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Lords Chamber

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

House of Lords

Tuesday 31 January 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Reading Clerk and Clerk of the Journals

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the House do approve the appointment by the Lord Speaker, pursuant to the Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824, of Dr Christopher Johnson to be Reading Clerk and Clerk of the Journals of the House in place of Jake Vaughan, appointed Clerk of Committees.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.

Horizon Europe: UK Participation


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what renewed assessment they have made of the possibility of the United Kingdom participating in the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme in 2023.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper; it is not the first time that I have asked it.

The noble Viscount is getting ahead of himself. The Government have been pushing the EU to implement our association to EU programmes, including Horizon Europe, but the EU has delayed our association, to the detriment of researchers and businesses in both the UK and the EU. If this situation persists, we will be ready to introduce a comprehensive alternative programme, which will include a new long-term talent offer, a single innovation programme uniting industry and academia, a global collaboration programme and support for world- class infrastructure.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. He will surely agree that, for decades, the UK benefited hugely from our association with EU research programmes, but will he not grudgingly accept that, three years after Brexit, real damage has been done to British science by being out of it? The Royal Society wants to know, as do I: first, what will happen to the Horizon Europe guarantee fund when it runs out in March; secondly, what about the £2 billion that has been set aside for future association; and, thirdly, do the Government recognise signs of a brain drain caused by the uncertainty? In short, while we all want the UK-EU negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol to succeed, we do not want plan B; we want plan A, as promised. When will the Government deliver it?

The noble Viscount needs to take that message to the EU. The Government stand ready to implement the agreement that we freely entered into; it is the EU that is refusing to do so. I agree with the noble Viscount that Horizon Europe has been very valuable. That is why we entered into an agreement—the TCA—to continue our association, but the EU refuses to progress it.

My Lords, first, does the Minister recognise that, when we were members of Horizon, we took out more money than we put in because of the excellence of our proposals? Does the Government’s plan B—if we do not associate with Horizon—include the extra money that we got from the European Union from other EU countries? Secondly, does the Minister agree that, when we were members of Horizon, we gained membership from our leadership role in designing research programmes and shaping the future of Horizon? What is the Government’s estimate of the loss to UK science of the lack of that leadership role?

My Lords, the Government need no convincing about the benefits of association with Horizon Europe. We benefited from it. The UK has eight universities in the top 50 globally; the EU has only six. It is a multifaceted programme; exchanges benefit both sides. We were of the view that association would be a good idea; that is why we entered into the agreement. We still hope that the EU will have second thoughts.

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has apologised for asking the same question twice. I will do the same thing and ask why we cannot be associate members of Horizon, like Israel and Tunisia.

I think my noble friend has asked that question three times. He gets the same answer every time but he is welcome to ask it again. The point that he makes is very valid. There are 15 countries in addition to the EU that have associated to Horizon, including Israel, Kosovo, Turkey and Tunisia, but, for reasons known only to itself, the EU refuses to continue the agreement.

My Lords, the Government’s plan B will not help the situation, as the Science and Technology Committee found in its report on the Government’s ambition to be a scientific superpower. Our work and scientific visas and upfront health costs are up to six times as high as those of other leading scientific nations. Will the Government implement our recommendation to reduce visa fees in line with those of our competitors? If not, we will carry on losing scientists.

We remain very proud of our scientific efforts and researchers continue to come from all over the world to study in the UK and to continue their research here. We want that to continue but I will certainly pass on the noble Baroness’s comments to the Home Office.

My Lords, something that is not mentioned enough in this argument is the collaboration between people individually within a large laboratory. In my group there were speakers of 15 European languages. We made long-term relationships with people that we could carry on while we were still in the EU. That has now been lost. How can the Government replace that?

If it proves not possible to associate with Horizon, as I said—although we continue our efforts to try to persuade the EU otherwise and to fulfil the agreement that it entered into—we will have to put in place alternative arrangements involving scientists from EU countries as well as from across the world. I agree with the noble Lord, and I know he has tremendous experience in this, that research collaboration across countries and across continents is always useful.

My Lords, are we not in this position because we threatened to abrogate an international treaty into which we had willingly entered? I very much want to see the protocol negotiations succeed. Where do they stand at the moment?

I cannot comment on the protocol negotiations in detail. As far as I am aware, they are going well. I realise that my noble friend wants to link the two issues, but they are entirely separate. They are entirely separate agreements. Justifying the EU’s unreasonable position on this helps no one.

My Lords, time is running out. Every university and research organisation in the country will provide examples of projects that are now in limbo. They are not being included in new EU projects because they are seen as a risk. Last week the Science Minister, George Freeman, announced that if the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government will be ready with a “comprehensive alternative” to ensure strong international collaboration opportunities—the so-called plan B—both transitional and in the longer term. How soon will more details, especially for the longer term, be announced? Does the Minister agree that there is an urgency to ending the uncertainty that is so damaging to our universities and research organisations?

I agree with the noble Lord. There is a limit to how long this period of limbo can go on. We have provided guarantees to researchers, and we are funding them in the meantime. The time is approaching when we will need to make a final decision on this.

My Lords, since the Minister has considerable experience of the European Union and its institutions, why does he think that the European Union is behaving in this remarkably unkind way? Is there some explanation or is it just a question of the EU using this issue to try to succeed in some other way in the negotiations?

I think the Commission has been very clear in intimating that the issue is linked to the Northern Ireland protocol, but, as I have said, this is a separate issue. They are separate legal agreements, and we stand ready to continue the discussions about association, which is part of an agreement we already have with the EU.

My Lords, I think we would all, on our side, feel more convinced if it was not always the case that the Government think it is someone else’s fault. Surely this is the time to engage in more meaningful negotiations with our former EU partners because the time by which a decision has to be made on this is fast approaching. As I understand it, we need to agree a guarantee scheme by the end of March. That being the case, can the Minister confirm whether that is the cut-off date, and that the Government will bring forward a plan B to ensure that we have the right levels of international co-operation in research that this country urgently needs so that our businesses thrive in the future?

I always stand ready to receive advice from the noble Lord about how we can meaningfully enter into negotiations with someone who does not want to meaningfully enter into negotiations with us. Obviously, the Labour Opposition know better than we do on this.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think that the Government might be more successful in delivering what everyone wants if the Opposition do not keep taking the side of the EU, which is responsible for this?

My noble friend gets the Opposition riled more than I do sometimes. Criticism of the EU is almost blasphemy in some parts of this House, but the reality is this is the fault of the EU. We stand ready to continue the negotiations and to associate as soon as the EU is prepared to talk to us about it.

My Lords, not only are we not a member of Horizon Europe but we are not part of Euratom. I believe that has led to supply problems of radioisotopes imported for both treatment and measurements in medicine. What are the Government doing about that?

Indeed. The noble Lord is correct. We are working to overcome those difficulties as quickly as we can.

This is one of the many disasters of Brexit. What are the benefits? Could the Minister tell us what the benefits are?

I do not know how long the noble Lord has got, but there are huge amounts of benefits. I could talk about all the trade agreements we have entered into or the newfound regulatory freedom we have—

If the House will listen, I am prepared to spend as much time as needed on this. From financial services regulation to gene editing and gene modifications, animal rights legislation and environmental legislation—all of this is now possible, and it was not when we were members of the European Union. In this case, we have entered into an agreement with the EU. All we want it to do is implement it.

Integrated Review: Update


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with the update to the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

My Lords, Defence is supporting the refresh of the integrated review. We must ensure that the UK remains ready to deter adversaries in the new era of strategic competition. Taking lessons learned from the past year, we will continue to modernise, build resilience and promote prosperity both domestically and across our global partner network. Any specific policy changes will be determined once the update to the integrated review is concluded. We expect this work to be completed ahead of the Treasury’s Spring Statement.

My Lords, at the weekend a senior US general said that the British Army was no longer a top-tier fighting force. Yesterday the Defence Secretary said:

“I am happy to say that we have hollowed out and underfunded” —[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/23; col. 18.]

in reference to troop and spending cuts. Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State? Is that really a summary of the Government’s policy? Will the update of the integrated review see an end to this policy, or will it continue?

The 2021 integrated review and defence Command Paper highlighted that we must focus on capabilities rather than troop numbers per se. Through Future Soldier, the Army will have a whole focus of over 100,000, comprising 73,000 regular service personnel and 30,100 Army Reserve. However, the noble Lord made an important point about hollowness. Over time and under successive Governments, there has been underinvestment in our land capability requirements. We have recognised that and set out a plan. Future Soldier is part of that. We have published an equipment plan of £242 billion over 10 years, and the Army’s proportion of that is £41 billion, covering, for example, Challenger 3, Boxer and Ajax.

I remind the noble Lord that this Government were responsible for a record-breaking finance settlement for defence—the biggest since the Cold War—and it should be acknowledged that we have made a serious attempt to try to redress the hollowing-out process over many years.

My Lords, whatever the fresh defence Command Paper has to say, it will be of value only if the Government strike an appropriate balance between ambition and resource. The Minister keeps referring to the largest spending increase on defence since the Cold War. Since virtually all spending reviews since the Cold War have meant a reduction in defence expenditure, that is not a very high bar to clear. Will the forthcoming spending review support the defence Command Paper or undermine it?

The noble and gallant Lord may consider that it is not a very high bar, but it is higher than any of the other bars that have been set, and the facts speak for themselves. He will be aware that the challenge for defence is that we have to balance the operational and remote resource demands of today with the overarching vision to modernise to meet the demands of tomorrow. In the MoD, we are confident that we can reconcile these conflicting tensions.

My Lords, will my noble friend go back to the department and tell our right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Armed Forces that it is very welcome that they have expressed the views they have in the last couple of days, realising what a sad state the Army is in. I hate agreeing with the Labour side, but we do know that a great deal more money needs to be spent on defence.

My noble friend will have heard me say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that neither I nor my ministerial colleagues deny that a challenge has confronted our land capability—a challenge spread over many years and created under successive Governments. We are cognisant of that and are doing what we can within the MoD to address it.

My Lords, following a theme that has been echoing around the Chamber, will the Minister say what assessment the MoD and His Majesty’s Government have made of the fact that the IMF is predicting a recession in the United Kingdom? Given the nature of inflation and the unpredictability of the exchange rate, what impact is there likely to be on defence capabilities? In the light of all those things, is it not time to move beyond percentages of GDP as targets for defence expenditure and towards a real focus on actual capability and what the UK can deliver?

The noble Baroness will be aware that a percentage of GDP is the model that has been adopted increasingly by other states in consequence of the approach that the United Kingdom has taken to defence expenditure. In relation to current expenditure, the noble Baroness is right that we face challenges of inflation and fluctuating currency, but we have been able to make greater use of index-linked fixed price contracts, and we use pricing mechanisms where inflation risk sits with suppliers. Indeed, that has prevented higher prices being passed on. We also have forward purchasing of fuels, utilities and foreign exchange—all of which mitigates the corrosive impact of inflationary pressures.

My Lords, no matter how it is dressed up, it is quite clear, because even the Government have admitted it—the Secretary of State has admitted it—that we have underfunded our Armed Forces and they are hollowed out. Will we ensure that all three services have an increase in spend? For example, although there is a lot of talk about the Army, when one looks at undersea cables and the huge growth in the Russian submarine force, there is no doubt that there is a maritime threat as well. All three services must be looked at, and there is an absolute need to invest now.

I hold the noble Lord in very high regard, but I do not hold the purse strings of government. However, he sends a consistent message, and I am sure that it is resonating beyond this Chamber.

My Lords, the integrated review quite rightly makes the point that international agreements are key, and we are a member of the Five Eyes. As we make a greater tilt to the Far East, can the Minister assure us that there is some consideration of increasing the Five Eyes to include Japan?

I say to my noble friend that I obviously cannot be specific. Five Eyes is a very important collaboration, and it is relevant to our activity in the Indo-Pacific area. My noble friend makes an interesting suggestion. We already have a good bilateral defence and diplomatic relationship with Japan, but I listen with interest to what he says.

My Lords, there is a legitimate focus on land capabilities, but I return to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord West. We are a maritime power, and it has been our ambition to be a world-leading one. We should not overlook the threat in the Baltic and North Atlantic, which contribute to the security not just of the UK but of northern Europe.

I reassure the noble Baroness by referring her to the ambitious shipbuilding programme for the Royal Navy. We are watching with interest the emerging development of the Type 26 on the Clyde and the Type 31 at Rosyth. Of course, the fleet solid support ships were recently announced; they will involve Harland & Wolff and will be built principally in Belfast. But the noble Baroness is quite correct: we are a maritime nation, we realise that and I think she will agree that there has been a very healthy investment in our maritime capability.

My Lords, are the Government not embarrassed that they have had to admit to our closest ally, the United States, that the British Army can no longer put a fully equipped armoured division in the field? If they are not embarrassed, they should be.

The noble Lord will understand that, in this day and age, we cannot look at one aspect of capability on its own—that is not how we deal with and address threats now. The key to how we operate is, first, co-operation with allies; it is also agility in how we respond and making sure that we have the technology and equipment to respond. Although there is no denying—and I have not attempted to deny—that we have seen a hollowing out of our land capability over some decades, it would be quite wrong to give the impression that MoD in the UK does not have a very solid capability: we do. It is important, particularly having regard to the instability in other parts of the world, that we do not talk down our Armed Forces, not least for the morale of the men and women who serve so bravely in them.

My Lords, since publication two years ago, surely there has been a major global change—namely, the illegal invasion of Ukraine. Is not one of the lessons of those two years that we should concentrate more on European defence and give up the illusion of a greater tilt to the Indo-Pacific?

We do concentrate on Euro-Atlantic security, and the swiftness with which we responded—indeed, led the response—to the illegal invasion of Ukraine is tangible evidence of that. But I agree with the noble Lord: the threats that we face nowadays are multifaceted, and it is important that we devise a capability that can respond to the character of that new threat. The noble Lord will be aware that we are dealing not just with traditional land, sea and air domains; we now deal with space, cyber and electro- magnetic domains. It is a complicated world in which we live.

Broadband: Social Tariffs


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that eligible households are aware of the social broadband tariffs available to them.

My Lords, while there is a good availability of low-cost offers for broadband customers, low take-up remains an issue, partly due to the need for greater awareness. My department is working with a range of parties, including other government departments, jobcentres, libraries, local authorities, charities, consumer groups and internet service providers, to get the message to everyone eligible. The Government are also raising awareness through the UK-wide Help for Households campaign so that families up and down the country know how and where to find these offers.

My Lords, millions and millions of people—up to 4 million on benefit—are spending more than they need to on their broadband, as the take-up of social tariffs is shockingly low. We need to do more. Digital inclusion matters: without it, we know that people are economically and socially disadvantaged. I take the point about awareness but is it not time for the Government to work with internet service providers to do two things? First, they should ensure an industry standard for all social tariffs for speed, terms and costs. Secondly, and most importantly, they should create an auto-enrolment scheme so that everybody who is entitled to a social tariff and a data voucher receives them.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, whose Question is helping us to raise awareness for all those that need it. As I said, we are working with a number of groups and parties across the country to get the message out. She rightly underlines the importance of the internet to the way everybody leads their lives. One of the myths to bust is that the speed provided on a social tariff is inferior to other ones. Many providers offer very good services for people, and we are keen to get the message out, through our communications campaign and our work with the Department for Work and Pensions, on the other issues she mentions.

