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Lords Chamber

Volume 833: debated on Thursday 26 October 2023

House of Lords

Thursday 26 October 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of London.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

Helen-Ann, Lord Bishop of Newcastle, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Derby, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Norwich

Graham Barham, Lord Bishop of Norwich, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Southwark, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Capital Projects: Spending


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government why they issued instructions in February requiring the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to obtain sign-off from the Treasury for spending on new capital projects, and whether that restriction remains in place.

We continue to work within the delegation approach agreed with the Treasury in February, which involves Treasury sign-off on all new capital spend to ensure shared priorities between departments. However, this does not restrict our levelling-up ambition. Since the decision by HMT, we have announced a substantial capital package in the Spring Budget, taking our overall levelling-up funding to more than £11 billion, plus a recent capital investment of £1.1 billion for 55 towns across the United Kingdom.

My Lords, it appears that this extra layer of bureaucracy is destined to continue, although no explanation has been given by my noble friend as to why it was introduced. I wonder if it is in any way connected with the fact that the department has announced a £1 billion underspend on the affordable housing programme, as well as underspends on the housing infrastructure fund, the brownfield land fund and the brownfield infrastructure fund? In the light of these underspends, are the Government still confident that they will meet their housing targets?

The Government remain committed to fully funding and delivering our programmes to level up communities across the United Kingdom, including the full £11.5 billion budget for the affordable homes programme. In line with usual practice, some of the department’s budgets in 2022-23 were reprofiled into future years to reflect latest delivery plans. While all capital programmes have their own specific causes for delays, the challenging economic environment, including the housing market, inflationary pressures and supply-chain constraints, all contributed to the delivery delays last year. However, we remain fully committed to our housing targets.

Is it not the case that the Government’s announcements on levelling-up funds that will be spent refer to spending after the next general election, so there is no real commitment to new money for the north, as the Government have promised?

Bear with me on the length of my reply to this one, because I think it deserves it. On the contrary, we have already announced and begun to implement many of these projects, including 12 investment zones across the United Kingdom, the rollout of levelling-up partnerships, a further £161 million directly to mayoral combined authorities for 32 regeneration projects in city regions, 30 projects across the UK which will receive funds from the community ownership fund, grants for 16 regeneration projects, and two new trail-blazer devolution deals with direct money going to mayors of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. Most recently, the Prime Minister has unveiled a further 55 towns that will benefit from a long-term £1.1 billion levelling-up investment. This pace and ambition demonstrate that, whatever the mechanics of government, we are delivering, and will deliver, on our levelling-up priorities.

Does the Minister not agree that although these financial controls are reasonable at a time of great financial stringency, none the less it is crucial that the Government meet their housing targets, bearing in mind how short of housing the country is and how important it is to economic performance as a whole? In which case, does she think that we really must try to get to a greater continuity on housing policy, and that having 15 Housing Ministers in 13 years is not a good start?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I reiterate that housebuilding is a priority for this Government and we remain committed to delivery—for example, the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme I mentioned earlier. The Government are on track to meet their manifesto commitment to deliver 1 million homes over this Parliament, and, since 2010, over 2.2 million additional homes have been delivered in England, and the three highest annual rates of housing supply in 30 years have all come since 2018.

My Lords, as the Government lost the vote on nutrient neutrality, could my noble friend tell the House if there are plans for it to return in the King’s Speech, because it would be very popular in many quarters?

I thank my noble friend for her question. However, as no doubt she will have expected me to say, I cannot pre-empt what is in the King’s Speech. What I can say is that, as described by my noble friend the Minister during the nutrient neutrality debates, the reforms were placed there to unblock stalled housing delivery and were intended to benefit communities and the environment. However, the necessary amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill did not receive sufficient support in this House, as she will know. Nutrient neutrality, and the delays it is causing to housing delivery and the wider need to restore our waterways, remains a government priority. The Government will make a further announcement about next steps in due course.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on making a reasonable fist of an incredibly bad job. Is it not true that, when you have to rely on Treasury sign-off for every single capital programme, there will inevitably be built-in underspends? Is it not true that this clawback is the intention of the Treasury, as it has been doing with the apprenticeship levy and much else around skills?

I can specifically say that the new delegation approach has had very little impact on the usual course of departmental business. Most spend needs to be subject to HMT approval. The department has worked closely with the Treasury to ensure value for money and continues to do so.

Can the Minister tell us what percentage of the levelling-up fund has been allocated to those areas most in need in priority 1? Maybe she could explain why many areas which are less deprived have been awarded that funding and other priority 1 areas have therefore missed out.

I will get back to the noble Baroness in writing with the specifics because I think it deserves a very detailed answer.

My Lords, with the urgent need for housing, why have the Government so seriously underspent their allocated housing funding? When will a long-term strategy to settle the housing crisis be resolved? What discussions have the noble Baroness and the Secretary of State had with the Treasury to overcome this additional barrier to solving the housing crisis?

It is fair to say that, with all the projects I have already spoken about, there is a distinct strategy for housing in this country by this Government. The supplementary estimates mean that the underspend is there for everyone to see, and I think it is very clear that the economic environment has impacted much of that spending. The department is doing as much as it possibly can to rectify this.

Does the extra requirement of Treasury authority apply to the devo deals that are done with the metro mayors, or are the Government being open with the metro mayors, as they said they would be, by giving them greater delegation in their budgets?

In the first instance, this applies only to all new spending and all new capital. It does not apply to anything that was previously done before February. HMT is taking a proportionate approach to approving business cases. That means that the new delegation approach has not yet caused any delays to DLUHC’s ability to deliver on levelling up, or, as I understand, our partners’.

My Lords, is it still the case that, when the Treasury computes the cross-benefits of departmental proposals, it does not take account of the benefit and savings accrued to a department other than the one which will own the programme or the capital outlay?

I apologise to the noble Baroness because I do not know the answer to that. I will get back to her in writing.

My Lords, in an earlier answer the Minister used the term reprofiling. Could she assist us by telling the House how reprofiling is defined by His Majesty’s Treasury?

I am not an expert and I am not the Minister for the department, but I will do my best to explain to the noble Baroness. The reprofiling is where the project has been delayed and therefore the money moves on to the next budget cycle. There are certain areas where it is not appropriate for it to be moved on to the next budget cycle. One of those is the Help to Buy scheme, which was coming to an end, and so any underspend was because it was coming to its termination; therefore it was not suitable for that to be reprofiled into the next budget cycle.

