House of Lords
Tuesday 15 November 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Oaths and Affirmations
Baroness Massey of Darwen made the solemn affirmation and Lord Boswell of Aynho took the oath.
Counsellors of State
Motion for an Humble Address
That an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty to return thanks to His Majesty for His most gracious message regarding the inclusion of Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal and His Royal Highness the Earl of Wessex and Forfar among those who may be called upon to act as Counsellors of State under the terms of the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953, and to assure His Majesty that this House will, without delay, proceed to discuss this important matter and will provide such measures as may appear necessary or expedient for securing the purpose set out by His Majesty.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente, and it was ordered that the Address be presented to His Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.
Midlands Rail Hub
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Outline Business Case of the Midlands Rail Hub.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare my interests in the register and note that I am co-chair of the Midlands Engine.
My Lords, the Department for Transport received the outline business case for the Midlands Rail Hub on 14 November. We now need to assess the contribution of the scheme to the Government’s objectives, value for taxpayer money and affordability, considering the forthcoming Autumn Statement. I expect that decisions on how to proceed with the Midlands Rail Hub will be made in 2023.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Aside from the clear economic benefits of the scheme, what struck me about the rail hub is that all stakeholders in the Midlands have come together to support it. What additional assurances can the Minister give me that the Government will give the project their full support, including Midlands Rail Hub east to Leicester? Can the Minister also give some assurance on funding the quick win in the business case of Snow Hill platform 4, which could be delivered by 2025, allowing us to take a new train from Birmingham’s business district direct to London?
My Lords, as I said, we received the outline business case yesterday, so I hope the noble Lord will forgive me in that, clearly, we need to review what it says and what quick wins or otherwise there may be. I am aware that the reinstatement of platform 4 at Snow Hill station in central Birmingham is a key part of the work. It could be a quick win but no funding decisions have been made, and we expect that works will be delivered within the RNEP.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that this scheme, like many other railway schemes, has been assessed to death? As long ago as the early part of this year, the department promised that contracts would be let in January 2023. Is this not just another excuse to delay a vital project which many of us in the West Midlands are looking forward to seeing started?
I do not accept that. It is right that the Government go through the business case process. As the noble Lord will know, the outline business case is very important in ensuring that the project can be considered alongside other rail projects and then, potentially, put into the RNEP.
My Lords, Britain invented and developed the world’s first railways, and we were authors of amazing feats of engineering across the world, but the World Economic Forum now places us 29th in the global rankings for the quality of our railways. The Government’s endless U-turns on major rail projects—HS2, the integrated rail plan, the Oxford to Cambridge link, the trans-Pennine and many more—have wasted millions, even billions, of pounds. Can the Minister give us an assurance that on Thursday, the Chancellor will not be picking on capital investment in this carbon-reducing form of public transport as a way of saving money following the recent disasters affecting the economy?
Obviously, I cannot pre-empt what the Chancellor is going to say on Thursday; what I can say is that the Government are committing and will commit to record investment in our rail services and infrastructure. Projects such as the integrated rail plan are incredibly important—they unlock potential—and the Government are committed to delivering it. We will be looking at the options for high-speed to Leeds, and we intend to publish the terms of reference for the route study to Leeds after the Autumn Statement
My Lords, I understand that the noble Baroness cannot anticipate Thursday’s announcement, but does she accept that the rail links between the West Midlands and the east Midlands are very slow, often packed and in urgent need of development and reconstruction? Will she at least, in the light of Thursday’s announcement, look sympathetically at the prime needs of the Midlands for future rail investment?
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for highlighting that. The three main elements of the Midlands Rail Hub—west, central and east—would improve connectivity within the Midlands. It is right that we look at the outline business case that has so recently been submitted, and decisions will be made in due course.
Does my noble friend happen to have any figures to hand which would show the extent of the Government’s investment in the railways to which she referred earlier?
I will happily write to my noble friend with all the details of our recent investments and, in due course, we will set out our investments for the future.
I hope the Minister will send a copy of that letter to me as well. Thank you.
Can the Government update the House on the timescale for improvements to the Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury line, including electrification, which a Transport Minister in the Commons gave a commitment nearly eight months ago to look at “as soon as possible.” If, for this Government, “as soon as possible” is apparently not within the next eight months, within what timescale is it?
As the noble Lord knows, there are a number of planned investments across the country, and it is right that the Government take time to review them to ensure that they meet the needs of the post-pandemic travelling public. That is why we will be reviewing the RNEP. There will be a timeline for publication after the Autumn Statement.
My Lords, I congratulate the co-chairs of Midlands Engine, the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and Sir John Peace, who are doing a magnificent job. Is it right that the Treasury delay the funding of essential projects when a positive business case has already been made by all the participants?
Unfortunately, there is never sufficient funding for all the positive business cases the department has in its filing cabinet at any given time. That is why priorities must be considered. We must look at the strategic case and think about how the different enhancements work together. But where positive business cases are submitted to the department, we of course look at them with great interest.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Midlands Rail Hub, which is designed to dramatically improve the east-west and local and regional services in the area, which are pretty awful at the moment, should be a much greater priority than getting to London a few minutes faster by HS2?
I agree with the noble Lord that the Midlands Rail Hub would indeed do some of the things he outlines. He may also be interested to know that it would improve the integration to HS2 and therefore make HS2 ever more valued.
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the need to secure the urgent repair of swing bridges that block the passage of boats, which risk harming economic growth and domestic tourism.
My Lords, assessments on the repair status of swing bridges would most likely fall to the relevant local authority and/or the bridge owner with responsibility for that infrastructure, which may differ from bridge to bridge. Similarly, we would expect the wider impacts of bridge condition to be assessed by those bodies, or by other local parties with a relevant interest. As such, my department would not generally undertake such assessments unless it had responsibility for a specific infrastructure asset.
I thank the Minister. I declare my interest as a resident of Faversham in Kent. Six years ago, a new swing bridge was promised to the people of Faversham. Money was raised for this purpose. Peel Ports, the sort of organisation that the Minister referred to, has responsibility for providing an opening bridge and sluice gates. Can the Minister confirm that, despite what she says, the Secretary of State has a legal power to issue an abatement notice and order repair by Peel Ports? Further requested documentation was sent to the Secretary of State on 2 March. Can the Minister report on this overdue work, which will greatly assist business and tourism in this heritage town? The Government do have a responsibility.
We might go back and forth on this. I have looked into this matter. I spoke to the Member of Parliament for Faversham over the weekend. She too has raised it with me. We have yet not received sufficient information for responsibility to be determined, and in any event, it is not the Department for Transport’s job to determine responsibility. Local parties must work together to agree who is responsible for the bridge now and who will be responsible for it in the future should there be a change in ownership. I am taking an interest in the Faversham swing bridge. However, there does not appear at the moment to be a commercial reason to re-open it and dredge the waterway. That may change in the future, but a vessel has not gone through that area for some decades.
My Lords, I recognise that maintenance is down to the owner of any asset to decide, but do Governments nevertheless set mandatory maintenance schedules in their activities; for example, when internal components of swing bridges have not been replaced for 100 years?
We do not go to the level of setting mandatory maintenance schedules, but we work with various organisations within the world of highways maintenance. For example, through various channels, we have produced Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure: A Code of Practice, which we developed with the UK Roads Leadership Group. Assets such as swing bridges are very rare and each is usually unique, so setting out more detailed maintenance requirements may be counterproductive.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the commercial use of waterways; for example, the use of water freight for the construction of Crossrail, the Northern line extension and the Thames Tideway tunnel. Those three projects alone took over 350,000 lorry journeys off our roads. Therefore, the importance of waterways for reducing carbon emissions from freight transport is considerable, yet the Government’s Maritime 2050 strategy ignored the contribution of inland waterways to the reduction of carbon emissions and the issue of freight costs. What will the Government do to address that omission in departmental planning and strategy?
My Lords, my department has a fund that exists solely to encourage freight off the roads and on to waterways. It is top of mind; we encourage our own delivery bodies to ensure that they use a variety of modes to transport construction materials. That includes inland waterways, as the noble Baroness has pointed out. If it is not in the maritime strategy, that is not because it is not a priority; perhaps it simply did not fit.
My Lords, does the Minister feel that, when it comes to funding, she has a conflict of interest between being Minister for Maritime and the spokesperson for roads in this House?
Not at all. As the former Roads Minister, I am very grateful that I have that background of knowledge. I am perfectly able to want to transfer freight from the roads to inland waterways, because it is good for carbon.
There are other bodies potentially involved with swing bridges, apart from local authorities. One is the Canal & River Trust. Its current grant agreement with the Government is fixed until 2027 and is now declining significantly in real terms as a result of rising inflation, putting a considerable strain on the trust’s finances. In the light of this, how exactly do the Government think that the long-term resilience of our waterways can be sustained and their decline averted—a decline that will have an adverse impact on the trust’s ability to cover a wide range of risks, statutory obligations and legal liabilities, including the specific issue referred to in the question from the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill?
I am not aware that the Canal & River Trust has an interest in the Faversham swing bridge, but I would be very happy to hear from it about its work and the funding it receives.
My Lords, the Minister said that the Government have a fund to encourage traffic off roads and on to water. How much is that fund, and how much has been spent?
I believe that it is about £20 million, but I will have to write to the noble Lord. The fund encourages road freight off the road and on to both inland waterways and trains.
To ask His Majesty’s Government what advice they provide to people, particularly the elderly, who are targeted by scammers; how such advice is accessed; and at what cost.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Morrow, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.
My Lords, fraud awareness-raising activity takes place across government, law enforcement and the private and charity sectors. The Government provide free advice to the public online and via communications campaigns, including from Action Fraud, the Financial Conduct Authority’s ScamSmart, National Trading Standards’s Friends Against Scams, and the National Cyber Security Centre’s Cyber Aware.
I thank the Minister for his response. Unfortunately, I have in the past had to assist some who have been victims of such vile crimes, having been scammed out of considerable sums of money. Therefore, I am too aware of the trauma this causes. Does he agree that banks need to accept more responsibility when their clients have lost money from their accounts—sometimes their whole life savings—to these ruthless scammers?
I absolutely agree. I also point out that banks are heavily involved with the awareness campaigns. Many noble Lords will no doubt have seen a recent advert put out by Santander to stop scammers which features Ant and Dec, when they are not busy in the jungle. Also, the Scams Prevention and Support Programme, delivered by Age UK and funded by Lloyds Bank, is aimed at older people and helps them to spot and understand scams, and to take action to protect themselves from becoming a scam victim. Of course, I also agree that it is emotionally devastating to be a victim of these crimes.
My Lords, today the National Audit Office published a report on fraud, which says in terms that the Government do not have the data they need to understand the full scale of the problem and are unable accurately to measure the impact of their own policies on this growing area of crime, which is 41% of crime in this country. A spokesperson for the Government said, as we can expect:
“This government is absolutely committed to cracking down on fraud and economic crime”
and that the NAO’s recommendations will be “reflected” in the “upcoming fraud strategy”. What on earth use is a fraud strategy based on data that is now six years old?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right: the Home Office is leading work on a fraud strategy. The Prime Minister referred to it in the other place as recently as 2 November. We intend to publish on that shortly. It will consider all the possible tools required to go after fraudsters and to protect those who are most vulnerable. The strategy’s other aims will be to stop and block frauds being carried out, and to improve law enforcement. Considerable money is being invested in improving data collection, as well as law enforcement capability.
My Lords, of the £580 million taken from people through authorised push payment scams last year, less than half was reimbursed to victims. Banks say that people should be more careful, but this is unacceptable given the sophistication of these schemes and how rife they are. Will the Government replace the voluntary industry code on authorised push payments with a statutory code, including an obligation to reimburse victims unless there is clear evidence that they are at fault?
My Lords, I have slightly different figures for the number of victims who were reimbursed. I am told that up to the year ending June 2022, 71% of victims got fully reimbursed. On the code to which the noble Lord referred, in 2021 the Payment Systems Regulator consulted on further measures to combat APP fraud. It proposed that all payment service providers must reimburse victims of APP scams where the victim is found not to have been grossly negligent. It is also worth pointing out some other legislative activity. In November 2021, the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury announced that the Government would remove any legislative barriers through the Financial Services and Markets Bill to enable the regulator to act to make reimbursement mandatory. That Bill is currently in Committee, and the PSR is currently consulting further on the mechanism for reimbursement.
My Lords, this really is not good enough. The National Audit Office issued a helpful report five years ago on fraudulent scammers, which has been ignored by successive Ministers and Secretaries of State. This second devastating report, which my noble friend Lord Browne referred to, has found “limited” action taken by the Home Office to tackle a crime that is profoundly impactful on nearly 4 million people every year at a cost of £4.7 billion. Fewer than 5,000 prosecutions were launched last year. Many of the victims of this terrible crime are elderly. When is the Home Office going to re-examine its priorities and come up with a proper and effective plan that genuinely protects people from scammers, which our party and the National Audit Office have been demanding for the past seven years?
As I have already said, the National Audit Office report is going to inform the new fraud strategy. I reassure noble Lords that this is taken incredibly seriously. Alongside the fraud strategy that is due to be published shortly, we are providing more than £10 million to the City of London Police to upgrade Action Fraud, which has come under some criticism in the past. Next year, a new user-friendly and accessible reporting tool and website will be launched, offering an improved experience for victims and simpler pathways to access further support and guidance. Overall, £400 million is being allocated to economic crime, of which £100 million is being spent on the prevention of fraud.
My Lords, I have been privileged to be a member of your Lordships’ Fraud Act 2006 and Digital Fraud Committee which reported on Friday. I commend the report to the Minister and hope he has read it. One of the findings, which I think surprised all of us, is that it is not in fact the elderly who are most at risk from fraud but young people, who are also at risk of becoming money-laundering mules. Will the Government consider strengthening financial education for primary and secondary school children to equip them with the tools they need to stop being victims?
The noble Lord is quite right: in the year to March 2022 people aged over 75 were less likely to be a victim of fraud than those aged between 16 and 74. He makes an extremely good point and I will take it back to the Department for Education.
My Lords, the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, referred states that
“all people have the capacity to become victims of fraud, regardless of perceived vulnerability.”
The House needs to understand that financial crime destroys lives and destroys families. Will the Government give an unambiguous commitment to include protection against financial harm in the Online Safety Bill?
My Lords, I have already outlined some of the legislative work going on, and I am not going to unequivocally commit to doing anything in other Bills at the moment. I will go on to one other point which perhaps refers to the previous question: one of the more effective tools at the moment is Friends Against Scams, to which I referred in my opening Answer. It is run by National Trading Standards and encourages people to educate others about fraud. People sign up, do an online training course and then share it. More than 1 million people have signed up. That sort of work is very valuable.
My Lords, my noble friend has rightly said that there is quite a lot of information online if you think you have been subject to fraud. Some of those sites encourage you to report a suspicious email or text, but do not do any more than that except say that they will remove it for you. What more can we do to direct people to websites that can actually help people who feel they have been a victim of fraud?
The National Cyber Security Centre launched its suspicious email reporting service to remove harmful scams online, and it is seeing high levels of success. As of October 2022 it had taken down more than 105,000 scams across 192,000 URLs. Another thing that the Government have done is the National Economic Crime Centre’s department dedicated to ensuring consistency of messaging. I will make sure it is aware of my noble friend’s suggestion.
My Lords, for many years I was chairman of PayPal Europe. Working with the global head of security, I tried extremely hard to engage the British Government on this issue. With the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the law enforcement authorities, there was absolutely no traction whatever. No real interest was taken in it. Can the Government now reliably estimate the enormous scale of online fraud, then a contagion and now an epidemic? To what degree are the Government bearing down on the offenders, who operate globally as well as nationally? Can the Minister tell us how many scammers were successfully prosecuted for online fraud in the last year for which figures are available?
I am afraid I cannot. I will endeavour to find the appropriate statistic. There is a problem about the collection of statistics—the noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to it earlier—which is to do with differences of collection across the four nations, I am afraid. However the noble Lord, Lord Birt, is quite right: it is obviously a serious proportion of crime. I reassure noble Lords once again that the Government are taking this very seriously. As I said earlier, on 2 November the Prime Minister led on this.
Asylum Seekers: Accommodation
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the provision of appropriate accommodation for asylum seekers after their departure from the Manston immigration centre.
I thank the noble Lord for his Question. We are committed to working closely with communities and stakeholders to ensure that destitute asylum seekers are housed in safe, secure and suitable accommodation. All appropriate options are being explored to ensure that suitable accommodation is secured as quickly as is necessary, and hotels are one element.
It may assist the noble Lord to know how the system works in terms of the steps of allocating accommodation. Clearly, the Secretary of State is under a statutory obligation to provide accommodation support to destitute asylum seekers. At Manston this appears to be the large majority of those arriving in small boats. They are housed at Manston for as short a period as possible, then sent to ring-fenced hotel accommodation and on to other hotel accommodation. Once their application—
I am not sure whether the Minister has finished his reply. Does he understand that when the Home Secretary uses language about an “invasion” and the Immigration Minister writes that “‘Hotel Britain’ must end”, these are incendiary utterances that might have been calculated to inflame hard-right hatred of refugees? Is he aware that, following the exposure of the squalid and dangerous overcrowding at Manston, the Home Office has abandoned asylum seekers to sleep rough on pavements in London, with no warm clothes or money? Is it not the case that the Home Office has been dumping asylum seekers, with no forewarning and no information, on councils already struggling to house people in need, or on homelessness charities, or leaving them in limbo in hotels for apparently interminable periods? How do these realities square with his claim to noble Lords that the mission of the Home Office is
“to treat all who come to our country with care and compassion”?—[Official Report, 9/11/22; col. 643.]
As I said in my earlier Answer, we are required to provide support and accommodation to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while their claims are pending. Given the current pressing need to move people from Manston, we are necessarily considering all possible options and acting to secure suitable accommodation at pace. We endeavour to notify as early as possible the local authorities where the accommodation is located. The noble Lord will appreciate that this is an unprecedented situation that has required very quick action by Home Office officials.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that asylum seekers are not alien invaders to these shores but innocent people who are the victims of horrendous conflict in different parts of the world, such as the Middle East, Afghanistan, Ukraine and so many other places? Does he agree that it is only right that we extend hospitality to them?
I agree with part of what the noble Lord says. Obviously, it is important that all those who come to seek asylum in the UK have the opportunity to have their applications considered, and that all those who are genuine asylum seekers are of course afforded all that this country can offer by way of protection. In that sense, I agree with the noble Lord.
My Lords, I welcome the recent more productive talks with our French friends and allies. Has consideration been given to building, at joint expense but with a considerable amount from us, decent hostel-type accommodation in France, where the British officials who are now assessing applications can work and where people can be given a proper assessment and clean living conditions?
I hear what my noble friend says. Clearly, the recently concluded negotiations with the French concerned the use of Border Force officials within the French detection mechanism on the French coast, but I will certainly take back my noble friend’s suggestion to the Home Office.
My Lords, I was at Manston last week and I have two questions. First, how many of the people currently at Manston have been there longer than 24 hours, which is the designated time? Secondly, the Minister said that the Home Office would endeavour to inform local authorities. I was in Oxford last week, where I was told that 200 people had arrived from Manston and there had not been a word of warning or consultation with the local authority.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. I, too, was at Manston last week and I am sure that he will share my admiration for the hard work of the staff at Manston in very difficult circumstances. I can assure the noble Lord that the current figure for those at Manston as of 8 am this morning was 1,428. I am afraid that I am unable to give the noble Lord information about the longest period of any person detained there. I will endeavour to find that information and write to the noble Lord. On the noble Lord’s Oxford question, I am afraid I do not know the answer but I will find out and write to him.
My Lords, of course we are delighted at the hard work that the people at Manston are putting into this, but there is a very serious problem indeed. Just a few days ago, I had an email from one of my clergy who said that, during the week, large numbers of asylum seekers were moved in, without any warning to the local authority or local partners, and it has caused chaos. That means not only that we do not have the statutory support in place but that voluntary groups such as churches, which are trying to offer support, simply have no warning. Will he go back to his officials? We simply need to get the communication right and we will all work with the Government and other partners to try to solve this very difficult, agonising problem.
I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate. The issues surrounding the allocation of accommodation are certainly the subject of concentrated effort by Home Office officials, and it is the intention to improve notification. I add that we are incredibly grateful for the activities of church groups and others who help provide assistance to those accommodated in hotels.
My Lords, following on from the right reverend Prelate’s question and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, it appears, worryingly, that the Home Office is still not talking to the directors of public health in local areas receiving people from Manston. On 1 November, the Minister said that there were four cases of diphtheria. I am hearing that there are now nearly 40 cases, and we know that people are not being tested as they leave Manston. The Minister offered to write to me before; will he now agree to meet to discuss this urgent health issue?
My understanding is that there are 12 diphtheria cases, but I will certainly make further inquiries in light of that. I can assure the noble Baroness that healthcare in contingency asylum accommodation is a priority. Those contracted to the Home Office endeavour to ensure that people accommodated in hotels or other contingency accommodation are signposted to GP practices, and there is local health screening in most cases.
My Lords, can my noble friend explain to me how it is possible to regard people coming from Albania, which is a stable and democratic country, as asylum seekers, and how much is it costing the taxpayer to put these people up in hotels?
Clearly, a large number of those crossing are from Albania. It is understood that around 12,000 of those who have crossed this year have been from there, and it is right to say that Albania is a safe country. Migrants are entitled to avail of the asylum application process and those applications are considered in accordance with the procedure as it currently stands. This matter clearly needs to be considered and is being considered.
