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Lords Chamber

Volume 835: debated on Thursday 18 January 2024

House of Lords

Thursday 18 January 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Durham.

Care Home Staffing


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how they are planning to address current staffing levels in care homes, and any connected delayed discharges from hospital wards and the impact on NHS waiting times.

We estimate that the number of adult social care filled posts increased by 70,000 in the last 18 months. The Government remain committed to the 10-year vision to put people at the heart of care, making up to £8.1 billion available over two years to strengthen adult social care provision and discharge. Funding is enabling local authorities to buy more care packages, help people leave hospital on time, improve workforce capacity and reduce waiting times.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I am not sure that I find it very reassuring. Your Lordships’ House will know that delayed discharges and long waiting times are largely the result of shortcomings in the care sector, especially the shortage of staff in care homes, where international recruitment has been a lifeline. It was therefore a surprise when the Government elected to put further pressure on this sector by increasing the minimum annual salary required for employees applying for a visa, banning them from bringing dependants to the UK and requiring care firms to be regulated by the CQC if they are to sponsor these visas. Far from being broadly relaxed about these proposals, as the Secretary of State for Health claimed, the care sector is most alarmed about how this will affect recruitment, especially as no consultation at all took place before the policy was announced. Will the Minister please further explain to the House how the Government intend to ensure that there are enough staff in the care sector to cover the enormous and growing need?

The whole point of the title People at the Heart of Care is the recognition that staffing is critical to this. While it is early days, I believe the 70,000 increase in staff over the last 18 months, as I mentioned in my Answer, is a positive step. We had a very positive announcement just last week about the care pathway, setting out a career structure, which has been welcomed. For instance, ADASS, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said that these are

“positive steps to help make adult social care a real career choice now and in the future”.

We really are making advances in this space.

My Lords, as the Minister has likely anticipated, 2024 is going to be a year when we keep hassling him for a long-term workforce plan for social care. Assuming he is not going to announce the imminent publication of one, can I at least ask him to commit to commissioning and publishing an independent report into the potential impact of the visa changes described by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley? The Government are of course entitled to make it harder to get visas, but they should be upfront and transparent about the downstream effects.

The Home Office has made an impact assessment of that. It thinks it will impact about 20,000 staff; we recruited about 100,000 last year. The main thing is that, by making sure that only CQC-registered bodies are able to recruit in this way, we are trying to make sure it is done in the correct, ethical manner by high-quality providers, which I think we would all agree is the right approach.

I welcome the additional care staff that my noble friend mentioned, but there are some real pressures in rural areas where people cannot get carers to come and work. Can he say what is being done about that? Also, because he mentioned it previously, can he give an indication of whether there is a greater number of community hospitals that patients could be discharged into?

I thank my noble friend for the question. The whole point of trying to develop the career structure that we talk about is to make sure that it is a career that people want to go into across the board, be it in urban or rural areas. Part of that is putting in place about 100,000 training places—this is the first place in the world that has been set up—to try to set up a real career structure. We are starting to see early signs of it working. The number of beds blocked has decreased by 10% in the last few months. It is early days, but it is beginning to work.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, while the increase of 70,000 people is very welcome, it is in the context of a turnover of nearly 400,000 every year in care because of the poor career structure? I understand and appreciate that £70 million has been put into training and a care workforce pathway, but does he not agree that it is profoundly inadequate compared with the £11 million a day that is put into NHS nurse training?

The 70,000 increase is a net increase, so it takes into account the turnover of staff, many of whom rejoin somewhere else in a social care setting. Notwithstanding that, I agree with the noble Baroness that a turnover rate of around 28% is too high in any sector. For about 20% of employers the turnover is only 10%, so clearly some know how to develop a career structure and have motivated staff who will stay there. The intention behind the programme and the career pathway we are trying to set up is to try to get more of that across the system, because retention is key.

My Lords, the Minister told the House on Tuesday that hospital discharges have recently been reduced by 10%. However, he knows that this figure goes up and down as some people leave hospital while more come in at the other end, and it depends on which period of time is measured. From July to November last year there was in fact a steady rise, so we need to be specific about dates when we talk about making progress. On the care settings that patients are being discharged to—care homes—how are the Government keeping track of how the extra funding allocated to deal with chronic local staff shortages has supported the discharge process? Will it continue in the longer term?

The noble Baroness is correct that the numbers are a result of flow. We are seeing thousands more people hospitalised through A&E, so the fact that we have managed to reduce the back end indicates a positive way forward. To measure precisely what the noble Baroness asked about, we have now set up a kind of flight control system for each integrated care board, as I have mentioned, which looks at data across the system to monitor the number of hospital beds and places needed on a case-by-case basis. The noble Baroness is absolutely correct that having that data is key.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister mentioned the importance of a career structure to encourage people to work in the care sector. On the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, about visas for carers, one issue that has not been addressed is that of personal carers. It is very difficult to sponsor or get a personal carer for individuals, and therefore there is a massive shortage. Can my noble friend the Minister say what the Government are doing to make sure that we can have more personal carers, whether from a domestic workforce or through immigration?

My noble friend is correct that the recruitment of personal carers is harder. I know that this is close to his heart. I can probably serve him best by giving him a written reply setting out the details of what we are doing.

My Lords, to make this an attractive job for a care worker, we have to not only give them a pay rise above the national living wage, which is their basic pay, but make this into a profession. If they are professionals, they will then have a career structure that is recognised nationally. Will the Minister encourage that development?

Yes, I totally agree. That is why we announced this career pathway last week, to try to do exactly what the noble Lord is talking about. It has been welcomed; I quoted from ADASS, but a number of other bodies have welcomed what we are trying to do. We aim to do what the noble Lord said: to make it a profession that people really want to join. There are qualifications for it, advancement and apprenticeships, which are all part of setting up a career structure.

Does my noble friend the Minister not agree with me that there is still massive potential with the 500 or so community hospitals we have in the United Kingdom? Many are extremely well supported by their local community, and many still retain beds.

Yes. I have seen a number of really good examples of the kind of step-down care that my noble friend is talking about, or intermediate care that can be used as interim measures. We are trying to bring more of them on board, as well as the very good virtual wards. We have set up 11,000 virtual wards, and they are making a difference as well.

My Lords, the Government say that they have done an assessment on the effects of the visa changes. Can he tell us how that was done if the Government did not discuss it or consult with the sector?

It was a Home Office impact assessment, so I freely admit that I do not know exactly who was consulted; I will happily get back to the noble Lord on that. I know that the assessment looked at all the different parts, including the salary cap and the impact on dependants. For instance, it was not thought that the restriction would have much impact on dependants because not many people come with dependants in the care sector. It looked into each bit, but I will happily let the noble Lord know more in writing.

Private Rented Sector Ombudsman


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in designing and tendering for the new Private Rented Sector Ombudsman Service.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as the chair of the Property Ombudsman for tenants and those in the PRS whose landlords use agents.

The Renters (Reform) Bill allows the Government to select a scheme through open competition or to appoint a provider to deliver a designated scheme. In Commons Committee, we announced our preference to deliver through the Housing Ombudsman service, which provides social housing redress. However, no final decision has been made, and our priority is choosing a provider that offers the high-quality and value-for-money service we require.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I very much support what the Government are doing to establish a landlord ombudsman for the private rented sector; it is long overdue. Given that the new ombudsman will cover the whole of the rental sector—the one for social landlords has been indicated as the preferred option—can the Minister confirm that the Government will consult existing ombudsmen in the sector on the rationalisation, and can she explain how they will fit into the new landscape? Can she confirm that the Government’s final decision in selecting an organisation to provide a unitary ombudsman service for the combined social and private rented sectors will follow the formal public procurement process? What will the timescale be?

The noble Baroness asked a number of questions. First, we have sought extensive procurement and legal advice on this, and we are confident that the approach we are taking is in line with procurement regulations. I can only reiterate that this work is still in its very early stages, and no decisions have been made. Of course, we will talk to stakeholders throughout the whole of the process. If the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord would like to meet me and my team, I am happy to do so as we go forward.

Secondly, the question on the interaction between schemes is very interesting. We envisage that, where a complaint covers both landlords and letting agents, the separate schemes will work together to triage the complaint effectively and, if necessary, have a joint investigation. Importantly, we want to make sure that, where it is not clear which scheme a tenant should complain to, there is no wrong access point. We will work together to make sure that the tenant gets the service that they require.

My Lords, I too welcome the Bill’s proposal to establish a private rented sector ombudsman service. There will be an opportunity when the Bill reaches your Lordships’ House to discuss the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, as to where this service should best be provided. What powers will the ombudsman have to enforce his or her findings? Who will bear the cost?

I thank my noble friend. He is absolutely right: the Bill will come to this House shortly and I am sure we will have many more debates on this issue. As far as powers are concerned, the Bill says that the ombudsman’s enforcement powers will be to expel the landlord from membership of the organisation unless they deal with their obligations and then rejoin, and they will be liable for civil and, in the worst cases, legal penalties if they continue to operate without that membership. Those are quite strong powers that will back up local authorities’ powers. On the scheme’s funding, it will be a landlord membership scheme, as is the Housing Ombudsman scheme. Membership of that scheme is at £5.75 per unit.

My Lords, when the Government’s new or expanded ombudsman is established, it will have to work closely with local authorities and will have enforcement responsibilities, but it is important that that work is not duplicated. Does the Minister have any plans for the department to issue guidance on how local authorities and the ombudsman can work together? How do the Government propose to resource the new ombudsman service, given the potential increase in demand that may emerge?

Of course we will work with the local authorities as the Bill moves forward. The ombudsman will complement local authority decisions and back them up.

My Lords, I very much welcome the expansion of the ombudsman service. My worry about what appears to be a decision by the Government is that representatives of private tenants, which will be different from the ones dealt with already, will not get a voice if there is no open procurement. I hope the Government will look to representatives of private rented accommodation to ensure that they are involved in the choice of ombudsman so that it fits that particular client group.

My Lords, of course we will, but what is important is the tenants, who sometimes do not know where to go. In my opinion and that of the department, it is important that they have one front door and that they get the services they require.

My Lords, can the Minister give us some idea of the timetable by which these things will come into force? In the meantime, Section 21 evictions are continuing, private tenants are at a major disadvantage and landlords are, it appears, accelerating their use of Section 21 to pre-empt the incoming legislation, so the settlement of these issues is really important. Can she give us some help on when we will actually see an ombudsman in post working and dealing with the complaints that private tenants very legitimately have?

That is a really important question with a very simple answer: we intend to have the redress available as soon as we can after the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are working on that strongly at the moment, because it is an important service for tenants.

My Lords, I declare my interest in the private rented sector. Can my noble friend the Minister tell us how the private sector will be made aware of this new process, if and when this new policy is implemented?

I thank my noble friend. It will need a lot of communication. We have already had Make Things Right in the social rented sector, which has increased people’s awareness of the scheme to 63% from below 55%. We will continue that campaign. As we move to a new ombudsman for the private rented sector, we will continue to have a strong campaign to ensure that all rented sector tenants understand their rights.

LGBT People: Diplomatic Service


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the apology on 5 July 2021 by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for the historic ban on LGBT people serving in the Diplomatic Service, whether they will take steps to ascertain how many staff were dismissed or forced to resign between 1967 and 1991 as a result of the ban; and whether they have considered compensation similar to that proposed by Lord Etherton’s Independent Review into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served prior to 2000, published in July 2023.

My Lords, the FCDO has rightly apologised for the unjust ban on LGBT+ officers serving in the Diplomatic Service prior to 1991. The department is also actively monitoring the outcomes of the Etherton report, its effectiveness and the lessons learned, which could be learned for our organisation. I know the noble Baroness’s interest in this. I will follow up with her directly as we make progress in this respect.

I thank the Minister for that. Many years ago, my former colleague, the rather brilliant Gareth Williams, was a high-flying diplomat, but he was dismissed from the service the very moment he revealed that he was gay—no future, no career, no apology, no debate, and a great loss to the country, which therefore could not use the services of this very talented man. The Minister took action on this after I and my noble friend Lord Collins raised it with him, and we got the very welcome apology to which he referred. The problem is that that was not sent to my friend Gareth Williams nor, of course, to all the other people who were dismissed from the Foreign Office, and there has been no attempt to identify who was dismissed so that they can have the apology before anything else. Could we maybe look through the records and see who else lost their job, and at least make them aware of the apology for the ban on LGBT people working in the Diplomatic Service?

Of course. That is a very pragmatic and practical suggestion, which we will take forward. I assure the noble Baroness that we are doing exactly that and working with the sensitivity that is required. The noble Baroness would have noticed my Written Ministerial Statement issued at the start of this month on issues of accreditation, as part of modernising the FCDO for the diversity of our workforce today, for the kind of diverse families that are now involved with and rightly celebrated within the FCDO.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I know that the MoD found the report from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, immensely helpful. We were indebted to him for his excellent independent review. I have also had the privilege of working closely with my noble friend the Minister on a number of issues. This is complex and sensitive. I suggest that it would be a useful collaboration for the two departments to consider how they might work together and share experience.

Over many years, if I have learned one thing it is to listen to my noble friend very closely. Of course we will take that forward, but I assure her that, notwithstanding her departure from the Ministry of Defence, we continue to work very closely across the two departments.

My Lords, it is still extraordinary to think that this ban had ever been in place in the first place. The current situation is that many LGBT staff for the FCDO work in very complex and, indeed, hostile environments in their postings, regrettably all too many of which are in Commonwealth countries. Will the Minister agree that there had perhaps been a practice within the FCDO to suggest that LGBT staff should not apply to these postings—indeed, that would potentially cause complications with visa applications and housing support—but that there has been a very welcome cultural shift within the FCDO to ensure that postings facilitate LGBT staff to work in complex environments and then support them? I hope the Minister will agree that this is a long overdue but very welcome cultural shift. Does he agree that this is important for locally recruited staff in those countries as well?

I agree with the noble Lord, and I assure him that, certainly in my time at the Foreign Office as a joint Minister and at the FCDO, we have made great strides forward. I recognise the importance of the recent announcement we have made, both to facilitate and to demonstrate directly that this is a modern department, dealing with complex issues in the world but, equally, we are proud of all our diplomatic staff.

My Lords, I welcome this Question, which deals with an issue that some of us in this House have been working on for decades. Indeed, I was privileged to work with the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on widening this issue into the Armed Forces. It is always good to see the Minister at the Dispatch Box on this issue. May I suggest that he encourage the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, to look at his report to see how it could be widened to deal with the diplomatic and intelligence services? Perhaps he could look at the Canadian model: the Canadian Government have considered equality of treatment for those in service to the Government, and I believe that serves as an excellent model.

I begin by paying tribute to the noble Lord for his work in this area, and to that of my noble friend Lord Lexden, too, for what has been done in this place. I also acknowledge the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the Opposition Front Bench, because we have worked closely on this issue. Of course I will take the suggestion forward in working with other key partners. I have gone through the recommendations of the report, and I know that the MoD has already implemented just about half of them. I think the MoD is looking very much at, and is seized on, recommending the important financial reward element, which has been acknowledged as a principle. Of course, in the two departments we will want to see what can be learnt from that. There are different ways of working, and I am sure there are crossovers, which are being looked at actively as I speak.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a distinct difference between the Ministry of Defence and the FCDO? Service records, and reasons for dismissal, were usually matters of public record, and known to friends and family. That is not always the case with employment in the FCDO and the intelligence services. Does he agree that there is, therefore, an increased onus on the department to actively seek out people who may have been victims of this policy, to ensure that they are aware of remedies and apologies to which they may be entitled.

My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness has said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, also pointed out, it is important that we are proactive, but also sensitive, in our approach. I assure the noble Baroness that that is exactly the approach of the FCDO, led by the permanent under-secretary in this respect.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register as chair of the Global Equality Caucus, and the Prime Minister’s special envoy on LGBT rights. The fact that people can now serve openly, regardless of their sexual orientation, throughout the Diplomatic Service, including at senior rank, with a number of such ambassadors representing our country, is obviously an immensely important step forward. Nevertheless, are there not still a number of countries where it would be very difficult for members of our Diplomatic Service to be open about their sexual orientation, particularly at senior level? That is a sign of the polarised world in which we increasingly find ourselves. Will my noble friend assure me that the Government will continue to take all possible steps to promote LGBT+ rights wherever possible, and particularly to take action in countries where those rights are being reversed?

Again, I acknowledge my noble friend’s important work as the special envoy for LGBT+ rights on behalf of the FCDO. I very much welcomed his direct participation. He rightly raises the issue of countries around the world. There are about 65 such countries—he alluded to this—31 of which are in the Commonwealth. We have taken a practical approach. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, will remember that during the premiership of my right honourable friend Theresa May we took specific steps on allocating finance, and then worked quite sensitively on, for example, legislative reform, to see how progress could be made. That focus continues.

My Lords, I deeply appreciate what the noble Lord has done, particularly when we first raised this issue. One of the things that his department can do, and has been doing, is raising awareness through active civil society and supporting civil society, in the conditions that our diplomats face. I know that, certainly in Balkan countries, our ambassadors have been proactive in inviting civil society in to ensure that they are defended and can be vibrant. Can he reassure me that we will continue to do this work, and work with the APPG to which the noble Lord has just referred?

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. We work in very practical terms, through invitations to particular events. He will appreciate, I know, the sensitivity in certain countries, where even meeting visiting Ministers is a challenge for those civil society representatives. We often consciously do not publicise the meetings but work constructively with them and will continue to do so. The important issue here is that we see progress. There has been regression but, as my noble friend Lord Herbert also pointed out, we stand forth and represent the rights of all communities and all people everywhere—but do so in a way that brings practical progress in their rights.

My Lords, as a result of the superb review by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, compensation will be made available for LGBT veterans who suffered so severely the effects of injustice. Should not compensation also be considered in relation to these other loyal servants of the Crown whose happiness was destroyed and careers ruined as a result of similar injustice?

My Lords, acknowledging my noble friend’s work in this area, I recognise the point he has raised. He will know that I cannot make that commitment at this point, but I assure him that we are looking carefully at the noble and learned Lord’s recommendations for the crossover application and at what more can be done.

Taiwan: Elections


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implications of the outcome of both the presidential and legislative elections recently held in Taiwan.

My Lords, the elections on 13 January are a testament to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement following the result congratulating Dr Lai on his victory and calling for both sides of the Taiwan Strait to renew efforts to resolve differences peacefully through constructive dialogue, without the threat to use force or coercion. The UK, of course, has a clear interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

I thank the Minister for his response. The PRC warned Taiwan that voting the wrong way might lead to war, and threatened force. Nevertheless, reunification remains central to President Xi’s China dream. It is reported that President Biden is about to send a high-level delegation in support of Dr Lai’s victory in Taiwan, and the success of this election will allow Taiwan to continue its commitment to human rights and democratic values. But what further support will the UK Government provide for Taiwan’s global integration, including membership of international organisations, as well as protecting safe passage of commercial shipping through the strait, and the semiconductor industry?

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises important issues of trade. The United Kingdom has a thriving trade relationship with Taiwan, worth about £8 billion, and I assure her that we are focused on key sectors such as trade, education and culture. I have already addressed the issue of stability and security, and it will continue to be stressed in our representations to China directly. Peace in the strait is important in the global world as it stands today.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Taiwan. I would like the Minister to convey to his noble friend the Foreign Secretary how great the sense of appreciation in Taiwan was on receipt of the message of congratulations on the elections at the weekend. He is right to say that it is a vibrant democracy. In fact, it is democracy, more than anything else, that won the election. A turnout of over 70%, with 14 million people voting in a completely peaceful environment, is a huge testament to democracy in Taiwan. I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, says about help with further initiatives in which we do not go as far as formal recognition, but which involve Taiwan in world bodies to which they are placed to contribute, such as the World Health Organization. I hope that the Minister was able to give some encouragement on that too.

I thank the noble Lord for his work in this area and I will of course convey his thanks to my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I assure him, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that there are occasions—for example, at meetings of the World Health Assembly—when we have been very much at the forefront of campaigning for Taiwan’s engagement and involvement. On Taiwan as a state, this is not just about Taiwan and China; it is important for the whole world, and ensuring security and stability in the Taiwan Strait is reflective of that priority for His Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the £8 billion in bilateral trade. He will be aware that there has been a significant amount of Taiwanese investment in East Anglia, particularly in semiconductors, renewable energy and other technologies. Can he say something about the recently signed enhanced trade partnership? Post Brexit, could it be upgraded to a full trade treaty, and will our Ministers be working on that?

We certainly welcome the partnership agreement. As I understand it, the Department for Business and Trade has no current live plans for an FTA. However, the diversity of our trade with Taiwan across goods and services has been bolstered, and Taiwan is now the 35th largest trading partner with the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I was very happy to write to the president-elect on behalf of these Benches as he is the leader of our sister party; it is always welcome to congratulate a Liberal who has won an election. I know it is a rare occurrence, but it is a particularly welcome one in this regard, given that having a liberal democracy in the region is important. However, closer relationship with Taiwan is also in our strategic interests in the context of the resilience of the UK’s relationship with China. Further to the Question, does the Minister agree that, in advance of discussions about a full FTA, a much wider UK-Taiwan industrial strategy would be in our strategic interests, particularly involving the sectors of our economy that would benefit from closer links with a liberal democracy, rather than with China?

On the noble Lord’s first point, I fear that if he is asking for a reciprocal letter of congratulations from Taiwan, he will be waiting a long time. I take on board the point he raised. The manufacturing base that is Taiwan provides a huge opportunity for us to do more in that space.

My Lords, I will pick up a theme that I have already covered in Question Time today. One important ingredient of Taiwan’s path to democracy has been an active, vibrant civil society. I would not leave things to the Liberal party—in fact, it is that civil society that has guaranteed democracy. What are the Government doing to support that development, not only in Taiwan but in the region as a whole? That can be a strong beacon for economic prosperity for the whole region.

My Lords, the noble Lord knows how much I agree with him on this point. Civil society is intrinsic to any progressive society, particularly democracies, be they emerging, fragile or indeed established. The more we can do to encourage civil societies, strengthening their constitutions and encouraging their consultations with policy and programmes, the better, and we will of course do so in Taiwan and in the wider region. I recently visited India, for example, and importantly, part of my engagement there, at times discreetly, was with civil society to ensure that its voice is part of our thinking.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, already mentioned the risks that regional tensions pose to tech-enabled sectors due to their dominance in the semiconductor and connected sectors. The UK’s semiconductor strategy sets out a number of measures to try to mitigate these risks. Will the Minister have conversations with colleagues in DSIT to try to update this strategy in the light of these election results, and could he mention some of those recommendations today?

My Lords, I have already alluded to the importance of our relationship with Taiwan, the need to strengthen global trade and the role Taiwan plays in that regard. I will certainly take back my noble friend’s question on current live conversations and build in her suggestions.

My Lords, does the Minister share my disappointment that the Taoiseach of Ireland, a so-called neutral country, made a very strong statement yesterday in Davos that Taiwan was part of China?

My Lords, although we recognise Taiwan’s place and its relationship with China, we have always been very clear, while recognising issues of sovereignty, that the vibrancy of Taiwan’s democracy and its autonomy—we have seen it again in the vibrancy of its election—are important principles to protect. Therefore, in the important engagements we have with China on a whole raft of issues, we ensure that those points are raised directly with it. I cannot speak for the Taoiseach or indeed a Prime Minister or president of another country.

But of course, my Lords, the People’s Republic of China has never been able to claim that Taiwan has ever been part of the PRC, so talk of reunification is completely wrong. Great emphasis has been placed on the congratulatory messages sent to President-elect William Lai, and rightly so. However, what about the bellicose and intemperate remarks from Beijing and the People’s Republic of China denouncing those statesmen and women who have sent those congratulatory messages? What does that say about China’s own aggressive intentions towards Taiwan in the future? Are we making proper preparations and risk assessments on everything from the economy to defence arrangements in the light of the potential invasion of Taiwan? In particular, will the Minister return to the questions about our own reliance on things such as advanced semiconductors, 90% of which come out of Taiwan, and the failure to provide observer status for 24 million people at the World Health Organization, in light of our experiences during the pandemic?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, I have already said that we have led on that and will continue to campaign for Taiwan’s direct engagement as an observer at the World Health Assembly. On the issue he raises regarding China, we will of course emphasise this in the continuing bilateral representations that we make in our relationship with China. However, like many others, including the noble Lord, we are concerned about the consequences should peace and stability fail in the Taiwan Strait. As I have said before, this is not just about China and Taiwan; there are also global implications, and of course we recognise that and are planning accordingly.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, before we move on to the main business, I want to raise an issue which should concern all Members of the House. When we have timed debates, frankly, Members on all sides of the House are speaking too long and going over their speaking limit. That results in other Members not getting a chance to reply, particularly the Front Benches, or sometimes with take-note Motions the Member who moved the Motion. I certainly want to hear the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, at the end of their debates today. It is discourteous to other colleagues to go over your time, particularly in a timed debate.

I noticed that on today’s Order Paper the first debate is limited to six minutes for Back-Benchers. That is quite a lot of time. For the third debate, it is seven minutes. Respectfully, if you cannot make your point in six or seven minutes then maybe you should reflect on how you present yourself to the House. It is wrong that we do this.

We have another issue in that we now have persistent in-the-gap speakers. Speaking in the gap should be used very sparingly when you have not managed to get in. Persistent in-the-gap speakers can be found on all Benches, and I suggest that noble Lords who do it stop doing so.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very fair point. I spent nearly 30 years in local government in a council chamber where you were not allowed to speak for more than five minutes, and I think I managed to get my case over sometimes. It shows full respect to other Peers to respect those limits, although I know that sometimes the limits are quite short. If I may say so, it is also true at Question Time, where there are not time limits, that sometimes questions and answers are too long. We have discussed this before and we on this side strive to be briefer. I have noticed that there is now quite a wide tendency to read questions, either from pieces of paper or even smartphones. The normal guide is 130 words a minute, so if speeches or questions are written out then there really is no excuse for them to last longer than they need to. I agree with the noble Lord that it does not show full respect to other Members. I am grateful for what he said; I agree with him and I am sure that the House listened carefully to him.

I endorse the comments of the Leader of the House about Question Time. I have always said that the clue is in the title: it is Question Time.

My Lords, I suggest that the Whips could be a bit more assertive when people go over time, because often they sit there while the time goes on and the rest of the House is getting agitated, but they do not intervene. Please can they intervene rather more?

My Lords, would there not be more time for Back-Benchers if we ended the quite unjustifiable right of the Lib Dems to reply to every debate?

My Lords, how is this to be communicated to all those Members of your Lordships’ House who are not present this morning?

My Lords, perhaps some Members of your Lordships’ House read Hansard, but my noble friend makes a good point; we communicate these matters through party groups and will continue to do so. I certainly sometimes make the point to Ministers not to go on for too long—perhaps sometimes people see me doing that. We will communicate this, and I hope all Members of the House will read what has been said by the noble Lord opposite and others.

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and not just defending the Liberal Democrats, I point out that the two largest parties in your Lordships’ House do not represent the choices of a very large number of British voters and we need to hear from a variety of voices.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

First Reading

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

Biosecurity and Infectious Diseases

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of biosecurity, and the threat of infectious diseases for human, animal and plant health, in an age of globalisation and climate change.

My Lords, after that I think I had better get a move on. First, it is a pleasure to welcome the Minister to the House and his new role; I wish him well and look forward to working with him. This is a major topic, so it is something of a baptism, but I hope fire will not be involved. I also thank all those who put their names down to speak; I am very grateful indeed. Finally, I draw attention to my declarations in the register.

In 1624, when John Donne wrote

“No man is an island …

Every man is …

A part of the main”,

he could not have imagined how prophetic that might be—although perhaps not in the way he intended. The movement of humans, animals and plants, and of animal and plant products, is now at a speed and scale that John Donne could not have imagined. We now exist in a global village, potentially shared with global pathogens. In 2001, the then director-general of the WHO, Gro Brundtland, commented rather less poetically than John Donne that

“with globalization, a single microbial sea washes all of humankind”.

Of course, the same is true for animals and plants.

This debate has a very broad scope, including human, animal and plant infections, and that is deliberate, in view of the interrelatedness of many of the issues, as recognised in the One Health concept. This debate is about biosecurity in the United Kingdom, so it concerns the threat of geographic spread of pathogens and pests to the UK and also of their potential establishment in the UK. The former can be very serious, even without the possibility of the latter, but if both conditions are met—spread, incursion and sustained transmission, as in Covid-19, foot and mouth and ash dieback—the consequences can be catastrophic.

Climate change is one driver of changes in infectious disease geography. A major recent review concluded that over half of infectious diseases of humans can be aggravated by climatic hazards. This is particularly relevant not only to the spread of pathogens but to their establishment as transmitted infections in new locations if vectors such as insects and ticks are involved.

While some pathogens are spread by the movement of free-living wildlife or invertebrate vectors such as insects, most human, animal and plant pathogens are spread by human-mediated transport, which means that they can travel vast distances in very short times—frequently shorter than the time it takes for their signs and symptoms to become apparent, which is very significant. The scale of global movements is now huge. In 2022, 224 million passengers passed through UK airports. In 2021, we imported food from 161 of the 195 recognised countries in the world. In 2022, we imported 18.6 million forest trees. Animal products can be in the UK in less than 12 hours from countries such as Mexico or Thailand.

