistleblowers, who are very badly treated under our current system, and I will say just one quick thing before I sit down. I ask the Minister to read my Private Member’s Bill on creating an office of the whistleblower to champion and protect whistleblowers. It is a mirror of a Bill produced by a member of his party down in the House of Commons. If we do not act on those people who are the citizen’s army that deters crime, we will never come to grips with the corruption that exists.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on securing this important debate. All noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, have mentioned different aspects of corruption within our society. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said, we can argue about what the level of corruption is. For me, at the moment this country faces a crisis of public confidence in many of our institutions. That crisis of public confidence comes from many well-documented examples of corruption, misuse and abuse of power and failure to hold to account people, businesses and money. That is insidious. It is eroding and eating away at the fundamental principles of our democracy.

I say to the Minister, who will make a measured and reasoned reply in response to the debate, that I am pleased with what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has done. The system needs a shake up and a wake-up call. A surge of electricity needs to be put through it. There have been many economic crime Bills, ethics watchdogs and standards committee reports, time after time. I agree with the examples the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds gave, but the frank reality is that it does not matter which Government it is—I want a Labour Government and I hope that is what will happen—we have to have somebody who uses that power to hold people and businesses to account in a way which means that they are not frightened of them but of the law and being held to account. That is the real issue before us. Where is the will within government, our country and the international community to take it on? We describe the problem, we talk about the problem, we say what should be done about it and what can be done about it, and it goes on in the way that my noble friend Lord Sikka mentioned when he went through various things.

The situation is incredible. As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Jones, pointed out, it comes to something when on the Floor of the House—it is no wonder there is a crisis of confidence—just a few months ago the Minister responsible for tackling fraud resigned. I have his letter here. He read it out. He said that the Government were not serious about tackling fraud. It is no wonder the public lack confidence. The Minister himself, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, resigned, saying the Government were not serious. He was not talking about the lack of law. It was one particular law, and he was talking about his belief about whether the Government were serious in taking it on and whether the system was serious.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and the right reverend Prelate mentioned John Penrose MP. He did not just move on; he resigned. He did not just stand aside. He resigned in disgust at what was going on. He was the anti-corruption tsar appointed by the Government. So the Minister in the Lords responsible for tackling fraud and the anti-corruption tsar resigned. Why did the anti-corruption tsar resign? He said that the Prime Minister of our country had broken the ministerial code and had not been—let us put it this way—forthright in his explanation of what had happened: in other words, in how he responded to the Sue Gray report. Absolutely at the heart of this—leaving aside what the level of corruption is, which we can debate another time—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, hit the nail on the head. Many people in this country believe that there is one law for us—us, people in Rooms like this, the establishment, however you judge that—and one law for everybody else. That is what people think, and it is corrosive of democracy if we do not address it.

The Minister will say, “The Government are doing this, the Government are doing that; we’ve got an economic crime Bill and systems of accountability.” Why is it that, when all of that exists, people are seen to be getting away with it time after time? That is what people think, and if the Government, whoever they are, do not address that, there will be serious consequences.

This is not just about Parliament; people feel that way about many of our institutions, including senior members of the Church, the legislature and the police. People do not feel that they represent them in the way that they used to. Something has gone wrong; it is because they feel that the system is corrupt. It is not just about money; it is about making sure that your mate gets somewhere, and so on. People are sick of it, and then want something changed. The Minister must respond to that challenge, not by listing the Acts and the various initiatives that will take place but by saying what will be done about it.

I will use this opportunity to raise something that has always really irritated me. When I was a Member of Parliament in the other place I found it happened time after time, and other former Members of Parliament, and other people, will have found it too. We talk about one law for us and one for them. Why is it that, according to a report from TaxWatch just a year ago, if you are a benefit claimant in the UK, you are 25 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit fraud than tax fraud? In other words, many of the poorest people in our country face more serious consequences for benefit fraud. Let me make it clear that no one should defraud benefit, before we go down that track—of course that is wrong. But why do they face greater threat from the law than many of the wealthiest, richest and most privileged people in our country?

Something has gone seriously wrong; that is what people think. When the Minister responds—whether this Minister or another, from this Government or another—people want a surge of electricity through the system so that it actually delivers what it says it will, rather than just passing various laws that make no difference at all.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for securing this important debate, and I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. I will do my very best to answer the points that have been raised. Noble Lords will appreciate that some of them are broadly philosophical, and perhaps I will come back to those in due course, and some I cannot answer. On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, I am not qualified to opine on the accountancy rules; that does not fall under the Home Office, as he will be well aware. It is a Treasury matter, and I will be certain that it sees the contents of his speech and will try to get him a response.

The Government are fully committed to protecting our institutions and systems from those who wish to undermine or abuse them. Like the noble Lord, Lord Evans, I do not believe that this country is systemically corrupt, but corruption poses a significant threat to all democracies, and to our economy and security. The Government are steadfast in their determination to ensure that the UK has the strongest possible defences and upholds the highest possible standards.

Before I talk about some of the things that the Government will do, it is worth defining corruption in response to the point made by the right reverend Prelate. The debate has raised a number of topics which demonstrates how broad a topic corruption can be, so it is important that we understand what we mean by corruption and define its scope. Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private benefit that usually breaches laws, regulations, standards of integrity and/or standards of professional behaviour. Corruption need not be economic in nature and can still exist even if everyone has acted within the law. Therefore, it is imperative that we also consider actions that go beyond economic crime legislation and capture the broader elements of corruption.

Corruption is harmful in many ways. It threatens national security, global stability and development; it can amount to a hidden tax stifling the growth we need to get our economy moving; and it can undermine trust in our democratic institutions—a point that I think all noble Lords made. As the former president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, said so eloquently,

“corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre and destroys trust”.

Corruption is far from a victimless crime. While the impact of corruption is often hidden, we must never forget that it undermines the efficiency of public services, weakens the security of ordinary citizens and hurts the bottom line of businesses. More broadly, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, just noted, it undermines trust.