My Lords, the Government have been very positive in response to my request that devolved authorities should not spend in reserved areas. Equally, the UK Government should not spend in devolved areas, and yet they are now doing this. Could the UK Government rethink this and make sure they spend only in reserved areas, and that the Scottish and Welsh Governments spend their money in the areas for which they have responsibility?

We have had many questions on why there is not a joined-up strategy for the UK on these policies. I refer to some of the discussions we had yesterday on LURB, where we were talking about how good the working relationship is with the Scottish and Welsh Governments respectively.

Suicide Prevention Strategy


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government why claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are not included as a high-risk group in their latest suicide prevention strategy.

The actions in the new suicide prevention strategy for England are informed by the existing and emerging evidence, by engagement with people with expertise in suicide prevention, including people with lived experience, and by the mental health call for evidence. This strategy is population-wide and the actions within it aim to support as many people as possible, including those on out-of-work disability benefits.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I am not sure that clarifies this issue. This issue concerns one bit of government not heeding the research of another bit. NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey clearly shows that more than 43% of ESA claimants—that is employment and support allowance out-of-work disability benefit claimants—have considered suicide, compared with 7% of non-ESA claimants. The argument that this group should be included in the NHS suicide prevention strategy was made five years ago, and it was not included with no explanation. We now have the new suicide prevention strategy, and they are omitted again. I would like the Minister to clarify whether this group will be included in the Government’s—actually rather good—suicide prevention strategy or not, and if not, why not?

What the strategy is trying to do is to look at those high risk groups and the risk factors behind them. One of the biggest risk factors causing suicidal thoughts are financial difficulties, which of course out-of-work disability benefits come into. One of the highest groups in terms of priority are middle-aged men, who are often the people suffering in this space. There are other groups as well, such as children and young people, pregnant women, new mothers and autistic people. There is a range, and what we are trying to do in this strategy is hit those areas of highest risk. To put this into context, those people on all DWP benefits in the reviews done on suicide make up less than 1% of the population of suicides. What we are trying to do is hit the major risk groups.

My Lords, the suicide prevention strategy says that DWP staff will be trained to identify benefit claimants who express suicidal thoughts and escalate these appropriately. Can the Minister confirm that the DWP will collect data on out-of-work disability benefit claimants who are caught or flagged by the system, so that we can understand whether or not this new policy is as effective as we would all want it to be?

Yes, and I had the opportunity, because I used to be the lead NED at DWP, to go along to a number of jobcentres and see the sorts of work that they do. They have two things. They have an independent review of each of these, and those are the stats I was using: they get about 50 cases a year in these categories. Where there is a serious case they have a serious case review, independently chaired with a Permanent Secretary on it as well.

I remind the House of my personal interest: I have family members claiming ESA. I advise my noble friend the Minister that I am awaiting an appointment with DWP Ministers following Questions that I tabled before the Summer Recess about the suicide rate among disabled benefits claimants—in fact, among all benefits claimants. My concern is not only around the way the DWP collects data but around the way it sometimes does not disseminates the information that it has. Will my noble friend pause in relying totally on the way in which the DWP produces data at present? For example, I am particularly concerned about how it collects information from coroners’ courts. This is something that I think is ongoing; I hope that my noble friend regards it in that way as well.

We are definitely always looking to improve, get access to better data and learn lessons from that. I will make sure that that is understood and follow up with DWP Ministers accordingly.

My Lords, I declare my interests in medicine. The new suicide prevention strategy is most welcome, but do the Government recognise that the ONS data shows that the time of diagnosis and first treatment of those with severe health conditions can be a high-risk time when they feel devastated and often do not have adequate support? The way in which news is communicated and bad news is given to them alters their risk of suicide, particularly in those who have been bereaved by suicide previously. Will the Government therefore put pressure on NHS England and the GMC to ensure that communication skills are included in revalidation and appraisal processes so that patients get better support and are steered towards the new SR1 benefit, which is designed specifically for people with poor prognoses and can play a really important role in relieving financial pressures?

I thank the noble Baroness for her support for the suicide prevention strategy. It tries to look at the themes behind this issue, of which working to give effective support, communication and training is absolutely key—as is making sure that that is followed up on. The other thing that I want to pull out from the report is the real feeling, in terms of the seven key themes, that suicide prevention is everyone’s business and is something that we all need to be aware of and could learn more about.

My Lords, the Minister has outlined how important it is to learn from the experience of people who have considered suicide. Last week, an Information Rights Tribunal asked the DWP to publish its secret report on suicide rates among vulnerable claimants; it has not yet been published despite the fact that it was written in 2019. Can the Minister explain why it still has not been published? If not—I appreciate that this falls under the DWP—can he write to me, because it is clear that we need to learn the lessons of what went wrong?

My Lords, on the suicide prevention strategy more generally, does the Minister share my concern at the figures published today by the ONS showing that the suicide rate among offenders in the community is six times that of the general population and the suicide rate among female offenders in the community is 11 times that of the general population? Surely this points to the need for priority action.

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. The priority groups identified include people in the justice system for exactly that reason; likewise, as I mentioned, middle-aged men, who are three times more likely to commit suicide. There is a strategy behind each priority group—people with poor mental health, people on the autistic spectrum, pregnant women, people who self-harm, children and young people, as well as people in the justice system—in terms of how we help and support them.

My Lords, as we have heard, our financial situation has a serious impact on our health and mental well-being. This is supported by recent polling commissioned by Christians Against Poverty. This issue is not just about more disease; it also includes malnutrition, mental health and failing to take time off when sick due to financial insecurity. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s mental health, particularly in our most deprived and vulnerable communities? What steps are the Government taking to reduce health inequalities, specifically those related to suicide?

It is understood that people’s financial well-being—or lack thereof—is one of the key causes here. Interestingly, as I looked at the statistics, there was a big jump up in the suicide rate from 2008 onwards, following the financial crisis. It is about making the point that, when people feel under more stress, they are, unfortunately, more likely to commit suicide. However, if you look at the statistics over the past five years, the rate has been pretty flat; so far, there is no evidence to show that, in the past year or so, the cost of living crisis has caused more suicides. None the less, it is something that we absolutely need to stay on top of and ensure that we are monitoring closely, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London mentioned.