A good example of the effect of host movement and infection spread to the UK is with respect to dogs and dog pathogens since the abolition of quarantine for rabies control and its replacement with rabies vaccination in 2000. This has had the effect of vastly increasing the number of dogs coming into the UK every year from around 5,000, which had previously spent six months in quarantine, to now in excess of 300,000 arriving within a matter of hours. We are fortunate that this has not yet resulted in any epidemic disease in dogs, but we have seen an accumulation of novel, previously exotic infections in our UK dog population. The latest of these is Brucella canis, a bacterial infection that is transmissible dog to dog but is also zoonotic—that is, transmissible to humans—which is a matter of particular concern.

With regard to plants, the effect of imported tree pathogens has been particularly devastating. A whole generation of British children has grown up who have not seen a full-grown elm tree, as a result of the ravages of Dutch elm disease, imported with elm products from Canada in the 1960s. This has been followed by the import of ash dieback disease affecting ash trees, which it has been estimated will cost us something like £15 billion to clean up and deal with.

Finally, with regard to human health, a number of infections are regularly reported in immigrant communities, such as malaria and TB, which fortunately do not spread easily in the UK, but some infections, of course, particularly respiratory viruses such as the virus causing Covid-19 and flu viruses, can spread rapidly from travellers to the resident population, with devastating consequences.

What of current threats? With apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, there are infections we have had in the past and might have again in the future, such as foot and mouth disease, which might be regarded as the known knowns. There are also infections that we have not experienced in the UK but which we are aware of and recognise that they present a new threat. African swine fever in pigs is a good animal example—perhaps a known unknown. Of course, there are unknown unknowns: infections yet to emerge from wildlife or plants, or newly evolved drug-resistant pathogens, escapees from laboratory research or creations of bioterrorism.

In humans, a major disease risk yet to reach the UK is the mosquito-transmitted dengue fever virus. This has spread north and west in continental Europe—from eight to 13 countries just in the last 10 years—and has caused locally acquired infections in the Paris region: as close to the UK as that. Transmission in the UK would require its mosquito vector to be established, but conditions are already favourable in the south—for example, around London.

In animals, avian influenza is a major current problem. That presents particular biosecurity challenges since it is introduced into our domestic and wild bird populations by migrating birds. African swine fever, which I have already mentioned, is a disease that has been expanding its range in continental Europe. It is carried by wild boars and causes serious disease in domestic pigs. It survives in meat products for many weeks, or even months, so there is a very real threat of its introduction to the UK through the 1 million tonnes of pigmeat we import annually, the vast majority of which comes from Europe.

In plants, our ambitious goals for the reforestation of the UK, which include planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland annually, are threatened by a host of tree pathogens that could spread to the UK. We risk losing more trees than we can possibly plant. For example, in 2020-21, more than 1,300 hectares of larch trees had to be felled in Wales to control a pathogen causing severe larch dieback. That was more than twice the area of new larch tree planting that year.

What is being done about these risks? The Government are to be congratulated on publishing the UK Biological Security Strategy in 2023. What progress has been made in enacting the commitments made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, in the other place in June 2023? Other developments have included the replacement of Public Health England with the UK Health Security Agency. A number of other different organisations and academic groups have been established or have evolved in response to biosecurity challenges. Time forbids me to mention these in detail.

Ironically, while, after Brexit, we now have the legal ability to regulate importations from continental Europe, we have not yet fully used those powers, although our proximity to Europe and our still substantial trade links mean that it is a likely source of a number of animal and plant pathogens. For example, there has been a recent outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in humans in the UK as a result of the importation of infected poultry products from Poland. This emphasises the importance of the new import inspection capability—the so-called border target operating model, or BTOM, which has been much delayed. Can the Minister say when BTOM will be working at full capability and with adequate human resources, especially of veterinary surgeons?

Given the scale of the surveillance challenge regarding imported goods or the movement of live humans, animals and plants into the UK, it will be essential to harness and further develop modern technologies for detecting pathogens and identifying high-risk situations. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to support and encourage research and development of high-throughput, high-technology biosurveillance tools to provide a metaphorical biosurveillance door through which all risk items pass?

Another important element is raising awareness—in the public, as well as in industry and commerce—of the challenges of biosecurity and, where relevant, the importance of travel vaccination. In 2018, the House of Lords EU Committee produced a report on the effects of Brexit on biosecurity in animals and plants. It highlighted the example of Australia and New Zealand, which have a highly effective biosecurity arrangement achieved through both legislation and public awareness. Can the Minister highlight what His Majesty’s Government are doing to increase public awareness of biosecurity threats?

While globalisation has brought great economic benefit, there is a cost to it—namely, the almost inevitable financial catastrophes from breaching our biosecurity, some of which I have outlined. These events can severely affect other attempts to improve human, animal or plant health, improve the environment and enhance biodiversity. We are spending millions in taxpayers’ money coping with the catastrophic impacts of imported diseases once they arise. Should we not be investing more in measures to try to prevent those happening? A major recent review of the costs of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and of global measures which might help prevent or reduce the inevitability of further pandemics, concluded that the associated costs of pandemic prevention and response efforts would, for 10 years, be only about 2% of the total cost of the global Covid-19 pandemic—estimated at between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

Given that trade is a vector for pathogen transfer, on the same principle as for the environment where the polluter pays, should not those who benefit financially from trade have to bear some responsibility when biosecurity is breached? The EU Committee report of 2018 commented that the facilitation of trade post Brexit must not be allowed to compromise the UK’s biosecurity—a matter of considerable and continuing concern.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that there are very significant risks to the UK’s health security for humans, animals, plants and indeed the environment, and plenty of evidence that these risks are increasing because of climate change and globalisation. Although it may be difficult—indeed financially, practically and politically impossible—for us to prevent the emergence of infectious disease threats in other parts of the world, we do have the ability to try to reduce the risks of incursions of infectious diseases into the UK while allowing, as far as possible, unhindered trade. Just as we are increasingly recognising the importance of energy security and food security—the latter of which may be imperilled by the introduction of new animal and plant pathogens—I suggest we should equally recognise the importance of biosecurity.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trees. He is a distinguished Member of this House and this is an important topic. I might tend to disagree with some of what he said—probably because of my slightly different job as a horticulturalist. But I certainly join him in welcoming our new Minister. He knows that he has a hard act to follow, but all of us who heard him at Question Time on Tuesday will know that he is a fine appointment.

I must declare my interests in the register, but I think my background in the horticultural and farming business is probably more important. I shall concentrate on horticulture, hoping to show that international co-operation is the most important way in which we can deliver biosecurity.

Perhaps I might be excused some personal history. I left school at 17 and went to work in the family bulb-growing and farming business. I was ambitious for its success. I went to work in the Netherlands at a nursery and bulb farm. I learned an important lesson—they were very good at their horticulture. Although they were competitive and entrepreneurial, they worked together and shared, even across borders.

Which brings me to the substance of this debate. The sciences were what I knew about, and it became clear that science lay at the foundation of biosecurity. Discovering the cause of pests and diseases was also its remedy. Eventually, as the result of my interest in science and the regulation of commerce, I chaired the European Bulb Committee, which was set up in Brussels to advise on the integration of horticulture within Europe, its regulatory framework, co-operation and product biosecurity across what became the European Union.

However, here comes the rub. Without doubt, Brexit has hindered this trade, particularly with the Netherlands, in both additional bureaucracy and costs. Biosecurity is about international co-operation. Nothing demonstrates this better than plant breeding, in providing new varieties to protect against evolving pest and disease pressures. It is an expensive business: up to 25% of a plant breeding business’s income can be spent on R&D, according to the British Society of Plant Breeders. It is also a risky business: roughly half of plant breeding research is focused on disease resistance and tracking the genetic battle between plants and disease. This battle is why the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, which we passed in the previous Session, has been so important.

However, as the British Society of Plant Breeders has pointed out, regulatory separation between us and our trading partners in effect doubles the cost of registration and delays testing, trials and certification, which are all part and parcel of making sure that the remedy is effective. Noble Lords will see that I am of the view that we need to find ways of working together again, trusting our differing and diverging regulatory systems, if we are successfully to deliver resilience and responsiveness to present and future disease threats—both at home and abroad—and to provide the biosecurity and trade that the world needs.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trees—he is my noble friend; I hope that I am allowed to use that term—on securing today’s important debate. I welcome those Members who are here to take part in it. Frankly, I wish that we had more debates of this kind in the Chamber. I will do my best to bear in mind what was said earlier about the time limit. The introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, was masterly and comprehensive. I wish the Minister well in his maiden speech at the Dispatch Box.

I know that noble Lords have received useful briefings from organisations with an interest in this broad subject. I thank them all. I pay tribute to the valuable briefing from our own House of Lords Library and the briefing produced by POST in April last year. I recommend that today’s readers of Hansard should consult them all.

I want to use my time to convey some of the points raised with me by the Royal Society of Biology, in particular its science policy team. The House will know that the Royal Society of Biology is the major scientific society covering the biological sciences; I should draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests as a fellow. The RSB submitted evidence to the UK Biological Security Strategy in 2022 and to the Emerging Diseases and Learnings from Covid-19 inquiry in 2023.

It is the view of the society that, in responding to threats to UK biosecurity, government policy-making should take into account all available evidence from all available sources, whether environmental or concerning human or animal health. Frankly, we cannot take a piecemeal approach to biosecurity because, if you do not consider the issue in the round, the risk is that you displace one problem with another. Action on one specific front is not going to be enough. The Government should optimise the use of evidence synthesis so that our society and its ecosystems, its health systems and the food, feed and fuel—even the construction material production systems—that we rely on are able to avert and be resilient to disease, biological attacks and other biological risks.

By construction materials I mean, for example, wood. The health of trees is of huge importance, especially when considering the threats from overseas; mention has already been made, quite rightly, of ash dieback. I think this is one of the reasons why Members have taken quite an interest in the recent Bill to facilitate the CPTPP: because of the biosecurity risks that arise from trade in that part of the world. For example, a bacterium called Xylella fastidiosa—I hope I pronounced it right—has not yet been detected in the UK but is known to have been responsible for major outbreaks in Europe. It causes disease and plant death in more than 650 plant species, including crops such as plums, cherries, almonds, blueberries and rosemary. Other hosts include tree species such as oak, elm, ash and plane—all of which, as we know, we have here in the UK. Stricter measures are necessary, especially at our borders, to prevent the import of biosecurity risks.

Another risk that we should take extremely seriously concerns the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animals, which is all too prevalent in parts of south and south-east Asia. I shall return to this in a moment.

It is fundamental that the evidence base used by the Government to decide their policy incorporates the One Health principles and that these are incorporated into future policy-making decisions. This is an important point that I would like to emphasise. The One Health principles are an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimise the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognises that the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants and the wider environment—including ecosystems—are closely linked and interdependent. The Government must co-ordinate their efforts with funders and other stakeholders to enhance and incentivise One Health research and education. They must also integrate One Health into their evidence base and take it into account alongside their long-term strategy to tackle current and future threats. One Health policy must not be solely human and animal focused but should encompass as broad a range of aspects as possible, including plants and other organisms, environmental factors and the interactions between these.

There are different types of threats to UK biosecurity. It is vital that the funding for and prioritisation of zoonotic diseases do not detract from resources focused on the continuing threat of other pandemics. Emerging infectious diseases in plant populations can seriously jeopardise food security, biodiversity and the natural environment, with serious health and economic consequences. Insufficient biosecurity measures have increased the risk of pandemics across species, including what you might call the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance, as well as hampering the treatment of current and emerging infectious diseases. I hardly need to tell your Lordships that AMR remains a major threat that faces us all. If we cannot keep one step ahead of nature’s ability to adapt and develop resistance to antibiotics, we will go straight back 200 years to the early 19th century, when a cut on your knee could lead to infection and death; to be more up to date, treatments that we now have for HIV, as well as hip and knee operations, would be too risky to attempt and deaths would soar as a result.

My time is coming to an end so I will finish by saying this: this biosecurity debate is one side of a coin that has climate change on the other. It will benefit us all if we understand how important that is because we have lots of threats facing us in this country, and biodiversity loss and climate change are two of the most important.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate; as ever, he was very thought-provoking. I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Trees on not only his excellent and thorough introduction but on securing this very important debate. I also welcome the Minister and wish him good luck in his maiden speech.

I start by declaring my interests as set out in the register, in particular as chair of the UK Squirrel Accord. I am heavily involved in the complex issues surrounding the difficulties caused by invasive alien grey squirrels destroying our native broadleaf trees. In May 2023—here, I go back to something that the noble Viscount just said—the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, said that

“you cannot have net zero without talking about trees”.—[Official Report, 22/5/23; col. 598.]

I am sure that everyone in the Chamber today would agree with that. At the same time, many sources have concluded what the UK Squirrel Accord knows to be true: the biggest threat to our broadleaf woodlands is the grey squirrel. They ring-bark trees aged between 10 and 40 years, making them susceptible to a host of pathogens and thus killing many and damaging much, if not all, of the rest in affected plantings. This greatly reduces the yield and quality of the timber. This has resulted in many landowners and managers in England simply not planting the native broadleaf trees that are needed as a significant part of our net zero strategy.

The UK Squirrel Accord is the coming together of 40 organisations of the United Kingdom to address this unpleasant truth. It comprises the four Governments, their nature agencies, the main voluntary sector bodies and the principal private sector players. The accord has not only ensured good communication among member bodies but allowed scientific research to be commissioned together. Quite a lot has been achieved in laying the groundwork for a major initiative in reducing the number of grey squirrels—in large part, through the use of fertility control.

This exciting research is being led by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, or APHA, which is based outside York. It includes strands on the fertility control substance itself, the hoppers that will be used to distribute it, and, most importantly, the rigorous computer modelling that underpins the rollout strategy. The research phase is now in its fifth year, which will give way to the landscape trials phase and then a licensing phase, before the rollout. The Minister has ministerial responsibility for APHA, and the Defra family and APHA have been very helpful and involved in the accord since it came into being. Does the Minister agree with the essential proposition that fertility control research represents the outstanding near-term option as a key weapon for grey squirrel control?

The APHA research has been funded in part by the Defra family, but just over £1 million has been raised from private UK individuals and trusts. I thank very much those people. Some of these generous donors have also brought the welcome offer of help in the large-scale field trials, when the time comes. I hope that it does not seem ungrateful to the Minister to observe that much larger sums of government money are being spent in other individual areas of disease and invasive alien species. Given the central need to deal with this issue, for net-zero reasons alone, I urge the Government to consider upping the resource that they devote to it.

Before I close with some specific asks, I congratulate APHA on what it has achieved so far in the research. It is a remarkable institution, filled with dedicated and expert staff. There are various areas where the Government can help. One is around the speed and cost of the licensing process that we are about to undergo, both for the hoppers and for the substances that will be left behind in them. Another is around increasing the co-ordinating resource that the UK Squirrel Accord has available for the next phases. We have been correctly resourced in people and monetary terms up to now, thanks to much generosity from the 40 accord members. However, there will be a step change in what we need to do going forward, and this needs more resource. The Forestry Commission recently came up with an important part of what we need in the field, for which I warmly thanked it. However, we need a small amount extra at the centre. It will take a lot of effort at the centre to deal with further planning, engagement and the education of people up and down the country, and there are a number of other issues as well. If we have a bit more resource now, we will make a better job of dealing with the squirrel. Will the Minister agree to meet, as an introductory thing, to discuss these matters?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and to throw in some good news about grey squirrels, which is the increasing spread of pine martens. Early evidence shows this to be having a positive impact, in reducing grey squirrel populations through natural means. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for securing this crucially important debate and for his expert introduction to it. I join others in welcoming the Minister to the Front Bench and to your Lordships’ House; I am sure that in the future we will have many debates discussing driven grouse shooting, but not today.

We are speaking in what is now an age of shocks. We have the climate emergency and the collapse in biodiversity, and we have choked our planet in plastic and other novel entities such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Our biogeochemical flows are hopelessly out of balance. We have exceeded so many planetary limits. Within that environment, diseases present far more threats than they have in the past. Biosecurity is now a much more pressing issue. In bringing the Green approach to this debate, it is really important to stress the precautionary principle and the sense that what will protect us ultimately is a healthy natural world, healthy people and a healthy environment—the One Health approach, which has already been mentioned several times. If we think about many of our plants, we find that we have bred them in ways that have removed their natural protections. We need to have a diversity of crops and to look at natural ways in which we can manage the threats that are presented.

During Covid, we were all acutely aware of the phrase, “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. I very much fear that, since then, the acknowledgement that we need a healthy world, and humans to be able to be healthy all around the world, has really slid off of the agenda. Of course, the cuts to the official development assistance have certainly seen the UK doing a lot less. Vaccine inequality is one of the issues that absolutely needs to be put on the agenda here. One statistic that might shock your Lordships’ House is that, still, in low-income countries, fewer than 25% of people have had even a single Covid vaccination. That is despite all the wonderful scientific discoveries and the effort that was made. The effort has not been shared around the world, which is a huge problem for us all.

It is tempting to think, as we have already heard and will hear a great deal more, that biosecurity means that, essentially, we have to put up walls to keep these threats out. Of course, that is something that we have to do. Mention has already been made of food security. Traditionally, from this Government and others, there has been a belief that we do not have to worry about producing our own food because we will just import it from around the world. That is a huge risk, as has already been referred to in the example of African swine fever, given by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. It is a security issue for all of us, to make sure that we do not import more food that is necessary. What if we build those walls to keep out biosecurity threats? Take the example of flooding: the risk with the flood wall is that, if it is overtopped and built too high, the impacts are very great. When we talk about biosecurity, we have to think about the security of the whole world.

We also have to think about the security of our own environment from the One Health approach. We still do not have the UK national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides. If we are thinking about a healthy environment in the UK, that is crucial. If we think about a healthy environment around the world, so many actions in the UK are having massive impacts. Many Members of your Lordships’ House are champions of efforts to prevent deforestation. Deforestation is a crucial contributor to damage to the idea of “one health”, through the spread of human, animal and, potentially, plant diseases.

I had a meeting yesterday on this and will in future be bringing to your Lordships’ House the idea that, in all our companies and supply chains, there needs to be a duty to prevent environmental damage and human rights damage. Those things are also a biosecurity issue, and we need to see this in a holistic way. In thinking about the whole issue, and looking at the themes, I think diversity is the key to health. One of the things that we are seeing is the great microbial extinction—something that has come to scientific attention only in the last year or two. That is a real threat to the balance we have, and to the rise of diseases, as we have taken away beneficial microbes.

I could mention many diseases here but I will finish by focusing on the threat that is presented to all our health and to animal health from factory farming. We have already talked a great deal about antimicrobial resistance. I believe that it is this threat that will demand the end of factory farming. However, when people talk about factory farming, they are usually thinking of it being on land, but in UK salmon farming we have seen a significant increase in antimicrobial use—it is broadcasting antibiotics into the sea to spread around the world. Such behaviour has to stop.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and to speak in this debate. I declare my interest as chair of Peers for the Planet and should perhaps declare an interest as a vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. I share that honour with the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who introduced this debate so effectively and comprehensively that none of us should go over six minutes in our contributions, because there is no need to repeat the devastating analysis he gave of the risks to the UK. I will focus on the risks that come in response to climate change, particularly of vector-borne diseases, which are so susceptible to changes, sometimes very small, in climate.

I remember talking to physicians in Texas many years ago about their concern at seeing locally transmitted cases of dengue. These had never been seen before in Houston but were growing in response to different climatic changes and, of course, population changes. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, said that no man is an island—that is the phrase we always use—but, these days, no island is an island either. We cannot protect ourselves totally by putting up barriers to the importation of these sorts of diseases. I believe that means that, while we are focusing today on the risks to the UK, we have to understand that the burden of many of these diseases and their increase is being felt not in the future for the UK but in the here and now in parts of Africa and Asia, where they are spreading.

That makes me ask the Minister—who, like everyone else, I welcome—to perhaps say something when he replies about the support we are giving in other countries, as part of a global responsibility for health and as self-protection for this country in not putting barriers up, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was saying, but taking away the threat of that disease importation and the threat caused by the other health effects of global warming and climate change that lead to instability, mass migration and refugee problems, of which we have a very Eurocentric view. There are huge refugee problems caused by the effects of climate change in areas other than the ones that we are talking about in this debate.

We should never forget the health effects of pollution. The burning of fossil fuels, leading to the pollution of the atmosphere, particularly in cities, is thought to cause 7 million premature deaths annually. The air quality in areas of cities, not just in Europe but in India in particular, can be catastrophic when they then have extreme heat events. We have to recognise that heat stress, pollution, flooding and drought—all those effects of climate change—have profound effects on health.

It was significant that last year’s COP 28 was the first COP with a whole day relating to the health effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. It brought forth a declaration, signed by 143 countries, agreeing that they needed to facilitate collaboration on human, animal, environment and climate health changes, such as by implementing a One Health approach addressing the environmental determinants of health, strengthening research on the linkages between environmental and climatic factors and antimicrobial resistance, and intensifying efforts for the early detection of zoonotic spillovers. I hope that the Minister can say what we as a country are doing to implement that declaration.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on securing this debate, introducing it so comprehensively and demonstrating its importance. The Government’s Plant Biosecurity Strategy for Great Britain says:

“Since our departure from the EU, the number of plants and plant products entering Great Britain that require inspection has increased significantly”.

I want to explore why, what those inspections will involve and how effective they are likely to be.

As I understand it, before we left the EU in January 2020, we relied on plant passports for higher-risk plants. These were issued by growers who themselves were subject to inspection from time to time. Henceforth, all consignments that used to come with a plant passport must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate issued by the exporting country’s plant health service. We also recruited 200 extra inspectors, presumably to carry out our own additional inspections. Does this requirement for increased inspection reflect a new and enhanced threat?

The Forestry Commission says that there seems to have been an increase since 2002. Indeed, there has been one new outbreak affecting trees every year, although there were far fewer before that date. As far as I can see, there is no evidence of any recent acceleration, but I may be wrong. When new controls were announced as coming in shortly, the Government cited African swine fever and another disease, whose name I forget. I certainly see signs in France and Italy about the danger of African swine fever. If there are specific threats, should the checks not be focused on those? Is that the intention, or will we spread the checks more widely?

Are we introducing these controls simply in retaliation because the European Union applies its SPS rules to us? We know that its SPS rules quite often go beyond what is required for health and are somewhat protectionist in their intent. If so, I would counsel against that. Tit for tat is always a bad approach. We should threaten to do things only if it is part of a bargaining strategy with a realistic prospect of us reverting to a situation of mutual recognition, which we had before leaving.

Will the controls be a significant burden on trade? I understand—and I am grateful to the CEO of Fera for this information—that in 2021 a quarter of a million consignments were notified to the PHSI, 30,000 were tested and 6,000-plus were found to contain pests, with more than one pest or problem in some, so there was a 2.5% success rate, as it were, in those consignments assigned. In future, will we be testing a far greater number? Are we expecting any great increase in effectiveness as a result, or are we doing it simply because, as is so often the case, regulators have a natural desire to increase their powers and budgets? Some of the lobbying I have received certainly has a whiff of that about it.

Let us suppose that what is being proposed and introduced is necessary, will be effective and will not induce a great extra burden on our businesses. In that case, we should all welcome it as a great Brexit benefit—something we could not have done while we remained a member of the EU.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and to join others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Trees on his excellent introduction to this important debate. I also join others in welcoming the Minister and look forward to his maiden speech. I should declare that, among my interests in the register, I am a scientific adviser to Marks & Spencer.

In recent decades, this country has experienced four major farm animal disease outbreaks caused by breaches in biosecurity. First, there was mad cow disease, or BSE, in the 1990s. Here, the deregulation of the manufacture of meat and bone meal and the consequent lapse in biosecurity allowed the disease to spread within the cattle population. The infective agent, the prion protein, could pass on the disease via meat and bone meal because the rendering temperature had been reduced.

Secondly, there was foot and mouth disease in 2001. This epidemic was the result of inadequate biosecurity and monitoring. It originated from infected imported pork products fed as pig swill, and it spread rapidly throughout the country because of movement of livestock. MAFF was slow to recognise the scale of the problem and to implement appropriate biosecurity measures.

The third disease, bovine TB, has been an ongoing problem in this country since the 1980s. Here, there are two biosecurity issues: the transmission from wildlife, primarily badgers, to cattle and transmission from cattle to cattle within and between farms. Although the randomised badger culling trial showed that the latter is more important than the former, in the past 13 years emphasis in policy has been placed on killing badgers rather than on measures to prevent the spread of the disease among cattle. The fact that the comparative skin test for bovine TB in cattle has a sensitivity of only around 50% in field conditions means that there continues to be a hidden reservoir of infection in our cattle population.

The fourth disease caused by problems with biosecurity, referred to by my noble friend Lord Trees, is avian flu. As he said, this poses a particular problem because it is spread by wild migrating birds. What lessons have the Government learned from these four major problems that we have faced in recent times? Have those lessons been enshrined in Defra thinking and in policy for the future?

I will now briefly look to the future. The risks, as my noble friend Lord Trees expressed so clearly in his introduction, include a mixture of unknowns—for example, mutations of pathogens, just as BSE may have arisen from a mutation of the scrapie agent—and other risk factors that are known and more predictable. We have already heard about these: international trade, wildlife reservoirs, climate change, drug resistance and animal husbandry, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

I will ask the Minister about two aspects of planning for the future. The first is early warning. The Government have a programme to monitor pathogens called PATH-SAFE, described in their literature as

“a three-year project to develop a pilot national surveillance network, using the latest DNA-sequencing technology and environmental sampling to improve the detection and tracking of foodborne and antimicrobial resistant pathogens through the whole agri-food system from farm to fork”.

Can the Minister update us on the progress of that project?

My second point about the future is import controls, already mentioned by a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. As we heard, since Brexit there have been no border checks on imports from the European Union, but the new risk-based approach to inspections, the border target operating model, which has been delayed five times, will finally kick off at the end of this month. It will go through a series of phases in April and October until its introduction is complete. The model relies heavily on documentation rather than physical inspections. What proportion of checks will be physical, rather than looking at pieces of paper? Will port health authorities have the required resources to carry out paper and physical checks?

This applies only to legal imports, and illegal imports are likely to pose much greater risks to biosecurity. We know from the experience of Dover Port Health Authority in October 2022 that there are major consignments of illegal meat coming in from eastern Europe and, importantly, there are still ongoing imports of bush meat from Africa—which is completely unregulated—that could carry major disease risks. What is the Government’s estimate of how much illegal bush meat and other meat is imported into the UK and what is being done to bear down on that and enhance our biosecurity?

My Lords, we should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Trees for securing this wide-ranging debate. I will focus on the threat of global pandemics to humans.

Covid-19 was a wake-up call. The published national risk register had been inadequate. No pandemic other than flu was rated as a major threat. Covid was primarily a medical catastrophe but it cascaded into other sectors: to schools and, through its impact on supply chains, manufacturing. There needs to be more joined-up government thinking and firmer guidelines about who, regionally and centrally, has authority in emergencies.

It is welcome that the risk register has been improved. Especially welcome are the comprehensive Biological Security Strategy, published just last September, and the strengthening of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention at its 2022 review. The 100-day mission concept to have a vaccine within 100 days of identifying a threat was launched at the G7 in 2021 when the UK held the chair. Can the Minister provide an update on what has happened to follow that up? All these measures need to be global. The earlier a new virus can be identified, the greater the head start in responding before a global spread.

Importantly, pandemics not only spread faster and more globally than they did in the past but cause far worse societal breakdown. European villages in the 14th century continued to function even when the Black Death halved their populations. In contrast, societies today are vulnerable to serious unrest as soon as hospitals are overwhelmed, which could occur before the fatality rate is even 1%. That is why we need to contemplate a societal or ecological collapse that would be a truly global setback. Covid-19 is not the worst that could happen.

The origin of Covid-19 is controversial. A leakage from the Wuhan lab cannot be ruled out. Be that as it may, we cannot rule out future lab leakages. I recall, for example, that a foot and mouth outbreak in the UK was caused by a leakage from the Pirbright lab in 2007. There is surely a case for enhancing security and independent monitoring of the level 4 labs around the world that are researching these lethal pathogens and, more importantly, ensuring that experiments on lethal pathogens are not done in less secure labs.

Can we rule out a future release that is intentional rather than accidental? To be sure, Governments and even terrorist groups with specific aims will always be inhibited from releasing engineered pandemics because no one can predict where and how far they can spread. The real nightmare would be a deranged loner with biotech expertise who did not care who became infected, or how many.

In contrast to the elaborate, conspicuous equipment needed to create a nuclear weapon, which can feasibly be monitored by international inspectors, biotech involves small-scale, dual-use technology that will become widely accessible. There are thousands of academic and industrial labs around the world where dangerous pathogens are being studied and modified. An increasing number of individuals will acquire the requisite expertise. The dangers are looming even larger. Regulation of biotech is needed ever more today.