All noble Lords have asked what the Government plan to do. I will go into some detail, but I have only a limited amount of time, so I commit to write to noble Lords if I cannot cover all their specific points.

Economic crime is undoubtedly a multidimensional and multifaceted issue. There is a strong correlation between corruption and economic crime, and we are taking strong action in that regard. The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 was introduced in March, containing key measures to help crack down on dirty money, including from Russia and other foreign elites abusing our open economy, and provide greater powers to identify and investigate the illicit wealth of criminals. These powers have been put to immediate use.

The Combating Kleptocracy Cell in the NCA was set up after the invasion of Ukraine and recognises a significant increase in the NCA’s operational capability. I have seen those people in action and am in awe of their efforts. About £400 million has been allocated to tackle economic crime over the next three years.

The Government are following up on this expedited legislation with the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, currently going through its Second Reading in the other place. I hope that will deal with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about Companies House enforcement; among a suite of measures, the Bill includes reforms to Companies House that will bear down on the use of thousands of UK companies and other corporate structures as vehicles for economic crime, including fraud, international money laundering, illicit Russian finance, corruption, terrorist financing and illegal arms movement.

On strategy, the UK has long been seen as a world leader in dealing with corruption, from the UK-led anti-corruption summit in 2016, to the current anti-corruption strategy, which has served as a model for many other countries. Noble Lords may have seen our annual updates to Parliament on the progress we have made against this strategy. As they show, we have taken a number of important steps during the strategy period.

However, we know that the threat does not stand still, and we cannot be complacent. That is why the Government are developing a new anti-corruption strategy to succeed the existing strategy, which expires at the end of this year. The Security Minister will lead on that work as we look to build on the progress to date and make the UK even more resilient against the threat posed by corruption.

That resilience includes the overseas territories and Crown dependencies. They are separate, self-governing jurisdictions, but I am pleased that they have committed to upholding international standards and to having publicly accessible registers of who ultimately owns companies in place by the end of 2023. Gibraltar has already introduced such a register. I should note that this exceeds the standards required by the Financial Action Task Force.

The subject of standards in public life came up in a couple of contributions. The recent DHSC court case against the Government on Covid contracts ruled in our favour on all grounds. It showed the exceptional circumstances that Ministers and civil servants worked under during the pandemic to deliver impartial decisions to reach the best outcomes for the nation.

The Government are also working on their response to the recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and in the Boardman reports. The Government have already issued new guidance on the declaration and management of outside interests in the Civil Service, and in July updated the House on progress made in responding to those reports, including outlining which recommendations have already been adopted. I will happily update the House on progress once more has been made.

On fraud and procurement, some issues overlap with standards in public life; I will go into more detail on those. Fraud is undoubtedly a significant and growing threat. Victims of fraud can suffer both serious financial and emotional harm, and we know that the money fraudsters make can fund other serious and organised crimes.

Public procurement is an important area of focus. Through the Procurement Bill currently going through Parliament, we aim to deliver a step change in transparency, with notices mandated for direct awards and publication requirements extended from planning to termination, including contract performance. This will embed transparency throughout the commercial life cycle so that the spending of taxpayers’ money can be properly scrutinised. Not only will this allow better detection of fraud and corruption; it will also enable better value for money and efficiency.

I will digress briefly on PPE, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Contrary to allegations of potential conflict of interest in the awarding of contracts, the National Audit Office made clear that it

“found that the ministers had properly declared their interests, and we found no evidence of their involvement in procurement decisions or contract management”.

Our priority throughout the pandemic was saving lives. More than 19 billion items of PPE were delivered to front-line staff to keep them safe. The normal tendering process takes a minimum of 30 days; this was obviously not practical under those circumstances. It was essential that we were able to act quickly in an emergency. Under rules that existed years before Covid, contracting authorities are allowed to award contracts directly when there is a situation of

“extreme urgency brought about by an unforeseeable event”.

Obviously, Covid was that.

The higher-priority lane was one way of helping us to identify credible opportunities for PPE procurement so that front-line workers received the protection they needed. Ministers were not involved in the decision to establish the high-priority lane, nor were they offered a decision on whether this should be created. This was an internal process within the PPE cell, led entirely by officials. I could go on but I think that covers the principal questions asked.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me for leaning forward. Unfortunately, my brief is slightly between my glasses and non-glasses range so I have no choice but to do so.

Tackling fraud more broadly requires a unified and co-ordinated response from government, law enforcement and the private sector to better protect the public and businesses, reduce the impact of fraud on victims and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters. That is why we will publish a new strategy to address the threat of fraud against citizens. Whatever form it takes, fraud is a despicable crime that we must confront with all the energy and expertise we can summon.

Corruption not only undermines trust in our democratic institutions, as all noble Lords have noted; it also creates vulnerabilities that our adversaries can exploit. We must remain alive to those risks, which can undermine development, stifle economic growth and threaten global stability. We must also ensure that we keep the protection of our national security at the forefront of our efforts while maintaining the highest possible standards in public life.

The National Security Bill, currently before Parliament, completely overhauls our espionage laws and creates new measures to enable our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to deter, detect and disrupt the full range of modern-day state threats. The new foreign influence registration scheme, which has been added to the Bill, aims to strengthen the resilience of the UK political system against covert foreign influence and provide greater assurance around the activities of specified foreign powers or entities.

Many noble Lords referred to the role of businesses. Business has a huge role to play, of course, particularly as we seek to strike new trading relationships across the world. We are asking businesses to compete in new markets and be innovative in their approach. This is especially vital in times of global economic hardship but corruption can be a hidden tax on companies, denying them a level playing field. This must be countered.

Forgive me for this intervention; I will be quick. How does the Minister reconcile what he has said with the statement made by Chris Philp, who is, I believe, the Treasury Minister? He said that the Government will ensure that

“no business under 500 employees is subject to business regulation”

and that this will be extended to businesses with up to 1,000 employees in due course. How can that be reconciled with any of these anti-fraud and anti-corruption strategies?