My noble friend the Minister rightly said earlier that suicide prevention is all our responsibility—or something like that—and that we need more awareness. Can he enlighten us on some programmes to increase awareness of suicide prevention so that we recognise that it is the responsibility of someone’s wider family, wider community and others and so that they are aware of the signs to look for?

Yes. Effective bereavement support comes into this in a similar way. There are a number of communication methods, which I will happily share in writing so that noble Lords can see them, but there is also a full marketing and support plan around them.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that DWP staff are being trained properly in recognising the suicide risk of such claimants? One of the most important things is that people largely want to work and getting rejected following job interviews is a huge risk for that particular population.

Absolutely. It is my understanding that all front-line DWP staff have two days of mental health training in precisely this area. Also, their stated objective is to support people in what they can do and support them into work based on their abilities. We all know that work gives people a big feeling of self-worth and confidence and is a key to both physical and mental health.

Ultra-processed Food


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact on public health of ultra processed food; and what steps if any they will take to reduce the amount of ultra processed food consumed.

Observed associations between ultra-processed food and health are concerning, but it is unclear whether these foods are inherently unhealthy due to processing or their nutritional content. A diet high in processed food is often high in calories, salt, saturated fat and sugar, which are associated with an increased risk of obesity and chronic diseases. This continues to be the basis of our dietary guidelines and policies to tackle obesity and poor diets.

I thank the Minister for his Answer, which reflects what he said yesterday in our debate, that the House did not agree on whether processed food per se is bad for you. Common sense has long suggested that food that, to quote the Washington Post, is

“refined, pounded, heated, melted, shaped, extruded and packed with additives”

is bad for you. These dreadful food-like substances do not just contain a terrible balance of nutrients; there is also a problem with the process. The science increasingly demonstrates that. Yesterday I referred to a study based on the French NutriNet-Santé study by Chantal Julia et al; I supplied the Minister with the link. Will he commit to asking the department to look closely at that study, which demonstrates that nutritional quality and ultra-processing are correlated but distinct issues in diet? Will the department provide a substantive response to the study?

Obviously, I am always happy to look at all the research because this is a vital area. This is the fifth time we have discussed it in the last three and a half months, so I apologise for any repetition. We are ever vigilant on this area but, as the contributors to yesterday’s debate showed, the research is mixed. The key things to get behind are the bad features of ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

My Lords, I will ask a very simple question. Was it not true that, before we had the link between smoking and lung cancer, we did have evidence of an epidemiological connection? The problem here is that we have no direct link, but it does seem that there is a connection that we do not yet know is causal. Will the department be very careful not to ignore that evidence simply because it is very inconvenient for scientists if their whole history of understanding nutrition is undermined by it?

Absolutely—we have to be understanding of the latest research in cause and effect. The evidence I have been shown so far is that it is about the features within those ultra-processed foods—are they high in fat, sugar or salt? Those are the things that are causing the harm. If we find links to the processing itself, we will act on that.

My Lords, a few years ago the Government introduced very good obesity policies on stopping the sale of “two for the price of one” on junk food and limiting junk food advertising during children’s television. These have been delayed until 2025. What was the Government’s reasoning? Can the Minister assure the House that it was not based on any lobbying from the food industry?

The rationale was very clear. The measures that we introduced by the modelling showed that in what we were trying to do we were attacking the things that cause 95% of the reduction in calories—namely, the product positioning, which has the support of 78% of people to reduce the so-called pester power. Early evidence shows that it is working, because foods that are not high in the bad stuff have gone up by 16% and those with high sugar, salt and fat content have gone down by 6%, all through the product positioning. It is working, but the most important thing is that we have gone after the big numbers, those that effect 95% reductions in calorific intake.

My Lords, to follow on from the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, there is a public expectation that the delayed junk food advertising regulations will mean that children will be less likely to see ads for products from companies such as KFC and McDonald’s. But my understanding from the Minister’s previous comments is that the Government’s expectation now is that the advertising will carry on as before and children will continue to see just as many ads, albeit with the products reformulated to get around the ad ban. Is that correct?

I have said many times that the prize is reformulation. I do not think that any of us should have a problem per se with the food if the bad stuff is taken out. Diet Coke is a perfect example. It is not particularly good for you but not bad for you either, so why should Coca-Cola not be able to advertise Diet Coke? If you take out the bad stuff, we should encourage industry because advertising works. It wants to advertise, so if it is encouraged to take out the bad stuff, that is a big incentive.

My Lords, as far as I recall, it was said that we should keep it simple and that the focus should be on sugar. When will the Government look at children’s school meals, review the regulations and reduce the sugar in children’s free school meals?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. A healthy start to life is vital, which is why I am very pleased to say that we have the highest level of free school meals ever, with every infant school kid and a third of children overall having a free school meal. On the composition of those foods, I know that this was planned but was stopped due to Covid. The timing is now being reviewed again, because things move on in terms of the content and healthy foods.

My Lords, most people would be very concerned to know what ultra-processed food means. People who rely on staples such as bread, cereals, sausages, gravy, fruit juice, baked beans and biscuits would be very surprised to hear us talking about those as ultra-processed food and how bad it is for you. Some people say that five ingredients or more puts food into this category. While we should encourage vegetables, fruit and fresh food of various kinds being eaten, does my noble friend not agree that we are alarming the public too much if we deny them the staples that they are used to?

That is absolutely correct. My understanding is that ultra-processed foods make up, on average, 60% of a person’s diet. If you were to try a blanket ban, it would have a massive impact. I think we all agree that it is important that we try to discourage things that are bad in ultra-processed food, not ultra-processed food per se. As I have said many times, there are many types of ultra-processed food that we encourage, such as wholemeal bread and many of the cereals.

My Lords, ultra-processed food rests on the weirdly unscientific definition of containing stuff that we do not normally find in our kitchens. My noble friend the Minister has rightly said that the advice is to cut down on salt, sugar and fat. I suggest that almost all of us have plenty of salt, sugar and fat in our kitchens, so will my noble friend the Minister join me in urging people to stick to advice that is based on science and the empirical and reasoned method, rather than going for a basically primitive fear of things that we are unfamiliar with?

That is absolutely right. We should always base this on the science. I thank my noble friend for that comment.