However, what is really scary are doubts about global enforcement. Could the regulations be enforced throughout the world any more effectively than drug or tax laws can? Whatever can be done may be done by someone, somewhere. This is the stuff of nightmares.

The rising empowerment of malign, tech-savvy groups, or even individuals, by biotech will pose an intractable challenge to Governments and aggravate the tension between freedom, privacy, and security. The world is unprepared for the moral and practical challenges posed by burgeoning biotechnology in general. These scenarios call for clear thinking and well-crafted policies that recognise both biotech’s stupendous potential for human flourishing and its huge potential risk to our safety—indeed, to humanity itself.

We must hope that vaccines and antidotes become ever more effective and speedily produced, in step with the growing threat, and that the UK can indeed achieve influence in what has to be a global programme.

My Lords, it is both a delight and an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rees, and to join other noble Members in congratulating and thanking the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for securing this debate and for his excellent opening speech. We are fortunate in this House to have the benefit of their respective world-class scientific expertise, communication skills and deep commitment to the cause of increasing our biosecurity.

As is now clear, climate change is a driver of multiple other risks, from emerging zoonoses and disease transmission to compromised food security and an increase in drug-resistant infections. The Covid-19 pandemic is a lesson on the degree to which the entire world is vulnerable to a pandemic or another, as yet unanticipated, major public health event. It is sobering that by near-universal consensus, this vulnerability is set only to increase. The IPCC’s Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report could scarcely be more unequivocal on this specific question. It predicts that, in the near term, we will face

“multiple risks to ecosystems and humans”,

including a greater incidence of

“food-borne, water-borne, and vector-borne diseases”.

These are not merely warnings of a possible dystopian future, but something that already is crystallising into observable reality. We are seeing spikes in malaria transmission in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the first ever locally acquired cases of malaria in Florida and Texas, and, as has already been mentioned, outbreaks of dengue fever in Paris. In 2022, there were more cases of dengue fever in Europe than in the entire preceding decade. Forecasts suggest that, owing to a rise in global temperatures, malaria transmission seasons could be up to five months longer by 2070. Malaria rates in Mozambique are at their highest since the current reporting phase began in 2017. Over 70% of anti-malaria drugs in Africa are imported; what are we doing, or encouraging the international community to do, to stimulate local manufacture of drugs to ensure that weaknesses in the international supply chain do not result in preventable deaths in Africa?

What are the Government doing in either conducting or commissioning predictive modelling of the expected impacts of climate change on current and future disease transmission? If we are to equip ourselves adequately to deal with this crisis, a reactive approach will be insufficient. I welcome the new US-UK Strategic Dialogue on Biological Security and would be grateful for an explanation how, in granular terms, such co-operation will enhance our ability to anticipate future biosecurity threats.

On globalisation, I turn now to recent representations to the Government by port health officials in Dover. Since September 2022, when checks were first introduced, 57 tonnes of illegal, non-compliant pork imports have been seized in Dover alone. The Dover port health manager describes the scale of these illegal imports as “unprecedented” and suggests that for every tonne seized, multiple tonnes are going undetected. These illegal pork imports significantly increase the risk of African swine fever entering the UK, something that would have a devastating impact on agriculture and, in turn, offer a further incentive to those who wish illegally to import meat.

Given that the cost of living crisis has led to an increase in the illegal food trade, can the Minister elucidate the reasons for the proposed shift in customs checks from Bastion Point to Sevington, 22 miles from the Port of Dover itself? Defra’s rationale thus far seems to focus on cost but, given that concerns have been raised by industry sources at Defra forums, I suggest that it may be worth thinking again. The Dover Port Health Authority suggests that this change could easily lead to unexamined goods travelling 22 miles across the UK, with all of the attendant risks of possible infection, diminishing UK biosecurity. It claims it has not received appropriate assurances from Defra as to how existing standards could be maintained and that the Sevington facility, unlike Bastion Point, will not be operational 24 hours a day. Given the degree of concern expressed by the health authority and the UK food industry, does the Minister not agree that further work is needed before this change responsibly can be put into effect?

To return to the broader themes of this debate in the little time remaining, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the Government’s 2023 biosecurity strategy. Its ambitions, if realised, would make a genuine and substantive contribution to enhancing our biosecurity. I agree with the Centre for Long-Term Resilience that sustained resourcing will be critical in making its implementation a success. While the £1.5 billion being spent annually is welcome, have the Government considered a longer-term, multi-year funding settlement that would enable implementation to proceed securely and at pace?

I remind the Minister that the Government’s first biological security strategy was published in July 2018, just as Parliament was rising for the Summer Recess. To my knowledge, it was never debated in Parliament and while it warned of the need to co-ordinate government actions better and for a “truly comprehensive approach” to meet risks, including pandemics, it manifestly failed so to do, to such an extent that the parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, in its December 2020 report, found that Covid-19 exposed “profound shortcomings” in Britain’s approach to biosecurity.

As this debate makes clear, we face a variety of long-term biosecurity threats, and our response to these risks must be considered, proactive and durable to ensure that we keep this country safe.

My Lords, the House has not seen much of me this last year, because last year I was one of the 100,000 people to be admitted to hospital in the UK with cellulitis, going on to septicaemia, which then progressed very rapidly to sepsis. I owe my life, or at least my legs, to flucloxacillin. So I thought I would talk about antimicrobial resistance today. I am perfectly well now, by the way, so no worries for the future.

First, antimicrobial resistance in humans is due to inappropriate or excessive prescribing by doctors, of whom I am one, not just in the UK but worldwide. Some 58,000 people in England were reported to the UK Health Security Agency—probably an underestimate, of course—to have had a resistant infection in 2022; that was a rise of 4% in a single year. With Klebsiella pneumoniae, for example, which is a very common cause of sepsis in this country, 30% of the bug’s subtypes are now resistant.

Pre-pandemic, there was a very healthy drop in prescriptions, which was due to doctors’ efforts to reduce the number of inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions, which are usually given out for very mild virus disorders, of course. But this has not been maintained after the Covid pandemic; in fact, they are on the rise again, and we need another big effort. What are the Government doing? I realise that I am asking for some Department of Health wisdom here, as well as the Minister’s own.

The second issue, of course, is, as we have heard from everybody, the global impact of antibiotic resistance, which is brought by travellers from abroad. At the moment, Asian and Asian British ethnic groups have almost double the proportion of antibiotic resistant infections—35%—compared with only 19% in white British ethnic groups. This is probably because of antibiotic overuse in south-east Asia.

I was sceptical about this—I thought it could not be happening that quickly—but recently an elegant study looked at subtypes of enterobacteria causing dysentery that are currently found in India and Pakistan, and you can map the progress of the subtypes cropping up all over the UK, so it is due to international travel. The Hospital for Tropical Diseases recently reported 92 travellers arriving in Britain from south Asia and Nigeria with enteric fever caused by salmonella and found that 30% were multiple drug resistant.

Globally, the financial costs of resistant strains of malaria, HIV and TB are directly related to poor prescribing and inadequate courses of treatment. In this age of global travel, as we have heard from others, the transmission of resistant strains of tropical diseases is of increasing importance. The ill-educated beliefs of patients impact very much on doctors’ prescribing habits. We know that GPs who do not prescribe antibiotics tend to be less highly rated and less popular. In Romania, Greece and Hungary most people buy their antibiotics over the counter and there is very little control indeed. In Cyprus, Estonia, Italy and Spain, most patients get antibiotics left over from previous courses—and I bet there is not anyone in this House who has not done the same. We use antibiotics from last year if we think we have something that we need to use them for. We need a real effort to reduce these.

Finally, I want to mention the issue of antibiotics in livestock. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has brough the issue of fish farming to our attention because it is one area where we are not making progress. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his brilliant personal briefing on this. We are making good progress on tackling resistance in animals by the improvement of their environments so they do not get infections in the first place, the control of veterinary medicines and the excellent work done by vets in the UK. However, as we have heard, that is not necessarily the case in other countries. We have achieved a 42% reduction in fluoroquinolones and reductions in other important drugs, such as cephalosporins, that are important to human beings.

So we are making good progress. We probably do not need to make it statutory by banning things; it is always better to do it with the co-operation of the agencies, individual professionals and farmers involved. However, we need to make greater progress on antimicrobial resistance. I know the Government were negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry to see what could be done. Can the Minister tell us how far have we got on our project there?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on securing this debate, and I welcome my noble friend the Minister to the House and the Front Bench.

The human devastation wreaked by Covid-19 has demonstrated the huge potential impact of zoonotic diseases and the need to use every scientific tool at our disposal to prevent and guard against future outbreaks. The role of science and innovation is critical in providing potential solutions.

I am glad to say the UK ranks third in the world in agricultural research. To pick up almost the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, world-leading progress is being made by UK scientists using the most advanced genetic techniques to develop animals that are resistant to many of these potentially zoonotic diseases. Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh pioneered the gene-edited trait conferring complete resistance to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome in pigs. The first PRRS-resistant pigs are expected to be approved for commercialisation in the United States later this year but not in the UK. Our scientists are at the forefront of research to combat infectious diseases such as avian influenza in poultry and African swine fever in pigs. What are the Government doing to unlock the potential of these advances for British farms more quickly?

With reference to the precision breeding Act, will the Minister reconsider the imposition of extra animal welfare hurdles in relation to precision-bred animals, which do not currently apply to conventionally bred animals, because the underpinning rationale of the legislation is that precision-bred organisms could equally have been produced using conventional breeding methods?

Infectious diseases do not differentiate between animals reared intensively or extensively, and the biosecurity associated with modern housed livestock systems is more effective at keeping disease out or keeping disease in. Thus, does the Minister agree that good intensive livestock farming may be the key to reducing the risk of future pandemics? Bird flu, for example, is spread by migrating wild birds, so the response to an outbreak is not to increase the extent of free-range systems but to keep all farmed poultry indoors. The recent news from the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency that an unprecedented and highly contagious bird flu outbreak in the sub-Antarctic has spread to mammals there is a further sobering reminder of the ability of these emerging infectious diseases to cross species barriers. Can the Minister please give the House an update on that position?

The crossing of species barriers takes me on to wild animals and plants. There are increasing calls for species reintroductions to help to meet government biodiversity and species abundance goals and to build resilience in ecosystems by reinforcement, assisted colonisation, reintroduction and translocation. The number of new pests and diseases affecting trees in the UK has increased by almost 500% over the last 20 years, and most of those have come from imported stock. Why is Defra not following best practice in vetting for disease in its code and guidance on reintroductions of plants and animals? The [ recommends that a disease risk analysis is carried out for all conservation reintroductions and translocations.

The House of Commons EFRA Committee’s recent inquiry into species reintroductions highlighted Natural England’s evidence to it that disease risk is a weakness in the current Defra code and guidance, and it recommended the need for any reintroduction or translocation risk assessment to include disease implications. Only 10 native species are subject to the Defra code. Consequently, most native species translocations, even outside their current or historic geographical range, are unregulated and the risk of the spread of disease is not addressed.

When Covid-19 struck we turned to the best available, most advanced genetic technologies for solutions, and we celebrated the scientific developments in both the public and private sectors that made this possible. We must apply the same science-based principles to the use of new genetic technologies in agriculture to improve prospects for the control of infectious diseases. That is essential for the health and welfare of animals and plants, and to reduce the risk of future pandemics in the human population. The very essence of biosecurity is that preventing something arriving is much more effective and cost-efficient than trying to eradicate it once it is here.

My Lords, I welcome this important and topical debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for initiating it. I also believe he may have had something to do with the headline in today’s Financial Times, “Dover Port warns of food safety risk”. The article says that health inspectors at Dover have warned that a proposed 70 per cent cut in government funding poses a risk to food safety and animal health. This should be a matter of great concern to the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Browne.

I declare my own interests, as set out in the register, in farming and woodland. The debate covers a wide variety of issues, but I would like to confine my remarks to the central importance of healthy trees and woodland when we address biosecurity and climate change.

In 2020-21, around 13,500 hectares of new tree planting was undertaken in Great Britain, of which England and Wales accounted for only 2,500 hectares. Driven by achieving net-zero carbon by 2050 in the 2019 climate change legislation, the English tree strategy of 2021 identified, as we have heard, a target of 30,000 hectares of new planting a year by 2025—next year. We therefore have a huge mountain to climb in terms of planting trees, made even more complicated by diseases such as ash dieback and, of course, climate change. That leaves aside the fact that appropriately fertile land, and alternative uses of that land driven by profitability calculations, taxation considerations and much else, can be a major disincentive. We still await the Government’s promised land use framework, which will attempt to reconcile the competing demands of food production, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, forestry, flood management and much more. Perhaps the Minister could use his influence to accelerate the promised framework, in which climate change factors are major ones.

Today we are focusing on biosecurity, diseases and climate change, which, together with increased tree-planting targets to assist our carbon strategy, mean that every effort must be made to improve and increase our source of trees through careful selection, based on genetic diversification, in order to breed more resistance to diseases and better-quality hardwood. This can be achieved by genotyping basic materials to ensure high and representative genetic diversity.

Simultaneously, we need to increase the availability of the improved planting material of native and non-native species. We need to look at importing, both to increase conventional seed supply and to identify planting stock from warmer climates. This needs to be carefully controlled; we are lucky in this country to have scientific research organisations such as the Future Trees Trust doing precisely this. With improved planting stock, there are other major advantages such as faster establishment, reduced mortality and a reduced need for herbicides, resulting in improved timber quality and, of course, earlier carbon capture. Much of this improvement in planting stock mirrors what has been done in the farming industry in identifying new seed varieties to increase yields and provide greater resistance to pests and diseases. The passing of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act last year has given this research a major boost.

A highly important aspect of the likely requirement to import seed and plants from overseas is to enhance and promote the plant certification scheme in nurseries to ensure traceability and engender confidence in our imports. This was a major issue raised by the House of Lords Horticultural Committee in its recent report. I would be interested to hear from the Minister, if he has time, of any further government plan to support, widen and strengthen that scheme, including making it compulsory.

I am particularly glad to follow my noble friend Lord Carrington because he has enabled me to, among other things, shorten my own remarks.

“Thanks noble Trees, our Entish Lord

For laying bare the grievous ills

Impending on our scepter’d isle.

England, set in a silver sea

That doth no longer serve us

In the office of a wall or as

A moat defensive to a house,

Is subject to mounting threats”.

It is perhaps not usual to address your Lordships’ House in blank verse, but it may be a modest way of indicating the severity and scale of the challenges we face. After all,

“A verse may find him whom a sermon flies.”

The poets have long understood what the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, have impressed upon us: the importance of a One Health approach. They have also long understood that we live in an entangled world, including and beyond the wood-wide web, and that the health of our trees reflects and influences our state of mind, our health and our economy.

“The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d”

says Shakespeare in “Richard II”, and the play is full of the reverberations between the life of trees and plants and the state we are in as a country.

In that very helpful briefing paper produced by Fera, there is a horrifying Forestry Commission graph showing the cumulative increase in the number of new pests and diseases affecting trees since 1971, and the particularly alarming increase in the frequency of such outbreaks since 2002. Over the last 20 years there has been a 500% increase, keeping pace with the increased globalisation of trade.

The admirable Woodland Trust publishes an invaluable up-to-date list of the key pests and diseases affecting our trees, along with, crucially, guidance on how to recognise them and report them. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, there are some pests and diseases already with us but there is a worrying number waiting in the wings. The elm zig-zag sawfly is the newest threat to our badly damaged elm populations. The emerald ash borer has killed billions of ash trees in the US; if it arrives here, it will further damage our vulnerable ash populations. Likewise, the North American native bronze birch borer could decimate our own birch trees.

One of my favourite native trees is the juniper. It now faces a dedicated pathogen, phytophthora austrocedri, which infects juniper trees and then kills them. Time does not permit me to anathematise any further the red-necked longhorn beetle or the sirococcus tsugae. But the Government are aware, as previous speakers have noted, of the scale of the challenges. In particular, can the Minister update us on the results of the three-year trial of the proposed invasive species inspectorate? The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has already alluded to that theme. Is this vital contribution to our biosecurity to be established on a permanent basis?

There are many other things which can be done, as other noble Lords have pointed out. I would underline the value of investing more in the proven capacity of citizen science monitoring and reporting programmes. That would contribute to raising consumer awareness of the problem, as would the inclusion of a biosecurity warning in air-steward cabin safety briefings. We have been talking about international travel; one thing that could be done, just by passing a regulation, is to add to those safety briefings in international air flights some biosecurity warning. At the same time, as my noble friend Lord Carrington said, as far as possible it is clear that we ought to source and grow trees in the UK and, crucially, invest in the skills needed to cultivate them.

“Let us lift high the phytosanitary shield

To repel the pests and contagion,

Lest child child’s children, cry against

Us, woe!”

My Lords, I am not going to attempt to replicate the approach of the previous speaker. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for introducing this important debate. It is, in truth, an honour and a privilege to be able to take part, given the eminence of the speakers who are contributing today. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is not in her place, referred to the need to avoid repetition. At this stage of the debate that becomes increasingly difficult, but I say also that repetition is sometimes important as a form of emphasis—we need to emphasise the issues here, so if anything I say is too repetitive, I do not apologise, because I think the points need to be emphasised.

It is important that we discuss this critical issue of biosecurity in an era characterised by globalisation and climate change. The interconnectedness of our world has brought unprecedented benefits, but it also exposes us to new challenges. Today, we are talking particularly about infectious diseases that can threaten human, animal and plant life. Where people, goods and information travel across borders with unprecedented speed, infectious diseases do not recognise geographical boundaries. As we know all too well, a virus originating in one part of the world can swiftly find its way to distant continents, crossing national borders before we can appreciate the scale of the threat that is posed. This demands a collective and co-ordinated effort on a global scale. So I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government recognise the scale of the measures that are needed to combat the threat of infectious diseases.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has already referred to the story in today’s Financial Times, but it merits further emphasis and a demand on the Minister to provide a satisfactory response. For those who have not seen it, today’s Financial Times reports that inspectors at Dover, the UK’s busiest port, have warned that they are facing a 70% cut in central government funding which they say will pose a risk to British food safety and animal health. The Dover Port Health Authority told the Financial Times that Defra plans to impose the funding cut to its inspection team at Dover from April and stated:

“The impact of the cuts will be significant and increase the threat to GB safety by an order of magnitude”.

That was a statement from the head of the port inspectorate. I think the House requires a specific response to that story, albeit at short notice.

Given the importance of these issues, what else should the Government be doing? I shall just suggest some particular issues on which I ask the Minister to respond. First, I think the Government’s approach should be proactive rather than reactive, which perhaps it has been in the past, and also on the precautionary principle: we should always err on the side of safety, rather than hoping for the best. Specific proposals that perhaps the Minister could respond to include the issue of the Non-native Species Inspectorate. Will the Government be making an announcement on whether this process will be made permanent? It is an essential part of a precautionary approach, so perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

Another specific proposal that has been made is that there should be a positive list for exotic pets: rather than having a list of species that cannot be imported to become pets, there should be a list of those pets we know are safe, and anything else should be subject to restriction, inspection and, if necessary, investigation of whether they are acceptable.

Finally, can the Minister give us reassurance about the position on freeports? The Government trumpeted their policy of allowing freeports greater freedom and fewer restrictions. Will the rules apply equally to freeports as they do more generally?

My Lords, I have yet another thank you very much to my noble friend Lord Trees for what has been a quite exceptional debate. It is interesting that it is exactly four years to the week since this subject was last debated in your Lordships’ House, and a lot has moved on in that time. I declare my interest as a trustee of the International Dendrology Society and, not surprisingly, admit that my remarks are somewhat limited to the plant end of the spectrum of this wide-ranging debate. For those whose Greek is on a par with mine, dendrology is the science and study of woody plants; specifically, their taxonomic classifications.

It is rather hard to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, and even the most recent speaker, because they enunciated a number of the things that I wanted to mention. But, as we have heard, some repetition is not a bad idea. In the past 10 years, much has changed in the world of plant health and protection—and here I unashamedly issue a compliment to Defra, where the chief plant health officer for the UK, Professor Nicola Spence, has been a sure and steady hand in moving forward the health of our plant stock. We have also seen, as we have heard, Defra’s 25-year environment plan, which includes, in recent years, a tree heath resilience strategy, a Great Britain biosecurity strategy and a plant health research and development plan.

The arrival of Brexit has complicated the biosecurity landscape but has allowed us to get away from the EU’s one-size-fits-all approach to the subject, which tended to mean that problems originating in Mediterranean countries would inexorably find their way here, through common trade and travel arrangements. In that time also, the advance of gene sequencing for plants has given us a much greater understanding of the nature of the problems we face, and of the susceptibility of individual plants to the diseases attacking them. As has been mentioned, citizen science is now being employed to report infestations and diseases, and such reports to the chief inspectorate are now running into many thousands per year.

In summary, we are increasingly well protected by an ever-more alert department and its agencies, not to mention the financial side of things, but the work they are doing has been well received in the industry. All of this is well known and understood by those interested in the trades associated with plant health and movement, such as forestry and horticulture. It is also pretty well understood by those who live and make their livelihood in the countryside. But the great multitude of our increasingly enormous population have little idea of the problems which face us, and with which these agencies must deal. A cynic might add that a large proportion of them care even less. The real issue facing us, therefore, is awareness. As we have heard, the cost of the Chalara Fraxinus, or ash dieback, epidemic has been estimated at about £15 billion over the next few decades. That is a huge figure and, if you look out of the window of a train or at home, you see skeletons wherever you look. These have all got to be cleared and someone has to pay for that.

On the other hand, the value to the national balance sheet of our plant stock, both trees and the agricultural and horticultural sectors, is reckoned at £175 billion—in other words, it is worth looking after them.

There is an urgent need for continued, and increasing, training and awareness campaigns focused on all the sectors previously mentioned, and especially on a mobile, travelling public. This increased awareness must also extend to the amateur gardening sector—no more returning from trips abroad with sponge bags full of likely specimens and the soil in which they grew. To illustrate the size of the problem, there are reckoned to be 90 pests that can attack oak trees, 165 for potatoes, 130 for roses and 160 for tomatoes.

Possibly the two most high-profile concerns at present, both of which have been mentioned in passing, are the bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa, which has devastated the olive plantations of Italy, France and Spain—olive is much more important than the other plants mentioned, but nevertheless they are all part of it—and the emerald ash borer, a beetle that attacks ash trees, especially when they are already weakened by another pathogen, the ash dieback. This pest is spreading across the world from its origin in the Far East and has reached Ukraine, which does not have a lot of time to deal with it. It has equally devastated the American ash population. I therefore have two questions for the Minister. What is the latest situation on these two pests, Xylella and ash borer? What measures are being taken to combat them?

There are some advantages to our being an island, and there is no doubt that our moat helps to keep things at bay, but many insects can travel over water. The Asian hornet and longhorn beetles have both arrived on the wind.

One area I find hard to understand is the behaviour of our nursery and horticultural trades in importing large volumes of plants that we can perfectly well grow ourselves. It should be impossible to obtain an import certificate without offering proof that the plant in question is not available from growers in this country. This is not a matter of civil liberties. It is a matter literally of life and death to the plant populations concerned, and to the livelihoods of our growers.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Trees on raising this topic in the House and on his detailed introduction. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and wish him all the best in his maiden speech. I declare my interest in this matter, working for a large group of vets with an interest in both the farming and companion animal sectors.

My colleagues who specialise in farm animals were delighted that this subject was being raised in the House. Their initial comments and concerns were that the UK does not value its biosecurity, as there is little public awareness of this matter and the potential dangers to public health and animal health from new infectious diseases.

As mentioned by my noble friend Lord Trees and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, African swine flu is currently a major concern for the pig industry. The disease grows ever closer to the UK. It is now well established in eastern Europe, not only in farming herds but in the wild boar population, where its presence is a lot more concerning, with cases being reported as recently as September in Sweden. The effect of this highly infectious disease on the UK’s pig herd is significantly more than on many other nations, as at least 50% of our breeding sows are housed outdoors, and therefore the risk of infection is significantly higher. If the infection were to get into the national outdoor pig herd, it would potentially be as devastating as the foot and mouth outbreak back in the early 2000s.

The most likely route of this infection to outdoor pigs is by their consuming infected meat discarded by a member of the general public. This could be a ham or bacon sandwich, made from contaminated meat illegally imported from areas where African swine flu is established, thrown away close to a field of outdoor pigs. As my noble friend mentioned, the importing of illegal meat has become a real issue. As reported in January, the Dover Port Health Authority has seized more than 57 tonnes of illegal meat, possibly a fraction of what is coming into the country from restricted areas in eastern Europe.

We welcome the introduction of the border target operation model that will introduce some border controls at the end of January, but there are concerns, as mentioned by other noble Lords, about its funding and the number of inspections that can be done. Can the Minister guarantee resources for these inspections?

A very simple threat to our biosecurity is the threat from the general public when they bring food back into the country on return from holidays. The public are totally unaware of the potential danger to our national pig herd. There is little or no public information service explaining the potential threats to our nation’s biosecurity by bringing food or plants back to the UK. This is the opposite of the island countries in Australasia, which have huge biosecurity controls when you enter their country, and publicise them.

Mosquito-transmitted diseases are another threat to our nation’s animals. Currently, we have two outbreaks of such a disease. Bluetongue is a disease that affects both cattle and sheep, and we have outbreaks in Kent and Norfolk. The current infection is a great worry to farmers and vets in the UK, as the outbreak first occurred in November at the very end of the normal danger period when the cold weather normally reduces the number of mosquitoes being blown over from Europe. The warming of the climate means that these mosquitoes are more likely to survive longer. It is hoped that the cold weather will hold back the current outbreak from spreading further around the country, although some cases have been reported in the last few weeks in the current infected areas. The other concerning feature of this current strain is that there is no vaccine for it, which potentially could allow bluetongue to become a significant disease within the UK cattle and sheep population.

The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, mentioned antimicrobial resistance. As a nation, we tackle issues that we foresee as long-term problems for human and animal health. An example of this is antibiotic resistance. We have reduced antibiotic sales for use in production animals by 57% since 2014, and human use has also fallen over this period. But what do we do as nation? We import foodstuffs from nations that do not have the same restrictions on the use of antibiotics, or policies to reduce their usage. Therefore, we are importing antibiotic resistance from other nations.

As we continue to seek new international trade agreements with other nations whose biosecurity policies may not be as robust as the UK’s, we need to ensure that biosecurity is on the negotiating table to protect our nation and not undermine what we are trying to do in this country.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his mobilisation of this excellent debate and congratulate the Minister on hitting the ground running with his splendid response to OPQ on Tuesday. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, whose remarks were very apposite.

We are still recovering from Covid, the massive global pandemic. As the Minister during that time, I am only just recovering myself. There is a psychological tendency to try to avoid thinking about something that was so uncomfortable, so unpleasant and so damaging for so many people. I want to focus my comments on the gap that I see between the very good and well-intended biosecurity strategy published in November last year and what is actually happening on the ground, particularly—but not only—in the medical sphere.

The biosecurity strategy has a very clear vision that, by 2030, the UK will be resilient to a spectrum of biological threats and a world leader in responsible innovation. The timing of that is quite a long way out—six years. The very slow pace of the Covid inquiry shows us how difficult we are finding it to come to terms with the lessons from our response to the Covid pandemic. That is hitting us hard in trying to put in place the necessary measures we need to be ready for the next big hit.

Readiness, response to a pandemic and resilience are three areas where I think there is severe deficiency. On our pandemic readiness, and on vaccines, there are some encouraging signals that there is focus, including the deal with Moderna, the future manufacturing hub and the UK Vaccine Network. However, a lot of it is subscale and is taking a lot of time. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rees, that the 100-day ambition is something that we have not heard a lot about. I echo his request for an update from the Minister.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned how slowly both international and domestic surveillance systems are moving. The WHO and the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board are struggling for funds and political momentum. It would be good to see Britain leaning in on that. On our investment in high-throughput biosurveillance, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, quite rightly pointed out that a lot of that capacity has been stood down. On wastewater analysis, the good functionality that we had put in place during the pandemic has now been taken apart. Our efforts on international data sharing and the standardisation of reporting—quite a dull-sounding subject but very exciting to those of us, like me, who take these things seriously—have, I am afraid to say, stalled since we were pushing it under our G7 chairmanship.

On response capacity, I will spotlight two areas, one of which is health. As the noble Lord, Lord Rees, pointed out, the integrated national public health function in the UK has fallen back rather than being invested in. UKHSA funding has been reduced; the public health grant to local authorities has been reduced; OHID has been embedded into the Department for Health and Social Care, rather than being empowered; capacity on the ground for DPHs has been reduced; tracing capacity has been wound up; and the integration of the national and local response is extremely unclear, to put it mildly.

On vaccinations, many of the habits that were in place have fallen back. Many noble Lords will have read about the measles outbreaks in the Midlands, and now, it seems, in London. When it comes to the strain on the NHS, we have fallen back a long way.

On government leadership, we have not got a Taiwan-style pandemic Act in place. The management of our borders—and here I mean for people—in order to use our island status to protect ourselves has also fallen back.