I apologise to the noble Lord; I will have to ask the relevant Minister what he meant by that. I have not read that particular statement, so I cannot help him.

As I was saying, this must be countered. We are seeking strong relationships with our new trading partners to reduce these risks, and our businesses operating abroad know that they must comply with the high standards set in the Bribery Act 2010—a piece of legislation noble Lords have previously found to be a “global gold standard” in their post-legislative scrutiny. We are actively enforcing the Bribery Act. Operational successes in recent foreign bribery cases over 2021 included the Serious Fraud Office’s conviction of Petrofac Ltd—resulting in over £77 million in fines, confiscation orders and costs—and a deferred prosecution agreement with Amec Foster Wheeler Energy Ltd, resulting in £103 million in penalties and costs that also included compensation to Nigeria. On the subject of DPAs—deferred prosecution agreements—and in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, they have raised over £1.6 billion.

I am being told that I am out of time. I apologise to those I have not managed to answer, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, with his very specific query; I will get back to him on that. I am grateful to all those who have participated in this debate, and I agree: these issues strike at the heart of our democracy, security and economy. As I have made clear, the Government are absolutely determined to root out and tackle corruption however and whenever it appears.

National Heritage Act 1983

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

My Lords, it is obviously time to get cracking. We have only one hour, but we have a stellar cast of Peers here to debate this important issue, including the first major speech by my noble friend Lord Parkinson since he was so cruelly ejected by this temporary Government.

It is hard to believe that 40 years ago some of our greatest museums were simply adjuncts of government departments—much as I admire government departments. The V&A was actually a section of the Department of Education and Science, as was the Science Museum; the Royal Armouries was part of the Department of the Environment; and Kew Gardens was part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Heritage Act 1983 did a great thing and set them free, following the model of many other Acts which had put in place the governance of our national museums, including the famous British Museum Act 1963 and many others before. The Heritage Act meant, effectively, that the micromanagement of museums by government departments was to become a thing of the past, and that our museums would become broadly autonomous, steered in all their complexity by engaged directors and trustees—which reminds me that I have to declare my interests. I am a trustee of Tate, and I was appointed today as chairman of the Parthenon Project, for which I am not paid, which is a campaign to return the Parthenon sculptures to the Parthenon. I am sure that I have lots of other interests that encroach, but those are the two that spring to mind immediately.

This approach of making our museums as autonomous as possible has been an unequivocal success. As people know, UK museums are some of the most popular in the world, with 50 million people visiting DCMS-sponsored museums. The British Museum, Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum and the V&A are in the top 10 most popular art museums in the world. We have the best of both worlds: we do not micromanage our institutions, as do the French, and we do not simply leave them to the whims of wealthy benefactors, as to a certain extent our American cousins do.

With the 40th anniversary of the Act falling next year, there is now a chance to reflect on the remaining restrictions that still bind some of our museums. I am talking in particular about the disposal of objects in a museum’s collection. In the 1980s, it was quite right for the Government to impose these kinds of restrictions, just as they were establishing freedom for national museums. That has been very successful. The collections in our museums, which are for research as well as display, are unrivalled by institutions all over the world.

But in the last few years, the debate has moved on to include a sophisticated and important debate about restitution: how cultural objects were acquired and where they might ultimately reside. It has moved on also because, even going back to a time as recent as the 1980s, the ability to travel around the world to look at objects and the ability to study objects through technology have leapt on exponentially.

We need to debate whether the Act still works for what we need today. In 1983, what was not accounted for or considered were restitution requests and the idea that trustees might want, to put it bluntly, to do the right thing and return artefacts to their place of origin.

Things are beginning to move and the museums that do not have restrictions are able to make these decisions. This week alone, the Smithsonian museum decided to return 29 Benin bronzes, taken from Nigeria during the 1897 British raid on Benin City, to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria. Nigeria has also made a restitution agreement with Germany that included the handover of two Benin bronzes. Oxford and Cambridge Universities have agreed to repatriate more than 200 Benin bronze items, and the University of Aberdeen has already returned two bronzes—the first British university to do so. The Horniman Museum has agreed to return 72 objects. Glasgow City Council has returned Benin bronzes and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter has returned some sacred regalia to the Siksika Nation in Alberta. Many museums, if they are not restricted in the way our national museums are, are getting ahead of the game and leaning into this issue.

Let me show you an anomaly that exists today. The V&A has the “Head of Eros”. The British military consul in Anatolia, Charles Wilson, took it from a Roman sarcophagus in 1879 and loaned it to the V&A. It was then gifted to the V&A by his daughter, but Wilson himself had expressed the wish that the head be returned to whoever ended up caring for the sarcophagus. As long ago as 1934, the V&A tried to return it to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. It has taken almost a century to physically return it, but it was returned in 2021—but of course as a loan rather than a transfer of ownership. And of course, the Parthenon sculptures have been endlessly debated for the last 200 years. I am not going to get into that in my opening remarks.

The stalemate of the Parthenon marbles is nevertheless a useful issue to look at. If your view is simply binary, either you own them and keep them or you do not own them. The debate around returning artefacts is complex, but it is hard to argue that the “retain and explain” policy on contested heritage that the previous Government put in place has been a success. That policy involved writing to museums, galleries and arm’s-length bodies, even those outside the 1983 Act, advising them not to remove contested heritage from their collections. This was effectively a backwards step on the independence and scholarship of directors and trustees.

One question that is frequently asked when one discusses this issue is whether one will go from one extreme to another, from not giving back any object back to giving back everything so that museum shelves and display cases are stripped clear. That will not be the case. The V&A, which holds more than 2.7 million items in its collections, has received a total of nine restitution cases since 1999. The Spoliation Advisory Panel, which returns Nazi-looted art and is a good example of where the Government stepped up to do the right thing, has returned only 22 objects. I think the Spoliation panel and the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, where we ourselves say an object is part of our cultural identity and should not leave our shores, are very good models for the Government to follow, should they wish to amend these Acts and put in place a new procedure. One is not—without wishing to contradict myself in my own speech—saying that the trustees would simply have carte blanche to return an object. There would be a reviewing mechanism. It could be an independent body, such as the Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art, which would simply give a view on whether this was a wise disposal.

