House of Lords
Wednesday 2 November 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leeds.
Oaths and Affirmations
Several noble Lords took the oath or made the solemn affirmation, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Water Companies: Pollution
My Lords, the Government welcome this robust regulatory response from Ofwat where water companies are underperforming. It provides a great example of strong environmental and economic regulatory frameworks in action. The penalties to these 11 water companies were the result of missed performance commitments on areas such as water supply interruptions, pollution incidents and internal sewer flooding. The Government will continue to work with regulators to hold companies to account on their environmental and other commitments.
My Lords, the Minister just mentioned that the 11 companies fined by Ofwat missed targets in a number of areas: water supply interruptions, pollution and internal sewer flooding. The problem is that these performance commitments do not set the bar particularly high, which makes it extremely worrying that so many companies are falling short, some by a considerable distance. Does he believe that the current sanction, which sees failing companies having to repay customers a proportion of their bills in future years, is enough to bring about the improvements that we so desperately need? With this in mind, how does he respond to the suggestion by Ofwat’s newly appointed chair, Iain Coucher, that the regulator should be granted powers to debar the directors of egregious water companies?
I take what the noble Baroness says about the level these sanctions are set at. If she thinks that there are areas that could be improved on, we will work with Ofwat to do that. She talks about this as though it is the only area of enforcement. Where water companies have failed to achieve their environmental standards and illegally pumped sewage into rivers, enormous fines have been applied, which have had a dramatic impact on the amounts of dividends that they have been able to award.
My Lords, will my noble friend estimate for the House the contribution that the 300,000 new houses being built will make to the problem? When will we have an end to the automatic right to connect so that we will have antiquated, antediluvian pipes replaced with modern pipes that can actually take sewage from these new houses?
Enormous amounts of money have been spent on new water infrastructure, but sewage companies are responsible for the maintenance and resilience of drainage and wastewater networks. To address current and future pressures on drainage networks, we are making drainage and wastewater management plans statutory through the Environment Act, so they will be consulted. They have to put these forward as a legal measure to ensure that they take into account the pressure of new housing.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of some analysis done by the Rivers Trust that shows that the monitoring of our rivers by the Environment Agency has much reduced in recent years? It would probably say that it does not have the resource. Could he consider either adding to its resources or at least redirecting its priorities?
We have put more money into the Environment Agency and it has been recruiting more enforcement officers to do precisely that. We are also working with citizen science. I pay tribute to the Rivers Trust and others that are providing people to assist the Environment Agency in assessing the quality of river water.
My Lords, as someone who lives in an area which is likely to see a reduction in water bills due to penalties from Ofwat, I would prefer our rivers, waterways and seas to be sewage-free rather than to receive a small monetary handout. It appears that the threat of financial penalties is insufficient to encourage water companies to change their damaging environmental practices. Are the Government ready to propose more stringent means to ensure that water companies invest in infra- structure rather than directors’ bonuses?
We are seeing precisely that. There has been a £56 billion investment in infrastructure, the biggest investment in real terms that the industry has ever seen. Further to the question asked by the noble Duke, I can say that since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 54 prosecutions against water companies, securing fines of almost £140 million. In 2022 the EA has already concluded six prosecutions, with fines of more than £2.4 million, so we are seeing not only more investment but more enforcement, and the Government will insist on an improvement in the releases of sewage into rivers.
My noble friend raises a very important point. The chalk streams strategy, written by Charles Rangeley-Wilson, whom I suspect was my noble friend’s constituent, is a brilliant piece of work which the Government have accepted and which will form the basis of our policies to put these very valuable environmental and ecological systems in a pristine state as quickly as possible.
My Lords, the Minister talked about the enormous fines that can be given to water companies, but Ofwat has already admitted that it is able to fine up to only 10% of their turnover. Ofwat said that this is a very small percentage of the value of those companies, because they are so asset-rich. Will he look again at the limits on the fines that can be passed on to the water companies, because they are clearly not working?
My Lords, have the Government given consideration to changing the building regulations, particularly with regard to rainwater run-off, so that the water is recycled and not taken into the system, thus reducing the volume going out of the system?
My noble friend is absolutely right to raise this. One of the problems is that water coming off roofs and driveways—absolutely clean water—goes into the same sewerage system. To separate foul water from clean water has been estimated at costing between £350 billion and £600 billion, which would have a dramatic effect on people’s bills. However, there is nothing to stop us trying to do this with new housing, as well as retrofitting it into existing housing, and ongoing discussions are taking place with other government departments to see if this can happen.
My Lords, by no means wanting to excuse the water companies anything, I say that, certainly in the west of England, a lot of the river pollution comes from industrial food farming, particularly chickens and nitrates. What are the Government doing to fine it for its contribution to the pollution in our rivers?
The noble Baroness raises a very severe problem. We rightly hold water companies to account, but they are only part of the problem. Phosphates from the poultry industry have caused rivers such as the Wye—one of the great rivers of our country—to become, in part and at certain times of the year, practically ecologically dead. We have to recognise that there is a planning issue, alongside the way in which we support and incentivise farmers, and the way in which we enforce these issues, which all have to be brought together. We all want to see things such as food security, free-range eggs and broiler houses in this country, but not at the price that we are now paying in rivers such as the Wye.
I refer the noble Lord to the Environment Act as a first measure, probably the most significant piece of environmental legislation that any country has brought forward. That brings with it controls and sanctions, alongside a new statutory policy statement to Ofwat, to give it more powers, higher enforcement fines and many other things that I have already discussed this afternoon. I hope that he can see, on reflection, that there is a plan, and that we are determined to end the shameful situation of illegal outflows into rivers, whether it is from sewage or from illegal pollution coming from farmland.
My Lords, those of us who watch this situation closely do not actually think that Ofwat is doing a very good job. A case in point is that it fined Thames Water £50 million, which was great—but Thames Water is now giving each of its customers £3.40 as a sort of recompense. Does that sound reasonable or fair?
As part of this failure to hit its commitments, Thames Water will be returning to customers next year £51 million. An average household water bill to take all the fresh water into a household and remove all the dirty water is just over £1 a day, which is a lot of money for someone on low income, but in terms of household incomes, it probably sits well below energy costs, for example. This system of being able to return money to customers is absolutely at the heart of the kind of incentives we want to see.
My Lords, we will always support schools so they can stay open five days a week. Alongside the additional £4 billion that we are investing in schools’ core funding in this financial year, the energy bill relief scheme will protect schools from high energy costs over the winter. There is further support available in cases of serious financial difficulty, and we encourage schools that are struggling to come forward to the department to discuss this.
My Lords, it is a major failure of government support for children’s learning that some schools are even considering closing for one day a week to save on crippling costs. The Minister mentioned the £4 billion already committed for this year, but that is not enough: a recent survey by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 90% of schools expected to run out of money by the beginning of the next academic year. Will the Minister commit that she and her fellow DfE Ministers will fight their corner with the Treasury to ensure that sufficient funding goes to schools to enable them to at least maintain current levels of provision?
I will respond to the noble Lord in two ways. He is well aware that as a nation we face incredibly difficult decisions over our public expenditure and the fiscal challenges we face, but as a department we are always on the side of children and teachers. We do everything, and use evidence in every way we can, to make our case.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that schools are an important part of every community? They also contain a large part of things such as playing fields, theatres et cetera. What are the Government doing to make sure that these are available to the community outside the school day? Can we have an assurance that they will not be cut in the name of making sure that budgets are balanced?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that schools are an incredibly important part of their local communities. The Government’s position is that it will be up to individual schools to decide how to use their assets, but clearly those assets can bring in additional revenue for schools, so I would be most surprised if they cut them at the present time.
My Lords, levelling up will not succeed unless schools are fully funded. That includes teachers’ and other staff’s salaries, as well as energy bills and all other costs, which the Minister has mentioned. I repeat my noble friend’s question: will the Minister make strenuous representations on the absolute need to fully fund school budgets?
My Lords, as we have seen in new figures produced today, the cost of basic foodstuffs has gone up by a massive amount. What are the Government doing to ensure that school meals are not losing some of their nutritional value for the children who need it so much?
My Lords, 98% of the 630 head teachers surveyed by the Association of School and College Leaders said they would have to make savings to meet the rocketing costs of energy, food and school supplies. Two-thirds of them believe they will have to cut support staff and 17 are having to consider closing for a day a week, with a devastating impact on families and children. Does the Minister not find it astonishing that, despite several suggestions of ways to provide funding that would keep schools open, such as making private schools help shoulder the costs, abolishing non-dom status or a windfall tax on the energy companies, Ministers refuse even to consider these options when our schools face such pressures right now?
As I said in my opening response, the department is absolutely committed to supporting schools. We have worked through our school resource management teams and saved more than £1 billion so far, and our School Resource Management strategy sets out work with schools to save another £1 billion. In the school sector we see pressure on all schools—I do not dispute that for a second—but some schools are finding it easier than others. We need to work to understand how we can share that best practice across the whole sector.
The Minister knows very well that a number of schools employ specialist staff who help children who have difficulty in school. Many of these children come from disturbed homes or have particular problems in their own lives. Will the Minister assure the House that the department will continue to place an emphasis on this kind of staff, so that these children are not lost to the education system?
As ever, the noble Lord raises an important point. Obviously, we will be able to say more about that in our responses to a number of the reviews into this area towards the end of the year. He will also be aware that we have raised funding for high needs by £1 billion to £9.1 billion. We remain very committed to that area.
Will my noble friend ask the Treasury to bear in mind that, since the Second World War, the proportion of national wealth devoted to education has risen by a comparatively small amount—infinitely less than the amount devoted to the NHS, for example? May I also ask my noble friend whether there is any substance in the recent reports that the Government are, at long last, considering serious reform of the education system, including the introduction of the British baccalaureate?
My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lord Watson, the Minister said that schools were going to have to suffer because the economy had been trashed by the Conservative Government. Are we living in a parallel universe where the leaders of this country have heated swimming pools in their second homes—
I think that the noble Lord was in a parallel universe, because I certainly never used the language that he quoted back at me and I hope that he will accept that that is the case. Schools had the largest increase in funding—5.8% in cash terms in the current year. We have increased starting teacher salaries by 8.9% outside London. The noble Lord can shake his head, but those are the facts.
Will the Minister assure the House that full funding will be made available for the increases in salary to which she has just referred, so that schools will not have use their existing budgets to pay these increases in salaries and as a consequence be unable to stay open five days a week?
My Lords, may I take the noble Baroness back to nutritious school meals? She may be aware of distressing reports of some children turning up to school with empty lunch boxes because their families are on universal credit or their household income is more than £7,400, which is the cut-off point for free school meals. What is being done to make sure that no child spends a school day hungry?
My Lords, education ought to be the country’s number one priority, so school budgets should be the very last place the Government look to make savings, particularly after children had such a terrible time during the pandemic. I do not know a single state school that continued to provide a full timetable during lockdown. Children from poor or overcrowded homes, or those with special needs, will find their lives blighted for ever. The Government need to do much more to sort this out.
I am not entirely clear what the noble Lord’s question was. The Government do work very closely with schools to support them to do this. The balance that we need to strike is to make sure that schools are using funding as efficiently as possible, and we need to understand the pressures under which they operate.
West Coast Main Line
My Lords, the department meets Avanti West Coast regularly to discuss operational performance. This includes monitoring the delivery of its plans to restore and improve its services. From December, Avanti plans to operate 264 daily train services on weekdays, which is a significant step up from the around 180 daily services at present.
Will she accept that Avanti is incapable of running the skeleton service that it is supposed to provide at present? Will she accept that its prospects of increasing that service in the way that she outlined are pretty slim, given its record so far? Is there some ideological reason why those of us who are condemned to use the west coast main line cannot enjoy the same facilities as those who use the publicly run east coast main line? Could she ask the Rail Minister —perhaps she could tell us who this is—whether we can be provided with the same standard of service as those who are lucky enough to live on the east coast?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind words, and I am sorry only that I am not the Rail Minister, who is my honourable friend Huw Merriman in the other place. As noble Lords may know, he is the former chair of the Transport Committee, so he knows his onions. On Avanti, the noble Lord is right: as I have said many times, we are not content with the service provided. We are content that a plan is in place, and it is being scrutinised as it is being implemented. Avanti remains on probation, and the operator of last resort remains an option, of course.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that I praised the LNER east coast service last week, and I was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. The Minister agreed that the quality of staff was important, but she also said that nationalisation was not the solution to the problem on the west coast, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Has the Minister made an assessment of the management and provision of the services on both sides of the divide in the country to determine why a parallel service working on one side is managed far better by her department than a similar operator in the private sector? Is this due to poor investment, bad management or excessive dividend payments?