On resilience, the health of the nation is deteriorating rather than improving. Part of that is because the drivers of poor health are still in place: mouldy homes, junk food, the internet and dirty air. They are resulting in an increase in obesity, diabetes and so on.

We can rebuild and make Britain a healthier country. We can put in place the infrastructure necessary to respond to a pandemic. However, this will take government leadership. What does the Minister think the Government can do to empower the biosecurity strategy and make it move faster, and to deliver the kind of infrastructure we need, so that we are truly ready for the next pandemic?

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Minister and join the House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on securing this debate. I draw the attention of the House to my role at the Oracle Corporation. I also apologise in advance to the medical profession if I mispronounce any medical terms—sadly, I am not a qualified doctor, much to my father’s disappointment.

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and I will cover some of the same ground. The threat of infectious diseases is both demonstrable and significant. The threat is growing, as today’s debate and the forecast from the integrated review of security and the UK Health Security Agency confirm. I therefore welcome and support the Government’s response, with the updated UK Biological Security Strategy. The key, as in all such strategies, will be in its effective implementation.

For the purpose of this debate, I will focus on human health in two areas: data, including data security, and international co-operation. During the pandemic, multiple data sources were used creatively: medical, social and environment. The CDC used Google searches on symptoms, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, mentioned, we used nascent waste monitoring capability. Sometimes the data lagged events and was manually derived, such as claims data in the US, but had that real digital data been available, it could have enabled Governments and health authorities to pinpoint and target more effective ways of resolution. What is being done to improve our continued access to timely, digital, broad-ranging data sources? The security of that data, particularly personal medical data, and the public faith in its usage, is critical. What is being done to clarify the security ground rules and standards for such use? The Government have committed to building a national biosurveillance network. Now is an ideal time to start developing the rules of engagement.

As I said, access to personal health records will be key and the Government have correctly committed to using anonymised data, with only very limited exceptions. Encouragingly, recent poll evidence suggests that 81% of the public support health data sharing to develop new treatments, while 74% believe that they should be involved in how that data is used. As the issue is both technical and cultural, perhaps the Government could consider engaging now in a study to see which aspects the Government can support ex ante and begin constructive dialogue on those ground rules.

Beyond personal data, the Government must also identify and protect data at risk from hostile actors. By necessity, that must include dual-use technology and research. By their very nature, many of our extraordinary biotech advances have the capacity to do ill as well as good, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees, highlighted. If you can build a therapeutic protein that binds to a human receptor, you can also create a virus that does the same. The Government will not only need to establish clear standards but must require a very clear accountability at department level to enable timely responses. The aim must be for those responses to create the “biosurveillance door” referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, while not crushing innovation from our brilliant life sciences and biotech sectors. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on those issues.

For data and data security, the presumption should be that we work with our international partners, because, as many of your Lordships have said, diseases recognise neither political nor geographical boundaries. Our international partners need to work with us to share their own data. Importantly, as the approach to data security differs around the world, they each must have the autonomy to decide what they share. In the end, we need to see whether we can have a ground rule for what data can be shared. In this area, perhaps modelling offers some opportunity, as it typically brings lower security risks. But to maximise the benefits of sharing, consistency in terms and approaches will be critical.

That brings me to the broader point of international co-operation. Our goal must be a global biosurveillance capability. During the Covid-19 pandemic, international data sharing increased dramatically. The UK played, and continues to play, a leading role in multinational organisations such as the World Health Organization and the OECD to help other countries. This is a vital area, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, highlighted. The origins of many infectious diseases are inevitably outside our shores, but a global biosurveillance network surely offers us the best chance to detect and understand outbreaks early, to minimise the effects of future outbreaks and to protect us today and for generations to come. I look forward to any update on the implementation of our biosurveillance strategy that the Minister can give.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on his very comprehensive introduction to the debate. I also welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, back to good health and to the Chamber; she made a very important speech today.

When we were a member of the European Union, we benefited from sharing with other members measures to prevent plant and animal, as well as human, diseases. We shared intelligence of disease threats; common rules on phytosanitary standards, border security and animal health; world-leading scientific and pharmaceutical developments; and veterinary expertise. Since we left, we have had to invent our own system and develop partnerships where we can. Our developing border controls regime, some of which came into effect only this month, is very important in that respect. We have heard very important points from several noble Lords on that subject, including the noble Lords, Lord Taylor, Lord Lilley, Lord Krebs and Lord Davies of Brixton.

As a botanist, I will focus on diseases of plants, including those that we eat and those that we need for other purposes. Half of all emerging diseases of plants are spread due to the increasing globalisation of the trade in plants and plant materials, including soil, by both traders and individuals. Natural spread, assisted by weather events, is the second most important factor. Global warming can also enable the establishment of pests that would otherwise not survive a winter here in the UK. As we know, our country has just had the warmest year for decades, and that affects our economy and biodiversity.

As a former member of your Lordships’ recent special inquiry into the state of the UK horticulture business, I will mention some of our findings on plant diseases and the effect on our economy of poor control. Sandy Shepherd, managing director of Ball Colegrave, told us, as a witness from the industry, that biosecurity is

“the fundamental thing that we worry about in our business”.

All our witnesses were particularly concerned that bringing infected plants from abroad could infect UK stock. The UK Plant Health Risk Register contains 1,423 pests and pathogens that have been assessed for the threat they pose to the UK, of which 998 have been spread via live plant movement. Although I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on grey squirrels, they do not fall within that category.

Fruit trees and bushes and forest trees are particular issues. The Woodland Trust tells us that we import about 19 million forest trees every year and that 20 serious diseases of trees have been identified through imported trees since 1990. That has accelerated the loss of tens of millions of trees. Given the Government’s ambition to plant millions of trees for carbon capture and biodiversity reasons, it is vital that we minimise the risks to the survival of those trees from imported diseases. The Woodland Trust told the committee:

“The single most effective biosecurity safeguard is to reduce the need for imported plants and source all trees for planting in the UK, from stock that has been grown its entire lifespan in GB”.

It suggested to us that an improved labelling system for UK-grown trees would enable consumer confidence that the product they are buying is biosecure and UK-grown for the whole of its lifespan, not imported and just grown on in the UK for a couple of weeks.

For imported plants I know that the Government are working with the Plant Health Alliance on a voluntary certification scheme but, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, the committee recommended that this be compulsory. However, we felt that more support for compliance would be needed for SMEs in the industry. Both the RHS and the National Trust support the Plant Healthy scheme, but Martin Hillier from Hillier Nurseries told us that the accreditation scheme was a good start but should be compulsory and set at a higher standard.

The Woodland Trust tells us that the overall ambition to reduce reliance on tree imports will be realised only if we invest in the UK nursery sector to equip nurseries with the skills, labour, funding and policies that enable the scaling up of production of UK-grown trees. This will also create green jobs to benefit the local and national economy. The committee agreed with that and called on the Government to improve recruitment of people into horticulture and increase the training opportunities for them, from T-levels in schools to apprenticeships and higher education, as well as careers advice. In addition, the timescales of many growers are long and require long-term planning, which is difficult without a clear UK strategy for horticulture, and preferably a Minister with responsibility for ornamental and environmental horticulture as well as the edibles part of the industry. Will the Minister take this back to the department? Without this support UK growers will struggle, and we will have to rely on imports with all the consequent biosecurity risks.

We also need a high-level quarantine scheme for high-risk hosts based on scientific research. For example, olive trees, which were mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, when infected with Xylella—a serious pest for our native trees—can remain without symptoms for 12 months, so they should be quarantined for at least that length of time. We were promised that that would be explored in the GB plant health strategy, but it has not yet been done. Can the Minister say when it will happen?

Another effect of climate change which impacts UK growers, especially in the south-east, is shortage of water. If the UK horticulture industry is not supported to transition to sustainable water management practices, it will jeopardise our ability to grow our own trees and be self-sufficient. The Plan for Water is welcome but water management in the horticulture sector requires more effort, such as looking at the planning barriers for small reservoirs on growers’ and farmers’ own land.

Horizon-scanning for new and emerging threats, research and risk assessment are essential if we are to keep track of incoming diseases and those that are becoming more prevalent. Here the International Plant Sentinel Network, co-ordinated by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International and supported by Defra, plays a key role. I must declare an interest here as I was the honorary chair of the board of BGCI for 10 years and retain an interest in its work. The IPSN uses plant species held in botanic gardens’ collections outside their natural range as sentinels to gather evidence on new and emerging pests and diseases and novel host-disease interactions that can affect UK biosecurity. It provides an early warning system for emerging pest and pathogen risks and is a pivotal partner in the UK biosecurity strategy, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords.

Tools developed include digital plant health checkers to enable non-specialists to monitor plant health issues. For example, the emerald ash boring beetle, which was mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, is a great danger to our ash trees, and is common in eastern Ukraine and western Russia but fortunately not in the UK—so far. The tool helps people to recognise it to enable early warning in case it comes in on imported plants. Another initiative involved citizen scientists in identifying the sap-sucking insects that can transmit Xylella.

Botanic gardens also use alien plants in their collections to monitor for dangerous pathogens. Related to this work, may I ask the Minister whether there is any consideration of the inclusion of invasive alien plant species in the biosecurity strategy, due to their potential to host key pests and pathogens?

So much of this work depends on data and IT systems. I was therefore concerned when I read that Gareth Davies, chief executive of the National Audit Office, in his annual statement yesterday, said that three-quarters of the Defra IT budget is spent on maintenance of out-of-date IT systems. Given what we know can go wrong when IT systems go wrong, is the Minister confident of the robustness of the department’s disease surveillance system?

Finally, I have one more question, about surveillance of risk. Due to complex and expensive biosecurity regulations related to the movement of plant material nationally and internationally, it is becoming near impossible for scientific institutions to exchange material to support research into pests and diseases. Would the Government consider exemptions for bona fide research institutions contributing to the management and control of plant pests and pathogens?

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and that I am co-chair of the APPG for the Timber Industries. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his excellent introduction and for bringing this important debate to us today; and I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s maiden speech.

The debate has focused on a number of areas of concern. First, on health, noble Lords talked about how Covid-19 exposed a lack of preparedness for biological hazards, and about our vulnerability, which my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton particularly pointed out. My noble friend Lord Stansgate talked about the importance of One Health principles around people, animals, plants and ecosystems, which was then picked up by other noble Lords. We also heard that the number of emerging zoonoses is increasing globally; several noble Lords talked about the global challenges we face. Most notably, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, talked about the global impacts on health, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. My noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton also drew attention to the fact that infectious diseases do not, of course, recognise borders.

In this challenging context, we need to recognise the importance of understanding, monitoring and preparing for any future pandemic. The threat of an influenza pandemic, for example, has regularly topped the UK National Risk Register for most impactful hazards. We need to understand the evolutionary pathways by which things such as avian flu could jump to humans and how non-human flu could become a human pandemic; and we need better comprehension of the consequences of failing to address the rise of antimicrobial resistance infections. I welcome back the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and her speech on this issue.

Invasive non-native species of plants and animals are one of the greatest global threats to biodiversity. Their introduction typically leads to a reduction in species richness and abundance, and degradation of the environment; they often outcompete and prey on native species, bringing disease and pathogens. FERA has been mentioned in the debate, and the important briefing that it sent to noble Lords. It talked of the significant increases in the volume of plants and plant material potentially infected with harmful organisms being sent from the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate to its diagnostics laboratories. Every interception is a potential biosecurity risk that has been successfully neutralised, but a disease has to enter the country only once and not get picked up in order to become established and have a potentially devastating impact on our economy and biodiversity. For example, within our borders, the number of new pests and diseases affecting trees in the UK has increased by almost 500% over the last 20 years.

RSPCA and Born Free research has highlighted that zoonotic disease spread by the import of exotic pets into the UK is an overlooked risk to human health. Several European countries have adopted a positive list of species that can be kept, provided that the conditions meet welfare and safety criteria, with potential exemptions for conservation work in zoos. Will the Government consider this precautionary approach? Government should ensure that the same level of sanitary protection applies to imported wildlife as applies to our livestock and fish industries, with improved border controls, quarantine and testing for pathogens identified as threats to UK biodiversity.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, talked about the need for imports to be managed correctly, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, talked about border controls and mentioned Dover in particular. I therefore wonder whether the Minister saw yesterday’s report in Farmers Weekly about the Dover Port Health Authority urging Defra to reconsider plans for a 70% funding cut to its work in seizing illegal meat imports, a move that the authority says could jeopardise efforts to keep African swine fever out of the country.

The National Pig Association says that cutting the budget could be “catastrophic” for the pig sector and the British Poultry Council has stated that the current situation for poultry meat businesses remains critical following avian flu, drastic increases in costs of production, energy and feed, labour shortages and difficulties with trading. Are the Government looking at the areas that they have requested—investment in robust biosecurity and the viability of vaccination in commercial property?

There are many examples of invasive species causing huge problems for biodiversity, and we have heard about many of them today. Signal crayfish carry crayfish plague, which kills the UK’s only native species, the white-clawed crayfish, which is now recognised as globally endangered. Buglife’s “PotWatch” survey identifies increased reports of non-native flatworms, which can reduce local earthworm populations by 20%. Invasive pests, pathogens and diseases are commonly spread through horticultural imports. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned the huge increase in trade and imports and the impact of this. We know that invasives can travel in live plants and plant products, through the soil and the packaging they are conveyed in, and that routes for invasives to spread often bring about significant breaches of UK biosecurity.

We have heard that climate change is exacerbating these risks, as it makes it easier for invasive species from warmer climates to establish themselves in the UK. Furthermore, as new trade routes and freeports open, there is a greater chance of new species entering the UK, as biosecurity measures at international borders have not kept pace with the growing volume, diversity and origins of global trade and travel.

Trees have been a central part of today’s debate. The Woodland Trust has been mentioned by noble Lords; it has clearly demonstrated that the UK has an unsustainable rate of new tree threats, significantly compromising government aims, as we have heard, to create new woods and trees for biodiversity, carbon and people. Many noble Lords have mentioned the importance of tree diseases such as ash dieback—a clear example of how tree imports can have a catastrophic impact on our trees and woodlands. We now expect to lose anything between 50% and 80% of our existing ash trees. I am sure that anyone who walks in the countryside or even drives along its roads can see the sad state of our ash trees. We also have severe dieback of larch trees in the UK, which has been mentioned. The problem is that it can jump to other species, which is why so many larch trees are being cut down. When I walk my dog in the woods in Cumbria, it is heartbreaking—areas are completely devastated, with every single tree gone.

The cost of dealing with new pests and diseases often falls to farmers and land managers as well as to government, and ash dieback has been predicted to cost around £15 billion. To put this into perspective, that is almost twice the estimated cost of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. We have to protect our precious woodlands and trees from these increasing pest and pathogen arrivals. Prevention is cheaper than cure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the overall ambition must be to reduce reliance on imports, properly equipping nurseries with skills, labour and funding.

Buglife sent a good briefing on how concerned it is that current phytosanitary requirements for imported goods are simply not fit for purpose and are significantly weaker than the exporting standards required to trade to the EU. Can the Minister explain why this would be the case? It is really difficult to detect many small species, such as ants, snails, slugs and beetles, in imports. Will the Minister look at Buglife’s suggestion that the most suitable preventive measure is to end the importation of soils and potted plants containing soil? Other countries do it, so why is this not something that the UK could look at?

We have also heard about the Government’s commitment to a three-year trial of an invasive species inspectorate. As this trial is now nearly complete and inspections have revealed high levels of non-compliance, are the Government thinking of making this permanent? It would clearly make a huge difference.

In conclusion, public awareness was mentioned by a number of noble Lords, specifically the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford. This is an important part of the battle against our problems with biosecurity. There is a compelling need for the UK Government, industry and society as a whole to invest in redoubling efforts. We need a proper, evidenced-based way to identify emergent issues and tackle them.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and other noble Lords for their very kind words. I am honoured and privileged to be giving my maiden speech in this afternoon’s debate. The key issues impacting our environment, such as biosecurity and species loss, are not only close to my heart but one of the central challenges we currently face. I shall return to this subject in a minute.

In researching maiden speeches, I was struck by two recurring themes. The first is a desire for brevity—a subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, this morning. My wife’s grandfather, Sir Walter Bromley-Davenport, was a prominent Member of the other place. He provided some formative training in this area. Whenever anyone stood up to make a speech, including the vicar for his Sunday morning sermon, he would mutter in a terrible stage whisper, “Five minutes”. If anyone dared to exceed the allotted time, he would follow up with an even worse stage whisper, “The fellow doesn’t know when to stop”.

The second theme is consistent reference to the warm welcome that new Members of this place receive from Black Rod and the many others who make up the wonderful team here. I add my own thanks for the very warm welcome that I have received. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Benyon—currently in Guatemala—and Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie for introducing me to the House just before Christmas. Both have offered me useful advice on how to navigate this place. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me as I find my feet in this unfamiliar landscape.

I am conscious that I have two tasks today—to respond to this debate and to give your Lordships a little personal background on my journey to this Dispatch Box. Let me start with a brief summary of the latter. In my working life, I have held a number of different jobs. I have been a soldier, a retailer, a commercial property manager and involved in quite a few start-up businesses.

I have also had the great privilege of working with some of our country’s most prestigious conservation charities and NGOs, most recently as chair of the Atlantic Salmon Trust. Like many other conservation charities, the Atlantic Salmon Trust is an amazing organisation, fighting to preserve the iconic wild Atlantic salmon from further decline. One of the most valuable things I learned about wild salmon is their importance in maintaining the health and biodiversity of the ecosystem they live in. The recovery actions that benefit a keystone species such as wild Atlantic salmon also benefit every other species in that ecosystem. If we are serious about reversing biodiversity decline, focusing on these keystone species is a very good place to start.

Running concurrently with my various day jobs, I have been a hill farmer and land manager for more than 30 years in the Scottish Borders, where I live with my wonderful wife, three children and a menagerie of other animals. The backbone of our farm is a flock of hardy blackface sheep. It is just as well that they are hardy, as our farm starts at a height of 600 feet and climbs to a little over 1,700 feet. At the top of our hill is open moorland—a hunting ground for golden eagles, peregrine falcons and a range of other raptors. It is also home to mountain hares, lapwing, grouse, snipe, golden plover, curlew, adders and many other rare species. They are all abundant, due to our careful habitat creation and targeted predator management—two essential ingredients in reversing biodiversity loss. One of the great joys of my life is that I can hear the eerie and evocative call of the curlew from my bedroom window in the spring and summer months.

Our constant objective and overarching aim is to balance nature recovery with farming and food production. As many in this place will know, balancing these two sometimes contradictory objectives is not easy. The time and cost of implementing nature recovery on the farm can create some difficult economic frictions and the very process of farming can present some really hard choices—choices that reflect the realities of life and nature on the front line. This balancing act—it is perhaps better described as a rebalancing act—represents one of the most difficult and important policy challenges for government today. Not only will it guide the future prosperity of our farming and rural communities and help secure domestic food production, it will be the main driver in delivering species recovery and climate change mitigation. I know that getting this balance right is no easy task, but it is certainly not mission impossible—the rather surprising view expressed in my introduction to your Lordships’ House before Christmas.

My second, rather more important, task this afternoon is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on securing this debate and to thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions. This has been a stimulating debate, with the full spectrum of views expressed—so much so that my support team have run out of paper with the number of messages that they have been sending to me.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, is absolutely right to highlight globalisation and climate change as the key issues impacting biosecurity. Pests and diseases know no borders, while new and emerging threats are often the result of trade and globalisation and can be further exacerbated by climate change. In addition, upholding high biosecurity standards is paramount for food production and food safety, for human and animal health, and to support our economy and trade. Plant diseases alone are estimated to cost the global economy more than $220 billion annually, and up to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests each year. These are huge numbers that are unlikely to reduce as climate change drives the geographical expansion and the host range of pests and diseases.

Healthy plants and animals are not just an important tool in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss; they directly contribute to many of the UN sustainable development goals, in particular to end hunger, to achieve food security, to improve nutrition and to promote sustainable agriculture. I assure noble Lords that this Government are focused on not only responding to these changing threats but protecting animal, environmental and plant health. The Government published their biological security strategy last summer, aiming to build UK resilience to the increasing spectrum of biological threats. The strategy specifically highlights the interdependencies between environmental, plant, animal and human health—a subject raised by many noble Lords this afternoon.

Let me assure noble Lords of the robust measures that we have in place to maintain and improve our ability to detect, prevent, respond and recover from outbreaks. Surveillance and detection are key to minimising risks from imports. We monitor and respond to trade and movement threats and have a strong information-sharing relationship with our European and international partners; for example, when EHD, a disease acute to deer, appeared on the continent, we stopped imports from affected countries and enhanced post-import testing from neighbouring regions. Our strong sanitary and phytosanitary standards are upheld by checking products in their final form and by assuring the whole production chain of our trading partners.

Our new border target operating model further sets out how we will introduce a new global regime that better targets high-risk commodities while simplifying processes for trade where it is safe to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, talked eloquently about the need for us to balance the sanitary and phytosanitary risks with the need for trade to flow freely. Having recently visited one of our border control posts and seen for myself the work taking place, I am confident that we have the balance about right for the upcoming rollout of the new BTOM system, which starts in earnest in April this year.

Our world-leading science and research capabilities further support our biosecurity. The UK’s health, agriculture, plant, environmental, and life science sectors are supported by a large cadre of expertise—of international standard reference laboratories and innovative research programmes. Research on new diagnostics, vector-borne diseases and veterinary vaccine technology, are just some examples. Indeed, our globally respected scientists at the Animal and Plant Health Agency require world-class facilities. I was delighted to see first-hand on a recent visit why our Weybridge laboratory is internationally recognised for diseases such as avian influenza and rabies. In fact, it has the largest number of internationally recognised reference laboratories anywhere in the world, something that we should be justifiably proud of.

The first stage of the Government’s £200 million redevelopment of this vital facility has begun. Once completed, it will be a world-leading facility. It will not only cement the UK’s global science status—since almost two-thirds of infectious diseases in humans originate from animals—but safeguard and enhance the UK’s capability to respond to the increasing threat from zoonotic diseases, protect public health and underpin the UK’s trade capability with animal export products, which are worth over £12 billion per year to the UK economy. I am committed to working with colleagues in the Animal and Plant Health Agency and across government, including His Majesty’s Treasury, to move the next stage of the Weybridge development forward.

On the plant side, the £5.8 million Holt Laboratory in Hampshire opened in 2022, conducting world-leading research on plant pests and disease threats. The Fera Science laboratory in Yorkshire, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and many others, is our science reference laboratory for plant and bee health. Its work is vital for our success.

As many noble Lords have noted, despite our best efforts we cannot keep every disease and vector of disease out. Therefore, it is vital that we promote strong biosecurity and maintain our response capabilities. Unfortunately, in recent years we have had several opportunities to test these capabilities, including responses to the Asian hornet and the oak processionary moth, and on the animal side, avian influenza and, most recently, bluetongue virus.

We continue to regularly test our capabilities through exercises and horizon scanning, we learn lessons when outbreaks do occur, and we invest in improvements. We work closely with sector groups on our preparedness and outbreak response, and we remain ever grateful for their insight and commitment.

I am conscious of the time and the length and breadth of noble Lords’ questions. It would probably take me more than my 20-minute slot just to answer those. If I fail to answer anybody’s questions, I will write and place a copy in the Library.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and many others, asked about the progress on the biological security strategy. Defra is a key delivery department in the UK Biological Security Strategy published last June. It commits the Government to addressing biological threats, including those related to animal and plant health and invasive non-native species. Defra is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to lead the “respond” pillar. This includes having robust contingency plans for biological threats; ensuring that the UK border maintains biosecurity with a new BTOM system, which is going live this April; and establishing a new inspectorate to tackle invasive non-native species, which is now up and running. In parallel, our Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 set out how we will improve our environment at home and abroad, including through biodiversity.

The noble Lord also asked when the border target operating model would be working to full capacity. When the new certificates for EU imports come into force in January, they will need to be signed by an official veterinarian from the exporting country to confirm their safety of origin. It is the responsibility of that country to appoint official veterinarians who are qualified and authorised to do that job. Our Chief Veterinary Officer has been in constant contact with her colleagues in Europe on this subject.

On the number of vets we have here, I should probably declare an interest: my son’s partner is a vet, and I understand some of the issues around retaining young vets in our country. More than half her intake from the University of Bristol just three years ago have ceased to practise. Retaining and recruiting young vets over here is very important. We are aware of this issue and the high demand for this vital profession.

The noble Lord also asked questions on how Defra works to improve public awareness of threats to plant health and how to prevent them. The Government cannot act alone on plant health: we have a collective responsibility to keep our plants healthy. Campaigns are ongoing to raise awareness of plant health and biosecurity. This includes pests that are already present, such as oak processionary moth, as well as threats that are not yet present, such as Xylella. There is active join-up across the Defra family group with external stakeholders on plant health communications, including an annual collaboration campaign for National Plant Health Week.

Other noble Lords joined the noble Lord, Lord Trees, to ask about preparedness for a future pandemic. The Covid pandemic has focused us on being better prepared. Disease events that we once thought would happen once in a lifetime have increased and may be at least once a decade now. Globalisation and trade, the demand for imported food, and cheap travel all enable diseases to spread silently and far more easily. The UK is strongly advocating for international collaboration on pandemic preparedness and working towards better early-warning systems; more sensitive, cost-effective and faster diagnostics; and improvements in vaccine development.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, the noble Baronesses, Lady Murphy and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised the important issue of antimicrobial resistance. I am unlikely to share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on the proven benefits of grouse-moor management, but I think we will agree that the issue of increased antibiotic use in the salmon farming industry is alarming. Antimicrobial resistance is a global threat. It can lead to untreatable or difficult-to-treat infectious diseases in humans, animals and plants. We are vigilant to its spread. We have a well-established surveillance programme that monitors the use of antibiotics in animals and resistance in major food-producing species. To tackle antimicrobial resistance, we are committed to reducing unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals.

I am conscious that there were many other questions from noble Lords but, as I said, I would prefer to write to them and leave copies in the Library.

In bringing this debate to a conclusion, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for securing this timely debate and allowing me the opportunity to reinforce my department’s commitment to biosecurity. Protecting the biosecurity of the United Kingdom is at the forefront of this Government’s agenda, as our extensive and ongoing investment into the science capability at Weybridge demonstrates. This Government’s One Health and climate-focused approach is a key element of our biological security strategy: supporting efforts across environmental, plant, animal and human disciplines to safeguard our biosecurity. My department and our key partners across government are committed to this strategy. Not only does it address biological threats but it will deliver on our pledge to hand over our planet to the next generation in a better condition than when we inherited it.

My Lords, I am conscious of time constraints, particularly after the remarks of the Leader of the House, so I will not say as much as usual and will be constrained in what I say with regard to the Minister having given his maiden speech. One usually says rather more, but we met for the first time only last night and I hope he will forgive me. I am grateful for his willingness to meet, and I very much look forward to working with him. With a background as a farmer and keeping sheep, he will know all about diseases, parasites and other useful things, and his knowledge of wildlife, conservation, food production and land management will be great assets in his role. I am delighted to note that he has a vet in the family, which I am sure will help.

I thank all the speakers. I never cease to be surprised and impressed, although I should not be, by how, without connivance, so many different facets are raised in debates in this Chamber. People bring different views on a subject and they are always articulated eloquently and with great knowledge. There is some repetition but, as several speakers mentioned, repetition has its place and virtues, and can do some good. I hope that we have helped raise the profile of this important subject. It was gratifying that there were so many speakers, which is testimony to the importance of biosecurity in all its facets. I am pleased that my good friend, our convenor, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, managed to get his grey squirrels into the debate. The only thing left to do is to agree the Motion.

Motion agreed.

Global Heating

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent reports that global heating is likely to pass the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold this year, and how they intend to cooperate with international partners to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who will be contributing to this debate; their participation is much appreciated. I also draw attention to my role as a director of Peers for the Planet and to the excellent briefing produced by it for this debate, entitled Why UK Action Matters. My own contribution will focus primarily on the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, its significance, and why breaching it matters.

Let me take us back to the last day of the Paris COP in 2015, when euphoria broke out because, against all the odds, 196 nations had signed up to the common intent of keeping global temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels. This agreement was important because it reflected the acceptance of the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions from the industrialisation of western economies since the 1800s are heating our planet to unacceptable levels. The evidence was incontrovertible then and it is even more so today.

I will just say a few words about the Keeling curve, named after its creator, Dr Charles David Keeling, who first started to plot the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere in 1958, taking measurements at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory. Keeling was interested in the seasonal variation of the concentration of carbon dioxide, which showed, if you like, the respiration of our planet as a living, breathing organism. However, as measurements accumulated, he noticed something odd: the annual trend in the concentration of global carbon dioxide was upwards, rising from about 360 parts per million in 1959 to about 370 parts per million in 2000 and around 420 parts per million today. The more numerically inclined noble Lords among us will notice that the rate of change is increasing. When taken together with measurements of concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide from Antarctic ice cores, and plotted on a graph, as NASA has done on its website, a frightening picture emerges. In the span of the 800,000 years for which we have data, there is an exponential spike in the concentration of carbon dioxide since the start of the Industrial Revolution—a comparatively tiny speck of time.