We know there is much talk about a supposed loophole that has appeared in the Charities Act 2022 to allow museums to make a moral disposal but, even under that, it would require an application to the Attorney-General and the agreement of the Charity Commission. The Horniman Museum’s decision to return the Benin bronzes was still subject, in effect, to approval by the Charity Commission; there will, therefore, always be a backstop to allow a director or a board of trustees to think again about a decision.

In these opening remarks, I simply ask the Minister to consider how times have changed. Our world-class national museums are run by world-class directors and curators. The debate on the provenance of objects and their location has become much more sophisticated, technology has changed and travel has changed. We in this House can have a mature debate about that. The Minister has a perfect opportunity, particularly with the debate about the Charities Act loophole and as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Mendoza review into national museums’ policy—which certainly needs to be updated and its implementation reviewed—to take a holistic view of our national museums in the 21st century and to put on the table the opportunity to give our museums and their directors and trustees greater freedom to dispose of or to return objects of questionable provenance to their rightful owners or location.

My Lords, on my travels in the Middle East, I once stayed at a very palatial British ambassador’s residence. I said to him, “This really is splendid, when did we acquire this?” He said, “Oh, the local ruler so admired Queen Victoria that he gave it us in perpetuity, in token of his admiration of the Queen”. One has to remember that when we were a great empire, we acquired many gifts in the same way as the mafia captains of Chicago retained tribute. It was to show admiration for the empire.

It seems a little bit absurd—I am glad that in the noble Lord’s introduction he noted that this is not a debate about the Parthenon or the Elgin marbles—that we get it down, as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, explained to me, by the restrictions of this Act or that Act, or whether we still have the bill of sale that Lord Elgin allegedly had, when we are talking about an agreement between two empires that no longer exist. This debate must be about how we manage our museums in the 21st century, in recognition of the changes that have taken place in the world—all kinds of things about national pride, the national view of who we are and where we are in the world.

I come to my last point. In my personal view, we would have far more national pride and esteem in witnessing King Charles in Athens returning the Parthenon marbles than if we spent several more years arguing the small print of a deal. Real national pride is doing the right thing. It is typical of the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, that he should initiate a debate and then have a press release on the BBC announcing yet another medal on his chest, like one of those Soviet generals for a new campaign. The press release makes one very interesting point. In an opinion poll asking whether the marbles should be returned, the overwhelming answer was yes. On the question of why, the answer was because they belong in Athens. You would be surprised how sensible the man on the Clapham omnibus is about this issue, compared with government lawyers.

The problem is that, while a Royal Commission might be a good way of doing this, as Harold Wilson famously said, they take minutes and last for years. A government draft Bill with pre-legislative scrutiny could do some of the same work. But let us not have this debate as part of the culture wars—let us have a real, rational and sensible debate on what we need to keep and protect and what we should return.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for initiating this debate and I also congratulate him on his chairmanship of the Parthenon Project. That is of course the brainchild of Mr John Lefas, who has donated something like £10 million to it. Apparently, his wealth comes from manufacturing plastics. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, says that he is confident that a deal is within reach—that was the report in today’s papers—and that support for “reunification” of the sculptures in Athens from the public, and in particular from Conservative-leaning voters, is clear. Later today, in a BBC interview, the noble Lord also told us that perhaps a deal might have to be a fudge. In a few hours today, we can see how his faith may be regarded. The combination of money from plastics—as if we do not know enough about polluting the climate—the advocacy of a “fudge”, which is terrible for our health, and finally calling in support Conservative-leaning voters might go down rather badly with the rest of the country. Maybe he should start afresh.

Let me consider what happens when the general principle of returning or the restitution of pieces of art is in place. The noble Lord has mentioned the Benin bronzes; they are a good example, because he is quite right that the museum is all over bending over backwards to return them to Nigeria, or what they think is Nigeria. I commend all those who wish to understand those arguments—and those arguments are related to these arguments—to read the Atlantic. David Frum’s article, “Who Benefits When Western Museums Return Looted Art?”, powerfully sets out the pitfalls here.

There are three sets of interests—the Benin Dialogue Group, the Oba of Benin and the Nigerian federal Government—who see themselves as the sole decision-maker in claims of heritage to the Benin kingdom. The Oba of Benin has announced that he is the legitimate owner and custodian, and the Benin Dialogue Group, which has morphed into something called the Legacy Restoration Trust, wishes to establish a museum in the interests of others, but mainly through raising philanthropic donations from millionaires. It would own the objects, were they to go to it.

This comes against the backdrop of previous attempts. In September 2020, Oliver Dowden, the former Culture Secretary, said in a letter to museums and galleries:

“History is ridden with moral complexity.”

This goes to the heart of the fundamental question. Should history be unwound? Can it be unwound? A standard that art should belong to the present-day Government of the place where the art was created centuries ago does not feel right, especially when those taking decisions to deprive their own populations do so in the mistaken belief that returning art somehow atones for the brutalities and injuries of the past. It takes more than the return of a few physical objects to express a genuine sense of regret for, by today’s standards, injustices of the past committed under different norms.

I suggest that we think hard about this but that public opinion should not be the mere determinant. The trustees of museums have an obligation to behave responsibly, and the Act rightly directs them to do so.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Kamall to his new role. I am in the happy position of being able to say that I know he will both enjoy and excel at it. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot on securing this debate and so successfully trailing it in today’s Times, in the weekend’s Sunday Times, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, on his Twitter feed, on the BBC and in our Spectator panel at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month—possibly also on his new Times Radio show, but I have not yet had the pleasure of listening to that.