Counsellors of State Bill [HL]
A Bill to add His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex and Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal to the persons to whom royal functions may be delegated as Counsellors of State.
The Bill was introduced by Lord True, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, if I may, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, sought to rise to ask whether a Motion for an humble Address is debatable. It is a debatable matter, but a First Reading is not a debatable matter, I am afraid. The point I would have made then is that I did not think the sense of the House was that we wished to have a debate on a matter where a Bill was about to come before your Lordships’ House in an expedited way, by agreement in the usual channels.
The Deputy Chief Whip will now make a statement, which I think it would be helpful for noble Lords to hear, on the way in which this legislation will be dealt with. It will be dealt with in a way that will give noble Lords the maximum latitude to make their opinions felt, including the laying of amendments before Second Reading. I hope that we can hear what the Deputy Chief Whip is going to suggest, after agreement in the usual channels, as to how we should deal with this matter. Your Lordships will have ample and normal opportunities to discuss these matters as the Bill proceeds.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal for his comments. I want to take this opportunity to briefly set out the approach to considering the Counsellors of State Bill, following its introduction today. Second Reading will take place next Monday, on 21 November. Noble Lords can now sign up to speak on the Government Whips’ Office website; the speakers’ list will close at 4 pm this Friday. Committee and all other remaining stages will be taken on Wednesday 23 November. Once the Bill is published later today, Members will be able to table amendments for Committee. The deadline for the Marshalled List will be 30 minutes after the conclusion of Second Reading on Monday 21 November. Any amendments should be tabled in the usual way with the Public Bill Office. The Government Whips’ Office and the Public Bill Office can offer further advice.
My Lords, I thank the King for his Message yesterday and for his recognition of public interest and concern in the matter raised by the Deputy Chief Whip. In view of the expeditious way in which the King has suggested a solution to the question that arises, can the noble Earl confirm that the arrangements for this Bill, here and in another place, will be conducted with such equal expeditiousness that the Bill can reach the statute book in good time to be of practical use to the monarch?
My Lords, can I ask a question? I understand that it would have been technically correct to have a debate after the introduction of the Motion for an humble Address at the start of business. I think the Leader of the House has confirmed that, but I understand why and accept that it is appropriate to discuss it under the business of the House. What I am not clear about is when the Motion which was passed earlier says
“provide such measures as may appear necessary or expedient for securing the purpose set out by His Majesty”.
The Deputy Chief Whip has indicated what is to happen to the Bill of which we have just had a First Reading. Is that the only measure that will be necessary, since it refers to “such measures”, plural? Can we have an indication about any other legislation, including statutory instruments? I mean primary or secondary legislation.
My second point is in relation to the people who can become Counsellors of State. The Motion says:
“including Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal and His Royal Highness the Earl of Wessex”.
Could any other member of the Royal Family be added to that? What would be the procedure for adding any other member of the Royal Family and would it come before this or the other House in anyway whatever, or could it be decided summarily by the Royal Family or anyone else? It is important that we know how anyone else might be added.
My Lords, the noble Lord opposite, whom I have great respect and affection for, is an extremely experienced parliamentarian. Perhaps this is one reason why he seeks every opportunity to intervene, even when it is not necessarily our custom. I say to him and the noble Viscount, who has taken a close interest in this matter, that the Government are presenting—I have just asked your Lordships to give a First Reading to it, which they very kindly have—a Bill which constitutes the measure which gives effect to the purport of the King’s Message. That is a Bill put before your Lordships’ House. The other place must speak for itself on what procedures it will use.
The Bill will be available online. It will be in the Printed Paper Office and Royal Gallery later today. An announcement will be put on the annunciator when the Bill is published. Given the interest in the Bill, it is being expedited. A speakers’ list will be open on the Government Whips’ Office website and will be kept open until 4 pm on Friday. As it is a Bill before your Lordships’ House, it is open to any noble Lord to put whatever amendment may be within scope of the Bill. However, I urge your Lordships to take notice of the Message which His Majesty was graciously pleased to send us.
My Lords, from these Benches and as part of the usual channels, I was very happy to agree the process outlined by the Leader of the House and Deputy Chief Whip and hope that we get on with this now.
My Lords, before we conclude this debate, can I follow my noble friend’s comments? If the text of the Bill is as we think it is, that will be fine. However, in this Motion it says “including” Her Royal Highness and the Earl of Wessex. I welcome that, but what is the position of Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, who no longer have a role in royal duties? Can they be or have they been removed, or will they be standing in for His Majesty even though they do not do royal duties? I hope we will get an answer to that.
My Lords, I have told the House that the Bill will be published today. I suggest that your Lordships follow our good custom, which goes back centuries, of debating these matters when they are before the House, particularly as the Bill is being published this afternoon.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 9 November.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on COP 27, which I attended in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday.
When the United Kingdom took on the presidency of COP, just one third of the global economy was committed to net zero. Today, that figure is 90%, and the reduction in global emissions pledged during our presidency is equivalent to the entire annual emissions of America. There is still a long way to go to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, but the historic Glasgow climate pact kept that goal within reach. I know that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to my right honourable friend the Member for Reading West, Alok Sharma, for his inspirational leadership as COP President.
The question at this summit was whether countries would deliver on their promises. I am pleased to say that our nation will. We have already cut our carbon emissions faster than anyone else in the G7, and we will fulfil our ambitious commitment to reduce emissions by at least 68% by the end of the decade.
I know that some have feared that Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine could distract from global efforts to tackle climate change, but I believe it should catalyse them. Climate security and energy security go hand in hand. Putin’s contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels, so we will make this country a clean energy superpower. We will accelerate our transition to renewables, which have already grown fourfold as a proportion of our electricity supply over the last decade; we will invest in building new nuclear power stations for the first time since the 1990s; and, by committing £30 billion to support our green industrial revolution, we will leverage up to £100 billion of private investment to support almost half a million high-wage, high-skilled green jobs.
There is no solution to climate change without protecting and restoring nature, so at COP 27 the UK committed £90 million to the Congo basin as part of £1.5 billion we are investing in protecting the world’s forests, and I co-hosted the first meeting of our forests and climate leaders’ partnership, which will deliver on the historic commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
Central to all our efforts is keeping our promises on climate finance, so the UK is delivering on our commitment of £11.6 billion. To support the most vulnerable who are experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, we will triple our funding on adaptation to reach £1.5 billion a year in 2025.
In Glasgow, the UK pioneered a new global approach, using aid funding to unlock billions of pounds of private finance for new green infrastructure, so I was delighted to join President Ramaphosa to mark the publication of his investment plan, which delivers on this new model. South Africa will benefit from cheaper, cleaner power, cutting emissions while simultaneously creating new green jobs for his people. We will look to support other international partners in taking a similar approach.
We also made further commitments to support clean power in developing countries. This included investing a further £65 million in commercialising innovative clean technologies and working with the private sector to deliver a raft of green investment projects in Kenya.
The summit also allowed me to meet many of my counterparts for the first time. With the Egyptian President, I raised the case of the British-Egyptian citizen Alaa Abd el-Fattah. I know the whole House will share my deep concern about his case, which grows more urgent by the day. We will continue to press the Egyptian Government to resolve the situation. We want to see Alaa freed and reunited with his family as soon as possible.
President Macron and I discussed our shared determination to crack down on criminal smuggling gangs, and I discussed illegal migration with other European leaders too. We are all facing the same shared challenge, and we agreed to solve it together. I had good meetings with the new Prime Minister of Italy, the German Chancellor, the President of the EU, the President of Israel, and the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and Norway, as well as the UN Secretary- General.
In all these discussions, the United Kingdom is acting with our friends to stand up for our values around the world, to deliver stability and security at home. Tackling climate change and securing our energy independence is central to these objectives. Even though we may now have handed over the presidency of COP, the United Kingdom will proudly continue to lead the global effort to deliver net zero, because this is the way to ensure the security and prosperity of our country today and for generations to come. I commend this Statement to the House.”
Perhaps I will wait a moment for the House to settle as there does not seem to be as much interest in COP 27 as there was in the regency Bill.
My Lords, I welcome that the Prime Minister raised the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah with the Egyptian President when he was at COP. The Leader of the House will be aware from my intervention last week how concerned we are for his welfare in your Lordships’ House. The news yesterday that Alaa is alive and, although he remains on hunger strike, is now drinking water, is to be welcomed. However, after being on hunger strike and not eating for so long, he is obviously weakened, and his family remain extremely concerned and desperate for Alaa’s release. Following that, and because the Prime Minister raised it at Sharm el-Sheikh, is the noble Lord able to tell us today what further action or representations the Government have made since that meeting? Has consular access now been granted?
Returning to the substance of COP 27, when I heard the Prime Minister’s Statement, I was struck by how optimistic and confident he appears on the issue. Perhaps this is why he initially felt it was not necessary for him to attend. I am all for being optimistic and the need to be hopeful about the future, but such a world-view needs to be rooted in reality. The Prime Minister admits in the Statement, as those who have read it will know, that:
“There is … a long way to go to limit global temperature rises to”
1.5 degrees centigrade, but he then praises the “historic Glasgow climate pact” for keeping “that goal within reach”. I must say that keeping a goal within reach does not sound like such a great commitment when the situation is so very serious. If it always remains just within reach, we will never get there.
The UN reports that the world is currently on course for a catastrophic 2.8 degrees centigrade rise in temperatures—almost double the recommendation—in part because the promises made in Glasgow were not met. In recent times, we have seen the consequences and human cost of climate change. Your Lordships will be aware of the floods, which were seen most recently in Pakistan, that leave death and destruction in their wake, and we have seen temperatures, particularly over the last summer, so hot that life and livelihoods are threatened. So often, those who are most affected are also the least able to prepare for, or cope with, the consequences.
In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting war have shown just how crucial it is that we protect and enhance the security of our energy supply. Without that greater security, costs are going to rise even higher, and blackouts and power cuts remain a threat. In the Statement, the Prime Minister referred to the UK as a pioneer, as being “ambitious”, and as being a leader in the global war on climate change. There is an opportunity to be all those things, and pioneering such generational change, as we tackle the challenges of the climate emergency, could improve and transform our economy and energy resilience. So the Prime Minister’s assertion at COP 27 that we need to “act faster” on renewables is very welcome. However, given that assertion, can the Lord Privy Seal explain why, at the same time, Ministers were repeatedly ruling out onshore wind? On the one hand, the Prime Minister is saying that we are going to “act faster” on renewables and, on the other, Ministers are ruling out onshore wind—this does not make much sense. It is the quickest, cheapest and cleanest of renewables, but it is absent from the Government’s energy strategy. How does this match Mr Sunak’s speech at COP 27, or is it just that he was speaking to a different audience on a different day?
This is not just a matter of global responsibility; it is also a matter of seizing opportunities. Manufacturing and installing onshore wind could provide huge economic and energy boosts. Have the Government made any assessment—it is important that we get an answer on this specific point—of the number of quality green jobs that could be created by reversing government policy and embracing onshore wind? I hope that the Government have also been looking into what boost that could give the British economy in the longer term.
The noble Lord may be aware that my own party has committed to a genuinely world-leading plan for 100% clean power by 2030. That is ambitious, but in the same way as past generations were excited by, and embraced, new technologies for future prosperity, we must do the same. If we fail to invest in new technologies—for example, in green hydrogen, floating wind turbines, gigafactories, new nuclear, clean steel or tidal power—we will fail the next generation on every level. As we face the prospect of another austerity Budget, the Government could use this opportunity to boost green manufacturing. We have such a good record in this country on research, yet we continue to import the batteries—such as those for cars—that we should be manufacturing here in the UK. Can the Lord Privy Seal offer any hope or reassurance that the upcoming austerity Budget will include some long-term economic planning for investment in the technologies of the future and green growth?
Surely the Government have to up their game and bring in a more effective windfall tax on excess profits of oil companies that does what it says on the tin and not return 90p in every pound of investment in tax breaks. Our calculations have found that increasing the windfall tax as we originally proposed and extending it to 2027-28, eliminating that loophole for oil and gas companies, could bring in an extra £34 billion on top of the £28 billion currently expected by the Government. With cuts and tax rises expected this week, why do Ministers not pursue this course of action, which would help our finances and energy security and address our needs and our obligations on the climate emergency?
No one should deny that there is an emergency, and the Statement from the Prime Minister recognises that, but so far, although we have seen a recognition, we have not seen the ambition needed to make that step change towards green energy and green growth. We need to create that new clean industrial strategy for the future. Just saying that something is the case does not make it true. If the Government are serious about leading on this issue—and I hope they are—in planning for a green, clean and prosperous future, we need to see a Budget that not only understands that but lays the foundations to ensure that it happens.
My Lords, more than anything else, the Statement demonstrates the value of the Prime Minister going to COP 27 at all. Leaving aside the business of the conference itself, the Prime Minister lauds the fact that his attendance enabled him to meet a raft of world leaders for the first time. Nine are mentioned specifically. It also enabled him to raise non-climate related issues, from the plight of Alaa Abd el-Fattah to the refugee crisis in the channel. Had he not been forced by external pressures to reverse his initial intention to ignore the conference altogether, these opportunities would have been missed. I hope that that the Prime Minister has learned the lesson that, to promote British interests internationally, he has to take every opportunity to meet his counterparts beyond sporadic, bilateral visits. Sadly, however, the fact that the Prime Minister went to COP 27 only under duress has undermined the UK’s reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change. The world simply does not think that the Prime Minister’s heart is in it.
On the substance of the conference, there have obviously been some positive developments, such as the new investment plan for cleaner energy in South Africa. But there are worrying suggestions that both India and China are trying to push back on the 1.5 degree target, claiming that it is unrealistic. Will the Prime Minister use the current G20 summit to press his counterparts in India and China to stick to their climate change commitments rather than reneging on them?
As for activity in the UK, the Statement is extremely complacent. The Prime Minister claims that the Government will
“accelerate our transition to renewables”
but, if this is the case, to echo the noble Baroness, why has he turned his back on the cheapest and cleanest form of renewable—namely, onshore wind? Why are the Government still supporting new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, against the advice of the International Energy Agency?
The Prime Minister talks about “our green industrial revolution”, but the UK is lagging far behind France and Germany, for example, in investment in new technologies such as battery production and green hydrogen. This is not only bad for the environment but extremely bad for jobs, which, in the absence of our developing competitive facilities, will move offshore. We have already seen BMW’s decision to move electric Mini production to China. What assurance can the Government give car producers in the UK that they will be able to procure batteries manufactured in the UK, given the parlous financial state of the few battery production facilities now planned? The UK also lags behind the rest of Europe in its production of heat pumps, an essential component in driving down domestic energy consumption. Given that this has resulted in an acute shortage of heat pumps, what action are the Government planning to deal with this urgent problem?
The Prime Minister also talks about up to 500,000 high-skilled green jobs, but there is currently, according to PwC, a 41,000 green skills job gap. Where are the new workers going to come from, given the dire state of apprenticeships in green technologies, a lack of labour force planning and a lack of engagement with educational institutions? Do the Government understand that for companies to invest in and retain skilled staff, they need consistency in government policy, not least in respect of price and subsidy? Zig-zagging on policy in recent years has led many companies in, for example, the solar power sector, to lay off skilled workers because they have not had any certainty about their future operating environment.
The next major international conference on sustainability is the UN Conference on Biological Diversity, to be held next month in Montreal. Will the Minister tell us which senior UK Minister will be attending this crucial next step from COP 27? The Prime Minister managed to salvage some of his and the Government’s reputation by finally turning up at COP 27 but, both domestically and internationally, perceptions of the UK Government’s commitment to reaching net zero have been damaged and more action is now needed to prove the doubters wrong.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness opposite and the noble Lord. Certainly, the slightly more favourable tone of the noble Baroness, who was trying hard not to praise the Prime Minister too much, contrasted with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that a Prime Minister in office for five minutes must be criticised because he went, at the first opportunity, to COP 27. I think the noble Baroness had it right when she said it was a good thing that the Prime Minister went, and that it was a source of optimism.
I will come on to deal with some of the specific questions, but first I shall address the very important point about Alaa Abd el-Fattah. We are deeply concerned about this case—the noble Baroness was absolutely right to put it first in her response. We are working hard to secure his release. It is true that the Prime Minister raised this with President Sisi in Sharm on Monday, when he stressed the UK Government’s deep concern and hoped that the case would be resolved. We are providing consular support to his family. I will have to provide exact details of where we are on that, because I would not want to mislead the House in any way. I am advised that we are, but I will get that clearly stated for the noble Baroness. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s family last Wednesday and recently raised his case when he met Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon who has met the family several times, most recently this month. This is an important case and I give an assurance that we will continue to follow it.
On the broader Statement, the noble Baroness is right to say that the 1.5% target is important. The Glasgow climate pact provided a road map for keeping that 1.5 degrees alive. As the noble Baroness knows, 1.5 degrees is an advance on the Paris agreement but, as my right honourable friend Mr Sharma said today, countries now need to step up their ambition and take action to deliver on those pledges. It is certainly an area of continuing importance.
The noble Baroness rightly raised the importance of vulnerable nations. We are already helping countries across the world to deal with the impacts of natural disasters and climate change, and we announced last week that we would triple funding for climate adaptation from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion in 2025.
The noble Baroness was of course absolutely right about energy independence and dependence, and the impact of Putin’s violent war in Ukraine. We have over some decades, as I have said in the House before, perhaps not given enough attention to energy security at home. It was a pity, in retrospect, that the 1997 Labour manifesto said that nuclear would not form part of its programme. We need to move forward with a balanced approach in which renewables, about which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, spoke, are at the heart of our policy. The UK is working alongside the G7 to end reliance on Russian energy. The UK has already ended all imports of coal from Russia and we will end imports of oil and gas by the end of this year. In fact, June 2022 was the first month since records began in 1997 in which there were no imports of fuel from Russia.
The North Sea was raised as a matter of concern. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Newby, we remain fully committed to climate targets, but they are not incompatible with support for the oil and gas industry. We will continue to need oil and gas to heat homes and fill up tanks for many years to come. The cleanest and most secure way to do this is to source more domestically by investing in our North Sea. Sourcing gas in the North Sea produces less than half the carbon footprint of importing liquefied natural gas.
I was asked a number of points about support for investment in different types of energy, which relate in some senses to what might be budgetary decisions. The House will have to indulge my being a bit reticent about going into some of those areas, but I note what was said about onshore wind, for example, for which both Front Benches opposite expressed their enthusiasm.
I was also asked about the windfall tax. For the same reason, I will not go into any tax decisions in detail, but I remind the House that we have already introduced a 25% energy profits levy on top of a 40% corporation tax rate paid by firms involved in the North Sea. It is true that there is a relief, to which the noble Baroness referred, to encourage investment. I will not comment on all individual taxpayers, but I point out that Shell has committed to invest up to £25 billion into the UK’s energy system over the next decade and BP has committed £18 billion.
I refute what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said: Britain is seen as a leader. I cite the extraordinary leadership given by, for example, my noble friend Lord Goldsmith around initiatives on nature. What has been done and agreed at COP 27 in relation to forests and the £90 million investment in the Congo Basin show extraordinary progress in which the United Kingdom has been a leader, and it is only fair to recognise that. The same is true of the partnership on improving clean power, in which the arrangement with South Africa was a pioneer. I am pleased to report to the House that there has been a similar agreement at COP 27 with Indonesia. We also hope to reach agreements to support other nations going forward. I cannot answer which Minister will go to the Montreal conference, but I will write to the noble Lord on that point.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. The Minister said that he could not comment in detail on onshore wind because of potential budgetary considerations. I am not sure that his reticence is necessary. The issue here is a planning one, not a budgetary one. There is currently a moratorium on new onshore wind and the replacement of existing onshore wind. The not-much-missed growth Statement said that the Government would lift the moratorium and bring in normal planning considerations for new onshore developments. We have now heard that that is in doubt. Given the need for more renewable energy in future, is it in doubt or will the statement that we will revert to proper planning procedures be maintained?
My other question is global. Many of the vulnerable countries to which the noble Lord referred are very indebted countries, and as well as trying to meet the costs of adaptation and sustainable energy, they are meeting the costs of debt repayment. The ex-President of the Maldives put forward the suggestion of a debt swap so that, in future, those debts could be used for sustainable projects in developing countries. Would the Minister give me an answer on that?
My Lords, I am sorry if noble Lords thought that I was being too reticent by not straying into some areas. We have a wide-ranging Statement about to be made, and I would not want the House to draw any conclusion from what I say or do not say. What your Lordships must understand is that this is a difficult time. There has been a lot of criticism of this Government’s commitment to renewables, but I underline that we have achieved a fourfold increase in renewable use since 2011. Renewables now make up 40% of our electricity supply—something that, in 2010, Mr Ed Miliband said was a pie-in-the-sky idea. That pie has come down from the sky, but we do need to make it larger and I will listen to the point that the noble Baroness made.
On wind, more than £1 billion of government investment is already boosting our offshore wind sector, and major port and manufacturing infrastructure, and safeguarding many jobs. The Hornsea wind farm—it is offshore, I concede—has lately come onstream, and it is one of the largest that exists. As to debt, I cannot be specific about that, but I will take away and pass on what the noble Baroness said. We are obviously conscious that there are specific nations with specific problems; for example, some of the small islands are nations that we are particularly concerned to address in a specific way.