My Lords, the Minister is right in what he says, but while we all support the universal need for broadband, since 26 December last year, as he knows, planning regulations have been changed so that all new-build housing must have full-fibre broadband provision. Is he satisfied with that, and does he not think there are other ways in which we can encourage providers to provide full fibre for a much wider area of the country?

My noble friend is right to point to the changes that were made in the building regulations on Boxing Day. That, of course, sits alongside the work we have taken forward through two telecommunications infrastructure Acts to help ensure that connectivity reaches more households, particularly those in large blocks of flats. It accompanies our wider work to ensure that everyone has access to high-speed internet. As a result of that, 73% of UK premises can now access gigabit-capable broadband, a huge increase from just 6% this time four years ago.

My Lords, lack of access to digital devices is a major cause of data poverty. What resources are the Government providing, and what steps are they taking, to make sure that public bodies such as GP practices and schools ensure that families in data poverty can access digital-only services? Do the Government even have a comprehensive digital exclusion policy?

By its nature, this, of course, touches on the work of any government department. The Department for Education, through its digital entitlement programme, is equipping people with digital skills. DCMS encourages departments to consider, when making policy, the needs of people who might be digitally excluded. It is supporting that through, for instance, its work with the approximately 2,900 libraries nationwide to make sure that people can get online there if they need to.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that BT has said that by 2025, it is going to disconnect all wi-fi copper connections, and that the average cost for all consumers will be about £100 a month? How is anybody going to afford this?

We are working with providers to make sure that faster broadband connection can be rolled out to people across the country and that those costs are not passed on to consumers. It is of course in providers’ interests to provide fast connections and products that people want to use.

My Lords, given the pressure on hospital beds and the move to virtual wards, whereby patients are looked after at home and monitored through electronic devices, what are the Government doing to ensure the rapid installation of adequate broadband in homes with no connectivity, so that patients can be cared for in these virtual wards —which are being set up specifically because there are not enough beds in the NHS to take them?

The noble Baroness touches on work about which it may be better for my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to respond. We are working to ensure that everybody has connection to high-speed internet, and through social tariffs it is now available in 99% of the country.

My Lords, many millions of people can neither afford to use internet broadband nor even own a smartphone, especially the elderly. Government figures suggest that more than 90% of people under 60 are digitally enabled, but approximately half of over-75s are not. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on the apparent age discrimination inherent in allowing the accessing of essential public services, banking, making parking payments and more to require ownership or use of an app or the internet? What is the Government’s strategy for remedying that digital exclusion?

My noble friend is right about the different impacts this has on people of different ages. While accessing services online provides clear benefits to people, I know that many companies are mindful of those who are not yet able to do so. As I have said, we are ensuring that everyone who wishes to do so has access to high-speed internet. Through social tariffs, they know that they can afford it, so if they wish to access those services online, they can.

My Lords, the Government are handing £5 billion to BT for broadband provision. Under that deal, BT will keep the resulting assets and income streams for years and years to come. Can the Minister explain why, as part of that deal, the Government did not ask for free broadband for all poor and vulnerable households?

As I have said, the industry is responding, with a number of operators providing low-cost social tariffs for people who want them. We think that a voluntary, market-led approach is the quickest way to provide fast internet connection to everybody, and we are very grateful for the industry’s co-operation.

My Lords, can the Minister come back to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann? It appears that some government departments will accept payments only if they are made online, thereby excluding millions of people from engagement. What are the Government going to do to be more inclusive?

My Lords, I will discuss that with colleagues in other departments who are responsible for that particular aspect.

My Lords, as the Minister himself acknowledged, automatic verification of eligibility for cheaper broadband and mobile tariffs is just one side of the story, as only 136,000 households are signed up, with potentially millions not receiving the help they could benefit from. What assessment has been made of the low-income groups who are missing out? Can the Minister commit to a targeted rather than a general campaign to increase take-up—for example, contacting claimants directly? After all, the Government are aware of who they are.

The Department for Work and Pensions is working with operators to ensure that the digital verification system is consistent with that. Earlier this month, Sky became the first national provider to go live on that system, with others following in the coming weeks and months. The noble Baroness is right: this and our broader work to help households is part of a large communications campaign that is indeed targeted at the households we think will benefit from it. For example, there are adverts on cash- points, the sides of buses and pub TV screens, and leaflets have been disseminated to 150 supermarkets and to food banks and hospitals around the country to ensure that the message gets to those who will benefit from it.

My Lords, would the Minister like to try again to answer my noble friend Lord Sikka’s question? Can he say why BT has not been required to offer free broadband to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, who clearly have some of the greatest need?

I did answer the question. We consider that the quickest way to get this help out is through a voluntary, market-led approach. The social tariffs are available in 99% of the country, and our communications work is to ensure that people are aware of them and take them up.

Vulnerable Households: Energy Costs


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help vulnerable households with energy costs; and what is the role of Ofgem in delivering affordable energy.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so I refer to my entry on the register as honorary president of National Energy Action.

My Lords, as part of the Government’s comprehensive package of support, in addition to the energy bills support scheme, EBSS, and the energy price guarantee, EPG, there is further targeted support for vulnerable households to help them to navigate these challenging times. This includes a cost of living payment of £900 to households on means-tested benefits, £300 to pensioner households and £150 to individuals on disability benefits. Ofgem is supporting the Government to deliver EBSS and EPG.

I pay tribute to the Government’s warm home discount scheme and accept that it has been an enormous success. Recently, the chief executive of Ofcom has asked for a serious assessment of introducing a social tariff. Given the fact that Citizens Advice recognises that there has been an excess profit of £7.9 billion this year for electricity distribution companies, will my noble friend do one of two things: either introduce a new social tariff or increase the warm home discount? Instead of asking other households to pay for it, will he ask the electricity distribution companies to pay for the increase?

There were a lot of questions there. The issue around social tariffs is that the warm home discount was introduced in the first place to replace various social tariffs on offer because this was considered to be a better way of supporting vulnerable households, but we always keep these things under review. I did not quite understand my noble friend’s point about excess profits. If she was talking about suppliers, many suppliers have actually gone bankrupt; they are not making excess profits. If she was talking about generators, we have already imposed an excess profit levy on generators.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why energy bills in the UK are double what they are in the rest of Europe? Can he explain that to the customers?

I am interested to see the noble Lord’s figures on that. Various amounts of support are being imposed by different Governments, at different levels and in different ways, so there is a mixed picture across Europe. I know that the German Government, for instance, are putting a huge amount of money behind bills support, as indeed are the UK Government. I struggle to believe that bills are double what they are in Europe.

My Lords, one reason we have very high energy prices, obviously apart from Putin himself, is that we are still very reliant on gas for heating and the generation of electricity. Should not one of the tasks of Ofgem be to persuade the Government to make sure that they have as one of their prime objectives the decarbonisation of our electricity system, not least to make sure that we have connections into the grid—it is a crisis at the present moment?

Ofgem does not need to persuade the Government to do that. We already have decarbonisation of the grid as one of our prime objectives. The noble Lord is right that we still rely very heavily on gas. It is a falling proportion of our generation, as we roll out more and more renewables, but it is a transition. We are advanced on that transition but we clearly need to go faster.

My Lords, I want to follow on from my previous question about patients at home, some of whom are handicapped children and people on ventilators, using oxygen concentrators and so on; these are pieces of equipment which consume a high amount of electricity. Have the Government undertaken an audit to look at the excess cost borne by these families, where the care is happening at home and such equipment has been installed? Following data from that audit, is there any review of the benefits available in those situations, particularly where there are young people who are extremely handicapped but living at home?

Many of those families are on benefits and I outlined earlier some of the support that is being offered. Ofgem also requires energy suppliers and network operators to maintain a priority services register and to provide free non-financial support to people in vulnerable situations with their energy. Customers in such a situation should contact their supplier and their network operator to register.

My Lords, I recognise that my question connects with the previous Oral Question. Listening to clergy in my diocese who are operating food banks and warm spaces, they say to me that one of the biggest challenges that vulnerable households are facing as they try to pay their energy bills is accessing information, particularly when it is available only online. What assurance can the Minister give that those responsible for delivering affordable energy, including Ofgem, will use or require the use of alternatives to electronic forms of communication when trying to reach those in need, including partnering with service providers such as food banks?

Ofgem tries really hard to connect the most vulnerable consumers, to make sure they get the support that they require. There are a number of different forms of payment: people can still pay their bills manually using cash if they wish to do so, and there are prepayment meters which are manually upgraded with tokens, as well as those that are available to update online. There is a variety of payment methods, but we stand ready to assist vulnerable consumers in every way we can.

My Lords, it is now well documented that prepayment customers, many of whom are the least well off in our society, are charged a higher rate for their energy. Do the Government fully recognise the injustice of thousands more families being forced on to prepayment meters and higher rates at a time when so many are facing severe cost of living pressures—for example, we saw the announcement that grocery price inflation has now gone up to 16.7%? Can the Minister assure us that this area is being treated with the urgency it deserves and that we will see some recommendations coming forward swiftly?

I can indeed reassure the noble Baroness that there are extensive regulatory protections in this area. Ofgem rules are clear that suppliers can install a prepayment meter to recover a debt only as a very last resort, and they require energy suppliers to offer a prepayment service only when it is safe to do so. The noble Baroness will have seen that my Secretary of State announced a five-point plan last week, and the Minister of State for Energy has had a meeting with the energy suppliers to discuss this matter. We are on top of it.

My Lords, it is estimated that there will be 8.4 million households in fuel poverty by next April. The warm home discount is clearly not sufficient or adequate to meet that need. Which utility companies provide social tariffs that do not have to be applied for and are offered to customers in need? Why on earth can the Government not, through Ofgem, ensure that social tariffs are provided for electricity and gas payments?

Let me repeat the answer I gave to my noble friend Lady McIntosh earlier: we used to have a system of social tariffs which was judged to be ineffective. That is why we moved to the warm home discount payment, which, of course, has been increased this year. We keep these matters about the best way of getting support to vulnerable consumers under review, and we will continue to look at this.

Would my noble friend comment on the need to reform the standing charge for energy pricing? For the most vulnerable households and, for example, single-person households, regardless of how much they try to cut their energy use, they cannot escape the standing charge—which has in many cases doubled to several hundred pounds per year. I understand that part of the rationale for that is to help pay for the cost of failed gas providers, but this charge is paid even by those who have electricity and no gas.

I know that the standing charge is a subject of controversy, but it is there to cover the costs of providing a supply: the cables, the network and the infrastructure. Included within that are some of the costs for what is called the supplier of last resort function, which includes some of the suppliers that went bust in recent years. They were not just gas suppliers; there were a lot of electricity suppliers as well. We think it is right that these costs should be socialised, because otherwise people would be disconnected from suppliers completely.

My Lords, the Minister is very good at the gobbledegook but could he explain why the decrease in wholesale prices is not passed on by decreasing the price to consumers?

I am sorry if the noble Lord thinks I am spouting gobbledegook but let me try to explain it to him. Many of the suppliers have hedged their supplies over the longer term, so they paid increased amounts. When the price cap is reviewed and the wholesale prices are coming down then eventually that will feed through into lower prices as well. The noble Lord shakes his head but this is one of the protections put in place for consumers to prevent the large increases which would have happened otherwise.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 7 February to enable the Northern Ireland Budget Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

My Lords, the Northern Ireland Budget Bill is clearly very important to people in Northern Ireland. I fully understand why His Majesty’s Government want to get this legislation through in one day, but it is important that your Lordships remember the reason why we have to do this. We are doing this because there is no Executive and there is no Executive because of the protocol.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill had its First Reading here in July, then we had Second Reading in October, three long days of Committee and then silence. As the Bill is so important, I want to query why this is. Can the Minister give us some idea of when this very important Bill, which should be going through while the negotiations are continuing, will come back to your Lordships’ House?

Every week something new happens that affects people in Northern Ireland because of the protocol. We have a ridiculous situation where, if I fly from Belfast to Faro or Mallorca, I do not get duty free. If I fly to London, I do not get duty free. If I fly from London to Mallorca or Faro, I get duty free. When I asked His Majesty’s Government why this is, I was not told the honest reason: Northern Ireland has been left in the EU and therefore the EU will not allow us duty free, and neither will His Majesty’s Treasury. We are in a twilight, limbo situation. Your Lordships must realise that this cannot go on. Will the Minister kindly tell us when the protocol Bill is coming back to this House?

Before my noble friend replies, could he accept that many of us wish the Government every possible success in their negotiations? This protocol came about as a result of a treaty negotiated by Her Majesty’s Government, as they then were. Therefore, we bear responsibility for it. They tried to fit things into a straitjacket when it should have been, as I said last week, a much more flexible garment, but the fact is that this should be sorted out by negotiation and not by a totally unsatisfactory Bill being driven through your Lordships’ House. It is a very great pity indeed that those who have been elected to represent people in Northern Ireland are sulking rather than meeting, as they should, in the Assembly to which they were elected to debate this and other things.

My Lords, I venture to say that we have a Motion before us relating to the Northern Ireland Budget Bill. I think we have heard from these short interventions the divergent opinion in your Lordships’ House about current matters and policy in Northern Ireland.

I cannot, as was alluded to earlier, give any specific response on timing, but all noble Lords will be united on the importance of getting this right and having full and due respect for the feelings and needs of all the people in Northern Ireland. That is something I think everybody in this House shares.

So far as this Bill is concerned, the noble Baroness said it is a pity that it is one day. Following the unfortunate events in 1909 to 1911, it is normal practice for a money Bill to be considered in one day. That will be the same for the Northern Ireland Budget Bill.

Motion agreed.

Built Environment Committee

Communications and Digital Committee

Conduct Committee

Constitution Committee

Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

Economic Affairs Committee

Environment and Climate Change Committee

European Affairs Committee

Finance Committee

Joint Committee on Human Rights

Industry and Regulators Committee

International Agreements Committee

International Relations and Defence Committee

Justice and Home Affairs Committee

Liaison Committee

National Security Strategy Committee

Procedure and Privileges Committee

Public Services Committee

Science and Technology Committee

Selection Committee

Services Committee

Statutory Instruments Committee

Artificial Intelligence in Weapon Systems Committee

Education for 11 to 16-Year Olds Committee

Horticultural Sector Committee

Integration of Primary and Community Care Committee

Membership Motions

Built Environment Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Lord Goddard of Stockport, Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Mawson be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Bakewell, Lord Grocott, Lord Haselhurst, the Earl of Lytton and Lord Stunell.

Communications and Digital Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie, Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill, Lord Kamall, the Lord Bishop of Leeds and Baroness Wheatcroft be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Bull, Baroness Rebuck, Lord Vaizey of Didcot and the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Conduct Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Mallalieu and Lord Scriven be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Donaghy and Baroness Hussein-Ece.

Constitution Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Baroness Andrews, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord Keen of Elie, Lord Mancroft and Lord Strathclyde be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Faulks, Baroness Fookes, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Lord Howarth of Newport, Lord Howell of Guildford, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury.

Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lord Carlile of Berriew, Lord Goodlad, Baroness Humphreys and the Earl of Lindsay be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Browning, Lord Goddard of Stockport, Lord Haselhurst, Baroness Meacher and Lord Tope.

Economic Affairs Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Blackwell, Lord Davies of Brixton, Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, Lord Londesborough, Lord Turnbull and Lord Verjee be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Viscount Chandos, Lord Fox, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, Lord Monks, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Stern of Brentford.

Environment and Climate Change Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Bray of Coln, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, Lord Duncan of Springbank and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Browne of Ladyton, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, Lord Colgrain and Baroness Northover.

European Affairs Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Adonis, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Baroness Blackstone, Baroness Ludford and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Tugendhat.

Finance Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Reay be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Noakes.

Joint Committee on Human Rights

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon and Baroness Meyer be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, Lord Dubs, Baroness Ludford, Baroness Massey of Darwen and Lord Singh of Wimbledon.

Industry and Regulators Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Viscount Chandos, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Gilbert of Panteg and Lord Leong be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Blackwell, Lord Eatwell, Baroness Donaghy and Lord Sharkey.

International Agreements Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Fox, Lord Geidt, Lord Howell of Guildford, Baroness Kingsmill and Lord Marland be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Gold, Lord Lansley, Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, Lord Oates and the Earl of Sandwich.

International Relations and Defence Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Ashton of Hyde, Baroness Coussins, Baroness Morris of Bolton, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Soames of Fletching be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Baroness Blackstone, Baroness Fall and Baroness Rawlings; and that Lord Ashton of Hyde be appointed chair of the Select Committee.

Justice and Home Affairs Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Beith, Lord Filkin, Baroness Henig, Baroness Meacher, Baroness Prashar and Lord Sandhurst be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Dholakia, Baroness Hallett, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Baroness Primarolo and Lord Ricketts.

Liaison Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Bichard, Baroness Donaghy and Lord Haskel be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Bradley, Baroness Coussins and Lord Davies of Oldham.

National Security Strategy Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Ashton of Hyde, Baroness Fall and Lord Robathan be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Baroness Hodgson of Abinger and Baroness Neville-Jones.

Procedure and Privileges Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Bull, Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Bew, Lord Eames, Baroness Harris of Richmond and Lord Mancroft; and the Earl of Caithness, Baroness Gohir and Lord Laming be appointed alternate members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Browning, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and Lord Turnbull.

Public Services Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Bach, Baroness Bertin, Lord Blencathra, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, Lord Carter of Coles, Lord Laming, Lord Prentis of Leeds, Lord Shipley and Baroness Stedman-Scott be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, Lord Bichard, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, Lord Filkin, Lord Hogan-Howe, Baroness Pinnock, Baroness Pitkeathley and Baroness Sater; and that Baroness Morris of Yardley be appointed chair of the Select Committee.

Science and Technology Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Borwick, Baroness Neuberger, Baroness Neville-Jones, Baroness Northover and Lord Sharkey be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford, Baroness Manningham-Buller, Baroness Rock, Baroness Sheehan and Baroness Walmsley.

Selection Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Bichard be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Coussins.

Services Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Hussein-Ece be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Clement-Jones.

Statutory Instruments Committee

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Leong and Lord Sahota be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Gale, Lord Haskel and Baroness Newlove.

Artificial Intelligence in Weapon Systems Committee

Moved by

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the use of artificial intelligence in weapon systems, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, B, Browne of Ladyton, L, Camrose, V, Clement-Jones, L, Coventry, Bp, Doocey, B, Fairfax of Cameron, L, Grocott, L, Hamilton of Epsom, L, Hodgson of Abinger, B, Houghton of Richmond, L, Lisvane, L (Chair), Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee do report by 30 November 2023;

That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

Education for 11 to 16-Year Olds Committee

Moved by

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider education for 11 to 16-year olds with reference to the skills necessary for the digital and green economy, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Aberdare, L, Baker of Dorking, L, Blower, B, Evans of Bowes Park, B, Garden of Frognal, B, Johnson of Marylebone, L (Chair), Lexden, L, Mair, L, Massey of Darwen, B, Knight of Weymouth, L, Storey, L, Watson of Invergowrie, L.

That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee do report by 30 November 2023;

That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

Horticultural Sector Committee

Moved by

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the development of the horticultural sector, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Arran, E., Buscombe, B, Carter of Coles, L, Colgrain, L, Curry of Kirkharle, L, Fookes, B, Jones of Whitchurch, B, Redesdale, L (Chair), Sahota, L, Walmsley, B, Willis of Summertown, B.

That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee do report by 30 November 2023;

That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

Integration of Primary and Community Care Committee

Moved by

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the integration of primary and community care, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

Altrincham, L, Armstrong of Hill Top, B, Barker, B, Finlay of Llandaff, B, Kakkar, L, Osamor, B, Pitkeathley, B (Chair), Redfern, B, Shephard of Northwold, B, Tyler of Enfield, B, Watts, L, Wyld, B.

That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;

That the Committee do report by 30 November 2023;

That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and

That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.

My Lords, these 26 Motions give effect to the rotation rule that is applied each January, following the recent meeting of the Committee of Selection, to secure a regular turnover of Select Committee memberships and establish the 2023 special inquiry committees. I place on record my thanks to those Members who are rotating off Committees for their service, and welcome those noble Lords who will be joining the hard-working committees of the House. I beg to move.

Motions agreed.

Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Membership Motion

Moved by

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Harris of Richmond, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Baroness Lea of Lymm, Baroness Randerson, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lord German, Viscount Hanworth, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the Earl of Lindsay, Lord Lisvane and Baroness Watkins of Tavistock; and that Lord Hunt of Wirral be appointed chair of the Select Committee.

My Lords, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee conducts excellent scrutiny of secondary legislation. Indeed, the committee makes one of the most valuable contributions that the House makes to scrutiny and public policy discourse.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised his concerns with me and the Committee of Selection that seven members of the committee are rotating off this month. He requested that a different course of action be adopted. The noble Lord’s proposal to address the issue was that three of the seven members of the committee should be permitted to serve a further year, resulting in those members serving on the committee for four and a half years in total.

For many years, your Lordships have recognised the need to ensure that as many Members of the House as possible can sit on committees through a rotation rule. To give greater certainty, the House agreed in October 2020 to have a rotation rule based on three consecutive calendar years or parts of years. As all noble Lords know, Select Committee places are highly sought after. Members of your Lordships’ House have a wealth of experience that contributes to the high-quality output of committees and the scrutiny that they undertake.

I shared the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, with the usual channels. I then took his request to the Committee of Selection at its meeting earlier this month. I can assure noble Lords that the usual channels and the committee considered this request carefully. The Committee of Selection agreed unanimously to proceed with the Members nominated to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It was deemed important that we maintain the same process across all committees; indeed, it is not uncommon for there to be the proportion of change on Select Committees that there has been in this year’s rotations.

The noble Lord’s amendment states that the rotation

“will undermine the quality of service the Committee gives to the House”.

I take this charge very seriously indeed. Respectfully, I take a different view. First, I emphasise the qualities of the proposed new members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. These noble Lords are of considerable standing. I am confident that, alongside the four excellent members who remain, they will serve the committee with distinction. As all of us who have been privileged to serve on committees know, there are also officials who ensure their smooth running. Five officials support this committee’s work and will, I know, help to ensure the continuity of what we all deem to be exemplary service.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, calls for the Committee of Selection to produce a plan to ensure that, in future, rotations are

“as close as possible to one third of the total membership of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee”.

The problem is that the amendment presumes knowledge of when casual vacancies may occur. The Committee of Selection cannot guarantee the number of future rotations in any given year. Casual vacancies will impact on any prediction of future vacancies.

There is one further point I wish to emphasise. I take myself back to when I was a Minister at Defra. Six noble Lord were appointed to this committee in July 2019. As I say, I was a Minister then, and I am afraid that that committee caused the department a very considerable amount of work—I am looking at one or two noble Baronesses here who were involved in that as Opposition Front Bench Defra. At no point, and I say this honestly and candidly, did I reflect in the months afterwards that the committee did anything other than provide consistently strong scrutiny of secondary legislation. Indeed, I took the opportunity to discuss this with one or two Defra colleagues last night, because I was so fussed about the matter, and they said, “No, the scrutiny committee was consistently strong and robust—and of course, it kept the department on its toes”.

I do not want to labour this, because there is a way forward. Chairs can plan ahead and there are examples of committees taking proactive steps. These steps do not need an amendment to address this. If, indeed, the proposed chair, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, wishes to discuss these matters, I would warmly welcome that.

I conclude by saying that Members of your Lordships’ House have a wealth of experience to offer committees. We have a rotation rule to ensure that we can utilise this—as well, of course, as ensuring fairness. My purpose is to ensure that our Select Committees flourish. It is perhaps why I am stung by the accusation that I could countenance anything that might jeopardise that quality of service. So, I know we may have a debate on this, but I emphasise what I think is my punctiliousness in seeking to do the right thing for the House. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

At end insert “but that this House, whilst recognising the qualities of the proposed new members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and whilst entirely supporting the need for appropriate rotation of members, deplores the decision to rotate off at the same time seven out of 11 members of the Committee, including the chair, now and every three years hereafter; believes that this will undermine the quality of service the Committee gives to the House; and therefore calls on the Committee of Selection (1) to ensure that future rotations should be as close as possible to one third of the total membership of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and (2) to report to the House before the House rises for the summer recess setting out how this will be achieved”.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend the Senior Deputy Speaker for his explanation of what has gone before and I want to place on record from the beginning his courtesy to me and his openness, for which I am extremely grateful. I had hoped to be able to table this amendment in the name of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee as a whole, but that is not permissible under the rules of your Lordships’ House, so it is in my name as chairman. However, I want the House to be aware that it is a unanimous request from every member of the committee. Seven of them are listed in the paper before noble Lords, and the four who are not listed are the noble Lord, Lord Powell, from the Cross Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and Lord Hutton, from the Opposition, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, from the Government Benches.

I emphasise that because I want the House to understand that we are not revolutionaries; we are not here to try to overthrow all the procedures of the House. But, as a group, we believe very strongly that your Lordships’ role in scrutinising and holding the Government of the day to account is critical to the performance of our House. I am afraid that we on the SLSC believe, with due respect to the Committee of Selection, that on this occasion process, the administrative operation of the House, has trumped purpose, the effective operation of our committee. We believe that this is the wrong way round. Purpose and performance should come before process.

Before I explain that in a little more detail, I want to make it clear what this amendment is not about. First, we do not argue that we are uniquely qualified to sit on the SLSC—far from it. We have no doubt about the estimable qualities of those are going to take our place. Speaking personally, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, who is proposed as my successor as chairman, will carry out the role of committee chair every bit as well as, and better than, I have.

Secondly, this amendment is not an attack on the principle of rotation. All committees need regular injections of new blood to keep their thinking and their approach fresh and up to date. Thirdly, this amendment is not an attack on the decision of the House to change the measurement of time served by an individual on the committee from parliamentary Sessions to calendar years. That must have been a good decision, because calendar years are fixed and parliamentary Sessions are not. But the switch from one method to the other has had a series of dreaded “unforeseen consequences”, with which all Members of your Lordships’ House are familiar, as regards the rotation of committee membership.

I know we are not alone in our concerns. Other committee chairs may wish to add their perspectives. But the impact on the SLSC is particularly challenging. Today, the House will rotate off seven of the 11 members of the committee—two-thirds, including the chairman. This time next year, the House will rotate off one—just one. Two years from now, the House will rotate off the remaining three, and the following year, we will go back to seven again, this time including my noble friend Lord Hunt, whose term of office will have come to an end. Our committee respectfully suggests to the House that a “seven, one, three” rotation pattern is unlikely to enhance the effectiveness of our committee’s operation.

As the Senior Deputy Speaker said, we were in touch with him well in advance, because we saw this problem coming down the road. We met on 17 November, and he has been kind enough, as he has pointed out, to put our concerns before the Committee of Selection on two occasions at least, and we are very grateful for his and the committee’s involvement. He has mentioned our suggested remedy to transition between the two systems—on this occasion, and once only—which is that three people should be asked, not including the chairman, to serve one more year. So we would have “four, four, three”, and that would be an even pattern stretching into the future.

The Committee of Selection did not feel able to accept this solution. I ask myself why. I understand that the committee feels bound to implement the decision taken by the House to change the basis of management, whatever the result. It was put to me that this House would be angry if the Committee of Selection flouted its decision. Of course, the House did decide this course of action, but I doubt that any Member of your Lordships’ House had any idea of what the practical consequences would be for the rotation of the membership of the SLSC, and indeed other committees, when they decided to approve it. Indeed, if your Lordships had understood all the consequences of the decision, someone would have stood up and said words to the effect of, “Hang on, this is a bit drastic. I think we need to find a way to smooth the transition between the two systems”.

Importantly, the Liaison Committee of the House clearly even then thought there might be problems and difficulties with the transition shift. The fourth report from the Procedure and Privilege Committee, which recommended the changes in the rotation rule, states:

“There could be a case for providing a degree of flexibility in the three-year rotation rule when its rigid application would result in a large number of members of a committee being ‘rotated off’ simultaneously”.

I also note that the Companion at paragraph 11.14 states:

“The Committee of Selection may consider making ad hoc adjustments to the application of the rotation rule when needed.”

So, there are what could be described as escape hatches for the Committee of Selection if it wanted to use them.

I have two further points. The Committee of Selection was kind enough to write to me, to all members of our committee and now, I think, to all Members of the House, explaining the background to its decision. It said that

“six Committees are due to see at least 50% of their Lords members rotate off this January”.

I recognise the issue of fairness, which the Senior Deputy Speaker has raised. But I have to say I regard this statement as actually increasing my concerns about the way the committee rotations take place. I may be naive but, in all my career, I have never come across an organisation where it is argued that a 50% annual staff turnover will lead to a smoother and more effective operation of the organisation.

Finally, I will say a word on the particular position of the SLSC. The House knows that it is not the role of the committee to comment on the wisdom of any policy. That is for the Government of the day to justify, in due time, at the Dispatch Box. The committee’s job is to examine the way a policy has been implemented and to highlight points that the committee feels that the House or the wider public would be interested in. Many policy decisions result in not one but a series of regulations—for example, photo ID at the ballot box or changes to the student loans scheme. Knowledge of what has gone before is very important in improving the quality of scrutiny, as it is in our work to keep an eye on government departments when their performance, as regards regulation, has repeatedly fallen short of their statutory obligations.

To do all this, we need what is best called institutional memory: a clear recollection, among a sufficient number of members of the committee, of what has gone before. Institutional memory is not a static concept. That is why a proper degree of rotation is needed. It is also why new members of the committee, however experienced, can be compared with new batsmen coming to the crease: they need some time to play themselves in.

One person from the Committee of Selection suggested to me that this institutional memory resides not with the Members of your Lordships’ House on the committee but with the committee’s staff. I yield to no one in my admiration for the work of the staff of our House, but their job is to provide the facts. It is up to the committee to interpret what has been put before it.