We also know that there is a direct link between atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and global warming, which is manifesting itself as the climate chaos and threat to nature that we see today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options. Through its assessments, the IPCC determines the state of knowledge on climate change. IPCC climate scientists are urging political leaders to do all they can to keep within the l.5 degree Celsius target because, in a world with a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, many of the deadliest effects of climate change are reduced—some of which we heard addressed in the previous debate on infectious diseases. Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the catastrophic, irreversible melting of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica is likely to be triggered, meaning that sea levels would continue to rise well beyond 2100.

There are signs that this is happening already. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that NASA studies show that Greenland is shedding 20% more ice than previously estimated. The loss of the ice sheet could mean that the associated albedo effect would be lost—that is, the reflectivity of the ice would disappear with the ice sheet, and the newly-exposed bare ground would absorb the sun’s heat instead and release methane into the atmosphere, exacerbating heating even further. In addition, melting freshwater would reduce the salinity of the surrounding ocean, with consequences for the system of ocean currents that govern our weather, including the Gulf Stream. We would quite literally be in uncharted waters.

The year 2023 was the hottest by far ever recorded—shockingly, even hotter than scientists had predicted. Despite that, we have not yet breached the IPCC 1.5 degrees Celsius target, which is a longer-term average, but are we going to overshoot it? The answer to that question has to be yes, very probably, but what matters is by how much and how we deal with it. That is still within our control. Indeed, COP 28 has instilled hope that we can limit the damage. The early success of COP 28 on day one, when the loss and damage fund was announced, boded well.

I cannot overstate the importance of the fund. Small island nations and low-lying nations are already suffering the consequences of the climate emergency. To ask them and other developing countries to pay to reduce emissions that they were not responsible for, and to put in place costly adaptation measures for their very survival, is to rub salt into the wound and unjust. In any case, they simply do not have the resources to do so. Yet research from Oxford University tells us that cumulative emissions from small emitting countries, ourselves included, add up to a significant 31% of total development global emissions. We are all in this together.

The fact is that, unless we get smaller developing countries on board, we cannot transition away from fossil fuels—a phrase that is now in the world lexicon thanks to the final agreement document of COP 28; although in my view, and I believe that of the Government’s team of negotiators at COP 28, “phase out” would have been the preferred term. Nevertheless, finally, after 26 or so COPs, we have a mention of fossil fuels—a belated but welcome recognition globally of the cause of the climate emergency.

However, even if we were to stop emissions from fossil fuels tomorrow, according to the Royal Society and other esteemed sources, it would take many thousands of years for atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels, due to its very slow transfer to the deep ocean and ultimate burial in marine sediments. What is needed today is global leadership to move us away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We must stop adding to the inventory of greenhouse gases while ramping up energy from renewables, because the world needs more energy.

For many years, the UK has been in the vanguard, particularly in generating renewables. Where we have led, others have followed. However, the world is aghast at this Government’s recent actions to give the go-ahead to a new coal mine in Cumbria and their insistence on pushing ahead with the unnecessary Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill to issue new annual licences to oil and gas companies. My own view is that both measures are gesture politics and neither will ultimately matter. The real damage is the loss of our powerful voice on the international stage, helping the world to move away from the precipice of climate breakdown and the associated collapse of our planet’s natural ecosystems.

I will leave noble Lords with one very important example of why our presence on the world stage matters. Action on methane is essential because methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and responsible for a whopping 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times. However, it is much shorter-lived than carbon dioxide and achieving significant reductions would have a potentially rapid effect on atmospheric warming. In Glasgow at COP 26, we led the world on getting a global methane pledge signed. I ask the Minister: where is our leadership on the issue today? What action have we taken?

In conclusion, hope has always sustained humankind and experience has shown that, when the global community acts as one, we can move mountains—and move mountains we must to safeguard our planet. Britain’s place must be at the forefront of that effort.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on securing this debate. Like her, I want to emphasise the importance of science and the IPCC. I studied physics at Cambridge, so I know that the basic science of global warming is rock solid—but many predictions about the likely consequences of higher temperatures are flimsier and claims of harms attributed to climate change sometimes lack any scientific basis.

First, you cannot prove a trend from a single event, however dramatic, or from a single year, however unusual. As an example, last year wildfires near some fashionable tourist resorts and smoke from Canadian wildfires blowing down to New York led to claims that this proved we were all going to roast. But NASA satellites have monitored wildfires for a couple of decades and I looked up what the NASA site said. It said that the area burned by fires had declined by 25% over the period that it had been monitoring it, and that on a typical day in August—it was August when I looked it up—there are 10,000 fires burning worldwide, so plenty to choose from if you want to be alarmist. Hurricanes and individual storms are dramatic, but there is no upward trend in hurricanes or in the damage they cause relative to the size of the world economy.

In the opposite direction, sea ice, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned is currently—this January—at the highest level for 23 years. But of course my point about a single event and a single year not being able to prove a trend applies just as much to that. Like her, I imagine that over time a warmer climate will lead to the melting of Arctic ice. But that is not the same as onshore ice—or rather, it will have the same effect on onshore ice. The noble Baroness quoted the IPCC but did not go on to say, as it says in paragraph 5.22 of its report on 1.5 degrees global warming, that this will take hundreds to thousands of years. I think that we can possibly deal with it over that period.

The best summary of what the IPCC says is in chart 12.2 in its most recent assessment review. It assesses what impact climate change has been having, whether it is out of line with variability in the past and what is expected to happen up until 2050 and the end of the century. It says, of course, that temperatures have been rising and are expected to go on rising. Extreme heat, as a result, has been rising and will go on rising. Mean precipitation has not yet risen out of line with normal variability but is expected to do so before 2050 and in the second half of the century. It will be more extreme in some areas and less extreme in others. However, the IPCC says that it has neither observed, and nor does it forecast, up to the end of the century, anything unusual in the way of river floods, landslides, droughts, wind speeds, storms, cyclones or fire weather. Despite the fact that it expects a continuing rise in sea level, it does not expect that to cause any appreciable or unusual coastal floods or erosion.

I think we ought to take into account what the IPCC says about these things. When I raised it before with the Minister’s colleague, his officials wrote back and said, “Oh, but that’s just in the science section of the IPCC report”. Well, I thought it was the science we were supposed to take seriously. But if we do not, previously I asked Ministers whether they knew of any IPCC-assessed reports that suggested that if we did nothing to stop global warming, it would lead to the extinction or elimination of the human race. They said there were none. So, let us not encourage exaggeration. I do not want to see global warming continue, because I am a Conservative and I do not like unnecessary change—but it is not going to lead to the elimination of the human race.

Let us look at the opening words of the economic chapter of the IPCC report:

“For most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impacts of other drivers. Changes in population, age, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, governance, and many other aspects of socio-economic development will have an impact on the supply and demand of economic goods and services that is large relative to the impact of climate change”.

So I urge those who get alarmed about climate change to actually read the science. When they do, they will find it is a problem, but not the end of the world.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for initiating this short debate. It is interesting that there was some overlap between these issues and those that were mentioned in the previous debate: I found it very useful to be able to sit through both. I am also grateful for and somewhat amused by the very contrarian view that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, put forward: it is the essence and the strength of this House that such contrasting views can exist contentedly together. I, on the other hand, feel that global warming is the biggest threat to life that the world faces over the coming decade. The year 2023 was the hottest on record, according to the WEF Global Risks Report published ahead of COP 28 in Dubai.

In light of this, it is gratifying that there was, at the COP, a historic agreement to transition away from fossil fuels. Some might say, “About time”, and others will perhaps say, “Too little, too late”. It is nearly 30 years since the first COP in Berlin, and some 10 years since the Paris Agreement establishing the goal to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. It is likely, in fact, by most views, that this figure will be exceeded this year. I would be grateful if the Minister would explain how the UK is planning to contribute to the transition and how the issue of new oil and gas licences for exploration in the North Sea will assist this transition.

However gratifying the agreement may have been to the participants and those who worked so hard in Dubai to reach this level of compromise, it is simply not enough. It was not accompanied by a plan of action or a timetable. No country can provide this alone; what is needed is a global strategy and partnerships. Again, I would like the Minister, perhaps when he closes this debate, to examine what partnerships he has in mind and how we are going to work together with our partners to address these issues.

Nevertheless, while climate heating is a global issue, it is most closely felt at a local level and it is the poorest and most climate-vulnerable countries that are feeling the worst effects of sea levels rises and extreme weather events. For example, floods in Pakistan last year are estimated by the World Bank to have caused at least $30 billion-worth of damage. In Dubai, at COP, in addition to the agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, it was agreed to operationalise a loss and damage fund to assist countries most affected by global heating. Some $700 million dollars was pledged, but this has been described by experts as “minuscule” in the face of the disasters endured by many as a result of global heating.

So far, it appears that these are pledges only. The money has yet to be forthcoming, nor is there yet a plan for how and to whom it will be distributed. Perhaps the Minister would like to confirm what the UK’s actual contribution to this fund will be and what plans there are to distribute it.

As has been mentioned, COP 28 also stipulated a tripling of investment in renewable fuels. The UK has a good history in renewable energy, and I would be grateful if the Minister could advise the House on the current investment in renewables and what plans there are to meet COP’s tripling target.

COP 28 cannot be just a talking shop with vague agreements and pledges but no legally binding commitments. There must be continuing serious debate about how issues of fairness and equality can be addressed, if there is not to be a great loss of trust in COPs generally. Furthermore, the wealthy countries, whose historic and continuing carbon emissions are the dominant cause of global heating, must take action. Fine words are not enough: we need serious action.

I am advised that, at another major global conference taking place in Davos, climate heating is low on the agenda, unfortunately, as conversations about war, inflation and Trump dominate. It is apparent that, for the moment, this is a time when other issues need to be addressed as well.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on bringing this debate, but when I sat down to write my speech, I felt this great wave of weariness wash over me. Not because of the topic, which is an existential threat for many species and scenarios, but because I have been talking about climate change and its dangers, disasters and opportunities for three decades. Of course, the Green Party has been publishing its policies to cope with these devastating changes for the past 50 years. So, I could simply refer noble Lords to my speech of blah, when I said “Blah”, and so on, but I will play the game and debate.

When 99% of scientists explain that we have a problem, it is a fool who listens to the 1% who disagree. But that is what keeps happening, with individuals and governments. Intelligent people like the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, pick and choose their facts to argue that it is fine: there has always been variation, it has been hotter in the past, it will not be as bad as everybody says it is—but of course, it will be. The 1% of scientists who—

No, I will not give way and use up my time. You can speak afterwards.

The work of the 1% of scientists who say that climate change is not as bad as it is made out to be often contains errors and cannot be replicated. It is an excuse to keep things as they are when clearly, that is exactly what is causing such serious problems. Somehow, the last few seasons of floods, droughts, record-breaking temperatures and unsettled and unseasonal patterns have failed to wake up these deniers and delayers. The impact of these happenings—the deaths, the starvation, the absolute distress—does not seem to register.

There are things we must stop doing and other things we must start doing: there is a constant balance between mitigation and adaptation. For example, I spoke to a Conservative Peer earlier today and he talked about the future of carbon capture and storage, which the Government have recently ploughed money into. Yet our natural carbon capture and storage systems—the oceans, wetlands, plants, et cetera—are constantly trashed in the name of progress. There are plans for deep-sea dredging, not knowing which ecosystems could be damaged. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the deep ocean. Our ignorance will cause more problems, probably not too far in the future.

It is possibly not the end of the world but it is the end for many species, and probably the end of a comfortable life for the majority of people—obviously, not for the super-rich; I dare say, they will cope. For example, yes, we should plant trees, but we should also stop cutting down older trees in forests. We must insulate houses when they are built, which is better for the dwellers and for the planet. Transport accounts for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions across the world, and many Governments are implementing policies to decarbonise travel. We are behind on that. We can make it easy to walk and cycle, to use public transport or car clubs. We must reduce our flights, especially the use of private jets.

Finally, I have a question and also a suggestion. Does the Minister see that this Government have failed on the climate crisis and that they need to dump the idea of new oil and gas licences and adopt the Green Party’s policies, so we can keep our fingers crossed that we do not reach the next two degrees of warming in the next decade or so? I recommend reading our Green Party manifesto. It is chock full of practical, sensible policies, often cheaper than anything the Government are promoting. They are policies that really do make sense—and they will not cost us the earth.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Peers for the Planet. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, both on securing this serious debate and on her comprehensive, well-evidenced introduction to it.

I accept and find myself in accord with the analysis of the scientific evidence given by the noble Baroness and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kingsmill and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will leave it to the Minister to respond to the analysis of the IPCC report—the whole report, not only the bar charts and the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I know that the Government do not agree with what he is suggesting and that their 2030 strategic framework for international climate and nature action, published in March 2023, stated that climate change and nature loss were

“two of the defining challenges of our time”.

I do not find it totally reassuring to be told that whatever climate change does and whatever its threats and challenges, it does not mean the extermination of the human race. That does not make me sleep better in my bed, thinking about my children and grandchildren’s future, or the future of the people who live in countries threatened by sea level rises, floods, famine or drought.

We have enormous challenges before us. This country has done well, and we have led in this area. What worries me is the backtracking we are seeing on our own commitments; as a result, we risk losing credibility in providing leadership. I worry that the Prime Minister’s change of direction has led to a loss of credibility and undermined our own efforts. One of the problems is that we are dealing with a phenomenon that impacts a huge number of sectors, as we heard in the last debate. We see them individually, but we do not see issues of supply and demand together, or health alongside business, transport and energy. We do not have a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach.

The machinery of governance for climate change issues is a real problem that we need to tackle. We need a more comprehensive approach that recognises the effects across different sectors and policies. As I said earlier, I am worried about the Government’s announcements telling us that a better, fairer way of meeting our obligations would involve putting back the planned date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, putting back the date for phasing out the installation of oil and liquid petroleum gas, and exempting households from the requirement to phase out some fossil fuel boilers. They will all have an effect on demand, and that will make it more difficult for us to meet our targets. I put in a plea for a comprehensive government approach to this and to the delivery of the very high-level aspirations that the Government have in this area.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on giving us the opportunity to debate this issue; it is a very opportune time to do so. At the risk of being called a fool, a denier or a contrarian, I concur with what the noble Lord, Lilley, said, because he was absolutely right in his analysis. That is not to say that I am not worried about climate change or, to refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the future for my children and grandchildren—of course I am. But the question of what we do about that is the real importance of this debate.

I was very interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mention that we supported a coal mine in Cumbria. It produces a tiny amount of coal and, if we had not produced it there, it would have been imported. I very much doubt the idea that that will somehow destroy our leadership in the world.

The oil and gas licences are perhaps more important, and I can understand the concern about them. But I want us to focus on the fact that, no matter what a number of people may think, we will continue to need gas for approximately the next 20 years. Those who oppose the use of it seem to have forgotten the fact that we actually import LNG, which makes up about 20% of our usage. It comes from the USA and Qatar, and none of those countries extracting gas has come to grief, although there are lots of predictions about that. If we will not accept that, those who argue against it should tell us how we will survive, but I do not believe that they have the answer to that.

I listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Kingsmill and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The latter said that, because she and her party have been talking about this for so many years, it means that they are absolutely right—unfortunately, it does not. No one is arguing with her that we should not deal with the challenge of climate change; her solutions are what people, quite justifiably, challenge.

The other thing that people seem to suggest is that nothing will change technologically—but it will. The Government are supporting the development of small modular reactors. They will be very important and a good development in government policy. They will give us the opportunity to create green hydrogen or maybe even blue hydrogen. Carbon capture and storage is still expensive at the moment, but it will definitely come. There will be other developments in technology. Should we be worried that other countries are not taking up some of these developments? We should—and we should encourage them to do so.

It is interesting that we contribute only 1%—we seem to forget that. We also seem to forget that the biggest culprits are certainly China, probably the Soviet Union and maybe the USA. We are still leaders in what we are doing, and I am puzzled to hear those who want a change in government policy imply that we are somehow not. It is unfortunate that people say that.

I ask the Minister to confirm the point that I made about small modular reactors and their possible contribution. I heard the talk about having fewer flights; we will have to live in a very poor world if we take up all these policies. We are developing biofuels, which will make a significant contribution to that.

I make my own contribution. I cycle in every day and I have an electric car, so I encourage other people to do the same. I genuinely congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, because it is important that we regularly have these debates and get the Government to justify the stances they are currently taking. I thank the noble Baroness and those who have contributed. I hope people will accept that I am neither a denier, a fool nor a contrarian—although there is nothing wrong with being a contrarian; they are often proved right.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sheehan for bringing this timely debate and all who have spoken. Earth is on the brink of surpassing the internationally agreed threshold for climate warming. The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and aiming to limit it to 1.5 degrees is a global benchmark, conceived and internationally agreed to avoid the worst impacts of global temperature rise and to minimise risks. To my mind, the issue is clear. To the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, I say that every disaster movie starts with somebody questioning a scientist.

For the first time, 1.5 degrees of warming has been passed temporarily, and 2023 obliterated the record for the hottest year by a large margin. Earth was 1.48 degrees hotter. The average temperature was 0.17 degrees higher than in 2016. Half of all days were 1.5 degrees warmer. The last three months were 1.7 degrees warmer. Huge Canadian wildfires drove up yearly global carbon emissions by 30%. Sea surface temperatures rose alarmingly. We are outside the safe limits that humanity requires and the target for controlling global climate change is closing.

However, we must have hope, and a lot has changed. Other speakers have referred to that already. A decade ago, we were on target to hit 3.5 degrees by the end of the century. Due to the international action already taken, this has now reduced to a probable 2.4 degrees to 2.5 degrees. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, current global emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, according to the UN.

Last year was a step change for the growth of renewables, with an extra 507 gigawatts of capacity produced globally. Last year, China alone added more solar power than the world added in 2022. Last year saw a 49% global increase on the previous year, and the International Energy Agency recognises that enough renewables to power the whole of America and Canada should be produced over the next five years.

I warmly welcome the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto commitments to net zero by 2050. We need to work collectively on these issues. The time for arguing about the science is over. I also recognise the great work that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others have done on this issue. It is important that we work together.

However, to my mind, the Conservatives stopped being world leaders last year. I find it strange that the Uxbridge parliamentary by-election was a tipping point in this country’s conversation on climate change. The PM decided to take a new course on climate change, now backing the motorist, feeling that we must “ease the burdens”. Commitments on phasing out petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers were diluted. The tone and the language changed, and the urgency was scaled back. Our commitments risk being collateral damage.

The pointless decision to extract new North Sea oil will do nothing to provide us with energy security and, as others have mentioned, damages our international reputation and standing. Chris Skidmore, who resigned over these matters, said:

“There’s been a pivot towards trying to create a culture war on the back of net-zero as somehow being a measure that is juxtaposed to energy security. It is completely false”.

As a direct result of that decision, our international reputation has suffered—built over years, destroyed in seconds. The public spectacle of our climate change Minister being flown back to support the Prime Minister did not help.

We need to set a clear example. We need to be a world leader. The Climate Change Committee did welcome the Government’s 2030 strategic framework, saying that overall it was commendable. But more must be done to support the ambitions with detailed further actions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, argued.

I ask the Government to stick to their own policies, to reduce the anti-green rhetoric and to continue to step up to the challenge. Given that the IPCC’s remaining global carbon budget for 1.5 degrees is not getting any bigger, perhaps the Minister might tell the House what additional measures His Majesty’s Government will now take to reduce emissions in line with the UK’s proportionate share of that crucial budget.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for securing this debate and for her introduction. I am mindful of the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and my noble friend Lord Young. It is good to have these debates, not least to recognise some of the challenges that we face and the need to hone all the evidence and bring the arguments together to make sure that we can move forward together on this important issue.

As we have heard throughout the debate, analysis published by NASA indicates that the earth’s average surface temperature in 2023 was the warmest on record, with global temperatures around 1.2 degrees Celsius above their baseline period of 1951 to 1980. This links with what billions of people around the world have experienced—extreme flooding, rising sea levels and exceptional heat, accompanied by widespread unprecedented media coverage, bringing evidence of these impacts into households across the world.

The inclusion of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target was regarded as a great breakthrough in the Paris climate agreement of 2015. Although this was a drop of only half a degree, the IPCC has since spelled out the growing risk of calamities if 1.5 degrees is breached, and the consequent need to halve carbon emissions by 2030 to have any chance of avoiding them. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Kingsmill for outlining those calamities, and the risks, so well.

As we know, the EU’s Copernicus earth observation programme has stated that 2023 was the warmest year on record “by a large margin” and has estimated that it is likely that a 12-month period ending in January or February this year will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. The Met Office has also projected that global temperatures could temporarily exceed the 1.5 degrees threshold in 2024. Although this would not of itself mean a breach of the Paris agreement, I think we can almost all agree that the first year above 1.5 degrees will indeed be a difficult milestone to reach in climate history, even taking into account the impact of El Niño in boosting temperatures.

Against this backdrop, serious alarm has been raised about the current UK Government’s changes in policy, despite the rhetoric and their welcome commitments and targets. As we have heard, these policy changes include: pushing back the planned date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030 to 2050; reversing the plans to introduce a new requirement for landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties; and the even more damaging decisions to approve a new coal mine in Cumbria and to allow the approval of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea—which, we also know, will not contribute to reducing energy costs or increasing energy security.

This all speaks of a Government who simply do not understand the impact of trashing our reputation as a world leader on tackling climate change, the damage they are doing to the confidence of investors and businesses and the subsequent damage to our economic prospects, as well as our ability to deliver net zero. Indeed, although the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 progress report commends the overall aims of the Government’s 2030 strategic framework, it cautions that

“more must be done to support the ambitions expressed in the document with detailed future actions”.

Further, it criticises the Government for the reputational damage the UK has suffered over the past year as a result of their policy changes, stating that these changes represented a “retreat” from the strong leadership position established during the UK COP presidency in 2021. The report talks about the

“decline in profile for international climate issues”,

highlighting that domestic policy decisions

“clash with the UK’s international messaging”.

I conclude by asking the Minister for the Government’s views of the risks posed by the temperature rise predictions highlighted in today’s debate. Further, do the Government have plans to respond constructively to the criticisms levelled at them from the international community? Does the Minister acknowledge that our reputation has been severely damaged and, if so, will he tell us what actions the Government will take to restore our reputation as a global climate leader?

I thank and pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for bringing forward this important debate. It has been short but interesting none the less, with some excellent contributions from across the Chamber. I will seek to address as many of the points made as I possibly can.

Although the title of this debate focuses on efforts to adapt to climate change, it is of course equally of paramount importance that we do our utmost to limit further warming in this critical decade. In sharp contrast to the picture painted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Blake, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the UK is—and is proud to be—a world leader on climate change. We are totally committed to net zero, to the Paris agreement and to keeping 1.5 degrees alive. We were the first major economy to halve its emissions, and we have one of the most ambitious decarbonisation targets in the world. We have achieved that while growing our economy by more than 70% since 1990. We have a much better record than—to pluck a random example—Germany, where the socialists and the greens are in government, because it is practical action that counts rather than fancy green rhetoric.

On assessments relating to the likelihood of exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial levels this year, the World Meteorological Organization and the Met Office recently confirmed that 2023 was the warmest single year on record globally, at around 1.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels. While reaching 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in a single year does not mean that the Paris agreement long-term average temperature goal has been reached, it is clearly a concern that record temperatures are already being set. The latest IPCC synthesis report drove home just how important it is that we limit the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Every increment of global warming will increase the adverse impacts of climate change, multiplying hazards and compounding risks that are more difficult and more complex to manage. That is why we put keeping 1.5 degrees within reach at the heart of our own COP 26 presidency and our international climate diplomacy efforts since then.

To answer the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Hayman and Lady Blake, the Prime Minister has underscored our commitment to delivering on net zero. Our 2030 target means the deepest cuts of any major emitter since 1990, and we are determined to deliver on that. We were the first major economy to set a net-zero target in law, and we are committed to delivering net zero at home and, of course, to driving forward progress internationally to keep 1.5 degrees within reach in this critical decade.

However, it is of course a fact that the UK produces just 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We can address the remaining 99% and keep 1.5 degrees in reach only through international action and leadership, which is what we are providing. We made it the centrepiece of our COP 26 presidency and under the presidency, the proportion of global GDP covered by net-zero targets increased from 30% to over 90%. We will continue to focus on the most practical and deliverable measures that bring the largest global carbon savings.

At COP 28, we focused on driving forward efforts to protect forests, to scale finance for the transition and to accelerate net-zero transitions across a number of different sectors. On forests, we announced £576 million to support countries taking action to halt forest loss and to protect nature, and we saw the commitment to halt and reverse deforestation enshrined in the UAE consensus. We drove forward initiatives to scale finance, including the Prime Minister announcing £1.6 billion worth of new international climate finance programmes, and we endorsed the climate finance framework, which champions reform of international financial institutions to make them bigger, better and fairer.

The UK was also at the forefront of efforts to accelerate decarbonisation in many key sectors. To take an example, the International Partners Group, co-led by the UK and the EU, launched the Vietnam Just Energy Transition Partnership—JETP—a £15.5 billion resource mobilisation plan to help accelerate Vietnam’s transition from fossil fuels through to clean energy. The Powering Past Coal Alliance, which we also co-chair, announced 13 new members—including the USA, which has the world third-largest coal fleet—all committed to phasing out unabated coal power and to building no new coal capacity. We were also pleased to see two new breakthroughs launched on buildings and cement. In response to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, these are just some of the international partnerships and initiatives that we will continue to drive forward action on.

As many noble Lords noted in the debate, important progress was made in Dubai. We are now globally unified around a commitment to transition away from fossil fuels, underpinned by a goal to triple renewables and double energy efficiency. A new fund for loss and damage has been established, and the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement was successfully concluded.

Of course, we all know that that is not enough. Looking ahead, we have to work harder with partners to ensure that many of these key commitments are met, such as that to triple renewable power. The noble Lady Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, questioned what we, as the UK, are doing to scale up renewables. First, we have made very significant progress already. Since 2010, renewables have gone from less than 7% of our electricity supply to 48% in the first quarter of this year. Today, the UK is proud to be home to the five largest operational offshore wind farm projects in the world, and we have an extremely ambitious target to increase offshore wind to 50 gigawatts of capacity by 2050.

On the international side, we will continue to scale up renewables through UK initiatives such as Power Breakthrough and the Green Grids Initiative, which is all about scaling up the net-zero grids that we will all need for a net-zero future.

In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on new oil and gas licences, this is of course a matter which we have debated across this House many times. I point out that while the Government are of course scaling up our own clean energy sources, such as offshore wind and nuclear, I agree with my noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that the UK still needs to utilise oil and gas for most of our energy needs. That will be a continued need over the coming decades.

New licences will slow the decline in UK production levels, rather than see them increase above current levels, as has been implied. Even with any new licences, oil and gas production in the UK is still expected to decline by 7% year on year—faster than the average global decline needed to align with the UN 1.5 degrees centigrade pathway. I have made the point many times before that it makes no sense to import LNG from other countries with higher carbon emissions when we could obtain it from our own resources, albeit that these resources are continuing to decline as the fields become depleted.

On adaptation, as noble Lords have set out, the impacts on climate change are already being felt. The UK has long recognised its importance. We are delivering on our commitment to spend £11.6 billion on international climate finance through to 2025-26, to ensure a balance between adaptation and mitigation, including at least £3 billion on protecting and restoring nature.

To support the most vulnerable in our world who are experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change, at COP 27, the Prime Minister announced that we would triple our funding for adaptation from £500 million to £1.5 billion by 2025. Over the past 12 years, our international climate finance has helped over 100 million people cope with some of the worst effects of climate change. At the COP 28 summit, the UK negotiators were successful in helping to agree a framework to bring the global goal and adaptation into alignment. Of course, although we accept that there is further work to be done, this is a critical step towards more meaningful action. During our COP 26 presidency, we secured a commitment to double adaptation by 2025. We will continue to push for more donors to help deliver on this commitment.

To address another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, we welcome the establishment at COP 28 of the new fund covering loss and damage, with funding in excess of $650 million. The UK announced a contribution of up to $40 million to this fund, with a further $20 million for funding arrangements, including for early warning systems and disaster risk finance. Given the scale of the need, it is essential for the success of the fund that it attracts new and wider sources of funding, including grants and concessional loans from public, private and some innovative sources. We will continue to progress this as much as we possibly can.

Also at COP 28, my colleague, the Minister for Development and Africa, announced a further £100 million of UK funding to help many vulnerable people adapt to climate change. The UK can be proud of its record and of everything that we are doing—both domestically and through the leadership we are providing abroad.

Before the Minister sits down, will he respond to the point I made about the Government’s support for small nuclear reactors?