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s commitment to UK net zero is admirable and reassuring. There are obviously some huge problems ahead, but there are also some very good signs. For instance, I read in the papers that Morocco is committing to provide 10 gigawatts of solar-driven electricity by cable to the United Kingdom, which is the equivalent of five nuclear power stations—so there are hopes as well as problems. However, the real difficulty is that 40% of global emissions come from Russia, China and India, and that proportion is going to rise in both percentage terms and volume terms. What exactly are we going to do about that?
Well, my Lords, we will use such diplomatic power as we have. I have discovered in life, at a relatively advanced age, that you may pour wisdom into many people’s ears but they will not necessarily listen. I think the whole House agrees with what my noble friend just said; it is essential that all nations step up to the plate. The best we can do—and I believe that we did it in Glasgow, and that the Prime Minister has done it at COP 27—is use the UK’s considerable diplomatic influence in partnership with our allies. For example, we are working on Just Energy action with South Africa and Indonesia, and we are working alongside other developed nations.
We must use our diplomatic power to the greatest extent possible and we must, by our exertions, set an example to the rest of the world. If I could tell your Lordships’ House that with a click of the fingers, I could change the policy of very powerful nations in other parts of the world, I would, but every time Ministers of this Government meet Ministers from high-polluting countries, we will certainly make that point.
My Lords, is the Minister able to confirm that the pledges for international climate finance are not being taken from the ODA budgets?
My Lords, on the ODA budget, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he wishes to see a return to 0.7% as the target for overseas aid. That remains the position of the Government. As far as specific action and lines of finance are concerned, I am not in a position to say anything at the Dispatch Box. Again, I will contact the right reverend Prelate, but I remind the House that we are a world leader in development support. We spent more than £11 billion on overseas development aid in 2021. We remain committed to the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 and to spending 0.7% of GNI once the fiscal situation allows. That has been made clear from the top of the Government.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned energy security. Let us remember that this Government have had 12 years to develop some sort of plan for that. My question is: we still do not have enough legislation referring back to the policy that was decided in Glasgow, so are we going to see some legislation on the promises the Government made then and, perhaps, more legislation on the promises they are going to make in Sharm el-Sheikh?
My Lords, obviously there is energy legislation before your Lordships’ House. I remind the noble Baroness, whom I thank for the jam—
It was a bribe!
—that the United Kingdom was the first major economy to commit to a legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2050. That is the law of the land and we remain fully behind it. Again, the noble Baroness implies that not much has been done. Actually, we cut our emissions by over 44% between 1990 and 2019, and that is faster than any other G7 country. We have also set into law the world’s most ambitious 2035 climate change target. So let us seek to achieve those ambitious targets, and we will continue to accelerate the production of clean energy such as nuclear, wind and solar.
My Lords, we understand the difficulty of the fiscal position but it would surely be short-sighted and make it significantly more difficult to meet the net-zero target if Sizewell C were delayed or scrapped.
My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says. Again, the Government have made it clear that they see nuclear as being a significant part of the equation. There will be further announcements in relation to that but I take note of what the noble Lord says.
My Lords, I come back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about renewables: the need to have some form of battery holding the energy generated, which is also relevant to nuclear. If we do not have that capacity and the generation by wind or tide—or, indeed, nuclear—is during the night, when demand is low, we are not getting an efficient system. What attention are the Government giving to extending the pumped-storage schemes—we have one in Dinorwig in north-west Wales but, equally, others could be brought on stream—to ensure that cheap, clean energy is available when it is needed, generated originally by renewable sources?
Again, my Lords, the Government say—it is not always popular—that we are in the period of transition and we need to be flexible and adaptable. I am not commenting on any specific schemes or proposals. Obviously, our intention is to do the very best we can to secure resilience and a greater degree of independence at home. The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that with that comes jobs. I believe that there are already some 430,000 jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains across the country, which is not widely enough recognised outside your Lordships’ House. Since November 2020, nearly 68,000 green jobs across the UK economy have materialised or been supported or secured for the future by government policy. However, there is a balance, and as I said in response to an earlier question, we are reflecting on the broad spectrum of energy need at this time, particularly given the tragic situation with the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
My Lords, may I come back to the issue of nuclear power stations? The Minister was a mite critical of the last Labour Government. He will remember that in 2008, the decision was made to go back to new nuclear. Since then, progress has been agonisingly slow because of the lack of funding, and we have only Hinkley Point in development. Can I take it from the Statement—the Prime Minister has emphasised the importance of building new nuclear power stations—that not only must Sizewell C go ahead, as the noble Lord has said, but we must have a very big sustainable programme of new nuclear development?
Again, I am sorry if I was mildly critical of the last Labour Government. When I hear my Prime Minister being criticised for going to COP 27, I might note that Mr Blair did not once go to COP during his period as Prime Minister. The noble Lord must not tempt me to stray into these party matters; he was a bit guilty of that.
A fundamental point that your Lordships are making to me, and which I want to take away, is that whatever happened in the past, we have to work together across your Lordships’ House—and as broadly as possible, I hope, cross-party—to ensure clean, safe secure energy for all in the future. That is our intention, and we have committed up to £1.7 billion to enable one nuclear project this Parliament, with £700 million available for Sizewell C to provide clean, reliable energy to homes. Nuclear energy is part of the equation, and I am sure that further announcements will come on that front.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for taking questions on the Statement, and I commend its stating that climate security and energy security go hand in hand. I am fully signed up to renewables, but does my noble friend agree that it would be much better if wind generated offshore and onshore were used and deployed by those living closest to where it reaches the shore? I do not think the public are going to like pylons—that was certainly my experience in North Yorkshire when we ended up with two lines of them. I also urge my noble friend to use his good offices to look at using more energy from waste schemes, and the energy generated staying close to where it is produced. That way, we will not lose 30% in transmission costs.
My noble friend makes some important points, and in in a sense she balances the opening question. Sometimes there are difficult issues; not everyone is as zealous on these matters as we in your Lordships’ House. The enthusiasm of the younger generation for these policies and the things we need to do is a great sign of hope. But we will seek to carry the whole population with us, in whatever way, in doing the important things we have to do. I agree with the substance of what my noble friend said.
My Lords, the IPCC says that there are two great drivers of carbon emissions. One is obviously fossil fuels, but the other is population growth. Today, as I am sure everyone knows, is the day the world population passed 8 billion people. Our budget towards the UNFPA used to be £200 million, but we recently reduced it by 85% to just £32 million a year. The agency reckons that, within the area that we supported, that has resulted in 14.6 million unintended pregnancies, as well as 4.3 million really unsafe abortions. All statistics show that if you empower women, especially in the developing world, it helps towards changing attitudes and behaviours and reducing population. Can the Government give us some reassurance that, at least on this specific part of overseas aid, they will look to restore that budget and encourage other countries to do the same?
My Lords, the noble Baroness invites me to go into some extremely sensitive areas which touch on every individual’s personal beliefs and aspirations—and the beliefs and aspirations of different nations and cultures. One thing that my right honourable friend Mr Johnson was extraordinarily keen on was the promotion of women’s rights, particularly young women’s rights, across the world. I think he was absolutely right on that. I hear what the noble Baroness said, but on some of these policies, we need young women to be fully and properly educated so they can then make informed choices for themselves in their places and nations.
My Lords, the Government are scoring international climate finance against ODA, and their 0.5% cap means that that spending has to be offset by cuts to developing countries elsewhere. The £90 million that the Leader referred to for the Congo Basin was actually part of funds announced last year in Glasgow. My question to the Leader is simple. Was any of the support announced at COP 27 extra money which will not have to be met from cuts elsewhere in the development budget for least-developing countries?
The noble Lord was typically enthusiastic about government policies. On the climate finance target, the Prime Minister said in the Statement that we regretted that the goal would be met later than 2020, as originally expected, but it is important to recognise that significant progress has been made. Under our presidency, 95% of developed countries have come forward with ambitious new commitments on finance, with some doubling or even going up to four times their commitment.
I agree that more needs to be done to ensure trust in the process. That is why we asked Canada and Germany to develop a delivery plan for the climate finance target with all developed countries. It remains one that, with commitments, we are confident can be reached, but we regret and acknowledge that the goal will be met later than 2020, as originally expected.
My Lords, the family of Alaa Abd el-Fattah will be grateful to know about all the remarks that the Leader has made today and the initiative of the Prime Minister, but he is still in prison and may go back on hunger strike. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people in his position in different parts of Egypt. Will the Foreign Office pursue this issue on the basis of the human rights situation in Egypt and not just one person? I am sure that that is what the family would like.
Yes, my Lords, I agree. I am sorry if I have responded at too great a length, because there are other important matters before the House, but I thought that this case—the noble Earl is quite right to reaffirm it—is important and goes wider. Human rights are important in every context. We continue to raise other cases with the Egyptian Government. For example, the former Minister for Africa raised the case of Karim Ennarah with the Egyptian Foreign Minister during her visit to Cairo last month. We have expressed our deep concern on the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible and I can assure the noble Earl that, more widely, we are concerned about and interested in issues of human rights in that country.
Mali: UN Peacekeeping Mission
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 14 November.
“West Africa is an important region for the United Kingdom and our allies across Europe, and the UK is strongly committed to supporting the UN to deliver its peacekeeping commitments around the world. That is why, since 2018, we had been supporting the French-led counter-terrorism mission in Mali with CH-47 Chinook helicopters under Operation Barkhane, and more recently, since 2020, through the deployment of a long-range reconnaissance group as part of the UN’s MINUSMA—multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali—peacekeeping mission.
The House will be aware, however, that in February President Macron announced the draw-down of French troops in Mali and was joined in that announcement by all other European nations, as well as Canada, that were contributing to the French-led Operations Barkhane and Takuba. In March, Sweden announced that it would be leaving the UN’s MINUSMA mission. Today, I can announce that the UK contingent will also now be leaving the MINUSMA mission earlier than planned.
We should be clear that responsibility for all of this sits in Bamako. Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace. On my most recent visit last November, I met the Malian Defence Minister and implored him to see the huge value of the French-led international effort in his country. However, soon afterwards, the Malian Government began working with the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, and actively sought to interfere with the work of both the French-led and UN missions. The Wagner Group is linked to mass human rights abuses. The Malian Government’s partnership with the Wagner Group is counterproductive to lasting stability and security in their region.
This Government cannot deploy our nation’s military to provide security when the host country’s Government are not willing to work with us to deliver lasting stability and security. However, our commitment to west Africa and the important work of the UN is undiminished. We have been working closely with our allies to consider options for rebalancing our deployment alongside France, the EU and other like-minded allies.
On Monday and Tuesday next week, I will join colleagues from across Europe and west Africa in Accra to co-ordinate our renewed response to instability in the Sahel. This will be the first major gathering in support of the Accra initiative, which is a west African-led solution focused initially on preventing further contagion of the insurgency into Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Niger, and tackling the growing levels of violence in Burkina Faso as well as in Mali, making this a very timely conference, indeed.
Of course, it is not just the UK military that will remain committed in west Africa—the UK will continue its commitment to Mali and the Sahel through our humanitarian, stabilisation and development assistance, working in close co-ordination with partners—nor is this a reduction in our commitment to the United Nations. The UK remains an important contributor of troops through Operation Tosca in Cyprus and of staff officers across several missions, and provides training to around 10,000 military, police and civilian peacekeepers from a range of countries annually. We remain the fifth largest financial contributor and will continue to drive reform in New York. Indeed, we are working with New York on developing a pilot, to be delivered through the British peace support team based in Nairobi, to develop the capacity of UN troop contributing nations across Africa. We will, of course, co-ordinate with allies as we draw down from Gao and have been sharing our plans with them over recent months. The Army will be issuing orders imminently to reconfigure the next deployment to draw down our presence.
We are leaving the MINUSMA mission earlier than planned and are, of course, saddened by the way the Government in Bamako have made it so difficult for well-meaning nations to remain there. The work of our troops has been outstanding, and they should be proud of what they have achieved there. But through the Chilcot report and our wider experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, we, like so many allies, are clear that the military instrument should not be deployed on counter-insurgency or countering violent extremism missions unless there is a clear and compelling commitment towards political progress.
We will work quickly with allies in the region and across Europe to support the Accra initiative to deliver security, stability and prosperity in west Africa. Our commitment to the region is undiminished.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for being here to respond to questions on the Statement.
I commend the 257 British personnel who have been deployed in Mali as part of the mission. It is the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission to date, with 281 peacekeepers of the 12,000 on the mission sadly losing their lives. RAF air and ground crew have also been deployed in Mali. Their bravery and dedication will rightly be commended by both sides of the House.
The withdrawal of French troops from Mali was announced in February, and of Swedish troops in March. Can the Minister explain why this Statement is being made in November, given that the reason given for the withdrawal of our troops is the following of European allies? When were UN partners informed? Does this also signify an end to discussions on an alternative mission in Mali, which the Armed Forces Minister said was under consideration in July? In this time, there has been nothing but silence from Ministers. Is this because the Government have simply taken this long to work out what to do?
What has happened in this time, however, is the mandate of the mission being renewed by the UN Security Council, with British support. That begs a number of questions as to how the mission will proceed given that it would have expected both our personnel and expertise, particularly in long-range specialised reconnaissance? How do Ministers expect our decision to impact the mission’s continued progress and the region’s future, particularly with recent rises in terrorism across the Sahel region and neighbouring countries and the continued presence of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group? The latter has been accused of massacring civilians in a region of Mali where extremist Islamist factions have sought to recruit. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the Wagner Group’s activity in Mali, and its ability to foment further uncertainty in the region? I understand that UK officials were expected to meet counterparts from the EU, west Africa and the UN in Accra today and yesterday for talks on its potential to move on to Burkina Faso, which has suffered two coups in the last eight months. Have these talks taken place, and can the Minister update us?
At the end of the Statement, the Chilcot report is mentioned. One of Chilcot’s key mantras is that action should be taken only if the next step is already determined. When we entered Mali, did we have clear criteria as to when we should leave, and if so, have these criteria been met? The need for this strategic approach applies to the next steps too. France has already outlined its plans for working with African countries for the next six months. Can we expect a similar plan from the UK Government shortly, or will we have to wait another nine months? A lack of clear thinking for the Sahel region was also evident in the integrated review, which hardly mentioned it. Can we expect a more thorough strategic overview in the upcoming update?
Finally, turning to Thursday, it may be a coincidence that this withdrawal comes at the same time as we are expecting government cuts. Is the withdrawal connected to cuts to the defence budget? Clarity on defence spending is vital, especially when looking to maintain our NATO commitments. We know that a real-terms cut was agreed in the 2020 settlement. Its negative impact has been significantly exacerbated by the recent rise in inflation.
My Lords, for a decade now, the people of Mali have suffered the consequences of war, the multiplication of violent extremism and the ensuing violence. This has led to a state of crisis, with people facing refugee migrations and food insecurity, and to the suffering of, primarily, women and children. This in turn has led Mali to be ranked 131st of 163 countries for peace, and 137th of 145 countries for gender equality. I therefore support and commend the British personnel who have worked with others to try to create an opportunity for some stability. It is regrettable that there has been a move back from this because of the Mali Government. I hope that the Minister will be able to outline the Government’s policy for continuing the vital work of supporting NGOs, civil society groups, and women and children in Mali after this draw-down.
I declare an interest: I chair the UK board of peace- building charities, Search for Common Ground. It has been operating in Mali with the British Government’s support, trying to combat the sources of the problems there. I hope that this kind of support can continue. Will the Minister outline the Government’s development priorities? How is it seeking to use the Accra talks to progress them? What mechanisms will we use for our development ambitions in Mali?
Will the Minister also outline the role that the UK will play with ECOWAS, the AU, the United States and others to try to return Mali to a constitutional order? Of course the country’s future is in its own hands, but the UK has played a role: it has committed forces. A full draw-down should not bring about a full withdrawal of UK interest. On that, could the Minister explain why UK development assistance is planned to fall dramatically from the £22 million provided in 2019-20 to just £500,000 in 2023-24? Would the draw-down of military personnel not be exactly the right time to review development priorities so that a development vacuum is not created by UK personnel leaving?
Finally, I wish to return to the issue of the Wagner Group. I am on the record on a number of occasions pressing the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad and Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, for the UK to move on the proscription of the Wagner Group. I will now press the Defence Minster on this. The Wagner Group is acting directly against the interests of the United Kingdom and our allies. Commons Minister James Heappey referred to the human rights atrocities that it is carrying out. The UK has no interest that is not being undermined by the Wagner Group, and there should be consequences for UK relations with countries that seek to use the Wagner Group not only against their own people but against the UK’s national interests. I repeat my call for the Government to prepare and bring forward mechanisms that would see the Wagner Group proscribed. So far, the Government have not made any moves on this. When answering questions, the Minister in the Commons said that he would engage in discussions with the Home Office on this issue, so I hope for a suitably positive response from the Minister today to me on this issue, so that we send a very strong signal that, whether in Mali or elsewhere, the UK will act against groups such as Wagner—and particularly against the Wagner Group by proscribing them.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Purvis of Tweed, for their very helpful introductory remarks, and their tributes to the personnel we have had serving in the Sahel, particularly in Mali.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about the delay. This was a complex situation. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, said in the other place yesterday that it would have been wrong to have had an immediate unthought-out reaction. I assure your Lordships that he has been working tirelessly in the area. He has been in Mali, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. His counterparts from France have visited Niger, Benin and the other countries extensively because it was important that there was some collective understanding about mapping out what we think the best situation is.
It is important to say to your Lordships something that my right honourable friend referred to in the other place yesterday. We should always remember the attitude of the African states. The impression seems to be emerging that African nations feel that they do not want us on their borders physically fighting the insurgency. They think that there is a danger that that accelerates conflict. They want us to work with them to support them in generating capability and in advising, along with other countries, how they might build for a more stable, secure and prosperous future.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in particular that this has come about not through absence of concern or lack of action. A lot has been happening behind the scenes. He raised the subject of the Accra initiative, which I will come on to. It is exciting. In fact, my right honourable friend will be in Accra on Monday and Tuesday next week, not this week, with representatives of the EU, the United Nations, France, the UK, the Economic Community of West African States, and all the member states of the Accra initiative to discuss exactly how they will go forward. We need a cohesive strategy that brings together not just a military response but the political and economic response. I hope that reassures your Lordships that very serious discussion and consideration has been given to how we take this forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked what this means for the United Nations mission, MINUSMA. That is initially a matter for the United Nations but, as he will be aware, the UK is very supportive of the United Nations. We have always done our best to be an influence for good in the discussions, whether on the Security Council or in the General Assembly. We will certainly look to continue feeding in what we think is helpful to those discussions. As your Lordships will be aware, MINUSMA has faced constraint in recent months because of the operational environment and the attitude of and decisions taken by the Malian authorities, but the mission still has an important role to play in achieving long-term stability in Mali and we will continue to play a role as a member of the Security Council in shaping MINUSMA’s mandate to try to ensure maximum effectiveness. The noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Purvis of Tweed, helpfully referred to the environment that has created this challenge for MINUSMA. We have to be realistic about that. We have to respond to the situation as it is on the ground.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, asked what we are doing and what aid we have been providing. In defence terms, we have been doing and will continue to do a lot. After Kenya, Mali is our biggest presence, but we have a British Army training unit in Kenya. We have a British peace support team there and other defence supports offering advice and help. In Somalia, we have a regular deployment of regular operational staff under Operation Tangham. It is supporting African Union peace enforcement operations, plus UN missions. In Nigeria, we have around 40 permanent staff providing bilateral support to Nigeria to help it deal with diverse security threats.
As we look ahead, particularly at what the Accra initiative will, I hope, invite by way of discussion and constructive thought about how we take all this forward, it is important to remember that we have been doing a great deal in the broader area through our diplomatic engagement and our aid programmes, and we will continue to support local, national and international efforts to promote long-term prosperity and security in Mali. A lot of the work MINUSMA has achieved there has been positive and beneficial but, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, said, it is one of the world’s poorest regions. He mentioned the bilateral aid we spent in 2021-22. Our multilateral contributions added an extra £60 million to that, and he will be aware that our work covers the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance, whether in relation to food insecurity, malnutrition or supporting those displaced by conflict. We have done a lot of work to empower women and girls through initiatives such as the Gao stabilisation fund. We are one of the largest bilateral funders of global health and education initiatives. Our resolve is to continue with that very good work.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, was particularly interested in these aspects but he asked, if I understood him correctly, where the MINUSMA mission goes. I have tried to explain where I think we are with that. That will require discussion at the United Nations and at Security Council level. If the question is whether the UK will deploy in another United Nations mission, any potential future UN deployments will be scrutinised carefully. They must clearly support both the mission in question and our own strategic objectives. If that arises, we will look at it responsibly, but I go back to saying that the Accra initiative is a very important development.
No one can be anything but deeply troubled by the presence of the Wagner Group. I think I can do no more than repeat the description accorded to it by my right honourable friend Mr James Heappey, who said in the other place that
“it remains a bunch of murderous human rights-abusing thugs and there is not a country on the planet that is any better for its presence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/1/22; col. 405.]
I think that encapsulates the character of the group. It does what it wants to do, it does not care how it does it as long as it gets paid for doing so, and it is a very brutal grouping of individuals. We are cognisant of the threat it poses and aware that the other countries in the Sahel are equally conscious of that. The experience of Mozambique is interesting. Wagner was taken in initially to help in Mozambique and then kicked out because of the way it behaved when it was there. The UK, along with all our allies and partners working with the Accra initiative, are very keen to point out to these western African states that when they engage with the UK, France, the US, the EU and other western allies, they get a security partnership. They get something robust that wants nothing in return other than the advancement of our shared interests and security in the region. That contrasts sharply with the activities of Wagner.
