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Lords Chamber

Volume 829: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2023

House of Lords

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Guildford.

Life Expectancy: Pensions, Health and Insurance


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how changes in life expectancy as measured by the Office for National Statistics have affected planning for pensions, health and insurance.

The Government consider a range of metrics when determining our approach to pensions, health and insurance, including life expectancy where relevant. We are committed to improving health life expectancy by five years by 2035 and to reducing the gap between areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030. Our major conditions strategy will focus on health conditions that contribute most to morbidity and mortality.

I thank the Minister, but is he aware that Office for National Statistics figures show that life expectancy, which is a key indicator of national health, has stalled in the UK since 2010 for the first time in 120 years? Is he aware that one consequence of this is that over half of families in England cannot get a funeral in less than three weeks, and 17% cannot get one for over a month? Funeral directors are running out of storage space because of what is happening. There are far too many early deaths under this Government, as shown in the report from the Government Actuary’s Department, placed in the Library last week, which states that before the pandemic the UK had the lowest life expectancy of any major European country.

I am aware that there has been a similar phenomenon across all the G7 western nations. Life expectancy has been plateauing for the last few years, and the only country to buck that trend is Japan. A lot of this is to do with obesity, which I know noble Lords regard as a very important issue. While we are improving issues such as alcohol intake, the impact of obesity on healthy lifestyles is an important factor that we will need to tackle.

My Lords, as well as falls in overall life expectancy, there have been significant falls in disability-free life expectancy, as shown in the recent ONS figures. Can the Minister describe the steps his department is taking to understand why more people are acquiring long-term conditions earlier in their lives, and to ensure that health and social care services are geared up to meet that extra demand?

This goes very much to our strategy of improving healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. “Healthy” is a key component of that, taking the major conditions strategy and looking at the six major causes of death—cancers, heart disease, respiratory issues, dementia, and mental health and musculoskeletal issues—and what we can do on each one to improve lifestyles.

My Lords, considering inflationary pay demands in the health service, has my noble friend given enough emphasis to the benefits provided in the form of final salary index-linked pensions? Is there not a conflict between being concerned about inflation and knowing that you will be protected? How long is it possible to sustain such a system?

I know that my health brief is broad but including pensions and insurance in it is quite a challenge. Like other noble Lords, I am very aware of the impact of inflation on the final salary scheme and on lifestyles, and of the fact that not many employers can afford the schemes any more—apart from, dare I say it, government. That has an impact. However, I am happy to meet my noble friend to go through this in further detail.

My Lords, the Government have made a pledge that they know perfectly well they cannot keep. There is no way that this massive morbidity will be reduced: obesity is not the answer. If he looks carefully, he will see what the Science and Technology Committee—chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who may want to comment—showed: that it is clearly due to deprivation in poorer parts of the country, which leads to a much shorter life. The Government need to deal with this holistically; it is not the problem of the Department of Health and Social Care but a much wider issue.

As ever, there are multiple factors at play. That is what the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is all about: making sure that we are tackling this in exactly the holistic way the noble Lord mentioned, going back to all the major conditions that are causes of death and tackling each one by one. The 10 million cancer screenings save 10,000 lives a year, and our breast cancer screenings save 1,300 lives. There is a lot to do but a lot that we are doing already.

My Lords, in his introductory remarks, the Minister quoted the Government’s ambition to extend healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. Can he put some numbers to it? What age are we talking about?

My understanding is that people are predicted to live a healthy life until around age 63. It is about looking at that aspect as well; it is not just about the length of life but how well we live it.

My Lords, last week, the Institute for Government issued a paper that said that every obesity strategy since the first one, in 1992, had failed. It also pointed out that taxes would have to rise to deal with the epidemic in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Can the Government bring together a decent strategy to help all the people who are overweight, so that they live longer and we have a healthier society?

My noble friend is correct: it is a key issue. There have been successes such as the sugar tax levy, which has reduced sugar consumption by about 40%. But clearly, you need only to look at the statistics to see that all western nations, including the UK, are facing this problem. It is a challenge that we have to attack. We can learn a lot in this space from Japan, where employers and the whole society are very much involved in the healthy lifestyles of their workers and people.

My Lords, life expectancy for those with a learning disability is particularly shocking: only four in 10 live to see their 65th birthday, nearly half of their reported deaths are avoidable, and those living in the north-west and the Midlands are at greater risk. What action are the Government taking to address the specific barriers faced by people with learning disabilities in getting access to the timely, quality healthcare which could perhaps extend their life expectancy?

As noble Lords are aware, we have been putting significant investment into mental health; from memory, there has been a £2 billion-plus increase over the last year. In recognition that learning disability is an issue we particularly need to tackle, as the noble Baroness is aware, we are putting investment into schools so they can identify it early on. Some 35% of schools now have the right educational leads in this space, and the figure will rise to 50% next year. It is a big improvement, but do we need to do more? Absolutely.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that for many years, the UK has enjoyed increases in life expectancy but now we are getting reports that the rate of increase is declining. What plans—I have given my noble friend notice of this question—do the Government have to reverse this trend?

My noble friend, whom I thank for that question, has characterised this issue in exactly the right way. Life expectancy is still increasing, but not at the rate it was. That is why the major conditions strategy was launched. I can give one example: cancer is one of the six major killers, and we are seeing 20% more cancer patients this year than we were pre-pandemic. So there are improvements in this space, and that is what the major conditions strategy is all about; but clearly, the record investment we are putting in needs to show that sort of output.

My Lords, the Minister’s ambition to increase life expectancy is not being helped by the current wave of doctors strikes, with extended waiting lists certainly bringing down life expectancy rates in some quarters. Can he tell the House why he and other Ministers will not get round the table now, with no preconditions, to discuss how this might be brought to a speedy end?

The noble Baroness is absolutely correct: any strike action is regrettable, and we have a part to play, as do the unions, in trying to make sure that we reach a sensible place. We feel we have done that for nurses and ambulance drivers with the Agenda for Change, and clearly, we want to do the same for doctors. I think all noble Lords can agree that we do not want the impact on patients and healthy outcomes that strikes cause.

Performing Arts: GCSE and A-level Qualifications


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decline in the number of entries to GCSE and A-Level qualifications in the performing arts over the last decade.

My Lords, this Government remain committed to pupils receiving a high-quality cultural education, including in music, dance and drama. GCSE entries in arts subjects as a proportion of all entries went from 11.8% to 9.7% between the academic years 2011-12 and 2021-22, while A-level entries in arts subjects over the same period went from 13.1% to 11.2%. Over half of pupils in state-funded schools currently enter for at least one arts GCSE or technical award.

I thank the Minister for that Answer and I will give her some figures back. There has been a reduction of 25% in entries for GCSE music, 30% for drama and, significantly, 60% for performing arts, with similar figures at A-level. Are any steps being taken by the department to ensure that this trend is reversed in future and, specifically, have the Government considered the merits of reimagining publicly funded performing arts provision, as is being done, for example, in Wales? Is it not time the Government guaranteed access to arts, music and drama clubs for every child, irrespective of background and wealth?

The noble Baroness cited a number of statistics, but I would say in response that, since 2016, uptake of the speech and drama vocational technical qualification has more than doubled, as has uptake of the music VTQ. My understanding is that the performing arts GCSE no longer exists, but the broader point the noble Baroness makes is being addressed through our cultural education plan and the national plan for music education, which aims to reach just the children the noble Baroness refers to.

The Minister will be aware of the importance of the creative industries to our national economy. She will also be aware that the EBacc does not include creative subjects. She will also be aware that schools are under great financial pressure, so to save money why would they have creative subjects if pupils do not have to enter exams as part of the EBacc? Is it not time to realise the damage that the EBacc is doing to the creative subjects in our education system? Might the Minister not consider being more relaxed about how schools face GCSEs and A-levels and not be hidebound by an EBacc?

I do not accept either that the EBacc is damaging entries and activity in relation to creative subjects or that it is wise to judge the value of the EBacc only in relation to creative subjects. It is clear from all research and evidence that our children in need a broad grounding, which the EBacc offers.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether discussion of the national curriculum and of accountability measures will be within scope of the cultural education plan, to which she has just referred? These matters are clearly vital, as the present discussion demonstrates.

More of the details on the cultural education plan will be published shortly, but my understanding is that it will highlight the importance of high-quality cultural education and the important role that wider cultural institutions can play, working with schools. I know that my noble friend Lord Parkinson recently visited West Bromwich and saw an example of that, where the Shireland Academy and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra are opening a new school with a particular focus on music education.

My question is about the variability of access. I think we all recognise that the statistics quoted are going the wrong way. What we observe particularly is that it is far worse in some parts of the country than others. That is something I particularly observe in the north, where I serve. The DCMS Committee’s report last year spoke about how the creative industries themselves are saying that there is a shortage of the skills that we need. What is being done about this and, particularly, how do we know about the situation? In about 2014, Ofsted changed the way its inspections investigated the arts. For instance, dance was looked at as part of PE. Does the Minister think that this lack of joined-up thinking has had an impact on where we are now and, in particular, on the way that some parts of the country are suffering much more than others?

The most reverend Primate is right that there are currently differing levels of engagement, take-up and opportunity in relation to the creative industries around the country. I respectfully disagree with him on the fact that we are not joined up. Actually, a great deal of work is going on between DCMS and the Department for Education in relation to the creative industries sector vision and the cultural education plan, to which I referred. In relation to Ofsted, it did a deep dive into a number of cultural and arts subjects in 2019 and highlighted their importance within the curriculum.

As my noble friend may know, our noble friend Lord Parkinson very kindly attended a dinner which I hosted last week for the Royal School of Church Music. He was of course wearing his arts and heritage hat. Has the Minister had a chance to talk to the Royal School of Church Music? It is bringing music of a very high quality to many who go to primary schools where they hardly have the opportunity to learn any music. We all ought to be working together on this one to bring quality music to children throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

My noble friend is right that we absolutely should be working together. I thank all the charities and voluntary organisations, which are so varied and bring so much richness to our children’s lives, including the Royal Society of Church Music.

On that point, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the extraordinary work being done by many arts organisations across the whole country in engaging with schools and the education system? However, often what they are doing is filling a gap, and their ability to engage is very dependent on individual head teachers’ willingness to make time and resources available for what they have on offer to be delivered to their young people. Will she acknowledge that at the moment the deficit that is being discussed in this Question is being filled largely by arts organisations, which are themselves under enormous pressure?

I just do not fully accept the deficit that the noble Baroness describes. I absolutely agree with her that arts organisations bring an important, valuable and different perspective, but schools themselves are also doing an extraordinary job. As we can see from our incredibly successful creative industries, we are getting something right.

My Lords, the Minister has given responses that say, “Yes, we like the things outside the formal GCSE structure”. Will the Government go a step further and identify those who are interested in arts activity—that is, performing—and positively channel them towards those who are doing it outside? If you are not going to give exams or structure, you must at least help people get to those who will do it voluntarily.

If I may, the Government like “both/and”. We have the arts clearly in the national curriculum and over half of children in schools are doing either GCSE or a vocational technical qualification —but, in terms of the richness of children’s education, the opportunity to engage outside brings a great deal of added value.

I was hoping the noble Baroness might ask when we were going to see the cultural education plan, which I know she is keen to get on with—and I take this opportunity to thank her for agreeing to chair the expert advisory panel for that. We absolutely remain committed to cultural and music education and the arts but, with the impact of Covid on children’s learning and the importance of focusing on their recovery, sadly we have had to reprioritise education recovery within this spending review period.



Asked by

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

My Lords, the Government are committed to the fight against corruption. Corruption and illicit finance undermine national security and global stability. They impede global prosperity and erode trust in institutions while harming their victims. Since 2010, the Government have led international efforts to combat corruption through the delivery of the United Kingdom Anti-corruption Strategy 2017-2022, and we will continue to build on this with the new anti- corruption strategy that is currently under development.

My Lords, in that case, why has the UK slumped to its lowest ever score in Transparency International’s latest global corruption index, falling sharply to number 73—a 10-place tumble from eighth to 18th over the last 10 years in its global rankings? Is it because of a collapse in government standards, or the recent scandalous government reversal of their previous admirable decision to suspend Bain & Company from UK Government contracts after Bain was found by a judicial commission to have been up to its neck in state corruption in South Africa? Are corruption and money laundering not now a real UK problem, and should not Ministers be utterly ashamed?

My Lords, I cannot improve on the words of the Prime Minister when he was asked about this subject. He pointed out that there has been

“widespread recognition and support for the UK’s approach to transparency and tackling corruption. … the most recent report from the Financial Action Task Force commended the UK for the steps it had taken”,—[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/23; col. 334.]

and those steps are significant. Obviously, a number of Bills going through your Lordships’ House and the other place at the moment deal with some of these issues. As for the specific question about Bain, I note that Bain has agreed to a period of rigorous monitoring for a minimum of two years during which its continuing compliance will be assessed. The UK arm of Bain has agreed that it will engage further with the Cabinet Office to provide evidence that its governance, organisation and internal processes are now working. I could go on, but I think that is enough.

My Lords, would it not be evidence of the seriousness of the Government in combating corruption if the agencies concerned with it were adequately staffed? Is not one of the fundamental problems of the Government’s approach to corruption and economic crime that the NCA and other agencies concerned with it are inadequately staffed to deal with this?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that this subject has come up in discussion during the passage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill. The agencies are adequately resourced. The funding for the SFO is rising —gradually, but it is rising—and I know that people are being recruited into these operations.

