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Lords Chamber

Volume 826: debated on Wednesday 21 December 2022

House of Lords

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Oaths and Affirmations

Lord Finkelstein took the oath.

Traffic-related Air Pollution


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce exposure to traffic-related air pollution, given its links to a range of health risks including cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurological health conditions.

My Lords, air pollution in the UK has reduced significantly since 2010, but the Government recognise that there is more to do to achieve our air quality goals. For this purpose, we have set ambitious emissions-reduction targets for key pollutants by 2030, and have provided generous funding of over £883 million to local authorities to improve air quality.

The Royal College of Physicians wrote to the noble Lord’s ministry, Defra, requiring targets for a reduction in the amount of PM2.5, the tiny particles that cross the lung barrier and do the most harm. Can he respond to that? Can he also respond to research by the University of Surrey, the University of Warwick, the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society showing that hedges can reduce pollution at breathing height? Their effectiveness has been shown in studies by a policy of planting hedges along main roads, particularly near schools. This is an evidence-based, cheap and effective way to combat serious damage to health by air pollution.

The noble Lord cites absolutely correct evidence about the power of the natural world to improve our lives, including by cleaning our air, and trying to get more trees and hedgerows planted close to where people live will certainly affect that. He makes an important point about PM2.5, which is most damaging to health. Under our innovative population exposure reduction target, we will drive improvement even where concentration targets have already been achieved. As a result, people’s exposure to PM2.5 will be cut by over a third by 2040, on average, compared to 2018 levels.

My Lords, the Government’s own watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, said that the Government’s proposed PM2.5 air pollution targets are “unambitious” and

“lack sufficient urgency to reflect the scale of change needed”.

What message does that send to the one in five people in the UK living with respiratory conditions?

The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that our ambitious targets under the Environment Act will be set out under the environmental improvement plan, which will include really stretching targets on the most damaging pollutants. There has been a good news story in the last decade about how we have reduced them, but that is not enough, and she is right to say that this still affects the health and life chances of many people, particularly some in deprived areas. This is about making sure that local authorities have the funds necessary to introduce schemes, and about having stretching national targets that will be respected around the world.

My Lords, many of the measures to combat dirty air require international collaboration to make them effective on supply chains and measures in areas such as energy and transport. What are the Government doing to encourage international collaboration?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that pollutants blow in from abroad, and we have to work with our neighbours to ensure that an outcome to that issue is achieved. I have just come back from Montreal, where we have negotiated a landmark international agreement which will, if properly implemented, have effects on people right across the world and improve the ability of nature to protect us and our health.

My Lords, one of the options in setting standards for the rest of the world is to enact them here. As the Minister knows, my Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill has just completed its passage through your Lordships’ House and has gone to the other place. Will he recommend it to his Defra colleagues as a much more ambitious and achievable piece of policy on clean air that they could take up immediately?

The noble Baroness’s ambitions in the Bill are understood and supported by the Government, but it needs to be seen in conjunction with what we are doing with our commitment through the 25-year environment plan, how we will implement that through the Environment Act, and the targets that we have announced which will be put in the environmental improvement plan. We are also working with local authorities and trying to get industry to innovate, and we have created stretching targets for our vehicle industry by moving to electric vehicles. That all needs to be brought together in a holistic government action which will improve people’s health.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that trees play an important role in improving environmental health? When might we expect the environmental improvement plan to be published? Ash dieback has had a devasting effect on many ash trees in areas owned by local councils, so has he made an estimate of the cost of removing ash trees damaged by dieback in our hedgerows and grasslands owned by local authorities?

I do not have a figure with which to answer my noble friend, but she is absolutely right to point out the value of trees. We have stretching targets for new woodland planting, which not only will help to reverse the declines in biodiversity and to lock up more carbon but will improve people’s health through both the air they breathe and the quality of their lives. We want to ensure that this is understood, not just by land managers but by local authorities and government departments which own a large amount of land. We want to ensure that everybody is part of the great national effort to improve our biodiversity and quality of life.

My Lords, in June the National Audit Office released a report on tackling local breaches of air quality. One of its conclusions was that the Government publish a lot of air quality data, but not in a way that gives the public accessible information about air quality problems and action in their area. It said:

“There has been little public engagement … and … a lack of transparency”.

What progress have the Government made to address those issues?

We are driving down emissions across all sectors in the economy, including through the nitrogen dioxide plan, which has seen emissions from road transport decrease over 52% in the last decade, and the environmental permitting of agriculture and industry, which has seen sulphur dioxide emissions from energy production decrease 87% over the last decade, and by regulating the most harmful fuels in domestic burning to reduce emissions by 2030. That is what we are achieving. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need to help people to make decisions about their lives, so part of our support for local authorities is to help the whole health disparity problem by making sure that people have more information about how they can minimise the impact of poor air quality in their lives. Some people cannot do that—for example, you cannot expect people to move away from traffic hotspots—so the driver is to try to reduce poor air quality and to improve the lives of those people. Trying to ensure that we are limiting those issues is an absolutely core part of the national policy.

My Lords, can the Minister comment on the relationship with the department of health? I am firmly convinced that there would be significant cost efficiency for the health service if air quality was improved more rapidly in inner cities.

We are planning to publish a revised national air quality strategy early next year, the key focus of which will be identifying and addressing air pollution disparities, as I have just referred to. We could not do that without working very closely with the Department of Health and Social Care. Addressing air quality-related health disparities will be absolutely key for our levelling-up ambitions, so it is not just an issue for Defra and the department of health but a cross-government initiative.

My Lords, the environment targets were published last Friday. The pollution target for PM2.5 of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040 is underwhelming. The World Health Organization guideline for PM2.5 is to reach that target by 2030. The CBI estimates that following the World Health Organization’s guidelines could deliver an annual economic boost of £1.6 billion per annum by reducing deaths and sickness absences caused by air pollution. Why are the Government dragging their feet on that matter?

My Lords, the Government are not dragging their feet; it is an absolute priority, as the noble Baroness will see when we publish our environmental improvement plan. On the point about World Health Organization guidelines, we have taken significant steps to improve air quality since it originally raised concerns. It said that our 2019 clean air strategy was an example for the rest of the world to follow, so we are heading in the right direction.

Electricity: Decarbonisation


Tabled by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the achievability of their target to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035.

My Lords, on behalf of my friend the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are confident that the policies and programmes set out in the net-zero strategy and the British energy security strategy will deliver our ambition to decarbonise electricity generation in line with net zero while enhancing security of supply and keeping energy affordable.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and will now read the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. The fundamental problem is that we are not building anywhere near enough low-carbon energy capacity or grid infrastructure to allow us to meet the 2035 target. One of the priority recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s 2022 progress report is that we need a delivery plan to provide visibility and confidence for private sector investors to reduce costs and to build up supply chains. There is a key gap here, in comparison with other sectors, because, while we have the heat and building strategy and the transport decarbonisation plan, we do not have a plan for electricity decarbonisation, despite it being so important as an enabler for those other plans. Does the Minister agree that it needs urgently to be brought forward?

We will be setting out further plans on the matter in due course. I remind the noble Baroness that, during 2021, almost 55% of electricity generated in the UK came from low-carbon sources. We have an ambitious target of rolling out 50 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, and we have an excellent record in this area.

Have the Government thought further about small modular nuclear reactors, which could come online much sooner than the EPR nuclear reactor proposed for Sizewell? Moreover, SMRs could have significant export potential if they were to materialise in good time.

The noble Viscount is absolutely right—SMR technology is something that we are supporting. We have given hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of support to Rolls-Royce, which is looking actively at how it can roll that out. It has great potential for the future, both in this country and in its export capacity.

Germany and France use compulsion to ensure that large buildings and building complexes such as car parks, industrial estates and retail parks install solar panels on their huge roofs. I do not think that we want compulsion in this country, but can the Minister assure the House that the department has a policy to ensure that this incredibly valuable opportunity to help save the planet is actually used across the nation, perhaps with incentives such as feed-in tariffs or grants?

I remind the noble Baroness that we have the smart export guarantee scheme to encourage precisely that. The good news is that we have already 14 gigawatts of solar installed capacity in the UK and a fourth CfD allocation round for another 2 gigawatts of ground-mounted solar awarded contracts. The Chancellor recently removed VAT on solar panels, and on solar panel and storage packages. We are doing a lot in this area. Solar is a cheap and versatile source of power, which we should encourage.

My Lords, to have a strategy for decarbonising electricity, the Government have to be able to say what will make up the supply when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. I have looked high and low, but I have not found a strategy that will set that out, be it through the use of batteries or hydraulic pumps. I have not found a document that sets out the Government’s strategy for meeting that intermittency. Can my noble friend help me by pointing to one?

We have a number of energy strategies, including the energy security strategy and the net zero strategy. As I said, we will set out further plans in this area. My noble friend is right that intermittency is a problem, but I remind him that we have just invested more than £600 million in a new nuclear power station at Sizewell, and abated gas power will also be available.

My Lords, before asking my question, I first congratulate the Minister on the Government’s recent announcement earlier this month that the Government are proposing to offer guaranteed prices via contracts for difference for wave power, to enable this important technology to get off the ground. Perhaps that is a small answer to the question from by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. Can the Minister say more about government support for energy generated by community enterprises, including via the Procurement Bill?

I thank the noble Baroness for her support. She is right in that we allocated CfD support of 40 megawatts of wave and tidal stream power in the last CfD round. We want to encourage community energy and we will do all that we can, working with Ofgem, to make sure that it is supported, because it is an important form of generation that we want to secure.

My Lords, by 2035, we shall need a lot more electricity to power the growth in both EVs and heat pumps installed in homes and buildings. As a multiple of current demand for electricity, could the Minister tell us what is the Government’s forecast of demand in 2035?

The noble Lord is right that we will need a lot more electricity both for EVs and for the electrification of heat. I cannot give him an exact figure at this stage—it depends on a number of different factors, not least of which is the success of our demand reduction policies.

My Lords, another barrier to the delivery of net zero was the disappointing announcement on 14 December on the green taxonomy. Unlike the answer given by our noble friend Lady Penn on 3 November in this House, it suggested that the work might be delayed or even cancelled. Does my noble friend not agree that taxonomy of sustainable business services could help the financial services industry to identify appropriate activities to support decarbonisation of the power sector and move us to net zero?

The noble Baroness is right that green taxonomy is an important component. She will also be aware that the work is being taken forward by the Treasury, with support from BEIS and Defra. I think it is fair to say that it has a mixed record in other parts of the world, but it is certainly something that we are looking at closely.

My Lords, just to bring us back to the core issue, in its progress report in June the Climate Change Committee highlighted several risks that remain in meeting the emissions reductions required by 2035—particularly highlighting how supply-side focused the Government’s energy security strategy was. The Minister said earlier that plans would be brought forward in due course, but can he tell us when the Government will finally deliver the energy efficiency improvements necessary to reduce demand for fossil fuels to achieve net zero and to cut the energy bills that consumers are currently struggling with?

The noble Lord is right—energy efficiency is extremely important, which is why we are spending £6.6 billion this Parliament on various energy efficiency strategies. The Chancellor in his Budget announced another £6 billion from 2025 for energy efficiency projects. We have an ambitious target; a new task force is being set up to deliver a 15% reduction by 2030.

My Lords, the Minister has already mentioned the support that the Government have given to Rolls-Royce in developing the small modular reactor. What plans do the Government have to assist Rolls-Royce to move this exciting British technology towards domestic delivery?

As the noble Lord said, we are supporting it. It has exciting potential, but it is in the very early stages at the moment. The designs are still being approved, but we will want to ensure that appropriate support is given to roll it out domestically—and then there is its tremendous export potential as well.

My Lords, on Monday in Grand Committee, on day 5 of the Energy Bill, the Minister said, in defence of the Government’s stonewalling of support for community energy, that these schemes rely on people subsidising uncompetitive forms of energy. That is rich, coming from a Government who, for example, have made communities pay more for their energy as a consequence of their seven-year ban on onshore wind, and are presiding over bizarre Ofgem connection policies that leave ready-to-go renewable installations unconnected for long periods.

Could I ask the Minister what estimate his Government or department have made of the additional costs to communities of their inefficient energy policies?

Iran: Women’s Rights


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support women in Iran fighting for basic human rights; and what representations they have made to the government of that country in relation to mass arrests of those demonstrating for such rights.

My Lords, the bravery shown by the women of Iran is nothing short of remarkable. This Government stand with them as they demand a better future. We have already worked with partners to remove Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on 14 December. We have helped to secure a Human Rights Council resolution to investigate the crackdown on protestors on 24 November, and we have announced three rounds of sanctions since October on individuals involved in the arrest, detention and sentencing of protestors, most recently on 9 December. Our position is absolutely clear: we will continue to hold the Iranian Government to account for their continued repression of women and girls and for the shocking violence that they have inflicted on their own citizens and people.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer. Since the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, atrocities in Iran continue, as we all know. I agree with the Minister that the courage of our Iranian sisters continues to call us to action. On Monday, Female Voice of Iran visited us in Parliament to lobby for further sanctions against Iran, for the proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation, and for the UK to join France, Germany and Canada in supporting the Iranian freedom movement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, states that all human beings—not just men—

“are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

It guarantees freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. What are the UK Government going to do further to ensure that Iran upholds these rights in current protests?

My Lords, I welcome both the noble Baroness’s question and her engagement directly with the FCDO. I look forward to further engagement on this and other issues. I assure her that we continue to—I cannot speculate on future sanctions but, as I indicated earlier, there have been three tranches from October to December. We are also working with our key international partners. It is of course important that, ultimately, the future destiny of Iran is decided by its own citizens and people. What is very clear, with every passing day—every passing hour—is that the legitimacy of the current Government is being lost. They are suppressing their own citizens; that has to stop—and stop now.

My Lords, the jailing this week in the notorious Evin prison of the courageous Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti underlined the insatiable appetite of the theocratic regime for imprisonment, gender-based violence, torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and execution. Does not this amount to crimes against humanity? At this critical time, what can the noble Lord tell us about the continuation of the BBC Persian radio service following warnings this week from Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, about the targeting of individuals in the United Kingdom who have criticised the state or supported the protests? Will he ensure the protection of pro-democracy Iranians in the United Kingdom and that it is given new urgency?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of important points. Of course, on the key point of the safety and security of people who are in the United Kingdom, including institutions and organisations, the Government are working directly with our own security and police to ensure that safety and security are guaranteed. If there are specific issues that are raised directly with the noble Lord on ensuring the safety and security of an individual or organisation, I would urge him to raise it with me directly.

My Lords, what specific engagement have we had with British Iranians who, despite the lockdown on social media and communications, have direct links with family and friends in Iran and are therefore receiving updates in a way that perhaps even the Government are not? Will my noble friend consider discussing with his colleagues from the Home Office the potential for a legal route to asylum for those suffering the most extreme violence and persecution, especially those for whom people in the United Kingdom would be prepared to open up their homes?

My Lords, my noble friend raises two very important points. Of course, we are looking to engage directly with communities and representatives here who represent Iranian interests, including NGOs. Again, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I would welcome any recommendations on specifics that my noble friend has from her own insight and experience. Our focus at the FCDO has been on international action. I was myself at the UN—I returned on Friday—specifically in relation to the work that we were doing on the CSW. It was very clear there that there was no support for Iran from the majority of countries; there were abstentions and only a handful of countries voted to keep Iran on. On the second point, we have always been a country that has provided safe refuge and sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. Again, safe routes and safe passages for such sanctuary is clearly the Government’s intent.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s efforts at the United Nations, particularly at ECOSOC and its Commission on the Status of Women. I know that we are working with allies and amplifying the voices of international communities, but one thing that I have raised with the Minister before is the important question of how we are supporting those voices of civil society—particularly faith groups—who can condemn this action, so that it is not just simply seen as a western response but a community response to defend women’s rights?

I totally agree with the noble Lord and I assure him that we are talking directly both with individuals and with organisations. Indeed, I have asked to meet with senior leaders of different faith groups here, particularly those who have representation in Iran. It is important that the Iranian Government understand very clearly that none of the approaches that they have adopted currently—whether on the JCPOA, their support for drones in Ukraine or the continued suppression of their own citizens—opens up any avenue for effective and constructive discussion. I continue to engage with different groups and I think that faith groups, particularly those which look towards or operate in Iran, have an important role to play.

My Lords, I support strongly the Minister’s diplomatic work at the UN that he has just referred to. However, there have been concerns about the ending of programmes that support women in the political, civic and human rights space. That concern was tempered in February when the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, replied to me, saying that

“the Foreign Secretary has been clear that we are restoring funding to women and girls.”—[Official Report, 28/2/22; col. 541.]

In November, the Minister was unable to confirm to me that that was the case. Through no fault of his own, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, was not able to clarify that point in our debate on development last week. Can the Minister be very clear: is that promise—made to me in this Chamber—that funding for women and girls is being restored being upheld or will the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, have to come back to this Chamber to correct the record?

My Lords, the Government have been clear on this. There are some final discussions to take place—which is why my noble friend Lord Younger, or indeed I, was not clear on that—but, once these figures are finalised, we will of course share them with your Lordships’ House. On the point about my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, he was very clear about the importance that we attach to girls’ education, women’s rights and humanitarian support; at a time of great challenge to the ODA budget, they will remain key priorities for His Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, this is a brutal and corrupt dictatorship that terrorises its people, slaughters protesters, enslaves women, hangs gay men from cranes, sponsors terrorism around the region and here in Europe and is developing nuclear weapons to attack Israel. Can the Minister tell us why the Government have not already proscribed the IRGC? I urge the Minister and the Government to impose much tougher sanctions on the dictatorship’s leadership, so that we can bring this brutal regime to its knees and free the poor people of Iran.

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord’s opening remarks. It is for all those reasons that we have taken a very tough stance on sanctions, including on individuals and the organisation of the IRGC since 2019. The noble Lord knows that the issue of proscription is something that I cannot speculate on, but I can assure him that both I and my noble friend on the Front Bench for the Home Office—both departments—are very seized and aware of the strong sentiments that both Houses, parliamentarians and indeed the public hold on this issue.

My Lords, we all applaud the brave women and men fighting for the rights of women in Iran against an autocratic regime that sees women as lesser beings with, as a former Ayatollah put it, only half the brain size of a man. While the expulsion of Iran from a UN committee on women is welcome, does the Minister agree that a more powerful condemnation would come from Muslim leaders stating that the behaviour of the Iranian regime is rooted in perverse and dated culture and has nothing to do with the ethical teachings of Islam?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. While I am not a Muslim leader, I am a Minister who happens to be Muslim and I totally and utterly condemn the suppression of women, not just in Iran but anywhere in the world. Women have a pivotal role to play in any society in any country. The evidence is there: where women play a central and pivotal role, societies prosper and countries continue to progress. Iran needs to change its direction now, not just because of what it is doing to its citizens but because its own religion that it claims to follow tells it to do just that.

Police: Appointments in PCC Offices


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce legislation to prevent police officers facing serious misconduct proceedings being appointed to senior posts in the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners.

My Lords, police and crime commissioners are required by legislation to seek the views of their police and crime panel when appointing to senior positions in their office. The ultimate decision on appointment lies with the PCC as the directly elected local representative for policing. Former police officers or police staff members who have been dismissed and placed on the barred list are prevented from being employed or appointed by a PCC.

My Lords, what kind of system is it that permits a disgraced policeman awaiting a serious misconduct hearing to oversee the work of a police chief constable with an unspotted record? What kind of system is it that permits a police and crime commissioner to announce a serious misconduct hearing and then delay it indefinitely, even though the law requires it to start within 100 days, saying recently, and utterly bizarrely:

“It is complicated, it is interwoven with other things and there is order of things I cannot supersede”?

Is not a system that permits all this a gravely defective system? Is it not scandalous that the Government have done nothing to fix the defects, despite repeated calls from across the House, with the Home Secretary even refusing to discuss these matters with a small cross-party group?

My Lords, no, I do not believe that is the case. I will defend the system. On the second part of my noble friend’s question, arrangements concerning the establishment of a misconduct hearing are a matter for PCCs, and the management of the hearing itself is the responsibility of the independent legally qualified chairs. Legally qualified chairs must commence a hearing within 100 days of an officer being provided a notice referring them to proceedings, but may extend this period where they consider it in the interests of justice to do so. Decisions made within a hearing are done independently of PCCs as well as government. I think that answers the second part of my noble friend’s question.

My Lords, while I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, would not the best course be to revisit the Nolan principles—which I, with others, was charged by Prime Minister John Major with drawing up proposals to implement—so that anyone who falls below those more comprehensive standards would be barred from any public office?