It is a debate well worth having, and an issue I have particularly enjoyed discussing over the last 12 months with the excellent professionals who work in our museums and galleries, including those involved in informing the practical guide on restitution and repatriation published by Arts Council England this summer, the first for 20 years. As I have said in your Lordships’ House before, both the National Heritage Act and I turn 40 next year. It is a good rule of thumb that Acts of Parliament should be reviewed when the Ministers responsible for them are the same age, but I am not convinced, from the discussions I had when I and the Act were both 39, that there is presently a case for change.

Some perspective is needed. There are more than 2,000 museums in England alone, and the Act we are debating today covers just three—albeit they are now groups of museums—not including the British Museum. With a handful of other exceptions, such as through the 1963 Act, all other museums in the country are free to take decisions about their collections within the confines of their own statutes and charity law. I know from my discussions with museums’ directors and trustees how carefully and thoughtfully they approach questions of repatriation and restitution. These questions are a vital part of the unending process of historical inquiry. How did this object come to be here? How have it and the people who made it been treated down the generations? Whose voice is missing from the conversation we are having about it? There are often complicated or uncomfortable truths to confront in all directions through this historical inquiry. Ensuring that people have the opportunity to do that, and to reach their own conclusions, is in many ways more important than where they get to do it.

Just as it is bad history to sweep under the carpet past actions that make us feel uncomfortable, it is bad history to create new myths of wickedness or virtue. We have to seek to understand the past in all its complexity. At their best, our museums help us to do that—but there are constant pressures on them to boil down that complexity and let present morals intrude on the past. But morals, just like politics and fashion, have changed over time and will continue to change in generations to come. That is why I believe there is still a strong case to be made for universal collections that bring together items that give us a range of insights into our shared human experience across the globe and across the generations, and for sheltering them from short-term political pressures.

Our national museums take their responsibilities very seriously, sharing and exchanging not just the items in their collections but perspectives and scholarship on them, supporting the development of museums around the world and using digital technology to share their collections with global audiences. We saw just last week the advantage of having dispersed collections of our shared human heritage: a wildfire on Easter Island caused terrible damage to the Moai sculptures at that UNESCO world heritage site. It is possible that the fire was started deliberately—an unthinkable thing—but, whatever its cause, it is a reminder of the vulnerability of our universal heritage and, to me at least, it is a cause for relief that two are at the British Museum, as are some 20 in other museums around the world.

I have a question in closing. My noble friend Lord Vaizey asked about the Charities Act loophole. Has my noble friend the Minister seen the opinion by the Institute of Art and Law about recent changes to the Charities Act, specifically to Section 106 on ex gratia payments? The institute suggests that this could make it easier for museums, including national ones, to dispose of items in their collections without seeking permission from the Charity Commission. The recent Charities Act was a Law Commission Bill that was not designed to make significant policy changes in contentious areas. It was carefully scrutinised by a special Public Bill Committee chaired by a former Master of the Rolls in your Lordships’ House. Has the Minister seen the opinion and do the Government have a view on it?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. I think he has aged rather better than the Act.

This is a timely and important debate. This very week, a team from Cambodia is here visiting the British Museum and other collections to try to retrieve and get returned artefacts looted from their country during and after the Vietnam War. These objects—statues and monuments—are works not only of aesthetic value but of a huge spiritual, religious and personal significance that we can only try to imagine. Members of the team include the Cambodian Cultural Minister, the Cambodian ambassador and the distinguished stonemason and restorer Simon Warrack, who has worked on the rose window at Canterbury Cathedral, the Trevi Fountain in Rome and the monument at Angkor Wat. He explained to me that, as Tristram Hunt has pointed out, they can convince museums of the moral imperative for returning items but very often then be stymied by the 1983 Act.

As we have heard, at the heart of these deliberations lie profound philosophical and moral dilemmas. Should time be a consideration in these deliberations? Is there a difference between items taken in living memory from Cambodia or, for example, the Elgin marbles, brought to this country in the early part of the 19th century? I want to diverge a bit here just to colour this aspect of human involvement and influence. The descendants of Admiral Byng, outrageously tried and executed for a decision that was ludicrously described as cowardice, have long campaigned to get him exonerated. I tried to help them and discuss the case with our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord West. He was very sympathetic and declared Byng’s trial and execution a travesty of justice, but felt that the passage of time made it more difficult. This is relevant because, as with the Cambodians, that answer does nothing to help the feelings, the deep hurt, of Byng’s family descendants—and who in this Room would not want to clear the name of their ancestor?

I address this last point to the Minister. I suggest that if the Government believe that the chair and trustees of the V&A, for example, are responsible enough to be appointed, then surely they should be considered responsible enough to make decisions on the return of objects unfettered by the National Heritage Act 1983.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for securing this debate, which has predictably been very interesting and enjoyable. In the previous debate, secured by my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, defined corruption as being about the misuse of entrusted power. Of course, colonial power was not entrusted by those who were colonised to us—the powers—but was imposed on people at the point of a gun, bayonet or a gunboat. This is how we come to have the kind of objects that we are talking about.

It is sometimes a very direct and clear case of theft, even under the laws of the time, but there are much broader issues as well about all the objects from colonial backgrounds in our museums. I am reminded of the fact that the first time I went to the Foreign Office and looked around at the glorious surroundings, I thought “Ah, this is where the wealth of India went”. It was a little simplistic, but you get the idea.

I should make a personal statement here. I come from a white settler background in Australia, and grew up on land that was stolen from the Wallumettagal people. I acknowledge that I benefited from that. Perhaps influenced by that background, unsurprisingly I would go further than the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey: it would be a step forward to empower trustees and directors to make decisions, but here there is a moral responsibility for the British Government to make decisions about these objects, which were often stolen in their name. The noble Lord set out what is happening in Belgium, Germany, France and many other places and in institutions in the UK where we are seeing those returns.

The moral case here is overwhelming. The noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, referred to short-term political pressures, but basic morality is not subject to short-term pressures. If something was stolen, you give it back; that is a universal, long-term value. I make a practical point, too, about the geopolitics of today. If we look at the global view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in most of the global north there is a clear understanding that Russia is in the wrong and Ukraine has been attacked. If we look at the global south, particularly among the public in the global south, the view is not nearly so clear. A lot of that comes from a kind of distrust of the global north—countries such as the UK—and the long-term impacts they feel about being victimised for so long.