I certainly look forward to hearing more from my right honourable friend Mr James Heappey when he returns from the meeting in Accra. I think it promises to be interesting. The long-term objectives of the initiative, which are basically to secure the borders, tackle insurgency in Burkina Faso and look to the longer-term future of stabilisation, security and prosperity are laudable. A lot of good will is being brought to the table to try to ensure that a coherent strategy is developed that can be delivered.
My Lords, as a Defence Minister at the time who helped negotiate our initial deployment to Mali, I of course support the deployment but, equally, I support our early withdrawal. The reality is that the political foundations on which the deployment was made have, unfortunately, crumbled.
However, my concern is this: the reality is that the capability we have delivered there is exquisite. The long-range reconnaissance group, with its vehicles, drones and long-range medical evacuation, has a capability that not many other nations can provide. Indeed, if we are to have an African solution to an African problem, I think many are being put off by that. Is that capability still required on the mission? If it is, will we consider gifting the vehicles we have in the region at the moment, many of which would come back and simply be put into retirement, and training those willing to take over from us to ensure that the capability will continue to be delivered?
My noble friend raises a very interesting point. I go back to my earlier observation about how the African states view involvement externally from the continent. We have to be sensitive to that. That is one of the areas of important discussion for the Accra initiative. I totally understand the point my noble friend makes. He will appreciate that I cannot give a specific response to it, but I am sure his point is noted and I will certainly make clear to my right honourable friend Mr James Heappey the concerns that my noble friend has expressed.
My Lords, the Minister has been through a great deal of detail, but I do not think she mentioned the financial implications for the Ministry of Defence. Will there be some savings? If so, has she any idea what the figure might be? More importantly, can she assure the House that there is no intention that any of the units withdrawn will be withdrawn from the front line and that they will return to other duties on the front line?
My understanding is that a total of £79.85 million has currently been committed to the deployment through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. I emphasise that the decision to withdraw is nothing to do with money—I wish to make that clear to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. It is to do with a fundamental change in the operational environment, which means that we are trying to support a peacekeeping mission when the host country is not prepared to co-operate on that objective and is enlisting the help of parties that have a directly inimical attitude to such an objective.
As to future funding, we have to look at the Accra initiative and see what unfolds from that. We have not yet asked His Majesty’s Treasury to fund that initiative. When we know more about what is needed and how much funding we will apply for, we will make sure that this is an agreed, cross-government effort. The noble and gallant Lord will remember that Operation Newcombe, our contribution to Mali, was resourced by two different funds. It was resourced by the special reserve for our support to Operation Barkhane and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund for our contribution to the MINUSMA mission.
My Lords, we must all feel deep sorrow for the people of Mali if they are to be left to the tender mercies of the Wagner Group, as looks all too likely. I should have thought the Government of Mali would rue the day they got in with that lot. Can my noble friend elaborate, which she is very good at doing, on the phrases in the Statement and exactly what they mean? What is the implication of
“rebalancing our deployment alongside France, the EU and other like-minded allies”
“preventing further contagion of the insurgency”—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/22; col. 401.]
in a whole string of countries in the region? Does that mean we will redeploy some of our troops, military effort and equipment to these other countries? Will we concentrate just on those that happen to be in the Commonwealth, such as Togo and Ghana, or will we put troops in Niger? Can she give us just a little more indication, even though decisions have yet to be made, on what the broad aim is—to leave troops in the area or to take them all away?
I am not sure that it is possible to give a specific response to my noble friend’s question; reverting to the Accra initiative, I think a great deal of discussion has to be had as to how we take forward a concerted desire to support these west African states, with a mixture of military intervention—or military support rather—if that is required, and advice and support for the political or economic regimes. A number of factors have to be taken into account. Mali is, of course, an observer member of the Accra initiative along with Niger. In total, the initiative represents a very healthy and promising group of countries. One of the strategic challenges to be hammered out is just what my noble friend referred to: at the end of the day, what is it that the African states are looking for, and what can we do to support that endeavour?
I am not being evasive; it is just that I think a great deal more discussion has to ensue before clarity begins to emerge about some of these strategic objectives. My noble friend will be aware that we already do a lot in west Africa. We provide support in Nigeria and in the Chad basin, we are supporting the armed forces of Cameroon and we are working closely with the Ghanaian armed forces to develop ongoing counterterrorism training packages. At the end of the day, the threat of terrorism in the Sahel has not disappeared; it is there. Sadly, the presence of Wagner is likely to exacerbate the situation rather than facilitate solutions; that is another important component of everything that has to be discussed.
My Lords, while joining those paying tribute to the work that our peacekeepers have done in what is obviously an extremely challenging and difficult mission, I have two questions for the Minister. First, did we have any consultations with the UN’s department of peacekeeping operations before the announcement that the Minister and her colleague in the other place have made—and, if so, how did it respond to our intention to withdraw? Secondly, can she say what number of UN peacekeepers we will have deployed after this withdrawal has taken place?
On the first question, I am not privy to what discussions took place. I shall make inquiries and respond to the noble Lord with more details if I am able to do so. As to the second point, I do not have specific information but, again, I will undertake to investigate and if I can provide more detail, I shall.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to MINUSMA and its work—in particular, the incredibly professional input by our own peacekeeping troops. MINUSMA will obviously continue. Does my noble friend agree that the capability and capacity of UN troop-contributing nations, particularly from Africa, will be really important? As my noble friend has pointed out, it has been shown time and again that the input from UK staff officers, trainers and other personnel can make all the difference. Can she say a bit more about the peace support team in Nairobi and the role that it will play?
Yes, I say to my noble friend that that source of support which we provide is important. Through that base, we are providing training to peace- keepers from a wide range of troop-contributing countries, the majority in Africa. A lot of good work is coming out of there and we see that role continuing. We think it is an important contribution to the broader environment of west Africa and certainly anticipate that the base will continue to be strategically important from which to continue providing that help. Again, trying to look at how all the pieces of the jigsaw will ultimately fit together, we need to await further discussions from the Accra initiative and see what the likely outcomes are. Then it will be easier for all the participating nations to work out what they can provide.
The encouraging thing about the Accra initiative is the interest it has generated. My understanding is that we have received interest and support from the Germans; we have also received positive responses from the Czechs, the Norwegians and the Dutch. I indicated earlier the extent of the nations covered—the United Nations and the EU as well—by the forthcoming meeting, next week, so there is a lot of interest. As I said earlier, it looks to me as though people are prepared to endeavour to pool their talent and expertise to see how best they can provide the support that is undoubtedly needed. As I said to my noble friend Lord Howell, terrorism is still there; it is not disappearing, and other factors are very troubling.
My Lords, the Minister has spoken at some length about the hideous human rights-abusing nature of the Wagner Group. I can only concur with her. Does she agree that this really adds force to the arguments for what is generally known as the UN mercenary convention—otherwise, in formal terms, the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries—which has been ratified by 46 states? Will the UK Government look again at signing that convention, promoting it and trying to set a new international framework against the use of mercenaries?
I will call on my colleague in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to answer the noble Baroness, and perhaps to do so more ably than I could achieve. I think we are all united in agreeing that what Wagner represents is repugnant. I do not know if I replied to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on his specific point about proscription, for which I apologise, so let me tell him that there is a lot of sympathy with the sentiment which he expressed. I know that my right honourable friend James Heappey undertook to have discussions with the Home Office, and I would certainly be very much in sympathy with seeing what we can do along these lines. As to the noble Baroness’s question, it will fall to one of my colleagues to give a more specific answer.
My Lords, there are obviously a lot of new initiatives coming up, which the Minister has described, as a result of the withdrawal from Mali. Will she undertake to talk to her colleagues in the relevant ministries about reporting back to Parliament, because we so rarely hear about peacekeeping in Africa?
The noble Earl raises an interesting point. From a defence perspective, I would certainly be sympathetic to providing a further briefing once more details are known. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ahmad would be equally sympathetic to providing that in relation to the broader issues of foreign affairs. It is a useful suggestion, so will the noble Earl let me take it away?
European University Institute (EU Exit) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 17 October be approved.
Relevant document: 16th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, I thank the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for considering this draft legislation.
The primary purpose of this statutory instrument is to reflect in domestic law the fact that the UK is no longer a member of the European University Institute convention since the UK left the European Union. It does so by ensuring that no rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures that derive from the European University Institute convention are retained on the UK statute book through the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The exception to this is where their retention is appropriate or supports a period of reasonable adjustment for staff. Where rights are saved relating to the legal proceedings immunity and an income tax privilege for UK-linked institute staff, this instrument will establish the circumstances after which they no longer apply.
The European University Institute in Florence is an international centre for postgraduate and postdoctoral studies and research with a European focus. It was established by an international convention in 1972, which the UK signed in 1975. The convention states that accession to the convention is restricted to EU member states. When the UK ceased to be one, our formal membership of the institute also ended.
While the UK’s membership of the convention ceased on EU exit, we put in place an extension of the previous arrangements beyond the end of the transition period until 31 December 2022. This was to ensure that UK staff and students at the institute could continue in their posts and with their studies while we considered options for a future relationship with the institute.
After a series of constructive and detailed negotiations between the UK and the institute that has taken place over 18 months, it has not been possible to conclude an agreement to define future UK engagement at this time. Our focus now is on confirming the status of UK-linked staff and UK-funded students at the institute as soon as possible. The UK will take appropriate measures to allow current students to continue their studies at the institute. We will continue to pay the grants we have committed to for students who have started courses already.
The Government value the work of the European University Institute and the long and close collaboration we have shared. Many talented UK students have studied for PhDs at the institute, with financial support from the UK Government, and it is an important forum for collaboration on education and research. I reassure noble Lords that the UK remains committed to strong research collaboration with our European partners. We continue to work together constructively with the institute to reach an agreed settlement that provides for current staff and students. Once that is concluded, we look forward to returning to the question of our future relationship with the institute.
With this instrument, we are taking steps to provide for legal certainty by revoking the retained EU law relating to the convention either where it no longer has any practical application following the UK leaving the EU, and is therefore redundant, or where it is no longer appropriate for it to be retained. This statutory instrument has no bearing on the UK’s membership of the institute. Its purpose is simply to ensure that no provisions remain in UK law except as appropriate or to provide a period of reasonable adjustment for staff. I beg to move.
My Lords, I completely understand the need for this statutory instrument, given that it has not proved possible to negotiate a formal post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the European University Institute—although it is very welcome that appointments to academic posts at the EUI will remain nationality blind. I also understand that this SI is unamendable, which is regrettable because I would like to flag up one specific concern and ask the Minister whether there is any way in which she is able and willing to follow it up.
The problem arises that academic staff are generally employed at the EUI on one or other form of rolling contract. As the SI is currently phrased, the staff concerned would lose the exemption from UK tax liability as and when they renew their employment contracts. In other words, it is a serious change to their terms and conditions. This would also produce some inequities between academic staff. Some of them would lose the exemption at the end of this calendar year, whereas others on renewed or extended contracts in different circumstances would enjoy that exemption for up to five years.
In view of this, Regulation 7 of the SI could easily have been amended to replace the term “does not include” renewals and extensions with saying that it includes them. It would mean that employees could continue to benefit from the tax situation for whatever their period of employment at the EUI is, and it would still only be available to those employed there before the regulations came into force. Moreover, all academic contracts at the EUI are finite, so this would not have given rise to an indefinite commitment on the part of the UK. Overall, this would have made a big difference to a relatively small group of people.
As it stands, the statutory instrument may well have unintended negative consequence for the UK and the UK’s relationship with the EUI. Many UK-linked colleagues spend more than 90 days in the UK and would therefore be liable to UK tax if the tax exemption were to expire. It would not be financially viable, in all cases, for these colleagues to continue to work at the EUI in this situation. They may, therefore, have to choose whether to cut their links with the UK, including their UK universities, or to cut short their employment with the EUI. Either way, it is quite possible that links between the UK and the EUI could be substantially weakened, to the detriment of both the UK and the EUI. So I ask again whether the Minister can find any way at all to iron out what might look like a small wrinkle but would be quite a considerable change to the terms and conditions of a relatively small group of people for a finite period.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has set out the position very clearly. We are indebted to my friend Professor Dame Helen Wallace—the wife of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire—who has worked for many years at the EUI and was very concerned about these provisions on behalf on the staff who work there. As the Minister said, it has been an excellent institute; it has provided some really valuable work for the UK, as well as the EU, and we are loath to see that disappear. So I urge her to make sure that we negotiate as well as we can to see how far we can continue to work with the EUI.
I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said about the very simple amendment of changing “does not include” to “does include”. I realise that SIs are pretty much unamendable, but if there is any way that this could be done, it would make a very significant difference to a group of people who have long worked on our behalf with the EU and the academics there. It is a shame; it is one of the consequences of Brexit, which occasionally we just have to put up with, but it seems that this will disadvantage both the academic staff and the students at this amazing institute.
My Lords, this affects a very small number of people, yet it seems manifestly unfair as between those people. I do not understand why it was necessary to negotiate a cessation of terms and conditions that bore, in very differentiated ways, on different current members of staff of the EUI. I remind noble Lords that the “EU” in EUI does not stand for “European Union” but for the first two words of the European University Institute.
We regret that we have had to get to this stage, but we understand why the Government are bringing forward this measure today. Could the Minister perhaps update us on where we are with the Brexit freedoms Bill? It strikes me that this is the sort of thing that we are actually managing to deal with as and when it comes up, whereas the Government, at one point, had an intention to introduce a single piece of legislation. However, that all seems to have gone a bit quiet. It was a mad idea, but perhaps the Minister could write to us—if she cannot respond today—on how the Government will proceed. Doing it this way, although not perfect, at least has the benefit of the Government being able to consider each measure as we go, and it allows other Members of this House and another place to assist the Government in their deliberations.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s introduction to the SI. Can she make it clear whether the Government have failed to negotiate our continued involvement, or decided that that is not something they want? Intriguingly, she said that we might return to this, so may I press her to be explicit about the Government’s intention? Is it their policy objective to re-establish the previous arrangements?
I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said about the 35 members of staff. How long is the adjustment period to be? I agree with those who have said that, although this is a small number of people, we have responsibilities to them.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, and I shall endeavour to respond to the issues that have been raised. The noble Baronesses, Lady Coussins, Lady Garden and Lady O’Neill, all asked whether there was an option to replace “does not include” with “includes” in Regulation 7. I understand their concerns in that regard.
While the UK’s membership of the European University Institute convention ceased on EU exit, we put in place an extension of the previous arrangements with the EUI beyond the end of the transition period, until 31 December this year. This was to protect the status of UK-linked staff and students at the EUI, so that they could continue in their posts and with their studies while we considered options for a future relationship with the institute.
The Government’s long-standing policy is to grant privileges and immunities only when there is a demonstrated and robust functional need for the running of the institution, and never solely for personal benefit. In this case, in the absence of a negotiated international treaty compelling the Government to do so, we are unable to continue to grant privileges and immunities to EUI staff and students, including the UK-linked ones. The saving of the income tax privilege and the legal proceedings immunity for current staff is as considered appropriate and/or intended to give a reasonable period for those staff at the EUI to adjust, and they will be saved in relation to the current term of their employment contract, without extension. While we appreciate that some individuals may not have as long a period to adjust as others, the policy represented by this statutory instrument compares favourably with other situations where privileges and immunities have been removed. In such cases, a standard adjustment period of 30 days is usually afforded, regardless of the individual’s employment situation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, asked me some broader questions about our position on keeping the conversation open—if I can frame it like that—regarding the EUI. As she knows, and as I said in my opening remarks, we have negotiated in good faith and constructively, and hope that we will be in a position to have further constructive conversations in future. I will need, as the noble Baroness kindly suggested, to write to her in relation to the Brexit freedoms Bill.
I know that your Lordships have a keen interest in the UK’s relationship with the EUI, and the UK remains open to exploring other opportunities for collaboration with the institute in future. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it is important to have a tidy and coherent statute book following our exit from the EU. I beg to move.
Social Workers (Amendment and Transitional Provision) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 17 October be approved.
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce this instrument, which was laid before both Houses on 17 October. It seeks to make several small yet important changes to the Social Work England regulatory framework. As noble Lords will be aware, Social Work England is a relatively young regulator, taking over the regulation of social workers in England from the Health & Care Professions Council only in December 2019 as part of wider reforms to improve confidence in social work and raise the status of the profession.
Social Work England currently maintains the register of approximately 100,000 qualified and practising social workers in England. This includes those working in both child and adult services, whether they are employed by local authorities, the NHS or the independent sector. The Social Workers Regulations 2018 set out the detail of Social Work England’s regulatory framework, covering registration of professionals, education standards, professional standards and the fitness to practise regime for registered social workers. The Government are committed to doing all we can to maintain a strong and consistently effective social work profession that is well trained and properly supported to transform the lives of the most vulnerable. Having operated under the new framework since December 2019, the Department for Education and Social Work England identified several small changes which could be made to the 2018 regulations to improve operational efficiency and to support the regulator in delivering effective public protection better.
I now turn to the regulations themselves, and again, I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for their consideration of them. These regulations predominantly make technical changes to Social Work England’s fitness to practise processes and procedures. They also make improvements to its duty to co-operate, introduce the right for registrants to request voluntary removal from the register, and extend the Professional Standards Authority’s oversight of Social Work England to match that of its oversight powers for other regulators.
Social Work England was set up with the overarching objective of public protection. An effective fitness to practise system is critical, both for public protection and public confidence in social work as a regulated profession. As a result of the amendments in this instrument, certain fitness to practise outcomes will be recorded on the register more quickly, and automatic removal where a social worker has been found guilty of one of the serious offences in Schedule 3, such as rape or human trafficking, will have immediate effect. In addition, the instrument makes several changes to the regulator’s internal processes relating to interim orders. These are orders that temporarily prevent a social worker practising while the regulator investigates concerns regarding their fitness to practise. The instrument removes delay in the current system by allowing the regulator to initiate interim orders directly, bringing Social Work England in line with other regulators.
Further, interim orders will now be linked to individual cases rather than a specific social worker. This ensures that, in the rare instances where a registrant has simultaneous yet unrelated open fitness to practise concerns, the regulator can implement the most appropriate fitness to practise response to each individual concern.
I turn to the provisions relating to data sharing, the regulator’s duty to co-operate, voluntary removal and oversight by the Professional Standards Authority. The instrument addresses an omission in the Social Workers Regulations 2018 to make it clear that the regulator can co-operate with relevant bodies outside England in addition to those outside the UK.
The instrument also introduces two new provisions on data sharing: a duty to share information relating to the regulator’s functions on request, where it is in the public interest to do so, and a power to disclose any information relating to a registered social worker’s fitness to practise. The instrument is clear that the new provisions do not override existing data protection legislation, ensuring that the changes deliver effective and proportionate public protection.
In line with our approach of providing Social Work England with a flexible model of professional regulation, we are introducing a provision to allow the regulator to consider applications for voluntary removal from the register—a power held by many other health and care regulators. Protection of the public from registrants whose fitness to practise could be impaired will be the regulator’s primary consideration when deciding whether voluntary removal is appropriate.
Finally, this instrument extends the Professional Standards Authority’s oversight to mandatory reviews and restoration decisions by the regulator post fitness to practise removal where a social worker is restored to the register without conditions. This will enable the Professional Standards Authority to refer such cases to the High Court where it feels that Social Work England’s decision is insufficient for public protection. These changes strengthen public protection safeguards and ensure that the Professional Standards Authority’s oversight of Social Work England is equal to what is in place for other regulators.
Every day, social workers support millions of people to improve their chances in life. These changes support Social Work England to maintain a strong and consistently effective social work workforce so that people receive the best possible support whenever they might need it in life. The Government consulted on the draft changes to Social Work England’s regulatory framework from 23 March to 11 May 2022. We received 48 responses from a wide variety of interested stakeholders; they expressed broad support for the proposals, with approval ranging from 68% to 94%.
These changes are necessary to support the regulator to deliver improved public protection. I hope the House will approve the measures and I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to the regulations, and the department for the helpful Explanatory Memorandum, notwithstanding that for the uninitiated the notes are at times necessarily dense.
Paragraph 2.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum talks about Social Work England. Is it appointed by Ministers? How many are on the board? Who is the chair? I presume that members obtain some payment. What is the remuneration of the chair?
Concerning paragraph 7.3, will the Minister elaborate on the Disclosure and Barring Service and the reference to “local policing bodies”? What is the extent of the interface with the police? The same might be asked about NHS trusts. The Minister might admit that Regulation 7 is somewhat complicated. How often does barring take place? Are there figures for that? With reference to paragraph 7.4, are there figures for how many people have been struck off, say, over the last three years? At paragraph 7.5, the Explanatory Memorandum mentions registration and removal from the register. Can the Minister say how many were removed last year?
I will conclude, as time is of the essence, but we should instance the hard work and professionalism of social workers—certainly those whom I know of. Social workers are hugely important to all of us, particularly to the lives of our children. It must be very difficult for professionals to negotiate the legislative thickets and potential booby traps amid great social change, political correctness and, if I may say, wokery. Surely we do need the social worker.
My Lords, we welcome this SI. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jones, that it is nice to have a policy background that is concise, well written and easily understandable to those who are not particularly knowledgeable in all social service matters. I also preface my remarks by welcoming and highlighting the incredible work and professionalism of social workers in our country, as he rightly said.