My Lords, can I remind my noble friend that there are in Hansard two Written Answers which list over 50 Home Office officials between 2005 and 2018 who were convicted of misconduct in a public office? Many of them were sent to prison—several for very long terms. Is this not a most disturbing figure?

It is a most disturbing figure. Public sector integrity is certainly a feature of the Transparency International downgrade of the UK, but that is being dealt with, as noble Lords will be aware.

My Lords, it has been well over a year, as many of us remember, since the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, resigned in this House from that Dispatch Box. Noble Lords will remember that he did it over a government decision to write off £4.3 billion in fraudulent Covid loans. He went on to accuse the Government

“of arrogance, indolence and ignorance”—[Official Report, 24/1/22; col. 21.]

in dealing with fraud. What has improved since then?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the publication of the new fraud strategy is imminent. As I referred to in my earlier Answer, the second iteration of the anti-corruption strategy is also being worked through at this moment. There will be a lot more to say on that in the very near future.

My Lords, may I push the Minister on resources, as 41% of all crime against the individual is fraud and 1% of law enforcement resources are applied to it? Is that really sufficient?

When put in numbers like that, no. However, as I have just said, the fraud strategy is due to be published next week. That is a multiagency approach to tackling fraud. It will be outlined in considerable detail.

My Lords, can the Minister answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Hain? Why has the UK slumped to its lowest ever score in Transparency International’s global corruption index? How has that happened and what are the Government going to do about it?

I think I have already said what the Government are going to do about it. In terms of analysis, the data indicated that the drop is likely due to two factors. The first is heightened criticism on issues of public sector integrity, which I have already dealt with. The second is criticism of the public procurement processes during Covid. As the noble Lord will be aware, the Procurement Bill currently on Report is dealing with many of those issues. I could go on at significant length about PPE and so on if he wishes.

My Lords, one of the key parts of the Government’s anti-corruption policy was the register of beneficial ownership. Could my noble friend give us an update on how it is being brought in? It seems that it is still possible to hide true ownership behind companies and third parties.

Further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, a key element in fighting corruption is transparency around offshore companies which own property in the UK. Could the Minister supply to the House two figures? What is the number of offshore companies which own property in the UK, and what is the number of those which have failed to register their ownership details with Companies House, as they should have done by the end of January 2023?

Network Rail: Funding and Reliability


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of analysis by Network Rail that the funding plans for the next five years are insufficient to maintain current levels of reliability.

My Lords, the Government published funding objectives for Network Rail for control period 7—2024 to 2029—on 1 December 2022, placing the highest priority on punctuality and reliability. The funding provided £44.1 billion—a real-terms increase of 4% above the current settlement. This demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to the railway.

My Lords, from a leak from Network Rail itself, we now know that funding is so bad that basic infrastructure cannot be repaired and that we should expect more delays and more accidents. We need to know what the Government are planning to do to reverse this downward spiral in our railways. Can the Minister promise that no more train operators will be rewarded for failure with new contracts? Can she specifically guarantee that, at last, there will be legislation in the King’s Speech to create Great British Railways with the independent power to reform this ailing industry?

The noble Baroness referred to the source of her Question being a leak in the Independent. It was not really a leak, because we are not even half way through the process of the business planning, and, as I said, the real-terms increase in funding is up 4%. In fact, it was some slides prepared by a mid-level National Rail employee presenting the industry with some ideas for different funding scenarios for CP7—so never believe everything that you read in the newspaper. On contracts for TOCs, we look at each TOC on a case-by-case basis, and I am aware that another contract will be up for consideration in due course. Legislation for rail reform will arrive as soon as parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, I would like to know what the Minister considers to be the current levels of reliability. I commute from Oxford. The main line from Oxford to Paddington is closed until at least June, because of a broken bridge which should have been fixed ages ago. The main road from west Oxford to the station is closed at the end because another bridge is being repaired. Without any co-ordination, it is almost impossible to leave the city. Should it not be a human right to be able to get in and out of one’s own city?

The noble Baroness raises some very important points, which demonstrate exactly why we need this uplift in funding. However, it is not always about just funding; it is about how we make the necessary repairs and how we do maintenance. She mentioned bridges, which are incredibly important, as there is a bow wave of older assets which need to be maintained. However, by using box structure flyover bridges to replace old flyovers and bridges, one could do that at a vastly reduced cost. Those are the sorts of modernisations we need to get into our maintenance regime.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, if a list of the major projects awaiting attention were published, this might attract support from industrial sources and local areas? The additional station in Cambridge is a case in point.

My noble friend is absolutely right that there are many sources of funding for improving our transport sector. The discussion today around the £44.1 billion of funding does not even include enhancements—that would be in addition. Those projects will be set out in the RNEP, the pipeline of public sector projects, but there is also the opportunity for local government and the private sector to get involved.

The Minister cautions me not to believe everything I read in the paper. Recently, I read in the paper that Avanti West Coast was rewarded with over £4 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses and that the payout was awarded for a

“period in which Avanti was UK’s worst train operator for delays”.

Should I believe that?

Funnily enough, I do not wholly recognise those figures, but all the contracts and the rationale behind them are set out and published. All the performance information that goes into the award of any financial returns is assessed by an independent evaluator, and discussions are made on that basis. The contracts are prepared well in advance, and we must abide by them.

The Question refers to the maintaining of “current levels of reliability”, but is the Minister aware that the current levels of reliability on the Holyhead to London line are totally unacceptable? In the recent past, we have had trains going the other way, from Euston to Holyhead, turning round at Chester and leaving the passengers to their own devices to find connecting trains. Only this week, trains from Holyhead to London were advertised as fully booked and not available for that reason. Is not that totally unacceptable, and what are the Government going to do to improve the service?

I completely agree with the noble Lord. I am not content with current levels of reliability. That was obviously in the Question, and it would not have been in any response that I have given. We are aware that, despite 10% lower passenger demand on our trains at the moment, and slightly fewer trains running, performance is unacceptably low. The causes of that are many. Industrial action has had a huge impact on the performance of our railways, but we are working with the industry, and we would like to improve our relationship with the unions such that everybody can work together to give us the reliable and modern railway that we need.

My Lords, the Minister in responding to my noble friend Lady Randerson’s supplementary question said, “Don’t believe what you read in the press”, and that this was not a leak, simply some work-in-progress from a mid-ranking official. Could she then confirm to the House that it is the view of His Majesty’s Government that Network Rail has sufficient funding for the next five years to maintain the current levels of reliability? If not, what will it do to improve things—and, if it does, could it consider improving reliability?

If I may, I will explain to the noble Baroness what the process actually looks like. It is one that goes on for the whole of the year. The statement of funds available has been set and the Secretary of State has set out very high-level objectives. That is then given to Network Rail, which spends the process of the year doing the business planning. It does not do that in isolation; it does it under the scrutiny of the independent Office of Rail and Road. There are two determination periods—one that will happen in June and one that will happen by the end of the year, by when we will see how the £44.1 billion, which is quite a lot of money, will be spent, and what the performance outcomes will be.

Has Network Rail really run out of money, or have some of the new projects been paused—or has all the money been put into HS2, leaving nothing for the rest of the railway?

My Lords, over the past few months, passengers across England have continued to suffer from really unreliable services, as we have heard this afternoon. Fares have increased by 5.9%. Between October and December last year, 4.5% of all trains were cancelled—the highest rate since 2014. Can the Minister therefore explain why the FirstGroup franchise and Govia Thameslink have recently reported dividend payments of £65 million and £16.9 million respectively in their annual accounts for 2022, despite their continued failings? Does the Minister not agree that that would be better invested in the future of railways?

My Lords, once again we shall address the notion of dividend payments, because it is really important that we are clear about it. The dividend payments declared during the financial year 2022 related to periods far preceding that 2022 period, and therefore were earned by the train operating companies under contracts that were in existence at that time. One cannot retrospectively go back and take away money without completely tearing up the contracts and starting again. Maybe a Labour Government would do that, but we will not. We will stick to the contract and work with the industry, and we will get improvements to our rail system that way.

Can my noble friend reassure the House of the vast importance that the Government attach to the whole rail industry, and the fact that it is incredibly important to our economy? To get that investment, we also need to see levels of service, which is the responsibility of the train operators but the rail unions too. To make the case for investment, we have to have good services.

My noble friend is absolutely right. Sometimes it saddens me greatly how some of the unions are potentially undermining the long-term future of our rail sector. ASLEF train drivers withdrew, without warning, their rest-day working agreement. I now understand that a new rest-day working agreement was agreed, which would have vastly improved services on the TransPennine Express. However, within 24 hours, ASLEF then withdrew again on an entirely unconnected matter. Once again, we are left without rest-day working. There is a very easy way to improve services, which is to encourage the unions to reach an agreement with the TOCs, particularly on rest-day working.

Service Police (Complaints etc.) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 23 February be approved.

Relevant document: 32nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 April.

Motion agreed.

Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill

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.

Public Order Bill

Commons Reason

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 6H and 6J to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 6K.

6K: Because it is not necessary to amend the stop and search powers contained in Clause 11.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their engagement throughout the passage of this Bill. As I have already said, the Bill has undoubtedly received the scrutiny that the British people would want and expect, and it is only right to acknowledge that, through the scrutiny of this Chamber, important compromises have been made along the way.

I do not wish to detain noble Lords for longer than necessary. We have debated the contents of this Bill scrupulously and there remains just one disagreement. It is still the Government’s position that we do not support the changes proposed by your Lordships to Clause 11 on the power to stop and search without suspicion. This has been reiterated by the other place, which voted to disagree with your Lordships’ Motions 6H and 6J. Our position has been, and remains, that these changes are unnecessary.

As I mentioned in the previous debate, I remind noble Lords that a legal framework already exists for all stop and search powers. Section 3.8 of PACE Code A requires an officer conducting a search to give the following information to the person being searched: that they are being detained for the purposes of a search; the officer’s name and the name of the police station to which the officer is attached; the legal search power that is being exercised; the grounds for the search; and that they are entitled to a copy of the record of the search and can ask for this within three months from the date of the search. I have already committed, as has the Policing Minister in the other place, to amending PACE Code A to further improve transparency of the use of all stop and search powers. We will make it a requirement to communicate the extent of the area authorised for the suspicionless stop and search, the duration of an order and the reasons for the order where it is operationally practical to do so.

There is a good reason for these changes to be made to PACE Code A and not to the Public Order Bill, which is consistency. We want these changes to apply across the board to all stop and search powers, not just those being debated today. Placing them in the Bill would create one rule for stop and search for protests and another for stop and search for other purposes. This would inherently complicate officers’ training, increasing the chance that these powers are misused. I am sure that all noble Lords agree that this is something we must minimise.

I would also like to reassure all noble Lords that amending PACE Code A does not deny these changes to the principle of stop and search-appropriate scrutiny. Changes to the code require a full consultation with external stakeholders, such as the APCC, MOPAC, the NPCC, the Bar Council, the Law Society and others on the proposed changes and must be brought back to the House for us to consult upon before they are enacted into law.

Finally, on the requirement for a charter, it remains our view that this would be unnecessarily burdensome. The legislation already makes it clear when these powers can be used, and this is bolstered further by the additional requirements for the use of stop and search contained within PACE Code A. This will provide the right balance between tackling these disruptive protesters and protecting the rights of each citizen when these powers are used, so I call on all noble Lords not to insist on their amendments and to pass the Bill as presented. I beg to move.

My Lords, the Minister said that there is only one disagreement remaining. He was, of course, referring formally to what the House as a whole disagrees about; but we on these Benches have opposed police stop and search in relation to protest from day one, as any stop and search power will have a chilling effect on those wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These are fundamental human rights that are even more important to those who feel excluded from the parliamentary process, such as black and other minority-ethnic people. These groups are less likely to be registered to vote, less likely to have the correct form of voter ID even if they are registered to vote, and more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Black people, for example, are between seven and 17 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people, depending on whether the power used is with or without suspicion. That is despite the legal safe- guards the Minister referred to.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in response to the Baroness Casey Review, accepts the fundamental need to reset relationships between the police and the public, especially on the back of the findings of racism, misogyny and homophobia. Sir Mark Rowley acknowledges the past tendency of the police to impose tactics, rather than collaborate with, listen to and engage with communities. That is exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, said needed to happen, and the wording of the Lords amendment that we should insist on today is taken exactly from the Baroness Casey Review.

On the one hand, we have the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, both pulling in one direction, wanting stop and search to be based on collaboration, listening and engaging. On the other hand, we have this Government pulling in the other direction, rejecting the Lords amendment that would require police forces to draw up a charter on the use of stop and search, in consultation with local communities. This House should insist on the implementation of the recommendations of the Baroness Casey Review and not reject them.

I understand that some noble Lords have been concerned about the precise wording of the amendment. But as the commissioner has found to his cost, not accepting the exact wording of the Baroness Casey Review can result in diverting attention away from actually getting on and doing things instead of debating the meaning of words. However, with other important votes to come this afternoon, and without the support of the Labour Opposition, we appear to have reached the end of the road.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and many others for the detailed scrutiny and the way this Chamber has tried to hold the Government to account. To be fair, the Government have made one or two changes with respect to suspicionless stop and search, and I will go to them in a moment. But before we do, it is important to reiterate that the Bill is about giving powers to the police that the Government say they need, where—I think it is worth repeating—many of us believe they have the powers necessary to deal with the protests that have caused such alarm in government and beyond over the last few months.