On that point, I will finish by referring to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine. She said that history cannot be unwound and that it would take more than returning these objects to undo the damages of the past. I absolutely agree with her on that. Loss and damage in the global climate talks is a related and much larger issue in scale, but this would at least be a start of us doing the right thing. In terms of global politics, making restitution for some of the damage we have done in the past would take us in the right direction.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for his comprehensive introduction to this debate. I am very much in favour of looking at this legislation, but with certain caveats. I wonder whether a more top-down approach is required, as has been suggested and is happening in other European countries.

It is clear to me that it is absolutely right that certain artefacts should be returned to their country of origin, or at least something close to it, and the Horniman Museum, for one, has made the correct decision with regard to the Benin bronzes in its collection, but it is important that if legislation is to be changed, those changes should be restricted to the question of restitution only. We really have to make that point.

In this respect, I am mindful of the concerns expressed by Robert Hewison in the Apollo piece referred to in the excellent Library note we have on this debate. It would be hugely worrying if legislative changes made deaccessioning in the more general sense easier, for all the many reasons that deaccessioning is such a fraught area. It is so much influenced by personal whim, faddishness, misguided ideas about tidying up a collection and, of course, funding concerns. Restitution is a separate issue, and that needs to be clearly understood. It would thus be helpful if the Minister could outline where we currently stand legislation-wise with regard to these concerns. As has been mentioned, it is about not just the National Heritage Act but the British Museum Act 1963 and the Charities Act 2022 as well. That would be helpful.

When we raise these concerns in the House, we are repeatedly told by the Government that it is up to individual museums to make decisions about their collections even if, as in the cases of the BM and the V&A, their hands are very much tied. We have reached the stage, in the words of Tristram Hunt, of there being a ping-pong between central government and museums that really needs to stop.

This is also a government stance in stark contrast to that of other countries, including Germany and France. President Macron has made it very much a personal mission to return ownership of many African artefacts, notably from the Kingdom of Dahomey to the country of Benin—not the same Benin as of the Benin bronzes, which come from an area in present-day Nigeria. This top-down approach, which in effect is a national policy, allows such restitution to be seen very much as an opportunity for dialogue and co-operation between countries. In this case, French money is being put into the building of a museum, meaning that the work is returned to a safe environment, there is training of curators and much more besides. To be fair, of course we have our own significant museum-run programmes, and I am very grateful to the British Museum for furnishing me with details on those, which include work in Benin City on the site of the royal palace we destroyed in 1897.

None of this of course makes up for the original looting of such objects or indeed the accompanying destruction, sometimes of a whole nation and culture, something which Russia is now attempting in Ukraine. It does, however, acknowledge the reality of a shared history for those artefacts, and that has huge importance in itself. France is proving that an exchange in ownership is no bar to co-operation. I believe that our Government should spell this out as an opportunity for co-operation rather than continuing contestation, which is currently the Government’s default mode in too many areas. I believe that the word “contested” should become an obsolete term. It is certainly clear from the latest YouGov poll on the Parthenon sculptures that public opinion has moved way ahead of the Government on that issue, with 59% in favour of return and only 18% against. The ball is very much in the Government’s court.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Museum of the Home.

In 2019, Manchester Museum returned 43 sacred and ceremonial objects, including human remains and a ceremonial dress made from emu feathers, to their communities of origin, four aboriginal peoples in Australia. It is the first museum in Europe to have returned sacred remains. This has resulted in a cultural revitalisation between the museum and these indigenous communities of origin. They have a very different view of the significance of these objects. For them, they do not just have physical properties but spiritual ones. This new knowledge has allowed the museum to reinterpret its remaining objects, so that they reflect not just how western curators might see them but also the values given to them by their creators.

The resulting equitable relationship has produced great benefits, not just for British audiences but for indigenous peoples in Australia. The Noongar people of western Australia wanted to replant a forest of indigenous trees, in keeping with their deep spiritual connection with the land, but such was the extent of the deforestation there were no seedlings available in Australia. However, Manchester Museum’s botanical collection had continued to propagate these trees. Their seeds have now been returned to Australia, where they are creating a vital link between the indigenous people and their land. This must be a shining example of how repatriation of objects can be a huge win for all humanity.

Manchester is fortunate. It is a university museum which, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, says, lies outside the purview of the British Museum and National Heritage Acts, which, as other noble Lords have mentioned, tie the hands of national museum trustees and curators when deciding about disposal of objects. What is interesting from the Manchester example is that it has proved wrong the purveyors of the “slippery slope” argument. When the 43 objects were returned in 2019, there was a huge publicity campaign around the move. The museum was unafraid that other communities of origin would be encouraged to initiate mass claims on the thousands of objects of foreign origin in the museum’s collection. The director, Professor Esme Ward, told me she had not had one single claim for the return of objects.

Instead of tying the hands of our national museums behind their backs with these Acts, the Government need to support trustees and allow them to make their own decisions about the acquisition and disposal of objects. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when I say that the trustees in most of these institutions are already publicly appointed and even vetted. Surely they should be the arbiters of these policies. The noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, during his much-admired term as Museums Minister was respected for visiting and listening to museum boards and their directors when they were wrestling with difficult decisions in the culture wars. I look forward to his successor, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, being equally willing to support the sector as it recovers from the closures and lack of audiences of the Covid years and moves into a brave new world.

Any change in the Acts must be with a view to creating a new environment in which great museum objects can be seen as belonging to humanity. We can all learn from combined research and easy exchange of objects. I hope this mood will allow for the suggestions by Jonathan Williams, the deputy director of the BM, who in August said:

“What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece. I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.”

Recent reports say that the British Prime Minister has refused to countenance such an agreement.

The British and Greek Governments both seem to support nationalist arguments that have created stalemate between our countries. I call on them to back off and allow our great institutions to work out for themselves how these extraordinary objects can be shared to the benefit of us all.