My Lords, the train network is extremely complicated, and it is not a homogenous system. That is why the performance of the train operating companies is subject to independent adjudication, which is really important. The Government will take their performance into consideration when they come to any future decisions.
My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interest as chairman of Transport for the North. If Avanti’s commitment to 264 services is not met, what does my noble friend imagine the department’s response will be, bearing in mind that it does not have very long to do so?
The Government are confident that those services will come on stream, as agreed with Avanti. The services form part of its recovery plan, which we are monitoring as times progress, as are the ORR and Network Rail’s programme management office. I would like Avanti to succeed, and we are giving it all the support to do so. But, if it does not, action will of course have to be taken.
The Minister might wish to agree on the essential importance of an effective rail system to transport freight. Would she care to make a statement on that, with particular reference to the west of the country and any challenges that are being faced there?
Yes, I know that the noble Viscount is a great champion of freight. The west coast main line is a key corridor for rail freight, particularly between the deep seaports and the distribution hubs both in the Midlands and across the country. Indeed, the industry estimates that about 90% of all intermodal trains use the west coast main line for part of their journey—that is, 90,000 trains a year—so that is also great for emissions reduction. We want to keep rail freight moving. We understand that this can be challenging when there are engineering works, and we take that into consideration. Where there is strike action, we do our best to communicate with the freight sector to ensure that it can plan accordingly.
It is the turn of this side; noble Lords from other parties have had three questions on the trot.
Can the Minister be brought back to the here and now? There should have been a national strike tomorrow; it has been transferred to next week, which is the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. On Monday, there is rail strike and a Tube strike; on Tuesday, there are no tickets for sale for the north on Avanti trains; and on Wednesday, there is a national strike. I spoke to the manager of the Union Jack Club this morning, who told me that this is going to have devasting effects on bookings by people trying to come down for Remembrance Sunday. So what can the Government do to stop this indiscriminate guerrilla strike action that is bringing misery to hundreds of thousands of people at the very time of remembrance? This is a time when people want to remember the freedoms we got from people who died in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts throughout the world: freedom to move, freedom to associate with each other and freedom to come to remembrances. These union barons must be held to account for at a whim changing these strikes to make it more difficult for people to travel at times when they need to travel—it has to stop.
Perhaps the noble Lord would like to cross the Floor.
The noble Lord is completely right: strikes are hugely disruptive to people who want to come to Remembrance Sunday and related events around that time, and to those who want to go to school or work. We remain committed to trying to resolve these strikes; we do not want them to continue. However, we must have an agile and modern workforce so that we can deliver a modern seven-day railway. If the unions stand in the way of that, we cannot the deliver the passenger services that are required.
My Lords, the performance of the operator on the west coast main line cannot be excused, but is it not also the case that there are severe capacity restraints on the west coast main line? It is Europe’s busiest mixed-use line, which means that it is hard to increase the number of passengers or freight in the long term. Does that not remind us of the importance of increasing capacity, which means continuing with the HS2 project that will not only increase speed but capacity, thereby relieving that line and two other main lines in the country?
My noble friend is absolutely right: there are capacity constraints on the west coast main line that impact both passengers and freight. It is also the case that the west coast main line is fairly old, and therefore engineering works are necessary; that caused some disruption between 22 and 30 October. So he is absolutely right that we must continue to invest in our railways, and that is what the Government are doing.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the promises made by Avanti to run three trains an hour from London to Birmingham have not been honoured, and, worse still, that it is now running only one train an hour between two of the country’s largest cities? Could she tell us why—despite making surely the understatement of the year that the performance of Avanti trains was dreadful—its contract was extended?
I am not entirely sure where the noble Lord gets those figures from, because my understanding is that on weekdays between 7 am and 9 am—for example, between Birmingham and London—the services are actually at pre-pandemic levels. Of course, there have been changes to the timetable at some other points, but that is very much down to changes in travel habits, such that the system needs to have a demand-led timetable so that we can ensure that people can travel when they need to.
If I were a nurse and decided to work only half my contracted hours and demanded to be paid my full salary, I would be rejected out of hand. Yet Avanti has essentially done this: it has provided less than half its service to some major cities, but it is still paid the standard contract fee. I ask the Minister: why are DfT contracts written so loosely that it is still entitled to that?
I think it is absolutely right, as I said earlier, that the performance is subject to independent adjudication. If there is any action to be taken by the DfT, we would follow the legal and contractual processes. We are aware that there is an opportunity to improve our contracting as we move forward and that is why we hope to move to passenger service contracts in due course to encourage competition and enable services to run as they should.
Ministers: Government Business
The Government have robust systems in place to protect against cyber threats and we are vigilant in ensuring that these are up to date and meet the challenges of the modern world. Just yesterday, the Security Minister announced that he was establishing a new task force from across departments, the security and intelligence agencies, the private sector and civil society to meet these big challenges. All new Ministers receive a general security briefing in their first weeks in government. The National Cyber Security Centre and government security officials then regularly provide Ministers with specific advice on protecting personal data and managing online profiles, as well as on best-practice guidance.
But the system is not robust, as the Minister claims. The previous Prime Minister had her phone hacked. The Home Secretary leaked classified information and, during the early days of Covid, Johnson, the Prime Minister, used a phone that then was lost with all messages unobtainable. At this rate, we are going to have to ask the Russian secret services for all the details about where and when ministerial decisions were made. [Laughter.]
Good. The Government take matters of security very seriously. Of course, I am not going to comment on individual cases—that would not be appropriate—but I draw attention to the fact that the Home Secretary has provided a very detailed account, step by step, in a very full letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee and, of course, she apologised for her error and resigned. The Prime Minister has now appointed her to do a very important job.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his entire Cabinet at that time, many of whom are now back in the Cabinet, were warned in 2019 not to use their personal phones for business but it appears that some continued to do so. Can the Minister confirm what guidance was given to Cabinet Ministers at that time? Is it still being given to Cabinet Ministers? How is that guidance being enforced and is not obeying those rules a breach of the Ministerial Code?
I will not, of course, comment on the particular; however, it is the case that government systems should be used, as far as practicable, for government business. The guidance issued and kept under review does not rule out the use of different forms of electronic communications in some circumstances. There has to be a place for a variety of digital channels. Ministers have informal conversations from time to time and they have to use a variety of digital communications for personal, political and parliamentary matters.
My Lords, Ministers have said that they are conducting government business on Signal, a messaging app that deletes messages after five seconds and can block screen grabs. How is this compatible with official rules on the use of private devices for such business, particularly when having to send copies of messages to civil servants?
As I said, government systems should be used as far as practicable. In some cases it is not possible to do that, and in some cases it is not appropriate—for example, changing the time of a meeting can be done perfectly well in this digital world. Having said that, the Cabinet Office has previously published guidance on how information is held; it is always being looked at and updated to reflect modern forms of working and technology—and, of course, the changing threat. Cyber and technology are changing all the time, which is why this work is so important and why I mentioned the task force set up under Minister Tugendhat.
My Lords, I sympathise over the complexity of this matter, particularly given the technological developments, but there is the question of principle, which does not particularly relate to the recent cases cited. Several decades ago, when I was at GCHQ, the slightest security misdemeanour meant that you lost your job. Does that principle—that making a serious security error has consequences and a simple apology will not do—still apply? I cannot think of another circumstance in which an apology would have sufficed.
I am glad that we have the advice of somebody who used to work at GCHQ; it shows the breadth of this House and what we are able to do on security. I have explained that the Home Secretary apologised and that she resigned. We have discussed before that she has come back—you can have redemption in this life. You need to have respect for security and make sure that you are ahead of the game but, occasionally, you also need to be able to say, “I did the wrong thing”, and you need to be forgiven.
Tweeting has a place in modern news communication. The point that we all need to understand—and I assure noble Lords that, as a new Minister, I have taken the briefing that I have had very seriously—is about when you can use social media and non-government communications and when you need to be very careful. Of course, in some cases you cannot even use official digital communication for secret stuff; it has to be looked at in a particular location and on paper.
I agree. Since I came to the Dispatch Box—I am sorry that I have lost my voice—I have been trying to move the debate forward. That is why I was emphasising the role of the UK on cybersecurity, which is an impressive one. I know, because I had to attend three days of a cybersecurity conference in Singapore while Secretaries of State were busy on other matters. I found that the UK’s work was highly respected and took a great deal of comfort from that. It is very important that we invest in the future and support the task force that has been set up and is going to draw on expertise from across the House.
My Lords, it is good to know that the Minister has had training on security but yesterday’s i suggested that some of the UK’s closest allies are so concerned about the Government’s use of repeated use of personal devices for government business that they are beginning to consider what security briefings they should make available to the United Kingdom. Is that not a reason why her colleagues in government should think again about using personal devices for government business?
I am always careful to question individual reports, but I repeat that we take a leading role on the global stage in countering state threats, and we will continue to work closely on this with like-minded allies and partners to defend UK interests, and the international rules-based system, from hostile activity.
My Lords, the Minister has told us that she is unwilling to talk about case histories and so on, although she has given us a pretty fulsome step-by-step report on the Home Secretary’s resignation and reappointment. In view of the fact that she began by telling us from the Dispatch Box today that this is not a laughing matter—that it is very serious—and the sober words from the right reverend Prelate about his experience of GCHQ and the seriousness of these lapses, can she confirm from the Dispatch Box that to describe what we are going through as a witch hunt is inappropriate?
I note what the noble Lord says, but I must say that I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Forsyth: we really need to move forward. I went into detail on the Home Secretary only because she wrote a letter in great detail, which I think is of interest to people who take an interest in these matters. We need to move forward and to support those in the security services and others trying to defend national security and, even more importantly, anticipate the new threats coming at us all the time. The digital world is changing, as I know from my recent trip, and we have to work to strengthen defences, but in a reasonable, sensible way.
Police: Vetting, Misconduct and Misogyny
Private Notice Question
I thank the noble Lord for his Question. This report contains extremely concerning findings about policing culture and vetting processes, which are falling short of the standards expected and damaging public confidence in the process. Forty of the recommendations in the report are for policing itself to adopt, for chief officers and the College of Policing respectively. Chiefs have committed to addressing the recommendations in full and the Home Office will consider and respond to its three recommendations in due course.
I thank the Minister for the reply, but today we learned from the police inspectorate’s report of extraordinary failures in the vetting of applicants to join the force. Is it true that at a time when confidence in the police is being undermined, hundreds, indeed thousands of officers are on our streets who are guilty of serious offences? How has that happened and when was the Home Office aware of it? Is it acceptable that officers with convictions for robbery, indecent exposure and domestic abuse, and links with serious and organised crime, have been accepted? How is it possible that we read of unwarranted stops of women by officers as a result of the so-called booty patrols? This is happening now. It is not historic—it is not “Z Cars” or “Dixon of Dock Green”—so the need for action is urgent. What are the Government, with the police, going to do in practice? The time for reviews is over. It is action that is needed, is it not?
It is, and I agree with the noble Lord entirely that it is completely unacceptable to have those people in our police forces. The fact is that the chiefs need to take immediate action to ensure that vetting is prioritised in their forces and the public can therefore have confidence in them. It is the responsibility of the individual police forces; they are responsible for their own vetting decisions, which they should take in accordance with guidance from the College of Policing. Frankly, I agree with the noble Lord: it is incredibly disappointing—worse than disappointing —that, despite some progress, previous warnings about vetting have not been acted upon. Chiefs must make clear to the vetting units the high standards they expect from them. There is no excuse for poorly recording the rationale in the vetting decisions.