My Lords, I take the noble and learned Lord’s point, and I agree: the Nolan principles should always be observed.

My Lords, this Chamber has already decided that policemen facing charges should not escape those charges by resignation. Yet here we have a case of a new PCC appointing someone who is under investigation, and that investigation, as we have heard, has been delayed, in order to hold to account the chief constable. This just cannot stand. If you are appointed as a person to hold a chief constable to account and you yourself are under a sanction of gross misconduct to be heard, surely the Minister must agree that there should be regulations to avoid that circumstance. So, can he tell us what regulations are now going to be put in place in order to make sure this circumstance does not arise?

My Lords, the regulations already exist. In line with the provisions set out in Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must follow the process set out: namely, they must notify the Police and Crime Panel of their proposed senior appointment. The panel must then hold a confirmation hearing and produce a report and recommendation regarding whether it supports the proposed senior appointment. The PCP must do so within three weeks of receiving notification from the PCC of the proposed appointment. This is all set out in statute, so the regulations already exist.

My Lords, in light of the recent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, when she revealed the six-stage process governing disciplinary actions against police officers—I was shocked—should not the process be revisited in the way she and others are now suggesting? How can there be confidence in systems that protect rogue police officers, and their pensions, delay justice with prolonged processes, offer extended leave and rewards—[Inaudible]—Mike Veale, with further appointments? The Daily Mail should be thanked for its excellent reporting of these matters.

My Lords, it might help if I go into detail on the barred and advisory lists. Since December 2017, any officer, special constable or member of police staff dismissed is placed on the police barred list, preventing them rejoining policing in the future, and that includes PCC offices. Any officer who retires or resigns during a gross misconduct investigation, or before an allegation comes to light, is placed on the police advisory list. PCCs must consult the advisory list before appointing an individual, although inclusion on the list does not necessarily preclude employment. It will be for the PCC to assess.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, illustrate starkly the dysfunctionality of a police service that still consists of 43 territorial police forces, and that it is high time the service be restructured—for example, along the lines of the much more limited number of counterterrorism police services, which work very well across the existing boundaries?

The noble Lord makes some very good points, but they are slightly above my pay grade, as I am sure he will appreciate. There are 39 PCCs across England and Wales, with three mayors exercising similar functions; the City of London Police has separate set of rules and regs. In the main and for the most part, most of those people are doing a superb job and are held accountable by the public who elect them.

I advise my noble friend that I was the Minister who put police and crime commissioners on to the statute book in this House, opposed by all the Benches opposite at the time. I ask a question that has been asked previously in courts around the country: is this what Parliament intended? I do not think that Parliament ever did intend the current problem, clearly identified by my noble friend Lord Lexden, to occur, and I advise my noble friend the Minister to do all he can to ensure that a cross-party meeting takes place as soon as possible.

I thank my noble friend for her perspective. Of course, I will take those points back, but I will again robustly defend the process that she put in place: I think it is working.

My Lords, the Government cannot continue to sit on the sidelines on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has repeatedly raised his concerns and the Government have chosen to sit on their hands. The Minister said that the regulations exist and are being followed, but is he satisfied with them? The current situation undermines the police in Leicestershire and the position of PCCs in general. Does he think the regulations need to be changed?

I certainly agree with the noble Lord that the current set of circumstances surrounding this individual case are absolutely disturbing. However, the regulations are still being followed and it would be entirely inappropriate of me to comment on an individual case.

My Lords, that is a very good question indeed. As I have said, confirmation hearings must be held in public and then, as the directly elected local representative for policing, it is for the PCCs to make decisions about senior appointments to their offices. As I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, ultimately PCCs are directly elected by the communities they serve and it is the public who will ultimately hold them to account for the decisions they take.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register regarding policing. This is one of the very rare situations where we have created someone who has a singular series of powers—on their own—and there is no mechanism, apart from one election every four years, to hold them to account during their term of office. Are the Government going to address that?

I imagine that the intent behind the noble Lord’s question is to ask whether we have any plans for a recall mechanism, for example. The honest answer to that is no. However, part two of the PCC review assessed the benefits and disbenefits of introducing such a mechanism, and the estimated average cost of a recall for PCCs was very significant and would require the creation of a bespoke national body. It remains for the electors to make their decisions.

My Lords, my noble friend made mention of misconduct and the barred list. The Home Office holds a number of barred lists, so can he reassure your Lordships’ House that the people on the list in question are compared with those who are barred, for instance, from working with vulnerable people or with children, so that they are not going to slip into other professions? There should be a cross-referencing look at people who are barred from certain professions due to their misconduct.

National Security Bill

Committee (2nd Day)

Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Constitution Committee, 20th and 21st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Amendment 37A

Moved by

37A: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—

“Treason: aiding a hostile foreign power(1) A person commits an offence if the person engages in conduct falling within subsection (2), with the intention to aid—(a) an attack on the United Kingdom by any foreign power,(b) any foreign power that intends to attack the United Kingdom or is engaged in a process of planning or preparing for an attack on the United Kingdom, or(c) any foreign power with whom the United Kingdom is engaged in armed conflict.(2) A person engages in conduct falling within this subsection if the person does any act that is designed to—(a) help carry out an attack or facilitate the carrying out of an attack on the United Kingdom,(b) help the planning of or preparation for an attack on the United Kingdom,(c) aid the military or intelligence operations of a foreign power falling within subsection (1),(d) impede the operations of His Majesty’s forces,(e) prejudice the security and defence of the United Kingdom, or(f) endanger life.(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section must be sentenced to imprisonment for life unless, given the circumstances of the offence and the offender, a sentence of imprisonment for life would be manifestly unjust.”

My Lords, Amendment 37A on treason and aiding a foreign power is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who is extremely frustrated that he cannot be here today.

This is an excellent Bill. It is clear from the proceedings in this Chamber that it is welcomed, and I very much echo those sentiments. However, I have moved this amendment because I believe that there is a significant gap in the legislation. An important signal to the British public is needed in an era of hybrid warfare and mass migration. These points were very well made in the Policy Exchange publication Aiding the Enemy, authored by Professor Richard Ekins and current Home Office Minister Tom Tugendhat, with a foreword by my friend the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.

We are living in an age of rising great power competition. As noted in the proceedings on this Bill, hostile states such as China and Russia are actively looking to suborn our nationals into actions that undermine our national security. As it stands, the law of treason applies only to international armed conflicts. That is where the gap is. The law of treason should pick out and condemn people who betray the UK where preparations for international armed conflict are being made or where attacks on the UK, such as cyberattacks, may fall short of the threshold required for international armed conflict. This would recognise accurately the wrong being done, which is typically worse than merely mishandling official information, and punish it accordingly. For example, in the Cold War there were British nationals who betrayed our country by passing secrets to the Soviets; they certainly deserved to be punished as traitors but were not because the law of treason was in a poor state. It remains in a poor state now, as a new cold war could be beginning, so it is time that we fixed it.

We need to speak to the hearts and minds of our citizens, to bind the British people and make it clear to those who seek to assist foreign powers to do us harm that they will be designated by law as traitors to their country. This is not about requiring patriotism; it is about the law clearly setting out that to assist a group or country to attack the country in which you are a citizen is a crime. It is for these reasons—that appeal to the heart—that similar arrangements have been recently introduced by other common-law jurisdictions such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

I was very struck by the story of Kimberley Miners, who travelled to Syria and returned. She said of her experience living with ISIS:

“People have no idea, but ISIS is actively searching Facebook for vulnerable people. People just like me. These people befriended me, I felt accepted.”

I feel enormous compassion for her but also enormous anger that she was so stupid as to make this decision. If our nationals had a clearer sense of where the boundaries lay, naive people would not make such mistakes.

Treason reform was dropped from the final text of the National Security Bill when it was placed before Parliament, which is a great shame. The consultation on legislation to counter state threats, with which many noble Lords will be familiar, claimed that significant historical analysis would need to be done to enable reform of treason but that that would significantly delay the Bill. I never like the idea that we should avoid good legislation because it is too time-consuming to draft; given the support for this straightforward, clearly drafted measure in many corners of the Committee, I do not think it need delay the Bill or overstress the resources of the MoJ.

One objection to a refresh of the treason laws was made by the excellent Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, who suggested that

“in order to prosecute an individual for aiding a hostile state or organisation, you have to label that state or organisation as such. Doing so could legitimise their cause and give them ‘special status and cachet’.”

I take a different view. Treason is not about labelling your enemies or legitimising their status; they put all their efforts into doing that themselves, without our help or otherwise. Jonathan Hall also suggested that juries would be worried about convicting on such a contentious crime with a controversial history. That is an important point to address, because it is exactly this squeamishness about considering treason a crime that means that we need to bring it back from the legal freezer and make it a commonly understood and demystified concept.

The incidence of treason is not going down—it is quite possibly becoming more frequent. We cannot live in a country in which a sense of social awkwardness prevents prosecution of a heinous crime. Therefore, it would be wise to leave it to the prosecuting authorities to decide which crimes can be most effectively prosecuted, as they are both qualified and rightly responsible to make these decisions. As a parliamentarian, I do not think that good law-making is best achieved by second-guessing juries. There are a number of horrible crimes for which, as noble Lords know, it is sometimes difficult to gain convictions, but we do it because they are important.

I am also conscious of the misuse of treason accusations by autocracies such as Russia. Accusations of treason can be abused and used to silence dissenters, but it is not logical that the misuse of a law by a tin-pot regime elsewhere means that we should not have it in this country, which values the rule of law. The best protection is good, workable legislation. That is why I ask the Minister to reconsider the decision to drop treason provisions from the Bill and to consider supporting this constructive amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have great respect for any new clause proposed by the noble Lord, and with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. It is therefore with some trepidation that I may strike a discordant note. I am almost intimidated by the compelling ad majorem argument which the noble Lord used, and some of the names he referred to in support of his proposal. I read the Policy Exchange document at the time, which seemed to me both ambitious and, to an extent, misguided. I will give four or five reasons why I am of that view.

First, what is described as treason in this proposed new clause is in every instance already prosecutable under existing offences. In my view, duplication of conduct under different headings is a disadvantage to the courts and creates potential difficulties with juries, which are sensitive to the labels that would be placed by conviction upon those prosecuted.

Secondly, the clause refers generally to an “attack”. Does that include cyberattacks, which are now being conducted on a very large scale by countries which have hostile intent towards the United Kingdom? Is it proportionate that a cyberattack should be punishable as treason as opposed to under the available existing legislation?

My third argument is about symbolism in criminal justice legislation. I know that some of us sat in this building in another place during the content of the Westland affair, as a result of which the jury failed to convict somebody who in law had been held by the judge to be guilty of the offence as charged. That is a result we would all wish to avoid. Others here were in very senior official positions during what proved to be a very uncomfortable episode. I look in particular at my noble friend Lord Butler, to whom I give way with pleasure.

I thank my noble friend for that correction—yes, it was Ponting, not Westland. I apologise; I had the wrong incident in my mind.

My fourth point is about the life sentence contained in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause. I simply do not like tautologies such as “manifestly unjust” in criminal sentencing provisions. In my view, if there is to be a provision of this kind—we have been told that it has been drafted very carefully—it should not contain tautologous phrases like that. “Unjust” will do very nicely, as far as I am concerned.

My fifth point is about the authority for such a prosecution. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred to the involvement, presumably, of the Director of Public Prosecutions in authorising such a prosecution. However, as drafted, this proposed new clause would permit a private prosecution, which could be stopped by the Director of Public Prosecutions only in certain circumstances. Private prosecutions—often justifiably—are becoming more fashionable and frequent, particularly in fraud cases which the authorities are not able to undertake for reasons of scale and cost. Those are perfectly defensible private prosecutions, as results in the courts have shown. However, the use of private prosecutions for oblique motives in this context seems to be a very realistic possibility. I therefore urge that if we are to have a revised treason offence, it should be prosecutable only with the authority of the Attorney-General.

Finally, the House should pay very close attention—I would say this, as a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation—to the views of Jonathan Hall KC, who has considered this matter in detail and with whom I agree. I also simply pose a rhetorical question: who seriously thinks that ISIS would be discouraged in any way whatsoever by the introduction of this clause? The Government are right in the decision they have taken, and I hope that they will stick to their view.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow two such clear and thought-provoking speeches. When this House has debated treason offences in recent years, it has generally been in the context of lending support to terrorist groups, particularly in foreign theatres such as Iraq and Syria. It has never seemed to me that there is much point in bringing treason into this. The bristling arsenal of counterterrorism law is already equal to any conceivable type of assistance to terrorism or adherence to a terrorist cause, whatever the nationality of the subject and regardless of the state, if any, against which terrorism is directed. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, put it, the boundaries are closely drawn and abundantly clear.

Prosecutions for treason in this area would certainly have the potential to raise the emotional temperature, both for us and for the terrorists themselves. I am against such prosecutions because they are exactly what the terrorists want: to elevate their squalid and immoral behaviour into some sort of noble cause. I remember this point being well made from the Government Front Bench by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who is not in her place, shortly after I joined your Lordships’ House in 2018. She said that

“prosecuting terrorists for treason would risk giving their actions a credibility … glamour and political status that they do not deserve. It would indicate that we recognised terrorists as being in some formal sense at war with the state, rather than merely regarding them as dangerous criminals.”—[Official Report, 31/10/2018; col. 1382.]

No doubt this is why militant republicans in Northern Ireland were not given the platform of treason trials but rather prosecuted for murder, firearms and explosives offences and, more recently, catch-all offences such as the preparation of terrorist acts, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

If we are looking for simple and effective ways to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters—particularly if they are suspected to have been active in a country where assistance from the authorities in gathering evidence is unlikely to be forthcoming—we would do better to concentrate on the offence of entering or remaining in a designated area, which was pioneered in Denmark and Australia, recommended for consideration in one of my own reports as independent reviewer, and introduced by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. However, I believe that no terrorist hotspot has ever been designated under that Act, so the provision remains unused.

This amendment moves the debate on, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, explained, in that it relates to aiding not terrorism, but hostile foreign powers. The clause would target those who assist the Governments of countries with which we are at war or which wish to attack the UK by unspecified means including, I assume, cyberattacks on our national infrastructure. Unlike its Australian equivalent, which was introduced after 9/11 but is still to be used for the first time, it would relate only to hostile state activity—indeed, hostile state belligerence.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view on whether there is a gap in our law regarding assistance to the enemy—or will be one once the Bill, including Clauses 3 and 13, has become law. There might be a gap: I believe that Canada and New Zealand have their own laws against assisting the enemy, though I am not very familiar with them. Our own Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, introduced to restrict mercenary activity in the wake of the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War, may not be as antiquated as the Treason Act 1351, but it was last used in the aftermath of the 1896 Jameson raid. It should certainly be reviewed if we are thinking of legislating in this area.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, advocates of a treason law are often motivated by a sense that betrayal—in the words of the Policy Exchange report to which he referred, which was co-authored by the current Security Minister—

“is a specific crime against society and one that deserves punishment.”

I entirely understand that feeling, but betrayal is a regrettable fact of life, and one which we do not consider deserves special punishment in other contexts. The child who kills his parents betrays the family bond, but parricide and matricide are simply types of murder. Those who betray the most sacred bond of all—that of matrimony—may be called adulterers but are not criminalised at all. Can it be said that the bond of citizenship is of a wholly different nature, such that to break it must attract the most severe consequences? I think that is a difficult argument to make, particularly in circumstances where it is now so easy for the Home Secretary to break that bond by depriving people of their citizenship whenever she considers it

“conducive to the public good”.

Incidentally, that is something I hope we will look at some day: in the 15 years to 2020, there were 175 such deprivations on national security grounds alone.

This amendment, interestingly enough, does not follow the Policy Exchange model. Like its enacted but unused Australian equivalent, it has nothing whatever to say about betrayal. It applies to everyone, without limitation to British citizens or even to those who have been given leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom. I assume it is not intended to apply extraterritorially, or it would criminalise the soldiers of foreign armies, contrary to the principle of combat immunity. But if the amendment is motivated by the desire to punish the betrayal of those who owe allegiance to the Crown, it does not succeed in that aim. Indeed, it is difficult to see why it flies under the banner of treason at all.

My position is simple. If there is a gap in the law as regards material assistance to the enemy, I would be in favour of filling it with an offence punishable by life imprisonment. That offence would be directed to our protection and would therefore apply to all persons within the jurisdiction. Betrayal of a bond of allegiance to the state would be an aggravating factor but not the basis for a separate treason offence, which is needed in neither the terrorism context nor the hostile state context.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord. I share his views and those laid out so well by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for allowing us to pose some fundamental questions, but I share the concerns of others who have spoken about whether this amendment answers them. Who are the enemy, and what is an attack? These are not easy questions to answer. I respect those who have worked in our intelligence services and have grappled with these questions over many years. Framing legislation to neatly define who our enemy is at any given time is not easy, nor is it easy to define what an attack is.

From reading the notices provided by MI5 earlier this year and the speeches made by intelligence services leaders, in many respects, it seems that we are under perpetual attack. It is hard to define in the modern sense those grey areas that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and I discussed on Monday. What is an attack and what is preparatory to an attack? Perpetual cyberactivity can be either an end in itself or preparatory to a bigger effect. In many respects, we are in a state of war with Russia, with hybrid and economic warfare. Our sanctions are not penalties for actions; they are meant deliberately to overtly change the behaviour of a foreign power. I understand the rationale behind the amendment, but it perhaps does not address that clearly. When the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, responds to the debate, I would be grateful if he could clarify the meaning of “an attack”.

I welcome proposed new subsection (2)(e), which references acts that

“prejudice the security and defence of the United Kingdom”.

This is along the lines of what we were arguing for on Monday—trying to sharpen these areas. So we have persuaded someone on this—if not the Minister.

I think this raises another question, which was also raised on Monday. If a foreign intelligence service carries out activity which is not authorised or approved by our intelligence services, the Minister said that that was prejudicial to the safety and interests of the United Kingdom, but he did not say it was unlawful. This now raises an issue that we have to debate further in Committee. Some of the activity which could be defined as attacks or activity against the security and defence of the United Kingdom is not currently unlawful. We need to tackle that.

I close by agreeing very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that either in further consideration of this Bill or separately, we must look at how we interact with the issue of mercenary groups and groups that we would categorise as terrorist groups but that other countries would categorise as civil society groups or NGOs, which are fully funded and equipped by foreign states and operate in other countries, but are threats to UK nationals and UK interests. I travelled to north Iraq many times during the time when Daesh had overtaken Mosul. I saw many groups that were fully funded by Iran operating, sometimes with our compliance, sometimes with our approval and sometimes with our co-operation. At other times, they were operating absolutely against those interests, as with the interaction between some of the terrorist forces and some of the rapid deployment forces. I have seen first-hand in Sudan and elsewhere the Wagner Group, which is fully funded and equipped by Russia. How we cover mercenary and other groups that are not neatly defined within the proscriptions of terrorist legislation is something we also need to tackle. While I do not think this amendment would enable us to tackle this, it has allowed us to raise some of these fundamental questions, so I am grateful.

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in a debate after speakers who know a great deal more about this subject than I do, but I wonder why “treason” has to go into the heading of this proposed new clause. It does not add anything to the meaning of the words that are there already:

“aiding a hostile foreign power”.

The problem is, if you use the word treason you raise the temperature of the debate, for the reasons mentioned already.

If there is a gap to be filled, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has suggested, I invite the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to drop the word treason. It is unnecessary, as there is enough description in the headnote as it is. For all sorts of reasons, when you use the word treason people think of all sorts of other things. It is unnecessary to get into that debate if you can describe the offence in the remaining words as simply aiding a hostile foreign power. People may say it is treason but you should not label it as such for the purposes of the administration of justice.

My Lords, I found this a fascinating short debate. It caused me to reflect on my time in this House, which has been a few decades now. Over 20 years ago, I remember sitting in on debates on treason in the Council of Europe, covering the way it would be addressed and the appropriateness of the death penalty within council member states. There were similar debates, although the debates regarding treason have evolved over those decades.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for raising this issue. He referenced the Policy Exchange paper; obviously, thinking is developing in this area, so it is appropriate to have this debate here in Committee. I want to pick up the last point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about the impact of the word “treason” and whether that actually deflects from the purpose of trying to fill the gap in the legislation identified by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.