As the Minister rightly said, it is important that the public always have confidence in public workers, whether teachers, police officers or indeed social workers. This SI goes some way to strengthen and enhance their professionalism. It is right and proper that public workers can be removed from their role where they do something that is not acceptable. I like the notion of a voluntary opportunity to take that action but, of course, there will be occasions where a voluntary action is not appropriate and a harsher response is needed.
I do not quite understand the DBS in terms of social workers, so perhaps the Minister could elaborate. I understand that all social workers must have DBS clearance; my only question is how often that is renewed. Is it the same length of time as for teachers?
Similarly to the previous speakers, we broadly support these measures. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, has gone in on some very fine points of detail. I want to deal with a bit more of the broader context and refer to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which called for a total reset of children’s social services. Half of local authority children’s services departments were rated either “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” by Ofsted in their last report. Can the Minister say anything about how the Government are planning to tackle this? That is a completely unsustainable situation.
We note that these changes are also supported by Social Work England and almost all the consultation respondents. However, as the Minister will know, important concerns were raised during the consultation about the impact that these measures might have on social workers as individuals, particularly the plans to allow the regulator to publish details of orders before an appeal has expired. While we absolutely support strengthening accountability and the measures in place, it is very important that whatever we do has the confidence of practitioners and their employers. It would be helpful if the Minister could say a little about that.
Perhaps I might press the Minister on the wider crisis in children’s social care. The MacAlister review sets out starkly the pressures and challenges facing children’s social care and makes a compelling case for change. We have not had a formal response to the review yet and we are very keen to get one.
On DBS, my understanding is that if something happens that may result in a voluntary withdrawal from the register, that information would be flagged or logged with the Disclosure and Barring Service, so that should that individual wish to go on and work with children in another context or with vulnerable adults, that information is able to be taken into account by a future employer. Clearly, the current situation is not working as it should, either for social workers or the children they are supporting.
We are content to support these measures today but, as the Minister will know by now, we will continue to press her on the Government’s plans to reform children’s social services with some urgency.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions and echo the sentiments expressed about the extraordinary job that our social workers do in protecting and supporting those in need.
I may have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Jones, to answer all his very detailed questions but I hope he is reassured to hear that our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, is chair of Social Work England and the remuneration for the chair is £450 a day. But I am happy to send more detail and I think the information the noble Lord seeks about the board may well be on the Social Work England website.
When Social Work England was established, it took over responsibility for 1,500 fitness to practise cases from the Health and Care Professions Council, which was about 300 more than had been anticipated. The noble Lord asked how often barring takes place. All this information is available on the Social Work England website, as is the number of social workers who are struck off the register.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about DBS checks. As he rightly said, of course social workers need DBS checks. Social Work England then does thorough checks as part of the registration service and will share information with the relevant agencies. I will need to write to the noble Lord to confirm the exact renewal timing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, raised broader questions about the state of social work services in this country, particularly in relation to children’s social care if I followed her question correctly. Of course, the Government recognise that although there has been improvement and there are fewer local authorities judged not to be providing good services, that number is still far too high.
Overall, councils have access to over £54 billion in core spending power for their services, including the £2.3 billion grant for social care. In the current spending review, we are continuing to provide financial support to students who qualify as social workers through investment in social work bursaries and in the education support grant. We invest as a department over £50 million each year in recruiting, training and developing child and family social workers to ensure that the workforce has the capacity, skills and knowledge to support and protect vulnerable children.
The assessed and supported year in employment has supported more than 20,000 newly qualified social workers, with more than £20 million invested since 2012, and, as the noble Baroness has heard me say before, the department is working on an ambitious and detailed implementation strategy in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.
The noble Baroness also raised the concerns about decisions being published before an appeal is completed and whether that is unfair to social workers. Obviously, this is the balance that we need to strike between public protection and an individual’s rights. As I said in my opening remarks, Social Work England’s primary focus is on public protection. Of course, these cases are very rare but are also very serious, where a social worker has been automatically removed from the register following conviction for one or more of the listed offences; I gave the examples of rape and human trafficking. It is right that this is then recorded on the public register without delay.
We also think that it is important to remove delays to publishing interim orders; it is vital for public protection that this information is made public. Interim orders are needed only where concerns about a social worker’s fitness to practise are so serious that if Social Work England allowed the social worker to continue to practise, public safety would be put at risk or there would be a risk to the social worker themselves. Therefore, while we recognise that the change will have an impact on a limited number of registrants, we consider that it is necessary to ensure public safety and maintain public confidence in the regulator. As the noble Baroness knows, the changes do not affect a registrant’s rights to appeal.
In response to the noble Baroness’s questions, I confirm that my honourable friend the Minister for Children has already met Josh MacAlister. This is obviously an area where she is completely committed, and she is aiming to publish the implementation strategy as quickly as possible.
I hope that I have addressed some, if not all, of your Lordships’ questions, but I am happy to write on those that I have not. These changes support Social Work England to continue its excellent work regulating the social work profession, to ensure that every social worker is well trained and that they are properly supported so that they can continue their important work supporting and transforming the lives of the most vulnerable.
Pensions Dashboards Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 17 October be approved.
Relevant document: 16th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce this instrument, which, subject to approval, will create the framework within which pensions dashboards will operate.
Pensions dashboards are digital tools that will present individuals with their pension information brought together from multiple sources. At the touch of a smart- phone, this information will quite clearly and literally be at members’ fingertips.
The Pension Schemes Act 2021 gave government the powers to create these regulations but this is a complex programme, and as such, the requirements are manifold. The regulations place requirements on registerable GB-based occupational pension schemes with over 100 active, deferred or pension credit members and specify when these schemes must connect to the Money and Pensions Service, or MaPS, as it is also known.
The department for communities is expected to make corresponding regulations for Northern Ireland and, once connected, pension schemes must follow the requirement to find pensions and send the relevant information to an individual’s chosen qualifying pension dashboard service.
The regulations provide that the Pensions Regulator may take enforcement action in relation to pension schemes that do not comply. The regulations will also cover the requirements to be satisfied for a pensions dashboard service to be a qualifying pensions dashboard service. This includes connection and functionality, display of new data, reporting and monitoring of the dashboard and enabling an independent person to audit the providers’ dashboard. Further to this, the Financial Conduct Authority has published final corresponding rules in relation to the providers of personal and stakeholder pension schemes and will be consulting on a regulatory framework for qualifying pensions dashboard services later this year.
The regulations, in combination with a planned order to amend the Pensions Act 2004 will enable MaPS and the TPR to disclose information to each other in connection with dashboard functions only. This will support MaPS and the regulator in their pensions dashboard programme and compliance roles respectively, and support the secure delivery of the ecosystem and pensions dashboard services. The Data Protection Act 2018 and UK general data protection duties continue to apply to the sharing of information about an individual.
I should like to revisit why we need pensions dashboards and their potential to change people’s relationship with their pensions. We all know about the huge success that automatic enrolment had in getting people saving into a pension. Millions of people are now saving. There are about 27 million people with private pensions wealth not yet in payment. Research by Aegon found that almost three-quarters of UK adults have multiple pensions, as people move around the labour market throughout their working life, but some of those people may not know who their pension is with, what their pension is worth or, indeed, how many pensions they have.
Pensions dashboards have the power to change all that and we have conservatively estimated that reuniting people with lost pots alone could be worth £541 million to individuals over 10 years. It could be much more. The Pensions Policy Institute estimated in its most recent paper on lost pots that the total value could be up to £26.6 billion. Instead of relying on a box of paper under the stairs, pensions dashboards will help individuals find their lost and forgotten pensions quickly, easily and all in one place. The information that pensions dashboards will provide—alongside guidance or, where appropriate, advice from an FCA-regulated adviser—will help equip people to plan for their retirement and make informed decisions about their financial futures.
Among participants in a recent Ipsos MORI survey, nearly three in five people said that they were likely to use a pensions dashboard. This is a great starting point. We are in a digital age and now is the time to make pensions dashboards a reality. We are setting up a brand-new digital service, which will connect thousands of individual pension schemes covering millions of memberships. As you would expect, a huge amount of work and thought has gone into developing these regulations. This goes beyond government. Throughout, we have worked with our delivery partners in the pensions dashboards programme: the Money and Pensions Service, the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Conduct Authority. I thank them for their expert input into this cross-cutting project. We have also gained insight from those in the pensions industry and consumer groups through the two public consultations and other fora. I thank all those who contributed and helped shape dashboards policy.
The delivery of pensions dashboards needs to be both timely and operationally manageable for both the pensions dashboards programme and the pensions industry. The regulations set out the phased approach known as staging to connect different categories of schemes to MaPS. By prioritising schemes according to type and membership, we can maximise the level of member coverage on pensions dashboards in the shortest possible timeframe. Schemes will connect to the digital architecture of MaPS—the technology that underpins dashboards—and all parties and technical services that connect to it from the dashboard ecosystem.
Pension schemes should already be considering how they intend to meet their obligations. I urge all schemes to take preparatory action immediately to consider how they will connect to dashboards, to decide how they will find savers in their records, and how they will provide pension information. I know that all of us across the House are eager to see dashboards made ready for the public. The point at which this will happen is referred to in the regulation as the dashboards available point. The Secretary of State will issue a notice at least six months ahead of this point, having considered matters such as the coverage of memberships and service levels. This notice will give the pensions industry time to prepare to answer queries resulting from people engaging with their pension information.
Once dashboards are made available to the public, what will people see? We have taken an actively cautious approach to understand behaviour and protect consumers as dashboards are introduced. This is why dashboards will present individuals with relatively high-level pension information. It will not be possible to transact—for example, transfer or consolidate—through the digital architecture. On receiving an individual’s request to find their pensions information from the dashboard’s digital architecture, schemes must provide administrative data to the individual. This includes basic information about the pension, including how an individual can contact their scheme. The individual will then see information about the value of their pension, both as an accrued value and as an illustration of a projected retirement income. State pensions information will also be displayed, giving individuals a full picture of their pensions. Contextual information and signpost data will sit alongside these values to help users understand the information displayed.
This is a digital service. As such, we must recognise the need for speed. Trustees or managers must complete matching immediately and, where a positive match is identified, immediately provide administrative data to the individual. Where values have been provided on a recent benefits statement, or where a calculation has been made using the same methodology in the last 12 months, members will also receive value data, contextual information and signpost data immediately.
To balance responsiveness with deliverability for pension schemes where there are not values from benefit statements on hand, the regulations set out that in cases where all the benefits provided to a member are money purchase benefits, information will be returned within three working days, and other types will have up to 10 working days.
I stress that this is a starting point and I would like to see the pace quicken in time. However, the speed and ease with which individuals will be able to see their pension information is a huge step forward from the current disclosure requirements, following a request for a benefits statement, which allows schemes up to two months to return information—something completely out of pace with the digital age.
Throughout the passage of the Pension Schemes Act 2021, the Government stated their commitment to protecting the users of dashboards. Consumer protection does not rest in a single place. Each element of the pension dashboard ecosystem has its part to play in ensuring that consumer protection is integral to all steps of the dashboard journey. The foundation of the design is one of consent, with users given the ability to provide and withdraw their consent at any stage, putting them in control of their data. The design of the ecosystem is such that there is no need for a central repository of users’ personal information, and the digital architecture has been built to prevent unauthorised participants entering.
The ID-verification service within the architecture will also protect consumers by reducing the risk of pension schemes releasing data to the wrong individual. Where schemes are unsure about a match, they must return a possible match and release a limited form of administrative but not personal data, encouraging individuals to get in touch. Should trustees or managers of occupational pension schemes not comply with the requirements in these regulations, the Pensions Regulator can take robust action through compliance notices, third-party compliance notices and penalty notices.
The regulator will be delivering extensive communications to ensure that trustees and managers are aware of their new duties. It has provided guidance and is writing to all schemes at least 12 months ahead of their staging deadline. The regulator will have the discretion to exercise its powers, and we expect it to pragmatically consider the circumstances of a breach when deciding to take action.
This is an innovative programme, and its success will rest on the confidence that users have in it. This means that users should be able to trust the dashboard service provided by MaPS and other qualifying pensions dashboard services, which must adhere to the duties set out in these regulations and accompanying standards and guidance. In addition, His Majesty’s Treasury is working to introduce a new dashboard-specific regulated activity via an amendment to the regulated activities order, which is expected to be laid before Parliament in early 2023. This will have the effect of bringing dashboard operators within the FCA’s regulatory remit. Only those organisations which are authorised by the FCA and are granted permission to undertake the new regulated activity will be able to connect to the infrastructure. The FCA will consult on a regulatory framework later this year.
The new regulated activity will allow authorised pensions dashboard operators to involve third parties to bring pensions dashboard services to market. For example, some pensions dashboard operators may wish to enter commercial arrangements to make their dashboard services accessible to third parties, customers, members or employees to extend the reach of dashboards to even more users. The regulated activity will provide for clear and transparent regulatory responsibility focused on the operation of dashboards.
The clear and consistent presentation of data is crucial in instilling trust and guarding against poor decision-making. We aim to strike the correct balance between innovation and consistency. Qualifying pensions dashboard services must present the same basic pensions information, accompanied by appropriate descriptions, caveats and warnings. However, they may present this information in a way that best suits the users of the service within the boundaries of the regulations and MaPS standards. This could mean presenting the information graphically, for example, which might help some members better understand and engage with their pensions.
We also understand the importance of the onward journey in helping people make decisions. Signposting and other information to support individuals to understand the information displayed are among the issues being considered by MaPS and the FCA when developing the design standard and rules for qualifying pension dashboard services. The MaPS dashboard will sit within the MoneyHelper retirement planning hub, which will also contain a wealth of information and guidance.
The oversight framework for qualifying pensions dashboards includes: these regulations, and the supporting standards published by MaPS; the requirement for a regular audit by an independent person; and the FCA’s regulatory remit. I believe that the combined strength of these protections will guard against consumer harm, ensuring that dashboards are a tool for consumer empowerment.
Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to update the House on the delivery of this programme. I am pleased to say that the pensions dashboard programme has delivered the digital architecture underpinning this project and is currently testing and refining the service in readiness for schemes to be connecting from April 2023. Early participants will begin connecting in the new year. We are grateful for their co-operation, helping to prepare the ground and setting an example for others to follow. The department will also connect state pension data this year as part of an upcoming testing phase.
I am satisfied that the Pensions Dashboard Regulations 2022 are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Subject to the view of this House, the approval of the draft Pensions Dashboard Regulations 2022, laid before the House on 17 October, puts us one step closer to delivery for consumers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of an early staging large master trust and a sizeable DB scheme, as detailed in the register. I thank the Minister for her very helpful presentation of these complex regulations. I acknowledge the work that has been undertaken to get this programme to this point.
A pensions dashboard is a great concept for the public good; the challenge is delivering it in a way that enables savers to access their pensions data securely so that it meets their needs and improves their outcome. Let us be clear: the information on the pension benefits and amassed assets of millions of citizens, covering trillions of pounds of value, will be made accessible through this dashboard. It is important that the Government get it right. These regulations form an important part of that assurance.
A consistent concern in this House has been the issue of identity verification to ensure that citizens are protected against fraudsters, scammers and others unauthorised to access their data. There are two key points for identity verification: that required for the citizen to access the pension finder service to search for and request information, and that required by schemes to identify whether they have a match to a request and whether to release the data to be viewed.
On the first, the pensions dashboard programme has procured an interim identity service provider while awaiting progress on the Government’s “One Login” solution as a ubiquitous way to sign into any GOV.UK service. On the second, these regulations leave to the trustee the data criteria for identifying a match and releasing value data. However, given the need to minimise the risk to the individual saver and the cybersecurity risk to the dashboard ecosystem as a whole, is it the Government’s intention that the “One Login” solution must be available for use before the Secretary of State announces the date of the dashboards available point, when the service is made available to the public?
The Minister referred to standards. The DWP has published draft standards outlining mandatory requirements for providers on how they must operationally and technically meet their legal duties, and the pensions dashboard programme has consulted on its approach to governance of standards in the future. However, those standards are outside the regulation to allow for flexibility and further development. While that may make sense, given the public interest in data on trillions of pounds of value being accessible through the dashboard, how will Parliament be kept up to date and receive the necessary assurance that the governance of the dashboard ecosystem continues to be fit for purpose?
Design standards matter too. I leave my actuarial noble friend Lord Davies to go into detail on this. Design standards are about presenting information in the way that will best help users to understand it. They are an important element in consumer protection. Inevitably, consultation to date has largely been with the industry, although user testing is undertaken during development and staging. Is it the intention to permanently embed user testing into future reviews and developments of those design standards, and how will that be done?
Compliance with dashboard requirements is being phased in from August 2023. Reflecting on what the Minister has said, it may be earlier. It will start with large DC schemes used for auto-enrolment. Trustees must connect by their staging deadline, with all in-scope schemes having to connect by 31 October 2025, as detailed in Schedule 2. As has been said, the Secretary of State will give six months’ notice before dashboards go live to the public, an increase on the original 90 days proposed. This is a sensible move, given the importance of getting this programme right, notwithstanding the previous Minister’s lack of sympathy for the delay— I think that the right decision has been made.
Regulation 4 states that, before specifying the dashboard available point,
“the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the dashboards ecosystem is ready to support widespread use of qualifying … dashboard services by the general public”.
I take that to mean that enough schemes are on board, the data is good enough and there is no prospect of crashing. What is the minimum extent of progress in implementing the DWP and FCA staging profiles that has to be achieved before a dashboard available point is announced, or is it necessary for the staging profiles to be completed in full before public access can commence?
Schemes will need to be data-ready for the dashboard to minimise the risk of data breaches or not returning a match. These regulations require schemes to provide detailed information to the regulators on find and view requests, the matching process, the number of possible matches, the number of positive matches and much more before the dashboard is publicly available, and subsequently after it is. What confidence level in respect of minimising false positives and false negatives in response to find and view requests must be met before the public announcement about the availability of the dashboard is made? What happens if all public service pension schemes are not ready to stage by September 2024, given the considerable relevance of these schemes to supporting widespread use of the dashboard?
Increasingly, DB schemes are transferring their assets and liabilities to an insurer under buyout. Do such buyouts pose complexity for the operation of the dashboard service, including from any differences in the FCA and the MaPS/TPR rules?
A key policy objective for the dashboard service is to connect individuals with an escalating number of small pots in the hope that people will transfer and consolidate them. The Government have not taken determined action on this problem to date and are clearly hoping that the dashboard will provide the solution. However, evidence shows that information access does not always overcome inertia, so is the dashboard now the Government’s primary policy for addressing the small pots problem? Will the DWP set hard targets for the reduction in small pots in its critical success factors?
Expected benefits to the consumer include the value of increased engagement, increased savings actions and more informed savings decisions, but these have not been monetised because the data is not available to do that. Given the lack of knowledge and understanding that often prevails, the complexity, the barriers of inertia, present bias and the unknown behavioural responses of providers and savers, it will be important to understand what actually is happening so as to understand the extent of the public outcomes or any emerging detriment from the operation of the dashboard. What plans do the DWP have for a programme of research and monitoring of behaviours?
Finally, on the FCA, there are four regulators in the dashboard space, so it is quite crowded. It raises issues of coherence, from the straightforward, such as minimising duplication of information demands on schemes, to the more complex potential for regulatory omission or confusion, as in the case of the steelworkers. These regulations do not cover FCA-regulated personal and stakeholder pensions. The duty placed on the FCA, to quote its policy statement,
“requires that we have regard to the requirements that the Government’s regulations place on the trustees of occupational schemes”—
so there is clearly scope for some differences. There will be closed books, legacy products, and funds where data quality will be poor and charges high. There could be differences in how pension values and costs and charge data are provided. For example, as I saw from the FCA’s own site, some FCA-regulated providers do not have information on costs and charges on certain plans available online. These schemes will be allowed just to explain where the consumer can find the details—but that is hardly a digital experience compliant with the standards that appear to be being set by MaPS.
Finally, the FCA will be responsible for authorising commercial dashboards, which may offer delegated access to an individual’s pensions data to MaPS guiders, advisers with particular FCA permissions or others considered appropriate by MaPS. We do not know who these others might be, nor the conditions that will apply to delegated access, although there is a degree of framework in these regulations. The case for MaPS guiders is clear: they have no commercial interest in a saver’s position; they are just giving guidance. However, there is a public interest in the wrap of consumer protection around how those delegations operate and in the related matter of who can hold an individual’s view data. Sadly, FCA authorisation has not always protected consumers in the pensions space, and under the dashboard all the saver’s assets will be on view, so the criticality of that protection is even more important.
The Minister has been extremely helpful in facilitating meetings between the DWP, the dashboard programme and interested Members of this House. Would it be possible for her to facilitate a meeting with the FCA and the dashboard programme so that we can raise our concerns?
My Lords, as I said all those years ago when we were discussing what is now the Pension Schemes Act, I also greatly support the concept of the introduction of pension dashboards. I am probably one of the people the Minister referred to who has that dusty box under the stairs, so I welcome this SI in principle. I have a few questions that I would be grateful if she could answer. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the briefing that she kindly arranged, so I apologise if some of these questions were dealt with then, but there is probably no harm in the answers being on the record.
First, like the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, I agree that the six-month notice period makes sense. I hear what the Minister said about progress in creating the dashboards, but she has not said when she expects the public to be able to access them. The year is probably broad enough, but it would be interesting to understand when we think these dashboards, or at least the first dashboard, will be available.