My Lords, nearly half of baby snacks and up to three-quarters of baby biscuits and rusks are categorised as ultra-processed. Many of them are high in fat, sugar and salt and if overconsumed, reports suggest, can lead to weight gain, unhealthy eating habits and a wider negative impact on development. Have the Government made any consideration of measures to help parents to be more informed of these risks? What discussions have taken place with industry to address information and formulation?

To take the second question first, the industry has worked with a lot of comments on reformulation across the board—for younger children and older ones. Noble Lords will remember me saying that foods such as Mars, Galaxy, Bounty and Snickers bars have all been reformulated, as have Mr Kipling’s “exceedingly good” cakes. Clearly, we need to look across the board at it all. I know that the industry is working in the area of young people. I am happy to follow that up in writing with the precise details.

My Lords, in yesterday’s QSD on ultra-processed foods, the Minister spoke of how he had recently made a sound choice due to calorie labelling. What will the Government do to help and encourage SMEs with fewer than 250 employees to show calorie labelling on food and drinks that are not pre-packed?

My noble friend makes a good point. I gave an example of where it had affected my own behaviour. I am sure we all have examples of when we have looked at the menu and thought, “Oh, do I really want that choice? Is it worth the extra calories?”. We want to get it proportionate, so while we want to encourage as many companies as possible to take it up, we appreciate that for small companies it is quite a bit harder. We are working with them to introduce it voluntarily if they can.

No-fault Evictions


Asked by

The Renters (Reform) Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Monday 23 October 2023. The Bill will deliver the Government’s commitment to a fairer private rental sector. It will remove Section 21 no-fault evictions to provide tenants with greater security and will empower them to challenge poor conditions. Alongside this, we will introduce periodic tenancies allowing either party to end the tenancy when they need to.

My Lords, the banning of Section 21 evictions has been pushed into the long grass, and the insecurity caused by no-fault evictions is having a devastating impact on over 24,000 families a year in this country—a 50% increase on the previous year. The financial burden of £1.6 billion a year on local authorities is overwhelming their ability to deliver other services. Five years have gone by since the Government’s manifesto pledge to ban no-fault evictions, and it now appears that the Prime Minister is too weak among his Back-Benchers to deliver that promise. Why has no work happened to ensure that the courts were fit for purpose to deliver no-fault evictions in those five years? What are the Government going to do to stop those being made homeless by Section 21 from rising to over 30,000 families a year before this gets fixed?

I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness: we are not kicking this into the long grass. However, this will be the biggest challenge to the private rental sector for over 30 years, and it is vital that we deliver reform in a way that both protects the security of private tenants and retains the confidence of landlords in that new system. This is why Section 21 will be abolished only once we judge sufficient progress has been made to improve the court’s possessions. It is our commitment, in line with recommendations made in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and in recent reports, that we will do this as a matter of priority. I will also draw attention to the new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service, introduced on 1 August 2023, which will help with those evictions as of now.

My Lords, is it not the problem that the private rented sector in this country is overreliant on the small private landlord, whereas in most other countries it is the financial institutions and the pension funds that invest in private rented property and provide professional management? They do not need Section 21, so what steps are the Government taking to encourage financial institutions in this country to invest in the private rented sector and replace the small private landlord who, in many cases, is anxious to sell up?

We know that the profile of landlords providing homes in the private rental sector has changed over the past 20 years. A wide range of landlords operate in the sector, owning different numbers of properties and focusing on different markets, and they all have a role to play providing secure and decent homes. However, the Government also welcome new institutional investment in the private rental sector and have made a number of interventions to support the Build to Rent sector. Build to Rent boosts housing supply, diversifies the private rental sector and increases the quality and choice for renters in cities and towns across England.

My Lords, does the Minister really understand the effect this is having on individuals? I was a bit late in today because on the way in I met someone in Greenwich—as I was going to get public transport here—who was soaking wet and clearly distressed. He was evicted; he claimed no fault but now cannot afford accommodation. Last night he could not afford the £12 to get into a hostel, so was soaking wet because he had to sleep in the park all night. These are real people who are being damaged, and we now know there are more children who are homeless through this than we have ever known before. The Government need to understand, show the compassion, get on and stop these no-fault evictions.

I totally agree with the noble Baroness, and that is why the current Bill going through the other place is in motion and will stop those no-fault evictions.

To assist and relieve the courts, what steps are the Government taking to look at other measures to resolve disputes, such as mediation?

As the House can imagine, this is a complex area; court reform is really important, but it is also important to understand that the statistics are actually relatively good for the judiciary at this time. We are hearing that, of those that actually have a target here, the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service already meet the requirement for hearings to be within four to eight weeks of receipt in over 95% of courts. The time it now takes has gone down to seven weeks rather than 25 weeks a year earlier, so things are happening but a lot more can be done.

For those families dependent on housing benefit to pay their rent, the local housing allowance has been frozen since 2020, and that frozen figure is based on 2018 private rental figures. This forces many families into poverty and food banks so they can manage to pay their way. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will unfreeze the local housing allowance and bring it up to the local housing allowance rate that it should be?

I am afraid I cannot give the noble Baroness that specific assurance. The Government recognise the cost of living pressures that tenants face, and that paying rent is likely to be a tenant’s biggest monthly expense. Some 8 million of the most vulnerable households across the UK will continue to be supported through the next winter by additional cost of living payments.

Does my noble friend agree that there is a possibility of the law of unintended consequences in this context, for instance when a landlord requires to occupy the let premises themselves for medical reasons?

It is clear to me when I read the Renters (Reform) Bill that it strikes a balance between providing renters the increased security and quality of housing, and ensuring that landlords have the tools to charge a fair rent and reclaim their properties when they need to. It is right that we reform the sector so that it works for both tenants and landlords, but there are definite levels, barriers and bars put in place that mean you must have a genuine reason for reclaiming your property if you are a landlord in the future.

Does the noble Baroness not understand the absolute disappointment and frustration among private tenants? This was promised in the 2019 manifesto that her party won the election on. Here we are now, over four years later, and now she says that the courts must be reformed. It is unacceptable. I know some discussions have gone on, but I do not recall the courts being mentioned until a few weeks ago. It is out of order. Take it back to the department and the Secretary of State. It is totally unacceptable for the Government to oppose this at present.