My Lords, this is yet another devastating report on the police service—devastating particularly for female victims, who will be wondering whether they can trust the officer who arrives when they call the police, and devastating for the majority of decent hard-working police officers, who have again been let down by successive Conservative Governments and their own senior officers. Every single time there is mass recruitment in the police service, more of the wrong people slip through the vetting net, and police misconduct, corruption and criminality increase. It happened in the mid-1970s and in the mid-2000s, and it is happening again now. Will the Government tell the police that quality is more important than quantity, and will they give police chiefs the legislation they need to enable them to deal effectively with corrupt officers?
I am not entirely sure I share the noble Lord’s analysis of the quality problem. The fact is that a new online application process has been introduced, replacing an old assessment centre system called SEARCH. The new process operates according to national guidelines and it has been reasonably successful so far. Some 83,500 candidates were invited to complete the assessment; 58,000 have had their results marked and 42,500 have been successful—that is 73.55%. It is not just online; all the candidates have to pass each stage of the recruitment process, which includes assessment centres, vetting, medical assessments and fitness tests—there are lots of face-to-face aspects of the process. I am not convinced that an uplift in numbers affects quality.
My Lords, when asked about these matters the noble Lord says repeatedly that police vetting, discipline and recruitment must be left to chief constables themselves, but should there not be a legislative framework for this? The Government are very ready repeatedly to legislate for extra police powers but not for what the public deserve, which is a rigorous legislative scheme for recruitment, vetting and discipline.
That is the way the system is currently set up. As I say, the Home Office is not trying to absolve itself in this regard, but the fact remains that the vetting processes, which vary to some extent across forces, are the responsibility of chief constables.
My Lords, I remind Members of the House of my previous service in senior positions in a number of police forces in this country. The report in the newspapers this morning will fill all of us with concern—indeed, dismay. The findings of the inspectorate report are horrific. There will be many factors behind this, but I ask a question on one factor only: the need for staff training to develop leadership. The Home Office disbanded the Staff College—and this is nothing to do with the College of Policing—some 12 years ago. It was not re-established, and it badly needs to be so. Do His Majesty’s Government have any plans to re-establish the Staff College?
My Lords, in his first Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Rishi Sunak chose to close the session by bragging and baiting the leader of the Opposition—to braying from the Tory Benches—saying that there are 15,000 new police officers on our streets. When he did so, how much did he know about the scale and nature of this—that hundreds, perhaps thousands of those people may have passed through flawed vetting processes?
As my noble friend will be aware, and as we debated extensively earlier this week, police and crime commissioners, along with chief constables, are responsible for setting out individual forces’ ways of dealing with and performing on these matters.
I ask the Minister gently about the decision to get rid of police officers during the first eight years or so, from 2010 onwards. Now that the Government have changed their policy, there is a need to get a lot of police officers in as quickly as possible in order to tackle crime. Does the Minister not think that those early decisions, in Budget after Budget, to take money away from police recruitment were terrible mistakes?
I obviously cannot answer that. I do not know if it was a good idea or not. The fact remains that the recruitment drive, as part of the police uplift programme, is delivering a large number of police officers. To reassure the House, there is no evidence to suggest that this is responsible for any adverse decision-making in vetting.
My Lords, is not the essence of this report contained in the third paragraph of the foreword, which says:
“Some police officers have used their unique position to commit appalling crimes, especially against women. Some forces have repeatedly failed to implement recommendations – from us and other bodies – that were designed to prevent and detect such behaviour”?
Who is responsible for ensuring that the police implement these recommendations?
My Lords, it is a matter for individual forces. I am pleased that the HMICFRS report and its recommendations have been accepted in full. The National Police Chiefs’ Council chair made the point in the report that chief constables, supported by national bodies, will act on these recommendations and put the problems right. We cannot risk predatory or discriminatory individuals slipping through the net because of flawed processes and decision-making. The noble Lord’s question is completely right; this is shocking, and I hope they do something about it with extreme speed.
My Lords, clearly, there is a significant problem here. There is a system-wide failure if, as the report says today, officers were satisfactorily transferred between forces
“despite a history of attracting complaints”.
Moving a problem from one force to another does not solve it. Will the Government take urgent steps now to deal with these matters systematically and coherently?
Again, the noble Baroness is right: it is not right that these people get transferred across forces. I think I have outlined in previous questions the large number of people who are currently on barred lists. The forces are working on this, and it is a matter for chief constables to enforce. As I just said in my previous answer, they have accepted the need to do so speedily.
My Lords, the subject of this Question takes us back to many of the areas we covered in both the Domestic Abuse Act and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, so there is a strong sense of déjà vu all over again. The Minister has made much about it being up to individual police forces to take what action they consider appropriate. I suggest to him, on the basis of this report and others, that they are not assuming their individual responsibility with any degree of similarity or with great efficiency. I listened to BBC Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” this morning, which is very informative. Is the Minister aware that an ex-head of the Greater Manchester police force, when asked what advice he would give to the young female members of his own family regarding interactions with the police, was unable to answer the question, saying, “I’m not quite sure”?
I did not hear the programme to which the noble Lord refers, but that is obviously very shocking indeed. The body responsible for vetting guidance is the College of Policing, which will consider any areas where vetting can be strengthened and respond accordingly. This is done within a national application framework, so it is hoped that this will be corrected, as I say, with extreme speed.
My Lords, listening to the Minister’s answers, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that he is saying that the Government have no responsibility for this. I find that quite extraordinary. Why can the Government not bring forward a legislative framework to ensure that these sorts of police abuses cannot occur?
My Lords, I think I have outlined the current system; that is all I am doing. I am not saying that the Government are not very concerned by this report, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Government do not have responsibility for operational policing.
My Lords, it is frequently said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but on this occasion it is broke and it does need fixing. Will my noble friend take that message, from all sides of this House? In particular, will he reflect upon the very sensible suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, who really does know what he is talking about?
Does the Minister feel that the time has come for a royal commission? Every day in this House we have a new fundamental problem—police and crime commissioners, police reporting, police culture or the question of whether there are too many differing police forces. Is it not time for a fundamental look at the relationship between government, the police and any other related body, to try to re-establish the reputation, which we have long gloried in, of our police forces in this country?
What I would say—and this is a personal opinion—is that it is very clear that the nature of policing is changing dramatically and has done over the past 20 years. We have just heard about the technological changes that have taken us all by storm over the last decade, and about the vast number of reviews, reports and so on. It seems to me that there is a case to be made to bring many of these strands together and do some new thinking.
The noble and learned Lord asks a very good question. Nine forces were—this is appalling English—deep-dived into by the HMICFRS. All nine chief constables have been alerted to the specific case studies that were raised and they are expected to act on this with extreme speed.
Royal Navy: Conduct towards Women
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 31 October.
“I was concerned by the recent reports in the media that have prompted this UQ, little knowing that I would be answering it this afternoon. Allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the Submarine Service are and will be taken extremely seriously. Any activity that falls short of the highest standards in the Royal Navy is totally unacceptable and not a true reflection of what life should be. Sexual assault and harassment have no place in the Royal Navy and will not be tolerated.
The First Sea Lord has directed a formal investigation into these allegations, and this commenced on 24 October. This independent investigating team, led by a senior female officer, will thoroughly examine the allegations and report back very soon. It is understood that the named individual has agreed to meet the investigation team to provide her account. While this investigation will review specific allegations, Defence will also review the culture of the submarine community and report to Ministers in due course. The House will understand that it would be premature to offer any further comment or debate until those investigations are complete. However, anyone who is found culpable will be held accountable for their actions regardless of their rank or status.
While some of the incidents referred to in the media are historical, it is important to note the large-scale policy changes that were introduced across Defence in the past year. As a result, Defence will deal with incidents and allegations of sexual abuse better. The new policies will ensure zero tolerance of unacceptable sexual behaviour or of sexual exploitation and abuse within Defence. All allegations of sexual offences will be responded to, victims will be given greater support and there will be a presumption of discharge for anyone found to be engaging in this kind of behaviour.
These policies will ensure that Defence will deal with these types of incidents differently. They will build trust and confidence in Defence’s ability to deal with unacceptable behaviour and demonstrate that supporting people who are victims of unacceptable sexual behaviour is a top priority. The House should be reassured that the Royal Navy has taken and is continuing to take decisive action to address the allegations that have been brought to light and will report to Ministers when the investigations are complete, at which point I feel sure that there will be a further opportunity to explore the detail.”
My Lords, we are all immensely proud of our Armed Forces and our Royal Navy, and pay tribute to their work to keep us safe at home and abroad. So it is extremely concerning to read recent reports of inappropriate behaviour, including sexual abuse, on the submarines providing our deterrent. Is the welcome report that the First Sea Lord has ordered into this to be made public? What is the timescale for that report and what is its remit? The recent survey by Sarah Atherton MP showed thousands of women had endured bullying, harassment or intimidation. How are the Government building the confidence needed in both the Royal Navy and our Armed Forces in general so that women have confidence in the system when they do come forward?
I thank the noble Lord. As indicated, when these very serious allegations surfaced, the First Sea Lord acted immediately to express his profound concern and order an investigation. My understanding is that the investigation commenced on 24 October. There is a scheduled date of completion of 18 November, with the caveat that there is complicated work to be done. Helpfully, the complainant is, I think, prepared to appear before the inquiry. To reassure your Lordships, the investigation will include an individual from outside Defence, who is currently being selected for his or her independence, probity and integrity, who will be alongside that investigation.
On the House of Commons Select Committee report, I have regarded that as a pivotal influence in the MoD as to how we respond to behaviours within the Armed Forces. To reassure your Lordships, the committee made in total 53 recommendations and conclusions, and I am delighted to say that the MoD has accepted 50 of these. There were three that it did not accept on a matter of policy. We are busy implementing and have already substantially implemented these recommendations. We made an update report to the committee in July, and I will appear before the committee next Tuesday afternoon to further confirm the MoD’s position. Great progress has been made, but that does not in any way diminish the sense of horror when we read of allegations such as those which have surfaced.
My Lords, the Atherton report suggested that 62% of women in the Armed Forces who replied had experienced bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape or some form of harassment or discrimination during their military careers. It is good to hear that the MoD has responded to many of the recommendations of the Atherton report, and the Minister’s response in the House of Commons to Tobias Ellwood on the Question about the Navy does say that this is an historic allegation. Could the Minister reassure the House, and any women currently serving in the Armed Forces, that they are not at risk of rape or other serious crimes—because the legacy is not good?
The noble Baroness makes a very important point. I think it is important to remember that nearly 90% of the respondents to the committee would recommend the Armed Forces to other women. I found that reassuring, but that is no reason for complacency on the part of the MoD. I can say to the noble Baroness that over the past year, since we responded to the Select Committee report, enormous changes have been introduced: we have zero-tolerance policies on sexual offending—people will be discharged if they are convicted; we have a zero-tolerance policy on behaviour below the criminal threshold—if they are found guilty of unacceptable sexual behaviour, there is a presumption of discharge; we have also dealt with the issue of instructors and trainees—any sexual abuse in that relationship leads to mandatory discharge; we have also vastly improved the service complaints system.
While it is discomforting for the MoD to see these negative reports appearing, it does mean—and I have first-hand information about this—that women with increased confidence in the complaints system are now reporting behaviour. I welcome that. It may not be pleasant for the MoD to hear about these things, but I would much rather that women had the confidence to bring these incidents out into the open, so we can address them.
My Lords, these are obviously deeply serious matters, whether all the allegations and reports in the media are correct or not. Can the Minister reassure the House that the work of the investigating team mentioned in the Statement—and also what she calls the large-scale changes in policy in the defence area in the last year—are really going to lead to meaningful, lasting and decisive change?