I am happy to do so. I did not cover it directly in my speech because we made a big announcement about it last week. I answered Questions on it in this House only the other day. We are progressing big-scale nuclear reactors. We are committed to making a decision shortly on the progress of Sizewell C. We have provided £200 million to Rolls-Royce for the development of new SMRs. Great British Nuclear is rolling out our campaign of both SMRs and AMRs. Many of our existing nuclear plants will go offline towards the end of this decade. We need to make sure that we make the investments to replace them because that will be essential if we are to reach net zero. The noble Lord’s point is well made.

My time is up, so I will draw my remarks to a close. The House can rest assured that the UK will continue to deliver on net zero at home and to push and accelerate action internationally, while championing the need to address many of the worst impacts of climate change. The science demands that we drastically accelerate global action on mitigation in what will be a critical decade ahead. We will progress all these efforts both at home and internationally. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for securing this debate, and all noble Lords who contributed.

My Lords, I thought I would just repeat the point made earlier in the Chamber by both the Leader of the House and the Opposition Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, concerning the importance of brevity in this debate—indeed, in all debates. If noble Lords speak for the full time limits in this debate or exceed them, there will be insufficient time for the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to respond. So I humbly request that noble Lords stick to the allocated speaking time, which is a maximum of seven minutes. Thank you.

Intergovernmental Relations Within the United Kingdom

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

My Lords, last Saturday, 13 January, was the second anniversary of the servicing of the new UK intergovernmental relationship regime, replacing the October 2013 arrangements that had been so overtaken by events. Today is therefore a good time for us to be here to debate this vital structural component of our union.

The past 25 years have seen huge changes in how we are governed, with the devolution of much power from Westminster in various stages. However, the job of creating the mechanics of how the UK’s resulting governmental bodies interact has struggled to keep step. This has contributed to the significant creaks and groans within the union that have been of such concern to so many here today, and certainly to me.

Before I make some remarks about this new regime, I think it worth briefly reviewing the history. In 1999, following the first round of devolution, the first of a succession of memoranda of understanding was agreed. It sought to promote and improve relations between the UK and the devolved Governments and was updated several times, including in 2012. That led to the draft MoU of October 2013, which, until January 2022, as a draft, was the documentary repository of the arrangements between the four Governments. The October 2013 MoU vested responsibility for the arrangements under it within the UK Government with the Deputy Prime Minister, a position vacant from May 2015 to September 2021: there was no captain of the ship.

The Scottish independence referendum was in September 2014. The resulting Smith commission agreement led to a substantial additional number of powers being devolved, as duly happened pursuant to the Scotland Act 2016 and the Wales Act 2017. These significant changes in the devolution settlements represented yet more things that the drafters of the October 2013 MoU had not sought to address at the time.

The Constitution Committee delivered an excellent report, The Union and Devolution, in May 2016. It concluded that the UK Government must

“devise and articulate a coherent vision for the shape and structure of the United Kingdom, without which there cannot be constitutional stability”.

The Brexit process kicked off in June 2016, just a month later, and exacerbated the situation. In the European Union Committee’s report of June 2017, Brexit: Devolution, we said:

“The devolved governments, and some of our witnesses, have also argued that fundamental reform is needed to give the devolved institutions a more formal role in UK decision-making post-Brexit, analogous to that of regions and states in federal systems”.

The start of 2018 was probably the low point, but in March 2018 a review of intergovernmental relations, the IGR review, was launched. This was, to quote GOV.UK, a

“joint review of the existing Memorandum of Understanding on Devolution”.

In July 2019, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, was asked to review the UK Government’s union capability, a task he very ably concluded in late November that year. Then, after a period of great silence, on 24 March 2021 the Dunlop review and an update on the IGR review were published. The Dunlop review is a seminal and well thought-through document, and it is a pity it had to wait in the wings for 16 months. It had a number of principal propositions, including the creation of a great new office of state in the Cabinet and the reorganisation of the devolved nation departments, with a single Permanent Secretary.

The 15-page update on the IGR review, by then three years in the making, appeared to be quite close to the finishing post and, as I said, the final document surfaced on 13 January 2022, about four years after the start of that review. What also appeared, on 24 March 2021, was the inaugural Intergovernmental Relations Quarterly Report, then a Cabinet Office document. This has now settled into a rhythm of quarterly reports, with a larger annual report into IGR activity. This transparency is as commendable as it is vital, and I will come back to it shortly. That, then, is the potted history. It demonstrates a woeful lack of focus on devolved matters over many years. Even if we have a better structure now, the challenge is how to use it to the advantage of us all and our union.

I turn therefore to the most recent intergovernmental relations quarterly report. As I said, the first iteration was a Cabinet Office document. Today, these responsibilities form only part of the portfolio of one of the busiest ministries, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Michael Gove is also the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, but it seems that this vital task is not important enough to make it into the ministry name. The symbolism here is wrong, and we must do better.

On looking at the dashboard for the meetings in Q3, and for the rolling 12 months to Q3, I am struck by the asymmetric level of engagement. DLUHC had 28 IGR meetings in the rolling 12 months. The Ministry of Defence had one. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology had none, albeit that it has been in existence for only six months. There is also a concern that IGR meetings are generally ad hoc, and not fully planned and diarised well ahead. Can the Minister describe to us how DLUHC tries to ensure full engagement by all Whitehall departments, and what constitutes an IGR meeting?

One of the reasons why the IGR mechanism took almost four years to surface was the negotiation of the dispute resolution mechanism among the parties. Two years in, can the Minister say how many disputes have been raised and how many have been resolved? On 20 December 2023, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP spoke of the dispute over the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill in a formal Statement to the Scottish Parliament. She said:

“Before the Bill reached stage 3, we reached out to the UK Government, finally getting a meeting with the Equalities Minister the day before stage 3 started”.

Stage 3 is the final stage of the legislative process in Scotland. Minister Somerville and her team were clearly aware of the problem of the potential clash of the Scottish Bill with the UK’s equalities legislation, which is why they sought out the Whitehall Equalities Minister. However, I can find no mention of the IGR mechanism being engaged on the issue at all. Can the Minister confirm whether the IGR mechanism was engaged at any time over this debacle, whether a dispute was at any time raised and what lessons have been learned from this most difficult issue?

On 27 November last year, 20 months after the surfacing of the new IGR structure, DLUHC published a paper entitled the Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat. This was very helpful, if rather horribly late. Can the Minister tell us whether the secretariat is made up of full-time dedicated staff and includes staff members from all four Governments? In any event, the IGR mechanism is so important to our union that an annual and formal debate in both Houses on the state of intergovernmental relations is a necessity. Can she also comment on this?

In January 2020, I was in Canada at a conference of Commonwealth speakers representing the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. Our host had also invited the speakers of its many regional assemblies. Over the course of three days, I had the opportunity to speak to many of the Canadians. The consistent message was how much effort they put into their union, with a regular diet of meetings and gatherings and the consistent involvement of the Prime Minister. One especially experienced speaker told me that, after their Quebec tensions in the mid-1990s, “We not only had to talk the talk—we had to walk the walk”. The Canadian model includes its Ottawa Government, the 10 provinces and three territories. They have around 80 structured meetings a year. Its dedicated secretariat comes from the participants. It has its own informative website, albeit that the more sensitive meetings have no public documents. The secretariat is neutral and fully independent. Are the Government looking at the Canadian model for intergovernmental relations—or any other models—in what I hope is an unending search for the best?

In closing, I note that this House has spent a lot of the last year on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act. This foresees, among much else, English devolution. Will the Minister comment on whether English devolved Administrations would be an equivalent part of the devolved intergovernmental structures within the United Kingdom? In any event, I very much look forward to this debate and its strong field of speakers. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for securing this debate and for his excellent introduction to the issues. Commuting as I do from Glasgow, I clearly have a Scottish focus on the issue of intergovernmental relations. I think that I will be in the minority today; the Welsh contributions will be more numerous. I note, once again, my disappointment at the lack of representation in this House from the party currently in government in Scotland. That is its choice, but one that I fear cuts off its nose to spite its face.

I declare my interests as laid out in the register. My work as a board member of Creative Scotland and as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland brings me into regular contact with the Scottish Government and their officials, and I currently chair the Scottish Government’s National Advisory Committee for Neurological Conditions.

In preparation for today, I turned to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre’s most recent briefing on intergovernmental relations, which outlines, as the noble Earl touched on, how many different bodies have wrestled with this issue, including parliamentary committees, academics, independent commissions and the excellent Dunlop review. The majority of these criticised the previous Joint Ministerial Committee for a number of reasons, including ineffective dispute resolution, the role of the UK Government and a lack of transparency. The question, surely, is whether the three-tier system implemented by this Government since 2021 has fared any better. The noble Earl asked the Minister for very specific responses on some of these issues, and I look forward to her replies. I am afraid the sticking point is that, whatever this Government may do, as Michael Gove, the Minister responsible, points out in his foreword to the IGR annual report for 2022,

“this is not a one-government job”.

For over two-thirds of the Scottish Parliament’s 25 years, the SNP—which is, by definition, opposed to devolution—has been the party in government in Holyrood. The SNP’s raison d’être is independence, and everything it does and says is measured through that lens alone. As long as there is devolution, there is no independence. Humza Yousaf has already confirmed that independence will be “page one, line one” of the SNP manifesto at the next general election.

In the early years, day-to-day relationships could be managed through informal political channels by representatives from the same party, relying on good will. Any pretence that this Scottish Administration have to good will or co-operation between Holyrood and Westminster is long gone. Over the past 25 years, much has changed. We have devolved yet more powers to the Scottish Parliament—tax raising and social security, for example. We hoped they would contribute to Scotland taking more responsibility over its own affairs, but we did this without implementing any additional accountability or scrutiny.

So, the Scottish Government make their choices. Scotland is the highest-taxed and most complicated tax area of the United Kingdom. Its health service is close to breaking point; its education system has plummeted down the rankings; and business and enterprise are treated with contempt. Public spending in Scotland amounts to 50% of GDP. Making different choices, though, is the whole point of devolution.

What should this Government do about the state of intergovernmental relations with Scotland? I agree with Michael Gove, who said in an evidence session to the Constitution Committee that, from a Westminster perspective,

“on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis Ministers have very good relationships with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations”.

I also welcome the devolving of civil servants away from London and across the UK, including to Scotland. However, Mr Gove recognised in that same evidence session that

“Ministers in the Scottish Government have a different constitutional vision, so there is an incentive for them, when a political platform is provided, to try to amplify what they perceive to be weaknesses … and to downplay the day-to-day effectiveness of our arrangements”.

This was clearly in evidence during Covid, with competing daily press conferences, and continues today with the opening of Scottish government offices and ministerial meetings abroad.

The hypocrisy of the SNP, on the one hand barely tolerating our monarchical structure in Scotland while Angus Robertson was quick to offer to host the new King and Queen of Denmark due to her “strong Scottish connections”, is breath-taking but unsurprising. It is just another way to find every opportunity to push the limits of the Scotland Act.

We will not have any real opportunity for change until the next Scottish Parliament elections in May 2026. Until then, I urge this Government and any future Westminster Administration not to fall into any of the SNP’s traps. Whether it is regarding equalities and gender recognition, recycling or foreign affairs, all are painted to the Scottish public as examples of the “democratic deficit”. They are staging posts on the “journey” to independence. If the SNP loses those elections then, as its MP Tommy Sheppard put it,

“the debate on independence stops”.

Hooray, I say.

Perhaps then we can focus on what we should change. Perhaps we could agree on what thresholds need to be reached before any future constitutional referendum is contemplated. Perhaps we need to revisit the Scotland Act to impose some much-needed scrutiny on the woefully incompetent legislation emerging out of Holyrood. Perhaps that is why the SNP disapproves of your Lordships’ House so much—it fears the scrutiny of a second Chamber.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie. I should reassure her that the Welsh are very rarely in a majority in this House. We should take advantage of that this afternoon. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for enabling us to have this debate and for the forensic way in which he introduced it. It is timely because there is much to welcome in the new IGR structure, especially the greater clarity in terms of process, accountabilities and dispute resolution. As he was saying, this is a work in progress and I entirely agree with him about the challenges of how it will be used. I look forward to the Minister’s response to his important questions.

I will focus on Wales, because what gives this debate extra edge today is that we have had the much-anticipated report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, chaired by our very own Archbishop Rowan Williams, and by Professor Laura McAllister. It has concluded that

“The relationship between the UK government and the devolved governments has fallen far short of the co-operation that citizens expect and which is essential to the successful operation of the Union”.

It calls on the need to protect the Union from the risk of “gradual attrition” if steps are not taken to secure it, and sets out the options for Wales in terms of the future of its governance.

Now, its conclusions consolidate much of what has been marked by intergovernmental relations of recent years. However banal this may sound, no matter how good our structures are, unless those trusted relationships can be retained and made resilient, Westminster and the devolved Administrations will always have an asymmetrical relationship.

That is certainly reflected in Wales’s relationship with Westminster. In July last year, the UK’s conduct towards Wales was described as

“attempts to undermine the devolution settlement and … continued disrespect for the Welsh Government and the Senedd”,

which has damaged intergovernmental working. When he was asked during the Covid inquiry how the new intergovernmental structures were working, the First Minister said they would work only where there were existing good relationships in place, but that

“the new machinery has not succeeded in sparking those arrangements”

or “new forms of interaction”, and that too often relationships just reflected the whim or will of the individual Minister. Indeed, we saw the failure of that will during the Covid pandemic itself, when, despite what we were told in this House, the relationship between Wales and Westminster was one of incommunicado some of the time. Now, that was a basic failure of courtesy, let alone co-ordinated policy.

This House has seen at first hand how the Government have introduced legislation that has overridden the basic precepts of devolution—consultation and consent—and this is documented in the commission’s report. But in this House, I am delighted to say that noble Lords have played a key role in protecting the devolution settlement from the worst effects of provocative legislation, presented to the DAs without care or consultation.

The Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing for two and a half years, had a ringside seat—sometimes we were actually in the ring itself—for intergovernmental relationships. It was not so much a case of benign indifference but more a question of “prod and provoke”. It was our conviction that common frameworks could help to mend those relationships and build a stronger Union. But the prevailing political mood was in effect to make common frameworks a victim rather than an agent of positive policy, as seen particularly in relation to the internal market Act and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act. These brand-new mechanisms, these common frameworks that were invented post-Brexit for managing divergence within the internal market, were intended originally to be positive instruments for taking collaborative policy across the UK, whether that was on agriculture or health, and in so doing to draw the Union closer. That opportunity has been lost so far because they have become focused on compatible processes rather than policy. Insofar as they are successful, it is because the officials working across the four countries have made them so.

What has been lacking is political leadership, and in our final letter to Mr Gove—I completely agree with everything the noble Lord has said about the way the Cabinet Office is marginalised here—we said that the failure to provide drive and focused leadership, which would have galvanised the contribution common frameworks could make to the Union, explains why we described in our reports that common frameworks have been an unfulfilled opportunity. Indeed, we had a whole cohort of Ministers trooped in front of us—some with a better grasp than others—but they all displayed a rather cavalier attitude towards the frameworks and no real grip on what they could actually achieve. Mr Gove has disputed our arguments, of course, but he does say that he thinks the IGR reforms have created “a better overall context”. The obvious question is how; I hope the Minister can answer that.

Recently, the Interparliamentary Forum drew attention to the difficulties caused by the United Kingdom Internal Market Act—a Bill that was fought in this House, where we were able to protect the dispute resolutions of the current frameworks against being subordinated to UK legislation, which was very important—and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act, which virtually dismissed any concerns on the part of either Wales or Scotland as to how their regulatory frameworks would be impacted.

Given that the union is now more troubled, less robust and less certain about boundaries and functions, the publication of the report today, which calls on the Westminster Parliament to secure through legislation

“a duty of co-operation and parity of esteem between the governments of the UK”

is vital. I hope the Government will listen and learn from that because parity of esteem between the different cultures and conditions of the countries of the UK must be at the heart of reviving the relationships if they are not to become even more frayed.

Wales carries the burden of inherited poverty and ill health. It is an exceptional legacy. Underfunding for years means that the Welsh Government simply cannot meet the needs of Wales. The reason why that is so, and its repercussions in the context of the union, is part of the conversation that the commission has started across Wales by making recommendations about the strengthening of the union and raising options for its future. I hope the Government will listen intently to that.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I thank the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for initiating this debate and for dedicating his interest to issues of devolution, particularly since his election to his new position. Those of us who have highlighted the difficulties faced by our devolved parliaments in recent years welcome his support and his empathy.

In October last year, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, appeared before the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place and explained how in the first 20 years of the existence of the Welsh National Assembly, now the Welsh Senedd, relationships between Welsh officials and UK government officials were cordial and positive. That was confirmed for me in a conversation with my noble friend Lady Randerson, who was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Wales Office from 2012 to 2015, in the coalition years. She recalled how, through co-operation and sheer hard graft, legislation that might have breached the Sewel convention—the convention designed to ensure that the UK legislates in devolved areas only with the consent of the devolved legislatures—was worked upon late into the night. Legislation was sometimes held up until agreement was reached between the two Governments so that legislative consent could be granted.

All that changed in 2019, with the incoming Brexit Government and their focus on a unionism that has sometimes been described as hyper-unionism and a focus on legislation intended to “bind the Union together”, whether it broke Sewel or not. Now the Sewel convention is broken almost routinely—it has been broken at least seven times in recent years—and, when the Welsh Parliament refuses legislative consent to a Bill because it encroaches on its devolved responsibility, we see that UK Ministers just go ahead and enact the legislation anyway, leading to a breakdown of relationships.

Calls for a return to more co-operative working and for regular meetings between officials of the UK and those of the devolved Governments led to the publication of the Review of Intergovernmental Relations in January 2022. I pay tribute to the work of officials of all four nations for their efforts in producing the new agreement. It was a time-consuming endeavour, and I hope it grows to be more successful over time and that there is scope to strengthen its weaknesses.

This agreement between the four nations has three tiers and appears to be working quite well at some levels. The biggest disappointment is that the Council of Ministers has met only once, when the new Prime Minister took office. Unfortunately, there was no Northern Ireland Executive to take part in that meeting to represent the voice of the people of Northern Ireland. I am sure we all hope that this issue is resolved soon. I believe that the Council of Ministers has not met since then.

The Welsh First Minister was both realistic and frank when he said he has

“an impression of a Government that knows that it is coming towards the end of the current parliamentary term and whose energy to invest in reviving intergovernmental relations is at a relatively low ebb”.

Certainly, it is becoming clear that the present system cannot be successful if the UK Government, as the major player, are not fully committed to leadership and partnership working.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, I welcome the publication today of the report by the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, which concluded that the way in which Wales is ruled is unsustainable and cannot continue because it does not provide stability or prosperity. The commission hopes that the report will act as an impetus for change for the people of Wales and, it stresses, that the conversation will continue. It presents the people of Wales with three options: enhanced devolution, a federal UK or independence. Enhanced devolution, it argues, runs the

“risk of continued relatively poor economic performance, low incomes and poverty”.

A federal UK is more complicated and would depend on greater devolution to the regions of England, which is not presently there. Independence would mean

“hard choices in the short to medium term”,

but the commission notes that

“it took Ireland … 50 years and EU membership to grow its economy to match the UK’s”.

It also calls, of course, for the Sewel convention to be legally binding.

Perhaps it is time to accept that all the work on intergovernmental relations in the UK is merely a sticking plaster unless the UK Government are completely committed to its success, and that the future lies in one of the commission’s three options. The commission does not support any one option but provides information to enable the people of Wales to come to their own conclusion. My hope is that another Government of another colour at Westminster will, in the near future, enable the change that Wales needs.

I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and congratulate him on obtaining this debate. I also thank him for his excellent analysis of what has happened over the last 10 years. I would like to follow that up with a more rough-and-tumble view of my experience over the last six years. As Professor Linda Colley said in her masterly analysis, Acts of Union and Disunion, a “policy of drift” will not lead to strength. If we look at what has happened for the past six years, when I have seen it at first hand, we are in a policy of drift.

The first phase, it seems to me, was the phase that occupied our time until our exit from the European Union. The European Union Committee produced a most able report, which said that the European Union provided much of the glue that held the union together. Nothing happened; there was drift.

We then turned to a period when I do not think there was drift—certainly not drift of a benevolent kind. It was characterised by the internal market Act, which did so much to damage relations, and by a marked reluctance to co-operate by taking the view that London knows best. That was unfortunate.

Thirdly, more recently there was a much more positive view, and I pay an especial tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, who did so much to try to change the mood. She did much to improve co-operation and to try to get the Welsh Government, who were prepared to co-operate, involved. For example, one way in which she did this was to get something sensible agreed about the mission statements in the levelling-up Bill, where those concerned seemed to have entirely forgotten, in drafting large areas of policy, that a significant number of those had been devolved. I very much hope, and this is my question for the Minister, that we will continue this. I hope that she is going to exercise the role that the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, occupied. If not, who is? There should be someone doing that in this House when there is a Welsh Government interested in co-operation, in contrast to what we have heard about the Scottish Government. Fortunately, it appears to be continuing, and we see that in some of the current clauses of the victims Bill about to begin its Committee stage.

Although I regard it as essential that we get the mood music right, there is a much deeper question. It is a great coincidence—I was going to put it down to masterly strategy, but I do not think you can achieve that in timing debates in this House—that this debate coincided with the delivery of the report of Dr Rowan Williams, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and Professor Laura McAllister today, because I think they raise a much more important question. I want to look at it not through their lens but through a different lens, which is the lens of the union. I think we have forgotten how to make clear the purpose of the union and how we strengthen it.

It is quite obvious, when we look at powers, that there are some powers that are almost exclusively for the London Government, if I may call it that: defence and foreign policy. Even on those, there is a tiny interaction with devolved government. There are other areas. For example, one can take macroeconomic policy and right down through economic policy development, where there is an absolute need for co-operation. I think that what we lack is not merely a proper, coherent structure but a proper understanding of what our union is for, who takes the lead and how we get co-ordinated policies. One example of where this went wrong a little earlier this year was dealing with the legislation to do with standards during strikes. Had anyone properly analysed whether we wanted a situation in which the London Government took over and decided minimum standards for hospitals in Wales? Fortunately, they came to their senses and did not do this in respect of ambulances, because the statutory instrument was limited to England and did not cover Wales, but we need a more coherent view of what the union is for, analytically set out, and how the powers interrelate, instead of what we get at the moment: “It says that industrial relations are reserved; therefore, forget it”. It is a completely nonsensical policy.

What we need is not only the analysis that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, provided about the structure of the intergovernmental relations but what is behind that—an analysis of the powers of the constitution. How this is to be done, I am not sure. Maybe the Constitution Committee of this House can do it, but it is a formidable task. Maybe we could persuade the Government, or an incoming Government, to do something, or maybe one of the think tanks will take it on, but a really good starting point would be the Act of Union Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, introduced in October 2018. It set out a very simple analysis of the powers of the union. We need to build on that and build our structure on intergovernmental relationships through an analysis of the powers. But we also need good will, and I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us on this.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in his excellent speech, set out the history of the evolution of how the UK’s government bodies interact. He concluded with the observation, with which I agree, that it demonstrates a lack of focus on devolved matters over too many years and, even with a better structure, the challenge remains of how to use it to the advantage of our union.

Constitutions matter, but they need constant attention and occasional repair if their vitality and adaptability are to be sustained. The new intergovernmental relationship regime is a vital structural component of our union, but it will deliver only if it is accompanied by the right behaviours, culture and respect embedded within it.

The Constitution Committee observed in its 2022 report Respect and Co-operation that the shared governance of the United Kingdom requires more “respect and partnership” for the union to flourish, and that

“it must enjoy popular support in each nation, based on … common benefits accruing to all”.

The report also said:

“There has … been evidence at times of a unilateral approach to strengthening the Union, which has been insufficiently sensitive to its pluralism”


“Prime Ministers have a critical role to play in making the new intergovernmental structures a success”.

Rather than simply asserting their reach, they should seek

“strong relationships between the four administrations”

and demonstrate a sensitivity to, and an understanding and consideration of, the interests of the people and their devolved Governments.

Similarly, Whitehall’s continuing traditional centrist approach to government is further confirmed by the asymmetrical levels of engagement by departments in intergovernmental meetings, evidenced in the noble Earl’s speech. His perceptive observation of negative symbolism in the responsibility for intergovernmental relations resting with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but not captured in its title, adds to the risk of the department’s broader responsibilities undermining the sharpness this vital area deserves.

Since the introduction of devolution in the late 1990s, politics in the UK has become significantly more pluralistic and less consensual. It is unfortunate that greater progress on reforming intergovernmental structures was not achieved before the challenges of Brexit and Covid-19 demonstrated their inherent weaknesses and contributed so much to the decline in trust. Even the best governance structures may not resolve fundamental differences between Administrations, but challenges have been building up over decades, leading to a discernible atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty in popular debate. I noted the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, about the Government’s disagreements with the SNP, but that does not exempt the Government from their responsibility to the citizens of Scotland and Wales in the union.

The success of the new intergovernmental arrangements will depend on how the Government and devolved Administrations operate them, and whether they are committed to achieving shared objectives, rather than simply managing—or choosing to accentuate—their differences. Take, for example, the UK Internal Market Act, passed without the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. The agreement reached, however, between the UK Government and devolved Administrations in response—to disapply the market access principles where the four Administrations agreed that divergence between the different parts of the UK was acceptable—was welcome. But then, sadly, we hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, that the opportunity that the common frameworks presented was never fully seized.

The Sewel convention is a fundamental part of the UK’s devolution arrangements. It provides that the UK Parliament does not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the devolved legislatures. While the legislative consent procedure generally worked well from 1999, implementing Brexit placed it under great strain. At least nine Acts arising out of Brexit and impacting on devolved matters passed without consent.

We have seen the increasing use of secondary legislation by the Government to pursue policy, a concern captured in the excellent report, Democracy Denied?, by the Delegated Powers Committee. The convention does not apply to secondary legislation impacting devolved matters.

For the Sewel convention to operate well, good faith is required between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. It is undermined if the Government refuse to seek—or choose to act without taking—all reasonable steps to ensure consent. I agree that it is also undermined if devolved Administrations recommend the refusal of consent to their legislatures for purely political purposes. I ask the Minister: what steps are being taken by the Government to demonstrate their commitment to the convention, recognising the loss of trust flowing from the exceptional circumstances of the last few years?

Finally, the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, as to whether English devolved administrations will be an equivalent part of the devolved structures within the United Kingdom, is so important. The place of the governance of England in the union should not be overlooked. Greater decentralisation could address concerns about the governance of England, which is highly centralised, with greater regional economic inequalities compared with almost all other western European countries.

A new process of English devolution began in 2014, involving bespoke deals with local authorities; 10 areas have mayoral devolution, and every part of England could have a devolution deal if it wanted one. However, what is not clear is the extent to which the current processes will actually deliver improved governance and, more importantly, improve intergovernmental relations. It is, as the noble Earl put it, an “oh so important question”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for facilitating this debate and congratulate him on his impeccable timing. As we have heard, fortuitously, today the report by the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, co-chaired by Dr Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister, was published. The headlines in today’s papers in Wales are:

“Independent Wales viable, says report”.

This has become a serious option because of the manifest failings of the current devolution settlement, and the abysmal intergovernmental relationships between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. I pay tribute to all those who have worked diligently over two years to produce the report.

Having served as a Welsh constituency MP for 27 years, prior to devolution, for four years in the first National Assembly and for 12 years in this Chamber, I hope that my perspective will help this debate. As MP, I felt the frustrations of representing a Welsh constituency for which many public policies were conceived and delivered by non-elected quangos, existing to serve the needs of the UK Government, not the priorities of the people of Wales.

In the first National Assembly I saw at first hand the inadequacy of the Barnett formula, which has been recognised by a committee of this House. I saw a Labour Government at Westminster refuse to put that right and even refuse to give the Assembly the cash it received from the European Union for regional development. Only the intervention of Michel Barnier, the EU regional commissioner, persuaded Gordon Brown to pass over to the Assembly the money to which it was entitled.

One of my first battles in this Chamber was to protest at the way in which the coalition Government clawed back £400 million which the Welsh Government, to their great credit, had saved through year-end prudence: a fund intended for capital spending on schools and hospitals. The devolution settlement for Wales has not been working, it still is not, and it has to be put right.

As people increasingly see the shortcomings of the devolution settlement, more and more realise that Wales must take greater responsibility for governing itself. In 1979 there was huge uncertainty about devolution and the proposed Assembly was rejected in a referendum. By 1997, after 18 years of Tory rule, Wales voted yes by a whisker for a relatively powerless Assembly. By the 2011 referendum, there was a two-to-one majority for giving the Assembly legislative competence. Today, up to 40% of voters are sympathetic to independence: “indy-curious” is the term which has been adopted. It is not a majority, but it is a significant number.

Much of that political shift has arisen because of the way in which people in Wales perceive the UK Government as being out of sympathy with my nation’s needs. As we have heard, at the time of Brexit promises were made that the EU’s economic support would be fully replaced by Westminster—that has just not happened. There were also threadbare promises of intergovernmental co-operation.