I understand the noble Lord’s frustration, but we are improving the court system to give landlords confidence that they can regain possession in the minority of cases where the court action is needed. This remains a top priority for both the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Ministry of Justice. Improved access will redress through a new PRS ombudsman that will encourage early dispute resolution so that only cases which need a judgment come to court. This will free up time for the courts to process the most serious cases.

Some of the bad behaviour of the private rental sector comes from the letting agents who look after the properties on behalf of the landlords or investors. These letting agents have no need to have any qualifications, there are no requirements in law, and no regulation. Is the Renters (Reform) Bill going to bring in at long last regulation of property agents so that we get proper qualified people looking after properties and lose some of those bad agents out there, where unnecessary and very often illegal evictions are taking place in their hands?

I do not have a specific answer for the noble Lord. I can tell him that there will be a new private rental property portal, which will help landlords to understand their legal obligations and will help their agents understand that too, but I will ask the department to revert to him in writing.

I declare my interest as set out in the register. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this postponement of the legislation is actually a welcome idea? Owning residential property is becoming increasingly difficult and unattractive. The Estate Business Group, which is perhaps a group you could argue has long owned property and much rural property, has been recently surveyed: 41% of them are now considering selling those properties. Many of these properties are in attractive rural areas. The unintended consequence of Section 21 is that these houses will be bought by second-home owners and therefore no longer be available for the affordable rental sector.

It is that measure of losing private rental properties that has caused the Government to take a little more caution over the way in which this is being introduced. In particular, we listened to the Housing and Communities Select Committee in its recent report on PRS, which asked for this delay for Section 21 to be abolished only when there was sufficient progress made on that court’s process. We are aware of the balance and are working very carefully with both the rental sector and the private landlords.

Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 4 September be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 24 October.

Motion agreed.

Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Revised Guidance) Regulations 2023

Alcohol Licensing (Coronavirus) (Regulatory Easements) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Motions to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 7 and 11 September be approved.

Relevant documents: 52nd and 53rd Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the second instrument by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee). Considered in Grand Committee on 24 October.

Motion agreed.

Dormant Assets (Distribution of Money) (England) Order 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 11 September be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 24 October.

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Postal Vote Handling and Secrecy) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 11 September be approved.

Relevant document: 53rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 24 October.

Motion agreed.

Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, before I turn to the regulations, I am very conscious that this week marks the 30th anniversary of the Shankhill bombing, while next week sees the 30th anniversary of the Greysteel massacre, both heinous acts of terrorism for which there was never any justification whatever. In total, October 1993 saw 27 people killed in Northern Ireland as a result of the security situation, the highest number for any month since the 1970s, and the thoughts of the whole House will be with the victims and survivors of those atrocities. This also serves to remind us of how far we have come in the 30 years since the Downing Street declaration and the 25 years since the Belfast agreement, and how we can never tolerate any slipping back to the dark days of the past.

Turning to the regulations, the Government are, as I have stated on many occasions in this House, deeply committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement of 1998, and our priority is to see the return of locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government, which is and will remain the right way for Northern Ireland to be governed within our United Kingdom. In the continued absence of devolved government, the UK Government are committed to acting in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that public appointments are maintained until such time as an Executive are restored. We all hope that that can be achieved at the earliest opportunity.

Primary legislation was brought forward in December last year, which, among other measures, addressed the need for urgent public appointments to be made to two bodies. The 2022 Act also provided for the Secretary of State to add to that list, by way of regulations, further urgent and necessary appointments that may arise during the continued absence of an Executive. In July of this year, further legislative action was taken to bring forward a statutory instrument which added a further 12 specified offices to the list under Section 6 of the 2022 Act.

Unfortunately, as we are well aware, the Executive have still not reformed. Therefore, following a request from the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and a further request from the Department of Justice in relation to senior appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a second statutory instrument was brought forward which includes a further list of specified offices which have been identified by the Executive Office as urgent and critical.

The instrument adds to the list in Section 6 of the executive formation Act, enabling the Secretary of State to exercise the appointment functions of a Northern Ireland Minister in relation to the offices, and will allow for appointments to be made to these bodies which will continue to safeguard the quality and delivery of public services within Northern Ireland—and of course these offices will include a new chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

These are important offices, and the exercise of appointment functions in the coming months is critical for the continuance of good governance in Northern Ireland. I therefore beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Removal of Prisoners for Deportation) Order 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 16 October be approved.

Relevant document: 54th Report from the Secondary Legislation Committee

My Lords, I first thank my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and their staff for the expedited consideration of this draft instrument and for their report. I apologise that the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanied the order was not as full as the committee considered appropriate. I hope to deal with the points raised very briefly in a moment.

On 17 October last, I repeated the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor about several measures to reduce pressure on the prison estate, including a presumption against shorter sentences. Today’s instrument deals with one of those measures relating to foreign national offenders. At present, foreign national offenders can be deported no earlier than 12 months before the end of their minimum custodial period under the early release scheme, or ERS. This order increases that period from 12 months to 18 months. All such prisoners must however serve a minimum of half their sentence. We have around 10,000 foreign national offenders in prison at the moment, but over 3,000 of those are on remand. That leaves around 6,500, and this order brings within scope of the early release scheme a further 300 annually. That was the figure that was missing from the Explanatory Memorandum, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me that very question in the debate following my Statement.

Therefore, we have an additional 300 prisoners within scope. That may not seem a very large number, but as the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee points out, in circumstances where available prison capacity is very tight and often less than 1,000 free spaces, that is a non-negligible contribution to the problem. However, it is quite difficult to say how quickly and in what number prisoners will be deported, because that depends on consideration of individual cases, on Home Office caseworker capacity—hence the need to consult the Home Office when asked the question—and on the number of appeals. None the less, it is an important contribution.

Clearly, as the scrutiny committee points out, a measure of this kind involves making a series of balances between the possible effects on victims and the possible effect on deterrence, as against the severe constraints on prison capacity and the cost to the taxpayer of holding those prisoners. These matters are weighed very carefully by the Government. It is the Government’s duty to reach conclusions on such matters and, as part of the wider policy, this instrument strikes the appropriate balance. Therefore, I beg to move.