I very much hope that they will. I have described to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, where the teeth are in a lot of the changes that have now been made. There are real repercussions for miscreants now if they transgress and fail to observe the high standards of behaviour that we expect. But perhaps helpfully—to reassure my noble friend—we are in fact now publishing the annual reports on sexual complaints within the Armed Forces. We published in March of this year the single service sexual harassment surveys. We have also instigated a D&I programme to monitor and measure the efficacy of our initiatives, to make sure that they are delivering. In April of this year, we mandated climate assessments across Defence, and that is to try and ensure—as my noble friend rightly identifies—that the changes we are making are delivering the improvements we hope.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will recollect that, in the interim report into the behaviour of the Met police, the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, revealed that hundreds of police were getting away with breaking the law and with misconduct. The reason for that was largely because, despite the importance of patterns of behaviour to the investigation of sexual predators and other alleged offenders, the misconduct procedures in the police force deliberately ignored patterns of behaviour and dealt with each allegation separately. They therefore could not corroborate each other. Can the Minister give us the assurance that the military misconduct and disciplinary procedures do not proceed on that basis—because it is a deliberate loophole to protect the institution?
My Lords, the dramatic change which has been taking place within the MoD, leading to changes of policy and legislative change, has been accompanied by leadership training and education. One reason why women are now prepared to come forward is because, in improving the complaints system, we have introduced an independent route separate from the chain of command. Women now feel a confidence not just in reporting but because the system is robust and will deliver them a result and something will be done. I very much hope that, with the climate assessments mandated across Defence, any pockets of behaviour that were emerging and looked unacceptable would be rooted out and we would become aware of them. The system certainly is there to improve that transparency.
My Lords, when I was working at the Ministry of Defence in 2011, the First Sea Lord came to see me, wanting to lift the ban on women serving in submarines. I said that I was not sure it was a totally good idea to put men and women in the very confined space of a submarine, but he explained that the problem was that they could not get enough male volunteers. It was as simple as that. Most men and women on submarines do an excellent job. They are not guilty of harassment. It is a very difficult job. I ask noble Lords to imagine being confined in a metal tube under the sea for three months at a time on some occasions. They deserve our respect and gratitude. Can my noble friend please pay tribute to the majority of submariners, male and female, who serve us day in, day out, on the continuous at-sea deterrent? Of course, we must support the Royal Navy investigation to stamp out this activity, but the majority of people in the Submarine Service are doing a damn good job.
I thank my noble friend for that very helpful observation. I am sure that we all join him in praising the work of the great majority of submariners. To introduce a little perspective to this, before these recent allegations surfaced, for its own information the Navy launched a conduct and culture review, to get a sense check of any current issues within the Submarine Service. That review is being led by Colonel Tony de Reya, a Royal Marine who is head of the Royal Naval conduct cell, and which will report by the end of the year. I end by saying that HMS “Artful”, an Astute submarine, is a finalist in the inclusive team award for the Women in Defence UK Awards 2022. That reaffirms my noble friend’s important point that very good things are happening in our submarine service.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 1 November.
“I would like to make a Statement on national security and safeguarding our democracy. In this new era of global competition, we face constant and concerted efforts to undermine our country and our institutions. A range of actors, including foreign states, are trying to weaken us, to challenge us and to exploit us. We are not alone. It is the burden of liberty shared by democracies around the world. The evidence of that is clear and, sadly, indisputable. Dictatorships are trying to write new rules for a new world. Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine is a terrible example of the growing threat from hostile states to our security. Russia is attacking not just a free people but a free world.
Our integrated review, published last year, makes clear the threat that we are facing. This is not a simple clash of armour but a clash of ideas. Across our society, we are seeing the challenge grow and evolve to pose a strategic threat to the security and prosperity of our nation for many years to come. A generation ago, we had the answer: our technology and our wallets were greater than theirs. Today, technological integration has deepened connections and opened doors into areas of our lives that we once thought closed. Now, as our markets integrate, we need to think about the future of our industry and innovation. Our economic security guarantees our economic sovereignty just as our democratic security guarantees our freedom.
The advanced technologies that our rivals have spent time and money developing have levelled the field and made us more vulnerable. Britain has been on the front line of the defence of liberty for generations. Our agencies and businesses have faced the reality of this danger for decades. Our Parliament and our politics are now no different. Whether as Ministers or shadow Ministers, in committee or when leading a campaign, this is about every party and every Member of the House. We have all heard of the attempts of unfriendly states to influence our politics in recent years and of the actions that the security officers of the House have had to take to defend us. They are not working alone. I want to put on record my admiration and gratitude to those who work hard to keep us safe in the House and around the country, because while others are on the front line of our nation, those of us privileged to be elected—at every level and in every community—are on the front line of our democracy.
I am here to make it clear that the Government are, and always will be, here to protect our freedoms, and none is more precious than the freedom of our nation to determine its own future. That is, after all, what democracy is about. It is the debate in towns and villages—in person and online—of free people in a free country searching for answers to the problems that we all face. As all of us know, it does not always go our way, but it is the freedom to choose that we all defend. We are taking action to address these threats.
Just as our counterterrorism legislation in the early 2000s updated the necessary legal powers that our police and security services needed to tackle the growing threat of terrorism, we are enhancing our ability to defend against hostile states and those acting on their behalf. The National Security Bill, which is currently before the House, will give us the powers we need today for the threats that we face now. It will be the most significant piece of legislation to tackle the incursion of state-based threats to our nation in a century. Those actors threaten not just life but our way of life. We have to work even harder to protect and uphold our freedom and the institutions that defend it. From establishing our Defending Democracy programme in 2019 to the continuous work by the National Cyber Security Centre, we have sought to address that, but we must do more. That is why I can announce to the House that the Prime Minister has asked me to lead a task force to drive forward work to defend the democratic integrity of our country. The task force will work with Parliament, departments, the security and intelligence agencies, the devolved Administrations and the private sector. It will work to better protect the freedoms and institutions we hold dear—institutions such as this very House.
The task force will look at the full range of threats facing our democratic institutions, including the physical threat to Members of this Parliament and those elected to serve across the country, so tragically brought home by the murder of our dear friends Sir David Amess last year and Jo Cox in 2016, and the support on offer through Operation Bridger and by the police. The work of this task force will report into the National Security Council and more details will be set out in the update of the integrated review.
This is not just a task force for this Government. It will be cross-departmental and inter-agency, and I will be inviting cross-party co-operation, because, as I have said, this is not just about Ministers in office, civil servants or advisers across Whitehall. This work is for all of us in this House and those who have asked us to represent their interests. The Government have robust systems in place to protect against cyber threats. We are vigilant in ensuring that these are up to date and meet the challenges of the modern world. The National Cyber Security Centre, government and parliamentary security offer all Members specific advice on protecting personal data and managing online profiles, as well as best-practice guidance. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for agreeing to write to all parliamentarians on that important issue.
Finally, it is important to end by underlining that tackling these threats means providing the protection that defends our democratic institutions and the liberties that we cherish so dearly, because the point of security is not to lock us down but to liberate. My job as Security Minister of this great United Kingdom is to give us all the security to live our lives freely, and to debate and choose our future, guarded by the laws and freedoms of our nation. That is my guiding principle. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, we welcome the Statement delivered yesterday by the Minister for Security. It is the first job of any Government to keep our country safe. Our national security faces constantly evolving and more sophisticated threats from hostile states and extremist organisations, with activity on and off our own soil, including cyber threats. The aim of these acts is to rewrite the world which we live in, to undermine democracy and to reduce hard-fought-for freedoms for people around the world.
I thank our security services for their work and all those who keep us safe, including those who safeguard the work of this House, to whom we are immensely grateful. We welcome the announcement of the task force that the Government have made and will engage fully with Ministers to support its work on a cross-party basis. The Statement yesterday announced the launch of the task force. When can we expect more detail on its work and when is it expected to become operational? Will it include specialist streams looking at physical threats, cybersecurity and the interplay between these two areas?
I welcome the recognition that this is a whole-UK effort in which we are all united. Have discussions yet started with the devolved Assemblies about taking this work forward? Crucially, how will Members of both Houses be updated on the work of the task force, with appropriate regard to the secure nature of its remit? Will Ministers consider discussing the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee in providing oversight of the task force with the current committee chair?
The Statement focuses on protecting our democratic institutions. We cannot talk about those issues without honouring our friends and colleagues, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess, who served their country and are dearly missed. Will Ministers work closely with Members from both Houses when considering the threats that our democracy faces on the front line, here in London and across the country?
We welcome the tone of the Statement and the cross- party debate with which it was received yesterday in the House of Commons. However, it would be remiss not to reflect on some other serious concerns that have arisen over the past weeks and months. The former Prime Minister—two Prime Ministers ago, rather—took a trip during the height of the Skripal crisis and met a former KGB agent without officials present. He did not declare the meeting and has not given an account of what was discussed. Can the Minister confirm whether the former Prime Minister took his personal phone, which he continued to use while in the highest office, on that trip?
The current Prime Minister reappointed the Home Secretary only six days after she resigned over a security lapse and a breach of the Ministerial Code. She has now confirmed that this was not a one-off incident. Despite multiple attempts to get clarity, we have still not had a clear answer to serious allegations that the Home Secretary might also have been involved in a leak to the Daily Telegraph while in post as Attorney-General. Do Ministers and, crucially, the Prime Minister recognise the damage done to our national security when Cabinet Ministers themselves fail to take appropriate action on these issues?
Before I finish on the activities of hostile states in the United Kingdom, I ask: how can it be possible that we read in our papers about so-called Chinese police stations in multiple locations across the UK? When did this come to light? When were Ministers made aware of it? What action and investigations have been taken by, for example, Scottish authorities against the site in Glasgow? Has equivalent action been taken against the two known sites in Hendon and Croydon? What investigation is the Government undertaking with the relevant services to locate whether there are any other unknown operational stations?
Following the outrageous incident outside the Manchester consulate earlier this month, what support is being given to those who might feel unsafe in communities across the United Kingdom? Are efforts under way to investigate whether one of the stations exists in Manchester or, indeed, elsewhere? It is shocking that this activity could take place on UK soil. I think that Members of this House, and indeed the country, will want reassurance from the Government about how this came to light, what the implications are for national security and what the Government intend to do about it. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and to the work of this task force.
My Lords, as a former senior police officer with more than 30 years’ experience, I am acutely aware of the issues of national security, both physical and cyber threats. I welcome the appointment of the right honourable Tom Tugendhat MP as Minster of State for Security. He has a long and distinguished record in this area. He is clearly and quite rightly concerned about the threats facing Members of Parliament, those who work with us and the country as a whole from extremists and hostile foreign states.
It is regrettable that other members of the Government, past and present, appear not to have taken national security as seriously as the Member for Tonbridge and Malling is doing now. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, the last but one Prime Minister had a meeting with a former member of the Russian KGB when he was Foreign Secretary, on his own, in a foreign country, without reference to officials. The previous Prime Minister had her phone hacked; and the current, and second but one, Home Secretary—the same person—used her own mobile phone to receive and transmit restricted documents. Does the Minister agree that the actions of senior members of his own party have damaged, rather than promoted, national security?
We on these Benches agree that the Security Minister’s initiative is welcome, if not overdue, and we agree that this must be a united effort involving all of us, working with our security and intelligence agencies and the police. Having visited both MI6, where representatives of MI5 were also present, and GCHQ, I know that we have outstanding security and intelligence services, but without Members of this and the other place taking security seriously—particularly members of the Government, not least Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries—their efforts will be undermined.
As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said in the House this week, it is not just the potential for leaks of our own highly sensitive information, as there is a risk that our security partners in other countries will not share vital intelligence with us because they fear that our security is not tight enough. Can the Minister confirm that from now on members of the Government will set an example by their own behaviour in relation to protecting national security, rather than providing counterexamples that jeopardise national security?
It is not only democracy that is at stake if hostile foreign Governments seek to influence or disrupt the democratic process, but the security of each and every citizen and the economic well-being of every business and industry in the UK. I am glad that an adult has been put in charge of this task force; I just hope that those who he is surrounded by will do as they are told.
We have a wealth of experience on these Benches, including privy counsellors and former members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who I am sure will be only too willing to help and support the Minister with these issues.
My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the first duty of the Government is the protection and security of the nation. I also echo both noble Lords’ praise for our security services, which I also have some experience of and which I think are magnificent and first-rate.