The SI enables the establishment of dashboards additional to the MaPS dashboard. Things have obviously moved on a bit since we were discussing the then Pension Schemes Bill, so could the Minister give us some idea of how much genuine interest there has in fact been in creating other dashboards? Is she aware of any being worked on at the moment? There is not very much in this SI to incentivise the creation of private dashboards, nor anything that sets out who would be allowed to do so or how they might generate revenue. I understand that that will be covered by the FCA consultation she referred to. Under this SI, all they will have to do is meet the dashboard requirements.
We had many discussions in previous debates around the use of dashboards for selling advertising, transacting, et cetera. The SI is silent on those matters. I would be interested to know whether the Government’s thinking has evolved since our previous discussions. Perhaps the Minister can let us know. She mentioned in her opening speech the dashboard not allowing transactions, but I think that relates only to the MaPS dashboard. I am not sure whether she intended that to mean private dashboards; perhaps she might clarify that. For example, is there anything that would prevent a large pension provider or a consolidator creating a dashboard and then using it to encourage users to transfer, perhaps from a smaller provider, to its products or services? Does the Minister agree that there might be a conflict of interest, or even a competition issue, in that sort of situation?
That leads on to the use of the data by the dashboard provider. I was not clear from the SI what was allowed in that respect. Regulation 9 seems relevant, but I am not sure I fully understood it. As an example, could a dashboard provider—perhaps a big tech company such as Google or Meta—create a dashboard and use the data it holds or acquires to target advertising for competing products? If that is or will be possible, that would worry me. It would be a really serious fraud risk. We need safeguards over who is allowed to create dashboards and the way that revenue will be generated from them. The SI is silent on that.
I also have some questions on the impact assessment. Some surprisingly big numbers are there, with a wide range of outcomes. The best-estimate case comes out at a convenient figure of £30 million positive, just about breaking even. Am I being slightly cynical to think that has been slightly massaged or managed? The net present values for the first 10 years range from a worst case of £1.016 billion negative to a best case of £1.220 billion positive. Frankly, all that says to me is that there is still a very high level of uncertainty about the actual costs and benefits of the dashboards. It is also true that the bulk of the cost will fall on the industry and the benefits, which are less tangible, will go to members. To what extent is it expected that these costs, which are somewhere in the region of £700 million to £1.6 billion if the impact assessment is to be believed, will be passed on to pension funds? What impact will that have on pensioners? In particular, one has to assume that the cost will be higher as a percentage of funds for smaller funds, as the level of bureaucracy is similar with a smaller amount of money to spread it across, so what impact is expected, particularly on smaller funds and their beneficiaries? Is any support anticipated by the Government?
Related to the impact assessment, despite the expected annual cost being approximately £100 million a year, which is 20 times the statutory guidance level of £5 million, the Government have decided not to include a review clause in this SI. Instead, they have opted for what they call a multi-strand monitoring and evaluation strategy, which is subject only to ministerial review and approval. That is regrettable, and I am not even sure what a multi-strand monitoring and evaluation strategy actually is. Can the Minister put on record what form she expects that multi-strand monitoring and evaluation strategy to take, when and how often it will happen, and what will be reported publicly or to Parliament?
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report makes it clear that
“the system has not been fully worked out yet and will remain under development for some time.”
Can the Minister give us some insight about what further developments are still to come, what further SIs she expects to bring to us and when, and whether they might cover some of the matters that I have mentioned?
My Lords, I am happy to take part in this debate. I need probably to declare an interest as a fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, albeit non-practising. A dashboard is a very good thing, and we want to see it introduced. In truth, my perfect pension system would be one in which you never have to think about it until you retire, and we could dispense with dashboards, but we are not in that space, we have to have a dashboard, and this is the dashboard we have.
As I say, I welcome it. I was involved 25 years ago in discussions about an early progenitor of what we have. At that time it was just too difficult, but with the development of digital capabilities, it has now become a practical reality, and I look forward to it becoming a useful tool for people as they plan for their retirement. Noble Lords can probably tell from my tone of voice that I am heading towards a “but”, but I want to do that emphasising my gratitude for all the work that has been done by the department, the officials and the Pensions Dashboards Programme, as we call it now, although I rather wish they had not adopted the word “ecosystem”.
The regulations before us have to be judged in terms of what the objectives are. What are we having a dashboard for? The starting point was to connect people with their pensions. There was a lack of connection and the figures we have had of the orphan pots are truly staggering and concerning, so any step towards avoiding that problem is to be welcomed. Obviously, people want to know what they have got in those pots. That is straightforward and should be done.
Then we move on to a further stage, of people’s likely income in retirement. This is where things start to get sticky, because the point of telling people that likely income in retirement is as a “prompt for necessary action”—which I think are the words used on the PDP website. The Minister, whom I should have thanked for her detailed and helpful introduction, used the term “informed decisions”—so that people can take decisions commensurate with their retirement aims. I think the model people have in mind is that you look at your pension statement, you think that it is not enough, so you start saving more money. In that sense, it is inevitably and inherently a sales tool. That is one of the problems we face in setting up a dashboard that works in people’s interests.
A point that I have made consistently in discussions about a dashboard is that it has to have the state pension there, but an equally valid—in my view, more important—conclusion that you can draw from your pension statement, if you think your pension is not good enough, is “Well, I’ve got to start campaigning for a better state pension”.
I am going to look in particular, on the basis of that, at what Schedule 3 calls the “value data”. The regulations lead via the 2013 regulations to AS TM1 from the FRC. That is Actuarial Standard Technical Memorandum 1 from the Financial Reporting Council. A new version of that will come into effect from 1 October next year. I picked that up at the very useful meeting that we had with Ministers, but the first DAP for the larger schemes is supposed to be from 31 August 2023, or it could be earlier, which is before we have the new technical memorandum. The whole point of achieving this technical memorandum—it is spelled out in the work that has been undertaken—is that the previous version was not good enough for the dashboard statements. We had to have the new technical memorandum because the old one simply did not work. People could do it on all sorts of bases. You would have a consolidated statement with several figures which could all be calculated on a different basis and were not comparable. So we came up with this new technical memorandum which requires schemes to do it on a standardised basis.
I think it is important when you do that to understand what you are really getting. Is this really an estimate of people’s likely retirement income? I think we need to hesitate before encouraging people to place too much confidence in that understanding of what these figures will be. They will be figures calculated on the basis of a single, predefined set of assumptions. The technical memorandum is well within the bounds of plausibility. It is not necessarily the technical memorandum I would have come up with if I had had to decide, but I cannot point to it and say it is nonsense or misleading. However, it is important to understand that it is only one among a range of possible views of the future, and we are misleading people if we give them any idea that this is what is going to happen. I think it is fair to say that the figure you are presented with is probably the least likely figure of all possible outcomes.
Just as an aside, it is also important that this will be a government-endorsed figure. Make no mistake: the ordinary person seeing this on their pension statement, knowing that this dashboard has been legislated for by the Government, will see an implicit government guarantee for that figure. There is no way of avoiding that. That is what will happen. Government Ministers can say for all they are worth, “No, we are just facilitating this; it is not our figure”. If, over time, these figures turn out to be woefully positive, the Government will be held to account. A similar disaster happened with endowment mortgages, and we saw what happened there. People believe the figures they are given, are gravely disappointed when they do not appear and look for reimbursement.
I had a very nice letter from the Minister carefully explaining that the technical memorandum did not come into force until after the first of the staging dates. I ask the Minister to confirm my understanding, but I think that the first people who become entitled to go on their dashboard in August will be told, “Sorry, your value isn’t available yet; you have to wait before you can get those figures”. All the anoraks who log on straightaway will be gravely disappointed.
Another problem with the regulations is that small pots are being let off the hook. The way the regulations work—the Minister can tell me if I am wrong—they exclude smaller pots from having to provide figures. This will just compound the problem we are dealing with.
Paragraph 9.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“This instrument does not give rise to any need for consolidation measures.”
I am sorry, but I disagree. In these regulations we now have quite detailed statements of what information should be disclosed. There are also the principal disclosure regulations of 2013. How can we be sure that the two sets of information are co-ordinated with each other? In addition, another set of figures is being produced for the occupational schemes. Many people, when they get to retirement, will have an occupational scheme, a defined contribution scheme and their state pension. You really need to be in a situation where the three figures can be taken together. I am sure that is the intention, but at the moment it appears that all these different sets of estimates are being calculated in isolation. Again, I hope the Minister can correct me. There is a need to make sure that these calculations work together and are consolidated. I certainly think that these regulations and the principal disclosure regulations need to be consolidated.
This dashboard is very important for people’s financial affairs. It will tell them about their pension but, of course, they have many other financial transactions. I was quite disappointed when I saw in some of the material on the Pensions Dashboards Programme website the total rejection of any need for consistency with the concept of open banking. We are told:
“When you dig down a little, you start to see how different the two really are in terms of their audience, purpose and functionality.”
I do not think the ordinary person is that aware of their audience, purpose and functionality. They just have financial information available to them, and it has to be presented in a consistent way overall. The idea of parcelling off the pensions dashboard, saying it has nothing to do with open finance—make no mistake: open banking was only the start and we are now moving on to a stage where there is a big push for open finance—and having open finance here with all your financial transactions under one heading, and the pension dashboard in a world of its own over there, is clearly wrong. I urge the dashboard programme to put a bit more thought into this.
This is brought into particular light by another Bill, currently in the Commons, called the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. There seems to have been very little co-ordination between that and the work being done on the dashboard. There is a clear overlap on the crucial issue of the identity service. This is the weakest link in the dashboard: how do we know that people accessing the dashboard are the people entitled to those pension benefits, given the way in which pension benefits get lost? Someone turns up, provides the information—which they have accessed somewhere on the dark web—and gets hold of someone else’s pension. To put it baldly, that is the problem we face. How confident can we be? Confidence relies on an identity service, and it appears that we are going to have more than one identity service: the one under the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill and this one. The two really ought to be working together.
With what I hope are those helpful remarks, I very much welcome the introduction of the dashboard.
My Lords, I was not expecting to have to do the dashboards but, as the Minister will know, I intervened during the passage of the Pension Schemes Act. I was there for the money and finance bits and discovered that I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the dashboard. At first sight I love the idea, but then—as has been relatively eloquently explained, and I will not delve further—there are all kinds of problems, ranging from operational ones to the ones that interested me most. I think I am in exactly the same space here as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, as usual. What happens if it becomes a platform for advertising?
A good starting point is to look at paragraph 14 on page 9 of the impact assessment, which is about the rationale for the intervention and the pensions dashboard. It quite clearly mentions
“potential benefits/efficiency gains to pension providers if consumers are encouraged to keep track of their pensions, save more, potentially consolidate pots, and shop around for decumulation products”,
but those are benefits to the providers, as it says there. We need to be very clear: we want to make sure that the benefits to the providers do not leave out benefits to those with pensions.
Talking about consolidation, I understand that if there are a lot of really small pots, there is probably something to be said for sweeping those together. But having been self-employed for my entire working life, when I set up my own pension schemes I wanted a bit of diversity. I had several because I did not like the notion that one of the funds might go bust and I would be in trouble—if I had loaded it all into Equitable Life or something. Much to my disappointment, they all got consolidated into Aviva through the consolidation of the industry. Actually, that is not quite true; I still have some others. I carefully selected a completely different batch for my husband, but they also ended up all in Aviva.
Some diversity is a very good thing, because you get performance differences. You might want to phase how you take your retirement and it might prove to be more flexible. So the notion that you should force everybody to have one pot is bad news, to my mind, because you are cutting out diversity and the opportunity that that brings.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, I latch on to the comments made by the Minister about commercial exploitation. That is a very important point. These pensions dashboards will not be cheap to make. If you do one, with all the wonderful data there, you will be very tempted to exploit it in some way; yet we do not have the information in front of us because that kind of thing comes presumably through the FCA route. I apologise that my information is not as full as it should be, as I too was unable to go to the meeting that was arranged. As there are several regulators involved and several parts of this puzzle to be brought together, it would be nice to have that bigger overview instead of having it in bite-sized chunks where you cannot fully see how they inter-fit.
Most of my other points have already been raised by others and I will not go back to them. However, I was slightly curious about delegated access. Again, it was indicated that, essentially, a financial adviser could have the delegated access. When I speak to a financial adviser, I do not necessarily want them to know what I have got everywhere. Again, as I have several different pots, I can get advice about one pot and not another. Assuming that everybody should have the full view is perhaps not the way to go. I do not know whether it would be possible, but it would be good if you could somehow choose which part is visible to somebody and which is not. I would like to have seen that, but it might be rather difficult.
I also wonder what the provisions will be for others, such as family members who may become involved in trying to help some of their older people sort out their pensions. Some people want that, some do not. They will not be regulated. Will they have to have some kind of formal or legally signed document to be able to take that position? Obviously, they can be sitting at your shoulder when you access, but there will be people who are incapacitated. How will their dashboard be accessed and what will be the safeguards?
I think just about everything else has been mentioned. I will just say that I agree with a lot of the questions. In general, I accept that we need this statutory instrument because it paves the way for everything else to come, but it would have been quite nice to see more of the parallel tracks coming to the same discussion. We will have a statutory instrument or something from the FCA, which will be separate from this. It would have been nice to have them as a package, perhaps debated together, so that we could cross-compare for whether there are gaps, how the different responsibilities will be bridged and how the information will be shared. All these things are yet to come.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her introduction—a heroic introduction in the circumstances—and for the department’s lengthy Explanatory Memorandum. The department is clearly trying to help and has put in a lot of hard work to try to throw more light on a complicated subject. My noble friend Lady Sherlock is always up to the mark on complexity, and there is plenty of complexity in these regulations. The pensions paper is 41 pages long, which is not a criticism by any means. Surely these dashboards are positive, helpful and welcome.
At paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, the department gives a wise summation as regards complexity, as well as information of a startling kind: it has been found that 25% of those aged 55 years and over who are not retired
“do not know the size of their pension savings.”
As somebody from Wales—indeed, the son of a Welsh steelworker—what comes to my mind is the awful pensions example of the Port Talbot steelworkers. Many of them fell into a pension pit and found themselves short-changed. Ultimately, this was publicised widely. In these circumstances, and in the context of these regulations, can the Minister make some helpful remark or statement concerning the steelworkers specifically—although there are others —at the Port Talbot works? It is a great steelworks. Many of the steelworkers who felt themselves to be short-changed were the very men who had brought a great steelworks into this century, notwithstanding the many problems facing that industry. It might be helpful if the Minister could make some remarks on that issue.
Regarding that suggestion, it looks as though paragraph 7.4 might indeed invite the Minister to respond regarding the steelworkers of Port Talbot as it talks of
“more informed choices … when individuals access their pensions savings.”
As I began, I thank the Minister for her explanatory remarks at the beginning of our debate.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive introduction to these regulations, and all noble Lords who have spoken. Most of us were involved in the passage of the Pension Schemes Bill, so it is nice to have the band back together again even if—it has to be said—we are a bit of a band of anoraks. I am also grateful to the Minister for the briefing that she arranged for us, and for her willingness to engage. It was helpful to be able to hear from Ministers—and, indeed, officials—about the work that has been done on the scheme, and really good to hear about the progress that has been made. We have supported the idea of a public dashboard and it is great to see that coming to life.
That said, I have a lot of questions to ask. I apologise to the House in advance, but this is the only chance that we will have to ask questions on a very complex, billion-pound project. Once we come out of here today, there is no automatic place where we will get to do it again, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, pointed out. So I hope that the Minister, and the House, will bear with me. I have tried to give notice of my questions to the Minister as many are quite technical.
First, we need clarity on timing, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, but also on what schemes will be covered. Schemes with under 100 active or deferred members are outside the scope of these regulations. Can the Minister tell the House how many pension pots fall into that category, and can we expect all other pension pots to be included in due course? Schedule 2 shows when the different schemes will be brought on to the system. Can the Minister tell the House when data from personal and stakeholder pension schemes will be available to the public through the dashboard, and what is the position with group personal pension plans?
At the dashboards available point, or DAP, when the public can access dashboards, we expect to see some 99% of pension pots covered by the dashboards. Is that correct? How many pots does that leave out, and how many people will be in that position? Since some pots will not be displayed, how will I know as a consumer that I am not seeing all of my pensions? How will that be flagged up to me so that I can make an appropriate judgment?
My noble friend Lord Davies had some important questions about how the value of different pots will be displayed. I will be interested to hear the response to those. I also want to talk about handling data, on which the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, raised some important questions. But first, how confident is the Minister about the data quality? Has the work done so far thrown up any concerns?
My noble friends Lord Davies and Lady Drake raised some important questions about identity verification. It will be interesting to hear the answers to those but, once you have the identity, the next step is matching the consumer to the pension pot. That, essentially, is the central activity on which the whole system hangs, yet the Government have decided not to set a common data standard which has to be met to trigger the release of pensions data. Instead, firms are to be told to set their own data standards to trigger release; so, once a find request is received, a scheme will have to complete matching to identify whether they hold information on an individual’s pension matching that in the request. But rather than requiring trustees to use particular data criteria for determining matching, DWP expects schemes to take “reasonable, diligent steps” and to minimise the risk of data breaches or not returning any matches.
Regulation 28 requires information on the matching process used by schemes to be given to MaPS, TPR and the FCA. The idea is that the relevant regulator can, if they so decide, require a scheme to change its matching data requirements if it does not think them appropriate. There will be guidance from the Secretary of State, and the FCA will be seeking consistency of approach to identity matching for release of view data by its regulated providers, while the ICO will be issuing its own statement on matching data breaches. The DWP consultation points out that the whole thing rests on consent:
“The nature of an individual’s consent must be clear, explicit, understood, and informed. It cannot merely be … a tick box condition of usage”
That will be articulated more closely by the pensions dashboard programme in another publication. Given all that, why did the DWP not set particular minimum data standards for schemes for matching and releasing data to a view request, especially given the number of schemes involved? Can the Minister explain for the record what would happen if data submitted by a consumer are a partial match for data held by a firm? That is something I have had offline.
Can the Minister also tell me whether a member’s view data can be screen-scraped and stored by a third party? I am very exercised by this. I think the regulations say that a firm cannot store the data except during a session, but let us think through what this means in practice. Suppose a consumer is viewing her data on a firm’s dashboard, with an adviser from that firm sitting next to her. Can the firm screen-scrape the data from its own dashboard, retain it and immediately conduct a transaction off-dashboard, which might be a matter of pressing a button and jumping from one screen to another? If the answer is, “Only if the consumer consents”, how will the Government ensure that consent is meaningful, given the quotation I gave earlier from the DWP?
Sometimes the answer to this tends to be, “Don’t worry, because the FCA will have regulatory oversight of the firms and, where appropriate, the advisers”. This is where my noble friend Lord Jones comes in, because that was of course the case when British Steel’s pension scheme got into trouble and had to be restructured. Has the Minister read the report published in July by the Public Accounts Committee? It found that the FCA failed to protect British Steel pension scheme members from “unscrupulous financial advisers” who were incentivised by existing fee structures and regulation “to provide unsuitable advice” that led to around 7,800 steelworkers losing an average of £82,600 in life savings—I stress, an average of that—with some losing up to £489,000. The committee said:
“The FCA has consistently been behind the curve in responding to unsuitable pension transfer advice.”
The Minister cannot simply say that it is a matter for the FCA. If her Government choose to legislate to mandate the creation of commercial dashboards, on which we have expressed concern, and the release of data belonging to millions of consumers knowing that the Public Accounts Committee has said that the FCA is consistently behind the curve on protecting those consumers from unsuitable advice, then it is the Government who will bear responsibility for the consequences if people suffer losses. What assurance can the Minister give the House that the PAC will not be publishing another report in three or five years’ time on the fallout from commercial dashboards?
That takes us to the liability question. I am still not entirely clear about end-to-end liability in the system. Where does liability lie if a consumer makes a decision on the basis of view data which later prove inaccurate? If liability is with a trust-based scheme, ultimately that means the trustees. Is the Minister concerned that if some significant liability were established, many trustees simply would not have the personal wealth needed to fund any redress, and where would that leave consumers? Does this pose a risk that anyone other than corporate trustees will be deterred from serving as a trustee on a pensions board?
Next, where can consumers go to make a complaint? I understand that there is to be a single front door, but where does it lead and what is behind it? Which bodies will handle requests for redress from consumers who lose money as a result of making decisions which turned out to be based on wrong data? Can they go to the Pensions Ombudsman, the Financial Ombudsman Service or somewhere else?
Hackers and scammers were raised by my noble friend Lord Davies. I assume the plan is to warn consumers to be aware of scammers, but is there a strategy in place to counter the risks of scams within the system, as opposed to at the individual consumer’s end? Has it been designed to make it hard for scammers to operate and is there a plan to counter the risk of hacking or are we, as my noble friend said, going to see pensions view data being traded on the dark web, as we do credit card details? Are there back-up systems? If somebody were to lose a payslip, so that somebody picking it up simply had a name, address and national insurance number, could that be enough to hack their pensions data?
We have highlighted a range of concerns and some potentially serious risks of the project, but clearly there will be benefits too. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, about the importance of who benefits, not just that there should be benefits; we need the consumers too. Like the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, I read the impact assessment and I had a lot of fun with it. I know that it is a very anoraky thing to say but, my goodness, what a great document. Basically, it sets out low, central and high estimates for costs and benefits. In present value, the central estimate says that the project will cost £1.089 billion over 10 years. That is broken down as, roughly speaking, £850 million in industry costs and £240 million in public administration costs, or £1 billion over 10 years in today’s money.