My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to the debate on this order. Over the years, many of us have contributed to debates about the rise in our prison population and its adverse impact on the objectives of our prison service. We are told that the removal of foreign national offenders is now a government priority and that they are therefore expanding the early removal scheme. This would have been acceptable if the excuse of overcrowding were not used as the promotion of the policy.

Overcrowding has been in the headlines for many years, and successive Ministers in the Ministry of Justice have identified different solutions to the problem. They have claimed that 20,000 new prison spaces are being built, with the newest jail set to open in the spring.

We have argued, as has the Justice Secretary, that short sentences are not an appropriate punishment because those sentenced do not get the chance to reform themselves. Reliance on community sentences would be more appropriate for lower levels of crimes.

When the state sentences someone to a custodial option, it assumes full responsibility for that individual. How are we discharging those obligations?

Once removed from our prisons, individuals will not be subject to further imprisonment and are free individuals once back in their own country, but the reverse is also true: they will not be allowed to legally return here and will be liable to serve the rest of their sentences.

These measures are a piecemeal approach to penal reform and do not look at the real sources of prison overcrowding, which has ratcheted up our sentencing system. We have failed to address adequately the backlog of outstanding cases in our courts. Despite abolishing IPP sentences, the problem remains.

We welcome the intention against short-term sentences, but reconviction rates are still very high. My noble friend Lord Marks has already stated the need to concentrate on rehabilitation and greater use of community and suspended sentences. Remand in custody is still very high. The former Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has said:

“We are within weeks or days of no longer having any prison spaces.”

I tend to agree with him.

My Lords, we had an interesting discussion about this on Tuesday in the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member. As the Minister said, once again the Explanatory Memorandum was not all that we might have wished for. The committee now keeps a scorecard that shows which government departments are the most egregious in providing inadequate Explanatory Memoranda, so we will effectively have a league table, where some departments are up for promotion and some for relegation.

In this case, I am interested whether the Minister can tell us whether the nationalities of the prisoners involved are preponderant in two or three countries. I think that Romania and Albania were suggested as possibles during our discussion on Tuesday. If that is the case, what discussions have we had, if at all, with those countries and their judiciaries and police forces about the imminent arrival of some of their citizens? If another country were to do the same and had a large proportion of our citizens in prison who were about to be sent back to our shores, some sort of communication between the different national authorities would seem appropriate.

My Lords, I support the Motion. However, people should not be confused that the removal of these foreign national offenders means that they will not return; it does not stop their re-entry into the country.

I am concerned by the small numbers relative to the size of the problem: there are 88,000 people, so to remove 300 at most is not an awful lot. What worries me most is that the biggest problem is the state of sentencing and the law around it. The drift is always upwards. I have yet to hear a political party of either persuasion argue for lower sentences.

That may sound odd coming from someone of my background, because I have always supported the fight for serious offences getting serious sentences. However, during my time in policing, we have seen a rise from well below 50,000 people in prison to 88,000. Surely at some point someone must do something about the major cause, which is the law saying that high sentences are OK and judicial sentencing councils being pressured to increase sentences to the maximum within that.

While I support this Motion for what it can do, I worry that it is not sufficient. I know that the Government are doing other things too, but without addressing the sentencing aspect in those cases where it should be addressed, it will not have the effect we desire.

My Lords, we in the Opposition support this order. It is sensible, and it is one element in a raft of measures recently announced by the Lord Chancellor. It is designed to address the overcrowding crisis in our prisons.

I thank the Minister for his recent letter, which I received yesterday, which stated that, as a result of extending the early removal scheme from 12 months to 18 months, around 300 more foreign national offenders will be brought into the early removal scheme window at any one time, as he explained in his introduction. We look forward to seeing the other measures proposed by the Lord Chancellor being brought forward through new primary and secondary legislation.

However, this crisis was predicted by the National Audit Office, the Justice Committee and the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and I am sure that HMPPS has been well aware of this impending crisis for many years. Though the crisis was predicted, the proposed changes, including this one, were neither planned nor consulted on.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, 20,000 new prison places were promised by the Government for the mid-2020s. This target will not be met, and the Government have had to revise their timetable on several occasions. Three proposed new prisons are stuck in the planning system, and there is growing scepticism that the Government will be able to meet their revised timetable.

In some establishments, prisoners are locked up for up to 22 hours a day, and prisons are so understaffed that many of the activities so important to rehabilitation are simply not happening, such as trips to classrooms for education, to the library, or other activities, all of which aid rehabilitation. Of course, for some prisoners, these activities are a condition of their eventual release. The tragedy of the situation is that we are now seeing reoffending rates increasing: 25% of male former prisoners will reoffend within one year of their release.

I turn to today’s order to extend the early removal scheme. After 13 years of Conservative rule, the number of removals of foreign national offenders has dropped by 40%. The Government may point to Covid, but in 2022 the Government were removing around half the number of foreign national offenders that they were pre-Covid.

In the other place, my honourable friend Ms Cadbury quoted a prison governor who warned:

“I expect it will require significant numbers of new Home Office staff for this initiative to be effective”.

We understand that the Home Office already faces problems with staffing. How many additional staff will be needed to put this proposal into effect?

In last week’s Statement and in this statutory instrument’s Explanatory Memorandum, there is no clear information about the estimated costs, including those of any legal challenges to deportations.

An incoming Labour Government would recruit an additional 1,000 Home Office caseworkers to reverse the drop in removals that we have seen since the party opposite came to power in 2010. It would create a returns unit to triage and fast-track the removal of those people with no right to be here.

I do not think I am breaking a confidence when I say that last week I had a brief discussion with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton about last week’s Statement. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, fairly pointed out that the Statement was similar to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, when he was Lord Chancellor in 2007. While the details of the proposals are different, the overriding objective of creating some headroom in the prison estate is the same. Of course, in 2007 there were about 80,000 prisoners and now there are about 88,000.

The point that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer made is worth repeating. He said that, notwithstanding the temporary benefits of the proposals made by the Statement, overall prison numbers will continue to go up. That is for a variety of reasons, including the lengthening of some prison sentences. I hope the noble Lord thinks it fair for me to recount that brief conversation.

It is in the light of that that I will comment on Sir Bob Neill’s speech in the other place. The gist of it was that, while he supported the Government, he was sceptical about the ever-increasing length of prison sentences. He said that, while prisoners have done wrong and need a degree of punishment, ever-increasing sentences are not the answer. He went on to say:

“We have to use prisons sensibly, and be honest about the fact that a degree of rationing is required”. [Official Report, Commons, 24/10/23; col. 774.]