As regards the questions on the task force, I think it makes sense for me to read out what my right honourable friend the Security Minister said yesterday, because I think it answers all the questions in full:
“The taskforce will work with Parliament, Departments, the security and intelligence agencies, the devolved Administrations and the private sector. It will work to better protect the freedoms and institutions we hold dear—institutions such as this very House.
The taskforce will look at the full range of threats”—
I add “including cyber”—
“facing our democratic institutions, including the physical threat to Members of this Parliament and those elected to serve across the country”,
as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out,
“so tragically brought home by the murder of our dear friends Sir David Amess last year and Jo Cox in 2016, and the support on offer through Operation Bridger and by the police. The work of this Taskforce will report into the National Security Council and more details will be set out in the update of the integrated review”,
so unfortunately I cannot answer his question about timing.
My right honourable friend in the other place went on to say:
“This is not just a taskforce for this Government. It will be cross-departmental and inter-agency, and I will be inviting cross-party co-operation, because, as I have said, this is not just about Ministers in office, civil servants or advisers across Whitehall. This work is for all of us in this House and those who have asked us to represent their interests.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/11/22; col. 791.]
I do not think I could agree more.
I will go on to the more specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the meeting that the former Prime Minister had in Italy with Lebedev. When he was Foreign Secretary, he declared his visit to Italy, which was published under the usual transparency requirements. At the Liaison Committee on 6 July, he committed to follow up in writing, which he did on 26 July.
Both noble Lords asked about the case of the Home Secretary. I am afraid I am going to repeat an answer given by my noble friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office earlier. The Home Secretary has provided a detailed account of the steps that she took in her letter to the HASC. For national security reasons, we are not commenting on allegations about the then Foreign Secretary’s phone.
Going back to the integrated review, I say that it makes sense to remind the House that it concluded that China poses a
“systemic challenge … to our security, prosperity and values—and those of our allies and partners”,
and that the Chinese authorities adopt a whole-of-state approach in which businesses and individuals are forced by law to co-operate. We know that the Chinese authorities are actively seeking to gain our cutting-edge tech, AI, advanced research and product development. We are working to protect our national security and ensure that the UK is resilient.
The noble Lord specifically asked about the recent rather troubling stories about undeclared Chinese police stations in the UK. The reports are being taken seriously, and they are concerning. Any foreign country operating on UK soil must abide by UK law. The protection of people in the UK is of the utmost importance. For example, any attempt illegally to repatriate any individual will not be tolerated. As noble Lords would expect, Home Office officials are working closely with FCDO, DLUHC and other government departments to ensure that the UK is a safe and welcoming place for those who choose to settle here. I cannot go beyond that at this point.
Noble Lords asked whether there was a culture of Ministers using personal phones for official business. No, there is not. There are appropriate arrangements and guidance in place for the management of electronic communications within government. Ministers receive support and expert advice to help them meet their obligations in the most appropriate and secure fashion. Again, as my noble friend answered in the previous Question, government devices should, as far as practicable, be used for government business. The guidance does not rule out the use of different forms of electronic communications, however.
Our allies are obviously aware of what has happened here, but I remind noble Lords that we do take a leading role on the global stage in countering state threats. We will continue to work closely with like-minded allies and partners to defend UK interests and the international rules-based system from hostile activity. Unfortunately, as I have already stated, I cannot comment on details of any discussions where commenting publicly on threats to the UK would give an unnecessary advantage to our adversaries. I hope that answers noble Lords’ questions as fully as I am able.
My Lords, the scope of this new task force is, of course, enormous, since nowadays almost every aspect of connection and influence is being weaponised, including education, culture and issues far outside the normal security scope and outside the range of intelligence and cyberattack. We are subject, in this country, every hour of the day, to a bombardment of fake news and distortion, penetrating every aspect of our society and clearly covering our own debates. They say that the best form of defence is attack. Can the Minister assure us that this task force will also look at ways of returning in kind some of the material that pours out, in particular from the CCP in China, attacking not just democracy but our form of democracy and claiming, rather ironically, that China’s form is more precise and more effective than ours? Can he assure us that we have a full intellectual force ready to challenge the arguments at their roots in order to refute the kind of poison that is daring to try to demoralise and undermine our society?
I am pleased to be able to reassure my noble friend that I can. I am going to give a long answer, for which I hope the House will be forgiving, because this is important. In 2019, we established the defending democracy programme. It is a cross-government programme, with an overarching objective to safeguard elections and referendums related to democratic processes in the UK. It focuses on delivering four outcomes. Elections are secured through the protection of their physical personnel and cyber infrastructure; the safety of elected representatives, parliamentarians, voters, candidates, campaigners and poll workers is protected; the regulation of political campaigning must be robust; the impact of disinformation, misinformation and wider information operations is mitigated and minimised.
There is also, as part of that work, the DCMS Counter Disinformation Unit, which leads the operational and policy response for countering disinformation across HMG. That has included responding to acute information incidents such as the Ukrainian conflict, Covid-19 and general elections. When false narratives are identified, the CDU co-ordinates with departments across Whitehall to deploy the appropriate response. This could involve direct rebuttal on social media or awareness-raising campaigns to promote the facts. Obviously, I cannot go into—and I do not necessarily know—what other sorts of action we take overseas, but that is certainly what we are doing here, and it is fairly robust.
My Lords, I really welcome the Statement and the very full answers that the Minister has given. It is very encouraging. However, when the Statement refers to protection that defends our democratic institutions, it is not just external threats: there are internal threats that weaken our defences, such as putting draft legislation into Parliament that threatens to breach international law. If we uphold the rule of law, we cannot continue to do that. Will the Minister give a commitment that the Government will not do this, as they did in the overseas operations Bill, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, and so on? Just to encourage him, I suggest that a reading of President Steinmeier’s speech on 28 October to the German people sets in a very good context how a Government might approach some of the threats and the wider challenges that we face.
I thank the right reverend Prelate for that suggestion; I will read that speech, which to date I have not. He invites me to stray into areas where I would prefer not to go. There are differences of opinion when it comes to these laws; I will leave it there.
My Lords, the daily and repeated Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure are evidence of the importance of this to our national security. Is the Minister aware of the two week-old report of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy about critical national infrastructure, which is scathing about the Government’s ability to protect it? It specifically identifies a lack of leadership, an absence of co-ordination among government departments and the disbanding of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. In short, it calls on the Prime Minister to
“get a much better grip on … national security”.
When will we see the long-awaited national resilience strategy?
My Lords, I cannot answer that specifically. I have seen that report and have read a variety of newspaper reports with mounting alarm, as I am sure the noble Lord has. I think the task force will address a good deal of the noble Lord’s concerns, and I look forward to hearing what it has to say.
My Lords, I echo the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, but in relation to the report of this House’s risk committee, in which we found that there were real, critical vulnerabilities in our critical national infrastructure. The urgency of the Government producing the resilience report cannot be overstated. It is surely time for the Government to recognise that the front lines of battles that we face now are no longer in other countries but in our computers, our water systems and our electricity systems. They need to be taken really seriously.
I thank my noble friend for that question. I am afraid I will again answer at some length, because the subject of cyber resilience is at the heart of what he, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked me. The current state of UK resilience to cyberattack is an interesting subject, and we are making significant progress in bolstering the UK’s resilience. We stop hundreds of thousands of attacks up stream while bolstering preparedness and helping UK institutions and organisations better understand the nature of cyber threats, risks and vulnerabilities down stream.
Despite this, there remain serious gaps in the nation’s defences, as both noble Lords have pointed out, and the collective resilience-building effort must continue apace. Poor organisational practices, processes and systems, and a lack of awareness of risks and mitigations, all contribute to attacks getting through. Taking some practical and cost-effective steps, such as improving the use of account authentication, could have prevented a lot of damage. I could go on, but at this point I reiterate my praise for the work of the security services. I have seen some of their work in this area, and it is incredible.
My Lords, following on from the excellent question by the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, I ask the Minister to look again at some of the threats to national security coming from serious organised crime and cybercrime, and the way in which provincial police forces are responding. He touched on this briefly, but what more can the Government do to improve capacity and expertise among those provincial police forces?
I thank my noble friend for that question. As he says, I think I have already partially answered it. The NCSC has helped UK institutions and organisations better understand the nature of cyber threats, risks and vulnerabilities. It has helped them to take action to secure systems and services that society depends on. It stops attacks up stream, as I pointed out. It would be wrong to go into more operational factors, but I hope my noble friend is reassured that much work is being done in that area.
My Lords, I welcome the creation of the task force, but I fear I have to return to the issue of the Home Secretary. Had it not been for the fact that the Home Secretary inadvertently sent the email to someone whom she did not intend to send it to, we would never have known anything about this. Since the Home Secretary has ministerial responsibility for MI5, what do these facts do other than undermine her authority in the event that she finds similar instances in the ministry for which she is responsible?
My Lords, there are many definitions of threats to national security. The Minister is right to point to some of the differences between, for example, the more immediate threats posed by Russia and the longer-term strategic threats posed by China. My noble friend Lord Browne has already referred to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy’s recent report on critical national infrastructure. It is a very good report and very pertinent to this question. Will the Minister assure the House that in the progress of this task force, which I support, it will also liaise with the same committee—of which I am a member—as we have just launched an inquiry into ransomware, which has aspects which directly relate to national security?
I agree with the noble Viscount—it absolutely does have aspects which relate to national security. I go back to what I said earlier when I quoted my honourable friend in the other House. This is not just a task force for the Government. It will be cross-departmental and inter-agency and he will be inviting cross-party co-operation. The noble Viscount makes a strong case for his committee’s involvement in that area.
The reports of unofficial Chinese police stations in the UK and other allied nations are deeply alarming and have rightly been roundly condemned by the Security Minister. If the reports prove to be accurate, and these are not immediately disbanded, is there not a very strong case for co-ordinated action across our allies to impose sanctions on the Chinese Government for doing this?
The noble Lord is right to point out that these reports apply not just to the UK. I believe that one suspected institution of this type has already been closed down overseas. I think he makes a strong case, but I do not know the progress of the investigation, so I cannot comment as to how they might be shut down.
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 7th and 12th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 6th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 12: Subsidy control
16: Clause 12, page 7, line 10, leave out subsection (3)
Member’s explanatory statement
This is part of a series of amendments based on recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which states that a number of subsections in the Bill “contain inappropriate delegations of power and should be removed from the Bill.”
My Lords, in rising to move Amendment 16, I warmly thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for supporting this suite of amendments, which raises concerns about the breadth of the order-making powers that Ministers seek to gain from this legislation.
I start by thanking the Minister for his holding letter indicating that he is conferring with the noble Lord, Lord Caine, on responding to the questions raised on Monday. I am grateful for that and the efficiency of his private office.
The information from the Northern Ireland Executive suggests that there are approximately 14 live areas where there are subsidy controls, which operate within Northern Ireland under one element of the protocol. The purpose of my amendment is twofold: first, obviously, to raise the concern about the breadth of the power, which is in breach of international obligations, and about powers that the Government seek without formulating policy first.
Secondly, the purpose is to further probe what the Government intend the position to be with regard to subsidy control for Northern Ireland, and when they came to their conclusions. We are told that the position is grave and imminent—that is the defence of necessity for breaching international obligations. But we spent a lot of time in Committee and on Report on the Subsidy Control Bill. I moved two amendments relating to Northern Ireland, and the noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, also raised these issues in Committee. Like others, I asked on a number of occasions what interaction there would be with the protocol and what difficulties operating two systems would cause. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, reassured me that they would work together.
That legislation is now apparently not fit for purpose and needs to be amended—in breach of our obligations, of course. We passed that legislation this year, and it came into force this spring. With seriousness, I say again that, at no stage during the passage of that Bill, which is being amended by this Bill, did any Minister say that there was a grave and imminent threat that required that we withdraw entirely from the agreement on state aid that we negotiated and secured.
In fact, the timing of this is interesting. As we have heard, the Government indicated in 2021 that the protocol was working, but we now hear that there is grave and imminent peril. We legislated during this time, and the Government said that they played no role in bringing about the circumstances of the peril. But, legislating at the time, we obviously had a role to play.