We on the SLSC may be disappointed, but I hope we are realistic. The Committee of Selection has heard our representations and has rejected them, as it is perfectly entitled to do. It has made its choice of new members of the committee known and those individuals have been told. There is no way back from that. To propose a complete reversal would be both organisationally shambolic and personally insulting to a number of Members of your Lordships’ House. That ship has sailed, but we have a chance to reflect on what has happened. I cannot believe that anyone would wish to argue that we now find ourselves in a satisfactory, let alone ideal, situation.

This amendment accepts the status quo but asks the House to endorse a request to the Committee of Selection possibly to think again, in the light of the real- life outcomes of the present procedure of our committee and, perhaps, of other committees, with the view to have a target rotation of one-third of committee members every year; and to come back to the House with its views before the Summer Recess.

At the heart of this issue is whether purpose or performance—the work of the House—is more important than its process or administration. If your Lordships agree that the former is more important, you may be inclined to support the SLSC; if you do not, you will not. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long, but it would be useful to put some comments on the record. I fully endorse the comments made by the Senior Deputy Speaker and if the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, divides the House, I will vote against him.

I agree with the Senior Deputy Speaker that the new members of this committee are of the highest quality and expertise. They do an excellent job on behalf of the House. The noble Lord outlined the work of the committee he saw when he was a Minister, and I invite noble Lords to look at the names that the Senior Deputy Speaker has proposed. I am sure all will agree that these Members will discharge their duties diligently and effectively.

The Senior Deputy Speaker has outlined a way forward for the House, which I support. I hope the House will agree that, as Opposition Chief Whip, I am not in the business of trying to undermine or damage the House’s effectiveness in holding the Government to account. I hope that this is the way forward.

I am sure noble Lords will recognise that, when the Opposition table amendments, we often use the reports of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which outline deficiencies in the legislation proposed by the Government. We regularly put those forward. We often rely on the committee’s work. We know that it is important and does effective work. I believe that the noble Lord’s amendment is not needed: a way forward has been outlined. I invite the House not to agree with the amendment.

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I am about to be rotated off of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, having done my three years. This is the correct process for me. This is not a party-political issue, nor a personal one, nor about the quality of the members about to be appointed. My comments do not relate to the SLSC in particular but to all committees where members have been rotated off before they have completed three years. I question the wisdom of such a churn of membership, all at the same time.

In the great scheme of things, this is a very minor matter. Most committees’ memberships are 11 or 12 strong. It seems to me that the most sensible way to rotate members is that three or four members, having completed three years, should be rotated off once every year. This would ensure a fresh intake of members but leave a core membership of those who have some experience of the work of the committee. I am afraid that to change the membership of committees on a wholesale scale, as is currently happening, just does not seem sensible to me.

I have enjoyed my time on the SLSC, and the excellent and even-handed approach of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. To be rotating off seven of the 11 members seems excessive. There are other committees, where nearly half of the members are being rotated off, which have a similar feeling that this is not the wisest way to run the system. However, I cannot speak for them. Before the next churn of committee memberships, perhaps a more equitable system can be implemented, which employs some flexibility.

My Lords, I confess that, when I was chair of the Economic Affairs Committee, I complained about this rotation. I see that the number of members coming off that committee is the same. I put that down to a failure by me as chairman. As my noble friend the Senior Deputy Speaker said, the remedy lies with the committees themselves. I hope that I am not landing my successor with a difficulty.

The late Queen’s question is pertinent here: why did no one see this coming? If they are faced with this, it is surely up to the chairman and committees themselves to say that perhaps some of us may leave a little early and, if people are not willing to, have a ballot so that you get that one-third rotation. There is an argument that some people would then get only two years. We have set up very difficult committees on very difficult subjects where the committee’s lifespan is only one year.

My noble friend has been put in a very difficult position, as have the usual channels, because the House voted for this matter. The answer is for the chairmen of committees who feel this way to discuss with their members how they can get a more even rotation in future and not leave it up to the House to sort out.

My Lords, I will interpolate a few comments in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. This amendment is not, as some are still supposing, a plea to prolong the tenure of some of the existing members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Rather, it is an attempt to draw attention to the dysfunctional aspects of the existing arrangements affecting Standing Committees, and a plea for some reforms.

I intend to make some brief comments under two headings. The first concerns the logistics affecting the scrutiny of secondary legislation, and the second concerns the nature of the legislation and the kind of scrutiny it requires. It is clear to all who have had experience of these matters that a committee of 11 members that meets once a week is incapable of dealing adequately with the plethora of secondary legislation that comes its way. Its recourse is to pay attention only to the most outstanding issues. The secretariat of the committee sifts the material and, given that in the process every instrument must be studied, this is an extraordinary labour, undertaken by only a handful of people. In short, the secretariat is understaffed.

In 2018, in order to cope with the demands of the secondary legislation arising from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee was split into two and its membership doubled. The existing members were divided between the two sub-committees. I believe that the same is bound to happen again in consequence of the phenomenal number of statutory instruments arising from the intended abolition of retained European Union legislation. In that case, the four surviving members of the committee will be divided between the two sub-committees that will contain 18 newly appointed members, of whom few will have had previous experience of these matters. This will be far from ideal.

The other matter on which I wish to comment is the nature of the scrutiny and the recommendations the committee is empowered to make. The committee labours under the injunction that it cannot call into question matters of policy that supposedly would have been established in primary legislation. In fact, much of what transpires in secondary legislation is the exercise of new policy initiatives. The committee cannot propose amendments to the legislation, and it is even doubtful whether it is empowered to ask the Government to think again. The effect is that we are now suffering from government by diktat.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising this issue because it applies also to committees beyond his own. I am chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, and we look forward to welcoming the four new members who are joining us tomorrow. However, the Senior Deputy Speaker said that at some point in 2020, there was an agreement that Peers would serve on a committee for three years. The four people who are being rotated off my committee tomorrow have not served even two years, so clearly, the Committee of Selection can choose to have some flexibility when it suits it. We need to return to this issue.

Next year, my committee will rotate off seven members, including the chair, which is more than 50%. That means there will be nobody on that committee sitting on a committee that was formed less than three years ago. This House has many experts, and I absolutely take the Senior Deputy Speaker’s point that we can survive with the excellent staff we have. We do not want old duffers sitting there for ever, but the House needs to think about the suggestion of a more softly, softly rotation of one-third, one-third, one-third, rather than this up and down. Even though we will not be taking any action on this rotation—and, as I said, I welcome the new members joining my committee tomorrow—I hope that the Committee of Selection will reflect upon this issue.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, in moving his Motion so ably, has spoken for all of us on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and I hope for many other Members of this House. As the noble Lord said, we all support the premise behind the rules on rotation of membership of our Select Committees. It is a good and sensible procedure for all the reasons he set out, as did the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. However, it is perfectly right and proper that this House must and should continually remind itself of the basic premise and purpose behind this three-year rotation rule. If we find—as in fact I think we do—that it is working in a way not envisaged when it was formulated, we should be prepared to revisit it and correct any perverse impacts.

I am sorry to say that this is what is happening today. The rule is not promoting sensible rotation; it is promoting upheaval, which is a different thing altogether. If we do nothing today, we are locking ourselves into an unhealthy pattern of future appointments to our Select Committees. I do not think we should do that, and nor do I think this is what lay behind the original purpose of the three-year limit on committee membership. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has pointed out in relation to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, this locks us into a pattern of “seven, one, three” which would repeat itself indefinitely.

We have today appointed people for three years. There is the possibility of casual vacancies—we all understand that—but we cannot plan on that basis. That is not the basis on which we should decide committee membership. With the greatest of respect to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, whom I hold in the very highest regard, nor can we say that this is a problem for the committees themselves to sort out.

The House is appointing people today for three-year terms, so we are locking ourselves into a pattern of seven, one, three for this committee. I defy anyone listening to this debate to justify that pattern of rotation—but that is what we are contemplating. It might turn slightly differently, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, himself pointed out, it is entirely reasonable to remind ourselves of the fourth report of the Procedure and Privileges Committee, which spotted this as a potential problem years ago.

All the noble Lord’s amendment asks the House to do is invite the Committee of Selection to have another look at this pattern of rotational movement of members off our Select Committees. This is not how the rule was intended to operate. As the noble Lord said, this is not a revolutionary moment for your Lordships’ House. It just invites people to think again about the practical impact of this rule and see if there is a better way of avoiding disruption to the work of the Select Committees, because that is what we are talking about.

My Lords, I sense the mood of the House that we ought to move forward. There may be other noble Lords from the committee who endorse this, but I want to say that I have listened and, obviously, I take on board the comments made by people I respect. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has said something that I think the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, found difficult, but the truth is that there is precedent for committees to consider these matters. The Conduct Committee, for instance, decided of its own volition that it needed to establish a rotation. Therefore, lots were drawn and some members served two years and others served three.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, transitions are where difficulties arise regarding how long a member may stay. For instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, will have served a gallant three and a half years; others, including I think the noble Lord, Lord German, will have served less, but that is what was agreed by the House in moving from three Sessions to three calendar years. It was only in October 2020 that the House took this view.

The guiding principle is that we all have a lot to contribute to the work of the committees of the House, and we wanted to ensure that as many noble Lords as possible have that opportunity. As we know, there are many applications to serve on the committees. I, the Chief Whip, the Convenor and others can confirm that often, there are more applications than vacancies, so we do need to find a way forward.

I sincerely hope I am being helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in saying that in my view, it is open for chairs and committees to decide the best way forward, as it always has been. There are other examples of staggered rotations precisely to accommodate these matters, and there is no difficult with that. The Committee of Selection always keeps these matters under consideration, but it has been helpful to hear a number of points being made.

I was really quite stung by the idea that somehow in 2019 the six new members placed that committee in jeopardy and difficulties by their lack of experience. My experience of 2019-20 was of a very strong and robust committee. I am confident because of the names that have been put forward, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to. Those seven Members are of very strong standing and are worthy of your Lordships’ support.

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. I have been listening to the debate with ever-increasing bemusement. Why on earth do we not appoint by thirds? That would deal with the whole problem. We might have to start with some members serving for just one year, some for two and some for three, but at a stroke it would deal with the issue. I do not see why we have this convoluted system of seven, one and then two. It seems bizarre.

The noble Lord makes an important point, but with regard to this committee I am saying that there is a solution, which is that the committee and its chair, as has been done with other committees, decide that some will serve for three years while some remaining members may serve for two years rather than three. It is in the hands of the committees that feel very strongly about this. I have to say that I communicated with some other committees where there was going to be a considerable change, and it was the view that that would not be taken forward. I think we should have confidence in the fact that we have seven excellent members to replace seven excellent members.

To conclude, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that I think there is a remedy and a solution. By the summer, I simply do not know who may be the casual vacancies. Casual vacancies have a bearing on the issue of the rotation; we see all the time that there are casual vacancies. I understand the points that have been made, and I am happy for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and his committee to bear in mind what has happened today and that there can be solutions to the key points.

Obviously I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, will feel that what I have said, and the solution that I believe there is, will enable him not to press his amendment. I could not support it because I cannot identify with the suggestion that the quality of service would be put in jeopardy, particularly given the seven members who we have put forward to take on the great work of those who are rotating off. I am in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, but that is why I sincerely could not support his amendment.

I am grateful to everyone who has participated and made their views known. I am grateful to the members of the committee who have spoken out, to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, from another committee, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, for his powerful analysis of the situation that we now find ourselves in.

I have to say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth—he was combative as ever and I would expect no less—that, with great respect, the treadmill nature of the work of the SLSC actually puts it in a different category from many of the committees that he was talking about. He talked about finding ways to fill casual vacancies but we are not trying to find a few; we are having seven out of 11 every third year. This is not a casual exercise but a complete bouleversement every third year, including the chairman. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, pointed out, there is a perfectly sensible way forward, which we have tried to explain in our amendment.

Again, if I may shoot this fox, we are saying nothing about the people who are coming forward. I do not want the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, or the Senior Deputy Speaker, to get away with the idea that we are trying to undermine the quality of the people who are coming in. I want to be clear about that.

Before I close, I want to ask the Senior Deputy Speaker a question. Next week, my noble friend Lord Hunt could come along and say, “We have sorted it out; two people who will be appointed today are going to leave in a year from now”. Could he do that, and could we be certain that the Committee of Selection would allow it? It seems to be a cockeyed system, but it would provide a partial answer to the point we are making.

If members of the committee decided they wished to retire early, that would be entirely a matter for them. That is how casual vacancies occur. Picking up the noble Lord’s point, I would have hoped and thought that this is exactly what I and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, were alluding to. There is a way forward. It is not as if this is static. The chair and the committee, perhaps hearing what has been raised today, can draw some conclusions.

I am grateful for that comment. We either have a system where we do one-third, one-third and one-third, or a system organised by the committee chairman—maybe now or maybe not—and different committees then have different amounts. That is a much less clear system for dealing with the rotation on committees than having a one-third rotation each time, which is what our amendment proposed.

We have hacked this issue to death. Clearly the usual channels and the Committee of Selection have made their decision. I do not believe in gesture Divisions. Therefore, although I greatly regret the position we find ourselves in, for the effective operation of the House I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.

Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill [HL]

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

IMF Economic Outlook

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question given in the Commons by my honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury:

“This Government have three economic priorities; our plan for this year is to halve inflation, grow the economy and get debt falling. It is a plan that will alleviate the pressure on businesses and families today, and equip us to become one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. As the IMF said in its press conference today, it thinks that the UK is ‘on the right track’. It also said that the UK had done well in the last year, with growth revised upwards to 4.1%, which is one of the highest growth rates in Europe for 2022. Since 2010, the UK has grown faster than France, Japan and Italy. Since the EU referendum, we have grown at about the same rate as Germany. Our cumulative growth over the 2022 to 2024 period is predicted to be higher than that of Germany and Japan, and at a similar rate to that of the United States of America. The Governor of the Bank of England has said that any UK recession this year is likely to be shallower than previously predicted.

The actions we are taking, from unleashing innovation across AI, financial services and a host of other sectors, to improving technical education and protecting infrastructure investment, will spur and fuel economic growth in the years to come, benefiting industry and communities alike. However, the figures from the IMF confirm that we are not immune to the pressures hitting nearly all advanced economies. We agree with the IMF’s focus on the high level of inflation in our country, which is why this is our top priority. Inflation is the most insidious tax rise there is, and so the best tax cut now is to reduce inflation. That will help families across the country with the cost of living. As the Chancellor has said, short-term challenges, especially ones we are focused on tackling, should not obscure our long-term forecasts. If we stick to our plan to halve inflation, the UK is still predicted to grow faster than Germany and Japan over the coming years. That will help us deliver a stronger economy, one that is growing faster and where everywhere across our country people have opportunities for better-paying, good jobs. That is what the people in this country expect and what we are working tirelessly to deliver.”