I think the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, was making the same point in his intervention just now. What evidence is there that ever-increasing sentences reduce crime and reoffending? In my experience, Ministers point to public demand for ever-lengthier sentences and not the evidence of their benefit in reducing crime and reoffending.

At yesterday’s Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee meeting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, questioned a policy which could be characterised as foreign prisoners potentially getting less time in prison in order to ensure that UK prisoners can continue to be sent to prison. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, mentioned other questions that came out of that scrutiny committee meeting, namely which nationalities are most likely to be impacted by this change in the regulations. He suggested it might be Romanian and Albanian prisoners. Of course, we have good relations with both those countries, and I hope the Minister will be able to say that we have well-established lines of communication for discussing that question and the impact of any increased number of removals.

In the light of the concerns raised by the scrutiny committee, can the Minister reassure me that sexual and violent offenders will not be allowed to be freed to their home country up to 18 months early? This may—I think it would—worry the victims of those offenders. They need reassurance, which I hope the Minister can give, that this will not be the case for those particular categories of offenders. I also hope the Minister can also reassure us that this scheme excludes those convicted of terrorist offences.

In conclusion, we in the Opposition support this order. It is, in a sense, an admission of failure by the Government. This is a predicted and avoidable failure. Nevertheless, for this scheme to work, to achieve the extra 300 removals foreseen, it will need to be adequately resourced and have the laser-like focus of the Ministers concerned.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their interventions on the matter of this order. A number of very wide-ranging points have been made. I thank particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for his comments on sentencing more generally, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for their points on where sentencing is going in general terms. It is a very important general question, which the Government are keeping under review and which I am sure public opinion will discuss. But I think today is not the time to go into detailed discussion of sentencing policy.

As far as the prison estate is concerned, we hope that the package of measures that the Lord Chancellor announced the other day, including a presumption against shorter sentences, will over time progressively reduce those pressures. It is fair to point out, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has just mentioned, that every Government for the last 15 years or so has faced these pressures. They have been extremely difficult to deal with, particularly in the recent past because of the sharp increase in remand prisoners and severe difficulties in the planning process—but for which we would be in a very much stronger position. None the less, the Government are keeping the matter under close review.

As regards the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, I hope that, when this league table becomes known, the ministry for which I am responsible manages to keep at the bottom of the table. It is the sort of table one wants to stay at the bottom of, rather than at the top, unlike most league tables. In relation to the specific point made about arrangements with Albania, Romania and other countries, I will, if I may, write to the noble Lord setting out the position, which is affected not only by the early release scheme but by reciprocal prisoner transfer agreements to take each other’s washing in, if I may put it loosely and inappropriately.

Respectfully, as regards the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, my understanding is that those removed are not allowed to come back. There are rearrested if they do, and if they are caught they have to serve the whole of their sentence, so there is a very considerable risk there. In relation to the number of Home Office staff needed, I cannot say. It is a matter for the Home Office how many staff it will need in precise terms. I am assured that it is recruiting the staff it considers necessary, and if I have further information that I am able to supply, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, appropriately. I note the estimate put forward by the Labour Government—if there were ever to be one, which remains a totally hypothetical possibility at this stage.

In relation to prisoners who do not qualify for this, and that the reassurance the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked for, the scheme certainly does not apply to terrorists. I anticipate that it does not apply to serious sexual offenders and violent offenders, whose release under the scheme would not be appropriate. Again, I will confirm the exact position in writing so that I do not misrepresent the position while I am on my feet at the Dispatch Box.

I hope I have covered, albeit very briefly, the wide-ranging points that have been made and I commend the order.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Royal Commission

The Lords Commissioners were: Lord True, Lord McFall of Alcluith, Lord Newby, Lord Laming and Baroness Smith of Basildon.

My Lords, it not being convenient for His Majesty personally to be present here this day, he has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared for proroguing this present Parliament.

When the Commons were present at the Bar, the Lord Privy Seal continued:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, His Majesty, not thinking fit to be personally present here at this time, has been pleased to cause a Commission to be issued under the Great Seal, and thereby given His Royal Assent to divers Acts, which have been agreed upon by both Houses of Parliament, the Titles whereof are particularly mentioned, and by the said Commission has commanded us to declare and notify His Royal Assent to the said several Acts, in the presence of you the Lords and Commons assembled for that purpose; and has also assigned to us and other Lords directed full power and authority in His Majesty’s name to prorogue this present Parliament. Which commission you will now hear read.

A Commission for Royal Assent and Prorogation was read:

Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, To Our right trusty and right well-beloved the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and to Our trusty and well-beloved the Knights Citizens and Burgesses of the House of Commons in this present Parliament assembled, Greeting:

Forasmuch as in Our said Parliament divers Acts have been agreed upon by you Our loving Subjects the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons, the short Titles of which are set forth in the Schedule hereto but the said Acts are not of force and effect in the Law without Our Royal Assent and forasmuch as We cannot at this time be present in the Higher House of Our said Parliament being the accustomed place for giving Our Royal Assent to such Acts as have been agreed upon by you Our said Subjects the Lords and Commons We have therefore caused these Our Letters Patent to be made and have signed them and by them do give Our Royal Assent to the said Acts Willing that the said Acts shall be of the same strength force and effect as if We had been personally present in the said Higher House and had publicly and in the presence of you all assented to the same commanding also Our well-beloved and faithful Counsellor Alexander John Gervase Chalk Chancellor of Great Britain to seal these Our Letters with the Great Seal of Our Realm and also commanding The Most Reverend Father in God Our faithful Counsellor Justin Portal Archbishop of Canterbury Primate of All England and Metropolitan Our well-beloved and faithful Counsellors

Alexander John Gervase Chalk Chancellor of Great Britain,

John Francis Lord McFall of Alcluith Lord Speaker

Nicholas Edward Lord True Lord Privy Seal

Richard Mark Lord Newby

William Herbert Lord Laming

Angela Evans Baroness Smith of Basildon

or any three or more of them to declare this Our Royal Assent in the said Higher House in the presence of you the said Lords and Commons and the Clerk of Our Parliaments to endorse the said Acts in Our name as is requisite and to record these Our Letters Patent and the said Acts in manner accustomed and We do declare that after this Our Royal Assent given and declared as is aforesaid then and immediately the said Acts shall be taken and accepted as good and perfect Acts of Parliament and be put in due execution accordingly.