The paper that the Government published on the UK solutions, raising concerns about the operation of the protocol, relates to Northern Ireland, tax and spend, and subsidies. It says:
“The Protocol applies EU state aid rules regardless of developments since—despite the robust subsidy control commitments agreed by the UK and EU in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which we have built on in the Subsidy Control Act 2022”.
If we put in place robust subsidy control commitments in the TCA, that was after the protocol. I am not sure why the Government say that they are unaware of some of the consequences of the regime that they agreed and then put in place, which they considered to contain robust subsidy control commitments.
I asked questions about the Government’s position and what they were negotiating, or seeking to negotiate, with the European Commission. I asked how a dual system would operate, and, when I moved my clarity-seeking amendments, the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield—said that there would be enhanced referral powers or consultation procedures for subsidies within scope, to enable EU concerns to be properly and swiftly addressed. So, when we were passing this legislation, the Government were negotiating not a removal of subsidy controls from the protocol but a more efficient approach to the operation of the two systems. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, said to me that, under the two systems, there would be “specific and limited circumstances” where EU rules would apply to Northern Ireland. I asked what “specific and limited” meant, and it seemed to be simply a more efficient way of reporting and declaring. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate at what time and stage the Government drew the conclusion that they had to entirely remove state aid elements from the protocol.
The consequence of this is a major chill effect, because businesses operating within Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK simply do not know what the Government’s intent will be when they are looking to make investment choices. I repeat that there are a number of live situations where this is currently in operation. So the Government are actively contributing to a state which is bringing about concern and which they cite as “necessity”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Caine, was not able to confirm to me on Monday whether the Government are formally seeking that the EU change its mandate for negotiations, in this Bill we are seeking to remove from the protocol a key part that the Government negotiated. So I hope that the Government can provide crystal clarity on this point, because it is needed for the economy of all parts of the UK. I beg to move.
My Lords, I must inform the House that, if Amendment 16 is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendments 17, 18 or 19 by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, I shall be very brief and will say nothing about the breadth of the power being sought by Clause 12. I will read Clause 12(3):
“A Minister of the Crown may, by regulations, make any provision which the Minister considers appropriate”.
We all know what that means: a Minister will be empowered to create any regulations as he or she thinks fit. That is not objective: as he or she, sitting down, thinks fit. It is purely subjective. If we allow this piece of legislation to go through, we are saying to the Minister, “At whatever time it may suit you, take a blank sheet of paper and either write with a pen or type on your laptop whatever you think you want”. That will then be put before the Commons and the Lords, and, as they have not rejected anything for an eternity in real terms, it will become law.
Is that really how we think that power should be given to Ministers anywhere within the UK? It surely is not. There are other ways of making regulations. Good heavens, no Minister needs a lesson from me in how to create regulations; we are bombarded with them all time. But I do ask the House: is this really how we expect to be governed? The Minister can do what the Minister likes. The clause uses a different and longer phrase—“considers appropriate”—but it really means no more than whatever he or she wishes. It is not good enough.
My Lords, I simply express my very strong support for what the noble and learned Lord has said: there is absolutely no limitation on the power conferred on the Minister to make
“any provision which the Minister considers appropriate”.
There is no test here of necessity or a requirement that the Minister should be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for thinking that the regulation is necessary. In any event, the regulation is both unamendable—as all regulations are—and subject to the negative procedure, which means in effect that it will never be discussed. So it is thoroughly bad. I have no doubt that it is for that reason that the Joint Committee recommended that this particular power should be removed from the Bill, and if I am given the chance to vote for that view, I shall do so.
My Lords, in the spirit of trying to help the Government, I will repeat what I said in relation to an earlier group of amendments: it would help the Committee, as well as the other place, if the Government could give us an indication of the type of regulations that they have in mind, so that we do not have this blanket provision before us today. There is still time to do that.
I will also ask a question of information. I understand that the “provision” to which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, refers in removing it from this particular clause does not apply to agricultural subsidies. So, if it is the case that agricultural subsidies are still going to apply, who is in a position at the moment to decide on that, and within what timeframe would that be?
My Lords, I have been looking at Clause 12 through a particular prism. As my entry in the register of interests discloses, I have a particular interest in financial services. I am also an investor in various enterprise investment and seed enterprise investment companies, which I will refer to as EIS and SEIS companies, and venture capital trusts. For those who are not aware, EIS schemes are those which allow UK investors to invest in UK companies and deduct the amount invested in those companies against their income tax at prescribed rates to encourage investment in private companies.
For some time, I have been frustrated that these truly excellent schemes have been hampered by restrictions. The schemes are hugely popular. EIS has helped some 66,000 companies in the UK in total, with some 3,755 companies raising over £1.5 billion last year alone. Since 2018, VCTs have made some 1,000 investments, raising £1.7 billion, of which 45% were less than £1 million. So I am very concerned by anything that threatens the existence of these schemes and am keen to find ways of enhancing their effectiveness. There are, however, restrictions and regulations reducing the opportunity for UK businesses to raise this vital small equity for essentially risky enterprises, and I have been concerned that these restrictions have in part been due to the requirements of EU state aid rules.
The enormous success of the EIS and VCT schemes is very much a British phenomenon and probably viewed with some mistrust by the EU, given our tremendous track record in starting and growing new UK businesses. In fact, most businessmen and investors I have spoken to are amazed to discover that it is governed by EU state aid rules. Fortunately, at the moment we have EU approval for the design of the EIS and VCT schemes under Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and the smaller SEI schemes, due to their size, fall within Article 21 of the general block exemption regulation. However, as we decide how to plough our own path post Brexit, it is important that we are entirely free to create our own rules concerning subsidies that might amount to state aid—within, of course, the constraints of WTO and other commitments.
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, we now have our own Subsidy Control Act but, under the protocol, some EU state aid rules still apply. I can see the issue, namely that the EU is worried that a company based in Belfast has cheaper finance than a competitor in Dublin—but, frankly, that should be our choice and the choice of other countries to offer incentives to finance their businesses.
Why do we have this problem? As Andrew Harper helpfully wrote in the British Tax Review in autumn 2020, the two sides promote opposing perspectives: the EU very much promulgating its state aid regime on the basis of the level playing field and the UK adopting the subsidy language of the World Trade Organization. This is much more than a semantic or linguistic distinction. It is one of substance, both in the scope and the enforceability of the rules.
In these circumstances it appears sensible to point out the key issues that could arise. Without Clause 12 —and I am aware that there is a stand part debate following—first, the EIS and VCT schemes as they operate in Northern Ireland will presumably have to remain fully EU state aid compliant because of EIS companies and VCT investees based in the Province trading with the Irish Republic or the wider EU. Secondly, following from that, barring the UK Government being prepared to countenance two separate systems within the UK, the EIS and VCT schemes as they apply to England, Wales and Scotland will be difficult to modify.
Thirdly, if, post transition, these schemes were to diverge as between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, what is the position in the case of, say, an English EIS company raising scheme funding that would be in excess of that sanctioned by EU state aid rules? If that English company then sends its goods to Northern Ireland, where potentially they can be traded with the south or the rest of the EU, how will that be allowed to happen? It simply cannot make sense to exclude Clause 12.
Just to give some perspective and a feeling of the situation at the moment, the proportion of EIS recipients in Northern Ireland is really very small. In 2020-21, out of the aforementioned 3,755 recipients of EIS I mentioned, only 40 were based in Northern Ireland—some 1%, and by no means all are goods traders, to whom the protocol applies. Some may say that the state aid provisions in the protocol do not really apply to the sort of state aid such as EIS and VCT, but there is a risk that it might—and, of course, famously, of reach-back, which would be wholly unwelcome. That is why we need Clause 12(1). I welcome Clause 12 to ensure we have a single UK-wide subsidy control policy and that, for example, with a Covid-19-type recovery loan scheme there would not be greater restrictions on Northern Ireland companies than GB ones, and that we would be free to amend our own rules freely.
There is a pressing example of an EU state aid restriction that needs urgent attention: the sunset clause imposed by EU state aid rules on EIS and VCT, which kicks in on 6 April 2025. It urgently needs to be repealed, as suggested in the mini-Budget. Indeed, the current Chancellor specifically said that those sunset clauses would go; it is about the only bit of the mini-Budget that he said he wanted to keep. This issue of sunset clauses was raised on page 119 of the May 2021 report from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, which people cannot resist calling TIGRR, chaired by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, along with other restrictions that it wanted to see lifted. These include the age restrictions that apply to an investee company and, of course, the maximum investment thresholds, particularly those for the smaller SEIS, which presently has to be less than £150,000. The mini-Budget seeks to raise that to £250,000 for a single company, but it is still far too low.
The criticisms of Clause 12, which is needed to enable a Government to accommodate the result if the EU successfully takes international action in respect of something it regards as unhelpful, are answered by my amendments, which tighten up the ability to make change through regulation. In particular, proposed new Clause 12(4)(c) in my Amendment 19 deals with the most unfortunate case, if there is a change, to stop it applying retrospectively. My amendments would ensure a minimum framework for the Minister’s regulatory power, which could arise following alterations in national law to provisions within the scope of EU state aid at the international level, and set the boundary between the exercise of the regulatory power by the Minister and the requirement for primary legislation. I appreciate that, under Clause 23(3), any regulation has to be a statutory instrument and is treated as such. However, most importantly, the amendments would ensure that the Government were unable to make any retrospective provision, so that investments and reliefs to date were protected.
I hope all those speaking to Clause 12 standing part understand that there is a fundamental difference in approach to subsidies between the EU and UK. The EU tends to favour money handed out to companies at its discretion for the companies’ direct benefit—frequently, of course, through individual states. We like to empower investors and, as such, the markets to decide where the money should go. It is, in effect, the investors who decide which companies will benefit from their money, which is enhanced by a tax break. Like so many areas in business life, we have a different way of thinking from the EU and we have to protect our interests first. Concerns that this is a breach of other international treaties or laws are fair to raise and difficult for many of us non-lawyers to understand. But even if they are correct, what I do know is that UK companies need protection to enable them to carry on being financed in the way our Parliament feels appropriate.
May I ask the noble Lord two questions? First, should these problems not have been considered by the United Kingdom Government before they signed the protocol? Secondly, is there any reason why these problems cannot be raised in the negotiations with the EU to take place in the near future?
I cannot answer for the UK Government on whether they should have been raised before; that is clearly historical and we are where we are. In theory, there could be a negotiation with the EU to try to deal with some of these problems, but we would be on the back foot and there would be no reason for the EU to agree, whereas Clause 12 deals with it satisfactorily.
My Lords, I associate myself with my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who have made the case in very strong terms for why subsection (3) should be removed. I pause only to make one observation: it does not even specify the Minister but says:
“A Minister of the Crown”.
So not only is it an extremely wide power, it is a power available to any Minister in any ministry of any kind, at any time, without any restraint whatever. How can that possibly be consistent with the principles on which we pass legislation in this Chamber?
My Lords, I apologise for not having been present for the first two days in Committee for family reasons. I am in violent agreement with my noble and learned friend the Convenor. It seems to me that this amendment, others in this group and, indeed, others in the Marshalled List seek to address something of a legislative slough of despond. If that is the case, it is a swamp that needs draining. I think noble Lords on the Government Front Bench will realise that the bar will be set very high indeed on Report.
I shall briefly address two other contributions. First, to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, I may be misremembering but, from my past, I think “a Minister” is used as a generality in drafting to reflect the collectivity of government. It could be any Minister given the particular responsibility at the time, although I agree that some of the flanking provisions might draw that into a certain amount of doubt.
As for the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, she is ever the peacemaker but I would discourage noble Lords from pursuing the idea of putting in an illustrative list of measures that might be subject to these powers. Illustrative is only illustrative: if they are not in the statute, they are simply a bit of an Explanatory Memorandum, if you like. Even if they are in the statute, no drafter or Minister will allow them to lie there without the assertion that they are not an exhaustive list, so that anything can be added at the whim of Ministers. As my noble and learned friend the Convenor pointed out, quite a lot is being done at the whim of Ministers.