My Lords, in another place, the Minister seemed to insist that the IMF forecast was somehow a British success story, because any recession caused in large part by the chaos of the September mini-Budget may be shorter and shallower than previously thought. Britain has huge potential but, under the Conservatives, ours is the only G7 economy still below its pre-Covid level. If growth is the Government’s number one priority, why is the UK forecast to be outgrown by sanction-hit Russia? If, as Ministers like to claim, this is all the result of global events, why has the IMF said that we are falling even further behind our international competitors?

I must correct the noble Lord on the cause of the disappointing figures for growth this year that we have seen. The IMF emphasises that Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to weigh on economic activity, and the UK’s relatively high dependence on natural gas and, simultaneously, a near-record tightness in our labour market are dampening our outlook.

The noble Lord asked why the UK economy had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. If we exclude the public sector, the private sector has recovered to above its pre-pandemic level and is in line with other major European economies. There is a difference in the way that the UK estimates its public sector output compared to many other countries, and the ONS has said that international comparisons are difficult to make.

On the point about the optimism that my honourable friend expressed about the UK economy, the Government make no apologies for pointing out our underlying strengths. Last year’s growth rate was uprated by the IMF to one of the highest in Europe, and if we look over the cumulative period 2022 to 2024, growth is predicted to be higher than in Germany and Japan and similar to that of the US. That will happen if we stick to our plan for growth and tackle inflation.

My Lords, there is no harm in people being optimistic if there are grounds for optimism. Rather than taking this report as a very worrying indicator, the Government are spending their energy downplaying and discounting the bad news in it. Let us look at another indicator that points in the same direction: the ONS statistics on company insolvencies. Its survey, published today, shows a 57% rise in the number of companies going bust; that is more than at any time since the 2009 crisis.

Will the Minister now acknowledge that, as well as the problems that our competitor countries have, with which the Government seek to associate us, there are other problems that are unique to us? The Minister acknowledged the extraordinary problems we are having with skills and the lack of people to work, and the fact that our exports to the European Union have plummeted. Will the Government acknowledge that there is a problem so that they can start solving it?

I made it clear that the number one problem facing the UK is our high level of inflation, and that is why the Government have put it at the heart of our economic plans. We are determined to get inflation down. That is why we remain steadfast in our support for the independent MPC of the Bank of England, why we have made difficult but responsible decisions on tax and spending so that we are not adding fuel to the fire, and why we are tackling high energy prices by holding down energy bills for households and businesses this year and next and investing in long-term energy security. I fully acknowledge the challenges the UK is facing, and that is why we have a plan to deal with them.

Does my noble friend recall that the IMF has a little bit of a history of making forecasts where the UK is downgraded one way or another, and, lo and behold, a year later, we discover that we have not been as bad as it suggested? Is it not a fact that we now have before the House probably the most crucial financial services Bill that it has had to handle for a decade or more? My noble friend is taking through that Bill. At its core, there is just one word, which affects almost every clause, to help the City, businesses, trade, et cetera: “growth”, which is absolutely crucial to the future of this country.

I completely agree with my noble friend on the importance of the financial services Bill to unleashing further growth in our economy. It is also a really important example of how we will take the opportunity of the freedoms of Brexit to design regulation in a way that works best for the United Kingdom. Growth forecasts are inherently uncertain, but they still play a valuable role for government, economists, industry and others. Their uncertainty is a fact of life, but we should still look carefully at what they say.

My Lords, as of November this year, the EU will require additional travel documentation for those leaving the UK and heading into Europe. Do the Government have any estimates of the effect that will have on UK trade?

Does my noble friend accept that, if we are to equal the United States, we have to have investment in new green businesses which help in the battle against climate change? When will the Government bring forward the legislation that is necessary to do that? At the moment, we are wildly behind, which is clear from both the Skidmore report and the Climate Change Committee’s report last June—where I declare an interest. I dare say that “freedom” from the EU is not something that any exporter would believe today.

My noble friend is right about the importance of investment, which is why the Government are maintaining record levels of capital investment: £600 billion over the next five years. We have permanently set the annual investment allowance at its highest-ever level of £1 million. My noble friend is also right about the importance of green investment and driving green growth in our economy. We have one of the strongest legislative frameworks for tackling climate change and nature loss, and we will continue to build on that. Our record is clear: we are one of the most significant decarbonising economies in the G20, and we have achieved that at the same time as growing.

The Minister referred a moment ago to Brexit, and today happens to be the third anniversary of our departure. Can she remind the House of the Government’s attitude to the OBR forecast that Brexit has cost the UK about 4% of its GDP per year?

My Lords, I believe that that is not a forecast but a modelling assumption. We will look at the record of the UK economy since leaving the EU, and we continue to grow. Since the Brexit referendum, we have grown at a similar rate to Germany, and, last year, we had one of the highest growth rates in Europe. So we look at the record and the outturn, not just the predictions.

My Lords, last week, Tony Danker, the leader of the CBI, made a speech in which he remarked on the fact that private investment was flooding out of the UK because of the Government’s lack of a strategy to deal with the economic mess we are in. What is the noble Baroness’s response to that criticism from the main representative of business in the UK?

I believe that, last week, Tony Danker also welcomed a speech by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that set out his vision for growth in the UK, looking at the sectors that we are most competitive in, setting out proposals for new regulatory freedoms in those sectors and investing in the drivers of our economy, such as education and enterprise.

My Lords, we ought to add a bit of balance to this discussion and note that the report ended with a comment that Britain was “on the right track”—not that we should place too much weight on the views of the IMF either way, because its record has not been too good. Has the Minister noticed a report from the BBC this morning that it is very worried that its interviewers, editors and staff are not sufficiently apprised of the technicalities and the understanding of modern economics and modern economic trends, and that it is going try to do something about it? Would she encourage it to do something? The impression that invariably pervades the morning programmes—not only on the BBC but others as well—in response to this kind of report is that everything is going wrong. Of course, there are things that need repairing, but the bias—not a political bias between left and right—is between pessimism and optimism, which nearly always comes out on the pessimistic side, so we have a lot to learn and we should encourage them to learn it.

I did note the report this morning, and, of course, impartiality is key to the BBC. The report is very interesting but, obviously, taking forward its recommendations is a matter for the BBC, and I believe that it is going to take them forward.

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Committee (2nd Day)

Relevant documents: 9th and 20th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 5th Report from the Constitution Committee, 6th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Schedule 1: The ICRIR, the Commissioners and ICRIR officers

Amendment 12

Moved by

12: Schedule 1, page 50, line 34, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission”

Member’s explanatory statement

This and subsequent probing amendments in the name of Lord Browne remove the Secretary of State from various roles in connection with the appointment and holding office of Commissioners.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 12 and 13 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and my noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen; Amendment 16 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan; Amendments 24 to 30 inclusive, which are all consequential; and, finally, Amendment 178, which will not detain us for very long.

Amendments 12 and 16 and their consequential amendments are probing amendments. Their effect is to remove the Secretary of State from the various roles in connection with the appointment and holding office of commissioners of the ICRIR, which, with the leave of the House, I will hereafter refer to as “the commission”. The amendments would replace the Secretary of State with the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission —NIJAC.

As it stands, the Bill confers sweeping powers on the Secretary of State, including the power of appointment to the newly established commission and powers over the process of the commission itself. These powers include but are not limited to: control over the commission’s funding; the power to request reviews; the appointment of commissioners; the devising of procedures for dealing with requests around immunity; the power to withhold permission for the disclosure of sensitive information; the power to terminate a review on national security grounds; and, most importantly, the power to wind up the commission itself.

The Government have noted the concerns relating to the commission’s lack of independence and have proposed an amendment to strengthen the commission’s independence by making it clear that the Secretary of State should consult individuals before appointing the chief commissioner. It is clear that independence is a precondition for investigations to satisfy our obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR. The purpose of the probing amendments in my name, and the consequential amendments, is to discern to what extent the extraordinarily wide-ranging powers conferred on the Secretary of State, even after the Government’s amendment, compromise that independence and risk a breach of our ECHR obligations.

One of the functions of independence is securing public confidence in the operation of investigations; to do that, it is necessary for the investigations to be independent—and to be seen to be independent. The role of the Secretary of State in relation to the commission, as currently envisaged, has attracted criticism from all communities in Northern Ireland. The Government have assured us that the commission will have full operational independence; we are assured that that includes the establishment of terms of reference, the appointment of staff and the making of all decisions related to the conduct of investigations. Of course, the commission may appoint its own staff, but that will be done by the commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State. The commission may make decisions related to the conduct of investigations, but with the hand of the Secretary of State ever present and able either to block disclosure or to shut the body down altogether. The commission may make decisions related to immunity applications, but only if the salient question is whether the applicant is telling the truth to the best of their knowledge and belief, and they must take account of any guidance given by the Secretary of State about when that condition is met. It is difficult to consider that a genuine and objective decision at all.

Defending the system, the Government have cited the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and various independent public inquiries as precedents, suggesting that it is common practice for the Secretary of State to appoint commissioners or chairs to organisations which enjoy absolute operational independence. The problem is that that is not comparing like with like; there is no way that an individual inquiry or human rights body with limited powers is comparable with the amount of responsibility being placed on the commission by the Bill. That responsibility is to provide the sole route to justice for anyone who lost a loved one during the Troubles.

Noble Lords will have noticed that my amendment does not seek to address all the powers of the Secretary of State. Because of its probing nature, it concentrates, in this form, on only some of those powers, particularly as there is a genuinely independent alternative to the Secretary of State: the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission. Additionally, the commission’s functions include:

“To select and appoint and recommend for appointment, in respect of all listed judicial offices up to and including High Court Judge … To recommend applicants solely on the basis of merit … To engage in a Programme of Action to secure … that appointments to listed judicial offices are … reflective of the community in Northern Ireland.”

Again, that provides independence, but, crucially, it does so in a way which is transparent and will disarm those who may suggest that the commission is simply an arm of the UK Government in Northern Ireland. Why not forestall those criticisms and remove the Secretary of State from the area of appointments altogether? The NIJAC is accustomed to appointing those who fulfil statutory requirements and who are of good character and have integrity. Furthermore, the link between the commission and the judiciary is embedded in the Bill, as the chief commissioner must be a person who holds, or has held, high judicial office, and almost all those candidates have been appointed to their judicial role by NIJAC.

In addition to the issues with the composition of the commission, many noble Lords will be aware of an uneasiness about how this body will work, from where it will derive its legitimacy, what mechanisms exist for scrutiny, and, where necessary, how we can ensure that it is responsive to concerns in a way that is not simply subject to the fiat of whichever Secretary of State happens to be in post. Those issues speak to a wider systemic problem with the Bill.

The delegated powers memorandum contains a remarkable paragraph which encapsulates my concerns and those of other noble Lords:

“Legacy matters are highly controversial, politically charged and divisive in Northern Ireland. A vast number of issues remain unresolved as a result of political and societal impasse and there is no single accepted or agreed way to address them … There is a very real prospect that providing the Northern Ireland Assembly with the power of veto in relation to delegated powers could frustrate the purpose and application of the provisions in the Bill, which in the Government’s view is necessary to achieve progress and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.”

That is an explicit acknowledgment that the Government have decided to exclude the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland from important decisions for fear that they will not agree with the direction of travel determined from London. If we were to mould the Bill into a shape which will satisfy everyone in Northern Ireland and be seen as an attempt, in good faith, to further the course of reconciliation, the composition of the commission will need to be seen as independently determined.

Further, it will need to be seen as an avowedly apolitical body aimed at achieving a true incremental reconciliation woven from the skeins of public opinion in Northern Ireland, not a reconciliation based on our perceptions in London. I do not propose to put my amendments to a vote but urge the Government to engage with their provisions critically and take appropriate steps before Report.

I intend to dispose of Amendment 178 at the earliest possible opportunity. Consequently, with the leave of the Committee, I shall say no more about it. I beg to move.

My Lords, this group of amendments refers to the independence of the commission to be created. Throughout the Bill, there are restrictions on that independence in the form of not only the Secretary of State’s control over the number of commissioners, and in this instance the appointment of commissioners, and the budget, but many of the other requirements made of the commission and the various powers given to the Secretary of State.

I find some of these powers astonishing. They include the power to give guidance to the ICRIR about how to exercise its functions so as not to prejudice national security, put a life at risk or act in any way which might prejudice actual or prospective criminal proceedings. This exercises the minds of senior investigating officers, chief officers, prosecutors and judges on a very regular basis—decisions have to be and are made. Why do the Government think that the ICRIR will not be capable of making such decisions?

There is also a power to identify sensitive information to be given to the commission, the chief constable of the PSNI, chief officers of police forces in Northern Ireland, the Police Ombudsman, the director-general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Northern Ireland departments and Scottish Ministers. Managing and identifying sensitive information is done routinely by people such as chief constables. It is difficult to understand why the Secretary of State should be required to make regulations and give guidance in these situations. To those looking in from the outside, from whom I have heard quite extensively, it appears that this may enable the Secretary of State to control the work of the ICRIR.

The Secretary of State has a further extraordinary range of powers throughout the Bill, which we will come to later. Combined, they introduce a unique group of powers regarding the operations of the ICRIR. All the powers conferred on the Secretary of State to enable him to regulate, manage, control or otherwise dictate the proceedings of the ICRIR rest on the appointment of the commissioners. Amendments 12, 13 and 16, to which I have put my name, and Amendments 24 to 30, all in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, seek to address a profoundly important control given to the Secretary of State in Schedule 1 by giving the appointment-making function for the commissioners to the Judicial Appointments Commission rather than to the Secretary of State.

The Judicial Appointments Commission comprises nine people, five of whom are judges and four of whom are not members of the legal profession at present. The requirement in the schedule on the Secretary of State to consult the relevant senior judge and such other persons as he or she considers appropriate will be indicative to many of those in Northern Ireland who want to see a truly independent commission of a total lack of independence. Noble Lords will know that perception is as important as reality in cases such as this. If the commission is to gain any credibility, it must above all be seen to be independent.

It seems to me that, were the House to agree the noble Lord’s amendments—which he has just said he will withdraw but which I may well retable on Report because they are so important—the Minister’s Amendments 14 and 15 would be unnecessary. In any event, they would not meet the requirement for an independent appointment. The appointment of a person who has gained experience outside the UK, as provided for in Amendment 14, may be an asset, but it could occur in any case, and it seems to me superfluous.

The one thing that emerges from a study of this Bill is that the ICRIR will not be enabled to be independent by its provisions. Rather, it is clear that so much power is reserved to the Secretary of State that it cannot be independent. There is no legislative consent Motion in support of this Bill and no support for it. We are talking about the past and future of the people of Northern Ireland. Independence is critical for this commission.

My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton. Over the last number of days, increasingly people have said to us, right across the community in Northern Ireland, that they are opposed to this Bill on the basis that it does not have victims and survivors at its heart and centre. Last night, I was very pleased to sponsor a meeting for SEFF in your Lordships’ House, where that was the message, yet again, that was given to us. Right across the community, irrespective of political or religious persuasion or, shall we say, whatever job the person may have had, as a victim or survivor, people do not support the Bill because their needs and requirements are not placed at its centre.

The need for the independence of the commission goes to the very heart of the Bill. We have seen quite clearly that the Secretary of State will have undue and unfettered powers. My noble friend Lord Browne is absolutely correct: the membership and work of the commission need to be independently determined and it must not be shackled by the unfettered powers of the Secretary of State.