As the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, said, the central estimate of the benefits comes in incredibly conveniently at just £29.5 million over. Of course, that is plus or minus £1 billion because the high and low estimates are literally £1 billion over or under. It is not a very meaningful aggregate figure anyway because it costs industry and government £1 billion and saves consumers a very notional £1 billion. But when we look at the benefits to consumers, that £1 billion of benefit in the central estimate is split almost equally between £541 million for the value of lost pots and £578 million for something called the consumer surplus. Digging further, it turns out that consumer surplus is the notional value deriving from consumers getting for free a service for which they would have been willing to pay. How do we know they would have been willing to pay? Researchers were sent out to ask them what they would pay for this service, then came up with this number. All I will say is “Hmm”, although we learned the interesting fact along the way that the number of users is expected to rise from 3 million in 2024-25 to 18.5 million in 2031-32.
We cannot incur all this risk and spend north of £1 billion for those two bits of value, particularly the consumer surplus. There must be other benefits. The Explanatory Memorandum has a really good section headed “What is being done and why?” at paragraph 7.4. It says that pensions dashboards
“will engender a greater sense of ownership of pensions, reconnect individuals with any lost pension pots, support the advice and guidance process, and enable more informed choices to be made when individuals access their pensions savings”.
The key question is: will people end up with higher pensions? The answer is “We don't know”, because the impact assessment says on page 23 that
“there is no robust evidence to attach causality and monetise the benefits in terms of increased retirement income that result from the dashboards”.
Could they end up with lower pensions? That might sound daft, but if someone sees their pension assets and decides to use them by taking some cash out—using the pension freedoms the Government gave them—to deal with their current living costs, they would end up with less to live on. Out of curiosity, is there any evidence that the process could lead to reduced retirement income? The IA did not address that.
I know, or suspect, that the problem is that the Government are aware that knowledge and information do not always lead to better decision-making when it comes to complex financial matters. That is certainly true of me, and I see no reason why it should not be true of other people as well, so it really matters that the Government try to find out what impact the dashboard has on retirement incomes over time. In an excellent speech, my noble friend Lady Drake asked if there is to be a programme of research. I think that the noble Baroness is the Minister for research. Given that, can she assure the House that a research programme is being planned from the outset of this project so that the department can track the impact of this exercise on consumer decisions and on retirement income?
Many of the issues will be familiar to the Minister because they were raised during the passage of the Pension Schemes Act—mostly by the band gathered around her tonight. Back then we asked a lot of detailed questions about the way dashboards would operate. Answers by and large were not available, but we were told they would be in due course. Now we have the regulations and some of the questions are still unanswered. I am very optimistic that, in about 25 minutes I will have the answers to many if not all of them. Can I ask the Minister, if any remain unresolved—unimaginable though that is—would she commit to organising another briefing session for Peers in a month or two as things become clearer? She might even be tempted to commit to regular sessions as key decision points are reached, given the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. I apologise once again for the length of my speech and the number of questions but look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I know all noble Lords across the House care passionately about the success of pensions dashboards. I remember well the quality of debate during the passage of the Pension Schemes Act 2021, which I am pleased has continued today. I thank noble Lords for their contributions today. I am glad that noble Lords found the briefing and engagement sessions helpful. I reciprocate that because I found the level and detail of our subsequent engagement absolutely invaluable. I am now going to try to make the dreams of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, come true by making sure that I answer all the questions. If there are any that are unanswered, I will write and ensure that a copy is placed in the Library.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Drake, raised the issue of small and micro-schemes. It is the Government’s intention to bring them into scope and regulate for small and micro-schemes with fewer than 100 relevant members at a later date. This will be subject to further consultation. While there are nearly 30,000 schemes in this category, they account for a tiny proportion—about 0.2%—of memberships. For the vast majority of potential dashboard users, their absence is unlikely to affect coverage.
I refer to a point made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Drake, about DAP—the dashboards available point. In the government response to the further consultation, we set out that the coverage of schemes is one of the relevant matters we expect the Secretary of State to consider when deciding to announce the dashboards available point. While we have not specified a certain level of coverage to determine when the service will go live, we plan on closely monitoring the levels of coverage at different stages as schemes begin to connect with the dashboard architecture from April 2023. According to our staging profile, we expect that over 99% of active and deferred memberships will be available to be found on the pensions dashboard by the end of September 2024. The noble Baronesses also asked how many members will not be covered. The number of members with small and micro-entitlements that will not be covered at the dashboards available point is 179,000. This accounts for just 0.26% of all active and deferred memberships.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked if all public service pension schemes are ready to stage by September 2024, given the considerable relevance of those schemes to supporting widespread use of the dashboard. Public service pension schemes cover a significant proportion of memberships and will be required to connect and provide data as part of the first wave of staging, along with other large pension schemes. The Government recognise that the McCloud remedy represents a unique challenge for public service pension schemes, including significant changes to systems and processes on top of more widely shared industry constraints. This has been taken into consideration when determining their staging deadline. In deciding the dashboards available point, the Secretary of State, in consultation with our delivery partners, will consider the level of coverage, ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the service and testing the user experience.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked if it was the intention that the Government’s “One Login” solution must be available for use before the Secretary of State announces the date of the dashboards available point when the pensions finder service is made publicly available. The identity service for pension dashboards is not dependent on the Government’s “One Login” as its solution before dashboards can be launched. The pensions dashboard programme has procured an interim identity service provider with a contract running until January 2024. The service it provides is aligned with the Government Digital Service good practice guide. Presently, the Money and Pensions Service is engaging with officials in the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service, as well as the wider market, building on the engagement work undertaken in 2020 to identify all possible options that may comprise its new identity service model. The key focus for the Money and Pensions Service is to ensure inclusivity for individuals while meeting a verification standard that is appropriate both to government for the state pension and to wider commercial stakeholders.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked if Parliament will be kept up to date and receive the necessary assurance that the governance of the dashboards ecosystem as a whole continues to be fit for purpose, and what plans the DWP has for a programme of research and monitoring of behaviours. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also raised this. In partnership with the pensions dashboard programme, we currently deliver six-monthly updates to Peers touching on the status of delivery of the pension dashboard digital architecture.
In addition, we are exploring options for monitoring and evaluating pensions dashboards. Given the significant investment in dashboards, monitoring and evaluation is an important part of the department’s focus. A multistrand evaluation strategy is being explored. This will be developed alongside the pensions dashboard programme, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator, to ensure that learning helps to further develop dashboards over time.
If noble Lords find this helpful, options being considered include a longitudinal quantitative survey to monitor outcomes from the dashboard usage, qualitative research with consumers to explore dashboard use, qualitative research with the pensions industry, estimating changes in number and values of lost pensions pots, and monitoring information provided by dashboard providers. We will use the findings from monitoring and evaluation to develop pension dashboard policy further and ensure the policy is delivering for consumers and the pension industry.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked if it is the intention to embed user testing into further development of design standards. User research by the pensions dashboard programme and findings from its various working groups have been considered throughout the development of the pensions dashboard architecture. The Money and Pensions Service will provide a dashboard service and plans to undertake user research and testing to understand what questions people have upon seeing their data on dashboards. All future developments will be informed by user testing and undertaken in the best interests of consumers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked if there is a confidence level in respect of minimising false positives and negatives for find and view requests which must be met before the DAP is announced. In the Government’s response to the further consultation on the dashboard available point, we set out a broad framework of relevant matters that will be considered before the Secretary of State announces the dashboards available point. This will include consideration of the level of coverage, ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the service and testing the user experience. The framework we put in place will be developed through wider engagement with interested parties and be informed by ongoing testing. This will ensure that the Secretary of State’s decision to announce the dashboards available point is based on a transparent and evidence-based process. We expect to publish our progress so that it is clear to industry when the likely date for the dashboards available point will be in advance of the formal six-month notice period.
The noble Baroness mentioned insurance buyouts and asked whether such transitions to buyout will pose complexities for the operation of the dashboard service, particularly if there are differences with the FCA and MaPS/TPR rules and regulations. The FCA rules make it clear that a deferred annuity contract—including retirement annuity contracts, Section 32 buyout policies and pension buyout contracts—is included as a personal pension product for the purposes of dashboard rules. Upon transferring to a new scheme, view data for those members will not be required for three months from the date of joining.
The noble Baroness asked whether the delivery of the pensions dashboard service is now the Government’s primary policy measure for addressing the small pots problem, and whether the DWP will set hard targets for the reduction in the number of small pots in its critical success factors set out in chart 1 of the impact assessment. Our immediate priority is to deliver pensions dashboards to help individuals to access their pension information and to plan more effectively for their retirement. The first iteration of pensions dashboards will not facilitate the automatic consolidation of deferred small pots; however, the provision of all this information in one place is an important first step in helping people to make decisions. Schemes getting their member data dashboard-ready will put the industry in a better position to implement solutions aimed at tackling the proliferation of deferred small pots. The reduction in small pots is not one of the critical success factors for dashboards, and we will not therefore set targets. However, the impact of dashboards on the number of small pots may be picked up as part of our wider monitoring and evaluation activity.
The noble Baroness asked whether I would facilitate a meeting with the FCA and the PDP. My officials, and those of MaPS and the FCA, would be delighted to engage. I will ensure that this happens.
I turn now to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. On the Explanatory Memorandum, which refers to “Monitoring & review”, the noble Lord asked what review is intended and, especially, what will be published and when. Given the significant investments in dashboards, both monitoring and evaluation are important and, as I have already said, this will be developed alongside the Pensions Dashboards Programme, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Pensions Regulator to ensure that the learning helps to develop dashboards over time. I have already explained the options being looked at.
The noble Lord spoke about impact assessment and cost. If the industry passes its costs on to pension savers in the form of higher charges, we expect the overall annual cost per member to be low—around £2 per pension pot per year. This is a nominal amount in the context of pension wealth. Between 2018 and 2022, median pension wealth was £32,700 for individuals with a pension not yet in payment. Our research shows that the benefits to members will be greater through finding lost pension pots by using the free dashboard service. Furthermore, as dashboards develop, we will further understand user behaviours, and dashboards will have the potential to increase overall engagement with pensions in the longer term. This will have potential additional benefits to pensions providers as well as to members, although those benefits have not been quantified in the impact assessment.
The noble Lord made a point about the use of data and marketing, and asked what restrictions would be put in place on the use of data. For example, could a large pension provider or consolidator create a dashboard and then use the data obtained for marketing purposes? A similar question could be asked about a large tech company, such as Google or Meta. Other than for purposes of temporary caching, no data is stored on pensions dashboards, therefore it is not possible to mass-harvest the data of individuals via dashboard technology. The questions about whether consumers should be able to export their pension data from a dashboard, including the export of data from the dashboard to the dashboard operator, is a matter that the FCA will explore in its forthcoming consultation on the regulatory framework for pensions dashboard operators.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of likely dashboard providers, asking about the current level of interest around creating other dashboards and whether any are being worked on. Through the programme’s engagement, we are aware of a number of organisations which intend to apply for FCA authorisation to operate a qualifying pensions dashboard service, and the programme continues to provide regular updates to those who have expressed an interest. I am not sure whether that information will be shared more widely, which would answer the noble Lord’s question. I will talk to the officials after this debate, and I will come back to him.
The noble Lord also asked whether there is any current indication as to when the dashboard will be available to the public. As set out in my speech, the dashboards available point will be when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is satisfied that the dashboards ecosystem is ready to support widespread use by the general public, following consultation with our delivery partners. At this stage, we cannot specify a date, as it is subject to many factors, which are likely to include the level of coverage, assurance of the safety, security and reliability of the service, and testing of user experience.
The noble Lord also raised dashboard restrictions and functionality, pointing out that there is not much in the SI that would incentivise private dashboards nor much that would put any controls around what they could do as part of their dashboard beyond meeting the requirements of the dashboard. We had various discussions around advertising and transacting as part of the Pension Schemes Bill. Prospective dashboard providers must satisfy the prescribed requirements for a qualifying pensions dashboard service, as set out in the regulations, and must obtain and maintain FCA authorisation and permission to undertake a new regulated activity of operating a pensions dashboard. In order to introduce dashboards as soon as possible, the position has been taken that dashboards will start with a basic level of information and include more detail as the understanding of the consumer develops. This means that transactions will not be possible through the dashboard ecosystem. With respect to any restrictions on advertising, the FCA will consult on its proposed regulated framework for the operators of pensions dashboards later in the year.
The noble Lord asked about further SIs to come. As dashboards evolve, our understanding of what users may want will increase, and we will bring forward further legislation for scrutiny accordingly and in due course. Regulation 36 enables the Money and Pensions Service to disclose information to the Pensions Regulator; this will support the Pensions Regulator’s role in ensuring schemes’ compliance, but it does not enable TPR to disclose information to MaPS. That is why we will introduce a separate order amending Schedule 3 to the Pensions Act 2004 to enable the Pensions Regulator to disclose information to the Money and Pensions Service. This is to provide data that MaPS needs; for example, to connect schemes to MaPS’s digital architecture.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about the technical standard for pension projections. To retain alignment with the pension illustrations provided annually under the Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2013, the Pensions Dashboards Regulations require that, when calculating projected values or annualised accrued value for money purchase benefits, schemes should refer to the methodology set out in the Actuarial Standard Technical Memorandum, which is published by the Financial Reporting Council. The Financial Reporting Council recently consulted on changes, in large part to improve consistency of estimates. The revised AS TM1 was published on 7 October 2022, with the new guidance coming into force from 1 October 2023. This gives the schemes a full year to make the necessary changes.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that the AS TM1 values are only one estimate among many, and he raised the question about presentation of values. The Financial Reporting Council consulted on the approach; there are clearly a range of approaches that could be taken. Using AS TM1 ensures consistency with annual benefit statements for money purchase benefits. Pension dashboards will be required to provide messages to aid understanding, which will be the subject of forthcoming consultations by MaPS on design standards and the FCA on rules for dashboard providers.
The noble Lord asked about links with open banking and co-ordination with the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. We are working with the FCA and other departments to consider links with open finance and smart data. The pensions dashboard will put the pensions industry in a much better position for future innovation, but we must tread carefully and ensure that we understand user behaviours resulting from initial dashboards.
The noble Lord also talked about people looking at their dashboard and then taking as gospel—if noble Lords will forgive me for using that term—that that is the value, and coming back to the Government. Dashboards will include links to sources of information; we are looking at onward journeys, and existing regulations may apply. I am sure that independent financial advice will also carry some weight in that regard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked whether individuals such as spouses or creditors could conduct searches on behalf of others. The system design does not currently support spouses or creditors having their identity verified through the identity verification service, and carrying out find and view on behalf of any individual member. Only active, deferred or pension credit members can do this. Following ID verification, the system design allows users to give and manage delegated access, and delegates may be either a regulated financial adviser with correct permissions, a MaPS guider or another person whom MaPS considers appropriate. The governance register will manage a record to ensure that access can be delegated only to individuals in those roles.
I am sorry to intervene, as I know that the Minister is trying to answer all the questions, but I want to ask a question on the regulated FCA authorised advisers. The whole point is that that system of authorised advisers, which has been changed several times, even on the FCA evidence is not sufficiently protecting people. The fact that it is being offered as a solution is one of our concerns.
I note the noble Baroness’s point. This is something that we will take back with officials and to the relevant authorities, and it is something else that I shall write about and I hope give her a better answer than she has had to date.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, raised the issue of risk of exploitation of data. Pensions dashboards and the technology behind them are designed to maximise data security. For example, pensions information is sent directly and securely from the scheme to the individual; it is not stored by qualifying pensions dashboard services or by the digital architecture. Individuals will always have control over who has access to their data, and will be able to revoke access at any time.
The noble Lord, Lord Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, have raised to me individually the issue of British Steel pension schemes. The FCA is responsible for the regulation of the financial advice market and has looked closely at the advice provided to those BSPS members who decided to transfer out of the defined benefit scheme. It found that a very high proportion had received unsuitable advice, as has been said. The FCA has announced that it intends to take forward a scheme to provide compensation for BSPS members who received poor advice; it published a consultation on this scheme on 31 March, which has now closed. I think that the point that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness were making was that it must not happen again, and I am sure that message is understood.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked me to confirm when the data from personal and stakeholder pension schemes will be available to the public through the dashboard. She also asked what the position was with group personal pension plans. As set out in FCA rules, the majority of personal and stakeholder pension schemes are required to stage as part of the first cohort by the end of August 2023. That includes group personal pension plans. Until dashboards are launched to the public, schemes’ data must be available to invited users for testing purposes.
The noble Baroness raised a point about missing pots. Only a very small proportion of occupational pension scheme memberships are out of scope of the obligations to connect in our regulation and FCA rules. We expect that, at the point when dashboards are launched to the public, most individuals can be confident that all their pensions will be available to find via dashboards. When the value data for found pensions has not yet been provided—for example, if the member is new to the scheme, or when the value is still being calculated by the scheme—information to that effect will be displayed on the dashboard.
The noble Baroness asked how confident Ministers were about the quality of the data and whether the work has so far thrown up any concerns. It is critical that savers can trust the information in front of them; trustees and managers have existing legal obligations in respect of data quality, including the accuracy principle under UK GDPR, which requires that organisations ensure that data remains accurate and up to date. The Pensions Regulator set out its expectations on data quality in its record-keeping guidance; this includes that data is measured at least once a year.
The noble Baroness asked why the DWP had not set particular minimum data standards for schemes for matching and releasing data. The regulations allow for the trustees and managers of schemes to set their own matching criteria. We believe that schemes should be given discretion over which data elements they use to suitably search their records for a match. It is important that any scheme’s matching policy is appropriate to the level of confidence that they have in their own data; a uniform approach across all schemes would be likely to result in suboptimal matching.
Just to divert the House for a moment, I am conscious of how long I have been speaking, and I am keeping others from their business, but I am absolutely committed to answering these questions. With the leave of the House, I hope that I can carry on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked whether I could explain for the record what would happen if the data submitted by a consumer was a partial match with data held by a firm. Schemes have the option of returning a possible match if they believe that they hold a record for an individual but are not certain. When a scheme returns a possible match, an individual will receive a limited form of administrative data that will enable them to contact the scheme to see if the possible match is in fact a match made.
The noble Baroness asked about screen-scraping. The regulations prohibit the storing of dashboards of view data, unless for temporary caching and for the sole purpose of displaying the view data in a single session. Similarly, transactions are not possible through the dashboard ecosystem. Making it possible for consumers to find information about all their pensions in a single place and requiring the consumer to undertake an identity verification check before being able to access that information significantly reduces the consumer appeal or perceived benefit of agreeing to screen-scraping. I have much more that I could say on that issue, so I shall write and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, raised the point about complaints and where the liability lies if a customer makes a decision on the basis of view data that later proves to be inaccurate. As set out in our response to the consultation on the draft regulations, trustees or managers are responsible for meeting the requirements, which include receiving FIND data, as well as undertaking, matching and returning the correct view data. Trustees or managers are not responsible for verifying the identity of users, and the authorisation of view requests or any processing of view data carried out by dashboards. The question of liability in the event that something goes wrong to the detriment of the individual would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, raised the issue of liability and risk for trustees. The Government acknowledge that many trustees do an excellent job, often on a voluntary basis. The vast majority of trustees are in schemes with fewer than 99 members, so will be outside the scope of these regulations, unless they connected to pensions dashboards voluntarily. Although we accept that the regulatory requirements on trustees have grown a great deal over the years, this is only right, given what is at stake—we are talking about pension savings for millions of people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, raised the issue of handling complaints and where consumers go to make a complaint. The dashboard ecosystem is made up of multiple different parts and, as such, dashboard users would potentially have complaints against a number of different parties. MaPS will therefore provide a central queries and complaints navigation tool, which qualifying pension dashboard services must direct individuals to, to help them understand their issues and know to whom they should direct their query or complaint if things go wrong, and the available routes to redress.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, raised the issue of scams and hackers and asked whether there is a strategy in place to counter the risk of scams within the system and whether this is being revisited regularly. It is crucial that dashboards give power to consumers and not scammers, which is why the dashboard ecosystem has been designed to ensure that only relevant pension schemes and authorised qualifying pension dashboard services have access. To maximise the effectiveness of the Money and Pensions Service pensions dashboard, users will have access to a retirement planning hub, which will provide onward planning journeys in a single place, supporting good decision-making. The FCA and MaPS will keep their rules and standards under review as dashboards emerge and evolve.
If I can put the Minister out of her misery, I would be content from this point onward if she were to write to me with answers to the remaining questions. I just say for the record that I flagged up to the usual channels some time ago that this instrument would take rather longer than the normal time, and it would have been helpful if the planning for this evening had taken that into account. However, I am very grateful to her for having answered so fully and to have taken the time to do this—I really appreciate it.
I appreciate that intervention and I undertake to write on the four remaining points, and perhaps offer a meeting to wash up and identify those things I have not dealt with as well as I might have.
My final point, noble Lords will be pleased to hear, is that pension dashboards will reunite individuals with their lost or forgotten pots and engage potentially millions of savers. It is important that we press ahead with this ambitious project, so that savers can realise the benefits. I therefore commend these regulations to the House.
Financial Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2022
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 17 October be approved.
My Lords, this statutory instrument comprises two sets of provisions relating to Gibraltarian firms operating in the UK market and to securitisation. The proposed legislation will remedy technical deficiencies identified in financial services legislation that was put in place to help manage our withdrawal from the EU.
In relation to Gibraltar, this instrument will fix temporary market access arrangements put in place to ensure that Gibraltarian firms did not face a cliff-edge loss of market access into the UK when we left the EU. In particular, these amendments will complete the intended transfer of powers to the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority in three specific areas. This transfer will give the UK authorities powers in relation to Gibraltarian firms where operating in the UK market, consistent with their powers over domestic firms.