I listened to all noble Lords who spoke so interestingly in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made a point about the labels put on particular words and how that may influence juries, as in the example he gave. It caused me to reflect on when, as a magistrate, I was asked to convict somebody of a terrorism offence, which does not happen very often in magistrates’ courts. This particular terrorism offence charge was for graffiti on the Tube. The words used caused me and my colleagues to reflect on the appropriateness of that charge. I think the defendant pleaded guilty to that offence, so all we were doing was sentencing, but we had exactly that discussion about the appropriateness of words in particular contexts. I can see the argument that “treason” is so emotive that it could indeed affect juries’ likelihood of getting convictions.

As I said, this has been a very interesting debate. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that some very serious points have been made against his amendment. Nevertheless, there is sympathy that there is a gap in the legislation, which may be filled in other ways.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that this has been a fascinating debate on a fascinating subject. I thank my noble friend Lord Bethell for introducing Amendment 37A on treason in his name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I will now explain why the Government cannot accept the inclusion of this new clause in the Bill.

As noble Lords who are interested in this subject will have noted, the Government are looking closely at the issue of treason, as stated by the Secretary of State at Second Reading in the other place. The Government have been reviewing the case for and against reform of the UK’s treason laws and that review has not yet concluded. What we can say is that the UK has extensive terrorism laws—the “bristling arsenal” mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—which protect the safety of the UK and its citizens from forms of terrorism which might be considered treasonous. However, it would be correct to assert that treason law is outdated and in need of reform in light of the growing threats from foreign state actors. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the Bill provides a suite of measures for where somebody assists an enemy; it just would not be called treason.

I understand the significant history regarding the evolution of treason in the UK. Because of this, arguments have been made in this House and outside that an offence of treason goes further than criminal offences in relation to terrorism and state threats. Treason acknowledges the duty that a citizen has not to betray their state and many consider that a reformed, modernised treason offence would stress the importance of this through a specific criminal offence, reaffirming the bonds of citizenship that we have to the UK and to each other.

This amendment and others relating to treason have been proposed in previous Bills, but considering the role of treason in modern society is a substantial undertaking and one that we are looking at very closely. I acknowledge that this amendment and others seek to address concerns regarding the lack of a usable modern treason offence in the UK, so we welcome debate on this important topic.

Obviously, I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Bethell and Lord Faulks, and others that the Government do take this issue seriously and will listen carefully to the views offered by all noble Lords. However, as noble Lords may know, the Government are currently considering options for a formal review of this issue, including the possibility of the Law Commission conducting a review in this area. This area is complex, as the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Purvis, so eloquently explained.

I therefore thank my noble friend once again for his amendment but ask him to withdraw Amendment 37A while the Government’s review is ongoing.

My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the thoughtful and detailed debate we have had on this amendment. I will address a few of the points—I cannot address all of them—and I will seek to be brief.

This amendment is not about the past—it is not about Clive Ponting or Lord Haw-Haw and what happened a long time ago—but about the future. The future has states that use as a strategy the suborning of our citizens as an important part of hybrid warfare, at a scale and with a sophistication that we just have not seen for more than a generation—for two generations—and which, given the way in which they do it, we have probably never seen before. That is why this amendment is important: it is to combat a strategic threat from our enemies.

It fills a gap. The suborning of our citizens is not wholly covered by everything in the Bill at the moment, but I take on board the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Anderson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others on this. Duplication is not a sin in drafting laws. I have seen it happen before and I think that there is a gap that could be occupied by an amendment such as this.

A number of noble Lords asked what kind of attack this might cover. It would absolutely cover the contribution to a cyberattack. That is exactly the kind of modern warfare that our enemies are seeking to suborn our citizens to join in on, and therefore we should be thinking very much indeed about all the contributions our citizens could make to hybrid war when we are thinking about this.

As regards the impact on ISIS or a terrorist group, I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that ISIS is not going to be intimidated. I am more worried about Kimberley—the person who does not know that they are doing something wrong by helping one of our enemies.

Lastly—I will try to keep my comments brief; I appreciate that I have not tackled all of the points—I confess for a moment here to a massive cognitive dissonance. Noble Lords and noble and learned Lords have spoken about their anxieties about the word “treason” as if it was a super-hot piece of vocabulary that was too hot to handle. I simply do not have that sentiment at all; it does not touch me in the same way that it clearly touches others. I thought the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, spoke very well about that. Words such as theft, rape and terrorism are important parts of our legal vocabulary. I regard treason as simply akin to any one of those, and the arguments made—

The problem is—I speak as a former prosecutor—that if you are facing a jury with a charge that has “treason” on it, that elevates the temperature of the debate. It is much easier if you concentrate on the actual words of the offence that you are trying to get the jury to focus on. That is the point. The prosecutor has to decide whether he or she wants to use the word treason at all in the charge. It is better to avoid it if you can get the substance of the defence into ordinary language and get the jury to consider the facts in the light of ordinary language without being diverted by the more exciting “treason”. That is my point.

My Lords, pragmatism is completely right; I understand the noble and learned Lord’s point and I do not doubt his insight in the slightest. I have a slightly different perspective. That seems to be an argument to rehabilitate the thought rather than to avoid the crime. If something is happening that threatens our national security and is a crime, we need to think of ways of communicating that to juries and to prosecutors. In the same way, juries sometimes struggle with “rape” and are sometimes reluctant to convict—but obviously that is not a reason to not take rape to trial. Given the mood of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 37A withdrawn.

Clause 13: Foreign interference: general

Amendment 38

Moved by

38: Clause 13, page 11, line 18, leave out subsections (1) to (11) and insert—

“(1) A person commits an offence if—(a) the person engages in prohibited conduct,(b) the foreign power condition is met in relation to the prohibited conduct, and(c) the person intends the prohibited conduct, or a course of conduct of which it forms part, to have an interference effect.(2) A person commits an offence if—(a) the person engages in prohibited conduct,(b) the foreign power condition is met in relation to the prohibited conduct, and(c) the person is reckless as to whether the prohibited conduct, or a course of conduct of which it forms part, will have an interference effect.(3) A person (“P”) commits an offence if—(a) P engages in a course of conduct with one or more other persons,(b) the foreign power condition is met in relation to conduct of P which forms part of the course of conduct,(c) P intends the course of conduct to have an interference effect,(d) as part of the course of conduct, a person other than P engages in prohibited conduct, and(e) P intends or believes that as part of the course of conduct, a person other than P will engage in prohibited conduct.(4) For the purposes of subsections (1)(c) and (2)(c) a course of conduct includes a course of conduct engaged in by the person alone, or by the person and one or more other persons.(5) Subsections (1) and (2) apply whether the person’s conduct takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.(6) Subsection (3) applies whether P’s conduct or the prohibited conduct takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds two new ways of committing an offence under Clause 13. Under subsection (2) the offence may be committed recklessly. Under subsection (3) it may be committed by a person where another person engages in prohibited conduct, if both are engaged in the same course of conduct.

My Lords, I turn to government Amendments 38, 40, 41 and 42, and Amendments 43, 44, 45 and 45A in this group, tabled by other noble Lords.

The government amendments to Clause 13 are vital to the utility of the offence of foreign interference and will strengthen our response to hostile attacks against our democracy and society. We must stand up to aggression against diaspora communities in the UK, as well as provide further safeguards to help promote a healthy democracy. The aim of the offence of foreign interference is to create a more challenging operating environment for, and to deter and disrupt the activities of, foreign states that seek to undermine UK interests, our institutions, our political system or our rights, and ultimately prejudice our national security.

We know that states around the world, including the UK, conduct open and transparent influence activities, such as using diplomacy to shape and align policy to benefit shared interests. This is a welcome part of transparent international engagement and it is vital to the UK achieving its interests. However, some states seek to further their strategic interests by going further than overt political influence, such as through cultivating and manipulating relationships with individuals and entities in the UK where power and influence lies and using deception to shape public policy-making.

I will now provide further detail on the government amendments in this group. Government Amendments 38, 40, 41 and 42 deal with three key areas. They clarify the original policy intent in making provision for activity that forms a “course of conduct”, provide for the offence to capture reckless conduct, and, finally, provide definitions for the term “political process”. In addition, there are some minor and technical changes to give effect to the above. As regards the effect on the drafting, the original Clause 13 has now become three clauses. That is to make the provisions simpler with the changes that we have made.

On the amendments dealing with a course of conduct, noble Lords will note that the volume of changes appears substantial, but this is not a change of policy. Amendment 38 has given better effect to our policy intent in respect of third-party conduct. We must ensure that we capture scenarios where foreign interference is achieved through the actions of two or more people acting in concert, but where it cannot be proven that all individuals intended their actions alone to have an undesirable effect. A scenario could be where a person, P, works for a foreign power and intends to interfere with a person’s rights in the UK: for example, pressuring members of a diaspora community to stay silent on certain issues. If P subcontracts the prohibited conduct to another person—for instance, coercion of individuals—these amendments would allow us to charge P with an offence of foreign interference.

In respect of amendments to capture reckless conduct, we have carefully considered the comments made in the other place in respect of recklessness, as well as concerns from stakeholders, and consider it appropriate to add this offence. Not having recklessness leaves a gap where someone who is clearly aware they are involved in foreign interference activity but cannot be shown to have intended the relevant effects escapes a potential prosecution, for example because a person is motivated principally by money or a desire to get ahead.

Recklessness is a well-established and well-understood legal principle in the criminal law. A person is reckless when they foresee a risk that their conduct could, under this offence, cause one of the interference effects. A person must also proceed unreasonably in the circumstances with that conduct even when they are aware of the risks of continuing to do so. To be clear, this will not capture a person who has no appreciation of the risks at the time the conduct takes place.

Amendment 41 makes provision for a new clause which now includes the “interference effects”—previously in Clause 13—and adds a definition of “political process”, which will bring greater clarity to the scope of the offence. The interference effects have had to be amended to take account of the addition of reckless conduct. “Manipulate” has been replaced with “interfere” to recognise that a person cannot recklessly manipulate something. We have maintained the high bar to meet an interference effect.

The Government’s position is that the references to

“proceedings of either House of Parliament”

in the government amendment on “Foreign interference: meaning of interference effect” and in Clause 68 on the meaning of political influence does not, and could not, displace the prohibition on impeaching or questioning proceedings in Parliament contained in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, and is not intended to do this.

In addition to interference in a political process, we have added political decisions. We want to capture the full spectrum of conduct in which a foreign power might seek to engage; this includes interference at the very heart of the political decision-making process in the UK. Therefore, in drafting terms, we have distinguished between “processes” and “decisions” because they are different things. The introduction of “political decisions” is an important addition to account for the way in which a foreign state might seek to interfere with how a person makes a decision rather than just interfering in a particular process, such as an election.

It is important to note that, in capturing interference in political processes such as how voters participate in elections or referendums, we are seeking to protect our democracy from malign activity. We are not seeking to capture influence on electors through general political discourse or campaigning. This offence is intended to protect our political processes from foreign interference. It is not intended to limit the cut and thrust of normal political debate. We have a tradition of robust political debate and freedom of speech in British democracy; we remain committed to protecting this freedom in public debate, which is crucial to a thriving democracy.

Amendment 42 makes minor changes to the provision for coercion, to make it clear that the behaviours in proposed new subsection (2)(a) to (e) are ways in which coercion can be committed, as opposed to the list being a definition of coercion. We have also narrowed the concept of making a misrepresentation by amending the wording to ensure that only misrepresentations where the person intends to be false or misleading are in scope of the offence. We have done this to make it clear that an accidental misrepresentation—for example, inadvertently using false statistics—would not be in scope of the new offence.

I thank noble Lords for Amendments 43 to 45A, which seek to introduce reporting arrangements around disinformation and would require further controls on political process. I will set out in my closing remarks that it is the Government’s position that these amendments are not necessary. I look forward to the debate on these important issues but, for now, I beg to move.

My Lords, my name is on Amendments 43 and 44 and Amendment 45A is in my name. I welcome the clarification in the government amendments and stress that this is an important area in which getting the language right is particularly difficult. I speak as a non-lawyer.

When I read the original text, I had my doubts as to the use of “misrepresentation”. I also have serious doubts about the use of the offence of spiritual injury. I recall being a candidate in a very Irish area of Manchester in 1974. My wife and I spent a long evening with the nine Roman Catholic priests in the constituency during which we discussed what were the important issues in the election to them; of course, they were Northern Ireland, abortion and Catholic schools. We certainly hoped that their sermons the weekend before the election would not have a particular bias against voting Liberal. Spiritual injury is an extremely difficult area to get into; I am not sure that it should be in the Bill but I bow to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and others to say whether they really think that this is an area where one could prosecute.

We need to be concerned about enforcement and enforceability in this area. I have a strong memory of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, coming to supper with us in Saltaire in the middle of a general election campaign. He had come up as an official of the Labour Party to look at some of the problems of election campaigning in Bradford’s constituencies, in particular within the diaspora community in two or three of those constituencies. He was furious about the police’s refusal to intervene because of what they regarded as not only the difficulties of prosecuting but the dangers to social cohesion of attempting to prosecute in such difficult circumstances. We recognise that this is part of the problem we get into in these important clauses.

We on these Benches are in the unusual position of thinking—others might think it too—that this is an area where the Bill is not yet strong enough and where threats to democracy, of which we are now much more aware than we were a few years ago, clearly need to be countered. We have seen the threats to democracy in the United States, with the efforts of former President Trump and his sympathy for authoritarian regimes across the world. We have seen some on the right of the Conservative Party—certainly in what was UKIP but is now Reform UK—who are much more sympathetic to Orbán than they are to the French or Dutch or other countries on the continent. We therefore all need to be sure that our democracy is protected as strongly as it can be from foreign interference.

At Second Reading, I said that I regretted that the Government have refused to follow the recommendation made by the ISC in paragraph 47 of its Russia report: that the Government should agree to publish a further account of the experience of attempted Russian interference in British elections and the referendum campaign, to alert the public to the threat and demonstrate that it is real. We all understand that to do so would be embarrassing for the Conservative Party, but it should accept the embarrassment and publish. We still do not know where the huge amounts of money that Arron Banks has given over the years came from, including, most recently, writing off another £6 million of debt. We are talking about something in the order of £10 million to £15 million that has come from abroad. I have been assured by others who say they know that it must have come from Russia but I—indeed, we—do not know that.

There are some major issues here. I will focus on the money dimension. It does not have to be amounts of that size, although we are all well aware that the British-citizen partners of Russian oligarchs in London have given some very large donations to the Conservative Party in recent years. Again, that is something about which we should be concerned, but think about someone wanting to influence the outcome in a particular constituency. The sums would not have to be that large. For example, if you are concerned about a candidate who is critical of human rights in the particular foreign power from which the diaspora community comes, those sorts of interventions are relatively easy.

We then come to the question of how we make sure that our overseas voters are who they say they are. A large gap was left on this by the Elections Act. I wish to stress to the Minister that a great deal more needs to be done. I raised a question on this the other week. Yesterday, I received a letter answering my criticisms from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which now deals with elections. I suggested that overseas voters do not have adequate checks on who they are and that they will not have them when we extend it to lifetime. The letter said:

“Similar to domestic electors, overseas electors will be subject to identity checks when registering to vote and, if they choose to vote in person, will be required to show an approved form of photographic identification.”

The idea that any significant number of overseas voters would wish to vote in a British election in person is laughable. Many of them live thousands of miles away—for example, on the west coast of California, in Bermuda, in Azad Kashmir or in northern Nigeria.

On several occasions, I have visited the Bradford electoral registration office to discuss these questions. Bradford currently has 1,000 overseas electors from more than 30 countries in its five constituencies. It is difficult to check back on whether the identity verification offered in those countries, which is looser than that now required under the photo ID requirements for domestic voters, is real or not.

When someone says that they lived in a particular constituency 30 years ago as a child and are therefore now entitled to vote, and you are doing it all online, verification is not easy. It would be reasonable to ask the consular dimensions of British embassies abroad to play a role in this. I tabled a Written Question for the Foreign Office last year about what role it would be playing in checking the identity of overseas voters. The answer was none. The French have a very different attitude to this; they attempt to maintain some clear links and checks on their citizens in other countries.

The letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, goes on to say that if an overseas elector chooses to vote by post—under the Elections Act, et cetera—then, as this Bill and the Explanatory Notes make clear, they will vote by proxy. Proxy votes will therefore be an important part of this. Rightly, the Elections Act limits the number of proxy votes that any elector can hold to two for domestic voters and four for overseas voters. However, if I were an authoritarian regime in a foreign power with a significant diaspora in the United Kingdom and a significant number of dual nationals back in their country, I would not find it difficult to add several hundred alleged voters to a particular constituency where I wanted to get the MP out, and to arrange for the scattering of those proxy votes among enough people to make a difference—perhaps 500. Some metropolitan constituencies already have over 1,000 overseas voters.

As it happens, there was a fundraising event for the Cities of London & Westminster Liberal Democrats last night. It was a very interesting mix of people, with a range of international links, some of them born in Russia, Kazakhstan, Greece and elsewhere. They have over 1,000 overseas voters on the register already. One could imagine the estimate in general is that the numbers would double as we relax the limitation from 15 years to a lifetime. This is a serious issue.

Amendments 44 and 45A address this serious issue and suggest that it needs further consideration. It may not be of advantage to the Conservative Party to apply tighter controls on where the money comes from. I recognise that, but all of us who are interested in maintaining the quality of our democracy must ensure that money that comes from someone who says that they are a long-time British resident now living in Dubai, Singapore, Bermuda or Panama must be checked very carefully, and the identity of that person must be checked even more carefully if they are giving substantial sums of money. All these issues must be investigated further, and I suggest to the Minister that we need further dialogue on this.

I have a couple of other points to add. One example given in the Explanatory Notes is troll farms. I do not entirely understand that, since troll farms do not have to be in this country, nor do I understand how that comes within the scope of this Bill. Perhaps we could discuss that off the Floor. I strongly support Amendment 45 on introducing the concept of a critical incident, since we understand that, in the age of social media, bitcoin and other things, the potential for foreign interference in our elections has grown exponentially. I hope that this will not be pushed through by the Government without further amendment.

I end where I began, by welcoming the Government’s clarifications in the amendments that they have tabled. But we need considerable further amendment and greater concern about how these intentions are to be caught and enforced before this becomes an adequate part of a new Act.

My Lords, Amendment 44 is in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Wallace, who has just spoken. I am reassured that I seem to be keeping better company than is my wont, which gives me some confidence for this amendment.

Before I get to Amendment 44, I want to say that I broadly support the amendments that have been tabled by the Minister, though I have real concerns about the phrase “spiritual injury”. In my inquiries into this, I fed into the internet, by mistake, “spritual injury”. Undeterred, the search engine came up with numerous definitions of spiritual injury. Interestingly, some are related to veteran issues. One of them, which comes from Australia, requires careful listening:

“It is proposed that a Spiritual Injury occurs when an incident or event creates a break in the relationship between an individual and their concept of God.”

It is a brave Government who go into that area.

This reminds me of a dinner I used to have from time to time with Ian Paisley, when I was a Member of the other place. The definition is rather similar to one—which I will not recount—that Ian Paisley once gave me of “conciliation”, which was as incomprehensible as what I have just read. He accompanied it with a comment about poor farmers, and I represented a lot of poor farmers in those days. He said that a poor farmer is one who does not have a Mercedes.

I turn now to my original point and Amendment 44. There is a very good reason for Amendment 44. It is an attempt to put on the political parties some responsibility for what happens to them, and particularly where they obtain their money. Having not been a member of a political party for some years—before that I was a member of a fairly virtuous political party—I believe that the political parties are prepared to take their proper responsibility for this area of their lives, and that they should be taking that responsibility.

There are major concerns about foreign financial influence on political parties. It is capable of being covert and indirect. It would not be right to impose criminal penalties on political parties when other measures are available and effective. I suggest that Amendment 44 is proportionate. It places a proper duty on political parties. It is unsensational; it is not the stuff of headlines. It is placing a responsibility on those political parties. It is trusting of our democratic process. Although there is a great deal of criticism of the political parties, they are all committed to our democratic processes, and, when things go wrong, of the type that we are talking about, on the whole they are willing to take the necessary action to reinforce the confidence of the public. But something needs to be placed in statute that sets out what that responsibility is.

Finally, in my view, the availability of civil remedies is potent enough to deal with these issues. Political parties do not like being sued—understandably—because, as I think all have found in recent years, it is actually very costly and not a good use of resources. They are therefore likely to respond to the threat of civil remedies. I think it disproportionate to place senior officers of political parties under the risk of prosecution in circumstances where they may well not have acted dishonestly but may have acted foolishly. Civil remedies are exactly designed for that sort of situation. So although I heard what the Minister helpfully said at the beginning about this amendment, I invite the Government to consider it carefully, because I think it would instil greater confidence in political parties and strengthen the political process.