In fact, many human rights organisations have concerns about the influence of the Secretary of State over the processes of the ICRIR as proposed by the Bill. For example, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint its chief commissioner, who must be a UK judge, moving significantly away from the process envisaged in the Stormont House agreement of appointing an international figure to be jointly agreed by both the UK and Irish Governments. Where is this process of engagement and consultation with the Irish Government and, of course, the agreement that is urgently required? Things in Northern Ireland do not go ahead successfully unless there is reconciliation, consensus, agreement and consent. There is definitely not consent for this Bill. There will be no legislative consent Motion because there is not an Assembly at the moment, but the five main parties are opposed to the Bill, so it would not happen anyway.

While the proposed government amendments to Schedule 1 seek to provide that the Secretary of State consults relevant figures, they are unspecified. In advance of appointments, the wide discretion given to the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland over appointments to the ICRIR remains. Furthermore, requiring the Secretary of State to ensure, as far as practicable, that there is a commissioner with international experience is a weak substitute for an independent, international individual or group of individuals. I sincerely endorse the views of my noble friend Lord Browne and ask the Minister to go back and look at this issue.

The submissions given to us are quite clear. Liberty says that

“While this may be a ‘Northern Ireland Bill’ in title and in focus, it is explicitly one that is directed by Westminster. This is not just true in the exclusion of stakeholders in Northern Ireland and Ireland alike in the introduction of the Bill, but in the deep vein of political interference that runs through the legislation”,

and that the ICRIR

“stands a chance of working only if it is seen to be independent in its operation.”

Yet the hand of the Secretary of State looms large throughout all aspects of its function.

A similar view is expressed by Amnesty, which quite clearly states that the ICRIR does not meet ECHR procedural requirements, and that the Secretary of State retains control over the appointments, the resources and caseload of the ICRIR as well as the powers to terminate its work at any point. In view of that, it is quite clear that the ICRIR will not be independent and I would like the Minister to outline to the House how he and the Government will address that issue, and how he will toughen up the legislation by amendments on Report to ensure independence. If the needs and requirements of victims and survivors are to be placed at the centre of the Bill, this is an urgent priority and I urge the Minister to do that and to use the Judicial Appointments Commission to fulfil the requirements of the ICRIR in achieving independence.

My Lords, before I speak to my Amendment 14A, I just want to say that we may be wearing the same colours but I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, on her support for the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Browne. I really do not see the need for that and, in my view, “independent” can mean so much to so many different people. As far as I am concerned, the Secretary of State is the Secretary of State for the United Kingdom Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I see absolutely no reason why appointing commissioners would not be done by the Secretary of State. There have been some brilliant Secretaries of State and there have been some terrible ones, but the reality is that they are the representative of our Government of the United Kingdom and that should happen. Perhaps not being a lawyer, I do not share the confidence that so many people seem to have in the Judicial Appointments Commission.

In talking to my Amendment 14A, I had not realised that the Minister would not have spoken to his Amendment 14. Mine is really a probing amendment and in a spirit of genuinely asking a few questions. I would like to see all five of the commissioners not only have relevant experience before appointment. Also, very clearly, that experience must be gained in the United Kingdom and not exclusively in other places. My amendment would ensure that this would happen.

I am not convinced as to why the Minister has conceded the point about a commissioner needing relevant international experience if practical, and of having that prescribed on the face of the Bill. I have to say again that maybe there is a romanticised idea about international involvement in Northern Ireland. But, from experience of internationalising the Troubles—that horrible word that people use—reinvestigation has not always been good and has not always been considered successful. What type and level of experience is anticipated for these commissioners? Will they have to be former police officers or lawyers? As I said in the previous debate, I think it is sad that the Minister is unwilling to put into the Bill that ex-RUC and PSNI officers can definitely be considered. We saw what Jon Boutcher did by ruling out instantly ex-PSNI and ex-RUC. That is wrong and implies, as I said before, that there is somehow something wrong with them and that they are not to be trusted.

We need to know some of these things so that the appointment does not get decided with us and the victims not knowing exactly how that person will be put there. Without the benefit of my amendment, the Minister’s Amendment 14 leaves open the possibility of appointing an individual who not only has no experience of UK policing but has never even set foot in Northern Ireland or gained any relevant experience there. Of course we must remember that, once they are appointed, they take on the considerable powers of a constable. That is exceptionally important. Noble Lords should require assurance on this; their acceptance of my amendment would provide that.

My Lords, I just want to comment on a small but important point that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, made; I wondered whether the Minister would like to respond to it. The noble Baroness said that the advice being issued potentially by a Minister about the restriction on evidence could be quite worrying. As an investigator, I share that view, as I am sure the judiciary would in a court hearing. There are some present restrictions but the list is a small one; it includes the interception of communications, journalistic material, legally privileged material and, most of the time, medical advice. I suspect that this is something to do with foreign intelligence material, which is provided only under certain conditions. That is usually about source protection, and the usual condition is that the material can be shared further only in the event that the provider of the information agrees. I suspect that is what this is about but, if it is not, some reassurance ought to be offered; however, if it is, it could probably be explained quite quickly.

My Lords, I want to comment briefly on the amendments in this group. Before I do so, once again, I put on record our thanks to the Minister and his officials for their continued engagement with us on the matters under consideration in the Bill.

I also want to put on record—the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to this—the meeting that we held yesterday with the victims’ group SEFF. Many of its members travelled from Northern Ireland to speak with your Lordships and highlight their concerns about the Bill. It is right that we pay tribute to those victims and the efforts that they are making to try to get across their profound concerns about it. Again and again, they emphasised something that I want to emphasise. While we discuss these amendments and debate independence, appointments and all that, no matter what improvements we make to the Bill, it is—in their view, certainly in my view, and in our view—irredeemable in its terms and fundamental aspects as a piece of legislation. Whatever we do in relation to justice, victims and getting at the truth, it cannot be right to have at the heart of government policy and a piece of government legislation the idea of immunity from prosecution for those who have committed crimes in the United Kingdom.

I want to touch on Amendment 14 in the name of the Minister. It concerns appointing a commissioner who has international experience. Can the Minister develop his thinking in relation to the motivation behind this amendment? I know that this was raised in the other place but it has not really been explained why it is thought necessary that someone should have international experience. It should be relevant to the work of the commission, okay, but what does that mean? Does it mean that they have done some academic studies or spent a bit of time abroad? Does it mean that they have been part of an international organisation? If so, what is the effect of the singling out of a particular position for such a person in relation to other appointments in the commission where other people may be better qualified but lack that particular qualification? I just think it is superfluous, as has been mentioned. There was nothing in the draft legislation to prevent the appointment of such a person, if it was thought necessary, but to put it in the Bill seems puzzling and I would like the Minister to develop his thinking on that.

On Amendment 12 and the other amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I am not entirely convinced by the arguments that have been put forward. We have to remember that the commission and the commissioners, as has been said, will have the power of a constable. They will play more than just a judicial or quasi-judicial role; they will also have investigatory powers, they will be carrying out reviews and so on, so it is much wider than just a judicial-type role. Fundamentally, it gives more accountability if a Secretary of State, accountable to Parliament, is responsible for this, rather than a judicial appointments commission, whose appointments we really cannot question. Given the role of the judicial appointments commission in Northern Ireland and the fact that, throughout all the period of the Troubles, it has been above party politics and has never been dragged into any real controversy, here we are putting it into a position where it will be responsible for making what will be controversial appointments that could be the object of some criticism, in terms of balance and so on. I am not sure that that is a healthy or sensible position in which to place it.

Fundamentally, we come back to the point that was emphasised and re-emphasised to me at our meeting last night with the victims: whether the commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State or a judicial appointments committee or whoever, fundamentally, they do not have the confidence and will not have the confidence of the victims. Therefore, all this is very interesting and important—absolutely—but it does not actually deal with the real fundamental flaw at the heart of this legislation.

My Lords, I start by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, in thanking the Minister for his general approach to the Bill. I think we all feel that, unlike so many Bills at the moment, this is a Bill where we have the opportunity to get the Minister to genuinely listen and change it. That is very much to be welcomed in this Chamber. I also agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, that many of us think the Bill is fundamentally irredeemable, to use his word. It is irredeemable in the eyes of the victims and, therefore, however many amendments and proposals we put forward this afternoon and this evening, it is, for many, an utterly irredeemable Bill and we have to view it through that prism.

However, going back to the amendments in this group, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, set out very clearly in his probing amendments the concerns about the significant amount of power that is being granted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Bill. I very much share his views and concerns about that. I will not repeat the many points he made, other than to say that these are views shared by the House of Lords Constitution and Delegated Powers Committees, which both felt that this was giving far too much power to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Loan and Lady Ritchie, have also said, if we are going to proceed with the ICRIR, the new commission, it is vital not only that it is seen to be independent but that this independence is maintained and seen so that the trust of all the people concerned with it can be maintained. It is also incredibly important that the process for how people are appointed to the ICRIR is seen as genuinely independent and, as others have said, above party politics. I think this is an area we really need to return to and look at in more detail before Report.

I appreciate that Amendments 14 and 15, tabled by the Minister, are intended to ensure that there is greater flexibility in the ability to appoint the best people to these roles, but, even given these amendments, there remains very real concern about the amount of power being given to the Secretary of State. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, I wonder whether the Minister could expand a little on Amendment 14 and the requirement to appoint one or more people with relevant experience outside the UK. I think this is generally to be welcomed as a means of ensuring that the best commissioners with the broadest relevant experience are appointed.

Given the complexities and the history involved, it is not always going to be the case that someone from outside Northern Ireland will automatically understand the Northern Ireland context. But, in the history of the peace process, external people have often played an extremely valuable role, and for that reason I cannot support the position taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, in Amendment 14A. It would, however, be useful to hear from the Minister what sort of people he has in mind—although obviously he cannot name them, because that would be inappropriate in terms of due process. I would also be interested to know if the phrase

“as far as it is practicable”

in his amendment is intended as a sort of get-out clause if no sufficiently qualified people put their name forward.

Finally—I gave earlier notice of this question—is this going to be a proactive process of recruitment, where the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and others go out and try to find international experts, or will it be more of a sort of passive process? I would be interested to hear how the Minister views this being introduced in reality.

My Lords, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, gives us the opportunity to do two things at this stage of our work: first, to pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which he has listened, constantly, to the many voices clamouring at our doors over this Bill; and, secondly, to be reminded that there are two key words to this legislation. One is “legacy”—and my goodness, we have said enough in this Chamber already to have analysed legacy—and the other is “reconciliation”, and, not for the first time, I am left wondering how His Majesty’s Government intended us to interpret that word.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, is talking about one of the most sensitive parts of this proposed Bill: the appointment of this commission. I cannot, with my experience of Northern Ireland, imagine any issue that is going to be more productive of comment for and against this legislation than the question of the appointment of this commission. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has already reminded us of that significant period of this process. I welcome the opportunity given to the Minister to tell us a little more about what the thinking is about the structure of this commission. It is that point where many of us would have concerns about the involvement of the Secretary of State in this process.

Time and again in my correspondence, the messages I receive constantly underline the fact that victims and survivors are not at the centre of this legislation. This opportunity is given to us again to place on the record the needs of that part of our community. It is not just about those in the security forces or victims of either side in the conflict; it is about the mental instability that has been caused to another generation inheriting the deep thought and the deep suffering of the victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, the independence of commissioners will be vital to the success of this commission, and I agree that the confidence of the community, who are the victims and survivors, must be at the heart of any body. But how do we interpret “independent”? The truth is that many outside Northern Ireland have little or no concept of what has happened in Northern Ireland over the past 50 years. In fact, it is hard for those who have lived through it to understand it fully. Therefore, the independence question is of great importance.

It is a fact that, when the Secretary of State makes an appointment, he can be scrutinised by Members of this House, but many noble Lords will find it difficult to question appointments made by the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission, because doing so will be misinterpreted by many. Bearing in mind the complexity and history of Northern Ireland, the appointment of such commissioners will be of vital importance.

Therefore, I would like such appointments to have at least the scrutiny of Members of both Houses. Over the years, many commissioners have been appointed to deal with many sensitive issues, but those appointments have been questioned within the community. I come back to the beginning: the independence of commissioners is vital for success.

My Lords, this is an interesting and timely debate. I join many of your Lordships in thanking the Minister for his engagement on this Bill. It does not always happen, but it does in his case, and we thank him for that.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Browne, who introduced his amendment extremely ably, as I would expect, but also forensically. He pointed to the issue of independence, but in reality this is also about confidence. Independence means confidence, and a lack of independence means a lack of confidence. The system for appointing different people has been fraught with difficulty over the years, because those appointments have lacked the confidence of one side of the community or the other. Your Lordships referred to international comparisons, and the reason why people of international repute have been involved in Northern Ireland over the years is to try to ensure that all the people of Northern Ireland had confidence in them. When I was Secretary of State, we appointed Judge Cory to look at various inquiries. It was important that a Canadian judge—in his case—was involved.

If more people in Northern Ireland are to accept this Bill—I am sure it is not accepted at the moment—one possibility is to look at how the commissioner is appointed and who it should be. The Secretary of State has far too many powers in the Bill generally, and on the appointment of the commissioner specifically. When I was the Secretary of State, I tried to shed responsibilities so that they rested with the people of Northern Ireland themselves. I hope that, in the next couple of months—perhaps in a couple of years—we see the restoration of institutions in Northern Ireland. But responsibility for these matters should be taken by the people who were elected in Northern Ireland, not a Secretary of State who represents a constituency in Great Britain. We should be thinking about how there can be confidence in such an appointment.

There may be different ways in which we could ensure independence. The Judicial Appointments Commission in Northern Ireland could do it. Committees of this House and the other House could be involved in the scrutiny; there is merit in what the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, said about that. But it should be transparent and open, and it should certainly not take place through a British Secretary of State, who I hope will eventually have to pass powers to legislators and others in Northern Ireland.

There is another reason too: all the international criticism of this Bill—whether from the Council of Europe, the United States, the United Nations, bodies such as Liberty and all the rest—is about the inadequacy of the Bill’s compliance with human rights. It strikes me that the lack of independence in the way the commissioner is appointed is seriously linked with those concerns. In other words, if there were a more independent system of appointment, perhaps it would be more human rights compliant.

Even though the report is lengthy, I am not terribly convinced by the Government’s reasoning on the Bill’s compliance with the ECHR. Your Lordships will of course remember, as we have said consistently, that in a few months’ time it is the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, which is based on compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. This is therefore a timely and important debate, and we very much look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, for his kind words, and to other noble Lords for their engagement on this Bill. I think we are meeting again very shortly, almost immediately after Committee stage concludes, and I will continue to engage closely with all interested parties, bodies and noble Lords across the House on this legislation.

With one thing the noble Lord said, I could not agree more: to be honest, I would be more than happy for the people and the Assembly of Northern Ireland to deal with most of the matters in the Bill. However, I set out to the House at Second Reading and, to some extent, last week in Committee, why and how it went from being primarily a Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly responsibility to a UK Government one. Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson came to see the then Secretary of State after Stormont House and said, “This is all far too difficult for us to do at Stormont. Please will you do it all at Westminster?” We agreed.