It is worth remembering that financial services legislation was amended on withdrawal from the EU to adjust the treatment of EEA firms; in particular, to remove passporting rights, which were a function of the EU’s single market. At this time, because Gibraltarian firms had benefited from equivalent rights, separate provisions were necessary to preserve the existing arrangements supporting market access for financial services between the UK and Gibraltar. These arrangements were always intended to be temporary. Through the Financial Services Act 2021, we are working to replace them with a new permanent regime designed specifically for Gibraltar that reflects our unique history and relationship.
The temporary regime that the Government put in place for Gibraltarian firms unintentionally prevented the transfer of powers to the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority being completed in certain areas, leaving gaps in UK law. This SI will exclude provisions from this temporary regime to remove these gaps in the powers available to the Treasury and the FCA. This is equitable and proportionate, as it will enable the treatment of Gibraltarian firms to be brought in line with that of UK firms. Closing these gaps will provide for a more consistent legal and regulatory environment, as intended.
This SI will have an impact on three regulations that affect Gibraltarian firms operating in our market. Under the Short Selling Regulation, the Treasury’s power to modify the reporting threshold relating to net short positions will extend to Gibraltarian firms trading shares on a UK trading venue. Under the Markets in Financial Instruments Regulation, the FCA will be able to apply technical standards relating to post-trade disclosure obligations to Gibraltarian investment firms in the UK. Similarly, under the Packaged Retail and Insurance-based Investment Products Regulation, the FCA will be able to apply technical standards to Gibraltar firms selling, advising on or manufacturing PRIIPs to retail investors in the UK.
I turn now to the second area the SI covers, securitisation provisions. Securitisation is the packaging up of assets or loans and selling them on to investors. This allows lenders such as banks to transfer the risks of assets to other banks and investors to free up their balance sheets and allow for further lending to the real economy. The UK supports the implementation of international standards to promote simple, transparent and standardised—or STS—securitisations. STS securitisations are easier for investors to understand and assess the risks of. As a result, some STS investors will benefit from lower capital requirements.
Generally, only firms established in the UK can designate their securitisations as STS. However, transitional arrangements were put in place to allow for certain EU STS securitisations issued prior to the end of 2022 to be recognised in the UK. These arrangements were extended to the end of 2024 by another set of EU exit regulations earlier this year. The instrument being debated today will simply extend the end date of two requirements for EU STS securitisations to the end of 2024, rather than 2022. This will ensure that UK investors do the appropriate due diligence checks when investing in EU STS securitisations, and that these securitisations remain exempt from clearing requirements, to prevent unnecessary administrative burden. The amendments thus maintain the current requirements as long as the transitional arrangements last. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her lucid introduction. I refer to paragraph 7.26 of the Explanatory Memorandum. Will she tell us just how busy Gibraltar firms are? How many of them are there—that is, those that are
“acting as sellers, advisers or manufacturers of PRIIPs to retail investors in the UK”?
Gibraltar is a very small place. We might ask, with regard to the Explanatory Memorandum, what is going on in Gibraltar? There is a plethora of technical terms, a multitude of abbreviations in capital letters and specialist vocabulary, and it is all a blizzard of necessitous complexity, the House might agree. Of course, the Minister is a master of it all and, again, I thank her for her lucid introduction.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the introduction. It does not matter how many times I read these kinds of explanations about what is going on, I still find them totally incomprehensible and I doubt I am alone.
I have two very short questions. First, does this mean that for a period there was a lacuna when neither EU nor UK regulators held sway and Gibraltar was doing its own thing while having access to the UK as it always had done? If that was the case, did the Gibraltarian financial services authorities know? I cannot tell whether there was such a lacuna or not.
Secondly, on the temporary permissions relating to STS—I declare an interest as an erstwhile director of Prime Collateralised Securities ASBL, which looked over such things as STS to check them out—is this how it will be for ever? Will we extend this by another two years every two years? Does this happen until the UK regulators think they need a change and do something different? It seems to me that we did an awful lot of temporary permissions. I do not like to think that we will have to do them all over again every two years, because that will take an awful lot of parliamentary time. I would like to get a handle on whether this is the way of the future or whether there will be an end to these temporary permissions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this SI. It seems that she and I agree that it is really two SIs, covering Gibraltar and securitisation.
To take Gibraltar first, as far as I can tell, the SI simply clarifies the application of UK regulation to Gibraltar. The Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 set out a new list of high-risk third countries in relation to which enhanced due diligence requirements apply under the principal money laundering regulations. Gibraltar has been added and Malta removed; the changes apply from 12 July 2022. Will this SI assist Gibraltar in getting off the high-risk list? If so, how will the UK regulatory authorities be involved? I am trying to understand this; how different will the regulation of financial services firms in Gibraltar be from, for example, the regulation of a financial services firm in Birmingham?
The second part of this SI seems solely about extending the present transitional arrangements for a further two years. The clearest statement of this is in the de minimis assessment—I like the assessments, when I get round to reading them, because they tend to be written in easier language:
“This SI is required to address this misalignment of dates in order to prevent looser due diligence requirements for EU STS securitisations than UK ones. This SI will also prevent additional administrative burdens on firms which could arise from the absence of an exemption for EU STS securitisations from the clearing obligation. This instrument will help”—
I would quibble with that word—
“bridge this gap until a permanent framework for designating equivalent jurisdictions with regard to securitisation regimes is in effect and an assessment of the EU can be undertaken under it.”
Am I right in my precis? When and how will
“a permanent framework for designating equivalent jurisdictions”
My Lords, I apologise for speaking slightly out of order. As part of the European Union Committee, I took a great interest in the Gibraltarian situation. As the Minister will know, Gibraltar was not covered by the trade and co-operation agreement. At the moment, negotiations are still going on between the UK and the EU on Gibraltar’s status—I think we are on round nine. Can the Minister be clear on whether financial services are included in trying to reach a final agreement between the EU and the UK on Gibraltar and its relationship with the EU? If that is the case, will these SIs become redundant and be replaced by another regime completely? I would be interested to understand that from a strategic point of view.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. With this SI, the Government aim to remedy technical deficiencies identified in financial services legislation arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Nevertheless, a number of pertinent questions were asked.
To give the noble Lord, Lord Jones, a better picture of Gibraltarian firms operating in the UK and their involvement in our financial services sector, data from the Government of Gibraltar highlights that approximately 95% of Gibraltar’s financial services business is with the UK. From the other end of the telescope, around 29% of motor insurance policies in the UK—some 8.5 million—are provided by Gibraltar-based insurers. According to 2022 data from the FCA, over 100 Gibraltarian firms are operating in the UK, including insurance firms, banks, asset managers and e-money firms. The number of firms that might be affected by this SI is roughly 18, but in practice we think it will be fewer. Although there is large-scale involvement of Gibraltarian firms in UK financial services, the impact of this SI would be more limited.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether this SI will assist Gibraltar in getting off the high-risk list from the FATF. This statutory instrument will not have a direct bearing on Gibraltar’s status in that respect. The UK is a supportive and strong member of the FATF and the Government are committed to making the UK a hostile place for illicit finance and economic crime. We are also committed to supporting Gibraltar to achieve full implementation of the FATF standards by addressing the weaknesses in its regime to tackle illicit finance.
The noble Lord also asked how different the regulation of financial services firms in Gibraltar will be compared to the regulation of financial firms in the UK—for example, in Birmingham. As members of the EU, Gibraltar and the UK implemented the same EU rules on financial services, so we start from the same place. The current temporary regime maintains market access on that basis while we implement the new regime provided for in the Financial Services Act 2021. That will require alignment with UK law and practice. In effect, firms in Gibraltar and the UK will be subject to the same rules under the new system.
The same rules and the same regulators?
I will double-check that for the noble Lord. I believe so, but I would prefer to write and confirm it.
In the noble Lord’s precis, he asked whether this simply extends the status quo for two years. Yes, that is the correct interpretation of this SI. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked whether we are in a process of extending it in another two years, and then another two years after that. The Financial Services and Markets Bill, which has just finished Committee in the other place, has introduced a permanent equivalence regime to allow the Treasury to recognise STS-equivalent securitisations issued by firms in other countries. The temporary recognition of EU STS will help bridge the gap until we can undertake assessments under this new regime in the Bill currently going through. We have a plan and the legislation is passing; we fully expect that the extension to 2024 would be the last such extension and that we would have a new regime up and running by that point.
The noble Baroness asked about the regulation of these firms in the intervening period. I will write to her on that point to ensure that I do not get anything wrong, and I will also write to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his question. To reassure the noble Baroness, looking at the data in terms of the specific regulations in this area, about five Gibraltar firms could fall within the scope of the 0.1% reporting threshold in the short selling regulation, the SSR. We are giving the regulators here the power to change that threshold to align with the EU. It is a small number. No Gibraltar PRIIPs manufacturers operate in the UK, so the power we have to change the provisions there currently would not bite. Five Gibraltar firms in the UK are using branch passports under MiFIR. I know that does not directly answer the noble Baroness’s question, so I will write to her. However, to give a sense of the scale of the gap—if there was any such gap—we believe it to have been small.
Will the Minister ensure that all letters are copied to all participants?
I will ensure that all letters are copied to all participants in the debate and placed in the Library of the House.
Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Amendment) Order 2022
Motion to Approve
That the draft Order laid before the House on 17 October be approved.
My Lords, these SIs are a key part of the implementation of the Elections Act 2022, which your Lordships debated at some length earlier this year.
The Assistance with Voting for Persons with Disabilities (Amendments) Regulations 2022 are made in consequence of, or to make similar provision to, Section 9 of the Elections Act 2022. The intention of both Section 9 of the Act and these consequential regulations is to improve the support available to disabled voters at polling stations, and they do this in two ways. First, they replace the existing requirement to provide a single, prescribed device to assist blind and partially sighted voters with a broader, better requirement that returning officers provide equipment to assist a wider range of disabled voters to cast their vote independently. They also revoke reference to that device for UK parliamentary elections where its description is included in secondary legislation. Secondly, they replace the unnecessarily restrictive requirement that anyone assisting a disabled voter be either a close family member of that voter or an elector themselves with a requirement that the person assisting be 18 years or over. This will allow people to more easily get support to cast their vote where the person best placed to support them did not meet either of the two previous criteria.
These changes are made for UK parliamentary elections by the Elections Act 2022, and this instrument makes equivalent changes across a range of other polls, including most mayoral elections; local authority governance referendums and neighbourhood planning referendums in England; police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales; and MP recall petitions across the UK. The changes are being replicated at other polls, including English local elections, Greater London Authority elections and London mayoral elections, through separate secondary legislation following the negative procedure that will be laid before the House in due course. These instruments are essential in ensuring that the improvements to support for disabled voters in the polling station introduced by the Elections Act are applied consistently across all polls reserved to the UK Government.
The Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Amendment) Order 2022 has two purposes. First, it amends the spending rules for police and crime commissioner elections for England and Wales to replicate amendments made by the Elections Act 2022. These changes will bring much-needed clarity to candidates and their agents that they need to report benefits in kind—that is, property, goods, services or facilities which are provided for the use or benefit of the candidate at a discount or for free—which they have actually used, or which they or their election agents have directed, authorised or encouraged someone else to use on their behalf. In combination with expanded statutory guidance from the Electoral Commission, which is provided for by the order, this will support compliance with the rules and ensure those wishing to participate in public life can feel confident doing so, clear in their legal obligations.
Secondly, it inserts two additional welfare benefits into the list of qualifying benefits for proxy voting applications for police and crime commissioner elections. This will ensure that disabled people in receipt of new welfare benefits in Scotland who have recently moved from Scotland would be able to make a proxy vote application at a PCC election, without the need for it to be attested, while a decision is pending on the equivalent welfare benefit in the jurisdiction where they now reside. To give an example, if a disabled person who has been living in Scotland and is in receipt of an enhanced rate of new adult disability benefit has recently moved to a local authority in England and wishes to apply for an emergency proxy vote at a PCC election, the proxy vote application will not need to be attested by another authorised person, because the Scottish welfare benefit will be payable for 13 weeks from the time of their move. This means that the applicant for a proxy vote for a PCC election would be on the same footing as a person in receipt of the equivalent benefit in England for that period until they apply for the equivalent benefit in England and Wales.
It is vitally important that these rules also be updated in relation to police and crime commissioner elections to ensure consistency and fairness across the law, that candidates and election agents can discharge their responsibilities with confidence, and that disabled electors get the support they need at UK elections. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her authoritative introduction. In terms of the context of our consideration, can the Minister give a breakdown of the affiliations—political or none—of the PCCs in England and Wales? Again, for context, looking at paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, does the Minister have data concerning average PCC election expenses based on the last and previous rounds of elections? It would be interesting to be told the lowest and highest moneys expended in those two PCC elections. I do not ask the Minister from whence these moneys came—that really would be interesting.
For a better body politic, what is the Minister doing to try to ensure more interest in PCC elections? How might the citizen elector be persuaded to rate these elections to be of greater importance? What is being done to ensure greater participation? Is it not time to set up a major study of the concept of police and crime commissioners? What has been their success? How can their proceedings be improved? What of the quality of the candidates, and what of their backgrounds? Does the Home Office consult with the Welsh Assembly, the Senedd? Is there a sharing of information and opinion? Do Ministers from those two Parliaments meet? Is it an England and Wales order? It is. Were there consultations between England and Wales ahead of drafting? What kind of consultation was there? Was it ministerial, by officials, or simply by the net?
Lastly, perhaps I might persuade the Minister to consider a visit to north Wales. Our North Wales Police authority is very good. The chief constable and her board work very well alongside the federation and the PCC. I think that that visit would be helpful in providing ministerial insight into Wales and her workings. The police authority in north Wales is an excellent, exemplary organisation. Finally, I commend Mr Andrew Dunbobbin, the PCC. He is a serious and committed citizen, hoping to help things along.
My Lords, I will make a couple of comments and ask a question about the SI on assistance with voting for persons with disabilities. I declare an interest as someone with a disability.
First, I very much welcome the approach. I have turned up at a polling station in a church only to discover that the place for my part of the ward had been moved to the nave, up two steps. I was offered the chance to fill in my ballot paper on the edge of a pew in the middle of the area—much improvement needed. I have to say that the local authority concerned was very apologetic and has since moved a large number of its polling stations.
The whole balance between the new SI and the Electoral Commission’s statutory guidance for returning officers is what is going to make this work. The burden on returning officers seems to have changed from being highly specific—and, in some cases, as with the tactile voting devices, inappropriate and no longer necessary—to being entirely reliant on the training of returning officers and their key staff and the staff present at polling stations on the day. I have talked to people with a range of disabilities, including a family member with visual impairment that has got considerably worse over the years. The draft statutory guidance suggests that all staff should be able to guide people with a wide range of different disabilities, which would require quite considerable training.
I notice that this will be reviewed within five years. It might be helpful to have a review before then because I suspect we are going to find quite a lot of patchy performance, not just between local authorities but between individual polling stations, because we are asking for a large amount of expertise from people who have not had to have the responsibility for that in the past.
My Lords, I will start with the police and crime commissioner SI. This is a sensible change to the legislation as it brings the legal requirements for so-called notional expenditure in line with the Elections Act 2022. Consistency of regulations across all public elections is important, hence our support for this change. However, notional expenditure is a perennial concern for election agents as it is not one over which they have direct responsibility but they are legally responsible for it.
The Electoral Commission guidance will be important in clarifying the rules on expenditure. Can the Minister explain how an election agent or a candidate can be responsible for notional expenditure by a third party which exceeds election spending limits when reported? I look forward to her reply.
I turn to assistance with voting for persons with disabilities. The Electoral Commission has been consulting with people with disabilities about their experience of trying to vote on the day. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Brinton about her experience. The changes proposed in the SI will go some way to making voting accessible for those with disabilities. That must be wholly positive.
The Explanatory Memorandum says:
“There is … no significant … impact on the public sector.”
Can the Minister explain what is meant by “assistive equipment”, which election officers will have to provide in every polling station? What will the cost of that equipment be? There are 188 polling stations in Kirklees, for example, so additional costs can soon mount up. Will the Government be compensating councils under the additional burdens agreement? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
Can the Minister explain why adults who accompany people with disabilities are not expected to show their ID as an additional security check, rather than completing one of the forms drafted in the papers with this SI? As the Minister will know, the demand for voter ID at polling stations will lead many more to opt for postal voting. What improvements will be put in place to enable people with disabilities or with little English to use a postal vote according to the requirements of the Ballot Act 1872? I look forward to the Minister’s replies.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for her thorough introduction of these two instruments.
I will look first at the police and crime commissioner elections order. I know that it is out of scope of the SI, but my noble friend Lord Jones made an important point when he talked about how we really need to look at increasing participation in these elections. They have terribly low turnouts and that is not good for democracy.
As we have heard, the order relates to benefits in kind, referred to as “notional expenditure”, that are given to PCCs. In July 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no requirement that these benefits must be authorised by the candidate or the election agent. That is why concerns arose, which we discussed at some length during the passage of what became the Elections Act: people were concerned that they could be liable for expenses without even being aware that they had been incurred.
We support that this is clarifying what happens now in law around notional expenditure and that this is being replicated for PCCs’ elections. We believe it was right to tidy up the law in relation to notional expenditure in the Elections Act and we supported that during the passage of the Act. But I remind the Minister that I tabled an amendment to the Bill which stated:
“The Secretary of State must publish new guidance to candidates on notional expenditure within the period of 12 months”.
Can the Minister reassure the House that there will be guidance to candidates and their agents on this matter?
I turn to the second instrument, on assistance with voting for persons with disabilities. Again, this implements changes made by the Elections Act 2022, which we discussed earlier this year. One of the things that we looked at in some detail was removing the specific requirement for polling stations to offer tactile voting devices and replacing it with a fairly vague duty for workers at polling stations to support voters with often a wide range of disabilities. It is also worth noting that the RNIB did not think that tactile voting devices were enough and that more needed to be done. So there is much in this to commend.
One thing that came across very strongly in our debates on the Elections Bill was that blind and partially sighted people experience a unique set of challenges when voting. Obviously, voting is fundamentally a visual exercise. Some noble Lords expressed concern about the way this might be implemented and resourced. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, clearly explained those concerns just now.
I say to the Minister that along with others, we will be keeping an interest in this to make sure that returning officers continue to make voting accessible for everybody, regardless of their disability and at every polling station. It might therefore be helpful if the Government could indicate that they too will be monitoring the issue to ensure that the changes being made proceed as intended. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, a review in five years is a long way off when you have a fundamental change to how people with disabilities will be able to vote. At the end of the day, all we want here—I am sure the Government are in the same place—is for blind and partially sighted voters in particular to be able to exercise their democratic right confidently and independently.
I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions. I will try to answer all the questions, but I may not give your Lordships a complete answer, so I will read Hansard tomorrow and make sure that, if any have not been answered, I will do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Jones, went slightly off the SIs, but I understand why. It has been almost 10 years since the PCCs were introduced in 2012, and it is always right that the Government take a step back and review the model and their role on a continual basis. The Government were clear in their 2019 manifesto that they would strengthen the accountability of elected PCCs and expand their role, and a two-part internal review into the role of PCCs was established by the then Home Secretary. This has provided an opportunity to look more closely at how the Government can strengthen that accountability but also the resilience, the legitimacy and the scrutiny of democratically elected PCCs, because we want to ensure that the record of those PCCs is more visible to the voting public. This comes to the noble Lord’s questions about why the people of this country are not really interested in this, and why the election numbers are down. If we can make PCCs more visible, I hope we can increase the public vote and drive up standards.
One of the other things that needs to be done is clarification for the public of the relationship between a chief constable and a PCC, because they need to know that in order to know who to go to, and then they have the right checks and balances. So the Home Office is doing work on this. I think that is probably enough on that.
The noble Lord asked a number of quite detailed questions about the breakdown of spending; I will write to him with the answers.
With regard to visiting Wales, that is a very kind invitation but I will leave it to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who I believe is going to Wales tomorrow. She goes regularly, and I am sure that she would love to meet some PCCs in Wales.
I move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. As she knows, it can be difficult to access polling stations, particularly in rural areas, but this of course is the responsibility of electoral officers. I do think they are getting better at it, and this Act and the changes that are being made, and the fact that the Electoral Commission now has to take more notice of what is being said and give more guidance to electoral officers about this, mean that things will change even more for the better.
In addition, particularly for those people who have sight difficulties, the work that the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Holmes, have done through the Act to give different polling stations the flexibility to find the best way to enable blind and visually impaired people to vote in a proper way has been fantastic. They are not in their places, but I thank them for the work that they have done on that.
On training, I am sure that the commission will be helping local electoral officers with that. There is indeed a five-year review, which the Electoral Commission is required to undertake and to report the steps taken by returning officers. However, because this is not the way the commission works, I do not expect that it will wait for five years to do it. I am sure that it will keep a rolling view on it, because that is the way that it works, and it is important that that happens.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on costs, the Government will provide new-burdens funding for the implementations of the Election Act, ensuring that local authorities have the necessary resources to implement these new measures while continuing to deliver our elections robustly and securely, which is really important. So there should be no problem with resourcing.
The precise funding requirement for equipment for disabled voters is being considered in conjunction with the Electoral Commission’s guidance for returning officers—so it is being worked on, but the new-burdens funding should cover that.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, also brought up the issue of third-party campaigning, which I know was a big issue when it came up during the passage of the Bill. It is important to note that Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and Article 34 of the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012 already