My Lords, I hope that I can intervene briefly to ask two questions. I support Amendment 44, but the questions I want to ask relate to government Amendments 38 and 42. If I understand the Minister correctly, subsection 2(c) of Amendment 38 inserts the word “reckless” in order to fill a gap. If so, why does the word “reckless” not appear in his other two amendments, 41 and 42? My second question relates to spiritual injury. What would be the effect if you left out the bit in brackets in subsection 2(e) of Amendment 42? In other words, why is the bit in brackets so crucial?

My Lords, I will begin by raising a question with the Minister regarding his amendments, and will then support my noble friend, as a member of a fairly virtuous party, and my noble “also-friend”, who is equally virtuous but not in the party.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, rightly raised the question of causing spiritual injury. I would be grateful for a lot more clarification as to what the Government’s background justification and intent is in this regard. I would be happy if the Minister wrote to us before Report, because my reading of the new amendment is that causing spiritual injury to any person is now prohibited conduct, in light of the wording in brackets. As I have indicated previously, I have the great privilege of being able to travel extensively and, as the party’s spokesman on foreign affairs, to engage in many discussions on freedom of religion and no belief, on which the greatly respected noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, leads in this House. That means that we are engaged in many discussions on the sensitive nature of religion and politics.

My reading of the amendment is that it could make it an offence for someone to engage with me and seek to persuade me of the view on the abolition of apostasy legislation in the Gulf, for example. The death penalty applies in Malaysia, a Commonwealth country, and in Qatar and the UAE, for example, for apostasy. Lobby groups who are campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty or the decriminalisation of apostasy, which has taken place in other Muslim nations, could well be defined by others as causing spiritual injury. Unless the Government have a definition of this—we do not necessarily need to rely on the Australian case, which I too saw on the same search as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile—then those people will be able to say that you are doing them spiritual injury if you wish to undermine their belief in Hudud law, which supports apostasy.

These are extremely sensitive areas which those in our intelligence community have to grapple with, because they are at the heart of the motivation of many people to take forward their political views. The situation is similar with those who seek to reform blasphemy legislation. Blasphemy is a very complex area that interacts with different faiths and laws. My concern is that subsection 2(e) of this amendment could cause considerable difficulties with blasphemy legislation, which has been a fairly delicate legislative area in the past, and with our interactions. I therefore hope that the Minister can provide much greater clarity on this. I would like to know what input the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has had into the amendment regarding the convention on freedom of religion and belief. As a consequence of the amendment, some of our activities could be in contravention of the convention, which refers to freedom of religion and no belief. Therefore, the convention provides for the freedom to challenge what some may hold to be an authentic political view of a religion, but which others may believe to constitute spiritual injury. If the Government intend to prohibit debating political faith—political Islam, political Christianity—then we are on a very dangerous path. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that.

Turning to donations and Amendments 44 and 43, I support the argument of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The Electoral Commission has been very clear in public statements that we have to make progress on tackling the lack of faith in politics. Lack of transparency in the funding of politics is key to that, which is why the Bill needs to be strengthened. There is now an overwhelming case for greatly enhanced due diligence on the part of political parties in working through the source of donations. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, there is a balance to be struck. There are those who seek to operate a healthy political system and engage in the political processes with those wishing to fund the parties; equally, we need transparency in those areas where undetermined income is the source of the donation. Importantly, this links to our previous discussions on “grey areas”.

At the moment, a political party could receive a donation from an individual through a bitcoin company which is operated by a national from another country—for example, it is based in the Cayman Islands but the donation comes through a UK national. That is perfectly legal, but there is no way of knowing where that income originated. That could be a live example: a Member of this House is on the global advisory board of a bitcoin company based in the Cayman Islands, so this is not theoretical. Looking at the interaction with the source of the income is important.

There is also a case to be made for enhanced diligence: asking whether companies have made enough money in the UK to fund that loan. I had a quick look at the Electoral Commission database for donations. Of the top 20 donations by companies to all political parties, a number have been through holding companies and there is simply a reference to a donation to the party. There is no mechanism to go beyond that: to state whether that company is solvent or making operating profits. Indeed, two of the companies in question made no operating profits for three years in a row but donated substantial sums to a political party. In other situations, having to investigate unexplained income would be important. We have other areas where due diligence applies—supply chain reforms, modern slavery statements and so on—and I do not see why there cannot be an equivalent regime when companies are interacting in the political realm.

Finally, one area where a very significant loophole needs to be addressed is for those countries which the Government themselves have said are at high risk of money laundering and terrorist financing. I took part in the debates on the money laundering, terrorist financing and transfer of funds regulations, which we have transposed into domestic legislation from the EU. In those regulations, we currently have a list of 25 countries for which it is the law that there is enhanced due diligence of any transactions because a company operates, through any business activities, within them. I remind the Committee that that list includes the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the United Arab Emirates.

I had a cursory look at the register of interests for this House; a number of Members have very considerable financial interests in the Cayman Islands and the UAE. For any interaction in their business activity, by law they have to go through a process of enhanced due diligence because of the money laundering and terrorist financing controls. That is absolutely justifiable and we support it significantly. If they donate to a political party, they do not have to go through that process, but I think that they should. Therefore, at the very least, I am curious why the Government would resist enhanced due diligence for companies that operate in countries on the “at risk” schedule in the money laundering and terrorist financing regulations and which donate considerable sums to political parties. I would be grateful to hear why the Minister thinks that is not justified.

My Lords, I support Amendments 44 and 45A. It is striking that in the electoral finance regulations there is a great dissonance between what is required of political parties fighting a democratic election and what would, for instance, be required of not only a bank or financial institution but many charities. I find it difficult to understand why there should be any objection to ensuring that money donated to a political party in the course of a democratic election is susceptible to enhanced due diligence. It is quite reasonable to expect that the origin of those party donations should be visible. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, pointed out clearly, there are very considerable gaps. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that there is a great deal more to be done regarding electoral finance.

I am the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which, within the last two years, undertook a major report on the regulation of electoral finance. In that, we spoke not only to the political parties but to representatives of those involved in the referendum campaign and a whole variety of people who have an interest in this area. We were then able to come forward with a series of recommendations to try to close a number of the loopholes. Many of them do not relate specifically to foreign interference but there is obviously the opportunity for those who would interfere as a foreign state in our electoral procedures to exploit loopholes in the system.

Regrettably, the Government did not wish to accept our recommendations, which I feel was a missed opportunity. The Elections Act, which has now gone through, did not address a number of the areas relating to electoral finance where there are glaring inconsistencies and anomalies. This is a good opportunity—at least in respect of some of those areas, particularly where they relate to foreign interference—to introduce these amendments, which will go some way towards closing some of the very evident loopholes. From that perspective, I strongly support these amendments.

My Lords, we very much welcome Clauses 13 and 14—or however they are now numbered, given the Government’s amendments—as they introduce new offences of foreign interference, given the potential impact on our democratic processes at every level. That is a further reflection of the way that the Bill takes account of the new national security environment and the changing and emerging threats that we face.

As the Minister helpfully outlined, the main effect of the Government’s amendments will be to broaden the offences to include when a person acts recklessly. It appears that that has been brought in to reflect references to “recklessness” in other offences in the Bill and following debate in the Commons. That is very welcome. Can the Minister explain why it was not part of the original Bill, and what has caused the change of thinking in the department for it to bring forward these amendments?

I will also reflect on some of the discussion from the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Purvis, and others, on what is meant by proposed new subsection (2)(e), which refers to

“causing spiritual injury to, or placing undue spiritual pressure on, a person”.

For the benefit of the Committee, it would be helpful if the Government could say more about what they intend, what that encompasses and the thinking that lies behind it. That would be helpful to the Committee in the light of the various comments made.

We also support Amendment 43 from the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Wallace. We very much support the concept of an annual report on how these clauses protect the integrity of the UK’s democratic processes. I also understand and appreciate, as I think the Committee does, the Minister’s comment about how this is about protecting the country’s democratic processes from foreign interference, not from the normal democratic and political discourse that one would expect. I am particularly grateful for that, having been accused of being a communist and a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party—I do not know whether anyone ever came across that in my file. More recently, for the new heads of various bodies, I have been called a traitor for my views on the EU referendum. So I stand here accused of being a communist on the one hand—in my younger days, it has to be said—and then having moved to being a traitor for my views.

The serious point I am trying to make, in a humorous way, is that political discourse takes place, as do debate and argument. It is really important for us to understand the difference in the Bill’s intention that the Minister pointed out. For that to be read into the record is really important so that it is not misunderstood; it is clearly not what the Government intend.

Amendment 44, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Wallace, and of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, is really important. It was very well articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said that he supports it. There are a lot of arguments for this amendment, but my view is the same as the point the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made—a really important point, particularly at the current time when there is some disillusionment. Accepting Amendment 44 as part of the Bill would help enormously to instil public confidence, to ensure that people understand that our political parties not only are free from foreign interference through political donation but are seen to be free of it from their statements. Instilling public confidence on that is really important.

I move on to my Amendment 45, which is a probing amendment. I say to the Government that it is not necessarily intended to be added to the Bill, but it deals with an important aspect of this discussion. It is how to deal with the issue of informing the public about what we seek to do and the new threats that they face, and how we raise their awareness of them. There is also the crucial question of how this could be done in real time.

I use the example of Canada to cause us as a Committee to think. Canada has a Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, which lays out a clear and impartial process by which Canadians can be notified of a foreign threat to the integrity of an election. That includes provisions for informing candidates, organisations or election officials whether they have been the known target of an attack. It has processes which state how decisions are made, and by whom, and as to whether a public announcement should be made to alert people to the threat.

As I said, this is a probing amendment, and I am not an expert on the protocol. I am trying to understand the Government’s view. If we were to believe that foreign interference was taking place, at what point would they think it appropriate, relevant or consistent with the security of our nation for the public to be informed of that? I think the public have a right to be involved, potentially in live time.

I think this raises real difficulties. Let me create a scenario: a general election takes place—let us not use the next year or two; let us say in 10 years’ time—and the Government find that that election is being compromised by foreign interference. What happens? How does the Bill deal with that scenario? We are in Committee, which is when we look at detail. I think there is an important question for the Government about public involvement with respect to their knowledge and awareness of the potential for interference that may take place and what they have a right to know if the Government or the services come to a conclusion that there is foreign interference and that it may be compromising an election, whether it be a general election, a local election or some other part of the democratic process. I think that is an important part of this discussion. I think that, far from it being a weakness for the Government of the day, with the security services and others, to say that they are protecting the integrity of the democratic processes such is their importance, alongside that, should it be necessary for them to alert the public, they should have a system, or protocol to which they can refer, dealing with what the consequences of that would be.

This has been an interesting debate at the heart of another important series of amendments because they seek to protect our democratic processes from the foreign interference the Minister pointed out in his introduction. I look forward to his reply to not only my remarks but to the remarks of other noble Lords.

My Lords, I thank the notably unrevolutionary noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his support for these amendments. I will address his precise question on whether the amendments on recklessness represent a change in government policy and why they are being introduced now. It was always our intention to capture malign foreign interference activity in all its forms with this offence. After the completion of the Bill’s passage in the other place and in light of the comments made in the Public Bill Committee on the lack of an offence that could be committed recklessly, we retested the offence against the operational and policy requirements and we saw that there were examples of conduct, such as where a person’s intention was not to cause an effect but rather to improve their status within relevant organisations of a foreign power, that were at risk of not being in scope for the offence. I hope that answers the question on why it is being done now.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, asked three specific questions about why recklessness is present in only one of these offences. The fact is that there are three different ways to commit the offence. New subsections (1) and (2)—inserted by Amendment 38—relate to a person’s intention, and only subsection (2) deals with recklessness.

Amendment 43 seeks to introduce a requirement for the Secretary of State to lay a yearly report, from the date of the National Security Bill gaining Royal Assent, assessing the impact which Clauses 13 and 14 have had on protecting the integrity of the UK’s democratic processes. This amendment duplicates one tabled in the other place. We do not consider it to be appropriate to introduce reporting requirements on the subject in isolation from the existing work on democratic integrity or in isolation from wider consideration of oversight and review mechanisms for the Bill.

Amendment 45 seeks to introduce a mechanism to alert the public to threats to the integrity of elections. We do not consider this to be necessary. Clauses 13 and 14 ensure that there are appropriate criminal sanctions for foreign interference. These provisions sit alongside other non-legislative activity. In advance of democratic events, His Majesty’s Government stand up an election cell to monitor and respond to any emerging issues during the election period. The election cell is led by the Cabinet Office and brings together government departments, the intelligence agencies, the devolved Administrations and external partners to ensure a holistic understanding of risks and to drive any necessary mitigations. The National Cyber Security Centre also meets regularly with the UK’s parliamentary parties and works closely with those responsible for core parts of the UK’s electoral infrastructure. Finally, formally established in 2019, the defending democracy programme is a cross-government programme with the overarching objective to safeguard elections and referendums and related democratic processes in the United Kingdom.

Several speeches have stressed the importance of informing and educating the public about the dangers of foreign interference in British elections. One of the reasons why people like me go on so much about releasing the additional information in the ISC Russia report is precisely to alert and inform the public. The amendment that the Minister has just been discussing is about alerting the public, in the course of an election campaign, if that should be a problem. He mentioned the defending democracy task force. I have found a small number of references to it, but it is not exactly a public body and what it does is so far extremely unclear. What about the public information and public education dimension of what we are discussing?

My Lords, I am dredging my memory a little bit here, but I remember the Security Minister about a month ago outlining much more about defending democracy. I will have to refer back to the comments he made in the other place, but I am pretty sure they deal with the questions that have just been raised by the noble Lord.

I think this is a really important point about informing and alerting the public in live time. I would be grateful if the Minister could come back having reflected on that for us.

I will certainly have to read all the various information that I can find on the defending democracy programme, which I am pretty sure deals with most of the issues that have just been raised. If I am wrong on that, of course I will make that clear.

Amendment 44 was spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker, Lord Carlile, Lord Purvis, Lord Evans and others. The amendment seeks to enhance checks on the source of political donations in two ways. First, it seeks to introduce a requirement for political parties to release a policy statement to ensure the identification of donations from foreign powers. Secondly, it requires political parties to include in their annual statement of accounts a statement detailing their risk management approach to donations and the measures in place to prevent the acceptance of impermissible donations. While I understand the intent behind this amendment, let me be clear that UK electoral law already sets out a stringent regime of controls on political donations to ensure that only those with a legitimate interest in UK elections can make political donations and that political donations are transparent. Given that it has been spoken to by most speakers, I am going to go into a bit more detail on this, with the indulgence of the Committee.

Only those with a genuine interest in UK electoral events can make political donations. That includes registered UK electors, including registered overseas electors, UK-registered companies, trade unions and other UK-based entities or otherwise eligible donors, such as Irish citizens meeting prescribed conditions who can donate to parties in Northern Ireland. Parties and other campaigners are prohibited from accepting donations which are not from a permissible or identifiable donor. Failure to return such a donation, either to the donor or the Electoral Commission within 30 days of receipt is an offence and any such donations must be reported to the Electoral Commission. Furthermore, the Elections Act 2022 introduced a restriction on ineligible foreign third-party campaigning above a £700 de minimis threshold.

It is an offence to attempt to evade the rules on donations by concealing information, giving false information or knowingly being involved in an arrangement to facilitate the making of an impermissible donation. This provides a safeguard against impermissible donations via the back door. Political parties must already register donations over a certain value to the Electoral Commission; they are then published online for public scrutiny.

By requiring political parties to detail publicly their approach to mitigating the risk of impermissible donations, proposed new subsection (3) of the noble Lord’s amendment has the effect of providing such donors with the details of mitigations they need to overcome to make an impermissible donation. I am sure that is an unintended consequence, but it is important to oppose this amendment on the grounds that not only do the existing rules mitigate these risks but the amendment itself risks undermining the already strong rules.

My Lords, I apologise for intervening again. The Minister has not addressed the ease with which someone who has not lived in this country for three or more decades can now register, and the difficulty of verifying that they are who they say they are. If he will not address it now, can he write in detail to some of us, or perhaps invite us to a briefing, and make sure that that area will be tightened by the Bill?

My Lords, that is more properly a DLUHC area, in the light of the Act passed recently, but I will certainly have the conversation with my counterpart there and see what that Act says. I am not an expert on that Act, as the noble Lord will probably appreciate.

We obviously have a difference of opinion as to whether the current system is stringent. I am curious why, if the trading arm of a political party was operating with a business that had any interest in one of the 26 countries in the money laundering and terrorist financing regulations, it would have to do due diligence, but if it received money that originated from such a country, it would not. Why does the Minister think that is acceptable?

As I outlined in my answer earlier, I believe this is a stringent regime. I am afraid there is a significant difference of opinion. It specifies that only those with a genuine interest in UK electoral events can make political donations. Any donations that are not permissible and not reported will constitute an offence.

I am afraid I will not address the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about support for Mr Orbán over the Dutch and French; that certainly does not apply here. His Amendment 45A seeks to add requirements relating to proxy voting. It would be odd and somewhat undemocratic to seek to apply such measures solely to overseas electors, when the same issue could arise for domestic electors. In any event, proxy voters and those seeking to use a proxy are not in a position to determine whether someone is seeking to support a foreign power. It is an impossible ask of them. Adding such requirements risks disfranchising individuals by blocking their ability to find a proxy and undermining the very point of a proxy voting system.

My Lords, I apologise for intervening yet again. My point was simply that the level of controls and identity verification we have now introduced for domestic voters under the Elections Act is noticeably tougher than those for overseas electors. Given that overseas electors are also potential donors, this seems to be a hole that needs to be filled. The Minister says it does not need to be filled. That does not satisfy us.

I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord, but on this one I do. However, I commit to discussing this further with my counterpart at DLUHC. I will come back to the subject.

Spiritual injury was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace, Lord Anderson and Lord Purvis. I will commit to write on FCDO engagement on this subject; I do not have the answers to those questions. What is spiritual injury and why is it part of this offence? Basically, it mirrors the Elections Act 2022. The term “spiritual injury” covers the potential harmful impact on an individual’s spiritual or religious well-being that could be directly caused by another individual—for example, excluding a person from the membership of an organised belief system or banning them from attending a place of worship. The term “undue spiritual pressure” could include, for example, pressuring a person to commit an act by suggesting that doing so is a duty arising from the spiritual or religious beliefs that a person holds or purports to hold. In addition, “undue spiritual pressure” could refer to conduct by a person that alters, or has the potential to alter, a person’s spiritual standing or well-being.

Reference to “spiritual injury” already exists in the definition of “undue influence” as set out in Section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Undue spiritual pressure is a new element of undue spiritual influence in the clarified offence in Section 8(4)(e) of the Elections Act, as part of efforts to clarify what types of conduct amount to an undue influence. I hope I have answered that question.

For these reasons, the Government cannot accept this set of amendments. I ask the Committee to accept the Government’s amendments to improve the foreign interference offence.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister and am very grateful to him for giving way. On this question of spiritual injury, has the Lord Chief Justice been consulted as to whether he and the judiciary regard this definition as something that judges can sum up to juries in a clear way? Although the phrase exists elsewhere, it has not been litigated to any great extent and, without a consultation of the judges, may cause great difficulty.

The question I asked related to the bit in brackets. What effect would there be if you omitted that part in brackets?

I think I have already answered in significant detail why that clause has gone into the Bill. I have also answered the specific points that the noble Viscount raised at the start of the debate.

This is really important. As the noble Viscount pointed out, this is not about coercion of an individual but about putting into law “causing spiritual injury” to any person, ill-defined as that is, and not just the person to whom the effect of the interference relates. It is of significance that we would be putting in a very considerable offence of causing an undefined spiritual injury to any person. Can the Minister reflect on that and maybe come back to us in writing?

Amendment 38 agreed.

Amendment 39 not moved.

Amendment 40

Moved by

40: Clause 13, page 12, line 38, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 13 and insert—

““interference effect” has the meaning given by section (Foreign interference: meaning of “interference effect”);“prohibited conduct” has the meaning given by section (Foreign interference: meaning of “prohibited conduct”).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment updates the definitions in Clause 13.

Amendment 40 agreed.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed.