My Lords, I too support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for all the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, gave. When the Minister replies to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will he point to the incident that triggered the grave and imminent peril that forms the basis of the doctrine of necessity that the Government have used in justifying the Bill, with its extraordinary powers for Ministers?
I should just like to ask a question of whichever Minister will reply to this brief debate. I am of course entirely on the side of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in what they said. I understand why my noble friend raised his commercial points, but between us and him is a great gulf fixed. What we are concerned about is the arbitrary and unfettered power of Ministers.
I have great respect for all three of the Ministers who are handling this Bill, and great sympathy for them, but are they truly happy to exercise such unfettered powers without reference to Parliament and proper debate? We go back to where we were on Monday: the imbalance of power and the excessive power of the Executive, which has been growing like a mad Topsy for the last few years. It is deeply disturbing to anybody who believes in parliamentary government, and I want to know if it is deeply disturbing to the Ministers on Front Bench this afternoon, because if it is not, it should be. I would be much more worried than when I got up if they tell me that they do not mind.
Could I suggest to the noble Lord, before he sits down, that the real question is not whether the Ministers on the Front Bench would be happy to exercise these powers, but whether they would be happy for their opponents, were they to be in office, to exercise these powers.
As so often, the noble Lord puts it very well. It ought to be a parliamentary lesson to us all: never seek to take to yourself powers that you would not be happy to see the other side have. The noble Lord put it very succinctly and I endorse what he said.
The big point about this clause is the one made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. We should not be writing into our statute book such extraordinary sweeping powers, to be exercised at the stroke of a pen, with no real supervision or scrutiny by the Executive.
I would like to speak briefly to the second important point, which is, in my view, the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, when he spoke of the “chill effect”. I also found things I agreed with in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, rather to my surprise. The chill effect is real and will continue. Investors will be deterred from coming to Northern Ireland, and Northern Irish businesses will be deterred from investing, by the uncertainty which will not be resolved by the passage of this Bill but created by its passage. The effect of Clause 12, taken with Clause 22, is to enable the Minister to establish a different regime in Northern Ireland from the regime in Great Britain. The assumption might be that if the protocol falls, what results is the status quo ante: the UK rules. That is not the case. The Minister would be entirely free to produce whatever rules for Northern Ireland he thought fit. It is obvious what that uncertainty does to investment.
I am surprised at the silence of the DUP.
I am delighted that the silence may be about to be broken. It seems to me it would be odd to be insouciant about this uncertainty. The DUP may have been given assurances that only UK rules will be applied and nothing will be different, in which case I suppose it might believe such assurances. That would be a triumph of hope over experience, because we would not be where we are today—we would not have this Bill to discuss—if the DUP had not been betrayed and misled by the last Prime Minister but one.
My Lords, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to participate, and would have done so earlier had I stood up more quickly. I will address some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, touched on the reasons behind Clause 12 and why it is necessary, and I think it is worth reminding noble Lords of the current position following the approval of the Subsidy Control Act. Under the provisions of that Act, Northern Ireland is specifically excluded from the UK subsidy scheme. Therefore, we are subject, as per Article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol, to EU state aid laws, and all the laws listed in Annexe 5 to the protocol shall apply to the UK
“in respect of measures which affect that trade between Northern Ireland and the Union which is subject to this Protocol.”
I have spoken to Invest Northern Ireland—the body that looks after foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland—about these matters. In effect, while the UK is setting up a new, more flexible state aid regime, under Article 10 of the protocol the UK subsidy control regime would apply only to about 50% of the financial support that will be provided to Northern Ireland, with the remainder continuing to fall within the scope of EU state aid rules, applying mainly to the manufacturing of goods.
So, Northern Ireland will be forced to adhere to the strict rules and conditions of EU law on things such as no expansions, maximum grant rates, only new establishments and so on, and when the projects are large or outside the scope of the exemption regulations, Northern Ireland will have to seek European Commission approval. Effectively, we have two regimes which are very different in policy terms and practical effect. Under the UK scheme, things effectively will be automatically approved unless specifically prohibited, and in Northern Ireland, under EU rules, everything will be prohibited unless approved—very different policies, and two very different systems operating in one country.
The reasons behind Clause 12 are sound; otherwise, there will be no level playing field across the United Kingdom for state aid. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, talked about uncertainty, but Invest NI has expressed concerns about the application of this dual regime. We will be at a disadvantage compared to other parts of the UK competing for inward investment. Other parts could be much more attractive as a location for investment as a result of not having to wait for European Commission approvals, for instance. Northern Ireland approvals will take significantly longer than the new timescales envisaged in the Subsidy Control Act for the rest of the United Kingdom. Other areas could have far fewer conditions or restrictions and might well receive greater levels of funding and subsidy than will be possible under the EU regime in Northern Ireland, which prohibits subsidies greater than 50%, whereas under the Act subsidies should be “proportionate”, but no maximum is specified.
Indeed, your Lordships’ Select Committee on the protocol in Northern Ireland, on which I am honoured to sit, wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on this matter. He responded by letter on 22 March 2022, saying that he recognised that
“in some cases a more flexible approach will be available in Great Britain than in Northern Ireland and that this could affect all subsidies relating to trade in goods.”
There are real concerns about the application of EU state aid to Northern Ireland when it is not applicable to the rest of the United Kingdom.
On the issue of what replaces the EU regime for Northern Ireland, I have heard what has been said. That is why I am on record in this House as agreeing with the Opposition Front Bench that we need to see the regulations, and they should be published in good time for your Lordships to consider in detail. It is not enough simply to have broad outlines of policy or indications of where it might go; we need to see the regulations at the same time as the legislation. I fully accept that this should be done, and I said so in a previous debate.
I understand also the very strong opinions, many of which I share, on the idea of giving the Executive more and more power at the expense of the legislature. However, I ask noble Lords to bear in mind the situation we are faced with in Northern Ireland as a result of the protocol. Powers have been taken away in 300 areas of law affecting the economy in Northern Ireland. Powers have been taken away from this House, this Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont, and handed over to the European Commission in Brussels, which initiates law in all those areas.
Noble Lords have expressed great dissatisfaction with the idea, which is regrettable in many cases, that one of His Majesty’s Ministers may be able to sit down with a pen and paper or an iPad and write what comes to mind; but we have a situation where somebody in the European Commission building in Brussels—I do not know who or where they will be, or their name; they are certainly not accountable to anyone here or in Northern Ireland—will write laws for Northern Ireland. It will not be a question of putting them down in statutory instruments, which this House may reject—although we have heard that it hardly ever rejects them. There will be no system of approval or disapproval at all. There will be dynamic alignment of the laws of the European Union with Northern Ireland. Legislators and the people of Northern Ireland will be handed those laws by the European Commission and told: “That’s the law you’re now operating.” Those laws are not necessarily going to be made in the interests of Northern Ireland. They are made by people who have their own interests.
I understand why noble Lords may rail against the delegated powers in this Bill, but why is not the much greater problem of the powers that have been given to Brussels to impose laws directly on part of the United Kingdom in the 21st century a subject for even more outrage? People may say that the Government signed up to this. I agree—they did, against our advice. We voted against it, as did other noble Lords in this House and Members of the other place. But we have this problem and we need to fix it. If it cannot be fixed, we are in serious trouble. I hope that negotiations and the negotiating mandate of the European Union will change to allow these things to be negotiated, but there is no sign of that thus far. If they do not change, this sovereign Parliament must take action to protect the people of Northern Ireland against laws imposed on them. Surely that should have the support of all true democrats in this mother of Parliaments.
My Lords, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, just then, my mind drifted back a decade or so to a debate in the domed hemicycle in Strasbourg on the issue of state aid in a neighbouring jurisdiction, one that was partially under single market regulation; namely, Switzerland. One after another the MEPs from different groups got up and fulminated against the unfair competition and unfair subsidies that were being carried out in particular Swiss cantons. It became clear as they spoke that what they regarded as unfair subsidies were lower taxes—lower corporation and business taxes, and a lower VAT rate. My point is that what we regard as an objective measure will not necessarily be seen that way in Brussels when it has full control of these things.
I did not make the wise life choices that my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley did, so I have no idea how efficacious these vehicles are, but surely that is an issue that ought to be determined through our own national democratic mechanisms and procedures, rather than handed to us by people over whom we have no control. It is this point of trade-offs that I think is being missed.
Of course, how could one not be persuaded by the customary wry, terse brilliance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in the way he phrases the problem of executive overreach? I think that all of us on all sides recognise the problem. But we are dealing with a world of imperfections, and the alternative is an also unconstrained, and to some degree arbitrary, power where decisions are made, often by middle-ranking European Commissioners who are not accountable to anyone. Inadequate as the statutory instrument is, there is some mechanism of control here. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, just explained, we will have a situation where the state aid regime in Northern Ireland is being imposed by people who are completely outside the democratic process.
Now, I very much hope that this Bill goes through without these amendments. I realise that I am a very lonely supporter of it in these debates, but I hope that once it has gone through, Northern Ireland can become a bridge between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and a forum for co-operation. But that will be possible only if we live up not only to the Belfast Agreement but to the wider principles on which it rests: above all, representative government and a proper link between taxation, representation and expenditure.
My Lords, there has been much discussion today, and it goes back to the issue of democratic deficit and how we deal with what Northern Ireland’s public representatives cannot deal with. There is a very simple solution. Under the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, amended by the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, provision was made for the institutions according to a three-stranded approach: the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, the North/South Ministerial Council, and the British-Irish Council, with east-west, north-south, and internal to Northern Ireland being addressed.
At the moment, we have no Northern Ireland Assembly, no Northern Ireland Executive and no North/South Ministerial Council that would hold these matters to account and address that democratic deficit. I would say to the DUP: there is a duty and an obligation to ensure, working with all the parties in Northern Ireland and both Governments, that those institutions are up and running. That will allow all of these issues to be adequately addressed by the MLAs who were duly elected in May.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, but, before doing so, I repeat what I said the other day: I feel extreme discomfort about the extensive reliance on Henry VIII clauses in this legislation. I sit near enough to the Convenor to almost feel partly convened on the issue of Henry VIII legislation: he and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, did suggest how this particularly egregious example of it could be constrained a little. However, I think neither was here when I posed the question of what the structural alternative was, in the context of negotiations, to relying on Henry VIII legislation. I still await a satisfactory answer to that question.
To return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, I share an interest with him in the EIS, because I was the Secretary of State who introduced them. I had forgotten that I was until he reminded me. Indeed, slightly earlier, when I was invited to speak on the 25th anniversary of their formation, I found that I was the warm-up act for Mike Yarwood at that event. But they are important and have been useful. They, at present, will cease under EU legislation unless that EU legislation ceases to apply in this country.
I want to make a general point, which I made earlier: the protocol is intrinsically temporary under European law. The Europeans themselves said, while we were negotiating the withdrawal agreement, that they could not, under Article 50, enter into a permanent relationship with the United Kingdom. Any arrangements reached under that agreement could only be temporary and transitional. Consequently, the protocol is transitional and temporary and not permanent. Indeed, in Mrs May’s protocol, it specifically said in the recital that the withdrawal Act, which is based on Article 50, does not aim to establish a permanent future relationship between the EU and the UK.
Subsequently, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, wrote in a letter to the Times that
“the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland states that the objective of the withdrawal agreement ‘is not to establish a permanent relationship between the Union and the UK’. If, therefore, the UK and the EU were unable to reach an agreement on Northern Ireland/Ireland, despite good faith negotiations … the UK would be entitled to terminate the withdrawal agreement under Article 62 of the Vienna convention on the Law of Treaties.”
It may be said that the final version did not include the recital that referred to Article 50. But it is still negotiated under Article 50. It still lacks any legal basis under Article 50. It is still temporary and transitional under Article 50. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is to be believed, it can be repudiated if, after good-faith negotiations, we cannot reach a satisfactory alternative.
Moreover, the final treaty omits not only the recital but the phrase that was in the original protocol but is not in the final one, that the provisions of the protocol shall apply
“unless and until they are superseded by a subsequent agreement.”