In the last couple of months, it has come down to stop and search without suspicion—for the avoidance of doubt, to deal with protest rather than knife crime, terrorism or serious offences such as those. I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, has agreed to in the amendments to PACE Code A: to require, where operationally practical, to communicate the extent of the area authorised for suspicionless stop and search, the duration of the order and the reasons for it. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said that this would be important to include in any change to the PACE code, so I thank the Government for listening and including it, as well as for placing data collection in the legislative framework of PACE Code A and therefore including a breakdown of suspicionless stop and search by age, sex and ethnicity. Can the Minister confirm my understanding of the changes that the Government are proposing?

While it is welcome, it is to say the least a missed opportunity, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, to respond to the Casey review. If noble Lords refer to page 22 of that review when they return to their offices, they will find that the amendments we put forward, which were supported by the House, are a complete lift from what the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, recommended. My contention is that, given their significance, it was and should have been a real necessity for the Government to put them in the Bill. If things were working with respect to PACE Code A, why was she so insistent that, to restore trust and confidence in the police, this needed to be placed in the Bill? The Government have rejected that, saying that it is fine because of what is in PACE Code A.

Let me share the view expressed on Monday in the other place by David Davis MP:

“why should it not be on the face of the Bill? After all, that would broadcast in clear terms what we want to happen”.

Many noble Lords said this, including the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I. That was precisely the point: not to tuck it away in regulation but to say clearly that, such is the significance of suspicionless stop and search related to protest, the Government would put it in the Bill and demonstrate to everyone what they believe should happen. They rejected that for what I consider to be no good reason. It was not only David Davis; Wendy Chamberlain MP said that, in line with the Casey review,

“we need this provision on the face of the Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/23; cols. 550-51.]

The Government say that they absolutely agree with the Casey review and accept its recommendations. Why then do they choose to ignore what the noble Baroness believes is one of the most important things that the Government need to do to restore trust and confidence in the operation of suspicionless stop and search? It is a real missed opportunity and chance for the Government to demonstrate how serious they are about the use of this power and the need to restore that confidence.

We accept that the Minister and the Government have moved, and we will not take this any further. However, the Government have missed an opportunity to state in the Bill what should happen, and I think that is to be regretted quite significantly because it would have spoken to the communities out there who mistrust the police. The Government should have got behind what the Casey review said, included it in the Bill and avoided any doubt. In spite of the point of difference that remains with us, given that I think the use of suspicion in stop and search with respect to protest is a bridge too far, by and large it is fair to say —it would be churlish not to—that the Minister has moved.

Whether it is with respect to this, or other policy matters we will be debating in the next few weeks, the Government of the day need to have the confidence to govern and not panic in response to the latest headlines

My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships by repeating my profound concerns about this Bill at a time when peaceful protest is under attack all over the world, and policing is in such a parlous state in our own country. I must thank all noble Lords who supported the modest improvement that includes some protection for journalists who report on protests, without fear or favour. It is a small but vital protection, and came about because of the biggest defeat of the Government in this House, by about 100 votes that included many incredibly senior and distinguished Conservative noble Lords. I am grateful to everyone who supported that provision, which will now pass into law as a result of this otherwise terrible Bill. I must thank the Minister for the way he has engaged inside and outside the Chamber, and for perhaps helping the Government to see a little sense on that vital protection for journalists.

Just for the record, I am absolutely furious about the Bill. I think the Government have panicked. It is unworthy of any Government who think freedom of speech is important. Shame on you all.

My Lords, I thank almost all noble Lords for their contributions to another fruitful debate. As I have already said, there is no doubt that the Bill received the scrutiny it deserves. I will not go on at great length, but noble Lords have raised the subject of the Casey review. To remind the House I point out that the review said that, as a minimum, Met officers should be required to give their name, their shoulder number, the grounds for the stop and search and a receipt confirming the details of the stop. As I outlined in my opening remarks, it is fairly clear that our amendments to Section 3.8 of PACE Code A go beyond that. I accept the point the noble Lord made about the face of the Bill, but PACE codes are statutory.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about the data that we will collect. I refer to a previous debate and reiterate what was said then:

“The Home Office already publishes an annual statistics bulletin which analyses the data from forces across England and Wales. We will also amend PACE Code A to place data collection within the legislative framework. This will include a breakdown of both suspicion-led and suspicionless searches, cross-referenced with protected characteristics such as age, sex and ethnicity”.—[Official Report, 28/3/23; col.131.]

The British public are rightly sick of the disruption that has been caused by a very selfish minority and expect the Government to act. That is what this Bill does, and it is time for it to become law.

Motion A agreed.

Arrangement of Business

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill


Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 27th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee

Schedule: Minimum service levels for certain strikes

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: The Schedule, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(5) The powers conferred by this section must not be exercised unless a consultation on the potential impact of their use has been carried out, published, and reviewed by a committee of each House of Parliament whose remit includes either the wider UK workforce and industrial relations, or the sector to which the regulations in question relate.(6) Such consultations must—(a) be carried out by the Secretary of State and involve representatives of any relevant unions, employers and other interested parties,(b) include an assessment of the potential impact of the minimum service regulations on the rights of workers to strike, the effectiveness of the relevant services, and the impact on the wider public,(c) consider services in all categories listed in subsection (4), and(d) include reference to respective service levels outside of strike action.(7) The results of the consultation and the reviews by committees must be published in a report, and the Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require a consultation to be carried out and reviewed before the powers in section 234B can be used.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his chair.

Amendment 1 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. This amendment is agnostic about what is thought about the legislation’s purpose; you might support its intentions or you might reject them, and there are groups coming up after this one that will give your Lordships a chance to have that debate. This amendment revolves around what you think of Parliament and its role in making important laws that affect people in a big way. I will explain that briefly.

The central focus of the Bill is to establish legally binding minimum service levels for a range of services, some of which are delivered via the state and some of which are delivered via private companies. You will hear arguments later about how this is designed to work, but suffice to say the key element of the Bill is what constitutes a minimum service level that should be expected during a strike. The nature and quantum of this is critical to determining how many workers are effectively compelled to go to work on a strike day. The service levels are critical, and yet Parliament is effectively sidelined in the process of their development.

In the Commons, that celebrated supporter of the labour movement, Jacob Rees-Mogg, called the Bill “badly written” and an

“extreme example of bad practice”.

He criticised the lack of detail and said that it should instead

“set out clearly what it is trying to achieve”.

He added:

“This Bill is almost so skeletal that we wonder if bits of the bones were stolen away by wild animals and taken and buried somewhere”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/23; cols. 89-92.]

Your Lordships will have seen the less colourful response from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which makes a similar plea for more detail in this primary legislation.

Despite this being a Bill that deals with minimum service levels during strikes—that is what it says on the cover—there is nothing in it to say what those minimum service levels are, or indeed the nature of what a minimum service level is. That is left to the Secretary of State. The vital details will follow the enactment of the Bill, when the Secretary of State makes regulations. The DPRRC describes this as “small comfort to Parliament”. The Government say that the detail required to set the level of service for each relevant service is not appropriate for primary legislation. However, the DPRRC notes that

“the Memorandum does not explain why setting out any detail on the face of the Bill would be inappropriate. Parliament”—

as we know—

“is not allergic to matters of detail, particularly where it relates to an important matter such as the right to strike”.

Instead, the process of adding flesh to this skeleton is left to as yet unspecified regulation. The additional irritant to the scrutiny of the Bill has been the absence of a coherent or comprehensive impact assessment.

This amendment seeks to bolster Parliament’s oversight. It would require a consultation to be carried out and reviewed before the powers in new Section 234B for the Secretary of State to specify minimum service levels can be used. The amendment would insert three new conditions. First, proposed new subsection (5) would mandate proper consultation on the potential impact of the use of minimum service levels to be carried out, published and reviewed by a committee of each House of Parliament. Next, proposed new subsection (6) would ensure that the consultation includes all those involved; covers the potential impact of the minimum service regulations on the rights of workers to strike and the effectiveness of relevant services, and the impact on the wider public; and takes into consideration service levels outside of strike days. Finally, the amendment would insert new subsection (7), which would ensure that the results of the consultation and the reviews by the committees are published in a report, and that the Secretary of State lays a copy of it before Parliament. The Minister will say that extensive consultation is under way, but it is non-binding and bypasses Parliament.

In conclusion, this is a modest amendment that in no way impedes the purpose of the Bill. It is about democratic process—something your Lordships have often had to defend. Amendment 1 seeks to bring Parliament back into this process at the expense of undemocratic executive action. I beg to move.

My Lords, very briefly, I support this amendment. It seems to me that we have seen Bill after Bill in which this Government have chosen to bypass Parliament and leave too many decisions to Secretaries of State. Therefore, for me, as a former member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the most important aspect of this amendment is the requirement, following consultation, to present these matters to committees of both Houses of Parliament. I do not want to say any more; the case has been made very clearly. However, I would like it noted that I support this amendment very strongly.

My Lords, I too will be brief in strongly supporting this amendment. Whatever your Lordships’ views about the state of industrial relations in this country, we should all agree, across this House, that a rushed process which puts power over making laws into the hands of Ministers without proper parliamentary scrutiny and oversight is simply not right. I appeal to all Members of the House to support Amendment 1.

As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said in the debate on his committee’s report,

“when laws are passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny, they cease to be just technical, as they threaten the rights and freedoms of the individual”.—[Official Report, 12/1/23; col. 1532.]

That is absolutely true when it comes to this Bill. There is no clear understanding of the form that minimum service levels are likely to take or of the impact on workplace relations and services to the public.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the excellent briefing from NHS Providers, which is responsible for managing the NHS and 1.4 million staff. It says that the Bill

“risks damaging relationships in the NHS between trust leaders and their staff, and between trust leaders and local union representatives at a particularly fraught time, without addressing any of the issues underlying current strike action or providing a useful alternative approach to managing service provision during periods of strike”.

We have heard that the impact assessment from the RPC found that the Bill was red-rated. Not only did the impact assessment for the predecessor legislation make the point that it could lead to more and longer strike action but the impact assessment for this Bill, which received a red rating, said that the impact assessment

“does not consider or discuss the rationale behind workers’ decisions to strike, or consider the actions short of striking that may be taken. The IA could have considered this”.

As the noble Lord said, this amendment seeks not to prolong, delay or frustrate but to ensure that Parliament has proper oversight and that there is proper consultation with all those involved before the statutory legislation and the statutory instruments are laid. I support the amendment.

My Lords, I apologise for keeping the House waiting for the start of the debate; the previous business finished much earlier than everyone expected.

I am grateful to those who have contributed to this debate, although clearly we have repeated a lot of what was discussed in previous debates. The House will be unsurprised to hear that my position is similar to what it was in Committee. As I did then, I resist this amendment relating to consultation requirements, parliamentary scrutiny and assessment of impacts of the legislation.

As I made clear in Committee, it is my firm view that sufficient checks and balances are already built into the legislation before regulations can be made. This includes the need to carry out consultations—indeed, we are undergoing consultations at the moment on some draft regulations—which, of course, relevant parliamentary committees are able to and almost certainly will contribute to, as well as the requirement that regulations must be approved by both Houses before they can be made. Impact assessments will also be published for all subsequent regulations on minimum service levels.

Key stakeholders, including employers, employees, members of the public, trade unions and their members are all encouraged to participate in the consultations—some of which, as I said, are live even now—and have their say in the setting of the appropriate minimum service levels, and all that will happen before the minimum service levels come into effect, and only then if they have been approved by Parliament.

I am therefore of the view that this approach is both appropriate and in line with the normal way in which secondary legislation is made. As such, the Government believe that the amendment adds unnecessary duplication into the process, and therefore I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their support for this amendment. The Minister is right that much of this debate has been had before in Committee. He is also right when he describes this as the normal way. I am afraid it has become the normal way that this Government operate to shunt as much power as possible to the Secretary of State and marginalise Parliament as often and as broadly as they can. This is a highly skeletal Bill—it is almost impossible to get one that is smaller. For that reason, I would like to test the will of the House.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: The Schedule, page 4, line 23, leave out from “to” to end of line 24 and insert—

“(a) whether the person is or is not a member of a trade union,(b) whether the person has or has not—(i) taken part in the activities of a trade union, or(ii) made use of services made available to the person by a trade union by virtue of the person’s membership of the union, or(c) whether or not—(i) a matter has been raised on the person’s behalf (with or without the person’s consent), or(ii) the person has consented to the raising of a matter on the person’s behalf,by a trade union of which the person is a member.(6A) In subsection (6) “a trade union” includes—(a) a particular trade union, and(b) a particular branch or section of a particular trade union.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides for additional matters that an employer must not have regard to in deciding whether to identify a person in a work notice.

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 2 in my name. The House will know that the Government were clear at the introduction of the Bill that employers must not have regard to a person’s trade union status when producing a work notice. Employers should identify the workers who are best placed and most appropriate for each role, so that that minimum service level can be achieved. In our view, a person’s trade union status has no place in this process.

I thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its report on the Bill and for its feedback, as well as feedback from the debates in Committee on protections from trade union discrimination in relation to work notices—including from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, who was particularly vocal on this point. I hope the noble Lord will agree that this amendment addresses his concerns in full.