I also agree with those noble Lords who have argued that central to the effective delivery of this legislation is the need for an independent body to carry out reviews, including investigations, and to grant, where the tests are met, immunity from prosecution. The Government fully recognise the need for commissioners to have credibility, expertise and legitimacy, so that effective reviews and investigations can be carried out and information provided to families as soon as possible. The UK-wide nature of the legislation provides for the appointment of a person who holds or has held high judicial office across the United Kingdom. It would therefore not be appropriate, in our view, for the appointment function to sit with the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission, which, by definition, is concerned solely with judicial appointments within Northern Ireland.

I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and others who have spoken about the independence of the commissioner if he or she is appointed by the Northern Ireland Secretary. The Northern Ireland Act 1998, as the noble Lord alluded, provides the Secretary of State with the power to appoint the commissioners of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The Inquiries Act 2005, passed by the Government of which the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Browne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, were members, provides for the appointment of an inquiry panel by a Minister.

My experience of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is that they are fiercely independent of government. I think nobody would dare suggest that the fact that they are appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland makes them in any way in hock to government. They carry out their duties with total independence and they are not slow, as we have seen in respect of this legislation and other legislation which has recently been before your Lordships’ House, to voice their criticisms and their opinions vociferously. Therefore I simply do not accept that appointment by the Secretary of State somehow limits or inhibits the independence of the commissioners.

Another example to which I could refer is that I was involved as a special adviser in the setting up the independent review into the on-the-runs administrative scheme back in 2014 which was conducted by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, then Lady Justice Hallett. She was appointed in 2014 by the Northern Ireland Secretary in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice at the time. The appointment process did not in any way impact on the independence of the review.

To give a further example, in the absence of a sitting Executive in 2019, it was the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, who appointed the current Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. I do not think anyone would remotely suggest that Marie Anderson is influenced by His Majesty’s Government because she was appointed by the Northern Ireland Secretary, any more so than any of her distinguished predecessors—I am looking towards the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, as I make those comments.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, referred to some of the overarching powers of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised specific concern over the winding-up power under Clause 33. I remind noble Lords that the Secretary of State has a similar wind-up power contained in the Inquiries Act 2005, which was passed by the previous Labour Government. In respect of this legislation, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may wind up the commission via an affirmative procedure that would have to be debated by both Houses of Parliament. The Government believe that it is for Parliament to have the final say in the potential winding-up and abolition of what Parliament has created. However, the winding-up order will be laid only when the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is has delivered on its functions.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, referred to some of the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to national security. I hardly need to remind her, given her various roles over the years in Northern Ireland, that the Northern Ireland Secretary ultimately has responsibility for national security in Northern Ireland. The powers contained in the Bill are very reflective of what was proposed in the Stormont House agreement and the draft legislation that accompanied it. The power is not in any way extraordinary. I hesitate to remind her that Section 65 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 also requires the police ombudsman to have regard to guidance given by the Secretary of State on matters relating to disclosure and national security.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, raised an important point, and I will try to deal with it. Clause 30(2) stipulates that the Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the holding and handling of information by the commission. This is about ensuring that information is held securely and destroyed when no longer needed. It is not intended to be a power to place restrictions on the use to which the information can be put nor is it a power to restrict the use of information as evidence in a prosecution. I hope that goes some way to answering the noble Lord’s query.

I turn to the amendments in my name, which make it clear that, when appointing the Chief Commissioner, the Secretary of State should always consult the relevant senior judge and any other persons they consider appropriate. I did at one point toy with the idea of producing a list but decided against it on the grounds that every list is imperfect and open to challenge; that should be left to the Secretary of State’s discretion. I intend to set out in the coming weeks more information about how we expect the appointments process to take place to provide greater transparency. I hope that goes some way to answering the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. It will be proactive, of course, but I will provide more details on that point very shortly.

I recognise that some people query the value of consultation in this respect. I can only speak from experience, having worked as an adviser to six Northern Ireland Secretaries and now alongside three, in just over a year, in a ministerial capacity. I have always been fully confident in, and impressed by, the seriousness with which they carry out the duty to consult in respect of any appointments process. In my experience, these have never been box-ticking exercises but have been carried out with seriousness and propriety. As we take this legislation very seriously, we will take the appointments process seriously too.

To strengthen the commission’s independence, I have also brought forward an amendment requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that, as far as is practicable, there is at least one commissioner who has relevant international experience. This matter was brought up and debated at length in the other place at Committee stage, so the amendment is in large part a response to the debates that took place at the other end of the building. I stress that this does not require a foreign national; it can be a UK national with relevant international experience.

To respond on that point to my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn, as well as the noble Baronesses, Lady Hoey and Lady Suttie, we want to avoid being overly prescriptive in trying to identify an individual or category of individual, but we would expect the person concerned to have experience working outside the UK. It could be a UK national who has worked outside the UK; for example, with experience of working with international organisations in such areas as peacebuilding or reconciliation. The amendment makes it clear that these criteria apply so far as is practicable and would not preclude an individual with UK-only experience from being appointed.

The aim of this amendment is to ensure that the commission benefits from the broadest range of experience, including gained in the UK and abroad, rather than excluding any particular type of relevant experience—as, alas, does Amendment 14A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey. On this point, I have had representations from people saying that the commission should exclude anybody who has ever set foot in Northern Ireland, and from people saying it should include only those who have experience in Northern Ireland. I have had representations trying to exclude all sorts of people.

In response to the point about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, I made it clear last week, when we debated this at length, that there is no prohibition on former members of that fine police force being appointed to serve on the commission, or indeed on former members of the Historical Enquiries Team that Hugh Orde set up some years ago.

In conclusion, the Government believe that we have struck the right balance here and that there is no threat to the operational independence of the commission. It is far from unusual that the Secretary of State makes appointments to public bodies in Northern Ireland. That is very long-established and has worked effectively in the past, and I see no reason why it cannot work effectively in future.

On that note, I invite noble Lords not to press their amendments, as I of course shall not press mine.

I thank the Minister for his characteristically engaging response. He addressed a significant number of the issues that I and other noble Lords raised, reflecting the co-operation that we have all had from him, his Bill team and his private office. I have previously expressed my thanks for that but I am perfectly pleased to associate myself with the words of other noble Lords on that issue.

The one thing that is certain about the Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, is that the independence of the ICRIR will be tested in legal proceedings that will define independence for us. It will not be, as a number of noble Lords have suggested, a question of independence meaning different things to different people; in that context, it will mean some very specific things.

When I introduced this group of amendments, I sought to give some indication of what I think that body will look for in independence if it is to conclude that the process is complying with the European Convention on Human Rights and with our history and the rule of law in these islands. In my view, it is highly improbable—in fact, impossible—that it will conclude, with this level of political interference in the commission’s work and the way in which it has been set up, that this not only is independent but can be seen to be independent. That will be a significant flaw in the whole process. I think all noble Lords realise that. They may not agree with me that that will be the conclusion, but there is an overwhelming body of opinion and expertise out there that believes that is the case, and we have all been briefed on that.

I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this interesting debate, particularly those who supported my amendments. Those amendments were intended not to be definitive on this whole issue of independence but to be a way into the debate, and I am glad to say that they succeeded in being that. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, for bringing in her contributions experience that showed that, beyond the points that I identified, there are other issues in the Bill that undermine independence.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn. I share his view about the Bill, that this whole exercise is irredeemably flawed. The major issue that he raised, which is clearly foremost in his mind, is that of immunity, which we shall come to later today. I am focusing on independence at the moment, and in this group we are looking at independence. I cannot see how that can be consistent with what we have heard today from people with experience interpreting the words of the Bill and relaying to us, from their experience with victims, that there is concern here about the issue of independence.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, that the independence that I am talking about is not restricted to any part of the geography of these islands. It is independence from political control at a level that does not allow the informed examiner of how this will work to conclude that it is independence that is necessary for a process of this nature to satisfy the text. Now, that is going to be tested. I invite the Minister to look at this issue beyond the point that I highlighted in order to get into this debate, which is the appointment of the commissioners. I see the criticism that he makes of that, but the criticism goes much beyond just the appointment of the commissioners.

I ask the Minister to consider some of these points and take seriously some of the well-informed criticism from outside about where this is all going to end up. There are alternatives if he wishes to proceed on this basis—although I am not certain that they can be applied—to give the Government the results that they want. I ask the Minister to go away and think about this and perhaps come back with a response. I will look carefully at the words he has said. I have indicated that I intend to withdraw the amendment in my name, but if the Minister does not come back in anticipation of Report with some response to this issue which is convincing on independence, there will be a race between me and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, to put down an amendment of this nature to be debated and perhaps voted upon on Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 12 withdrawn.

Amendments 13 to 32 not moved.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Clause 3: ICRIR officers

Amendment 33 not moved.

Clause 3 agreed.

Amendment 34 not moved.

Clause 4: Actions of the ICRIR: safeguards

Amendment 35 not moved.

Amendment 36

Moved by

36: Clause 4, page 4, line 31, at end insert—

“(4) Before carrying out any reviews, the ICRIR must publish, and in carrying out any reviews, the ICRIR must take into account, guidelines containing best practice on the rights of those likely to be named in any reports.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new subsection makes it clear that when carrying out reviews and in the exercise of its power to make findings in reports the ICRIR will follow best practice for the due protection of the rights of any person who may be named with critical comment.

My amendment to Clause 4 is similar to Amendments 99 and 101, which I spoke to in previous discussions on the Bill. I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their support for those amendments. My concern here is the functioning of the commission rather than its appointment.

I would also like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Caine, in a rather different vein from the thanks expressed already, for the very fair, frank and open discussion he gave to the people of Northern Ireland on Ulster Television last night, explaining the whys and wherefores of this Bill, in difficult circumstances. I was at times slightly puzzled, because it felt as if the Bill is the first assault on the principle of equality of justice for the people of Northern Ireland that we have seen. But for 25 years there has been irregular process.

I well remember Tony Blair, at the time of the Good Friday agreement, talking about tearing up the criminal justice system and the release system that was then put in its place, and the importance of getting a referendum result in its favour because it was so complicated, difficult and controversial. I well remember new Labour’s entirely reasonable—in my opinion—interest in an amnesty across the board, which was pursued at some length. While it failed because of party machinations in Northern Ireland, it did not fail because of an uprising of victims or sensitivity to the opinions of victims. It fell because of the workings out of political intrigues, particularly between the SDLP and Sinn Féin. I remember the letters of comfort and the royal pardons. All of these things were very unusual and all long pre-date this Bill. I remember Denis Bradley, the distinguished co-author of the noble Lord, Lord Eames, saying that we were now in a place where we could not reasonably expect Governments to deliver justice but that they should be doing their utmost to deliver truth. However inadequate and flawed this Bill is, it is an attempt to deliver more truth. We are in a darker place, and I felt for the Minister as he struggled under the weight of an accusation which is at least 25 years old and could be directed to others with more point than to him, especially in the context of the amendments that he seeks to make to the Bill.

Again, there has been no discussion of the elephant in the room. The Minister mentioned the White Paper and said that the Bill is significantly different. He is entirely correct, but the most significant change in the environment is the Supreme Court ruling in December 2022. I look again at the headline of the Times law report, which stated that:

“Northern Irish police are not required to re-investigate incidents from the Troubles”.

When I drew attention to this in our earlier debate, I was told that newspaper headlines are often misleading, but the Times law report is not the Daily Star. I went back and checked it and, to be blunt, that is an accurate account of what the Supreme Court ruled. That is a major change in the environment since the—

I thank my noble friend for giving way. I think the Supreme Court decided that the particular applicants in that case were not entitled to get their cases reinvestigated—or investigated. They did not say that there was no obligation on the state to provide investigation.

I thank my noble friend for that intervention. I think the implications of the Supreme Court ruling are somewhat broader. I was going to say that, at some point or other, the Government will have to refer to this major change, possibly with the Attorney-General, because there is controversy about what it really means. We cannot finish the Bill as though something of that importance has not happened, because it clearly bears on the issues at stake in the Bill and on the international obligations or otherwise of the United Kingdom Government.

Like my previous amendments, my Amendment 36 is designed, essentially, to get the best possible practice in play for the commission. It calls for the ICRIR to publish

“guidelines containing best practice on the rights of those likely to be named in any reports”.

I think the Minister will have a reasonable reply. We already know that there is a process of Maxwellisation. During the long period of the Iraq report, many will have felt frustrated about the amount of time devoted to Maxwellisation but, none the less, people who are challenged in their conduct have every right to take time to give a decent reply.

I am sure that that will be the Minister’s reply—that we already have rights in law. But things have moved on since then. It seems to me that the best practice now is something that we might call Maxwellisation-plus. I again draw attention to the way in which the Green Paper to the Commons Treasury Committee sets out proceedings and an approach to the rights of those involved under questioning in the ICRIR, which the Government should adopt. They should follow that Green Paper.

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the Minister for his open door and willingness to engage. I hope to knock on that door in the next few days to persuade him to support the Operation Kenova amendments.

I thank the Minister. However—this is no criticism of him—I think that he is doing his very best to defend the indefensible and that if he were the architect of the Bill, it would not look like this. I am not expecting him to agree with me, although it would be interesting if he did. I see that he has zipped his mouth, which perhaps says it all.

I will speak to Amendments 112 and 124 in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie. Once again, I am grateful to them for their support.

The Bill grants immunity, in effect giving an amnesty, to people who may have committed horrific crimes. Victims and survivors find that most difficult to take. The Bill is opposed by every political party and every victims’ group in Northern Ireland—an unprecedented unity between people who almost never agree with one another, even on the definition of a victim.

Before turning to the substance of the amendments, I will briefly refer back to our debate last Tuesday on Amendment 72 in my name, which for convenience I will call the Operation Kenova amendment. In his response, the Minister made a number of assertions in relation to the upscaling of Operation Kenova to deal with the outstanding legacy cases which I am afraid cannot go unchallenged and need correcting.

I have had access to independent advice which supports the view that Kenova can be upscaled and expedite investigations and would represent real value for money in such a role. If the alternative is some kind of cheapskate, back-of-an-envelope process, of course that will be cheaper. But I hope your Lordships’ House is seeking and will express unity on a proper process that investigates the past and includes within it a crucial truth recovery priority for victims. As we have seen in the past, in a very small minority of cases the evidence uncovered would qualify for consideration of prosecution.

Inevitably, that will be more expensive than a back-of-the-envelope operation, but Kenova represents real value for money. I will write to the Minister before Report explaining all this and copy it to any interested Members of your Lordships’ House. It is very important to do so because the Minister’s arguments against modelling the Bill on the hugely successful and popular Operation Kenova are at best specious and, I am afraid, misleading to many. Granting immunity—an amnesty—to perpetrators of terrible crimes drives a stake through the rule of law. I am afraid it is at the core—the rotten core—of this odious legislation.