Amendments 41 and 42

Moved by

41: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Foreign interference: meaning of “interference effect”(1) For the purposes of section 13 an “interference effect” means any of the following effects— (a) interfering with the exercise by a particular person of a Convention right, as it has effect under the law of the United Kingdom,(b) affecting the exercise by any person of their public functions,(c) interfering with whether, or how, any person makes use of services provided in the exercise of public functions,(d) interfering with whether, or how, any person participates in political processes or makes political decisions,(e) interfering with whether, or how, any person participates in legal processes under the law of the United Kingdom, or(f) prejudicing the safety or interests of the United Kingdom.(2) An effect may be an interference effect whether it relates to a specific instance of a matter mentioned in subsection (1), or to the matter in general.(3) In subsection (1)(d) “political processes” means—(a) an election or referendum in the United Kingdom;(b) the proceedings of either House of Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru;(c) the proceedings of a local authority;(d) the proceedings of a UK registered political party.(4) In subsection (1)(d) “political decisions” means a decision of—(a) the government of the United Kingdom, a Northern Ireland Minister, a Northern Ireland department, the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers;(b) a local authority.(5) In this section—“Convention rights” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998;the“law of the United Kingdom” includes the law of any part of the United Kingdom;“local authority” means—(a) in England—(i) a county council,(ii) a district council,(iii) a London borough council,(iv) a combined authority established under section 103 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009,(v) a parish council,(vi) the Council of the Isles of Scilly,(vii) the Common Council of the City of London,(viii) the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple,(ix) the Under Treasurer of the Middle Temple;(b) in Wales, a county council, county borough council or community council;(c) in Scotland, a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994;(d) in Northern Ireland, a district council;“Northern Ireland Minister” includes the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and a junior Minister;“public functions” means functions of a public nature—(a) exercisable in the United Kingdom, or (b) exercisable in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom by a person acting for or on behalf of, or holding office under, the Crown;“UK registered political party” means a political party registered under Part 2 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000;“Welsh Minister” includes the First Minister, the Counsel General to the Welsh Government and a Deputy Welsh Minister.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause defining “interference effect” replaces Clause 13(2) and (3). Subsection (1)(c) to (e) now use “interfering” not “manipulating” because of the introduction of recklessness in Clause 13, and political processes and decisions are defined. There are drafting changes consequential on Lord Sharpe’s amendments to Clause 13.

42: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Foreign interference: meaning of “prohibited conduct”(1) Conduct is prohibited conduct for the purposes of section 13 if—(a) it constitutes an offence, or(b) if it takes place in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, it would constitute an offence if it took place in any part of the United Kingdom.(2) Conduct is prohibited conduct for the purposes of section 13 if it involves coercion of any kind, including coercion by—(a) using or threatening to use violence against a person;(b) damaging or destroying, or threatening to damage or destroy, a person’s property;(c) damaging or threatening to damage a person’s reputation;(d) causing or threatening to cause financial loss to a person;(e) causing spiritual injury to, or placing undue spiritual pressure on, a person,(whether or not that person is the person to whom the interference effect relates).(3) Conduct is prohibited conduct for the purposes of section 13 if it involves making a misrepresentation.(4) A “misrepresentation” is a representation—(a) that a reasonable person would consider to be false or misleading in a way material to the interference effect, and(b) that the person making the representation knows or intends to be false or misleading in a way material to the interference effect.(5) A misrepresentation may be made by making a statement or by any other kind of conduct, and may be express or implied.(6) A misrepresentation may in particular include—(a) a misrepresentation as to a person’s identity or purpose;(b) presenting information in a way which amounts to a misrepresentation, even if some or all of the information is true.(7) In this section “interference effect” has the meaning given by section (Foreign interference: meaning of “interference effect”).”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause defines “prohibited conduct”. It replaces Clause 13(4) to (9). There are changes to the opening words of the definition of coercion in subsection (2), and the definition of misrepresentation in subsection (4), as well as drafting changes consequential on Lord Sharpe’s amendments to Clause 13.

Amendments 41 and 42 agreed.

Clause 14 agreed.

Amendments 43 to 45A not moved.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Clause 15: Obtaining etc material benefits from a foreign intelligence service

Amendments 46 to 48 not moved.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16: Preparatory conduct

Amendment 49 not moved.

House resumed.

Cross-government Cost-cutting

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made, if any, of the savings that might be realised by their cross-government cost-cutting exercise.

I will take a leaf out of some of the interesting ways that noble Lords begin discussions in this House. Recently, there was a big discussion on railways and someone—I will not mention who, because I cannot remember their name—described a particular train journey. They were talking about something very big, the railway crisis or whatever you want to call it, but using a little anecdote to tell the whole story. I want to start with that idea, so please bear with me.

I am going to talk about a young woman I met three years ago. She was a librarian in a prison that specialised in sex offenders. She was doing a very important job; she was trying to give something to a group of people, some of whom were banged up for life and some were in and out, who everybody else would rather shy away from. None of us likes sex offenders and people who do things like that, but she was working away. This young woman had four children. On top of that, she was paying a mortgage on her house and was about £10,000 away from paying it off. She left that job and did other jobs, one of which was for Stoke-on-Trent City Council. On two occasions, the council overpaid her. The first time, she managed to pay it back, but the other occasion—the mistake was made by the council—will lead to this woman, at 4 pm on 6 January, being thrown out of the house that she has almost finished paying for.

I use this as an example of what I call a miscarriage of common sense. That is how I see it. You cannot really blame the council, which went through all sorts of rigmarole to get its £7,000 or £9,000 back. Unfortunately, the young woman had three deaths to deal with, almost all at once, including her own father. In the miasma of a life led in poverty, myopia took over. She put her head in the sand and just lost it every time there was a court case, a letter from a solicitor and all this sort of stuff. She was declared bankrupt and is now leaving her home. She and her four children will be homeless on the Epiphany. As the House knows, that is the day the three wise men visited—but there is a lack of wisdom here.

This miscarriage of common sense is largely because the young woman lost the plot. The reason I am interested in this is not just because I know this woman, but because it is exactly what happened to me when I was five and when I was seven. My mother lost the plot and did not pay the rent, and I was homeless at the age of five, along with my four brothers. I was homeless again at the age of seven, with my five brothers. We ended up in a Catholic orphanage in north London for two or three years. I really fell low; the others seemed to bounce back. I spent much of my life getting over those foundation stones of distress.

That is why I hate this idea and want to do everything possible. I am hoping to appeal to the Minister, because I know she has a good heart, to maybe ring up Stoke-on-Trent and ask if the council can stop the dogs, bailiffs or whatever you call them from going after this young woman and kicking out her four children. The council will not pick up the bill, because the house is in the neighbouring county of Staffordshire; she lives in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The council that is throwing her out is passing on a bill of maybe £30,000 to £50,000 a year. I do not know the exact figures to house a homeless family in that area, but that is an example. I do not blame the council. I am just asking it to rethink and not to make this a big issue. Do not destroy the lives of these children and this young mother.

Sorry, I must have a drop of water. Unfortunately, we had a Big Issue event and it involved a lot of drink. As I do not normally drink—well, God bless me. Anyway, I did get here at last.

There is a lovely printing term—it is not a rude term—called arsy-versy, so I would like noble Lords to look at my question upside down and asked themselves, “Is the noble Lord, Lord Bird, really interested in what estimate the Government

‘have made, if any, of the savings that might be realised by their cross-government cost-cutting exercise’”?

I am actually more interested in how much it will cost them socially to make those cuts. I do not believe that the Treasury says, “We are going to cut a bit here and cut that bit, and this is the effect it will have.” We could take £10 out the system, for instance, but it would actually cost us £20. When money is taken out the system because of austerity, as was demonstrated between 2010 and 2016, the problem bleeds into other areas.

I keep saying this and will say it again: when Covid came along, our hospitals were almost full, at 85%. You need 10% for eventualities. In that situation, all you do is pass on the problems. That is why austerity is too expensive. It is too expensive not to repair a few tiles in the roof but to let the roof fall down.

One of the major problems we have is the law of unintended consequences. I am appealing to the Government not to allow this injustice to happen, because it will harm people if we do anything that causes people to slip into poverty more. We need to protect our safety nets. We need to strengthen them and make sure that people do not fall into poverty and are not evicted because of the increase in the costs of living, fuel poverty and all sorts of things like that.

On the NHS, it is interesting that the BMA says that 50% of people who present themselves in hospital with a cardiac arrest suffer from food poverty—so there is a relationship between food and government cuts and what happened with austerity between 2010 and 2016. I have to end there, although I would love to have another 20 minutes—can I? No? Perhaps another time. God bless you all, and happy Christmas.

My Lords, it is incredibly difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I started off wondering where that was going to lead. I wish him merry Christmas. I bought my Big Issue outside Waitrose in Fulham, as he knows—it is a cracking issue written by people who obviously did not go to the Big Issue party, because it is quite well written.

I first declare my interests, as set out in the register. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I am proud to say that I am now a life vice-president of the Local Government Association—it took me 20 years of hard slog to get there, but I am delighted to be able to declare that particular interest. I will draw on my local government experience, rather than my ministerial experience, to make a couple of points. The whole idea of cross-cutting cost cutting is a bit like “She sells seashells on the seashore”. Those of us who understand local government know that, when you talk about cross-cutting cost cutting, it is normally because you have no idea how you will save any money, and it is a sort of balancing item in the budget—that is my experience, from six years as a council leader. It is when your Section 151 officer, the finance director, has no clue about how to balance the budget, so it is called cross-cutting cost cutting, which is a sort of “We don’t know” label.

But there are ways of taking money out. It is not a bad thing to reduce costs, whether you are a Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative council. I always felt that it was noble to ensure that we spent every penny of every pound from the taxpayer wisely to deliver public services—and you could reduce costs. I had my ABC: A was for “asset management”, or the release of underutilised assets; B was for “budgetary control”, or controlling budgets, as I am sure the Big Issue does; and C was for “cost reduction”, which you could achieve by raising or saving money. This is a noble thing to do; it is not austerity but common sense. That is the ABC of local government. When I was in City Hall, rather than a town hall, it became the three Rs: release underutilised assets, reduce overheads and reform, for example by changing your business model—you could have more constables rather than middle managers and chiefs. That is a way can save money, and it is a noble endeavour.

When I came to Whitehall, it was incredibly difficult to apply those principles because there is something called the Civil Service. You did not deal with council officers or paid service; you suddenly dealt with people who felt that Ministers were here today, if I may say so, and gone tomorrow—certainly in my case. The idea of them following your lead on applying some of those principles was extremely difficult and frustrating. It is particularly frustrating because a lot of us come with real skills in squeezing every penny from every pound. I am a business guy—I have a business as well as a public service track record, and I can apply those principles to saving money—and it pains me to see things such as the NHS track and trace call centres being only 2% utilised. On the NHS—this is not a political point, although I know Labour or the Lib Dems may seize on it—we need inventory management systems to know what people actually need; it should not be “He who shouts the loudest gets the most PPE”. This is basic supply chain management and basic procurement skills. It is not down to politics; it happens under any Government, partly because you cannot get your hands around it in the way that you do in local government, and that is a great shame.

Going back to the way that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, started his speech, and in my final 30 seconds, I therefore do accuse Stoke council of a miscarriage of common sense. For goodness’ sake, if it is a few thousand pounds, do something about it: intervene and use your common sense. You can use common sense, whether in local, regional or national government. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for raising this, and I am right behind him. Let us get Stoke council to behave itself.

My Lords, I have a vivid memory of preparing for a Lords Select Committee when I was, briefly, the Minister for Civil Contingencies at the Cabinet Office. The lead official handed me a one-foot-high pile of paper reading matter. Sensing my dismay, he said, without any sense of irony, “Yes, Minister, the Lords is a very different place from the Commons. I’m afraid they actually know what they are speaking about in that place”.

I have found other differences, too, in the last 48 hours. From the day of my introduction, I was made to feel very welcome. The doorkeepers, Garter and his team, Black Rod and her team, our clerks, the catering staff and our IT people all displayed kindness and professionalism, which is deeply appreciated. My kids had a wonderful day, the highlight of which was a selfie with “I’m a Celebrity” star Matt Hancock—which, perhaps more than anything, impressed upon me the difference between the Commons and the Lords.

I am extremely grateful to my friends and colleagues, my noble friend Lord Mandelson, of Foy and Hartlepool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for introducing me. I have played a significant role in the life of my noble friend Lady Kennedy. First, I recruited her to the Labour Party. Nearly as important as that special moment, I also introduced her to her husband, my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, my Chief Whip, who assures me that this event affords me no special privileges or pleading with the Whips’ Office. In that one sense, the Lords is very similar to the Commons. I am also extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Mandelson, who did me the honour of introducing me. Nearly 40 years ago, I was his photocopy kid when he was the director of communications for the Labour Party, and, throughout that time, he has taught me much, and it is fair to say we both agree that we have been through a lot together.

As I think the noble Lord, Lord Bird, alluded to in his speech, the big changes, when you are looking for cross-departmental savings, are made when you ally them with cross-party unity, and I will highlight a couple of areas which require cross-party support. The first area where consensus is always better than disagreement is police reform. I apologise unreservedly to Lady Brittan for the role I played in the investigation of historic child sexual abuse. Her experiences led to several recommendations about how the police conduct themselves. I am sorry, and I owe it to her to work to achieve those aims in this House in the months and years ahead.

The second area is on the future of defence. The strategic nuclear deterrent has served to keep this nation safe from major state-on-state conflict throughout the Cold War and into the 21st century. Its utility remains the credible decision when the Government are faced with the ultimate choice. However, recent history tells us that it does not deter against new strategic threats: threats to our nation, its values and our allies and friends. From the illegal invasion of countries on our allies’ doorstep to the physical attacks and cyberattacks on our national infrastructure, we need new tools in our armoury to complement the nuclear deterrent, including digital and high-tech weapons such as offensive cyber and autonomous systems. They need to be procured and deployed with cross-party consensus and with the same level of ethical and moral supremacy as our conventional and nuclear weapons to ensure that, when aggression is threatened, we can deter, regardless of how our adversaries choose to threaten us.

So I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his amazing speech. I too have known him for many years—he is a legend in my life—and it is a deep honour to make my maiden speech in his debate.

My Lords, I am glad to be able to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who has returned after his three-year leave of absence from Westminster. He will find returning a little difficult. I expect that he has already picked up that we are much more polite in this House. If we really want to be insulting, we will probably say something such as, “I am not entirely sure that I followed what the noble Lord said”.

I am very glad to see that he spent his three years very well by publishing books, getting involved with the charitable sector and, most of all, through his involvement with UK music. We have a good group of Peers who are actively concerned about music. I will tell him a little story about that. Most of the time, none of us expect anything we have said in the Chamber to be reported or heard anywhere else, but, after our debate on the national music plan in the week before last, I went to a memorial service at the abbey just across the road for a former organist and discovered that absolutely everyone in the congregation had watched the debate, heard everything we said and wished to continue discussing it with us. So we welcome the noble Lord and look forward to his continuing to campaign for music in the widest sense and to the many more speeches he will make.

We are all in favour of enterprises regularly checking their costs and where they prioritise their spending. Any enterprise, private or public, should be doing that on a regular basis. However, the calls for the Government to have a cost-cutting exercise often—too often, sadly—have a different basis. I noted that, last week, Conservative Way Forward, the Thatcherite grouping that Steve Baker chaired before he entered the Government, published a paper suggesting that, if they were to make major spending cuts on equality and diversity measures within the Civil Service, there would be room for tax cuts. That seems to be yet another example of the belief on the hard right of the Conservative Party that somehow the public sector is inherently inefficient and filled with pen-pushers and people looking after their own interests, and that there must always be more money to be squeezed out of it. The idea that the public sector is disproportionately prone to waste and therefore can be squeezed all the time to save money without damaging outputs is nonsense. Unfortunately, that nonsense is promoted by the Institute of Economic Affairs, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and various others, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose demand that there should be a 15% cut in the size of the Civil Service has, I think, now been dropped. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that.

There have been many examples of non-cost-effective cuts. The demand in 2010 that the police force should cut 20,000 members—which I deeply regret the Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government did not manage to stop—has clearly led to an increase in crime, to a decrease in prosecutions and to a desperate attempt to regain the numbers that have been lost. Another example is the fund spent on outside consultants by the Civil Service because it does not have enough personnel to deal with particular crises. Millions and millions of pounds were spent on consultants, such as KPMG and others, when good civil servants could have done the work themselves.

Other examples include cuts in the Home Office leading to long delays and additional costs in the asylum system; cuts in the courts and justice system leading to overcrowding in prisons and a rising number of people in prison on remand; and privatisation and cuts in the probation service leading to a rise in reoffending. I recall a conversation I had two years ago with a head teacher who remarked that cuts in children’s social services had increased the demands on schools to provide services for their students that they simply had not had to deal with before. My noble friend Lady Brinton will provide a number of examples from the National Health Service.

I end by simply saying that the pursuit of tax cuts at all costs, regardless of their impact on the services provided, is irrational and ideological, and it ought to end.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this crucial debate on the Government’s plans to cut even further our clearly already hopelessly overstrained and underresourced machinery of government. Yesterday in the Finance Bill debate, I focused on the social costs of the kind that the noble Lord so powerfully introduced this debate with. These are the result of the past decade of austerity 1.0, a policy that only the Green Parties across these islands have been consistent in opposing, and the threat of austerity 2.0, a cascade into a hell of poverty and inequality, which the Government have just embarked on.

Today I am going to focus on the impact on the natural world, the very foundation of life on these islands and of the economy, which the Government like to talk about as their top priority. To start topically, COP 15, the biodiversity COP, has just finished, with a better outcome than many had hoped for: a globally agreed promise, to which the UK has signed up, to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. Yet currently only 3% of England’s land and 8% of English waters are being effectively protected and managed for nature, as identified in the 2022 Progress Report on 30x30 in England by leading NGOs. As my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb so regularly sets out in this House, our streams, rivers and seas are in a parlous state and our air is causing great damage to human health—and no doubt also to the natural world. That is in large part due to failures of enforcement as well as failures of regulation.

These are matters largely for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—Defra. We all know, and the political journalists here in the lobby tell us, that Defra is regarded as a department pretty far down the Whitehall pecking order—far below the lofty towers of the Treasury, with its tight stranglehold over the purse strings and narrow focus on the economy. To meet our COP 15 commitments, and for these islands to make the transition to looking after the natural world in a few short years, is a huge job, yet Defra is in no way keeping up with even the commitments that have been made by Ministers here in your Lordships’ House. The ENDS report recently came up with a list of 16 areas in which the Government had failed to meet their own commitments under the Defra umbrella. One of the largest of those was, of course, the legally binding commitment to set targets for air and water by October 2022. If anyone missed them, they were rushed out late last Friday afternoon—in December.

In your Lordships’ House, on 15 September 2021, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, promised that an independent environmental assessment of nappy use would be published by the “end of the year”. That was in the middle of 2021, and it has not been published. Also in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, promised us a soil health action plan for England on Report on the Environment Bill, on 8 September 2021. It was offered as a trade-off for the other place dropping the soil targets that so many noble Lords from all sides of your Lordships’ House helped me insert into the Bill here. There is no soil health action plan as we enter 2023.

I am going to carefully anonymise my concluding remarks here, as I do not want to get anyone to get into trouble. I was speaking recently to a member of Defra staff who I know to be extremely dedicated and knowledgeable—indeed, a world-leading expert in their field. They have to be, since the problems that they are tackling in England are worse than pretty well anywhere else in the global North. This staff member’s head dropped in despair as they told me that staff had been told to prepare for a 20% to 40% headcount cut. This would be a gutting of a department already hamstrung by understaffing, poleaxed by cuts, and facing the huge burden of trying to manage post-Brexit deregulation. Can the Minister reassure me that that cut to the Defra headcount is not going to happen? Can she offer a Christmas present for nature, on these islands, where nature does worse than in almost any other part of this poisoned, plastic-choked, trashed planet?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for instigating this debate and for his fine opening speech, and above all for his lifelong campaign to promote a fairer society.

We should welcome some savings—for instance, tightening of terms of procurement contracts and cutting the number of consultants—but most cuts are far too drastic to be absorbed by efficiency savings. Indeed, they add to costs. The gross inequalities in our society and the poverty and insecurity suffered by the sick, the old and the low paid have of course been aggravated by two events beyond our Government’s control: the Covid pandemic and the fallout from Ukraine. But the impact has been worsened by the Government’s policies; in particular, their reluctance to raise taxes.