Through this amendment, employers must not have regard to whether a person has or has not taken part in trade union activities, made use of their services or had issues raised by a trade union on their behalf. Employers must also not have regard to whether a person is part of a particular trade union or a particular branch or section of a trade union. This also ensures a greater level of consistency with existing sections within the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, such as Sections 146 and 152.

As I said in Committee, the activity or services that a trade union member may have been involved in are connected to whether they are a trade union member, and therefore, even under the clause as it stood, an employer must not have regard to such matters when producing a work notice. While I still believe this to be true, I hope that the amendment provides further reassurance to the House, in addition to trade unions and workers, putting the issue of trade union discrimination in relation to work notices beyond doubt. I beg to move.

My Lords, very briefly, it is appreciated that the Minister has done this and that the Government have understood that there was ambiguity. In a sense, it is a shame that the Minister has not taken all our advice, but we thank the Government for taking this particular piece.

My Lords, noble Lords have broadly welcomed this and clearly want to move on to another section, so I do not think I have any points to raise in response.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: The Schedule, page 4, line 40, at end insert—

“234CA Work notices: further provision(1) In the event that the Secretary of State makes minimum service regulations under section 234B—(a) no obligation is imposed on any employer to give a work notice under section 234C;(b) no person may direct any employer to give a work notice under section 234C.(2) If an employer determines that they will not give a work notice under section 234C—(a) no liability whatsoever shall attach to the employer or to any other person in respect of that decision;(b) no proceedings may be brought in any court in respect of that decision.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new clause is intended to make clear that the decision to issue a work notice is entirely within the employer’s discretion. The employer is therefore under no obligation to give a work notice and, if the employer determines that they will not give a work notice, the employer is under no liability to anyone and the decision cannot be challenged in court.

My Lords, I will move an amendment on a very short point and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam. The schedule to the Bill sets out the procedure for giving a work notice and the Explanatory Notes say that it is intended to show

“how work notices are to operate”.

Subsection (7), for example, requires consultation with the unions. However, the critical point which emerged in Committee was the nature of the obligation on an employer to give a notice. Did the employer have to issue a notice? Was it entirely voluntary or was there something subtle in the middle? It all turns on the meaning of “may”—a good point for a lawyer possibly to take.

It is accepted that “may” does not mean “must”, although sometimes courts interpret “may” as meaning “must”. The question arose as to whether it meant that an employer was free to decide voluntarily what to do, given the impact it might have on his relations with the staff, or whether the position was more complex. I drafted Amendment 3 to make it clear that it was to be entirely voluntarily and sent it to His Majesty’s Government. Their response on “may” was clear. The Government’s letter said:

“The Bill does not place any direct obligation on an employer to issue a work notice. Rather, it gives employers a statutory discretion whether … to do so. This is right given that they are closer to the day-to-day operation of their services”.

It went on to explain the complexity, saying that

“where an employer is a public authority, they will need to consider their overarching public law duties. Employers will also need to consider if they have any contractual or other legal obligations that they need to comply with”.

There is no point in debating whether His Majesty’s Government are right in the interpretation of “may”; that must be for the courts to decide. But let us assume they are. There are a number of consequences. First, there is a process to be gone through by the employer—although it is not in the Bill, despite what the Explanatory Notes say. Secondly, if an employer has contractual obligations, it will have to examine what those are. If an employer is a public body, it would have to consider its public law duties, spelled out in legislation and government directions. As regards public law, it would no doubt be prudent to consult the relevant Government.

The employer would then have to weigh up the damage the notice might cause to staff relations and the provision of services in the future. There might be other considerations. It will be a difficult decision for employers in England and they might be pressurised, either by an injunction or a judicial review. We must emphasise that the courts are now likely to come into this.

In Wales and Scotland—assuming the Bill applies to them—there would be a further layer of uncertainty because they would be subject to Welsh and Scottish primary legislation and the views of their Governments. How could it be expected that public bodies in those two nations and devolved areas should be responsible for working out what their duties were?

I had hoped for one of two things: either the Government would accept my amendment—but it is plain they will not—or they would set out the considerations and put them into the statute. But they have not done that either.

I will therefore move this amendment, but I do not intend to seek the opinion of the House for two reasons. First, if His Majesty’s Government are right on the meaning of “may”, there really are contentious points of law for the courts in defining the employer’s obligations in the different contexts of hospitals, teachers and railways. This is most unfortunate. Secondly, the Bill should be clear and spell out the decision in the way the Explanatory Notes said it should be done but, as I said in Committee, this Bill is the epitome of legislation first, policy second—a total reversal of the proper policy. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, to which I have added my name. A benefit of the Committee stage in this House is that it allows us to identify concerns that may not have been apparent when a Bill was first introduced. It is through that process of analysing how legislation will work in practice, informed by the experiences that noble Lords bring to this place, that we can flush out those unintended consequences. On a good day, the House having flagged something that is a reasonable area of concern, the Government will provide us with clarifications that show that our fears are misplaced and that all will be well. On a really good day, a Minister will acknowledge that we have identified a genuine problem and set out a path to fix it. We have just had an example of that on the previous amendment.

I believe we have done our job and identified a real gap here between the Government’s rhetoric that employers will not be mandated to issue work notices and what may happen in practice, yet the Government have so far failed to provide either a clarification that our concerns are unfounded or an acknowledgement that we have identified a real issue that they intend to fix before the Bill becomes law. In this amendment we are presenting a way to demonstrate the kind of fix that we think is needed, not to undermine the Government’s intentions in respect of the legislation writ large, but rather to ensure that it works as they themselves have said they wish to happen.

My concern is quite specific. It is that employers will be advised that they expose themselves to significant legal risk if they do not issue work notices, even where they feel that they would be counterproductive to their efforts to negotiate with their employees. The circumstances under which they may feel this compulsion are not fantastical but all too apparent if we look at broader trends in litigation. We do not have to stretch our imagination too far to see somebody suing an NHS body that chose not to issue work orders, alleging that their treatment could have been delivered if it had; a student taking action against an educational institution on the basis that it did not order teaching staff to turn up during strike days; or businesses suffering disruption as a result of transport strikes going after train operators, claiming that more service could have been provided.

Some noble Lords may have sympathy with this approach and think, “Good; if employers feel compelled to issue work orders, the Bill is working”, but the Government have said repeatedly that the work order should be voluntary and that this is not what they intend. If they wish to make work orders compulsory, they should have the honesty to say that in the Bill. They would be de facto mandated because of the threat of litigation, and if the Government do not wish that to happen, they should agree to our amendment to make that clear to employers.

It seems far from ideal to leave this confused, with the extent of compulsion in practice decided on the basis of an assessment of the threat of legal action. I fear that the Government will argue, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has already indicated, that this is an acceptable state of affairs and that they do not intend to change the legislation, but I hope that noble Lords will see the force of our arguments and will support Amendment 3.

My Lords, many people in this House will know that I have a firm belief that the best industrial relations are conducted by two parties that are trying to achieve objectives in common and are not clashing with each other. This amendment basically helps that to happen because it says that an employer will not be under an obligation to give a work notice if it does not want to. Surely the reason it would not want to is because it would worsen the industrial relations within the company or body concerned. That cannot possibly be a good objective to pursue.

If we are saying that the Government will interfere to make employers issue work notices where they think it would actually be deleterious to their industrial relations, I think we have got it wrong—it is as simple as that. I hope the Government can think again, because the areas in which we force employers to issue work notices are those in which industrial relations will deteriorate, not improve, but they will also deteriorate between the Government and the employers. Employers seem a bit bereft of representation at the moment, admittedly, but when they get their act together again and have a group to represent them, they will not wish to be conflicting with the Government in such a way that the Government, against their wishes, order them how to organise their business. One assumes that if they do not wish to issue a work notice, that is because it would have an adverse effect on their business.

I ask the Minister to think very carefully about the long-term consequences of this way of approaching industrial relations. It is not sound.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his constructive engagement on this matter. He wrote to us about it and has had a reply, so he knows the Government’s position. We believe that the current drafting of the legislation strikes the right balance so that, while employers have the statutory discretion to issue a work notice, they also have to consider any other existing legal duties that they may have—for instance, contractual, tort or public law duties. My concern is that the amendment would enable employers to act without due consideration to such duties, as it effectively seeks to remove any legal consequences for not issuing a work notice.

The decision to issue a work notice should be objective but, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have said, the amendment would then enable subjective, and potentially political, factors to influence that decision.

It would be likely—and I suspect this is the intention of the movers—to lead to many fewer work notices being given where they were needed, leading to minimum service levels not being met in more cases, but the reason for this legislation is that the Government do not believe that is in the best interests of service users or the public. I therefore maintain the position that I took in Committee and resist the amendment on that basis. I hope the noble and learned Lord will withdraw it.

It is disappointing that the Government will not put in the Bill what the position is. The word “may” is too ambiguous. I am afraid we may be back to the kind of thing that happened 50 years ago, as we are seeing a large number of disputes go to a successor—the ordinary courts, this time—to the National Industrial Relations Court, and that was not a happy outcome for anyone. But the Government have taken their stand. I do not wish to press this to a Division and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: The Schedule, page 4, line 40, at end insert—

“234CA Protection of employees (1) A person is not subject to a work notice if the person in question has not received a copy of the work notice.(2) It is for the employer to prove that an individual received a work notice.(3) Failure to comply with a work notice is not to—(a) be regarded as a breach of the contract of employment of any person identified in the work notice, or(b) constitute lawful grounds for dismissal or any other detriment.(4) Having regard to subsection (3), failure to comply with a work notice is deemed to be—(a) a trade union activity undertaken at an appropriate time for the purposes of sections 146 (detriment on grounds related to union membership or activities) and 152 (dismissal of employee on grounds related to union membership or activities), and(b) participation in industrial action for the purposes of sections 238 (dismissals in connection with other industrial action) and 238A (participation in official industrial action).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would prevent failure to comply with a work notice from being regarded as a breach of contract or constituting lawful grounds for dismissal or any other detriment.

My Lords, I will speak to the amendment in my name and the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. This amendment would ensure that an individual employee named in a work notice cannot be sacked or sanctioned if they do not comply. In short, it would avoid the risk of a shameful and ultimately self-defeating spectacle of nurses and other key workers, whom not so long ago we all clapped, being sacked.

Employees are currently protected against unfair dismissal for the first 12 weeks of a lawful strike. In Committee, there were strong concerns around the Committee that this Bill, as currently drafted, unilaterally removes that protection from individual key workers named in a work notice who do not comply, and that this is not compatible with the UK’s obligations on human and labour rights. No other European country with minimum service levels gives employers the power to take away the livelihoods of workers in these circumstances —not one. This would make Britain an outlier in Europe and would constitute a gross infringement of an employee’s individual freedom.

The scope of the sectors covered by the Bill so far means that an estimated 6 million workers could see their employment contracts unilaterally changed in this fundamental way—and all by secondary legislation. Most of these workers are women. In sectors such as health and transport, as we have heard, they are disproportionately black and ethnic minorities. It would not matter that there has been a democratic vote, or that a union has successfully overcome the many draconian obstacles to mounting a lawful strike.

Every worker is vulnerable, because individual workers who have lawfully voted for strike action would be entered into a P45 lottery. If they are unlucky enough to be individually named on a work notice and disobey for reasons of sincerely held belief, they could be lawfully and instantly sacked. This Bill does not even require an employer to prove that they ensured that the worker concerned received a copy of the work notice. Instead, employers are given the power to effectively requisition individuals under threat of losing their livelihood. Most right-minded people find that disproportionate, dictatorial and fundamentally unfair.

Not so long ago, the Government agreed. When the railways minimum service levels Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech in 2019, the Government promised that sanctions would not be directed at individual workers. This amendment seeks to redress the balance and address that injustice. It would ensure that the freedoms and livelihoods of individual workers are protected. It would prevent the creation of a P45 lottery. It would reassure many unions and employers, including NHS employers, which say that the threat to sack strikers, even before this Bill is enacted, is poisoning industrial relations and making difficult situations much worse.

After all, dismissing key workers would do absolutely nothing to tackle the blight of public service staff shortages and backlogs on the country. Since the Minister confirmed that employees named on work notices who call in sick on the day cannot be sacked, it would avoid the potential chaos of making emergency cover much more difficult to plan and deliver. At Second Reading, the Minister stated unequivocally that

“This legislation is not about sacking workers”.—[Official Report, 21/2/23; col. 1563.]

This amendment would ensure that the Minister’s commitment is met.

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 4, to which my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has signed her name. Bishop Sarah sends her apologies that she cannot be here, but we both strongly support the amendment, not least given reports that many important voices across the healthcare world, including the Royal College of Nursing and NHS Providers, are similarly supportive.

The basic principles and urgency of the Bill are understandable, given the events of the past months. At the same time, those events themselves reflect the very low levels of morale and trust across many of our essential services, and an overly robust approach at this point would only exacerbate the situation further— in effect, pouring fuel on the fire. The idea that the failure to comply with a work notice should be regarded as a breach of contract or grounds for dismissal, thereby removing existing protections for the employee under the 1992 Act, would seem to reflect that overly robust approach. Were this amendment to be passed, the relevant trade union would still hold some liability, ensuring that this would still remain a useful and functioning Bill.