At times, there has been little less than a disparaging attitude towards the Government elected by the people of Wales, particularly towards First Minister Mark Drakeford. That was most clearly seen at the time of the Covid lockdown. It was personalised in the behaviour of the First Minister and the Prime Minister. At the height of Covid vulnerability, Mark Drakeford camped out in his garden to minimise the danger that he would transmit Covid; at that very time, Boris Johnson was partying in Downing Street. People here fail to understand the respect this brought to our First Minister in comparison with Britain’s Prime Minister.

The stark difference we see between attitudes and values in Wales and Westminster is the most fundamental driver of the wish to go our own way. The fundamental question for this House is whether we can create a new partnership between the nations of these islands, based on maximum self-determination and mutual respect.

The commission’s report, published today, considered four main issues. The first was the challenge to democracy that we experience in Wales, as do other countries. The commission suggested that Wales has the potential to create a robustly more democratic culture. Secondly—this is particularly relevant to this debate—the commission commented that:

“The relationship between the UK Government and the devolved governments has fallen far short of the cooperation that citizens expect”.

It goes on to consider the state of intergovernmental relations and the boundaries of the Welsh devolution settlement. Thirdly, the commission identified areas in which new devolved powers are essential to protect the current settlement. All parties in this House that want to make devolution work should consider that constructively.

The commission believes that the present devolution settlement has an inherent incompatibility and vulnerability. As has been mentioned, it suggests three alternative ways forward: first, entrenching devolved powers in law and devolving the justice system, welfare, employment, broadcasting and railways; secondly, a federal system for the UK, including a written constitution; and, thirdly, the option of independence, which the commission concluded was a viable option.

The report makes 10 detailed recommendations. Of those directly relevant to this House, I will draw attention to four. Recommendation 4 states that

“Parliament should legislate for intergovernmental mechanisms so as to secure a duty of co-operation and parity of esteem between the governments of the UK”.

Recommendation 5 states that the UK Government should legislate

“to specify that the consent of the devolved institutions is required for any change to the devolved powers”.

This was the subject of my Private Member’s Bill that was passed by this House last year.

Recommendation 6 states:

“The UK Government should remove constraints on Welsh Government budget management”—

that resonates with the clawback of devolved funds that I mentioned. Finally, Recommendation 9 says:

“The UK Government should agree to the legislative and executive devolution of responsibility for justice and policing to the Senedd and Welsh Government”.

That was proposed by the Silk commission, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has addressed.

I hope that the UK Government will consider these issues positively and that the Labour Party will realise that tinkering at the margins is just not good enough. We need vision, empathy and a spirit of co-operation that is bold and confident enough to contemplate a new partnership between our four nations. I hope that people of goodwill, in all groupings in this Chamber, will open their minds to such possibilities.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for securing this debate and for his wonderful opening speech. I will focus on some specific matters, rather than the overall architecture of intergovernmental relations, and in particular on the lowest tier of the interministerial groups that focus on specific policy areas.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, noted, we can easily get so focused on process that we do not notice that devolution has meant growing divergence. Devolution means that things have happened and I am not sure that we take enough note of this happening or build it into our relations between Governments.

No one will be surprised that an example I want to focus on is education, but I apologise for the fact that my examples will be English and Scottish, because those are the two systems that I know well. We have always had major differences in our school systems. That is not only entirely acceptable but, in theory, a source of strength, because we can look at what works in different systems and they are alike enough that one can draw some useful lessons. We do not always do that, but it is a real opportunity.

But we have to remember that the United Kingdom has a national economy. Different parts of it may have different strengths, but we have a mobile labour force and young people take it for granted that they will have the freedom to move easily around the entire UK. This starts to be relevant when we think about our professional, vocational and technical education systems. Sometimes you have to have differences—for example, legal education has to be different in Scotland—but there are areas in the older professions where we have either natural or government-mandated mechanisms to ensure adequate alignment. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is the membership body for 24 medical royal colleges and faculties across not only the United Kingdom but Ireland, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council is UK-wide. But, once you go beyond the traditional professions, there is a surprising lack of join-up.

Ours is a world with a growing number of licences to practise. In England, we are trying very hard to revitalise apprenticeships and we have the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. But there is no formal provision for IfATE or the Scottish Qualifications Authority to take note of each other’s standards. IfATE certainly has no resources explicitly to work with the SQA on aligning training expectations. Equally, the English Government are trying to develop a range of higher technical qualifications, but I do not know of any explicit attempts to take account of the much stronger provision in Scotland of higher national diplomas, over a wide range and with a lot of experience. There might be some informal discussions but there is nothing formal. This is something we should worry about.

The other example I will use briefly is higher education, where I must declare an interest as a professor at King’s College London. Here too we have a national system that we are not taking enough note of as things diverge. We have a national system of application to university in UCAS and a national body for student loans in the Student Loans Company. Again, the systems are diverging. That might be perfectly all right, but there is an assumption among all young people in all four of our countries that they can apply to national institutions—I think UCAS is an institution—and that they will be able to move around.

There is also the research economy, which is very relevant to our economic future because, if we do not maintain real research strength in this country, our future is genuinely grim. The UK Government recognise this by funding a large research budget, and specifically by running the research excellence framework: a four-country, UK-wide exercise that provides a periodic intensive review of the quality of research provision. It has certainly been a spur to action in universities and a major source of our international reputation as a very strong provider of higher education. It is run jointly by Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research in Wales, and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland. England uses it as a way to target money into high-achieving universities to ensure that a certain number have the strength to maintain an international research reputation. In England we have to target because we now have 416 registered providers of higher education compared with the, in my view, more reasonable numbers of 18 in Scotland and 11 in Wales.

Devolved Governments do not have to spend any of that money on research; it comes under the Barnett consequentials. Again, that is fine, but it is also true that divergence is increasing, which has—in quite a short term, let alone the long term—some real knock-on effects for movements of staff between universities within the United Kingdom and for the future of a joined-up national UK-wide university system.

My point is not that the London Government should take back control, but that we are not discussing those growing divergencies in any systematic way. I was therefore extremely concerned to learn that the UK Education Ministers Council met only once in 2023.

In conclusion, I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, and ask the Minister if we can please have some more information on how those meetings are organised, and whether there is any systematic effort to make sure that the four Governments take note of and address divergencies that may be very fruitful, but which, when they impact on the economy of a single nation—the United Kingdom—need to be addressed consistently and in depth by all four Governments.

My Lords, I cannot recall intergovernmental relations ever being mentioned when the Cabinet committee considered devolution for Scotland and Wales in 1997. Indeed, after the elections to the Parliament and the Assembly, when I, as Welsh Secretary, had to deal with the Welsh Government, relations were very good. They were good, really, because of personal relationships. We had a Labour Government in Cardiff, a Labour Government in Scotland and a Labour Government in Westminster, so it was relatively easy for intergovernmental relations to be good.

In my case those relations were based on a telephone call to Rhodri Morgan at 10 o’clock every morning of the week. That helped things considerably, because that is how it worked. I returned to Wales after some years in Northern Ireland, and the world had changed. I was then given some responsibility for overall devolution, which meant that I had to deal with Alex Salmond. That was different. There was not a 10-minute phone call every day to Alex. There were, shall we say, challenging negotiations and discussions—always friendly, but extremely challenging. The world was beginning to change, with a separate Government in Scotland now, from Wales and from Westminster.

Of course, that was to change too, after the victories of the Conservative Government in the elections that were to follow. That is the basis of why relations have not been good. There have been different political parties in charge of those Governments, and in a way—here in Westminster and Whitehall, particularly—it was all about devolving and forgetting: devolve, and it is up to them now.

I remember many occasions in Cabinet, discussing matters such as health or education, when I reminded my colleagues gently that the issues we were discussing did not apply in the same way to the 15 million people who lived in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. That was usually met with a great yawn or a rolling of the eyes. That is dangerous, which is why it is so very important that the indifference we have seen—until recently, anyway—to intergovernmental relations has to change,

This came to the forefront in the pandemic. People suddenly realised that things were different—that there were different Governments in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, dealing differently with that terrible tragedy of the time. That led eventually to the excellent report by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, which I commend. I also commend Michael Gove for accepting most of it. There has undoubtedly been a change because of that—but it does not go far enough.

It is a coincidence that today, the Senedd in Cardiff received the report of the commission in Wales on the constitution, led by Rowan Williams and Laura McAllister. That is such an important report in the context of what we are discussing today. In it, they talk about why things have gone so badly. There has been virtually no prime ministerial engagement whatever with these intergovernmental relations issues—including, incidentally, in Northern Ireland, but that is for another day. There have been poor commitments from Ministers, as well as a huge turnover of Ministers, which does not help. The recommendations of the Welsh commission and indeed the simultaneous recommendations of the commission I sat on with Gordon Brown, on the British constitution, are to be welcomed. Whoever wins the next election has to look very carefully at how we deal with these internal relations in the United Kingdom.

Both commissions recommend a statutory council—in Gordon Brown’s words, a

“Council for the Nations and Regions”.

Both commissions talk about the need for parity of esteem, which has gone. It is a phrase we used in Northern Ireland a great deal in setting up the Good Friday agreement, but it applies also to how we look at each other in terms of our nations within the United Kingdom. It is a recognition of a new political landscape but also that better relations between the Governments means strengthening the union rather than the opposite, which is so hugely significant.

The other issue I want to touch on briefly is a parallel arrangement in the United Kingdom that was set up by strand 3 of the Good Friday agreement: relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. There is the British-Irish Council, which has come to life a bit now—it went into atrophy for some years, but it is better now. However, most particularly I want to refer to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, on which Members of this House have served for a number of years. That brings together the Parliaments of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. It does remarkably good work, often unannounced. For example, I am currently sitting on an inquiry into security between these islands. In a way, that is a model of how to deal with relations between our Parliaments. However, it is not just about the Parliaments but the Governments of the United Kingdom and the need to strengthen our union. Whatever happens in the election, that must be a priority.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for this debate, and I think we probably all agree that good intergovernmental relationships are desired. On a very personal note, it is 50 years today since I arrived in this country. I grew up and was born in a federal state that had a written constitution and a second Chamber which represents the component states of the federal state—and they are still arguing. Therefore, all these things are not a panacea; but the fact that we are having the debates is the really important thing.

I want to talk about an issue in respect of which, although Wales and Scotland have the powers to exercise a particular function, they have chosen not to, and that is the Civil Service. I declare an interest as the current First Civil Service Commissioner. The arrangements in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which sets out a legal requirement that the appointment of civil servants in England, Scotland and Wales must be made on merit and after fair and open competition, are important. Northern Ireland has separate arrangements; nevertheless, some 4,550 UK civil servants work in Northern Ireland.

Working from London, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that significant differences exist. A number of speakers referred to that, and particularly to the time during Covid when it became apparent that things were done differently. However, they were done differently for very good reasons, either because of the priorities of local populations or because the demands were different. We so quickly forgot that doing things differently in different parts of the United Kingdom is not a bad thing; it is a good thing if we use it as an opportunity to learn from each other. However, this will not happen if there is no trust and no common agreed standards and shared understandings. In addition, comparable data is very important. I caution against divergence when we start gathering data on different bases and different assumptions, because that divides us in a way that is not helpful to anyone.

UK civil servants, whether they work in London, Edinburgh, Belfast or Cardiff, are all subject to the provisions of CRaG, which involves the Civil Service Code recruitment principles, but there are provisions for divergence, and there is a requirement for consultation. Just to put this in context, in Wales, there are 38,655 UK civil servants; in Scotland, there are 53,495; and in England, there are 416,850. As I said, although the arrangements in Northern Ireland are different, there are still over 4,000 UK civil servants there.

The Civil Service Commission chairs all the interviewing panels for directors-general, Permanent Secretaries and the majority of director posts. In 2022-23, we chaired 229 of these competitions, of which three were for the Scottish Government and seven for the Welsh Government. We take our role as regulators incredibly seriously and would argue that we have a unique vantage point of ensuring that consistently high standards of quality across the UK Civil Service are maintained.

We also have a system of linked commissioners, where major departments as well as Scotland and Wales have a dedicated commissioner. They work with Permanent Secretaries, advise on issues and share good practice. Our current Scottish linked commissioner is Paul Gray, who was the chief executive of NHS Scotland and director-general of health and social care. We are currently in the process of recruiting additional commissioners, and I very much hope that we will be able to identify at least one new commissioner with an understanding and experience of Wales.

In the last few days, the Civil Service Code, which is rarely spoken about in political debate, has gained some attention. As the Civil Service Commission ultimately deals with complaints brought by civil servants regarding conduct that is thought to conflict with the Civil Service Code, I thought it might be helpful just to remind everybody of its basis. CRaG is very clear: there must be a Civil Service Code. There may be separate codes of conduct covering civil servants who serve the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly Government, but, before publishing a code, or any revision of the code, the Minister must consult the First Ministers of both Scotland and Wales.

No Administration in the UK, or any of the devolved Administrations can deliver their priorities unless they are supported by a strong and competent Civil Service. Therefore, I expect our UK civil servants to get experience working in all parts of the UK. Moving in and out enriches not only the individual’s professional experience but benefits the Administrations they serve. I would argue that no director-general or Permanent Secretary should be appointed unless they have some experience in one of the devolved Administrations or our big local authorities. At the moment, this happens in some cases, but it really does not happen enough.

I have one curious little anecdote which I picked up when I chaired a competition in Scotland. There was the observation that London-based civil servants who are used to dealing with single large departments probably do not prepare enough when they are applying for jobs in Scotland and Wales because they do not appreciate the nature of the difference and the breadth of experience they have to bring to the job. They would enrich their own experience by moving in and out of Whitehall in regular patterns.

With all this in mind, I assure the Minister and the House that the Civil Service Commission will continue to play its role in ensuring strong intergovernmental relations based on a UK-wide Civil Service. As the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, put it so nicely, it helps with the creaks and groans of the current arrangements.

My Lords, in winding up his speech, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said that what we needed was constitutional stability. We have not had it for the last five years. We have had intense constitutional instability, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, keeps reminding us in his latest book. Effective government will not survive unless we have some quite serious constitutional change within the next five to 10 years. I look to the next Government to be a great deal less cautious about attacking some of these major issues of our constitutional weaknesses and engaging in constitutional change on a cross-party, consultative basis to make sure that we try to get some of this right.

We need constitutional, doctrinal and cultural change. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty was honed by AV Dicey as part of his campaign opposing Irish home rule. He said that the Imperial Parliament was always right and there could be only one centre of power, thus Irish home rule and devolution were impossible and had to be got over. Post Brexit, we heard the doctrine of indivisible parliamentary sovereignty being put out very strongly. This doctrine includes the idea that local government is simply an agent of central government—Michael Gove clearly believes this completely—and that local and regional democracy are not an important part of our democratic life.

We need cultural change because, as a number of noble Lords have said, we need parity of esteem and to take seriously those working at a lower level. Multi-level government is something we have to learn, and which is foreign to a great deal of the way in which British and Imperial government has operated in the last 150 years. I would remind the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, that one of the advantages of being within the multi-level government system of the European Union was that our universities, many of which had been really quite parochial, learned about foreign partnerships. We moved towards a degree of convergence across Europe in the structure of degrees because we were part of that broader complex. We have to learn a different approach to politics.

I thought it would be helpful if I spoke as a Yorkshireman, and as someone who has been involved all my life with politics in Yorkshire, about the problem of England and of English regions. I was walking back from Millbank just before this debate with a Yorkshire Conservative MP. He was talking about our common approach in asking for a Yorkshire regional entity, and saying how Gove and others had pushed us back on it. It was very much an all-party approach—from local council leaders, MPs and others in Yorkshire. It was pushed back, so we now have a North Yorkshire Council which has had imposed upon it as a condition of the regional deal a North Yorkshire elected mayor, for which there are already five candidates. On the first past the post system, it is quite possible that the new mayor will be elected with no more than about a third of the vote. Of course, the mayor will not just represent North Yorkshire; he or she will represent York, which was kept out of North Yorkshire because it was either under Liberal Democrat or Labour control and therefore not to be included in Conservative North Yorkshire.

Yorkshire is a mess. There is no ward representative on the new North Yorkshire Council who takes more than two hours to drive from his or her home to county council meetings. I remind noble Lords that Yorkshire is the largest county in England, with a population equivalent to that of Scotland. It has no voice to speak for it in London.

The problem of England—it is also a problem of the devolution settlement that we already have because England is so dominant in it and English Ministers so often forget about the relevance of the other devolved authorities—has to be faced. I hope that, whatever new Government we have, we will at last grasp the need for a coherent approach to regional and local government within England.

Incidentally, that will also begin to resolve the problem of the overconcentration of civil servants in London. I can remember when the West Riding authority had a substantial education department, because it ran its own education. Education is now controlled very clearly from London. I can remember when there was a regional centre of government in Leeds. If you pull these things back, civil servants will spend more of their careers—at the very least some of them—working outside of London. That is a much better way of ensuring that we have a thriving democracy.

I welcome the Dunlop review, which was entirely right to say that what we need is one senior Cabinet Minister responsible for intergovernmental relations. I remember the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which, in effect, did some of this. I am not persuaded that we still need, in a Cabinet of 33—that is already too large to be an effective decision-making body—three separate Secretaries of State for devolved powers.

Incidentally, we have not talked about the British-Irish Council in all this. It was originally part of the way in which we dealt with the devolved Administrations, the Government of Ireland and the Crown dependencies, which we always forget about. It seems to me that, in some way or other, we need to grapple in the next Parliament with the question of what exactly the role and responsibilities of the Crown dependencies are. As we have recently learned, a number of Members of this House keep their financial interests there for tax-efficient reasons. As such, the question of the Crown dependencies’ relationship with the UK is one that a committee of this House might like to examine.

Where do we go from here? It seems to me that the task of the next Government is to grapple with this issue, partly because levelling up has clearly not succeeded. I feel resentment from the people I meet in Yorkshire about the failure of levelling up, as well as about the promises made by Boris Johnson and others. The thought that we would have begun to have improved infrastructure and greater finance for local authority action has been disappointed.

We would be much better off if we had the formal arguments that we see in Germany about fiscal federalism, which means dividing up the regional impact of the national budget. We would then begin to talk about it, rather than saying, “Oh well, there’s the Barnett formula, which is automatic”, then forgetting about the regions of England. Considering that part of fiscal federalism would be provision for a second Chamber in which there would be regional representation, it could be part of the way in which we might make the weaknesses of our system of government rather less awful than they have been. In a sense, we are half way towards a federal system. We need to go a little further in that respect. I would welcome an open discussion about the regional distribution of public spending, rather than the empty promises that Boris Johnson made, which have led to so much disillusion in the north, the south-west and elsewhere.

We certainly need to restore local democracy in England. It has been dreadfully weakened. As we all know, a number of local councils are likely to go bankrupt in the next year or two. That matters. We know from public opinion polls that public trust in local democracy is higher than public trust in national democracy. Incidentally, we also know that public trust in Westminster politics has fallen below 10%—the lowest it has yet hit. This ought to worry all of us in both Houses very considerably.

We need to strengthen intergovernmental machinery, as a number of noble Lords have said. We need regular ministerial attendance and to develop, as the Lords Constitution Committee said, a modern form of shared government which is fully understood at all levels of government. There are indeed many other areas of constitutional reform which a new Government should take in, but that perhaps will wait for a future debate.

My Lords, as a proud Lancastrian it is a pleasure to follow a Yorkshireman, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—although he did say that Yorkshire is a mess, which was an interesting statement. I was looking at the noble Lord, Lord Gascoigne, a fine Lancashire man, for solidarity.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for securing this debate and introducing it in such an eloquent manner. I thank noble Lords from across the House for making informative and useful contributions, many of which came from great expertise and experience. This debate is timely, and there are numerous questions and concerns that the Government need to address.

Since 1998, intergovernmental relations have been an important yet understudied part of the United Kingdom’s new machinery of government, once described by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, as the “hidden wiring” of the UK’s territorial constitution. The King’s Speech late last year promised to promote the integrity of the union and to strengthen the social fabric of the United Kingdom. This can be achieved only through a strong working relationship between the nations and regions of the UK. Unfortunately, the Government have often ridden roughshod over devolved Governments, leaving the union less stable and less secure than ever before.

Working in co-operation is always better than conflict, and we need the structures and institutions of shared government to drive this forward. Each part of the UK should have an equal and respected voice in decision-making, giving those responsible for delivery the freedom to innovate. While the specific policy solutions may vary across the regions and nations of our country, the UK also needs an underlying vision and a Government who are prepared to work in partnership with devolved Governments and local leaders to achieve this—a point which so many noble Lords across this House have made in this debate.

Today, as we speak, we are witnessing 100,000 people striking in Northern Ireland, with no indication of the formation of an Executive, and the deadline to achieve this being midnight tonight. What update can the Minister provide on the situation in Northern Ireland? What preparations are the Government making to address the situation? Do the Government foresee a new election in Northern Ireland? When can we have a functioning Northern Ireland Government? Can we have an update on this situation?

Northern Ireland’s involvement in the new intergovernmental relations structures has been impacted by the absence of a fully functioning Executive or Assembly since February 2022. We understand that senior civil servants have been attending intergovernmental review meetings in the absence of ministerial representation. Their attendance at ministerial meetings is in an observational capacity. What impact are these observers having on intergovernmental relations? The noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston, made a point about the great work that civil servants are doing in different parts of the devolved Governments, but what impact are they having here, as observers? After the intergovernmental review, a new structure was established in January 2022, providing ambitious and effective working to support our Covid recovery, tackle the climate change crisis and inequalities, and deliver sustainable growth. How can this be achieved when there is observer status in Northern Ireland? How can you have dialogue, strategy and sustainability discussions when there is only observation from one particular side?

What is the Minister’s response to the Welsh and Scottish Governments’ view that progress and momentum in implementing the new ways of working and mechanisms agreed as part of the view were slower than anticipated? The Welsh Government said that this was because of

“the instability of the UK government over this period and frequent UK ministerial changes”—

a point that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also referred to.

We note that the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales was taking evidence and its report has been launched, as mentioned today by the noble Lord. What is the progress on evaluating recent practice in terms of meeting the intentions set out in the review and is the new machinery being used to operate a partnership approach?

The commission’s report was published today. It also talks about the “fragility of intergovernmental relations” as one of the “pressure points” of devolution, and states:

“The machinery for inter-governmental relations operates at the discretion of the UK government, and its reduced engagement in recent years has coincided with its willingness to override conventions”.

I refer noble Lords to the operation of the Sewel convention, particularly in Wales, whereby the consent of the Senedd is required for UK Bills that impact on devolved powers, which is of concern to the Welsh Government. In Wales, the Government reported late engagement from Bill teams in the UK Government and a reluctance to share information and drafting, and called these

“symptoms of a disregard for the legitimate interest the Welsh Government and Senedd have in UK legislation which touches on devolved issues”.

UK Bills introduced during 2022 that the Senedd refused consent to include the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, the Procurement Bill and the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. The UK Government has ignored the Senedd’s refusal of consent, in breach of the Sewel convention. In 2023, the Welsh Government also recommended that consent be withheld in relation to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, the Illegal Migration Bill and the majority of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

At a recent meeting of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, the Counsel General was asked to comment on Sewel in relation to the new dispute resolution process, which a number of noble Lords have referred to. He said:

“The crux of the problem with Sewel is … the lack of codification of Sewel—the lack of clarity as to what it means, and the diverse ways in which it is treated”.

These disputes are problematic and

“ultimately, a political process of a constitutional disagreement that doesn’t have a real justiciable status”

is not enough.

The new dispute resolution mechanism introduced after the intergovernmental relations review is still relatively untested—a point that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, mentioned at the start of his speech. The Senedd research service noted that a dispute between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Treasury appeared to be the only known use of the new dispute procedure so far. Can the Minister outline where else the dispute mechanism has been used and the nature of any dispute?

We have heard some excellent contributions across the House, and recurrent themes have been highlighted during the debate. I conclude by agreeing with what the UK Government said in September last year:

“The need for effective intergovernmental relations … has never been greater”.

This is understood to be in light of Brexit, Covid-19, climate change and international conflict. However, the lack of stability at the heart of the UK has been detrimental to intergovernmental relations. In practice, implementation of proposals has been disrupted by such instability. Does the Minister agree that having five UK Prime Ministers in the space of seven years, and constant reshuffles, has had a negative impact on effective intergovernmental collaboration?

The noble Baroness opposite mentioned the three-tier structure, as well as giving a very strong perspective in relation to Scotland. How is the three-tier system working, and what are the operational issues with this?

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, that this cannot be dealt with by a sticking plaster approach. We need a stable and sustainable approach—a point that my noble friend Lady Andrews talked about. The theme and message for me is the phrase used by my noble friend Lord Murphy when he said that parity of esteem is needed. Better relationships between the Governments will eventually strengthen the union.

In concluding, I say that respect, good will, strong relationships and shared objectives across our nations are needed now and, unfortunately, they are missing from the Government’s approach. I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness’s reply.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for securing this important debate. I also thank all noble Lords for their contributions. As the noble Earl and others have said, this is a timely debate and many noble Lords have said that that is because of the publication today of the report by the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not comment on that report. Not only is it hot off the press but, as it was commissioned by the Welsh Government, it is for them to respond in the first instance.

However, I of course acknowledge that many of the issues that we are discussing today and have heard about in this debate cross over with the issues discussed in that report, which is relevant and significant to our debate today. Our debate is also timely because this year we celebrate 25 years since the four Governments of the United Kingdom started to work together under the umbrella known as “intergovernmental relations” and we are two years into the new arrangements for those arrangements, so it is a good opportunity to take stock.

Every week, we see Ministers and officials across the United Kingdom and its Government work together, formally and informally, to tackle shared challenges. That might be through the forums established through the 2022 intergovernmental relations review or through new initiatives that the UK Government have brought forward, such as the Islands Forum, where Governments are able to discuss directly the range of issues that are important to island communities, or, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, as part of our commitments across these islands—for example, through the British-Irish Council, which brings together the Governments of the UK and the devolved Governments with those of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, which recently held its 40th summit. That focused on the theme of transforming children’s lives and celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

There is good ongoing policy co-operation and exchange taking place between the Administrations as part of that council, including on housing, energy security, renewables, the environment and the early years. That continues to be an important part of intergovernmental relations and the different ways in which we continue to engage across the UK and beyond.

Indeed, between January and September 2023, as regards intergovernmental relations, there were over 150 ministerial meetings between the UK Government and the devolved Governments, covering topics including the economy, energy, net zero, the environment, health and trade, to name but a few, and taking place in, among other places, the 16 ministerial groups that we have set up. As we have heard from noble Lords across the Chamber today, that is what the people of this country rightly want and expect: for their Governments to work together on the issues that matter to them, their families and their communities.

We have heard on occasion from the Front Benches opposite about how rosy things were in the early years of the devolution settlement in terms of relations between the different Governments before a period of decline. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that the analysis is not one that is shared by this Government, but I fully acknowledge some of the challenges brought by some of the big constitutional questions we have faced, such as Brexit, which we have had to navigate across our nations in recent years.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, illustrated quite well why relations were so rosy in those early years when there was a Labour Government as the UK Government, in Scotland and in Wales and how things shifted, even with a Labour Government in Westminster, with an SNP Government in Scotland. It is important to acknowledge, as my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie did so well, that, when you have Governments with fundamentally different or opposing views of our constitutional arrangements and the operation of devolution or its existence, and who may have an incentive to pursue differences, relations between those Governments can be more challenging.

I will emphasise two things in that context. First, the test for intergovernmental relations, and whether they are effective or not, is whether they can help navigate those differences, not just operate when everyone is of the same view or political persuasion. We have sought to build that in the new arrangements in place today. I think they are a good basis for that. Secondly, I do not want to overestimate or overemphasise the points of difference or difficulty we have in intergovernmental relations; we in this Chamber and elsewhere focus on where they are tested and challenged most acutely, but we should not overlook the day-to-day work and co-ordination done by civil servants and Ministers on a range of shared interests across our nations. We should look at the challenges and how we can improve our operation across those, but we have heard about the importance of, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, the good will that is brought to these discussions. I think that remains true in the vast majority of intergovernmental relations today. We should not lose sight of that, even where you have Administrations of different political persuasions.

I turn to the question from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on how the Department for Levelling Up tries to ensure full engagement by all Whitehall departments in this process and what constitutes an IGR meeting. We have a network of senior responsible owners across government, and he referred to our commitment to transparency reporting, which equips DLUHC to hold other departments to account. He pointed to the difference in the frequency of formal engagement; that is partly guided by the nature of the relevant department’s work—for example, the extent to which it works in areas which are largely reserved or devolved. It is also important not to lose sight of the fact that much engagement also happens at an official level. In terms of what constitutes an intergovernmental meeting, it is where Ministers from among the four Governments, but not necessarily every Government, meet. Our transparency dashboard allows you to see the number of different IGR meetings per quarter, whether it is through the structure of the IMG or a bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral meeting. The 28 meetings that DLUHC held covered the breadth of the department’s responsibilities, which, as we have heard, are significant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, made some good points about the need for co-ordination across education —even where it is a devolved area, to respond to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, about the importance of not devolving and forgetting but continuing to work with each other. She is absolutely right that the last meeting of the UK Education Ministers Council was in June 2023. I understand that the Department for Education is liaising with its devolved counterparts on the next IMG meeting; this is to be chaired by the Scottish Government and arranged by them in line with the rotating chair arrangements that they have in place. But the points she made about co-ordination in this space were well made.