The Government keep telling us that they want to create a global Britain. The success of our creative industries has shown that this country is able to hit above its weight in the world. Now we must empower our museums to become Britain’s cultural embassies—centres of soft power for the modern, tolerant, cultured and informed society we want to project to the world.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on securing the debate and a dollop of publicity around it as well. It is a rare thing that debates in the Lords generate so much interest, but it is a good thing too. It is very nice to see the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, here after his excellent stint as our Arts Minister.

I ought to declare an interest or two: I am a trustee of the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust in Brighton and a trustee of the People’s History Museum in Manchester. My eldest daughter is a curator at the V&A Dundee and has to wrestle fairly continuously with issues such as this in her role there.

I visited the Hamburger Kunsthalle in the summer, and in one of the galleries there is a whole explanation of its policy and approach to restitution. After the Second World War it had in its possession thousands of objects looted by the Nazis, and since then it has spent a lot of time trying to return them to the people they were stolen from. Of course, in many cases those people were deceased because they had been put to death in the Holocaust, but the museum had made a very honest attempt to return them. In part, I see this debate in that context.

I raised this issue last month in the context of the Horniman Museum returning the Benin statues to Nigeria, which was an immensely significant decision. Now the Horniman is working with Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments on how together they can secure long-term care for the artefacts and arrange for a formal transfer of ownership, collaborating and working on the possibility of retaining some objects on loan for display, research and education, which I think we would all applaud. But, as has been said, the Horniman trustees were able to take that decision because of their independence and because they are not covered by the 1983 Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, makes a very compelling case for a review of the Act. I like his suggestion that there ought to be an independent review body looking at the issue, because that would take some of the heat that has been generated around this topic out of it and perhaps put to bed the whole “woke” arguments, which I think have rather confused the whole discussion and debate unnecessarily. Given that momentum is building for a review of the legislation, I wonder whether the Minister agrees with that point.

Perhaps we could get some discussion going about how that review might take place. I do not particularly favour royal commissions, for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, set out. But the reality is that the conversation is being had. Colleagues have given fair voice to that today in their observations on museums across the country and around the world. The question is: do Ministers want to be at the forefront of that discussion or do they simply want to follow it? I think there is a role for them to take a lead, and if we review the 1983 Act, although it covers only three national institutions, it sets a benchmark for the rest of the sector. I think the 40th anniversary is a good point to do that. We can reflect on the emerging new technologies that offer opportunities to the museum world to display and share cultural artefacts in many different ways and across many different locations.

I also ask the Minister to reflect on this point. What more consideration can the DCMS give to the independence of our institutions so that they feel freer to carry out their role as trustees? The sector itself is looking very carefully at these issues—the museums that I am part of certainly are. What conversations are the Minister and his colleagues having, together with the Secretary of State, to engage with leaders of museums and national institutions on this issue? They need to take a leadership role, because we are now in a place where there is an appetite for change.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and his ability to generate publicity for this debate. I also pay tribute to my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. I would not go so far as to say that he is a national treasure but he is treasured by many of us for his knowledge and the way in which he went about his duties.

Before I respond, it might be worth recalling some of the origins of the National Heritage Act 1983. I say this as a new Minister for Heritage; I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, would describe me as the temporary Minister for Heritage. Indeed, in some ways all Ministers are temporary—we are the opposite of puppies. People say that puppies are for life, not for Christmas; we are just for Christmas. We recognise our ephemeral nature. In my new role I am the Minister for Heritage, but my honourable friend Stuart Andrew is the Minister responsible for museums. Of course, there is overlap, and we talk all the time about these issues, but I focus on heritage. I have been reminded by my department to stop getting so excited about heritage railways and canals; there is far more to our heritage, as Historic England reminds me.

It is worth remembering that this Act established the Royal Armouries, the Science Museum, the V&A and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, as many noble Lords have mentioned, as non-departmental public bodies. We have to remember that, under the provisions of the Act, the bodies are governed by the trustees, not the UK Government. Many noble Lords may well question that, but it is a principle that we have to be quite clear about. The Act outlines the responsibilities of trustees of these institutions, which includes caring for objects in their collections and exhibiting them to the public, supporting research but also promoting public enjoyment and understanding of the unique and special subjects covered by their collections, as well of course as, rightly, generating much debate. Noble Lords have spoken about some of that debate today.

The Act also sets out the board’s duties about the acquisition and disposal of objects. It provides that the board of trustees may not dispose of an object in its collection unless they are duplicates,

“unsuitable for retention in their collection and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students or other members of the public”


“useless for the purposes of their collection by reason of damage”.

The Act exists to protect the objects and artworks in our national museums to ensure that they are preserved for public benefit now and in the future. As my noble friend is aware, this is one of several Acts that govern our national museums.

Clearly, the underlying question of where cultural objects belong is an important and, as my noble friend acknowledges, highly complex issue. Complexity should not be used as an excuse for inaction; it just means that we have to unpack some of that complexity and look at some of the issues. As someone who grew up in an immigrant household and is from a non-white and non-European background, it is very easy for me to see the feeling of superiority of white European culture over the rest of the world—you sometimes saw this in the referendum, for example—and to feel baffled by this question, given the rich histories of many other countries. I remember my parents telling me when I was a child, “We’ll go to the British Museum, but remember there’s nothing British in the British Museum.” I acknowledge that when I actually turned up there, that was not true, but many of the collections came from around the world, and many of those items are subject to much debate and ongoing discussions.

In the UK, of course, given that the trustees operate independently, it is up to the museum’s own trustees to respond to restitution claims. Of course, in our national museums there is also legislation, including the Act that we are discussing today, that prevents them from removing items. But there are two exceptions—my noble friend rightly acknowledged the case of art looted by German national socialists in the 1930s and 1940s. Of course, in 2000 we had the Spoliation Advisory Panel to consider the claims for the return of these objects. So far, it has advised on 20 claims, and 13 cultural objects have been returned to families. Therefore it is of course important that there are exceptions and to recognise that such claims are deserving of special consideration.