My friend the right reverend Prelate is understandably concerned about this from a healthcare angle, particularly given her former role as the youngest ever Chief Nursing Officer. From that perspective, passing the Bill without this amendment would seriously damage the co-operation and good will required for successful local negotiations in the somewhat febrile atmosphere in which we find ourselves. NHS Providers points out that, were individuals to go on strike contrary to a work notice and then be fired, unions could, and most likely would, take other action, either through work to rule or calling in sick en masse. Both would undermine the Bill’s primary and laudable purpose to provide safe levels of care. So, if that purpose is at the heart of the Bill, supporting this amendment seems to me to be essential.

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 4, and I also support Amendment 5.

Amendment 4 covers the issue of protecting workers from being forced to cross their own picket lines under threat of the sack; it is a fundamental issue which strikes at the heart of trade unionism. The Bill, as it stands, gives bad bosses the power to target and victimise trade union activists by issuing work notices. Although I accept that minor concessions have been made, there are still no sanctions on bosses behaving badly, and we know, unfortunately, that some will do so, given the opportunity. The only way to protect workers fully is to make it absolutely clear that, if a striking worker refuses to cross a picket line during lawful industrial action, they will not lose their legal protections and will not be subject to dismissal. That is why the amendment is so important. Nobody should be forced to make the agonising choice between betraying their trade union principles of solidarity and standing together as workers and potentially losing their job.

Let us dispel the myth that this proposed law follows only what most of Europe already does—what absolute nonsense. This week, over 120 elected politicians from around the world, including from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, have called on our Government to abandon the Bill, pointing out that

“The UK already has some of the most draconian restrictions on trade unions anywhere in the democratic world … Despite this, the UK Government is set on further rolling back worker protections and freedoms”.

On Amendment 5, just as trade union members must be protected from being forced to act against their own interests during a legally organised dispute, so must the trade unions themselves.

This proposed law would, without a doubt, poison industrial relations and victimise workers and their unions. That is why I urge all noble Lords to support both amendments, and particularly Amendment 4.

My Lords, why did trade unions come about? Because there were bosses who would pick off one person after another to undermine the workforce. This amendment says that it is worth protecting this principle. We will bring back chaos if the Bill allows an employer to say to an individual who has not been given a notice that they have breached their contract. Of course, collective bargaining, at the heart of it, means that the whole body tries to agree—and that is why the noble Lord said that the best resolution comes from people being together at a table and talking, and not from having this kind of legislation.

I support this and the following amendment for the simple reason that every worker has a right to a fair wage for a fair day’s work, and every worker has a right to withdraw their labour if they think matters are unfair. You cannot bring in legislation which simply gets people back to work because conversation or discussion has not happened.

We should think of why the trade unions were born, and not go back on that—noble Lords should support the amendment. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, did not press his amendment to a Division; I would have supported it, simply because it would have given clarity. The law at the moment is unclear—and we are going to be in trouble at some future time because he was too gentlemanly to press it.

I support Amendments 4 and 5. The issue Amendment 4 addresses is a bit odd, as it creates a situation of servitude for key workers. That slightly puzzles me, because I am sure that the Minister clapped for nurses and the NHS during the lockdown and supported them then—so why not now? Perhaps he can explain that to me. It looks to me as if the Tories are taking a bad situation of their own creation and making it worse. This amendment is extremely important. I hope that the Minister, when he clapped for those nurses, realised just how important they were.

My Lords, this amendment really shows what a ludicrous Bill this is. The clause that we are dealing with is unworkable. As noble Lords know, I have to declare an interest as an executive honorary president of the British Airline Pilots’ Association. I have talked in this House before about the fact that this Bill allows the Minister for Transport, our good and noble friend Lady Vere, to identify a pilot and order him, a week before the plane takes off, to fly to Washington. That is ludicrous. If you live in the real world of aviation, you will know that a plane is not cleared for take-off until the pilot certifies that it should take off, something like two hours before it leaves. You have to consider weather and whether the level of staffing is correct—and then the pilot is the captain of the plane, responsible for ensuring that the alcohol levels of the staff are not breached. Unless you let people make a decision, you are just running yourself into trouble.

Aviation is about 70% unionised. Is the employer going to identify some people who are not in the union and tell them to go to work, rather than people who are in the union? You have the same group of people, and some of them are in and some are out. How are you going to decide that, and how will you decide matters such as illness? What happens if someone rings up and says, “I think I’ve got Covid”? Are you going to be able to withdraw their protection from unfair dismissal? Of course not.

This clause, above everything else, demonstrates the weakness and stupidity of the Bill. The idea of naming people in a work notice could come only from the desk of someone who has never had to do it, frankly.

I want to look at Amendment 5. The reason put forward in a note to me for the proposal in the Bill was that the minimum service levels would be far less likely to be achieved as trade unions may attempt to persuade workers not to comply with work notices. That is fairyland. Trade unions spend more of their time and money on our friend the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and his colleagues in the law than is probably sensible. At every stage, they look at the law and say, “We must not break it”.

In my experience, the executive of a trade union, and particularly the local branches, will spend more time persuading the hotheads not to do stupid things than they will encouraging them to do so. It is, for instance, a regular occurrence that a number of British Airways staff believe that they can take actions that are clearly in contravention of the law. It is the job of the executive to say to them, “You will damage the union”; it is not the job of the executive—it never has been—to say, “Behind the scenes, do you think you could do this?” That is not the way that trade unionism works.

I say that as someone who has been involved in trade unionism, for my sins, for over 60 years. It is 60 years since I first became a branch official. Throughout a lifetime of serving in different trade union branches, executives, and now as president of a TUC union, I have always been impressed with how the workers we represented wanted to get it right. They have often had very good reasons for feeling annoyed with the employers, but the job of the union, as a structure, has been to canalise the dispute in such a way that it is within the law and is a compliant dispute that attempts to achieve the objectives that the workforce is looking for. One reason we have trade unions in this country is to provide a bit of balance.

The Bill is not even sensible. It will not work. I hope that, when it goes down the corridor, our new Prime Minister will look at it and say, “For God’s sake, let’s just bury it”. There are far more important challenges facing Britain today than passing an unworkable Bill to annoy one section of the population—not to mention the 1.5 million trade unionists who voted for the Conservative Party at the last election. They will probably vote for it again because they do not vote according to their union; they vote according to their class interests. Most of my union members vote for the Conservative Party.

Let us be aware that this is not a matter where a Conservative Government have to stand up to the unions—they are standing up to their own supporters. Ordinary members of trade unions have worked hard to help the country become the prosperous country that it is. This sort of legislation is just the sort of damn nonsense that people look at and say, “My God, they just do not understand, do they?” They do not say that the Government are trying to do something. The general reaction to this Bill, I am afraid, among my trade union friends is that the Government do not understand what they are doing. I urge the Minister to send it back down the corridor and ask them to bury it in a nice big box somewhere.

My Lords, I thought that I had better interject and speak to Amendment 5 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

I reiterate what my noble friend Lord Woodley said. The Minister has said on every occasion that we have considered the Bill that this is not about banning the right to strike, which is a fundamental right. I have no doubt that the Minister will repeat that when he responds to this debate. We face in this country some of the most onerous processes and procedures in order for people to exercise that right through their trade union. The statutory ballot requirements are pretty rigorous and, as the noble Lord has said previously, they can be challenged in court. Unions are very concerned to make sure that they do not breach the law, that they act within the law and that strikes are lawfully conducted.

Here we have a situation where a clause in this Bill could place trade unions in a position where they would be asked to ensure that the members who vote for industrial action—who go through that rigorous process—do not take part in that action. That is not the responsibility of a trade union. A union could face an injunction or be forced to pay damages if it is deemed not to have taken “reasonable steps”.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, talked about the definition of “may”. Well, what is the definition of “reasonable steps”? What situation are we putting trade unions in with this vague requirement that could result in them facing legal action? If a union is deemed not to have followed the legislation, the strike could be regarded as unlawful and the protection for striking workers, such as automatic unfair dismissal protection, could be removed from all striking members, including those not named in the work notices. So, employees will not know before participating in the strike action whether they have protection, and unions do not know what amounts to “reasonable steps”, as no detail has been provided in the Bill. I think that is an unacceptable situation. We should not be passing laws that put individuals and trade unions in that position.

Of course, this is not simply my view. The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded:

“We find it hard to see how it is compliant with Article 11 ECHR to expose any participant in industrial action to the risk of dismissal simply because a trade union fails to take unspecified ‘reasonable steps’ required in respect of those subject to a work notice. In our view, the Government has not provided sufficient justification for this consequence or explained why the minimum service scheme could not be effective without it”.

I think those are the words—I do not need to say any more. I hope the House will support Amendment 5.

My Lords, I will speak very briefly to both these amendments, which have my name. There might be an argument that the ends justify the means, but this does not deliver the ends. This false promise does not work. The means we are discussing here will poison industrial relations. The means we are discussing here will make recruitment into public services much harder, because working conditions will be made worse. The means we are talking about here will also remove predictability when we have a workplace dispute, because, as has been noted, people will go off sick and refuse to do overtime, and that will make the job of managing through a strike much harder.

The last group talked about protecting employers from this unwanted Bill. This group talks about protecting workers and unions from this unwanted Bill, and I ask your Lordships to support both these amendments.

My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 4 and 5. I will be brief and speak only about Amendment 5. The purpose of the proposed new Section 234E is objectionable, for all the reasons my noble friend Lord Collins has spelled out: the ethical objection to requiring a union to undermine its own otherwise lawful strike. There is a more fundamental point here; this is an elephant trap. The purpose of this provision is to enable employers to get injunctions to prevent unions conducting a strike that has been balloted.

I am reminded that, 44 years ago, I stood at the Bar of this House as junior counsel in a case called Express Newspapers Ltd v McShane and Ashton. Since then, I must have done dozens of strike cases. I know what my learned friends will say, representing employers in the sort of case where this issue arises; they will say that the union has failed to take reasonable steps. The union will produce a witness statement setting out all the steps it has taken, and the employers will say, “Ah, but there’s one step you didn’t take”, and they will say what it was.

This Bill does not say what the reasonable steps are or what factors are to be taken into consideration. That is in contrast, for example, to Section 238A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992; in dealing with dismissals during a strike, it set outs the words “reasonable steps” and says expressly what factors a court is to take into account in determining whether reasonable steps have been taken or not.

This section, as drafted, gives no indication whatever. For example, does it extend to specific encouragement given by the union to particular people named in the work notice? In a big strike such as the teachers’ strike, the union may have been notified of tens of thousands of members on a daily basis who are required to provide minimum service. Does it require the union to threaten to discipline its own members for refusing to comply with a work notice or to expel members who refuse to comply with one? All these matters are to be left to courts to determine and to unions to fight.

If the union is found not to have taken a reasonable step, as my noble friend Lord Collins spelled out, the consequences are that the strike will be unlawful and anybody participating in it will have no protection at all against unfair dismissal. The union will be exposed to a claim for damages; if it does not comply with the injunction or payment of damages, it will be at risk of proceedings for contempt of court. New Section 234E is wholly objectionable and I hope that all Members of the House will join me in opposing it.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Before I address the terms of the amendments, I will first address the frankly ridiculous exaggerations from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, that the UK is some kind of international parasite or outlier in considering this legislation—

My apologies—I thank the noble Baroness. I meant “pariah”. In terms of being an international outlier, many other countries have minimum service levels. I will give the House some examples. In the USA, ambulance workers are in most circumstances prohibited from taking any action; it is the same in Australia; in Canada, there is variation by province; Spain and France have statutory minimum service levels in ambulance services; Belgium has statutory MSLs. All these requirements are laid down in law.

In the USA, Australia and Canada, for fire services action is prohibited completely by law. Nobody in the UK is suggesting that we go that far. I accept that noble Lords opposite will not mind the example of the USA, but, last time I looked, Australia and Canada both had centre-left Governments. Yet they ban strike action completely in fire services. So the UK is not an international outlier in considering these MSLs. Spain, France and Belgium have statutory MSLs in fire services. I have no idea who is in government in Belgium at the moment—there is normally some sort of 20-party coalition—but nevertheless these are not hard-right Governments with complete freedom of action against workers. It is not unusual in international terms to consider MSLs.

I thank the Minister for answering an allegation that was not made by my noble friend. His point was that we were an outlier or pariah not because we had minimum service levels but because we were the only country with minimum service levels that was applying the sorts of terms and conditions that are objected to in the proposed amendments. That is quite a different thing from the argument about minimum service levels.

I do not think it is a different thing at all. If action is prohibited completely, as it is in the three countries I mentioned—let us take, for example, fire services—there is no provision for workers to take any strike action at all. If they do so, they are in breach of their contracts—presumably they can be dismissed, in those countries. I think the comparison is completely valid.

I turn to the amendments. To achieve a minimum service level, employers, employees and trade unions all have a part to play, in our view, and the Bill makes it clear what those respective roles are. The amendments in this group would remove key parts of the legislation, which we believe are necessary to make it effective, and I suspect that is the aim of those who tabled them. As such, I take the same position as I did in Committee and resist these amendments.