And whereas Queen Elizabeth The Second did lately for divers difficult and pressing affairs concerning Us the State and defence of Our United Kingdom and Church ordain this Our present Parliament to begin and be holden at Our City of Westminster the seventeenth day of December in the sixty-eighth year of Her Reign on which day Our said Parliament was begun and holden and is there now holden Know Ye that for certain pressing causes and considerations Us especially moving We have thought fit to prorogue Our said Parliament.

We therefore confiding very much in the fidelity prudence and circumspection of you Our Commissioners aforesaid have by the advice and consent of Our Council assigned you Our Commissioners giving to you or any three or more of you by virtue of these Presents full power and authority in Our name to prorogue and continue Our present Parliament at Our City of Westminster aforesaid on a day no earlier than Thursday the twenty-sixth day of October and no later than Tuesday the thirty-first day of October until and unto Tuesday the seventh day of November there then to be holden and we command you that you diligently attend the premises and effectually fulfil them in manner aforesaid We also strictly command all and singular Our Archbishops Bishops Lords Baronets Knights Citizens and Burgesses and all others whom it concerns to meet at Our said Parliament by virtue of these Presents that they observe obey and assist you in executing the premises as they ought to do In Witness whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent witness Ourself at Westminster the twenty-sixth day of October in the second year of Our Reign By The King Himself signed with His own Hand.

The Lord Privy Seal continued:

In obedience to His Majesty’s Commands, and by virtue of the Commission which has been now read, we do declare and notify to you, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled, that His Majesty has given His Royal Assent to the Acts in the Commission mentioned; and the Clerks are required to pass the same in the usual Form and Words.

Royal Assent

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

Online Safety Act,

Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act,

Energy Act,

Non-Domestic Rating Act,

Procurement Act,

Levelling-up and Regeneration Act,

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act.

Prorogation: His Majesty’s Speech

His Majesty’s most gracious Speech was then delivered to both Houses of Parliament by the Lord Privy Seal in pursuance of His Majesty’s Command, as follows.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my thoughts turn first to my beloved mother, the late Queen. I wish to thank you for the sympathy and support that have been extended to my family and myself from across both Houses of Parliament, the nation and beyond. My mother set an example of selfless dedication and devotion to the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth during her long reign; an example to which I re-dedicated my own life of public service at my accession a little over a year ago. I remain deeply grateful for the expressions of loyalty which were offered at that time.

My Government has taken action to bring down inflation, deliver better-paid jobs and reduce the national debt burden on taxpayers. As households have faced rising prices in the aftermath of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, my Ministers have made energy price support available to every household and provided cost of living support to the most vulnerable in society.

Legislation was passed to drive forward growth and create a more open and dynamic economy. My Government brought forward legislation to enable a more sustainable and technologically advanced financial services sector, and introduced measures to encourage innovation, competition and productivity in digital markets, while protecting consumers.

Legislation inherited from the European Union can now be more easily amended so that regulation can be better tailored to the needs of businesses. Unnecessary retained legislation will be revoked at the end of this year, and the public sector procurement regime has been simplified to provide new opportunities for small businesses and to safeguard national security.

Legislation was passed to deliver greater resilience in the economy. Laws were passed to advance the transition to cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy. Measures have been brought forward to encourage agricultural and scientific innovation at home, unlocking landmark innovations in food production to improve food security.

My Government has implemented free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand. It also strengthened ties with some of the most dynamic economies in the world through reaching agreement to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Laws were passed to streamline inefficient import controls to ensure that future trade is faster, simpler and more sustainable.

My Government has delivered legislation to tackle dangerous and illegal channel crossings, and to break the business model of criminal gangs. The police have been empowered to make streets safer and protect the public from serious disruption caused by protesters. New measures have been brought forward to ensure victims are better supported as they engage with the criminal justice system. My Government took action to reduce economic crime, tackle illicit finance and help businesses grow.

Legislation has ensured that the police and security services have the powers they need to respond to new and evolving state threats to the United Kingdom, including from overseas investment in critical national infrastructure. This builds on previous measures to ensure investments in critical national infrastructure and other sensitive parts of the economy do not harm national security.

My Government continues its steadfast military and humanitarian support of Ukraine in response to Russia’s illegal invasion and has demonstrated the United Kingdom’s continued commitment to the NATO alliance. My Ministers have made record investment in defence in support of our gallant Armed Forces and updated the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy to reflect the new challenges posed by growing volatility on the global stage. New initiatives have been launched to ensure that veterans are supported as they transition out of the Armed Forces.

The Queen and I were pleased to welcome His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa last November. We were also delighted to visit Germany and France.

My Ministers have invested in public services and have set out a long-term workforce plan for the NHS in England. This will ensure that more doctors and nurses are trained, responding to the healthcare challenges faced by this generation and those to come. Legislation was delivered to make it quicker for those nearing the end of their lives to get the support that they need.

Laws were passed to protect freedom of speech and strengthen academic freedom in universities. My Government took action to make online platforms safer for children, while protecting freedom of expression. My Ministers ensured that the public can access essential public services, keeping people safe and reducing disruption. Measures have been brought forward to enable minimum service levels to be maintained in key areas, including rail services, ambulances and border security.

Legislation was passed to fulfil the commitment to level up opportunity in all parts of the country and empower local leaders to deliver for the communities they represent. My Government took action to ensure that those living in unsafe social housing will be better supported by the regulator, delivering better-quality, safer homes for those who need them.

My Ministers have progressed domestic reforms to protect the economic and national security of the United Kingdom, strengthen ties across the union and give greater decision-making powers to cities. Legislation has been passed to address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and provide better outcomes for victims and survivors. My Government continues to work to encourage the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland and ensure public services continue to function.

Members of the House of Commons, I thank you for the provisions which you have made for the work and dignity of the Crown and for the public services.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of His Majesty’s Commission which has now been read, we do, in His Majesty’s name, and in obedience to His Majesty’s Commands, prorogue this Parliament to the 7th day of November, to be then there holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Tuesday, the 7th day of November.

Parliament was prorogued at 1.46 pm.