The noble Earl also asked about the secretariat that we have in place and whether it has full-time, dedicated staff, which indeed it does. At this point, it is comprised of officials from the UK Government and the Scottish Government. We look forward to the Welsh Government assigning a member of staff in due course. Decisions on the Northern Ireland Executive assigning a member of staff will be taken once the Executive are restored.

Of course, we measure the success of our approach not by the number of meetings held but by the outcomes they deliver. Through the renewed structures of our joint approach to intergovernmental relations, we have supported tangible benefits across our union. We have supported the economy by unlocking two green freeports in Scotland and two freeports in Wales, which between them will attract £15 billion of investment and create around 95,000 new high-skilled jobs. It is how we are delivering two investment zones in Wales—Cardiff and Newport, and Wrexham and Flintshire—with each zone set to attract £80 million over five years.

It is also how we have supported some of the landmark events in our country’s recent history, from the Platinum Jubilee to the state funeral of the late Queen and last year’s Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. Governments have necessarily worked closely together to keep people safe and ensure that everyone can come together to mark these significant national events. They build on successes that we have had over a number of years in sporting collaborations, from hosting the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow in August to plans jointly to host the UK and Ireland Euro 2028 tournament.

We have shown through collaboration our support to some of the world’s biggest challenges. For example—I believe the Scottish Government also cite this—following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government, working with the devolved Governments, created the ground-breaking Homes for Ukraine scheme, which ensured that Ukrainians could find a safe home and refuge in the UK. We were able to deliver COP 26 in Glasgow only through a joint determination to create a safe and secure environment for the world to come together. More recently, we have worked closely with the devolved Governments to improve the health of future generations through a joint UK-wide consultation on creating a smoke-free generation and tackling youth vaping and the harm that it can cause.

However, as I acknowledged earlier, that is not to say there have not been significant challenges in working across governmental and administrative boundaries where Governments have varying priorities. Taking note of intergovernmental relations within the UK demands that we recognise this, and making the system work requires not just one Government or Administration but all four working together maturely, as citizens of the United Kingdom rightly expect.

The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Khan, asked about the dispute resolution mechanism. The devolved Governments and the UK Government continue to work to resolve issues at the lowest possible level. The noble Lord, Lord Khan, is correct that the dispute resolution mechanism has been engaged once to date between the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, in relation to a scheme setting out the payment of pensions to persons who sustained injuries because of Troubles-related incidents. That dispute is currently on pause due to the Executive’s absence.

The noble Earl asked whether a dispute was raised in relation to the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. No dispute was raised but ministerial discussions took place between Administrations, as the noble Earl acknowledged, on the UK Government’s concern about how the proposed legislation would interact with reserved powers. The Secretary of State for Scotland’s decision to use the power in Section 35 was about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters. The courts were clear that the order was lawful and appropriate. However, the noble Earl is right that we will always seek to reflect when we have these moments of disagreement and see where we can learn lessons to make sure that we can handle them in the best possible way in future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised the work on common frameworks. I take this opportunity to thank her for her crucial work in chairing the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee and to pay tribute to the work of that committee and the contribution it has made to the effective delivery of that programme.

I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will not mind me quoting her slightly more positive assessment of these frameworks in her letter to the Secretary of State, where she said:

“the Frameworks have proven to be robust, innovative, and unique sources of collaboration between the UK Government and the devolved governments”.

I of course acknowledge that it was immediately followed by the point which she made in this debate: the committee’s view is that

“Common Frameworks remain an ‘unfulfilled opportunity’”.

While I acknowledge to her that the programme has evolved since its conception, as has the political environment in which the frameworks operate, it is also true that the framework outline agreement necessarily focuses on ways of working and governance processes required to enable the productive discussions about policy. In many areas, though, those processes are beginning to bear fruit and be used to develop UK-wide approaches. For example, the resources and waste framework was used to agree the joint consultation on banning wet wipes containing plastic across the UK, as published in October, so the programme has evolved since its conception. More time may have been spent on setting up the processes than we originally envisaged, but those processes are also beginning to bear fruit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and others including the noble Baronesses, Lady Humphreys and Lady Drake, also raised the impact of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. While the frameworks were, prior to the Act, the primary means of managing the internal market, the fact that they now share this space with the Act does not undermine the common frameworks. The Act works in tandem with the common frameworks, with at least three-quarters of the frameworks covering policy areas with regulation in scope of UKIM principles. Where a common framework is used to agree a common regulatory approach, UKIM principles do not apply, incentivising joint working.

The Government do not view UKIM as altering the devolved settlements. Individual legislatures retain the ability to make regulations in areas where they have competence and the devolved Administrations are able to make and enforce regulations within their own jurisdiction. Yes, the Act establishes the market access principles, which ensure that regulations made in one nation do not affect intra-UK trade by creating internal trade barriers, but should the UK Government and a devolved Administration agree that a specific regulation should be excluded from the application of those principles, there exists a process by which to do so. It is worth remembering the importance of the UK internal market. For example, in Scotland, 60% of outgoing trade is with the rest of the UK—more than its trade with the rest of the world combined.

Many noble Lords also raised the Sewel convention. We remain absolutely committed to the Sewel convention and to working with devolved Governments on all Bills that engage the legislative consent process. It has been necessary to legislate without the consent of the devolved legislatures in only a small number of cases. As noble Lords have referenced, these largely related to legislation on EU exit and the implementation of new trade deals. In the vast majority of cases, we have legislated with consent. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, referred to the efforts made by previous Governments to secure legislative consent. I say to her and others that, in the Bills I have worked on which have engaged legislative consent Motions, similar efforts have been made to secure that legislative consent. I hope that reassures noble Lords.

I share the praise of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for my colleague, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield and the energy she brought to advocating for Wales’s interests. She has of course been replaced in that role by my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower, who will continue in his work; we also have our colleagues my noble friends Lord Caine and Lord Offord, in their respective Northern Ireland and Scottish roles. It is the role of all Ministers across government to ensure that we consider properly the role of devolution and the devolved Administrations when it comes to policy-making. We have had a bit of a discussion about where responsibly for this lies in government. I urge noble Lords not to focus too much on the name of a particular department, but I have seen first-hand the energy and commitment that the Secretary of State in DLUHC brings to his role as Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, not just in the work of DLUHC but in encouraging and galvanising action across government.

I am conscious that I am slightly short of time. The noble Earl called for an annual debate in both Houses. That would of course be for the leadership of both Houses, but I will make representations and refer to the debate that we have had today. He also referred to the Canadian model and other models. The Government did look at international comparisons as part of the IGR review, including speaking to officials in Canada, and we will continue to focus on how we can make these arrangements most effective, including learning from other nations.

As for the Northern Ireland elections, the restoration of the Executive is of course a top priority, and the noble Lord, Lord Khan, is right that the deadline is the end of today. I do not have a further update to give to the House at this stage.

I will draw my remarks to a close so that we can hear from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull.

It remains for me to thank everyone who has taken part in this extremely interesting and wide-ranging debate. There were a lot of things that were completely new to me, including everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart, said, and I feel improved, so thank you very much. I was going to say that every fibre of my body felt that it was a good debate, but I cannot feel my toes, because of the temperature, so that would not have been truthful.

I must say that, as ever, the Minister gave a very thorough and helpful response, and I thank her for that. Time meant that she did not get to the English devolution point, and I hope she will not mind writing to everyone about that, because there was considerable interest. I also thank the Leader and the Whips’ Office who, for special reasons, made a big effort to help get this debate on, and I am very grateful for that.

I have two more thank yous. The first is to the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. It has done this House a tremendous service over a long time, and I will not get the chance to express my personal thanks for that, but I have had an up-close and personal look at it over the years and it is really a work of tremendous quality and depth, so thank you. The other is to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the Constitution Committee, which carries a proud flame on this issue. Rereading the two Constitution Committee reports, which I reread in preparation for this, you see how it keeps a watchful eye on this area, and I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for speaking in the debates so clearly.

I thought there were a few themes that came through. First, there was the theme of the two-way street: it is not just the Whitehall Government who need to work at this but all the Governments. Everyone benefits if it works properly. Secondly, we have quite a good structure at the moment, and it is important that we use it. Although we heard good words from the Minister about its use, there are things, such as the Prime Minister not really turning up to meetings that are planned once a year, that show that the use is not fully there yet, and we do need to use this structure. In fact, we need to work at our union, with, as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said, the occasional repair—I thought that was a very good way of putting it. We need to work at it, and that includes everyone in this Chamber, everyone who is in government and all the equivalent people in the devolved areas of our nation.

We desperately need to build the interpersonal relationships. The interesting thing is that in the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly—something that I had a lot to do with; I do not go to it any more, because I do other things—those have become extremely warm now and it can get things done, and that is simply by getting people into a room and getting the relationship going. I loved the expression “parity of esteem”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Wallace, produced: I think that is a very good way of putting it. We need to work towards that, but thank you very much and I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2024

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 15 January be approved.

Relevant document: 8th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I am grateful to the House for its consideration of this draft order, which will see Hizb ut-Tahrir proscribed.

It may be helpful if I start by setting out some background to the proscription power. Some 79 terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. For an organisation to be proscribed, the Home Secretary must believe that it is concerned in terrorism, as set out in Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary must then consider the proportionality of proscription and decide whether or not to exercise their discretion.

Proscription is a powerful tool with severe penalties, criminalising membership and invitations of support for the organisation. It also supports other disruptive activity, including immigration disruptions and terrorist financing offences. The resources of a proscribed organisation are terrorist property and are therefore liable to be seized.

The Home Secretary is supported in his decision-making by advice from the cross-government Proscription Review Group. A decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration, given its wide-ranging impact. It must be approved by both Houses.

Part II of the Terrorism Act 2000 contains the proscription offences, in Sections 11 to 13. An organisation is proscribed if it is listed in Schedule 2 to that Act or, in most cases, it operates under the same name as an organisation so listed. Article 2 of this order adds Hizb ut-Tahrir to the list in Schedule 2 as a new entry.

With this House’s consent, Hizb ut-Tahrir, including all regional branches, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, will be proscribed. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary has concluded that Hizb ut-Tahrir is concerned in terrorism and should be proscribed. Noble Lords will understand, I am sure, that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence. Nevertheless, I can provide Members with a summary of the group’s activities, which supports this decision.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which I will now refer to simply as HuT, is an international political organisation with a footprint in at least 32 countries, including the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Its long-term goal is to establish a caliphate ruled under Islamic law. HuT’s headquarters and central media office are in Beirut, Lebanon, and its ideology and strategy are co-ordinated centrally.

The British branch, which I will refer to as HTB, was established in the 1980s. While HTB is afforded autonomy to operate in its local environment, it is important to emphasise at this point that HuT should be considered as a coherent international movement, with HTB recognising the overall leadership of HuT on its website. This decision to proscribe therefore relates to HTB, and other regional branches, in forming part of a single, global entity, which is HuT.

There is current evidence that HuT is concerned in terrorism. HuT’s central media office and several of HuT’s Middle Eastern branches have celebrated and praised the barbaric 7 October terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas, which, as noble Lords will be aware, is a proscribed organisation. When the proscription of Hamas was extended to include both the military and political wings in 2021, the Government were clear that Hamas prepares, commits and participates in acts of terrorism.

Further recent activity includes an article attributed to HuT’s Egyptian branch, which referred to the killing of Jewish tourists by an Egyptian police officer as

“a simple example of what should be done towards the Jews”.

Elsewhere, HuT has frequently referred to Hamas as “the heroes of Palestine” in articles on its website. HTB also published an article on its website, which was subsequently removed, which described the 7 October attacks as a “long awaited victory” and referred to the fact that they

“ignited a wave of joy and elation amongst Muslims globally”.

It is the Government’s view that the content included in this article betrays the organisation’s true ideology and beliefs, aligned with the organisation’s global output.

HuT has regularly engaged in anti-Semitic and homophobic discourse. While HuT claims to be committed to non-violence, it rejects democracy and its aims bear similarities to those of terrorist groups, including Daesh, which of course is already proscribed.

The decision to proscribe is supported by our international partners. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in many countries around the world, including Germany for anti-constitutional reasons, with restrictions also placed on its activities in Austria, among others.

Proscription is a powerful tool. It will significantly thwart HuT’s operations in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to a proscribed organisation; invite or express support for a proscribed organisation; arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation; or wear clothing or carry or display articles in public in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that the individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. The penalties for conviction of proscription offences can be a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

The first duty of the Government is to keep the people of the United Kingdom safe. They rightly expect us to take every possible measure in service of that endeavour. Our message is clear: we will not tolerate the promotion or encouragement of terrorism, nor will we accept the promotion or glorification of Hamas’s abhorrent attack of 7 October. We will confront anti-Semitism wherever and however it rears its ugly head, taking every possible step to keep the Jewish community in the United Kingdom safe.

We must and will use every available measure to safeguard our values and tackle terrorism in all its forms. I therefore urge the House to support this proscription, which is a proportionate and justified response to the promotion and encouragement of terrorism, and to calls for violence and disorder, as espoused by HuT. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister and the Government for this. I am not sure that I am going to go down the route of, “What took us so long?” I recall Tony Blair talking about banning Hizb ut-Tahrir. I even recall our new noble friend the Foreign Secretary talking about it in 2010, before becoming Prime Minister, saying that it was something that would be done. Therefore, I am very grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for ensuring that it has been done.

I guess I declare an interest: I am a Jew, and very proud of it. I know full well what Hizb ut-Tahrir wants to do to me, my family and my co-religionists. I am grateful to the Minister for this measure, so obviously I will support it.

However, the Minister will know that I do not miss an opportunity—and I will not miss this opportunity. While the Government are on a roll and have done the right thing, they know that I and others in this House believe that the IRGC should be going in exactly the same way. The IRGC are the masters of everything that we do not like, in the way that the Minister described at the beginning. While thanking him, I hope that he will not mind me asking for a little bit more. The IRGC needs to be proscribed.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the measure so clearly. I agree with what he said. It is regrettable that I have had to cover a number of organisations to be proscribed—regrettable because we are living in an age, unfortunately, when there are organisations which abuse our liberties and freedoms. They are either terrorist organisations themselves or they support terror.

Indeed, we live in an age of heightened conflict. Next week, I and other noble Lords will be considering another suite of sanctions related to the conflict in Ukraine, and I will be receiving a delegation of Lebanese who are fearful for the security in that country—the country the Minister referred to.

These are difficult times. Therefore, as we protect our communities as well as our freedoms and liberties, it is unfortunately necessary to have measures such as these. The Minister said, quite rightly, that there are high bars to be reached before proscription. I know that he will not comment on the previous attempts at proscription—I also read the reference to the previous calls; I do not expect him to comment on that—but I will ask him a few questions on the measures coming forward.

Before doing so, I note very strongly that the Community Security Trust and the Board of Deputies of British Jews have supported these measures. One of the more regrettable activities in the UK since October has been the heightened level of anti-Semitism. It is to be noted also that there has been an increase in the number of incidents of Islamophobia. The level of tensions in our societies has been heighted, but that is not an excuse for anti-Semitism or for putting fear into part of our community.

I am sure that the Home Office has been monitoring this very closely, and I would be grateful to hear, either today or in writing, whether the Minister has information on the monitoring of cases of anti-Semitism. What are the levels of prosecutions at the moment? The Minister spoke with great passion in previous debates on the need for the police to prosecute. It is clear that, even after 100 days, many parts of our communities do not feel safe. I have many friends, as do other noble colleagues in this House, whose families and friends still live in fear and intimidation. That is unacceptable in the United Kingdom.

On the wider aspects of this measure, the Minister referred not only to the UK link—the British arm—but to its wider reach. He referenced the headquarters in Lebanon. I note that government advice had been provided for British residents to leave Lebanon a number of weeks ago. I would be grateful if the Minister wrote to me on the Government’s assessment on both travel advice and the safety and security of British residents abroad. As he said, it is our duty to ensure that our country is safe, while our nationals are safe and receive the best quality advice if they are resident in, work in or travel to another country.

On the impact in the UK, I note that no impact assessment of this measure has been carried out—it does not necessarily meet the threshold—although that is not a criticism. The Government stated:

“There is no, or no significant, impact on the public sector”

or on

“business, charities or voluntary bodies”.

If that relates to the police, does the Minister have an assessment of whether there are likely to be prosecutions, given what he outlined on unacceptable behaviour? He may say that Ministers never comment on such things, but we need to be prepared, if we are proscribing organisations, to ensure that our police are properly equipped to enforce the proscriptions once Parliament has approved them.

This country benefits from a great tradition of freedom of speech and expression. We will always oppose incitement and prejudice leading to fear and a lack of safety for individuals. Regrettably, some organisations abuse that, so it is correct that we need action.

I will close on an unrelated matter, if the Minister will give me some forbearance. We will next interact on Monday, on the Rwanda treaty, about which I wrote to the Foreign Secretary. The Minister is nodding, indicating that I may receive a reply, so I am grateful for that. On that basis, I hope he will accept our support and be able to respond in kind.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for opening the debate today clearly and concisely, and I agree with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Purvis, said.

Today’s proscription order is underpinned by the exceptional men and women who serve in our intelligence and security services, in government and in our police. They work tirelessly to keep our country safe. We are extremely fortunate to have them. Keeping our country safe is the first duty of government and a common cause that we share and all treat with the utmost seriousness. On that basis, it is vital, as the Minister knows, that the Government and His Majesty’s Opposition work in the national interest on these crucial issues.

As the Minister laid out, this order will amend Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to add Hizb ut-Tahrir to the list of proscribed organisations. Doing so will make it a criminal offence to belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir, to engage in activities such as attending meetings, to promote support for the group or to display its logo. After years of serious and increasing concern about Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activity in the UK, His Majesty’s Opposition strongly support its proscription. It is a necessary step to effectively counter its hateful extremism and divisive rhetoric, which threatens the safety and security of our country. As the Minister outlined, proscription of this international terrorist organisation comes after other countries, including Germany, have already banned it.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been proscribed now because of its escalating activity in the aftermath of Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israel. Unlike the condemnation of these attacks by the vast majority of Muslims here in the UK, who are just as horrified as the rest of us, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain glorified as heroes the Hamas terrorists who revelled in acts of indiscriminate violence against civilians. Again, unlike the deep sorrow and outrage the British people shared with the Israeli people in the aftermath of 7 October, Hizb ut-Tahrir boasted of its euphoria on the news of this appalling and tragic loss of life.

There is no place on Britain’s streets for vile anti-Semitism. There is no place on Britain’s streets for those who incite violence and glorify terrorism. There is no place on Britain’s streets for Hizb ut-Tahrir. This terrorist group peddles hate, glorifies violence and is hostile not only to our values but to the common sense of humanity. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, mentioned, there is nothing new about its divisive and poisonous rhetoric, which has been widely recorded for over two decades in the UK, long before the horrific attacks of 7 October. Organisations such as the Community Security Trust, the Antisemitism Policy Trust and the Union of Jewish Students have long raised serious concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir’s anti-Semitism, alongside its misogynistic and homophobic hate speech, which provides a channel for extremism. We have already heard that that is why previous Prime Ministers, Home Secretaries and Security Ministers have considered proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir, but its activities were not recognised as sufficient under the definition of terrorism in Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 until now.

Given for how long these matters have been debated and considered, I would be grateful if the Minister could answer some questions when he responds. To start with, does he think that there are lessons to be learned regarding the length of time it has taken to proscribe this organisation? Does he believe that the current proscription process is robust enough to counter threats to our national security, and can he say when it became a proportionate response in this case as well as in others? Can he say whether other bodies, as we have heard, are under consideration for proscription, given the various global threats we face? Is the speed of decision-making up to the task? In particular, and he will know that we have asked for this, does he agree that a bespoke proscription mechanism for state-sponsored organisations is now required—something that, as I say, His Majesty’s Opposition, along with others, have called for?

Countering threats to our national security requires joined-up government working, but the counter-extremism strategy has not been updated since 2015, with important elements of policy around community cohesion now the responsibility of the Levelling-Up Secretary. Given the significance of these matters, can the Minister tell the House when the Government will bring forward a new definition of hateful extremism? Can he confirm whether his department will update the counter-extremism strategy, as my right honourable friend the shadow Home Secretary has called for?

To conclude, proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir is the right thing to do for our national security. For too long, the public have been exposed to its extremist ideology, its glorification of terrorist activity and its core aim of overthrowing our democratic system of government to replace it with an Islamist theocracy. If left alone, extremism can and will spread insidiously and spread deceit deep into our national conversation. No Government must ever relent in their determination to ensure that we are always one step ahead of those who seek to harm or to undermine our way of life. We must always be on the side of the public we seek to serve and protect. That is why we strongly support the Government’s actions in taking forward the proscription order before us.

My Lords, I thank the three noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I would very much like to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, thanking our security services and our police forces, and those in government—many of whom are, as noble Lords will be aware, in the Home Office—who are very engaged in this subject, and who keep us safe.

I shall do my best to address as many as possible of the points that have been made. If I miss anything, I will, of course, commit to write—and just to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I can say that a letter is on its way.

I shall briefly give the House some key facts, in terms of the number of organisations proscribed in this country. There are currently 79 proscribed terrorist organisations, in addition to the 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations that were proscribed before 2000, and 38 terrorist groups have been proscribed since 2010—a very depressing statistic indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, noted. The most recent proscription order came into force in September 2022, when the Wagner group was proscribed. I think all the noble Lords here participated in that debate.

Of course, the Government will always consider the full range of powers available to tackle threats on our soil or against our people and interests. We will continue to make use of our counterterrorism powers, including the proscription tool, where appropriate, to tackle the modern threats we face. The work on that is ongoing. I acknowledge the bespoke proscription tool for state threats, as asked for by the noble Lord. Obviously, I cannot comment on that, but the National Security Act, which came into force last year, provides robust powers to deal with the complex state threats that the UK faces in a broader context. I am aware of his ongoing interest in this, and I am sure I will continue to engage in discussion with him about it.

The barriers for proscription, and the qualifications and tests, are robust. As I said in my opening remarks, they are governed by the Terrorism Act 2000, and it might be worth going through them for the record. The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation if he believes it is concerned in terrorism, and this means that the organisation

“commits or participates in acts of terrorism … prepares for terrorism … promotes or encourages terrorism (including the unlawful glorification of terrorism); or … is otherwise concerned in terrorism… If the statutory test is met, there are other factors which the Home Secretary must take into account when deciding whether or not to exercise the discretion”.

Those factors include

“the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities … the specific threat that it poses to the UK … the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas … the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK; and … the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism”.

The Home Secretary will exercise his power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation. This includes information taken from both open sources and sensitive intelligence, as well as advice that reflects consultation across government.

That brings me to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Polak, which is: why has it taken so long? I have explained how the Home Secretary must believe that an organisation is concerned in terrorism and, as the House has heard, since the 7 October attack HuT has promoted and encouraged terrorism, and celebrated and praised the 7 October terrorist attacks by Hamas, including in an article that referred to the killing of Jewish tourists by an Egyptian police officer, which I referred to in my opening remarks, as a simple example of what should be done to the Jews.

Elsewhere, HuT has frequently referred to Hamas as the heroes of Palestine, in articles on its website. As has been noted, it has a long history of praising and celebrating attacks against Israel and attacks against Jews more widely. This vile anti-Semitism cannot be decoupled from the statements recently attributed to HuT encouraging and promoting terrorism. But of course, the facts changed after 7 October. I think that explains the decision to act now. When the facts change, we change our minds.

On religious communities, obviously I agree with all noble Lords that the growth in anti-Semitism is extraordinarily concerning. A number of my friends are affected by it and have said that they are now afraid to walk the streets in certain circumstances.

Exactly on that point, I pay tribute to the Government because for a number of years they have helped to fund the security of our schools and synagogues, and so on. Noble Lords might not realise that, to get into a synagogue to pray, one has to go through security—that is here in Britain, in 2024. After 7 October, the Government gave the Home Office another £3 million towards this. Just so that noble Lords understand, just days after 7 October my daughter called me and asked, “Dad, do you love your grandchildren?” I said to Natasha, “What’s this question?” She said, “Should we send them to school?” That is a Jewish, state-aided school in Finchley, north London. They were scared to send their kids to school here in Britain. That is just to get over to noble Lords that this is the problem, but I am grateful to the Government for their support.

I thank my noble friend for his personal perspective, which—I think I can safely speak for the whole House—we obviously regret very considerably. That just amplifies the point I was making that some of my friends have expressed to me that they are also afraid, in certain circumstances, to walk the streets of the capital in particular, although I imagine that that applies across the entire nation. I personally think that is disgraceful.

However, I thank my noble friend for pointing out that the Government have made significant efforts to protect the Jewish community. The Jewish community protective security grant provides security measures, such as guarding, CCTV and alarm systems at Jewish schools, colleges, nurseries and some other Jewish community sites, as well as a number of synagogues. The JCPS grant is managed on behalf of the Home Office by the Community Security Trust. In response to the Israel-Hamas conflict and reports of increased incidence of anti-Semitism in the UK, the Prime Minister has announced an additional £3 million of funding for the Community Security Trust—which my noble friend referred to—that will provide additional security at Jewish schools, synagogues and other Jewish community sites. This brings total funding for CST through the Jewish community protective security grant to £18 million in 2023-24. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement confirmed that protective security funding for the Jewish community will be maintained at £18 million in 2024-25. So I thank my noble friend for his thanks. Obviously, the Government are very alive to the fact that we need to do as much as we can.

On the question about the statistics on anti-Semitism, I will have to write on that—I am afraid I do not have them to hand.

It would be wrong not to highlight also what is being done to protect Muslim communities, who obviously are also affected by events in the Middle East. We recognise that the developments there can impact British Muslim communities, and they lead to a rise in community tensions. The Government have made an additional £4.9 million available for protective security at mosques and Muslim faith schools this year and the next. That brings total funding for UK Muslim communities to £29.4 million for both 2023-24 and 2024-25. We have also extended the deadline for the protective security for mosques scheme, and invite mosques and Muslim faith community centres to register for protective security measures by 18 February 2024. The protective security for mosques scheme provides physical security measures such as CCTV, intruder alarms and secure perimeter fencing to mosques and associated Muslim faith community centres. Guarding services for both mosques and Muslim faith schools will become available early this year.

My noble friend did not surprise me by asking about the IRGC. There is obviously significant parliamentary media and public interest in potentially proscribing the IRGC. Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have discussed this subject on a number of occasions, with the House of Commons unanimously passing a Motion in January to urge the Government to proscribe. The department keeps the list of proscribed organisations under review and, as noble Lords will be aware, our policy is not to comment on the specifics of individual proscription cases. I am therefore unable to provide further details on this issue in particular. Ministers have previously confirmed to the House that the decision is under active consideration, but we will not provide a running commentary. However, I think I can refer to the most recent public position on this, which was a comment from the current Foreign Secretary on the proscription of the IRGC. In an interview with the Telegraph on 23 December, the current Foreign Secretary said:

“The move you’re talking about is not something that either the intelligence agencies or the police are calling for. So I think our stance is the right one”.

That is the latest information on that subject, but I am quite sure that we will return to it.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me what is happening with the counterextremism strategy. The Government, obviously, remain focused on disrupting the activities and influence of extremists, supporting those who stand up to extremism and stopping people being drawn into terrorism. We keep our response to extremism under constant review to ensure that it is best placed to tackle the evolving threat.

Building on the foundation set by the 2015 counterextremism strategy, we have scaled up our approach to disrupting groups who seek to radicalise others in order to focus on those who pose the biggest threat to our communities and our security. The Government’s focus is to use existing mechanisms to analyse, prevent and disrupt the spread of high-harm extremist ideologies that can lead to community division, and to radicalisation into terrorism, particularly those that radicalise others but deliberately operate below counterterrorism thresholds. Where there is evidence of purposeful actions that are potentially radicalising others into terrorism or violence, proportionate disruptive action will be considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about investigation and prosecution of offences. He will be aware that that is an operational matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. But His Majesty’s Government are working with operational partners to support their management of terrorism offences, particularly in the context of the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza, and we will continue to do that to realise the disruptive benefits of this proscription swiftly.

I do not have access at the moment to the Foreign Office guidance for Lebanon. I will find out what it is and come back to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

In conclusion, the security of our communities is the Government’s foremost priority. The effort to counter and contain terrorism is complex and relentless. When action is needed, we will not hesitate. This is why we have brought forward this order, which I commend to the House.

Motion agreed.

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [HL]

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved by

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order: Clauses 1 to 13, The Schedule, Clauses 14 to 31, Title.

Motion agreed.

Immigration Act 2014 (Residential Accommodation) (Maximum Penalty) Order 2023

Immigration (Employment of Adults Subject to Immigration Control) (Maximum Penalty) (Amendment) Order 2023

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2024

Motions to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Orders laid before the House on 15 and 27 November 2023 be approved.

Relevant documents: 5th and 7th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 16 January.

Motions agreed.

House adjourned at 6.08 pm.