Amendment 4 seeks to remove the consequences for an employee who participates in strike action while being identified in a work notice. The approach taken is both fair and proportionate. It enables employers to manage instances of non-compliance with a work notice in exactly the same way that they would manage any other unauthorised absence. I repeat the point for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Collins: this is not about sacking workers, nurses or anyone else. An employee loses their automatic protection from unfair dismissal for industrial action if they participated in a strike contrary to a work notice, as indeed they would lose their unfair dismissal rights if they participated in any other form of strike action that was not in accordance with the law, just as failing to attend work without a valid reason does not necessarily mean that they will be dismissed. It simply enables employers to pursue disciplinary action if they believe it is appropriate, but it is ultimately at their discretion whether or not to do so.

Amendment 4 also provides that individuals identified in a work notice are not subject to the work notice unless they have been given a copy of it, and the employer must prove that the individual has received it. However, under the current drafting, employees lose their automatic unfair dismissal protection for going on strike in contravention of a work notice only if the employer notifies them that they are required to work under a work notice and of the work that they must carry out. I believe that this additional requirement is both unnecessary and duplicative; it could also be inappropriate as workers could be given a work notice which identifies thousands of other workers.

Amendment 5 seeks to ensure that unions have no responsibility for ensuring that their members do not participate in strike action and attend work instead if they have been named on a work notice. It also ensures that there are no consequences for failing to meet that responsibility. I suspect this is an attempt to disrupt the balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of others to go about their lawful business, which is ultimately at the heart of the Bill.

If employees are not incentivised to attend work on a strike day when they have been identified on work notice, or if a trade union has no responsibility to ensure that its members comply, the effectiveness of this legislation will be severely undermined. I suspect noble Lords opposite know that their amendments will do exactly that, and I am sure it is therefore no surprise to them that I cannot support them on this occasion. Given the direct disruption that these amendments will have on the ability of the public to go about their normal, lawful business, I ask noble Lords—without too much optimism—to feel free to not press their amendments.

I thank the Minister for that response, but Amendment 4 is about the individual freedoms, dignity and livelihoods of workers. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: The Schedule, page 5, leave out lines 9 to 22

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would remove the section that removes protection from Unions.

My Lords, the Minister suggested that Amendment 5 undermines the Bill. Actually, the provisions that this amendment addresses undermine the democratic role of trade unions, which is why we have tabled it. This is not about minimum service levels; as we have said previously, these are properly and better addressed voluntarily. If this provision remains, it will simply undermine the role of trade unions. It has to go, and therefore I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Clause 3: Power to make consequential provision

Amendment 6

Moved by

6: Clause 3, page 2, line 9, leave out from “Act” to end of line 11 and insert “of Parliament.

(6) This section does not apply to—(a) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru, or(b) an Act of the Scottish Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would mean that the power of United Kingdom Ministers to amend primary legislation does not apply to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru.

My Lords, I shall speak to both Amendment 6 and Amendment 7— Amendment 7 being the more important. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for supporting these amendments. I have tabled these amendments because this Bill, in its application to Scotland and Wales, is impractical, undemocratic and will make the services there worse. Let me briefly explain each of those points.

First, on impracticality, the main services—that is health, education and ambulance services—are all devolved. It simply is not practical for the Secretary of State for Health or the Secretary of State for Education, as advised by their departments in England, to deal with the position in Wales and Scotland. They do not deal at all with health and education in Wales or Scotland. They are run differently, on a basis of very different legislation to that in England. Let me explain why by reference to Wales.

As to health, under Welsh legislation it is the Welsh Ministers who give direction to the employers—the local health boards and trusts—about their functions. It is Welsh Ministers who have a role in setting pay and conditions in accordance with Welsh regulations and directions and the priorities of the Welsh Ministers.

As to ambulance services, these are run in Wales under the direction of a joint committee of health board chief executives, which has commissioned the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust to run the services for the whole of Wales. Those same health board chief executives are appointed by Welsh Ministers, who are of course accountable to the Senedd. How can an English Minister set minimum service levels for Wales and interfere in this structure when the Minister and the department have no basis whatsoever for doing so, no interest in the policy, no interest in the priorities and do not really understand either the demographics or geography of Wales.

As to education, in Wales it is the local authorities that, with the governors, employ the staff. There are substantial differences in structure: there are no academies in Wales; funding, unlike in England, is not hypothecated; and minimum qualifications for teachers are different. Pay and conditions are set by the Welsh Government for the needs of the curriculum in Wales which, quite apart from bilingualism, is different to that in England. How can a Minister who knows all about education in England, yet has not been able to work out a policy for minimum service levels, set minimum service levels for education in Wales, about which the Minister knows absolutely nothing?

Overall, the position of the employers who have to decide whether to give a work notice in Wales and Scotland will be different to that in England. I have already set out the difficulties in dealing with Amendment 3. They will have to take into account different public law duties under different legislation, and the views of the Governments of Wales and Scotland, who have the power to give directions. Again, one can see a wonderful field day for lawyers.

Secondly, in my view, it is wholly wrong and contrary to basic democratic and constitutional principles for this to apply in Wales and Scotland. The responsibility for dealing with these services is not that of the UK Government but the Welsh and Scottish Governments under the legislation applicable in those nations. The Governments there were elected to run these services and are wholly responsible and accountable to the electorate for them. The English Government—the UK Government—are not accountable. It is therefore wrong in principle to undermine that accountability and democratic choice.

This is underlined by the refusal yesterday of the Senedd to give legislative consent. His Majesty’s Government will argue that the refusal is irrelevant, as it is not a matter for the Senedd or the Scottish Parliament because the Bill concerns a reserved matter, industrial relations. With the utmost respect to government lawyers, that is nonsense: the Bill is not about industrial relations but about devolved services. As has been explained, there is a fundamental failure to understand what the Bill is about. Secondly, the Senedd is the body democratically accountable for services, not the UK Government. Therefore, unless amended, this will be another piece of legislation where the Sewel convention is ignored. I have spoken of this before, but it is now being ignored at the heart of devolution, in services that have been run in Wales and Scotland for a very long time.

Thirdly, it will make matters worse for the people of Wales and Scotland by undermining the ability of the Welsh and Scottish Governments to manage their own relations with their staff and employees. The management of those relationships is different from, and has generally been more successful than, that of the Government responsible for England. Applying the Bill to Wales and Scotland is effectively taking away power from those who have responsibility for the management of the relationship, for the negotiations and for the setting of pay and conditions. It will undermine their ability to do this successfully. It is simply an arrogation of powers in matters over which the Government in England have no responsibility. Power without responsibility is a recipe for disaster for the people of Wales and Scotland, for which the Government, in respect of these services, have no responsibility at all.

In summary, the UK Government, which are under the law responsible only for health, ambulances and education in England, should not be interfering in areas for which they have no responsibility in Scotland and Wales. It is impractical, wrong in principle and makes no sense. The real problem is that this is yet another attempt to undermine devolution and give strength to those who wish to see the union weakened.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has spoken very powerfully and comprehensively on this, and I am delighted to offer my support on both these amendments, which reflect how badly written this Bill is. It reflects a Government in a temper tantrum in the face of a period of determined and effective trade union action. I can hear government Ministers stamping their feet in a fit of rage and the result is this badly drafted Bill.

The report of the Select Committee on the Constitution condemns the Bill for being “skeletal” and declares that the concept of minimum services levels is insufficiently specified. This problem is particularly acute in relation to the devolved Administrations, because it is surely up to them to decide what minimum service levels should apply in their own countries in their own circumstances.

I will give two very concrete examples. First, in relation to health services, ambulance response times might quite reasonably be very differently specified in Wales and Scotland because in the Highlands of Scotland and rural mid-Wales the distances travelled are massive. Secondly, if you look at Welsh-medium education, dare I say it, it is unlikely that a UK Minister would even understand the minimum service levels they would have to specify. It is totally inappropriate that it should be in their hands.

At the heart of these amendments is the fact that most of the services specified are, of course, devolved and have a close impact on devolved services at the very least. Education, health, fire and rescue and most transport services are in the hands of the devolved Administrations, which are democratically accountable for the running of those services, yet the UK Government want to intervene in that relationship. That intervention will inevitably sour employer-employee relationships and inevitably mean worse services for the people of the countries concerned.

It will create a seriously muddy situation. Minimum service levels should be down to the democratically responsible Governments concerned, and in these services that is the devolved Governments. The muddy waters will be even more troubled by the information referred to earlier in Amendment 3 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that in practice employers will have to issue work notices in order to avoid being sued.

So, we have employers in devolved Administrations working to the devolved Governments which are going to have to act in response to UK Government actions. This is not practical, so for all these reasons I believe the Government need to draw a halt to their many steady and determined attempts to undermine devolution, and this Bill needs to apply only to England.

My Lords, I support both these amendments, speaking, if I may, from a Scottish point of view. I endorse entirely what has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

I would like to come back to the point about legislative consent, because I very much regret the fact that the Government have not sought that from the devolved legislatures. It is pretty obvious that it would have been withheld, but the fact that they never did that itself tells one a great deal about the Government’s attitude to devolution.

The fact is that almost all the services that we are concerned with—health, education and so on—are devolved. It follows that industrial relations in relation to these services are in the devolved area. We see this in Scotland day after day. Discussions about pay and conditions for nurses, junior doctors, ambulance workers and so on are dealt with in Scotland by the Scottish Government because they are dealing with devolved areas. Therefore, industrial relations in relation to these services really are within the devolved area and should have nothing to do with Ministers in Whitehall. There is a basic misconception about the approach the Government have taken in the Bill in relation to these devolved areas. Without elaborating on the other points that have been made, it is because of that very basic misconception that has misguided the Government from the start that I support these two amendments.

I am glad of the opportunity to support these amendments and to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for introducing them and noble Lords for the supporting arguments that have been put forward so far.

Wales has a long and honourable tradition of trade unionism. It has been constitutional trade unionism. There has been an interesting situation over the past 20 years where mainly Labour-led Governments have had to negotiate with trade unions in Wales. Of course, there have been differences of opinion, and give and take, but generally the attitude and the atmosphere have been positive. The last thing we want is to see legislation from Westminster or anywhere else cutting across that and becoming an excuse for things that then go wrong. We want the responsibility for these matters to lie with our Senedd in Cardiff and no doubt likewise in Edinburgh. For that reason, I very much hope these amendments will be passed.

My Lords, I point out that Scotland and Wales have separate trade union organisations. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, would like to tell us of some of the divisions, difficulties and challenges that she faced within the TUC in getting a common position. One should not underestimate the fact that both these countries have a separate tradition and, importantly, a separate structure. So if orders are going to be given and trade unions are going to be disciplined, they are going to have to be disciplined in more than one jurisdiction. I would be very interested to hear from the noble Baroness the difficulties that she sees in trying to make this work, when quite rightly the trade union movements in Scotland and Wales have separate structures, often separate policies, which may be congruent but are separate, and separate ways of existing and negotiating.

Speaking as a Scotsman and a unionist, I strongly support the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. It seems to me that if one is to maintain the union, it is important to maintain the devolution settlement. This Bill undermines the devolution settlement.

My Lords, I want to make a few brief points. Of course, the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right that defining and managing service levels is a devolved matter. It is how you manage and define them. So when it comes to defining minimum service levels, who has responsibility? It is not the Government. It is actually going to be the responsibility of the devolved institutions and devolved Governments. Let me say this: this is not about devolving employment rights. Employment rights are in a single market and they are clearly defined. This is about service levels. We had debates in Committee about how to define service levels on non-strike days. The devolved Governments are going to be responsible for that, and that is the democratic accountability. That is why it is really important that we support these amendments.

My Lords, Amendments 6 and 7 relate, as has been said, to the devolved Governments. Amendment 6 seeks to remove the power for the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru. This amendment was previously tabled in Committee, and no one will be surprised to know that the Government’s position remains unchanged.

As I have previously stated, the powers in Clause 3 can be exercised only to make amendments that are necessary to give effect to the Bill; they are therefore truly consequential. Employment rights and duties and industrial relations are reserved in respect of Scotland and Wales. It is therefore right that the Secretary of State has the power to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru, if required, to ensure that the new legal framework operates in a coherent way across the whole of Great Britain. As always, the Government will engage with the devolved Governments as appropriate should consequential amendments be required to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru.

Amendment 7, meanwhile, seeks to limit the territorial application of this Act to England. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, tabled a similar amendment in Committee, and the Government continue to resist this change for the same reasons that I set out then.

As has been said numerous times in this debate, once regulations for minimum service levels are in force for a specified service, if a trade union gives notice of strike action, it is then the employer’s decision whether to issue a work notice ahead of the strike, specifying the workforce required to achieve the minimum service level for that strike period. If the employer is the Scottish Government or the Welsh Senedd, it is their decision whether or not they use this legislation. Of course, we hope that all employers will want to do so where needed —as was said in relation to the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, employers must consider any contractual, public law or other legal duties that they have—but the Bill does not contain a statutory requirement to do so. No one is forcing them to use this legislation.

We will, as we have done throughout this legislation, continue to engage with the devolved Governments as part of the development of minimum service levels in those areas and the consultations that would be required that are informing these decisions. The Government have a duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of citizens across Great Britain. The disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public are no less severe in Scotland or Wales, and the people there have every right to expect the Government to act to ensure that they can continue to access vital public services, which they pay for, during strike action.

I hope—again, perhaps without too much optimism—that noble Lords will therefore feel able not to press their amendments.

My Lords, I considered whether to press both amendments to a Division, but it seems to me that the critical one is Amendment 7. If the Act is not applicable to England, Amendment 6 is, in effect, consequential and falls away. I therefore intend to withdraw Amendment 6 but will ask to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 7.