We have learned from recent crises that there is a trade-off between efficiency and resilience. I have two examples: first, dependence on long supply chains, allied with just-in-time delivery, can be a false economy if large-scale manufacturing is jeopardised when one link in the chain breaks; and, secondly, although it may be efficient to have 95% utilisation of intensive care beds in hospital, it is prudent to bear the cost of spare capacity to cope with emergencies. It is unrealistic to claim that crises in our schools and hospitals can be solved by efficiency savings alone. These institutions are forced to pinch and scrape to make savings, which can lead to reduced efficiency because of decaying infrastructure, outdated IT, falls in staffing and staff morale, and so on. Our expenditure and outcomes have fallen below those of other advanced countries, a contrast starkly spelled out, incidentally, in a coruscating article in the latest Economist.

I had the privilege of being on the Times Education Commission, the subject of a recent debate in this house instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. An especially moving section of its excellent report highlighted the problems at preschool level. A head teacher of a northern primary school recounted that many children in reception classes could not say their name and were not toilet trained. This was a consequence of the shutdown. Home schooling was a reality for children with educated and well-resourced parents, but absolutely not for children of disadvantaged and insecure parents. Even before Covid, this contrast had grown starker because of the closure of around 1,000 Sure Start centres. It will be hard for these kids to catch up after facing such deprivations at the beginning of life. For them, equal opportunity is a sham.

At the end of life too conditions for the disadvantaged are shamefully aggravated by austerity. There is an almost decade-scale gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. We all know that it is the underfunding of care homes, distressing for the old and sick, that leads to the overwhelming of hospitals that endangers all of us.

These inadequacies cannot be cured by efficiency gains. The predicament that we are in surely calls for a rise in some taxes—for instance, on multinationals, on six-figure salaries, and on dividends and capital gains. Our nation should emulate the US less and northern Europe more, to sustain public services that we can be proud of and which allow the rising generation to fulfil their potential in a more secure and equal society.

My Lords, what a privilege it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rees. I express my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Bird; I am always in awe of his style and humour, and wish only that I had any of it. I take this opportunity to put on record my deepest respect and affection for all the staff of this House, wishing them a beautiful Christmas. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Watson, to this House. I look forward to speaking and working with him.

Today is the last day of our work for 2022. We finish knowing that the community organisations and charities, churches, synagogues, masjids, gurdwaras and temples that are the backbone of our country will be overstretched beyond their capacity. Every major children’s, disability, women’s and mental health charity is deeply alarmed by what they view as a deepening social and financial crisis. Twelve years of severe austerity measures on local government—I speak with local government experience—and assaults on front-line services have led to the result that, today, our precious nurses and ambulance workers are on strike.

What equality impact assessment has been made of the well-being of millions of families who are anxious about the cost of living; of the hundreds of thousands of children who may go hungry this Christmas, living in squalor and in degrading, unfit, temporary or homeless accommodation; of the women and their families fleeing violence and abuse; of people with disabilities and their carers who are struggling with a pervasively poor-quality support system for their most basic needs and community services; and of patients with mental health needs—we have talked about them this week—who we know are languishing on medication and in poorly staffed hospital units simply because, when discharged, they have little or no community facilities to rely on?

According to Mr Ray Clarke from the Isle of Wight, who is among those who have written to me recently, the Cabinet Office has apparently instructed DWP, HMRC and other departments, as a cost-cutting measure, that they do not have to provide a telephone service but can instead direct people to online services. Can the Minister say whether this is the case? If so, will that not seriously breach equality laws and make it difficult for the millions who do not have access to adequate internet? This surely adds even more pressure to crumbling front-line services, adding to stresses caused by the gigantic wave of government-induced financial crises—of course, I cannot forget to mention the loss of billions wasted on faulty PPE. In the light of the factors I have highlighted, and which others have spoken of, can the Minister say whether any review would consider and take these on board?

The Government are running the sixth-largest economy in the world and, one after another, poor decisions have crippled our economy and international reputation. Any consequent efficiency savings review worth its name must have absolute regard for societal impacts, or we will jeopardise safeguarding our children’s futures and the Government will rightly stand accused of being not fit for purpose. Will the Minister assure this House that the Government will prioritise the needs of our citizens over costly political ideology and dogma?

My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing me to nip in quickly. I just want to express a few words of thanks. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for introducing the debate and, as usual, for being provocative on what is needed much more from the Government these days and which seems to be absent—some attention to common sense. So many of our policies seem to go awry and we do not seem able to do the simple things. I also take this opportunity of welcoming my noble friend Lord Watson to the House, and thank him for his very important maiden speech, and in particular his apology. To apologise like that takes some doing, and it is right for us to say that we are sorry ourselves, to accept it and welcome him. I very much look forward to his contributions and the work that he will do in the House.

On the subject itself, I will be very brief. I am surprised that the contribution from the Green Bench did not mention this, but rather than looking all the time for growth, growth, growth, given what is happening to the planet we should now be looking for life. Less of something is better for us and good for the planet, good for the universe and good for individuals. Why do we need to grow, grow, grow? Why do we not start to look to consume less food and drink every day, as a number of noble Lords have suggested? We would all be better at the end of the day if we did that. Why do we not look to travel less, rather than to travel more and use planes, as we have done in the past? We could use less, and stay in our communities and with our colleagues. There is a whole range of areas where we could do this, such as fuel. Why do the Government have to have a debate on whether to advise people to economise on the use of fuel? Common sense should prevail. As I promised I would speak only briefly, I will leave it at that. It is a different approach, and it is time for a different approach on the economy.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who made some very pertinent points.

First, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, not just on securing this debate but on, in his usual inimitable style, making us think outside the box. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, reminded me of the Tennessee STAR Project in the 1980s and 1990s, which discovered that every dollar spent on under-7s in deprived areas saved a further $7 in later life, whether in the criminal justice system, catch-up education, skills for work or benefits.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, talked about council budgets. In 1993, when I was elected to Cambridgeshire County Council and immediately became the portfolio holder for education and libraries in the Lib Dem-Labour coalition, I had the privilege of learning from my leader, the wonderful Councillor Peter Lee, how to budget. Every year, we reviewed all our activities; every department was given a 2% target for cost cutting, but with the rubric that there had to be a detailed explanation of the consequences of those cuts. Every department was also given the chance to contribute 0.5% of its budget into a central budget for “invest to save”, so we could recommission our services knowing that, within a year or two, there would be substantial routine savings to follow. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire noted, it is always important to scrutinise costs and review unnecessary spend.

I turn to the National Health Service. Your Lordships know that virtually everyone interested in health talks about the importance of workforce planning. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, referred to the current strikes. There is no doubt that they are partly about pay, but it is much more than that. They are about what is happening in our health service at the moment. Without workforce planning, NHS England has tried this year to put a cap of £2.3 billion on agency staff spending—that is about 10% in some budget areas—to “herald an efficiency crackdown”. However, agencies are being used because of the large and increasing workforce gaps.

A Royal College of Nursing survey in June this year showed that eight out of 10 shifts were not staffed at a safe and appropriate level—that is once you have added in agency staff. The costs of agencies are breathtaking, with hospitals paying up to £5,000 per hospital consultant shift. The Royal College of Physicians has said that expanding medical school places by 15,000 would cost £1.85 million annually, but that is less than a quarter of the amount being spent on bank and agency staff at the moment. Invest to save.

A month ago, we had an SI in Grand Committee on biocidal products for the Health and Safety Executive. In response to a question from me and one from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, said that, post leaving the EU, the arrangements for registering biocidal products mean:

“The total budget for the HSE’s chemical regulation division has grown by 39% … between 2018-19 and 2022-23, reflecting the HSE’s need for increased resources for its post-EU exit responsibilities.”—[Official Report, 21/11/22; col. GC 239.]

I was going to refer to Elon Musk’s approach to cutting as a businessman, but I will leave that to one side.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rees, said, cuts have been severe and too drastic. This Government need to understand that they need to go back to basics: understand the role of public services, fund them properly and certainly recognise the cuts we are facing as a result of leaving the EU.

My Lords, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, I was reminded that on my desk is a form to renew my lapsed subscription to the Big Issue—I recommend it to colleagues; it is a lot easier than always paying for an individual copy. I was also reminded why he set it up in the first place. I recall talking to him as Charities and Third Sector Minister; I can tell him that I will leave this place and renew my subscription before Christmas.

The noble Lord said something that reminds us why that enterprise is so successful and why today’s debate is so important. His reference to the “miscarriage of common sense” is worth bearing in mind for future debates in your Lordships’ House and the work we do. He used the example of a woman about to lose her home, partly because life is too tough and too hard for her. All of us will know people who are finding life too tough and too hard at the moment; whether they are waiting for an appointment or on the phone trying to get through to somebody to fix something—for a workman, a health appointment or whatever it is—life is getting harder and harder and the costs are getting greater and greater. If we can return to dealing with these miscarriages of common sense, I think we can get ourselves to a much better place.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for allowing us to have this debate. It is Christmas and, we hope, the season of good will. Other than legislation, this is the last proper debate of Parliament this year. I am grateful to him both for his tone and for introducing the issue and allowing us to have this debate.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, and I am genuinely pleased to welcome him to your Lordships’ House. His speech today was really important. He mentioned an apology but, for me, what was really thoughtful and deep in his speech was his commitment; he said that he will dedicate himself and do these things to make sure that these issues can be addressed. That is a marker of the man that he is. I have worked for him for many years, and I think he has shown today why he will be an asset to your Lordships’ House. I thank him for his speech.

Other speeches today have touched on crucial issues. In terms of the cuts we are seeing at the moment, the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, emphasised the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has mentioned them many times before. We talk about efficiency savings, but I have been hearing about them from this Government for so long that I wonder whether there are any savings left to be made, and why it went so wrong the first, second and third times that we are still trying to make efficiency savings. Building on the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, said that they are too drastic to be efficiency savings and are in fact harmful.

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, has made the point many times before that spending cuts are not wise if the damage done is greater than the savings made. That should be our starting point; it brings us back to the point about common sense that he made at the start of his speech. If the effect of saving money is just to push the costs further along—the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, is frowning at me; perhaps if he had been here for the rest of the debate, when other noble Lords were speaking, he would understand the points I am making—so that the costs are borne by others and have a greater social and financial impact, it is not really a saving. All of us want to see the best value for money we can get. Nobody is against genuine efficiency savings, but there comes a time when cutting into the bone is damaging to society and to our finances altogether.

We have had short speeches in this debate, and I think they have been all the more powerful for that. It remains for me only to say that I wish the whole House, our colleagues, the staff and everyone here a very merry Christmas, and again thank the noble Lord for the opportunity to have this debate today.

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate, and thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, on his maiden speech, and for the apology he rightly made to Lady Brittan. He brings the benefit of his 18 years as an MP; ministerial experience; service to the Labour Party, which seems to include the happy marriage of the Kennedys, and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union; and, of course, his enthusiasm for alternative rock music.

I was interested to see in the thoughtful article by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in the Big Issue—which was sold to me on a snowy morning in Tisbury, Wiltshire by a lady who is always there, day in, day out—on the problems facing ex-prisoners and the importance of mentoring, on both of which I think I can make a contribution to today’s debate.

Before I respond on specifics, I would like to say that, especially in challenging times like the present, the Government face a constant struggle both to improve the economy and to make things more efficient. The initiatives that form part of our efficiency and savings review are devoted to allocating resources to the right areas—of course, the NHS and social care were prioritised on 17 November—and doing things better.

Ways of doing this include “right first time”, as mistakes are costly and draining. We want less waste. We need to use new technology better, do more outside London, and encourage public servants to be creative and come up with front-line ideas that help save money and help users. As has been said, we also need fewer miscarriages of common sense of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, described happening in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, a part of the country I particularly love. I would be happy to follow up with the relevant colleagues across government and local government to look into this case, if he would be kind enough to supply further information to my private office after the debate. Life is hard but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, we need to minimise miscarriages of common sense.

This is very difficult, but we need to be ambitious and leave no stone unturned, so arm’s-length bodies are in scope, as well as the Civil Service. Personally, I would like to see regulators running on tighter budgets too. As everyone has said, it is a challenging time, but the Autumn Budget confirmed that departmental budgets would be maintained at least in line with those at the spending review 2021. That set UK government departments’ resource and capital budgets from 2022-23 to 2024-25. The Autumn Statement confirmed that these departmental budgets will be maintained at least in line with the budgets set at the spending review. Additional support was provided to help the most vulnerable, alongside measures to get debt and government borrowing down. To ensure that key public services continue to deliver, the Government prioritised further funding in the next two years to support the healthcare system, including the critical matter of social care, and schools. We have also recruited 32,000 more nurses compared to 2019, 4,000 more doctors than last year, and 15,000 more police officers since 2019.

The public rightly expect their Government to lead by example and to be run as efficiently as possible. That is why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have asked departments to look for effective ways to maximise efficiency and value for money. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I say that this includes looking at workforce efficiencies as appropriate, but the Prime Minister does not believe that overarching top-down targets are the right way to deliver efficiencies. As part of our commitment to levelling up, the Government also recommitted to a number of areas of capital spend that are crucial to economic growth and spreading opportunity, including the £20 billion R&D commitment, the levelling-up fund, Project Gigabit, HS2 and core Northern Powerhouse Rail, progressing Sizewell C, and the new hospital programme.

Maintaining budgets will of course require difficult decisions from departments. However, this is the responsible thing to do to avoid fuelling further inflation and ensure that the Government take a disciplined approach to public spending. We need to be ambitious as a Government in finding better ways of doing things and to focus spending where it delivers the greatest value for money for the taxpayer.

I pick up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, made about the social costs of austerity and the knock-on effects of that, also highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, but this is not austerity. We face a very challenging time, but the OBR highlighted at the Autumn Statement that spending plans announced spending reductions much smaller than the overall spending consolidation that the coalition embarked on. Indeed, we have been criticised for some for this. Total departmental spending will be over £90 billion higher in real terms by 2027-28 than at the start of the Parliament. The Autumn Statement also announced significant uplifts in spending for key public services, including the NHS and schools, as I have said.

This is not about reducing budgets and there are no savings targets. I hope it will give some comfort to noble Lords to hear that all savings identified during the review will be reinvested within departments to help to manage pressures and protect the Government’s priorities, including vital public services and higher growth. However, we will be looking for opportunities in departments to reprioritise spending away from some of the lower-value and lower-priority programmes. Such opportunities include accelerating progress on innovation and automation, and further reducing waste and duplication.

To pick up a point made about online services, I should say that they can improve delivery of services; I know that from my experience at the DWP and elsewhere. However, as has been said, there are problems for those who cannot access the internet. That is why we are investing in the rollout of broadband, which is very important—it has taken longer than it should—and access through libraries and other such areas is also important. We need to match the wonders of the online world with making it easy for people, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

I will use one department as an example: HMRC is identifying a sustainable savings plan which would be worth over £200 million a year by 2024-25, and that is through systematic planning, tracking and delivery of efficiency savings. We also continue to make savings by reallocating roles from London, delivering the same public service for less by reducing the rent paid in London, and spreading opportunity across the country, as we have seen in the Darlington Economic Campus, which is a good example. The Government are also committed to working more efficiency by reducing waste through tackling fraud with the new Public Sector Fraud Authority, which is now up and running.

As I said, we need to reprioritise lower-value and low-priority programmes so as to get maximum value for money. The Evaluation Task Force, which I mentioned last week, is a joint Cabinet Office and HM Treasury unit which will improve the way in which government programmes are evaluated. We can feed those evaluation results to Ministers so that they inform policy and help them do a better job going forward. The Government also require that spending proposals be developed in line with the Green Book guidance on appraisal and evaluation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, had a long list of concerns about Defra—which, as she knows, is where I started my career. I hope she will take some comfort from what I said about the efficiency review. In most cases, department budgets are the same as last year and will be maintained, and that includes Defra’s budgets. The efficiency and savings review will support Defra to manage the inflationary and other pressures that it faces, ensuring that government works as efficiently as possible and focusing spend where it gives greatest value. I think she said that targets have not been announced but we have in fact now announced legally binding targets to protect our environment, clean up our rivers and boost nature, which I am sure she has welcomed. Finally, we share an enthusiasm for reusable nappies, so I will find out what has happened to her environment impact assessment.

It was a pleasure to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and I agree on what he said about the importance of resilience. We will be debating that subject in the new year with the report by the Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee. I do not personally agree with what the noble Lord said about taxes but in any event, luckily that is a matter for the Chancellor.

If I may, I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, on well-being and equality assessments.

The policy we are discussing today fits well into other policies, especially but not exclusively economic policy. The overarching aim of the efficiency and savings review is to ensure that we can keep spending focused on the Government’s top priorities and manage pressures from high inflation, using creative ideas such as described by my noble friend, Lord Greenhalgh—I will take away his ABC and three Rs and see whether they could be helpful elsewhere. We need departments to accelerate efforts to tackle waste and work more efficiently and creatively, focusing spending where it delivers the greatest value for the taxpayer. As I said right at the beginning, if we get things right first time, that can be helpful and make a difference.

All the savings identified during the review—it is, I repeat, part of our creative and constructive approach—will be reinvested in departments and in protecting our priorities; these include vital public services and higher growth programmes, which give us more cake in due course. The Government will report on the review’s progress in the spring but, in the meantime, I wish noble Lords a welcome break and a very merry Christmas. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for giving us an opportunity to debate these matters today.

Service Family Accommodation

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 December.

“The provision of safe, good-quality and well-maintained accommodation is an irreducible minimum when it comes to supporting our Armed Forces. It is essential to operational output, recruitment, retention and morale, which is why providing such accommodation is a core priority of the Ministry of Defence.

More than 96% of the MoD service family accommodation of 46,000 properties meets or exceeds the Government’s decent homes standard. Only those properties that meet this standard are allocated to service families. However, it is unacceptable that some of our personnel and their families are not receiving the level of accommodation services—in the form of maintenance standards—from our suppliers that they deserve and, in particular, are suffering from a lack of heating and hot water. I have spoken to a number of our personnel, from a range of ranks and circumstances, and I share their indignation. It is not acceptable.

MoD contractors are under a legal, but also a moral, duty to resolve heating and hot water problems. What are those duties? Emergency calls should be responded to, and the issue made safe, within two hours. An emergency is an incident that threatens imminent risk of injury to persons, or that presents a high risk of extensive damage to property or the environment. Urgent calls should be responded to as soon as possible and within 48 hours. Those are the terms of the contract that were agreed, but our suppliers in too many cases are failing to meet those requirements. We expect and demand that our suppliers do better, and we will do everything we legally and properly can to force them to do so. Let me be clear: no home should be left without heating or hot water for more than 24 hours. Should it not be possible to resolve the issue quickly, alternative forms of heating and sources of hot water, or alternative accommodation, must be provided.

Rectification plans were triggered by the Ministry of Defence earlier this year following concerns about contractor performance. Since then, access to temporary heaters for families without heating has been improved. A total of 1,500 additional heaters have been purchased, and they are being dispersed at various locations based on several factors, including where there is a high density of homes.

Secondly, there is an increased use of temporary accommodation to support families with vulnerable people, or where some form of heating cannot be restored in a reasonable time. Thirdly, more staff are being recruited by Pinnacle, VIVO and Amey and, following a call to the national service centre about a heating or hot water issue, families will be contacted by a qualified engineer to support the diagnosis of faults, enable remote fixes if possible, and arrange an appointment if a remote fix cannot be achieved. All families will also be provided with temporary heaters, or offered alternative accommodation, should a fix not be possible.

Fourthly, I can confirm that compensation will be paid to families to cover any increased energy costs caused by the use of temporary heaters. VIVO, Amey and Pinnacle are, I know, in no doubt about Ministers’ profound dissatisfaction at their performance. I have met them already and I am meeting them again later today. This is not any old contract. This is a contract to support the accommodation of British service personnel and their families—the people who answer the call of the nation to step up and defend us when required. These contractors must improve. They will improve, or they will face the consequences.”

My Lords, the Minister in the Commons said yesterday that the provision of safe, good-quality, well-maintained accommodation is an irreducible minimum when it comes to supporting our Armed Forces. So why is there a backlog of 3,100 outstanding complaints about service accommodation? This huge backlog includes complaints about recurring black mould, causing viral infections in children; crumbling roofs; burst pipes that are flooding homes; and broken boilers. Even when reports are made, there is no guarantee of repair, with two-hour waits on helplines. How has it got to this? When will the Armed Forces of our country, of whom we are rightly proud, get the accommodation that they deserve?

I echo the words of my honourable friend in the other place. Yesterday, he said—quite correctly—that

“it is unacceptable that some of our personnel and their families are not receiving the level of accommodation services—in the form of maintenance standards—from our suppliers that they deserve and, in particular, are suffering from a lack of heating and hot water.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/12/22; col. 143.]