Of course, there are also legal measures in place to allow human remains under 1,000 years old to be returned to their descendants around the world. Since the introduction of this measure, there have been a number of successful repatriations of human remains from our national museums. As recently as July 2022, the Natural History Museum transferred the custodianship and care of the ancestral remains of 113 Moriori and Maori individuals to their descendants in New Zealand.

Given all this, I now turn to the questions from my noble friend Lord Parkinson and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, about the potential implications of the new measures in the Charities Act. I am aware that it has been reported that the two provisions, Sections 15 and 16 of the Act, have the effect of enabling national museums for the first time to restitute items from their collections, based on moral grounds. However, I am also advised that when your Lordships and the House of Commons debated the Charities Bill, no such intent was considered, nor agreed on. Given this, the Government are deferring the commencement of the sections of the Act, which we initially expected to be part of the first tranche of commencements in the autumn, until we fully understand the implications for national museums and other charities. I hope that noble Lords will respect that decision; we really want to understand the implications. Whatever one thinks of the debate, it is important that we understand the legal implications for that.

We also recognise that restitution cases are complex and that every situation is different. Given that, at the moment the Government are not changing their position. However, as noble Lords have rightly acknowledged, we are seeing museums exploring other circumstances in which they may be able to return objects in their care. This is to be encouraged. Noble Lords have already talked about the return of the Benin bronzes to Nigeria by the Horniman museum in August this year. The complexity of deciding what is Benin, who the rightful owners are and where the bronzes should be returned to has also been shared with noble Lords. There are many issues such as these when people call for restitution. Some claim to speak for others; many people have claims on restitution. That does not mean that we should not try, but it exposes the complications and the complexity of the debate.

Let me be quite clear: I understand the powerful argument that often museums are willing to return objects to countries but are prevented from doing so due to existing law. Many people—indeed many noble Lords—feel that there will sometimes be very good reasons why an object should not be returned, such as concerns over preservation, curation, storage or who to return it to. But they also feel that a law preventing items being returned should not be the only justification about returning those items. I understand that debate and these arguments completely.

I see that my noble friend Lord Vaizey is getting very excited for his next podcast.

I understand these arguments. However, the Government’s position remains unchanged. The Government will continue to abide by the long-standing principle and legal position supported by successive UK Governments that claims should be considered on a case-by-case basis. I remind your Lordships once again that we believe that it is the trustees, not the Government, who are responsible for these decisions—not as a way out, but to clearly state that factor as a part of these considerations.

We are committed to supporting museums and trustees in delivering their duties in care of their collections. Noble Lords will be aware that our national development agency for museums and cultural property and Arts Council England, which is sponsored by the DCMS, published the museum guidance, under the title, Restitution and Repatriation: A Practical Guide for Museums in England. I am sure it is a bestseller. This guidance offers museums a technical framework to evaluate claims on a case-by-case basis, and it advises on a spectrum of outcomes, including returning, not returning and making long-term loans and partnerships.

We understand that claims often also lead to opportunities for enhancing understanding for all parties involved in the discussions, including improving knowledge, contributing to research, building mutually beneficial international partnerships and relationships with the originating communities, and opening up a dialogue and discussions about cultural heritage. For example, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey said about the return of the marble head of the Greek god Eros to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, these two institutions have been co-operating since the 1930s—this is nothing new. However, this agreement is part of an ambitious new cultural partnership between the V&A and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and the Government support the V&A with its arrangements of renewable cultural partnerships, which are a pragmatic way of—

My noble friend was a government Minister; he knows that it takes a bit of time to come to the answer.

I know that noble Lords are proud of our world-class national museums and the fact that we have more than 24 million overseas visits to DCMS-supported museums, accounting for 50% of all visits, despite the closure of museums due to national lockdown measures. The global public also benefit from our collections, because let us remember that between 2019 and 2020 the UK national museums lent more than 71,000 objects to more than 2,000 venues around the world. It is not black and white or inaction compared with action. Some of these things are already going on. These are deep, complex conversations, but they also provide opportunities for cultural partnerships. Noble Lords talked about global Britain. What a great example of soft power it is if we can be seen to be co-operating and tackling those sometimes difficult discussions head-on. Surely it is better that we have some of those conversations.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, technology plays a vital role. Much of our national collection is available online. We recognise the importance of that, which is why my department supported the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s successful bid for £90 million to advance the use of digital technology. These initiatives demonstrate that our museums are dedicated to making their collections accessible, so that as many people as possible can experience, engage with and even be touched or inspired by them.

These collections are also the focus of scholarship and research. In fact, the national museums are internationally recognised as leaders in their academic fields—but, once again, they partner with universities, museums and other research organisations around the world. They collaborated with more than 1,000 UK and international academic and research institutions between 2019 and 2020.

Much of the research is focused on the provenance of museum collections. It is amazing; it shows just show complex these issues are that we have almost a whole new academic field looking at the provenance of the collections, the issues and whether whoever gave it in the first place—or claimed to give it—had any legitimacy. There are a number of other complex issues, as many people would acknowledge. Today we are also committed to combating the illicit trade in cultural property, so that we do not make the same mistake.

In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, we are aware of the positive discussions between Cambodia and some of the national museums. Once again, we welcome conversations such as these. I pledge to write to noble Lords to answer the questions I was unable to answer due to my verbosity.

Our museums co-operate extensively with partner institutions. They share their knowledge and collections, which has enabled our museums to co-operate internationally, to lead programmes, to collaborate and to consider issues case by case, but also, with our research on provenance, to ask whether we can unpack some of the difficult debates around those issues and to consider future claims. The law exists to protect the objects in our national museums, but we want to share these wonderful objects with the rest of the world, whether in person, digitally or through bilateral conversations.

I am afraid that for these reasons the Government have no current plans to amend this Act. It took me 12 and a half minutes, but we got there. Do not worry; we will have much more time to discuss it on one of my noble friend’s podcasts.

Committee adjourned at 5.08 pm.