There are two fundamental reasons for that. First, it is essential that we do not undermine devolution. The devolution Acts give the responsibility for services to the devolved Governments. If the devolved Governments fail to deliver those services, they can be booted out at the next election. That is democracy, which I had hoped this Government believed in.

Secondly, the argument that the Minister has put forward—that the Governments in Wales and Scotland are the employers and can themselves determine whether the notices should or should not be given—is misconceived. As I sought to say, they are not the employers. The employers are the trusts and the local authorities. Probably wrongly, I did not press Amendment 5, but the Government now have to bear the consequence.

If they had agreed to my amendment, the point the Minister made might be a good one—but they did not. The consequence is that it is not up to the Governments of Scotland and Wales. They will have interests and points to make, just as no doubt the UK Government will have to the English authorities. But, ultimately, it will be for the employers. Therefore, this is an outright interference in the running of services in Wales and Scotland. They are at the heart of devolution. This, if anything, proves that what this Government want to do is undermine devolution and thus weaken the union. I will therefore press Amendment 7 in due course, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Clause 4: Extent

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: Clause 4, page 2, line 13, at end insert “but applies only to England”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would limit the application of this Act to England.



The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 24 April.

“With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make this further Statement to the House about the situation in Sudan on behalf of the Government and the Foreign Secretary, who is attending the funeral of a close family member.

Ten days ago, fierce fighting broke out in Khartoum. It has since spread to Omdurman, Darfur and other Sudanese cities. As Members of the House will know, a violent power struggle is ongoing between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The situation in Sudan is extremely grave. More than 427 people have been killed, including five aid workers, and over 3,700 people have been injured. Before this violence began, the humanitarian situation in Sudan was already deteriorating. We now estimate that approximately 16 million people—a third of the Sudanese population—are in need of humanitarian assistance. These numbers, I regret to inform the House, are likely to rise significantly.

Although the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces announced a 72-hour ceasefire from 0500 hours London time on 21 April to mark the holy festival of Eid, it did not hold. Given the rapidly deteriorating security situation, the Government took the difficult decision to evacuate all British embassy staff and their dependants to fulfil our duty as their employer to protect our staff. This highly complex operation was completed yesterday. The operation involved more than 1,200 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force. I know the House will join me in commending the brilliant work of our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, as well as the bravery of our service men and women for completing the operation successfully, in extremely dangerous circumstances.

I also pay tribute to our international partners for their ongoing co-operation in aligning our rescue responses, and I express my admiration for the work of the crisis centre in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, where more than 200 officials are working 24/7 and seamlessly across government to co-ordinate the UK response.

The safety and security of British nationals continues to be our utmost priority. Our ability to support British nationals has not been impacted by the relocation of British embassy staff. The evacuated team will continue to operate from a neighbouring country, alongside the Foreign Office in London, which is working throughout the day and night to support British nationals and push for a ceasefire in Sudan.

We are asking all British nationals in Sudan to register their presence with us. The roughly 2,000 British nationals registered with us already are being sent, sometimes with great difficulty, at least daily updates by text and email. This step helps enable us to remain in contact with them while we find a safe passage from Sudan. Movement around the capital remains extremely dangerous and no evacuation option comes without grave risk to life. Khartoum airport is out of action. Energy supplies are disrupted. Food and water are becoming increasingly scarce. Internet and telephone networks are becoming difficult to access. We continue to advise all British nationals in Sudan to stay indoors wherever possible. We recognise that circumstances will vary in different locations across Sudan, so we are now asking British nationals to exercise their own judgment about their circumstances, including whether to relocate, but they do so at their own risk.

Ending the violence is the single most important action we can take to guarantee the safety of British nationals and everyone in Sudan. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and I have been in continuous contact with allies and key regional partners since the outbreak of violence to agree a joint approach to both evacuation and de-escalation of violence. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister spoke to his counterparts, including Egyptian President Sisi and the President of Djibouti. The Foreign Secretary was in contact with the Kenyan President, the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Sweden, Turkey, Cyprus and the European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. The Defence Secretary engaged with counterparts in Djibouti, the United States, France and Egypt. I have spoken to the African Union and the Prime Minister in exile of Sudan, upon whom so many hopes rested. Further escalation of this conflict, particularly if it spills over into neighbouring countries, would be disastrous. As we continue to make clear, there must be a genuine and lasting ceasefire.

We undertake to keep the House informed as the situation develops. Today, all MPs will receive a second ‘Dear colleague’ letter from the Foreign Secretary and me. This will hopefully help to answer a number of frequently asked questions to assist right honourable and honourable Members in supporting their constituents.

I will continue to be in close contact with the House and provide updates where possible in the coming days. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces, who have been involved in the operation, first, to evacuate our British diplomats and, now, to start to evacuate British citizens from Sudan. In supporting our nationals in escaping the violence, we should remember that this conflict is not of the Sudanese people’s making. The responsibility for it lies squarely with a few generals, who are putting personal interests and ambition above the lives of fellow citizens. In those circumstances, it is important that the international community, including our partners, sends a clear and united message that the generals cannot secure any future through the continuation of violence. They need to understand the importance of stopping—and stopping now.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. I appreciate that, tomorrow, there will be an update report presented to the other place, and I hope that next week we will have an opportunity to review that. In the meantime, I ask what support is being offered to the African Union mediators—has the AU made any specific requests to us? How are UN efforts towards a ceasefire being collated and joined up so as to facilitate progress on the African Union IGAD plan for mediation? It is vital that we focus on that.

There are issues around the numbers evacuated, the numbers remaining and the timescales for the remainder of evacuation flights. In particular, is there a time when the Government expect that control over Wadi Seidna airbase will end? Certainly, working with other partners is their responsibility. Will the responsibility be transferred to other nations that seek to evacuate their own citizens? If the ceasefire deteriorates, how will we prevent people being left behind who are so desperate to escape?

After reading the reports on the ground and listening to the radio, it would be good to hear from the Minister what we are able to do to support the British nationals who remain there at the moment. Are there any reports of British nationals being attacked on their way to the airport following the escape routes recommended to the FCDO? What is the most up-to-date number of those registered with the FCDO as British nationals and dependents? We heard in the Statement originally that the minimum number was 2,000 but, from my informal discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, it looks as if the number could be more than 4,000. At the rate so far of eight flights with 75 people per flight —so 600 people per day—it would take two more full days to get 2,000 out. If the number is 4,000, it means a much more extended period.

Does the department recognise that any errors have been made in its communication over the last few days? We have seen reports of people hearing the message with no concrete plan for further evacuations on Monday and then making their own plans for the dangerous and very lengthy journeys to Port Sudan or the Egyptian border. It seems now that, with the clear plan for flights, that might be resolved, but it would be good to hear the Minister’s assessment.

There have been reports in the media of sexual violence. What steps are we taking to support survivors and, in particular, to support evidence gathering by specialists to make sure that the accountability that is so necessary is maintained? We are also having to think about the humanitarian response and what will be possible. Water, food and all the basic essentials for the people of Sudan are being affected—and they were badly affected before. This will add huge pressure. I hope that we are thinking about how, working with our partners, we can address this.

I conclude with a couple of points about external players’ involvement in the conflict. As I mentioned in a previous debate on this, we have had reports of the Wagner brigade being involved in facilitating RSF activities, which have been increasing. When I raised this matter before, I asked what we were doing to step up investigations into corrupt and illegal activity around arms smuggling and, particularly, illicit finance resulting from gold mining, which may well have fuelled the conflict and helped with the supply of arms. Are the Government actively considering any potential use of sanctions, perhaps on mid-level figures linked to atrocities or illegal activity in the run-up to the conflict? The UK’s role as a penholder makes our engagement in working with others on this question very important. I appreciate that there will be updates tomorrow, and I hope we can have further discussions when we return next week.

My Lords, I reiterate my entry in the register of interests and declare my interest, in having visited Sudan on a number of occasions, most recently during the Easter Recess and in March, when I met Generals Burhan and Hemedti separately. I thank officials and the UK special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan for being open to engaging with me and responding in a personal way. I also commend the officials and staff, as well as our military and Armed Forces, who have worked very hard to ensure the safety of British nationals, as well as of our diplomatic staff, who are now re-establishing diplomatic channels from outside Sudan.

What is the Government’s estimate of the capacity of the current means by which we are evacuating British nationals? Are we both sharing other countries’ resources and co-ordinating that? There has been a number of differing figures from partnering countries as to how many nationals have been evacuated for seeking refuge. How are we co-ordinating that number? Having been to Sudan on a number of occasions, and having asked our embassy during previous visits how many nationals and joint nationals there are in Sudan, I understand the complexity. It has been, in a way, a positive in the past that we have never counted people in and out. I have a degree of understanding of the complexity of the operations, but what is the estimate, and for how long do we anticipate the ability to have evacuations? I will return to the need for expanding the 72-hour temporary cessation of hostilities to a longer term in a moment.

Will the Minister provide the House with an update on British Council staff? British Council staff had to shelter in place within the British Council offices. Are all British Council staff accounted for? What is the status of local Sudanese staff who worked in our embassy and in the British Council? What is the status of the local staff who supported the work of the UK Government there, who also require our support and assistance? What is the Minister’s assessment of where they are?

The need to extend the 72-hour cessation is now of paramount importance. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, with regards to IGAD and those working for it. I know the IGAD representative, the former Foreign Minister of Somaliland, who had been doing good work there. I believe that there is an opportunity to try to refocus some of the work, if we can secure a further humanitarian window. What is now the Government’s primary aim with regards to securing the extension of the 72 hours which has been brokered by the United States and the Saudis? I believe it is now vital that the 72 hours becomes a further 72 hours, and that we focus not only on bringing people out but on getting humanitarian assistance in. There is little point in sending empty planes to Sudan to bring out foreign nationals if we have an opportunity to get medical assistance in. That means that any extension of the ceasefire should be monitorable, and that there should be warnings that there is no impunity for those who would break such a humanitarian corridor, should it be established.

I believe very strongly that such an extension would aid the worry for British nationals; if there is no reliable safe route to the area from which they might be evacuated, they have to take their own risk to get there. What is the UK doing with our partners to ensure a whole network of safe routes that can become reliable and trustworthy? There is real fear from people in Omdurman and Khartoum who have contacted me just today that the two combating forces are reassessing their strength and waiting until the end of a humanitarian window in order to recommence work. We must prevent this happening. If the Minister can update us on initiatives for that, I would be very grateful.

Can the Minister say what advice and support we are providing to the immediate relatives of British nationals, as well as to those who have sought access to the UK through existing visa applications? Are we working with the UN on humanitarian papers and access for those categories of people?

What is the Government’s advice to those in the UK, both from the diaspora community and elsewhere, who wish to donate or provide medicine or other equipment? How can they do that and get it to the people who need it? Equally, we need to ensure that the warring parties cannot replenish their munitions and supplies, so what work are we doing with our international partners to ensure that those forces, whether governmental or non-governmental, that have offered assistance for replenishment of arms are warned in the strongest possible terms that they may be contributing to war crimes?

Finally, I am travelling to Nairobi tomorrow, where I will engage with former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to try to scope where there may be an opportunity for some form of civilian dialogue that can offer reassurance or hope for the people of Sudan that, in the medium and long term, there will be a civilian and then democratic Administration in that country. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that this is not the Sudanese people’s war, nor their fault. Some hope should be provided at this time of great horror. I am grateful for the Government’s support for that initiative. If the Minister can respond to my other points, it would provide some reassurance to people to whom we owe a great debt of support.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for this opportunity to respond to questions and provide an update on the increasingly troubling situation in Sudan.

Ten days ago, fierce fighting broke out in Khartoum. It has since spread to Omdurman, Darfur and other Sudanese cities. As noble Lords will know, a violent power struggle is ongoing between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. The UK unequivocally condemns that violence and welcomes the 72-hour ceasefire agreed on Monday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and everyone else in this Chamber, we would welcome an extension of it, but it would be risky to base our plans on the assumption that those discussions would succeed. We call on the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces to ensure that this ceasefire holds—the previous one did not.

The situation is grave. More than 427 people have been killed, including five aid workers, and over 3,700 people have been injured. Before this violence began, the humanitarian situation in Sudan was already deteriorating. We now estimate that approximately 15.6 million people—a third of the Sudanese population —are in need of humanitarian assistance. These numbers, I am sorry to say, will continue to rise.

Given the rapidly deteriorating security situation, the Government took the difficult decision to evacuate all British embassy staff and their dependants to fulfil our duty as their employer to protect our staff. This highly complex operation was completed on Sunday. It involved more than 1,200 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the RAF. I am sure noble Lords will join me, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, did earlier, in commending the brilliant work of our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and the bravery of our service men and women in completing the operation successfully, in enormously complex and dangerous circumstances. I also pay tribute to our international partners for their ongoing co-operation in aligning our rescue responses and to the crisis centre in the FCDO, where more than 200 officials are working tirelessly and seamlessly across government to co-ordinate the UK response.

The safety and security of British nationals continues to be our utmost priority. We began supported departures on Monday, prioritising British passport holders and their families. Our support for British nationals has not been impacted by the relocation of British embassy staff, who continue to operate around the clock from a neighbouring country alongside staff here in London working 24/7 to support British nationals and promote a peaceful resolution. We are asking all British nationals in Sudan to register their presence with us. In response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I say that our latest figures are that 2,500 people are already registered and now receiving at least daily updates by text and email. That helps enable us to remain in contact and monitor their well-being while we find a safe passage from Sudan in highly complex circumstances.