As the noble Lord will be aware, there has been a chronicle of dissatisfaction with the way in which contractors have been discharging their duties. We are very disappointed by contractors’ poor performance.

I can assure the noble Lord that some important improvements have been made. Our rectification plan started back in mid-September. First, my honourable friend the DPV Minister and the Secretary of State have met the contractors Pinnacle, Vivo and Amey to discuss these problems and express our deep concern. I assure the Chamber that we are holding them in a vice-like grip; there are penalties in the contract. My senior MoD colleagues are also meeting contractors fortnightly at the executive level—that is, chief executive and above. Every day, people in the MoD are engaging with their counterparts in the contracting companies who are carrying out the improvements on the ground.

Improvements have been made steadily, and the systems have been improved. However, I agree entirely with the noble Lord that anything less than habitable accommodation kept in good order is not acceptable. The MoD is conscious of that and conscious of the debt we owe our Armed Forces personnel. We are doing everything in our power to improve the situation, and evidence of improvement is there.

My Lords, this issue is not new. Before the Minister took her place as the Minister of State for Defence, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, listened to my complaints about service accommodation so many times that he said he would meet me. In the end, he sent the then Minister, Tobias Ellwood, to meet me. At the time, I pointed out a Facebook page called “Victims of CarillionAmey”, which still exists. Carillion is no longer with us but the point was about the response on service accommodation to service personnel, particularly their spouses. Often, a wife at home is unable to work because she has to spend so much time waiting at home for maintenance people who do not come. The answers so far have been good, but can the Minister assure the House that there will be not just changes to the number of meetings but some proper key performance indicators that are to be met?

The noble Baroness’s entreaties of my predecessor and noble friend Earl Howe were to very good effect because it was part of a systematic approach to the MoD about quality of accommodation for our service personnel. I can reassure the noble Baroness by saying that Pinnacle has increased the number of call handlers from 14 to 56, VIVO has boosted the number of contractors by 27%, Amey has boosted the number of contractors by 60%, and 15,000 heaters have been bought and are being distributed.

I asked officials this morning that if I were in that accommodation with two vulnerable young children and the heating went off, what could I do and how quickly could I do it? I was reassured that there is now, through Pinnacle, a 24/7 365 helpdesk where calls are triaged so that the urgent ones are dealt with and get a response. The caller is given a reference and there is a response within 48 hours, although the majority of calls are being responded to quicker than that. As I said earlier, we are holding the contractors in a vice-like grip: we are holding their feet to the fire. What has happened has been profoundly unsatisfactory, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her efforts in drawing attention to it.

Can my noble friend update the House on the status of the hundreds of former MoD homes at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, which have been empty for some considerable time? There was a proposal to use them to house Ukrainian women and their families, who would replace the men who had previously picked fruit and vegetables in a one-hour radius of that area. As my noble friend may be aware, there is a shortage of seasonal workers for this purpose. Defra had such a scheme in mind, but unfortunately it did not happen. What is the current status of the homes? Are they about to be refurbished and will they be sold, or might they be used for such a future scheme?

On the general question of availability of MoD accommodation, we are very careful about how we manage accommodation because we have ongoing obligations to rotating staff and we must ensure that we can accommodate them safely when that accommodation is required. I do not have information on the specific location to which my noble friend refers, but if she permits, I will inquire and write to her.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to black mould. Since the coroner’s verdict on the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, there has been growing public awareness of and concern about that issue. I have visited family and single military accommodation where you could smell the mould; it clearly was there. Given the rising level of public concern and awareness, and of medical awareness, have the Government done anything to step up efforts to tackle black mould in service accommodation?

Let me reassure the noble Baroness. One of my questions to my officials earlier today was exactly the one I indicated to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith: what does somebody do who is affected by damp and mould in a property? The answer is that a dedicated damp and mould team has been set up by DIO, and it will be stood up during January 2023. A dedicated hotline is in place for damp and mould, and has been live since last April. It also works on a triaging approach, so that there is an opportunity to assess the situation. A report of mould leads to a professional survey report being commissioned and, if required, that is followed by an offer of alternative accommodation. We simply will not have people living in non-habitable premises.

I can share with the Chamber that Amey is piloting a video project to see whether this helps to improve the pace at which things are dealt with, and awareness of conditions within the property. Often, that helps to decide at the triaging stage how urgent the problem is. It is a pilot, and no doubt we will be reviewing it, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are cognisant of the threat of damp and mould, particularly in the light of the recent tragedy involving the little boy, and we are doing everything we can to mitigate the effect.

I thank the Minister for that very helpful answer. So far, the focus has been very much on the repairs required and the firms to do them, but there is a duty that the Government and the people of this country have under the Armed Forces covenant. Given that we are talking about people who live on site and who use the doctors’ services on site, have the Government any idea what percentage of families in military accommodation, and of children especially, have respiratory diseases? It is possible to anonymise this information, but it might help the Government to understand the scale of this problem in comparison with the average figures across the country.

The noble Baroness raises a very interesting point. I do not have specific information, but once again I shall undertake to inquire, and offer to write to her if I elicit a response.



The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 December.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on Ukraine. I am grateful for the leeway that Mr Speaker has given me for a slightly longer Statement than normal; I thought it important to give as much information as possible to the House at the close of this year.

Today marks the 300th day of what was supposed to be a three-day operation by Russia. As this calendar year draws to a close, I want to update the House on the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the brave defence of the Ukrainian people. Since it began its offensive on 24 February, Russia has failed to achieve its strategic objectives. Not one single senior operational commander in place on 24 February is in charge now. Russia has lost significant numbers of generals and commanding officers. Rumours of General Gerasimov’s dismissal persist, as Putin deflects responsibility for continued military failure in Ukraine, high fatality rates and increasing public dissatisfaction with mobilisation.

More than 100,000 Russians are dead, injured or have deserted. Russian capability has been severely hampered by the destruction of more than 4,500 armoured and protected vehicles, as well as more than 140 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, and hundreds of other artillery pieces.

The Russian battalion tactical group concept—for a decade the pride of its military doctrine—has not stood up to Ukrainian resistance. Russia’s deployed land forces’ combat effectiveness has dropped by more than 50%. The Russian air force is conducting tens of missions a day, as opposed to 300 a day back in March. Russia’s much-vaunted Black Sea fleet is little more than a coastal defence flotilla. Kremlin-paid mercenaries are faring no better. Hundreds were recently killed by a strike on a headquarters used by the paramilitary Wagner Group in the Luhansk region.

Behind the scenes, international sanctions, including independently applied UK sanctions, have handicapped the Kremlin’s defence industry. Russia is running out of stockpiles and has expended a large proportion of its SS-26 Iskander short-range ballistic missiles. It is now resorting to stripping jetliners for spare parts. Its inability to operate independently is underscored by its reliance on Iran’s Shahed drones.

President Putin’s failure to marshal recruits and machinery is translating to battlefield defeats. At the maximum point of its advance, in March, Russia occupied around 27% of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine has since liberated around 54% of the territory taken since February. Russia now controls only around 18% of internationally recognised areas of Ukraine. Last Monday, the Kremlin cancelled its annual press conference for the first time in a decade.

Almost a year on, the conflict now resembles the attritional battles of World War I. The Russian army is largely fixed in place, not just by Ukrainian firepower but by its own creaking logistics system and barely trained troops. Soldiers occupy networks of waterlogged trenches and a vast front line stretches for 1,200 kilometres —the distance from London to Vienna. Despite intense fighting in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, Russia can barely generate a fighting force capable of retaking lost areas, let alone make significant operational advances.

Russian public opinion is starting to turn. Data reportedly collected by Russia’s Federal Protective Service indicated that 55% of Russians now favour peace talks with Ukraine, with only 25% claiming to support the war’s continuation. In April, the latter figure was around 80%.

Alongside Russia’s litany of failure is an expanding rap sheet of reported war crimes. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, since 24 February some 6,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and nearly 10,000 injured. Every day more allegations emerge of rape, arbitrary detentions, torture, ill treatment, deaths in custody and summary executions. Unrecorded group burial sites have been discovered in former occupied areas such as Mariupol, Bucha and Izyum. Industrial facilities such as the Azovstal steelworks and the Azot chemical plant have been targeted, risking the release of toxic industrial chemicals, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant—the largest in Europe—has been indiscriminately shelled. At the start of the invasion, Russia planned “kill lists” of civic leaders, show trials and sham referendums. Unfortunately for it, the international community has not been fooled by such tricks.

Russian soldiers recently exhumed the bones of Prince Potemkin, the legendary confidant of Catherine the Great. They have also looted priceless artefacts from museums and, according to UNESCO, either partially or completely destroyed more than 200 Ukrainian cultural sites. More sinister still is the splitting up of families through forced relocation or “filtration” into temporarily occupied territories or Russia itself. Numerous open-source reports show that this morally bankrupt activity is not the work of rogue units or corrupt individuals; it is systemic.

Today, Russia is weaponising winter, with ongoing and widespread missile strikes targeted at Ukraine’s energy and water infrastructure. More than 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been struck. However, Ukraine’s resilience has meant that a significant proportion is back up and running. Such behaviour is a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict. We are doing everything we can to support the Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court as they investigate.

At the beginning of this year, my aim was to help Ukraine resist and to give its citizens hope that the Europe they aspire to be part of would support them in their hour of need. The international community has not disappointed. As Russia has changed its tactics throughout the conflict, so we in the United Kingdom have changed the type and level of our support. For example, Britain’s expertise and advice is helping Ukraine better co-ordinate and synchronise its air defence. Our advice helps Ukraine target incoming Russian or Iranian kamikaze drones. We always make sure that our support is calibrated to avoid escalation. The House should be under no illusion that it is Russia that is escalating its attacks on Ukraine, and I have made that point clear to my counterpart Minister Shoigu in Moscow.

I wish I could tell the House that, after 300 days of almost daily defeats, Russia has recognised its folly. Sadly, it has not. There is no let-up for the Ukrainians and, as can be seen by the weaponisation of energy, there is no let-up from Putin’s war for us here in the United Kingdom or across Europe. Therefore, Ukraine will require our continued support in 2023, building on our lethal aid, training, humanitarian support and international co-ordination.

That is why, as the temperature drops further in Ukraine, the UK is doing what it can to help Ukrainians endure the harsh winter. The UK has donated 900 generators to Ukraine, and it has sent approximately 15,000 extreme cold weather kits to the Ukrainian armed forces, including cold weather clothing, heavy duty sleeping bags and insulated tents. We anticipate that a further 10,000 cold weather kits will be delivered by Christmas. Across the international community, around 1.23 million winter kit items have been deployed to Ukraine.

Alongside our global partners, we have implemented the most severe package of sanctions ever imposed on a major economy. Simultaneously, we have galvanised efforts to raise funds to support Ukraine. I chaired my first Ukraine donor conference on 25 February and have attended three since then. The UK has been instrumental, too, in bringing our northern European neighbours together in solidarity under the auspices of the Joint Expeditionary Force, whose unity was apparent at its meeting yesterday in Riga. Together, this has ensured a steady supply of lethal and non-lethal aid to sustain Ukrainian resistance.

As the threats to European security rise, the UK has also been leading efforts to shore up regional security, deploying a number of units across the continent. President Putin wanted to see a weaker NATO. NATO will now be even stronger with Finland and Sweden’s decision to accede to the alliance. As Secretary of State, I do all I can to make sure that the final hurdles are removed to allow their swift entry into the alliance.

Although our populations continue to struggle with the cost of living crisis, the global community must hold its course on Ukraine. The price of Putin’s success is one none of us can afford. We must ensure that Russia maintains its commitment to the Black Sea initiative, which has so far transported 14.3 million tonnes of grain in more than 500 outgoing voyages; we must stop its reckless shelling of nuclear facilities; and we must hold its enablers to account. Iran has become one of Russia’s top military backers. In return for Iran’s supply of more than 300 kamikaze drones, Russia intends to provide it with advanced military components, undermining both Middle East and international security. We must expose that deal—in fact, I have just done so.

Make no mistake: the UK’s assistance to Ukraine will remain unwavering. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his continuing support. We have already committed to match or exceed the £2.3 billion in military aid we have spent in the last year. We have secured a major deal to keep up the ongoing supply of artillery rounds and will continue refreshing Ukraine’s stocks of air defence and other missiles, as well as our own. Where we have equipment to gift, we will replace from our own stocks; where we have no more to gift, we shall purchase alongside our allies. The UK has been joined in its huge level of support by the US, as well as by EU members—Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic states in particular.

We are determined to maintain and sustain the Ukraine equipment pipeline for the longer term. Our international fund, which we co-chair with Denmark, has to date received pledges worth half a billion pounds, and it has just concluded its first round of bids for capabilities that we plan to rapidly procure for Ukraine in the new year.

Our Armed Forces are doing everything possible to develop the battle skills of Ukrainian men and women, having put almost 10,000 through their paces in the UK in 2022. My ambition is for our Armed Forces, alongside our allies, to train at least double that number in 2023. I want to place on record my thanks to Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Australia for their contributions of troops to join that endeavour, training Ukrainian troops here in the United Kingdom. Finally, we must help Ukraine rebuild. The reconstruction conference that we will host next year will accelerate that process.

Throughout this year, I have kept open communication channels with my opposite number, Defence Minister Shoigu, in order to avoid miscalculations and reduce the risk of escalation. Through written correspondence and a phone call on 23 October, I have repeatedly stressed that Russia must stop targeting civilians, end its invasion, and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

This year, the Ukrainians have been fighting not only for their freedoms but for ours. We must be clear that three days, or even 300 days, is not the maximum attention span of the international community. The UK and the international community’s dedication to help Ukraine is solid and enduring, and will not let up through 2023 and beyond. We cannot stand by while Russia sends waves of drones to escalate its attack on innocent civilians.

Just as the UK’s support has evolved as the conflict has unfolded, we are doing so again now in this latest phase of Russian brutality by developing options to respond in a calibrated and determined manner should the escalation continue. If the Kremlin persists in its disregard for human rights and the Geneva conventions, we must insist on Ukraine’s right to self-defence and the protection of civilians. The next year will be critical for all of us who believe in standing up for freedom, international law and human rights. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I start, at the end of this year, by thanking the Minister for her very helpful and co-operative approach in keeping me and this Chamber up to date with respect to Ukraine over the last 300 days. It has been very welcome. I also make the usual but nonetheless extremely important restatement of our support for the Government’s actions with respect to Ukraine. As we have stated many times, the fight for freedom, democracy and the rule of law remain as important now, 300 days after Russia’s illegal invasion, as they were on day one. President Putin has strengthened the resolve of NATO and been surprised by the co-operation that is so evident, again demonstrated by today’s visit to the White House of President Zelensky. The Ukrainian Government and their people should know that our resolve in this country remains strong.

I would like to ask the Minister a number of questions which arise from the Statement and the Government’s actions. First, can we expect the full 2023 action plan for Ukraine that the Defence Secretary promised four months ago, and which is not yet published? When will it be published?

It is reported again that Russia is seeking to boost and extend its military links with Iran: the Defence Secretary says that Russia intends to supply military technology to Iran in return for it supplying drones to Russia. Can the Minister tell us what action the Government are taking on this with respect to Iran? The Defence Secretary says that the West must hold Russia’s enablers to account. How do the Government actually intend to hold Russia’s enablers to account—in this respect, Iran? Does it not also cause worries for that region around Iran as well, and show that the Ukrainian conflict has far-reaching consequences not only for Europe but beyond it?

In the face of the increasing support of drones being provided to Russia by Iran, what additional support are we providing to Ukraine to defend itself? Can the Minister update us on the latest situation with respect to the provision of military equipment to Ukraine by us and our allies? Are there any shortages, and are we maintaining our own stockpiles in the face of this additional demand?

Alongside the discussion around Ukraine, we read that the Prime Minister has ordered a review of UK spending in Ukraine, and of our support. Can the Minister explain what this actually means, given that Downing Street also said that it involved an audit of progress? Did the Ministry of Defence know that that statement was coming? Was there proper consultation about it and was it fully agreed?

The Ukrainian Government have also said that they require support, such as with energy, to help them through the winter in the face of the Russian attacks on their energy supply. How are we supporting civil society through such shortages, as the maintenance of the health and security of the civilian population in Ukraine is crucial to their own war effort? Given the reports in the media that Royal Marines have also been deployed in Ukraine—reports based on briefings from senior Royal Marine commanders—and particularly given that the missions carried

“a high level of political and military risk”

is there anything further the Minister can say on that?

As London is to join other cities in darkening Christmas lights for Ukraine, in a show of solidarity with the millions of Ukrainians without power this winter, will the Minister join me in praising the British public for their support for the people of Ukraine? There is not only Homes for Ukraine, but the many fundraisers and expressions of support. This support is also essential; it shows the understanding that this has been a long struggle and is likely to continue for some time yet. The British public, in the face of their own difficulties, deserve much praise for understanding that some face even more difficulty. Was not the Defence Secretary right to say in his Statement that 300 days

“is not the maximum attention span of the international community”?

It has to be the case that our dedication to help Ukraine is enduring. It will not, and must not, let up through 2023 and beyond.

My Lords, as so often, I am very happy to associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. However, unlike yesterday in the questions on the Statement on the Afghanistan inquiry, I have a whole series of additional questions to put to the Minister. These are intended not to undermine anything that the noble Lord said but simply to press a little further.

Clearly, we must all salute the resilience of Ukraine, President Zelensky, First Lady Zelenska and the Ukrainian people, who have done so much to stand up not just for their own liberty and freedom but for freedom more widely, as the Secretary of State said yesterday in another place. It is indeed right that the United Kingdom and our NATO allies have been supporting Ukraine. I thought the words of the Secretary of State yesterday were very well measured, that

“our support is calibrated to avoid escalation”,

because that is absolutely vital. There is a very real danger, as I thought the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, touched on, that this conflict could become much wider. Clearly NATO countries want to support Ukraine, but it is Ukraine’s war. It is right that we support by training Ukrainian service personnel and providing equipment, but we need to avoid escalation.

To press a little further, I wonder whether the Minister could clarify what work is being done to ensure that we have adequate contacts with the supply chains and those supplying military hardware to ensure that, down the line, there will be sufficient capabilities for His Majesty’s Armed Forces. We have raised these issues many times over the last 300 days, but the longer the conflict goes on the more important it is to ensure that there will be no difficulties with capabilities, not just in supporting Ukraine but for the United Kingdom Armed Forces themselves.

In addition to the question of capabilities, there is another. It is welcome to know, as everyone is aware, that the Royal Navy has been in the Black Sea and that the Army has been in various parts supporting the Joint Expeditionary Force in Eastern Europe. Can the Minister tell us what assessment has been made of the impact on our Armed Forces of all the requirements that are being put on them? Yesterday, we talked about the need for our Armed Forces personnel to stand in to replace key workers during the strikes. Again and again, we are calling on our Armed Forces. Does the Minister think we are giving them sufficient support? Should we be thinking about reversing the cuts to the Army?

Beyond that, there are clearly questions about what Russia has been doing and the activities that it has perpetrated—war crimes, alleged atrocities of rape, and many other atrocities that have been put forward. In particular, there appear to be many Ukrainians whose bodies cannot be identified. Last month I was in the Falkland Islands, visiting on the 40th anniversary of the liberation. There, of course, we have attempted to put graves for Argentinian soldiers, who were not easy to identify. That was by way of reconciliation, in some ways.

Last year, I was in Bosnia where there are mothers still weeping because the dismembered bodies of their dead children are scattered. In the light of what we are seeing in Russia, will the Minister say whether the Government are ready to consider supporting the idea of some sort of tribunal on war crimes perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their introductory remarks. Not for the first time, I express my appreciation in this Chamber for the unanimity of support for how we are responding to this illegal war being waged by President Putin. I have said before, and I repeat, that that political unanimity has a real impact, and I think it has made Russians realise that something very bad is happening in their name. I was interested in looking at my right honourable friend the Secretary of State’s Statement in the other place. He mentioned how public opinion in Russia seems to be changing. That is to be welcomed. Now there is evidence that a majority of the population is actually unhappy about this war and far from convinced that it is either justified or worth while. I think that the role that we play in this country through our political and democratic processes by demonstrating that unanimity—or as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, phrased it in word that does not often escape my lips—solidarity of approach is extremely important. It is part of the powerful response which this country is giving and, of course, that response has been supported and shared by our allies and partners.