So it no longer contains that claim to permanence which the original protocol negotiated by Mrs May did.
So it is very clear that the original approach laid down in Article 50 was that you could enter into temporary and transitional arrangements which were necessary to ensure that, in case there was no final agreement, no subsequent TCA, there would be some appropriate arrangements for the Northern Ireland border. It was expected that if subsequently they could not enter into negotiations until they had completed the withdrawal agreement under Article 50, under the TCA that would deal with such things as subsidy arrangements. Largely, it did deal with such things as subsidy arrangements, and they should not be dealt with under a temporary protocol which ceases to have any validity if, after good-faith negotiations, we fail to reach an agreement. We should then repudiate it, accepting the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
There are many difficulties with that argument, the first being that there are good-faith negotiations that the United Kingdom is involved in. One cannot assume that they will not succeed. We do have a protocol.
The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, made a point which has been made previously in Committee, concerning the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland. There is a provision in the protocol that expressly addresses democratic consent in Northern Ireland: Article 18. It sets out a detailed procedure to ensure that there is democratic consent, and it requires in detail provisions to ensure the consent, in due course, of both communities, the nationalist and the unionist. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, will say that it is far from perfect and that he does not like the detail set out there—but that is what we agreed. It simply cannot be said that the subject of democratic consent has been ignored. It was negotiated and it was agreed.
Does the noble Lord accept that the provisions of Article 18 are contrary to the agreement that was made between the European Union and the UK Government in December 2017? Article 50 of the joint report said that before there could be any regulatory difference between Northern Ireland the rest of the United Kingdom, there had to be the assent of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive. The current arrangements are in breach of an EU-UK agreement and the process for giving consent is deliberately made a non-cross-community vote, contrary to the Belfast agreement.
It is elementary as a matter of diplomacy and of international law that a country is perfectly entitled to reach a new agreement in the circumstances as they then exist. That is what happened when the protocol was agreed. Both sides agreed a mechanism in Article 18 for ensuring democratic consent.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for effectively giving way. He rightly said, both in his letter to the Times and his remarks today, that, as long as there was good faith, fair enough, but if good-faith negotiations failed to reach an agreement—not if there was any lack of good faith, I think—we would be entitled under Article 62 to repudiate the treaty.
Certainly, the EU is showing a lack of fulsome good faith in two respects. First, it is refusing to accept in the current negotiations that any change to the protocol can be made—only to its implementation. Secondly, it is repudiating its original position that it could not enter into a permanent arrangement, which was the whole basis of the negotiations we entered into under Article 50. It is now trying to make something which was intrinsically temporary, and which it said could be only temporary and provisional, into something permanent. I would have thought that, in both respects, had the British Government taken such positions, he and his friendly noble Lords would have denounced it as an appalling demonstration of bad faith.
If the noble Lord’s position is that the EU is acting in bad faith, the United Kingdom, if it takes that view, is perfectly entitled to use the procedures set out in the protocol of independent arbitration—if it does not like that, it can go to the Court of Justice—to resolve any dispute. What the United Kingdom cannot do is ignore the dispute resolution mechanisms that are set out in the protocol and simply make an assertion that it thinks there is no good faith. Indeed, I had not understood it to be the position of the Government at the moment that there was no good faith. They are about to enter into negotiations.
My Lords, it is certainly my understanding that the negotiations are being undertaken in good faith on both sides, and it would be useful to have that confirmed by Ministers when they reply.
There are a few issues here, but I say first that it is very helpful to have the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, make his contribution on his concerns about chapter 10 of the protocol, because sometimes our discussions can get a little philosophical—that may be the wrong word—and it is very helpful to have them grounded in reality. His view is that he does not want a scheme that is any different to that which exists in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is understood and we know why he thinks that. We may not feel that it is realistic in the circumstances that we find ourselves in after Brexit, but there are most certainly good prospects to negotiate, come to agreement and perhaps find exemptions that would give him close enough to what he needs to be able to move us forward and give clarity and certainty to businesses in Northern Ireland, which is surely what we all want to see.
I am worried about the potential for retaliatory measures should Clause 12 of the Bill come into force. We know that this is something the EU is deeply concerned about. That does not mean that we cannot negotiate a much better position for ourselves, but there is the prospect of some form of retaliatory measure being forthcoming from the EU. I would like to know from the Minister what assessment has been made of the potential for this—although I am not quite sure which Minister to address my gaze to on this.
That is helpful, thank you. What kind of measures do we anticipate, and what would be their impact? It is all very well to play hardball and say, “This is what we will do”, but that will always have a consequence and we need to understand what that might be. Not to do so would be deeply irresponsible.
Then there is the issue of powers. A lot has been said and I agree with pretty much all of it. Clause 12(3), which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred to, says
“may, by regulations, make any provision which the Minister considers appropriate in connection with any provision of the … Protocol to which this section relates.”
That is incredibly broad and we ask whether it is necessary for it to be so broad. If I have understood the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, correctly, he seeks to put some sort of frame around it. We are all very concerned about where those powers might lead us.
The problem is that we have to look at this in conjunction with the Subsidy Control Act, which is itself very broad, has powers for Ministers and lacks clarity about what the UK Government intend for Great Britain’s subsidy regime. We are compounding one unknown with another. That is quite a lot for noble Lords to swallow. We have been asked to show a lot of faith in Ministers when really what we need, and what the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has signalled he would like too, is some more information and draft regulations. We want to know where we are going with all this so that we can assess whether it will be the right approach to benefit businesses in Northern Ireland and answer the challenge made by the DUP. At the moment, I can see a set of circumstances in which it would not.
It is right that these issues are resolvable only by negotiation; we all know that. We have to start accepting that and asking ourselves whether the Bill’s approach will assist those negotiations in reaching a positive outcome. My noble friend Lady Ritchie said that this is something where we want the voice of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We want to know what MLAs from all communities have to say. It really matters that we hear from all sides, because this is about solving problems, not making things worse. The Bill really does risk making things worse.
The only other thing I would add is that there is now a different subsidy control regime in Great Britain, but where are this interventionist Conservative Government, who are making use of their new powers up and down the country? Speaking as somebody from the north-east of England, we see lots of tinkering and plenty of things that we could have done whether we were in or outside the EU. I do not particularly see that there will be the massive difference that warrants the kind of tension this is leading to. I suggest that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and my own are designed to be helpful. These are issues that we will not make progress on through this Bill.
I agree with the noble Baroness that I was trying to create a framework, in a very amateurish way that is way above my normal pay grade. I take her point that she is trying to do the same thing with her Amendment 18, which is sensible, but does she think removing Clause 12 would weaken or strengthen our hand in the negotiations? If a vote on the clause standing part was to take place, what would be her plans for those people planning EIS investments in the future?
That is a very helpful question. I do not think the situation is about being with or without Clause 12. The Bill places the future of the regime in Northern Ireland in some doubt because nobody is clear about what is to be negotiated, what the outcome will be and what the rules will be. Even with Clause 12 in the Bill, we do not know the answer to those questions. The negotiations need to pick up pace, and they need political leadership as well as technical negotiations at official level. Experience tells us that you need that leadership—that buy-in and that clout—from the Prime Minister down. That is how you get resolution, and that is the approach I would take. I do not think the Bill, or this clause, are the make-or-break questions to resolve this issue.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and fully acknowledge that there are issues that noble Lords have raised before. In particular, I refer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who once again, in his usual forensic and specific way, highlighted with great brevity the main issue of concern. I acknowledge that this has been raised by noble Lords during the passage of the Bill. However, I will revert to the specific amendments and seek to provide answers to some of the questions raised. I caveat that by saying that we will review some of the specific technical questions relating to previous debates—and, indeed, to previous Bills and treaties—and ensure that we provide a comprehensive response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for acknowledging the letter. I hope that having three Ministers on the Front Bench is better than one. It underlines the importance that we attach to your Lordships’ House on the Bill. I also want to say from the outset, on the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised about the extent of the EU mandate, that we shall ask it to change from its earlier negotiating position.
My noble friends Lord Dodds, Lord Lilley and Lord Hannan alluded to the essence of why the Bill is necessary. Of course these things are negotiated. Every contract and treaty is made in good faith. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, was right to gaze in my direction. We are of course negotiating in good faith. If we were not, it would be a non-starter—it is as simple as that. I mentioned that I was in the last call that we had with the European Commission. We want to pursue a negotiated settlement because we believe it is in the interests of all parties and, in particular, it takes forward the concerns to which my noble friend Lord Dodds alluded. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, that it is important that we hear a broad debate about all the concerns that exist, particularly among all the communities in Northern Ireland.
Turning to Amendment 16 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, the power in Clause 12(3), also referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is in line with those contained elsewhere in the Bill, but it ensures the proper implementation of the regime set out elsewhere in Clause 12, including taking account of any developments that could arise as a result of changes to the subsidy control landscape.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the issue of agriculture. To respond to her, my understanding is that Clause 12 applies to agricultural subsidies. The purpose of Article 10(2) was to provide the flexibility needed to avoid Northern Ireland businesses losing out from leaving the common agricultural and fisheries policies. Clause 12 achieves flexibility by disapplying EU state aid law, rendering the carve-outs unnecessary. Agriculture and fisheries will be dealt with under the domestic regime. The new domestic regime provides a single coherent framework for all sectors. The inclusion of agriculture and fisheries will protect competition and investment in these areas across all parts of the UK, as it does for other sectors.
My noble friend Lord Dodds also talked about the detail of the regulations. Of course, I accept the importance of the need for the regulations. There will be opportunities to look at the regulations and for them to be scrutinised through normal parliamentary procedures. However, I note the points that have been made by my noble friends and other Peers in this respect. As I indicated earlier in respect of the information that we will seek to provide—
I believe that my noble friend is talking about the ministerial powers that exist here. We have had this debate before as well. We believe that a broader nature is necessary, and that is why “appropriate” is being used: to allow the maximum level of flexibility that the Government believe will be required. Of course, I accept there are differing opinions and views on this. Indeed, in conversations I have had, including with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to which I have alluded previously, there have been various Bills that have gone through your Lordships’ House where this discussion about “appropriate” and “necessary” has taken place, particularly with regard to the powers of Ministers and how those might be exercised. Of course, I note the point my noble friend is making.
The issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on TCA structures and state aid continues. TCA structures allow disputes to be raised, and the withdrawal agreement also provides structures for consultations as well. That very much remains the case. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also asked why the Government concluded that they had to remove state aid requirements from the protocol. The Government have been clear about the problems caused in practice by Article 10 of the protocol. This was first raised in our Command Paper in July 2021.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, talked about a trigger point. Partly, this has been a culmination of the evidence and the practical experience, as was articulated by my noble friend Lord Dodds. The current system of operating two subsidy control systems within one country has created complexity and uncertainty, which is impacting policy across the UK. Irrespective of how noble Lords are approaching this Bill, either in support of or against what the Government are proposing, we all recognise that what needs to be resolved is the situation in Northern Ireland. Article 10 has also placed considerable administrative and legal burdens on businesses; for example, facing detailed questions about their operations from authorities to establish whether subsidies could be in scope of the protocol itself.
I have already referred to the powers. Noble Lords have been very articulate in making their concerns about the powers known but, again, I have underlined the importance of the necessity of these powers. To demonstrate in detail, in the previous day in Committee, we alluded to what this would require if everything was put into primary legislation.
Turning to Amendments 17 and 19, tabled by my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley, I am grateful for my noble friend’s contribution and for his reaching out to officials before this debate. My noble friend has powerfully illustrated the problems arising from Article 10 of the protocol and how they can arise in unexpected places across the United Kingdom and our economy. Article 10 can lead to uncertainty and delays in the delivery of subsidy schemes in Northern Ireland in comparison with Great Britain. They are exactly the sorts of problems that Clause 12 is seeking and intending to resolve, including to unleash further investment, to which my noble friend alluded, across the whole of the United Kingdom. The concurrent operation of two subsidy control regimes is a fundamental challenge for public authorities and beneficiaries across the UK. The solution put forward in the Bill truly addresses the challenges the Government believe exist, and will provide certainty across the UK.