At Second Reading, I raised the case of 18 year-old John Molloy, who was stabbed to death in a random sectarian attack near his north Belfast home in August 1996. I asked the Minister to explain to John’s parents, Linda and Pat, why he and his Government see a difference between John’s sectarian murder in Belfast and a racially motivated murder in London or in his own home city of Leeds—both horrific crimes. Linda and Pat are still waiting for an answer.

I can do no better than to quote from a powerful article in the Belfast Telegraph on 24 January. In it, Linda, John’s mother, gets to the heart of the matter:

“‘It feels like John has been archived and forgotten about. You’re talking about a child’s life here and the repercussions of what we’ve gone through. How dare they treat my son as a number? Because that’s how we feel; he’s just another number, and they haven’t even tried. John’s murderers are walking the streets while he’s lying in the cemetery.’”

Quoting Dr Sandra Peake, the article goes on:

“‘Why does John’s life mean so little that the taking of it will no longer be of any interest to a state whose first duty should be to protect its citizens? If this legislation is passed … the person who stood over John as he bled to death on a cold, hard pavement will have the protection of the state. And to earn it, all they have to do is to tell the story of that night to “the best of their knowledge and belief”. Once they do that, the lifelong protection of the state is extended to them as if nothing happened on the night of 10th of August 1996. It will be as if John Molloy never existed.’”

We hear much in the legacy debate about the rewriting of history. What is giving legal absolution to those who murdered John Molloy and so many others like him if not rewriting history? The Government seem perplexed when victims and survivors call this perpetrator- friendly legislation.

I have heard it argued that, over the course of the peace process, decisions have been made that have radically changed fundamental aspects of the criminal justice system. That is true. Sentencing legislation which meant that those convicted of Troubles-related offences would serve only two years in prison before being eligible for early release is cited as the prime example. Those who point to it claim that the immunity granted in this Bill is simply another manifestation of Northern Ireland being a place apart, but I would contend that this is of a radically different order.

Almost 25 years ago, the people of Northern Ireland, including many thousands of victims and survivors, were given a choice: they could vote for the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, in the knowledge that the early release of prisoners was a consequence, or they could vote against it. For many victims and survivors, that was a cruel choice, and every Member of this House who lives in Northern Ireland or who has had the privilege of serving there as a Minister or in another capacity will have met and will know people who had to make it. I have sat with men and women who had to make that agonising choice, who lost loved ones or live with catastrophic injuries, and I have spoken with and listened to them. Many—possibly most—victims and survivors voted “Yes”. There were those who could not bring themselves to vote for a settlement that contained that provision—I am sure that some are sitting in this House—but the key point is that they had a choice; in this legislation, victims and survivors are denied a choice.

However, they are making their voices heard loud and clear through their political representatives in every party in Northern Ireland, through their churches, their victims’ commissioner, their victims’ groups and their representations to the Irish Government, to the US Administration and directly to this Government. I believe that they want us in your Lordships’ House to speak for them. Recently, the Secretary of State for Defence—

I am sorry to interrupt. How were the victims consulted, and what did they think about the pardons and letters of pardon that were given to people who probably did appalling things, although we were never told? The victims were not asked about that.

Actually, those letters, which started before my time as Secretary of State, were not pardons at all; the so-called “on the runs” letters were statements that there was no evidence, to the best of the PSNI’s knowledge at the time, to bring a prosecution against them. However, in fact, a prosecution was brought against at least one of them afterwards, so they were not pardons—how could they be? If they were, that prosecution would never have been brought.

We are speaking about the current Bill, but I will pause since the noble Baroness raised a wider issue. All of us have tried to grapple with this terribly difficult and fraught issue of legacy. All of us, including me as Secretary of State, have tried to do this, but it is extremely difficult. I sympathise with the Minister, who is trying to get to grips with it, as he has done in serving as a special adviser in Northern Ireland over many years— I pay tribute to him for that. It is not easy to do. However, this Bill is not the way to do it.

I hope that the Minister will listen to all the victims and that the Secretary of State for Defence, who recently visited Belfast, will do too, because he referred to a

“merry-go-round of legacy inquests”.

I hope that the Minister will acknowledge how deeply hurtful that comment was to victims and survivors. He will know, even if the Secretary of State for Defence does not, that the Ballymurphy families did not regard themselves as being part of a legal fairground entertainment as they listened to how their loved ones died and how their reputations were trashed and damned for 50 years. The Secretary of State for Defence also answered those crying out for the Government to abandon this ill-conceived legislation by saying

“give the legislation a try and see if it works.”

That casual dismissal of the pain of victims and survivors is disgraceful.

There is a second difference between what is proposed here and what has gone before: accountability. People who committed crimes were held accountable, even if the sentence they served was short. With this legislation, there is no accountability: they do not even have to pretend to express remorse or regret for their actions. They will, in effect, confess to having committed, or having been involved in the commission of, the most serious crimes—but, if their word is accepted as being true “to the best of” their “knowledge and belief”, as the Bill says, they must be granted immunity. As far as the world at large is concerned, they would not have a stain on their character. They could have committed murder, but a future employer would never know it. If I have misinterpreted the outworking of the legislation in this specific example, I would very much welcome the Minister putting me right.

Amendment 112 aims to make the granting of immunity more conditional and to give the ICRIR more discretion in granting immunity at the outset, along with the powers to revoke it once granted if the terms set out by it are breached, as set out in Amendment 124. If, in verifying whether the account given by the person seeking immunity is true to the best of their knowledge and belief, the ICRIR uncovers evidence or credible intelligence that the applicant is engaged in activities—I will set these out—that, if uncovered after immunity had been granted, could lead to revocation, it would have the discretion to withhold granting immunity. Thus, an applicant for immunity may have satisfied the conditions set out in paragraphs (a) to (c) of Clause 18(3) but, if they are found to be engaging with a proscribed organisation or harassing a victim or victim’s family, for example, the ICRIR may withhold the granting of immunity.

The Minister has proposed that there is only one circumstance in which immunity could be revoked: if a person knowingly misleads the ICRIR. There must be more circumstances than that to hold perpetrators to account, in however limited a way—if not for what they have done, then for their behaviour in the future. This is the thrust of my amendments: they would put some conditions on the granting of immunity, much like those imposed on those released from prison on licence. If they reoffended, they would be locked up again.

Amendment 124 would grant immunity on terms set out by the ICRIR. Its purpose is to give the ICRIR some discretion in the terms on which immunity is granted. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed new subsection (14A) are designed to do two things. One is to link a person who has confessed to committing a crime, but who will have no criminal record, to the criminal justice system. If they subsequently commit offences that are sufficiently serious to warrant the revocation of their immunity, having fingerprints and DNA on record would be appropriate.

Proposed new subsection (14B)(a) would see immunity revoked if the person granted that immunity is subsequently found to actively engage with a proscribed organisation. It may well be that the crime—I will call it that, even though, through this legislation, it would seem that no crime has been committed—that has been confessed to will have been carried out on behalf of a proscribed organisation. It would be outrageous if the person granted immunity could simply carry on with that association as if nothing had happened.

Proposed new subsection (14B)(b) stipulates that, if a person granted immunity is a danger to the public in the view of the police and if the ICRIR concurs, they should have their immunity revoked. If there is a counterargument to that, I would be interested to hear it from the Minister.

Proposed new subsection (14B)(c) stipulates that, if a person granted immunity harasses a victim or a victim’s family, the immunity would also be revoked. This is important: people who work with victims and survivors of the Troubles often talk of the intimacy of violence in Northern Ireland. This is not often appreciated by those who have not experienced it. Even today, before this amnesty legislation is in force, victims and families are stared at, winked at and smiled at by those who have wronged them.

I can give a living example. A woman who had just given birth to her son was visited in hospital by her husband, who was a member of the RUC. When he left, she heard gunshots: he was murdered in the car park. Years later, thanks to advances in forensic science, someone was prosecuted for her husband’s murder and found guilty. He went to prison, albeit for only two years. Associates of this individual would stand outside this woman’s place of work. One day they came in and asked her to make a donation to a hardship fund for the man who had murdered her husband. Surely, we must give some protection, however limited, to victims and their families, for instance in that case.

Proposed subsection 14B(d) would prevent someone using their immunity to benefit financially from the crime or crimes for which they have been granted immunity. Again, that seems to me to be self-evident. These amendments set out a range of circumstances in which it would be appropriate to either withhold immunity or revoke it, and I hope that the Government will adopt the amendments without dividing the House on Report—otherwise I would need to ask leave to do so. If there are technical issues associated with the phrasing, I would be more than happy to work with the Minister to suggest how those might be corrected. If not, then I must divide.

I will draw my remarks on these amendments to a close. We have to show victims and survivors that, in this House at least, they have not been completely abandoned. I strongly appeal to the Minister—and, above all, to the Cabinet Ministers behind the Bill—to think again. If they agree our Kenova Amendments 112, 124 and 72, including the ones on immunity, they will be able to deliver a Bill with cross-community support rather than the one we have before us—with or without his government amendments, which do not really address the substance—which has provoked near-universal cross-community hostility in Northern Ireland and, frankly, huge opposition across the UK, and this House in particular. I urge him to persuade his colleagues sitting above him in the Cabinet to think again and to engage constructively on this.

My Lords, I am very glad to have added my name to Amendment 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. But there was a contradiction running through even the very eloquent and powerful speech that we have just heard from my friend—I deliberately call him that—the noble Lord, Lord Hain. He worked with extreme sensitivity when he had the honour to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I saw at first hand how he agonised over things and cared about people. At the beginning of his speech, he said—in as many words—that this Bill was beyond improvement: that whatever we did to it, we could not really make it into a decent Bill. Then he went on to urge us all to support the amendments. I understand the contradiction—of course I do, because we have the Bill before us. But every word I have heard uttered in these debates—and I have heard most of them—and on Second Reading, underlines the fact that, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, in a different context, this is not fit for purpose. It really is not.

Much as I admire—and I do admire—the noble Lord, Lord Caine, as I have said before during the passage of this Bill, with all the good will in the world, and I know he has a great measure of that, he cannot really make this better. It is as if you are confronted with a cake made with poisonous fruit. Any amount of cream, any amount of icing and any amount of titivation will not make it anything other than a poisonous cake. I am afraid that the Government have, with a combination of insensitivity and ignorance—and this emphatically does not apply to my noble friend on the Front Bench—created a monster of a Bill that has alienated every community in Northern Ireland. There is only one answer, and I have said this before, and that is to go back to the drawing board and try to produce something that really does meet many of the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others during the course of our debates.

While I am here because I believe that the subject is important—I care deeply about Northern Ireland, although I have never had the good fortune to live there, and have been there many times and heard many stories—I feel we are not serving the people of Northern Ireland as we should if we try to make the proverbial silk purse out of the sow’s ear that the Bill is.

For those who are not from Northern Ireland, I would say this: a fortnight ago, I had a message that somebody from Northern Ireland wished to see me. Of course, I saw him. He was a man who had appeared as a witness when the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—under my chairmanship—conducted an inquiry into organised crime. We had to take a unique departure for a Select Committee—I do not think it has happened since—which was that every evidence session was taken in camera, because people were not prepared to give evidence in public as their lives were at stake. This was a man who had suffered from extortion by—I hate the term—loyalist terrorists. How you can be a loyalist and a terrorist is completely beyond me, but the term is used. He wanted to come and tell me what had happened since that day in 2006 when he gave evidence to my committee. I was moved and impressed by his courage, his resilience and his determination. He had suffered quite considerably, and suffered physically as well. How would a man like that ever buy this Bill? It is from individual examples such as that that one can try to gain an understanding of what it is like, and has been like, in Northern Ireland, and realise that we really have a duty to produce something that can be acceptable to those who have suffered so much.

I do not disagree with anything the noble Lord has said. The problem is that the House’s role is not normally—if ever—to reject a Bill, especially one that, at least in part, has a manifesto commitment in it. So we just have to do our best to make it less unacceptable. That is what my amendments have been designed to do and I am very grateful that he has supported them.

The noble Lord says that we cannot reject a Bill, but of course we can. It should be done very rarely. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 make provision for it. There have been Bills rejected during my time in Parliament—only three in the 53 years that I have been here. The War Crimes Bill was rejected by the House of Lords. Mrs Thatcher pursued it, and it went on to the statute book, but I think I am right in saying that it has never been used in this country. Similar Bills have hardly been used elsewhere; they have little application. However, we have the opportunity to say, “Sorry, up with this we will not put”. To say that is entirely consistent with our constitutional position. It is not something that I would ever likely advocate, but it is something I would contemplate—and I think we have to contemplate it in this case. I do not like saying that, because I like to think I am a good constitutionalist. My belief is that this House has a duty to ask the other place to think again; it has an opportunity, if something is irremediable, to say, “Sorry, we won’t have this”.

Of course, if the Bill is then presented in an exactly similar form a year later in the next Session of Parliament, it will go through. However, I remind your Lordships that we are more than half way through this Parliament, and it probably would not apply in this case. That makes our responsibility all the greater before we do such a thing. Clearly, the obvious answer is to pause the Bill after Committee and to not have a Report stage—that is the tidiest and most constitutional way forward. I say to my noble friend—while, again, reiterating my admiration for his determination, sincerity, knowledge and commitment; all those words apply to him—that the Bill really should not pass.

I will add to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the options open to the House at present. One of those would be to support an amendment such as the one I tabled at the beginning of Committee, and to decide that the Bill should not proceed until such time as a legislative consent Motion has been obtained from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

With the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Suttie, I have indicated that Clause 18 on immunity should not stand part of the Bill. I agree that we have seen limited measures for immunity in Northern Ireland. We saw, for example, the legislative provisions which allowed the information to be supplied for the recovery of the remains of the disappeared, in which situation the information provided could not be used for a prosecution. We also saw the decommissioning of arms, the information gathered as a consequence of which could not be used for a prosecution. But we have not seen the like of this Bill before, and I do not know of any other democracy which has agreed to the like of this Bill before.

We are faced with a situation in which the obligations of the United Kingdom to provide processes for criminal investigation and prosecution, for civil action and for inquests are being removed, and in which immunity is being provided for perpetrators for their previous criminal offences. That is not compliant with our domestic and international legal obligations, which require the provision of processes to enable the investigation and prosecution of offences. For example, we have very clear obligations as high-contracting parties to the European Convention on Human Rights. Under Section 1, we are committed to securing that everyone in the jurisdiction has all the rights and freedoms provided for in the convention. Those rights were incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, although their application, as domestic rights, has been limited somewhat by the jurisprudence of the courts.

In addition, under the Good Friday agreement of 1998, the participants of the multiparty agreement dedicated themselves

“to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.”

They stated:

“The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.”

They agreed that

“neither the Assembly nor public bodies can infringe”

the European Convention on Human Rights, and that there should be

“a coherent and cooperative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms.”

However, the Bill does not provide that.

In England and Wales, people seem to be under the illusion that paramilitaries no longer have areas of Northern Ireland under their control—that is not the case. Paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican, are still at work, and they still exercise, on occasion, brutal control in their areas. Since 1998, when the Good Friday agreement was signed, 155 people have been killed, and there have been 1,660 bombing incidents and 2,700 shooting incidents. Over 1,500 people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act, and 235 people have been charged with terrorist offences in the last 10 year