Despite the ceasefire, the situation remains highly volatile, and movement around the capital is extremely dangerous. No evacuation options come without risk to life and, in most cases, serious risk to life. Khartoum Airport is out of action, energy supplies are disrupted, food and water are becoming increasingly scarce, and internet and telephone networks are becoming difficult to access, with levels of 2% in some parts. We continue to advise all British nationals in Sudan who do not have departure plans to remain indoors where possible. We recognise that circumstances will vary in different locations, so we are asking people to exercise their own judgment about whether to relocate as we initiate an evacuation plan during this unpredictable ceasefire.

We are following closely reports of independent convoys departing Khartoum for Port Sudan. The British embassy has no involvement in those convoys so I emphasise that joining them would be at British nationals’ own risk. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked how many British nationals, other than those working for the Government, had been evacuated; as of 6 am today, that number was 231.

Ending the violence is the single most important thing we can do to guarantee the safety of British nationals and, of course, everyone in Sudan. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have all been in continuous contact with international allies and key regional partners since this outbreak of violence, to agree a joint approach to both evacuation and de-escalation of violence. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister spoke to his counterparts, including Egypt’s President Sisi. The Foreign Secretary was in contact with the Kenyan President, the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Sweden, Turkey and Cyprus, and the EU high representative for foreign and security policy. The Defence Secretary has engaged with counterparts in Djibouti, as well as in the US, France and Egypt. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the Minister of State for Africa has spoken to the African Union and the Prime Minister in exile of Sudan, upon whom so many hopes had rested. Further escalation of this conflict, particularly if it spills into neighbouring countries, would clearly be disastrous. As we continue to make clear, this must a be a genuine and lasting ceasefire.

To conclude, the Government are working round the clock to ensure the safety of our nationals, and to support and encourage all parties to maintain this current ceasefire. A peaceful political transition to democracy and civilian governance is still possible in Sudan, but while the fighting continues, we expect those casualty numbers that I cited earlier to rise. Government departments and military personnel are working hand in glove to initiate a safe evacuation for our nationals in incredibly complex and challenging circumstances. The Government undertake to keep the House informed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, there will be an update tomorrow.

My Lords, given the background that my noble friend has described, I add my congratulations to all those involved in the evacuation. My noble friend has set out the challenges of communication, given the circumstances. How would he advise British citizens to best communicate with the Foreign Office to get an update, if communications are as challenging as he says?

There is no perfect answer to that question because the communications infrastructure is so patchy. We are doing our best to encourage as many—ideally, all—British nationals to register with us so that we can keep them informed as much as is practically possible. As I said earlier, 2,500 British nationals have registered but we need that number to grow.

My Lords, does my noble friend have anything in his brief he could share with us on the presence and role of the Russians in this situation? He has confirmed that it is already having major international repercussions and he will recall that the Russians were negotiating with the then Government, a few months ago, for a major port development in the Red Sea. There is no doubt that they are probably playing a thoroughly unconstructive role. I do not know whether we have any record of it, or could raise it with the Russians, but if the Minister has anything, can he share it with us?

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have anything that I am able to share with the House on that point—it is key. I think the question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Wagner Group, who have been incredibly disruptive across the continent. But I am afraid there is nothing specific that I can add to that. It may be possible for the Minister for Africa to elaborate more on this point tomorrow in the update—I hope that is the case.

My Lords, the Minister will already know that this is not a new situation. He will also know that this morning a report from the All-Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan was published, examining progressive genocide over 20 years in Darfur and elsewhere.

I do not minimise the importance of evacuation— it is very important to evacuate all your friends and relations in these crises—but the Sudanese themselves tend to get overlooked in the media. I will put one thought in the Minister’s mind: NGOs are still working through this crisis. I know that the FCDO has a strong connection with many of these NGOs, but more relationships could be developed over the coming weeks. I will give him an example. We know that there is a great shortage of food and water, but for all sorts of obvious reasons we do not know so well how communications have suffered and whether people are communicating with each other on mobiles. Is that an area that can be explored? We also have an opportunity in the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans’s debate next week to amplify this.

I thank the noble Earl for his intervention, his suggestion and his question. He is right to identify the often extraordinary work done by NGOs in incredibly dangerous circumstances, to pay tribute to them and to suggest that the FCDO should work very closely with them. That is unavoidable. As I said earlier, it is now estimated that 15.5 million people are in a position where they are becoming, or have already become, dependent on humanitarian assistance. We know that Governments cannot always deliver that level of assistance without the help and support of the networks created and nurtured by those NGOs, so we will have to work very closely with them.

In relation to the point on evacuation, it has to be a priority for any Government to evacuate their nationals when the conditions determine that it should happen. This has been and remains a top priority for us, in addition to those people who are working for us and to whom we have legal obligations.

My Lords, what are the Government doing with our international allies on the situation that has arisen whereby people who were waiting to face an international war crimes court have escaped from prison—in particular, the guy who led most of the massacre in Kordofan? The prison has been overrun and they were seen rejoicing that they were going to escape justice. What are we doing with our international allies on the ground to address this?

I support the noble Lord on his point about NGOs. I am chair of Christian Aid, which has already been working hard in South Sudan—there are now a lot of refugees coming out of Sudan into South Sudan—and it is handicapped because the Government’s reduction of international aid has left it without the necessary tools. Is this the moment at which the Government are going to revisit their reduction of international aid?

I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his comments in relation to Christian Aid, and I agree with him. I hope that when the dust begins to settle and the immediate crisis begins to be alleviated, we will be able to work together and co-operate internationally to ensure that those responsible for undoubtably grotesque crimes are held to account. I cannot tell him more than that, unfortunately, because it is such early days. It would represent a failure of global systems that we have in place were that not to occur, so I very much hope that becomes a priority at the appropriate time.

I also agree with the noble and right reverend Lord’s comments about the need to restore our aid budget as soon as possible; I have made the point many times in response to comments by people across the House.

Finally, our priority has to be to pursue now, not just in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of violence involving evacuation, every single diplomatic avenue to end the violence and to de-escalate tensions. We are working with our friends and allies across the world, including across the continent of Africa, to try to help facilitate the environment and conditions in which peace will be possible. But at this stage it is incredibly difficult because, as the noble and right reverend Lord knows, we are in the heat of the violence as we speak.

My Lords, I, too, feel grateful for the opportunity to ask some of the questions which have been highlighted by this extraordinary extraction operation we have been involved in over the last two weeks. On the whole, it has been very successful, which I think is largely due to the extraordinary qualities of our service men and women, who are prepared to show cool courage in the face of adversity. They do not let us down, and their existence is a great national asset, in my view.

The Government say—the Minister said it just now—that they are working with friends around the world to try to solve some of these problems. Anybody who looks at this operation from a relatively objective point of view, trying to ensure that lessons are learned for the future, would be above all struck by the fact that we have been attempting to do all this entirely on our own. However, it is quite obvious that there are other countries which are willing to take on some of the risks and costs involved in the extraction operation, and which can in some cases supply useful bases, such as Djibouti—of course, we could supply Akrotiri—or a lot of materiel, aircrafts and so forth, which are necessary for this purpose.

So it is a rather sad fact that we are not collaborating with our partners and allies around the world on this particular matter; we are trying to do it all ourselves. I think that is characteristic of the post-Brexit mentality and the feeling of the Government that we do not want to become associated too much with other people, multinational organisations of different kinds and, above all, any operation that has called itself European at some point. That is a great mistake. I hope it will be corrected, because it is quite clear that other extractions of this delicate nature will be required from time to time, and we must be in a position to make the contribution that we need for the sake of people’s lives and for the sake of world peace.

First, I echo the noble Lord’s remarks on the bravery of our service men and women. I made that point in my opening remarks, but it is absolutely right that it should be amplified. I extend that to staff in the FCDO who have been working around the clock for the staggering commitment they have shown in recent days and weeks.

I do not recognise the approach that the noble Lord has just conveyed. Our post-Brexit position in the world does not translate, and has never translated, into isolationism in the way that he implies. We recognise that challenges such as this cannot be solved by the UK working alone. We have been working across the board, with allies across the European Union and beyond, and will continue to do so.

What discussions are the Minister and his colleagues having with colleagues in the Home Office regarding the issuing of visas to immediate family members of British nationals? We hear reports that British nationals are unable to leave because very close relatives, such as mothers, are being refused visas by the Home Office. Could he urge his colleagues in the Home Office to take a compassionate approach and to act urgently, given the urgency of the situation?

I personally have not had discussions with the Home Office. Undoubtedly, the Minister for Africa will have done so, but I will make sure that the noble Lord’s message is fed back to the Home Office. He makes a valid point.

My Lords, I return to the first question asked by the noble and right reverend Lord. I think he was referring to Ahmed Haroun, who was among those being held in Kobar prison and facing charges from the International Criminal Court. He was indicted in 2007 for his alleged role in the atrocities in Darfur, including 20 counts of crimes against humanity and 22 counts of war crimes, with charges that include murder, rape, persecution and torture. There are, I believe, clearly correct reports that Mr Haroun is now out of prison, free and appearing in the local Sudanese media.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to the issue of impunity in the current circumstances. Clearly, we have a huge problem around the world, in Sudan and elsewhere, in that people have got away with, and continue to get away with, hideous crimes. Will the Government look to do whatever they can to support the work of the International Criminal Court to continue to pursue people facing charges such as this in Sudan? Will that be part of the ongoing work?

My Lords, as it stand today, our priority has to be to continue with the programme of evacuations of British nationals. We completed an operation for those working for government, but there are more people to be saved from this situation. We are committed, as a priority, to trying to extend the 72-hour ceasefire, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, identified very clearly in his remarks. We may not succeed in that but it is our duty to try to extend it, and ideally even to turn it into something more lasting. The circumstances today are incredibly difficult, and it is unlikely that the kinds of concerns that the noble Baroness identified would be top of the list in these circumstances. However, there can be no doubt about the UK Government’s support for the ICC, or of our commitment to ensuring that people who engage in what are unarguably crimes against humanity are held to justice. We will do whatever we can to support that process but we have to maintain our sight on the clear priorities of today.

My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the Minister suggested that communications on the ground in Sudan were difficult. That is obviously right. However, one of the issues with the evacuation of people from Afghanistan two years ago was that family members in the UK and their MPs—and indeed Peers—could not connect with the Foreign Office; it was impossible to find out what was happening on the ground. Could the Minister reassure us that, this time round, the Foreign Office is better equipped to be able to respond at least to MPs talking about their constituents? Surely we ought to be able to do that.

The noble Baroness makes an important point, and of course we have learned lessons from Afghanistan, as we strive to from every event that involves the UK and the FCDO, including on things such as evacuation planning, consular assistance, and so on. However, this is a very different situation, in the UK’s capabilities and the overall context, as well as the risk to British nationals. That is not to say that comparisons are invalid—they are absolutely valid—but it is a very different situation.

My Lords, the Minister may be aware that two dioceses in this country, Salisbury and Leeds, have strong links with Sudan and South Sudan. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds has regular contact, particularly with the Primate in Sudan. The people in those two dioceses absolutely understand the total focus on bringing British citizens out but they are also concerned for the Sudanese on the ground, particularly those in the churches; the Church there is quite fragile and relies quite a lot on the support that comes from western diplomats, and so forth. They are asking what they can do to support their Sudanese friends in churches and in other communities who are not going to be rescued. There may not be an immediate answer, but perhaps the Minister would consider what advice might be given to people who want to support the Sudanese in the coming weeks and months.

My Lords, I have no doubt that people not just in Salisbury and Leeds but across the country will want to provide support where they can—particularly those people with links and connections, but even those who do not. I do not believe there is yet an agreed and accepted pathway for that support—such things tend not to happen in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of violence—but I will certainly convey that message to the FCDO and the Africa Minister. I imagine we will see the same sort of generosity as we have on so many other occasions in the past few years.

My Lords, following on from the intervention of the right reverend Prelate reflecting the concerns of British-Sudanese communities, the Guardian quotes Nadir Bhanda, a British-Sudanese community organiser, who said that people in Sudan felt “frightened” and “abandoned” by the international community. Irfan Nour said:

“Historically, Sudan is a former British colony and the British government has got a big influence in Sudan. But we feel as though the British government has let us down—there has been no major effort to stop the war and the human situation in Sudan looks very scary”.

I acknowledge the Minister’s earlier comments, but what would he say to Mr Bhanda and the broader community, who are so fearful for their friends and relatives and the communities from which they emerged, about what the British Government are doing?

I certainly would not want to dismiss, disparage or devalue those sentiments, because people in Sudan are, unfortunately, right to be afraid. It is a very unstable and dangerous time for everyone, no matter where they come from, who is caught up in this conflict. But I do not accept those remarks about the UK. We have been at the forefront of international diplomatic efforts: first, to help try to create the conditions in which peace has a chance; and, secondly, to evacuate those people for whom we have a particular responsibility. There is no doubt that, as one of the most generous donors in the global context, notwithstanding the cut from 0.7% to 0.5%, we will be committing ourselves to helping the process of rebuilding lives when circumstances allow.

House adjourned at 7.01 pm.