On the noble Lord’s specific question about the action plan, it has not been forgotten about; it is a fairly dynamic piece of work, as the noble Lord will appreciate. There is a fluid situation in Ukraine. We regularly have to assess from our discourse with the Ukrainian Government, the intelligence we get from the Ukrainian armed forces and our own intelligence assessment how we should be approaching next year. To put this beyond any shadow of doubt, since the noble Lord raised my right honourable friend the Prime Minister using the word “review”, our resolve to support Ukraine in defending itself is absolutely unwavering. The Prime Minister is completely shoulder to shoulder with that resolve. When there is any endeavour in which the United Kingdom Government are engaged, the Prime Minister naturally wants to know how it is all going. That is a very natural inquiry, but that is not in some way to diminish or begin to weaken our support. We are very clear about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

That leads me on to the next point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which is this troubling intelligence that Russia is supplying technology to Iran. That is a profoundly undesirable development, and the noble Lord is quite correct that that of course has potential consequences for the broader region in the Middle East. As to how we deal with that, we consult allies and use whatever forum we have available, whether that is NATO or the UN, to highlight the concerns, to make them as public as possible and to consider collectively whether there is anything more we can do whether by the application of sanctions or other forms of restriction. The noble Lord will be aware that sanctions are beginning to bite hard and there is now evidence that the Russian military action is being degraded and that some of the weapons manufacturers in Russia have had to cease activity, all of which is evidence that the sanctions tourniquet is beginning to tighten around the Russian economy.

On our general support for Ukraine, as the noble Lord is aware, we have provided a variety of forms of equipment, both lethal and non-lethal. We have provided short and long-range air defence systems and missiles to help Ukraine protect its critical national infrastructure. These include Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak missiles, advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles—AMRAAM—and multiple-launch rocket systems which can strike targets up to 80 kilometres away. We have augmented that with armoured vehicles, anti-tank missiles, Brimstone missiles, anti-structure munitions and 4.5 million tonnes of plastic explosives—I will check that figure, because I think something is missing from the briefing pack—so we have been doing a great deal. I think noble Lords get the picture. We are doing a lot, and propose to continue doing a lot, to support the Ukrainians. We make these judgments by assessing what we hear from them, and then through the international donation co-ordination centre, which is led by the UK, we work out who is giving what and how quickly we can get it to them, and try to avoid any conflicting issues of duplication or replication.

The noble Lord raised the issue of replenishments; I can reassure him that we keep a close eye on this. We remain fully engaged with industry, allies and partners to ensure both the continuation of supply to Ukraine and that all equipment and munitions granted in kind from UK stocks are replaced as expeditiously as possible. We are working with NATO partners to strengthen industrial capacity within the alliance, both for now and for the future. We have been able to place contracts in respect of replenishing Starstreak lightweight multirole missiles and the next-generation light anti-tank weapons, NLAWs. They are currently being built. We anticipate further contracts being placed in the course of next year. The overriding consideration is that we always have to balance what we give with having enough ourselves to address issues of national security.

On the noble Lord’s reference to the Royal Marines, as my right honourable friend made clear in the other place, there has been a small cohort of Royal Marines but they have been there to protect the embassy. They are there not in any pugilistic, offensive capacity but simply to protect our diplomatic presence, which is a natural and understandable thing to want to do.

On humanitarian aid, yes, we have been paying close attention to what we can do to support Ukraine in the bombardment it is being subjected to. We have released £5 million of funding for repairs and replacement equipment in response to the Ukrainian Energy Minister’s list of needs. In October, the UK signed a €97.3 million European Bank for Reconstruction and Development guarantee for the Ukrainian electricity distributor. We will continue to look at what we can do to support Ukraine in energy. As previously indicated, we have also sent portable generators to support access to power for essential services, including hospitals and shelters. In November, the Foreign Secretary signed a memorandum of understanding with the energy community to release £10 million to repair Ukraine’s energy grid. That is on top of the generators already supplied.

The final point that the noble Lord made very eloquently was in relation to the UK response to all this. I absolutely agree with him that that response has been magnificent; it manifests in so many ways. No doubt he, like me, hears uplifting descriptions of how families have been taken in and made to feel welcome and are making a contribution to life in the UK. He is absolutely correct that the attention span is not transient or finite; it is there for as long as we need it to be there to see off this threat.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is quite right: we ensure that we calibrate support to avoid escalation. I have explained about replenishment and capability; that is being addressed. She raised the impact on our Armed Forces and, yes, we ask a lot of them. Taking regulars and reserves, we have a current cohort somewhere well over the 100,000 mark. Of those, as I described I think yesterday—I am losing track of the days—a relatively small proportion are deployed to MACA tests, but obviously we have presences in the Baltic and Cyprus and a reducing presence in Africa. We are very clear about the need to be vigilant as to what we ask our Armed Forces to do and to ensure we are attentive to their welfare and well-being.

The final point the noble Baroness raised was on Russia’s activity and war crimes. I reassure her that we have been very active on that issue, working with the International Criminal Court and doing our best to provide expertise to the court to assist it in the work it needs to do. This is a very important area and Russia, and the agents and operators acting on its behalf, must understand that the tap on the shoulder will arrive one day. Our role is to ensure that the International Criminal Court, with the help of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, is gathering and preserving the evidence it needs to consider legal charges and, subsequently, successful prosecutions and convictions.

My Lords, it is sadly appropriate that the final Statement taken in the House this year is on Ukraine. I associate myself with all the comments made by my noble friend Lord Coaker from the Front Bench. When it comes to UK solidarity, one of the memories of this remarkable year that we will all share is President Zelensky’s address to both Houses of Parliament.

As we look ahead to next year, I want to ask about the Government’s assessment of two events taking place. One is President Zelensky’s visit to Washington and the other is President Putin’s to Belarus. Will the Minister’s share the Government’s assessment of the renewed risk of an attack via Belarus towards Kyiv? That was Russia’s original intent, which was rebuffed, but the threat is, if anything, just as great as we look ahead to next year. I would be grateful if the Government would share their assessment of this risk.

I say to the noble Viscount that I think we were all moved by President Zelensky’s address to parliamentarians. I was certainly moved by Madam Zelenska’s address, which was a most poignant and memorable speech. It brought home the raw and cruel nature of this illegal war, which she spelled out in very clear terms.

The noble Viscount will understand that I am limited on what I can say about how we assess intelligence. We liaise closely with our allies, not least the United States, and with our other partners in NATO. As I said earlier, we of course liaise closely with the armed forces of Ukraine. We are alert to where threats may be heading and to how degraded the Russian military effort is. Everyone should understand that. It has been impacted by the sanctions and by intrinsically poor planning, training and equipment. The sad fact is that many Russian soldiers have been sacrificed in this illegal endeavour by Putin, which is absolutely to be deplored. The Russian military endeavour has been materially degraded and it is important to remember that. I cannot share specific information, but I reassure the noble Viscount that, in our conversations with the Ukrainian armed forces, we are very alert to understanding exactly what they see as the threat, then working out what we can do to assist and respond.

My Lords, I refer to my registered interest as chair of Wilton Park. I urge the Minister to look at a report that was published today, The Role of the Private Sector in Ukraine’s Recovery and Reconstruction, which was a result of a conference held last week in Warsaw. The UK’s engagement in looking beyond the immediate situation of the war is incredibly important and the international private sector plays an important role. I urge the Minister to use our convening power to pull together the various strands of work that would allow for that reconstruction, as and when it is appropriate.

I thank the noble Baroness for referring to that report. I am not familiar with it, but I shall now make myself familiar with it. I hear her plea, so we will look closely at the report and consider what else we can do.

My Lords, this will be the last Green group contribution in the House this year, barring any last-minute recalls—I fear I may be tempting fate—so I hope that the House will forgive me for taking one second to thank, as many others have, all of the staff, who, mostly invisibly to the outside world, keep us operating here through the unsociable and highly unpredictable hours to which we cling. I offer profound thanks to all of the staff.

I am very glad that we are taking this Ukraine Statement, but it is a grave pity that yesterday’s biodiversity COP 15 Oral Statement in the other place has not been picked up today. I hope that someone can confirm that we will at least be doing that belatedly in the new year.

On the Ukraine Statement, my question follows on from that of the noble Baronesses opposite. The Statement focuses on Russian attacks on military targets in Ukraine in this illegal war but, of course, at the moment a lot of the Russian military activity focuses on attacks on civilian infrastructure, particularly energy infrastructure. One of the things that I found from my visit last month to Kyiv and surrounding areas, particularly Irpin and Bucha, was that the Ukrainians are working very hard to restore things and keep things going, even under this continuing attack on civilian infrastructure. One of the things that they have found relates to renewable infrastructure. I heard about solar panels on hospitals and medical facilities, which mean that they can continue to keep functioning even when the rest of the system goes down. Can the noble Baroness reassure me on what the Government are doing? She talked about our attention span not being short. Are we focusing on helping the Ukrainians to support that essential civilian infrastructure? Are we particularly looking at rebuilding, now and into the future, using resilient renewable infrastructure that can be there for the long term for the Ukrainians?

Yes, I heard the noble Baroness’s remark about the repeat of the COP 15 Statement. I understand that there has been a genuine logistics problem with the sheer volume of urgent business arriving in this House. Indeed, I did not expect to be attending to two items on the last day before the Recess, but I am delighted to do so as they are on such important subjects.

Attention is certainly being paid to infrastructure and reconstruction, but the noble Baroness will understand that, whatever plans we develop with our partners and allies—and very good plans are being developed—this anticipates and has to be predicated on some sort of stability and peace within the region. Otherwise, we will not have an environment in which we can safely start addressing that reconstruction. So it is very important to observe that there is still a job to be done in seeing off this illegal attack by President Putin.

On the issues to which the noble Baroness referred, I described in some detail what we have been involved in, but I can provide some more detail that might interest her. We are providing support for Ukraine’s early recovery through the partnership fund for a resilient Ukraine, which is a £37 million multi-donor fund that the UK belongs to. Through this, the UK, alongside other countries, has already provided extensive support for the repair of buildings, as well as other activities in the Kyiv Oblast and other parts of Ukraine.

A UK Export Finance initiative has also committed £3.5 billion of cover to Ukraine to enable support for priority projects, such as infrastructure, healthcare, clean energy and security sectors. Working with the Government of Ukraine, the UK Government have identified an initial eight construction projects to be supported by UK Export Finance. This is all about helping to repair Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, laying the foundations for economic recovery.

Next year, the United Kingdom will host the 2023 reconstruction conference, which will be a very important occasion that will be informed by a lot of the information that has already come into our domain within this Chamber in the last year, not least the report to which the noble Baroness referred. This will be an important development. Obviously, in reconstruction, one imagines that attention will be paid to the most energy-efficient technologies, and one would hope that that would be a matter of explicit consideration. But I repeat that, although we would love to make progress with this, we cannot do so safely until we have got under control the conflict situation that exists in Ukraine at the moment. The best thing that can happen is that this degraded, demoralised and, frankly, immoral Russian Government instruct their troops to withdraw from Ukraine—that would be good news for the Russian people—and then let Ukraine get on with the job of building for the future, with help from friends and allies.

Further to the answer that my noble friend the Minister has just given, can she say something about grain exports? They are important, not just as revenue to Ukraine and its farmers but as a source of food to third-world countries. As we saw last month, they can be disrupted at a moment’s notice by Russia. Further to what my noble friend the Minister has said about infrastructure, what steps have been taken to reinforce infrastructure within Ukraine so that grain and other commodities can be exported by road rather than by sea?

My noble friend is right that the export of grain is absolutely critical; it is instrumental to global food security. It has been a matter of profound regret that Russia was prepared to obstruct those grain exports, much of which is needed to feed the world’s hungry—and, in many cases, the world’s hungry poor. My noble friend makes an important point, and, as he is aware, the UK continues to support United Nations-led efforts to support the grain initiative, which is currently allowing grain to get out. Echoing what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, we have to try to ensure that whatever is happening within Ukraine is predicated upon safe routes that may not be vulnerable to attack. That is one of the constant issues with which we contend. We are very conscious, as are our allies, about supporting the initiative; it has been a success and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that it continues beyond March 2023. We urge Russia not to block its extension.

My Lords, one of the many ways in which President Putin miscalculated his invasion of Ukraine was a failure to foresee its galvanising effect on NATO. Since the invasion, both Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership. By earlier this month, all allies, apart from Turkey and Hungary, had ratified the new memberships. Hungary has said that it will ratify them by the end of the year, but Turkey is still in play. Can the Minister say what His Majesty Government’s latest assessment is of the prospects of early Turkish ratification of that very important enlargement?

It is an important enlargement, and we support it. Turkey is an important ally to the United Kingdom; we are on good terms with Turkey. We will certainly use whatever influences we have, whether through MoD or diplomatic channels, to advance the case for the benefit to NATO and the broader Baltic region of Sweden and Finland becoming NATO members. We are committed to that, and we will use our best efforts to try to influence that debate.

My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, I should have made it clear earlier that my trip to the Falkland Islands was at the invitation and expense of the Falkland Islands Government, as declared in the register of interests.

National Security Bill

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Constitution Committee, 20th and 21st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Amendment 50

Moved by

50: Clause 16, page 15, line 25, at end insert—

“(iia) section 3 (assisting a foreign intelligence service);”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is intended to probe the exclusion of offences under Clause 3 from the offence in Clause 16.

My Lords, this group of amendments simply raises two questions, which is why we put down two probing amendments. Clause 16 criminalises preparatory conduct for any offences under Clauses 1, 2, 4 or 12, but it does not cover preparatory conduct for offences under Clauses 3 or 5.

Clause 3, as noble Lords will know, is the offence of assisting a foreign intelligence service. It is not covered by the preparatory conduct offence, and we are simply at a loss to know why the Government deem it necessary to have an offence of preparatory conduct in relation to the protected information offence, the trade secret offence, the more serious of the two prohibited places offences and sabotage, but not in relation to assisting a foreign intelligence service. Can the Minister explain the Government’s thinking?

I do not believe that there is a need for a similar explanation for not criminalising preparatory conduct in relation to offences under Clauses 13 and 14, on foreign interference, or Clause 15, on obtaining benefits from a foreign intelligence service. That is because Clause 13 already covers preparatory conduct, because it refers to conduct or a course of conduct of which it, the conduct, forms part. Clauses 14 and 15 define the new offences in a way that states the criminal acts so tightly that they do not need a reference to preparatory conduct. Indeed, that would be inappropriate.

As for Clause 5, it may be that the reason for not making a separate offence of preparatory conduct for unauthorised entry to a prohibited place is that the Clause 5 offence is summary only and carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment. It may have been thought that preparatory conduct for such an offence was likely to be fairly nonspecific anyway. If the Government have other reasons for excluding Clause 5 from the ambit of the preparatory conduct clause, please may we know what they are? These are probing amendments, but I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendments 50 and 51 seek to expand the preparatory conduct offence by adding the assisting a foreign intelligence service or FIS offence, Clause 3, and the unauthorised entry to a prohibited place offence, Clause 5, to the scope of the preparatory conduct offence.

The Committee will be aware that, under Clause 3, the first offence, in subsection (1), applies where a person engages in conduct that they intend will materially assist an FIS in carrying out UK-related activities. The second offence, under subsection (2), applies where a person engages in conduct that it is reasonably possible may materially assist an FIS in carrying out UK-related activities. The person engaging in this conduct has to know, or ought reasonably to know, that the conduct is of this kind. The type of activity that could be considered to be preparatory acts relating to assisting an FIS are already sufficiently covered by the second offence under subsection (2) and also by the offence of obtaining material benefits from a foreign intelligence service under Clause 15.

Clause 5 targets conduct in a prohibited place which is unauthorised. The offence targets lower-level activity, such as knowingly entering a prohibited place without authorisation. This offence does not therefore require a purpose prejudicial to the UK to be demonstrated. I remind noble Lords that the purpose of Clause 16 is to allow the most serious state threats activity to be disrupted at an early stage. It would be disproportionate to include the Clause 5 offence under the scope of the preparatory conduct offence, given that the offence does not require any proof of intent against the United Kingdom and accordingly carries a lower penalty. As such, we do not consider that the inclusion of these additional offences to the preparatory conduct offence is necessary or proportionate to achieve the aims of the offence.

I hope that that answers the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. The Government therefore do not find the amendment to be necessary, so I invite him to withdraw.

My Lords, the Minister’s response on Clause 5 was precisely in line with the possibility that I adumbrated, and he has confirmed that, so I shall withdraw that amendment without hesitation. Of course, I shall also not move the other amendment, because it needs further discussion. However, at the moment I do not understand how preparatory conduct is covered by Clause 3 at all. Perhaps we can discuss that behind the scenes between now and Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 50 withdrawn.

Amendment 51 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clauses 17 to 21 agreed.

Schedule 2: Powers of entry, search and seizure

Amendment 52

Moved by

52: Schedule 2, page 73, line 17, at end insert—

“4A An application for an order under paragraph 3 or 4 may be made without notice to a judge in chambers.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment provides that an application for a production order may be made without notice to a judge in chambers. Schedules 3 to 5 already make equivalent provision for orders under those Schedules.

My Lords, government Amendments 52 to 59 are minor and technical, and bring consistency across the police powers in the Bill by aligning Schedule 2 with equivalent provisions in Schedules 3 to 5.

The amendments serve several purposes. First, they ensure that applications made under Schedule 2 for production orders and explanation orders may be made without notice to a judge in chambers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or to a sheriff in chambers in Scotland. This means that, in cases where it could harm an investigation, an application may be made without notifying the defendant. For example, the police may require a production order to obtain evidence from a person suspected of preparing to conduct espionage. Notifying them of the application in advance may result in the destruction, concealment or alteration of that evidence.

Secondly, the amendments ensure that a production order made under paragraphs 3 or 4 of Schedule 2, or an explanation order made under paragraph 8, has effect as if it were an order of the court. This means that if a person fails to comply with the requirements of the order, they can be treated as being in contempt of court, which is a criminal offence punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine. Failing to comply with a production order or explanation order can impede a state threats investigation. To avoid damage to such an investigation, it is crucial that provision is made to hold to account those who choose to disregard these orders. This approach mirrors that of the account monitoring orders under Schedule 5 of the Bill and the equivalent production order power in terrorism legislation.

Finally, Amendments 56 and 57 simplify the way that the term “judge” is defined in Schedule 2, aligning it with the definition in Schedules 3 to 5. The amendments do not change the meaning or interpretation of “judge”; they just ensure the drafting is the same across the schedules.

I ask noble Lords to support the inclusion of these amendments.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. As he has explained, these amendments make provision for applications for production and explanation orders to be made without notice to a judge in chambers. The amendments also make it clear that the orders should take effect as if they were court orders, so that disobedience would be treated as contempt of court.

We of course accept that such orders should be sought and obtained without notice, where necessary; we would expect that, generally speaking, it would be so necessary, because, as I think the Minister pointed out, a warning that application was going to be made for such an order would encourage the persons holding the material to hide it or other evidence concerned or to concoct explanations and provide false support for such explanations. If the orders are made without notice, the person is caught unawares and the orders are more likely to be productive. We also accept that disobedience should be punishable as contempt of court, simply in order to give the orders teeth, which they ought to have.

However, I add one general point. These production and explanation orders are quite draconian in nature and represent a significant intrusion on privacy and liberty. We accept that the conditions set out in the Bill for making these orders are tightly drawn and that, if those conditions are met, the orders are justified. However, it is important—I am sure the Government accept this—that those applying for these orders, and judges scrutinising these applications, will need to be astute to ensure that the conditions set out in the legislation for the orders to be made are fully met.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks and I take on board what he says. These minor and technical amendments seek to bring consistency across the police powers in the Bill, as I have said, by aligning Schedule 2 with the equivalent provisions in Schedules 3 to 5. It is right that we are consistent across the Bill in its provisions and definitions, which these amendments seek to achieve.

Amendments 52 to 59 agreed.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.

Clause 22 agreed.

Schedule 3 agreed.

My Lords, I wanted to say something about Clause 23 when it was the right moment; I think this is the right moment, without breaking the rules, and I got a nod from the clerk, so I have that assurance.

I am afraid I have not yet been able to get into the details of the Bill, but as I told noble Lords, I have been out of the House for three months, and I am taking a bit of time to get back into the business. There seems to be some discontent on the Government Benches: am I offending somebody? Apparently not.

I received a brief from Reprieve, which says of Clause 23 that it could give Ministers and officials effective immunity for crimes such as targeted killing and torture, and would destroy the UK’s moral authority in condemning crimes such as Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi Arabia. Clause 23 would thwart accountability for Whitehall complicity in torture—

What was Clause 23 has now become Clause 28, because of various changes made by amendments to the Bill. So my noble friend’s remarks will be perfectly in order when we get to Clause 28, but we are not there yet.